“No Place Like Home”
Written by Doug Petrie
Directed by David Solomon
Some monks are running through the corridors of an old monastery in the Czech Republic. I only know this because I checked the transcript; the Netflix version isn’t kind enough to provide a location stamp or subtitles for the Czech dialogue. They barricade themselves inside a room and start chanting, desperate to prevent some beast from getting a hold of a key, and they’re willing to die to protect it. This mysterious beast beats against the barricaded door, but they finish their ritual before whatever it is breaks through. Barely.
Buffy is fighting a vampire in the factory district of town, or whatever. He’s big and thuggish. She takes him out in short order, and then a security guard shoos her off. Halfheartedly. He hands her something he thinks she dropped. A glowing sphere. She’s intrigued and heads off with it.
Buffy has made a special breakfast in bed for Joyce. Dawn annoys Buffy first with her clumsiness and then by claiming credit for the breakfast when Joyce comes downstairs. Joyce has been having particularly sucky headaches, contrary to the doctors’ expectations. They’re still doing tests. Buffy doesn’t like uncertainty where the health of family members is concerned. Joyce is all cute with Dawn, which makes Buffy a little jealous, then a lot jealous when Joyce mentions her and Dawn’s book club. Buffy decides Dawn gets to come with her instead of having all the quality time with Mom that Buffy can’t have herself.
Today is Giles’s grand opening at the magic box, and he has chosen to dress for the occasion!
Buffy is not in the spirit of whimsical grand openings. She stares at Giles until he takes the hat and cloak off. Boooooo. No fun. And alas, Giles has had no customers yet. He’s still hopeful, though. Buffy is as encouraging as she can be while preoccupied about her mom’s health. Willow and Riley show up. Buffy pulls out the glowy orb thing for their consideration. They get nowhere except “paranormal,” which was obvious.
Dawn accidentally reveals to Riley that Buffy doesn’t want him to join her on patrols anymore now that he’s minus his super soldier strength. Because she wants him safe, not because she finds him dull. That’s not how he takes it, and the room is very awkward now. Riley and Giles head to the training room and Buffy heads to take Dawn home. Willow wants Buffy to cut Dawn a break because she can relate to a girl who’s socially awkward. It doesn’t work. Buffy wishes she was an only child (hahaha) because of the way Dawn has been hogging Joyce lately. Cue Dawn breaking something in the background.
They come home and find Joyce on the couch with a massive headache. Buffy tries to insist on taking her to the hospital, but Joyce bargains her down to picking up her prescriptions. At the hospital, Buffy runs into Ben again. (Also, does Buffy’s ability to run errands like this mean she can drive? Because we never see her behind the wheel, but she can somehow pull off ten-minute prescription runs.) Buffy helps him out with a belligerent patient. Who she recognizes as the formerly normal security guard from the factory. Now he’s spewing crazy talk...about Buffy’s family. Buffy thinks this means her mom’s illness is supernatural.
One of those monks is now in that factory, but the beast is beating its way inside through an enormous steel door. The door gets ripped clean out of its frame, revealing a petite, curly-haired woman in a red dress and heels. Hello, Big Bad.
Giles completes his first sale and restrains himself from freaking out until after the customers leave the store. Then more people come in. Including Anya, who thinks his pricing could use work and holy crap who on earth decided it was a good idea to make a Mandarin-style dress in a cheetah print with red trim?
Buffy comes in with her theory about Joyce’s illness, and I can’t decide if I love her outfit or hate it. It’s nicely color-coordinated, but it’s just so...odd.
She thinks her mom is a victim of whatever drove that security guard crazy, and that it has something to do with the glowy sphere. She tells them about the security guard’s warning about someone coming at her through her family. She’s ready to kick some serious butt.
