Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Buffy Blog: "No Place Like Home"

Season five of Buffy began with a mystery for viewers, the mystery of who is this Dawn who claims to be Buffy’s sister and why do all the Scoobies believe she is the Slayer’s sister and why does Joyce, Buffy’s mother, believe she is her younger daughter?

In the Doug Petrie penned and David Solomon directed “No Place Like Home” Buffy and we viewers finally learn who Dawn is. Some supernatural thing or some supernatural someone, Buffy comes to believe, is making her mother ill, making Joyce have the headaches she began to have in “The Real Me”. It is a nightwatchman who Buffy first meets in the teaser to the episode at one of Sunnydale’s empty factories—Sunnydale has apparently experienced the scourge of deindustrialization the rest of the Western industrial world has—who puts this idea into our Slayer’s head.

In act four Buffy goes to the hospital to get a prescription for the ill Joyce. There she helps Ben (Charlie Weber), who she met in “Out of My Mind”, with a crazy man on a gurney, a crazy man who Buffy eventually recognizes as the nightwatchman she met earlier, a madman who tells Buffy that they will get to you through your family. In order to find out what supernatural force may be making her mother ill Buffy performs a spell Anya has suggested she do, a “pull the curtain back spell”, a spell to see other spells.

When Buffy pulls the curtain back she discovers in a scene full of otherworldly overexposed images a la “Restless”, otherworldly music, and otherworldly sound representing the trance-like state Buffy enters while doing the spell, that Dawn is not supposed to be in her house or her home. Dawn’s image disappears and reappears in family photographs. Dawn’s bedroom alternates between her bedroom and a storage room. Dawn literally appears and disappears and reappears as Buffy talks to her. Fearing that Dawn may be harming Joyce Buffy pushes “little sis” back into the wall of Dawn’s bedroom telling Dawn to stay away from my (my emphasis) mother.

Just then the phone rings. It is Giles. He tells the Slayer that the Dagon Sphere she brought to him to investigate in act one of “No Place Like Home” is a “protective device used to ward off” an evil “which cannot be named”. Giles warns the Buffster that, “Anything that goes unnamed is usually an object of deep worship, or great fear. Maybe both”, and that she could face a level of raw power she has never known before if she finds this unnameable evil.

Despite Giles’s warning, however, off Buffy goes to the factory where she was given the Dagon Sphere by the now crazy nightwatchman. It is at the deserted factory that Buffy finds one of the same monks who, two months before the events of “No Place Like Home” take place, as we saw in the teaser, was part of a group of monks who performed a ritual to protect something they called the key, a key represented by a glow, and who has apparently escaped the force who attacked him and the other monks and who is now looking for protection, presumably from the Slayer, now that his Dagon Sphere, which was his protection device, has been taken by the Slayer, and the same force that we heard smashing the wooden door in the teaser begins to smash the industrial size steel door behind which the monk is looking at a map of Sunnydale presumably trying to find where the Slayer lives.

When Buffy arrives at the factory at the end of act three and in act four she finds the monk. He has been captured and tortured by this force. This force (Clare Kramer), this, as the script describes her, real hottie with blonde tendrilled hair that falls down to her shoulders, who is dressed in red business dress and killer pumps, and who knows she is a star, wants the monk to tell her where her key is. When the monk refuses to tell the force where her key is the force tortures him and goes hysterical, rather like the nightwatchman Buffy met in the hospital, until she sticks her fingers into the head of an older nightwatchman who the force has tied to a column in the factory feeding on his conscious life, represented by an ectoplasmic light, returning her to “sanity” (end of act one and act two).

