Nov. 13th, 2013 | 05:55 pm
BTVS Season 6: Goddamnit Willow
There’s been a lot of Willow (BtVS) on my dash lately and since what I see on the internet pretty much determines what I think about on a minute-to-minute basis, there has also been a lot of Willow on my mind lately. Specifically Willow/Tara, because when I think about Willow these days I generally think about Tara, because they were the actual first canon lesbian ship I ever saw on TV.
I’m a human being, and arguably even one with a heart and feelings. Therefore, I crumbled into a pile of feels the first time and every subsequent time I heard Tara say the words “Can’t you just be kissing me right now?” But that whole season 6 Willow arc makes me more and more uncomfortable the older I get. Personally, I like season 6, but pretty much for the sole reason that it makes me weep like a baby every other episode and I can sometimes confuse tears with quality. But the Willow arc is just really poorly done to the point of being almost dangerous.
Here lies my disclaimer: This gets pretty anti-Willow. And as a result, anti-Willow/Tara. And anti-BtVS in that I am critical of some writing decisions. Proceed with caution.
I liked Willow. I liked that she started as a victim, but found her own power and built a place for herself in a pretty terrifying world. She was a whiny nerd, but she was brave to a fault. I liked her. And I like her again in season 7 when they remember how to write her. But season 6 Willow is not a good person.
Because the real issue, the story they began to tell, was of an addiction to power and privilege. Willow was more powerful than everybody, so she did want she wanted. And she could do want she wanted easily using magic, so she leaned heavily on that. Magic was just a crutch for the real issue. Her “addiction” to magic was actually more similar to person’s “addiction” to using their smartphone than to the drug addiction the show eventually turned it into in an effort to make Willow more forgiveable (“The magic made me do it!”)
The events leading up to Tara’s breaking up with Willow were not about a dependency on magic so much as an addiction to getting her own way. Willow’s offenses were not about magic, they were about consent.
Not irrelevant to the conversation is that Willow is well aware that Tara has a history of having her power taken away from her, first by her family and then again by Glory. Villains, all of them. But Willow is a good guy, right? But then they have a fight. Willow is using too much magic (I guess this argument is the jumping off point into the whole “magic is a drug” rabbit hole, but at this stage it was just a tool.) Specifically, Tara took issue with Willow’s wanting to shift an entire bar full of people into an alternate dimension just to see if Dawn was there, which seems like a fairly reasonably objection. Worth noting, this fight ends with Tara asking Willow if she’d prefer Tara to just “keep my mouth shut?” and Willow responds that it would “be a good start.” So she finds a way to make Tara “keep her mouth shut.” Like, have you ever had somebody do something that upsets you terribly, and then have that person apologize with “Sorry we got into a fight”? Basically they are saying they don’t want you to be mad at them but they are unwilling to take any responsibility or to reconsider their actions. That is pretty much what Willow does when she erases Tara’s memory, except she doesn’t even leave Tara with the ability to stay mad and stand up for herself. She completely removes Tara’s agency. Then, when Tara finds out and explicitly tells Willow that this was a “violation” and was not at all okay, Willow goes ahead and does it again.
Make no mistake: this is why they broke up. Willow repeatedly denied Tara her ability to give educated consent to anything. Willow was using too much magic, sure, but Tara didn’t break up with her over using magic to do the dishes. She broke up with her for using magic to control her mind. Ten episodes later, Warren uses a mind control device on Katrina to make her “love” him, and effectively seals his fate as an irredeemable character.
The next arc is just so stupid and on-the-nose and completely loses the script. Suddenly, Willow is actually straight-up “addicted to magic”. Like, going to a dealer to get high on magic. Actually. Like, what show were the writers watching? This was never how magic worked on this show. The whole thing is just shot through with holes. Magic is not a drug, it is a tool. Most of Willow’s spells were useful, but some were unnecessarily dangerous, and sometimes there was just no reason to use magic when you could just use a computer. Risk versus reward. You don’t quit power saws cold turkey, but maybe you don’t need one to slice your pizza, you know? And then they encourage her to use computers instead of magic, which is so off base because her problem in the first place was being power-hungry. Encouraging her to become a hacker won’t make her less power-hungry, it will just make her less… washed. And even if we can pretend that we never saw an episode of this show prior to All The Way and suspend disbelief that magic is indeed a drug, the Willow/Tara thing still doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. If magic is a drug, Tara isn’t a second-hand victim of Willow’s “using”, she’s a person that Willow actively dosed. She’s Zoey Bartlet to Willow’s Jean Paul. Was anybody in the entire world rooting for those two crazy kids to get back together?
