[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Douglas Petrie | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 10/24/2000]
I’m sure many of you are very surprised right now. “He gave ‘No Place Like Home’ a 100!? What!?” Well first of all, please calm down. Secondly, please read me out here and then make those inevitable judgements. This is an episode that, from the moment I first saw it, I loved beyond reason (although I will offer much in the way of reason). I’m sure you have your own personal favorite(s) that many other people don’t see in the same vein as you do. Well, this is an example of one of those episodes for me. I feel this is an unsung masterpiece in intelligent writing (that is sometimes taken for granted), misleads, introductions, and foreboding atmosphere. A lot is going on here, and it’s done in such a vivid style that I’m always excited and impressed when I see it.
The episode begins with a fun little vamp fight and the introduction of the Dagon Sphere. It’s left open as a big mystery here, although I get the feeling the writers were intending to do something more with it and simply forgot about it, then Whedon included it in “The Gift” [5×22] like he did with all the little trinkets seen throughout the season. Nevertheless, the Sphere is put to good mysterious use, which adds to the atmoshpere of fear and confusion.
Because this episode ends on big revelations for Buffy, I’m going to tackle the rest of this review in much the same way. I’ll begin with one of my favorite scenes in the entire series: the wonderful, absolutely wonderful, moment when Buffy walks into the newly opened Magic Box and sees Giles standing there in the wizard robe and hat. He looks so proud of himself, Buffy opens her mouth like she’s about to say something then doesn’t, Giles looks proud again, Buffy then gives him this calm expression of “you look funny and ridiculous, take it off,” then he gives in and takes the hat off. No words needed: Giles respects and values Buffy’s opinion now more than ever. When he was acting all goofy in “Fear, Itself” [4×04] , wearing an overly large sombrero, Buffy actually had to tell him to take the hat off. Look at the beautiful growth in characters! Stunning! Perfect! Hilarious!
I’m very pleased the Scoobies ended up returning to a central location to run their operations from. While Giles’ apartment was a refreshing change from the school library, it got old quickly. I think the Magic Box set is stunning. It’s great to see Giles giddy about something; it’s been a really long time. He’s found a temporary purpose and he’s got himself put together again. He looks sharper than ever with that ear ring and snazzy clothes.
The mob at the Magic Box seemed a bit excessive although I could imagine how the re-opening of a magic store in Sunnydale would be big business on the first few days. People need their supplies! Later on, when Buffy’s in her fight with Glory, though, I enjoyed the lightweight contrast of the Magic Box scene a lot. It’s so perfect that Anya would love counting up all that money, especially now that she’s out of the free money she had. I’m very glad the writers gave her a job there: perfect fit. Also notice how she says, “And the Hand of Glory packs some serious raw power.” Funny little correlation — especially considering Glory’s name hasn’t been said yet — to Buffy’s concurrent fight.
While the focus of this episode isn’t on Riley, I’m still pleased we got a small follow-up to the events of “Out of My Mind” [5×04] and previous episodes. Dawn accidentally makes it even more painfully clear that Buffy doesn’t want Riley patrolling with her. Buffy even said in private that Riley gets all “weak and kitteny.” Wow, this is exactly what Riley doesn’t want to hear. This is why Buffy, later on, invites Riley over to help her start a spell she doesn’t need help starting just so she can make him feel needed. Poor Buffy, she just doesn’t get that their relationship is already in the danger zone. I still think Riley’s more at fault here, because he’s the one who can’t get over his macho “Me man! Me take care of cute girl!” attitude.
Before I move onto Glory, I want to briefly talk about the crazy people. A side effect of Glory’s brain sucking is that the crazy people left behind can see things normal people can’t. It is interesting to think about just what their capabilities are. The guard gone crazy at the hospital is able to see something in Buffy that hints at Dawn’s recent entry into her family. I’m making a bit of a leap here, but I think that because the crazy people can see that Dawn is the key, they can also see a residue of her on Buffy as well, which makes a bit of sense considering that the human component of Dawn was made ‘from’ Buffy. In the end it’s debateable, though, what the guard meant when he said “they’ll come at your through your family.”
