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Monday, October 15, 2012

All The Way

[Updated May 2, 2013]

All the Way is a very light episode, though with some disturbing incidents along the way leading up to an ending that should be very disturbing indeed. Still, the main plot seems like fluff, but I don’t think it is. IMO, this episode serves a structural purpose similar to that in Bad Eggs. As I pointed out then, Bad Eggs had a strong sexual theme because Buffy was about to have sex with Angel in the very next episode (Surprise). The events of All the Way are setting up some events which will take place in the next three episodes. Of course those future events are All About Buffy.

The episode seems Dawn-centric, but there’s an important point about Buffy as well. She’s not failing in her adult responsibilities just because she needs money (Flooded) or lacks a career path (Life Serial). At the end of All the Way she outright shirks her parental role, forcing Giles to discipline Dawn. We might excuse her lack of money as not her fault at all, and we might cut her some slack on the life path because, after all, she’s not even 21 yet. But for her to fail Dawn after the events of S5 is a sign that something is very wrong. You can see that from the look on Giles’s face.
There’s plenty of metaphor too, though we won’t see the payoff for a while. Xander (Buffy’s heart) represses his obvious doubts and announces the engagement to Anya. Again I don’t want to spoil things, but this seems important to me for understanding Buffy’s path. I’ll discuss this in connection with episode 10.
Willow (Buffy’s spirit) very seriously abuses Tara. This will turn out to be extremely important for Buffy’s journey in S6, both in plot and in metaphor. The cause of their fight was Willow’s use of magic: unnecessary at first, downright crazy later on. This is an important point of departure for S6. Where magic was a metaphor for the love between Willow and Tara in S4 (e.g., Who Are You?) and S5 (e.g., Family), it’s now become a source of friction. The metaphor is shifting, though this is more obvious in hindsight than it was at the time, and this shift resulted in some confusion in the audience.
On its own terms, erasing Tara’s memory of their fight is easily the worst thing Willow has done thus far. It’s a violation of Tara’s mind and integrity, one which is particularly offensive in light of what Glory did to Tara last season. Willow isn’t treating Tara as an equal, as a subject (to use the existentialist term), but as an object to be manipulated for her own convenience. She’s treating Tara no better than Warren treated April.
I’ve seen viewers compare the forget spell to Willow’s spell in Something Blue, but I see that previous spell as intrinsically different. In Something Blue, Willow cast the spell to control herself. That was unwise, and it backfired so that it ended up affecting others, but she didn’t intend that. Here, for the first time, her intent was solely and exclusively to harm another person (I don’t count Glory). Willow is using Tara, and that’s inexcusable.
Willow’s proposed spell to shift the patrons at the Bronze into an alternate dimension can safely be described as insane. Her success in resurrecting Buffy has obviously given her an arrogance which is incompatible with the prudent use of the power she possesses.
The one thing I can say on Willow’s behalf is that underlying her arrogance, she’s still fundamentally insecure, just as she has been from the beginning. What self-confidence she has is completely tied up in her ability with magic. Thus, when anyone challenges her use of magic, she interprets that as questioning the very source of her self-confidence. For this reason, the way Giles confronted her in Flooded seems to have had the opposite of its intended effect, and set the stage for Willow to resist even Tara’s much gentler criticisms here. Then Tara innocently mentioned Giles, and that’s what set Willow off. The consequences will reverberate throughout the remainder of the series.
Trivia notes: (1) For non-English speakers, to “go all the way” is American slang for having sexual intercourse. When Zack and Justin use it to talk about Dawn and Janice, the dialogue makes full use of the “biting = sex” metaphor. (2) Xander is geographically challenged. Katmandu is a city (in Nepal), not a country, and it’s landlocked. (3) Giles is a bit confused too – Ahab was not a pirate.  (4) Anya’s joke about angels named Charlie refers to the TV series Charlie’s Angels. Anya’s hair is like that of Farrah Fawcett, who starred on that show. (5) Xander’s promise to teach Anya to play “Shiver Me Timbers” is a pun. It’s a stereotypical pirate expression as well as a euphemism for the penis (hence Tara’s response that she’s not much for the timber). (6) Dawn taking the coin involves a plot point which began in Intervention and will come to fruition later in the season. (7) Spike’s reference to The Great Pumpkin is to the annual Charlie Brown Halloween special on TV. (8) Buffy refers to previous Halloween episodes when she reminds Giles about costumes which take over your personality (Halloween) and Irish fear demons (Fear, Itself). (9) Kaltenbach is humming the song “Pop Goes the Weasel” when we first see him. (9) Buffy’s “you caught us with our parties down” plays off the phrase “caught with his pants down”, meaning surprised. (10) Janice and Dawn use the same device to fool their parents/guardians as the SG used in Surprise. (11) Janice’s reference to her mother as “the Mominator” plays off the Terminator. (12) Zack’s reference to Kaltenbach as “looney tunes” is an American slang expression meaning he’s crazy. (13) Zack’s “Pumpkins. Very dangerous. You go first.” plays off a similar line in Raiders of the Lost Ark. (14) Xander’s “once more into the breach” paraphrases Henry V’s speech at Harfleur in Henry V, Act III. (15) Dawn’s claim that she never pays for lipstick recalls Buffy’s words in Becoming 1: “You're not from Bullock's, are you? Cause I-I meant to pay for that lipstick.” (16) Willow silenced the crowd at the Bronze using the Arabic word “sukut” (silence). She returned the room to normal with “tukulum” (talk). (17) Buffy refers to Dawn “parking” which is American slang for finding a private spot to park the car and make out. (18) Justin’s “trick or treat” is what American kids say when they go door to door on Halloween.


