BTVS, Season 10, Issue 23
"In Pieces on the Ground" part III
Writer: Christos Gage, Artwork: Megan Levens, Colors: Dan Jackson, Letters: Richard Starkings & [Comicraft's] Jimmy Betancourt
Cover Art: Steve Morris
Blurbing: The Restless Door, a powerful artifact with the ability to create portals to any dimension, has fallen into the hands of the Mistress, the Sculptor, and the Soul Glutton. While the trio of Big Bads is opening portals around the globe, bringing dangerous demons to [E]arth, Buffy and the Scoobies are struggling to fight this demon world war. They are also struggling to get along, disagreeing about how to solve the problem... They might just be growing up... or apart.
Page 01: We open in Andrew's Oakland, CA townhouse apartment, where Jonathon-Hologram is complaining to Andrew that this whole disembodiment really sucks. He complains that he thinks that Andrew has been spending all of his time guy hunting, instead of getting to the "give me a new body" plan.
Andrew insists he has been working on the problem, but it's harder to solve than Jon thinks. He goes through the drawbacks of the various options before them. Andrew complains that comics have been lying to them all about how easy it is to create animated life.
But in the midst of this discussion/argument, a head with crawly fingers invade Andy's home!
Commentary: Yeah, as per usual when you've got Andrew involved, the geek-humor can wear a bit thin after only a paragraph or two. But I do like that Jon's return is something that Andy has been working on off-panel, and I like that the Scupltor is going to use this situation as his way in to try to undermine the Scooby Gang.
I am a bit disconcerted with just how easy it is for a demon to infiltrate a Scooby Home. You'd think that it wouldn't be as easy as just waltzing in for a convo.
Page 02: The wandering digited head belongs to the Sculptor and is joined by its creator. Andrew responds immediately with a throwing star, but alas, against a flesh manipulator, it isn't actually a useful attack.
Fortunately for Andy, the Sculptor isn't there to leave a dead body for Buffy to find. He's actually interested in a tempting offer to Andy in regards to his problem with his "phantom companion".
Andrew worriedly wonders if the demon is there for an offer toward his soul... or his *gasp* 'virtue' [EWWWWW!]. But no, neither of these things interests the Sculptor -- what he wants is the Slayer Scythe!
Commentary: And I'm just gonna nitpick -- probably once again, and I sorta not-sorry apologize -- but it continues to bother me how everyone keeps calling the Scythe Buffy's, when literally that weapon should be in Faith's hands right now.
I wish somebody would at least bring up that Faith is the "official Slayer" ... as much as anyone can be with the entire Slayer brigade activated. They really missed a plot point when they didn't have Simone's Gang throw it in Buffy's face that ANY of the Slayers could make an equal claim on the Scythe right now. But really, it should be Faith's, even though I don't see her being particularly interested in fighting Buffy over it.
Page 03: At that moment, Buffy is using said Scythe in battle. At her side is Spike, Willow, and the Mystic Council. They're all fighting an extradimensional Kracken, allowing Buffy to make a 'Clash of the Titans' pun.
[OH! That'll be our next movie review -- sometime when I'm back around to the movie review on our scheduling...]
D'Hoffryn warns Buffy that they mustn't kill the beast for ecological reasons, and pushes Wills to throw the thing back into a portal. Willow huffs that she's trying, but opening portals is more difficult now -- because they used the Book to make sure of that.
Commentary: A commentary on the "unintended consequences"? Trying to lay to rest why our gang hasn't been more aggressive in using the Great Book Power throughout the season?
Page 04: D'Hoffryn moves to enhance Willow's attempts, but warns that he's been using up so much of his innate powers lately fighting other incursions that he won't be able to keep things up for much longer. Will commisserates.
But they finally get the portal opened. As everyone is now trying to irritate the Kracken to go home, Buffy has followed her Scythe for some close up combat/retrieve her weaponry. It's too close, and the Kracken grabs her as it's pushed backward toward the awaiting portal.
Page 05: With a bit of help from Spike, her Scythe and the floating Ghost Woman - Keiko [a 'The Ring' ghost stand-in], Buffy is successfully saved before the Big Lug is sent homeward bound.
