Some shows are known for their holiday episodes. I rank Valentine’s Day near the bottom of my favorite holidays, but I am always eager to watch Phil and Claire Dunphy don their alter egos, Clive Bixby and Julianna, and get into hilarious hijinks. Buffy didn’t regularly feature episodes revolving around any annual celebration. Working from memory, there’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered (S2) for V-Day, the sole explicitly Christmas-themed “Amends” (S3), and the problematic Thanksgiving airing of “Pangs” (S4). Buffy’s birthday is more of a sure thing: “Surprise/Innocence” (S2), “Helpless” (S3), “A New Man” (S4), “Blood Ties” (S5), “Older and Far Away” (S6).
The exception, of course, is Halloween. Season 2 gave us the cleverly titled “Halloween,” and Season 4 had us shuddering then chuckling with “Fear Itself.” “All the Way” is the third and final time we will see the Scoobies celebrate Hallows’ Eve. (It is worth noting that Season 5 of Angel gives us “Life of the Party.” Between overly enthusiastic Spike and Gunn “marking his territory,” I always find that one a riot.)
I really appreciate the other two Halloween eps. This one, to borrow from a line Willow will croon next installment, is “mostly filler.” There’s not much I can say about it. Not good, not bad, just meh.
Some major plot points unfold a little farther, of course. There’s the initial fight between Willow and Tara, the latter concerned with the rampant, careless use of magic, and Willow’s performing the memory spell with Lethe’s bramble (remember that in the opening montage of “Once More with Feeling.”) Also, Xander finally announces his engagement to Anya.
There’s also some good humor, again most of it coming from Anya. “Shiver me timbers.” “I’m a special kind of angel called a ‘Charlie.’ We don’t have wings. We just skate around with perfect hair, fighting crime.” My personal favorite, though, has to go to “the Dance of Capitalist Superiority.”
Aside from that …
Perhaps it would be a good time to discuss Dawn, especially if we take into consideration Rambo’s reading of Yeastian Gyres for each of the characters. (If you missed it, I discussed it last essay.) We see her swipe a necklace from the Magic Box, find out that she “steal[s] all the time” and “[hasn’t] paid for lipstick since … forever.” Furthermore, she’s pulling a Round Robin (“dipping into the classics”) with Janice, hanging out with older boys, and smashing old men’s pumpkins. Typical juvenile acting out, but, when viewed from the lens of an adult, behavior that needs to be dealt with. Thus, the gyre starts to spin out of control.
Speaking of Dawn, I doubt she’ll ever rate high on anyone’s list of favorite characters. With the exception of Riley, no character is more universally disdained.
Riley could never measure up to Angel, neither in Buffy’s nor the fans’ eyes. He was wrong for her, and in the end became manipulative and petulant. Their relationship went on far too long, and, I think it’s safe to say, most viewers were glad to see him go. I shed no tears, although, looking back, I almost appreciate what the showrunners did. Haven’t we all been in relationships with the wrong people? Haven’t we ignored the warning signs? Haven’t we remained in those relationships much longer than we should have, looking back with the benefit of hindsight and realizing how much time was wasted? That’s another little slice of reality in a show about demons and vampires.
A similar argument could be made for Dawn. Her appearance at the end of “Buffy vs. Dracula” (S5.E1) threw everyone for a loop. Even as her existence was explained, many viewers still balked at the notion. Some even pointed to the moment of her arrival as the show’s “jump the shark” moment. For the most part, she’s an unlikable character, at least until Season 7. I agree. She annoys the bejeebers out of me at times. But I also have to ask, “What fourteen or fifteen-year old doesn’t?”
Slice of reality.
I’m not condoning her actions, but I am arguing that they are all in keeping with the behavioral patterns of one her age. Look at what she’s gone through: living with a sister who has superpowers, finding out all of her memories up until age fourteen were fabricated, losing her mother, losing her sister, getting her sister back only to find her distant (again, perfectly in keeping with Buffy’s character too). What teenager wouldn’t be engaging in minor acts of juvenile delinquency to get noticed?
