Mon
Sep 9 2013 12:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: “We do not joke about eating people in this house!”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Dawn

“Older and Far Away,” by Drew S. Greenberg

Buffy is rushing out to Slay and making excuses to Dawn, who tries to be understanding. This, I’m coming to realize, is rarely a good sign. But it’s a normal enough occurence in the Summers household. And I do have something to add to my list of good things about Season Six: Buffy’s coat is exceedingly cute.

It had been long enough since I’d seen this episode that I suspected that Buffy’s stated intention to go kill evil things was actually a cover for slinking off to a certain crypt to Spuff her brains out. But no—the Slayer is indeed at her non-Doublemeat, non-paying job. There is an actual demon, complete with sword, on the loose. He can teleport, but it doesn’t help him much: she fights him, stabs him with his own sword, and seems not to notice when his demony essence (or somesuch) ends up trapped inside the thing.

Buffy’s not one to leave a weapon of individual destruction lying around, but in the old days, she probably would have dropped the thing off at the Library, Chez Giles, or the Magic Box. She and Giles would have debriefed, he’d have wiped his glasses, and maybe eventually someone would have evinced a faint interest in researching the sword before all that came back and bit them in the backside.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away

Instead, with an: “Ooh, Shiny!” Buffy takes the new pointy stick home.

The next afternoon, we find out that it is once again time for Buffy’s birthday. Instead of calling the whole thing off or fleeing town, Anya is talking cake and candle plans at the Magic Box, while Xander breaks the brain-melting news to Willow that Tara is coming to the event. Finally Dawn shows up, looking for someone to go mall with her while she looks for a birthday gift.

Unfortunately, all the adults are either working or in rehab. Dawn is once again blown off, and once again very sweet about it. She heads off, alone, to steal her sister a last-minute present and later that night, we see her checking out her haul, a shiny double fistful of stolen goods and a leather jacket.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Dawn, Xander, Anya, Willow

I had thought that between them, Buffy, Angel, Spike and Faith had already acquired, showcased or destroyed all the cool leather jackets in California, but I guess someone sewed a new one.

Which reminds me: you could get some really cool leather on the Hellmouth, if you had crafter skills and a strong stomach. You could just follow Buffy around, scooping up reptilian-textured supplies, horns, and snaggle-teeth for buttons in her wake. Not only do the demons have weird skin themselves, but some of them come clad in vaguely intriguing garments. Some of which are, in all probability, made of other demons.

Next day at school, Dawn is summoned to the counsellor’s office.  The shiny new counsellor is Halfrek, whose face is smooth, pink and human, whereas its usual mode kind of screams “Make me into a a new clutch purse!” She’s kind and friendly and she says Dawn’s grades have slipped; she pumps her about the trouble at home. It doesn’t take long before Dawn is expressing the perfectly reasonable wish that people would bleeping well stop abandoning her.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Dawn

Elsewhere, party prep continues. Buffy has asked a friend from Doublemeat to attend, and it turns out that XandAnya have invited an allegedly attractive man to come and meet her. Anya has her eye on the couple-friends ball. She’s thinking Buffy should mate, breed and organize play-dates among a burgeoning hoard of Scooby children. It’s sweet, possibly disturbing and a tad unrealistic.

Anya should really join or found Women Entrepreneurs of Sunnydale. She could use some friends who aren’t Xander’s friends and/or demons.

Anyway, partying commences. Tara shows up and asks if Buffy’s okay and will Spike be coming to the party. Buffy gives the latter question a big no. This segues into an awkward WillTara reunion, which sends Tara fleeing in the direction of liquor.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Xander, RIchard

Then Spike shows up with Clem (who would not, incidentally, make a good jacket). He’s a bad boy. Bad boys crash parties. This happens just as Xander is pushing his work-buddy Richard in the direction of Buffy’s chest. Richard has symmetrical features, the right sexual orientation, presumed fertility and a fondness for sunlight to recommend him. Spike duly experiences a moment of perfect jealousy.

This is amplified when Tara decides to needle him, by emphasizing that Richard is cute. Why does she do this? I don’t know. It seems so unlike her.

But this is about Dawn, isn’t it? And she wants Buffy to open her presents. Buffy is delighted with the stolen jacket, and Xander has made her an outstanding weapons trunk.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Dawn, Willow

With the arrival of Sophie, Buffy’s hyper-allergic work friend, the house is full. Dawn closes the door on the gang. We see that Halfrek is lurking on the porch, looking considerably less like a guidance counsellor and more like plot lubricant. “Wish granted!” she says.

And hey! Like that, the scary veiny fairy godmother has seen to it that the party-goers are locked in.

For awhile, it all seems rather celebratory. Dawn’s really enjoying having everyone around. Richard is making noble attempts to flirt with Buffy. Spike mocks from the sidelines. Later, Tara catches them working up to a bit of a spuff, whereupon he claims to have had a muscle cramp.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Tara

“In your pants?” Tara asks. I like this playful Tara!

There is poker playing and Monopoly and chilling out, and Dawn’s digging it all.

Then morning comes. Richard doesn’t want to leave, though he can’t afford to be late for work. Spike hints that he’d make a good breakfast, and this turns into him and Buffy arguing in the front entryway. She tries to kick him out. It doesn’t work.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Dawn, Clem, Zander

By now, it’s creeping up on the whole gang that they can’t leave.  WillTara are talking about it over breakfast. Xander and Anya struggle to get off to their places of gainful employment. As everyone moves from slumber party mode to freaking out, Dawn gets all upset about how they have better things to do than hang with her.

So much for Miz Gracious. They ask if she’s responsible, and Dawn gets defensive, shrieking about how she’s glad they’re trapped before kicking the gang out of her room so she can get in some quality sulking.

Can Dawn leave? Maybe she could take them out for a daily walk.

But the Scoobies have dealt with worse, right? The obvious next course of action is for someone to do a spell to bust them all out. Oh, damn. Willow has gone cold turkey and Buffy threw out all the magic stuff at Chez Summers.

