Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Family

Summary

Willow and Tara are in bed and Tara makes up a fantastic bed time story. Buffy is telling Giles what she learnt about Dawn from the monk in No Place Like Home. She doesn't want to tell Dawn. He suggests sending Dawn to her father's, but Buffy says he's in Spain with his secretary and hasn't even responded to her call about Joyce being sick. Although she knows the memories are false, she still clearly remembers details of a past life with Dawn. She says she wants to keep it a secret from everyone about Dawn. She also says she has to protect Dawn, that she was sent to her for that purpose. And she's sure the demon in red will come for them. We cut to the demon in red bursting out of the rubble she was buried under, saying she's upset now.

The gang are helping Buffy move out of residence and back home. She says she wants to be there since Joyce is sick. Xander and Riley are fooling around and rough housing and generally acting like kids. Buffy gets worried when she doesn't see Dawn for a few minutes, but she's just been carrying out stuff. Buffy is still aching from the fight with the demon in red. Tara makes a joke nobody gets and carries some stuff out to the car. Willow reminds them that tomorrow at 8:00 they are having a birthday party for Tara at the Bronze. They all agree to come.

At the hospital, the intern from Out of My Mind and No Place Like Home has another suddenly insane patient like the security guard from last week. He's off duty and goes to his locker to change. We see a demon creeping up on him, but the demon in red grabs it and says she needs a favour. Anya is busy at work at the shop. She loves it and says she now has a place in the world, that she is part of the system. However, she won't do the boring jobs - she just likes the bits with money. Buffy and Xander come in and Buffy admits she had forgotten about the party. Giles has made no progress in figuring out who the demon in red is and Buffy and Xander sit down at a table full of books to start researching. Buffy asks what Xander got for Tara and he says he didn't buy her anything yet. Xander tells Buffy she should do something to work off the tension. We cut to Buffy and Spike fighting furiously. Spike says come and get me, Buffy says she's coming, and we cut to Spike and Harmony having sex - he's been fantasizing about fighting Buffy. Harmony asks what he's thinking about and he says her.

At the shop, Giles points out Tara is a witch and they are in a magic shop. A man enters and makes fun of the shop and people believing they are witches. Willow and Tara enter (Willow gets Tara's joke) and we learn he is Donny, Tara's brother. Her father and cousin Beth also arrive, they have come for her birthday. They don't stay long, but arrange to meet Tara for dinner that evening. Buffy gets home and Riley is there having unpacked all her stuff. Dawn is going to her friend Melinda's for dinner, but Buffy won't let her. Dawn and Riley both think this is crazy. Buffy says she's worried about the demon in red. Riley suggests contacting Graham and the government, but Buffy is against this. Angry at being left out (he realizes she is keeping something from him) he leaves. We cut to Tara walking into her room and finding her father there. He is upset that she is practicing witchcraft. He tells her that at 20 she will change, that there is evil inside of her that powers her magic. He says she has to come home and they have come for her.

The demon in red is talking to the demon she grabbed at the hospital. She learns from it that Buffy is the slayer. She tells it to gather some of it's companions (it is a Lei-Ach demon, a warrior and bone marrow sucker) and to kill Buffy. Willow comes to get Tara for a scooby meeting, but she begs off. But she sneaks in to the meeting and casts a spell on the others, blinding them to evil in the hope that they won't be able to see her demon self when it evidences itself. Riley is drinking at Willy's bar. A woman named Sandy sits next to him and hits on him, but he tells her he doesn't go out with vampires. Spike is staring at the blonde mannequin, but he hides it as Harmony returns from shopping. She has learnt that the Lei-Ach have been contracted to kill Buffy. Harmony thinks they should get the Lei-Ach a gift basket if they succeed. Spike leaves, saying he wants to watch.

Walking, Tara meets Beth who wants her to come home and says she's selfish. She realizes Tara cast a spell and Tara pleads with her not to tell her father. Buffy is working out in the training room. Tara answers the door and the Lei-Ach demons are there but she doesn't see them because of the spell. Beth says she's telling Tara's father and Tara should tell her friends what she did. The Lei-Ach are in the store and one is looking at Dawn as she plays with a crystal ball. None of the gang can see them. Two enter the training room and attack Buffy. She calls for help and Xander is attacked by a demon as he tries to enter the training room. They are all fighting furiously against the invisible enemy. Spike arrives and after watching for a moment starts helping Buffy. Tara arrives and reverses the spell. Now able to see the demons, Buffy defeats them just as Tara's father arrives.

