Cultural Catchup Project: The Functionality of Ms. Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The Functionality of Ms. Dawn Summers

July 19th, 2010

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The conclusion to “Buffy vs. Dracula” is one of those moments where I wish I could go back in time and experience it without any future knowledge: the somewhat divisive introduction of Dawn Summers into the series’ narrative was something which I have known about since I started the series, but I had no idea that it was first introduced like this.

I had the benefit of being able to watch “Real Me” before writing about “Buffy vs. Dracula,” but if I had been a critic at the time, and if I had been following the usual episodic review strategy, I don’t know how I would have managed to really analyze the premiere without diverting the discussion towards “WTF”-like exclamations in regards to the conclusion. Every season begins with an uncertainty about what is about to follow, but the way Dawn is dropped into the narrative is the sort of risk which seems brazen to the point of self-destruction.

Through the first Disc of the season, the details surrounding Dawn’s arrival remain shrouded in mystery beyond a few clues, but her function within the story is much more apparent. She is an excuse to step outside of the comforts of the Scoobies, rethinking what it means to be a part of the group and seeing the existing dynamics in a new light.

And in a way, she’s sort of like Lost’s Flash Sideways.

It’s possible that I will be developing this more as the season goes on, and as I discover just what sort of magic or voodoo has created Dawn – the homeless man in “Real Me” is one clue, while Joyce’s moment in “Out of My Mind” confirms that the characters do on some level understand that her sudden arrival at the conclusion of “Buffy vs. Dracula” was unnatural, which raises comparisons with “Superstar” from Season Four  – and what role it plays in the season to follow, I’ll regret making this comparison. However, in a lot of ways I’d say that Dawn’s arrival is very much similar to Lost’s Flash Sideways structure in its sixth season.

Without spoiling anything, the sixth season of Lost is divided into two parts, and one of them presents itself as a hypothetical of what would have happened if Oceanic Flight 815 hadn’t crashed in the series’ pilot. Immediately, fans speculated whether it was an alternate universe, or whether it was all a dream, or whether this was the result of some sort of action. However, until the point when its origins were revealed in the series finale, its function was less to confuse the audience and more to offer important reference points for its characters. Characters who were in one position on the island were in a very different position within the Flash Sideways, allowing the show to look at the same character in a different light than if the device didn’t exist. Regardless of what you thought of the conclusion (which I would request we don’t discuss in spoiler terms in the comments, as tough as that might be), the real impact of the Flash Sideways was the way it forced us to reconsider the series and its characters rather than the mystery of what had created this hypothetical scenario.

At this point, I don’t know what explanation Whedon has up his sleeve in terms of how Dawn exists, but I do know that her impact is immediately felt. For the most part, Dawn isn’t really a character: she embodies every teenage sister cliché, wishing she could be like her big sister and desiring to be a part of her social circle, so it’s not as if she represents a new frontier of character development. However, those clichés are convenient for addressing the current state of the Scooby gang, in that her position as an outsider draws attention to the ways in which characters like Riley and Tara are defined entirely by their relationships to characters within the group, or how Giles felt unneeded, or how Xander worries about his directionless life. She may be yet another part of Buffy’s life which villains can kidnap in order to get her attention, but she fits that role so perfectly that we’re forced to examine everyone else’s role and discover just how far they are from being minions.

It’s a theme which runs through all three of these episodes: “Real Me” positions Dawn as an outsider, “The Replacement” places Xander outside of his own body and forces him to evaluate his own identity, and “Out of My Mind” gets into the heads of both Riley and Spike as it relates to their shared object of affection. Central to all of these episodes is that sense of the group and the individual, seeing how these characters fit or don’t fit into the current way of things: while Giles buying the magic shop is a way for him to keep busy, it’s also a way for him to remain central (which is both convenient for the writers and logical for the character considering his fourth season arc). However, the younger characters are at a point in their lives where a mid-life crisis is not socially acceptable, and so fast cars and impulse business purchases are not an outlet for one’s frustrations in life. Being college students, their feelings tend to fester instead, bubbling under the surface like they did last season, leading to the breakdown in “The Yoko Factor.”

However, just as Spike was a catalyst for those feelings to emerge in a destructive sense, Dawn is a catalyst for those feelings to emerge in a positive sense. In “Real Me,” we see Tara open up to Willow about feeling like an outsider because of their conversation of Dawn suffering in such a position, while in “Out of My Mind” it’s Dawn who discovers Riley’s rapid heart rate while playing with the stethoscope. As a kid, she tends to say the things that older people don’t say, or do things which older people might not do. On Buffy, this role is normally played by demons, whose unpredictability and supernatural powers can create scenarios like “Hush” which are ideally suited to the characters and their current states of mind – it is the Toth demon, after all, who splits Xander into two different personalities in “The Replacement” (creating an existential journey I’ll talk about more in a bit). However, Dawn is able to bring this sort of reflection into the realm of humanity, her arrival sparking topics of discussion and thematic considerations which speak to the characters and their current positions in life.

I don’t want to suggest that Dawn is exclusively functional: she may not be a real character yet, but “Real Me” did some nice work capturing her point of view with the voiceover, and Michelle Trachtenberg is a strong young actress who nicely captures the character’s immaturity (which is key to her relationship with Buffy as well as Buffy’s friends). And, once we eventually learn what it is that Dawn represents or how it is she has been wished into existence or some such development, it’s possible that these early episodes will have even greater meaning.

However, for now, the important thing is what Dawn’s arrival has created, as there is a definite risk with introducing a new character period, yet alone in this fashion. But what’s so genius about Dawn’s introduction is that there isn’t that awkward period where the characters adjust to a new arrival, as for them she isn’t a new arrival at all: while we as the audience have to adjust to the new dynamics she creates, the false sense of normalcy that the show is working with keeps her from taking over the show. She might be the centre of attention in “Real Me,” but Harmony’s desire to serve as Buffy’s arch-nemesis and gather her very own minions is still developed, and her position as a nuisance raises questions about who the Slayer should be protecting, and where her priorities should be, and how that all relates to the First Slayer’s objections in “Restless.” The show doesn’t suddenly revolve around Dawn now that she has arrived, and whatever obsession we might have in discovering the truth surrounding her arrival is pretty easily dispersed in favour of the characters we know and love.

I think this is most clear in “The Replacement,” which for me captures a lot of the best of the series: there’s some broad comedy in there, as one would expect when the hapless part of Xander’s personality is isolated, but the existential experience of watching (as we learn later) the embodiment of your strongest qualities live your life better than you had imagined was really well-developed by Espenson and Brendon. It was like the universe’s way of showing Xander that he’s actually a capable carpenter, that what he presumed to have been mind tricks were actually something he actually possesses when he’s not bumbling over himself. While “The Zeppo” re-evaluated Xander’s position within the group, “The Replacement” is much more focused on Xander’s identity, his own “Doppelgangland” of sorts which is similarly effective in terms of revealing that which is often hidden within the show’s characters. Dawn appears only briefly in the episode, and yet her arrival placed so much focus on analyzing character dynamics that it made “The Replacement” seem that much more natural.

