A trio of monks run through the halls of what's probably a monastery. The time is two months ago. They start a ritual, in Czech, to protect a magical key. Meanwhile, an unseen force pursues them and is pounding away the door. As they succeed, the force breaks down the door. We cut to current day Sunnydale where Buffy fights and stakes a vampire. The security guard at the abandoned building she is near sees her and tells her to leave, that there isn't a rave there. He also gives her a glowing ball which he sees on the ground and which she takes home.
Buffy has made a special breakfast for Joyce. Dawn comes down and pretends she made it when Joyce arrives, much to Buffy's secret rage. Joyce is still having headaches and waiting for a diagnosis. Buffy goes to the opening of the Magic Box and takes Dawn with her so she won't annoy Joyce. She walks into the store to find Giles silently standing there wearing a wizard's costume. Neither says anything and Giles eventually takes it off and puts it away. Dawn comes in. Giles says he hasn't had any customers yet. Riley and Willow come in, Willow wonders where his costume is. Buffy shows them the glowing ball. Riley wants to go on patrol that night and Dawn says that Buffy said he shouldn't because he's no longer super strong. Riley is upset and goes into the backroom to work out. Buffy tells Dawn they are leaving. Willow tries to calm her down, but Buffy says she wishes she were an only child. Dawn breaks something.
They arrive home to find Joyce sick. Buffy goes to the hospital pharmacy to fill her mother's prescription for pain killers. There she meets the intern who looked after Joyce in Out of My Mind and his patient is the security guard she met earlier. He's gone mad and has to be strapped down. He tells her they will come at her through her family. He's wheeled away and the intern asks after her mother. Buffy says she thinks she's starting to figure out what is wrong.
One of the monks is in the abandoned building. He's looking at a map. Something starts pounding on the wall. It breaks in. It's a woman in red. She says she's been looking for him. Giles is in the shop, thrilled at having served his first customer. Anya and some customers enter. Anya is upset because her money is almost all gone. She complains the conjuring powder is over priced and tells Giles she can hook him up with the troll who sheds it. Buffy rushes in with her news, telling them what she learnt from the now crazed security guard.
The demon in red has tied up the monk. She is complaining about how awful her existence is, forced to live as a mortal. And she says the monk is being selfish in keeping the key from her. She pleads with him to tell her where it is. She rips the duct tape off his mouth so he can tell her. In the background, we see a security guard chained up. The monk says kill me in Czech. The demon tells him to speak American. He says he'll tell her nothing. The security guard starts pleading with her, but she ignores him. She accuses the monk of torturing her. She says she needs the key and he doesn't even own it. She starts talking wildly, then she grabs the guard's head and shoots energy into it, hurting him. When she lets him go, she says she feels better.
Business is booming at the shop. A woman asks Willow to gift wrap her purchase. Giles is panicing and Xander tells him to stay British. Anya tells customers to go away after she serves them and Xander says she should say 'have a nice day'. She says she doesn't care what kind of day they have and he tells her it's a cultural norm to be insincere and she goes with it. He goes to Buffy who tells him about her mother being magically made ill. Willow has made a mess of the gift wrapping and Anya takes the package from her. Anya says she knew a sorcerer in the 16th century who had a spell, a trance actually, to see spells. Although the gang think it may be too difficult for her, Buffy insists on attempting the trance. She gets the necessary items and goes home, calling Riley to help her. He realizes she doesn't really need his help, she just called him so he wouldn't feel left out. He says he's ok and instead of Buffy trying to take care of him, they should take care of each other. He leaves and she starts the trance. Dawn knocks on her door, she can smell the incense and wants to know what's going on. Buffy tells her to go away. Buffy completes the trance and goes downstairs. She sees her mother, but cannot see any indication of magic. But she sees a family photo and Dawn's picture disappears. Joyce says she is feeling better and is going to go out for a couple of hours. Buffy looks at some other photos and Dawn's picture disappears. She enters Dawn's room and realizes it is empty, just a storage space. Dawn asks why she is in her room, but when Buffy looks at her she, too, keeps disappearing. Buffy says "you're not my sister". Buffy grabs Dawn and asks what she's up to. Dawn says she'll tell Joyce and Buffy tells her to stay away from her mother. She throws her against the wall. The phone rings and Buffy goes downstairs to answer it. It's Giles at a crowded shop with news. The orb is the Dagon sphere, an object which protects against an unnamed evil. She says she'll go back to the building where she found it. Giles asks about the trance and she is about to tell him, but realizes Dawn is in the room. She says she saw nothing and it didn't work. Dawn asks what she was talking about and she says slayer stuff. Dawn says she doesn't care that Buffy is the slayer. Buffy says she's going out and will be home before her mother.
