Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Older and Far Away

Summary

Buffy is packing weapons and getting ready to go hunting. She's apologizing to Dawn for leaving and not having a proper dinner with her. Dawn says she can prepare for Buffy's birthday party tomorrow, but Buffy says Willow is doing that so Dawn should finish dinner, do her homework, and not stay up late. On patrol, Buffy encounters a really strange demon with a sword. They fight and he vanishes and reappears. She manages to stab him with his sword. She's knocked down and doesn't see him dematerialize and enter the sword. She thinks he has run off and takes the sword.

At the shop, Anya is trying to convince Xander and Willow they should use her slug candles at Buffy's party. Xander says Buffy wants Tara at the party and asks Willow if she minds. Willow's clearly happy to have Tara there. Dawn shows up looking for someone to go to the mall birthday gift shopping with her. Willow has her spellcasters anonymous meeting. Anya has to do the books and Xander has to do a shift schedule for the next morning. Dawn goes by herself. We see her return home and empty her pockets of stolen stuff. Then she takes off her coat and under it is a leather jacket she also stole.

The next day in school, Dawn is called to the guidance office. The counsellor, whom she hasn't met before, asks her how things are going and points out her grades have dropped. The counsellor is the demon Hallie we met in Doublemeat Palace in human disguise. Dawn says people keep going away and she wishes she could make them stop.

Xander and Anya are laying out the food for the party. Buffy tells them she has invited Sophie from work. She claims she has no trouble making friends and she and Sophie bonded instantly. But when Anya asks, she can't tell them Sophie's last name. Xander tells her they invited a guy. Anya mentions the possibility of double dates. Tara arrives. She asks if Spike is coming and Buffy says no, she doesn't think he plays well with others and she's not ready to come out yet. Willow comes downstairs and Buffy leaves them alone. After talking awkwardly, Tara goes into the kitchen to get a drink. Spike enters via the kitchen door, he heard about the party from Willow. He brought Clem, one of the demons he plays poker who with we met in Life Serial. Xander comes in with Richard, the guy he invited. He pushes Buffy into showing Richard where to park. He asks about Clem and she says he has a skin condition. After they leave, Spike calls Richard a stupid git. Tara says she thinks he's cute. Clem agrees.

Dawn is eager to open the presents. She's annoyed because Anya treats her like a little kid who doesn't understand why they are trying to set up Buffy with a guy. Spike gets Buffy alone and wants to slip away and have sex. She says no. She realizes he's jealous of Richard. Buffy starts opening her gifts. Willow gave her a battery operated back massager. Dawn's gift is the leather jacket she stole. Buffy loves it, but notices it still has the store security tag on. But before she can say more, Xander and Anya come in with their gift: a weapons chest Xander made himself. It's really nice and while Buffy looks at it Dawn quietly puts away the jacket. The doorbell rings and it's Sophie from work. She says thank you (because her mom told her to) and she tells them she can't eat chocolate, peanuts, egg yolks, and sometimes dairy. Buffy makes the introductions. Outside, Hallie the guidance counsellor appears and turns into Halfrek the demon and says 'wish granted'.

Everybody, except Dawn, seems to be having a great time. Richard talks to Buffy in the hallway. He's clearly interested in her, but when she sees Spike lurking behind him she cools things down. He leaves and Spike comes up to her. He presses her against the wall, but Tara shows up and Buffy walks away. Spike tries to pretend he had a muscle cramp and Buffy was helping. Tara has a little fun with him over this. Willow, Xander, Anya, and Sophie are talking about making a beer run, but none of them seems willing to leave. Buffy, Dawn, Richard, and Anya are playing Monopoly. Clem, Tara, Xander, and Spike are playing poker. Clem thinks it's weird without kittens but Buffy insists. It's already early morning, but nobody wants to leave.

It's morning and Richard tells Xander they have to go to work. But they don't leave. Spike wants him to leave. He starts talking about breakfast and how he's hungry and probably should eat. He asks Richard if he works out. Buffy grabs Spike and pulls him aside. They argue. Willow goes into the kitchen where she finds Tara looking for breakfast. Both agree they should leave, but don't want to. Buffy wants Spike to leave, but since it's daylight she decides to go instead. Both realize they cannot move.

