Family • S05E06 • TPN's Buffy Guide

Family is the first Whedon written and directed episode of Buffy in Season 5 and…it’s a curious one Whedon has said in interviews that he thought about his time as the showrunner on Buffy as putting himself through film school and one thing I greatly appreciate is that that didn’t mean we ended up with 15 variations of giant snakes or rocket launchers If anything his episodes feel wildly experimental From the comic romp of ‘Dopplegangland’ to his functional and restrained direction in the Angel episode ‘Untouched.’ And Family family feels like yet another specific and unique entry in his diverse range of work: a bedtime story Summary In his first Buffy writing and directing credit this season Whedon picks up right where he left off with some of the dreamlike images from Restless “Tell me a story…” Watching this episode now, seeing Tara and Willow in bed loving each other playing with their kitten feels natural and as it should be *Deadpan Freud “Kitten Yes, it’s a metaphor But, I think it’s important to always keep in mind that Whedon was always fighting with the network for every scrap of Tara and Willow we got to have Their onscreen relationship was somewhat unprecedented It’s the same evening that Dawn’s actual nature was revealed to Buffy and she shares the news with Giles I love this exchange between the two of them as Buffy tells Giles, her father figure, that her Dad has selfishly abandoned them Lovely intimate blocking with a beautiful halo lighting on them both The two of them agree not to tell Dawn or the rest of the Scoobies the truth for now The next day the gang is helping Buffy move out of the dorms since she has decided to be home more for both Dawn and Joyce It’s a wonderful beautifully blocked scene that, as Sara in the livetweet session put it, feels like a close family on a car ride Though Tara has a bit of an awkward moment “That was funny if you studied Tagler and mythic rights? And are a complete dork.” “Then how come Xander didn’t laugh?” I wow Riley with the DUNK You know, the Riley scoreboard doesn’t get a lot of points in the plus column but I’m voting we throw one in for posterizing Xander I also love how Xander takes it in stride “I don’t know that Tagler stuff.” At the hospital a scary looking thing is moving on Ben when Glory grabs the monster and pulls him away Wonder if there is some kind of connection between Ben and Glory? Spike is fantasizing about fighting Buffy while he has sex with Harmony If Spike conflating sex and violence wasn’t READILY apparent before it should be now as, in his fantasy, Buffy uses her vagina to beat him up As Buffy and Xander commiserate over the challenges of getting to know Tara and what to buy her for her birthday party, a strange man inserts himself into the conversation “You all witches? Don’t do a spell on me now.” – “Was there something in particular you were looking for?” The man is Tara’s brother And she does NOT look happy to see him Or her father, for that matter Amy Adams’ appearance in this episode as Tara’s cousin has to be up there with Renferatu as one of the strangest cameo’s in the Buffyverse According to IMDB this supporting role came in her second year ever of acting Mr. Maclay ‘asks’ to see Tara for dinner that evening and she uses a very pointed term for him 16:30 “Yessir.” Buffy is now showing signs of serious paranoia over Dawn’s safety and Riley notices, but the decision she made with Giles adds to the pile of things that she and Riley aren’t communicating about “It’s more than that.” “What do you mean?” “You tell me.” Back at the dorms Tara’s dad has let himself into her bedroom “The door wasn’t locked I was a little early I suppose you wanted me to see all of these.” Nah dude She’s just living her best life It’s not all about you Daddy Von Narcissist reveals that they’re there because something is going to happen to Tara on her 20th birthday 20:40 You have evil inside of you and it will come out This explains why when Willow tried to do the locator spell to find XXXX back in Season 4, Tara sabotaged the spell She didn’t want Willow to know her secret With her birthday and demon change coming the next day, Tara casts a spell to make demons invisible to the gang Glory sends the demon she grabbed after Buffy Riley stops by Willy’s place for a drink, the site of his complete meltdown in Season 4 and gets hit on 27:00 “My heart belongs to another Besides, I don’t go out with vampires.” Glory’s demon has some mates the gang are now blind to and they invade the magic box Spike gets wind of Glory’s plan for Buffy and goes to watch her die…or at least that’s what he tries to convince himself of.. Tara realizes what is happening, cancels the spell, and the gang neutralizes the threat But in comes Daddy Dearest with plenty of ammo for his point of view 34:30 “The women in our family have demon in them Her mother had it.” Mr Maclay tries to bully Tara into coming along with him, but Willow steps up to fight for her 36:00 “Do you want to leave?” “That’s not your decision young lady.” “I KNOW that.” It’s TARA’s

