Oct 21 2013 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Willow, the Misogynist Flayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Willow

“Villains,” by Marti Noxon

This episode opens with an ambulance racing to the Summers house, not for the first time, with an extra at the wheel who looks like he can’t quite believe he’s on BtVS. When they arrive, a panicked and blood-splashed Xander directs the paramedics to the back of the house, where Buffy is lying in a pool of bullet with a stunned expression on her face.

Nobody knows that upstairs, Willow is also seeking help because Tara’s been fatally shot—but instead of 911 she’s calling 1-800-Osiris—and without doing said deity the courtesy of having slaughtered a baby deer or even a couple goldfish first.

Osiris is, in his way, a good sport about it. He tells her straight up that she cannot defy the natural order by resurrecting Tara.  Poor Willow is completely shattered, naturally, out of her mind with shock and grief. She gives him a zorch, of sorts, by way of hanging up.

Time for a homicidal plan B, she thinks.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Willow

As Buffy gets loaded into the ambulance, Willow heads downstairs. She connects with Xander for just long enough to find out that Warren’s to blame for it all, then stomps off in a fury. Xander lets her go because he’s riding to the hospital.

Over in the Sunnydale hoosegow, Jonathan and Andrew are blissfully ignorant of recent events. Jonathan is worried about being sexually assaulted by their fellow incarcerees, especially that guy with all the traffic tickets, while Andrew nurses his little candleflame of belief that Warren will come bust them out.

But Warren couldn’t care less about his former compadres. He’s going into the local demon bar, to celebrate his having killed the Slayer. He’s got a vague idea that everyone will be so terribly impressed, possibly even grateful, and then maybe he can head up a vampire gang. Even he knows he’s nothing without partners to exploit and betray.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Warren

The bar’s denizens do react strongly, but with derision and amusement, not so much respect. They’ve already seen the news and they know Buffy survived.

The bar crowd in Sunnydale’s underworld isn’t composed of the kind of go-getter demons who used to lurk in town. These aren’t dudes who’ll mount an attack on the hospital while she’s vulnerable. The Master would’ve sent someone, clearly. Angel, too. You’ll remember the Mayor, always a believer in hands-on management, had a go at Buffy in person during her S3 end-of-year brush with death.

Buffy and her friends have pretty much thinned the local Hellmouth herd over the past few years. If the Initiative were still in the game, they might even study whether a successful Slayer reduces the overall level of demonic evil on her patch through some kind of unnatural selection effect. 

My point is: the survivors don’t even have the gumption required to take a bite out of Warren. Instead, they tell him to run because ‘the girl’ is gonna be coming after him.

Which is true, though they have the wrong girl in mind. Even as they chortle lackadaisically about the prospect of someone else dismembering Warren, Willow’s busting into the magic shop in search of her dear old friends, the Dark Arts books. Anya voices a low-key objection and gets frozen for her trouble, then watches as Willow hoovers up every little bit of knowledge within all the books. Text scrolls over her skin and her hair and eyes turn black. Mmmm, the Dark Arts are delicious and come with a free costume change.

At the abandoned Summers house, Dawn is just arriving home. Nobody’s there to greet her except Tara’s still-cooling corpse.

Warren is, fundamentally, a coward. Even the idea that Buffy might heal and come after him sends him scurrying to Rack the Juice Dealer, looking for something to hide him. Rack is every bit as happy as the bar demons to tell Warren that, first, he hasn’t heard of him and second, his problems are huger than he thinks. Oh, yes, an enormous storm of Willow-sized proportions is headed his way.

Gloat while you can, Rack. That storm’s gonna be less fun than you think.

He’s also delighted to take Warren’s money and give him some minimally useful magical defences.

Over in surgery, Buffy’s not doing so well. She’s giving every appearance of a girl on the Come into the Light Express back to Heaven. Willow shows up and boots the medical team out of the operating theater. She then pulls the bullet out of Buffy and heals her up, good as new.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Willow, Xander

What surprises her isn’t that this works, but that the bullet’s so tiny.