The whole group are in the living room. None of them can leave. They all want to. Dawn is upset, taking this personally. She says they all want to be anywhere except stuck with her. She rushes upstairs. The gang follow her, wondering if she is somehow responsible. Xander says he realizes she doesn't want them to leave and now they can't. He says the only thing missing is a corn field. Dawn insists she didn't do anything, even when Xander suggests it might have been an innocent mistake like his in Once More, With Feeling. She says she's glad they are trapped because it is the only way she can get anybody to spend any time with her. Then she screams at them all to leave.

Downstairs, Anya wonders if Dawn is possessed but Xander says she's just a teenager. Tara reports that the phones aren't working. Buffy says they need to use magic. Tara says she didn't bring any supplies. Willow says she kept some hidden. They are both angry and happy about this. Tara tells her to bring the supplies but then to stay away. While Tara is working on the spell, Richard is wondering what is happening. He knows something weird is going on. Tara tries the spell, but she releases the demon in the sword, not the people from the house. The demon attacks and cuts Richard. It disappears. It attacks again and disappears again. They need to get Richard to a doctor.

It's nighttime and they are still trapped. They realize the demon is in the walls. Richard is not doing well. Anya is freaking out. She thinks Richard is going to die. Xander tries to calm her. He goes to get her a glass of water and is attacked by the demon. Spike tries to help and Buffy arrives. The demon retreats into the wall, but Xander is cut on the shoulder. Anya comes down and he pretends it's less painful than it is.

Later, Buffy tries to talk to a still surly Dawn. Dawn says she didn't mean for this to happen. She says she's alone. Downstairs, the others are discussing what to do. Anya points out Willow is a really powerful witch and they haven't used her yet. Willow says she can't and Anya says it's a matter of won't. Xander sides with Anya, saying they brought Willow back once and they can do it again. Tara comes to Willow's defense, saying no. Anya says she'll do something and goes upstairs. Buffy and Dawn are having a heart-to-heart talk. Dawn says Buffy is never around. Buffy says the most important thing in her life is looking after Dawn. Dawn mentions her guidance counsellor and Buffy realizes that this may be the magical problem. Dawn admits she'd never met the counsellor before and did sort of wish for everyone not to leave. Meanwhile, Anya is ransacking Dawn's room, looking for a clue to the spell. Buffy and Dawn enter. Anya opens a box with the trinkets Dawn has stolen, many of them from the magic shop. Anya is shocked. Dawn runs downstairs and the others follow. Buffy realizes the leather jacket was also stolen. Buffy explains about the guidance counsellor and Anya questions Dawn about this, realizing it was Halfrek and she is the only one who can break the spell. She summons Halfrek, who appears. But the demon appears and stabs her through the chest. They fight the demon, stab it with the sword causing it to enter the sword, then break the sword.

Anya yells at them to get Halfrek's pendant. But Halfrek gets up and stops them. She points out she can't be killed so easily. She recognizes Spike, calling him William, and he clearly recognizes her. But they pretend not to know each other. Halfrek says they prefer to be called justice demons. Anya says Halfrek is obsessed with bad parents because of her 'daddy issues'. Halfrek says Dawn was in pain and none of them noticed it. She says they deserve to be cursed. She tries to leave, but can't. She tries again. Anya points out it's the curse. Halfrek lifts it and leaves.

Tara is packing up the magic supplies Willow had kept. Willow thanks her and explains they were a security blanket. Tara tells her that despite how bad things got earlier, Willow still managed to say no. Xander and Anya are taking Richard downstairs and to the ER. Anya says she'll talk to Dawn later about payment and punitive damages. Spike opens the door and they walk out. They're excited to see the stars. Clem turns to Buffy and tells her it was a good party.

