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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Blood Ties

[Updated May 1, 2013]

Blood Ties sets up crucial plot and thematic points for the finale. Like the show generally, it uses the real life experiences of teenagers via metaphor. Thus Dawn, like many 14 year olds, perhaps particularly those who are adopted, feels alienated from her family and “not real”. She cuts herself because she’s come to doubt her own reality: “Am I real?”. In this case, the “real” experiences become a metaphor for the “reality” of the plot line – Dawn’s sense of alienation upon learning that she’s the Key. In my view, Dawn’s role as metaphor as well as character means that her sense that she’s “not real” is telling us something important about Buffy. I’ll leave that cryptic for now, but this dialogue seems relevant to me:
BUFFY: It's not that simple! We're not gonna be able to fix this with a hug and a kiss and a bowl of soup! Dawn needs to know where she came from, she needs real answers.
JOYCE: (sits) What she needs is her sister, Buffy, not the Slayer.

In the end, Buffy assures Dawn that she is indeed real, and again it’s metaphorical: “It’s Summers’ blood.”
The Knights were chanting “The Key is the link. The link must be severed.” Well, we know that Dawn is the Key, so she’s the reference here, although the Knights don’t seem to know she is. Since she’s the Key, she must therefore be the link. The question is, what two things does she link? And why, from the perspective of the Knights, must that link be severed? The answers to these questions are related to Dawn’s reality and metaphorical role.
The obvious question to ask is whether the Knights of Byzantium themselves serve a metaphorical purpose. I’m not entirely certain, but my best guess is that they’re simply a fairly obvious reference to the militant Christian orders of the Middle Ages like the Knights Templar. Their determination to “sever” the Key is, in this reading, a reference to the way religion demands sacrifices of those things which are most precious, as well as a reminder of the paternalism of that worldview.
In my post on The Replacement, I said that the themes of the season had been established. Blood Ties is the first episode to reveal a part of one theme. Prior to this episode we knew there was some connection between Ben and Glory. We now learn that they morph into each other. This explains Ben’s confidence in Listening to Fear, that Glory can’t harm him. But it also brings us back to The Replacement, which, it now becomes clear, was telling us something important about the season arc. In that episode, Xander learned that he needed all aspects of his personality in order to “be” Xander. We now see that Buffy’s foe for the season is someone who seems to have separate and distinct personalities also – one’s a normal human being, the other’s super powerful and not entirely sane. I’ll have more to say on this topic when we get to Intervention and The Gift.
Trivia notes: (1) There’s a very subtle moment in the teaser which sets up what will happen in the episode Tough Love. (2) Spike’s candy box was wrecked because he used it to hit the Buffy mannequin in Triangle. (3) Spike suggested that Dawn watch Teletubbies, which was a children’s TV show. (4) Spike compared Dawn to Little Red Riding Hood because a big bad wolf might get her on her way to the Magic Shop. (5) Dawn’s flashbacks in the Magic Shop are, in order, to Listening to Fear, Real Me, and Shadow. (6) Xander described Glory has having a “jones” for the Key. “Jones” is a slang term meaning strong desire or craving. (7) Glory described Ben as “gentle Ben” which was the title of a TV show and movie about a bear. There was a previous reference to the show in Pangs. (8) Buffy suggested looking at the carousel because that’s where Riley and Dawn went in Shadow. Also, Buffy presumably has the false memories of Dawn’s birthday party there which Dawn described to Riley. (9) Glory wanted Dawn to “start singin”, which is American slang for “start talking”. (10) Glory used the expression “fox in my henhouse”, a slang expression which means that the wrong person has been allowed into something (foxes obviously being bad news for chickens). (11) The Latin word Willow used for her spell, “discede”, means “disperse” or “separate”. (12) Buffy’s mention of Dawn having a get-out-of-jail-free card comes from the game Monopoly.


  1. These are all SPOILERY, but that seems impossible to avoid, as this episode is so imbricated in major themes and events...


