All appears lost. Whistler sends Nash and Pearl after the orb, which is rolling around at the feet of a lot of bemagicked Londoners. Angel sends Faith after the same and attacks Whistler himself. Faith gets a good hit on Nash's head with her mace, but Pearl eye-beams her off and the siblings have a touching embrace as they gaze at the chaos below. Alasdair and Giles take shelter in a convenience store with a teenage girl who's grown some pretty cool-looking fairy wings; the Fairweather sisters follow. They all decide that the priority is to find the orb, and seeing that the runes are protecting them from transformation, head out to search, Giles and Alasdair in one direction and the sisters in another.
Whistler and Angel fight on the rooftops while rehashing their quarrel again; Angel is focused on making Whistler claim his accountability for the lives lost and admit that this was all about himself and not the greater good. It seems to be having an effect on him, but then he throws Angel off and keeps attacking, fortunately getting himself stuck in the chase and allowing Angel to get away. Nadira, a charred mess, somehow gets up again, just as Faith is talking about how she was right about Nash and Pearl (and continuing to fight them).
Lavinia and Sophronia begin to explore, noting that it's like the Blitz, with the elite playing their power games. They can't find the orb, and decide that they'll be of more use helping the victims on a personal level, so they walk around advising and comforting transformed people they find. Whistler knocks Angel down and goes off to find Pearl and Nash attacking a cornered but still fighting Faith. They've lost track of the orb - Giles and Alasdair now have it. Giles says they must release its energy in a controlled manner, and that it will be dangerous, so they argue about which one of them should risk himself. They end up discarding their rune stones and beginning to do it together, but are interrupted by Nash, who grabs the orb and flies up with it. Angel and Faith can't get to him, but Nadira is on the roof, and she plunges a dagger into his back.
He shakes her off and she falls to her death, but Faith launches a renewed attack on Pearl, then jumps up and kills Nash with a blow to the head with her mace. Pearl, grief-stricken, emits a green blast around her and flies off. The orb falls to the ground, and Faith holds it to Nadira, but it doesn't change anything, and she relinquishes it to Giles, telling him "Do what you gotta do." Whistler zooms back in, Angel in tow, and grabs the orb from them, saying it's about to blow. Angel grabs his wrist and quotes Whistler's line about the big moments showing who you are, and it ends with the two of them in a face-off.
So I don't want it to be, but the thought that keeps recurring for me since I read this issue is that something's missing. In Season 8, all the big stuff went down in the penultimate issue, and the last one (and oddly, far superior one) was aftermath. It's a pretty good way to structure a comic series, and I'm not sure why they're not doing it here. A good chunk of the content for this issue was combat and discussion of everyone's intentions, and we've already seen enough of the like that it could be pared down to make room for the climactic moment. The merit of the cliffhanger isn't worth considering, because the moment after a big twist or reveal is always a cliffhanger in itself. Why do we have to wait until the very last minute for The Thing to Happen?
It's not that there's only one Thing which can Happen, of course. Two characters died in the issue, and they've both been around since A&F #1, and that's kind of antithetical to boring. One of them was a villain and the other I had thought was already dead in the last issue, so the impact wasn't huge, but we're looking for more than straight-up emotional impact. The worst thing a writer can do when killing a character, I think, is to make a vicious scene of it that shocks the audience completely, and then act as if it hadn't happened after a short time. That's what happened with Jesse in the first two episodes of the show, so very long ago, and fans are still justifiably irritated about it. Jenny Calendar, on the other hand, was done perfectly - her death scene hurts, but it's also absolutely pivotal to the plot, and even after the relatively short and early time she had on screen, the characters still talk about her.
Nadira seemed to be somewhere in between. Part of the problem was that nobody was that interested in her in the first place, but I don't think I have any complaints about the manner in which she was actually offed. She made a difference, not because someone saw her die and was motivated to act (although that happened too), but because she kept fighting hard enough to change the outcome in one small way. Her final words about never giving up are at first glance bland and cliched, but in the context of her own hopeless struggle for revenge, it's kind of moving to know that she did one thing right. She never lost sight of her goal and wouldn't be talked out of doing what she thought needed to be done. If she had, she wouldn't have been there to stab Nash at the crucial moment and kinda save the world at the same time.
Somewhere in there is a parallel to Angel and Whistler. Angel's spent the entire season focused on resurrecting Giles despite discouragement from everyone he knew, and eventually he did it - got his one thing right, just like Nadira, but in the meantime he's been neglecting a larger conflict, just like Nadira, and now he could easily end up dead just like Nadira. Whistler, on the other hand, believes the whole problem is that Buffy talked Angel out of the original plan, and that he himself is the one who never gives up, which is true enough, but misguided nevertheless. He may be willing to sacrifice himself to get magic back into the world using the glowy disco ball method, but he's unlikely to be successful anyway. Whether he was wrong all along about the right thing to do or whether his only real mistake was in leaving Angel alive to thwart him, keeping his eyes on the prize hasn't worked. "Never give up" means something different from all three of them.
