Note: So, this was going to be the first section of my 39 review, and now it's its own post. I'm pretty bad at this. I'm planning on having shorter thoughts about everybody else in another post coming soon.
I'll also admit that this isn't proofread, and I deleted some things and moved things around, so it's probably not as good as I'd like. OH WELL. Have at it.
So for 39, the Jeanty cover nails this one. This is Giles’ story. The big one. The wow finish. The Chen cover is essential too, because it’s Buffy’s story too, and it’s also Angel’s; and it’s Willow’s and Xander’s. But it’s Giles who I want to talk about, and everything else seems to stem from him in this issue. All the other majors will continue into season nine, unless Joss and Scott pull a fast one in the coda (which isn’t impossible). Before reading this issue, I was very sceptical that Giles could die in a way that would leave me satisfied with his arc this season; I thought that he had been too far backgrounded. But this issue pulled together a lot of threads in his story this season. I watched Lies My Parents Told Me today with one of my housemates, and a few other things clicked. As with the rest of the cast, his story this season really is based on his story in the last.
Since we first met him in Welcome to the Hellmouth, Giles has had four primary motivators, I’d argue: the world, Buffy, his own personal life, and his other quasi-pupils, in approximately that order. His Achilles’ heel has generally been his blindness, most obviously and comically on display in the masterpiece Something Blue. Some of it is from his Watcher training. Some of it is from love. Some of it is from a desire to avoid the dark inside himself, or the dark in others. And some of the blindness is to deal with the fact that the four motivators are frequently in conflict.
One of the key functions of a Watcher is to keep slayers in line, and prevent them from doing damage to the human world. In the TV series, this mostly manifested as different forms of subjugation, a hierarchy that Buffy was always meant to break out of, and Giles would gradually become enlightened enough to let go of. But there were hints in the series that it might not always be so. In the episode notes for Inca Mummy Girl, Strudel pointed out a parallel between Watchers and the so-called Guardian designed to keep Ampata the Mummy Princess from rising up and killing people. In season five, as Buffy heads closer and closer to the dark, Giles smothers Ben, a human with a (female!) monster inside, to protect the world (and Buffy) from her, another variant on the Watcher-killing-“slayer” theme. The most explicit case of this aspect of the Watchers’ Council’s role is Faith’s turn to the dark side, which led to the Council intervening to help save civilians from the threat she posed. Unfortunately, Giles’ laissez-faire attitude towards Faith, Wesley’s inexperience, and the Council goons’ (from Who Are You/Sanctuary) incompetence combined to make the Council appear less than prepared to deal with the actual situation.
Giles generally tries to do well by Buffy. But his Watcher training, and in particular the aspects related to this subjugation, comes up frequently. He tries to stop her from having a personal life in much of season one; it’s ineffective. But a greater betrayal is in Helpless, when he drugs her and nearly leads to her being killed as part of the cruel Cruciamentum (and some have speculated that the reason for the Cruciamentum is to kill slayers before they become to powerful, not to help them become stronger). He goes back on it, eventually. But it’s a very brief distillation of the fact, not always clear to Buffy or even to Giles, that his priorities are not the same as hers, and what is good for the world for a slayer to do is not the same as what is good for the slayer. Giles’ frequent decisions to leave Buffy to face her battles alone, at first very literally (he says in season one that he hasn’t the skill to fight) and then more figuratively as he abandons her briefly in The Freshman and then more permanently in season six, are related to a sink-or-swim tough love attitude that seems to regard it as intuitive that slayers, if they are worth their salt, should be able to function with minimal guidance. (Both of these negative traits of Giles’ extend not just to Buffy but her whole circle. He lets Willow et al. fight vampires alone without apparently training them, over the summer between Becoming and Anne. And when he leaves a suicidal depressed Buffy, he also leaves an increasingly power-mad, unstable Willow.)
The issue of a Watcher’s role in curtailing the threat posed by a slayer subtly informs two defining periods of Buffy and Giles’ relationship in the show, which directly inform season eight (and this issue). The first centres around Angel in season two. The second centres around Spike in season seven. The two are somewhat antitheses of each other, in-series. Season eight synthesizes them.