“Out of My Mind” is all about Riley, which plays into the outsider element of Dawn’s arrival considering that I had some issues with Riley’s relevance as soon as the season started. While Tara’s desire to fit in does not yet have any sort of deeper meaning (although there was a look in “Real Me” that I’m filing alongside the spell sabotage from last season), Riley very clearly worries that he is changing, and that leaving the Initiative has resulted in a loss of identity. He holds onto his “powers” because he thinks Buffy needs someone just like her, or someone who happens to share certain qualities with a friendly neighbourhood vampire who recently relocated to L.A. However, what the episode sort of captures is that Buffy doesn’t need someone just like her, but rather someone who understands her. Even without the strength offered by the Initiative’s drugs, Riley knows what it is like to have responsibility, and to feel as if you can’t control your own powers, and so he and Buffy can connect on that level. It’s a nice parallel to Buffy and Dawn’s struggle to connect: Buffy can’t understand why Dawn isn’t happy to live a normal life, while Dawn doesn’t understand why no one wants her to be involved in Slayer activities. Riley eventually gets the help he needs and realizes that he is not wholly defined by his Initiative past, but yet there’s still that tension hanging over his relationship with Buffy (and his place in Sunnydale, as Grant’s comment suggested), and the episode didn’t solve their drama so much as it brought it to the surface the central issues they will need to face.

And this is Dawn’s function, reflecting the way in which dreams (Spike’s realization he desires Buffy) or demons have played this role in the past. While it takes a bit of time to adjust to her arrival, it doesn’t change the trajectory of the season in any way, and in some ways justifies a more thorough investigation of some of the key issues which emerged out of the premiere. As with the Flash Sideways, so long as the function of the change is effective, I’m along for the ride until they decide to reveal their cards, which should be a rather intriguing bit of narrative.

Cultural Observations

  • As noted in my review of “Buffy vs. Dracula,” I liked the way some of the elements from the premiere were brought up in subsequent episodes, in particular with Xander. I wasn’t a huge fan of his role in the premiere, and yet the way his time with Dracula directly played into “The Replacement,” and emerged in a few other moments, was a nice tough that gave me a greater appreciation for the earlier comedy. Also, as I hinted, my concerns with Riley and Tara feeling out of place were immediately answered by the series, so they go from concerns to plot points quite quickly.
  • It’s fitting that Spike experiences his feelings for Buffy in a dream, which is the same way in which Dawn’s arrival was foreshadowed – dreams as prophecy is one thing, but dreams as “truth” about one’s feelings is another, so I’m curious to see how Spike confronts this particular turn of events.
  • More fun stuff for Mercedes McNab – Harmony’s catfight with Xander is still likely her highlight, but her attempts to serve as the season’s Big Bad were a really clever bit of writing/performance, and I was very pleased to see her return in such a  capacity.
  • Favourite moment: easily the scene where Xander convinces Willow it’s really him, both because of the Snoopy dance and because of Willow’s reaction when he claims that she can’t know how it feels to have an evil twin – Hannigan’s line reading was just perfect, and it nicely parallels the notion that some of the characters’ struggle is in how no one else understands what they’re going through. Of course, in that situation, Willow knows exactly what Xander is going through, but he’s so insulated in that moment that he can’t see it.
  • Another reminder: I know talking about Lost in any capacity, especially in regards to its final season, is a Pandora’s Box, so let’s keep things spoiler-free, shall we?


Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

97 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: The Functionality of Ms. Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Susan

    So difficult to say anything right now without fear of spoiling!

    “She may be yet another part of Buffy’s life which villains can kidnap in order to get her attention, but she fits that role so perfectly that we’re forced to examine everyone else’s role and discover just how far they are from being minions.”

    Because you said the above, I feel safe in confirming it. Espenson says in some extra or another that they were “running out of damsels,” a role Willow, now a powerful Wicca, couldn’t fulfill any longer. It’s hard to say more about Dawn right now, but there is a lot more to say.

    I’m also going to let the Lost comparison sit on the sidelines for now. I get your point but am at a loss about how to talk about it without getting into specifics. But overall, I think the way you’re thinking about the goings-on so far this season sets you up nicely for what’s to come.

    “Also, as I hinted, my concerns with Riley and Tara feeling out of place were immediately answered by the series, so they go from concerns to plot points quite quickly.”

    IMO, some good advice is “trust Joss.” We’re definitely getting deep enough into the series at this point that some fans clearly think that trust is misplaced, and maybe ultimately you will, too. But I’ve found that Whedon and his writers rarely let me down, and even when they falter, they pull it off in the end. I hope you’ll find, as I did, that most concerns you have are fleeting, that Joss, et al. are several steps ahead.

    • Karen

      Big agree. Trust Joss.

      And one Lost reference – It’s time to say this: note that the way Joss seamlessly (imo) integrated a 8sideways universe* is one reason so many give Joss such an iconic role in establishing 21st century storytelling in television. His work is indeed culturally significant, and bravo for you Myles, in recognizing his importance with this project.

  2. Aaron

    Agreed. Dawn works really well in these episodes and it results in some really intriguing developments as the other characters form around her (even though they don’t know anything has actually changed). It also serves to point out some major changes in the focus of the series: Dawn is, essentially, in a position similar to where the main characters were 4 years ago, so she serves as a way to point out how far everybody has come since the HS days.

  3. Spot-on take of these often overlooked opening episodes Myles — I entirely agree with you. Although I’m not too wild about the Lost comparison, as I found the characters on Lost to be largely uninteresting and repetitive, the point you make is a good one.

    I think you’ll come to find that S5 is less concerned about big mystery and toying with the viewer than it is about reflecting on the characters and then evolving them.

    I kind of want to go watch all of S5 again now. There’s just so much *awesome* that lies ahead, starting in 2 of the next 3 episodes. 🙂

    • lawrence

      It’s definitely all about the characters. I think this season is great (best of the 7) because it really has full story lines for every character, and not just individual episodes or 2-3 episode arcs, either.

      There’s definitely much awesome that lies ahead, though I would say less in 2 of the next 3 so much as like … 16 of the next 18. Season 5 is simply amazing all the way through (well, except for two episodes… obviously 🙂

    • Yes, my recent re-watch of S5 just reminded me how great the season is. I’m actually thinking about calling my favorite season. (Don’t tell anyone — don’t want to lose my street cred.) It’s really is all about the characters, and I don’t think I’ve ever loved Buffy (the character) and Xander as much as I do in this season.

  4. Hansen

    Dawn and Michelle Trachtenberg gets a lot of criticism from certain fans and I think they’re all wrong.

    That’s all for now.

    • Dawn is definitely a character that grows on me, and whatever *unlikeable* traits she has, she’s got good reasons for having all of them.

      • Susan

        Dawn bugs the absolute crap outta–just like my little brother used to. Just like those 9th graders I once taught used to. Hmmmmm.

    • Seán

      So agree! Sure, Dawn can be a little annoying from time to time with her bratty ways and frequent whining but I think she’s a realistic 14-year-old girl and she’s often sympathetic.

      And I think Michelle Trachtenberg is a terrific actress for one so young – she really stands out for me in “Blood Ties”, “The Body” and “The Gift”.

  5. I literally don’t think I can write anything about what you’ve said without spoiling you, but I DO want to at least note that you’ve tackled the Dawn Problem in a way that I haven’t thought of before (most likely because I was almost entirely spoiled myself about Dawn’s true origins and purpose before I even watched season five at all). Good food for thought. It’ll be fun to see how you think of it once you know the whole story.