Anyway, from the first good glimpse we get of Glory’s face, you can see a beautiful insanity out of her. I enjoyed seeing that huge metal door being torn apart with what at first seems like it’s got to be this giant creature, but instead turns out to be a girl about Buffy’s size in a red dress. I think Clare Kramer does an excellent job playing this role. Her voice comes off as a tad annoying and highly arrogant, which honestly fits perfectly with the idea of a god that ruled a hell dimension (although first-time viewers don’t know this yet).
I find it really interesting that Glory is shown as being utterly disgusted by human life. She gives a wonderful little speech to the tied-up monk and herself (we later find out she loves to hear herself speak) that gives us some insight into how she thinks and acts. While she calls the monk selfish, she’s the selfish one, completely spoiled and worshiped by everyone around her. “I want it [the Key], I need it, and I’ve got to have it now!” Sounding like a spoiled child here, she genuinely doesn’t understand why the monk won’t give up the information about the Key. Being so accustomed to having her will be done, she just can’t even comprehend people who don’t submit to her wishes. Additionally, she happens to be partially insane and, the fascinating thing is, she actually knows it.
Glory hates being stuck in human form and says as much: “The whole mortal meatsack comes complete with stink and bile sweat and protein. Yes, I said humans! Not now, Mommy’s talking! Wriggling, piling, prowling, crawling, clowning, cavorting, doing it over and over and over and over until someone’s gonna sit down on their tuffet and make this birthing stop!” The use of the word ‘tuffet’ brings to mind her need of the Key, or Dawn (“Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet”), to fall in line and make this pain stop by allowing her to return home. This is all really strong insight for a completely new character with very subtle hints of what she’s after. I say ‘well done.’
Buffy goes through an emotional roller coaster ride here. The change over Buffy’s attitude of Dawn from the beginning of the episode to the end is sensical and very intelligently done. Early on Buffy is expressing how she’s envious that Dawn gets to be the baby who’s coddled by Mom. I love her comment, “you don’t know how much I wish I was an only child these days.” Buffy wants that kind of motherly love from Joyce too, instead of being forced to take on more adult responsibilities, which unfortunately will be piled on more and more heavily throughout the season. That’s one of the major themes of this season: Buffy’s final fall from innocence and her ‘leap’ into the adult world.
A huge segment for Buffy is everything surrounding the “spell to see spells.” The plot uses Buffy’s development that she visibly began in “Real Me” [5×02] to its advantage and we get more wonderful continuity! Any other show would have Buffy be able to pull off this deep concentration stuff out of nowhere, but this show actually leads up to it in a pretty convincing way. The setup to this ‘trance’ is quite cool and I found how the writers threw in some Dawn annoyance to be realistically distracting. I appreciated how we see Buffy physically pour the sand around her in a circle — it helps set up the mood. I also like how the trance itself was filmed. Simple discoloration and static, but very effective.
Dawn phasing in and out of all the photos is genuinely creepy if you put yourself in Buffy’s shoes. Then she goes upstairs and sees that Dawn herself is fading in and out of existence along with her room. All at once Buffy realizes that there’s nothing supernaturally wrong with her mother and that there’s something seriously wrong with Dawn’s existence. I can’t help but remember the final scene of “Restless” [4×22] with the shot of that darkened room and Tara repeating the vital line, “you think you know, what you are, what’s to come. You haven’t even begun.” All of this material is thematically linked in a stunning visual atmosphere to Dawn and to Buffy’s coming death in “The Gift” [5×22] . I love how there’s not only the creep factor here, but also the idea the writers plant in your head that Dawn is the one responsible for her mother’s illness. Buffy menacingly says, “You stay away from my mother!” In retrospect I feel a great deal of sympathy for Dawn. I also find their threatening exchanges downstairs extremely refreshing. It’s so awesome how Dawn is just angry at her sister and wants to tell her mom about how mean Buffy was to her, but we’re led to believe she’s this great force of evil that’s hurting Joyce. Stunningly wonderful mislead. All of these scenes are superbly done.
