Written by: David Fury
Directed by: David Grossman
Who are you?
At the end of “Buffy vs Dracula”,
Buffy sees a strange girl in her room and angrily asks what she is doing there. For us the presence of this girl would not have been that
much of a surprise. Even the
greatest of spoilerphobes (is that a word?) must have known that at the
beginning of season 5 Buffy would be gaining a sister.
No, the real surprise came when Joyce invited Buffy to take her
“sister” out. As one Buffy and
Dawn turned on her with the age old cry of complaint “Mom!”.
Something had changed radically in Buffy’s life yet from her reaction
it was as if having Dawn there was the most natural thing in the world.
That was what lent an air of unreality to the whole scene.
The introduction of Dawn was always going to pose two very important questions. The first was how would the writers explain her presence at all. Unsurprisingly we were going to have to wait for the answer to this one. The more important the mystery the longer it had to be kept a mystery. But we did get a small clue even here:
“What are you doing here? You can't loiter. There's no loitering. That's why
I'm a cat. Quiet. See, cat's in the cupboard but they find you there anyway, and
it hurts. Please, make it stop. Shut up, shut up, they'll hear you!
Man: “I know you. Curds and whey. I know what you are. You ... don't ... belong ... here. “
So far so very obscure – especially the
Miss Moffett reference. But it was
our first clue and the very fact of giving it was the writers’ promise that
they would explain Dawn’s presence in due course.
The second question was how would Dawn fit
into the long established pattern of relationships in the Buffyverse.
And the answer to this question self-evidently could not wait.
In “the Real Me” the writers inserted Dawn almost seamlessly into
this pattern as if she had always been part of it.
This took some nerve. But
the thing I liked most about it was the way they went about doing this.
It is of course commonplace that BUFFY has
used the supernatural as a metaphor through which to explore stages in the
real-life development of adolescents. Somewhere
in season 4 this focus was lost. But
here the writers rediscovered it. Adolescence
is often characterized by a feeling of alienation.
This feeling is a common theme in drama about growing up but in “The
Real Me” we look at one particular aspect of it:
the pain of being misunderstood. We
see this from Dawn’s very first diary entry, immediately after the opening
who I am. Not the real me. It's like, nobody cares enough to find out. I mean,
does anyone ever ask *me* what I want to do with my life? Or what my opinion is
on stuff? Or what restaurant to order in from?”
For teenagers in particular their
perceptions of themselves and their place in the world differ markedly from
their parents and even their older siblings.
Equally a teenager’s view of their older family members bears little
relationship to how the latter see themselves. This difference in perception
forms the central theme of this episode and the
focus for exploring this theme is the relationship between on the one
hand a girl whom we have known until now as an only child and on the other a
“sister” we did not know existed. In
this way, the writers are able to explore the difference between perception and
reality (especially in way in which teenagers relate to the world around them)
through the way in which Dawn relates to each of the Scoobies in general and her
“big sister” in particular. And
at the same time they are able to launch the “Dawn arc” by introducing her
to the audience and tease us with references like those in the diary entry I
have just quoted which seem to emphasize the unreality of Dawn’s situation. All in all I thought that this was a very neat little
In all of this the central relationship is
between Dawn and Buffy rather than between Dawn and Joyce.