  6. jarppu

    These episodes contain what I refer to as “BING!character development”. So you want to develop Xander to being something else than a butt-monkey? BING! He suddenly has carpenter skills, gets a promotion and moves out of his parents basement(to a very luxury looking apartment – quite a leap) all in _one_ episode. It would have been fun if Xander’s character would have developed more gradually during season 5 – now he has almost no development left for the rest of the season.

    Another example of BING!character development: Giles also suddenly gets a purpose in life again with Buffy interested in training again and Giles buying the magic shop. Giles’ feeling of having no purpose in season 4 completely written away in a couple of episodes. Again it would have been more fun to see a more gradual development for Giles. (Season 6 does this well – gradually develop characters. Especially for Buffy. But I won’t go any further into that because of spoilers.) But I guess that this BING!character development was intentional so that the writers wouldn’t have to deal those characters as much later in the season: “You want more focus? Too bad, you already got all your development in the first couple of episodes!”

    But what’s so genius about Dawn’s introduction is that there isn’t that awkward period where the characters adjust to a new arrival, as for them she isn’t a new arrival at all: while we as the audience have to adjust to the new dynamics she creates

    This to me disconnected me from the characters. They all seem to be comfortable about Dawn act like she has always been there. As you said, this it not the case with the viewers and it creates a disconnect. Before this, I felt very connected to the characters, but combination with the BING!character development and the characters being in a very different place than the viewers in regards to Dawn creates a serious disconnect for me to the characters.

    Oh and another reason why I felt lost watching this season: where the hell did the college go? It’s basically MIA this season, even though they are still supposedly going there. Moving to college from High School felt natural even though it was a big change. But I guess the writers simply thought:”Well the fan response to the college season wasn’t all that great, so let’s just phase it out of the series.”

    • I disagree with you about Xander. The whole point of that story is that Xander is so used to being useless and incompetent that he doesn’t realize that he is both useful and competent and talented enough to earn a promotion. It’s a moment not just for us, but for him as well, and I think that makes up for any sense of “binginess” that you might be feeling. In fact, that moment wouldn’t have been powerful at all without the season’s worth of down on his luck Xander that preceded it.

      And as far as I’m concerned, it’s a good thing when a team of writers can acknowledge that something isn’t working, and change it in a believable and exciting way. Buffy’s life isn’t about school, it’s about slaying.

      • I agree, Ashley. Also, while a lot of the characters get stand-out episodes to shine early in S5, this doesn’t mean that’s all the get in the season — not by a long shot. It’s just that most of the rest of their growth occurs in more subtle ways that are integrated into the ongoing larger story. There’s some great stuff for all the characters as the season progresses.

        • Yeah, like, without the character revelations of this episode I don’t think any of Xander’s most awesome moments would have been possible [SPOILER!], like when he schools Buffy about Riley in “Into the Woods,” or five minutes after that how he tells Anya that she makes him feel like a man. Even his actions in the finale. He’s very confident.

          • Susan

            I agree with you both, Ashley and mikejer. I don’t want to gang up on jarppu for her/his (?) personal opinion, but I also read Xander’s very quick ascent as made possible by the fact that he *has been* successful, just neither confident nor aware enough to realize it.

            So, he could afford the swanky new digs–he was working all through season 4, and even though his ‘rents were charging him rent, he must have been saving up plenty. Once he understood that Suave Xander was really Xander, he had the confidence and security to fill those shoes.

            Giles taking on the Magic Shop feels organic to me, too. He’s glomming onto the first thing he finds, and kind of desperately–hence his blithe lack of concern about the abbreviated life span of Magic Shop proprietors in SunnyD. It’s convenient to put our group in a new situation that comes standard with plenty of mystical evil-fighting doodads, but it works, imo, for Giles at this time, too.

            I understand how jarrpu might feel disconnected from the characters because we recognize Dawn as alien from the group when the characters do not. I was definitely disoriented at first myself. But I do agree with Myles that this was a “genius” move, one that likely (imo) avoided the shark swimming underneath that ramp over there.

            With everyone reacting to Dawn as if they’ve known her since she was, like, what–9?, the narrative can set aside the awkwardness of her new presence. And, as Myles states, we can see our characters in a new way.

            Tara is brought into the group more because of her wide, deep nurturing streak. Buffy can struggle with something truly domestic for once–a bratty, whiny little sister. Xander gets to be the object of a little hero worship himself.

            Stuff that would remain covered up because everyone is always so emotionally careful gets dragged messily out into the open because Dawn has no filter (and they can’t just kill her like they can a demon who tells the truth, so they have to deal).

          • I can see the “bing!” for Giles. It’s a bit like the writers said, “Hey, we need a new location for exposition, where should they hang out now?” But I also feel like it was a choice Giles would make, so it works.

            I think Xander’s journey is pretty organic. He started carpentering in Pangs, and in that, he apparently found a job he enjoyed enough to hold more than a week. Can he afford an apartment now? Sure. Can he afford THAT apartment? Well…. it’s TV.

          • Nobody can afford their own apartments on TV. That’s what TV is all about.

          • Well, it *is* Sunnydale after all which has been explicitly stated as having a not-so-hot real estate (and I’d imagine apartment) market. High mortality rate means cheaper prices.

          • Haha! Leave it to you to come up with a rational explanation for why this is all perfectly reasonable.

          • jarppu

            I think Xander’s journey is pretty organic. He started carpentering in Pangs

            Except that he didn’t. He shoveled dirt around. That’s hardly equates to having carpenter skills. By that logic I suppose Xander could have become a chef because he was a ice cream truck driver in one episode? Does not compute.

            And from what we’ve seen about Xander’s relationship with his parents (just watch _any_ scene with him in his parents’ basement) suggests that he would have left immediately if he could have afforded it. Not simply save up his money for a luxury apartment – he’s not that picky.

            Oh how did I guess that Mikejer would show up and say: “There IS more character development later on -it’s only more subtle!” That still doesn’t excuse the fact how big of leap these episodes are for these characters. The fact there are ‘subtle’ development later on doesn’t really help.

            As for the BING!development, it does function to bring us forward in story time, so that when the season story arc kicks in, we’re all caught up, and we can go with the characters in the context of that arc. Writers always have to make trade-offs, and this is one of them. Considering the wow! factor of this season’s story, there’s enough to deal with, without having to go patiently through Xander’s evolution, or Tara’s integration into the group, or….

            I personally have always preferred characters over plot in Buffy. But if you personally like the plot more, then I can understand you not having a problem with this. But previously the show has always put the characters before the plot, but in this case it isn’t so (though it’s still not as bad as in season 7). For me the “wow! factor” turns into “boring! factor” starting froma a couple of minutes before the ending of ‘No Place Like Home’. But I’ll talk about that when we get there.

            Xander’s speech in ‘Into The Woods’ didn’t ring true to me. Xander basically said it was Buffy’s fault that Riley went to the vampire brothel to get his blood sucked. That if she would have been more open, then it wouldn’t have happened. But seriously the Riley-getting-sucked-by-vampires -storyline was so ludacris, it was a hard to believe that any person would do that let alone Riley. I mean he goes there to ‘understand’ Buffy. So getting sucked by vampires makes him understand Buffy? What kind of insulting logic is that?! That storyline was a complete character assasination for Riley (making the few Buffy fans, who didn’t yet hate him, revile him too). So for Xander to suggest that it was Buffy’s fault was complete BS to me.