Tara and her father explain what happened and why. The women in her family have demon in them, that's where the magic comes from. Tara is ready to leave, but Willow pleads with her and Tara admits she doesn't really want to go. Buffy says if her father wants to take her, he'll have to go through her first. Dawn says her too. All the others, except Spike, back her up. Buffy says they are family. Anya asks what kind of demon Tara is. Spike suspects something and punches Tara, it hurts him. He says there is no demon in Tara and it's just a family legend to keep women in line. As they leave, Beth asks Tara if she's happy now. Tara smiles.

The party for Tara is underway at the Bronze and everyone is having a good time. Tara explains her joke to Anya who still doesn't think it is funny. Riley arrives, with a gift. Dawn is having a great time. Willow and Tara dance.

Analysis

It's the year 2000 and lesbians aren't exactly a big, dark secret. Not even in the socially backward world of network tv. But the bedroom scene with Tara and Willow struck me as daring. There was no sex and no nudity. The average scene in VIP shows more skin. They didn't even kiss and the snuggle was less daring than the average episode of Friends. This is definitely no Ellen. But I still found the scene daring, simply because it portrayed Willow and Tara as an ordinary couple. The scene (with minor dialogue changes) could have been written for Riley and Buffy or Xander an Anya (except there would have been stronger sexual overtones with either of those couples). It's the ordinariness of the scene which makes it striking. This is just a couple who happen to be lesbians. I doubt any other network tv show will have so ordinary a same sex couple anytime in the near future. Buffy continues to live on the cutting edge of tv.

That was a good things about this episode, but there were also some bad things. I just don't understand how Spike hitting Tara proves anything. How does he know she's a demon or a human and how does his implant detect that? I always thought it was based on his perception of people. So if he were blindfolded and told he was hitting a human when he was hitting a demon, he'd get the pain. I mean, he doesn't have some magical means of detecting the difference - if he did he wouldn't have had to hit Tara to find out. And I'm not ready to believe the chip has some demon detecting ability. So this really didn't work for me. Neither did the kidlike roughhousing between Xander and Riley (although maybe this was introduced to suggest they had established a brotherly relationship). It seemed incredibly out of character for the normally serious Riley. And since Xander has been maturing lately, it seemed a step back for him.

With all that out of the way, I can talk about what seems to be the central theme of the episode: families and how they lie to protect or control you. And how there may not be all that much difference between the two. Tara's family has lied about her becoming a demon so they can force her to come back home. I felt this was a little weak since the father was clearly meant to be perceived as evil or at least villainous and he just didn't seem all that bad. We had her brother making fun of witches and magic and her father apparently wanting free domestic help - not the best family but hardly evil. When the family first showed up, I was reminded of the Sheri Tepper novels about Mavin Manyshaped (and once you've read them you'll understand about evil families). But the reality of the episode let me down.

The character of Beth was the interesting one here and failing to develop her weakened the episode. Does she really agree with the father and brother in their deception or is she just another female victim of the family? Is she desperate to get Tara back so the burdens can be shared? There are all kinds of subtle suggestions of abuse and incest that aren't followed up on in the least and really should be. Instead, we're just left with the traditional disfunctional family. And I'm left with the big question of where Tara's money comes from. Is her family supporting her at school even though they don't want her there? The only question answered here was why Tara sabotaged the spell in Goodbye, Iowa.

I'm glad Buffy has decided to keep the truth about Dawn secret from everyone except Giles. It makes sense and limits the hurt to Dawn (who seems a lot happier this episode perhaps because she is spending so much time with the big sister she idolizes). It's interesting that learning Dawn really isn't her sister has actually made Buffy feel more sisterly toward her. But in a lot of ways, her actions toward Dawn are like Tara's father's actions toward her. Buffy wants constantly to know where Dawn is and forbids her to engage in normal social activity. She gets upset when Dawn is going across the street to have dinner with a friend and makes her stay home. She gets worried when Dawn is gone for a moment when helping Buffy pack and move. Dawn doesn't understand this sudden concern and is clearly resentful of the infringement on her freedom. I suspect we'll learn she is connecting this to Joyce's sickness and it does make sense (emotionally) for a big sister to become overprotective of a little sister when their mother is sick and neither can do anything to help her.

The scene where Dawn stands beside her sister and confronts Tara's father is pivotal. It's the first time Dawn has so completely sided with Buffy. It's also the first time Buffy has accepted Dawn as being on her side and helping her. And the rest of the gang pull together behind them. This scene illustrates Buffy's strength, the sense of family that she creates. Even though she doesn't know Tara all that well and doesn't really feel all that comfortable around her (the scene in the shop where she admits forgetting the party and says she doesn't really know anything about Tara or what to get her is evidence of this), she does consider her a member of the scooby family and she'll protect her. These are the same feelings she has for Dawn. And it's no accident that Dawn really likes Tara (as we learnt in Real Me). Buffy's declaration of familial protection for Tara brings Dawn onside. From Dawn's perspective, if an outsider like Tara is part of the family, then she can be too.