Giles and Buffy’s vampires
Buffy starts dating a vampire, Angel. In season two, Giles mostly turns a blind eye to the possible consequences of Buffy’s relationship with Angel. He sees the maudlin poetry of a vampire in love with a slayer, and doesn’t pry into Buffy’s personal life. He misses that Angel, whatever else he is, is centuries-old and dating a young, impressionable teenager, and that this is dangerous and inappropriate. He seems mildly concerned with everyone else in Surprise when Angel indicates Buffy was having trouble sleeping. He could, if he were careful and attentive, see that this was going to lead to disaster, if the form of disaster--the release of Angelus--was something no one could prepare for. But he doesn’t.
When Angel goes evil, Giles hacks off his personal life with Jenny because she, in principle, could have given some warning about Angel’s curse. But despite the new threat that Angel poses, he avoids putting too much pressure on Buffy to slay Angel. In fact, he even avoids giving her the tools she might need to deal with him. In BBB he gives her a generic warning that Angel might do something over Valentine’s Day, but Buffy has to force him to give her more. In Passion he tells her, essentially, to ignore Angel until he goes away. He tells her she can’t be controlled by her passions. It’s after this that Giles suffers the most painful consequences of Buffy’s inner circle. Angel kills Jenny, and Buffy apologizes for not having killed him sooner. Later Giles ends up being tortured by Angel.
It’s all very poignant, because he has been so forgiving of Buffy’s transgression (she acted rashly, but he didn’t judge her), because if Buffy had managed to kill Angel he wouldn’t suffer so. But I think there’s a strong element here of classical tragedy. Giles, as Buffy’s watcher, was supposed to keep her aware of the threat vampires posed. He failed to do so with Angel. Further, his job is to keep slayers devoted to protecting innocent lives, over their emotional needs. He failed to do this as well. Some of it is affection for Buffy. But some of it is purely blindness: Giles could have seen the threat Angel posed, but didn’t. Like Buffy, he chose not to, and as the adult in her life he pays a large part of the price.
So fast forward to season seven. Buffy is emotionally invested in another vampire whom she’s not dating. Spike, like Angel, has a soul; like Angel, he has a “trigger” which could render him dangerous again. In Angel’s case it was perfect happiness, which Angel can in principle control; in Spike’s case it’s a song, which he can’t. When Giles’ attempt to neutralize the threat Spike poses by removing his trigger apparently fails, he conspires with Wood to kill Spike while Giles leads Buffy away (emphasizing how Spike is under Buffy‘s active protection). Giles frames killing Spike as a decision for the greater good, and as a lesson for the young, inexperienced Buffy, distracting her by running around cemeteries (which Giles states explicitly in 38 she no longer does: “You’re not that girl.”). He compares Spike unfavourably to Angel, mentioning how Angel had the sense to leave Buffy, and Spike lacked this. Buffy eventually realizes he’s stalling her. Giles had made some effort to convince Buffy of the threat Spike posed. But ultimately, it amounts to about three conversations before he throws up his hands and agrees to act with Wood, before he decides that talking sense into Buffy is hopeless and just goes behind her back.
What’s crucial here is that, in contrast to his reluctance to intervene in Buffy and Angel’s romance, even in season three (after Revelations), Giles first argues with Buffy, and then goes behind her back. I think a good part of the reason Giles acts strongly here when he didn’t in season three is because of the different nature of Angel and Spike’s triggers (Spike has absolutely no control over his, whereas Angel can presumably exercise restraint not to be happy), as well as the more ubiquitous threat posed by the First. But his mention of Angel in LMPTM suggests there may be some transference. In season three, Buffy was probably his number one priority, so much so that he eventually lost his position as Watcher; I think this is part of what prevents him from taking a hardline stance against her and Angel. But in season seven he is more distant from Buffy (having been somewhat, though not totally, estranged via his departure in season six) and is more committed to acting as an agent of the Watchers’ Council, saving the world--he is, after all, one of the few remaining Watchers alive. So much of his anger and disappointment about Buffy continuing her relationship with Angel when she knew the potential consequences comes out here, in what seems to Giles to be an analogous situation. In fact Buffy isn’t making quite the same mistake, exactly (though her letting Spike wander around while still potentially trigger-able is, I think, a genuine problem); Spike sought his soul and was genuinely improving in Buffy’s presence, whereas Angel, cursed with a soul, didn’t start to become a hero until he moved away from Buffy. The Buffy/Spike quasi-relationship in season seven is ultimately much healthier than the Buffy/Angel quasi-relationship in season three, as well. But Giles isn’t in a very good position to see this. Still, it’s to Giles that Buffy utters her last line of the series, telling him that it’s Spike who saved the world.
