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Someone else should be the gun. I, I could be a cugdel! Or a pointy stick.

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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.

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Wednesday, October 9

from: livejournal
date: Oct. 10th, 2013 01:39 am (UTC)
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User oni_9 referenced to your post from Wednesday, October 9 saying: [...] Someone else should be the gun. I, I could be a cudgel! Or a pointy stick. [...]

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 10th, 2013 05:54 am (UTC)
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Hi, here via herald! Hope it's okay to comment.

I pretty much agree with everything here. I think that to understand Willow's behaviour in season six, one needs to account for how things play out in season five. I think there are a lot of places where there are deliberate parallels back and forth, and sometimes they're obvious -- like the Tough Love/Villains thing -- but sometimes they are more subtle, and sometimes they are cases in which Willow's s5 behaviour is actually good. As you mention here, the The Weight of the World mindhack into Buffy's brain is the way to save not only the world, but her friend as well; Buffy *needs* Willow to break through her shell and somehow get through to her, which means in the moment that Willow has to make some kind of transgression to get to her. In season six, Buffy's walls are up, but magic can no longer let Willow in and it's disastrous when she tries (i.e. Tabula Rasa). Bringing Tara back from Glory's mindsuck could have been impossible but Willow's unwillingness to believe that meant the end ended up saving Tara, when if she had had the personality more able to accept that bad things happen in the world which are irreversible, she might have given up. Meanwhile, Willow's definition of herself as hypercompetent with magic is partly for her own gratification and emotional stability, but partly in season five they *really, really* need her. She's getting nosebleeds for days because of the "Blood Ties" teleportation spell, but it's needed. It's not even an "ends justifies the means" situation, exactly, because I don't think "teleporting god to prevent death" is bad. If Willow weren't using magic over the summer in s6, it seems unlikely the gang would have been able to keep Sunnydale from going to biker-demon-hell for as long as they managed it. But once Buffy's back, the situation kind of flips and the biggest threats are RL-styled ones, and Willow can't and/or doesn't want to see the difference between supernatural and real-life threats, and it all comes crashing down. (A friend of mine once said that the real thing is, if Willow is the Big Gun in season 5, season six is, what happens to the big gun in peacetime?)

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zooeys_bridge

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from: zooeys_bridge
date: Oct. 11th, 2013 03:31 am (UTC)
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Oh my gosh, hi, hello, absolutely! I gotta tell ya, chuffed you're here because I'm a huge admirer of your meta and spent last week reading and digesting, clipping my favorite quotes from your discussions, and getting inspired by Buffy all over again. Brilliant stuff. I'm not new to Buffy, but I'm new to analyzing and sharing my thoughts, so I appreciate you sharing your thoughts but also being gentle with me :P

I completely agree with the S5/S6 integrations. I recently read a few interesting metas that took Xander , Buffy, and Willow that dissected the build up and break down really well.

But you basically described the problem. There's nothing inherently wrong with what Willow does in S5, and I think that's what messes her up as things progress. Willow did good. Recklessness, stubbornness, manipulation, and power aren't completely negative traits on their own. What Willow possesses allows her to push herself - to not accept things as hopeless. Without this, Tara and Buffy would have been lost, not to mention Dawn and, oh, I don't know - THE WHOLE WORLD. She refuses to accept certain realities and circumstances as unsurpassable, so she's smarter than them. She learns more, hacks through databases and encryption systems, and tweaks spells to make them work to her advantage for the situation. To overcome.

When she pushes herself for good, what happens when there's no more good to do? I LOVE what your friend said, "what happens to the Big Gun in peacetime," that's just so excellent, I grinned reading that.

And not even what happens when there's no good to do but when the good that needs to be done can't be dealt with in the same ways? Magic helps fix people, help people, but it shouldn't be used to fix people. To manipulate them. To take away their choice. That blur between the supernatural and real-life is something Willow can't handle and so it all falls apart. She brings a rocket launcher to a debate group and refuses to admit it isn't a gun fight (that metaphor is completely rough but I can't figure out a way to make it work rn, please forgive my brain and roll with it.)

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 11th, 2013 05:12 pm (UTC)
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Oh, cool! Hi! It's nice to know that things I've written are read and, like, liked. Pretty cool.

Those metas on Xander/Buffy/Willow get at it pretty well. "The Gift," in particular, is an amazing episode to watch and watch, because, for everyone (including Spike) it's this sort of high point of heroism, but where you can already see the cracks starting to form. Like, when Xander proposes to Anya, it's a wonderful, magical moment, but there is the tiniest hint of doubt and despair at the very end of the scene when Anya says "Give it to me when the world doesn't end," and there's the smallest expression on Xander's face that hints that he's already regretting it just a bit. Or the sadness of Willow saying "I will always find you" to Tara when we know that's not the case. Or Buffy having her heroic jump which is also a suicide.