Except, Willow admits, she didn’t really. There’s an emergency magic-addict stuff stash. This revelation leads to Tara feeling angry and disappointed. And things were going so well between them, too!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Willow

The situation continues to deteriorate. Richard isn’t buying that Clem has a skin condition, and he’s more than a little unhappy about the magic being conducted in the kitchen. And Tara’s spell doesn’t break the curse of Dawn. Instead, it lets Swordie out of the Phantom Zone. (Remember Sword Demon? It’s okay if you don’t. A lot’s happened.)

Swordie’s not one for stealth. He lets out a roar and stabs Richard right in his oh-so-eligible abdomen.

“You ever think about not celebrating your birthday,” Spike asks Buffy. “Just to try it?”

Having punctured one of the party guests, our monster vanishes into the walls. He’s got a sword wife and sword nestlings to get home to, but he can’t quite tear himself away from the slaughtery fun. His next exploit is to tag Xander in the shoulder just when he’s trying to convince Anya that they’re not going to die like rats.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Xander

Upstairs, Buffy is having a big sisterly talk with Dawn, and getting an earful about how Buffy can’t get what it’s like to be all alone. Essentially, it’s a big “Nobody understands my pain,” riff.

We get it, Dawn. We just aren’t sure we care. (Buffy’s a better person, though. She feels bad.)

Anya is, at this point, seriously melting down. She points out, truthfully enough, that Willow could probably make an enormous difference to the cause. Even Xander agrees that they’re just asking her for one little spell.

Willow hews to the straight and non-mystical. When Anya gets furiously insistent—she’s really scared, poor little bunny-hater—Tara leaps to her defense. In response, Anya says she’s going to solve the problem herself. By this she means she’s going to search Dawn’s room until she figures out how the kid figures into their problem.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Tara, Anya, Willow

Buffy, as it happens, is almost there. She and Dawn are sharing, and when the new guidance counsellor comes up, Buffy immediately starts thinking vengeance demons.

But it’s too late to save Dawn from exposure as a mega shoplifter. Anya’s search reveals a mountain of loot, half of which was taken from the Magic Box. And Buffy’s coat still has its anti-theft tag, so there’s no fibbing her way out of it.

In a sense this is small potatoes compared to the real problem, which is that Dawn made a wish to someone she’d never seen before.

Try to imagine all the things you’d have to remember if you were the Slayer’s kid sister. Don’t invite anyone into the house. Don’t make wishes. Don’t drink blood from any passing chalices. Don’t speak Latin in front of the books. Don’t tell nice interns your mystic origin story. Don’t summon your dead loved ones from the grave. Unless they’re Buffy and you’re of legal drinking age.

Teens really do have to sort through a welter of confusing issues.

Anya starts shouting for Hallie. She shows up, too, but then Swordie stabs her.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away

(Remember Sword Demon? Actually, don’t bother. Now that the story’s almost over and he’s served his purpose, the group manages to kill him pretty handily, and Buffy snaps the sword in half.)

Anya makes a grab for Hallie’s magical pendant, but she recovers in time: “There will be no touching of the pendant!”

In a sense, this is sad. Based on what happened to Anyanka, we can assume Hallie would have stayed at the school. She was a decent counsellor, from what I saw, and she and Anya could have been buddies.

Next there’s a hilarious moment where Hallie and Spike recognize each other (you all remember how their pasts intersect, right?) and then we get into the meat of the gang’s problem: Dawn has been in unbearable teenaged pain and none of them knew.

The message here is: Proto-Adult Scoobies, you suck at the parent thang.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Dawn, Tara, Spike, Xander, WIllow

Tragically, Halfrek forgot what spell it was that she’d cast: just by showing up, she gets herself trapped in the house with the rest of the gang. And so she has to undo the spell to let them out. Easy come, easy go. It’s like the writers and production team were all, “Yeah, I’m tired of this too. Let’s just end it, okay?”

Before they all go their separate ways, WillTara talk over the magic supplies Willow kept and the fact that she did refuse to magic their way out of the trap they were in. Then XandAnya bundle up Richard so they can take him to the emergency ward. Everyone leaves except Buffy, who closes the door while Dawn smiles.

The title of “Older and Far Away” references Buffy, and her distance from her sister as well as the rest of the gang. It’s a theme we’ve seen underlined in almost every episode, and the effects on Dawn are pretty believable. Mom’s dead, Buffy’s distant, she’s lost Giles now too, and even Tara moved out.

It doesn’t make it any more entertaining to watch her thrash and shriek and play the naughty adolescent, though.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Older and Far Away, Dawn

Despite its wafer-thin, self-resolving story and convenient Jack-in-the-Box sword demon, this episode is something of a workhorse. It moves WillTara closer to reconciliation (and underlines the idea that with Tara’s support, Willow might be okay). It exposes Dawn’s attention-seeking theft habit, brings back Clem, and gives us a quick review on how the whole vengeance-demon thing works. I’d also argue that we are seeing Buffy in a slightly better frame of mind. Having confided in Tara and received some comfort has eased her burden just a hair.

Watching it, though, I feel almost as though there’s something meta going on. The gang’s together. Until the curse takes hold, they’re having an okay time. But it doesn’t look like anyone’s having a fantastic evening. And for the viewer, it’s pretty much the same. We’re hanging out with our beloved Scooby friends, and there are a couple laughs to be had, but everyone’s in a bit of a bad space,  and at best the experience is just okay.

Then again, we may long for “just okay” when next week rolls around.

Next: Iowa, Reprise


A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second Gale, story too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

47 comments
TBGH
1. TBGH
In the wake of what's to come I'd completely forgotten about this episode. (Good god what tense is that sentence in???) Anyway, they had to find out about Dawn and WilTara had to reconcile, but they could have made it far more entertaining.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
As sympathetic as I am to Dawn, this episode makes me dislike her.

And it's not the "Don't talk to strangers about your innermost desires" part or the shoplifting, it's HER lack of understanding.

Buffy has a calling, has duties and responsibilities that will always take her away from having a normal family life, and if Dawn weren't so self centered she'd see that. Dawn would rather people die, than have Buffy leave her alone for awhile.

I feel for Dawn, and yeah, a lot of the stuff she's had to deal with is rough, but a) Buffy's going through the same things and b) she's not willing to give Buffy the same consideration she expects.