Season Eight: The Return of Buffy/Angel
The long, winding road that leads to #39 passes through a reprise of season two and three. Buffy and Angel have sex, and the consequences are catastrophic. Buffy looks up to Angel after seeing the disastrous consequences of his actions (as in season three). She doesn’t kill him, though by all accounts she should do so (Willow points out that she should be staking him, in #34). In this very issue, Giles points out that Buffy won’t hold back in fighting Angel, going for the hurt and not the kill, despite the risks therein. And as in season two, it’s Giles who, of Buffy’s inner circle, suffers the greatest consequences. He moves in between Buffy and Angel, and is killed.
Retrospectively, we see that season eight has hinted that Buffy’s desires would end up hurting Giles. In Safe, former Watcher Duncan Fillworthe pointed out that slayers’ interests and human interests--in particular, Watchers’ interests--didn’t line up. He brings out Jenny Calendar as his trump card, the person who died because Buffy chose to sleep with Angel and to let him live. As Maggie mentioned elsewhere, Giles dies more or less the same way Jenny does, and more or less for the same reason: her inability to kill Angel. Instead of being tortured for trying to prevent Angel from destroying the world, he’s killed for it. Buffy’s terrible decision making ruins things for her Watcher. (Resonant, too, when you consider Giles as a symbol of Buffy’s intellect, qua Primeval/Restless.)
But then…it’s not quite that simple, is it? Note that Fillworthe’s bringing up Jenny came as he was trying to defend his hilariously on-the-nose strategy of killing lots and lots of slayers for his own benefit. His argument about Buffy hurting Giles isn’t all wrong, but it’s remarkably self-serving, and it’s in the midst of reminding us of the way Watchers sacrifice young women for the comfort of humanity at large, including themselves. And note that it wasn’t just Buffy’s bad decisions in season two, it was Giles’ as well. So in what way has Giles contributed to his eventual demise this season?
The Twilight Prophecy
In #34, it was revealed that Giles actually knew that it was a possibility that the Twilight prophecy--involving the creation of a new universe by a super powered slayer and a vampire mating--could come true. Not only did he know about it, but he was worried enough about it occurring that he actively sought out totems to kill Buffy, should he need to do so. And in this time, despite having Faith at his side and being in regular contact with several other members of the Scooby gang, not to mention Buffy herself, he said nothing.
In a big way, this maps onto his earlier decisions with the vamps in the series. Maybe he knew about the Twilight prophecy during the series, and Angel seems to imply that he does. If he did, it adds some extra resonance to Watchers’ desire to keep slayers subjugated; but really, it seems to make little sense that Giles would be as permissive of Buffy’s relationship with Angel if there were a specific prophecy about it ending the world. But as a commentary on Giles’ knowledge of the risks on slayer/vampire relations, it’s dead on. Giles should have known that Angel was dangerous, because he’s an older man and because he has a demon in him if not because his soul was detachable. But he realized nothing. And when he did try to communicate to Buffy the risk Spike posed, he gave up “reason” quickly and shifted to subterfuge, hoping to impart a lesson to Buffy on how she should behave.
