No Place Like Home
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Real Me
The Replacement
Out of My Mind
No Place Like Home




Written by:  Douglas Petrie

Directed by: David Solomon

Home and Hearth

“Home” is perhaps one of the most evocative words in the language.  It’s not just a place.  It’s a state of mind.  It’s where you feel not only comfortable (as in the phrase “make yourself at home”) but secure.  In particular it is where you can firmly draw a line between the outside world on the one hand and you and those who are yours on the other.  You and yours belong to the home and because of that you are bonded together by ties that that are stronger than the mutual jealousies and tensions that exist in it.  And because of that bond any threat to one is a threat to all.  And it is this idea that is the focal point of “No Place Like Home”

Early on in the episode we see Buffy in the domestic environment.  There is no Xander, no Willow.  There is just herself, Dawn and Joyce.  She has been preparing a “pamper mom” platter because she is concerned about her and her illness.  Dawn not only almost upsets the tray but then gets the credit for the thought.  And to add insult to injury the easy bond between mother and younger daughter is emphasized not only by the way they behave to one another:

Joyce (to Dawn): “And you... you are my little pumpkin belly.”

Dawn: “Oh, Mom! That's like my kid name.”

Joyce: “So I can't be retro?”.

Buffy are also reminded of how close they are by the things they share, like a book club. 

Inevitably  this arouses a degree of jealousy.  And later on the tensions between Buffy and Dawn are revealed further by the way the Buffy tries to keep discipline with the latter and her spiteful attempt to embarrass her sister at Riley expense.

There are many things to like about this picture.  First of all, there is the continuity involved.  The last time Dawn featured heavily in an episode we saw the uneasy relationship she had with Buffy.  She resented Buffy’s assumption of being important and Buffy in turn resented her being irresponsible and yet cosseted.   This is entirely consistent with what we see in “No Place Like Home”.  Not only is there consistency but, just as in “The Real Me”, the relationship between the “sisters” that is shown here is an entirely realistic one.  Dawn is no sweet, innocent moppet.  She is a spoilt, self-willed but insecure teenager.  At times she is very easy to dislike, especially since we see everything from Buffy’s point of view.  The differences between the two lead to some entirely familiar family squabbling.  But that tension arises because of the very closeness of the family relationship.  So it is through the conflict that the writers suggest that closeness of the bond rather than through any “you’re my sister and I love you” interplay which would, in this context, have rung very hollow.  And this suggestion of the closeness of the family bond is an essential part of the set up in this episode because it is the way that Buffy perceives and reacts to what she sees as threats not to herself but to her family that is important.


Protecting the Family

First there is Joyce to worry about.  Not only is she ill but the doctors cannot find a cause for her illness.  Then in the hospital Buffy is given a warning:  A night watchman whom she had met has been admitted to the hospital now obviously deranged.  First he says of the pills prescribed for Joyce:

“Doesn't even help. Doesn't make a damn bit of difference.”

The he goes on:

“They're coming at you. Don't think you're above it, missy. They come

through the family. They get to your family.”

Buffy’s assumption is an entirely normal one precisely because of the importance to her of her family and her concern for her mother:

Buffy : “Whatever touched this guy, it made him see  through what the rest of us are seeing. He knew someone's  hurting my mom and they're trying to get to me.

Giles: “It's possible but still... the ramblings of a madman aren't much to go on.”

Buffy: “Yeah, but it's a start. We need to find out who's making my mom sick and how.”

Willow: “Then what?”

Buffy: “Then I hunt them... find them... and kill them.”

Just as another of Glory’s victims later pleads for his life, not for himself but for his wife and daughters so would Buffy’s family weigh more heavily with her than her own safety.  So, when she learns of a French Sorcerer who could see spells through the use of certain mystical techniques she volunteers to try them out herself:

Giles:  “Buffy, the Sorcerer Cloutier was legendary. His skills at achieving higher states of consciousness were…”

Buffy: “Better than mine? I knew he was gonna say that.  But I've been practicing concentration skills. I know I'm close.