But you basically described the problem. There's nothing inherently wrong with what Willow does in S5, and I think that's what messes her up as things progress. Willow did good. Recklessness, stubbornness, manipulation, and power aren't completely negative traits on their own. What Willow possesses allows her to push herself - to not accept things as hopeless. Without this, Tara and Buffy would have been lost, not to mention Dawn and, oh, I don't know - THE WHOLE WORLD. She refuses to accept certain realities and circumstances as unsurpassable, so she's smarter than them. She learns more, hacks through databases and encryption systems, and tweaks spells to make them work to her advantage for the situation. To overcome.

Yep. A friend of mine pointed out too that Willow and Giles represent certain ideas about the political Left and Right -- like, Willow as the radical, continually reinventing the world and going for full-tilt progress, Giles as the kind of backwards, regressive guy but who is all for holding onto the things that matter most from the past. And that means that Willow is at her best and worst when she crosses boundaries, best when they're false boundaries that need breaking, worst when they're there for a real (moral) reason; and Giles at his best and worst when he holds onto old ideas -- best when they're good ideas that need not to fade away, worst when they're old structures, usually patriarchal, that should die. And Buffy is somewhere in the middle and makes the best of both.

And I think too in s5/6 especially, Buffy goes repeatedly into a funk of inaction -- of "I can't deal with this," epitomized by her coma in late s5 and then her longer period of, um, being dead, and then a period of sort of acting out a living death -- and Willow goes into a period of overdrive, trying to do everything and fix everything. Which, Willow is needed when Buffy shuts down in late season five, and Buffy is needed to try to bring Willow down from total activity in late season six.

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zooeys_bridge

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from: zooeys_bridge
date: Oct. 15th, 2013 03:30 am (UTC)
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"High point of heroism" I love that and it's super true. They're all at their best, bravest, most selfless. We don't notice the cracks until we go back later, knowing what happens. Buffy's depression started a few episodes before she jumped off that tower, Willow's hands would once again violate Tara's mind, Spike wouldn't know where he stood with Buffy, and Xander's heart would collapse upon the weight of his fear.

"Willow is at her best and worse when she's crossing boundaries" goodness, everything about that is so deliciously and brilliantly encapsulating. Yes.

What's interesting and heartbreaking about the Buffy/Willow = inaction/action = internal/external dynamic is that their friendship never really gets the chance to repair itself. My favorite scene between the two of them is at the very end of "Same Time, Same Place" when they meditate together on the bed. It's the closest thing to an honest conversation and mending of their relationship we see (and I could be wrong because my brain is fuzzy from 7.7 onwards because most of the rest of S7 is horrible for me). It's the last time we see them truly bond. Connect. There should have been more, though. After all the shit in S5 and S6, there's a lot the two of them need to hash out and they never really get the chance.

That said, the parallel between Willow reaching Buffy in S5 and Buffy reaching Willow in S6 is interesting in that, well, she doesn't really, does she. Buffy doesn't get through to Willow at all. Buffy and Willow constantly approach each other backwards throughout the entire season. They're never able to really connect and it shows in the end.

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 15th, 2013 04:06 am (UTC)
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Right! Re: season seven, It's not enough, but I do like "Get it Done" for Buffy/Willow, in certain ways -- while Buffy is *super harsh*, I think she does actually know Willow and Spike well enough that her saying that they need to start using their power is a good wakeup call for them (the validity of her comments to the potentials is a different story). Actually, while still imperfect, because season seven, GiD has a lot of my favourite Willow moments -- after she sucks energy from Kennedy and Anya to save Buffy (and, bottom line, she did have to, or Buffy would be dead, and on some level everyone in that room knew that, it's just hard for Kennedy to get used to), she talks to Kennedy and apologizes and just...says "that's how I am," basically, and is apologetic but also being honest about what the downside of her power is (which is pretty close to the upside). And then Kennedy walks away, and it looks like they may be broken up, and Willow puts on a happy face and goes to talk to Buffy. It's not the first time Willow puts on a happy face to hide her pain, but on some level I think most of the time when Willow pretends she's not in pain, it's because *she* needs to pretend *for herself* that she's okay, not actually recognizing that being there for her friend is more important. And the ability to say "my relationship might be over" and not break down emotionally, and not try to "fix" it with anything except honesty, is for my money the clearest demonstration that Willow's learned a lot (though I think she has a ways to go at the end of the series). And then Buffy apologizes for being too harsh on Willow, and Willow says she gets why Buffy is. It's still overshadowed by Buffy's vision of the Turok-Han army, and it's not huge, but it still means a lot to me, maybe because gems of people actually really connecting in s7 are so rare and so they seem really valuable.