I guess part of this is that they are still writing for Dawn as younger than the story states. But when I was 15, I was perfectly capable of understanding that I was no longer the center of my mother's universe, capable of recognizing that at times she'd be dealing with her own stuff and didn't have what was required to deal with mine.

That Dawn has so little regard for others undermines what sympathy I had for her.
Anthony Pero
3. anthonypero
I have yet to meet anybody who values someone else's special destiny and calling when it directly and detrimnetally effects them. At best, I've seen people tolerate it. People are selfish. Dawn no moreso than most.
Alyx Dellamonica
4. AMDellamonica
I don't have a huge problem with Dawn being selfish or acting out--she's got some cause. The fact that it's unfair to Buffy doesn't make it any less believable. And the Scoobies are sucky parents. They're too damned young to do it well.

But as TGBH says, I can find it within myself to wish it was more entertaining.
Chris Nelly
5. Aeryl
The detrimental effects are Dawn's reaction though.

Grades dropping? That's because DAWN is blowing off school work, not because Buffy's not riding her ass to do her school work.

Thieving? That's Dawn's reaction to not being the center of parental attention anymore.

IMO, Dawn is on the cusp of adulthood, which means she is more than capable of taking care of herself in most regards. She's mad because no one is being Joyce to her, and no one ever will. She has to learn to deal with that.

Yes, Buffy is screwing up, but what she's doing is detrimental to Dawn, only because Dawn wants it to be.
Constance Sublette
6. Zorra
You all reached a level of maturity at age fifteen much higher than I had.

13 - 15 were the peak of my incapacity to see anyone but myself and feeling greatly sorry for myself. I may have had some legitimate reasons for this, but still, in retrospect the blindness I had to the reality of others seems shocking to me now.

I recall though, very clearly emerging from that during my 16th year and by the time I turned 17 I was pretty good at being able to see other people, even to the point on one significant occasion of explaining to my dad why my mom was furious with him, and telling him the only thing he could do that would work was to tell mom he didn't realize what he'd done, was very sorry, and now that he saw what had happened from her viewpoint he understood why she was angry.

Of course, the positive outcome of my advice puffed up my high opinion of myself to unpleasant heights.

Oooops.

Win some, lose some.

Love, C.
TBGH
7. Gardner Dozois
This is a wheel-spinner, and a not terribly interesting one. By the end of the episode, I was as anxious for the episode to be over as the characters were to get out of the house. This whole late-middle part of Season Six, before the arrival of Dark Willow, is the least interesting stretch of the season, and the season itself, with the exception of bright spots like "Once More, With Feeling" and "Tabula Rasa" is less interesting than other seasons have been.

Dawn IS annoying here, with all her whining, but I continue to feel we should give her a break--it was only a few months ago, after all, that she discoverd that she wasn't really human and that her entire past had never happened and that an insane god was trying to kill her and end the world, plus having her mother and her sister die. Kids have acted out with stuff like shoplifting and whining and feeling sorry for themselves with FAR less cause than that.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
I am mostly sympathetic, it's just her behavior THIS episode that grates me.

Like she had a point about people always leaving, but when she learns, along with everyone else, that they are trapped, her response is YAY MOAR TIME FOR ME!

And just, no. That's not how you act, regardless of what you've gone through.

And then when people, naturally, want to escape their imprisonment,
again, she turns it around to be about her, when it is OBVIOUSLY not.
TBGH
9. Alex C.
Not much to say about this episode, although I take my hat off to you, Alyx, for writing up such a commendably comprehensive overview of a fairly lacklustre episode in the series.

Several of the seasons in BtVS suffer from a sort of drag in the story at some point - this season definitely, and also Season 4, Season 7, and faintly in Season 5 - with varying effects. It's probably my pick for the biggest flaw in an otherwise fantastic show. But never does the drag feel quite as draggy (is that a word? I think it's a word...) as it does in Season 6. On balance, I like most of the things that this season did or tried to do with the characters and the story, and there are plenty of fantastic episodes, but still... We get three episodes back-to-back - "Older and Far Away", "As You Were", and "Hell's Bells" that are decidedly not very good ones, even if a lot of important stuff happens in them, and they come at a point when we are only one episode removed from having watched "Doublemeat Palace" (though it helps a bit that they are seperated by the utterly fantastic "Dead Things", which we went over last week).

It all pays off with interest in three weeks when we come to "Normal Again", my personal fave for the season (possibly excepting OMWF). Still, I can distinctly recall that this particular stretch in Season 6 was the closest that I ever came to losing faith in the show. I didn't, and it wasn't really a close call, but "As You Were"...
TBGH
10. Alex C.
It strikes me that my previous comment was long on the negativity, short on meaningful points of discussion. Without further ado then:

So, where does Buffy's 21st birthday fall on the spectrum of her Series of Unfortunate Birthday Celebrations? Obviously her 17th - Angel loses his soul, encounter with The Judge - is always going to take the cake for her worst, although her 18th - with the Cruciamentum - follows fairly close on its heels. Her 20th was less traumatic (for her), but still very messy, with Dawn finding out she was the Key, and a close encounter with Glory. Her 19th was relatively tame by comparison, considering that the only drama was Giles' temporary spell as a demon, and it probably counts as the happiest birthday that she got to spend on the show. And then there's this one. All told, its really not so surprising that she decided to take Spike's advice and drop the birthday celebrations for Season 7 (though by that point she and her friends had bigger things to worry about).
.......

Let's talk about Dawn. I really don't want to jump on the bandwagon with disliking her in this episode. In general, I like Dawn, and try hard to sympathize with her for what she's going through. I try hard, I really do. But by God she makes it very difficult for me in this episode. Apart from all the other things that people have already pointed out, the one that really sticks in my craw is her visible disappointment when Buffy, after recieving her gift of a (stolen) coat, goes on to show her appreciation for the magnificent weapons chest that Xander gives her. I mean, really! How could Buffy prefer a beautiful gift that her friend obviously spent hours crafting with his own hands to Dawn's five-fingered discount leather jacket? The nerve!
.......