But she's not at all happy after-battle. She confronts D'Hoffryn with almost causing her to get pulled into the portal with the sea beast. D'Hoffryn blows this off with a comment that had she been lost, her sacrifice would've been honored. She doesn't take that comment well.
Willow steps in to attempt to calm the situation, reminding everyone that they're all exhausted because of the constant jet setting to stop what the Big Bad Trio has been allowing through the Restless Door. Buffy complains to Willow that there is a difference between being tired, and just getting careless and sloppy.
From a nearby coptor, they're joined by Lake Stevens, who suggests that they break up the team into smaller squads so everyone will have defined rest periods. But Buffy is still in a snit over everyone not watching her back, and D'Hoffryn's casual attitude to her ending up in Krackenworld. She snottily reminds Lake that she isn't "deployed" anywhere -- she hasn't signed on as a Pentagon contractor, and will go where she wants when she wants.
Spike tries to calm Buffy down that Lake was only trying to suggest how they could function more smoothly, and Buffy angrily asks whose side he's on, which he calmly answers: The side that likes to keep Hell dimensions in Hell. The side I thought we were all on.
Commentary: Obvs, this is related to Buffy's continuing issues with the military being anywhere near her and her friends, and her simmering irritation at Willow for going the Pentagon route. But I really liked the way that Spike responded toward Buffy, because once again I have to step on Willow & Lake's side, even though I also share Buffy's discomfort with the military involvement in Slayer business.
Buffy here -- and her anger at D'Hoffryn is pretty justified, since he's made his not actually caring if Buffy falls or not pretty clear here -- is overreacting to Willow's and Ms. stevens' suggestions with her attitude. It's a bit painful how Buffy and Willow are standing on different sides of an invisible line, and it's hurting their friendship.
On the other hand, after Wills basically throwing barbs at Buffy all through Season 09... Well... maybe a little "shoe on the other foot" is karmic.
Page 06: Willow tells Buffy that more than being tired, they're infighting is hurting their ability to be more effective and Wills for one is sick of it. She gets on the coptor with Lake and suggests that they start fighting different battles, but keep each other in the loop on their various actions, so they're all not targeting the same critters.
Buffy sort of apologizes for being jerky about it, but reminds Willow that she made it clear she wasn't taking orders from the government. Willow offers she knows that, and tells her they'll talk later after they've all had some rest.
After Willow and Lake take off [Somehow, carrying on a conversation with helicoptor-rotor noises... uhhhh... magic did it!], she asks Spike if this life thing has to always be so hard.
D'Hoffryn interrupts to suggest that Buffy could make things easier by giving them more power to combat with, suggesting that her refusal to use The Book to increase their abilities has gone from principal to stupidity. He also suggests that he agrees with her reasoning, in that empowering individuals could lead to "unintended consequences". But to get around this worry of a megalomaniac misuing what she's giving, he suggests that any new powers be tied to an office. He further suggests that formalizing the Mystic Council as an official group with a charge to protect Earth be structured and recorded in the Vampyr Book.
Commentary: If you thought "Avengers" or "Justice League", you're not alone. And while I can see D'Hoffryn's point... eeehhhhh... this is making me nervous.
Page 07: Spike has to agree with D'Hoffryn. And the Fairy Queen points out that the Council is made up of differing pantheons, each with their own agendas. This should keep everyone honest going forward. She suggests that with the new powers tied to an office, if any member goes off the reservation, the others can vote them out of that office, and immediately strip them of their newfound abilities.
With all six Council Members agreed that this can work, and with Spike on their side, Buffy offers to reconvene at her apartment for formal discussions about the extent of these new powers and the Council's structure.
Page 08: Meanwhile, back at Buffy's apartment, Dawn has a study group going on. They're studying psychology and Dawn mentions possibly becoming a grief councilor. But she also mentions how the world has changed so drastically with the supernatural coming into the every day life, and she figured a lot of people would need help adjusting to that.
It's a study group which her sister pops in on with some teleportation hijinks with Spike and the entire Mystic Council.