The 'season eight' comics are unpopular, mostly because they went way off the rails, but some of the issues are still quite good, and there is some real Buffy/Willow material that I love there, FWIW.

(tbc)

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 15th, 2013 04:07 am (UTC)
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That said, the parallel between Willow reaching Buffy in S5 and Buffy reaching Willow in S6 is interesting in that, well, she doesn't really, does she. Buffy doesn't get through to Willow at all. Buffy and Willow constantly approach each other backwards throughout the entire season. They're never able to really connect and it shows in the end.

Right, good point. I kind of realized even as I was writing that end of s5/end s6 doesn't quite work. Buffy and Willow are so badly out of sync in s6 all the way through, and what's sad is that they *do* affect each other deeply and also inadvertently. Buffy is back in a life she hates because of Willow. Tara dies because of a bullet that had been meant for Buffy. And Willow's own issues are so closely tied up with Buffy. And when she's going apocalyptic, even before hitting on the "end everyone's pain" idea, she was talking to Buffy about how Buffy's own misery is proof that the world is meaningless, and accuses herself of being responsible for it and that becomes an argument that she's beyond being saved by Buffy. It's ironic too because Buffy already *had* made an active decision to start living and enjoying life again, but it was too fragile for Buffy to be able to respond with any reasons, not that I think it'd exactly be easy to reach Willow there.

What I think Buffy legitimately does for Willow, is prevent her from killing Jonathan & Andrew. (Well, and re-Keying Dawn.) That is not "enough" -- she doesn't prevent Willow from becoming a murderer. But it is damage control, and while Warren and Rack are still dead Jonathan and Andrew were saved and that's two deaths Willow doesn't have on her conscience. That doesn't save her, but it makes it less hard for Willow to rebuild her life the next year.

(For the record, I think Buffy's insistence that Jonathan & Andrew are the line Willow can't cross, after she's already killed Warren, is more for Buffy's benefit than for Willow's. It *is* worse to kill somewhat-bad guys than really-bad guys, but I don't really think there are any lines that are completely uncrossable, and if I were a guy who believed in uncrossable lines I think murder would be it even if it's Warren. But Buffy can give herself a tangible task to do -- protect those two, protect Willow from doing *that* bit of damage -- and she sticks to it and does it, and that's the best she can do.)

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zooeys_bridge

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from: zooeys_bridge
date: Oct. 15th, 2013 07:08 pm (UTC)
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I think I'm going to have to suck it up and rewatch some of the later S7 episodes because that sounds like a fantastic moment that I can recall 0% of. (I ran out of money and patience when it came to the comics, so I'm woefully behind on them. Maybe one day I'll catch up)

You're right about Buffy + Jonathan/Andrew. While she's definitely protecting them out of a sense of duty, it does gives her a concrete task to do in the face of such an unprecedented and completely unstructured villain. It's also telling that the one foe Buffy can't defeat is Willow. In all her years of fighting, she couldn't stop her best friend. But she'll do whatever she can to protect her in the meantime: "I'm not protecting you, Jonathan. None of us are. We're doing this for Willow. The only reason it happens to be your lucky day? Is because Willow kills you, she crosses a line, I lose a friend. And I hate losing."

What's really sad about the above line is I think Buffy feels as if she's already lost a friend. They haven't connected all season and now Willow's killed two people. Buffy has no idea what'll happen next - if Willow can be saved at all. Here, she's trying desperately to cling to hope because to think otherwise is so much worse. That's unknowable and Buffy doesn't like unknowable, especially when she's powerless to defend against or attack it. Perhaps this is where her guilt comes into play, not just that she tries to save Jonathan + Andrew, but she'll do whatever she can. This is the least Buffy can owe Willow.

I always hated that they never showed any of Buffy's guilt about Willow or Tara. While its nowhere near her fault that Warren had a gun, if Buffy had been more on her game, she could have stopped him way before it got to that point (not that she didn't have a legit excuse). But as an unfortunate result, one of her closest growing friends gets killed which sets off her best friend on a murderous rampage. Willow gets really good at carrying the guilt of everything she's done but Buffy knows how to play that game too, she just plays it closer to the chest because she has so much more to do that it's easy to hide. But I think they hid it too well on the show because we never see an inkling of that and it's such a shame because it could have brought them closer together. Both Buffy and Willow are both at fault for certain things and Willow gets to carry all the guilt for it herself. Perhaps her guilt started at the season finale of 6 and that's why she couldn't get to Willow. It's all terribly interesting and rich (and sad, gosh, so sad) to think about.

