Older and Far Away

Written by Drew Z. Greenberg
Directed by Michael Gershman

Perri's Review | SunSpeak

Perri's Review

Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anya's old demon friend Halfrek showed up in town for the wedding, Tara and Willow continue the awkwardness, Spike and Buffy continue the boinking, Buffy beats the crap out of Spike, Tara told Buffy she didn't come back wrong, and Buffy told Tara she's boinking Spike.

Buffy rushes around assembling Slaying gear, apologizing to Dawn as she goes for yet another Summers Family Dinner that isn't. But there's something nasty and non-vampiric wandering around that must be dealt with. Dawn smiles and says she understands, and almost manages to sound sincere, even after Buffy blows off her suggestion that she wait up to help Buffy make birthday plans -- apparently, Buffy thinks Willow's got that under control. Buffy tosses out some parental orders, then disappears out the door, leaving Dawn standing in the living room alone. Buffy heads for the graveyard and meets the enemy, something large and red with an long sword, and a disquieting tendency to blink in and out of thin air. Buffy disarms him handily, and shoves the sword into his stomach. He knocks Buffy into the ground as he writhes in agony, so she doesn't see him turn into a stream of energy and vanish into the sword. "Ran off, huh?" she taunts him in absentia. "Afraid to face a true warrior?" Then she spots the sword. "Ooh, shiny!" The sword comes with her when she leaves.

At the Magic Shop, Anya, Willow and Xander as discussing the last plans for Buffy's birthday party. Willow assures a worried Xander that she has no problems with Tara being invited, as Dawn arrives. Conversation shifts to the Legion of Dorkness, who has gone into hiding, before Dawn asks if anyone wants to come to the mall with her for some last minute shopping. Willow turns her down reluctantly -- she's got a meeting of Spellcasters Anonymous -- and both Anya and Xander have work. "You okay going on your own?" Willow asks. "Yeah," Dawn says with a forced smile. "Somehow I'll manage to pull it off." She arrives home later to an empty house, and makes her way up to her room. She pulls a handful of jewelry, still with price tags attached, out of her pocket, then slips off her coat to reveal a black leather jacket. Also still price tagged. She inspects it in the mirror, wrapping it closely around herself.

Dawn slumps at her desk the next morning until she's summoned to the guidance office. The guidance counselor is a youngish brunette who looks strangely familiar to everyone but Dawn; she's new, and wants to follow up on how Dawn is doing after her mother's death. Dawn's grades are still slipping and she's distracted in class; "My job -- the most important part of my job -- is looking after you," the counselor assures her. "I know there's been a lot of loss." Dawn looks down, then up. "Yes. People have a tendency to go away... and I miss them. And sometimes... I wish I could just make them stop going away." The counselor smiles and Dawn tries to blow it off.

Back at Casa Summers, party preparation is in full swing -- Buffy has invited the gang, and her friend Sophie from work. Xander and Anya look surprised. "What, like I'm one of those losers who can't make friends outside her tight little circle? No, I'm friendly. We bonded instantly. Peas in a pod. Bonded peas." Anya: "Really? Um, what's Sophie's last name?" Buffy: "...Okay. Shut up." Xander jumps into smooth things over, and incidentally mentions that he invited a friend as well. Buffy smells set-up and objects, but Xander assures her it's nothing of the kind. Anya backs him up. "Right. No. Just an attractive single man, with whom we hope you find much in common. And if you happen to form a romantic relationship, leading to babies and many double dates with us so we have someone else to talk to, yay!" Throttling is mentioned and Xander runs for it. Tara arrives and is greeted with enthusiasm; she checks on Buffy, who tells her Spike isn't coming. "He may be a chip-head, but he still doesn't play too well with others." Buffy returns the favor for the nervous Tara, then runs for it as soon as Willow appears. More awkwardness ensues between the estranged lovers until Tara makes a run for it. Which seems to be something of a theme -- this is going to be some party.