    • diane

      Holy cow, there’s not much I can say….

      College recedes in importance for a number of reasons, and some of those are addressed. However, I really think that the transition to adulthood is the better route for the show; otherwise, “high school is hell” simply morphs into “college is hell”, and there’s really not so much difference there. A couple of seasons back, we talked briefly about the series being a bildungsroman, and to achieve that, Joss & Co. had to make the transition to the “real world” sooner rather than later.

      Yes, it really is disconcerting to see all the characters behave as if Dawn had always been there. But it really couldn’t work any other way.

      Must. Not. Say. More. About. Dawn.

      As for the BING!development, it does function to bring us forward in story time, so that when the season story arc kicks in, we’re all caught up, and we can go with the characters in the context of that arc. Writers always have to make trade-offs, and this is one of them. Considering the wow! factor of this season’s story, there’s enough to deal with, without having to go patiently through Xander’s evolution, or Tara’s integration into the group, or….

      And as Susan says, trust Joss. Joss finds a way to pay off, and usually to pay off incredibly well. This was my sustaining trust during the first season of Dollhouse, too, and Joss did not disappoint.

    • Aaron

      Heck, are you kidding me? Most of my life has been BING! moments; discovering a hidden talent, a moment of epiphany, a new direction in life, even finding a new job that’s really good. It all seems to happens in mere moments after a long slow buildup (which happened for Xander and Giles for all of season 4). I guess what I’m saying is, these are not sudden and complete changes in a character’s orientation, but the payoff to a season’s worth of slow background development.

      • Karen

        Exactly! If my life were to be serialized in 22 episodes a year, I’d have some BING! too. In fact………the Buffy BINGS would seem more organic than my real life developments. 😛

    • S Pacific

      Are you honestly telling me you’ve never had a “bing” moment? I have; where everything just comes together in life. It doesn’t happen often, but one time in five years? Sounds about right. Also, my reaction to the scoobies’ comfort with Dawn wasn’t to disconnect, it was to be creeped out, like I was seeing brainwashed cult members. However, I do agree that the college just poofed away, without so much as a thank you, Ma’am.

      • jarppu

        Well no, I haven’t had the kind of BING! moment like Xander, where he not only suddenly develops carpenter skills, gets immediately a promotion because of it and moves into a luxury apartment. Of course I’ve had a BING! I’m good at math! -moment, but that hardly immediately lead to me having a high paying job relating to math and then suddenly moving to a luxury apartment from basically scratch.

        • It’s about six months from the time he takes the job in “Pangs” to the time he’s promoted in “The Replacement.” Just because we don’t follow him to work every day doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Six months is not sudden, and it’s plenty amount of time to be trained in a job; the realization that he’s found something he’s good at without really knowing it is a character moment, not a plot moment.

          (And as for the apartment . . . it’s television. It’s not like we didn’t have to suspend disbelief over the state of Willow and Buffy’s dorm room in season four. That thing was at least three times bigger than any dorm room I’ve ever seen.)

          I’m really not following your logic on this one.

          • jarppu

            Wrong again. Xander wasn’t in the construction business for the whole six months. He was an ice cream truck driver in the mean time suggesting he got fired from his job in Pangs (and who knows how many other jobs he had between Pangs and The Replacement). They strongly suggested that he was constantly going from job to job. So again I say that it’s as believable for Xander to become a chef that is for him to become a carpenter. There was no building up to him becoming a carpenter(no pun intended). So I stand by my BING! -theory.

            BTW, in the next episode Xander is doing carpenter work in the magic shop. Something he never did before this. It definitely suggests that the writers had no idea of Xander’s skills before The Replacement because he hadn’t displayed any such skills before it. The writers just realized that ‘oh, from now on we write Xander as if he has carpenter skills’.
            Compare this skills development to Willows skills in magic. Willow’s development in magic is very gradual that happens over many seasons. Not it one episode like in Xander’s case!

            As for the dorm-thing: there’s a big difference between a dorm room that is meant for two people being slightly too big( because it had to be for filming reasons) and Xander’s luxury apartment. Just compare the two. There’s no big luxury looking windows in the dorm room nor big balconies.

          • jarppu

            One more thing: I’m not even sure if your theory is better even if it’s true. Sure Xander could have had some construction jobs off-screen when we weren’t following him. But that was never mentioned, and only during The Replacement his carpentery skills are brought forward for the first time. So what you seem to suggesting is some kind of retcon-BING! -theory, where Xander’s carpentery skills are added in retroactively. I hardly see that as any better writing that my simple BING! -theory.

          • Aaron

            The people I know who’ve worked construction started out as part-timers. I’m led to believe this is not uncommon. It took a year or so of mentoring before they developed their skills and became part of a crew. I can easily see this happening with Xander, and no, I don’t think they needed (or that I’d even want them to) show every part of it. Even so, don’t you think this is a nitpicky for a tv show? If a 15 year old can learn to kill vampires over night, a grown man can learn to be a carpenter in 6 months.

          • jarppu

            Xander, and no, I don’t think they needed (or that I’d even want them to) show every part of it. Even so, don’t you think this is a nitpicky for a tv show? If a 15 year old can learn to kill vampires over night, a grown man can learn to be a carpenter in 6 months.

            Except being a slayer is a mystical ‘skill’, something that IS learned over night – when the slayer is called. You do remember that part of the show don’t you? Being a carpenter isn’t a mystical skill. Fail again. And Buffy wasn’t perfect at it right of the bat. This is showed in ‘Becoming pt.1’.

            As for the showing “every part of it” – how about showing _any_ part of it? I don’t require showing every part of it. If you would have asked any viewer before ‘The Replacement’ about Xander’s skills, no one would have any clue about his carpenter skills. So you are clearly advocating the retcon-BLING! -theory?

            As for being nit-picky: It’s hard not be nit-picky when the show’s record have been so great up until season 5 (at least in relation to characters). So in perpective of all the other shows out there, this might not be such of big complaint, but in perspective of this show alone, it is a problem. Of course it’s not the only reason why I don’t particulary like this season. But it’s a very characteristic problem of season 5.

          • jarppu — Could you try to make your tone a little more respectful? I know it’s more difficult to convey emotions in writing, but it seems like you’re being derisive with comments like “You do remember that part of the show, don’t you?”

  7. ck

    I envy you Myles. So much awesomeness lies ahead…

  8. Witnessaria

    Awesome review, with great way of looking at Dawn’s role. I’m with Ashley in that I had never looked at her in that way, although I’ve always loved the character for herself and for what she brings out in other characters, so maybe I was almost there.

    “I’m curious to see how Spike confronts this particular turn of events.”

    Oh, man, have you got some awesome stuff to look forward to on this front. SO GOOD.

    Glad that you’re enjoying Season 5. Looking forward to more reviews.