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 23rd, 2013 01:42 am (UTC)
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I got busy this past week and am only getting to this now, apologies.

I like season seven more than I don't like it, but it is my least favourite, with the possible exception of season one. There are still some really nice moments, sometimes even nicer because they're a little buried.

You're right about Buffy + Jonathan/Andrew. While she's definitely protecting them out of a sense of duty, it does gives her a concrete task to do in the face of such an unprecedented and completely unstructured villain. It's also telling that the one foe Buffy can't defeat is Willow. In all her years of fighting, she couldn't stop her best friend.

I like the way you describe her as "unstructured." One of the things I like very much about Willow's blowout is the fact that, at core, she is as near-unstoppable as she is because there is pretty much no way to bargain with her. She's already settled on "I'm not coming back," and is darkly, somewhat ironically excited at the possibility that it'll never end and that the rampage will just go on until she's dead. She has no long-term sustainable plan, and no real sense of self-preservation, because the bottom has already fallen out of virtually everything she believes in. Even Faith, by contrast, still wanted to keep living throughout most of s3 and s4 -- she wanted a place at the Mayor's side, or to steal Buffy's life. The only way to stop Willow without killing her is to find some way to convince her that she can survive living in a world without Tara in it, and Buffy has no way to do that.

I was *just* thinking recently how much Buffy's, and the Scoobies' in general, failure to deal with the Trio before "Seeing Red" is so important in thinking about what happened. If Buffy had been on her game, if Willow and Xander weren't themselves messes, if Giles hadn't ditched everyone, if the whole gang had taken life-sized threats seriously, they would have started genuinely trying to stop the Trio way before Buffy's kind of half-hearted beginning to pursue them in "Normal Again."

I think that Buffy does feel some guilt about how things went between her and Willow, but somehow I think it all gets folded into Buffy's general superiority/inferiority complex -- Willow is one of Buffy's friends whom she is isolated from and blames herself for, but somehow I don't think Buffy ever is able quite to separate her responsibility for the problems between her and Willow and her responsibility for the problems between her and Xander or Dawn, many of which are different issues entirely.

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zooeys_bridge

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from: zooeys_bridge
date: Oct. 26th, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC)
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What's interesting is that your reply came on the same night I stumbled upon the idea that perhaps Dark Willow was darker than even we see on the screen for a more chilling reason. Like you said, Willow has no long-term sustainable plan and no sense of self-preservation.....and maybe that's exactly the point. She said it herself, "I'm not coming back". Maybe she was counting on her friends to do what needed to be done against a foe such as herself. Dark Willow was the easy way out. Its the only way she gets out of having to deal with everything - with Tara, what she does to Rack and Warren, and what she'll choose to do to her friends as well. It's why she so ferociously and cruelly attacks her friends. She's deliberately provoking them because she doesn't want them to hold back. Willow's trying to destroy them with violence and words the same way she wants them to destroy her. Because she's already gone. So she becomes a threat who can end the world, a threat that needs to be stopped. And if she's powerful enough, then she can be stopped by any means possible. She's counting on it.

It's entirely gutwrenching and heartbreaking in new ways for me. I love the layers of interpretation and meaning we can give to things.

I'm especially interested in your last paragraph, the ideas there are really ripe and complex. Would you mind going more into that?

Lastly I read a really interesting essay in the 'Whedonistas' book the other day that was about Dark Willow. It reminded me of our conversation here and I was curious about your thoughts.

"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."


It's a refreshing point against an overdone one, that it's Xander-the-everyman who saves the world. (Not to devalue Xander, that scene is one of my favorite in the series as is their relationship.) What I mean is that the focus is often on Xander (which again, is well-deserved) but ignores what that means in context of Willow. Not in how it relates to her various identities throughout the series and what that means psychologically, but that love is her weakness. It's a beautiful point, one that's made over and over again (in the identity conversation, too) but more than that - that love is also her strength. That is incredible powerful. And I think incredibly redeeming. It folds back onto your points from earlier, that Willow is at her best when she's pushing boundaries. And when does she do so? Not just for research or duty, but love. I want to return to this concept in another post because I think it's worth discussing in detail, but I'm impatient to start talking about it, so... :P

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 26th, 2013 08:07 pm (UTC)
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(eta: uh, this got long. damn these small LJ comment boxes)

Yup. I kind of go back and forth on how much Willow is deliberately goading her friends into fighting her, and then why. I think that she has a big self-destructive streak is pretty definitely true. I think that the biggest, deepest thing driving Willow is the conviction that she can never live in the world anymore, and that going back to mousy-Willow is impossible to conceive of. And more to the point, if she becomes "just Willow" again...she has to deal with Tara being dead. She doesn't cry between her initial sobbing, which stops when she summons Osiris, and when she's in tears with Xander at the end. Willow's hatred of herself, her absolute terror at the prospect of feeling that pain, her inability to grapple with Tara really being gone, her justified anger at the unfairness of the world, all sort of coalesce.