Buffy wakes up with questions about what’s going on, and Willow looks semi-human for a second. Happy to see her alive and well, even. She says she’ll explain everything, but they have to go after Warren. And so, soon, our three friends are zooming along the desert roads in a shockingly purple car—I assume this is a Xandermobile, and I just failed to notice the color when he and Anya went to pick up Uncle Rory at the airport.

As Xander tries to drive and Willow uses telekinesis to run the car way over the speed limit and eventually boing it across the desert dunes on a wild pursuit course, BuffXander try to talk her into easing off the magic. They’re wondering: what’s the deal? Why now? It’s kind a shame they don’t have Rack on speed dial. He’d have gleefully offered to bring them up to speed. In the meantime, they think it’s just Warren shooting Buffy that Willow is so incredibly mad about.

The purple car prevails, intercepting the bus Warren’s taking out of town. Willow stops the bus, obliges him to get out, and crushes his throat. Alyson Hannigan is delightfully Terminatorish throughout this episode, almost mechanical at times as she stalks her prey. But the chase isn’t over yet—the thing she has destroyed isn’t Warren. It’s a robot. He tricked her.

She declares she’ll find him another way... and then kill him.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Willow, Xander

Whoa! Kill? Buffy starts to say she’s angry too, but...

...and that’s when Willow reveals that Tara’s dead. Warren is toast, and that’s that, and there’s no getting her to see reason, though her friends do try. She blows them off while they’re still reeling with grief.

Buffy and Xander return home, where they find poor Dawn with Tara’s body. They send for the authorities and everything’s sad and terrible and bureaucratic for awhile. Papers to sign, evil genetic McClay relatives to (presumably) phone, nosy police questions to answer. It’s also time consuming. The sun goes down as they talk to paramedics and cops.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Dawn

“Warren’s a dead man if Willow finds him,” Buffy says.

Dawn’s opinion on this is, basically, Yay!

But Buffy seems strangely at peace and filled with certainty. She’s got her eye on the ball: it’s Willow who needs saving here. The forces she’s messing with aren’t going to stop once she’s killed Warren. They’re going to destroy her... and perhaps whatever else they can get their mystic tendrils on.

So Buffy and Xander have to go after her, which means they need teencare. Dawn wants to go to Spike’s, and despite Xander’s strenuous objections—he’s still all hosed about the rape attempt last week, if you can imagine—they take her to the crypt.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Willow

And where is Willow? She’s gone to Tara’s room on campus. She has the bloodstained shirt and is using it for a location spell. It’s a poignant echo of earlier Willow heartbreaks: the scene where she was visiting Oz’s room and clothes after he left, for example, and the one where she inflated a Tara outfit, using magic, in order to get a snuggle during their estrangement.

This time, instead of comfort, the clothes and blood provide a location on Warren, who is in the woods.

(Why is Warren in the woods? What could he possibly be thinking? He sent the decoy bus in one direction, and he had a whole afternoon. He’s certainly techno-savvy enough to have hotwired a car and taken the highway in the other direction. Or to catch a flight out to Alaska.)

At the crypt, Buffy finds that Clem’s the only demon at Chez Spike. He tells them Spike took off. Dawn ends up staying anyway, though Clem, while he’s a gracious host, is presumably no good as a bodyguard. Dawn may not be safe, but at least she’ll have snacks as the world ends.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Spike

Off this, we get a quick Spike sighting, in Africa. (See, Warren? That’s how you get out of Dodge.) He’s found himself a cave inhabited by a tall demon who went to the same elocution school as Osiris and tells the creature he wants to return to his former self. The monster mocks him about how he used to be such a badass. You’ve gone from dark warrior to fluffy kitten, is basically his thesis, but eventually he agrees to put Spike to the test.