  9. I don’t know if someone has said this already, but I think there’s a change in the way the show tells stories starting in this season. Until now, most plot points served as metaphors for real-life concepts, all the way up to the way they took down the Initiative. But here Dracula is just Dracula, and a split personality is just a split personality, and while all these stories show aspects of the characters (because otherwise there’s not much point), they’re not such clear-cut metaphors anymore. It’s not that there aren’t any metaphors left at all, but I think this is the year where they’re toned down significantly and the show is meant to be taken more at face value.

    • I think there are definitely still plenty of metaphors going forward, but I agree that they are played off with much more subtlety now. There are far fewer blunt metaphor episodes. Those could be fun and certainly made sense in the high school years, but the increase in subtlety overall plays much better with the characters beginning to enter the adult world. Imo, naturally.

    • Tom

      If I may quibble just a bit, it’s not that the show abandons its previous use of metaphors. For one thing, it doesn’t…not entirely. But someone once crystallized what I think happens from now on, and I will now gleefully steal his hard work:

      Before, the monster was the metaphor. Our characters fought the monster and thus fought the metaphor. Plots were often advanced in parallel by fighting the monster (the text) and fighting the metaphor (the subtext or overall narrative).

      In later seasons, the metaphor is the monster. Our characters fight — it might be better to say struggle against — the metaphor. Monsters that can be fought exist not as a veneer over the “real plot,” but instead now serve that plot directly, as metaphors in their own right or not.

      It’s a difficult and somewhat fine distinction, and hard to substantiate without spoiling until…well, I’d say post-season 6. But I think it applies.

  10. There’s a lot of Dawn-hate out there. I went to a OMWF sing-along and one of the things we were all instructed to do was yell, “DAWN SUCKS!” every time she showed up.

    Personally, I like her because it’s so much darn *fun* to be so annoyed by her. And I do think Michelle Trachtenberg does a good job. There’s only one emotion I think she’s terrible at showing; we’ll see what everyone else thinks when we get there.

    The Replacement is one of the best episodes. Xander-centric standalones seem to be the best — with the exception of Vampire Willow of course.

  11. Jack-Kay

    Very good review Myles, and as others have said it’s all very exciting (for us readers) being able to follow your journey into the upcoming story-arcs of Season 5.

    Season 5 is one of the most mysterious of all seasons if that makes sense – just all the mystery throughout the season as to what the big picture entails and what the ultimate message is – it’s quite a different feel to every other season, (well obviously they’re all different, duhhh), and there are many ‘epic’ moments but the whole of the season has a pretty distinctly epic or larger-than-them/life atmosphere, and all the plot points fall into place amazingly well.

    I’m really really looking forward to your take on the next batch of episodes (of both Buffy and Angel).

    “No Place Like Home” is one of my all time favourite underrated episodes of Buffy (i.e. it’s not one of the ones everyone remembers as a ‘Top’ episode), but I think it has the perfect balance of humour, drama, action, progression… blah.. everything! It just fits together as a 43 minute long episode outstandingly.

    Plus the next kind-of crossover, that I’m sure you’re aware of, is coming up, so yay.

    Also Angel’s “Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been?” is also another oft-forgotten mini-masterpiece.
    I’m rather OTT happy to hear about you watching all of these for the first time.

  12. Mel

    When I watched this season as it aired, I hated Dawn and was really angry at Mutant Enemy for dropping a bratty kid sister in like she had always been there.

    Having seen it a bazillion times since then, I love it and it frequently wrestles with season 3 as “best” season of Buffy.

  13. greg

    So, who wants to start re-watching all the episodes from the first four seasons again and mentally insert Dawn into them?

    One of the things I love about the show is that the writers do take the time to make the rules clear before they play with them. Most shows would just retcon everything; introduce Dawn and then come up with an explanation later how she’s possible. Made me wonder just how similar to Jonathan Dawn was supposed to be (character wise) – hey, he was used pretty often as an outsider as well.

    • I think the biggest retcon the show does is Giles’ level of knowledge, particularly about magic. In the very second episode of the show (Witch) (or does that count as third?) he’s completely incompetent at/inexperienced with spells. Somehow by S3 and S4 he’s advising Willow. Perhaps he took night classes.

      (Oh, and then there’s the whole Ripper-playing-around-with-dark-magics thing they threw in there in S2. Ah well.)

      • greg

        To be fair, he was still pretty guilt-wracked over the whole “mark of Eyghon” disaster as a young adult and I can see him backing off magick at that point. I’m willing to believe he was just pretending to know less than he did (or wanted to) earlier in the series. Once his history was out of the closet and everyone was okay with it, he probably relaxed a bit more. (though still held enough concern to be disapproving when he found out that Willow was delving into the same area) Throwing in the flashbacks in season two helped explain his attitude in season one. (For me, anyway)

        Now if I could only figure out when he became enough of a computer expert that the Scoobies entrusted him and Anya with shutting down the power grid while they went to rescue Oz….. ?

        • You’re right. I went back and watched the scenes. I had thought he was incredibly bumbling, but he’s a lot more competent than I had remembered him.

          Another question — how does he have the money for his shiny new car, and for the Magic Box? Jane Espenson says in a commentary that the writers decided he’d been published over the summer 🙂

          • greg

            Other than the money he made as a founding member of Pink Floyd?

            I bet he took out a huge insurance policy on the school library when the Council fired him. Even if Buffy hadn’t given him the excuse, one way or another, he knew was gonna blow that up eventually. ‘Cause you just KNOW that Snyder wasn’t paying him any kind of a decent salary.

      • lawrence

        I think a bigger and more problematic retcon is S6E17. I really like that episode when I don’t think too hard about what it implies, because it really doesn’t make any sense. (And if they’d been making good on an earlier passing reference/throwaway line, it would have actually been a great episode instead of a flimsy retcon.)

        • lyvvie

          [Buffy Spoilers] (just to be safe)

          Completely agree. It’s just a couple of lines but it really keeps me from enjoying that episode, which I know is some peoples favourite.

        • Not sure which lines you guys are referring to, and I think that is one of the most fascinating eps in the series. So that will be a great conversation when we get there.

          • Eldritch

            re: s6e17

            I’m looking forward to the discussion of this one. It’s one of my favorite episodes. It was very risky for Whedon to write this kind of WTF!

          • Karen

            Me too. Love this one, despite flaws. (I say that a lot. Sorry.) But I can’t recall retcons lines so maybe I dismissed them from consideration. I fanwank-while-watching to smooth out a great show’s (to be expected) inconsistencies instead of nitpicking, so that could happen. Does anyone else do that. Of course, there is a line……

    • It’s kind of neat how the concept of alternate realities popped up as early as Anya’s first episode in S3’s “The Wish.” Then “Superstar” came back to the topic just in time to prepare us for Dawn here in S5.

      What’s also fun to consider are the parallels to what Angel did in S4’s “Home.” The demon Cyrus Vail built new memories for you know who and altered the memory of everyone else, but instead of adding memories Vail removed them. I’ve often wondered if there’s an Orlon Window somewhere for Dawn that would restore everyone’s original memories.

      • Chrystal

        I didn’t read what you wrote after spoilers once I got to “what Angel did in S4’s “Home”.. but it just reminded me that I’ve noticed people are posting spoilers of Angel on the Buffy posts and of Buffy on the Angel posts.. which for those of us just now watching Angel but have already watched Buffy, well, I’ve been spoiled about a couple of things now from that.. I’m not mad about it or anything ’cause it’s just a show but it sorta sucks. I watched all of Buffy without even so much as googling concerns I had out of fear of having things spoiled since I knew there was such an active fanbase.

