Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Real Me"

“You don’t belong here”. Buffy has a sister. Buffy has a sister? Though we viewers only met Buffy’s sister Dawn (Michelle Tractenberg) at the end of “Dracula vs. Buffy” last week everybody else in the Buffyverse, Buffy, Joyce, Willow, Tara, Riley, Xander, Anya, and Giles, seems to know Dawn and seem to have known her for sometime just as she seems to have known them for sometime. Dawn, Michelle Tractenberg, even appears in the opening credits. I kept waiting for this “Superstar” moment to end in this episode but it never does.

“Real Me” is structured around and centred on Dawn’s diary entries, diary entries about herself and the Scoobies which serve as an economic and elegant way for “Real Me’s” writer David Fury to introduce viewers to Dawn, to recapitulate where the Scoobies are at this point in their character arcs in Buffy, and to introduce new viewers to all of the major characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dawn’s diary entries also serve as voice over narration throughout significant parts of the episode.

There are two mysteries of the week that weave their way through “Real Me”. Who killed Mr. Bogarty, the current owner of the Magic Box, and who is this Dawn who seems to have appeared suddenly and literally out of nowhere and who appears to be Buffy’s sister and is accepted by everyone in the Buffyverse as the Slayers sister.

“We kill the Slayer tonight”. The Big Bad of this week is Harmony, something we viewers should have known as soon as we learned that a $12.95 tasteless ceramic unicorn is missing from the Magic Box (remember that unicorn poster on Harmony’s and Spike’s cave wall in “Harsh Light of Day”, 4:3?). Also missing is the book Buffy and Giles have come to the Magic Box to buy, A Treatise on the Mythology and Methodology of Vampire Slayers, a book Buffy needs now that she is back in training with Giles. Willow and Tara arrive at the Magic Box at the same time as Giles, Buffy, and Dawn do to pick up some charms they have on back order.

Harmony and her minions, Brad, Mort, Peaches, and Cyrus, have taken the Treatise from the Magic Box because they need it to help them in their plan to kill the Slayer. As is often the case with Harmony’s plans—Buffy reminds her of the bad things that happened when she was head cheerleader and head of the homecoming committee—her plans generally “suck”. And suck Harmony's plans do from the get go.

When Harmony and her gang arrive at 1630 Revello to call Buffy out—Harmony throws a rock through Buffy’s window requesting that she come out and die in red marker with a happy face over the “I” in die—the Slayer is out hunting for whoever killed Mr. Bogarty. When Harmony is accidentally invited into 1630 by a Dawny who thinks that Xander is cool and treats her like the woman she is and says that Xander will, if she comes inside, kick her-, inside Harmony comes. The Harmony who comes inside Buffy’s house, may be a new a Harmony, a Harm who has been working out, learning some new tricks, and honing her instincts, a Harmony who is no longer the hair pulling pushover she was in “The Initiative” (4:7), but this new Harmony, as Spike points out later in the episode, is still an amateur and should leave the slaying to the professionals like, one presumes, him. Harm and Xander fight. And while Xander may not have kicked her- he is able to kick the new and improved self confident Harmony in the gut sending her flying out the front door locking it behind her managing so she can’t get in and once again saving the day at least for the moment. Another Harmony plan ends in suckiness.

“She’s a kid”. When Buffy returns from patrolling with Riley and complaining about Dawn while patrolling with Riley, she finds the idea of an empowered Harmony calling her out to kill her even funnier than Xander did when Harmony told him her plan. The laughter doesn’t last for long, however. Buffy learns that Dawn accidentally invited Harm inside to 1630. Not willing to chalk the “accident” up to the fact that Dawn is, as Xander, Riley, and Tara keep saying, “a kid”, Buffy tells the Scoobies that by coddling and protecting little Dawn the Scoobies are “…turning Dawn into a little idiot who’s going to get us all killed!”

Hearing everything Buffy yells Dawn runs past an Anya who is in the kitchen, out the back door, and into the almost waiting arms of Harmony’s minions. An injured Anya, who has been punched by Mort, tells Buffy, Xander, and Riley that Dawn has been taken somewhere by the Harmony Gang.

Since it is Tuesday it's Buffy to the rescue. Our Slayer pumps, well really punches Spike several times in the nose to obtain information about where Harmony is living these days. Learning that Harmony and her gang are holed up in a cave Buffy arrives at Harmony’s lair just in the nick of time. Unwilling to follow Harmony’s plan for keeping the sister of the Slayer alive to draw her to their lair—why keep Dawn alive when the Slayer is coming anyway notes Cyrus”—there has been a rebellion in the Harmony ranks and Harmony’s minions now plan to feed off the Slayer’s sister and kill Harmony. Another Harmony plan gone bad.

Just as Dawn warns the Harm Gang that “[m]y sister is so going to kill you”, it’s Buffy to the rescue, again. The Buffster stakes Cyrus telling him as she does it that Dawn did, after all, warn him. With Cyrus dead and Harmony fleeing a battle between our Slayer and Peaches, Brad, and Mort ensues. Buffy defeats Gang Harmony, Mort with some effort and difficulty, and with Dawn saved for the first time the dueling Summer’s sisters threaten to tell Joyce about each others recent failings when they get home. When Buffy and Dawn arrive home they don’t however, and Dawny even admits that it was pretty okay that Buffy didn’t tell Joyce about her rather reckless behaviour.

