[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 10/03/2000]
Dawn has finally arrived. Across the internet fans can be found mostly disliking this event. A popular character, Dawn is not. Instead of coming out and just saying what I think of Dawn, I’ll just let the reviews speak my opinion. Here, however, Dawn is intended very much by the writers to be this mysteriously annoying figure in Buffy’s life. This is a really good episode that not only shows us what the Scooby Gang is like with Dawn’s sly integration, but also it gives us a good opportunity to get inside this character’s head. Additionally, we get an update on what Harmony’s been up to for the last year. This turns out to be mostly amusing, but also occassionaly a bit boring. Want more specifics? Lets go then!
The episode opens up with a scene that picks up right where “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] left off: renewing Buffy’s training. I really enjoyed seeing Buffy trying to tap deep into spiritual Slayer powers and instincts she never even knew were there before. Dawn then comes in and ruins everything, annoyingly sticking her head right over Buffy and demanding to leave. I love how the camera is positioned so we get to see Dawn from Buffy’s perspective. Buffy’s expression here is priceless.
The post-credits sequence where we see an ordinary morning in the Summers’ home is equally illuminating. I love the realistic feel to this whole segment where the three of them, Buffy, Joyce, and Dawn, act as a normal family. In most genre shows whenever the writers take extraordinary characters and put them in ordinary situations, they often feel very out of place and not real, or just plain goofy. These characters are so much different though. We see them in a run-of-the-mill situation like getting breakfast and talking about their day and it feels real. That’s the magic of Whedon at work again: characters that have unusual challenges but have the same emotions and problems (even if they’re in disguise) as the rest of us. However, there’s nothing supernatural about this particular interaction at all. This sequence makes me feel cozy with the characters, like I’m right there with them. Pure awesome.
Riley comes over to hang out with Buffy in this sequence, but she failed to tell him that she actually planned a Slayer shopping session with Giles. Riley says he’s not bothered by the inconvenience, and I don’t think he is put out much here, but this is the beginning of a growing stream of these instances of Buffy leaving Riley out of the loop. Eventually it starts to get to him, which culminates in his departure (see “Into the Woods” [5×10] ).
I find Dawn’s voiceovers, which permeate the entire episode, very effective in getting into her state of mind. Right from the start it’s established that she feels alone, left out, and that Buffy gets special attention because she’s the Slayer. It’s also fun how the writers play around with your expectations. “No one knows who I really am. The real me.” While all this dialogue could represent that she knows what she is and that she doesn’t belong there, we know in retrospect that she’s just talking about herself and doesn’t actually know anything. That’s really smart writing. Later on, Dawn’s face is covered with ice cream and she has her monologue about Xander seeing her “like a woman.” This is painful and frustrating to listen to for someone of Dawn’s age, but at the same I understand that the writers originally intended for her to be a lot younger. Here we see Dawn at her most childish state, because I think the writers started writing her closer to her supposed age in subsequent episodes.
While many people just state “Dawn is annoying” and leave it at that, I personally like to try to see where a character is coming from. All the characters, not just my favorite ones (they’re all favorites to an extent anyway). So when looking at Dawn here in retrospect, I can’t help but feel for her because she’s the product of a bunch of monks. The way I see it, how she changes from this point on is all that’s important when looking at her, because all her memories are fake. I’ll get a lot more into this when reviewing “No Place Like Home” [5×05] . Knowing this makes just about every one of these early Dawn scenes even more memorable — they’re her first real memories in life. So when Buffy gets really angry at Dawn for accidentally inviting Harmony in, I have some extra sympathy for everyone including Dawn. Xander and Riley don’t seem to think it’s as big of a deal, but I certainly see Buffy’s point. It’s funny that Dawn hasn’t lived in that house for all those years, everyone just thinks she has. I’d imagine it’s different to actually experience making a mistake rather than just remembering certain lessons.