Giles’ preparing for the possibility of killing Buffy, and withholding information about this, has been hinted at throughout the season. Vampmongs had a great post on it on Buffy forums (which Angearia was kind enough to link to). His first scene of the season is some rumblings on how the scales have tipped from many watchers and one slayer to the opposite, and he casually mentions the possibility that one of these slayers could even take down Buffy. But the real drama here is in No Future For You. NFFY is a bit of a trial run of many key elements of his preparation for Twilight. He finds a weapon (Faith) who can kill a slayer (Gigi) who is aligned with Twilight and the possible end of the world. Faith, midway through the mission, finds out about Gigi’s plans to kill Buffy, and presumes that this is the real reason for her mission--Buffy, not the world. Giles never (on page) confirms or denies to Faith that he is concerned about protecting Buffy’s life. But when Buffy calls, he seems surprised that she had been abducted, and then insists on leaving Buffy out of what he is doing, even as he asks for Willow’s help. My first assumption, when the issue came out, was that he was trying to protect Buffy from the darkness of his assassination attempt (and didn’t have any qualms about using murderers Faith or Willow that way). Now, knowing that he was planning on possibly killing Buffy, my guess is that Faith was right for the wrong reasons: this was about Buffy, just not about protecting her, but about finding a potential ally (in Faith) against Buffy, should the time come. That Giles considers killing Buffy, for the good of the world, maps onto the dark side of Watchers, personified in Fillworthe in Safe.
(As an aside, Giles’ mode of handling potential threats of those he cares about is reiterated when Buffy tells Giles about killing Willow in the future. He certainly doesn’t make any moves to tell Willow. And when Andrew confronts him about keeping the information to himself, and not apparently doing anything about it (in a way that foreshadows the shock and anger everyone has at Giles in 34), Giles simply rubs his glasses and concedes that Andrew’s right--they should investigate Willow. But, of course, not tell her.)
Note that Giles is really pained by cutting Buffy out, in No Future For You. He feels very contrite in Twilight for now having told anyone, as well. He obviously loves Buffy deeply when he sees her, and she forgives him, in Retreat. In 38, he gives a moving speech to her about how much she's grown. He's proud of her for how much she's accomplished as the leader of slayers, at the same time he has to prepare to move against her, should he need to.
So why does Giles keep the prophecy from Buffy? Given that the Twilight prophecy involves Buffy’s love for a vampire, he has personal experience about her unreliability when it comes to matters of the heart and vampires. Additionally, and I think Maggie has theorized this before, Giles doesn’t trust Buffy in part because of behaviour she already has (bank robbing). She’s already moving into territory where she’s creating a better world for herself and super powered beings, and is at war with the human race. We’re supposed to be worried in this season if Buffy is prioritizing herself and her people--whether that means slayers, or super powered beings--over the world at large, so it makes sense that Giles worries about it too. I’ve argued before that Buffy’s prioritization of Angel (and disconnect from the world) are related to her slayer issues, all writ large. Additionally, Giles knows that the Universe (it turns out it’s the new universe of Twilight, but who’s counting?) pushes Buffy and Angel along, in a way that removes some of their free will; he’s got reason to be concerned that Buffy won’t be able to fight what comes over her. Giles isn’t exactly wrong about any of these things. And yet, surely if he told her about the prophecy it might give Buffy a chance to avert it?
My guess is that Giles withheld it for the same reason Angel did: out of fear that telling Buffy would change the outcome. Giles and Angel are somewhat paralleled here. Both end up commanding or using armies of apparent enemies against a common foe--Angel doing so in Retreat against slayers, for evil (though he thinks it’s for good), and Giles here, riding in with his demon cavalry to fight the non-Earth demons. (Note that this is also a payoff to Giles’ second scene in season eight, where he tried to cut a deal with a demon enemy.) Both were manipulators throughout No Future For You, with Giles manipulating Faith with limited information, and Angel doing the same (though obviously, in a much worse manner) with Roden and Gigi. And both know about the Twilight prophecy. Angel wants it to happen, and so he hides it from Buffy; he works toward evil and world-destruction (though he thinks it’s good). Giles doesn’t want it to happen, so, perhaps fearing that telling Buffy about the prophecy would hasten it (just as Angel feared that telling her about the prophecy would prevent it), he doesn’t say a word. Angel batters Buffy, but he does it for Angel & Buffy against the world; Giles plans to kill Buffy, but he does it for the world, against Buffy & Angel. Angel thinks his motivations are good, though ultimately he’s being duped, and he actively hurts Buffy. Giles’ motivations really are good, and he doesn’t make active moves against her before she becomes a danger. But the parallel is there, and since Angel is, ultimately, the villain of the season, I think we should be at best ambivalent about Giles’ behaviour here.
