NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Written by: Douglas Petrie
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:
Buffy are also reminded of how close they
are by the things they share, like a book club.
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:
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
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:
possible but still... the ramblings of a madman aren't much to go on.”
but it's a start. We need to find out who's making my mom sick and how.”
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
Giles: “Buffy, the Sorcerer Cloutier was legendary. His skills at
achieving higher states of consciousness were…”
“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?”
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
But this is prelude to a tense
confrontation between Buffy and the Key:
Buffy: “What are you?”
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
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:
put that in my house?”
Monk: “We knew the Slayer would protect.”
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:
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?”
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.
“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
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.
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.”
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.