Giles: “Are you ready?”

Buffy: “It's my mom. I'll get ready.”

Those last words are the important ones.  Buffy will go to any lengths to protect her family.

Indeed, in the course of the trance, the nature of Buffy’s feelings and the extent of them are again demonstrated.  Instead of finding evidence of a mystical threat to Joyce, she instead finds evidence of Dawn’s mystical provenance.  It starts when she sees a family photograph on the wall.  The picture shows Joyce, Buffy and Dawn smiling happily.  But then Dawn's image starts to flicker in and out of the photograph.  Then bit by bit Buffy sees her house also flicker back and forth between different realities.  She sees Dawn’s bedroom as an empty, dark storage room and then as a brightly lit teenager’s den.  Finally she sees dawn herself start to fade and then reappear before her eyes. Then she realizes what is happening.  She turns to Dawn and says coldly:

“You are not my sister”

But this is prelude to a tense confrontation between Buffy and the Key:

Buffy: “What are you?”

  Dawn: “Get off me.”

  Buffy: “You want to hurt me?”

  Dawn: “Let go of me, you freak.”

  Buffy: “Then you deal with me.”

  Dawn: “I'm telling mom.”

  Buffy: “You stay away from my mother.”

The emphasis on “my mother” is tremendously important.  Dawn is no longer part of the family.  This is not the annoying little sister that she was dealing with earlier.  She is an outsider.  More than that she is the invader into the sacred space and Buffy deals with her as such by shoving her hard against the wall.


The Truth about Dawn 

And of course she was right, although not in a way she could possibly have expected.  It was from the dying monk that she learned about a key which is a portal and which opens a door.  The monk explains:

“For centuries it had no form at all. My brethren, its only keepers. Then the abomination found us. We had to hide the Key, gave it form, moulded it flesh... made it human and sent it to you.”

The realization comes to Buffy:

 Buffy: “Dawn...”

              Monk: “She's the Key.”

Buffy: “You put that in my house?”

Monk: “We knew the Slayer would protect.”

  Buffy: “My memories... my mom's?”

  Monk: “We built them.”

In these words we have the culmination of the theme that has been developing throughout the episode.  We have seen what home and family is; we have seen Dawn as part of Buffy’s.  We have also seen how Buffy feels about her home and family and how committed she is to protecting them  In the final scene the two “sisters” confront their mutual resentments and jealousies but bond together in common concern for Joyce.  The last few lines (as Buffy strokes Dawn’s hair) are:

Dawn: “Buffy?”

  Buffy: “Yeah?”

  Dawn: “What's wrong with mom?”

  Buffy: “I don't know.”

This is intended to be the reaffirmation of Dawn’s place in the Summers’ home, despite the manner of her creation and insertion there.  The message quite clearly is that the Monks’ hopes for the slayers’ protection for her “sister” have been fulfilled.  Dawn is now family and Buffy will protect her as such. And in this context it is noticeable that in this episode the prime mover (indeed the only significant mover at all) is Buffy herself.  Giles and Willow provide some background exposition.  Riley is supportive.  But even when Buffy is trying to make him feel wanted she is still excluding him:

Riley: “So you need me to light incense and pour sand?”

  Buffy: “Magic incense... and spooky sand... and the ritual itself is…”

  Riley: “Something you do alone.” 

But mainly everyone else is busy with the Magic Shop and Buffy takes on the burden of protecting her family alone.

This is very careful scene setting, placing Dawn in context and creating the basic dynamic between herself and Buffy.  And in the process the writers explain to us how it is that the only child of seasons 1 to 4 now comes to have a sister.  That explanation is ingenious.  It certainly makes a change from someone turning up at the door and announcing to Joyce that she was the daughter she had forgotten all about!  And as I have already said, I think that the way the relationship between the two siblings is set up is in particular a very real and a very interesting one. So that itself adds texture to the story of Glory’s attempt to get after Dawn rather than simply presenting it as  just one more Big Bad.