And the result of that arc is that whole time, everybody is just like “The magic, the magic, the magic!” And they only ever ask her about the magic, and blame her for the magic, and eventually forgive her for the magic. Including Tara. And nobody ever mentions the fact that “Under Your Spell” happened when Tara was unable to give informed consent, and Willow was completely aware of that fact.
With that in mind, the entire Dark Willow thing loses any romance it ever had, because it just winds up reading like the world’s worst temper tantrum. The universe took away her favorite toy, so she’s gonna smash its Barbie Dream Earth to smithereens. It’s gross.
I just don’t know. I don’t doubt that Willow loved Tara. But she abused her. Repeatedly and terribly, and in exactly the way Tara was most vulnerable. For me, this ship is sunk. And I’m pretty sad about it.
I’ve had a similar journey. The older I get, the more uncomfortable I’ve become with how Willow and Tara ended - not because Tara died (though don’t get me started on how much that still hurts) but because of their reconciliation.
I’ve grown to love S6 because of the deep and serious issues it gets to- how it peeled away our heroes, getting at the deepest things they hide from themselves and each other, until there’s almost nothing left. It’s brutal and gutwrenching to watch, but also really good storytelling because here’s the thing - none of it comes out of the blue. All of the serious issues Buffy, Xander, and Willow go through are things that have either been hinted at or blantantly expressed throughout the first five seasons. I’m totally on board with the Willow character development throughout the series save for two things: her abuse of Tara and the latter half of S7 when she’s complicant in kicking Buffy out of her own house. (Xander too, I mean, in what world would that have EVER ever happened? None.) And also don’t get me wrong, Willow is still one of my favorite characters. I love her to pieces precisely because she is this complex, deep character filled with fascinating contradictions and opposites, but mostly because even after everything she still chooses to do good. Willow, unlike the other Scoobies has essentially unlimited possibilities and choice, yet she doesn’t give up. Willow’s story is all about learning her lessons the hard way, how she overcomes them, and lets them define her in the best possible ways.
Magic-as-addiction was a shitshow. It’s not an appropriate metaphor, not just because it was dealt with horribly and sends the worst possible messages about addition , but because it was completely made up. It went against everything the writers ever done before, never how it worked on the show. “Magic is not a drug, its a tool.” Exactly. And that’s where they screwed up Willow, because it really absolved her of the bulk of the responsibility of her actions. It’s not that she was manipulative and abusive, no, it was all because she was “addicted to magic”. Wrong-O.
What bothers me most about S6 isn’t at the end when Willow ‘becomes’ evil, it’s earlier when she violates Tara. It’s completely sickening. The worst part is the fact that Willow “is well aware that Tara has a history of having her power taken away from her, first by her family and then again by Glory.” She’s aware of how Tara’s family abused her and how Glory violated her - and Willow turns around and does the exact same thing. It’s nauseating and by far the worst transgression she ever made on the show, far more than her vengeful rage at the end of the season.
And the worst part is, I don’t think it had to go like that. I’m right on board with the storytelling decisions made at the end of S6. All of Dark Willow had been so wonderfully built up since S1, and Tara’s unfortunate death as the catalyst is appropriate. But I don’t think the addiction plotline was the way to go, and I certainly don’t think Willow needed to become abusive toward Tara for it to get there. Because remember, it isn’t even Tara leaving her that gets Will to realize her mistakes. It’s hurting Dawn. If Tara leaving isn’t the catalyst, then what was the point of writing in the abuse? Tara could have still left over Willow’s over- and inappropriate use of magic. Even if she had stayed, Tara’s death would have still catapulted Willow into Dark Willow - we’ve seen what Willow’s vengeful behavior looks like after Tara comes to harm, and when she goes after Glory in ‘Tough Love’, it was not only while her and Tara were still together, but after their first fight. The reconciliation at the end of ‘Entropy’, makes it all the more bitter, but no less utterly tragic and unfair.
What I’ve come to realize as I get older is that I’m not sure if Tara should have reconciled with Willow. I’m not sure Willow’s actions could ever be forgiven. Understood and acknowledged? Sure. Willow’s cruel, unspeakable actions to Tara just make me ill. I don’t understand how people find so much joy in “Under Your Spell”, because knowing under what conditions it happens ruins any happiness I can derive from the song or other scenes. Willow’s smile as she leans over Tara in bed morphs into a sickening smirk and I have to turn away.
What’s unfortunate is that few fanfics deal appropriately with the issue, let alone repair it. And I’m not sure it can be repaired. It gets so much more difficult and complicated over time. I have a harder and harder time deriving joy and entertainment at fics that do have a reconciled Willow and Tara either pre- or post-‘Seeing Red’, and it’s really a shame. My feelings are so very torn and while I ship Willow and Tara with a fierce love and deep passion, and while the ship isn't sunk for me, it’s become increasingly problematic and difficult to deal with.
