Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | December 18, 2012

Robin’s Review: S5, E13 – Blood Ties

Synopsis: Buffy tells the Scoobies about Dawn and she notices that they are treating her differently. She runs out at night and breaks into the Magic Shop with Spike. She reads Giles’ notes and realises that she is the Key. She cuts herself and gets suspended from school. Then she runs away again and ends up at the hospital where Ben tries to comfort her. When she tells him that she is the Key he freaks out and tells her to run. He then morphs into Glory who asks Dawn if she knows where the key is.

The Good: This episode succeeded in its main objective which seemed to be to get everyone, Dawn included, from ignorance to being fully aware about the Key. The main storyline developed logically and did its best to accommodate the complex emotions Dawn had to digest.

I liked the way Dawn came to search out the truth. The Scoobies focus in on the Key to the point where Buffy has to tell them all the truth. Naturally they all treat Dawn differently which spikes her already peaked curiosity. She uses Spike’s desire to be closer to Buffy to break into the Magic Shop and get her answers. Naturally she is distraught and has trouble processing the concept that she isn’t real. After rejecting the attempts of her family to comfort her she goes to the psych ward of the hospital for answers and runs into Ben. All of that made sense and there were two moments which worked particularly well.

The first was when she presented Buffy with her birthday present, a framed photo of time they spent with “their” father. Everyone in the room holds their breath as the sad thought dawns on them (no pun intended) that this shared memory of bonding never actually happened. Her diaries were used to similar effect later on. The second came at the end as Buffy uses the blood that she and her sister have both spilt (though self harm and Glory respectively) to demonstrate that, manufactured or not, their bond is real and doesn’t diminish the love they share. It was typically selfless stuff from the Slayer.

I think the presentation of Spike’s role in the group finally reached the place the writers have been moving him to. We saw last week Buffy being forced to place trust in him because of the lack of super natural allies. This week she was close to beating him down again but he spoke plain truth back and she accepted it. She then patrols with him and treats him like an equal in a way she has never done before. When she shares her fears and doubts with him it felt like quite a step as she acknowledges that on some level he is now an ally. He proved himself by fighting Glory with the gang and keeping an eye on Dawn even as he aided her breaking and entering.

The revelation that Ben and Glory are sharing the same body was a pretty interesting twist. It seems like the season’s theme is becoming about oddly constructed family units. Ben’s attitude was interesting as he bragged about how Glory couldn’t hurt him but later contradicted that by seeming genuinely terrified of her arrival. The idea that he has dedicated himself to literally cleaning up her mess, by caring for those she harms, is intriguing. The Dawn-Glory conversation was solid too as you wondered whether Dawn was so devil-may-care that she might reveal the truth. Instead we got another good fight scene as the Scoobies take a beating but manage to survive. I liked that Willow and Tara began the episode practising spells which could ward off Glory and ended the episode using one to teleport her away. The seasons long story of Willow getting deeper into magic continued with a nose bleed following this most strenuous of spells.

The Bad: There was some excessive hand holding going on here. I didn’t mind the flashbacks to previous Dawn scenes as she pieced together the evidence that she was the Key. But then Spike takes Giles’ notes and reads out that she is the Key. Um, yeah we got it. Later she looks at some swings and has a flashback to a memory of playing with Buffy which wasn’t needed either.

The worst moment of the episode was Dawn overhearing Buffy tell Joyce “She’s not real, we’re not her family, we don’t even know what she is.” Dawn goes berserk in her room before we cut back to Buffy adding “That’s probably how she feels.” Again it was unnecessary manipulation when Dawn’s rage could have been set off simply by looking at her diaries.

The Unknown: Understandably none of us can relate to what Dawn is going through. I think the analogy would be adoption and in that context Dawn’s reactions may have been in keeping with experience in the real world. However that wasn’t the story here. Dawn was asked to take on board the idea that she wasn’t real and that she had been foisted on all her loved ones. It’s a concept that is so alienating that I’m not sure it was ever going to translate convincingly in one episode.

The sight of Dawn having sliced her wrist open felt out of place on Buffy. I can’t fault it as a plausible response to her situation but that’s kind of the point. People self harm in the real world and they are dealing with issues quite different from questioning their own right to exist. Dawn’s predicament is so unreal that to see her respond with real world pain and misery somehow didn’t work.

That’s not to say that super natural dilemmas can’t lead to relatable emotions. I think Dawn’s situation is problematic because she isn’t a fully rounded character. Although we’ve seen a lot of her this season she remains, essentially, Buffy’s sister. That is her place on the show. I can’t quite imagine how she would behave if the narrative followed her every week. It’s the same problem I have with Tara (Willow’s girlfriend) and Anya (Xander’s girlfriend). Their role on the show is wedded to a main character and it’s much harder to imagine their separate lives in a way it wasn’t with Oz or Cordelia. It’s far easier to imagine an episode based around Spike’s life for example, we know what motivates him and how he likes to spend his time. I say all of this because to see Dawn cut herself left me cold. I don’t know how Dawn would view cutting herself before she learned about what she was, if that makes sense. I don’t have enough context for her behaviour for her freak out here to hit me emotionally. I had trouble imagining how this shook her world because I haven’t seen her world.

Again Glory was a little too much talk and not enough action. She beats up some Byzantines and sucks some brains but that’s about it. The teleportation was something I actually liked but it was a delay tactic to keep the story going and until Glory shows us another side of herself she remains a one dimensional villain (even with Ben being her second dimension). Dawn doesn’t seem to remember what Ben told her. I suppose if no one remembers seeing them change it would explain why no one has fired Ben for cross dressing during a shift.

Best Moment: I thought the scene where Dawn gave Buffy her present had an emotive subtlety that other scenes lacked.

The Bottom Line: This was a pretty solid effort but I think Buffy has failed to introduce new characters outside of its core four. I think this episode suffered because we don’t know Dawn and I’m worried that there is nothing else to know about Glory.



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