In the kitchen, Tara gratefully accepts a drink before Buffy finishes offering it, and is still there when Spike, still bruised, arrives for the party -- Willow invited him. And he brought his demon friend Clem from the poker game. As Xander brings in his friend Richard for introductions, and ham-handedly sends Buffy off with him. "Skin condition," she explain off Clem as they leave. Spike is, of course, not happy about Richard's presence. "I don't know -- he seemed cute," Tara observes, yanking Spike's chain with wide-eyed innocence. "Was he cute? I mean, I'm not a very good judge, but... I think he seemed cute." Dawn is agitating for immediate present opening, but Anya and Xander want Buffy and Richard to have more alone-time, so she can make a new "grown-up friend". Dawn tells them she knows what they're up to, and gets patronized by Anya for it. She heroically restrains herself from throttling, as Spike intercepts Buffy for a quick mack attack. He hassles her about Richard, and she hassles him about being jealous before walking away. "Jealous, my ass," he mutters towards her back.

Presents finally happen, and Dawn presents her sister with the leather jacket -- still with the security tag attached. Before Buffy can pursue it, Xander wheels in the wooden chest he build for Buffy, with convenient compartments for all slaying weapons. The doorbell rings to announce the arrival of Sophie and her dietary requirements as passed along from her mother -- she seems to be allergic to everything. "Our friend is better," Anya mutters to Buffy as the door closes behind the group. On the porch, Dawn's guidance counselor wanders into sight, and did you notice that pendent she was wearing before? Well, you do when her face goes all demony. "Wish granted," Halfrek intones.

The party swings along nicely -- music plays, people dance and people talk. Dawn watches it all from the couch with a curious mixture of total happiness and utter tension. Richard comments to Buffy on how well the party is going -- "Look what time it is, and no one's even thinking about leaving. I can't tear myself away," he adds self-consciously. He offers to get Buffy a drink; as Spike begins looming in the doorway behind him, Buffy refuses graciously. Spike, of course, has to mock, as he moves into Buffy's personal space. She moves away (with no real conviction) and he follows, trapping her against the stairs. She leans in -- then jerks away as Tara appears from the living room. Buffy leaves quickly, and Spike tries to bluff his way out to a highly-amused Tara. "I had a muscle cramp. Buffy was helping.," he lies badly and Tara smiles innocently. "A muscle cramp? In your... pants?" Spike bristles, "What? It's a thing!" Tara smiles again, as she wanders away: "Right." Obviously, at least someone is having fun with this. No one's having fun with Xander and Anya being cute about trying to make someone else make the beer run -- Willow finally volunteers to shut them up, but neither she nor Sophie is able to actually make themselves get up to leave. Three hours later, as Monopoly and poker games (Clem: "It's not the same without the kittens.") cruise along, Richard tentatively suggests that they should be thinking about leaving, since it's two in the morning. Dawn begs for a slumber party, and Buffy shrugs agreement. "Must be some late-night activities to keep us busy till morning," Spike grumbles. Tara, on the other side of the poker table, asks sweetly, "How's that cramp, Spike? Still bothering you?.... Maybe you want to put some ice on it."

The sun rises on a living room full of sleeping people and a few die-hard awake ones. Richard points out that he and Xander have to be at work in a few minutes. Spike takes the opportunity to recommence the Richard mocking, advising him to be sure and eat breakfast after he leaves. "Me, I used to love breakfast. In the old days, I probably would have eaten by now." Buffy warns, "Course, with that new diet of yours, you want to be careful what you try putting in your mouth now, Spikey." She yanks spike into the hall and informs him, "We do not joke about eating people in this house!" They have a short, intense fight about Spike's inability to hang out with her friends, as Willow and Tara have a short, intensely awkward moment in the kitchen, neither of them able to force themselves to leave. Spike and Buffy aren't either -- and they're really, seriously trying, since they're in the "stomp off in a huff" portion of the fight. "Well," Buffy says, suddenly worried, "this can't be good."