Outside, she finds Spike lurking in the bushes claiming to be out for a walk. He is overly insistent on this point and then says he hopes Buffy is satisfied because she needs some satisfaction besides captain cardboard and he never really liked her and her hair is stupid. He walks off and Buffy sees a pile of cigarette butts where he was standing. Dawn has been watching all this from the window.
Buffy goes to the abandoned building. Joyce returns home early because she wasn't feeling well. Dawn offers her some tea she has made. Buffy finds the tied up monk and rushes to him. As she's untying him, the demon walks up behind her. But Buffy knows what's going on and turns and grabs the demon by the neck. The demon slaps her and sends her flying across the room. The business day is ended and Giles is exhausted. Anya tells him he should restock crystal balls and raise the price. She's going through the receipts and hurling off advice like mad. Giles offers her a job which she happily accepts.
The demon is tossing Buffy around like a doll. She complains when Buffy hits back, saying you shouldn't hit people. She realizes Buffy has superpowers and hurls her across the room. Buffy grabs the monk and jumps out the window with him. The demon breaks a heel chasing them and stamps her foot in rage. That causes the floor to crack, a pillar to fall, and the roof to cave in on her. Buffy is trying to get away with the monk, but he says his journey is over. He tells Buffy she has to protect the key, that it is energy, a portal. The monks guarded it but when the demon found them they gave it form and sent it to her. It's Dawn. He tells her Dawn is truly human and helpless and needs her protection. And she doesn't know she isn't Buffy's sister. Buffy goes home to find Dawn with her mother. Dawn runs upstairs telling Buffy she wasn't bothering Joyce. Buffy goes to Dawn's room and apologizes. Dawn doesn't take it well and is still angry. Buffy says she just had a bad day. She sits beside Dawn and smoothes her hair. Dawn asks what's wrong with mom. Buffy says she doesn't know.
Giles dressed as a wizard, a pile of cigarettes on the ground, Buffy sitting on the bed next to Dawn, Anya counting money - these were all small scenes in an episodes with lots of action and big revelations. But they were the scenes that mattered. And while this episode was unsatisfying in the big ways, it was more than satisfying in the small ones.
The big revelation was a big let down. Essentially, Dawn is the creation of a deus ex machina - a group of monks (speaking Czech and reminding me of The Keep) who seem to exist merely as a plot device to create and explain Dawn. There has never been a reference to these monks or to their knowledge of or relationship to the slayer. And why wouldn't they contact the council after having done this. Or why wouldn't the council, who know a little about magic themselves, have discovered this. I know Buffy doesn't work for the council anymore and Giles has distanced himself from them, but surely an evil this horrific would inspire everyone to ignore such matters and do something.
I guess I started feeling cheated as soon as 'two months ago' flashed on my tv screen. It meant the story would be resolved by cheating, by telling us something we could never have figured out by ourselves because essential information had been withheld from us. All the speculation about Dawn's relation to Buffy's dreams, to Tara, to Anya, to her mother's illness becomes irrelevant. And that bugs me.
On the other hand, the silent sequence in which Buffy sees Giles in his wizard's garb, says nothing, and Giles slowly takes off the costume and puts it away is fantastic. It demonstrated the growth in the relationship - would Giles have been so affected by Buffy's opinion of himself a year or two ago? It emphasized two of Giles' key characteristics - his alienation (he really is still an alien in America and he's still the sole adult in a group of very young people) and his childish approach to so much of life (remember his dressing up for Hallowe'en in Fear, Itself). The subsequent scenes in the shop leveraged both of these. Xander specifically mentions Giles being British. Forced into actually running a business - Giles regresses and basically hides out. In Real Me, Giles did a good job of analysing the business and its profit potential. But when push comes to shove, he can't deal with it. At first, he reacts with childish glee when he makes a sale, rushing to Willow to show her the money. Then the flood of business overwhelms him. A guy who is ready to face down vampires is running away from customers. And he puts himself in the hands of Willow (the most adult of the gang) and Anya (technically the oldest). Their work makes his opening a success.
