Buffy, The Vampire Slayer
Broadcast February 6, 2001
"Blood Ties" gets a lot of Buffy plots rolling faster than they had been. We learn a lot:
We learn Glory, the flighty blond God who's been hunting for the Key, which has been transformed into the retroactive continuity sister Dawn, is an insane god. She's unstable mostly because she's spending all her time in human form on earth, which both limits her powers to mere near-invulnerability and plays havoc with her presumably unlimited mental state. To stay sane, Glory attacks humans and absorbs the binding energy of their minds, leaving the babbling shells that have been piling up in Sunnydale of late. Oh, and she's a split personality. Turns out the sweet doctor Ben who's been flirting with Buffy is, in fact, Glory's alternate personality. The switch works as a full-on body transformation, yet another example of Buffy's literalization of complex concepts. Many Gods are two-in-one, good and evil, brother and sister.
Glory almost learns Dawn's secret because Dawn runs away. Enraged by everyone acting strangely about her, Dawn breaks into the magic shop and reads Giles' notes on her. She goes to the hospital to see the insane people (who can recognize her as less real than the rest of the world) and winds up running into Ben-- then Glory.
Spike, meanwhile, is having a harder and harder time staying pure evil. By the end of this episode, Spike is providing aid and comfort to Buffy with none of the awkwardness of his earlier attempts. He's getting more at home in the role of vampire compatriot, and he's one of the few who can tell Buffy unpleasant truths (and who can take her beatings.)
Some have observed that all of the good things Spike does are purely self-interested-- attempts to get Buffy to favor him, or sometimes merely because pleasing Buffy pleases him. My only response is to ask what the difference between that and virtue would be, exactly. So far Spike is embodying the Aristotelian principle of habituation towards good, whether he likes it or not. Spike decides to accompany Dawn to the magic shop because he's afraid she'll be hurt otherwise. He is doing good for all the wrong reasons, as many of us do, but the sum effect is often a better person who does good as a matter of course. Of course he's still chaotic-- he'll break and enter. But would he still kill a stranger? Would he kill a shopkeeper for fun? Four months ago I'd say yes; now, I'm not sure.
But remember, Spike's a vampire: he's supposed to be evil from head to toe, as Spike has always been and up to a few episodes ago steadfastly remained. Now, though, he seems to be shifting because of his infatuation with Buffy, and my only theory is that we seem to have misunderstood the nature of the vampire demon within the human carcass. Is it possible the demon can shift toward virtue after all? Anyway, for the sake of story and romance, why not; insisting against it smacks too much of zeal.
Buffy turns 20 in this episode, getting presents (I love Anya's childlike fascination and jealousy over the birthday presents.) Dawn's gift is a homemade frame around a photo of her and Buffy as little girls. Once again we're faced with the false memories of Dawn.
"What am I? Am I real? Am I anything?" Dawns asks, after cutting herself to observe the blood within. What is Dawn? The wonderful thing is that Dawn is once of the coolest postmodern narrative tricks I've ever seen-- she's a walking retroactive continuity change who has discovered the disruption in continuity. I mean, Dawn-like tricks happen all the time; shows add characters, subtract rooms, change the layouts of houses, skip years in childhood development to recast children as teenagers, change leads from one career to another-- all retroactively. Presumably the memories of the characters shift with the change, although we hate to acknowledge it because fans remember things. Viewers reported being disturbed that in the last episode of Happy Days, father Cunningham thanked God for his "two" lovely children, erasing the older son written out in the first two seasons. But Joss Whedon has done something special-- he's made a retroactive continuity change and then made a plot out of it. Dawn is real, friends, as real as Howard's two, not three, children, as the second, not the first, Darren, as real as Guinan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, bartender in a bar that didn't exist until Season 2. Will the show keep her? They could. There is no difference between their false memories and their true ones-- why? Because if memory and imagination are the same thing called different things for different purposes in humans, then they're the same thing only more so for imaginary beings like television characters. Among living mortals, the distinguishing detail between imagination and memory is that memories are presumed to have actually been reflected in time across physical reality ("This actually happened to me when I was eight.") The rest is imagination. For Buffy, all memories are imagination-- Joss Whedon's imagination, mainly.
So will Dawn remain after the Key story arc has ended? I hope so, and there's no great reason for her to go away. She's as real as Xander, anyway.