  But at the end of the day this is not a dynamic that works for me.  I say this for several reasons.  My first problem concerns the nature of the monks’ spell.  This involved changing the memories not only of Buffy and a specific group of people connected with her.  It also means altering the memories of a much larger and indeterminate group most of whom would have nothing to do with Buffy.  Here I am thinking in particular of Dawn’s classmates, her teachers etc.  Moreover as we have seen creating Dawn also means altering the physical world, not only by changing her bedroom but creating school and other records relating to her.  This does indeed amount to changing history and I simply find it very difficult to swallow, especially since the monks themselves would have no knowledge of the places and things, let alone the people they were changing.  Now, in a series like this a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required.  And if the changes we are talking about here had been confined to one episode or were much narrower in scope then I could have accepted it.  But from now on Dawn is evidently going to figure very large in proceedings and every time she does we are going to be reminded of the basic implausibility of the premise.

  This problem, however, is a minor irritation compared with my real objection to Dawn.  With her the Monks created a human life with presumably a human soul.  The human form is one thing but for me the soul is a spiritual entity with an inbuilt moral sense which has an existence independent of the body.  In designing a scenario in which human beings create a human soul the writers have crossed what is, for me, a very personal boundary.  It is to arrogate to the monks literally god-like powers.   And for monks of all people to exercise those powers strikes me as simply bizarre.

  Finally, it seems to me that within this episode, indeed within the whole Dawn arc, there is an inherent contradiction that the writers themselves hint at but cannot resolve.  When told of what the monks did Buffy’s reaction was:

            “This is my life you're….”

She didn’t finish the sentence.  She didn’t need to.  As we have seen this is an episode that emphasises the sanctity of the home.  And what the monks did was a violation of that sanctity.  They changed the lives not only of Buffy but her mother as well.  They changed the relationship between mother and only daughter.  The dynamic between them cannot be the same as it was before Dawn.  They changed the very memories of the family – of Christmases and birthdays, of the divorce, of all joys and sorrows of family life.  These most personal things a human being has – thing that no outsider should ever interfere with.  Furthermore the monks placed both of Buffy and Joyce in great physical peril from Glory.  Indeed, as far as Buffy knew, the headaches that Joyce started having after Dawn was created might have been a side effect of the interference with her mind.  It is one thing to say that Dawn was an innocent in all of this.  And indeed it was hard not to feel a human sympathy  for her because she didn’t know the truth and was hurt and resentful over what was – to her – Buffy’s unjustifiable treatment of her.  But that did not make her Buffy’s sister.  Nor did the memories.  Indeed the knowledge that those memories were false and the fact that they altered the memory of what Buffy’s real family life was would surely create a sense of bitterness.  For Buffy the question would be:  “why didn’t they just come to me and tell me this was something that could end the world and needed protecting for that reason?”   Did they think she would try less hard to save the world than to save a false sister?

No, for me the Dawn scenario is an impossible ask.  It just does not make sense.



As I have observed elsewhere in connection with the Darla arc on ANGEL the great advantage of an arc is that it gives you time.   This allows the writers  to develop a clearer feeling that things are building towards a climax.  And this in turn creates a greater sense of expectation and tension than can normally be found in a single episode story and a correspondingly more powerful dénouement.  But story arcs, if they are to work, impose their own disciplines as well.  One of these is that the writers must know when to turn build up into something more concrete.  I am not sure that the writers quite manage that here.  In “No Place Like Home” we have reached the fifth episode of the series and thing are moving very slowly.  Even now we really only have background exposition.  And I can’t escape the feeling that by this stage we should have moved beyond this stage.  Indeed, essentially this episode was an old fashioned mystery – a hunt for answers to questions.  As such it worked very well.  Not least of its strengths was that in trying to solve one puzzle Buffy accidentally solved a much more important one – and one that the viewers had been wondering about since the end of “Buffy vs. Dracula”. It also began with a very nice piece of misdirection.  The teaser opened with the monks trying to hide the key and this was juxtaposed with the discovery of a mysterious orb.  The natural assumption was that this was the key.  And for a long time this, together with the natural assumption that Buffy was right and that Joyce was being targeted by supernatural forces stopped us making the connection between the key and dawn until the writers were ready to reveal the truth.  And because as we watched one discovery lead to another and one mystery leading on to the next the episode just kept on moving.  The  teaser and the Dagon sphere suggested a powerful new threat, the suggestion was that this threat represented a danger to Joyce, that in turn led to the discovery that Dawn wasn’t Buffy’s sister which in turn led to the factory, the encounter with Glory and the final denouement.  Indeed indicative of the pacing was the fact that the writers here took just a couple of scenes to remind us of Riley’s insecurities and Spike’s growing obsession when “Out of My Mind” took a whole hour.

