[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 11/07/2000]
This is an episode that is fairly simplistic in its characterizations but still manages to provide solid entertainment. While not an example of Whedon’s best work, there remains much to like about this one. The main plot is about Tara, her isolation from the Scooby Gang, and her family who comes to drag her home. There’s also a handful of excellent small scenes that touch on issues ranging from the Buffy/Riley relationship to Spike’s violent sexualized fantasies with Buffy (while actually having sex with Harmony) to a little more insight into Glory’s methods and personality. The side material works a lot better than the core plot, which is mostly due to Tara’s family being sadly one-sided, which is especially unusual for a Whedon episode. When the two aspects are mixed together, though, the result is still pretty entertaining.
The review shall begin as the episode begins: with Buffy telling Giles about Dawn and Glory. I must say I’m really impressed and pleased to see Buffy telling Giles about Glory and Dawn’s true nature immediately. This is beautiful development and a trust that stems from Buffy’s growth that began all the way back in “Revelations” [3×07] when she didn’t tell Giles about Angel being back. I’m also pleased they decided not to tell anyone else about this. Buffy’s logic here is spot-on, because when the other Scoobies find out about Dawn in “Blood Ties” [5×13] , they do end up acting weird around her.
I like that, much later on, Buffy can ‘sense’ the demons in the room with her even though she couldn’t see them. All that training and concentration excercise is paying off. I also liked how the Tara plot and the Glory plot interconnected. This is an entertaining little fight sequence which proves to be very refreshing. This episode isn’t about Buffy though — it’s about Tara. Whedon tries hard to make us sympathize with her, too hard even. The whole episode is designed around making the viewers and the Scoobies feel like Tara is really part of the gang, and in that goal I feel it only partially succeeds, mostly due to how uninteresting and undeveloped her relatives are.
The setup to all of this begins when Tara is telling a joke that no one else understands. I do sympathize with her a bit; it’s got to be tough to break into a close-knit group of friends like that, even putting aside the fact that she’s Willow’s lesbian girlfriend, which time-wise is still a very new thing for the rest of the group to absorb. This is emphasized even more when Buffy and Xander chat about what to get Tara for her birthday. Their comments perfectly reflect my thoughts on Tara as well at this point: Xander says, “Well, she’s nice!” Buffy replies, “Yeah!” They also both express concern for fitting in at a likely heavy “Wicca crowd,” but it really feels like they are both also talking about the possibility of there being a lot of lesbians there, in which case they both definitely wouldn’t fit in. This subtext feels present throughout the entire episode which, no doubt about it, is very clever.
The big problem here, which I’ve already briefly mentioned, is Tara’s family. From the moment Tara’s brother walks in he comes across as single-minded and condescending. It’s unfortunate he stays that way throughout the episode, and that the rest of Tara’s family follow suit in simplicity. This is not the complexity of character I expect out of a Whedon-penned episode. One of the things that separates BtVS from other television shows is that things aren’t so black and white. An evil man often has positive attributes and the heroes often have deeply negative attributes. No important character is just ‘blah’. Tara’s family, though, is ‘blah’ and has about zero complexity to them, which leaves me a bit disappointed. Besides Tara’s father, the family member that irritated me the most was Beth. This is apparent especially in her scene with Tara outside the university. All she is doing is dutifully obeying their father and appears to have no redeeming qualities, exemplified by not having any consideration for Tara’s feelings.
With all that said, I still enjoyed some of the small details in execution of the plot. The little moment when Tara is almost frightened to hug her own dad for exmample. She even says, “Yes sir” to him. There are some deeply-rooted problems here that the episode doesn’t even bother to explore, although I did appreciate the little hint that there’s more going on in relation to Tara’s childhood. With men like that in her family, it’s no wonder why she’d be more interested in girls for intimacy. I really enjoyed Amber Benson’s acting when Tara is confronted about what she ‘is’ and that she’s responsible for the group not being able to see their attackers. The way she says “I’m sorry” and scampers off is saddening, although she does deserve some of the anger directed at her. Willow makes a good point though. She says, “she just did a spell that went wrong.” Willow knows from experience that that happens from time-to-time, and so does the whole group. Although the Scoobies standing up for Tara is a bit on the soggy side, it is admittedly pretty sweet. The same goes for the final scene where Tara and Willow float-dance together. I can suspend my cynicism every now and then. Really. 🙂
Even though the main plot did not work nearly as well as it could have, I did really enjoy all the other bits and pieces. Spike, for exmaple, fantasizing about having an extremely sexual fight with Buffy while actually having sex with Harmony. Very, very funny, and also very much reminds me of Buffy and Spike’s violent encounter in “Smashed” [6×09] . We definitely get to see exactly what it is Spike wants at this point: a fighter who he can spar with, an equal — or better — fighter than he, that is also very sexual. Buffy’s, “oh, I’m coming!” is perfectly timed with an amusing cut. Harmony asks, “What are you thinking about.” Spike smoothly replies, “all about you, baby.”
