“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!
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.
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, 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.
(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.
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.
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”!)