[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Stephen DeKnight | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 10/30/2001]
Nothing great, but not as bad as many think. It’s pretty clear to me that the plot of “All the Way” isn’t that particularly entertaining or useful for character development, but when the episode does decide to focus on the non-Dawn characters it still provides some entertaining and useful bits and pieces. The plot so heavily leans on Dawn because the cast was too busy filming “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] . The problem isn’t that it features Dawn, but rather that it doesn’t do much of anything with Dawn in the process. Since a large chunk of the episode focuses on her, the end result isn’t all that great. I like Dawn, but it’s episodes like this that show me why I don’t ever love her as I do the other characters. The writers just rarely give her the attention she needs to fully flourish as a character of her own.
What we’ve got is separated into two sections. First being Xander and Anya’s on-the-spot engagement party which also emcompasses issues regarding Willow, Tara, Giles, and Buffy. The second being Dawn’s little definitely-not-“The Zeppo” [3×13] adventure. The former has some good stuff in it while the latter not so much. It all begins in the Magic Box during a Halloween day buying spree. I suppose I’ll start with Buffy. After being told to grab some supplies, Buffy heads down to the basement to find Spike stealing. This launches a conversation that leads to Spike asking Buffy for “a bit of the rough and tumble.” It’s quite clear he was genuinely asking her to go patrolling with him, but her response shows that Buffy has other things on her mind. This leads me to think that she’s been thinking about drowning her depression with something other than alcohol since “Life Serial” [6×05] , which is of course a subtle setup to their kiss in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] and all that follows.
Later on, at the party, Dawn fakes going to her friend Janice’s house to meet up with her and hook up with some guys. Before leaving she must get permission from Buffy to go, and Buffy’s immediately looks at Giles for an answer but doesn’t get one. He tells her “it’s really not up to me.” This continues the theme picked up on by Giles at the end of “Life Serial” [6×05] : Buffy needs to make her own decisions about her life and her family, and right now she’s completely avoiding them. So Buffy lets Dawn go and fails at keeping tabs on her whereabouts — an understandable mistake, but not one to avoid learning from and taking responsibility for by punishing Dawn in some form at the end of the episode, which poor Giles is left to do.
A small moment I appreciated was when Anya is making fun of the name ‘Rupert’ and it causes Buffy to crack a laugh. Laughs and smiles are a rarity this season for Buffy and are joyous to see whenever they subtly creep in — they continue to give us a small bit of hope for Buffy’s emotional re-strengthening. Anya ends up going on talking about how lucky she is to have found Xander. This causes an immediate saddened retrospective look on Buffy’s face, undoubtedly thinking about her failed relationships. There’s a brief scene that shows her walking outside alone, seeing happy couples walking by her, which goes to remind her how much she misses that warmth and companionship as she’s currently so, so far away from anything warm at all. As she sings in the next episode, “I touch the fire, and it freezes me.”
The revelation Buffy learned in “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15] about learning to be content with herself is probably the furthest from what she wants right now. This season she doesn’t want to face her enormous internal pain and find out who she is. Thinking she’s completely different and that she came back ‘wrong’ doesn’t help matters either. The important thing to realize is that even though Buffy doesn’t want to learn about herself (as a person), slowly dealing with her issues forces her to look largely inward, and she’s a much stronger person because of it. Even after all of this she comes to realize in “Chosen” [7×22] that she is still young and has much to learn about herself before settling down with someone. The start of this journey to find herself occurred in S2, but it’s not until this season that she’s forced to really fight with her inner demons — not as the Slayer, which she did in S5, but as a damaged human being.
While Willow may not be all to damaged yet, it won’t take long to get there at this rate. The build-up to something catastrophic resulting from Willow’s magic is building, with this episode playing an important role. At first she just does a decoration spell for Anya, but does it completely casually as if it was really cool. Everyone’s reaction is of great interest to me: Anya’s excited to get special attention, Dawn is clueless just thinking it’s ‘cool,’ Buffy is indifferent and wrapped up in her own thoughts (a neglect that’ll nearly cost Dawn her life in “Wrecked” [6×10] ), and Xander is caught up in the moment to notice anything wrong. But both Giles and Tara look extremely alarmed. These are the two characters that emerge as the most mature at this point of the series, which says a lot about how far Tara’s come from the submissive and stuttery ways of S4. This connects these two characters and is why they’ll sing together on similar topics in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] . I really appreciate this little scene.
Then, in private and proving her character’s growth, Tara stands up to Willow and is angry about her misuse of magic. When Willow coldly shuts Tara down, we see that Willow’s continuing to lose more of herself to black magic, which began burrowing itself a large whole in her personality after her spell to resurrect Buffy in “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] . While searching for Dawn at the Bronze, we can see this part of Willow continue to seep out when she casually wants to shift everyone who is not a fifteen year old girl into an alternate dimension. Tara’s reaction to this is exactly what mine would be: “WHAT!?” This causes another argument in which Willow tells Tara keeping her mouth shut would “be a great start.” All of this leads to Willow erasing Tara’s mind of their arguments about magic use — a very disturbing extension, and confirmation of what Tara’s concerned about, of the casual excesses of black magic she’s been doing. You don’t escape clean when playing with dangerous forces in the Buffyverse.
