Directed by Michael Gershman
Buffy apologizes to Dawn for having to leave and hunt down a dangerous demon, promising that some real quality time will happen soon. In the cemetery, Buffy fights with the demon, who carries a sword and disappears randomly. Buffy stabs the demon with its own sword and, unbeknownst to Buffy, it's sucked into the blade before she heads back home, sword in hand.
At the Magic Box, the gang talk about Buffy's upcoming birthday party and Xander tells Willow that Buffy wants Tara at the party. A bit too eagerly, Willow agrees that her ex-girlfriend should be there. Dawn arrives and there's a brief talk about The Trio and the complete lack of success in tracking them down. Dawn asks for company to shop for Buffy's birthday gift at the mall, but no one is available and she goes alone. Later that night, Dawn returns home to an empty house and retreats to her bedroom where she unveils a brand new leather jacket underneath her own coat, one she clearly did not pay for.
The next day at school, Dawn's called away from class to the guidance counselor who prods into the young girl's life and tries to get her to reveal her problems. Dawn wishes that people would stop leaving her.
Anya prepares food for the birthday party as Buffy informs her friends that she invited a friend from work, Sophie. Xander and Anya share that they also invited a friend, a guy friend for Buffy, which doesn't please Buffy. Buffy lets Tara in and when the two talk secretly, Buffy explains that Spike wasn't invited because he wouldn't behave around her friends.
Downstairs, Willow and Tara chat, both nervous and unsure about how to behave. The conversation dies off and Tara breaks away to the kitchen for a much-needed drink. After hearing about the party from Willow, Spike shows up, surprising Buffy. With him, he brings beer and another demon, Clem, from kitten poker. Before Buffy has a chance to do anything about Spike's presence, Xander introduces his friend from work, Richard. Buffy goes to show Richard where he can park his car while Spike watches on, clearly jealous. Dawn is anxious for presents to be opened, but Xander and Anya are more concerned with Buffy's progress with Richard and Dawn is yet again treated like an uninformed child. Spike catches Buffy alone and tries to lure her away for some private celebrating, but Buffy's not interested and ignores Spike's jealous jabs at Richard.
Buffy opens her birthday presents and receives a portable back massager from Willow who says it can be used while slaying for instant gratification. Spike likes the gift. Buffy also receives a brand new leather jacket from Dawn. The security tag still attached to the coat draws Buffy's attention, but the new custom weapons cabinet from Xander and Anya that is wheeled out into the room interests her more, leaving Dawn sitting alone on the couch with her gift. Sophie, a girl Buffy knows from the Doublemeat Palace, arrives, and Buffy moves to introduce her new friend, leaving a disgruntled Dawn to shut the door. As the door closes, the guidance counselor steps out of the shadows and turns into the Vengeance demon Halfrek before she says, "Wish granted." The party continues on at full force with dancing and games. Buffy and Richard talk briefly and then Buffy steps away and finds herself alone with Spike in the dining room. He makes jokes about how sweet Richard is and tries to persuade Buffy into some physical activity, but Tara walks in and catches them.
Xander and Anya playfully discuss who will go get beer and Willow ends the excessive cuteness by offering to make the run herself. Instead of getting up and leaving though, Willow simply drops her head to the table. The night of birthday fun continues as the gang play Monopoly and poker in groups while Dawn watches on, happily.
The next morning, no one has left the house and it suddenly seems weird that despite how much they all want to be where they have to be, they don't go anywhere. Spike comments about eating breakfast and that subtly hints at Richard being a meal before Buffy drags him off and the two begin to yell at each other. They talk about leaving the house and getting away from each other, but soon it's realized that they can't leave—something is keeping everyone in the house.
The gang discuss the dilemma, most of them really needing to get to work or school. Dawn snaps at them all, hurt and angry that they all want to leave. Suspicious, the Scooby Gang talk to Dawn and question whether she did a spell or something to lock them all in the house.
The young teen is furious that they would accuse her of such a thing, but they don't drop the subject when she denies it and that only upsets Dawn more. Magic is suggested to fix the problem, but Tara, who doesn't have any supplies with her, is the only one who can do it. Willow reveals that she still has a few items she kept for "emergency only". Tara is anything but pleased, but asks for the supplies anyway and makes it clear that Willow is to keep her distance from the spell-casting.