Indeed the principal conflict Joyce has is with Buffy rather than Dawn
and to a certain extent this undermines the choice of theme because in the life
of any teenage it parent-child dynamic is obviously going to be the most
significant one. But this was
probably inevitable. It is not only
that the whole of season 5 was about the relationship between Buffy and her faux
sister. It is also true that in
many ways Buffy’s own perceptions of her role in life come under scrutiny
But of course none of this would have worked at all if the difference in perceptions hadn’t been so closely observed and cleverly worked into the storyline. Every teenager is of course the center of his or her own universe and every other creature in that universe only exists to serve the teenager’s needs. So, at the beginning of this episode we see Buffy’s training unceremoniously interrupted by Dawn who is blissfully unaware of its importance and afterwards we see Dawn commandeer her sister’s cereal, bowl and milk without so much as a thought. Even in her diary entry the emphasis she gives to her own thoughts shows who occupies the center of her world. The corollary of that is, of course, that anyone else is so unimportant as to be beneath her notice. And here the way in which Dawn airily dismisses being a slayer is both hilarious and a very nice example of the “supernatural metaphor” in action:
wouldn't be so crazy about her if they had to live in the same house with her
every single day. Everybody cares what she thinks. Just 'cause she can do
backflips and stuff. Like that's *such* a crucial job skill in the real world.
Plus Mom lets her get away with everything. "Your sister's saving the
world." I could so save the world if somebody handed me super powers; but
I'd think of a cool name and wear a mask to protect my loved ones, which Buffy
The counterpart to this is that for older siblings younger teenagers are a nuisance. They are only children. Older teens on the other hand are important people and the things they have to do are important as well. So when Buffy has to take Dawn for school supplies instead of going to the magic shop for training she see that as a waste of her valuable time. And when they find Mr Bogarty’s body her reaction is less protective than dismissive as she roughly shoves her outside:
nothing you need to see, Dawn, go wait outside.”
don't wanna wait outside!”
that hurt! You're hurting me. I'm telling.”
I don't have time for this. Just do as I say and wait.”
her Dawn is simply in the way and it is left to Tara to actually think about her
feelings. Dawn knows and resents
this. In particular she resents
being thought of as a kid. She
dislikes having to be left with a babysitter, takes umbrage when Riley calls her
that and warms to Xander when she thinks he treats her like a grown-up.
what we have here is a reflecting mirror in which both Dawn and Buffy see
themselves through the other's eyes and do not like or recognize the view the
other has. For Buffy, Dawn is the
baby of the family who is irresponsible and yet spoiled.
For Dawn, Buffy is the one full of herself for no good reason.
But equally in the other each also sees what they would like to be but
cannot. For Dawn her ambition is to
be grown up - to grasp responsibilities and to show how valued she should be.
For Buffy there is the attraction of irresponsibility, of being the
protectee not the protector:
Buffy: "So then my mom goes off
on me about how I'm supposed to watch out for Dawn and make sure that she's
shielded from something that might upset her."
Riley: "Like dead
Buffy: "She didn't see him! A
foot, maybe. A dead foot, which is bad, okay, but hello, I see dead stuff *all*
the time, and you don't see Mom shielding me."
the sad thing here is that despite the fact that each sees in the other's
has. Neither is prepared to see the
other's situation for what it really
Riley: "Well, yeah. You're like
her idol, Buffy."
Buffy: "Her idol? I don't think so, unless you like to spill things
Riley: "You know what I mean. You
have super powers ... and college ... a studly yet sensitive boyfriend... "
Buffy: "And a pesky life-or-death
job that I can't quit or even take a break from."
Riley: "She doesn't get the
sacrifices. She's a kid."
Riley noted here Buffy betrays the fact that Dawn is right about her being
I have already said it was important for the writers that they establisha
relationship between Dawn and Buffy because it was through that relationship
that they intended us to understand the
dynamic between them - how they acted and reacted to one another.
And the important point in this respect is that they were sisters.
Except they weren’t. To have shown them full of natural love and
affection at this stage would have rung completely false.
But to show them as having the normal antagonistic relationship
that sisters can have is to suggest the love and affection that underlies
the mutual jealousy. We get a sense of that in the following conversation between
Riley and Buffy over Dawn's invitation to Harmony:
Riley: "She's just a kid."
Buffy: "You know, will everybody
please stop saying that? I was just a kid when I met my first vampire, but
somehow, I still managed to remember the rules."
Riley: You had to. It was your job.