Page 09: Dawn reminds Buffy she reminded her about her study group that evening, and Buffy apologizes sincerely. While in the meantime, Guy Friend is frozen in startled response, and Girl Friend starts freaking out because of 'The Ring' chick and is now convinced they'll all die.
Ghost Chick clarifies that'll only happen if she happens to see her Wedding Video, because that was the reason that her husband lost his temper and drowned her, so they're all copecetic. Buffy suggests that they leave the kids to their studying, insisting to Dawnie that her studying is important and she needs to fight for her right to keep at it. Buffy and the gang will leave her to it.
Dawn is a bit taken aback by Buffy's weird insistance and phrasing, but it's likely due to her current feelings that she's losing her friendship with Willow because of the rift between them about Lake and the Pentagon.
[I also wonder if maybe there is something going on with Xander, too. He's been absent thus far from this whole issue, including participation in the Kracken battle.]
As Buffy leads the Mystic Council out to go to Giles' apartment, instead, Guy Friend asks if her sister is single. When she tells him that Buffy is dating a vampire, Girl Friend tells her that Psych is exactly the right major for her.
Commentary: This was a cute scene, but I'm not sure that it served some larger point. It'd be nice if Buffy and Dawn had a conversation later about Dawn still trying to minimize the supernatural stuff as much as she can manage and how that isn't possible if Buffy keeps bringing over every member of the Mystic Council as a way to develop this idea of the Scooby Gang growing up and getting more involved in their own things, rather than following behind Buffy's leadership, but it feels more like this is just a one-off humorous scene with a hint of Buffy still feeling badly for the argument with Willow over Lake Stevens' government involvement.
Page 10: Over in Oakland, Andrew is refusing to assist the Sculptor. But Jon-Hologram is there to guilt trip him in first killing him, and now failing to give him a physical presence, putting his own 'good guy' career over paying his debt to his friend.
The Sculptor also points out that he's not asking Andrew to kill Buffy or to bring him such a powerful weapon. He's just asking that Andy use his ability to slip into Buffy's apartment to replace the Scythe with a glamor-disguised replica. This way, the next battle she has, the Scythe won't be "tipping the playing field". With the Slayer still having all of her other abilities, she could still very much continue winning, and if the phony Scythe is destroyed in battle, it'll come across as her foe's power rather than anything trickery that could be traced back to Andrew.
The Sculptor claims that he just wants to level the playing field.
Holo-Jon reminds Andrew again that he murdered him, and owes him big if he's really serious about his intentions to earn redemption.
Page 11: Meanwhile over at Giles', a compromise has been reached in the discussion of the extra powers to grant to the Council. Giles reiterates that the new powers are tied to a Mystic Council seat and is transferable to the "office holder" of that position, rather than tied to any individual member currently serving.
D'Hoffryn's seat is granted the ability to sense and pinpoint the nexus of concentrated mystic energy.
Monarch of the Fair Folk's seat is given the ability to draw mystic power from any source not of Earth's native dimension.
Keiko's seat is given the ability to counter physical attacks by absorbing and redirecting the kinetic energy of such attacks.
The Quiet Man's chair is given the ability to send back any non-native being back to their home dimension.
Brahma's seat contains another sensing ability -- the sense of an opponents greatest weakness.
Finally, Matango is granted immunity to mystical attacks, but not physical ones.
Commentary: This all feels very, very risky to me and I'm not happy. Mostly, I think it could be okay but we're talking about powerful supernatural beings here and a power that can be passed to who-knows-who in future. I'm worried about Monarch's new powers which seems like it could unintentionally make that office holder overpowered if they face the right other-dimensional being. I also have a problem with the Matango chair's ability, as any complete immunity really introduces a possible danger to the Scooby Gang later, if the entire Council turns on them... and with the membership of said Council being headed by a Vengeance Demon, A Faire Folk Queen, A Cursed Ghost, a Leather-Covered Mutilated Demon, an inscrutible Hindu god and a Mushroom Person ... well... I'm not very settled about this.