And what really hurts the most is that it didn’t have to be that way.
Getting past Dark Willow is a lot easier than getting past Abusive Willow.
Dark Willow was a deliberate choice to go down an unforgiving and self-destructive road that Willow never wanted to return from. But Abusive Willow should have known better. She still did terrible, unforgivable wrong to the person she loved the most. Willow became an abuser, to a person she’d known to have been abused on multiple occasions - not just by Gods and monsters, but by people she was supposed to love and trust, people who were supposed to protect her. And at that first memory spell (I’d even argue that moment at the club, “That’d be a good start”) she became worse than Glory, worse than the Maclays.
And for that, I don’t know if Willow can be forgiven.
Nov. 9th, 2013 | 10:33 pm
windows, scar, trust (max of 350 words)
(takes place in the Lotus 'verse)
Tara was wary of windows. Not all of them, just the one.
She was surprised at how delicately a window could shatter. Sometimes in the morning, Tara would hear the pane break, sounding almost like a light twinkling and in any other world it would have reminded her of a wind chime.
But in this place she only saw blood and a question.
Since Spike had told her the truth, that it was her who had gotten shot not Willow, Tara would often dip a finger under the collar of her shirt and absentmindedly trace the area over her heart. She didn't understand it, how there was no scar. No mark to show what had transpired, just a expanse of skin as smooth as her memory.
Months ago, she'd stood in front of the same window in their bedroom, deciding what to do about Willow. Tara knew she was strong enough to leave her, to leave everything she'd ever known. She'd done it once before, after all. But Tara wasn't sure about Willow. No, she was sure about Willow and the sinking feeling in her stomach was why she hesitated. But in the end, that was why Tara had to leave and she knew it.
She'd stood, arms crossed, a hand resting over her heart, staring emptily into backyard. Had part of her known even then? Had Willow been her scar, the way she quaked through Tara's being?
Tara remembers when things were simple. When trust had been given without hesitation and the lines were clearer. It seems so far away now, knowing the terrible, dark things Willow was capable of, but she hopes - Tara hopes, with everything in her and without - that this spell will bring her back. That it'll give them the opportunity to make new, to fix things that had gone so horribly, horribly wrong.
Willow said she'd always find her. It's time Tara returned the favor.
Nov. 9th, 2013 | 02:27 pm
The Who wants to be a Buffy beta? I will bake you cookies. It involves the whole gang, a god or two, a spiritual dimension, some plot, and a lot of character study.
I will bake you cookies.
Nov. 5th, 2013 | 03:10 pm
- Bold all of the following TV shows of which you've seen 3 or more episodes.
- Italicize a show if you're positive you've seen every episode.
- Asterisk * if you have at least one full season on tape or DVD
- If you want, add up to 3 additional shows (keep the list in alphabetical order).
21 Jump Street
All in the Family
America’s Next Top Model
Are You Afraid of the Dark
Are You Being Served?
Ashes to Ashes
Babylon 5: Crusade
Battlestar Galactica (the old one)
Battlestar Galactica (the new one)
Being Human - UK
Being Human - US
Beavis & Butthead
Beauty and the Beast
Beverly Hills 90210
Boy Meets World
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Buffy the Vampire Slayer*
Clarissa Explains It All
The Colbert Report
Commander in Chief
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Dancing with the Stars
Dead Like Me
Degrassi: The Next Generation
Dharma & Greg
Doctor Who (1963 - 1986)
Doctor Who (2005)
Everybody Loves Raymond
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Facts of Life
Freaks and Geeks*
Friday Night Lights
Game of Thrones
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
Hardcastle & McCormick
Highlander: The Raven
Homicide: Life on the Street
I Dream of Jeannie
I Love Lucy
Jeeves and Wooster
Just Shoot Me
Land of the Lost
Laverne and Shirley
Law & Order
Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Life on Mars
Life With Derek
Little House on the Prairie
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Lost in Space
Love, American Style
Malcolm in the Middle
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Married... With Children
Mork & Mindy
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
My Life as a Dog
My Little Pony
My Name is Earl
My So-Called Life
My Super Sweet 16
My Three Sons
My Two Dads
One Tree Hill
Parks and Recreation*
Phil of the Future
Queer As Folk (US)
Queer as Folk (UK)
Rocco’s Modern Life
Robin of Sherwood
Salute Your Shorts
Saved by the Bell
Scarecrow and Mrs King
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
Sex and the City
Six Feet Under
Slings and Arrows
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Enterprise
Starsky and Hutch
That 70’s Show
That’s So Raven
The Addams Family
The Adventures of Pete and Pete
The Andy Griffith Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Bionic Woman
The Brady Bunch
The Cosby Show
The Daily Show
The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd
The Dead Zone
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Dresden Files
The Famous Jett Jackson
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Golden Girls
The Invisible Man
The L Word
The Love Boat
The Lucille Ball Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Mighty Boosh
The Muppet Show
The Office (UK)
The Office (US)*
The Real World
The Six Million Dollar Man
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody
The Twilight Zone
The Vicar of Dibley
The West Wing*
The White Queen
3rd Rock from the Sun
Thunderbirds are Go!
