Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
Willow and Tara are at their dorm, and Tara is telling Willow a story about a kitty (while the camera focuses on Miss Kitty Fantastico). It’s cute and silly, and possibly metaphorical about Tara’s upbringing. Tara plans to stay up late researching more spells, because she’s trying to keep up with Willow. She wants to make sure she’s useful. Willow promises that she is useful, so she gets in bed and they snuggle up.
Buffy has just told Giles about Dawn. He’s the only one she plans on telling. I kind of agree. What good way is there to break it to a fourteen-year-old that she’s just some ball of energy a group of monks recently spun into a human? And the more people who know, the less safe the secret is. Giles suggests sending Dawn to Hank now that Red Dress Lady knows about Buffy. But apparently Hank’s having a mid-life crisis in Spain with his secretary right now. Buffy still thinks it’s so weird that her memories of Dawn are fake. She’s embraced her responsibility to take care of and protect Dawn. Giles will start researching Red Dress Lady.
...Who has just burst out of the rubble in the factory. She’s not happy. (Is she ever happy?)
It’s a new semester at UC Sunnydale! Okay, I’m very confused. Tara and Willow’s place definitely looks dorm-like. Were they taking summer classes? That seems in character. I’m going to go with that. Anyway, Buffy briefly moved into the dorms, but now she’s moving back home. Some of the Scoobies are annoyed. And Xander and Riley have each other in headlocks. Hey wait, does this mean they’re officially friends, and not just sort of friends-in-law because of Buffy? They knock it off out of fear of Buffy’s offer to separate them.
During this move-out process, Buffy is extra paranoid about Dawn. Also she’s still sore from her fight with Red Dress Lady. Tara tries to be encouraging with an obscure mythology joke, but nobody gets it and she feels like a freak. Willow wants everyone to be at the Bronze the next evening for Tara’s birthday. They all seemed to not remember that was a thing until she pointed it out, but they’re game. Also, I like Willow’s outfit. It’s got lots of interesting dark colors in it.
The fifth crazy patient arrives at the hospital. Ben the intern shakes his head sadly, then goes to change out of his scrubs. And hello, gratuitous male shirtlessness.
(Yes, I’m aware I didn’t include a shot of shirtless Spike. Get used to it. James Marsters’ torso weirds me out for some reason. And it’s not just because I don’t like Spike; Jared Padalecki’s torso gives me similar trouble, but don’t have a problem with Sam Winchester.)
The camera pans away, revealing a super creepy-looking demon with a forked tongue and lots of reddish fur. It prowls towards where Ben was changing, but then Red Dress Lady pops up and asks it for a favor, then hauls it offscreen.
Anya’s customer interactions have improved greatly thanks to Xander’s coaching and her genuine enthusiasm for her new job. She loves having a place in the world, and Giles finds that rather precious. Until she tells him she doesn’t want to do the boring shipping orders. Buffy and Xander come in, not psyched about Tara’s party but willing to go if Willow really wants them to. Xander and Anya snog across the front counter. It’s super cute. Giles has a whole table buried in books from his research on Red Dress Lady. Which is difficult, because all he knows is that she’s super strong, humanoid, and wants a Key. Buffy adds that her personality compares well with Cordelia’s, and that she dyes her hair. Super helpful.
Buffy and Xander sit down to help research, but mostly they talk about how all they know about Tara is that she’s super nice. She makes a lot of obscure references, which makes conversing with her confusing. They’re at a loss for gift ideas. Buffy doesn’t like worrying about this on top of everything. Xander recommends she work it off in the training room.
Smash cut to Spike fighting Buffy. He can actually hit her back, so it’s obviously not really happening. It’s a highly acrobatic fight, but also kind of dance-like and provocative. The fight concludes with Spike saying “Come and get me!” and Buffy replying “I’m coming right—”, then cuts to Spike and Harmony having sex, Harmony finishing Buffy’s line (and changing the meaning of it) “—now!” So, not a dream sequence; Spike was just fantasizing about Buffy while sleeping with Harmony! I’m not sure I ever appreciated the full grossness of that scene before, including the double-entendre dialogue. Brain bleach, anyone?