Tara performs a spell to "release" them from the house, but instead it releases the demon from the sword Buffy brought home. The sword-wielding demon attacks the gang and Richard takes a cut to the chest, but is the only one seriously injured before the demon retreats into the walls. While Richard's wound is tended to, noises can be heard in the walls and Anya begins to show signs of claustrophobia. Xander comforts her and as he goes to get her some water, he's attacked by the demon. Buffy and Spike fight the demon back into hiding, but Xander is injured and still shows more concern for Anya's state of shock than his own physical harm. Buffy and Dawn finally get to talking and Dawn begins to open up.
Meanwhile, the rest of the gang try to figure out a plan, but the only untried solution lies in the magically trained hands of Willow. Anya pressures Willow to try using magic even though she doesn't want to, and Xander reluctantly admits that it may be their only way out. Tara firmly stands in the way of that idea, readily defending her ex-girlfriend. Willow explains that if she starts using magic again, she fears she may not be able to stop. Upset that no one is willing to do anything productive, Anya goes upstairs to find her own solution to their problem. Dawn reveals to her sister that she recently talked to a guidance counselor and may have made a wish to the woman. In Dawn's room, Anya searches frantically through Dawn's possessions, while Xander tries to stop her. Dawn enters the room with her sister and is freaked out by the invasion of her privacy. Anya uncovers Dawn's secret stash of stolen jewelry and objects from the Magic Box, which stuns everyone.
Dawn tries to get away downstairs, but she's followed and Anya goes off on her for stealing. Buffy, realizing the jacket she was given for her birthday was also stolen, has a hard time accepting her sister's behavior and tries to blame the guidance counselor that Dawn talked to for the situation. Anya puts the pieces together, concludes that the one responsible for their mess is Halfrek (a fellow Vengeance demon and friend of Anya's) and summons her because she is the only one who can lift the spell. Halfrek appears in response to Anya's summons, but is stabbed by the demon and falls to the ground.
Spike, Anya, and Buffy fight with the demon and yet again, the demon tries to escape into the wall. Buffy uses the sword to stab the demon through the wall, effectively trapping it within the sword and then breaking the metal over her knee. The demon gone, the only problem left is destroying Halfrek's pendant so they can be freed. Before Anya can get Halfrek's pendant, the vengeance demon rises, barely harmed by the stabbing.
Halfrek seems to recognize Spike, calling him "William," and he finds her familiar too, but both deny knowing each other. Halfrek explains her purpose and its lack of restriction to revenge on men. (Anya's penchant was for revenge on men, as her dislike of men is her particular specialty; Halfrek's is "bad parents".) She informs the Scooby Gang that Dawn's pain and silent but desperate plea for attention was something she hadn't seen so severe in a long time. According to her, the whole gang deserve to be cursed and confined to the house together for all eternity. Halfrek tries to leave, but is herself now a victim of her own curse, and is forced to lift it in order to escape.
As Tara clears up all remains of her spell-casting, she and Willow talk about Willow's possession of the supplies. Tara understands why Willow kept them and is proud that she didn't fall for the temptation of using magic even in a desperate situation, but makes it clear that Willow has to make it without the safety net from now on. Richard is escorted outside and to the hospital while most of the remaining gang depart for freedom from the house. Dawn stays behind, but is pleasantly surprised when, rather than leaving like the others, Buffy shuts the door and stays in the house.
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Anya ruffles Dawn's hair, to her extreme irritation.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Spike enjoys himself mocking the 'sweet' boy Buffy's friends have set her up with.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!:Run off huh? Afraid to face a true warrior? (Buffy sees demon's sword) Ooh, shiny!
- Buffy is distracted from Dawn's gift by Xander rolling out a handmade weapons chest.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Dawn makes a wish to Halfrek that everybody would spend more time with her. Halfrek makes the dream come true by magically making it impossible for any of the guests at Buffy's party to leave the house. And then promptly picks up the Idiot Ball by entering the house herself, causing the curse to affect her.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Throughout the episode, Tara goes to the mat for Buffy and Willow, enough that Spike and Anya (respectively) wisely back off from trying to argue with her (likely because they'd lose against a powerful and annoyed witch).