    This episode begins Dawn’s special relationship with Spike. I don’t think it is an accident that it starts with Dawn’s discovery of her origin, because it seems to be grounded, in part, at the beginning, in their shared struggles with their humanity: Dawn’s doubt of her’s, Spike’s groping for his—and it develops further out of Spike’s sense of responsibility for Dawn, something that plays a partial role in his becoming-becoming-human, if we can call it that.


    I agree that the Knights of B function as a reminder of a paternalistic worldview, but I do not think that they simply point to religion: it is no coincidence that they appear during the Council’s episode, just before Giles is re-instated—for they serve, I think, as an extreme point against which to measure the actions of the other characters. At one end is Buffy’s recognition of Dawn’s humanity, at the other, the Order’s refusal to see anything but her purpose—and in between is Giles, who has “sworn,” as a member of the Council, “to protect this sorry world”—a vow not unlike the Order’s—and who is willing to kill Dawn, although he seeks to find another way and acknowledges, as Gregor, in Spiral, does not, Dawn’s humanity. This spectrum also reminds us of the paternalism of the Council, of which Giles is still a part, despite his resistance to its grosser strictures, and the degree to which he still adheres to its fundamental precepts—an adherence that will allow him to kill Ben, an act of which Buffy would be incapable.*

    *In LMPTM, Buffy admits that she would now let Dawn die—and by implication, I think this means that she would kill Ben as well—but I see this as a statement she makes at the height of her paternalistic-general phase (ironically, the moment at which she rejects Giles as having taught her “all [she] need[s] to know”), not the final state she will reach.

    Small Question

    Has there been discussion of why the Monks made the key into Dawn, so that the Slayer would protect it—keep it in existence/alive—rather than destroying it? I understand what Dawn means for Buffy, but why were they “fools,” to use Gregor’s terms, to put the world at risk? I have some ideas, but I was wondering if this has been debated. If you are going to cover this in the finale, let me know, and I shall wait.


      There's a line of dialogue somewhere... possibly not from the show but instead in a fanfic I read. Anyways I have vague memory of an implication that the monks made the key human in order to maintain control over its power. If they destroyed it, the power would be lost to the world.

      Since the key is ancient, and the order of monks protecting it doesn't seem to be a recent addition to its history, then the question could be extended to why the key was even allowed to exist as mystical energy for all these years, given the threat it posed to the world.


      I think this is the passage you meant:

      BUFFY: Why didn't they just destroy it? If the key is as dangerous as-
      GREGOR: Because they were fools. They thought they could harness its power for the forces of light.

    3. Probably years too late to comment. I wanted to make the same comment about your Fool for Love review but I might as well do it here.

      I'm not sure if the relationship between Dawn and Spike is really based on the same learning curve on understanding what it means to be human. They are not in the same situation at all. Actually, I think that if Spike is with Dawn in this episode it is within what I believe to be one of his roles in the series; Spike is a "revealer" of truths. He is either there when truths are revealed, like in season 2 when Buffy tells Joyce about her being the Slayer or in this episode where he even takes the book from Dawn to read the last important bit. He also reveals the truths by his words to both Buffy and us, like in Lover's walk (whether you agree or not on his description of love, he is true when he says Angel and Buffy are not friends) or in Fool for Love (on the death wish) - or by his actions (still Lover's walk for Xander and Willow's affair, or season 6 on Buffy). He also reveals a lot on other characters by contrast and comparison(of course Angel, but also in season 7).

    4. Even if (as you said) they're not in the same situation, they both feel "not a part" of the Scooby circle in any meaningful way. But since they are purposefully not kept in the Scooby support structure, it really shouldn't be a surprise that they seek each other out - and of course, Spike knows that if he keeps Dawnie safe, he'll be earning teeny, tiny points with Buffy. They will add up.

  2. Nice tie-in between Dawn and Spike. I completely agree with your second point, including the note.

    I don't recall much discussion about the Monks' actions. I don't have anything planned on that topic as of now. Of course, now that you've got me thinking about it.... :)

  3. I always love reading your thoughts on these episodes! It's really fun to rewatch Season 5 because the foreshadowing and metaphors are handled so well.

    Spike casting Dawn as Red Riding Hood seems especially appropriate given the same reference was used for Buffy in Helpless.