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Monday, July 16, 2012

Real Me

[Updated May 1, 2013]

I like Real Me quite a bit, but I’m kind of trapped by my no spoilers policy when it comes to writing about it. The episode is telling us so much about the rest of the season that anything I say might give away key details of plot or metaphor.

We know from experience with previous years that the first 3 episodes of each season set the stage for events to come. Real Me foreshadows the plot of the season finale, which I won’t spoil, but it also introduces us to Dawn. Early on we get a clue that Dawn’s arrival was foreshadowed. From Buffy’s dream in Graduation Day 2:

Buffy looking down: "There's something I'm supposed to be doing."
Faith: "Oh yeah. - Miles to go - Little Ms. Muffet counting down from 7-3-0."

In the scene outside the Magic Box, the crazy man tells Dawn “I know you. Curds and whey.” That’s an explicit reference back to the “Little Miss Muffet” line (“Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet/eating her curds and whey”). This is in addition to the prophetic dreams from This Year’s Girl and Restless which I discussed in my Buffy v. Dracula post. The crazy man then tells her what we in the audience know but those inside the show don’t: “You don’t belong here.”

If Dawn’s arrival was foreshadowed so often and so long before, we know she must be important. Indeed she is. But since I can’t talk about the details yet, I want to emphasize one aspect of Dawn’s role in S5. I’ve argued repeatedly that other characters can serve as metaphors as well as being characters in their own right; the events of Primeval and Restless made this explicit. It won’t surprise you, then, to learn that I think Dawn plays a metaphorical role as well as being a character. I’m not going to say, yet, what she stands for, but Buffy will eventually tell us in the season finale. If Dawn is here to teach us something about Buffy – and that’s the whole point of the entire show in my reading – then Dawn’s metaphorical role ought to lead us to wonder about the title of this episode and who it refers to.

For discussion later, I want to list some of Dawn’s characteristics which we see in Real Me. She keeps a diary. She loves Willow, she loves Xander, she loves her mother. She thinks Giles might not like her because he’s so old, she finds Buffy’s training boring, and she resents the fact that Buffy is always telling her what to do even if, in some sense, she idolizes her sister. She likes Tara, she’s not so sure about Anya. Interestingly, she expresses no opinion about Riley. She feels isolated at times, and she gets to be the child of the family in a way that Buffy wishes she could. I’ll come back to these in the finale.

The teaser shows us Buffy starting her journey of self-exploration with Giles, the one she said she wanted to make at the end of Buffy v. Dracula: “GILES VOICEOVER: Focus inward. Let the world fall away….” At this point, Dawn interrupts the session. That’s not merely the kind of thing a younger sister would do, it’s directly related to Dawn’s role this season.

Some of what happens in this episode is very subtle. There are looks, for example, which will become meaningful only in hindsight. The fact that they’re here demonstrates how far in advance certain stories were planned.

Trivia notes: (1) Riley’s mention of “the invasion of Normandy” refers to the D-Day landings in World War II. (2) Giles lost his last car when Spike crashed it in A New Man. He hasn’t driven one since. (3) Willow’s intent to take drama class was mentioned in The Yoko Factor and became part of her dream in Restless. (4) The name of the dead shopkeeper, Mr. Bogarty, was a joke based on Angelus calling the Magic Shop “the local boogedy-boogedy store” in Passion. (5) Buffy refers to the Magic Shop as a deathtrap because previous owners were killed in Passion and Lovers Walk. (6) For non-native-English speakers, this dialogue contains a pun: “WILLOW: You're on Dawn duty. (Buffy looks annoyed.) BUFFY: Oh, duty.” The word “dooty” (pronounced like “duty”) is slang for “feces”. It’s a way for Buffy to say “Oh shit” without being censored. (7) Harmony’s love of unicorns was, believe it or not, shown when we saw her hanging a unicorn poster in The Initiative. (8) When Xander greets Dawn with “Dawn patrol”, that’s a reference to a 1930 movie of that name. (9) Xander’s “Here comes the judge” quotes a famous line from the 1960s comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. (10) Xander tells Harmony that he doesn’t want to get into a hair pulling contest with her because they previously did that in The Initiative. (11) Xander’s “Ruffles have ridges” refers to the old advertising slogan for the potato chip company. (12) Xander’s mention of the Fortress of Solitude refers to Superman’s fortress. (13) Buffy’s mention of “the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer” refers to the movie This Is Spinal Tap. (14) Giles watched Passions with Spike because, as we learned in Something Blue, that’s Spike’s favorite show.


  1. This is not an episode that I really like, so I appreciated your breakdown of the symbolic importance to remind me that even the eps I don't love still fit into the grand puzzle that I do love.

  2. I'm glad to hear you say this. I feel like I'm shorting the episode because there really is a LOT in it.

  3. I actually hope you're keeping notes, because I am curious as all hell to know which meaningful looks you are referring to above. So I do hope you'll reference back to these when its more appropriate.

    I enjoy how this episode shows Buffy picking up in her training, exactly where she heft off, using crystals(Helpless).

