Through flashbacks we got some history on Ethan and Ripper's deal with Eyghon, and how each one dealt with it (or didn't) later in life, with a bonus parallel to Angel and his misdeeds implied.
Present day, Faith blows up at Angel and tells him he now owes it to her to see it through and bring Giles back, and the two of them detective their way to some property that the late Ethan Rayne seems to have obtained after dying at the military facility in Season 8. At that very property, the late Rupert Giles invites Nadira and her team of Slayers in and promises to resurrect Marianne for them. Very soon it appears he's succeeded, but Nadira, suspicious, soon discovers that the reanimated body is not their friend. Eyghon, who is not only possessing Giles but a full team of other victims, attacks. The Slayers fight his army, but they're disadvantaged by Eyghon's ability to possess them as soon as they fall unconscious, making them attack their friends.
Faith and Angel make their grand appearance soon after Eyghon takes his true monstrous demonic form. Angel holds him off while Faith ushers out the Slayers who he hasn't yet claimed. Eyghon smashes through the mansion in pursuit of Angel, who only escapes by leaping into a car with Faith and a few Slayers. They head to Alasdair's for supplies and consultation, and Angel and Alasdair together explain how Eyghon functions, what he did to get into Ethan's and Giles' bodies, and what he intends - to possess a full continent of humans in tandem with Whistler's plan to bring the rest of the world to paradise. Armed with this knowledge and some magical items, they discuss a strategy to kill Eyghon and free his possessed captives in their next attack. At the end of the conversation, Spike shows up: Angel has called him as backup, since only the two vampires with souls are immune to possession from Eyghon.
Angel and Spike squabble a bit about Buffy and Giles, but Nadira accepts Spike's involvement and Faith calls them all back to attention so they can face Eyghon, who immediately bursts through the wall. The battle begins, everyone taking the roles they were assigned and being careful to restrain the possessed Slayers without killing them. Faith acts as a leader even with "Giles" taunting her, and successfully handcuffs him while Angel and Spike attack Eyghon. They're outmatched - he flings Angel away and manages to possess Spike because, he says, he's at the peak of his power. Faith has to fight Spike off while Eyghon tries the same thing on Angel, but can't: Angel, Angelus, and Giles are all working together to keep him out. As Giles, Angel lands a solid blow, and Faith kicks Spike in the balls and tosses his vorpal sword to Angel.
Angel decapitates Eyghon. At once, Spike and the other victims return to themselves, but the entirety of Giles' soul is drawn into Angel, who is overloaded with his triple personality and loses his grip, alternately speaking as each from different points in their lives. Faith has to defend him from Nadira, who wants to kill him. Nadira backs off, but angrily faces the other Slayers, accusing them of "going through with it" and running away, then storms off on her own. Faith asks another Slayer what that was about, and she explains that the rest of them have decided to quit the Slayer life, as they all want different things and it's their own choice now. They all depart, telling her they'll keep in touch.
Spike asks Alasdair how to get Angel back to himself, and Alasdair says it won't be easy. They restrain Angel at the Giles residence to keep him from hurting anyone, and talk about what kind of magical item they need to get the extra soul out of him. Alasdair says the "Essuary" would work, but it needs to be retrieved from some demons called Enders that eat souls. Spike isn't keen on facing them, but Faith is driven, and the two of them gear up and start cutting their way through the swarm of Enders at the cemetery. Spike has a close call, leading Faith to realize what it would mean if one of the demons ate his soul, but he says he'll take his chances and the two of them start talking about their love lives. She turns down his offer of a roll in the hay on account of him not being over Buffy. She compares him to Angel, which gives him a rage burst that helps him cut down the remainder of Enders, and they leave with the Essuary.
At the Giles house, Spike is also turned down by the Fairweather sisters, and then is sent to guard Angel while Faith, Alasdair, and the sisters sit together to perform a ritual to remove Giles' soul using the Essuary and their collective connections to him. Meanwhile, Spike, feeling very surly, starts ranting at the comatose Angel about their respective histories with Buffy - he first blames Buffy for not wanting him once he got his soul, then blames himself, then wants to know how Angel got over her. At this point, the spell kicks in and Angel answers, "When I do, I'll let you know." As the two of them go back upstairs, Angel texts Spike with a "thank you", which turns out to be Harmony's number. The next morning, while Faith is grilling Angel about the resurrection plan and he's still not telling, they find her showering with Spike, who merrily follows her naked into the basement.
With all possible humility, I must begin by pointing back to an opinion that I stated in an earlier review and now withdraw: not all Lewis Carroll references are stale. There is at least one Wonderland relic that still brightens the public domain, and that one is the adjective vorpal. If you haven't yet added that to your geek vocabulary, do so now and then celebrate by decapitating something (preferably monstrous).
