This might seem like a random choice, but what the hell.
Dawn turns, still smiling. Buffy stares at her.
Dawn stops smiling.
BUFFY: I have to talk to you.
Dawn looks apprehensive.
Shot of a hand drawing a piece of charcoal across paper.
Shot of the teacher watching.
BUFFY: (OS) What?
DAWN: Can it wait? I'm in the middle of a class.
BUFFY: I know. Please come with me.
Dawn puts down her charcoal and walks with Buffy toward the door.
DAWN: I thought Mom was picking me up.
Buffy closes the classroom door behind them as they exit into the hall.
DAWN: What's going on? Something's going on.
BUFFY: Let's go outside.
DAWN: No. Tell me what's going on.
BUFFY: It's ... bad ... news.
Dawn crosses her arms anxiously over her chest.
DAWN: Well, what is it? What happened?
Shot through the window of the classroom. Lisa and Kevin are watching. Lisa begins to walk forward.
BUFFY: It's bad. Please, can we-
DAWN: (loudly) Where's Mom?
BUFFY: (teary) Mom ... had an accident. Or, um...
Lisa walks toward the window, staring.
BUFFY: (OS) ...something went ... wrong from the tumor.
Closeup on Dawn's face. She has tears in her eyes.
DAWN: Is she okay? Is she ... but she's okay? But ... it's, it's serious, but...
DAWN: (faintly) No.
She shakes her head and backs away from Buffy.
DAWN: (faintly) No, it's not true. No, you're a liar, she's fine!
Shot of Kevin watching, looking away. Shot of the teacher.
The teacher and the other students move toward the glass and watch as Buffy kneels, trying to comfort Dawn.
Pan across to Dawn's half-finished sketch of the statue.
So, I know people usually choose Anya's speech as their waterworks moment, and for good reason, because that shit is heartrending, but this one with Dawn is the other moment of this episode that WRECKS me. And it doesn't get a lot of love, I don't know why, but here is why it kills me:
First, the discussion of negative space in Dawn's art class. Negative space. Is there more perfect imagery for human grief? I don't think it exists.
And re: negative space, what really gets to me about this scene is not so much Dawn's breaking down, though that is heartwrenching - but everybody else's reactions. These people don't know shit about Dawn, can't hear exactly what's being said in that conversation, but they know, that something unbearable has happened. That Kevin guy looks like he's gonna burst into tears, for crying out loud. (Literally.)
If there is one thing that is guaranteed to turn me incoherent, it's human compassion. Real, honest-to-God compassion for complete strangers (and let's face it, what are school peers but complete fucking strangers) -- that shit is enough to pull my wretched faith in humanity back from the brink of non-existence. (You know, to be melodramatic because who am I.) This scene is one of the best examples of it I've seen. Ever. It's not about a bunch of people offering rehearsed condolences or gifts motivated by guilt. It's not about rallying together in ~shared pain~. It's immediate, individual, silent reactions of empathy --
-- which the person inducing can't see.
And maybe that's what gets to me most of all here. They're all cut off from Dawn by that glass barrier. They are worried for her. But it doesn't matter. Dawn is really, utterly alone out in that corridor. (Well, with Buffy.)
And it's such a great exclamation point to the conversation that Dawn and Kevin are having beforehand, about how there's "way more important stuff going on", and how: "A lot of people don't understand that. Pain."
But they do.
Every human. Without exception. It is always common, and it is always unique.
This scene gets that.
-- here endeth the emotions --