Red dress lady is ranting to a literally captive audience of that one monk (he’s tied up and has duct tape over his mouth). She really doesn’t appreciate whatever he and the other monks did. Something about hiding a key from her. She demands answers from him, then cracks up (in a cracked sort of way) when she remembers he can’t answer as long as the duct tape is on his mouth. And while we’re on the subject, does Hollywood have a special kind of duct tape that isn’t adhesive enough to hurt the actors when you rip it off? I hope so. Anyway. She rips it off and asks again. Then grabs his nose or sticks her fingers up his nose or something. It’s not entirely clear what she’s doing with her fingers, but it’s definitely not pleasant. He won’t tell her what she wants to know. She’s very upset. There’s also another security guy there, chained up. He very much wants to go home to his wife and daughters. Red dress lady starts to go kind of nuts with how upset she is about not getting the key thing, emphasized effectively by a lot of jarring jump cuts. Then she shoves her fingers into the security guard’s head. A bunch of light comes out. He’s left a drooling mess on the floor, but she’s totally fine again.
The Magic Box is packed! Giles is overwhelmed. Xander encourages him to stay British in order to survive, then coaches Anya in her customer interactions, but as someone who had a part-time retail job while I was in high school, I found her initial approach incredibly cathartic. Willow does a terrible job of gift-wrapping something. Buffy is extremely focused on researching spells that could have affected her mom, but she’s not making much progress. Anya fixes Willow’s horrendous gift-wrapping job. She also has an idea for Buffy. A trance that enables you to see magic. It should give Buffy a good lead on what’s hurting her mom. Willow and Giles are a mite skeptical that Buffy can pull off something pioneered by a high-level sorcerer. But she is very determined and has been practicing meditation.
Buffy sets up for the trance with the help of...Riley. She just wants to help him feel useful, which he sees through immediately, since she’s being Unsubtle Buffy about it. He swears he’s okay with being normal guy now. They make a deal to try taking care of each other instead of her being overprotective, which they seal with a handshake and a kiss. He leaves.
Trance time. Almost. Dawn decides to be nosy first. She wants to watch if Buffy’s doing magic. Buffy shoves a towel into the crack beneath her door so no smells of incense can escape her room. Dawn walks away sulkily and slams her door. Trance time for real now. Time passes, and then some cool music starts up. Also, I really like the visual effect for this. The image is much grainier and more washed-out. It kind of pulses. Buffy leaves her room and checks out the house with her new spell-o-vision. Nothing weird yet. Joyce finds her, smiling. Her pain pills are doing their trick, so she’s heading out. Buffy can’t see anything weird about her. But then she notices a picture on the wall, of her, Joyce, and Dawn. Except that Dawn keeps fading in and out. Joyce leaves, fondly.
Buffy keeps investigating. All images of Dawn flash in and out. Buffy goes up to Dawn’s room and opens the door. The room switches from being Dawn’s bedroom with an annoyed Dawn in it demanding that Buffy get out to being a storage room for Joyce’s gallery stuff. From all of this, Buffy has realized that Dawn isn’t actually her sister. The spell-o-vision ends, and Buffy grabs Dawn, who seems to have no idea what’s going on and objects to being manhandled. She says she’s going to tell Mom, but Buffy doesn’t want her anywhere near her, and she shoves Dawn against the wall. They have a standoff until the phone rings.
It’s Giles! He’s learned a lot about the glowy sphere. It’s a Dagon Sphere, and it’s a very old protective device used to ward off evil. He’s not sure what this evil is, per se, and it doesn’t help that the books deliberately refuse to name it. Buffy decides to do recon at the factory. Giles asks about the spell-o-vision, and Buffy starts to tell him about Dawn, but then Dawn is right there listening in and glaring, so she hangs up. They have some more stand-off in which it’s hard to tell if Dawn is being sinister or just trying not to act like Buffy’s scaring her. Buffy intends to get home before Joyce.
Outside, she finds Spike lurking behind a tree. He’s all weird and nervous-excited around her, but she doesn’t notice. She just punches him and demands to know why he’s in front of her house, in a severely restricted word count. His response, numbering off the words as he goes: “Out. For. A. Walk. ...Bitch.” She doesn’t believe him. He rather defensively explains that her house is on the way to many interesting locations. Buffy doesn’t care anymore and tries to leave, but he wants to make it absolutely clear that he was just passing through. Also that he doesn’t like her and she has a boring boyfriend and stupid hair. Then he leaves, and she notices uncomfortably that there is a whole pack’s worth of cigarette butts on the ground by that tree. *shudder*
At the factory, Buffy rips the lock off the gate and heads inside. She finds the remnants of the steel door’s frame. At home, Joyce gets back first. Dawn spooks her, and she has a cup of tea. Or is it a cup of POISON? At the factory, Buffy discovers the tied up monk, who is mostly unresponsive. Red dress lady comes creeping up behind her, but she’ll have to get up earlier than that to sneak up on Buffy. Buffy grabs her by the throat. Red dress lady scowls a little and throws Buffy so hard across the room that she cracks the wall around where she hits. That was a bit more than she was expecting.