Buffy and Xander are still debating gift ideas for Tara. Giles can be condescending about it because he already got her a crystal ball. A customer is wandering around, and now poking through the books on the research table, which are not for sale. He seems kind of hick-ish and unpleasant. The type who gets all joke-y in a mean-spirited way, but then acts offended when you don’t think it’s funny. Plus, he has kind of a neckbeard thing going on. Willow and Tara arrive (Willow apparently gets Tara’s weird references). Hick Boy is Tara’s older brother. How fun for her. She immediately shrinks in on herself, but tries to seem happy as she introduces him. He’s Donny, but I think Hick Boy suits him better. Willow is happy to meet him. Tara almost asks how he found her, but then backtracks. He’s here for her birthday, of course! And it gets worsebetter! In come Tara’s dad and her cousin Amy Adams—I mean Beth. Tara and Mr. Maclay have the most awkward hug ever—I mean, not counting Voldemort and Draco Malfoy. Mr. Maclay says he’ll pick Tara up for dinner, and she says “yes sir.” Yikes. Willow seems to be trying not to assume the worst, with reasonable success.
Buffy gets home, where Riley meets her. They kiss, and Riley’s been unpacking all of her stuff. I think it’s a major sign of how close Buffy considers them to be that she is appreciative rather than horrified at the thought of someone else organizing her things. In fact, she’s so appreciative that she’s considering paying him back the “favor” with “outfits.” Dawn tries to head to dinner at her neighbor friend’s house, but Buffy won’t let her. Because...really lame reasons. Uh-huh. Might want to work on those lectures, Buffy. If I were Dawn, I’d have just gone out the back door and gone around, because that was a load of crap. Riley kind of agrees, and he’s sensing Buffy isn’t telling him something. He offers to contact Graham about Red Dress Lady, and Buffy kind of freaks out. He’s a little hurt. Or a lot hurt. He bails because of how excluded he feels. Buffy is at a complete loss.
Tara finds her dad waiting in her dorm. He’s there early, and he’s not happy about all the blatant witchcraft stuff in her room. Her stutter gets stronger around her family members, but it was mostly gone before they showed up. Mr. Maclay thinks something significant and bad will happen on Tara’s 20th birthday, just like with her mom. Tara hasn’t told anyone about this. Mr. Maclay wants to take her home because of all the evil power inside her. She doesn’t want to go, but she’s clearly not very practiced in standing up to him. He leaves her with the question of how the Scoobies will react to her “true face.” Also, dinner’s cancelled.
Red Dress Lady has chained the creepy demon from before to her clothes rack. The demon usually attacks the weak and sick, but she’s contracting it out. It tells her the girl she fought was the Slayer. She responds with complete snobbery: “How unbelievably common!” She demands the demon’s attention and respect. She sics it (and its friends) on Buffy.
Tara’s still in her room, all downcast, when Willow shows up. Willow wants her to come to a Scooby meeting. Also, Willow wants to try that demon-finding spell again—the one she still doesn’t know Tara sabotaged. Tara has the Tara version of blowing up in someone’s face, meaning telling Willow with very mild bluntness that the world doesn’t revolve around her and the Scoobies, and she has family stuff she has to deal with. Willow tries not to act hurt and leaves Tara to get the rest she says she needs. Tara looks something up.
At the Magic Box, it’s Scooby research time, and Giles has some ideas. Tara is lurking in the back room, and she says a spell and blows a handful of dust towards them. It swirls around them and slams into their faces. Nothing seems to change, though, but Tara leaves.
Riley goes to Willy’s, where the bartender is not Willy. Boo. I like Willy. A lady joins him at the bar. He buys her a drink. Her name is Sandy. Heeeeey wait a second. This Sandy?
So I guess she survived. She propositions Riley, but Riley says he’s taken. Also, he doesn’t go out with vampires. Wait, how the crap did Vamp Willow turn her? All she did was bite her and then drop her. Did she finish the process offscreen or something?
