Real Me
Written by: David Fury
Directed by: David Grossman
Air Date: October 3, 2000

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Dawn’s real first episode is so snappy and fun in the front half… or two-thirds, really, that it makes up for the dusty ol’ fart of an ending which just kinda peters out. I remember hating Dawn and Michelle Trachtenberg by association simply because she is a whiner, a helpless sod, and lowers my overall interest in some of the characters because her voice can get so immediately annoying. And I’ve watched this series a few times, through and through, so this time I decided to step back and view it with more ‘lore-building’ in mind, and in that regard, this episode works from the very credits featuring her as a top-billed actress. And the way that characters interact with and speak of her. Its fantastic.

There is just so much to enjoy in this episode, right down to the stupid “narrating diary” trope. Pair this with the kitchen sequence, where Buffy, Dawn, and Joyce dance around each other prepping for the day. Examine the bit where Dawn says “underline – exclamation point – exclamation point” etc. Or when Xander sees her “as a woman” with ice cream dribbling down her chin. Or when Joyce gets really quiet when mistaking Willow+Tara magic talk for lesbian activities. Even the ending – which doesn’t really make much sense contextually – works. If SMG plays a lot of her emotions in her eyes, her “sister” plays a ton of it in her expressions. And it works.

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What else works? How about the snappy-as-fuck dialogue? The wit, the play-offs, and the sarcasm work expertly. Compare the sequence of them driving in Giles’ new car and walking to the magic shop to the beach scene in “Buffy vs Dracula” – its apples and oranges. “To hell with Giles!” “I’m right here.” I just smiled a lot. Even during the stupid thumb-wrestle scene or the conversations about how frequently people get attacked or straight up murdered in that magic shop, it all works so well. Delivery and timing are everything in this episode, down to the obvious yet hilarious reveal that the unicorn was stolen to give to Harmony, who runs her own vampire gang now (it goes as well as you’d expect).

Likewise, the new cast members from last season are much more prominent now; Tara is wanting to be included more in the Scooby stuff and is emotionally distant about it, but at the same time is starting to have more confidence. Look at how she dresses now vs how she used to dress last season. And she interacts more frequently with everyone, despite Willow thinking they are opposed to her (even Giles, because he’s British!). And Anya starts to shine, here, too. “Ooh! The game of Life!” and her reactions to playing it an winning (and wanting to trade her kids in for money!) are highlights of the whole episode. Emma Caulfield plays this role so well and rolls out the bizarre linguistic choices like they are natural things she would honestly say. Maybe I’m alone in putting her on my Top 5 list of Buffyverse characters, but even if I am, I’d defend that choice to the end of my days.

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If the plot of the episode is about Dawn’s arrival and the odd normalcy of it all, then the subplot is Harmony and Mort and friends (one of whom is played by future Andrew, Tom Lenk, no less!) and this is where the episode falters. The “planning” and everything up to the first attempt on Buffy’s life (complete with smiley-faced note on a brick) works well, and their interaction with Spike and Harmony’s reveal of stealing his lame plan are comical. But once Dawn is captured (after falling for the other old TV trope of overhearing the bad stuff but leaving before the good stuff can be said – gag me) its a quick downhill into predictable cliches. And the fight scene between Buffy and the giant Mort goes on for way too long before she cleverly kills him with a unicorn. Sigh. And yawn.

Season Five is my all-time favorite. A huge part of that is Glory. Another huge part of that is Spike becoming a real character and not just comic relief (although he almost certainly retains that aspect for the rest of his time on television). But the major reason is that all the characters become adults. And this is the first episode where we see this come to form: Willow and Tara are more open and comfortable about their relationship, Buffy is making Slaying more important in her life, Giles is going to own the Magic Box, and Joyce, well, she gets to do stuff again (she’s in the next episode, too! Must have been a great feeling, having her back). Xander gets his moment to shine next time, but everyone is getting older, wiser, and ready for new challenges.

And also Dawn shows up.

Episode Rating: 93

Additional Notes:
-The lighthearted music throughout the episode is a nice touch and never intrusive
-Same damned coffee shop as always
-Brad abstained
-Best line? Talking about how bored he was last year, Giles says “I watched Passions with Spike.”
-Spinal Tap reference
-Dawn’s true nature hinted at by crazy bum that is well played but slightly “too much”
-Let’s see if my opinion of Dawn changes, overall, this watch-through! I’m ‘excited’!
-Buffy’s response to Harmony having a gang is priceless

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