Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Real Me   Rewatch 
October 14, 2015 10:00 PM - Season 5, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Dawn gets in trouble when Harmony comes round looking to kill Buffy, so it's big sis to the rescue as always. Giles seeks purpose and profit margins.
posted by yellowbinder (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's really hard to judge this episode in retrospect. More than any other episode (maybe Choices a little), this is designed to confuse and counfound the first time viewer. It has a hard job to do. Just as with the Faith intro episode, it's trying to mislead about Dawn's existence, only this time the mystery will be stretched out a little while. Is Dawn inimical to the others? As such, she gets a handful of moments where it seems like she maybe knows more than she's saying.

The show also has to underline that everyone is happy and content with the existence of Dawn, and it does that fairly well. Riley asking Buffy why she's bothered by her sisters behaviour all of a sudden is quite clever, because it establishes that Dawn is an accepted part of everyone's life, but indicates to the audience that we know why Buffy is suddenly bothered: she didn't have a sister before!

The only hints we have (other than, you know, a brand new sister) that something is wrong is the mentally ill man who sees Dawn as being unreal. [Aside, I super hate writing where people with mental illness can see something we don't. It's a gross fetishisation of real problems. The show sort of cheats it's way out of this by having these people actually created by Glory, so maybe there's something about that process that helps them perceive the key, but still, it icks me out a bit].

Dawn is played as really annoying. It's a bit odd really, to have such a stereotypically obnoxious teenager on the show when we spent three seasons with amusing and fun teenagers, but that's the role Dawn needs to play in this episode. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the show ever breaks this habit. There is a reason Dawn is hated after all.

We also have the return of Harmony, which honestly I could have done without. There are some laughs to be had, but she's so obnoxiously stupid it's completely unclear how exactly she even created this gang in the first place. She serves a simple purpose as a threat that Buffy can laugh at then suddenly be very unamused by (and honestly, Dawn inviting the vamps in probably should have led to all their deaths rather than no lasting consequences), but she really, really should have been killed at the end of this episode.

Finally we have the magic shop, which Giles buys. This is a smart move for the writers, and gives them a nice set for the characters to hang out in. College will almost cease utterly to exist this season, ass the writers revert to just having everyone hang out together.

-Giles' mid life crisis car is great.
-Tara and Dawn thumb wrestling is terrific. Their relationship is just super fantastic great.
-Dawn's crush on Xander is cute
-"Can I trade in the children for more cash". Anya discovers mercantilism.
-Buffy kills mort with a wooden unicorn
-"apart from the fact that magic shop owners have a shorter life expectancy than spinal tap drummers"
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:22 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am totally a Dawn hater. Therefore it follows that I hate this episode.

I should be clear that I hate Dawn because not only does she come out of nowhere and occupy a really annoying plot-shaped space, she completely changes the tenor of the show. As Cannon Fodder points out, we've already seen Buffy, Willow and Xander about a year older (possibly even less) than Dawn being completely okay with vampires and being portrayed as sympathetic characters. Sure, they were still kids when S1 started. But it was a show at least partly about growing up and thus portrayed these teens as struggling with adult problems as well as teenage ones and being, mostly, taken seriously. Meanwhile Dawn is infantilised. She needs a babysitter at 14 (I was babysitting other people's kids at 13) and eats ice cream as messily as a 4 year old. Meanwhile she is apparently smart enough to give Willow a run for her money at chess. I mean, I do understand that kids this age can be both astonishingly mature in some ways and vastly immature in others. But they really picked some bloody annoying ways for her to be vastly immature, and although I understand the role it plays in the plot development, it really annoys me.

Also thumbs down to the really annoying reference to Dawn being oblivious to the nature of Willow & Tara's relationship and giving the audience the opportunity to make a comparison of lesbians to paedophiles. Yes, I know it was meant to be an in-joke but guess what? Not funny. Not funny at all.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:57 AM on October 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

But it was a show at least partly about growing up and thus portrayed these teens as struggling with adult problems as well as teenage ones and being, mostly, taken seriously. Meanwhile Dawn is infantilised.

This is often a thing with non-first children. In the retconned with-Dawn world, Buffy has been the Older Sibling for most of her life, and therefore was likely to be somewhat more mature even before becoming the Slayer (in the without-Dawn world, she was an Only Child, so it wasn't a massive transition between the worlds). Dawn, on the other hand, has been around the Slayer for more than four years, and has become used to not only being the Baby Sibling, but also Scooby Adjacent. She didn't have to grow up like Buffy and Willow and Xander did, because she wasn't the one in danger, or at least she wasn't remotely equipped to deal with any danger she was exposed to. Joyce almost certainly over-babied Dawn not only because she was the baby, but because she couldn't remotely do that with Buffy after she became the Slayer. So basically, Dawn is stuck at 10 (her approximate age when Buffy became the Slayer), and it was a young 10 because of being the Baby Sibling.