This may not be a somewhat lacklustre episode on the whole, but I will give the writers some props for their continued tendancy to throw in some meta-textual commentary:
The title of the episode comes from the book Empire of the Sun, which is the book Dawn’s class is discussing when she’s summoned to the“counselor”. This is never an accident, so I’ll review the outline of the book and note how I see it applying to OAFA.

The basic plot of the novel is the story of Jim, a young boy who is separated from his parents in WWII. After barely surviving on his own amidst the chaos of war, he ends up in a Japanese prisoner camp. There he’s safe and secure, even if he’s a prisoner. However, the other prisoners simply ignore him. When the war ends, he leaves the camp but soon returns there because the world outside seems so insecure. He’s finally reunited with his parents, but “for all their affection for him, they seemed older and far away.”

This reasonably summarizes Dawn’s view of her own life. She survived a war last year (albeit not on her own), and now she’s feeling trapped. Naturally the world outside seems unsafe to her, particularly since Buffy was so overprotective of her last year and pays no attention to her (in her view) this year. For all Buffy’s affection for Dawn, to Dawn she seems older and far away.
.......

Trivia note: Halfrek is played by Kali Rocha, who also played Cecily in Fool For Love, so that fact that she and Spike recognize each other is a bit of a tweak at the audience by the writers.
TBGH
11. Alex C.
Watching it, though, I feel almost as though there’s something meta going on. The gang’s together. Until the curse takes hold, they’re having an okay time. But it doesn’t look like anyone’s having a fantastic evening. And for the viewer, it’s pretty much the same. We’re hanging out with our beloved Scooby friends, and there are a couple laughs to be had, but everyone’s in a bit of a bad space, and at best the experience is just okay.
That's it in a nutshell.

I think that the real reason that Season 6 has proven to be so enduringly controversial amongst the fans has less to do with the fact that it has some bad episodes - every season (except perhaps S.3) has some bad episodes - although it may have more than others, and far more to do with the fact that this was the season that, for all intents and purposes, brought about the effective end of the Scooby Gang. The characters are all still there at the beginning of next season (or at least, most of them are), and the relationships between them are still the central driving force for the story, but the dynamic between them has changed.

Arguably this was a development that had to happen to the show at some point before its end - no high school clique realistically lasts forever. And this is, after all, a show whose central metaphor is primarily concerned with the process of reaching adulthood. Still, it does sometimes make one wax nostalgic for the easy relationship that the Scoobies had with each other in the earlier seasons.
TBGH
12. Dianthus
Ironically, tomorrow's my B'day. Great timing, Alyx! Now I feel all special.

One thing you didn't mention tho' is the big old elephant in the room (in fact, Dawn's the only one who does mention it). Spike is still bruised from Dead Things.
S'posedly, they were working on an ep that would've addressed what happened. For some strange reason, it didn't come together in time, so they gave us this little gem instead. Imagine...how, in a show like this, do you justify that? You don't. You f*cking can't! So you pretty much just go on with things. Sh!t happens, ya'know.

Slightly OT: I read a retelling of this ep written in the style of Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones's Diary). It was v. well done and quite funny. The same writer also did a reimagening of AYW in the same style. Sadly, those were the only two I found. Buffy/Bridget is a scream.

'Nobody knows my pain' seems to be one of Whedon's favorite themes, IMO. Which leads me to a rant. The initial tragedy, Mom died and Dad sent him away, totally sucks, no question.
However, Dad didn't exactly drive young Whedon out into the streets to fend for himself, either. He still got room and board, a good education and the chance to make friends. Now he's wealthy and successful and happily married.
It may not be the ideal way to grow up, but it's a hell of a lot better than some. Just ask Malala Yousafzai. She took a bullet to the head, for pity's sake, and now she's giving speeches at the UN.
I'm hoping his move away from original material signifies that the butthurt he nursed for so long has finally faded.
I guess he just proves his own point. Women are tougher than men.
TBGH
13. Dianthus
Oops! Almost forgot.
"Allegedly attractive" FTW! Spike is so much hotter it hurts (he's too sexy for this party), but his insecurities still come out to play. I wonder how he'd feel if he knew Tara was in the loop? Too bad she didn't metaphorically whack him upside the head with a clue-by-four.

In Barb's stories, which I have referenced here before, Spike and Anya form a business venture that comes to be known as Bloody Vengence, Inc. Spike goes on the hunt for (non-sentient) demon parts Anya can sell as spell components. I'd love it for the name alone, but it's also practical and makes way more sense than what we got from the show.
TBGH
14. Alex C.
@12. Happy Birthday, Dianthus!
Alyx Dellamonica
15. AMDellamonica
Yes, Spike's still bruised. Yes, it's perhaps something of a skate for us to not see the first Spuffy encounter after the beating. But I'm kind of okay with them not acknowledging it on her birthday.
TBGH
16. Dianthus
@14. Thanks! And a merry unbirthday to you.

@15. I'm not saying her B'day party is the appropriate venue for such a scene. It isn't. I'm just saying it's a dick move. If you're gonna go there, then go there. Have some idea of how you're gonna deal with the consequences.
I read a post once suggesting they made Spike too sympathetic in s5, and then felt the need to backpeddle. Bugger that. They made him too sympathetic in s6, AR and all. I'm sure they thought it was great fun to turn the tables on Spike and Anya. After all the humans they hurt, now the humans are hurting them.
Jason Parker
17. tarbis
Season six was really bad at tying up subplots. This episode was supposed to tie up the Dawn feeling abandoned and acting out subplot, but mainly succeeded at making her less likeable. (Not a good thing for a character that a number of fans already hated.) "Hell's Bells" was supposed to finish the Xander/Anya romance subplot, but did so by making them both look pretty unpleasant. (Neither character fully recovers until late in the next season.) Burying both these subplots under Willow's addiction plot and Buffy's self-loathing until all three characters were low on screentime didn't help either.

It doesn't help that viewers who supported Buffy going behind Joyce's back, moping with her own abandonment issues, getting terrible grades, constantly cutting class, sneaking into college parties, abandoning her responsibilities, demanding that she was the center of the universe, and generally acting out earlier in the show's run had gotten older. If they were still watching then they were looking at those activities with different eyes or at least eyes that were much less forgiving of seeing the same mistakes coming from a different character.
Chris Nelly
18. Aeryl
It doesn't help that viewers who supported Buffy

My issue isn't that I don't understand Dawn, and I support her for most of her stuff this season, it's just this episode, she goes SO OVER the top, I can't.