But even then, Willow's initial plan involves, after saving Buffy, bringing Buffy & Xander along to kill Warren. When she finds robo-Warren on the bus, she just kills him in a second, no muss, no fuss. Maybe it's because she can already figure out that he's a robot, but I don't think so -- I think she was going, at that moment, for the kill and not the pain. And then after that Buffy and Xander make clear they are not going to support her on this, and the topsy-turvy injustice of the world gets to her and she can't handle that betrayal. But also, she knows, looking at them, that it's not just that they aren't going to support her, but (she thinks) they aren't going to forgive her. She's already angry at them for that, but also kind of knows that they're right.

I think Willow really is angry at her friends, for not supporting her; I think she's also angry at Buffy especially and Dawn and Giles to a lesser extent for the hypocrisy in claiming they value the world when it's so obvious they don't. And I think going after the Trio is partly a way of goading Buffy especially into action against Willow, since she *knows* Buffy will defend them. But she also kind of, interestingly, waits for them to go against her before she goes against them directly. There is always just enough of a hint of injury for Willow to repay. She is loopy and creepy but fine to Dawn before Dawn mentions the T-word and then Willow becomes cold as ice and nearly re-Keys her. She pursues Buffy and Xander when they're getting in the way of her Jonathan & Andrew plan, and doesn't go into a full-on fight with Buffy until Buffy *literally* puts herself between Willow and the door to the Magic Box. And Giles quite obviously picks a fight with her. Now, given that Willow's trying to kill people, they don't exactly have a choice but to fight her, and Willow even knows that; but still, I think somehow she waits until "provoked" to begin really attacking them.

...

Edited at 2013-10-26 08:10 pm (UTC)

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 26th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
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Here's how I think it might work. On a deep level, and especially while in this pain, Willow doesn't believe her friends really love her or care about her. It's not even necessarily her friends' fault, since Willow doesn't think she is worthy of love. Xander and Buffy's rejection of Willow's plan when in the desert reads to her like a permanent rejection, and a way of stating another series of conditions she has to meet in order for them to love her. Warren says later on that Willow will lose them too if she kills him, and she looks at them, slightly panicked, as if she knows it's true. Anyway, because she thinks her friends' love for her is conditional and false, contingent on Willow being "good" in ways that the gang defines and her doing what Buffy/Giles/whoever says, she defies them partly to prove that they won't support her, and then that makes it "necessary" for her to attack and maybe even kill them, because they are never going to welcome her back into the fold anyway. That kind of boundary-testing is partly the response to spending her whole life, basically, carefully boundary-checking all her behaviour, and believing that if she ever rebels too much against her friends or has too much strength, she's out. And maybe deserves to be.

I think it's an attractive idea that Willow is basically setting herself up so that she has to be killed, a Suicide By Cop type situation. I think that's kind of true -- and for sure, I think she is planning to burn out and die. But I think the most important thing is not that they kill her, but that her ties to her old life get permanently severed.

The scary thing about Dark Willow is that Willow not only turns on her friends, but is willing to see them die. And I think some of it is just Willow's self-centredness at this point, feeling so much pain that she can't clearly access her compassion until Giles gives her the Earth-connecting magic that makes it impossible to look away. But I think it's also mostly true that way before she comes to "I'll destroy the world!" she already basically believes everyone is better off dead. It's like back in "Something Blue," when Xander was (half-heartedly) trying to talk Willow down from her angry rant about Buffy ditching him for Spike and from her belief that relationships are doomed and Willow immediately turns on him and starts cataloguing all his failed relationships. She is angry that they are keeping up the lie that anything in this world is worth anything, and since life isn't worth living and everyone suffers as much as she does, it doesn't really matter so much if she kills them. Hence going after Dawn for her crying, in that vicious/compassionate way, and making turning Dawn back into abstract energy both an action of revenge against Dawn for hitting Willow's raw nerve and an act of quasi-compassion. Hence her (wonderful) rant to Buffy about how much Buffy's life sucks, which ends with "The only time in your whole life you were at peace was when you were dead. Until *Willow* brought you back. You know. With magic."

...