Two and A Half Men
Under the Umbrella Tree
Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?
Whose Line is it Anyway? (US)
Whose Line is it Anyway? (UK)
Will and Grace
Without a Trace
WKRP in Cincinnati
Xena: Warrior Princess
You Can't Do That on Television
Nov. 1st, 2013 | 03:35 pm
Oct. 28th, 2013 | 10:12 pm
Oct. 28th, 2013 | 07:31 pm
I want to talk about Willow and love, and how that factors into her identity. Willow's lack of core identity is discussed all over the place. It manifests itself in numerous ways throughout the series and can be analyzed in a number of lights. Restless is extremely popular in its analysis of Willow’s dream and is talked about in various metas as well as academic essays. But I want to focus on Jes Battis’ essay from the Slayage journal, “She’s Not All Grown Yet”. In it, Battis aims to deconstruct Willow and notes that “Willow, who has been overshadowed by Buffy… has also shadowed her, and at times, eclipsed her.” This idea comes up at later points in the article, but it’s an important one to start with.
So Battis starts with the fractured identity idea, that “Willow reflects all that her friends imagine her to be.” She’s Xander’s childhood friend, the awkward nerd, the novice magician, the computer whiz, the academic, Buffy’s best friend, one of Dawn’s surrogate moms, the powerful, dark-eyed witch, etc; But:
"Willow inhabits all of these subjectivities, and none of them make her as legible as the other characters in the show, because she can move so quickly and seamlessly between them. Willow—alone among the Scoobies—has the power to choose between redemptive and destructive behavior. She is not bound by prophecy (like Buffy), or mediocrity (like Xander) or logic and propriety (like Giles). She is free, and thus, completely dislocated, bewildered and confused. For no identity satisfies her, no power can ever truly embody her, and after losing herself in ‘dark’ magic, no amount of atonement can erase the memory of what she inflicted on others through word and deed. Her hybridity, her ability to choose, comes with the loss of any meaningful sense of belonging, intimacy or certainty. Like Buffy, she is faced with the knowledge that she doesn’t know "how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away. I just don’t see the point" (Buffy 5022). But, also like Buffy, she knows that the illusion of safety, of a morally-governed universe, of a destiny not eclipsed by suffering and most likely death, is her only comfort. And it is, after all, the maintenance and defense of any human certainty, however small, that drives these characters to avert apocalypse season after season…the continual realization that the world itself is worth saving, that causes them to fight, even against themselves.”
This is a powerful statement in that it places Buffy and Willow on equal footing in terms of power and choice (if not more, considering in the end, Willow has both more power and more choice than Buffy does). It also echoes Battis’ earlier point that Willow eclipses Buffy. She first does so in S5 as the only formidable power against Glory, and it’s continued through the end of the series in S7 as she alone has the ability to unlock the entire Slayer line, something without which, Buffy and the others would have surely been defeated by The First’s army. Destiny may not play into Willow’s identity, but after “Choices”, Willow is ruled by the same difficult decisions and responsibility that Buffy has. And after S6, her place amongst them is even in more flux as Willow is indeed the most powerful of them all.
The crux of Battis’ essay for me comes down to this part:
"Who is Willow? And, perhaps more accurately, why does she matter? As has been discussed, it is Willow’s ambiguity that makes her interesting as a character—her lack of positioning that makes her the object of theoretical debate. She is Buffy’s twilight sister and confidante, yet has the mystical power to destroy the Slayer. She is dismissive of Xander’s friendship and foibles, yet all of her rage, grief and desire for vengeance cannot withstand his brilliant, calm declaration of unconditional love. She is the academic equal—and mystical superior—to Giles, yet it is Giles who ‘teaches’ her to reaccess her lost humanity by reminding her that she is part of a vast, organic system. In short, Willow resents her surrogate family, yet is informed by them, and desperately needs to anchor her free-floating subject to what she assumes are their ‘solid’ identities."
It’s here I actually jump toward introducing a quote from Jackie Kessler’s essay “Going Dark”because its only by looking at two things against each other that my thoughts truly come together.
