Wednesday, August 08, 2007

My Review Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's 8x05: "The Chain"

Written by Joss Whedon
Artwork by Paul Lee

Buffy Decoy (re being Buffy): “You know ironically I’m probably even less famous because of the name.”

If you’re one of those people who hated episodes in a particular series where nearly all the cast are absent and some random character is taking charge, then this issue might not be for you. Still though those kinds of episode can sometimes be preferable to an even lazier clip show.

In the UK Doctor Who not once but twice did episodes where the Time Lord and his companion were isolated from the adventure while a character was influenced into carrying the story.

The first episode “Love And Monsters” left a nasty taste with viewers but this year the sublime “Blink” kept them gripped. It’s kinda hard to determine how some people are going to take to a Buffy-lite issue. I’m not even sure how I totally feel about this despite the multiple readings of it.

Anyways things begin underground with a demon named Yamanh of Hoht holding the lifeless body of Buffy Summers over his head and gleefully telling his fellow demons that he is responsible for her death and that they should worship him, which the buggers seem more than happy to comply with.

It’s quickly established however that the woman who has died at the hands of Yamanh, while she may look like Miss Summers, is only a decoy. Yup remember in the first issue when Buffy mentioned there being two girls posing as her? For this standalone issue, Joss Whedon has decided to focus on the poor girl underground who evidently got the shitty end of the bargain.

Cutting to a brief scene where some boring football jock asks the girl with no name who the hell she is we then see our decoy underground with a sword in her hand and a fairy warning her to leave. What are the odds that a fairy (which strictly speaking is more akin to Charmed than Buffy) is going to be able to deter the girl pretending to be Buffy Summers?

The odds are none because this girl seems determined to take Yamanh down even though she’s told in no uncertain terms that he’s more likely to annihilate her than she is with him. There’s also a tender moment when the fairy tells Fake Buffy she loves her which is the only words of intimacy and confidence bestowed to the girl throughout the entire issue.

However because the time line is a little David Lynch this time we then cut to the girl before she was activated as a Slayer in high school moaning with her mates about having to share detention because one of the girls in their class is more popular with the boys than the Decoy and her two friends.

The dialogue in this particular scene sparkles and some of the pithy putdowns the Decoy bestows to her blonde mate would make the likes of High School Cordelia Chase proud. It’s nice that after the rather clunky lines in the previous issue the ones here are a vast improvement.

While comparing fascism to detention, the boring jock from a few pages ago confronts the girls and when the Decoy makes a crack at him over underwear she suddenly spasms and then we see Giles talking about “the chain”.

Giles’ appearance here is as always great but if you’re expecting a bigger role than the one he has had so far you may be in for a letdown but the spasm showing the Decoy being activated as a Slayer is pretty satisfying. Then there’s the bleakness of Rona saying “there is no truth”. Last time I checked The X-Files would beg to differ.

One of the most inspired moments of the comics so far was in Issue Three when we got that delirious sex fantasy with Buffy, Angel and Spike. This issue pulls off a quite cute and funny advert with Andrew and Vi who play husband and wife in a crafty attempt of getting new girls to come to them.

I guess with over 2000 girls currently activated, it’s not a bad idea and anyone else oblivious to the true meaning of the advert would probably dismiss it or upload it onto YouTube for fun. It’s also a nice and sweet way of having Andrew and reintroducing Vi. Does that mean Kennedy, Wood and Faith are soon to come?

Naturally the Decoy knows the meaning behind the ad and quickly she discovers she’s a Chosen One along with other girls who are trained by Rona, briefly mentored by Giles and some unknown lady but really it’s the girl’s soon to be thankless task of pretending to be Buffy that is once again highlighted.

Soon enough she’s back in the underground warning a demon that Yamanh had better be wary of Buffy’s imminent descent on his party while further stuff flashbacked to her still passed out in school and patrolling with a group of other slayers.

The high school stuff seems routinely pointless at this rate so it’s her team up with the other slayers and her need to adapt her newfound skills when she gets bit by a vampire during patrols while others are congratulating the punk slayer from Issue 2. Still at least one girl compliments the Decoy on having her back.

Then there’s the recruitment process itself as Rona tells the Decoy to seriously dye her dark hair into blonde and to maintain her new hair colour. When Rona mentions to the Decoy that no-one above ground can know she’s posing as Buffy and that no-one underground can know she’s faking it, you kinda feel like you already know that and that the girl isn’t stupid enough to actually get it.

Seeing Rona in a somewhat more authorative role only goes to demonstrate how so many of the characters have grown since Season Seven. Both Xander and Andrew have become more or less watchers so Rona dishing out advice to the girl and briefly explaining to a degree why she was saddled with the task of having to be Buffy is interesting.

However as good as the scene is, you can almost feel that with Giles and the actual Buffy instead of Rona that dramatically it would’ve been better. Yamanh and The Immortal may be dangerous but are they that dangerous that they really justify having not one but two girls pretending to be Buffy? From what I’ve seen, I don’t really think they are.

