WillTara are enjoying cohabitation, winding up what seems to have been a pleasant evening with a bedtime story about their cat. But Tara’s tempted to get a bit of a study on: she is worried about keeping up with Willow, magically, and being of some use to the Scooby gang. Willow assures her she’s essential, though, and snuggling wins out over hitting the books.
Before they doze off, they pause to wonder if Buffy found anything on her recent mission. No? Maybe? She’d have called if it was Apocalypse time. Oh, wait, it’s only autumn. Things are only just gearing up. Zzzzzz.
This last bit is, basically, intended as a big clue to all of us that this story has picked up just after Buffy’s thumping at the immaculate, beastly hands of Glory. As you may recall, the two squared off at an old factory; Buffy fled with a informative (but, alas, terminally wounded) monk in tow and Glory collapsed the building atop herself.
Now Buffy’s home, telling Giles about the monk’s disclosure: Dawn’s a key and Glory wants her, bigtime. The Order of Dagon would therefore appreciate it greatly if she could find time within her busy Slay-schedule for keeping that eventuality off the table. They would appreciate it, that is, if they weren’t so very slaughtered down to the last sackcloth wearing man.
Giles, Buffy has decided, is the only one who gets to know the truth. I’m down with her logic on this one: they can’t tell Dawn, because she might freak out if someone shares the news that she isn’t a real girl, and the Scoobies can’t be told because it’d make them act weird. (Toward Dawn. Who would freak out. And maybe thereby learn the truth, and possibly freak out some more.)
What I love about this scene in rewatch is how obvious it is that Giles simply aches for Buffy as he learns about this freakish and thoroughly sucky situation. They didn’t cover this one in Watcher 101. She’s all attached to this new faux sister, to the extent that she remembers things about her that didn’t really happen. It’s a major mindbender, and we get to relate, because it’s more or less the same thing this retcon has done to us. Plus it’s damned good dadding on his part. If only we had a few examples handy of of bad dadding to contrast it with. Useful lessons might be drawn.
Buffy has had some time to process this new knowledge about Dawn. She’s come through the “Hey, that was my life and I was using it for stuff!” stage and now feels all protective and determined to do right by her metaphorical inner child. This means protecting Dawn from Glory.
Which definitely requires that they find out who Glory darn well is before she comes Key-hunting.
But first things (including the credits) first! The gang is pressed into service moving Buffy out of her dorm. They just moved her in, but what with everything that’s going on—and they only know the Joyce’s headaches half of it—she’s moving back home. Anya’s complaining about wasted effort and the men are goofing around and wrestling. They would be thoroughly adorbs if the term had been invented yet. Giles, now that he’s less of a deadbeat ex-librarian and more of a capitalist running dog, seems to be dressing slightly more dapper. (Do you agree, people who see in fashion? This is not always my strongest suit.)
As for Buffy, she’s hurting from the experience of getting tossed around a concrete building like some rabid mastiff’s favorite chase-me chewtoy. Her soreness leads the group to discuss seeking out Glory’s weaknesses. That way, the smacking around can be repaid in kind. Tara makes a nerdy magic-themed joke. When nobody gets it, she takes off in a fluster. And, by chance, all Willow really sees of this is “Hey, Tara’s not here!” She promptly takes the opportunity to remind everyone they’re having a birthday party for her sweetie at the Bronze the next day.
Nobody remembers, but everyone says they did.
Speaking of people who are far more forgettable than Amber Benson or her witchy alter ego, Doctor Ben’s at the hospital, briefly conferring with a buddy about the increase in mentally disturbed patients. His shift ends, he goes off to change and a creepy demon shows up. Oh, noes, is this where Ben meets his fate? He’s sure to die at the hands of something terrible, right? But apparently not right this moment, because Glory’s there too, hanging out in the locker room. She grabs the demon; we get to assume Ben is saved by clean living or plain good luck.
And before we can give that coincidence any attention, we’re at the magic shop, where Anya is excited because she has a place in the world now. Apparently it is better to run a shop than to have to shop, because Buffy and Xander are chewing over the Tara birthday. What do you get for the girl who has . . . gosh, what does she have? (Hint, you fools—she has a cat!) They are realizing they don’t know much about Tara. This, coincidentally, is how much Giles has learned about Glory.
The trio reaches no useful conclusions about either project. Let’s check in on Spike, who is boinking Harmony while fantasizing about fighting Buffy. I’d like to think I speak for the group here when I say “YUCK.”
Back to the magic shop! By now we’ve totally forgotten Ben, and possibly Tara too, so it’s time for an abrasive young man to turn up at the magic store and kick off the plotty portion of the tale. Before anyone can figure out who the jerk is and what’s up with him, WillTara arrive and—awkwardness all around!—it turns out he’s Tara’s brother, Donny. He’s with the whole fam-damly, who’ve come in time for Tara’s birthday! Let joy be unconfined, am I right? Hey! That grouchy-looking submissive female in the back is Amy Adams.
(Okay that’s just weird. Amy, you look so undergrown and constipated. Good acting, honey!)