But I do feel people give Buffy more slack, because of the special destiny she's burdened with. Dawn's got burdens too, but hers are those she can address and move on from, but Buffy never can.
TBGH
19. Gardner Dozois
The problem with Season Six (Season Seven is even worse in this regard) is that although it's often intense, especially during the Dark Willow arc and the episodes where Spike and Buffy hook up, somewhere along the line the show stopped being FUN. The fact that the Scooby gang no longer really enjoy hanging out with each other anymore, each locked in their own little ball of misery, doesn't help either. Part of what made the show fun was enjoying the artifical family the Scoobies had created for themselves, and feeling almost a part of it; that became much harder to do as time went on. The show was often still intense, yes--but also bleak and morose, with Buffy sunk in gloom and depression. It's actually a relief when she grimly devotes herself to the survival of the Slayer line in the next season--at least she's feeling SOMETHING about something, and grim single-minded life-or-death determination is easier to watch than sodden hopeless depression. But the days when watcing this show was FUN are well behind it.
Janice Boyd
20. scaredicat
@19. I'm with you on this. Season Six has lost the snarky humor that made Buffy fun to watch in the earlier seasons. It's no longer "us against the world/high school/monsters"; now it's "us against ourselves." Everyone is floundering and missing the mark, and it's kind of painful to watch. Season Seven continues the floundering sans snark, but at least there is an external antagonist.

It's around this point during the original broadcast that I stopped religiously watching the series.
Emma Rosloff
21. emmarosloff
I agree that this episode seems to highlight how the entire Scooby gang is going through the motions -- walking through their parts -- all of them dealing with their own seperate insecurities and challenges. Spike and Tara stand out the most to me in this episode, if only for keeping me engaged. I loved how Tara acted as a buffer between Spike and Buffy (also later, between Anya and Willow); she continues to stand out as the only level-headed Scooby in this season, which makes her tragic death in Seeing Red all the more terrible. And James Marsters performs beautifully, as always -- Spike's not in a good place (which is saying something for Spike) and his creep factor's pretty high, but JM manages to make it captivating.

Outside those two, though, everyone's so wrapped in their own stuff that I had trouble hooking into them at all. Anya and Xander are surpressing wedding jitters (and all the deep-seeded fears that come with), Buffy's self-loathing is peaking, Willow is somewhat pitiful sans magic and Dawn is so petulant that no matter how justified her reasons I find myself grinding my teeth having to endure her scenes.

It's just too much! Particularly in Dawn's case -- I agree with others that this is one of my least favorite Dawn episodes. Michelle Trackenburg has her strong moments throughout the series; I even found her character more palatable overall upon rewatching, but I just don't think her performance here holds the weight it needs to carry this episode. Look at JM for comparison... an episode can fall flat; he can even be written poorly... and he still does an excellent job. I'm just sayin'.
TBGH
22. Dianthus
What's crazy about all this is we've already been through it in s4. The Scoobies are starting to loose cohesion, so much so that Spike nearly separates them in The Yoko Factor. It wasn't as dark or unpleasant, and they did reunite (in a spectacular way) by the end, but it's kinda similar. I think I liked it better the first time around.
Chris Nelly
23. Aeryl
@23, But the underlying issues were never addressed in S4. Spike split them up, they caught on that they were played, reaffirmed their love for one another, and discovered that together they are more than the sum of their parts.

But they never really addressed HOW Spike was able to do that. Then S5 happened, and adapting to Dawn and Glory's arrival, and the Joyce's death, left them no space to deal with this stuff.

Buffy's resentment has allowed these unaddressed feelings to dominate her right now. Her affinity with her Slayer side and it's compatibility with Riley was part of what caused the rift in the Gang, and here, again, she's retreating to her Slayer side, which is why she has this affinity with Spike.
TBGH
24. Dianthus
No, you're @23. ;-)
Lack of communication has always been a huge bugaboo with these characters, no matter how many words they spew at one another. We discussed that after all the revelations of OMWF. All these problems come to light, and they do nothing about them.
TBGH
25. Alex C.
@19. & 20.

Again, this is purely a matter of subjective taste, but I couldn't disagree with you more. There's no doubt at all that both of the last two seasons of the show had some serious flaws, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the heck out of them when I first watched them, and I found that they both still hold plenty of value for (selective) re-watching as well.

Season 6 may have bitten off more than it could chew at times, the execution of some of the character arcs (read: Willow the magic addict) were not always executed particularly smoothly, and there are undoubtedly some episodes scattered across the season that are some of the worst in the entire show (of which "As You Were" easily takes the cake). But these weaknesses aren't nearly enough to outweigh the many things that this season gets right (first and foremost, I stand by my previous statement that having Buffy struggle with depression for the season was one of the boldest and best directions that the show ever took with the character arc of its protagonist, and that plotline resulted in some absolutely phenomenal episodes).

Although I can understand the complaint from some people that the show stopped being 'fun' after Season 5 because it became darker in tone and theme and chose to explore (sometimes with mixed results) the fractures in the dynamics of the main characters, it isn't one that I can agree with. I loved the family aspect of the Scooby Gang and all the other things from the early seasons that people complain disappeared, but IMO, five seasons of that stuff was plenty. In terms of entertainment, nothing sticks in my craw quite like tv shows (or any type of series for that matter) that stick to a tried-and-true formula and simply ride it to death rather than allowing growth and change to lead towards the end. Granted, it's not an easy thing to do by any stretch of the imagination, and a lot of shows that try it end up shooting themselves in the foot (which is why so many stick with the safe-and-easy route until they get axed), but for my money Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to pull it off, which is one of the (many) reasons why I have so much time for this series.