- Birthday Party Goes Wrong: In keeping with the grand tradition of Buffy's birthday going apocalyptically wrong, Season 6 has the guests at her birthday party trapped in the house by Dawn's earlier wish to a vengeance demon that she could stop people leaving her. Various characters' issues are brought to a head, such as Dawn's shoplifting secret being exposed and Willow's magic addiction (as Anya demands she come off the wagon to release them) and her breakup with Tara. They're only released when the vengeance demon Dawn made the wish to comes in for a gloating speech, and gets trapped herself.
- Blatant Lies: Tara shows she can snark with the best of them.Spike: I had a...muscle cramp. Buffy was uh, helping.Tara: A muscle cramp? In your...pants?
- Bottle Episode: Nobody can leave the house. And as it turns out, those who get in can't get out again.
- Buffy Speak: Spike is Mister Passive-Aggressive Guy.
- Call-Back: To "Once More With Feeling".Xander: Sometimes we do something that seems like a good idea at the time, like, say, invoke the power of a musical amulet? And it turns out, you know, not so much.
- The slug-scented candles Buffy mentioned in "Life Serial" — Anya still hasn't been able to sell them.
- Cat Scare: Buffy bumps into Clem while stalking the demon.
- Closed Circle: Halfrek makes it impossible for anyone to leave Buffy's house.
- *Cough* Snark *Cough*Halfrek: Oh, [punishing men who wronged women] was just Anya's little raison d'etre. Most of us try to be a little more well-rounded.
Anya: "Well-rounded", huh? Is that how you explain your thing for bad parents?
Halfrek: Oh, that's not a thing. The children need me.
Anya: *coughing* Daddy issues.
- Deadpan Snarker: Tara, of all people, gets a few beautiful ones at Spike whenever he starts getting too sexually aggressive. Justified in that Tara's been Buffy's sole confidante about the sexual flings she's been having with him.Tara: So, Spike, how's that cramp?Spike: What? Oh, yeah, it's better.Tara: (ruefully) Maybe you should put some ice on it.
- Deus Exit Machina: Averted. Anya notes that the "trap everyone in the house" spell they're under should be no big deal for a witch of Willow's power, but she's still going cold turkey.
- Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Spike, after Willow told him about it, unexpectedly turns up at Buffy's birthday bash with Clem, clearly playing with the idea of fitting into Buffy's 'normal' world as a proper boyfriend would.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?Anya: I think she's possessed.Xander: She's a teenager.
- Double Entendre: Spike works in plenty of suggestive comments to Buffy. Tara, in turn, throws some of her own to get Spike to cool it.
- Evil Gloating: Halfrek pops into the house to gloat about how they'll be trapped forever and how they deserve it for not paying attention to Dawn's pain and abandonment issues... but when she tries to dramatically teleport out, it turns out she's fallen victim to her own curse, forcing her to break the spell so she can leave, much to her annoyance.
- Failed Dramatic Exit: Halfrek tries to teleport away dramatically (twice) but her own spell keeps her in the house.
- Fluffy the Terrible: The Loose-Skinned Demon from "Life Serial" returns as 'Clement'. Just call him Clem.
- Game Face: "Wish granted."
- Get-Out-Get-Out-GET OUT!: Dawn says this, again.
- Genre Savvy: Buffy gets suspicious as soon as Dawn mentions having seen a new guidance counselor.
- Gilligan Cut:Buffy: Just trust me — I promise we'll be out of here soon.(Cut to the house at nighttime) Okay, so maybe 'soon' was a bit of an overstatement.
- Go Through Me: Tara re: Anya trying to pressure Willow to make a spell.
- Hoist by Their Own Petard: The demon gets stabbed on its own sword. Halfrek gets trapped by her own spell.
- Hollywood Healing: Averted; Spike still has bruises from the beating he got from Buffy in the previous episode.
- Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Spike suggests Buffy not celebrate her birthday, as bad things always seem to happen. Given that Buffy doesn't in Season 7, she's clearly taken this advice to heart.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: A non-alcoholic version where Tara grabs a cup of water off Buffy after her fumbled meeting with Willow.
- Insistent Terminology: They're justice demons, not vengeance demons. Oh, right.
- Interrupted Intimacy: Deliberately by Tara on Buffy/Spike.
- It's All About Me: Dawn uses her sister's birthday as an excuse to complain about how everyone ignores her.
- Jackass Genie: Halfrek has no trouble trapping her old friend Anya for eternity.