So that was a squee moment, and that's worth something to me. I like a comic writer who knows the landscape. Christos Gage also has a couple weaknesses that are becoming more evident - this is the second time I'm remembering that he brings in a seemingly dire situation and then solves it within a couple pages by introducing extra McGuffins - but his style has a lot of heart and I'm pretty sure that all in all, that's what matters to me.
And the characters. Ah, those characters, they matter to all of us so very much, don't they? After the last issue I didn't give myself a whole lot of time to think about what I had just read before I went on a lurk-a-thon through Whedonesque and a couple of my other favorite discussion places, so my impressionable mind went and did most of its thinking about what others were thinking instead of what I was. Unsurprisingly, the uproar was mostly centered around Spike and his portrayal. Too shallow, wasn't showing his famed evolution, would never have slept with Harmony, etc. Also unsurprisingly, I don't really give a crap about who Spike sleeps with as long as it's not Buffy, but I also noticed I was feeling some affection in my heart for ol' Darkplace, and it wasn't just because I was getting some lols at his expense.
I like when Spike is shallow. I like it precisely because that's not the whole portrait of his character. He's also brave, reckless, shrewd, funny, romantic, vulnerable, destructive, and needy. He flashes between his various personae so quickly that it's hard to know who he really is inside, and one assumes that's as true for him as it is for anyone else. I'm deliberately avoiding the words "out of character" here because in real life, that's not a thing. All of us act differently according to all kinds of factors in any given moment, and it's not because someone is writing us poorly, it's because we're complex and hell, we have moods. Spike might not be showing his best side when he decides to go for the easy lay, and it might not be a side he shows very often, but I don't think it's true that he'd never sleep with Harmony again. His shallowness is part of his depth, and if you love a vampire with a soul you've got to love a paradox; I don't know why anyone would want to throw away that layer of the character.
Angel's weirdness at the end gave me a little more trouble, because his list of personae is different than Spike's. I'm not saying he's never shallow, but when he is, it usually follows the pattern of petty concerns about his hair and how others perceive him. I really didn't think he'd be the type to play matchmaker for two people who didn't have any potential for a happy long-lasting relationship. Also, all I could think was, "But Faith was right!" Wasn't Faith right? Wasn't she like totally the voice of reason out of everyone who said anything in this issue? I was all looking forward to seeing some sign that Spike was over Buffy and then getting the payoff of him in bed with Faith and feeling great about it. I'm still confused. Does anyone ever really get over anyone by having casual sex with an ex-turned-friends-with-benefits?
I'll leave myself confused for this one and not worry about it, but I think the reasoning I'm happiest with is that Angel knows Spike better than I do. Whatever the logic behind it, he had a hunch that this was what his friend needed, and according to the text, he was right. So. Thanks, bro? As for Harmony, I initially felt a little insulted on her behalf, but when you look at who she is now and how she and Spike are acting in the last few pages - this is exactly what she wanted. If anything, she probably sees this as some kind of victory over the one who kept getting away. She's evil and she's messed up and she has no soul, but I can't see her as a victim here, and since Spike isn't either, I can't figure out where to launch my objection.
(But just because it's a nice thought, I imagine the off-panel part of this tryst beginning with Spike realizing who he was talking to and instantly apologizing for the way he's treated her. Profusely and sincerely, with no ulterior motives. Harmony, tickled to the bone, waves it off and tells him they should make up in person, hint hint.)
What saves this plot choice more than anything, for me, is Gage's interest in the relationship between Spike and Angel. In the interviews he's said a lot about how entertaining their dynamic together is, and we can all agree it's the truth, but beneath that, there's so much history and emotion firing between them and I think that's being used here to great effect. I loved their argument when Spike first arrived. On one level it was definitely the Betty & Veronica joke from the cover, but for the first time I started to notice that the two of them are actually cooperating when they fight. They give each other ample openings for jabs, trade off on who's got the higher ground, and don't hold back the information that the other wants or needs to know. Spike knows he just sounds silly when he brags about being "resourceful". Angel knows he's being holier-than-thou when he talks about taking responsibility for his mistakes. Both of them know better than to bring up Buffy. But they understand (subconsciously, sure) that they need this, the excuse to get angry with someone strong enough to handle it. If this sounds like slash shipping, it's not - I'm still in the camp that believes "that one time" was just that one time, and neither of them desired more. Sometimes, relationships with zero or minimal sexuality are the most interesting.
What's next for Spike? Well, my hopes for Spike/Faith haven't died (I'm sure you're stunned). I think I heard that Spike's going back to Buffy's book after this, which is a logical end to his journey. Aside from the way he practically looked through the fourth wall in A&F and informed the audience that his own miniseries was pointless, he's made a pretty good job of putting his attachment to Buffy to bed permanently, but it'll require a few closing remarks from both characters. I wish Buffy's own emotional progress had been as clear, but let's not give up on her yet.