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 26th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
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And part of what I love love about that last moment is that it is also another key to Willow's mountain of self-loathing and hatred of the world. It's not just that she still has unresolved guilt about hurting Buffy. It's that the belief that bringing Buffy back from the dead hurt her has poisoned her view of life. Willow believing that it was good to be alive was the thing that hurt her friend. She could, when there was something like hope (for Tara) over the past year, suppress that, but the conclusion is: Willow's believing in life enough to try to bring Buffy back was misguided and foolish; the Earth is hell.

Plus, if Willow can convince herself that the world isn't really real, that it's all nothing, and that in the end it doesn't even really *matter* who lives or dies because it's all mostly the same, the tragedy and pain of Tara's death gets lost. If life is meaningful, then Tara has lost out on that forever. If death is a kind of blessing, and the only thing worth doing in the world is to be a kind of destructive force, punishing evil and hypocrisy before eventually burning out, somehow it doesn't matter as much that Tara died. The moment the world *has meaning* again, then Tara's death has to be confronted head on as the biggest, most terrible thing imaginable. It's easier to see the world as a parody of itself, not even real.

It sort of reminds me of in season seven -- in both "Conversations with Dead People" and "The Killer in Me," Willow seems to say that she can't continue living because Tara is gone. In "TKIM," she says that Tara has been with her ever since her death, and that in some fundamental way she didn't let Tara go until the moment Kennedy kissed her. She really, really feels paralyzed with guilt over the thought she could continue living without Tara, as if it'd be a betrayal of Tara, and because the moment she does, she somehow has to accept that the world can be Tara-less, and that Tara has to be really gone. And since Tara, for Willow especially, stood for compassion and peace, Willow somehow has to "prove" those qualities don't exist in the world anymore either, and maybe never did.

...

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 26th, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
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So I think it's interesting/cool how much is going on here, because she is goading her friends into fighting her partly in order to prove that they don't really love her, is "planning" on dying before she lets herself feel the pain of realizing Tara is really gone, wants her friends to kill her, and wants to kill them first, both because she has years of resentments built up and because she really believes that there's no significant difference between being alive and dead. And she genuinely also wants revenge on the people who've ruined everything.

And, I guess now that I think about it too, once she finally gets to actually being apocalyptic, it's win-win. She succeeds, the world ends, she dies. She fails and someone stops her, she dies. But I think she's still mostly too much in control-freak mode to *actually* want to die by someone else's hand -- she wants to die, somehow, but she also wants to feel in control, and she also wants to fix what's wrong with the world, somehow, before she dies.

My favourite thing, among many, about the Xander/Willow scene is that he says he loved crayon-breaky Willow and he loves scary-veiny Willow. People have criticized Xander for, I guess, suggesting that Willow is "really" the nice girl he knew in kindergarten, or something, but that's kind of missing the point here. He loves Willow-the-meek-loser and Willow-the-strong-evil-witch. He can love her both for her (from Willow's POV) unlovable nerdiness and her unlovable viciousness. She has worked hard to hide both, and she even tries, in this scene, to keep fighting Xander to prove, somehow, that he doesn't/can't love her. It's a bit like Buffy's "don't forgive me" scene with Tara in "Dead Things," but it's sort of different, because I think Xander even moves past the idea of forgiveness. He just goes straight to the love. Whether Willow deserves that love, or whether she will be forgiven by the rest, is not even really an issue in the scene. He loves her, and she can tell he's honest, and the existence of that love proves there's good in the world, and gives her a place in it. Aw.

I agree that Willow, deep down, is all about being loved, best and worst. She saves Buffy (in so many eps, but "Weight of the World", say) and brings her back to life and also attacks her in these eps because she loves Buffy and wants Buffy to love her. She saves Tara from Glory, gives her the strength to leave her family behind, and mindwipes her because she loves Tara and wants Tara to love her, and does not believe that Tara could love the "real her" under all that magic. And so on, with Xander and Giles and Oz and Dawn too. It's painful to watch sometimes, because sometimes her desire to be love overwhelms her own love, and she's selfish and manipulative and does evil things. But that's kind of how things go for people who don't believe they are loved. I think that's also why Willow is "better" in season seven. Somehow, her friends loving her even after she's become her absolute worst gets through to her that she is lovable in a way that nothing really before had done. Her ethical judgment is still a work in progress, but she doesn't need to manipulate and lie and spell-cast to protect her lovability anymore. It's just unimaginably painful that it takes Tara's death and then two more deaths and a whole lot more damage besides for her to really believe she's loved.

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from: zooeys_bridge
date: Oct. 29th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
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I don't really have a coherent reply, more a rambling response with no real structure, but you make me think and I like that.