Buffy has changed a lot from the teenage girl who was running away from her responsibility as the slayer when this series first began. In the first episode, she tried to avoid Giles and her duty. In Anne, she literally ran away from her home and her slayer role. But at the beginning of this season, she asked Giles to return to his role as her watcher and in this episode she willingly and quickly accepts the responsibility for Dawn that has been thrust upon her. This is a more mature and more altruistic Buffy than the one we first met several years ago. With Joyce sick, Buffy has moved into the maternal role. She protects and mothers Dawn and she challenges the father figure who opposes her. She actually does the latter twice, once mockingly when she points out Giles is not really helping her move when he adopts what he calls a patriarchal role. And again seriously when she blocks Tara's father. She is performing all the maternal roles: nurturing (of Dawn), protection against paternal wrath, and having children (the adoption of Tara).

Spike is definitely conflicted. It was bad enough when he was dreaming of the slayer, but now he's fantasizing about her when having sex with Harmony. And, despite his claim of wanting to kill her, he actually saves her in this episode. Plus, he reveals that Tara is human. Spike is a hero in this episode, saving both Buffy and Tara and asking nothing in return. He does continue to stand outside the family - he explicitly says as much when they stand up to Tara's father. But his actions speak louder than words.

Riley, on the other hand, is turning to evenings in sleazy bars. I don't quite understand how he has avoided being killed when hanging out in a demon bar. And I don't understand why he is drinking, unless it's simply a way to prepare us for his leaving Sunnydale and rejoining the military. It's interesting that his biggest contribution to this episode was the suggestion that they contact Graham and bring in the government. It's clear that he's thinking about what Graham said in Out of My Mind about not belonging in Sunnydale.

I'm not quite sure how the demon in red tracked down the Lei-Ach demon and why she didn't just go kill Buffy herself. Yes, she did imply she was embarrassed at fighting someone as common as the slayer, but I really don't think anything she says bears any relation to what she really feels. And surely having the doctor in this scene has got to mean something. Was the Lei-Ach going to attack him for a reason? And since he's not a Sunnydale resident, why did he come there for his internship? Is there something special about the doctor - which might also explain why he seems to keep getting special patients.

I liked the editing in this episode. We have Buffy saying she's sure the demon in red will come for them and a cut to the demon bursting out of the rubble. Then Buffy saying she could use a break from the craziness and a cut to the hospital and another crazy person being brought in on a stretcher. When Xander tells Buffy she should do something to work off the tension, we cut to Buffy and Spike fighting furiously - which is Spike's fantasy while he has sex with Harmony. As Riley angrily leaves the house despite Buffy's plea for him to stay, Tara walks into her room to find the unwanted visitor, her father. Tara's father asks how her friends will feel when they see her true face and we cut to the hideous face of the Lei-Ach demon. Riley tells Sandy he doesn't date vampires and we cut to vampire Spike staring longingly at the blonde mannequin he pretends is Buffy.

Some quick final thoughts. It was good to have some reference to Buffy's father who has been strangely absent these days. We know she visited him last year (in the Angel episode I Will Remember You) and we know she was disappointed when he didn't show up for her birthday in Helpless (Eighteen). Now we're getting some more information about his life and her response to it. In my comments on No Place Like Home, I wrote that the demon in red reminded me of Anya. This week, Buffy compares her to Cordelia. I can see both the analogies. Do I need to go into the metaphorical aspect of two women in bed playing with a cat? Or Buffy shouting she's coming in Spike's fantasy? Buffy's concerns about fitting in with the Wiccan crowd at Tara's party are clearly references to lesbianism and it's nice to see both Buffy and Xander somewhat uncomfortable with the whole thing. I'm not sure where the demon in red took the Lei-Ach, but if it was her home, she certainly likes mirrors and clothes. So I guess that is a resemblance to Cordelia.

Lines of the week:

"Living the cliche." - Buffy's final analysis of her father.

"I saw myself more in a patriarchal sort of role. You know, lots of pointing and scowling." - Giles on how he's helping Buffy move.

"You have the cutest little suppurating sores." - A compliment to the Lei-Ach from the demon in red.

"Everything was on sale."
"You paid for it?"
"Oh no. I just killed the clerk. Still, a bargain's a bargain." - Harmony explaining her shopping modus operandi to Spike.

"We're family." - Buffy bringing Tara firmly into the scooby world.

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