When Buffy takes off to investigate the area where she found the Dagon Sphere (notice the super creepy Dawn looking out of the window from behind), we get a perfectly timed comic break when Buffy ‘senses’ Spike in the area and pulls him out from behind a tree in front of her house. Their little dialogue exchange is hilarious. Buffy gets her first signs of Spike’s feelings for her here, although she’s far too busy to dwell on all the evidence yet (all the cigarettes left on the ground suggest that Spike had been there for quite some time).
After this break, we get Buffy’s excellent first encounter with Glory. I love this scene. The Jaws-like music as Glory walks up behind Buffy is perfect and their fight is extremely cool and very well choreographed. When Glory whacks Buffy across the room into a wall, severely cracking it, I find myself suddenly very concerned for her well-being. When I first saw this, my expression was very similar to Buffy’s when painfully lifting herself back up. It’s also interesting that, based on Glory’s comments, she’s definitely not accustomed to being hit by people. After Glory then throws Buffy sideways across the room, Buffy quickly smartens up and instead of attacking Glory again she grabs the monk and bails out the window, which is very fun to watch.
This is when the monk reveals that Dawn is the key, is now human, is completely helpless, and doesn’t know any of it. Buffy’s reaction and SMG’s acting is, once again, simply stunning in response to this news — I find myself getting goosebumps. Great stuff! Yet the real pain is wrought when Dawn, later in her room, tells Buffy that she has this dream where Buffy’s not her real sister and that she was adopted, by “a shoebox full of baby howler monkeys” no less. What she just said obviously represents what she is: essentially an adopted child made by monks, rather than the monkeys she spoke of in regard to Buffy. I feel so awful for Dawn here and so comforted when Buffy sits down with her and strokes her hair. Beautiful, although that beauty is bittersweet with both of them having no idea what’s wrong with their mom (and even more bittersweet for me knowing that Joyce actually is going to die). Throughout this episode Buffy is actively assuming Joyce’s illness is something supernatural — something she can fight. The revelation that it isn’t supernatural is very scary for both Buffy and Dawn.
For now, though, Buffy has embraced the bond with her sister in a way she never could before. In the beginning of the episode she was saying how much she wished she was an only child. After finding out she actually is and that Dawn more closely resembles an adopted daughter rather than her sister, she has come full circle in her feelings and accepts the daunting responsibility forced on her.
This episode shares many of the same qualities that made “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] so amazing: a perfect blend of drama, comedy, and action to form a sensationally satisfying whole. The major difference is that this episode is an introduction to the major plot and many of the major character threads of the season while “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] is the grand resolution to them. I very much adore this episode and it rubs off on me in that powerful ‘perfect’ way, which goes to say I have absolutely no big complaints with it. I definitely won’t claim this to be as important as the other big episodes this season (you know which ones), but I am firm in saying “No Place Like Home” is definitely deserving of the P score.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Continued development of Joyce’s illness. I love how all the doctors do is stuff her with a bunch of pills. Ah, good ol’ doctors and their pills that rarely do anything good.
+ I think this episode is the prettiest Buffy has ever looked. Breathtaking would be my word. Yes, I’m a dateless nerd.
+ Buffy says that the guy who gave her the Dagon Sphere went crazy overnight. Right then Willow, Giles, and Anya all back away looking scared. Fun little touch.
+ Glory’s brain sucking looks like both a painful and a sexual experience for her, which is both weird and interesting.
+ Xander commenting, as a result of all the shoppers, about how he misses the library.
+ Joyce tells Buffy, “you’re so grown up.” This is Joyce reminding us of a big theme this season.
+ Especially riveting music throughout this episode.
+ The flashback sequence was unnecessary. These monks hum and all the sudden the Key is a human? Kind of lame.
+ I didn’t like how the security guard didn’t see Buffy fighting and staking a vamp even though he was right there.
* Willow gives Anya a mean-spirited look when Anya’s honest about how terrible Willow’s gift-wrapping is. This hints at a slowly growing rift between the two, who have never been cuddly with each other probably largely as a result of their mutual love (in different ways) of Xander. This issue is directly brought-up in “Triangle” [5×11].
* Giles says the Dagon Sphere is an object of great fear or deep worship, possibly both. Well, as we soon find out, Glory is both greatly feared and deeply worshiped.