Over at the Magic Box, Anya is just getting over the paralytic whammy Willow put on her. She tells Xander she can track Willow’s unslakable thirst for vengeance, and thereby also reveals that she’s a demon again. Despite this, she says she’ll help them find Willow—for Willow’s sake. I am again impressed by the changes in the WillAnya relationship.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Anya

Time is running out, though—the chase is on in the woods. Warren is running. Willow is walking, and yet somehow catching up. (This is a convention I remember fondly from serial killer movies of the Seventies.) He puts an axe in her back, but she pulls it out. He uses a bomb, too, and a sticky gooey force field. No dice. Then he tries telling her killing Tara wasn’t personal.

That doesn’t get him anywhere, of course. Willow gets the trees to string him up, spread-eagle, and then she shows him poor dead Katrina. This creeps him out a lot.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Willow

The Scoobies are pursuing them through the woods, and by now Warren’s screaming for help. The bar guys didn’t convince him, and Rack didn’t convince him, but now he’s actually beginning to understand how utterly screwed he is. Willow presses the point home with the bullet she pulled out of Buffy, driving it—very, very slowly—into his chest.

“One tiny piece of metal destroys everything,” she says.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Willow, Warren

When “I’m sorry” and abject begging don’t get him anywhere, Warren tries one last rhetorical tack, which is: you’re a better person than me. And hey, won’t your friends disapprove?

The Scoobies arrive on scene just as Willow decides she’s bored with the chit-chat and rips Warren’s skin off his body.

I was shocked. Weren’t you? Buffy and Xander are definitely surprised and appalled.

Buffy the Vampire Slayers, Villains, Warren

“One down,” Willow says. Meaning: guess what? I’m not done!

With that, she incinerates Warren and vanishes.

Next: Cleaning up the minions...

A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on! 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. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
I suppose we are all still in mourning.
Gardner Dozois
2. Gardner Dozois
From here to the end of the season, the episodes are not exactly "fun" to watch, but they are intense, and very fast-paced and headlong, a marked change from the sluggish episodes in mid-season where nothing much seemed to happen. It's almost as if a new team of writers had taken over and decided to jolt the show out of its doldrums. The closing episodes are too strong to be enjoyable in the way some episodes of earlier seasons were, but they do make for compelling viewing.
Gardner Dozois
3. Dr. Thanatos
I'd like to give the writers the benefit of the doubt.

We've seen Warren moving in this direction; we've seen Willow moving in this direction. We've had previous seasons where the shoe drops and all of a sudden the season takes a sharp turn and a different tone. Many people didn't like the pacing or the acting or the whatever in early to mid season 6; and admittedly this sharp turn was more wrenching than others (can you picture Dark Willow looking for smoochies? And if you can, can you ever get the image out of your mind?); but I knew from first sight that the Trio would never amount to much as such; and I thought, when seeing them together, "which of these is not like the others, which does not belong?" Warren cracking and shooting wildly was inevitable. As was everything that followed.

Buffy and Company had to deal with depression, self doubt, self loathing as we've been discussing; and as happens in the real world they come out of it just in time to be slapped in the face with a cold bucket full of Serious Drama.

I'd like to think (and maybe it's just rationalization) that the first part of the season was aimed at introspection and personal growth in order to set it off sharply from That Which Is Coming In A Most Dramatic And Intense Fashion...
Marty Beck
4. martytargaryen
I would also like to point out that this is the one and only season that ended with the writers knowing that there would be a next season. This is, thematically, the middle of a two-season arc (the only one of the series). It is pretty standard that the penultimate of anything tends to bring the protagonist(s) to a darker place.

Doesn't make it easy to watch, though.
Gardner Dozois
5. Shariq
I always loved the little "bored now" callback to Vampire Willow from Cordelia's wish universe.
Gardner Dozois
6. Dr. Thanatos
I have also loved the guest appearances of Dark Willow on How I Met Your Mother...
Constance Sublette
7. Zorra
It's incredibly difficult to write well for television. Incredibly so.

And it's not only the actual writing the writers have to deal with, but whether or not there will more episodes in the future.