God, I love that bit It’s something I’ve remembered from my very first runthrough of the series GO Willow And once Tara expresses her choice, Buffy steps forward to back her B: You want to take Tara out of here against her will Mr. Maclay, you gotta come through me MrM: You have no right to interfere with Tara’s affairs We are her blood kin Who the hell are you? B: We’re family Sniff…and Dawn and I are hair pullers too you better run you big jerk Spike suspects something is fishy in the old man’s story and realizes he’s a living demon detector 38:39 There’s no demon in there Am I right? Just a bit of spin to keep the ladies in line? You’re a piece of work I like you Captain Gas Light tries to take one more stab at getting Tara to bend to his will Mr.M: Tara, for 18 years your family has taken care of and supported you If you want to turn your back T: Dad…just go Amber’s delivery of that line is an absolute stunner Somehow compassionate with a hint of pity As if to say, ‘It doesn’t work anymore.’ Tara’s party is a hit, and the episode ends with two witches dancing on the ceiling Review ‘Family’ is a joy I have some quibbles and bits of course, but overall it’s kind of, forgive the term, magical how the episode feels light and fanciful while still grappling with some pretty heavy topics Amber Benson gives a terrific performance in this one There is a lot to dive into but lets cover some odds and ends first I mentioned the season is developing a theme around the idea of sanity, which continues in this one Tara: Families are always Willow: They make you crazy And Buffy drops a big hint at what Glory’s thematic relationship may be to the season 10:15 “You couldn’t be more specific about what [Glory] is like?” – “She was kind of like Cordelia, actually.” At this point, we’ve gotten to see a cuddlier more Angel-ific side of Cordelia but I mean…Buffy hasn’t It’s not like they were ever THAT close even when she was under the spell of Xander Harris Buffy usually acknowledged her as someone she potentially could have turned into “Before I was the Slayer I was…I don’t want to say shallow but…lets just call her Spordelia.” We’ve also been tracking signs of the Buffy/Riley emerging tail spin this season but this episode makes it…not only official but something that has been going on for a while now In the bar where Riley once wondered desperately at right vs wrong – good vs evil, the bartender observes You shouldn’t come in here Night after night But come in here Night after night And he has an unexpectedly polite chat with Sandy, Vamp Willow’s victim from Dopplegangland It seems, for Riley, that conversation started in ‘Goodbye, Iowa’ has never quite come to a satisfying conclusion His decision to go off on his own to a place he shouldn’t be also means that he isn’t present when Buffy declares, “We’re family.” If this was anything other than a Whedon episode, I might think I was reading too much into the lyrics of the song playing on the jukebox at Willy’s The song is called Tears in Your Eyes, by Yo La Tengo You tell me summer’s here And the time is wrong You tell me winter’s here and your days Are getting long Tears are in your eyes, tonight Although you don’t believe me, you are strong Darkness always turns into the dawn And you won’t even remember this for long When it ends alright I mentioned back in ‘Hush,’ with their relationships starting at the same point in time, there has always been a connection between Tillow and Ruffy An inverted reflection of each other By the end of this episode, Willow and Tara are a partnership Buffy and Riley are not And the results speak for themselves It’s been a little bit since Spike’s…uhhh…insight but his character makes a quantum leap in complexity here By embracing his fantasies of Buffy, either consciously or compulsively he has begun to act in a way that will raise some significant questions Why did he help Buffy fend of the Lei Ach demons? Was it strictly because if they’d killed her he would never have the opportunity to get into her pants? He may have said in the following scene that he didn’t care what happened to Tara, but his actions using himself as a demon detector were instrumental in getting to the root of Mr Maclay’s family lie If Spike were pure evil, wouldn’t it have been more enjoyable to just standby and watch? Buffy was in no imminent threat at that point Why would it matter to Spike what happens to Tara? Or again, was he motivated by a desire to show Buffster he was a stand-up undead? Did he take more joy out of torturing a parent than he would’ve torturing Tara? I don’t have any answers at the moment I just think it’s important to take a close and careful look at Mr the Bloody when considering his motivations, as occasionally