Moving onto Xander and Anya now, I must say that there’s some immediate hints about the possible problem of a marriage between the two of them. With that said, the moment Xander uses Anya’s “dance of capitalist superiority” to inspire his engagement annoucement is a genuinely heartfelt move from him. Anya throwing her money at Dawn is an example of a sweet reciprocation of the moment. In the end, though, it turns out to have been a mistake for him to use his feelings (what he’s known for) to guide him rather than his intellect.
It’s unfortunate that ‘falling in love’ isn’t the most important ingredient in a successful relationship. Almost everyone falls in love, but how many of them end up having a sixty year wedding anniversery? I’ll obviously go more into this when “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] comes around. If only we could analyze our own lives from this retrospective vantage point — poor Xander could have used that ability before proposing to Anya in “The Gift” [5×22] . All of these hints and concerns are pulled out of him when talking with Giles about all this later. The fantasy of marriage is now over and reality sets in when Giles mentions saving up for a down payment on a house while Anya goes off about new cars and babies. Xander’s innocent smile very quickly deflates.
Well, I’ve put off talking about the plot enough. It begins decently enough with the creepy music during the creepy old guy’s introduction. The misleads on the show never get old. Endless shows before and after this one would have this man actually be something bad. It turns out he’s actually just a kooky, but harmless, older man. It’s unfortunate that this is where the positives end. Dawn hooks up with Janice and goes on a mischief spree with what turns out to be a couple vamps. Since so much of the episode focuses on this, the points kind of start falling off. It’s important, though, not to ignore all the solid character work I’ve disucssed just because the plot isn’t very good. This is something I unfortunately see a lot of Buffy fans do.
While it’s nice to see Dawn outside the house and on her own for once, these scenes comprise far too much of the episode, drag on, and aren’t terribly insightful or fascinating. All that’s really happening here is that Dawn’s acting out because she’s being neglected — that’s it. It does happen to be pretty fitting and amusing to see Dawn’s first kiss be with a vampire and then seeing Buffy get on her case because of it. I think Dawn has a point: it’s always different for Buffy. To Buffy’s credit, though, Angel did have a soul. But what about her upcoming relationship with Spike? That puts Dawn’s behavior in a bit more of a, however misguided, sympathetic light. Although at least Buffy took the time to learn to trust Angel a bit before kissing him (likewise with Spike).
Even though the plot drags on, I must admit the episode ends with an awesome quick succession of strong character scenes. Buffy tells Spike “good fight,” which shows how casual and friendly they’ve gotten with each other — an extension of their night out together in “Life Serial” [6×05] and her private confession to him in “After Life” [6×03] . This just goes to prove that where their relationship is heading has been very successfully and realistically built-up. After this scene, Buffy leaves the punishment of Dawn in Giles’ hands because she doesn’t want to deal with it. Giles does scold Dawn, but he’s clearly unhappy Buffy didn’t step-up and handle it herself. Giles convinced Buffy to do something similar in back in “Tough Love” [5×19] , but the major thing that’s different is Buffy — she’s different and is harboring something that explains her complete lack of interest in Dawn anymore. The episode then moves on to finish with Willow firmly stepping over the line by using a forgetting spell on Tara, which obviously has huge implications that are forced out into the open in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] .
In the end, “All the Way” proves to be very important in the background scenes but not-so-much in the main plot involving Dawn. The themes continuing to grow in the background are handled excellently but simply don’t have enough screen time to dominate the episode. It’s this quality, though, that keeps it afloat and that even tempted me in giving it a B-. When the plot so wholly misfires, though, the episode goes under the B-range, which is where this episode lands. So although the Dawn stuff dragged on, I still find it watchable and pretty important in its setup of future events.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Anya showing her love of superficial things by dressing up like Charlie’s Angels.
+ Buffy discovering why Giles is always cleaning his glasses.
+ Very cool ending fight and very fun to watch everyone be badass (go Giles!).
+ Xander’s attempt at being pirate-like. Mostly, he only succeeds at being annoying.
* Xander’s eyepatch. While not really directly foreshadowing, it is nonetheless interesting to notice in retrospect and cherish these happier moments.
* Willow suggests using a cleaning spell, like in . Giles immediately walks right by her and says, “We all know how splendidly that turned out for Mickey…” This is obviously referring to the segment “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in which Mickey’s magic goes wildly out of control. Lots to come from Willow in that department.
* When Giles gets the call from Janice’s mom he makes a comment about how he’s not in the loop about anything anymore and then takes complete charge of the situation. This action is what Giles brings to the table when there’s no giant evil, which has always given the Scoobies focus, around. Taking charge of personal problems is something new to everyone but Giles, which is why when he leaves in “Tabula Rasa” [6×08] everything in the Scoobies’ personal realm completely shatters.