No series did it this well for so long, keeping all the balls in the air and juggled, except Homicide and The Wire -- and the Wire didn't have seven seasons as did Homicide and Buffy.

Justified is very good. But I've no interest in re-watching any of the seasons as I do with these three -- and to some degree, though not as often, Babylon-5.

Love, C.
Steven Halter
8. stevenhalter
I was surprised at the flaying but I don't think I was shocked. Willow has become what she feels she needs to be. She is traumatized and seeking vengence. She doesn't, though, need any vengence demon to help her as she can grasp the power that she has been trying to deny.
In her shock, she no doubt feels guilt and blame for letting Tara die and anger at Tara for letting herself die (shock is not an entirely rational state).
So, she grasps the total power offered through the dark side of her magic and incorporates the dark grimoires into herself.
At this point the power is really a dichotomy that she presents to herself. She hasn't internalized that it is a part of her. Thus, the darkness takes over with the power and we are launched into the Dark Willow storyline.
Throughout most of the year, they had been doing the power addicts stories but they often seemed to fall a bit short. Here we see the power corrupts story.
"Bored now." is the statement that shows that the power is gaining over the initial desire for vengence. It is becoming the ends and not just the means. At least, that's some of what it seemed like they were going for to me.
I found the Dark Willow arc quite interesting. With a couple episodes left for the season, I was pretty engrossed in finding out just what was going to happen.
Gardner Dozois
9. Dianthus
@3. This is very much like s2 in a sense. Spike was supposedly the Big Bad in s2, then: wham! It's Angelus. Spike (Slayer of Slayers) was a far more credible threat than the Trio, but as bad as he was, Angelus was so much worse. There's no light in Angelus; none. He never wanted it, nor ever accepted it once it'd been forced on him.
Love is the tiny, flickering light in Spike.
Spike: (to Willow) "It was that truce with Buffy that did it. Dru said I'd gone soft. Wasn't demon enough for the likes of her. And I told her it didn't mean anything. I was thinking of her the whole time."
It really was the truce, not the chip, that made the difference. That was the beginning of the end for Spike and Dru. She leaves him, and he returns to Sunnydale - more specifically the burned out factory - the last place they were "happy."
He goes to find her, but she leaves him again. So he returns to Sunnydale - again - looking for the Gem of Amara. Giles refers to it as a sort of Holy Grail for vampires. It will allow him to walk in the (sun)light. He wants it so bad he'll stake Harmony to get it. Fortunately for her, she's wearing it at the time. She doesn't want it, and loves Spike, so she gives it to him.
Buffy takes it away from him and gives it to Angel, but Angel ulitmately rejects it.
Buffy will become an alternate source of 'light' for Spike, but she'll take that away from him too.
Gardner Dozois
10. Alex C.
There are a number of problems that I have with the last two episodes of the 6th season, but "Villains" is a really great episode. It's pretty much one long rush of scenes and moments that work brilliantly at alternately inducing suspense and tension, and then shocking the audience. It all culminates with that last scene in which Willow tortures Warren to death - and then caps it all off with that line - "Bored now..." - that still manages to send a shiver up my spine.

This episode also contains one of my favourite uses of low-key special effects in the entire show: the scene in the Magic Box where Willow sucks the power out of the dark arts books. This is a very effective scene in its own right, and one that is thankfully devoid of any references to the unfortunate drug addiction metaphor from earlier in the season, which regrettably is going to get brought back in the next two episodes. Above and beyond this however, it also contains a very interesting hint for the dilemma that the protagonists are facing this season, as well as the mythos of the show.

It's very easy to miss it (I didn't see it until somebody pointed it out to me), but the final bit of text (larger than the rest, and in english) which crawls up Willow's face is a single line, which reads: "THE OTHER VAMPIRES".

You can see it very clearly in a screencap, along with some great analysis of the scene, at this link here.

It's a very small thing, but it's one that I think is ripe with significance, on a number of levels.