See, I don't think Willow was willing to see them die. Yeah, she was on a destructive rampage, but it was very internalized. She regonizes there was good in the world (Tara) but that it was taken away and so therefore the world has no meaning to her. She's willing to see it burn. But she wants her own suffering to end. I don't think at first she's hell bent on ending everyones. She had ample opportunities to end things whenever I don't really have a coherent reply, more a rambling response with no real structure, but you make me think and I like that.

See, I don't think Willow was willing to see them die. Yeah, she was on a destructive rampage, but it was very internalized. She regonizes there was good in the world (Tara) but that it was taken away and so therefore the world has no meaning to her. She's willing to see it burn. But she wants her own suffering to end. I don't think at first she's hell bent on ending everyones. She had ample opportunities to end things whenever she chose to. She could have killed any of them at any time when they got in her way but still she never did. When she escapes the binding spell and dangles a limp Anya in front of Giles and Buffy, we only find out later it's a false alarm. Anya wasn't dead, she was unconscious. And when she extracts Giles' magical energy, she could have easily killed him the way she did Rack. Instead she doesn't. Yes, he's injured and weakened, but it isn't until later when his eyes open that Anya realizes he's still alive. Willow summoned the earth monsters to fight Buffy (and Dawn) so she could "go down fighting, like a warrior" but doesn't do the deed herself. She circumvents death for her friends where she can, but does go for the kill in a way that forces their hands. She's manipulating them, in a devastatingly calculated way, to create a situation that results in her own death.

I do like what you said though, about her entire rampage being fueled not only by grief and revenge, but in a sick way to reconcile a worldview that has now shifted, a worldview that has to account for there suddenly being no meaning at all. The only way she can do that is understanding it as having no meaning. And it has devastating consequences. It's a very dark perspective and one that I think she recognizes as wrong and limited to her own experiences (though this is bolstered by Buffy's depressive year so I think she believes in it more than she might normally) but she doesn't care.


"Willow's hatred of herself, her absolute terror at the prospect of feeling that pain, her inability to grapple with Tara really being gone, her justified anger at the unfairness of the world, all sort of coalesce."

Yes! Absolutely.

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zooeys_bridge

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from: zooeys_bridge
date: Oct. 29th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
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"But also, she knows, looking at them, that it's not just that they aren't going to support her, but (she thinks) they aren't going to forgive her. She's already angry at them for that, but also kind of knows that they're right."


She knows they’re right, but most of her doesn't care at this point. “How can you say that?” she asks Buffy. It’s almost childlike. Willow’s entire rampage is almost childlike, except for its extreme violence. It’s not even that they won’t forgive her, she’s angry that they don’t think it’s okay for her to do.


"she waits until "provoked" to begin really attacking them."


Yes, she absolutely does. Good call on Willow’s instantaneous cold and creepy turn the moment Dawn mentions Tara’s name.


"she defies them partly to prove that they won't support her, and then that makes it "necessary" for her to attack and maybe even kill them, because they are never going to welcome her back into the fold anyway."

I agree, but I also think it was deliberate. Willow’s smart. She said it herself to Buffy that she’s not coming back. She doesn’t want to. So whatever happens afterwards is a way of ensuring that. Being calculatingly cruel and vicious – with her words, not her violence – is a way of egging them on further.

"Willow believing that it was good to be alive was the thing that hurt her friend."

Oof. what a punch to the gut. I just love these guys so much.

"I think the most important thing is not that they kill her, but that her ties to her old life get permanently severed."

Exactly. "Not coming back" didn't just mean the magics, it was everything, everyone. The “Willow they knew” would never say such hurtful things. All the more to make herself seem Other, something not-Willow. But try as she might to sever everything (and boy, did she give it everything she had) they refused to see her as such. Despite everything that year, Buffy and Xander refused to see Dark Willow as anything but their friend, and every action they took was a way of trying to protect her against herself, and they said so themselves.


Its sick though, because in the process, I think she starts to enjoy it. In a way that was almost freeing back in Dopplegangland when Willow was impersonating Vampire Willow, she she started to get off of it. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, but she’s childlike in the petulant sense that the world isn’t fair so why should she be fair to it back? Why should she let Warren live? She knows though that to do so would mean not coming back. The Big Bad doesn’t get a break and Willow knows it, Scooby-deep. She’s counting on it. She can’t live in a world where “these are the choices….”. But unlike Buffy being forced to do things on account of her position, Willow feels forced to abide by rules that have turned out to be bogus. And when Willow doesn’t understand the rules, she freaks. When the rules change, she decides to change with it. And no rule is greater than Tara. Tara was always her trump card. And whenever Tara gets removed from the picture, the cap/limit/restraint on Willow blows away with it. It happened in S5 and it happened in S6.

