Nancy Holder and Jeff Mariotte wrap up their “Buffy”/“Angel” crossover trilogy “Unseen” by paying off most of the threads in satisfying ways and going big with the idea of our heroes traipsing through alternate dimensions. As is often the case in the Buffyverse novels, “Long Way Home” (September 2001) has ideas (alternate dimensions) and character traits (Willow’s and Tara’s incredible magic skills) that are a bit too ahead of the curve from where the TV series is at. For instance, when the “Angel” gang ends up in Pylea at the end of Season 2, you’d think Angel might reference his trip to various dimensions in “Long Way Home” from the previous summer.
Still, within the context of the trilogy itself, Holder and Mariotte stay focused on their core ideas, notably the gang warfare between Mexicans and Russians in Los Angeles. The trilogy wraps with a shootout at a Russian stronghold that features more flying lead than a 1980s Stallone flick. Luckily, our main characters are in a secure room inside, where Russian teen Alina – with Willow and Tara providing the magic aspect — operates the Reality Tracer to guide Angel, Buffy, Faith and Spike back to Earth.
Ah yes, Faith and Spike. While the “Unseen” trilogy is careful to not have Gunn officially meet Wesley and Cordelia – as that doesn’t happen until a month or so later in “Angel” Season 2 – Holder and Mariotte for some reason trip over the Faith-Spike relationship. When Riley breaks Faith out of prison (the first time in the books that Faith is freed from prison, but not the last; it also happens once in the comics, and once on TV), he notes the awkward events of “Who Are You” (B4.16), when he had sex with Faith, thinking it was Buffy.
But there is no similar reflection from Spike, who had been on the receiving end of heavy flirting from Faith-in-Buffy’s-body in that same episode. Later, in Season 7, the two characters are properly introduced and they reflect on that one previous meeting, thus rendering “Long Way Home,” the Season 5-set “The Wisdom of War” and the Season 6-set “Chaos Bleeds” apocryphal. While the authors couldn’t know that Spike and Faith would have their first proper meeting years later on TV, it is weird that the two characters are so familiar with each other in “Long Way Home” when there is nothing in the TV series that suggests Spike even knows what Faith looks like. Apparently the authors assumed the Scooby Gang filled Spike in on the details about Faith off-screen, but if so, there should be words to that effect in the book.
Fans who love the monsters and medieval tinge of the “Gatekeeper Trilogy” will be happy to find that Holder and Mariotte lean into those trappings. Buffy and Angel work their way through a castle where the rooms magically change, fighting off monsters including Rodents of Unusual Size, with the end goal of rescuing a metaphorical princess in a tower (actually one of the L.A. teens who had been warped into this dimension by the Russians’ Reality Tracer). Spike finds himself in a vampire zoo, and even though he could live forever on the zoo’s river of blood, he of course wants to escape. This fits with the love for Earth he expresses when comparing humans to “Happy Meals with legs” in “Becoming, Part 2” (B2.22).
Toward the end of “Long Way Home,” the authors put bows on the character themes that by the nature of spinoff fiction can’t be too revelatory – the happiness of Willow and Tara, the tragic non-romance of Angel and Buffy. Some spark a little more, though. Faith’s speaking style is just a bit off (as was also an issue in Holder’s “The Book of Fours”), but I like how she mulls staying in an alternate dimension and ruling it as a queen (something Cordy briefly considers in the Pylea arc, too), rather than returning to prison and continuing her road to redemption. And a case could be made that the “Unseen” trilogy provides the best Buffy-Riley relationship writing anywhere.
While it’s slightly silly to think that this adventure is canonical (even aside from the Spike-Faith problem), at least its position in the summer after “Buffy” Season 4 fits better than all those high-stakes novel adventures crammed into Season 3. “Unseen” is not the most memorable piece of Buffyverse spinoff fiction, in part because of its heavy focus on guest characters, but it’s still a fun page-turner.