At the Magic Box I really enjoyed the Tara/Dawn bonding scene. These two can relate because Tara isn’t really part of the Scooby Gang either. The two of them thumb restling is really cute/touching as well. Tara later tells Willow that the “outsider feeling” is tough, but Willow quickly catches on that Tara isn’t talking just about Dawn, but also about how she feels about herself in relation to the Scoobies. This is a recurring thread early on this season that gets addressed in Tara’s ‘acceptance’ episode, “Family” [5×06] .
I was really impressed with the little hints that Buffy can physically feel something is off with Dawn. It’s annoying Buffy that, just recently, Dawn’s “always around,” like Buffy isn’t used to having that added stress always around her. This is a cool way to acknowledge that, physically, she’s not used to having to deal with Dawn being there. It is new even though mentally she thinks Dawn’s always been there.
Anyway, as the flow of this day continues, we see Buffy, who has Giles driving her, forced to take Dawn with her to the Magic Box to get Slayer training supplies. This creates yet another very character-charged interaction that really impresses. Dawn keeps annoying, Giles is trying to impart his wisdom and is having problems with automatic transmission, and there’s classical music on his radio! It’s important to note that Giles admits that not even he is fully prepared to explore the realm they are about to explore. Buffy reassures him she’s completely committed to doing this.
Once they arrive at the shop, we really begin to see that Giles realizes he is hanging around in Sunnydale for a while, and he’s thinking about establishing a future here. He gets a stylish new red car and then gawks at the profit margins for a newly ownerless Magic Box. I like how Buffy cuts off Giles mid-sentence and reminds him that the place is a “death trap.” Giles’ insistent interest in the shop is really fun to watch. “Impressive square footage!” While he is very much ready to go back to England, Buffy takes first priority. It’s not until S6 that he realizes the more he hangs around taking care of things for Buffy, the harder it will be to be able to start learning to handle things on her own. The absence of Joyce is what creates this situation. Right now, though, Giles is going to do all he can for Buffy and put aside some of his wishes to go home.
The other stuff going on in this episode, and where it loses some points, is in the Harmony material. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do like Harmony and find her often entertaining. The idea of her getting her own gang is also certainly amusing. The problem is that the episode focuses a bit on her and she just can’t hold an episode by herself. The good news is that there is some genuine comedy here, which makes this still entertaining enough. I especially loved how they remembered Harmony’s unicorn affection and are allowing her to explore herself as a vampire. Harmony’s excessive stupidity after her group captures Dawn gets a little boring to watch after a while though. Her group slowly gets fed up with her, but them being pretty stupid too, it’s not much better. So the Harmony comedy is light fun but doesn’t really have the same level of substance and quality as the rest of the episode.
The last bit to mention is how Buffy beats up Spike for information on Harmony’s whereabouts. I love how she punches him in the nose again just for the fun of it. And thus continues Spike’s frustrations at not being able to respond to her physical abuse (which we know turns him on in some ways). The episode ends with a wonderful ominous warning at the end from Dawn in her journal entry. “She just thinks I’m her dumb little sister. Boy is she in for a surprise.” I so love that this statement has nothing to do with her just appearing recently. Back to the great writing!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Crazy guy making reference to Little Miss Muffet (see “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] ) and giving the audience its first real hint that Dawn hasn’t just appeared for no reason.
+ Dawn’s huge crush on Xander. This just feels…right somehow. Then Anya comes in, “hello there little girl!” Haha.
+ Seriously. The big smiley face on Harmony’s threat letter thrown through the window is awesome.
+ Xander laughing at Harmony when she threatens Buffy at the door. Haha. Then later when Buffy hears about it, she starts laughing uncontrollably too. Fun!
+ Spike also making fun of Harmony’s gang. I like their little chat. It’s amusing that Spike’s guess of how stupid Harmony’s plan probably is actually becomes Harmony’s new plan.
+ Dawn tells the Andrew vamp that if he touches her Buffy will kill him. I love how it happens almost immediately.