Basically, by the end of Season 5, Buffy and her friends' "Big Damn Heroes" aspect had grown to the point where it really couldn't get any damn bigger. In The Gift, they pooled their talents to defeat a freakin' hell goddess, and capped it off with Buffy performing a beautifully emotional self-sacrifice to save the world (again). How do you top that? (Arguably by having them fight the living incarnation of Evil, but that power gets kept dry for Season 7). The answer that Joss & the writers came up with - to have the Scoobies spend a season with their own inner demons as their true worst enemies - was a gutsy one, and even if it didn't quite work out all the time, I still think it's great. Watching the characters struggle with "life itself" as the Big Bad sometimes made for some painful viewing, but what impressed me both then and now is that it almost never feels like the writers were untrue to the characters - on the contrary, several of the series-long character arcs were in my view greatly enhanced by this season.

All the good things about S.6 - Buffy's brilliant character arc, the build-up of her relationship with Spike (which will pay off in spades next season), the numerous brilliant individual episodes, the (underrated, IMO) characters of the Trio, the Dark Willow twist that capped off the season, the show's willingness to delve into meta-textual commentary on itself, etc - it all adds up to a lot of very compelling television. If given the choice between this and an alternative universe where we got a redux of the more light-hearted stuff from the earlier seasons, I would happily stick with what we got.

That said, I will note that I had a somewhat different experience watching the show than some of the people commenting here evidently did, which may contribute to the difference in opinion. I was a latecomer to Buffy - I didn't first see the show until years after it had finished, and it was only some time after that that I began to watch it right through from the beginning and became a fan. As a result, my first experience of the later seasons was by binge-watching them, which I am convinced had a positive effect on my appreciation for them. Case in point: I got through the entire lowest stretch of Season 6 - Older and Far Away, As You Were, and Hell's Bells - in a single night of viewing, which was discouraging to say the least, but left me well positioned to bounce back with the raft of excellent episodes which follow after these, and consequently I never lost faith in the series the way that some fans seem to have.
Chris Nelly
26. Aeryl
@25, I just wanted to chime in to say that I agree with everything.

My perspective is a bit different than most folks too, I started watching Buffy live DURING S6, while watching the previous episodes on reruns concurrently.

So really, aside from a few individual eps I had seen, like Fool For Love, it was my introduction to the show, and I had never known the silly light characters from earlier seasons, so the transition was never jarring to me.
TBGH
27. Alex C.
@24.

It's not that they do nothing about the problems - they actually do quite a lot. The trouble is that what they do is very, very wrong.

@22.

There's a distinction to be drawn, I feel, and it's an important one. The conflict of Season 4 was fundamentally rooted in problems of identity, with all of the Scoobies having just come into the adult world, so to speak (the kids had all left school/home, and Giles was finding his way without being a Watcher), and consequently struggling to define themselves and each other, which consequently led to clashes (which they triumphed by rising above, etc).

This season the problems have less to do with confusion of identity, and more to do with nature. All of the Scoobies have taken a great deal of damage as well as growing stronger over the years, and in this season a lot of those chickens come home to roost, so to speak.
TBGH
29. Gardner Dozois
I kept watching Season Six and (even more so) Season Seven out of a sense of duty, because I'd watched all the rest of the series. If I'd STARTED watching BUFFY during the driest part of Season Six, I doubt that I would have bothered to continue watching the show. That's the difference. For all the positive aspects of Seasons Six and Seven (and even I will admit that there are some), something went out of the show after Season Five, and in some ways, except for isolated bright spots like the musical, it never came back. After it switched networks, the show "came back wrong."
TBGH
30. Dianthus
For some time now, I've been arguing that Spike's chip had become irrelevant and he didn't really need a soul. The scene in Wrecked is usually brought up in response. Supposedly it proves that he's still just a monster who's made no moral progression.
It occured to me last night that this may be exactly what they want us to think. What they want Spike to think. The chip fires and it's a moot point. A classic bit of misdirection.
However, one of the main themes of the season is addiction. Vampirism is a stand-in for addiction. It's got its hooks in him so deep (supposedly) that he's powerless against it.
OTOH, it's all about power. When Spike hurts Buffy in Seeing Red, the chip doesn't fire. Without that blinding pain, he's able to see the truth. He does so have the power. He has, in a sense, had the power all along. He is stronger than his addiction and he chooses to 'get sober.' What is it he says in Lover's Walk?
"I think I'm soberin' up."
Credit where it's due, that's some seriously deep play.
TBGH
31. adaptr
@Alex C (9):
Halfrek is played by Kali Rocha, who also played Cecily in Fool For Love, so that fact that she and Spike recognize each other is a bit of a tweak at the audience by the writers.
Halfrek is Cecily. She became a vengeance demon after Spike dumped her in front of his mother in the 1880s somewhere (Fool for Love). Alyx refers to this in the rewatch:
Next there’s a hilarious moment where Hallie and Spike recognize each other (you all remember how their pasts intersect, right?)
and it was never in doubt that that is who she was.
Hence the awkwardness. (I love how Halfrek can say "Awkwarrrd")
TBGH
32. Alex C.
@31. I hadn't picked up on that, thanks.
.......

@30. Fair argument, and I think that you might have a point.
.......

@29. Again, a matter of subjective taste. The show came back different, but I think that it was right to do so. Agree to disagree.
TBGH
33. Dianthus
@32. Thank you. I think it hangs together fairly well. I haven't seen anything like this out there. I just seem to remember somebody associated with the ep (director? one of the writers?) going on record that Spike would've felt bad about it if he'd hurt that woman.
TBGH
34. Alex C.
@33. I agree with you to an extent, but still strongly disagree with you that Spike "doesn't really need" to get his soul back in order to complete the next stage of his development as a character.

Spike may have grown to the point where he would have felt bad about it if he'd been able to "go through it" with the woman in Wrecked, but it wouldn't have been because he had any particular regard for her life or feelings. Spike demonstrated fairly clearly in Dead Things (through his treatment of Katrina's death) that his views about the greater part of humanity - i.e. the ones that he doesn't know personally and care about, like Buffy and her sister - haven't changed a great deal since Becoming, Part 2, when he described them as so many happy meals on legs (now he just can't eat the damned things). He's proven by this point, over and again, that he's capable of developing positive feelings towards certain individuals, but he's incapable of caring about humans in the abstract, because he's missing a crucial part of the essence of humanity that in the Buffyverse is embodied in the soul.