        Anyway, maybe in the future if someone’s going to include a spoiler that’s not strictly from the series being discussed in that post they could specify that it’s an “Angel Spoiler” or “Buffy Spoiler”?

        I’m really loving all the thoughts though about both shows. So many things I’d thought of and others I hadn’t and it’s nice to finally be able to read about and discuss them.

    • lawrence

      It’s an interesting thought, and I’ve attempted it in fanfiction by writing a few entries in Dawn’s diaries as they relate to specific episodes from seasons 1-4.

      But for the most part, I think any S1-4 plot that involves Joyce breaks down if Dawn is there. What happens in Bad Eggs, or Band Candy, or Gingerbread, or Helpless, or This Year’s Girl? Does Dawn just sit around the house while Joyce is out or held hostage?

      She wouldn’t let Dawn stay home unattended in Real Me, so I can’t imagine her even considering it earlier.

  14. ck

    See you are starting season 2 of Angel, Myles.
    I know your schedule doesn’t always allow for such things, but would be cool if you could watch “Fool for Love” (Buffy) and “Darla” (Angel) back-to-back.

    • Not only would it be cool, it’s pretty much mandatory.

      • Eleanor (undeadgoat)

        Seconded–that is definitely An Important Crossover Event. Of Doom. And awesome.

        • morda898

          Thirded! You’ve got to watch both eps together Myles. I’ll be vague for now but the fact that you can see the same scene (More than one in fact) from two completely different perspectives is a commodity rarely (If ever) found in TV.

          • Denita

            I recommend that you watch these crossovers back-to-back as well. I think they’re the most well-written and the best crossovers for both series.

      • Gill

        Agreed – you’d lose so much by not watching them together. They reflect so powerfully on each other. Especially the thing where they bump into someone and someone says…

    • skittledog

      Yup. It’s not a crossover in the way you might expect from previous crossovers… or indeed from the term ‘crossover’… but they are excellent companion pieces. Yup, that’s what I shall call them. (Any thoughts on whether the order matters? I think it is better to watch Fool For Love first because the humour and one subtle character change during Darla are better appreciated that way round, but then I watched them that way round and I don’t know if watching Darla first would lead to any similarly entertaining moments in Fool For Love?)

  15. Jaz

    Season 5 is definitely one of my favourites. Although I detest Riley with a passion, he’s mostly bearable in the episodes he appears in from now on.

    Also, the sudden arrival of Dawn is something a number of my friends interpreted as the writers simply ‘cheating’ to add a bit of drama and sibling rivalry. I’ve always found her personal story to be extremely interesting and despite the odd GET.OUT moment, she’s a fairly likeable ‘little sister’. Without spoiling anything- I recall reading somewhere that Joss wanted Buffy’s emotions to truly whirlwind this season (more so than before I guess) without relying solely on the romantic interest for pathos and Dawn certainly plays a part.

    Myles, now that you’re hurtling through Buffy episodes and starting on Angel S2, can I ask which series you’re enjoying the most? I never got into Angel, personally- Might give it a go sometime in the future.

    • Chrystal

      Just to comment on your not getting into Angel.. I didn’t either when I first started watching it (when I started Buffy S4). And pretty much had to force myself to watch it through to the mid-season crossover.. So I stopped after that. But since reading on here how everyone said it really picks up after that and gets good, I decided to go ahead and force myself to watch a few more episodes in hopes that they were right. And they *really* were. I’m almost done S2 and I only just started it on Wednesday.. Just couldn’t stop watching.
      Maybe you’ll like it and maybe you won’t, but I really don’t think you’ll know that for sure until you’re at least a few episodes into S2 (and I think going through S1 is important for all the back-story).

  16. Eleanor (undeadgoat)

    Hey Myles, not much to contribute to the discussion, but THANK YOU for the request not to spoil other shows. 🙂

  17. Cameron

    I like your approach to Dawn. And like many others before me, I can’t say much more without spoiling Buffy (or LOST). But I would definitely like to hear you develop this comparison of the Flash-Sideways with the character of Dawn. It’s an interesting idea to play with, especially considering that this was supposed to be the final season of Buffy.

    • jarppu

      Just a correction: season 5 was not supposed to be the final season of Buffy. Joss had already planned for season 6 during season 5. The season finale almost seems like it was supposed to be a series finale, but then again Joss always tries make the season finales so that they can act as a series finale if necessary. Plus there were the confusion over the switching networks where the WB erroneously called ‘The Gift’ series finale.

  18. Been a while since I watched S5, so I think I’m going to follow along, and boy do I ever love Harmony.

    One of the writers said that they had an unbelievably hard time writing for Harmony, until they realized that no matter what she said, she was always the head of the prom committee.

    I love that.

  19. Tom

    I’m not going to talk about the qualities of the individual episodes, but I would like to introduce a thought about Dawn.

    There are several points over the course of the series when we’re basically asked to trust the show, despite all our experiences with dramatic media warning us against that trust (and remember that the TV landscape pre-BtVS is a little different from that landscape now). Sometimes a little is asked, and sometimes a lot is asked, but basically we have to take it on faith that the creators and writers know what they’re doing.

    Examples of the show asking for our trust: killing and then resurrecting our heroine in the very first season, after which it’s hard to see where they can go. Making the heroine send her boyfriend and first love to hell….and then bringing him back. There are a few others I haven’t mentioned. And there are some major, major “trust us” moments to come.

    At each of those points, there’s going to be a cohort of the audience that does not, in fact, trust. Most of them can be convinced by a respectful followup…”When She Was Bad” actually addressing Buffy’s death and resurrection in a way that’s unusual in genre shows that are littered with cheap resurrections, for example. But some of them will view the series with permanent suspicion if they don’t think that one of these moments of trust paid off. Or they will abandon the series entirely.

    As the series escalates — as it must, since you always have to top your last trick — the gambles get bigger, and thus so must the payoffs. Obviously, introducing a little sister and playing her as very normal when we suspect that she’s anything but is just about the biggest gamble the show has yet attempted. And obviously, you know that the show it going to attempt to pay that off at some point. Maybe in the next episode, maybe in the final episode of the series, maybe somewhere in-between. You’ll be the judge of how well that goes, of course.

    You knew, instinctively, that this was a “trust us” moment because it was so startling. Not as startling as it was for those of us who were watching it as broadcast, but startling nonetheless. And so, as I read this review, I see your expectant and eager patience as you wait for this storyline to advance.

    What I’ve also noticed, though, is something that I think is inherent in the sort of project you’re doing. At some point, satisfaction with the less dramatic points of characterization and narrative turns to impatience. For example, just one entry ago you were expressing some worries about Riley and Tara in terms of their cohesion with the core gang. Everyone who’s seen the show knew that at least some of that was about to be directly addressed, but couldn’t really say why or how without spoiling. In the entry previous to that, you were expressing some doubts about how significant to the meta-arc “Restless” really was. Again, this is stuff that previous viewers knew but really couldn’t say, and yet one episode later you were already seeing those themes knit together, those ideas being played out in the frontline narrative.

