Who doesn’t love an episode that starts with terrified, sprinting monks with a name like the Order of Dagon? These guys, they’re in full-bore flee mode, because something’s after them, and their head start is tragically skimpy. What’s more, they have a plot coupon—otherwise known as a ‘key’—to protect... and that’s all we learn before whatever it is they’re so very afraid of busts in on their spellcasting sanctum and turns them into so much lunch.
But that was all two months ago. Here and now, Buffy’s staking a big biker vampire in an abandoned parking lot. It’s a quippy, efficient kill, all in line with her current stake smarter, not harder Slayer philosophy. A supernice security guard then shows to shoo her off the property. He thinks she’s looking for a rave, and helpfully tells her to take a suspicious mystical item—a glowing ball, later to be identified as also an item from the Of Dagon collection—with her.
Next day, Buffy is making breakfast from scratch as a treat for Joyce, who, as it turns out, still isn’t feeling great. There are tests and medical consultations in the offing, and low-key sibling rivalry simmers throughout the scene. All slay and no play can make Buffy more than a little wistful about the close relationship between her mom and sister, especially now with a health scare in the mix.
But Joyce isn’t ready to give up being the parent and nurturer title. She tells Buffy to quit worrying and bundles the girls off to the Magic Box, where Giles has clearly lost his mind, because he’s wearing a purple wizard’s robe and hat. The perfectly reasonable cause of his insanity? Financial terror. It’s his grand opening, and he’s worrying about whether anyone will ever come and spend money in his store.
(As previously established, a more relevant fear might be whether anyone will come and homicide the heck out of him there, but that’s beside the point.)
Bit by bit the Scoobies show up to gather, enjoy, and be supportive. Dawn embarrasses Buffy by revealing her assessment of Riley’s post-surgical fitness for patrolling: the word ‘kitteny,’ unfortunately, was used. The girls are scrapping when they get home, but they find Joyce on the couch with a splitting headache, and so Buffy zooms straight off to the hospital for drugs.
There she meets Ben again. We had space here, if we cared to take it way back when we didn’t know where all this was going, to contemplate why he was getting screen time. Is he the decoy villain of the year? He seems too devoid of evil. Riley’s replacement? Devoid of monster. Ah well, maybe he really is going to be turned into a vampire.
We all know now, of course. But then? What did we think of Ben? Or did we?
Ben’s alleged reason for being in the scene is he’s trying to treat the security guard Buffy met last night, who is now far less nice and utterly lacking his previous aplomb. He is in fact raving about how something’s coming and they’ll go after her through her family.
This is about me, Buffy thinks, and it’s awesome! The shiny globe thing has something to do with Mom’s headaches! Hurrah! Whatever it is that’s hurting her mother, she can look it up, find it, and pound it into submission, preferably with a two-headed axe. This is so much more comforting than waiting on tests and drugs.
Meanwhile, back at the boogety boogety grand opening, the first hints of coming retail chaos are just beginning to go ca-Ching! Giles makes a first sale and is deeply excited. Then Buffy rushes in to share the news about Joyce, glowballs, demons, deranged security guards and the prospect of thumping her mother’s so-worrying headaches into the paranormal dust. Research begins!
Everyone’s productively occupied except the monk from two months ago, who is enjoying one last moment of not being chased or tortured before the Beast / Glorificus / That Which Must Not Be Named / Yay It’s Clare Kramer! scoops him up.
Glory is unhappy to be on the mortal coil. She is struggling to keep it together as she explains to the monk that she really really needs that key he hid, but even a bit of fun torture takes it out of her: she has to slurp all the stability she can get out of another hapless security guard’s mind. This is why Sunnydale is filling up with mentally unbalanced people. It’s not just PTSD in demon attack survivors after all.
By now the Magic Box is very busy and Giles is overwhelmed. Anya steps in to be brilliant both in the area of customer service and by suggesting that Buffy do a ‘pull the curtain back’ spell to figure out what’s happening to Joyce.
And Buffy is so into that. She sets up the spell, taking just a little time to see if she can make Riley feel better about the kitteny comment. (Results are mixed.) Then she has to pause again when Dawn interrupts. Is Dawn interrupting for an ominous reason? We don’t know. Also, the Fashion Police would like to note that Buffy’s demon-skull shirt that she’s doing the spell in seems rather a weird choice.
