Sunday, July 16, 2006

In Defence of Dawn

Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn SummersInventory: 13 Memorably Unpopular Characters From Popular TV (Tasha Robinson, AV Club)

Though I'm not familiar with every character on this list, Robinson is quite justified in her selections. For example, I love just about everything there is to love about Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I (and, I think, the majority of fans) will never be able to warm up to Wesley Crusher. However, I feel strangely obligated to defend the honour of Dawn Summers.

Robinson writes:

When Buffy Summers' "little sister" suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the show's fifth season, furious fans screamed their heads off, assuming Cousin Oliver Syndrome had kicked in. Turned out the writers were pulling something clever and self-aware, and there was a plot reason that no one had ever seen or mentioned Buffy's sister before. But that didn't stop her from being an intolerably shrill, whiny, manipulative, troublemaking little McGuffin for most of the rest of the series.

Yes, Dawn seemed to appear "out of nowhere", but only to viewers, not to the characters.

Yes, some of us screamed our heads off, but only because Buffy fans are extremely protective of the show and were concerned for the well-being of the Season 5 storyline, and when Dawn's existence was explained it took a while to come to terms with the fact that although everything that we had viewed in previous episodes was historically accurate and had really happened, the characters remembered everything differently due to their memories having been altered. In the end, I think the Dawn="The Key" storyline was generally deemed to be pretty neat.

Yes, at times Dawn was "intolerably shrill, whiny, manipulative, [and] troublemaking", but she's a little sister. I have a little sister, and from talking to other people in the same boat, this behaviour is common among younger sisters. I say, good on the writers for realistically portraying a teenage girl who doesn't have any superpowers. And I wouldn't go so far as to say she behaved in this way for "most of the rest of the series". By the end, Dawn was a great asset to the Scoobies who had occasional outbursts.

Dawn's eventual likeability is due in large part to the work of actress Michelle Trachtenberg. She managed to hold her own among everyone's favorite characters. She played the annoying little sister with great accuracy and was later given the opportunity to show of her funny side, for which she got little credit.

If asked to defend Dawn's presence around the fourth or fifth episode of Season 5, I probably would have found it difficult. Now, after three full seasons of progression, I can say that Dawn did not remain unpopular for long and does not deserve to be lumped in with characters like Wesley Crusher.

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