  1. I am mostly breaking from my hiatus today.

    A few quick notes on the Willow thing:

    I'm glad you point out how different this is from Something Blue. All the negative effects on other people in that episode were not deliberate; this is a very deliberate action on someone else, and thus far, far worse.

    I think there are three other important precedents to consider for Willow's behaviour here.

    1) She nearly does a revenge spell on Oz in Wild at Heart, but of course stops herself. The problem is that Willow, as we learn in Something Blue, actually sees her compassion as weakness -- she says she "didn't have the guts" to do the spell, and also says that if she were a real witch, she could make Oz stay with her. Now, that was somewhat idle talk, potentially, but obviously she partly believes that. Now, I think that it isn't as simple as Willow just being a bad person. The circumstances under which Oz left her actually very much feed into Willow's belief that her meekness is a fundamental flaw. Oz chose Veruca over her, in Willow`s mind, because Veruca is powerful and Willow isn't -- which layers on top of Xander preferring powerful and even demonic women to Willow, and Buffy (however briefly) preferring Faith to Willow. Further, Tara very much was attracted to Willow for her magical power -- or rather, Willow's having a lot of power (like Tara's mother) is the reason Tara first sought her out.

    2) There are a lot of parallels between Tara's spell in Family and this spell. (SPOILERS actually, the parallel is even more explicit in Tabula Rasa; in both TR and Family, the gang is beset by demons they are unprepared to attack.) Tara's spell is not as grave, but it was still a spell to alter her friends so they didn't see the "demon" part of her. In a sense, this is what Willow does too -- but it's much worse, because she alters memories, and not "ability to see demons" which is a more spiritual thing that I think the gang don't really see as part of their identity. I do think the parallel partly emphasizes that Willow is covering up her own dark side partly, in addition to what I said above, out of a sense of shame. And it also suggests that there is precedent, within the relationship, of doing whatever was required to avoid an argument or fight.

    3) The one argument Willow and Tara have had was in Tough Love, and that is associated, perhaps subconsciously, with Tara being nearly killed immediately afterward. Subconsciously, I think she believes that if they have a real argument again, their relationship is over.

    I think within the season's arc, Willow is also rather desperately trying to hold together the illusion that everything is okay because on some level, she knows that things aren't great with Buffy -- and has to go to increasing lengths to prove that her magic use, which is associated with bringing Buffy back -- is not a problem.

  2. Hypothetical legal question here. In your professional opinion, if Willow and Tara had sex that night, could Willow be prosecuted for rape? This is assuming that the Buffy-verse legal system is identical to ours and that you could get a courtroom where everyone involved believes that magic is real (which, considering some of the information about the legal system that turns up in Angel, might actually be possible in the Buffy-verse).

    1. I'm going to address this question in my next post.

  3. I may, if I can find the time, have more (of substance) to say later today (inspired, in part, by local-max's marvelous post), but for now, the cranky Melvillian (deep in writing on him right now) compels me to note the depth of Giles' disdain for great American literature, first expressed in NKABOTFD: not only was Ahab not a pirate, but he lost his leg, not his arm, to Moby Dick...