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'Buffy' nostalgia recap: Questioning reality

Season 5 | Episode 5 | “No Place Like Home” | Aired Oct 24, 2000

I’ve written before about the vast difference between Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s more episodic episodes and those that are more serial. BtVS was never afraid to get silly and have fun with an episodic kind of throwaway, in which there might be a vague mention of the season’s main arc and Big Bad, but which basically stood alone as its own story. Then, there were very serialized episodes, parts of bigger arcs that stretched season- or even series-long. In the Buffyverse, those serialized episodes tend to feel a little heavier and look a little darker and pack the big punches. “No Place Like Home” is season five’s first real contribution to what will prove to be its biggest arc.

When Dawn Summers popped up out of nowhere in “Real Me,” we all knew something big was going down and that she wasn’t quite real in the realest sense, but the series really took its time explaining exactly what Dawn was and why she was around. Crazy people amble up to her and declare that she isn’t real and Joyce even has a moment of clarity/craziness during her illness in which she questions Dawn’s place in the world, but until “No Place Like Home,” the main Scoobies are all in the dark about the truth about Dawn.

Dawn isn’t really Buffy’s sister, something she discovers by entering a meditative state meant to reveal any magic or illusions that have been placed on her home. Dawn’s room flickers between a purple teenage dream and a storage room. She fades from pictures and she herself is semi-transparent when she confronts Buffy, in all of her annoying little-sister glory. And speaking of Glory, she makes her first appearance this week, as well. Glory was a villain unlike any the series had ever seen. She was mentally unstable in the worst way. She was self-centered and driven in the narcissistic way of a sorority girl. She was strong and terrifying and gorgeous. She was literally a god and her story and fate was intertwined with Dawn’s.

Dawn’s actual origin, for anyone who doesn’t already know, is that she is a human vessel that was created to house a mythical force, known as The Key. The Key has the power to open the door between dimensions and bring destruction and death to the one we live in. Glory is in pursuit of The Key and the monks that had guarded it for years knew that they needed to put it in something the Slayer would protect with her life. To make it extra precious to her, they created a girl, implanted memories into everyone in the Scooby Gang (and presumably many, many others, too) and created a backstory that the girl was Buffy’s sister. Dawn believes that she is Buffy’s sister and is completely unaware that she’s anything more than human. Considering the goal was to make The Key something that Buffy would want to protect above all else, you’d think the monks would have given Dawn a better personality, but what are you going to do?

The Dawn/The Key storyline is one of the strongest instances of BtVS playing with our concept of reality, but it’s far from the only one. Season five, on the whole, dealt with this question many times. The insane people who see Dawn for what she really is are seeing beyond our reality and into others. Glory herself has a tenuous hold on reality and, in fact, shares a physical body with a human named Ben. But even outside of season five, the series has forced us, on multiple occasions, to question what’s real and what it means to decide what’s real. Some shining examples (but it’s worth noting that this is far from a comprehensive list):

  • “Nightmares,” season one. In “Nightmares,” all of the Scoobies’s worst nightmares start coming true around them. The old trick of trying to convince yourself that the terrifying thing is “only a dream” doesn’t work because the nightmares have crossed over into our reality. “Nightmares” questions the idea that dreams are anything less than meaningful, a theme that’s touched on again throughout the series.
  • “The Wish,” season three. Enter: Anya. After being scorned by Xander upon discovering his affair with Willow, Cordelia unknowingly makes a wish to a vengeance demon (ANYA!) which sends Sunnydale spiraling into an alternate reality in which Buffy never moved there and the Hellmouth went, pretty literally, to hell. Is the version of the world in which Buffy comes to Sunnydale the “real world” or are both versions real and existing simultaneously on multiple planes?
  • “Doppelgangland,” season three. Drawing on the reality created in “The Wish,” “Doppelgangland” revisited the idea that there are multiple realities constantly in motion by pulling Willow’s vampire doppelganger from “The Wish” universe into the show’s main reality. It’s a big argument in favor of the idea that we’re just seeing one of many timelines that are playing out at once in the Whedonverse.
  • “Superstar,” season four. In “Superstar,” hapless nerd Jonathan is able to actually create his own reality (via magic and illusion) in which he’s the perpetual center of attention.
  • “Restless,” season four. No look into Buffy dream theories would be complete without an examination of “Restless,” which takes place within the dreams of the four main Scoobies and hints at and predicts much of what season five comes to call into question about reality and what we know to be “true.”
  • “Normal Again,” season six. Maybe the best example of Buffy’s continual examination of reality and willingness to question what it itself has established as real and true, “Normal Again” sees Buffy in a mental institution, being told that her belief that she’s the Slayer is a result of her mental illness and that she can live a normal life if she just kills of her delusions (aka her best friends). Buffy ultimately chooses to believe that her life in Sunnydale is real, but the episode gives fans a lot to think about.

In a world like the Buffy universe, which is so full of supernatural twists and turns and backtracks and reveals, these questions and doubts are bound to arise, at least among superfans who enjoy debating and questioning the world for the fun and sake of debating and questioning the world. This happens across most major fandoms, especially in the fantasy and science-fiction realms. BtVS’s openness about raising those questions itself, however, has always been a highlight for me.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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