it might be tempting to perceive Spike’s actions as altruistic And his charm and smoulder have such a steadily disarming effect Also, sidenote, isn’t that a cross he’s holding? How? Does the INTENT of the shape supercede it’s geometry when it comes to burning vampire hands? As I said in the opening, Family mostly feels like another unique entry in Whedon’s episodes but the one it reminds me of the most is the underrated Amends I’ve read reviews from people who were put off by the ‘very special episode,’ tone to that one “Be of good cheer It’s Christmas.” From Angelus’ holiday exploits to the choice Bangel speak at the climax to the magical snow storm that saves the day, Amends may feel to some a little more drenched in romance

than an average Buffy episode A tonal shift But, to me, I think Amends is an experiment in form similar to The Zeppo Whedon doing Kapra in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life, Angel,’ – an experiment that asks us to calibrate our expectations from the beginning and, if we do so successfully, has a lot to offer The very first opening shot of ‘Family,’ a repetition of the whimsical bit of Willow’s dream in ‘Restless’ gives away Whedon’s desire to play with a particular form: “Tell me a story.” – “Once upon a time…” A fairy tale bedtime story Tara’s Ms Kitty Fantastico story is allegorical for both her and Dawn, which we’ll get to in a minute But the episode is a fairy tale complete with magic, an evil step-family (because the Scoobies are Tara’s real family,) a knight, a prince….ess who comes along to rescue the other princess And, maybe a little unusually for any Buffy episode but also present in Amends, a happy ending The episode ends with Tillow floating in the air and no one in Sunnydale noticing Literally we can interpret it as the bar is filled up with people who know Tara and Willow, BUT I think it also fits within the fable structure Happily ever after There are hints of the bedtime structure in the episode’s composition as well Mutant Enemy sometimes uses a writing technique where the last line of one scene serves as a transition into the next, usually allowing for a quick and easy joke School Hard: It’s Senseless “Stupid pen…” The result always feels a little bit meta, one part of an episode being subconsciously aware of another, but I like it and it happens a couple times an episode Whedon uses it many times in ‘Family.’ Examples Including inside of particular scenes Giles asks if he can help Tara’s brother find something specific and in comes Tara, the thing he was going to need help finding Using the technique as often as Whedon does in this one gives ‘Family,’ a sing-songy self-aware quality where one scene rhymes with the next…a bit like a bedtime story So, if ‘Family’ feels a little overflowing with romance and whimsy, that’s because it is That is the format Whedon decided to play with Of particular thematic significance in this one are fathers represented by Hank Summers, Mr Maclay, and Giles The episode opens with a rare reference to Buffy’s father Hank when Giles makes the suggestion that maybe Dawn should be sent to LA to stay with him, away from Glory -2:43 “Your fathers?” – He’s in Spain, with his secretary Living the cliche” YOU’RE her real father Giles Among the three examples of fathers, Giles is the healthiest portrayal Unlike Hank Summers, he is present Unlike Mr Maclay, Giles doesn’t try to control or dominate Buffy but instead simply advises, works with her, and lets her make her own decisions He doesn’t tell Buffy they should tell the others but instead asks “Do we tell the others?” He asks and defers to her judgement It’s not that Giles wouldn’t speak his mind if it came to it but he lets Buffy live her life and make her own decisions Even if the fate of the world is on the line and, when it comes to Buffy’s decisions, it often is And Buffy already made the distinction between blood and family that this episode is about when she tried to get Giles to marry her and Spike in ‘Something Blue.’ “I know my father is…but this day is about family As for Hank Summers, I had a strange thought watching this one this time: As much as I won’t forgive him for the way ‘Nightmare’ version of him spoke to her, Buffy’s Dad was actually supportive in ‘Nightmares.’ He bought her shoes to compensate for their poor communication in ‘When She Was Bad’ which shows a desire to connect with her even through the wrong approach And, we can say, at the very least he apologized and sent her flowers for not making the Ice Capades on her birthday Up until now I would’ve described him as an adequately subpar Dad But fleeing to Spain with his secretary and ignoring Joyce’s illness feels like a radical alteration to his part in the family story Depending on when Hank and Joyce divorced, he is about five years late on his midlife crisis It made me wonder how things played out differently in the Summers’ home once Dawn was retconned into their lives Lastly we have Mr. Maclay It’s not an uncommon trend for representations of misogyny on the show to speak to women as though they were children In season 3 where Giles spoke to Buffy plainly but always allowed her to make her own decisions the Mayor treated Faith like a child, and spoke to men in the room like Giles and Angel

instead of to Buffy That’s one spunky little girl you have there Tara’s father does the same to her Everything he says feels fatherly but is peppered with diminishing terms, like a father speaking to a 10 year old 36:00 “The girl belongs with her family And, of course, there is his controlling lie Psychology Today defines the term gaslighting as: …a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality Mr Maclay: You have evil inside you Tara: It doesn’t feel…evil Mr Maclay: Evil never does It is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders And Mr Maclay shows signs of being all of those in this episode Certainly it is abusive to convince his daughter that any aspect of her is demonic His interactions with her are absolutely dictatorial – he isn’t interested in her point of view As a narcissist would, he makes Tara’s private life be about him “I suppose you wanted me to see all of these.” And he travels with an entourage like a cult leader – an entourage that includes enforcers willing to do the uncivilized dirty work on his behalf “Tara, if you don’t get in that car I will beat you down.” The misogyny (which I define here as dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women) feels self-evident with Mr. Maclay and maybe a little on-the-nose from Tara’s brother Donny but it is uniquely depressing from Amy Adams’ character, Cousin Beth, who has internalized the family misogyny and perpetuates it on Tara “Cooking and cleaning…” As though the fact that Tara’s Dad and brother are sloppy unwiped asshats who can’t throw a Totino’s in the oven and wash the plate afterwards is somehow Tara’s irrevocable responsibility because shared blood But Cousin Beth preserving the family legacy of brainwashing that was probably done to her, feels ugly in a particularly unique way There is a philosophical component to this episode – call it the existentialist’s approach to love and relationships The idea that we are, in some way fundamentally incomplete without someone is a tenet of romanticism, and it runs contrary to any existentialist viewpoint It’s a tired old romantic idea that rears its head from time to time “You, complete, me.” and cousin Beth evokes it here with regard to blood relations Tara and her family cannot be complete without each other But from an existentialist point of view the idea that we should ever be enslaved to and incomplete without any one relationship, blood or otherwise would be abhorrent as it undermines the freedom necessary for us to express our fully-authentic selves through our choices Since magic has been used as a metaphor for love and intimacy between two women, the fact that Mr Maclay and company attribute the source of Tara’s magic to something demonic means that a major part of this episode is about the experience of being LGBTQ in a family that rejects you for being who you are The show has played with allegory before… “Have you tried not being a Slayer?” But this is the episode where the subtext uhm…rapidly becomes…text Two components to queer identity are chosen family and the tension between authenticity and respectability In general Tara’s family all express that Tara should feel shame for being who she is openly 19:30 “You don’t even try and hide it anymore.” He says, after handling Tara’s curiously dildo shaped ‘toy.’ Ever a Joss joke if ever there was *red arrow So, in metaphor, Mr. Maclay thought Tara would go to college and get “being gay” out of her system Mary Beth accuses Tara of being tainted for resisting her father, and one ugly old stereotype was that being a strong independent woman meant that woman was also probably a lesbian Tara’s mother was also, magical, – punished and controlled for it the way Tara has been It’s an indication that magic power might, at least in part, be hereditary Not something so simple as choice In stark contrast to the Maclay’s philosophy, and a little less metaphorical, we have Buffy and Xander’s conversation in ‘The Magic Box.’ They’re both still feeling weird and a little awkward about Tillow but desperately wanting to advance past their own awkwardness Xander/Buffy: There’s…that thing At the moment they think that being gay is Tara’s defining characteristic as they say it’s the only thing they really know about her “I just know that she likes Willow.” “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” I mean, yes As a friend pointed out, gift giving is just difficult