The only thing that interrupted the free flow of the storyline were the scenes in the Magic Shop.  I have mixed feeling about these.  They did provide a very necessary sense of comic relief to counterpoint the seriousness of the developments in Buffy’s life.  And I really did enjoy the one-upmanship between Anya and Willow (which was more effective because of its subtlety) and Anya’s reaction to customers.  After selling something to a woman

Anya: “Please go.”

  Xander: “Anya, the Shopkeeper's Union of America called. They wanted me to tell you that "please go" just got replaced with "have a nice day".

  Anya: “But I have their money. Who cares what kind of day they have?”

  Xander: “No one. It's just a long cultural tradition of raging insincerity. Embrace it.”

This is too close to the truth for comfort.  Less successful I thought was Giles flustered reaction to customers.  Intellectually I can understand how he might find dealing with the general public problematic but it just doesn’t feel right.  But the real problem here is the fact that the events in the Magic Shop are so disconnected to Buffy’s travails.  I have already explained the reason for this but to see Giles, Willow and the others sitting around the Magic Shop discussing money when they know Buffy is seriously worried about her mother and without really doing anything much to help does ring a little false.

  Of  course the journey of discovery in “No Place Like Home” involved a number of coincidences that would not survive close scrutiny.  The story depended on Buffy being at the factory when the night watchman found the Dagon sphere, on her being at the hospital when the same man was brought in.  Then there was the question of why the Monk apparently left it outside the factory rather than keeping it and why (as it was a protective device) no-one thought of giving it to Joyce when they thought she might be under attack.  Moreover, if Dawn was a real human being and not just a magical illusion it is far from clear to me how a technique that would show the traces of magic at work would show her fading in and out of existence.   But most stories that have to be compressed into one hour necessarily involve some forms of shortcut and these are not that jarring.

  More serious is some of the plot devices used to set up the mystery.  I have already challenged the need of the monks to make Dawn Buffy’s sister.  More fundamentally you could ask why make the key human at all?  If the purpose was to hide it surely the solution would be to make it as inconspicuous as possible.  Do you remember the way that the Arc of the Covenant was hidden at the end of the Lost Raiders?  Why not make the key a bicycle pump or a stone or a shell at the bottom of the sea?  Any of these would be far more inconspicuous that creating a new life that did not naturally belong in its surroundings but only fitted into them because of magic.

  But then once the monks did that why does the last surviving monk follow the key to Sunnydale?  Would there be anything more calculated to draw attention to the fact that it was there?  And then, when he is dying and realizes that the secret of the key will die with him what does this monk do but tell someone, thus ensuring that the identity of the key instead of being permanently hidden remains discoverable.



  B (8/10)  I am deeply schizophrenic about this episode.  I have been reasonably forthright about the reasons I cannot accept the basic premise upon which it is built.  On the other hand the theme of home and family was nicely developed and made a very natural fit into what the writers were trying to do in setting up Dawn’s place in the season.  And while it was true that what we got was mostly exposition, I do generally like careful and comprehensive set up so I cannot object too much to that here.  The plotting also has its strengths and weaknesses.  On the one hand the storyline holds our interest throughout and moves at a fairly brisk pace (these two facts not being unconnected).  On the other it is marred by too many implausibilities and discrepancies for comfort.  So, all in all a very mixed report card but on balance I thought it was an episode that worked pretty well.