In his lair, Spike is holding the blonde-wigged mannequin head, but quickly shoves it out of sight when Harmony arrives, laden with shopping bags. She killed the clerk of April Fools in order to get an everything-off sale. Nice joke, but again I must ask why the Scoobies never bothered to stake her. Nice continuity with April Fools, though. That’s the dress shop Cordy worked at in S3. Harmony also has some hot gossip about that demon and all his buddies going after the Slayer. Spike is suddenly interested. And wow, Harmony’s shirt actually says “Harmony” on it in rhinestones. Spike heads out to go watch the demons kill Buffy.
Tara runs into Cousin Beth on campus. She’s here to see if Tara needs help packing. Tara says she’s not leaving. Beth goes from pleasant to calling Tara a bitch at lightning speed. Dude. She chews Tara out for abandoning her dad and brother to basically do their own housework so that she can have her selfish lifestyle in California. Beth can’t wait for the Scoobies to find out that Tara’s part-demon. That’s what the spell she did was for, to stop them from seeing it. Beth is horrified and plans to tattle. Tara begs her not to. Beth doesn’t care. She says Tara owes her friends the truth, and that she’s going to have to leave whether she wants to or not.
Buffy is training in the back room of the Magic Box when the demon and its friends show up. Willow can’t see them, though. Oh dear, I do believe Tara’s spell backfired. The demons come inside, unnoticed by the gang. They make their way to where Buffy is training. Her Slayer senses tingle, but she can’t see them. She can hear them, though. They attack, and she yells for Giles. One of them attacks Xander. Willow beats it off with a chair. A very confusing fight ensues. Spike shows up to watch, then ends up helping in spite of himself. Buffy can’t see him either. He’s annoyed when she fails to thank him. Buffy makes it into the main room and demands quiet so she can do what she did in “Out of Mind, Out of Sight.” Tara comes in and warns Buffy about the demon behind her. Spike kills one. Tara lifts the spell, then gets smacked by a demon everyone else can see. Her family arrives and gets attacked too. Buffy kills the last demon. Spike comes into the main room.
Battle over, Tara apologizes profusely for the spell. She’s so terrified of how they’ll react to her now. Mr. Maclay explains that the Maclay women have demon in them, which is why they have magic. Tara is so ashamed of the consequences of her spell that she decides to leave with her family. Willow protests. She doesn’t want Tara to leave unless it’s absolutely what Tara wants. It’s not. Mr. Maclay doesn’t care what Tara wants. He feels he has the moral high ground. Buffy says if he wants to take Tara, he’ll have to go through her. The surprise on Tara’s face is making me cry. Dawn joins Buffy. Mr. Maclay finds the idea of two “little girls” stopping him hilarious. Giles steps up too, and Xander adds that they’re all with Tara. Spike would like to make it known that he abstains because he doesn’t care. Noted, Spike. Mr. Maclay balks at their presumption. He calls Tara his “blood kin.” Buffy calls Tara part of the Scooby family. Hick Boy offers to convince Tara with a beating. Xander offers to break his bones.
Beth tries to sour them on Tara by bringing up the demon thing again, but Anya would like to know what kind of demon, specifically. Beth’s got nothing. Spike decides to make things very clear by punching Tara. The chip goes off. Boom. Tara’s human. You can all leave now, jerkwads. The whole “part-demon” thing is just a convenient lie for controlling the women. Gross. Tara’s nose hurts, but she’s extremely happy she’s not a demon. Tara tells her “blood kin” to leave. They do. Beth just really wants to guilt trip Tara, but her ammo is faulty.
Party time at the Bronze! Montage of Tara having a wonderful time with everyone, not just Willow. Then Riley shows up late. Buffy’s very happy. Tara fails to convince Anya that her earlier reference was funny. Dawn, who has to wear a stamp on her hand, says only losers drink alcohol and all the other Scoobies exchange glances. Huh? Okay, first of all, no one has ever had to wear a stamp at the Bronze before. Second of all, Buffy, Xander, Willow, Tara, and Anya’s human identity are all under 21, so where the hell are their stamps? Willow invites Tara to dance a slow song. Willow thinks Tara was silly to be afraid of telling her about her background, because she’s even more impressed with Tara that she came from such a crappy family and still turned out so wonderful. Tara loves how Willow can make her feel so special. Their dancing turns into extended hugging...and hovering.