This lack is the single overwhelming obstacle that stops Buffy - in this season - from ever comitting to him in the way that he wants her to - even after she has unwound to the point that she's able to see him as a person in his own right rather than as a forcibly restrained monster, and even grown to care about him in a way. (I consider As You Were to be probably my single least favorite episode in the entire series, but even so, the scene at the end when she calls him William - for the first time? - was a touching one, for me). For all that her arc concerns her own inner darkness and sense of herself, at the end of the day caring about her fellow humanity is the essence of Buffy as a character - it's the main reason that she's stuck with the Slaying gig, even through her darkest moments - and in my reading, this is what creates the unbridgeable gulf between them. Unbridgeable that is, until Spike does find a way to bridge it.

This is more pertinent to a discussion of Season 7, but I think that getting his soul back was important to Spike's character development for reasons that go beyond making him emotionally/spiritually viable to Buffy as a romantic partner for the first time. As much as Spike was capable of developing complex feelings towards certain humans (Buffy in particular, but also Dawn, and to a lesser extent her friends), he was never very good at understanding them - and this shines through especially in this season. His relationship with Buffy in S.6 fails in large part I think because he misunderstands her (despite being crazily in love with her) just as much as she does him, and their reconciliation in Season 7 is built on their ability to form a true and proper understanding of each other for the first time - something beautifully realized in Touched and Chosen.
TBGH
35. Dianthus
And yet, SMG herself said that no one understood Buffy as well as Spike. He has William's memories (I, too, appreciate it when she calls him by his human name) and William was an educated man. He has the capacity to reason and feel genuine emotion. Personally, I think you're selling him a bit short, but then I'm clearly biased.
Also, I can't help but compare Spike's situation with Angel's, as they did so often on the show. Angel's had his soul for over a century, but once the curse is broken? Look out! It hadn't made a dent. Talk about no moral progression.
Spike, by contrast, has a chip in his head for three years. For most of that first year he just wants it out. Then he's off to get his soul. How is that possible, if he's a slave to his nature, if he's made no moral progression? All I'm saying is they had a tendency to tell us one thing (i.e., Buffy doesn't trust Spike) and show us the exact opposite (i.e., she teams up with him , invites him into her home, and leaves him alone with her mom).
Don't get me wrong tho' - a monster who undertakes a Hero's Journey? Sign me up! I went to one of JM's public appearances and got the chance to talk to him briefly as he was signing the box of my action figure (it's really a very good likeness). I told him how impressed I was with Spike's evolution. He thanked me and said it was "a really weird ride."
You're right to say you seldom see that with TV characters.
Constance Sublette
36. Zorra
@25. Alex C. -- For what it's worth, I feel the same way as you on all the points you describe, particularly how beautifully season 6 sets up season 7. I'm one of those for whom a very little of snarky patter and comedy go a verry long way, and prefer even the final 3 seasons to the first 3 -- and except for the demon roommate, mostly really like the before and after bridging season 4. If they'd carried on for 7 seasons as they did in the first three, I'd never have watched the following 4 seasons.

That's the test of a really great series: how often can you re-watch it?

There have been series I really loved while watching them, but I'll never re-watch a single episode of them, much less all the seasons multiple times. Which is what I do with Buffy.

Love, C.
TBGH
37. Dianthus
I'm one of those folks who started watching from the beginning. It really does seem to make a difference, re: your enjoyment of the later seasons.
I loved the campy fun of the earler seasons. I loved Buffy's spunk and quippyness. I loved fun, playful, sexy, AntiHero!Spike.
Hero!Spike is great and I was so proud of him coming back from the AR the way he did, but AntiHero!Spike is just more interesting to me. He cares about the people he loves. He doesn't have to be Good to do good. Things that mattered to Buffy mattered to him, and he stuck around to honor his promise to protect Dawn after Buffy's sacrifice.
If I had come into the series at, say, Doublemeat Phallus, I don't know if I would've kept watching. Overall, it's one of my least favorite episodes of the entire series. And don't even get me started on the plot-eating virus that attacked the last half of s7. Gah!
TBGH
38. Alex C.
@35. Thanks! I'm completely with you on the test of a great series or work of fiction (not just tv) being how well it stands up when you reexperience it. Buffy is one of the very few television shows that passes that test with flying colors for me.

I also really liked Season 4, and agree with you - despite its flaws, I think that it gets underrated by a lot of the fans.
TBGH
39. Alex C.
^^^

Sorry, the above comment was meant for @36. Zorra
TBGH
40. Alex C.
@35. Dianthus - you make excellent points, and definitely mount a convincing argument (I might retract my assertion that he has made "no" moral progression prior to regaining his soul), but I continue to stand by my interpretation that the recovery of his soul was a vital component in Spike's development as a character over the final two seasons.

Concerning Spike being the person who understood Buffy best - I think that there's truth to this statement, but in a very selective sense. Although there were a great many points of Buffy's character that Spike was able to pick up on and address with her far better than any of her friends and family were able to (eg. confronting the reality of her inner darkness in S.5, and the source of her despondency after she was resurrected), at the same time there is no getting around that there were clearly multiple points on which Spike didn't understand Buffy any more than she understood him - eg. their clash over Katrina in Dead Things, and the fact that he didn't really comprehend how Buffy saw their S.6 relationship (i.e. that she was basically using him) until after Seeing Red, or arguably not even until his soliloquy in Beneath You (which not coincidently echoed that line from Fool For Love).

Concerning the comparison with Angel - this is one of the things that makes debate over the "soul canon" in the Buffyverse such a tricky subject. The personality divide between Angel's souled and unsouled selves is so great that many fans identify 'Angel'/'Angelus' as constituting virtually seperate characters. Spike by contrast is unquestionably the same vampire on both the before and after sides of the souled/unsouled divide. I think that getting his soul back did change him, and in important ways, but the change came in the form of enabling him to complete a progression that he was already travelling on, but which he could not have continued with otherwise. The soul symbolized his decision to commit to the direction he was beginning to take of rediscovering his latent humanity.