Giles would like to rip the bell off the Magic Box’s door. Xander and Willow are exhausted from the day too. Anya, however, seems to have only gained energy. She’s counting the money in the till and dispensing advice about what to restock and raise prices on. Giles offers her a job. She accepts, both surprised and definitely pleased. No word from Buffy yet about her factory recon.
Which would be because it’s going very badly. More walls have Buffy-shaped dents in them now. Red dress lady is enjoying herself beating the crap out of Buffy. Or maybe she’s just angry? It’s hard to tell. She has this air of...wrathful glee about her when inflicting pain. Buffy gets in a few licks, but red dress lady’s reaction to them is less with the internal bleeding and more with the “Ugh! Rude!” and more powerful retaliations. She throws her again. Buffy decides rescuing the monk is a better idea than continuing the fight, and she dives out the window with him. It’s a long drop, but I guess Slayer strength helps with that. Red dress lady can’t follow because her heel breaks, which annoys her so much that she stomps the floor and collapses the ceiling on herself. Convenient!
Buffy gets the monk as far as the boundary fence, but he’s dying. He tells her about the key. She has to protect it or a lot of people will die. It’s energy that opens interdimensional portals. Buffy thinks it’s the Dagon Sphere, but it’s Dawn. The monks turned it into a human girl and put her in the Slayer’s family so she’d be protected. Buffy is horrified, especially because it means her and her mom’s memories have been tampered with. She wants him to undo it, but protecting the key is of paramount importance to him, so he doesn’t cave under her whining about silly things like her mind getting hacked and rewritten. The upside: Dawn is really just an innocent girl now that she’s been made. As far as she knows, she is Dawn Summers, daughter of Joyce and sister of Buffy. The monk dies.
Buffy goes home. Dawn and Joyce are sitting on the couch, and Dawn storms upstairs when she sees Buffy. Joyce is concerned, but Buffy heads up to take care of it. She apologizes for how she acted earlier. Dawn is still upset. She has a theory about how Buffy is the one who isn’t really a Summers. Buffy gets caught up in this very typical Summers sisters interaction, then catches herself and marvels at how easy it is to just carry on like this is normal. Maybe she can handle it after all. She sits down next to Dawn and asks to be in Dawn’s Bad Day club. Dawn lets her in, but only as the janitor. Aww. Buffy strokes Dawn’s hair and Dawn reveals how worried she is about their mom. Buffy still has no answers about that.
For me, “No Place Like Home” is kind of a mixed bag. I love the stuff at the Magic Box and Buffy determinedly seeking for a magical cause of her mom’s illness, but I don’t really like Glory. She’s certainly unsettling, and her ability to suck the sanity out of people is uniquely terrifying, but I don’t find her nearly as interesting as Angelus, the Mayor, or even the Master. She probably has Adam beat, but it’s really not that hard to be more interesting than Adam. I suppose it was clever to have Buffy handily defeat a huge vampire dude in the same episode in which she gets totally trashed by a female character who’s about her size. I’m trying to figure out what it about her that fails to grab me. It’s not the acting; Clare Kramer does a fine job with the material she’s given. I think it might be the way Glory acts like a particularly angry spoiled brat. It’s difficult to respect a character who complains all the time, even though she’s the strongest one around.