Buffy: "No. No, it was common
sense. But nobody expects even that much from Dawn, do they? No, she has to be
protected and coddled from the big bad world, well you know what? We are doing
nothing but turning her into a little idiot who is going to get us all killed.
She just has to be more careful. Now, I can't be there to protect her 24 hours a
day. I-I just can't."
Buffy's expression of concern is more effective than any number of "you're
my sister and I love you" speeches. This
not only makes Buffy's reaction when Dawn is kidnapped entirely understandable.
It sets the scene for the entire arc to follow.
course I have to add that the credibility of this sisterly relationship
The Other Members of the Scooby Gang
idea of the difference between reality and perception is also exploited
this perception has far more to do with what Dawn would like to do
Willow: "Drama is just Tuesday
and Thursday afternoons. You can blow off training Tuesday and Thursday
afternoons, can't you?"
contrast to her unenthusiastic view of Riley, Xander picks up points because he
is so different from Buffy. In
particular Dawn in impressed by the fact that:
"Xander treats everyone like an
equal. He doesn't look down on people. "
other words he was, in his treatment of Dawn, the polar opposite of Buffy.
"Xander is so much cuter than
anyone. And smarter too. He totally skipped college and got a job working
construction. Which is so kind of ... deep, you know? He builds things. And he's
course here again we see the gap between image and reality as we see Xander in
typical "goofy" mode as he promises Joyce that he and Dawn will be
"We're just gonna play with
matches, run with scissors, take candy from ...
because Dawn has this picture of
Xander she sees her own adulthood reflected in him:
"Sometimes when he looks at me, I
feel like he sees me as I am...as a woman."
course none of this adds very much to our knowledge of either Willow or Xander.
But as humorous illustrations of aspects of their characters it
it is not only adolescents that are insecure and worry about their
Buffy: "Giles, are you breaking
up with your car?"
Giles: "Well, it did seduce me,
all red and sporty."
Buffy: "Little two-door
Giles: "I-I-I don't know, I just - I was so at loose ends, I-I found
all of this unhappiness and uncertainty vanish when he sees Willow and
"Ooh, they haven't seen my new
car is, if you like, Giles' way if demonstrating to himself that he is
"I'm not sure how old he is, but
I heard him use the word "newfangled" one time. So he's gotta be
pretty far gone."
therefore we see the way in which we want others to see the real us through the
image we project.
too is full of insecurity. When the
gang discover Mr Bogarty's body everyone is too busy to worry about Dawn.
So, it is Tara who comes out to talk to her:
"They're gonna be a little while
longer, doing the detective thing. Best non-scoobies like you and me stay out of
later the significance of this remark is brought out in the following
Tara: "It's just ... I, I think
it's tough for her, not being able to ...
Tara: "I-I know, you're right.
It's just hard. That outsider feeling.".
Willow: "Tara ... you're not an
as Dawn in trying to find her way in a situation that was new and difficult
can be reasonably brief here because quite frankly I have no other choice.
gives the impression that a new and formidable enemy is going to challenge the
slayer. Then the discovery that a
missing item is a cheap and tacky statue leads
to the discovery that the gang leader is Harmony.
She of course has a plan. That plan is spoken of with love and awe and it
is going to be put into effect tonight. But
again things are not what they seem and we quickly find out that this brilliant
strategem is to stand outside Buffy's house and dare her to come out and fight.
And finally in the confrontation between Harmony and Spike we see her
opinion of herself:
"You just can't stand the fact
that I'm my own person now. There comes a time in every woman's life when she
realizes she needs to take the next step. I've taken it. I've found the real
me... and I like her."
once more reality intrudes. Far
from being the leader she thinks she is forced to stealing Spike's (somewhat
obvious) idea and then having kidnapped Dawn we see that Harmony is too stupid
and unimaginative to kill her even though there is no reason not to - simply
because it wasn't in the plan.
were all very nice touches. They
were great fun and entirely in keeping
(B): This episode revolved around an interesting and intelligent idea.