I found Glory’s comment interesting, about how ‘common’ vampire slayers are and how she’s embarrassed that she even went so low as to fight with one. This gives the viewers a reason why she is not constantly going after Buffy herself. Yes Glory’s often stupid, but people in positions of great power have historically often been pretty stupid as well. She expects to be catered to and treated like royalty: “when I enter a room all eyes turn to me and worship me!” At this point, anyway, I must say that I really like this character. The combination of insanity, stupidity, power, obsession, and being worshiped by others is all very wacky and interesting.
The last thread to touch on is the ongoing saga of Riley. I do like how brief his scenes are: we quickly get the just of his building-up anguish over his relationship with Buffy. Riley lets Buffy know that he’s not pleased she’s not letting him into her life. It’s unfortunate that she really does have a good reason not to tell him the big Dawn revelation. Riley’s beginning to get fed up with waiting for her to fully trust him. He wants a real deep relationship with Buffy. He wants to be there with her, in both the bad and the good. Although he also has a problem with the fact that Buffy isn’t one to cry on another’s shoulder very often: she lets loose her deepest emotions alone. When you have an intimate relationship, though, you’re supposed to be able to share those deepest feelings. That’s one of the scariest things about love: it often leaves you very vulnerable. It’s obvious that Buffy either doesn’t want that connection with Riley or just isn’t ready at all for that kind of connection. So, I see both parties in this relationship making mistakes; they’re both at fault here, although Riley really needs to understand Buffy’s unique position as the Slayer. She often has special reasons and considerations not to be open about certain things.
Anyway, this is a solid episode which give Tara some lovin’ that also furthers several underlying character threads in an excellent way. The plot missed the boat in execution and is hurt because of it, but I still very much enjoyed the whole package.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Tara having been trying to “keep up” with Willow in the magic department, as well as being useful to the group. This is a concern she expressed in “Real Me” [5×02] .
+ Buffy moving out of her dorm room to help her mother with the illness. This is touching and respectable on Buffy’s part, although I’m sure the new knowledge about Dawn is also a pressing reason.
+ Riley and Xander having a boyish fight. These two have bonded a bit ever since Riley felt comfortable confiding in Xander in regards to his revelation about Buffy’s non-love for him.
+ Seeing Ben changing his clothes only to have Glory appear behind the stalking creature. This really doesn’t give any hints as to thinking Ben and Glory are sharing a body, but is still very plausible. Cool.
+ Buffy comparing Glory to Cordelia. “I’m pretty sure she dyes her hair!”
+ Buffy being way overprotective of Dawn now. Riley even points it out.
+ Sandy from “Doppelgangland” [3×16] returns! So cool that a byproduct of Vampire Willow is what helps push Riley’s flirtation with the vampire world forward. I like how Riley spots that she’s a vamp right away and makes a joke about it.
+ Glory’s closet full of high-end clothing.
+ Tara casting a spell she thinks will only make her alleged demon side not visible to the Scoobies. But, like most magic, it backfires and blinds the group from seeing all demons. This works for the plot and with continuity.
+ Harmony returning from her shopping spree. I really love Spike’s extreme shudder in response to Harmony’s stupidity.
+ Spike grudgingly helping Buffy and not getting any credit for it because she can’t see him.
+ Anya’s angry, “I’ve already been hurt once this month!” during the big fight.
+ Spike’s quick solution to the problem. “He hit my nose.”
+ Seeing Tara’s birthday gifts. Giles gave her the magic ball. Dawn gave her a broomstick. Haha.
+ Dawn says “only losers drink alcohol” and Riley and Giles both put their drinks down looking half-embarrassed while Buffy rolls her eyes.
* Spike says, “If the Slayer’s gonna die, I want to watch!” Buffy dies in “The Gift” [5×22] and Spike’s there watching. What a big difference in attitude between now and then though!