For centuries it had no form at all. My brethren, its only keepers. Then the abomination found us. We had to hide the Key, gave it form, molded it flesh… made it human and sent it to you.
Once Buffy decided to spill the beans on the Dawn mystery, they didn’t hold anything back.
We’ve had five episodes this season to ponder the problem that is Dawn. Annoying 15-year-old little sister conveniently not mentioned for 4 years? Or sinister supernatural threat? The show stubbornly refused to address it at all in the last 4 weeks except to drop little hints that Dawn’s presence was both predicted (Faith’s dream, DreamTara) and something more than lazy storytelling (Joyce’s “who are you moment” in “Out of My Mind”). Finally with “There’s No Place Like Home”, BVTS stops pussy-footing around the issue and info dumps the Dawn story line, kickstarting the major Big Bad arc for the season.
And what a reveal it is! Being an Internet old, it’s hard to remember if I was shocked when this episode first aired, though I recall being smugly satisfied that Dawn was something more than a Cousin Oliver. The writing on Buffy has always been smarter and more complicated than “bring in a new kid to revitalize an aging cast” and besides, mostly everyone on the show is supposed to be 19ish, so how far can you possibly push the aging thing? What I do know is that I was so irritated by her presence — as the oldest sister in a family of 4, I completely empathized with Buffy’s exasperation — that I largely missed how easy it was to read some of Dawn’s lines as barely veiled threats. Since this outing is all about who Dawn is, the script is packed with dialog that can go either way, and Trachtenberg should be given props for her delivery, which walks the line between bratty and sinister.
The episode starts with a bit of a flashback, showing a group of monks fleeing from some unseen monster called “The Beast.” They bar themselves inside a room and spend 30 seconds or so casting a spell that sends a barely glimpsed tube of light out of the building. This little spell? It physically embodies a source of ancient energy called the Key, transports it directly to Buffy for protection, and literally rewrites the memories of everyone who comes in contact with it so that it, now Dawn, appears to have always been a part of their lives. That’s some ridiculously powerful mojo, a fact that is completely glossed over on the show. It seems like anyone capable of reality bending magic of that magnitude should have been more successful defending themselves against The Beast, but as we will come to find out, it seems like that spell shot their metaphorical wad.
On patrol one night, Buffy fights a vampire in a warehouse parking lot and finds Chekhov’s Gun a Dagon sphere (nice Lovecraft reference, guise), a glowy orb that is used to repel ancient evil. She trots off with it, spelling doom for the monk hiding out in the warehouse. Sorry, dude.
Joyce is still experiencing debilitating headaches, which is causing some tension in the Summers household. Dawn is being less than helpful — because, remember, she’s a newly made 15-year-old teenager — which means Buffy has to carry the family. While visiting the hospital to pick up some pills for her mother, Buffy runs into Intern Ben and a new patient, who happened to have been a guard at the warehouse and is now having a major psychotic episode. During his rantings, the guard tells Buffy that “they” will come at her through her family. If she wasn’t a mystical warrior, she’d probably write the warning off, but to her, this seems like a valid threat. At the Magic Box, Buffy coughs up the Dagon sphere and the “warning” for Scooby dissection, after which Buffy decides she’ll meditate herself into another level of consciousness and search her house for the after affects of whatever spell is making Joyce sick.
My husband points out that allowing just anyone the ability to cast high level magical spells like Buffy, who is not a trained witch, cheapens the magical system of the show, but I’ll allow it on account that Buffy is a supernatural being herself. Her trance doesn’t show her any spell residue on Joyce, which just fills me with dread, because I know the misery that’s coming in a couple of weeks. It does reveal to her that something is Not Right with Dawn, since she winks in and out of existence, and everything she’s involved in — photos, her room, etc. — don’t seem to be quite “real.”
Another show might have teased out the mystery more here, leaving us to wonder if Dawn was really a threat as Buffy assumed she was. But Buffy charges ahead, sending Our Girl Slayer back to the warehouse to see if she can find any clues as to what the hell is going on with Dawn, and how can she kill it? I mean, that second part isn’t stated, but we all know that Buffy’s line of thinking goes, “What the hell is that and how can I kill it?”
Buffy stumbles across a very thrashed monk, and The Beast, who had done the aforementioned thrashing. It’s notable that The Beast, like Buffy, is a tiny blonde who likes to fight in entirely impractical heels. The casting is certainly no accident. If Joss can turn the blonde-in-the-alleyway victim into a hero monster killer, why not also make her the monster?
And then The Beast kicks Buffy’s ass. Buffy’s had a hard time with adversaries before, but she’s never quite been tossed around like she is with The Beast. Like, actually tossed around, into walls, smashed into columns, and basically coming off like an underpowered weakling. The Beast actually calls it “cute” that Buffy has superpowers, because the Slayer barely slows her down.
Buffy manages to escape with the monk before The Beast’s broken heel tantrum brings an entire room down on them. The monk then conveniently spills the entire Dawn backstory before he croaks, dumping an awful lot of responsibility on Buffy’s shoulders. Not only is Dawn not really her sister, she’s an ancient mystical energy being sought by The Beast who isn’t aware she’s newly human, has no idea Buffy is not her real sister, and is a total innocent who needs the Slayer’s protection. And the monk, by the way, can’t remove the fake memories, sorry Charlie. This revelation is a weird moment for Buffy: you can see a sense of relief that she’s not wrong that Dawn isn’t quite right, but she also starts crying when the monk tells her that Dawn isn’t really her sister. It’s a pretty perfect encapsulation of what being a sibling can be like, deeply frustrating and deeply rewarding at the same time. We’ve mostly seen Buffy being exasperated by Dawn this season, but the tears also mean that she loves her, and maybe it hurts a little to find out that the love isn’t real.
Buffy slinks home, finding Dawn and Joyce on the couch. Dawn is still hurt, emotionally and physically, by her fight with Buffy earlier. The Slayer apologizes and in the first moment of tenderness we’ve seen her show towards Dawn, strokes her hair.
- During Glory’s rant in the warehouse, she mentions waiting for someone to “get off their tuffet.” This is the third time Dawn has been referred to as Little Miss Muffet.
- Riley tells Buffy he’s totally happy being the lesser powered person in the relationship, which is just a bald faced lie.
- Best gif ever, or best gif ever?
- Giles’s revamped Magic Box opens in this episode, which gives us the glory that is this gif:
- Which, of course, calls to mind other embarrassing Giles moments: