Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Tough Love

Summary

Buffy is dropping out of university for the semester and is getting her English professor to sign some forms. He regrets her leaving and she says she really enjoyed the course. Cut to Ben arriving at work and being fired. He's been missing for two weeks - Glory has had his body. As he's angrily cleaning out his locker, he transforms into Glory.

Glory is taking a bubble bath waited on by three blindfolded minions. She starts to complain about them bringing her Spike instead of the key, interrupting herself to call for the loofah which a blindfolded minion holds out. While berating them, she calls for a mimosa which a minion has been holding on a tray. She drinks and tells them to wrack their minion brains and tell her everything they know about Buffy and her friends and then Glory will figure out who the key is. We see the third minion is holding a box of chocolates.

Buffy is at school talking to Dawn's principal. Dawn has been cutting school and is in trouble. The principal says Dawn is very talented, but doesn't apply herself. She asks Dawn to leave so she and Buffy can speak privately. Xander, Willow, Anya, and Giles are at the shop. Anya is watching an elderly couple shopping. She says they would buy something if they were patriotic. She says she has realized she is an American and she embraces the ideology of America - capitalism. She complains that old people just look at things and don't buy. She says French people are also unAmerican because they don't tip. And French old people are the bottom of the barrel. Xander suggests she be a bit less prejudiced and a bit more inclusive. She says she's going to make the couple buy something.

Buffy and Dawn arrive. Buffy tells them she has dropped out. Xander supports her in this and in her plans to return the next semester. Basically, he just supports her and wants her to know. She leaves Dawn to do her homework with Willow's help and goes to talk to Giles. She tells him what happened and he says she has to put her foot down. She asks him to do it. He tells her Dawn needs her family, Buffy, not him. Reluctantly, Buffy agrees. She goes out to find Dawn giggling and Willow, Xander, and Anya lying on the ground in a triangle. Buffy is angry and Willow explains they are acting out a geometry problem and references to obtuse and acute led to much hilarity. Buffy says Dawn should do her homework at home. Dawn is upset and Willow tries to talk to Buffy. But Buffy makes it clear how upset she is. Willow suggests she and Dawn come to the multicultural fair, but Buffy says no. She says not to worry, it's not that she doesn't have a life. She has Dawn's life.

Glory has figured out who the key is. She sends her minions on their assignments and goes to collect the key. Tara and Willow are getting ready to go out and Willow is telling her about Buffy. Tara sides with Buffy and Willow feels that because Tara's mother died she is saying she understands the situation and Willow cannot. Willow says she feels her opinion isn't worth anything. That Tara is always ahead of her. She's been out longer and practicing witchcraft longer. Tara says Willow has gone well beyond her in magic and even frightens her. Willow jumps on that word, which she calls a Freudian slip when Tara says she meant impresses, and wonders why Tara doesn't trust her. Tara talks about Willow changing so rapidly and Willow realizes it's her change to lesbianism that is the real concern. That Tara fears she is just experimenting and will leave when she gets bored. Willow is upset and leaves.

A couple of minions are peeking in the window of Buffy's house. She's telling Dawn she'll create a schedule of all the things Dawn has to do and when they have to be done with a box for Dawn to check when she has done them. Dawn says she doesn't see why she should bother. She's a key, why does she need an education. Buffy says if she doesn't go to school, they'll take her away. The principal told her that she could lose custody of Dawn over this. Dawn asks where she would go and Buffy says she doesn't know, maybe their father, maybe a foster home.

Tara is sitting alone on a bench at the multicultural fair. Willow is at the shop, sitting alone and unhappy. We see a hand take Tara's hand. She turns and beside her is Glory. Giles is unwrapping a package. He notices Willow is upset and she tells him about quarreling with Tara. He tells she'll feel better when they've made their apologies. He opens the door and a minion is there. He slams it shut knocking the minion out. They drag him into the store and Giles tries to question him. The minion says he won't talk. Giles asks Willow and Anya to get some twine to tie him up. Suddenly the minion screams that he will talk and the girls turn around to find him spilling his guts. He tells them they have been sent to watch the slayer's people while she gets the key. He reveals she thinks the key is Tara. Willow rushes to the fair telling the others to check Tara's room and call Buffy.

Glory squeezes Tara's hand until she's in agony. She tells her not to make a sound, that no one can help her. She says she'll kill everyone if Tara tries to do anything. She tells her people are worthless but keys are worth a lot. She squeezes harder and makes Tara's hand bleed. She licks the blood and realizes she isn't the key. She's outraged and accuses Tara of lying to her. She tells her she can make it up to her by telling her who the key really is. She squeezes her hand harder and then says that pain is nothing compared to how she'll feel if Glory sticks her fingers in Tara's brain. She graphically describes the horrible feelings. Tara is in agony, but refuses. Willow arrives and looks for Tara. We see Glory brain sucking her. When Willow finally gets to her, Glory is gone and most of Tara is as well.

Tara is in the hospital and has been treated. Giles, Willow, Xander, and Anya are there. A doctor is telling Willow Tara has to spend a night in the psych ward for observation. He says she can have her released in the morning. Tara rambles madly through this. The doctor leaves and the gang all say how much they hate hospitals. Buffy arrives, she's left Dawn with Spike. We see Spike and Dawn hiding in the caves. Spike is trying to comfort Dawn. She tells him she's scared that she must be something truly horrible to be the cause of so much evil. He tells her she's not evil. At the hospital, Tara is being taken to the psych ward. Willow is distraught and the gang try to comfort her. Willow wants to fight Glory. Buffy tries to talk her out of it saying she wouldn't have a hope in such a battle. Willow says she'll wait. Then she rushes to the shop and collects materials and a book called Darkest Magick.

Glory is feeling great. She really enjoyed eating Tara's mind. She says she'll find the key by ripping through Buffy's friends. The building shakes and things fall down, as if there is an earthquake. The door flies open and Willow flies in - her eyes all black. The minions flee and she casts a spell which slows Glory down. She then attacks Glory with what seem to be electrical bolts.

At the cave, Buffy is comforting Dawn who asks about Willow. She explains that she calmed Willow down. Spike is skeptical. He says he'd go on a suicide mission for the right person, for a person he loved. Dawn tells Buffy to think what she would do if it had been Dawn rather than Tara hurt. Buffy rushes out. At Glory's, Willow is trashing the place. She shatters a mirror and flings the shards at Glory shredding her dress. Glory says she's doesn't care about these things. She rips off the tattered dress and says sucking on Tara's mind was something to treasure. Willow hurls knives from her bag at Glory, but Glory knocks them aside. She summons up serpents to attack her, but Glory vaporizes them. Willow is getting weak. Glory has knocked her down and grabs her. Willow spits in her face. Glory grabs one of the knives and is going to kill Willow but Buffy arrives and stops her. Buffy and Glory fight. Glory is a little slowed down from the battle with Willow, but still too strong to stop. Buffy manages to get to Willow and lead her out. Willow casts a spell to slow down Glory who shouts menacingly after them.

Dawn and Buffy are with Willow and Tara. Dawn and Buffy have brought food. Willow and Dawn feed Tara. Willow says they gave her stuff to keep Tara calm. Willow says she will take care of Tara, she's her girl. Buffy smoothes Dawn's hair and says she understands. Willow says she knows. The walls is smashed in by Glory. Tara starts babbling and Dawn tries to comfort her. The mad Tara looks at Dawn, sees the key, and reveals the secret.

Analysis

Knowing that you love somebody and letting them know it aren't really easy things to do. Spike did a lot of things to convince Buffy he loved her (including kidnapping her and threatening to kill Dru) and he flat out told her. But she felt he was just obsessed and sick and twisted. But when he was ready to sacrifice himself in Intervention, she realized there was something real (her words) about what he had done and what he felt. In this episode, the love between Buffy and Dawn is more clearly articulated, and Willow realizes just how much Tara means to her and what she is willing to do for her. At the same time, knowing what you are and what your role in life is is also tough. And Dawn and Spike and even Willow travel a ways down that highway.

The episode begins with Buffy symbolically giving up her life (a foreshadowing of the gift of death the guide spoke of in Intervention). She's dropping out of university. She's dropping an English course she really enjoyed and a professor she really liked and who clearly likes her. She says she won't have time for poetry and the professor says maybe she can make time for short poems. She remembers haiku, which are poems about nature and try to capture a concrete image in place and time. Buffy lives in an unnatural world - a world of demons and mad gods and keys disguised as teenage girls - and she is being forced to move forward while she really wants time to stop. She needs to take time to deal with her grief, time to tend to her sister, time to plan. Instead she's forced into constant action. First by the facts of her mother's death which makes her drop out of school. Then with the problems Dawn faces at school, which make her assume an adult persona she doesn't feel ready for and dedicate herself to Dawn. And, finally, by the actions of Glory who begins to aggressively pursue the key and now has found who it is.

At Dawn's school, Buffy faces another member of the educational system. Like her English professor, the principle seems nice and helpful. But unlike him, she has bad news. Dawn is cutting classes and appears out of control. If Buffy cannot control her, then she may be taken away from Buffy. Buffy realizes she has to assume the maternal role fully. And she doesn't feel prepared for it. She tries to get Giles to take the role on. But he realizes that this is something that must happen within the family. And as Buffy comes to this recognition, the last shreds of her childhood, in tatters since the death of her mother, fall away. When she orders Dawn home and rejects Willow's suggestions, she says she has Dawn's life. She is subordinating her life to Dawn's. Like a parent, she is ready to give up life for her child/sister.

At home, Buffy comes across as domineering and tyrannical. Not unlike the school mistress Willow likens her too. But she ultimately reveals to Dawn that her tyranny comes from fear of losing Dawn, not of a desire to control. As always, truth brings the sisters closer together. Just as Dawn and Buffy bonded when Buffy revealed the depth of her sorrow at their mother's death in Forever, so the bond is reaffirmed here when Buffy reveals her greatest fear is the loss of her sister. This spurs a change in Dawn. She had been acting in a nihilistic manner. Feeling nothing mattered because she wasn't real, she felt free to do anything she wanted. Now she suspects that others do matter and that her actions or her very existence can harm others. She's gone from a self absorbed sorrow to an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the world's problems.

But Dawn's self absorption has it's limits. In the caves, after having been comforted by Spike she speaks to Buffy. She still thinks it is all her fault, but she asks about Willow. She still cares about other people and is not trying to focus all attention on herself. And her question, which gives rise to Spike's skepticism, leads to the rescue of Willow. It's interesting that Dawn and Spike work together here. He realizes how Willow feels and that he would have similar feelings. He draws a parallel between his actions and Willow's for Buffy. And Dawn drives this point home by making Buffy think of her own feelings in an analogous instance. Dawn and Spike together function as a catalyst for good. Which makes me wonder what happens if the key is activated. Is it possible that the key may give Glory the ability to be more evil and Spike the ability to be more good? Does the key simply reinforce potential? When Glory attacks Tara, she licks her blood and realizes she is not the key. A very vampirish thing. Spike refers to Dawn as platelet in this episode and has jokingly spoken of biting her in the past. But what would happen if he tasted the key's blood?

Buffy's realization that Tara means to Willow what Dawn means to her leads to the scene between Willow and Buffy where they reveal their understanding of each other's feelings. Feelings that can only be understood through analogy and not through description. Before Willow was angry because she felt accused of not understanding. She was angry because she felt she had failed to protect Tara. Buffy was angry because she felt she had failed to protect Dawn. Now both realize that they can only do what they can and have to trust in faith. Willow is ready to care for Tara even if she never recovers. They just have to wait and see.

This season there is a something of a parallel between Tara and Anya. Partly because they are the unlikely lovers of two of the gang. Partly because they don't quite fit in. Partly because their love, however strange, is genuine. I think you can extend that comparison to Spike and that partly explains why he is the one who understands that Willow will go after Glory - even knowing it is suicide. In this episode, Anya is continuing the process of integrating herself into human society. She began by falling in love with Xander and becoming part of a couple. She then found a job, working for Giles, and became a useful and contributing member of society. Now, she has begun to see herself as part of a larger society, America, and is struggling to understand the underlying principles of her new country. Of course, there's an underlying humourous subtext. Anya's passion for capitalism is being used to mock capitalism - or at least capitalism in its raw form. And we see her proAmerican attitude turning into an anti everyone else attitude (especially the French). This, of course, is the natural course of nationalism.

Meanwhile, Tara is moving in the other direction - becoming increasingly separate from the group. She quarrels with Willow and they go their own ways. She's unable to believe that Willow really loves her. She finds herself alone on a bench confronted by Glory. She realizes no one, none of the normal protectors of the social order, can help her. Glory makes this clear to her as she points out all the people Tara could call to and how she could kill them all with ease. Surrounded by people she is alone and helpless. Ultimately, Glory removes her from the society of thinking people - robbing her of her thoughts and committing the ultimate rape.

Willow, who Glory calls the lover, acts the avenge the rape of her beloved. Tara's innocence and purity have been ravaged by Glory and Willow intends to destroy Glory in return. Her actions are understandable, but stupid. She plans on an epic conflict, like a character from one of those long poems Buffy won't be reading. But she isn't the stuff heroes are made of. She isn't strong enough to face Glory and her only hope is in a united front with Buffy and the others. Buffy thinks she has convinced Willow of this but Spike, the would be poet who often acts like an epic hero (or villain), realizes nothing could deter Willow. He understands that while she lacks the power to destroy Glory - the power an epic hero has, she suffers the epic pain of love - something Spike shares. He knows death is preferable to that pain and action is unavoidable. Willow has gone off, like a knight championing his lady's honour, to fight the black knight that is Glory (and where are the brotherhood of Byzantium who we saw in Checkpoint and who might actually be of help now).

Tara's love for Willow (and for the others) is made evident in her willingness to die or be mentally destroyed rather than reveal the secret of Dawn to Glory. Like Spike, she is tortured and remains true. Willow's love for Tara is made evident when she goes off ready to die to avenge her beloved. Of course, both actions only make matters worse. Willow's attack provokes a counter attack by Glory and further endangers everyone. And Tara's madness proves the key to revealing the key to Glory. Had Willow not sought revenge, Glory would not have arrived at the opportune moment and Tara would not have unwittingly revealed the truth. So Willow, driven mad by love, endangers not only herself but everyone. This forms an interesting counterpoint to Spike's love, in Intervention, which saves the world from Glory - at least for a while. While Willow is essentially good and Spike essentially evil or at least not good (he says this himself in this episode), it is Spike who finds in his strange love for Buffy something ennobling and improving while Willow gives in to the dark side of passion.

Dawn's comments about not being good if not being outright evil clearly reflect on Spike. You can't argue he's good, his good actions come from motivations more complicated than a simple desire to do good. But he's not evil either. He's become something less than evil but still not good. Willow, on the other hand, is not evil but has turned into something less than good. She seems to be turning further inward. She focuses on her own feelings a great deal and doesn't seem to consider how her actions will impact others. This was clear in Forever, when she foolishly made the book about resurrection available to Dawn. This episode, she's insensitive to Tara and walks out during their fight while Tara wants to sort things out. It's interesting that she's hurt because Tara's mother died and hers didn't. Hardly something to be hurt by. If anyone deserves some slack here it is Tara, who is a virtual orphan and not yet well integrated into the gang. She's always being left behind or out of the action. And Willow leaves her behind one more time in this episode. And this time, she gets lost.

Spike takes a different approach. Although he is an essentially self centered person, he pays a lot of attention to the feelings of others. Left alone with Dawn he tries to comfort her, something he's done pretty much everytime he's been with her. At one point, he actually reaches out to pat her - a sign of physical affection we'd expect from Willow not Spike. He jumps back when she turns and you can see how Spike's own emotions are exposed. He's frightened to reveal his compassion, yet desperate to do so. His face softens as Dawn expresses her concern over responsibility for his wounds (the second time in two episodes someone has actually felt sorry for Spike). Conversely, Willow hardens herself after seeing what has happened to Tara. She removes herself further from humanity and seeks out black magic solutions to her problems. And she's only saved because Spike understands what she is going through and what she would be doing. Spike and Willow are passing each other on their live's journeys, headed in opposite directions. It's no accident that the emotionally wounded Willow draws the sympathy and attention of the gang (rather than the physically and psychically wounded Tara whom Willow seems to supplant). But the physically wounded Spike gives sympathy and attention to others, especially the now very fragile Dawn. Willow has become a taker and Spike a giver.

Some quick final thoughts. It was nice to see a principal who wasn't evil or stupid. Glory's bath tub scene has to be one of the high lights of the series. It was nice to see she likes some things, like bubble baths. I love Anya referring to Giles as a foreigner. So, was the minion a coward or did Giles do something really unspeakable to him when no one was looking. I'm hoping for the latter. I love the way Glory accuses people of lying to her when they haven't even spoken to her. Her graphic and disturbing description of what it feels like to be brain sucked suggests that's the way she feels trapped inside of Ben. And it may be a clue to how she can be defeated. Everyone may hate hospitals, but the show has certainly gotten a lot of value out of that set. I like the parallel between the earthquake like attack of Willow on Glory and Glory's earthquake like attack on Willow, Dawn, Tara, and Buffy.

Lines of the week:

"Like those Japanese ones that sound like a sneeze." - Buffy with an interesting take on haiku.

"A pulseless, impure, folically fried vampire." - Glory describing Spike.

"I'm searching for supportive things and I'm coming up all bras." - Xander being supportive.

"You're so much more a grown-up than me." - Buffy making her case to Giles.

"Who among us can resist the allure of really funny math puns." - Willow with a very strange view of human nature.

"It's not like I don't have a life. I do. I have Dawn's life." - Buffy laying down the law and putting her foot down.

"You're the only woman I've ever fallen in love with. So how on earth could you take me seriously." - Willow insulting Tara.

"Everyone wants petrified hamsters and they're never happy with them." - Giles with the strangest line of dialogue ever heard on tv.

"Your good mood is both obvious and contagious." - Giles showing his deep insight into human nature.

"You'll know you can fight without the world ending." - Giles leaping to conclusions and doing a little foreshadowing.

"It's like communism." - Anya letting everyone know she hates hospitals.

"I'm a vampire. I know something about evil. You're not evil." - Spike laying out the facts for Dawn.

"I'm not good and I'm ok." - Spike with some insight.

"That came out a lot more lesbian than it sounded in my head." - Anya still having problems talking to Willow.

"When we have a chance." - Buffy telling Willow when they will fight Glory.

"It's the lover." - Glory identifying Willow.

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