That pile of cigarettes said as much about Spike and what is happening to him as Giles slowly and sadly removing his costume said of the watcher's evolution or lack thereof. In a series full of complex characters, Spike has to rank near the top. The pile of butts clearly indicates he spent a long time waiting outside Buffy's house. And he hid when she came out. Was he standing there plotting ways to kill her? Was he standing there plotting ways to woo her? Spike is capable of either. As violent and destructive as Spike is he's also a romantic. He watches shows like Passions and when Dru left him he sank into a drunken, melodramatic reverie. His emotional life reads like something out of Barbara Cartland and it isn't hard to believe that Spike could convince himself he was destined for the slayer. After all, if she could love Angel why not him. The fact that he keeps insisting he was just there by accident and then launches into a criticism of Riley and Buffy and a claim that he doesn't like her makes it clear he really is concerned about his possible feelings for her. I wonder if there are any vampire psychologists. Spike needs one.
In Out of My Mind, Spike talked of how the slayer dominated his thoughts. And in that episode Buffy was concerned about what evil he was brewing while hiding in his musty crypt. Now she finds him standing outside her house in the fresh air with his thoughts even more focused on the slayer. Unwittingly, she acts in a way that Spike could easily mistakenly interpret as interest. First, she pulls him out of the bushes. Then she hits him. These violent acts seem to be something of a vampiric norm in relationships. Buffy really seems to lack any sort of insight when it comes to relationships. She seems pretty oblivious to what is happening with Spike. She totally missed Riley's confusion in Out of My Mind. And this week she seems to miss the intern's obvious interest in her. What happens when Spike, Riley, and the intern intersect?
Buffy sitting next to Dawn, smoothing her hair and comforting her - being a big sister, has a strong emotional impact because of all that came before in this episode. We have Buffy meeting the crazed security guard and thinking Joyce has been magically attacked. We have her performing the spell which reveals Dawn isn't there. At this point, Dawn becomes a scary figure and everything she says and does has a frightening subtext. But at the same time, Buffy realizes there is nothing magically attacking Joyce. She's now beset by two problems: the nonexistence of Dawn and the realization that she still can't tell what is wrong with her mother. When Buffy leaves, Dawn stares at her out of the window in a scary fashion. When Joyce returns, Dawn's attention to her seems ominous. All of Dawn's words and actions seem dark and dangerous. When Buffy learns from the dying monk that Dawn isn't her sister, she again has two problems: something totally unrelated to Dawn is hurting her mother and all the things she said and did before really hurt Dawn who thinks she is human. When Buffy returns, Dawn leaves the room saying she wasn't bothering Joyce. In retrospect, we realize that Buffy's words - saying she didn't have a sister - hurt Dawn's feelings. That the apparently threatening words and the staring out the window were just the actions of an angry and upset little girl whose mother is sick and whose sister has strangely turned on her. Dawn is scared, even more scared than Buffy, and Buffy, who Dawn has always relied upon to protect her, has turned on her. So, when Buffy sits next to Dawn, she's sitting next to her sister. She's accepting the situation as Dawn sees it and recognizing that her duty is to protect Dawn as if she really were her little sister. And they are both hurting desperately because they don't know what is hurting Joyce and neither can protect her.
At last, at last, at last, we learn something about Anya's finances. When she took human form in The Wish, she provided herself with money and it's running out. But while Anya was motivated by vengeance as a demon, she's just as motivated by a desire for money as a human. And the scene of her counting the day's take brings that home. Anya is made for retail. She has absolutely no compunction about treating people poorly. She has a great ability to see the maximum profit. She can even gift wrap. And now she has learnt to fake sincerity. She has it all. Interestingly, the demon in red bears a stunning resemblance to Anya. She is a demon made mortal. She dislikes it as Anya did originally. She is incredibly self centered and cannot understand why people don't just do what she wants. The demon in red's dialogue reminds me of the aware but not quite getting it dialogue of Anya. Maybe it's simply a matter of two demons made mortal sharing world views. Or maybe there is more to it.
Some quick final thoughts. Willow talks of empathy for Dawn and Tara also seemed to feel that. As the two most powerful people in the gang after Buffy were they also affected by the spell and are their feelings part of the protection of Dawn the monks sought. How long before Riley decides rejoining the Initiative is the only way to maintain his self respect?
Lines of the week:
"Who died and made you the Iron Chef?" - Dawn matching Buffy's Bond and Star Trek references.
"Stay British." - Xander's advice to Giles.
"The thousand yard stare." - Xander's comment on Giles' condition.
"Did you ever think in a million years you'd miss the high school library?" - Xander's view of the shop.
"Hands off my holy man." - The demon in the red dress being as direct as always.
"I wasn't bothering her." - A hurt Dawn defending herself to Buffy.
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