Wednesday, July 14, 2010

#13: Dawn

Poor, misunderstood Dawnie. An amazingly complex storyline, wherein she is in fact a bundle of ancient energy capable of opening a portal between dimensions, turned into human flesh using Buffy's blood by a group of monks and inserted into Buffy's family, and into the memories of everyone involved with Buffy, as her little sister in order to keep 'The Beast', a banished god from a hell dimension, from finding her and using her in order to return home to her own dimension, slowly gels across Season Five, but initially, when she is introduced with a word-count of one ('Mom!') in Marti Noxon's "Buffy vs. Dracula" (Michelle Trachtenberg's sole appearance outside of the main cast), she is thrust into the story with no explanation whatsoever, appearing for all the world like an example of the Hollywood cliché of sticking a previously-unknown family member into a tired franchise to give it some new life.

In all probability, the writers intended to play with that hackneyed device, before introducing the elements of the storyline by which Dawn becomes a central part of the season's storyline. "Real Me", the following episode, is the proper introduction to the character, though her 637 words (147 on-screen and 490 in a voice-over to her diary) are merely enough to get her a number three ranking. This presents the single most amazing stat about Dawn: in 66 episodes, every episode of the final three seasons, Dawn never on a single occasion gets a number-one ranking. There is no episode of Buffy in which Dawn says more dialogue than any other character. Three number threes, seven number twos, but no number ones. Always a bridesmaid... Unsurprisingly, number-thirteen Dawn is the highest-ranking character in the Buffyverse never to have had a single number-one episode (she's the highest-ranking character to have had less than three).

This might have to do with the fact that, while Dawn is a constant presence, she's all too infrequently given much to do in the Buffyverse. An average word-count of 243 words belies the fact that, outside of the occasions where she features in the plot, her word-count is frequently much lower than that. There are in fact sixteen episodes in which she speaks fewer than a hundred words.

In 'her season', Season Five, Dawn says the sixth-largest number of words of anyone in the season. She ranks number three in the aforementioned "Real Me" and also in "The Body", where she speaks a mere 352 words mourning the death of her mother. The following episode, "Forever", is more properly a Dawn episode, and the 644 words she speaks gives her a number-two ranking. Her highest word count in the season is 868, in "Blood Ties", the episode where she discovers the truth about herself. This is still a number two, however, lagging behind Buffy's 950 words.

A sense of arrested development mars Dawn's contribution to Season Six, where she appears all too frequently to be gratingly petulant. While petulance is excusable given the circumstances of her life and upbringing, Dawn's character could have benefited greatly from a greater sense of balance, if some of the growth she exhibits in Season Seven were more apparent in this season. Nonetheless, she ranks number six once again this season, with one number three, "Wrecked", where Willow's magicoholism threatens Dawn's life, and two number twos, "All the Way", a definite "Dawn episode" where her meagre 472 word count belies the fact that she's on-screen for most of the episode and is a mere three words less than Buffy's number-one ranking 475 words, and "Afterlife", rather surprisingly her highest performance of the season with 539 words despite not being in any way a 'Dawn episode'.

In Season Seven, a more grown-up Dawn begins to make tangible contributions to the Scoobies, even though she's all but a non-entity in as many as half of the season's episodes. Once again, for a third and final time, she ranks number six, her three consecutive number-six finished perhaps fodder for those who see her as the Devil. In fact, her word-count per season is remarkably consistent: 5225 words, 5556 words, and 5467 words. She ranks number two on three distinct episodes in which she plays a crucial role: “Lessons”, where she receives lessons on fighting from Buffy and settles into her new high school with a bump or two, the excellent “Potential”, by far Michelle Trachtenberg's best performance in the role, with 787 words, and “Him”, where Dawn (and three other Scoobies) fall under a love spell. In this performance, Dawn says 1030 words, her most by far, and still doesn't capture the number-one spot, far behind Buffy's 1405 words.

“Yeah, Buffy, what are we gonna do now?” With this words, spoken by Dawn, the seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to an end. The fact that Dawn says the final words in the whole series certainly suggests that she came out of it alive, and she has a greatly increased role in the comic book Season Eight.
  • Overall ranking: #13
  • Ranking on Buffy: #7
  • Total words spoken on Buffy: 16,262
    • Season 5: 5225
    • Season 6: 5556
    • Season 7: 5467
  • Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 66
    • Ranking #2: 7
    • Ranking #3: 3
    • Ranking #4: 5
    • Ranking #5: 3
    • Minor: 49
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