Analysis

There is a movie called The Exterminating Angel (directed by Luis Bunuel in Spanish in 1962). It's about a group of people at a dinner party who find they cannot leave. It's a great film by a superb director. And I never expected an homage to it in a Buffy episode. There's a short story by Jerome Bixby called It's A Good Life (first published in 1953 and available in many collections of fantasy and science fiction short stories including The Great SF Stories Number 15 edited by the late Isaac Asimov). It's about a little boy with incredible mental powers who has taken over a small town. One of the things he does is send people he doesn't like to the corn field. Xander asks whether there is a corn field in this episode. Another homage to a classic, although this one is a little more expected. I appreciate the fact that these references existed, but weren't belaboured. Those who got them enjoyed them, those who didn't could still enjoy the episode. This is a series which just expects its viewers to know and appreciate certain things. That's one of the reason Buffy fans span all age groups, genders, and personality types. And if you haven't seen the movie or read the story, give them a shot.

There are three stories in this episode. There's the tale of Buffy's birthday and how things never work out for her on that day. There's the story of Dawn's thievery. And there's the continuing development of the the other characters, most notably Tara and Anya, with Willow to a lesser extent. All are interesting, none is supremely intriguing. But this was a pretty good hour.

I like the consistency in the way Buffy's birthday is handled. It's always around the same time (that seem's obvious but plenty of tv shows manage to mess this up). And something bad always happens. In Helpless (Eighteen), her powers were temporarily removed and she was tested by the council leading to Giles being fired. In A New Man, Giles is turned into a demon. In Blood Ties, Dawn discovers she is the key and almost gets killed. This year, Dawn's thefts come to light, Anya reveals a dark side, and Richard who is only there because he knows Xander ends up getting stabbed.

Birthdays are also a chance to enumerate your friends and see how much they think about you. How much thoughtfulness they put into their gifts. Buffy's group of friends is small and not really growing. The pathetic inclusion of Sophie and the failed inclusion of Richard are proof of that. On the gift front, Willow is clearly not thinking about Buffy very much. The massager is not a particularly good gift nor one which reveals a lot of thoughtfulness. The weapon's chest is great (although doesn't Buffy already have one - still she can always use more) and being handmade has added value. The leather jacket is terrific. It's exactly the kind of thing Buffy would buy for herself. Of course, it's also stolen.

Which brings us to Dawn and her thefts. A lot of kids steal. They shoplift candy, cosmetics, CDs, stuff like that. I can see stealing clothes, but an expensive leather jacket is taking it to another level. Dawn is taking increasingly bigger risks with her thefts. She's stolen from friends in the past (Anya's earrings and the stuff from the shop including the talisman from Once More, With Feeling), and mentioned stealing all the time in All the Way, but now she's taking big stuff from stores. That's definitely a cry for help and Halfrek has a point. How have the others missed this? None of them have noticed the connection to their missing items and you'd at least think Anya would have noticed the thefts from the store and maybe linked them to Dawn 'picking up' the talisman. Worst of all, Buffy completely ignores the leather jacket with the security tag. She doesn't give the gift as much attention as it deserves (it's a great gift), nor does she consider where Dawn would get the money for such a gift, nor how come that tag is still on it. The tag is big and obvious and it's hard to believe Dawn missed it. She was being really clumsy in her thefts and would have gotten away with it if Anya hadn't gotten angry and gone through her stuff.

It's also interesting that Dawn has kept all her stolen items so easily accessible. They aren't deeply hidden away. Buffy might have found them if she'd spent any time in Dawn's room. And any serious questioning of Dawn's behavior would have raised suspicions. But nobody put in that effort. Dawn is selfish and self absorbed. Buffy has her slayer duties and her job. Willow is dealing with serious addiction problems. Xander and Anya have their wedding to plan and both have full time jobs. It's not reasonable to expect them to have loads of time for her. But, as Xander points out, she's also just a teenager. A teenager is by definition selfish and self absorbed. And they treat her as if she were an adult. They ignore the ways in which they hurt her and don't give her the attention she needs. You've got to have some sympathy for Dawn, she really is being ignored.

Tara really developed in this episode. She showed strength and an interesting sense of humour. She was strong when siding with Willow and facing down Anya. She also kept her head throughout the crisis. And she showed a sense of humour when dealing with Spike. In fact, those were the moments of the episode I liked the most. The Spike/Tara confrontations were fun and brought out a new side in both of them. She actually had Spike feeling uncomfortable.

