It took me a while to get my thoughts together on this issue, and to realize that it probably should not be discussed outside of its arc. True, as a standalone Guarded Part III does not sparkle, but it is a decent conclusion to an arc that has, IMHO, multiple purpose:
* It serves as a transition from Freefall/!Robot storyline that ended with protagonist finding herself unhinged and bewildered on the matter of her own identity.
* It brought about an anchor point to set up return of a major character, and likely the season's finale.
* It forced Buffy to snap out of her self-centered stupor and made her start looking at what exactly went wrong with her and 'the mission' last season - apart from her throwing it all to the winds at some point and succumbing to temptation of having Angel back in her life. Yes, I am talking about Buffy-the revolutionary who Changed the World here, vs Buffy the Vampire Slayer who protects the little guy dichotomy. Buffy who is 'at war with humanity', Buffy who robs the bank to fund the world-wide Slayer Army, Buffy the public face of the global campaign whose face was on those posters and tv adds.
Now, I was tempted to write the review in the Good, Bad and the Ugly format – but then realized that there is so much of the lukewarm aspect to the story, which cannot be forced into any of the three categories, that it would be counterproductive.
So here we go – breaking once again by character interactions and pointing out interesting moments.
Buffy and Kennedy
The one definite conclusion I can make from the whole Buffy -Kennedy confrontation that results in Kennedy getting a black eye is that Buffy is blaming mostly herself for Giles death and is hurting a lot about it. Otherwise she would not have exploded in such a brutal, uncontrollable manner. The only few times we saw Buffy hitting people on the face like that was when somebody hit home with her feelings: i.e. Faith in all seasons when they interacted, Angel when protecting Faith, Spike when Buffy was deliberately hurting herself through exploiting him, etc. It is not clear why Kennedy would say something quite so tactless, she have not been acting like this so a long while - but I suppose they were calling back to Kennedy's roots as a brat.
Regardless of the writers clumsiness in delivery, the message that was conveyed here indicated to me that Giles' death is something that is affecting Buffy at her emotional core this season, and that's about all I can say on the matter. I guess that was one of the multiple setup points for future exploration.
And yes, there was that final scene with the check that was sort of refused, but later accepted if we go by clarifications from Allie. Buffy refusing the position of Chief Protector of the Rich and Powerful does not need much explanation. Her reassessing herself as the Slayer - protector of a little guy vs Buffy the Global Power that saves and changes the world was not as easily read, but I see it as the only reasonable explanation of that particular story.
As I said already - Kennedy's statement (that Buffy got carried away saving the world/protecting the Seed and failed to protect Giles) was out of line and tactless, not to mention baseless. But when combined with her earlier lines from issue #11 : ''doing whatever we have been doing back then" when talking about the Slayer army circa S8, to which statement Buffy replied "saving the world", I think Kennedy's stance makes more sense. The Slayers were created to protect humanity (made of little guys) from supernatural forces of evil, not to bring revolutionary changes upon the world and push their own Big Agenda on it. I am not entirely sure I like this message, and neither does Buffy - as she states "It was different when I was younger. Something changed. But I don't think that's a bad thing." Still there is no denying that some element of this meaning is here in the season context.
Koh and Buffy
Eldre Koh is pivotal character of the issue – and most of the weaknesses of the story come from his poorly defined personality. It cannot be pinned on this arc alone though. Eldre Koh was introduced back in Freefall arc, and was written consistently poorly, so it is hard now to feel lukewarm about the story while denying the fact that the problem was there all along.
We basically saw the samurai-like, laser-armed demon break out of his astral prison half a season ago, but besides his sudden and dubious friendship with Spike ( who in retrospect seems to suck at deciphering almost every personality and relationship this season: starting from misjudging Andrew’s ability to think rationally, going through quick demon-bonding with Koh that was based entirely on presumption for both sides, and ending with making unfounded assumptions about Buffy’s real feelings for him), Koh did not get much of a development until this arc. Koh's sudden affection for Buffy and her cause was ill-defined, and completely plot-centric vs character centric.
Because his friendliness was never very believable, his ‘betrayal’ also felt circumstantial and gimmicky. I would have preferred this plot to be treated with even less seriousness – except that I suspect there might be more ‘meaty’ parts coming upstream – as the potential for Koh and Illyria relationship being more complicated than just offender and his jailor have come up in this issue. That line about "something you will never understand, Slayer" sounded extensively melodramatic and retrospective. Almost as if Koh is paralleling his own downfall at the hand of ??? with Spike's unrequited affection. His focus on whoever got him imprisoned at this point sounds as more of a personal affair than simple relationship between the tyrant and the rebel - but we shall see.
Are being cut from touching this dimension again. Aww. Hopefully the lovable evil bird has a backup plan, so we will see more evil mischief caused by their meddling. There is too much potential in them being the background Big Bad - so I hope they have built a backup server farm, with cooling system that cannot be destroyed by snapping off the regulator. (Kudos to Kennedy for being ingenious, btw - and for Theo needing a password to shut down the cooling system.)
I am guessing Buffy is going to cash that check and live on the proceeds for a while. Not so sure about her student loans - but maybe she will go freelance consulting with SFPD supernatural department ?