Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 5, Episode “No Place Like Home”
Broadcast October 24, 2000
Sarah Michelle Gellar .... Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon .... Alexander 'Xander' Harris
Alyson Hannigan .... Willow Rosenberg
Marc Blucas .... Riley Finn
Michelle Trachtenberg .... Dawn Summers
Amber Benson .... Tara
Anthony Head .... Rupert Giles
James Marsters .... Spike/William the Bloody
Kristine Sutherland .... Joyce Summers
Mercedes McNab .... Harmony Kendall
Emma Caulfield .... Anya Emerson
We open two months ago in a monastery, where a powerful force escapes the monks who guard it. We move to today, in Sunnydale, where a security guard chasing Buffy away from a warehouse hands picks a glowing orb off the ground and hands it to her, presuming the orb to be hers.
Joyce Summers is still headachy and woozy, while Dawn and Buffy compete for her affection over fresh breakfast. The sisters head for Giles’ Magic Shop’s grand opening, where Dawn breaks things, insults Riley and infuriates her sister, all more or less by accident. Buffy’s wishing she were an only child, especially because Joyce is so close to Dawn. Dawn is the baby, Willow explains, which is why she’s closer right now to Buffy’s Mom.
Buffy, alarmed by Joyce’s headaches, heads for the hospital pharmacy to fill a prescription and talk to the doctor. She helps control a mad patient who she recognizes as the warehouse security guard. He tells her, “They’re coming for you... through your family.”
Meanwhile, at the warehouse, a monk calls for “the Beast” and conjures a blond girl in a red dress.
Still no luck figuring out the origin of the orb Buffy found, but now Buffy knows there’s a supernatural connection to her mother’s headaches.
Meanwhile, the devilish blond girl tortures and interrogates the monk looking for “the key.” She kills a security guard, but the monk won’t talk.
At the magic shop, the gang all seem to be working for Giles while Anya suggests they use an old spell called “Pull the Curtain Back” to reveal the source of the spell affecting Joyce.
For no particular reason I can ascertain Buffy, not Willow, will cast this spell. Buffy goes into a deep trance as she sits in a magic circle.
Buffy rises and walks the house in a deep-concentration trance: she walks downstairs and talks to her mom, seeing no magic on her mother. But a family photograph flickers-- Dawn is fading in and out, and the same effect appears on every family photo. In Dawn’s room, the child’s shelves and desk flicker and trade places with the clutter of an unused room. And Dawn herself flickers in and out.
“You’re not my sister,” Buffy says.
Buffy attacks Dawn (“Stay away from my mother!”) but Dawn seems genuinely confused (or is she?) Meanwhile, Giles calls to tell her that the sphere is a protective device to ward off evil.
Outside the house, Buffy runs into Spike, who trades barbs with her until his newfound love for her overtakes him enough that he sums it all up with, “And I never really liked you anyway, and you have stupid hair.”
Joyce comes home and Dawn is suddenly very creepy, while Buffy goes to the warehouse to get thrown across the room by the devil in a red dress.
The first day at Giles’ shop was a huge success, so Giles hires Anya, who is broke and knows the merchandise.
Meanwhile, blond devil has the strength of the Hulk and Buffy has little choice but to take the captive monk and run. The monk tells her to protect “the key” from the devil woman, or many more will die.
The orb is not the key. Dawn is the key. The monks took the good energy they protected and cast a spell, gave it human form, and sent it to Buffy’s life. Buffy must protect Dawn, which is why she was placed in Buffy’s household. Buffy resents the false memories that have been sent to her, but starts a new truce with Dawn, who is an innocent in all this and doesn’t know where she really came from.
Well, here's a result I didn’t expect. Watching the Dawn plot play out across the early part of this season has been a joy because of all the different balls Joss Whedon was juggling. Buffy introduced sister Dawn as almost a concession to the gods of TV, adding exactly one late-season retro-active history change (a sister) but doing it the Buffy way. This meant that Dawn came on the show at the end of an episode, so we all knew we weren't supposed to simply accept her presence, and then Buffy herself slowly came to her awareness of the anomaly over several episodes. (To be more accurate, she never really came that far until this episode, when a spell she casts points Dawn out as otherworldly. Before that her annoyance with Dawn is, all told, pretty normal sister stuff.)
And in fact I've enjoyed Michelle Trachtenberg's performance as Dawn, the awkward sister of the Slayer who has a crush on Xander and an inability to say the appropriate thing. When Willow says, “I just have all this involuntary empathy for Dawn, because she’s, you know, a big spaz,” we all know whereof she speaks. Frankly, we're meant to think, Buffy needs to cut the kid some slack and quit being such a whiner.
Except Dawn, even more than the rest of this imaginary cast, isn't real, and for a moment we think Dawn may be a demon out to kill Joyce. (Awkwardly, Trachtenberg is directed to act Bad Seed creepy in the scene in which Joyce comes home.) But the truth is even stranger: Dawn is a created human, integrated by a spell into their lives. Her soul is a mystical key Buffy must protect, but the body and personality are sincere. She really does think she's Buffy's sister, Joyce's daughter, and in fact the whole world has changed enough to make it more or less the truth. Now Buffy is faced with the problem of protecting a sister she knows isn't hers, a sister experienced through memories that aren't even real.
Except-- except-- that they are real, after all, in as much as they're shared by other people in her life (and also inasmuch as this is dramatic performance, in which Buffy's face can change between high schools.) The world itself has changed to make these memories real. The effect for the show, for now, is that Dawn Summers is here to stay. Good thing, because I'm not sure we wanted to see Buffy kill Dawn, as much as she seems to want to justify the act.
Also in this scene, Giles' new vocation, Magic Shop Owner, goes off without a hitch, and it's nice to see the show take on a new set piece (complete with Buffycave in the back.)
Ah, isn't it time for Buffy to get back to college? Is it still Summer in Sunnydale, or has existence been altered perfectly except that the monks forgot to build semesters back into the equation.
Giles: “[This orb] appears to be paranormal in origin.”
Willow: “How can you tell?”
Giles: “Well, it’s so shiny.”
Xander: "'Please leave' has now been replaced by 'Have a nice day.'"
Anya: "But I already have their money."
Xander: “Yeah. It’s just a long cultural condition of raging insincerity. Embrace it.”
Buffy: “What are you doing here? Five words or less.”
Spike: “Out for a walk. Bitch.”