In the Buffyverse, vampirism as a condition is about a lot more than getting fangs, aversion to sunlight, thirst for blood, and an improbable affinity for martial arts. Those are just the external features of being a vampire - the show giving a nod to the conventions of vampirism as a trope of a horror genre.

More important than these, being a vampire means dying - dying on the inside, in the place where all the things that make you 'human' - i.e. that give you a connection to other humans - are located, and filling up the empty space with pain and malice and other things that make you inhuman.

All season long, the threat of becoming like this, "dead inside", is the main enemy that Buffy has been fighting against - think about her confrontation with Spike in "Dead Things", and what she said in the scene where she beat him up. This was the enemy that she defeated in "Normal Again" when she came back to save her friends and recommit to them in earnest. And this is what gets reinforced to her by the epiphany that she has in "Grave".

Concurrently, we see Spike go on a parallel journey (a literal journey, in this episode), stretched out over mutliple seasons, of re-awakening the humanity inside himself that was once dead. Getting his soul back isn't quite the end of that journey (as we'll see next season) but it is a major step on the road.

Getting back to "Villains", and to what happens to Willow, this is basically where she's at now as a character - she's deliberately allowed herself to be consumed by the darkness that Buffy spent the season resisting. The callback to Vamp!Willow's signature line from "The Wish" and "Doppelgangland" isn't just there for the chill factor - it's signifying that she really has become that nightmare vision of herself from an alternate reality.

This is the key to understanding what happens in Grave, when Giles explains that the magic which he was given, and which Willow stole from him, was based fundamentally on humanity. Willow had lost touch with hers, but in the end, with a bit of help from Xander, she manages to get it back.
Jason Parker
11. tarbis
This episode was really good at dragging the viewer along from scene and not giving us time to think about if it made sense or not. Compelling it that useful, you must keep watching, kind of way.

Unfortunately, and this is a recurring problem in the next few episodes, the Spike scene broke the flow of the episode. They had to be there because contracts specify the number of episodes an actor is in, but the scenes never really fit right. The action in the episode would be rolling along at high speed and it would cut away to Spike talking with a pair of CGI eyes or Spike having badly animated beetles crawl into his mouth or Spike fighting an African fire demon (played by a Hispanic actor for some reason). Then the episode would need to pick up momentum again.

That and personally I couldn't roll with the idea that a vampire who had a television, a dirt bike, and a few pints of blood to his name was able to arrange transport to East Africa and arrive in 24 hours or less, depending on how far the demon is from the airport. Add in the fact that he was in "Africa" not Kenya or Ethiopia or South Africa or Egypt or some other more specific hunk of geography that even Americans should know and my annoyance at the writers started to rise to dangerous levels.
Anthony Pero
12. anthonypero
I always ingored the "Africa" and told myself "Central America." That makes more sense anyway.
Marty Beck
13. martytargaryen
I believe the Spike/Africa scenes were the Summer months, not taking place at the same time as the climax of S6 in Sunnydale.

This is evidenced by the fact that he was realing from having just gained his soul at the beginning of S7.

It would've been nice if this had been made clearer during the last few episodes of S6, but I guess they wanted the parallel of Spike regaining his soul with Buffy's metaphorical spirit (Willow), regaining her humanity.
Jason Parker
14. tarbis
@13- The problem is that if the production team wanted those scenes to be during the summer months they could have introduced storytelling devices before the airing or between the airing and the dvd release to put those scenes out of the episodes chronology. Since they didn't then authorial intent, until overiden by new revelations, must be assumed to include that all scenes occured in the order the audience saw them.

