Covering “Buffy vs. Dracula” and “Real Me,” in which everyone has past relationships with new visitors.
I suppose as a sign of how far the show has come, they decided they may as well do something immensely silly to open the 5th season. And even when it’s sort of serious, “Buffy vs. Dracula” is very silly, most of the seriousness stemming from the characters’ need to not be as flippant about Buffy being fed upon as the show sort of is with Dracula himself. Eh, “flippant” isn’t the right word, especially since Dracula and just about all the elements of his novel are played more or less straight. He’s a threat, but a celebrity threat, with most everyone first reacting to meeting him like an unusually dangerous movie star, from Anya’s wistful memories of the time they briefly hung out to Buffy’s glee over being recognized to even Spike’s contempt for his pretentious sell-out ways and how he and Bram Stoker gave a manual to every would-be Frog brother on the planet.
Not only does Dracula come to Sunnydale, but Dracula comes to Sunnydale, with most of the novel’s iconic elements showing up, again, played straight (save for Spike sneering at his need for “minions and bug-eaters and special dirt,” and ascribing any Dracula powers outside Buffy-verse cannon to gypsy magic), right on down to a spooky castle Riley never noticed before, and slotting people into a few key Dracula roles—or maybe they just naturally seem to as the essential beats of the novel play. Dracula actually makes Xander (hilariously) into Renfield, which he does in his how particularly Xander way (“I’m supposed to deliver you to the Master now. There’s this whole deal where I get to be immortal. You cool with that?”), and Giles has always been quite indebted to Abraham van Helsing, but we also find Riley filling in for the novel’s various men—Arthur, John Seward, Quincey, and of course Johnathan Harker—somewhat condescendingly and rather superfluously. Superfluously, because while Buffy is the Mina Murray of this version, she’s much more like Alan Moore’s general of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen than Stoker’s proper Victorian lady. Obviously. BtVS premiered just under a century after Dracula was published. There wasn’t a real need to contrast the difference between a Victorian era Gothic novel and a TV show at the dawn of the 21st century, but it’s fun to see, and is probably why Dracula plays so straight.
While “Buffy vs. Dracula” feels stand-alone, it does jump start stories for characters many felt were underserved last season, namely Xander and Giles. I don’t necessarily think they were underserved exactly, I think the stories about how they were both listless and marginalized had to, you know, be seen to get the point across—McNulty needed to spend season 4 humping a radio car, and Xander and Giles needed to spend season 4 adrift and without direction. Anyway, Xander’s resolve to no longer be the butt-monkey who catches funny syphilis will be returned to later, the main development is that Buffy asks Giles to act as her Watcher again, giving him purpose again just in time for Buffy to set the season’s aim at exploring her Slayerness more. Will it? Ehhhh…
But the real point of “Buffy vs. Dracula” is that it’s all a feint. It’s a stall. One last throw-down with the old paradigm before the show gets not-exactly retconned forever. I feel sort of bad that I’m going to spend most of Harmony’s wonderfully inept and catastrophic venture in being an evil mastermind (to say nothing of Giles’ new car) talking about Dawn, but that will be a recurring issue with the season, among other things (including some episodes treating Dawn like she’s 14, and others like she’s 8)—she seems to take over the show.
In “Real Me,” she’s incredibly intrusive, which admittedly is mostly by design and a continuation of how intrusive she was as the shocking ending to “Buffy vs. Dracula.” And, well, for one thing I don’t particularly hate Dawn as much as many in the fandom do (which is not to say I don’t have big issues with Dawn or the story that is about to unfold), but there’s no denying she’s pretty fucking obnoxious, nearly Aristotle’s perfect form of a pill here, which, given that this is the character’s first significant appearance, goes a long way toward ensuring there would be a lot of the anti-Dawn animus. I almost, more than anything, admire the audaciousness of the whole venture—not only are we introducing a new family member we’ve never seen before, and not only are we having everyone act like she isn’t new, and not only are we having everyone act like she’s been here the whole time, and not only are we not giving any indication where she came from or what she is and only barely hint that there’s anything amiss in her existence, and not only are we also not giving a hint how or even if any of the events we’ve seen played out differently, we’re going to make her really irritating, annoying, and childish in a way that makes the heroine of our show irritating, annoying, and childish, give over her introductory episode to her perspective with a journaling framing device full of facile juvenilia, and she’ll also nearly get Xander killed and actually get Anya hospitalized. Since I believe most of this is intended, I choose to think of it as Bold.
Especially bold since, as alluded to above, almost nothing indicates we are supposed to think there’s anything amiss in Dawn’s presence (except, of course, we’ve been fucking watching the show and we’ve never seen her before) save for some boilerplate in Dawn’s journal that’s basically “wait to learn the shocking truth” subtext, and the fact that Buffy seems to sense she shouldn’t be there. But she doesn’t actually—she acts as though Dawn has been around for years, too, but the vehemence of her annoyance with Dawn speaks to her sensing this new and off status quo, a burden she didn’t have to deal with even, even though she thinks she has been. But as to where Dawn came from or what she is, we’re left in the dark for now.
Oh, and Giles bought the magic shop. And our first strangely prescient crazy person shows up...that won't get annoying at all.
Since this has no sparkly bits, this is less of an atrocity. Slightly. Now these are both really bad. Really, really bad. Worse than season 4? Well, neither is a beige striped sweater vest over an orange shirt, so I say No.