“Nobody knows who I am. Not the real me. It's, like, nobody cares enough to find out…”. “Real Me” is, of course, a Dawn centric episode. On one level Dawn comes off as really pouty and annoying thanks to all her huffing and puffing about how nobody, save Xander, takes her seriously, how Buffy, she who saves the world, is her mom’s favourite, how, if she were a superhero she would wear a cool mask and take on a cool superhero name to protect the loved ones Buffy doesn’t even. Buffy not protecting her loved ones?

Dawn, however, really is “a kid”, despite her protestations against being called one by Riley. Sorry to pile on Dawny. She is also a lot like her sister when we first met the Slayer way back in season one. Like Buffy Dawn is a bit self-centred, overly self-confident, and rather self-satisfied. That said, it must be remembered that it must be tough living in the shadow of the one girl in all the world, the chosen one, the Slayer.

“You don’t belong here”. Hovering beneath the surface whimsy of this getting to know Dawn, getting to know about the sisterly competitiveness and jealousies between her and Buffy, and the hilarity of the Harmony as a Big Bad with minions aspects of this episode, there is something deadly serious and decidedly unsettling going on. As I watched “Real Me” I had an eerie and foreboding feeling about Dawn thanks to two things that occur in the episode. The first is when, as the script says, a, “[a] raving LUNATIC - dressed in a stained and torn business suit and tie; his face and hands are filthy, his hair matted, his eyes… the haunted look of one who's seriously deranged”, comes up to Dawny and says, “What are you doing HERE?... I know you… curds and whey…I know what you are… You don't belong here” at the end of act one. Curds and whey, of course, is a clear reference to Faith’s little miss muffet speech in “Graduation Day” and yet another “Restless” moment in season five. The second is Dawn’s monologue that ends the episode—“She still thinks I'm little miss nobody, just her dumb little sister. Boy, is she in for a surprise”—a monologue that made me wonder just who little miss nobody, a self description that again eerily recalls the “little miss muffet” of “Graduation Day”, really is and what surprise she has in store for our Slayer and our Scoobies. Is Dawn the Big Bad of season five?

“I’ve found the real me and I like her”. As is often the case in Buffy there are some significant character developments in the lives of our Scoobies in the “Real Me”. Buffy, as I already mentioned, now has a little sis. Giles is once again training Buffy. Her “zen-like” and very impressive one hand hand stand complete with mystical crystals—I couldn’t help but think of the crystals in another David Fury penned episode, Helpless” (3:12) as I was watching this—is disrupted by Dawny in a very annoying can we go now way in the teaser. Can you say in character? By the way, Buffy stunt man and woman Jeff Pruitt and Sophia Crawford were replaced by John Medlen and Melissa Baker at the beginning of season five bringing a more athletic and very appropriate given that Buffy is getting more proficient quality to the stunt choreography of the show.

Giles finally has a new car, a sporty red BMW that Giles says seduced him. Giles’s sexy new BMW, which he has some problems driving, replaces the old Citreon DS that was apparently totaled by a Spike fleeing the Initiative in “A New Man” (4:12). At the end of the episode Giles has taken over the Magic Box with its Slayer training room in the back, despite, as Buffy tells him, the life expectancy of a Magic Box owner is about as long as that of a Spinal Tap drummer (shout out to the 1984 Christopher Guest, Michael McKean Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner 1984 mocumentary about a self absorbed hard rock band, This is Spinal Tap).

Xander, Dawny tells us, is working in construction again. Wonder how long this job will last? Anya learns that in ooh the Game of Life you may be burdened with a husband and several tiny pink children and more cash than you can reasonably manage, but that cash, as Xander says, equals good. Anya tries to trade in the children for more cash. Can you say in character?

Willow is taking drama in the upcoming term at UC, Sunnydale. This is a major step for our Scooby witch given Willow's fear of drama in "Nightmares" and "Restless". Buffy had to drop drama, which doesn't make Willow happy, because of her new Slayer training schedule.

Tara and Dawn feel like non-Scooby outsiders. Tara tells Willow that the “Scooby circle” have this really tight bond that’s really hard to break into even if you want to and she is not sure she wants to. Willow tries to assure Tara that she really is one of the gang, one of the good guys. A good guy? Really? What about that time she undermined the demon finding spell in “Doomed” (4:11).

Willow and Tara are still doing, as Dawn says, the magic spells and stuff which she finds so much cooler than slaying and that she once told her mom that she would really like to learn more about. Dawn has memories of life in Scoobyland. After making that suggestion Joyce got, Dawn says, really quiet and made her go upstairs. Though Dawn thinks Joyce and her generation are rather close-minded about witch stuff it is more likely that she doesn’t want fourteen year old Dawn to know about the secrets of lesbian love yet. Oops, forgot, there really is no conflict here because Buffy has, at times, made the connection between witch stuff and lesbian sex and lesbian love Buffy remains as protective of “kid” Dawn as Joyce at the end of “Real Me” telling her, as she goes off to see the training room at the back of the Magic Box with Giles, that she should not break anything, not touch anything, just keep doing what she is doing—writing in her journal at a table—and not even move. Buffy thy name is overly critical mother hen.

The Chorus. Wonderful episode penned by David Fury and directed David Grossman that introduces us to a new but at the same time a seemingly, at least in the eyes of the other Scoobies, old character in the Buffyverse, Buffy’s sister and Joyce’s daughter Dawn. “Real Me” lays down a mystery that, at least at this point, seems like it is going to last longer than the two episodes that we have seen Dawn in up to this point. Additionally, “Real Me” moves the character arcs of almost every one of our Scoobies along and I always like that.

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