‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel & Faith’ Season 9 are toying with time travel

For the first time in a decade, two "Buffy" series are simultaneously building toward a seasonal conclusion. Back in 2003, TV's "Buffy" and "Angel" were in the midst of Seasons 7 and 4, respectively. Now, Dark Horse Comics' "Angel & Faith" and "Buffy" are working toward their Season 9 conclusions -- the final installments of those 25-issue series are slated for August and September, respectively.

I suspect we will see fairly significant crossovers between these two as Season 9 winds down. Already, the thematic link is there: Multiple characters have a desperate need to make up for their past mistakes. In the case of "Angel & Faith," Angel wants to resurrect Giles, whose neck he regrets snapping. And over in the pages of "Buffy," Buffy feels bad that she destroyed the Seed of all magic on Earth, an act that has ticked off Willow and -- more importantly -- has put Dawn in mortal danger, since Buffy's younger sis was created by magic.

Both Buffy's and Angel's regretful acts happened at the end of Season 8, which was itself a regrettable affair, at least in terms of the seasonal Big Bad (a possibly possessed Angel in the guise of the powerful and manipulative Twilight -- or something like that) and how the story wound down. Season 9's mission statement, as admitted by Joss Whedon in the final issue of Season 8, has been to be better than last season.

I would say it has achieved that goal, at least. But it can't escape the fallout of Season 8, nor is it trying to. We're 20 issues in to Season 9 of both titles (we also received four issues each of "Spike" and "Willow" on the side), and characters are still awkwardly talking about Angel's inexplicable actions. One issue of "Angel & Faith" hints that Whistler, a demon who believes in bringing balance to the Force via Angel, had possessed Angel in Season 8. But that development still hasn't paid off.

Making sense of the Twilight arc might be impossible, but I'm nonetheless excited to see how Season 9 wraps up. At the moment, both "Buffy" and "Angel & Faith" have a must-read feel that reminds me of the glory days of May sweeps a decade ago.

In "Angel & Faith" (entirely written by Christos Gage), Angel is closer than ever to resurrecting Giles, something that has set the letter columns ablaze with arguments about how you can't just bring back dead characters willy-nilly ... on the other hand, it is Giles ... and it worked out OK when they did it with Buffy in Season 6.

And in the pages of "Buffy" Season 9 (primarily written by Andrew Chambliss), Xander has teamed up with Severin, who had stolen Illyria's time-shifting powers (and, as a side effect, her blue hair color). Severin -- who himself wants to go back in time to save his dead girlfriend -- offers Xander the chance to join him in resetting the timeline to before Twilight's havoc. Meanwhile, Buffy -- at Dawn's hospital bedside -- calls upon Willow, who can use magic again (see her spinoff series, "Willow: Wonderland"), to save her sister. I like the switching of roles from Season 2's "Becoming, Part 2," when Willow works a spell to restore Angel's soul even as Buffy goes off to kill Angelus. Will the lack of communication between the Scoobies -- again caused by an angry Xander -- lead to another disaster here?

"Doctor Who" and "Futurama" notwithstanding, writers should always approach time travel with extreme caution. For an example of unintended consequences, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" gains coolness points for using a time-travel plot, yet it opened the overall narrative up to a legitimate criticism: Why didn't Hermione use the time turner to solve problems later in the series?

But maybe, nine seasons in, it's a good time (no pun intended) for this twist in the Buffyverse. And actually, time travel was used to memorable (again, no pun intended) effect before in the "Angel" Season 1 episode "I Will Remember You," when the Powers That Be allow Angel to erase the day where he accidentally becomes human. The Powers allow that, but later decline Angel's wish that they turn back the clock on Doyle's death. The fact that an supreme force controls the time travel, combined with the heart-wrenching emotions of "I Will Remember You" -- wherein Angel remembers the perfect day but Buffy doesn't -- make me OK with the use of time travel in this instance.

Resurrection, another form of getting a do-over, is more prevalent in the Buffyverse than time travel. Notably, Willow successfully resurrects Buffy from the grave in "Buffy" Season 6, and -- in a less-remembered plot from "Buffy" Season 5 -- Dawn briefly brings back Joyce, albeit imperfectly, before changing her mind.

In another example of using magic as a way to artificially get a second chance, Willow erases Tara's memory multiple times in "Buffy" Season 6 in order to keep their relationship on track. In one funny but poignant hour from that year, "Tabula Rasa," Willow erases the memories of all the Scoobies. The same humorous conundrum -- likewise caused by a spell gone awry -- assails the Angel Investigations gang in "Angel" Season 4's "Spin the Bottle." Sticking with the idea of memory, it's also worth noting that viewers saw "Buffy" Seasons 1-4 without Dawn, but the memories of the Scoobies include Dawn in those years.

The Season 6 episode "Normal Again" also deserves mention here. In this classic episode, we see two different realities from Buffy's point of view: One where the events of the TV series -- with all its fictional elements like vampires and demons and other sci-fi tropes -- are the reality, and one where those events were all a dream and Buffy is actually in a mental hospital in something we would recognize as the real world outside our TV set. A less-ambiguous but equally great dreamscape episode is "Angel" Season 4's "Awakening," where we get a peek into the title character's head as he's turning from Angel to Angelus.

Whew. This is all getting a bit Philip K. Dick-ian, but I list these examples of "Buffy's" and "Angel's" writers toying with the saga's internal reality as a way to show that these Season 9 plots (resurrection to save Giles, time travel to save Dawn) are well within bounds. As a bonus, these stories -- if done deftly -- could save the saga from the much-maligned events of Season 8.

Of course, the writers are walking a fine line here. If it pays off emotionally, readers will accept it. If it comes off as merely a quick fix, they won't. But it sure will be interesting to find out what happens.