All told, it was indeed a fantastic evolution, for an amazing break-out character.
TBGH
41. Dianthus
@40. Thank you. I've enjoyed our back-and-forth on this issue, and it's helped me clarify my own thinking.
The recovery of Spike's soul sped up his evolution. Yes, it changed him in important ways, but those changes would've happened regardless, IMO. That's why I say he didn't need it. He is a Special Snowflake, after all.
For intance, he loves Buffy. Willow is Buffy's friend. Willow loves Tara. When that love is threatened, he acts to save it. That's one degree of separation already.
I don't think we were ever as far apart on this issue as you thought.
Still, we can both agree that Spike totally kicks a$$, and isn't that what really matters?
TBGH
42. Alex C.
@37.
If I had come into the series at, say, Doublemeat Phallus, I don't know if I would've kept watching. Overall, it's one of my least favorite episodes of the entire series. And don't even get me started on the plot-eating virus that attacked the last half of s7. Gah!
Having also watched the series through from the beginning before I experienced the last two seasons of the show, I can't say one way or the other how I would have responded to the series if my first extended watching of it had come from the latter part. However, I am inclined to think that I still would have had a positive reaction to it. Yes, it's been hammered home again and again by critics and fans alike that there are a handful of episodes in the sixth season (Doublemeat Palace, As You Were, Older and Far Away, and Hell's Bells, essentially) that are amongst the worst in the entire show. But they are outnumbered by the episodes in this season that easily stand as some of the best in the entire show - not just Once More With Feeling, which eats up all the attention, but also Normal Again, Dead Things, Tabula Rasa, etc, as well as all the episodes that fall just short of achieving the status of "great" but still manage to be damned good. There's more than enough good television in Season 6, on top of frequently brilliant development of the characters and themes, that I think there's a better than equal chance that it would have hooked me.

As for the criticism about Season 7, I've seen that assertion made multiple times, and I still vehemently disagree with it. It is true that there is a period in the middle of the season (basically running from Potential through to Get It Done) when the writers allowed the seasonal narrative to meander in an unfortunate way (although it helps that none of these episodes are bad ones - just not overly stellar ones), and this constitutes probably the biggest weakness of the season. Thankfully however, S.7 neatly recovers its footing with its last third, and the final seven episodes constitute, IMO, one of the strongest back-to-back sections in the entire show: kicking off with the two brilliant individual episodes Storyteller and Lies My Parents Told Me, continuing on through the episodes dominated by the presence of Caleb, and barrelling through to the finale, which ended the show in magnificent form.

All told, I think that there's a lot of good (as well as some definite bad) to be said about both of the last two seasons of BtVS, but my opinion is firm that of the two, the latter one is easily the stronger work. S.7 is actually tied as my second favourite of the entire series.
TBGH
43. Alex C.
@41. You are most welcome. I've also loved having this discussion, and hope that we can come up with some similar productivity concerning other issues in the series over the rest of the re-watch.
Still, we can both agree that Spike totally kicks a$$, and isn't that what really matters?
Hell yeah! Basically from S.5 onwards, there was never any doubt at all for me that Spike was easily my second favourite character on the show, after Buffy herself.
Constance Sublette
44. Zorra
I saw some eps of season one with a friend at her house. I hated it.

I began really watching Buffy, on dvd, when I suffered a serious health problem in the summer of 2004. Those were the first three. I still was rather bored by the monsters and so on, particularly in season one. But season one concluded with such a bang-up set of episodes, I continued.

Then we left the City for a fellowship at Tulane. This was before netflix, I think .... Anyway, I was entirely occupied there with the research project. Also, getting to know the new friends, the music, New Orleans. The dvd rental places like Blockbuster, etc., were very hit and miss in what they had, and they carried a lot less variety of things than the video stores here did. The first four seasons of Buffy were not there. I picked up season 5 -- saw Dawn, and ejected that dvd. I finally watched it, in sequence, about a year after coming home -- all four and then five seasons. And then the last two. I started over from season one immediately -- and there was definitely netflix by then! Now it's the boxed set.

What this means, I guess I'm trying to say, is that I've seen the first three seasons more often than the last two, with the two before that, kind of in the middle. I don't think this has anything to do with my preference for the later sequence of seasons though. My personal taste in entertainment is interested in monsters and so on.

Love, C.
TBGH
45. Dianthus
To be honest, I think Spike is actually my favorite character. It seems to me that Buffy and (to a lesser extent) Angel are hampered somewhat by being main characters. Spike, as a second banana, had more freedom to be whatever...stone cold villain, comic relief, romantic leading man... you name it.
Plus, JM is a powerhouse actor. I've been listening to him narrate The Dresden Files audiobooks (all but #13). The first one (Storm Front) is a bit rocky, but they're all worth the price of admission. If you haven't read/listened to this series, I highly recommend it. There's nothing like having JM read you a bed-time story.
As for s7, I've reviewed those episodes least out of all the seasons. The rewatch will be something of a challenge for me when we get to these eps 'cuz I don't remember them as well as the others.
On the whole, there was one episode (Beneath You) that I liked most of the way through, and some scenes from other eps (the end of Showtime, for example) that I really liked. Other than that, I wasn't too happy with what I saw at the time.
As invested as I was/am in Spuffy, that strongly colored my responses. Perhaps our rewatch discussions will give me a new perspective on it. I make no promises, but anything's possible.
I'll admit I didn't catch the 'O face' thing in Chosen. Weirdly, it kinda makes sense that the only time we see it has nothing to do with an actual orgasm. That's just Joss for you.
As for future topics of discussion, I'm always up for a game of compare and contrast btwn Spike and Angel. Frankly, the only time I might choose Angel over Spike is if I needed something down off a high shelf. OTOH, I could just ask Spike for a boost, and wouldn't that be fun?
Alyx Dellamonica
46. AMDellamonica
Frankly, the only time I might choose Angel over Spike is if I needed something down off a high shelf.

Bwahahaha!
TBGH
47. Gardner Dozois
David Boneraz, although fairly well-built, is not actually all that tall. They did their best on both ANGEL and BUFFY to shoot him from camera angels that made him look tall, though. I'm not sure he's any taller than James Marsters, although he's more heavily built.

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