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





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:

Deranged Man: “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!

Dawn: “Buff- “

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 credits:

“Nobody knows 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 package.

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 here.

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:

“People 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 doesn't even.”

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:

Buffy: “It's nothing you need to see, Dawn, go wait outside.”

Dawn: “I don't wanna wait outside!”

Buffy: “Dawn!”

Dawn: “Ow, that hurt! You're hurting me. I'm telling.”

Buffy: “Look, I don't have time for this. Just do as I say and wait.”

For 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.

So 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 shopkeepers."

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."

But the sad thing here is that despite the fact that each sees in the other's situation a reflection of what they would like for themselves, each also only sees the "easy" side of that situation.  For Dawn it is the admiration

Dawn has.  Neither is prepared to see the other's situation for what it really is.  And it is really because of this they prove that the other's picture of them is closer to the truth than each might like to concede.  The way that Dawn invited Harmony into her house and then ran outside where she could be kidnapped and in the process put Anya's life at risk proves that she isn’t grown up.  This is not someone who is ready for responsibility. Similarly in her righteous indignation Buffy is willing to make no allowances for Dawn's age:

Riley: "Well, yeah. You're like her idol, Buffy."

Buffy: "Her idol? I don't think so, unless you like to spill things on your

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."

As Riley noted here Buffy betrays the fact that Dawn is right about her being way too into herself to see things from her point of view.   This is an all too recognizable picture of the conflicts and misunderstandings inherent in growing up.  It also shows just how successfully you can establish parallels between the supernatural and the real world. There was of course a degree of exaggeration in Dawn's "saving the world is no big deal" attitude or Buffy's "I have to save the world and she gets in my way" attitude when compared with the more mundane concerns of real life.  But it is this exaggeration that allows the writers to draw out more clearly the points about real world family relationships they want to make.  And it is such an appropriate use of metaphor in this context precisely because Dawn, in a way that paralleled the experiences of teenagers, was now trying to find

As 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."

Here 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.

Of course I have to add that the credibility of this sisterly relationship depended upon more than this introduction to it.  At this stage we did not know who Dawn really was or how she had come into Buffy's life.  In particular at this stage we were dealing with a strange anomalous figure who featured in just this one episode.  Nor had we a clue as to how far reaching the implications of her presence would be.  The success of the writers ideas on all of thesefeatures depended on whether they could be sustained for the long term and at this stage the jury was obviously still out.  But I thought that this


The Other Members of the Scooby Gang

The idea of the difference between reality and perception is also exploited very nicely in the way that Dawn reacts to the other members of the Scooby gang.  For example, she thinks Willow is "awesome".  The fact that she and

"They do spells and stuff, which is so much cooler than       slaying."

Again this perception has far more to do with what Dawn would like to do and be than it does with who Willow really is.  Far from being cool she is the usual mass of insecurities and dependency on others.  So, when Buffy tells her she is going to stop Drama classes, Willow's preoccupation is with

Willow: "Drama is just Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. You can blow off training Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, can't you?"

  Buffy: "What happened to "people gotta respect a work ethic"?"

  Willow: "Other people, not me! There's a whole best friend loophole."

In 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. "

In other words he was, in his treatment of Dawn, the polar opposite of Buffy. He wasn't always treating her like a child.  So for Dawn that  made Xander

"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 brave too."

Of 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 good:

"We're just gonna play with matches, run with scissors, take candy from ... some guy ... I don't know his name."

But 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 a woman."

Of 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 works, mainly because Dawn is  new to them.  Because we see Xander and Willow through her eyes we too look at them in a fresh light and can perhaps more clearly appreciate things we might otherwise have taken for granted.

However it is not only adolescents that are insecure and worry about their place.  We see similar concerns in both Tara and Giles.  There was a very

Buffy: "Giles, are you breaking up with your car?"

Giles: "Well, it did seduce me, all red and sporty."

Buffy: "Little two-door tramp."

Giles: "I-I-I don't know, I just - I was so at loose ends, I-I found myself

Buffy: "Shallow?"

But all of this unhappiness and uncertainty vanish when he sees Willow and

"Ooh, they haven't seen my new car."

The car is, if you like, Giles' way if demonstrating to himself that he is not just a clapped out old banger but an up-to date, smart and sophisticated

"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."

Again therefore we see the way in which we want others to see the real us through the image we project.

Tara 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 the way."

And 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 ... well, allowed to, you know, help."

Willow: "Help?"

  Tara: "Oh, you. You guys. The slayer circle."

  Willow: "Well, Buffy doesn't really need ... a-and I think Dawn's a little young."

Tara: "I-I know, you're right. It's just hard. That outsider feeling.".

Willow: "Tara ... you're not an outsider."

  Tara: "Well, yeah. I kinda am."

Just as Dawn in trying to find her way in a situation that was new and difficult for her to deal with, so too was Tara.  Her relationship with Willow was itself new enough but more importantly she was as a newcomer thrust in the middle of a well established team.  Hence her instinctive empathy with Dawn.   Hence also her evident concern when Willow referred to her as one of the the fact that it didn't did suggest that all was not quite what it seemed with Tara and that with her too there was a difference between perception



I can be reasonably brief here because quite frankly I have no other choice.  The plot in this episode is vanishingly thin.  The writers obviously decided other explanation for making Harmony the principal criminal mastermind and her minions a correspondingly stupid and weak willed bunch.  Having done that all the usual ingredients of good drama - excitement and uncertainly - are going to be in short supply.  There was a good deal of compensation for this though.  In particular it allowed the writers to use the overall theme of the episode to good effect by playing around with the differences between perceptions of  the vampire gang and the reality.  So the brutal

Willow: "Well, I've cross-checked the inventory list, and things are definitely missing. Mostly books. Including: Treatise on the Mythology and Methodology

Buffy: "Oh, shoot! Was that the only copy?"

Giles: "Come on, Buffy, this could be very serious. Whoever's leading this

This 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."

But 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. 

These were all very nice touches.  They were great fun and entirely in keeping with the main theme of the episode.  But there were just too few of these for comfort.  Most of the first half dragged.  Virtually nothing happened that advanced the plot and many of the scenes in which there was some theme or character development were spun out or repetitive.  So, for example, we had three or four different scene in which the same point was made – Dawn was self centered and irresponsible and Buffy was fed up with it.  This was the theme explored in the scene in the training room, the breakfast room, when Joyce asked Buffy to take her to get school supplies, when Buffy and was coming a mile away.   Dawn running out of the house and into the hands of a kidnapper, Anya's brave but unsuccessful attempt at a rescue, Buffy beating Spike up until he told her where Harmony was, the mutiny by the underlings and Buffy's arrival in the nick of time - all of this was plotting strictly



8/10 (B): This episode revolved around an interesting and intelligent idea. The writers drew a parallel between Dawn's situation and that of teenagers generally.  In doing so they focused on the difference between perception feel misunderstood.  Thus they were once again able to use the supernatural as a metaphor and at the same time advance the arc by introducing Dawn's character and showing how she was now to relate to the other Scoobies and especially Buffy.  But the context in which they did this was a little too light for my taste.  There is no reason why highly effective comedy cannot be blended with real tension and threat.  BBB was the classic example of this in BUFFY as was "Sense and Sensitivity" in ANGEL.  And without some