Sorry it took me so long to get this post up, guys. I watched the episode a couple times, if that makes you feel any better.
In terms of juxtaposing the lightness and humor of season one with the darkness and depth of season 4, “No Place Like Home” walks the line between the two perfectly. Part of what makes this episode stand out is the way it highlights the character traits of Buffy’s loved ones (and not-so-loved ones..) Dawn is suitably terrifying in this episode, Joyce is stalwart, Riley is mewling, Anya is spunky, and Spike is delightfully frustrated. Buffy is pretty much a blank canvas for most of this episode—she’s just responding to the actions of those around her (trying to be brave for her mom, patient with Riley, firm with Spike, etc.).
The trance in which Buffy starts to realize that everything around her has traces of a different life is one of my favorite scenes in the canon. She walks into Dawn’s bedroom and sees flashes of her mom’s craft room; photos of Dawn begin to flicker in and out of focus. This scene is partially satisfying because the show FINALLY acknowledges that Dawn wasn’t around before. And the soundtrack makes it seem as if Dawn doesn’t have the best intentions.
But when Buffy traces the Dagon sphere back to the factory and fights the Beast (who I’ll address in a second), and finds out from the monk that Dawn is her sister, we as viewers are made to feel it like she does. This is no longer a random plot-point character, or some sort of sinister demon as we were starting to believe. This is bone-of-her-bone, flesh-of-her-flesh—a true sister. If you didn’t tear up when the monk said that Dawn was “A human. And helpless” then you probably don’t have a heart. Now there are emotional stakes. I mentioned earlier in the season that Dawn’s presence adds a new dimension to Buffy’s character. Having Dawn around—before Buffy knew what she was—made Buffy more down-to-earth. Now that Buffy knows who/what Dawn is, that relationship has a gravitas that anchors Buffy even more fully to the relationships that keep her grounded in spite of her isolated role as Slayer. Now she has a stake in the fight—a vulnerable piece of herself to guard in a way that she wasn’t able to guard her own innocence and childhood.
Okay, I have to at least address the Beast. I don’t mind that they’re doing the whole “Hey, the Big Bad is a girl!” thing, but the Beast seems pretty similar to the jerk vampire girl from the beginning of last season. Only difference being that the Beast is a goddess, and she’s insane unless she eats people’s brainpower. I’ll reserve judgment on her until we see more of her.
One final note, so Thomas isn’t disappointed: Giles opens the Magic Box and he happens to be wonderful at this job. The image of him in a wizard’s costume is burned onto my retinas in a great way.
Some of my favorite lines from the episode:
Spike: “Out. For. A. Walk. Bitch.”
Spike: “And I never really liked you anyway. And, and you have stupid hair!”
Anya, with regards to thanking customers, “But I have their money. Who cares what kind of day they have?”
Dawn: “Mom adopted you from a shoebox full of baby howler monkeys, and never told you because it could hurt your delicate baby feelings”