In act four Buffy fights this force. This force, however, is strong, much stronger than the Buffster. After being tossed around the empty warehouse as though she is a Barbie doll and after ducking punches thrown by the force which tears out chunks of concrete from one of the columns which line the factory floor, Buffy grabs the monk and jumps out the second storey window protecting the monk as they fall. Safe, thanks in part to a temper tantrum thrown by the force who stomps on the factory floor after she breaks her heel chasing after Buffy causing parts of the floorboards to crack apart in a straight line bringing down parts of the factory ceiling on her head, the monk tells Buffy that it was he and two other monks who sent the key to her in human form so she could protect it, her, from the “abomination” she has just fought. This key, this Dawn, the monk tells Buffy after she objects to the monks making Dawn her sister and manipulating the memories of her family and that of the Scoobies, doesn’t know she is the key and really believes she is Buffy’s sister. Dawn is, as the monk tells her, a helpless innocent who needs the Slayer’s help.

In the final scene of “No Place Like Home” Buffy returns home and apologises to Dawn for what she said and what she did before she left for the factory. The Slayer has decided, at least for the moment, to protect, as she has so often done previously in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the helpless and innocent, in this case the helpless and innocent key, who believes she is Buffy’s sister and Joyce’s youngest daughter. In Buffy there apparently really is no place like home, Buffy’s play on Dorothy’s mantra in The Wizard of Oz (1939), the place where they have to take you in, as Riley said in “Pangs”, when you go there even when you are energy that has been made into a fourteen year old girl.

This being Buffy there are, of course, other things going on beyond the appearance of the monster of the week and the apparent Big Bad of season five, the abomination who cannot be named—a takeoff on the Hebraic god who is so holy he cannot be named—the abomination the script refers to as Glory—a suitably Judeo-Christian name that draws on Hebraic and Judaic notions of god’s presence and praise for the divine. Joyce’s headaches, it turns out, are more than the product of bickering daughters and turn out to be something other than supernatural. Riley is feeling a bit like a Zeppo, a bit like the Xander of season three and four, someone without superpowers anymore thanks to the operation he had last week that left him weak and kitteny, someone who Buffy now worries is going to get hurt in Slayer battle and some other one who Buffy doesn’t want to protect anymore than she wants to protect that other Scooby without superpowers, Xander, during battle. Giles has finally opened the Magic Box to customers and after a period where it seems like no customers will appear, voila he seems to have a potentially profitable business. Anya is now working for Giles who needs the help at the suddenly busy Magic Box and is being taught the finer points of insincere customer service by Xander. Spike, Buffy calls him William, is still pining after Buffy standing outside her house smoking by a tree while presumably watching Buffy inside creepily replicating Angel’s perverse voyeurism at the Summers home in “Passions” if in a somewhat more tragic way. Spike is still hiding his feelings for Buffy behind his “out for a walk, bitch” tough exterior front.

Home, family, and growing up are central themes of “No Place Like Home”. Buffy is increasingly, thanks to Joyce’s illness, becoming someone who takes care of Dawn and someone who is feeling the angst of being an older sister who is supposed to be grown up—Joyce even says that Buffy is so grown up at one point in the episode—while Dawn gets to be Joyce’s fourteen year old “little pumpkin belly” and book club partner (shades of season three's "Dead Man's Party"). Buffy is also playing mother for Joyce getting medicine for her and expressing concern that some supernatural force may be coming at her through her family making Joyce ill. The older nightwatchman pleads to the abomination for his life by mentioning that he has a family.

"Shiny". The Dagon Sphere, Dawn, and the abomination sucking the life consciousness out of the older nightwatchman seem to have a similar quality of light.

“I could crap a better existence than this”. The abomination is not particularly impressed with the humans and the human society and culture she finds in Sunnydale, she calls the monk she is torturing a monkey (pun intended?), suggesting she is not from the Buffyverse world or Buffyverse dimension.

Forgive me monkey”. There is some sexually charged religious imagery in the scene in act two where the abomination tortures the monk trying to obtain information about the location of the key. As the abomination kneels before the monk she has tied to a chair in Reservoir Dog fashion as the script describes it she grabs the robe that ties together the monk’s cassock as though it was a male sexual organ. In the script she “crushes his [the monk’s] nuts" just after this. Reservoir Dogs is the 1992 Quentin Tarantino genre film about a heist gone bad.

What's in a Name? Dagon is, was, apparently a Philistine deity.

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