Xander’s spiral becomes evident in this episode as well, though it had probably been lurking for some time. After all, he proposed to Anya way back in “The Gift,” the finale of Season 5. Why has he waited so long to announce it? Nonetheless, he seems confident as he spills the joyful news. He’s even initially jocund at the party.
But we can see the trepidation start to wash over him. First, it’s Giles and his good-natured advice to think about buying a house and his insistence that they’ll have the rest of their lives to figure it out. Then Anya goes on her rambling speech about June weddings having the highest calls for vengeance, about “mortal life being so short” and “cram[ming] in as much bliss as possible before we wither and die.” And of course babies, which you have to plan for or “they’ll just run roughshod over your entire existence.”
When he steps out on to the porch, he heaves a sigh of relief. “Sweet mother oxygen.” Though he tells Buffy he’s “wallowing not drowning” in “deep pools of ooey delight,” his face says otherwise. There’s a lot of insecurity billowing within.
It’ll come to the surface, via a “book number” in a couple of days. It’s also relevant that, though Anya here seems to be basking in the delight, articulating her luck at “find[ing] the one person in all dimensions [she] was meant to be with,” we’ll find out in that same duet that she’s harboring her own strong set of doubts.
I think that’s true of every person who’s nearing the trip to the altar. I mean, it’s not like one of them would leave the other at the aisle.
Looking into another season-long theme, the behavior of the cute boys/vampires Justin and Zack could subtly add to the continuous motif of violation/rape. Before the audience knows they are the undead, Zack asks if they should “go all the way,” clearly an adolescent euphemism for sexual intercourse. In this case, however, he means turning Dawn and Janice into vampires.
Parking, as it’s known to high-schoolers, is a veritable quagmire for issues of consent. Clearly, Dawn is a more-than-willing participant to making out with Justin, before she realizes he’s gone all bumpy. So many scholars have tied the act of vamprism to sexuality that I couldn’t even begin to notice them. (Since I’ve already engaged in self-citation twice in this re-watch, I might as well go ahead and note that nearly an entire chapter of my Master’s thesis dealt with this.) Phallic canines, penetration of flesh, exchange of fluid, potential to create new life (or un-life). It’s blatant.
Both the interactions with Zack and Janice and Justin and Dawn are thinly veiled metaphors. In the woods or the car, necking, the boys push further than the girls are willing to. I’ve–oh, why not one more–noted previously that “monster as metaphor” evolved from the early seasons of Buffy, when the monster figuratively represented the struggle (“Ted”: mom’s new boyfriend is evil, “The Pack”: adolescence are animals, etc.) to the monster being adjacent to the issue (“The Body”: the vampire in the morgue. “Flooded“: the M’Fashnik drowned in the flooded basement.) The shift occurred more or less after Buffy graduated high school.
Here, with the episode more Dawn-centric, in a way taking us back to high school, the metaphor again is embodied within the monster, in this case, the danger of date rape.
And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time Dawn gets to dust a vamp. You go girl!
On a final note, this is the third consecutive time Buffy has shifted her responsibility off to Giles. In “Flooded,” she leaves him to deal with the bills while she runs off to meet Angel. “Life Serial” has her accepting a check from him to alleviate her financial woes. Here, without even a sliver of an excuse, she passes the responsibility of scolding Dawn on to him.
He’s clearly not happy, though he follows through. Maybe he’s bottling it up. Maybe, if he were only forced to let those feelings out via song …
Graham, Anissa, Stephen G. Melvin, and K. Brenna Wardell. “‘You Brought the Monster’: A Discussion of Joss Whedon’s Work in TV, Films, and Comics.” Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, June 2018, Florence, AL. Unpublished Invited Presentation.
Melvin, Stephen G. “Shadows That Hide the Real World from Our Eyes”: Interpreting the Symbols and Narrational Gaps in Victorian Gothic Fiction. MA Thesis. University of North Alabama, 2002.
Rambo, Elizabeth. “Yeats’s Entropic Gyre and Season Six.”
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