"There's something keeping us in this house." The situation is communicated to the rest of the party, but no one has anything helpful to offer, and no escape attempts come even close to succeeding. "We all have places that we'd rather be," Buffy says. "I think our first priority is finding a way out." Dawn speaks up from where she's been sitting unhappily on the couch. "Sure. Of course you all want to leave. Because being stuck in here with me -- that would really suck, right?" Willow tries (badly) to reassures her. "No, Dawnie, it's just that... we have more important things we need to be doing." Dawn stomps up to her room in a serious teenage hissy fit, and everyone who knows her exchanges significant glances, and follows. Dawn flops on her bed as the others file in; Buffy asks, "Dawn? Did you do something?" Near tears, Dawn denies everything. "So you've all just decided that somehow I'm responsible. Great. Here's me basking in the love." Reassurances that she won't be in trouble, and they're just trying to figure out what's going on fail; "Figure it out yourself," Dawn snaps. "I'm sick of being talked to like a kid." Her denials escalate, although she tells them, "I wish I did! How else can I get anyone to spend a little time with me?" Her voice on the last is suspiciously Exorcist-like; but not nearly so disturbing as when she gives up and starts screaming at everyone to get out.

"I think she's possessed," Anya concludes, and Buffy goes into a guilt trip about neglecting her sister. Spike doesn't sound unsympathetic, but does observe, "Hey, I don't want to keep you from all the touchy-feelies, but maybe the encounter group can meet later? Say, when we're not trapped in a house." Buffy settles down tot he problem, and suggests magic; Tara inserts hastily that she'll do it, not Willow, but she needs supplies. Buffy tells her they got rid of everything in the house but Willow guiltily admits, "Not... everything." Buffy and Tara look hugely disappointed in her, but get to work. Tara mixes together a potion as Willow, Anya and Spike loom by the door, ready to go on Tara's signal, and the two mundanes in the crowd, Richard and Sophie, are getting steadily more freaked by the whole situation. Tara casts her spell, a simple, "Release" and smoke and lights drift out. One tendril wraps round the sword Buffy took off the disappearing demon, but everyone's paying more attention to the door. Which no one can move towards still, even though Spike's giving it all he's got. They collapse in disappointment -- as demon guy looms behind them with his bright, shiny sword. He attacks and things get messy fast. Richard takes a bad wound in the side before Buffy and Spike can intervene. They get thrown across the room and the demon disappears again. "It'll be okay," Buffy promises as the others work on Richard. "I promise, we'll be out of here soon."

Or not so soon -- at nightfall, they're still in there. "So, you ever think about not celebrating your birthday?" Spike asks unhelpfully. "Just to try it, I mean?" The demon is still as large, moving through the walls around them, and Richard is in bad shape, despite everything Tara can do. Xander and Anya hang out in the bathroom as Anya has a major-league freak out, Panic Attacks R Us. Xander tries to reassure her, then leaves to get her water, but as he makes his way down the stairs, the demon attacks, Spike leaps to the rescue and Buffy appears seconds later; she yells at Spike to grab his sword, but the demon is considerably stronger than the vampire and disappears again before either of them has any luck. Xander, who took a slice in the shoulder, pulls himself to his feet as Anya rushes downstairs, trying to convince both of them that he's all right. Buffy tries to check on Dawn, but she's still in pissed-off sulk mode. "It's not like I meant for this to happen. I didn't want this." Buffy: "What did you want?" Dawn: "You don't know. You have this thing you do. You have all these friends. You don't know what it's like... being alone."

The rest of the gang is in the dining room, brainstorming again. "I'd say we try another spell, but I think we've tried everything," Tara says helplessly. "That's not completely true," Anya says, very deliberately, turning to look at Willow. "we're sitting here with an incredibly powerful witch -- more powerful than you, Tara, I'm sorry -- only no one seems willing to say it." Willow protests weakly that she can't and Anya bulldozes coldly over her. "No, see, that's not exactly true, either. Not can't -- won't." Willow: "You don't know how much I hate this. I don't know if there's even anything I could do." Anya: "Yes. And a good way to find out is to sit around and try nothing. That was sarcasm, by the way." Willow: "It's dangerous." Anya: "And so is all of us dying." Xander reluctantly comes in on Anya's side, but Willow continues to refuse. Anya gets to her feet, blaming Willow for ODing in the first place, and Tara jumps in between them. "Hey! You're gonna back off. She said no, and that's it. You're not gonna make her do something that she doesn't want to. And if you try, you're gonna have to go through me first. Understood?" Anya looks at her coldly, her voice almost dead. "Fine. If you all aren't willing to get us out of this, then I will do it myself."

Upstairs, Dawn and Buffy are having a heart-to-heart. "The most important job that I have," Buffy tells her, "is looking out for you." Dawn: "You sound like my guidance counselor. She give you a handbook or something?" Buffy's instincts immediately go on alert as she realizes Dawn had never met the guidance counselor before. The pieces fall into place. "You didn't, by any chance, happen to express like... a wish, or something?" Dawn: "Maybe just a little?" Meanwhile, Anya begins systematically trashing Dawn's room, searching for whatever Dawn did to lock them in. She doesn't find anything magical -- but does find the stolen hoard of jewelry, much of it from the Magic Box. Dawn and Buffy, who arrived halfway through the search, stare in horror. "How could you do this?" Anya asks the younger girl, utterly betrayed. Dawn turns and runs, Anya in pursuit. "I work hard at that store. And I helped you. I took care of you. This is how you say thank you?" Buffy asks Dawn to say it's a mistake, but Dawn can't. Then Buffy remembers her new leather jacket... but what she discovers upstairs is a good enough distraction for now. She fills the others in on the guidance counselor who wasn't, and Anya asks if she wore a pendent, with a dark blue stone. She did. Anya rolls her eyes, and screams, at the top of her lungs, "Halfrek! You made a wish to a vengeance demon," she continues, slightly more quietly. "Only a vengeance demon can break her own spell. She's the only one who can get us out of here. Hallie, get your ass down here!"

"You rang?" Halfrek appears in a puff of smoke -- and promptly gets a demonic sword stuck through her stomach. Eyes wide with surprise, she drops.

Anya and Buffy together jump on the demon; Spike joins the fray, and he and Buffy together manage to hold the demon long enough for Buffy to recover its sword. It panics and escapes into the wall, but Buffy slams the sword into the wall after it. With a bright light and a howl, it's drawn back into the sword. Buffy breaks the sword over her knee and throws the pieces away. There's a moment of stillness, before Anya lunges for Halfrek's body and her pendent. But before she can get it, Halfrek rolls over and tosses her across the room with a spell. "There will be no touching of the pendant." She gets up, completely unimpressed by a sword in the chest; Anya advances on her friend to demand how she could curse them. "I just go where I'm called," she brushes Anya off; Spike suddenly catches her attention and she does a double-take. "William?" Spike leans back. "Have we met?" Halfrek blinks a few more times, then brushes the whole thing off; Spike looks uncertain, but does the same. Tara asks, "I thought vengeance demons only punished men who wronged women." Halfrek: "Oh, that was Anya's little raison d'etre. Most of us try to be a little more well-rounded. And actually, we prefer "justice demon", okay? FYI." Anya looks disgusted. "Well-rounded, huh? Is that how you explain your thing for bad parents?" Halfrek assures her, "Oh, it's not a thing. The children need me." She claims she was called by Dawn's pain, that no one else could hear. "It was unbearable. And none of you knew. you people deserve to be cursed. Enjoy your time together -- from now on, all you have is time. Time... and each other. Good luck." She makes a grandiose spell-casting gesture -- and nothing happens. She stammers, blushes a bit, and tries again. Anya looks disgusted. "it's the curse, Hallie." Halfrek looks pretty disgusted herself. "Oh, for crying out loud. Fine! The curse is lifted! Dammit." And with a significantly less dramatic gesture, she disappears.

Everyone begins to trickle out; Willow tries to thank Tara for defending her, and to tell her that she would never have used the stuff she kept. She was just keeping it in case things ever got really bad -- keeping it so she wouldn't have to worry about not having it. "It's time to work without the net, Will," Tara tells her. "I don't know if you noticed, but it did get back in there. Really bad. And you still said no." Willow smiles a little as it sinks in. Anya and Xander help Richard down the stairs on their way to the ER; Anya takes a moment to tell Dawn, "There are two words I want you to get used to -- punitive damages." Everyone streams the hell outside, exclaiming over the grass and the stars. Buffy begins to follow, then turns back to look at her sister. And closes the door with both of them still inside.