"Villains are like heroes in one major way: there must be some fatal weakness. Willow Rosenberg’s weakness is she needs to be loved. Not just any love would do, not for a fatal weakness. It has to be Fairy Tale Love, true love, the sort that makes you feel like anything is possible. Tara and Willow were the power couple of the series. They showed that no matter what, love conquered all. So of course, they had to be ripped apart. Fatal gunshot. No backsies fatal. Heroes have to suffer, remember? Willow’s love to Tara was the real deal - so much so, it defined Willow, shaped her and nearly destroyed her.
But just as love shattered Willow into Dark Willow, it was also love that brought Willow Rosenberg back to herself. Not romantic love, but a true love all the same: the love that Xander Harris has for his lifelong best friend. Xander’s love for Willow - this pure, unquestionable love - brings her back from the brink.
Willow Rosenberg needed to be loved. It’s her weakness….and, ultimately, her strength.”
Willow’s issues of identity are in conflated against with what drives her. But not, really, because in many ways they are the same. Battis’ point is that Willow’s many identities are a result of how her friends see her and how they impose roles upon her. Willow in turn needs them to define her. Most see this as a weakness, but I don’t necessarily think this is the case. Yes, she gets into a lot of trouble in how her identity matches up against her case of self-worth but again, those issues aren’t the same. How she measures her self-worth is in relation to her identity, to the context of how she relates to the people around her.
But here’s the secret that a lot of people ignore, I think: they all do. That’s the beautiful thing about the Scoobies! They derive love and worth, strength and stability from their relationships to each other- their places, their roles. And how they’re both limited and surpass these roles is what makes them all great.
For Giles, Buffy, and Xander, their roles might not be defined by each other but their senses of worth and love absolutely are. Buffy will always be the Slayer no matter where she is, Giles will always be a Watcher and teacher no matter who his Slayer is, and Xander will never have a superpower no matter how many superpeople he surrounds himself with. But Buffy’s one of the best and long-lived Slayers precisely because she’s in Sunnydale and she surrounded herself with friends and family. Because she doesn’t go at it alone. Giles doesn’t just do his duty as a Watcher, he becomes one of the best Watchers because of Buffy. Because of what she challenges him to do and how much he loves her and the rest of the Scoobies. They make him into Giles, not just a Watcher but their Watcher. Xander, a human with no powers either physical or magical nonetheless guides a group of the most powerful forces of good on earth. He saves the world with his heart and loyalty. He’s not super-powered, but through the Scoobies, becomes extraordinary. How well they all succeed and grow depends on each other. This is no different than how Willow operates. Her roles are just in a much greater state of flux.
I disagree with Battis’ idea that she resents her surrogate family for this. If anything, they ultimately provide the structure to become herself. To find herself. To discover what it means to “Just be Willow.” It’s only when all her options are laid bare, when she sees everything she was and can be –the good and bad of what she is capable of - that she is free to be able to truly decide who she wants to be.
Willow might have reflected identity, but she also craves the structure of what’s projected and expected of her. It’s how she learns to navigate (and arguably has her entire life, she craves rules because they’re clear and she can understand them). And this is where the Jackie Kessler quote becomes important, that love is Willow’s greatest weakness and biggest strength. Love is at the crux of who she is. It’s her love of her friends that she breaks boundaries - both good and bad. To help them. To protect them. To save them. To hurt them. She is defined by them most out of everyone, but also defined by their love. Love is Willow’s weakness. She reflects it and is reflected upon. She loves Buffy, Xander, Giles, Oz, Dawn, Tara, fiercely, open and unabashedly in everything she does. Does it get her into trouble? Absolutely. But it also saves not only their lives, but the entire world on numerous occasions. (It also almost caused her to end it, but isn’t that what makes this entire thing so juicy and fascinating?) It turn, it is their love in return she needs in order to survive.
The problem is that deep down, Willow doesn’t believe she’s truly lovable. It’s what makes her crave their love even more, why she clings to it, because without it she thinks she’s nothing. This is what Dark Willow is about. She’s about pain and breaking all the boundaries she was afraid to toe before, in fear that to do so would mean losing the love of her friends. It’s only in the face of blind love, where forgiveness doesn’t even matter, that Willow can be saved.
The tragic irony is that once Willow finally realizes she’s loved no matter what, she honestly, truly doesn’t believe she’s worthy of it. That once she realizes she’s had it the whole time, she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.
Willow is composed of extremes: selflessness and selfishness; adorable and dangerous; bright, shining optimism and a destructive, dark, deep meaningless emptiness.