I have overthought the pre-S5 retconned world for a long time.
posted by Etrigan at 9:20 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also think the original intention was to have Dawn be several years younger, but after they cast Trachtenberg they couldn't, so they seem to have stuck to a more immature character but with an older physical age.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:25 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

She needs a babysitter at 14

I suspect the real reason was as, Cannon Fodder says above, that the writers originally intended Dawn to be younger. But I can see Joyce being more protective of Dawn than most parents would be of their 14-year-old kids. Dawn has no super-powers, but because of her status as The Slayer's sister, could be a target for a lot of super-powered bad guys. Joyce herself was targeted twice by people who were trying to get at Buffy (in Helpless and in This Year's Girl). A babysitter might not do much against a determined attacker, but might be able to keep Dawn from taking risks that could be more dangerous for Dawn than other teenagers.
posted by creepygirl at 3:15 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

This was one of the first episodes of Buffy I saw, I believe, although I know I strangely saw The Gift before this. The timeline is confusing (and I was watching it in syndication and I believe I was following multiple seasons at once, depending on what channel/etc. it was on). I had known enough about Buffy that I wasn't completely lost.

I think this episode is an interesting reboot/scene-setter for the rest of the season (which I think is Buffy's strongest in terms of overall story arc) but it doesn't really match the series as a whole. I like Dawn more than most (although she's never my favorite) and I think they just took a while to figure out who the character was suppose to be. And I'm not sure if they ever quite got there completely.

In any case, it's hard to look at this episode objectively because Buffy came into my life at a bad time for me -- like, seriously, watching Buffy gave me something to do. I will always view it affectionately because of that.
posted by darksong at 5:45 PM on October 15, 2015

I do like the way Dawn's reasoning in this episode - "I could so save the world if somebody handed me super powers" - is given real emotional resonance by a bookend in what's probably her best episode, "Potential." More bookends: "Willow's the awesomest person" vs. Smashed/Wrecked

The beginning of this episode reminded me a bit of "Reptile Boy," except Buffy actually wants to train in this one instead of party - Riley, Joyce, Giles, and Dawn all demanding her time. It's the more adult version. Giles keeps angling for respect, but he knows it's not going to happen, as they're on more equal footing (the "ooh, they haven't seen my new car" moment is cute).

The episode really tries to have its joke cake and eat it too; last episode we have Joyce saying "it's enough to make you want to give up on men completely," oblivious to Tara and Willow, then this episode Dawn writes, "I told mom one time I wish they'd teach me some of the things they do together, and she got really quiet and made me go upstairs." Which one is it, Joyce/writers? Neither joke is great, but both together are incongruous! Unless part of the point is that this changed with the arrival of Dawn. Joyce's behaviour certainly does get some changes; her anger that Buffy took Dawn to a murder scene, completely unintentionally, when she told Joyce where she was going and Joyce forced Buffy to take Dawn with her, is (I think intentionally on the part of the writers) absolutely maddening, and definitely a good first impression reason as to why a lot of people hate Dawn. (I don't hate her, I just have mixed feelings.) This again gives this a first/second season feel all over again (and in this I realize I'm contradicting my comment on the last episode a bit about there being no consequences). It's also the second episode in a row where a Summers woman invites vampires in (as Xander points out, slyly saying Willow still has the stuff to do the de-invitation spell from last week and trying to get Buffy to be lass hard on Dawn since Joyce did the same thing), speaking of lack of consequences.

I agree that Dawn and Tara's relationship is one of the best in the series, and it's the third bookend; they are first shown bonding together by thumb-wrestling as the others deal with a body, but Tara doesn't want Dawn to be alone, and their last scene "together" is Dawn, waiting for the others to come home, no longer shielded, watching over Tara's body because she doesn't want her to be alone. (Excuse me while I sob a whole bunch.)

Tara talks about the "tight bond" the Scoobies have, and again, I think that's why a lot of us resented Dawn; she retconned-broke her way into this bond, (though Tara says she's also an outsider) without "deserving" it, and she's there and an outsider at the same time.

Random Buffy Actor Reuse: Tom Lenk (Andrew) plays Cyrus the vampire here. It's weird.

Willow is still intent on taking Drama, but freaks out when Buffy drops and she has to do it alone, so the lack of fear we saw last episode is mostly a front.

It's interesting to see Buffy's "interrogation" scene with Spike and contrast it to the one in "Intervention."

Last bookend: Buffy rescuing Dawn from a cave in this episode, vs. Buffy and Dawn fighting together to escape a cave/hole in "Grave."

"I watched 'Passions' with Spike. Let us never speak of it." Deleted scene DVD extra, pleeease
posted by ilana at 10:55 AM on October 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

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