Brother Donny’s arrival revs this week’s A story into high gear: Tara’s a demon, apparently, and the family has come to haul her home before she turns twenty and is thrust out of the demon closet in some unspecified but highly embarrassing fashion. They threaten her by saying the Scoobies will never accept her when they know the truth. Tara’s torn between wanting to think better of her friends and terror at possibly being the center of their attention for a nanosecond.
This whole thing, naturally, is all a big code for homophobia. Pa Maclay is horrified that Tara’s living her witchy lifestyle in this unabashed and open manner—with another witch, no less!—and demands that she pack up her toys and come home to spend her days in domestic servitude to her male relatives.
Given the choice between living with Willow and drudging for misogynists, Tara responds by casting a little spell to hide her demonic aspects from the group. She wants to stay, even if it means a sixty percent chance, per week, that the demon of the week will randomly attack her in the third act. The spell rebounds in a big way when the whole gang finds itself unable to see demons... just as Glory’s appointed hit squad arrives at the shop to kill them.
By now, though, Harmony has gloated to Spike about this whole Slayer-killing scheme that’s afoot, and he has headed out to drink in the carnage. So he says. Actually—since he is love’s bitch, after all—he helps. He buys the gang a second or two of important not-getting-killed before Tara shows and breaks the spell.
With the confrontation with the Lei-Ach demons (and their cute little supperating sores) over, the gang is free to take on the Maclays. It’s a nicely suspenseful throwdown: the Scoobies have never really given Tara any reason to suspect they’ll side with her. When the episode starts, she’s more aware than either Buffy or Xander about how tenuous her position among the cool kids is. And now she’s endangered them, and (suddenly, more importantly) Dawn.
Willow protests that screwing up a spell is not a group-ejecting offense—she’d have to say that, wouldn’t she, even if it wasn’t her girlfriend who’d done it? This triggers a general spew of witchaphobic vitriol from Pa Maclay and his Pips. There’s a beautiful moment where Willow asks Tara what she wants and Pa says “That’s not up to you.”
“I know that,” she says in that rocking Willow-on-edge voice. (This isn’t something Willow’s always understood, I think. It’s a little gift from Oz and getting grownupper.)
It’s easy to forget that gay relationships on TV were in a different place a dozen years ago: less common, to begin with, and likely to be drawn with a cartoony lack of nuance when they did exist. It was all sort of: Look! Girls Kissing! The WillTara pairing was sincere and rare and not always easy, and for me it was a lovely thing to see on a hit TV show.
The story in “Family” echoes the realities of queer life, which are such that many of us are still obliged to make choices between our families of origin and those we establish elsewhere. Seeing this play out on BtVS, demons and all, was significant to me. Lesbians on primetime didn’t happen when I was young and could have used them as role models. It has been so very cool to see them popping up, here and there, like little story wildflowers.
So, much as I enjoyed WillOz, and rooted for them, I can’t help being partial to WillTara... just because of that personal connection.
My stuff aside, it’s so interesting that once Tara has said she wants to stay, it’s Buffy who gets to give voice to the group’s ruling on whether she belongs. The Scooby unity in this—the unanimous embrace of Tara—is just damned heartwarming. I see this less as Buffy deciding on the group’s behalf (though of course she is expressing Offishul Slayer Forgiveness, in a sense, for Tara’s having endangered Dawn) and more as her simply articulating what the gang has decided, without discussion and without reservation.
This being a Joss Whedon script, there are so many individual praiseworthy strokes. There’s sour-faced cousin Beth’s misery, fueled by the fact that she doesn’t have the guts to break away, as Tara has, and is going back to Yokeltown to be Pa and Yucky Bro’s butt-monkey. It’s an ingenious little touch. And Spike! The fact that the whole ’you’re a demon’ thing is just a ruse on Pa’s part for institutionalizing some family sexism—and the way he both reveals this and claims to appreciate its evil—is likewise awesome.
(I do sometimes stick on the fact that Spike’s chip is smarter than he is—that it can tell, as he cannot, that someone is or isn’t a demon. It also kind of makes me think Giles should hire him to sit in a concealed booth in the shop with a loaded harpoon pointed at the door. He could serve as a demon detector. Plus every time a human came in, it would hurt him, and he’d scream, and that would be so much more appropriate for the boogety boogety store than the bell that jingles cheerily when the door opens.)
Speaking of the store, let’s raise a little cheer for Anya, kicking off the whole ’what kind of demon is she?’ scene with a charming little ’some of us are productive members of society’ smile. Have I mentioned yet today that I adore Emma Caulfield and this character?
Oh! Look who’s missing from this warm fuzzy family bond-up.
Poor Riley. Or not. He’s off drinking at Willy’s, with Sandy, the vampire that EvilWillow made way back in Dopplegangland.
He’s having some self-pity issues, because Buffy’s not confiding in him. He’s feeling taken for granted, but nevertheless manages to get off a zinger about vampires never being interested in his intellect. In time he pulls it together and shows up at the Tara birthday event, with an apology and a present. For this he gets a Buffy smooch.
But this is the one, the only Tara-centric episode, so to heck with Riley. It all ends with her and Willow processing the recent family drama and affirming their love. They dance, they float, it’s nice. If only it could last forever.
Next time, it’s Spike’s turn: A Tale of Two Slayers
A.M. Dellamonica has kaboodles of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.