All the more indicative, then, that they write her character becoming a witch.* It’s no coincidence that she becomes involved with magic. Magic “is all about emotional control” and Willow’s never been good when it comes to emotional extremes. Willow’s magics are intimately connected with her emotions and when she is at either extreme on the spectrum, it has powerful consequences. And it’s only by experiencing both extremes that Willow can find her way between them. There’s only two ways to gain wisdom, pain and time. And Willow always learns the most important lessons the hard way.
Love is who she is and what she does. For good and for bad, all her motivations, actions, and problems result from it. It is both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s what she sacrifices herself for time and time again. It’s what destroyed her and ultimately, what saves her.
I recommend this essay and also anything else the author writes about Buffy. There’s also good discussion in the comments, so be sure to explore there, too.
Oct. 23rd, 2013 | 08:20 am
Pairing: Willow/Tara, Willow, Buffy
Disclaimer: I own none, all belongs to ME and Joss Whedon
Comments: Unbeta'd, sorry. Just a drabble that kinda happened last night.
Summary: Willow never planned on coming back.
Warnings/Spoilers: Season 6 finale. This is a dark drabble. Trigger warning for some. And it has a terrible title, my apologies.
She wasn't supposed to come back. She never intended to.
Never wanted it to get that far, either.
She figured Buffy would stop her long before…well. She figured Buffy would have stopped her.
Willow trusted her, Buffy was her hero.
It was cruel of her, of course, to put Buffy in that situation. To make it so she had no other choice. But desperate times call for desperate measures and Willow's never been good when it comes to desperation.
She knew what Buffy would have to do and she was counting on it. Willow had hoped Buffy would be her hero to the end.
But now she's still here, and things are hard - so much harder than she ever thought possible.
They've come full circle, really, she supposes. Now she's the one resenting Buffy for the life she has. The one she's stuck with. Because Willow threw herself into the abyss but Buffy stopped it from swallowing her. She let her do terrible things…
It was never supposed to get that far. Willow had counted on her.
She never planned on coming back.
Oct. 7th, 2013 | 07:17 pm
So I want to talk about magic and Willow, the period where she goes from competent to powerful and why, and how it gets her lost.
Willow’s role throughout the show changes more frequently than any other character* and as such it gets her into some trouble. Granted, Willow’s got her personality traits that play into this: recklessness (like Xander though, this is not always a fault), manipulative, controlling, but also bravery, intelligence, loyalty, and strength. But her traits are not the only root to her problems. Yes, they’re huge factors, but others come into play as well. It’s the mix of the two that cause her downfall.
In particular I’m thinking about the character development and action in Season 5 that leads to Season 6.
Throughout the early half of Season 5, we see Willow’s skills develop as a witch. No longer is she struggling to float a pencil or get soupy potions. Right at the get go of the season, she effortlessly makes fire (while she hasn’t mastered it yet - see her comment about balancing the elements and the following immediate rainstorm) she’s obviously improved greatly. But, her attitude about magic isn’t yet out of control here. She doesn’t take cavalier attitudes (except as could be interpreted in “Shadow” when Willow appears interested to help Joyce through magic.)
She does no overly powerful spells - either with Tara or by herself - nothing on a different level from what we’ve already seen her do (Angelus’ resouling spell aside, which is a whole other bag of beans) until the second half of the season. We do, however, get an inkling of Willow’s changing attitudes in regards to witchcraft when she pulls out the book for Dawn on resurrection spells following Joyce’s death. Though not fully formulated at this point, it hints that she’s willing to use magics to alter life to ease one’s pain. This is the moment that sends warning bells ringing in Tara’s ears and she confronts Willow about it in Tough Love. Getting defensive (but not unjustly so), Wilow manipulates the argument from use of her magics to questions about her sexuality and dedication to Tara, both of which I think she knows are ridiculous and don’t hold any weight. It’s an entirely weird argument, I don’t think Tara doubts Willow’s love for her at all and neither does Willow about Tara’s. Nor, do I believe, Willow was acting that recklessly in use of magics, though her attitude towards it is something that’s obviously rightfully foreshadowed and “Forever” is where that starts.
What I think Tara is concerned about (but wasn’t really expressed well on the show) is that Willow has gotten extremely powerful in just a few short years. I mean, c’mon, her first successful spell was resouling a freaking vampire. Magical practitioners who train for years couldn’t do that. It foreshadows her power. But right now, mid-S5, Will’s not quite there yet. In a bit we’ll take a closer look at the specific moments where we get from Willow who concentrates to start a fire to a Willow who can summon things from the air, raise the dead, etc;
I’ve already talked about Tough Love and Willow’s reactions somewhat in this post, so I don’t want to repeat too much of that. Instead I wanted to move forward from that, into Willow’s deliberate choices afterwards.
