Preview pages: Buffy and Willow fight through Too Many Demons at the Deeper Well. Xander's back at the entrance, texting Severin and Simone, who are in turn at the other entrance, threatening the little girl with a balloon who is apparently the only one left on guard. Simone points a gun at her and the balloon pops, exploding into an enormous mass of tentacles which lunges for Simone, unaffected by her bullets. However, Severin is easily able to defeat it by absorbing the little girl's power. They tell Xander to buy them more time, but he's then attacked by one of the guardians. Buffy goes up against D'Hoffryn and is snatched up and dropped by a flying gargoyle. It's about to kill her when Illyria and Koh appear and decapitate it. They claim to be on her side, but she doesn't want their help until Koh explains that he was accused of killing his family, and he's come to realize that he can't get them back, but can still help Buffy's sister.
At Buffy's place, Billy and Anaheed are Skyping with Devon, who asks Billy to return and help with the zompire mob. Dawn has locked herself in the bathroom while Spike tries to convince her to let him comfort her by telling her stories about herself (and himself). He gets to the part where she found out she was the Key while he was there, and she opens the door, saying that she still can't remember, but what he's saying feels right. They hug, and he continues the story but then realizes he can't remember it himself, and runs to get a tape recorder from Andrew, not telling Dawn what's wrong. As he's leaving a voice message for himself, Billy and Anaheed are on their way out and ask him to tell Buffy "something about Simone Doffler" if he sees her before they return.
Xander is saved from his big green attacker demon by Willow, followed by Buffy, Koh, and Illyria. They give him the score and then huddle (that's what they call strategy discussions in sports, right?) while he surreptitiously calls up Simone, who again tells him they need more time. He hangs up. Buffy and Willow are finalizing the plan, but when everyone says they're ready, Xander tells them they're going to get killed, and when that fails to stop their resolve, he spills the beans and tells them everything he did to help Simone and Severin turn back time. Illyria says they're going to tear the universe apart, and Buffy turns angrily on Xander and tells him that now instead of just saving Dawn, they have to save the world.
Lots of chopping through ugly (but colorful!) monsters in this one. Not my favorite thing, but whatever, the final stretch was bound to have a lot of hack n' slash. Also not overly fond of the characters' stream of thought and dialogue during it. Buffy's all, "Look, we're doing something impossible again!" and Willow's all "Another day another dollar!" and I'm like, "Yes I know Buffy and Willow have done a lot of demon-fighting over the years, that's why I'm bored right now." But I'm not being fair. There's a lot that happens between the battle panels, and the plot does advance where it needs to. Plus, there's finally equal weight given to all of the characters.
Might as well get this out of the way right now: I loathe the Spike and Dawn scenes. Just as I feared, they're going for the cutesy approach to a complicated and disturbing history, and I think we can probably abandon all hope that Spike's crimes against the Summers will ever be brought up again. Dawn's reaction when she regains her full memory might be interesting, as will Spike's, but I imagine it will just be a rehash of this reunion. "I'm your greatest friend, and I'd never leave your side!" "Gee, thanks, hero! If I've ever been mad at you, I was wrong!" At least Spike is finally starting to lose his memory too, which does suggest a potential major dilemma: what if Buffy, Willow, and Xander forget what they're fighting for? Perhaps that's taken care of by their focus suddenly being shifted to repairing Xander's mistake, but I'd love to see Willow fill up on magic and then have to ask herself why she did it.
Speaking of Xander and his big betrayal - didn't last very long, did it? Guess his inability to keep a secret won out in the end. No, I'm kidding. Clearly he couldn't stand the idea of Buffy dying for Dawn because she didn't know she didn't have to. It was neat the way the fighters unanimously held him accountable for the stupidity of thinking this would work, though. Willow's a mage, Illyria knows her own powers, and Koh's whatever, but Buffy shouldn't necessarily know any better than Xander. Why is she the one who sees time travel as the disaster it is, while Xander goes for it hook, line, and sinker?
Exit Billy - yay! I'll probably end up reading his story in Dark Horse Presents, but only if it turns up legally free at some point. Aside from the invitation rule changing, the only thing that could draw my willing attention back to the Billyverse is Katie, and she's just one minor character, not enough in and of herself. Too bad he's taking Anaheed with him. Why couldn't it have been Andrew?
As for the art, well...there's only one thing to say about the art:
It's not fair to just show you the worst panel of the issue without also showing you the best, but there wasn't much 'best' to be had, so I'll just do a nice one that caught my eye:
Jeanty's art just hasn't been up to his standard this season. I don't know what it is. It feels like he stopped caring somehow. The original cast, with whom he's had the most practice, look more and more misshapen and less like themselves. The ones who look the best are the new characters: Anaheed, Billy, Severin, Simone. Occasionally he still throws in a fun detail, like the Vampy Cat Play Friend in Andrew's apartment, but mostly I feel like I'm waiting for those, and for the pretty backgrounds sprinkled here and there, between pages of guessing about who someone is or feeling sympathy pains about their deformities.
I know he's a great artist, so I'm going to keep hoping that he'll pick it back up again instead of hoping that he'll be replaced. The series is slowly improving, but it still needs more support from the art if it's going to end on a good note.