Buffy comes across a bit harsh with Dawn in this one, and that’s before she has good reason to suspect Dawn of being the thing making Joyce sick. Still, I don’t really blame her. Like I said in the review of “Real Me,” Buffy might remember being a big sister all Dawn’s life, but she hasn’t actually been doing it very long. She’s still trying to get used to it without realizing she’s not used to it. Subconsciously, it feels like Dawn’s this intruder who’s stealing Joyce’s attention and being a burden while Buffy is trying to take care of everything. When she finds out Dawn actually isn’t her sister, she reacts in an understandable way, but it’s the last few minutes with Dawn where Buffy shines in this episode. Ever since Dawn has existed, Buffy has mostly been annoyed, exasperated, and angry at her, but now, even though she knows Dawn hasn’t actually been her baby sister for fourteen years, she still finds that she can accept her.
Xander continues to be Anya’s coach for human interactions. I like how fondly he takes to that role. Ever since he hurt Anya’s feelings in “Graduation Day: Part 1” with his sarcasm, he’s been very good at making suggestions for her improvement without upsetting her. It’s adorable.
I love how Willow relates to Dawn because they’re both “huge spazzes.” That’s adorable. And it’s refreshing to see Willow suck at things when we mostly only see her excelling at college, computer stuff, and magic lately. But she can’t wrap gifts worth crap! It’s funny.
Riley, so far, is mostly doing well being a normal guy. He appreciates Buffy trying to make him feel included but doesn’t need her to give him menial tasks in order to feel useful. However, he still isn’t really doing anything outside of dating her. However, it’s like Riley has taken up Xander and Giles’s S4 role of having no purpose except for Scooby stuff. They were already original members of the Scoobies, so that was enough to carry them until they found carpentry and the Magic Box, respectively. But Riley’s a very active, hard-working guy. I doubt he’ll do as well in this stagnant position for as long as they did. Which, again, makes me question why he isn’t looking for other things to do with his time, like finishing his degree or getting a job.
I’d like to know how Anya was affording her own apartment with no roommates for this long without a source of income. Maybe she had accounts left over from when she was a vengeance demon, although I don’t really see what a vengeance demon would need money for. In any case, she lands a job at the Magic Box, and she is clearly perfectly suited to it.
The writers do a good job of writing Dawn so that she could be a sinister evil thing, but that she doesn’t say or do anything out of the ordinary for a fourteen-year-old younger sister at any point, so when you rewatch it, everything holds up. She’s just a kid who, despite having been formed by magic a little over a month earlier, thinks and acts like a kid.
Spike has gone from ranting about how much he hates Buffy to creeping on her front lawn, possibly eavesdropping on her conversations with her mom and sister, and hoping to catch a glimpse of her when she’s changing. As funny as the “Out for a walk, bitch” thing is, the creep factor definitely outweighs the humor for me. And he’s still under the delusion that Buffy spends any of her time thinking about him when he’s not immediately in front of her, but it’s obvious that Buffy thinks about him as often as she would a piece of gum stuck to her shoe, and with the same disdain.
Giles’s desire for the Magic Box to be successful is warring with his dislike of dealing with lots of people at a time. This shop won’t be as much like the library as he thought, and his panic is hilarious. But seriously, why didn’t he think he’d need any employees? Why didn’t he tell all the Scoobies he’d pay them to help out on opening day, and then he’d work out how many people he needed to hire based on the business he received that day? Anya isn’t the only Scooby with no job and plenty of time for one. Willow, Tara, and Riley all seem to have fairly open schedules. Also, I was surprised and pleased that Giles didn’t try to talk Buffy down from her theory about Joyce’s illness. I expected him to say something like “are you sure you aren’t constructing a supernatural pattern where none exists so that you’ll have a way to fight your mother’s illness as the Slayer?” Because that’s actually what Buffy is doing. But at this early stage, when it’s not even clear yet what’s medically wrong with Joyce, it’s nice that nobody’s shutting Buffy down about it.
“It appears to be paranormal in origin.”
“How can you tell?”
“Well, it’s so shiny!”
“Anya! The Shopkeepers’ Union of America called. They want me to tell you that ‘please go’ just got replaced with ‘have a nice day’.”
“But I have their money. Who cares what kind of day they have?”
“No one. It’s just a long, cultural tradition of raging insincerity.”
“...Does this look right to you?”
“Sure! If you wrapped it with your feet.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.