Besides we, the audience, have no idea how long it takes for some to recover from having a soul implanted after a hundred years without. A hundred years spent murdering people as a matter of routine. Angel vanished for years between Romania and China leaving us without our sole useful data point on how long recovery should take.
Gardner Dozois
15. Dianthus
@11 & 14. Spike could get himself to, say, the port of L.A. (San Pedro) on his bike before sunrise, then stow away on a ship. Or he might've traded the bike for passage. Overall, tho' you're right that it really doesn't bear close scrutiny. They did tend to abuse Artistic License.
I think recovery time would very with the individual. Not everyone here followed AtS, but in s5, Angel says something about Spike moaning in a basement for 3 wks. Angel is understandably resentful of Spike's speedy recovery, but Spike had built up enough good will with Buffy et al. that he got some help. Angel/us had only his 'family' to turn to, and they certainly couldn't help him.

Recognizing, and coming to terms with, your Inner Darkness in no way diminishes your light. Restless makes direct reference to Apocalypse Now (loosely based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness). To quote the late, great Roger Ebert: "It is not a movie about war so much as about how war reveals truths we would be happy never to discover."
Both pro-war and anti-war groups find things in the movie to support their positions.
Heart of Darkness ends with the protagonist musing about the darkness of the human psyche.
Personal Note: I had to read HoD and Lord Jim for an AP English class in HS. IMO it was like being punished for the same thing twice.
Gardner Dozois
16. DougL
This was probably the first time I agreed with Willow over Buffy. Warren had to go, I also don't have a problem with Andrew and Jonathan getting taken out, they did help cover up a death and also helped to put Buffy in some very dangerous situations early in the season, it's everything they've been asking for.

Question, would Willow still have gone where she eventually did if she had been allowed to fully avenge Tara and Buffy without having to fight people she cared about every step of the way? I am not convinced, other than of course, JW obviously sees her behaviour is wrong while I do not.
Constance Sublette
17. Zorra
@10. Alex C. --

Thank you for that lj link that speaks to the "other vampires." The discussion of Willow's path to the capacity of becoming one herself is terrifically pertinent.

Love, C.
Gardner Dozois
18. Dr. Thanatos
The question of how Spike got to WhereverLand is easy: He took the red-eye (hah!). As for how someone with limited resources manages international travel (aside from the fact that, as Dorothy The Witch-Slayer once said, people come and go so quickly here) I would only point out that kittens are a renewable resource...
Gardner Dozois
19. lvsxy808
@ 10 Alex C:
This is a very effective scene in its own right, and one that is thankfully devoid of any references to the unfortunate drug addiction metaphor from earlier in the season, which regrettably is going to get brought back in the next two episodes.
I don't agree that the drug addiction metaphor is absent. This is Willow going right back on the wagon after successfully staying off it for a while. This is her having been off the drugs for a long time, trying her best, and then that one singular trigger that makes her say "It doesn't matter anymore" and taking all the drugs at once.

That's a pattern that happens all the time with drug addictions. It just happened recently with Cory Monteith. He had been addicted, got clean, then thought "one last time can't hurt me" and took some more. But he'd trained his own body away from moderation, and so he overdosed. That's exactly what Willow does here.

It's why I thought the better metaphor in "Grave" would have been, rather than Willow trying to destroy the world to end its pain, just her trying to kill herself to end hers. That would have aligned closer with the drug metaphor.
Gardner Dozois
@alyx - why does the headline include the phrase "misogynist flayer"? Apologies if I missed the explanation in the text. Or was I supposed to interpret "misogynist" as referring to Warren?
Gardner Dozois
21. GarrettC
The post title is a play on the title "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer." Warren is the misogynist, and Alyx has detailed quite a bit of his misogyny in these re-watches.

It's possible that something like "Willow: The Manpire Flayer" would have hit the nail home a little more squarely, maybe (which is not a criticism... I just wanted to say "Manpire Flayer").
Gardner Dozois
22. Alex C.
@17. Zorra -

Thanks, and you're welcome.
Gardner Dozois
@GarrettC - Thanks. The obvious pun jumped off the page once you pointed it out.

I am a big BtVS fan, but only an occasional reader of the rewatches. The headline stymied me because I kept trying to apply the entire description to Willow and failing. That's why I posted the question.

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