Anya also showed some interesting growth. Anya has always been afraid of dying. But this was the first time she's been concerned about someone else dying who wasn't Xander. She actually is upset that they cannot help Richard. And while Anya has demonstrated an ability to think quickly (most notably in The Gift), this is the first time she has taken such a strong and threatening position. She's ready to push Willow as hard as possible and she's ready to ignore all the rules and search Dawn's room herself. She's also shocked at what she finds. It's interesting that Anya breaks one of the social rules, not going through other people's stuff, but talks about not being able to trust Dawn, because she took other people's stuff. Anya isn't exactly without sin in this instance.

Anya loves money and possessions and theft from her is probably the worst thing you could do. She takes the theft of items from the shop as personal. She feels betrayed by Dawn who she feels she has attempted to help. It's interesting that she was less upset when she was physically hurt because of Dawn in Real Me. And it isn't clear how she was affected by Halfrek's words. She seems somewhat abashed, realizing that like the others she missed the problem with Dawn. But her final words to Dawn are about punitive damages and that doesn't sound promising.

Willow demonstrates some backbone in refusing to use magic. But we also discover she lied to everyone and kept magic supplies in the house. So she's basically even. The big plus for her is how things went with Tara. They are finally just talking in a pretty normal way. This suggests the relationship may soon be back on.

Some quick final thoughts. I don't pay much attention to these things, but how often does Buffy wear hats? The one she wore at the start of the show really stuck out at me. In the opening fight, Buffy accuses the demon of running off because he's afraid to face a real warrior. That dialogue seemed to be dubbed in later. We don't see her face as she says this, the sound quality appeared different, and there were no closed captions for those lines. I don't know why this would happen, but it does appear to be the case. Okay, no one will come looking for Anya. Since the phones aren't working, anyone calling Buffy won't get anything. The school will assume Dawn is sick and maybe try calling. Clem won't be sought and Xander and Rich would have people looking for them at their homes. Nobody would look for Spike and everyone Tara knows is at the party. But why doesn't Sophie's mother show up? Or is she just really happy that Sophie is out of the house? The closed captions identify the counsellor as Hallie, so if you didn't recognize her without her demon face they gave it away. I loved the way Tara tried to make Spike jealous by saying how cute Richard was. I like the way Xander tries to pretend the cut is really minor so as not to worry Anya. I understand why Anya and Xander want to fix up Buffy. That's what couples do. But Richard really wasn't the best selection. He's nice, but Buffy needs someone who can handle the presence of demons a little better. Someone less clueless. I liked Clem and hope to see some more of him. For those wondering about the security tag, that's the kind with dye in it, not necessarily the kind which sets off the alarm when you walk out of the store. A friend of mine actually bought something and they legitimately forgot to take the tag off. She had to go back to the store to have them do it. That's easy to do if you have the receipt. So it's not completely impossible for this to happen innocently. I have to wonder whether the Halfrek/Spike past will come up again.

Lines of the week:

"Oh, shiny." - Buffy on the quality of swords.

"The word 'gulp' comes to mind." - Tara on how she's doing.

"A muscle cramp, in your pants." - Tara having a little fun.

"I can't really drink beer because, you know, barley." - Sophie whose number of allergies possibly qualify her as nonhuman.

"Maybe you want to put some ice on it." - Tara with some advice for Spike's cramp.

"This can't be good." - Buffy showing a talent for understatement.

"The only thing missing is a corn field." - Xander with a classic sf reference.

"You ever think about not celebrating a birthday?" - Spike with a good suggestion.

"You have some weird friends." - Richard stating the obvious.

"Punitive damages." - Two words from Anya.

"Good party." - Clem with a weird idea of a good party.

Addendum

Thanks to all the people who wrote to me to point out the actress (Kali Rocha) who played Halfrek also played Cecily (William's love who rejected him) in Fool For Love. It's possible this is the same character, although it may simply be a coincidence. The fact that Halfrek and Spike knew each and she called him William suggests she is that character. On the other hand, it seems too much of a coincidence. I also have to thank Emily who pointed out "the title, Older and Far Away, is from the last line of the book Empire of the Sun, which, if you listen carefully, you can hear being discussed in Dawn's classroom before she is pulled out of class to see the guidance counselor". Emily also notes Nicholas Brendon was in Children of the Corn III and the corn field reference (while clearly to the Bixby story) is also a reference to his earlier role.

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