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 30th, 2013 10:16 pm (UTC)
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She knows they’re right, but most of her doesn't care at this point. “How can you say that?” she asks Buffy. It’s almost childlike. Willow’s entire rampage is almost childlike, except for its extreme violence. It’s not even that they won’t forgive her, she’s angry that they don’t think it’s okay for her to do.

I definitely think there's a childlike component to all of it. I think it really works as a temper tantrum, just on a huge scale -- someone who has basically repressed their anger for 21 years, with only a few moments to let loose during that time.

I think one of the reasons Xander gets through to her when Buffy and the rest don't is that he is the only one (after Willow's "I'm not coming back" scene, during which Xander does sort of do this) who puts no limits on her. I've heard argument before that Xander, by naming her ("I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love scary-veiny Willow") is still boxing her in, and I think there's maybe some truth to that, but I think it's pretty minor in comparison to everyone else. Giles and Dawn both try playing the Tara card. Dawn's is probably the worst misjudgment of all, when she says "I miss Tara too!" -- it's true (and Dawn is the most hurt by Tara's death after Willow, well, and obviously Tara herself, though she's no longer around to be hurt about it), but the implication of the statement is "I am going through the same pain you are going through," which is false. She can't. Even if Dawn knew and loved Tara as much as Willow, they *still* wouldn't be having the same experience of grief & pain.

more later

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from: local_max
date: Oct. 30th, 2013 06:54 am (UTC)
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Well, I actually pretty much agree that she didn't want to kill her friends. I worry sometimes that I back away from the darkest aspects of her character, so I try to compensate sometimes. Basically, though, I think that killing her friends was not the goal.

I think that Willow does:

a) want to push her friends' buttons: to push her relationship with them. and in particular, to do something that they won't forgive her for. That means both general moral badness (going after J&A) and genuine attacks on them;

b) want to "win" against them -- to prove that she is not vulnerable to them. "NOTHING can hurt me now."

To that end: she doesn't fight Buffy directly until Buffy forces it, but then she revels in that fight. But then once she's won against Buffy and Giles has entered, not only does she drop the fight against her ("I don't want to fight you either, Buffy"), she even drops her attack on Jonathan & Andrew. That fireball she sends after them is primarily to get Buffy away, not to kill them.

Relatedly, her most vicious attacks on her friends are when they are "trying to help" her, and especially when they mention Tara, as Dawn and Giles do.

I think that her sense of powerlessness is why she is rebelling against them, but I think also she knows that there is a risk they can subdue her. And by subdue her, I don't mean so much "prevent her from killing nerds," because I don't think that's really what she wants. I mean, basically, somehow force her back into the mousy-loser-Willow box. That can be accomplished by sapping her power, or by reaching her emotionally. Both kinds of power -- magical/physical power, and emotional power -- are on display here, and they are pretty closely intertwined.

I think the only 100% honest "I am trying to kill you" moment with her friends is ending the world -- and there, especially, killing Buffy with the dirt monsters. And that is "for their good." I think that the second closest is when Willow tries to drop a scaffold on Giles after he says "I wonder what Tara would think of that." But really, I think it's not a genuine attempt to kill Giles the way her flaying Warren was an attempt to kill him. Giles and Willow are in a fight, and when he pulls out an emotional stop she pulls out a physical one.

I do think Willow may well have gone through with turning Dawn back into a Key had Buffy not intervened -- but I also believe her when she says "I wasn't gonna hurt her." Because, is turning Dawn into a Key even hurting her? Surely not -- if life is pain. There is some vicious anger and some helping-friend mixed in there.

I think what happens is mostly that Willow is so hurt and upset and angry that she stops restraining herself, and she goes as close to the edge of dealing out death as she can without going over. I think that she came really close to killing them, in that lots of her stunts -- like that fireball -- came pretty close. OTOH, Willow is also a deeply reckless person, and makes all kinds of quick calculations that she assumes are right. She's like a brawler in a barfight hitting as hard as they can -- not intending to kill, but not taking all that much care not to. But I think that's mostly because she doesn't really think that her killing them is a genuine risk, with the possible exception of Giles.

I was thinking, in "Two to Go": when Willow is pursuing Buffy, Xander, Jonathan & Andrew on top of the truck, it's at that point that she runs out of power. It's perhaps because she's driving a huge truck, but she could choose some other method of getting there. I think, on some level, Willow's "draining" at that moment is partly draining of the emotional ability to fight her friends, and it's for that reason that she needs to reload at Rack's.

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