Here's a hastily concocted theory to tie them together: "What You Want, Not What You Need." Angel wanted Twilight, Whistler wanted balance; neither needed it, and they failed to get it. Nadira needed to slay one real enemy to give her identity meaning before she died (Angel was the one she only wanted to kill). What this leads to, if I'm on the right track with it, is that Angel really did need to bring Giles back. Giles himself says nobody needs him, but I think there's a chance, once everything is laid out on the table, that he would agree that Angel needed it rather than wanted it. And of course we can't forget that he needed to be freed from Eyghon. For now, I'm going with the message that one must never give up on what's necessary, though we should always reevaluate what we want. I'm willing to replace it if a better message comes along, though.
As for Nash's death, I'm mostly curious about how it will affect the finale. Will Pearl return to be smote down, or did her departure mean that this was kind of a two-for-one deal? I think it would be kind of neat for her to be around in the next season, greatly weakened but still plotting some kind of revenge. Maybe she could team up with Amy! Hey, where has Amy been?
Faith didn't dish out much of the unexpected, but she's been very consistently noble: fighting hard, showing compassion for friends, and accepting things as they are even when they hurt. I think she's reaching the peak of her character development, insofar as that ever happens for any character. This is the Faith that should be, the Slayer who's at peace with herself and cares about the right things, who endures a lot but has the strength to keep going. If she's around in Season 10, she'll be mentoring someone who needs it, and her transformation will be complete. Also she's kickass with that mace.
Alasdair and Giles got their noble scene in, too. I like that they both wanted to be the one to destroy the orb and they both had the same reasons for it, one selfless reason and one personal reason. Also, given the logical side to both men, I get the impression that their compromise was less about compromise and more about resolving an unresolvable conflict in a desperate hurry. Won't be surprised if Alasdair kicks it in the last issue, though.
My favorite part was Vinnie and Sophie. No, seriously! Their dialogue was oddly awkward and repetitive earlier in the issue, for some reason, but when they figure out that they should be playing to their own strengths instead of ineffectively trying to find the orb, they both become the best that they can be - brave, kind, savvy, funny, and still totally in character. The best that they can be isn't perfect, of course. They've led extraordinarily selfish and reckless lives, and indirectly, they've probably hurt a lot of people. That doesn't switch off after one firm decision to do some good, and there's no sign of repentance about their past from them yet. It's also a little bit of an eyebrow-raiser to see Sophronia decrying the elite playing their power games - she can be justifiably angry at anyone who starts a war without considering its effect on the powerless, but if this is the first time she's looking for the source of the trouble in the world instead of trying to escape its consequences, it's hard not to look at her as an elite wannabe.
Be that as it may, I was delighted to see Lavinia coax an exploding kid into self-control with a cute little cultural stereotype quip, and to see Sophronia calm the werewolf with a cute little furry joke. I wish it could have gone on for a few more pages. I know I've been all about avoiding redundant scenes, but there's so much potential for variety in the afflictions that the Londoners are enduring, and how a couple of unusually gifted women could help them cope. I think the worst one we saw (aside from the group of humans melting together into a singular blob, because oy, what a nightmare) was the child growing spider legs and his mother unable to go to him when he needed her most, because she was on fire. The visuals of the mass mutation, as they appear in comic format, are too out there to get much emotional reaction from me, but there are bits here and there that send a chill down my spine.
Finally we've got the man himself, Angel. I think most of his stance was covered in his earlier arguments with Whistler, but at least he seems to have reached a point where he feels confident with the path he's chosen. Frankly I would have thought it too risky to try grabbing Whistler by the horns and making him look at the destruction. Buffyverse always gotta go with the last chance to stop the Big Bad by talking. Now it looks like we're down to the last resort, which is apparently to shove the orb into the back of Whistler's head. I have no idea why this should work. I have no idea what's going to happen in the final issue. I hope it is very, very interesting.
I also hope that Rebekah Isaacs saw this issue as a lot of extremely hard work, but also a non-stop bucket of fun. Pretty much everything was in there, wasn't it? There's even a new skinless guy to replace Warren.
And of course I've been writing this review for so long that the final issue is out in less than a week. I'm going to try to get my Buffy review up before then, but probably won't, so I might not be right there with you for the finale. (I'm so close at this point that I just can't stop without doing the last few reviews for the season.) I'll be reading it bright and early, though!