But there is more going on in this conversation, which I read as two straight people grappling with a fear that sexuality creates an unknowable and uncrossable barrier in their inner circle “Think there will be a lot of wiccan’s there?” Not that there’s anything wrong with that By the end of the episode those concerns have clearly been put to rest The trigger for change is brought on by Tara’s spell In this episode, Tara makes a decision, and tells Cousin Beth that she intends to stay in Sunnydale, which means that she thinks that the outcome of her spell to Blind Cadria will be that the rest of the Scoobies won’t see the demon part of her that emerges on her birthday But the spell has a number of accidental or just poorly considered consequences Unless the blinding spell had a point where it would wear off, making the Slayer blind to demons seems a bit…short sighted And I don’t think it works the way Tara actually intended Spike is only part demon and, when he pulls the demon Buffy can’t see off of him and she runs out of the run without an acknowledgement, his, “You’re welcome,” Is because Buffy CAN’T see him Which means that Tara’s spell, were she half demon, would’ve made her totally invisible to them The metaphor then is that we can’t actually be our authentic selves with other people when we’re keeping part of who we are locked away 34:34 “I was trying to hide” And the beautiful irony of the episode of course is that, the moment when Tara lifts her spell, is the moment when they get to really see her, in all her vulnerability Both the lie that she was afraid of and who she is for all of them She’s family Of course the impulsive use of magic as a coping mechanism is a trap that Willow has fallen into repeatedly over the seasons, most recently in ‘Something Blue,’ where it was obvious Willow felt guilty She made shame cookies And that experience is probably partly what gives her the compassion necessary to be so understanding of Tara in this moment “She did a spell wrong.” But guilt is not the same thing as learning a lesson from it There is always a cost either as a byproduct of the spell itself or directly in it’s consequences And it will be interesting to see where Tara and Willow, whom Whedon portrayed as Yin and Yang in ‘Restless,’ will go having shared the same experience Conclusion But the one persistent question throughout the episode might be: what is family? How do we measure it? Understand it? Qualify it? Is it the math of blood or something signaled in communication? Mr Maclay uses the word love with Tara early on 21:20 Maclay “Your family loves you Tara No matter what.” Yet we feel instinctively that his love, if real, is conditional on Tara’s willingness to bend to his will Not a single Scooby uses the word for each other until the final scene in the episode, but the unspoken love and connection between them in their fist opening scene feels more real and meaningful than anything Tara’s relatives have to say in the entire episode Is it just about memory then? Real Me sets up a connection between Tara and Dawn, with both of them feeling like outsiders to the group, and their parallels carry into this episode The monks created Buffy’s memories for Dawn through magic and, at the end of ‘Family,’ Willow uses a particular word to explain Tara and Willow’s feelings for each other “Magic Dawn is not really Buffy’s family In fact, there is a more direct relation of Dawn’s that is currently trying to capture and take her home Glory: “I need my key.” Mr Maclay: “Tara, you’re coming home with us.” Tara’s father’s gaslighting, creating a truth that isn’t there and Buffy struggling with what the memories the monks gave her of Dawn mean are fascinating counterpoints 2:50 “I remember when Dad left…Dawn cried for a week Except…she didn’t She wasn’t there And the question of what intrinsic meaning, memory and shared experience have is repeated again, when Buffy and Xander fumble awkwardly in conversation to talk about what to buy Tara “Well…I don’t really know her Something I’ve regularly wondered at throughout the series is where are the Sunnydale parents? I think, with the appearance of Mr Maclay, this episode offers an answer: Who cares? It isn’t blood that makes any relationship meaningful or worthwhile – philosophically, it can’t by itself, as we don’t get to choose our relatives, and meaning arises from our freedom to do so And as I’ve said before we don’t always get to choose who we love, and because of that our love for another can never make us captive to their abuses To some degree, this season is about the virtue of self-sacrifice, but sacrifice that isn’t given freely is servitude So I think, at the end of it, and as always, what we’re talking about is choice and freedom, as that is that is the only access to our authenticity As in, choosing to surround ourselves with the people who use their freedom to celebrate and encourage us to embrace our own We may not get to choose who we’re related to, or who we love, but we can always choose

our family