    The reason I’m saying this is that I think, watching in quick clumps of episodes and not beholden to the enforced duration of a broadcast schedule, ones expectations are unfairly encouraged towards impatience. Crucial plot and character points might be introduced and then pay off in 75 minutes over a cluster of three consecutively-viewed episodes, points that would normally take at least 15 days (minus a few minutes) to resolve…or longer if there were repeats. And then, you choose to stop at some random point and wonder where your onrushing plot went. (It’s worth saying, too, that some deliberate scheduling choices get lost in clustered DVD viewing; the sweeps climax that you watch right through, vs. the slow pre-sweeps build that you stop right at the least interesting point. You are, no matter what you do, watching the show in a way that does not and cannot mirror the intended viewing conditions.)

    I wouldn’t say that this must lead to impatience with slower-developing plot and character points, except that…having seen quite a few people catch up with previously-broadcast shows in just this fashion, it always has. Always. I think it’s an inevitable response to the way you’re watching the show.

    So, again, let me just caution: the show pays some things off quickly, and others over a much longer period of time. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that there are certain ideas introduced way back in the first season…even the first episode…that are pretty directly addressed in the finale. Like everyone else who’s done this, as you’ve come along you’ve started to expect these resolutions sooner than you used to. Resist this temptation. If anything, the show slows down or defers some of its resolutions from here on out. And if you find yourself thinking “I wonder why no one seems to notice that Mr. Pibb is looking awfully pale, and won’t go near the fireplace, and took a night job, and drinking a lot of things he claims are cherry soda “…well, don’t be so sure no one has noticed. Especially, don’t be so sure the writers haven’t noticed.

    In other words: trust them. When they fail that trust — and they might, at some point, though this is a personal thing — you’ll know. But it’s impossible to know immediately after they’ve asked for that trust. It will always take some time.

    • Susan

      Wow, Tom. This is beautifully stated. Hear, hear!

    • lyvvie

      Wow, very well put. I’ve definitely noticed symptoms of this in myself when watching shows on DVD rather than waiting years for them to pan out (The Wire, The Shield, The Sopranos).

      Though not related to Myles at the moment, I also think it’s harder to love/appreciate a TV show watching it in that fashion, you can just watch a whole series in a month then forget about it. Doesn’t compare to the speculation/anticipation of years of build up.

      • Witnessaria

        Agree with this idea.

        Just a quick note on the other hand though, watching the DVDs of a show can also change your view of the timing of things to the “good.” In other words, some things that happen in Buffy (and in the show I’m rewatching right now, X-Files) that viewers remember as taking forever to resolve and weighing down their memory of a season, when you watch on DVD you realize they were over within three or four episodes.

        Anyway, it is fascinating to see how all of that works. TV shows are very unique vehicles for story.

        • I agree. This whole DVD/Tivo/Netflix streaming thing is going to really change the way we watch things, and I’m very curious to see how it all plays out.

        • Tom

          Yes, that’s very true. One particular thing that drove me bonkers in season 7 — no point in talking about it now — doesn’t bother me a bit when I watch it on DVD. On the other hand, I’m much more likely to skip episodes, which also changes the viewing experience and my conception of narrative and characterization. To do this in a non-spoilery way, I would have to be pretty bored to watch “Go Fish” at this point, knowing that I might be able to slip in both halves of “Becoming” before I fall asleep.

    • Shambleau

      The issue of trust, especially in tv, is a knotty one. Joss Whedon is passionately committed to both risk and change as essential parts of artistry. I mean, even the show’s title is risky. But change in an ongoing series, even if it’s successful, is inherently alienating to parts of an audience. One comment I’ve often read by people who’ve come to dislike the direction the series takes in later seasons is roughly “This isn’t the show I signed up for!” The feeling of hurt is palpable sometimes.

      The sense of betrayal and bitterness comes from people believing that there is a contract between the writers and the audience – the writers will continue to deliver what drew the audience members to the show in the first place and the audience will continue to watch. But for writers who are trying to be more than hacks, the risks they take aren’t simply because they have to top their last trick. It’s essential to their sense of self-worth as writers to probe more deeply and not simply provide the audience with what’s worked before. And some in the audience will see the change as a betrayal of trust. So, in some ways, audiences and creators, on tv especially, have a partially adversarial relationship, because their needs differ and because their understanding of the implicit contract between them isn’t the same.

      And, of course, the writers’ riskier concepts and/or the execution of them can fail. It’s not as if the audience is always wrong to dislike where the writers are taking them, and most people who have problems with the later seasons will claim that’s where their dislike originates. Fair enough. But I feel that for some of them that’s a bit disingenuous. Their issues are more with change itself than they are aware. The risks the show has taken so far, from Hush, to Willow’s lesbianism, to Restless dreamscapes, to the introduction of Dawn were fairly well-received, but the tension in the audience-writer relationship is building and I’ll be interested to see how Myles sees it too.

      • Tom

        I’ll admit that, for me, the show peaks arc-wise in seasons 2-3 and episode quality-wise in 4, even though a personal list of favorite episodes would include much from later seasons…perhaps a majority from later seasons, and certainly if season 4 is included (though I wouldn’t; I consider 4/5 the break point). The division in fans of pre- or post-“Restless” BtVS is, I think, far more tied to a division in a certain pair of relationships than is often admitted (and I expect to receive angry refutations any moment now 😉 ). Even if it’s not “tied,” it certainly seems to parallel that other division.

        But the reason I like the later seasons less isn’t tied to quality or risks. I thought when the show was being broadcast that it might be the former, but after many subsequent viewings I’ve figured out what my problem is, and it’s not a lack of quality (though there are some things — CGI, for one — that I think clearly degrade, though I don’t consider that a particularly important factor). In many ways, I think the quality of the show is generally much higher in the later seasons, by all sorts of measures. But not all of them. And there’s a…let’s call it a core concept…that’s present in the early seasons and missing in the latter ones that is not to my personal taste, and that’s why I still preference the earlier seasons to the latter seasons. In other words: even when it’s better, I like it less.

        Obviously, I can’t discuss this in more detail at this point. Maybe near the end.

        • I think you’re right about the pre- and post-Restless division having a lot to do with those relationships.

          I saw season 7 first (my roommate had just bought the DVDs). When I got around to starting from the beginning (after Firefly when I figured there must be something to all the Buffy-craze) I was 1) out of high school, and out of college even, and 2) already liked the other relationship better.

    • Tyler

      I can’t offer much compared to your well-expressed thoughts, but I’m very interested in this idea of trust.

      I believe that BtVS asks for a lot of trust and that it rewards that trust very well (at least much more often than not). While you might be right that there’s something inherent to viewing a series on DVD that can cause a greater impatience–or a greater lack of trust–I think that a lot of what people experience when watching well-written shows like BtVS is accountable to the fact that television so regularly abuses our trust. And as you say, the pre-BtVS TV landscape was particularly guilty in this regard.

      I remember years ago when I showed Buffy to a close friend of mine who was particularly disgusted with “television as art,” and refused to watch most programming on principle. Early in the series, there’s a sequence where Giles and Jenny go to kiss one another. As they lean in, the schoolbell rings. Immediately my friend let out this pained groan, reacting against the cliched sequence. Of course, a moment later and Giles and Jenny complete their kiss, and my friend turned to me, half-smiled, and said, “Okay, that was brilliant.”