But despite Dawn’s interference, Buffy manages to find her happy place and get into the trance for the curtain-pulling spell. She roams around the house in the midst of an echoey sound effect and cannot find a spell on Joyce, who seems, for the moment, to be feeling better.
But Dawn—ha! She’s flickering in and out of their family pictures. Buffy goes into Dawn’s room and the sibling who came from beyond is flickering too. Conclusion? Dawn’s the thing making Joyce sick.
And who are we to argue? I mean here she is, popping into the storyline, and what’s with the Scoobies claiming she’s been there all along? And Joyce is sick. The fact that Glory’s running around town, ripping monks’ parts off and generally seeming pretty Big Bad villainish, doesn’t change the headaches.
The sisterly showdown over all this is getting pretty nasty when Giles phones to report that the Dagon sphere was created to repel ‘that which cannot be named.’ This is an acronym, Giles goes on to say, which in many ancient languages translates into “Srsly, something very bad!” Or maybe “Villain may explode if heated.”
During this phone conversation, Dawn is lurking and looking potentially evil in the living room.
Buffy decides to go back to the warehouse where she found the sphere. On the way out the door, she interrupts an inept stalking-in-progress. This is just a quick crammed-in comedy follow-up on Spike’s newest problem: realizing he’s in love with Buffy.
Spike does a very bad job of covering his butt here, piling on a load of babble about just passing by, Buffy shagging Captain Cardboard—a Riley-phemism I enjoyed—and her having stupid hair. If only he hadn’t left a pile of cigarette butts outside, it... well, no, he just wasn’t ever going to be convincing.
But who cares? Not Buffy. Parent in danger, stuff to do! She’s way too busy rushing off to the warehouse to spare much of a thought for Spike. The monk is clinging to life, gathering his energies for one last burst of exposition. Back home, Dawn has made tea for their mother and we’re meant to be very very worried that it is Death Tea of Magical Matricide. On a lighter note, Giles hires Anya to work at the magic shop, leaving us to conclude that the store is indeed going to be a moneymaking proposition.
Buffy finds the monk. Glory finds Buffy. The ensuing fight is easily as unequal as the vamp-of-the-week dusting from the teaser, but this time it’s Buffy who’s completely outmatched. She figures this out, grabs the monk and runs for it.
“Hands off my holy man!” You’re hilarious, Clare Kramer.
Glory’s resulting tantrum destroys the building she’s in, which helps Buffy escape. The monk then spills his failing guts: Dawn’s not what she seems, but she’s also not evil. (He doesn’t weigh in on whether she’s killing Joyce.) She’s the key, and she needs protecting from the curly-haired Slayer-flattening entity currently mourning a broken shoe within a warehouse-sized pile of rubble down the road.
Also? Dawn’s clueless and utterly innocent in all this. So Buffy’s not allowed to tell her she knew what she was getting into and please buzz off.
“No pressure,” the monk gasps. (No, he doesn’t actually. He just drops this whopping extra load of responsibility on Buffy’s already-laden shoulders and dies.)
Personally, if I were going to send the Slayer a new dependent, I’d take a look at her life and consider making it Ken the Obscenely Well-Heeled and Thoroughly Adorable Stepdad. The kind of guy they could all remember Joyce marrying two years ago. Maybe he owns an armored car company, or a wildly successful flamethrower distribution franchise. He loves Joyce, long walks on the beach, handing over fists full of cash and driving his stepchildren to the graveyard for patrol. In his spare time, Ken designs fashionable yet affordable boots that have pop-out wooden spikes in the heels.
No, those monks aren’t practical at all, are they? Buffy sucks it up: goes home, apologizes to Dawn, and then joins her in a deep funkish worry about what might be wrong with their mother.
By the end of “No Place Like Home,” we essentially know everything about Dawn. It’s an entertaining and action-packed explanation for something we’d been wondering about, back when it aired, for weeks. The thing we’re unclear now on is this: how badass is Glory, really?
Next: Hey, Tara! You can choose your friends, but... you know the rest, right?
A.M. Dellamonica has kaboodles of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.