The first time we see Willow’s eyes go black is at the end of Tough Love when she goes after Glory. It’s…not a smart move. But Willow also knows this. She’s smart, she knows going up against a God is foolhardy, but it’s not about winning the fight. It’s about making one. It’s about releasing all of her own pain and anger onto someone else, which is something Willow does on multiple occasions. (See this interesting meta about the Buffy/Willow == internal/external dynamics) Here, Willow is reckless because she can, because she’s hurting, because no one needs her. Tara’s gone, Buffy and Giles are still the leaders of the pack and no one’s counting on her.
When Willow runs to the Magic Shop and tears apart the shelves looking for the dark magic books, she’s not messing around. She knows exactly what she’s doing. As we know, she’s very smart. This moment I think echoes into the climax of S6, when on her rampage Willow says to Buffy, “I’m not coming back.” I think this is that first moment. This is when it happens. There’s no hesitation in her movements when she takes the axe and smashes open the book, not even a flicker in her eye. Right here, Willow expects to not come back from what she’s about to do. This moment and the one in S6 are effectively one and the same. It was her magics that failed to save Tara in time - not getting there fast enough, not being able to remember the words (or needing to remember the words at all), before Glory left Tara blank and empty on the bench. That dreadful sense of helplessness fuels Willow from that moment until the end of the series. And knowing she had the power to change that, that she didn’thave to be helpless is what changes from here on out.
But Buffy does save her from Glory in time. And from there, the choices seem easier- easier to justify, easier to make- because from now on Willow isn’t reckless. She turns to the same dark magics and ups the power, ups the risk, ups the danger, because the entire world and her friends are counting on her.
And in the next two episodes, “Spiral” and “Weight of the World”, everything changes.
This is when Willow pushes herself because she realizes she has to. Because if she doesn’t, everything will literally fall apart and be destroyed. The lines are much easier to recognize when they’re life and death, when the choice is to do black magic to put up a barrier against a god or die. Willow’s shown to be willing to put herself in harm’s way for the greater good - pushing herself with the teleportation spell in 5.13 despite headaches and nosebleeds, and using whatever means necessary to protect and help them all later on, even if it’s dark magics.
In 5.20 “Spiral”, after the gang barely makes it to the abandoned building, they’re immediately attacked. As flaming arrows come flying into the walls, all Buffy does is shout “Willow!” and she erects a barrier for protection. No questions asked. It needs to be done. Her eyes are black. And when Glory tries to leave, Willow delves back into the dark magics again and thickens the barrier.
In 5.21 “Weight of the World”, Willow steps up and leads. She does so calmly and decisively, giving jobs to everyone, coming up with a plan. She gets them to save themselves and then she’ll save Buffy because that’s what Willow does. It’s in S5 that Willow proves she’s not a sidekick. She’s a peer.
Something I find interesting in 5.21 is the scene with Anya before Willow goes into Buffy’s mind. Here, Anya expresses true concern at what Willow’s about to do. Not because it’s the wrong thing to do but because it’s dangerous and she’s worried for Buffy and Willow’s safety. It’s a solemn transaction, one where Anya is uncharacteristically soft and gentle and it’s because she’s afraid. It was a too-short moment that hinted at a potential friendship that never happened on the show.
The spell Willow does to reach Buffy isn’t dark - her eyes never change color, the main indicator of dark magics on the show. It is, however, powerful and rather unknown. Willow hacks spells the way she hacked computers. (e.g.; the teleportation spell in 5.13 “Still working out the kinks.”) It’s not an established spell, and not an insignificant one either. Time and time again in S5 alone, Giles remarks at Willow’s abilities at doing spells far beyond her level. He does so in 5.13 when Willow does the teleportation spell on Glory and again in 5.21 when she psychically reaches Buffy, “Its extraordinarily advanced.” Unlike the last advanced spell she tried - only 8 episodes ago - Willow suffers no physical repercussions. No nosebleeds, no headaches.
I’m going to skip ahead here - Buffy comes out of the coma, blah blah, Willow restores Tara’s mind, yay yay, Dawn bleeds, sad sad, Buffy beats Glory, yay yay, but Buffy dies, sad sad, Buffy’s alive again (again), yay yay - and now it’s Season 6.