And of course, there’s one other possibility. Maybe he’s telling the truth in 34, when he indicates that he didn’t think the prophecy would come true. Maybe he really just hoped that nothing would happen. That’s pretty much consistent with Giles’ M.O. throughout the series as well. He was seeking a totem in case it came to that. But maybe, like he hoped with Angelus in season two, the Twilight prophecy, and the Twilight organization that was presumably moving toward it, would go away. And this is both part of his own general blindness, and his desire for Buffy to be happy. He doesn't want to add to her burden in the world. And of course, he wants Buffy's organization to work out, despite being thrown out of her circle. My thought is that his reasons for withholding information comes down to a combination of a lack of trust (as in season seven) and blind hope for the best (as in season two).
And finally: why didn’t Giles tell Faith, or Willow, or anyone else in the world besides Buffy? I think it’s about control. The less everyone else knows, the easier they are to control. Too many variables. Faith increasingly moved away from putting up with morally ambiguous tactics. Willow increasingly moved to becoming more powerful and untrustworthy as a result. Giles’ motivations are right. His method is very Council. And by watching Giles move toward keeping information to himself, we get a bit of an understanding of how the Council itself became that way. It’s understandable. But Faith was right to be angry when she found out that Giles hid information from her, both in No Future For You and in Twilight. And in addition to the parallel to Angel (who certainly doesn’t trust those working most closely with him), there’s a parallel here to Buffy, too, whose inability to connect and share with others was a major theme throughout the year.
So Here We Are
The issue (and the last) hold an encapsulation of many aspects of Giles’ behaviour this season. Giles’ withholding information from Buffy got another replay in 38, when he didn’t tell Buffy what his plan was. And it gets another replay in this very issue. Xander tells Giles to throw Buffy the Scythe, but Giles says that Buffy will hesitate; once again, he doesn’t trust her. He doesn’t invite Faith (stronger) to come down, and Faith seems a little disappointed at not being able to share the wonderful moment of solidarity above ground with him. He doesn’t let Xander move in to help protect him, or anything like that. He acts alone. He doesn’t, can’t trust Buffy, and he doesn’t, can’t trust anyone else. Here, Giles recognizes additionally that destroying the Seed is something that slayers, magicians and demons don’t want; it’s an action that is necessary for the world but acts against slayer interests. His decision to move in to destroy the seed himself encapsulates his behaviour throughout the season.
When Angel kills Giles, Buffy immediately moves to destroy the seed. It’s a big, big moment, obviously, and means so much more to Buffy than I will get into here. (This is about Giles, mostly.) But it’s crucial that Buffy ultimately acts based on very limited information. Willow got told about the possibility of destroying the seed from Saga Vasuki, Xander from the General. We were assured that Giles or Spike might come up with the idea as well. But I think it’s likely that Buffy has no idea what she’s doing when she swings her Scythe. I think she knows that she’s doing what Giles died trying to do. There’s something poignant, then, about the fact that (somewhat implicitly) for Giles she ends her life’s work, destroys the slayer line. She doesn’t kill Angel, as she did in Becoming, but she kills magic, which is something that might be even more deeply a part of her, and a part of her identity.
And so I feel like his arc in season eight, and in 39 in particular, contains a deep, deep ambivalence about Giles’ behaviour. Buffy lets him down, and he dies as a result. And he lets her down, and then she figuratively, as Angel promised in Retreat, turns the sword against herself. So is Buffy’s behaviour proof that Giles shouldn’t have trusted her, or the result of it? Was Giles foolhardy for having too little faith in her to handle the truth, or too much faith in her to prevent disaster without his intervention? Giles loves Buffy deeply, and it’s been clear throughout these issues, even as he planned potentially to kill her. But he has had to work, throughout season eight, against her interests.
But as much as I question Giles’ actions this year, and as dark as some of the implications of his having to act against Buffy’s interests, I still admire him for how much he did. I think he was maybe wrong to take everything onto himself, to distrust Buffy. But that said, he sacrificed tremendously, and for the right reasons. He moved in to smash the seed knowing that he might well be killed. He might have been wrong, but he was still a hero.
“But I’ve taken an oath to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing what other people can’t. What they shouldn’t have to.”