I really wish Giles hadn't given them powers that together could make them very, very difficult for the Scoobies to rally against - especially Keiko, Brahma, and Matango together.
Page 12: Giles also reiterates that a simple quorum will allow any member to lose their seat, and ergo to lose the special ability tied to that office should it be necessary.
With this agreement, the Fairy Queen - sensing Giles' distress over his current situation - offers him a visit to the Faire Folk homeland where his outer youthful appearance is not a hinderance as the Fae only judge one by their character alone. Giles excitedly accepts.
Commentary: Uhm. Aren't the Fae also reputed to be tricksters and to -- even if not maliciously -- end up causing quite the problems for any people who they come across? Am I mistaken in this?
'Cause I'm nervous about this whole thing, and that's even without Rupert's critical role in advising Buffy's use involving the Magic Rule Book, and her sly side looks [like on that previous page].
This feels like a risk that shouldn't be taken.
Page 13: Buffy brings up to Giles that this seems risky, but Rupert wants very much to be "an adult", which he finds nearly impossible with his current body. And Spike brings up the Fae's sense of honor. As an invited guest, Giles has protection against their usual brand of mischief.
As Giles walks through the portal to the Fae Lands, Buffy worries over his being too happy there to return. Spike offers that it is always a possibility, but that it would be his choice. The Fae won't force him to stay while under the Invite. And if Rupert would really be made happier there, how could they object?
He suggests that Buffy could use some real rest after their eventful day.
Page 14: In Spike's bedroom, he senses Buffy's continued unsettled mind and offers that he's sure Rupert will be back with a joke about how it's become a physical need for him to correct the grammar of Wikipedia entries. But Buffy tells him that's only part of her concern, she's also worried everytime that they've made a change to The Book, and she doesn't like giving the Mystic Council more power.
She lies in bed, worrying that they've made a mistake that will bite them in ass later.
Page 15: The following afternoon, Buffy and Spike wake up late. Buffy is feeling better about the events of the evening before and Spike offers that they've earned a day off to do something for themselves. Buffy discusses going out to dinner, but Spike admits that eating people food doesn't have much of a taste to him - though he's more than happy to have some wine and conversation.
Buffy decides to go for a run first, and then they can figure out what to do with their day.
As Spike takes care of feeding the kittens [And check the litter box, Spike! You don't want to let that thing sit too long unemptied.], Spike has a worried expression as jogging out in the sun is another of those things he can't do together with her.
Commentary: Which of course, is playing on his mind because of the points that Harmony tossed at him "in casual conversation" during the Combat Trials to Enlist the Vampires in their war against the extra-dimensional invaders.
Page 16: As Buffy is leaving for her run around the neighborhood, she runs into Dawn. She apologizes again for the study group interruption, but Dawnie blows it off. Buffy then asks if Wills made it home the night before, but Dawn points out that she's been spending most of her time at Lake's and asks if she and her sister are fighting again.
Buffy denies the fighting, but does admit that they can't seem to stop butting heads, when neither of them want to.
Dawn offers it's just the perpetual tiredness making the cranky and it'll all get better. She runs off to visit her friends, while Buffy starts her jog. In the meantime though, Andy is watching Buffy leave.
Page 17: While Buffy is enjoying the sunlight on her face, Andrew is picking the lock to her apartment.
Buffy runs past reminders of the life she leads, and how it'll be with Spike, as opposed to the semi-normal life she's been so busy trying to pin down throughout the years. Y'know... no babies in strollers, Spike won't be aging physically with her... she's left with a worried frown on her face.
Commentary: And of course, this is playing with those things that Vicki was "casually mentioning" in Vegas.
Page 18: In the apartment, Andrew is standing before the weapons rack staring at the Scythe. He agonizes an apology to the empty room.
Later that evening, he's holding out the Scythe to The Sculptor, fulfilling his promise for Jonathon. Meanwhile, the Sculptor reveals that he's kept his side of the bargain as well -- giving Jonathon an approximation of his physical body back, and installed the Engram Chip with the simulacrum's brain. But he warns that without his constant powers to sustain it, Jon's new body will quickly decay, putting Andy and Jon both under the Sculptor's control.