The Decoy herself goes from snarky in the playground, emotionally empowered when meeting fellow slayers to feeling completely nihilistic as she descends to the demonic underground all by herself which is another thing that doesn’t make sense if Yamanh is supposed to be so dangerous.

The girl raises some sensible questions as to why was she was picked to fake it as Buffy. Did Rona, Giles and that lady think she was physically capable and mentally strong to deal with a danger like Yamanh or were there thoughts more dismissive, so that her fear she was selected because she’s potential cannon fodder is justified?

I really can’t see that Giles and Rona would be that callous in their thoughts but then again sending a slayer underground pretending to be Buffy without any immediate backup also seems like a reckless plan. The real Buffy didn’t descend down the Hellmouth in “Chosen” by herself so why does this poor girl have to go it alone then?

Even before she has to face Yamanh there’s still having to pass a test set by a Slug race which included her being violated by slugs so to speak. Luckily the scene doesn’t come off as cheesy which if this was a televised episode then it might have done and there’s an amusing comment by the fairies in regards to the Decoy’s acquired BO from the slugs.

Of course the humour then has to subside so that Fake Buffy can actually coerce the warring slugs and fairies to put their petty differences aside and band together in order to take Yamanh. Her speech sounds pretty similar to the more dreary “live together, die alone” speeches from Lost.

The slugs take convincing but with them on board, there seems to be a perfect order for the Decoy and the good demons of the underworld to succeed before our last high school flashback has Decoy Buffy saving the jock from getting whacked by a truck and then him wondering how she’s survived getting whacked by it.

I’m not really sure why these scenes are necessary because post snark fest on the underwear and spasm, nothing seems to add up to the overall plot. I’m going to assume some general padding but would Joss be that complacent with a standalone? Surely those scenes have to have some relevance.

Underground and after much talking the Buffy Decoy and Yamanh are finally getting into the swing of their fight and sadly for our main character it more or less involves seeing her getting mauled by the demon before he delivered the final blow that kills and she motions about her feelings of connecting and wondering whether or not she actually made a difference in the ongoing fight between good versus evil. Before her death she notes the unlikely scenario of people knowing who she is but takes pride in knowing herself.

Also in “The Chain”

There are three covers for this issue. The one I have is the Decoy pulling her mask off and the other two include the Decoy descending on Yamanh’s nest and a homage to Uncle Sam.

Buffy Decoy: “Eggs?”
Fairy: “It’s not fatal and I didn’t do it.”

This is third issue in a row in which the swear words are bleeped out. If Joss can’t write them in properly then he shouldn’t use them.

Buffy Decoy: “You’ve really never touched a boy, have you?”
Blonde Girl: “I wouldn’t touch Mike Billenger without a Hazmat suit. Is that what they’re called?”

Andrew: “That’s right! Just dial 1-800-Chosen-1 to meet girls who have this alarming yet fun condition.”
Vi: “I will! Now I won’t be the only girl breaking vases.”

Some of the Slayers from Tales Of The Slayers as well Nikki Wood and The First Slayer popped up here. We also got The Master as well.

Buffy Decoy: “I listen. I don’t have a choice, way I’ve been and the truth is, it’s not cheesy like the commercial. It’s actually amazing.”

Slayer: “You should totally keep the sword.”
Simone: “Rather have a gun.”

Where exactly was this Buffy Decoy located? I kinda assumed she’s American and possibly in the Californian region.

Buffy Decoy: “You want me to be Buffy?”
Rona: “Sounds a lot more glam than it is. We’d be sending you underground. Under actual ground.”

Fairy 1: “This stench? We won’t abide it.”
Fairy 2: “We will scrub you with briars for a hundred days.”
Buffy Decoy: “Yeah that’s not a comfort. Now everybody stop talking a minute.”

The Slug king took the language of the last person who failed his test and one of the fairies planted eggs in the Decoy’s ears.

Slug King: “You are throwing us to the wolves?”
Buffy Decoy: “The wolves are here but you have each other. You have a will to survive.”

Buffy Decoy: “In the moments that matter even our own names are just sounds that people make to tell us apart. What we are isn’t that. The real questions run deeper. Can I fight? Did I help? Did I do for my sisters? My comrades, children and slimy slug clan.”

Two notable thing in this issue included Joss Whedon posing for an Equality Now advertisement and a dedication to Janie Kleinman at the end.

Buffy Decoy: “I tried to feel it. I tried to face the darkness like a woman and I don’t need anymore than that. You don’t have to remember me. You don’t even know who I am but I do.”

Chronology: It’s unspecified but I would presume sometime during or after “The Long Way Home Part 4”.

In this issue’s defence, “The Chain” could’ve been a lot worse a standalone and while we had to wait two months for something more low key, there are some interesting questions that do need to be looked at in regards to the training methods of the Scoobies and one is whether or not having girls pretend to be Buffy is such a good idea. Judging on what happened here, I would suggest not.

Rating: 7 out of 10.