Dawn Summers: Screeching, Whining Teenager or Mystical Ball of Glowing Energy? (and is there a difference?)

In Season Five of Buffy, Dawn Summers evolved from a whining kid sister into a mature young woman who accepted her own destiny. It is this Dawn (albeit with a surprising lack of tact for one so young) who we see in Bargaining and AfterLife; although we know that there are cracks in her perfect world.

Her sister is dead, and a robot has taken her place. Dawn is confused and having trouble relating to the robot as robot and not as sister; but all things considered, she is as well-adjusted as a mystical ball of glowing energy transformed into a teenage girl living on the Hellmouth with a dead mother and a dead sister who slayed and occasionally boinked vampires (except when she boinked a vampire he turned evil and tried to destroy her friends but Dawn's memories of that time were implanted by monks so possibly don't matter anyway) being cared for by a pair of witches can expect to be. Possibly more so.

Buffy's return from the dead, however, signifies a change in Dawny's status. She is no longer the one everyone fusses over, the one who needs to be cared for; that honour has gone instead to her sister. And no wonder - the Slayer is completely freaking bonkers and having trouble relating to anyone. Buffy neglects her duty to Dawn, and Dawn reacts by acting out (because that's soooooo constructive). Buffy only connects to Dawn when something bad happens - and even then, in Wrecked, she leaves her sister's care to Spike, returning to help Poor!Addicted!Willow (yeah right).

What is being done about Dawn's shoplifting? Precious little. Have any of the Scoobs made her make restitution? Uh-uh. I'd be happy to see her working at the Magic Box to pay off her debt to Anya, but instead she's tucked away at home getting Willow to do her chores for her.

That Dawn has yet to face up to the consequences of her actions (even the wish she made to Halfrek) is as much the fault of the rest of the Scoobies as it is her own. They - as responsible adults (hee! I made a funny!) and her parental authorities - should be helping her to face up to what she has done, and to make a better life. But Buffy's idea of consequences is repeating history in Summer School (a foreshadowing of the repeato-vision aspects of Life Serial, perhaps), and Dawn is left largely unchecked. It seems that Giles's fears of leaving Dawn "in danger" may to some extent have been fulfilled.

So what can save Dawn? Truly, she has less of a journey than the core Scooby group. Her strong relationship with Spike has already set her on the path she needs to follow: go to school, mind your Sitter, stick with me and you'll be okay. This is echoed in Wrecked, as noted above.

"But I'm not a Key anymore - or if I am, I don't open anything" -- Spike's redemptive lesson for Dawn is that a vampire can love and do good, and a Key can too - and perhaps Dawn is, together with Spike, the Key to Buffy learning to love again.


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