Buffy Season Eight Vol. 6: Retreat
“Do you really think we were going to sit by and let you create a master race?” a general asks the head slayer. “If you win then you’ll decide the world still isn’t the way you want it and the demon in you will say just one thing: ‘Slay.’ We’re not waiting for that to happen. You’re at war with the human race.”
In “Wolves at the Gate,” meanwhile, it’s the vampires who take action when they steal the mystical scythe responsible for the activation of all the potentials in the world and attempt to reverse the effects by making the slayers mortal again. Buffy is later transported 200 years into the future only to find that the “better world” she thought she had created no longer exists. Lastly, when the presence of vampires and slayers becomes common knowledge to the masses, it is the slayers that are considered to be the enemy by the population-at-large.
Though it all, the “Big Bad” of the season—the masked Twilight—has stayed in the background, content to merely pull the strings of Buffy’s enemies. In the sixth installment of Buffy Season Eight, however, he steps up his attack with the help of the US military and his own legion of supernatural beings. From the moors of Scotland that Buffy Summers now calls home, to an old Nazi bunker in Germany where fellow slayer Faith Lehane and watcher Rupert Giles have taken refuge, to the catacombs of ancient Rome that Andrew Wells has selected as sanctuary for the slayers under his care, no location is safe from Twilight’s offensive maneuvers. Faced with an enemy of overwhelming numbers and a general public who looks upon slayers as evil incarnate, Buffy and her followers are forced to “Retreat,” as the title of the narrative aptly puts it, into the mountains of Tibet.
It turns out that Twilight has been able to track Buffy and her slayers through the mystical energy that their actions and existence radiates. In order to stay out of the crosshairs of Twilight, therefore, the group needs to find a way to not rely on magick and reduce their energy in a less flagrant manner. This leads Buffy to the only person she knows who has been able to effectively eliminate the supernatural element of their being—former Scooby Gang member and part-time werewolf, Daniel “Oz” Osbourne.
Oz proved unable to control his inner beast during Season Four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and left both Sunnydale and girlfriend Willow Rosenberg because of the danger he presented in his werewolf form. He traveled to the mystical Orient for answers and learned how to keep his “inner cool” with the guidance of Buddhist monks, but even that approach proved ineffective when he returned to California and discovered that Willow was now romantically involved with Tara Maclay. Unable to control his anger, Oz returned to Tibet where he met a fellow female werewolf named Bayarmaa. Over time, she taught him how to release his mystical energy outward instead of keeping it inside.
Oz and Bayarmaa, who are now married and have a child, are tasked with teaching Buffy Summers and her slayers to likewise release their magical energy. Hard work is apparently part of the process and so the slayer army begins to labor in the fields of Tibet and soon find their supernatural powers quickly diminishing in the process. There is one notable exception, however—Willow Rosenberg. The practicing witch has overcome her apprehension of magicks after turning “dark” at the end of Season Six of the television series and more fully embraced her mystical abilities during the course of Buffy Season Eight. Willow thus believes that being a witch is a fundamental part of who she is, even more so than original slayers Buffy and Faith and their “chosen” profession.
“It got to me, what we had to do,” Faith confides to Buffy as the two struggle to move a large rock together. “I’m not strong enough to have to be that strong. Good riddance.”
“I guess that’s why I need this,” Buffy responds. “I need to feel that ‘connected.’ I don’t want to stand over people anymore.”
Willow eventually embraces the new lifestyle and ultimately loses her abilities as well. Unfortunately, Twilight is able to locate them nonetheless and with military personnel equipped with tanks, he launches a full-frontal assault against Buffy and her now powerless followers. The head slayer tries to muster her troops as much as she can but in the end it boils down to a group of teenage girls against an actual army. They have weapons, however, including a secret one in the form of a submarine torpedo that they are able to effectively launch on land. Even a group of werewolves who have strayed from the teachings of Oz and Bayarmaa join the battle but it all proves for naught—without supernatural abilities, the former army of slayers is simply overwhelmed.
“The magicks, where does it go?” a desperate and defiant Buffy Summers asks an injured Bayarmaa. It turns out that the mystical energy did more than just dissolve itself into the earth of Tibet—its release was part of an invocation asking for the assistance of three wrathful goddesses. “The prayers offer a trade,” Bayarmaa explains to Buffy. “We give them our power, they protect us.”
The revelation inevitably gives Buffy a plan—if the goddesses can be effectively summoned then they can keep their end of the “protection” agreement in a more tangible fashion. The three giant-sized entities do indeed arrive and immediately begin to exhibit their wrathful personas by decimating Twilight’s forces. Unfortunately, they don’t stop there. “The goddesses, they’re not on our side,” Buffy realizes. “They’re not on anyone’s side. They’re killers and we’re not getting our powers back.”
Buffy eventually orders a full retreat and instructs her charges to care for the wounded, including those of the enemy. “Protect everything that bleeds,” she tells them. Buffy Summers herself ventures into the raging battlefield to rescue an injured Riley Finn, who has been a spy for his former girlfriend within the ranks of Twilight. As for the “Big Bad” of the season, he is relatively calm during the goddesses’ rampage despite the heavy loss of life. “A losing battle,” Twilight tells the general under his command. “Sometimes we fight them. It’s unavoidable.” He also realizes that eventually the goddesses will move on and the remnants of his troops can finally finish their mission.
The mayhem does indeed die down long enough for the forces of Twilight to mop up and capture the remaining slayers. Buffy Summers, meanwhile, is swept up by one of the goddesses and swatted onto the top of a nearby mountain. As the hours pass, a snowstorm blankets her unconscious body. She eventually awakens and looks down upon the landscape beneath her but only sees the inevitable defeat of her once formidable allies. Buffy slowly, however, also makes a rather startling discover—she is not standing on the mountain where she had been tossed but floating in the air, high above the battlefield, instead.
“What the hell?” she asks herself. With those words, “Retreat” comes to a close but it is obvious that the clash between Buffy Summers and Twilight is far from over, and about to venture in an entirely new direction as well.