- Jerkass Ball: Anya gets so affected by the spell that she tries to bully Willow into using magic when she's just recovering from an addiction. Tara of all people tells her to back the hell off.
- The Last Of These Is Not Like The Others: The weapons chest has slots for basic weapons, plus a few non-basic ones and a handsome CD holder.
- Limited Social Circle: Buffy invites Sophie, a friend from work, to her birthday party.Buffy: 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: (pause) Okay, shut up.
- Literary Allusion Title: The title is taken from J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun, where at the end of the story a young man comes to this realization about his current relationship with his family; the teacher's line about "things Jim lost during his years in Shanghai and things he gained" implies that Dawn's class is studying the book.
- Literal Genie: When Dawn wishes that no one would leave her, Halfrek makes it so everyone who enters the Summers residence is mystically trapped inside. Halfrek ends up Hoist by Her Own Petard when she pops in to indulge in some Evil Gloating and is trapped by her own curse, forcing her to break the spell so she can leave.
- Moment Killer: Tara keeps cockblocking Spike whenever he puts the moves on Buffy, aware that Buffy feels herself unable to resist him.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dawn makes a wish to a stranger. Buffy brings home the demon's sword as a souvenir. Tara's 'release' spell only frees the demon from the sword.
- Normally, I Would Be Dead Now: Buffy’s boyfriend candidate receives a wide wound thrust to his guts by the demon, has to stay untreated for ~6 or so hours and after that is able to walk on his own two feet, just supported by leaning on others. However, we never see how deep the wound went.
- Oh, Crap!: Anya says that only a vengeance demon can break her own spell. Halfrek promptly materializes...and gets run through with a sword by the other demon.
- Only a Flesh Wound: The demon's sword thrust doesn't kill Halfrek, who calls it a flesh wound. Vengeance demons are hardy.
- On Second Thought: Everyone is trying to leave the house as they've got to go to work, including Sophie who's got a double shift at the Doublemeat Palace. She thinks about that for a moment and concludes she's actually all right where she is.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Tara gets to have a lot of fun at Spike's expense.Tara: How's that cramp, Spike? Still bothering you?Spike: What? Oh, yeah.Tara: Maybe you, uh, wanna put some ice on it.
- Pet the Dog:
- Halfrek seemed to genuinely care about Dawn's problems and thought she was doing the right thing.
- Credit has to go to Spike as well - when Anya begins to desperately insist that Willow break her magic rehab to try and get them out of the house, Spike attempts to defend Willow before Xander chimes in.
- Plot Armor: The demon appears behind Xander from the wall and instead of just thrusting him with his sword merely holds him down until others can arrive at the scene and “rescue” him.
- Punctuated Pounding: Anya helping Buffy beat up the demon."I hope you...die, you...stupid...jerkface!"
- Red Shirt: Homaged with the expendable guest star who gets stabbed while wearing a red polo shirt.
- Sarcasm ModeWillow: 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.
- Secret-Keeper: Tara re: the Spuffy romance; as Buffy begged her to not tell anyone Tara keeps an eye on Buffy, and slyly slags off Spike when he attempts to put the moves on her.
Xander: There's no cornfield, is there?
- Xander references the episode "It's a Good Life" from The Twilight Zone (1959), in which a child with god-like power controls a town and sends people who displease him to "the cornfield", from which they never return.
- Dawn says that the Guidance Counselor treated her like a "a total J.D."
- Slumber Party: Buffy's birthday bash turns into this — it's only the next morning they find out why.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Anya and Xander have invited a friend to Buffy's party.Xander: Don't worry, it's not a setup.
Anya: 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!
Buffy: I assume this was an act of kindness? That'll help with the not throttling.
- Sticky Fingers: Dawn's kleptomania is revealed when Anya searches her room.
- It also causes an awkward pause when Buffy notices the security tag on her new leather jacket.
- Talk About That Thing: Buffy makes her excuses when Tara meets Willow."I have to, with the thing that I, uh... Coming!"
- Troll: Tara of all people has some fun needling Spike about Buffy's totally-not-a-setup, saying he's "probably cute."
- Villain Teleportation: The demon can travel through walls and the ground.
- Weirdness Censor: Clem 'has a bad skin condition'.
- Whole-Plot Reference: The whole idea of people being unable to leave a party is one to The Exterminating Angel.
- You're Insane!Spike: And I was insane to think... No, wait. You were right. You're insane.