      When we got to Buffy vs. Dracula and the final scene, he was put off by the introduction of Dawn, and I asked him “hasn’t this series earned your trust by now?” I don’t believe it ever did. He was dubious, too, when he saw the opening sequence of 6×7 and divined what kind of episode it would be. That he came around to Dawn, and 6×7, and almost everything else never seemed to carry with it the general lesson of “trust the show.”

      Maybe some people are just too badly burned by poor programming to trust very much.

      But for my part, I started trusting it from fairly early on. When I asked questions, the show would generally answer them, and I came to realize that they were consciously manipulating my questions as well–that it was part of the story. We’re meant to have the visceral, off-putting reaction to how everyone treats Dawn. And I would argue that we’re meant to wonder about Riley and Tara, and to question their integration (usually right on time for the show to answer the questions). Restless, certainly, is designed (at that point in viewing the series) to get the viewer to, essentially, ask himself WTF? That helps to keep those elements in mind for later payoff.

      Like a magician might say, it’s all a part of the show.

      • Tom

        And the thing is, we should all know better than to ever doubt after the very first sequence of the series…he one that turns an incredibly familiar trope upside down before the opening credits even roll. But habits are hard to break.

  20. lyvvie

    With all of the other seasons I’ve relied on my memories of the episodes (having seen them, lets just say ‘a number’ of times), but with S5 I can’t resist watching along.

    I really like the way that Dawn is introduced in ‘Real Me’, as we see the rest of the gang through her eyes. I particularly like her and Tara sitting outside the Magic Box playing thumb wars.* And I like the way that Buffy deals with her, playing with the viewers expectations. With all her complaining you think that she’s working out something is wrong, but of course she’s just complaining because she cares.

    ‘The Replacement’ is a great Xander episode. I particularly like Xander/Anya and Buffy/Riley sitting watching TV and Xander getting all the boyfriend stuff wrong. Ooh, and Anya wanting to have sex with both of them. “He’s clearly a bad influence on himself”. But it’s a big Buffy/Riley episode too. Her feeling that he might prefer a non-Slayer Buffy version, and his reveal to Xander that he feels Buffy doesn’t love him.

    ‘Out of My Mind’ is probably the weakest of these three but it’s still entertaining. You really get to see things from Riley’s POV, and Graham’s words of “You used to have a mission. And now you’re what, the mission’s boyfriend? The mission’s true love?” are really important for his character, especially considering the previous episode in which we learn Riley doesn’t feel Buffy loves him. The ending at the time was another big shock for me.

    Looking forward to your Angel reviews!

    * In fact I love all of that first 1/3 of the episode as each of the characters interacts with Dawn. I love Dawn’s completely little sister/young teen thought of ‘I bet they’ve had sex’ as regards Buffy/Riley. And Anya wanting to sell her little pink children.

  21. I love the cultural catchup project, and am always so excited when you update!

    Here is my view on the seasons of Buffy:

    5 and 2 are the best in terms of dramatic progression.
    4 and 6 have the best stand-alone episodes, but are the weirdest in terms of dramatic progression.
    3 is solid episodically and dramatically, but neither stands out in comparison with the others.
    1 and 7 have to be respected for the huge tasks they take on, but are mostly interesting conceptually, rather than dramatically.

    I don’t think this is a spoiler, but I firmly believe that “Real Me” got much of its inspiration from Episode 18 of My So-Called Life, “Weekend.”

  22. Austin

    Hey Miles! I thought you might like this: Seasons of Buffy (and Angel) wonderfully cut together to look like movie trailers. DO NOT WATCH season 5/2 until you have finished them: massive spoilers for the entire thing, but season 1-4 are all pretty good:

  23. Bob Kat

    Two quick comments before reading:
    1- Semi-spoiler: Harmony (in this episode only, not he rover-all arc) bears the same resembalnce to the S-5 Big Bad as Gwendolyn Post Mrs. did to the Mayor in S-3.

    2-Since I came late to “Buffy vs Dracula” discussion, keep in your mind Tara’s reaction to Willow’s (obvious despite her denials) attraction to Dracula.

  24. Bob Kat

    I have to agree with jarppu on Xander’s rise. His job in “Pangs” was labor and would have little more to do with his getting a carpentry job as any of his other jobs.
    And carpentry, like any skilled trade, requires several years of apprenticeship then a reasonable amount of journeyman work before being appointed a supervisor. This is typical; Joss and the writers probably grew up in “white-coallr ghettoes” and have little understanding of blue-collar life.
    But I do have to agree with the rest on the apartment; I meaN, have you ever watched How I Met Your Mother? Nobody on TV lives in the kind of apartment they can afford.

    lawrence greg: You can handle most of them by saying “Dawn spent ‘Ted” hiding under her bed screaming” “Dawn spent ‘De4ad Man’s PArty’ hiding under Joyce’s bed screaming” “Dawn aws aleady asleep when Spike first visited in ‘Becoming'” “Dawn was sleeping over at Janice’s when Faith broke in in ‘This Year’s Girl'” but eventually it wears thin. “Bad Eggs” didn’t take up much of Joyce’s day but “Band Candy” and “Gingerbre4ad” are *very* hard to fit Dawn into.

    greg voluntarymanslaughter : All I can figure is, being a Watcher pays *very* well and Giles was always frugal with it (heck he drove a Citroen; I didn’t even think those were street-legal in the States) then he had a standard librarian’s pay for 3 years on top of it so he had many a mickle of a muckle of a bundle saved up.

    Sigh, the beach scene in BvsD; how I wish I could just pause the series right there……

    • Becker

      The apartment: It has been stated on the show before, “No wonder you can still afford a house in Sunnydale.” The extremely high murder/death/bizarre disappearance rate in Sunnydale is extremely high and keeps property values down. Construction pays well, and with his new, though agreeably unlikely, position, he should be able to afford that without a problem.

      Citroens are legal, though there was at least one early driving scene where the car was being pushed by a few transpo guys as it was dead. Also, didn’t Giles”used to run a museum in England, possibly The museum”? 😉

  25. tjbw

    Put me down in the ‘loves Dawn’ category.

  26. Becker

    Back when BvD aired, the Bronzers were actually given a spoiler from David Fury to just accept Dawn and don’t worry about it and that things would make more sense after a specific episode, which as of this review, still hasn’t come. So, I dealt with it right off the bat and didn’t freak out. Then a lot of people who missed that spoiler came and were freaking out and people started totally messing with everyone and the running gag was to talk about Dawn’s scenes in older episodes and watch the confused newbies get even more confused. Much fun was had while we waited for answers.

    I quit Lost in S3, so I have no clue on that, and therefore am unclear if I’m right to feel like I disagree. You’ll know better than I later.

    I immediately liked Dawn and never had the problem with her that many others did, but I did and still do, have one problem and that is that, as you mentioned, she’s coming in just about where the cast started in S1. Except for one thing, they write her too young. Part of that is the fault that the initial character, before casting, was meant to be younger. Having not rewatched the middle 4 DVDs, I don’t know when/if they brought her more up to age. But I did like the whole opening run of episodes. Spike’s reaction upon waking from that dream was one of many highlights.

    I do have issues with the season as a whole, but those are issues that actually will have to wait until you are done with the season.

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