Page 19: With Andrew looking apologetic [toward Jonathon, of course], Willow then warps the Scooby Gang into the cemetery of Andy's meeting. In her hands, Buffy has the real Scythe and reminds Andrew that he kept up his side of the bargain. He brought the demon the real Scythe... it's just that he's now going to get it sharp side first.
While the gang fight with the Sculptor, Jon confronts Andrew's betrayal of him... AGAIN... that will result in his death.
But Andy tells him that he's not Jonathon. Jon is dead, by Andrew's hand, and there is nothing that he can do that will make that right. He offers that he can't keep being the guy that screws up by trying to undo what he's done in the past.
Commentary: Oh, y'all! I am so, so relieved!
Yeah, I did really think that Andrew was once again going to mess up by trying to "help" somebody, and I was more than a bit annoyed that they kept using this character to put the Gang in a bind, and not letting him grow up and learn from his mistakes.
But Christos apparently is actually allowing Andrew to grow, after that attempt at bringing Tara back over Willow's objections and I'm very, very happy to see it.
Page 20: The Jonathon Program uses his new Franken-body to slap Andrew across the nose and rage at him for once again screwing him over. He tells Andy that he'll never forgive him for costing him his chance to have a body again, and from now on he'll take care of his own destiny. He runs off, despite the fact that his body won't be able to sustain itself without the Sculptor.
Meanwhile, Willow and Buffy are teaming up against that demon with Wills charging up the Scythe with Fire Magic.
Page 21: Buffy slices the Sculptor completely in half, with his bifurcated parts being unable to reform into a whole, because of the Fire Magic burning the flesh to extra-crispiness at the same time.
Willow congratulates the gang on finally getting one of the Evil Trio.
Buffy congratulates Andrew on facing a really tough situation and making the right choice, no matter how painful. Xander points out that, for the record though, he'd never have been able to slip the real Scythe out of the apartment due to the protections on it. Buffy agrees, but also tells Andy that isn't really the point. She wants Andrew to know how proud she is of him for not letting himself fall back into his old pattern of trying to fix things with shortcuts that really can't be undone.
Page 22: Xan offers that they'll all try to find Simul-Jon, and get him some help before it's too late for him. Andy tells the gang it was nice to have his friend back and not mad at him. He could almost pretend that he hadn't murdered him, but then he also says that it's past time he stopped pretending though and leave the fantasies behind for the real world.
No matter how much it hurts.
The Good: I like the entire plot as far as it regards Andrew as the 'weak link', the Sculptor's manipulation of him by using his guilt over Jonathon, and Andrew's choosing the Gang over trying to make up for what can't be fixed.
I also like the theme of adult life continuing to work on the closest of friends and the way that it's putting seperation between Buffy and Willow despite their mutual love and respect.
I respect that both Buffy and Spike need to confront some very real issues that Buffy the Teenager could just ignore with Angel in regards to what she'll have to give up for being with Spike when it comes to children, and a lover at her side who will age along with her normally. It's much easier for a high schooler to blindly say that none of that matters as long as they love each other, than for a rational adult who can see ahead through the years to come.
I just love Andrew's growth, so I'll repeat it here.
The Bad: Nothing is bad.
Other Thoughts: I'm really ambivalent about increasing the Council's powers -- especially when you consider them in combination with one another. I also didn't really like how easily Rupert runs off to live in FantasyLand with the Fae, without even a moment of doubt about the Fairy Folks habits and history when it comes to their interactions with mankind.
I do kind of wish the battle scene against the Sculptor was more intense. It'd be nice if he wasn't actually killed dead here, but had already possessed Simul-Jon with a part of himself as an escape hatch and to keep an eye on Andrew. It would be interested if we see Simul-Jon fighting the Sculptor for control of a body that the demon doesn't dare let fall apart due to the risks to his own existence. But having the Willow/Buffy partnership be the one to take him down, finally, was pretty satisfying and made me flash back to the first arc with Buffy using Will's magic to rescue her from Warren.
The Score: 3.75 out of 5 stars