From the moment Willow steps up in “Spiral”, she holds onto that control for a while, give or take three months. Buffy’s return after her coma is short lived because by the end of the day, she’s dead. But when Buffy comes back for real, Willow’s no longer in charge again. She’s lost her control, the one she sacrificed so much of herself to achieve. So what does Willow do? She makes bad choices, ones that might have been clearer to make or not not make with need, with reason. But the need for Willow’s power and Willow’s control diminishes once Buffy comes back and Willow doesn’t know how to relinquish the control she does have. She has no guide for this. Her desire to help overpowers her sense of whats right and wrong and so the lines blur. For Willow, like Giles, (remember Eyghon?), it started out by the ends justifying the means. But in the end, the means end up controlling and blinding her. The magic is conflated into her emotional issues - her need for love, for purpose, for control, etc;
What’s interesting to think about here is that Willow’s greatest fear was not having control of the magics- S3’s “Fear, Itself” taught us that. Not only was she afraid of losing control, but also that she’d be useless to help. Weak. When Buffy calls Willow out for only being 50/50 in the magic department, she gets angry. “I’m not your sidekick!” Willow doesn’t want to be the damsel in distress. She wants to help. The rest of the episode taunts her for not being able to do the magics needed to help them. Her helpful firefly lights attack her and drive her away, literally taunting her.
Willow is good because she understands her place. She’s not Buffy’s sidekick, but she stands by her side. But when Buffy’s gone, when Willow has to take Buffy’s place and take over her responsibilities, she does so without complaint, without expecting anything in return. That was the choice she made back at the end of S3 in Choices. Willow made her choice. But when Buffy comes back in S6, Willow doesn’t understand exactly what new role she’s supposed to resume. It’s not the same one as before - she’s much more capable and strong than she was before, magically speaking.
That’s where it really starts to unravel. Where her attitude about magic becomes completely cavalier, the lines having broken down and grown more confusing over the course of a few months. Don’t get me wrong, the potential for Willow’s descent into darkness was always there - she’d been manipulative in other ways beforehand - but we can see how it’s not always so simple. How if things had been different, Willow might not ever have made the choices she did, or she might have recognized them sooner, or a million other things. Willow’s not right. But the blame doesn’t lay solely with her either.
Giles should have recognized the road Willow was walking down. He’d headed down there himself. Despite watching her immense growth, he never intervenes or tires to guide her at all, until it’s too late. Until she’s already a “rank, arrogant amateur”. Giles was a Watcher and he wasn’t Watching. He ignored. Giles was afraid. Giles was a coward. Giles should have helped.
Buffy needed and Buffy got. But Buffy never stopped to look at what it was doing to Willow. (Buffy was also kinda dead and seriously, legitimately depressed so we can cut her some slack for her inaction, but understanding doesn’t entirely excuse the behavior either.)
Xander should have seen. That’s what he does best. He knows his Willow. And yet he didn’t see what was happening.
Tara was afraid. Tara loved. Probably too much. Tara knew better. She tried, but not hard enough. (Raised as a witch with respect and balance towards magic and yet we never saw her try to slow things down) But, Tara also recognized what was happening long before anyone else. Tara knows her Willow. And Tara was strong enough to not let Willow abuse her anymore and so she leaves. That alone was action in the face of seasons long inaction. It ultimately wasn’t enough though, because no one saw and peeled back the issues under it all and that’s when it all explodes at the end of S6 because Willow was never forced to confront herself and her issues. (Note: she should have. That’s what all the magic development lead to but instead the writers buried it under “magic = addicting” which was an awful and useless metaphor, completely detracts from the real issues, and takes an entirely different perspective in S7 so wtf was the point?)
So moral of the story is there’s a lot going on that gets Willow from having enough power to floating pencils to ending the world and Willow isn’t alone in all of it, though she was often treated as such. She looses her way in small steps, because Buffy needed a Big Gun so she became one. There was no one to lead, so she did. And after building up to all that, the boundaries are all different and everything changes again on her. She doesn’t know how to go back. She can’t go back. And so she stumbles messily forward and gets lost on the way.
*Spike admittedly also has many different roles when it comes to the Scoobies, but he was never - and would never consider himself- one of them. that much is clearly established. so while his role changes, his relationship, for the most part, to them does not. this is not the case with Willow.
Jul. 28th, 2012 | 08:07 pm
Quinn survives the accident, more or less. This is what happens after. And then after that. The road from McKinley to Yale wasn't an easy one. It only gets harder from here.
"We're getting a divorce."
Quinn's eyebrows shoot up. "Hello to you too, Rachel."
"After months and months of couple's therapy, active listening, and so many compromises…." Rachel trails off, "It's just not going to work out."
Though a part of her had half-expected this months ago, it's been lying dormant for so long that Quinn can't help but be rocked by the news. She can't help her eyebrows from rising or the soft "Oh," that escapes. "Oh," as if it's the final piece of a truth long known but not admitted. A relieved but nevertheless disappointed "Oh,"of a future lost but never deserved; a sad, near-miss.
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