    I already know your thoughts on what Dawn represents, so your list if of the things we learn about Dawn IS interesting(especially the one about Riley).


    One thing that Dawn took a lot of flack from fans about in S6 was the stealing, which bugged the piss out of me(the flack, not the stealing). But, that's something she "got" from Buffy, as Becoming(in the scene where she was approached by her first Watcher) clearly demonstrates that she too was shoplifting during this traumatic time in her life, likely to get attention as her parents focused on the dissolution of their marriage instead of their child, just as Buffy is similiarly unfocused.

    1. Oh, I'm definitely going to mention the looks again. One will be tomorrow, one in Family.

      Completely agree on your spoiler point.

  4. On this re-watch, I kept your point about glances in mind—you are very, very right about them. I would not have noticed otherwise… Thanks.

    One thing I did notice, however, something that bodies forth the themes of the season without producing spoilers, is the way Harmony functions as a kind of pivot point between Buffy and Dracula, as a mirror of each—a negative image of each. That is, she at once picks up and reflects reverse (and perverse) images of Dracula—specifically those that affect Buffy the most—and Buffy—specifically some of those most important to S5. For the negative images to have force, there must be parallels: Dracula and Harmony are, of course, both vampires, they both seek out Buffy (Harmony: “So, Slayer, at last we meet”), they are both given access to Buffy’s house by her female relatives… And as a reverse image, Harmony is light/blond while Dracula is dark, a young vampire to his age, empty (she reads to jackets of the books on the Slayer) to his wealth of knowledge; Harmony’s plan’s provoke hilarity, rather than serious study (and not a little awe), and Dracula is seductively bad (even if the thrall is eventually gone), where Harmony, well, as Buffy tells her, “when you try to be bad, you suck.” As for Harmony and Buffy, both are blond, the same age, and on a path of self-exploration—they even seek out some of the same books. But the shallowness of Harmony’s search (those book jackets again), combined with the dysfunction of her family of minions and her inability to lead them*, serves as a counter-image to Buffy’s own efforts, whose arduous nature is embodied in the first image of the episode.

    I could list further oppositions and parallels between Harmony and both Dracula and Buffy, but these are the major thematic points. I think Harm functions as this refractive pivot for a number of reasons, among them to throw the nature of Buffy’s quest into relief, to underline Buffy’s continuing tie to Dracula’s particular form of knowledge—and, by Harmony’s combination of frivolity and danger—and the rapidity with which she is dispatched—to show how far we have come from the beginning of S2, when there was a another rock through a window, another decoy game… and a time when vampires were the worst we had to worry about… The stakes are going to be much higher now.

    *Of course these characteristics also illuminate Harmony’s similarities to someone we have yet to meet, Glory, even as they suggest parallels between her quest and Buffy’s (although there is a crucial difference between them, one that makes the Buffy’s season arc, now that I think of it, deeply Levinasian—which is to say, ethical (in a non-existential sense… this bears more thought)).

  5. Your comments about Harmony are dead on, particularly the spoiler. I think that's very much intentional and related to the metaphorical role our Big Bad will play. In fact, Buffy's going to hang a lantern on your point in I Was Made To Love You.

  6. I am so confused!!!! Who is Dawn!!!

    When you say that it was foreshadowed, does this mean there is something unnatural going on with this? (Side effect from the first slayer deal?) because there have definitely multiple references to Buffy being an only child. Last episode was no doubt my biggest WTF moment of anything I have ever read or watched. I thought initially that she was living with the father, but no, Buffy was definitely an only child. Like, was this a complete writers' oversight, because if so that's really frustrating. And she's in the credits so I'm assuming she's a main character now....the "you don't belong her is telling" but does that mean, she's, like, a demon....because she seems to honestly believe that she's Buffy's sister.

    On a side note, I am really interested to see the sisterly dynamic here.

    Glad Giles is staying around, I actually thought he was going to leave at the beginning of last episode.

    And I mean to ask this, but is Tara a demon? I'm thinking from restless and the time she messed with Willow's spell.

    1. You're asking the right questions, though I can't give you direct answers yet because they'd be major spoilers. They are going to be answered, some of them very soon. The whole of S5 is going to explain Dawn's role and you'll get the beginnings of it in Episode 5. However, you won't get the end of it until the season finale.

      As for Tara, that's what we were all wondering. You'll find that out in Episode 6.

  7. I noticed while watching S4 that Riley says "Along came a spider" during Buffy's dream about the Gentlemen in "Hush." Another Little Miss Muffet reference. (By the way, I have to thank you for this blog. Without actively thinking about the metaphors of S4, I never could have gotten through the scene where Riley pulls out his own chip.)

    I have never watched S5 from start to finish, though I've seen enough to be majorly spoiled. Looking forward to filling in all the details.

    1. Sorry, I meant in the script for "Hush," not actually in the episode.

    2. I wish they'd have left that in. It would have been very cool.

      Thanks. I think you'll like S5 a lot when you watch it through.