No danger here of giving up on Faith. The girl's on fire, characterization-wise. Whatever happens at the conclusion of this series, I can't wait to see what she does next. (Hopefully not dies? It's so hard to tell these days.) In a way she really has become the new Buffy, which is fascinating in light of how her character was introduced way back when. Her relationship with Angel might be the major difference, and that in itself is a joy to behold. Catch that moment when she tells Spike he's more like Angel than a bad boy now: coming from Faith, this is high praise, even though she's using it to explain why she doesn't want to sleep with him. In spite of everything, she still believes that Angel is inherently good and that he's reasonable, a few notable lapses notwithstanding. The recent revelation that he entered this game in order to save Giles' soul must have done worlds to repair her faith in him, huh?
But actually - when Faith blew up at Angel, she said she no longer owed him anything, indicating that balancing out her moral debt was the only reason she was on his side in the first place. Honestly, much as I value their history together, I would have considered her paid up much, much earlier than this, but the point is that this is the wrong reason to support someone in the first place. Personal gratitude or grievance aren't a substitute for informed moral choices. Faith has always had a tendency to view relationships as transactions, and she's given a lot of herself to people who made her feel good. Now that she's taking an impartial view of someone whom her heart wants to accept and finding he's still worth her love, I think she's finally growing up.
So of course this happens right before the Slayers' exit. (Usually when a character like Nadira announces that she's leaving and storms off the page, I expect to see her show up in an adjoining book, but I'm not sure that will happen here, or what purpose she'll serve if it does. Whatever, I won't really miss her.) I think it was ladydorotea who pointed out that Marianne had been playing the role for the Slayers that Faith should have been, and I thought, damn, that's completely crushing and completely true. Faith did care about these girls, she was a good leader when she was there, and no doubt she made some kind of difference in their lives, but she prioritized Angel when she knew that she had signed up to support the lonely troops - and she had the resources for it, too, which she couldn't use because she had to keep her vampire hidden from them. Again, this is Faith living Buffy's life, being battered into shape so that no victory is without its sacrifice.
It's great to know that Angel really has been motivated by more than just a crackpot redemption scheme. Without his interference, Giles would have belonged to Eyghon forever, so in a way, Angel has already more than cancelled out his murder of Giles, though that's just one crime in a huge pool of Twilight. (Yes, I realize that cancelling out a murder is a really dodgy way to look at it, but if Giles had lived another thirty years and then died of natural causes, he would have had one miserable eternity to look forward to. The mythology we're working under here does make a difference in matters of life and death.) What irks me is that I can't think of a reason that Angel should have concealed the truth of it from everyone for so long, aside from dramatic effect - plot hole, innit? I'm no less irked by his refusal to come out with the rest of the plan. We don't have to know, but he better have a good reason for keeping it from Faith.
I can't wait to see Whistler again. Seriously.
For the Ripper flashbacks, I don't think I have a word of criticism. Since Giles and Angel are more or less my two favorite Buffyverse characters, I never get tired of checking out their similarities, and the way Giles' mistakes and his guilt are shown and discussed is like a brand new look at Angel's age-old character theme. The settings are fun, the supporting characters (yay Battle Gran!) are fantastic, and Rebekah Isaacs is a goddess among us, though I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself there. Anyway, my favorite bit was Ripper and Edna, post-disco fight, talking about how the deal with Eyghon doesn't have to mean that Ripper's life is worthless. (Also made me desperately miss the early seasons, and from now on when I rewatch I'm definitely going to do so in light of Giles' new backstory pieces.) Angel's life wasn't worthless either - he had a lot of power, and it wasn't his right to waste it when it could have been used to help others.
One truly excellent line was from the late Giles himself in #19: "What the denizens of Hell refuse to accept is that damnation is, at some point, a choice." I think this holds true for every character in the verse, and, for all we know, real life. Following it up with a punch in the face was the essence of comic book wisdom; when words have impact, we want it to be literal.
Those expressions on Angel's face during those panels were Giles', by the way. See, I try to talk about other stuff, but as soon as I look back at a page to check something, all I can think about is how amazing the artist is. Her Angel just gets better and better. Her interpretation of a young, punked-out Tony Head was a vision to behold and I hope none of us is feeling at all embarrassed about still having a crush on Ripper. I like the way she's using a lot of heavy shading in Spike's face; he's not the same without his sharp features and his light-vs.-darkness theme shown visually. Lots of vivid detail in the backgrounds, and a lot of attention given to minor characters, like the Slayers, to make them each unique. There was one panel that was just cars zooming down the highway, and I found myself lingering on it just because I liked the composition. I am convinced that there could not have been a better choice of artist to illustrate this series.
So, is this four times longer than my average review? I doubt it, but it has to be long enough. Easter, April Fool's, the GoT premier, and only now am I popping up on LJ again - it's a sad state of affairs. Hope I can make it up to you, somehow, someday. :)