Dawn's shoplifting is out in the open, as are her feelings of neglect and loneliness.

Spike and Buffy seem to be coexisting better; Tara seems to be amused.

And Dawn proves, once again, to be the teenage drama queen of the galaxy. Not that her life doesn't suck beyond the telling of it, and not that she hasn't been pretty good about sucking it up and dealing lately. But she's been sublimating it into the shoplifting, hoping she'd get caught, and she finally has. Even without Halfrek's intervention, Buffy's birthday present was incredibly blatent, just begging for someone to ask questions, which tells you how much Dawn needed the status quo to change. Sure, she should have known better than to make a wish to someone she didn't know, but the words 'I wish' are part of everyone's vocabulary, something we say without thinking. Michelle T. did a great job, particularly on the two scenes in Dawn's bedroom. The scremaing fit was obnoxious, yes -- but so are teenagers. Very nicely done.

And in Dawn's defense over the wish, Halfrek did a good job impersonating a guidance counselor. She didn't even have to lie much, as long as you interpret the word 'job' the way she does. Gotta wonder what the hell her parents issues are, particularly if her pre-demonic identity is what we suspect (she called Spike "William"? And it's the same actress who played Cecily, Spike's human flame? Methinks there's going to be a damned interesting story there....)

And Buffy got two wake-up calls in quick succession, which should be enough to break through even her disassociation complexes. While it's all well and good that she and Spike are coexisting reasonably well (and quite entertainingly), particularly considering what happened in the previous episode, it's about time her priorities got shifted from hiding from her responsibilities behind the duties of being a Slayer, and the fun of boinking Spike, and got shifted back to her sister. Not that I approve of Dawn's methods for getting attention, but, whatever works.

And, while I'm on the subject, whatever happened to the extreme cuteness that used to be Spike and Dawn hanging out? No wonder Dawn's feeling intensely isolated -- not only are all of her friends Buffy's friends first, even the one she had that everyone else hated -- Spike -- has been more interested in boinking her sister than hanging with her like he used to. No that she knows about the boinking -- she just knows he's not around. But I am glad that Spike and Buffy have reached a point where they can coexist peacefully, and Spike can even coexist with the gang. Not that I expect this to last (and wouldn't even if I hadn't seen the next several episodes), but it was neat while it lasted.

And how much fun was Tara having? The best fun of the last few seasons has been watching her grow and develop from a shy, stuttering little mouse to someone who can innocently and sweetly tease the Big Bad Vampire about putting ice on his... muscle cramp, then get in Anya's face and tell her to back off. She's been such a pillar fo strength to the world at large, even when dealing with her own massive breakup traumas -- I want to be her when I grow up. Amber Benson continues to rock the house down.

As does Emma Caulfield. Anya's increasing claustrophobia and freaked-outness was beautifully done -- if somewhat out of the blue, since Anya has never been one to fall apart under pressure. Get loud and obnoxious, yes; fall apart, no. Still, Emma's performance was compelling -- the kitchen confontation with Willow and Tara was perfect (and addressed a very strong point of when the good of the many can or should outweight Willow's personal addiction), and her methodical ransacking of Dawn's room was screamingly tense. This is some of the strongest characterization we've see on Anya this season, and I'm all in favor.

As for Willow... < sigh > I have sympathy. I have respect for her courage in going cold turkey. And it turned out she was right -- her magic wouldn't have gotten them out of that situation. But I can't think it's the only time this will come up. This isn't a matter of an addiction to coke or something -- something with no power to do anything but* hurt. Richard was possibly dying upstairs, would quite probably have died if Buffy and Anya hadn't figured out Halfrek's involvement and gotten her trapped, however inadvertantly, in her own curse. At what point would his life have become more important that Willow's fear of her own weakness? I have to think this is something that will come up again, just given the way their lives run, and she's going to have some rough decisions to make.

Now that Xander has a litfe outside of the Scoobies, it was probably only a matter of time before he started augmenting his active denial regarding Buffy and Spike with active matchmaking. Too bad he brought home someone nice, but hopelessly mundane. What was Xander thinking, bringing around someone hwo could obviously never deal with the realities of slayage -- even if his first introduction hadn't been so amazingly traumatic. But it is good to see the crew trying to get lives outside of the scoobies -- even is Richard and Sophie aren't ideal, they're a good start. And Clem is far too much fun.

Best Moments:
Buffy's "Ooo, shiny!" Coming off of the pompous "real warrior" line, it was classic Buffy-speak.

The entire "my friend is better that your friend" routine, from Buffy talking about Sophie to Sophie and Richard's respective arrivals. I love the evidence that they're not living in a vaccuum, and Buffy's response to being set-up is.. something I can relate to.

Any time Tara chooses to yank Spike's chain. Have I mentioned how much I love Tara?

Buffy giving Spike crap about being jealous. They really are cute when they're not boinking or fighting.

Spike and Buffy trying to stomp off from the fight, and being completely unable to. SMG and James Marsters made the most of the bit, and it was hilarious.

The first confrontation in Dawn's bedroom. Again, Michelle T. gives a wonderful performance.

The demon's first appearance, and subsequent rampage. The already claustrophobic atmosphere gets completely wiggy with its unexpected flicks in and out.

Anya's panic attack, and Xander being cute and sweet soothing her.

Anya confronting Willow. The best scene Anya's gotten all year, gorgeously done, and Tara's response was great.

Halfrek and Spike pretending they don't know each other. What the frell...?

Halfrek realizing she's been caught in her own curse. A truly classic Buffy moment, puncturing the pompous balloon of yet another Bad Guy!

Questions and Comments:
No that I'm not in favor of Spike and Buffy getting along (as you may have noticed), but it would have been nice to see something between Buffy beating the crap out of Spike to work out her own issues, and consuquent soul-baring and horrific guilt, and Spike showing up at her birthday party for some more macking and fun. A little jarring, that.

Rating: 4 stars out of five. A very satisfying episode, one of the best we've seen this season. Which, admittedly, isn't saying as much as I'd like, given the unevenness of this season, but it was a welcome change.


"I'm in the middle of moving my cube (achoo! hate dust) but I just got confirmation, and am feeling particularly gleeful because of it. :> That vengeance chick *was* Cecily. Heheee! So, did Spike totally recognize her, or just think that she looked really really familiar, in spite of the veins? And what's with her parent issues? And what are the odds she's going to go away now? This should be fun..."
"Yup, Halfrek/Cecily made me laugh. Don't know if he fully recognized her right off but when she said "William?" he really looked. I think he was in the middle of realizing it when she denied knowing him and he let it go - but oh please - let him just have let it go for the time being. I want him to go and find out how this happened. Who's beneath who now, Cecily dear?" -- Chris and Deb

"Tara - bringing the funny. Dawn - bringing the shrieking And Xander bringing a trunk that I really want." -- Deb

"I liked this ep. quite a lot -- not in the "this is a top ten classic of Buffy" way, but in the way of enjoying it a lot more than a fair number of eps. this season. There was group interaction, actual demon slayage, and for a change the Buffy/Spike relationship was handled with a lighter tourch. (I saw a card in a shop the other day which reminded me of them -- the woman is looking at the man and saying "Live with you? I'm not even sure I want to be seen in public with you.")" -- Catherine S.

"I think I have a crush on Tara. Dunno, these past two weeks she's been such a breath of fresh air, actually dealing with things in a sensible, stable way while everyone else seems near-operatic in their dysfunctionality, y'know? I wanted to cheer when she stood up for Willow against Anya, and who knew she'd be capable of zinging Spike so well?"
"Tara is now my favorite character. She has ethics, she is developing a strong sense of self, and she truely understands what a good friend is. I hope she's around more now." -- Catherine S. and Karen

"[The title is] from "Empire of the Sun" by Ballard, yes? The complete sentence is 'For all their affection for him, they seemed older and far away.'" -- Deb

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