“Family,” even with its heavy-handedness, is a pretty good episode. Tara has been in most episodes for almost a whole season now, and there’s finally a Tara-centric episode. What makes it work so well is the foreshadowing they did in S4. I’m a real sucker for inter-seasonal foreshadowing. I mostly like the literal side of Tara’s plotline, that her family is emotionally abusive and controlling. Whether Tara is naturally shy and timid or whether their treatment of her made her that way, I’m not sure, but her struggle against the sense of obligation she feels (but these people don’t deserve) is incredibly sympathetic, and when the Scoobies stand up for her, it’s absolutely wonderful. On the metaphor side, her family is clearly supposed to be seen as being a bunch of closed-minded Christians who don’t approve of Tara’s lesbian lifestyle (because witchcraft has consistently been a metaphor for that ever since Tara’s first episode). That’s why it feels heavy-handed. The Maclays aren’t just emotionally abusive and unsupportive, they’re homophobic, misogynistic, hick-ish, and “too religious.” I don’t doubt that many of those qualities tend to go together, but fiction of the caliber of Buffy should be subtler than that. And on the other side of it, as much as I love the scene where everyone stands up for Tara, it feels a little strange that Buffy and Xander would go from being very unenthusiastic about the idea of attending her party to describing her as family in the space of a single day, during which they interacted with her very little. Angel tends to feel much more genuine with its found family vibe than Buffy does, for reasons I’ve discussed before. Friendship is what ties the Scoobies together (except for Buffy and Giles, who actually do have a found family vibe), but Angel Investigations is united by a mission. As much as the Scoobies have been through together, it seems less likely that they would all keep fighting demons if they were no longer connected to Buffy, but as we’ll discover later in Angel S2, that’s not the case with Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn. But back on “Family.” Spike keeps getting creepier, and I still don’t like Glory. Knowing what she is, I think it might’ve been more interesting if she had the ability to control the minds of demons. Or at least to automatically command their loyalty. It bugs me that she acts more spoiled than regal.
Unsubtle Buffy is usually one of my favorite things to watch, but when Buffy combines that quality with her determination to protect Dawn, the results are kind of painful. She needs to realize that just because she’s six years older than Dawn, it doesn’t mean Dawn can’t think for herself. The more she tries to push Dawn into a protective little bubble, the more Dawn is going to hate her for it and rebel against her. And then there’s Riley. A couple of episodes ago, there really didn’t seem to be anything major that Buffy was keeping from him, but now she won’t confide in him about Dawn after she has confided in Giles. I’m not sure she’s right to exclude him from this secret. Because she’s Unsubtle Buffy, he can definitely tell there’s a secret. They agreed to take care of each other and to try making their relationship more balanced. (On the other hand, I don’t ship Buffy/Riley, so I’m not too sad that it’s going downhill.) And then there’s the way Buffy handles Mr. Maclay at the end. After how insane she’s been about keeping Dawn safe the whole episode, it almost feels inconsistent for her to be on Tara’s side. Tara did (accidentally) put Dawn in the worst danger she’s been in all episode. It’s not that I don’t believe Buffy is compassionate enough to forgive Tara and defend her, but the transition feels a little bumpy.
Xander seems to be doing so well in his professional life and his relationship that he’s having very little to do lately. In this one, he mainly serves to assist Buffy in expressing confusion about how to feel about Tara. First all they can say is that she’s nice, and then they’re willing to fight her family off.
I think Tara makes a pretty good point when she calls Willow out for always making everything about the Scoobies and wanting to pull Tara into the group when she really doesn’t make an equal effort to be a part of Tara’s life. Granted, Tara didn’t really want to share anything of her past because her family is terrible and she was so afraid they were right about her, but Willow had no idea about any of that. Might there have been something she could have done to help Tara open up before the pressure was on? Also, why would Willow expect Buffy and Xander to be eager to attend Tara’s birthday party when Tara has pretty much never directly interacted with them. She’s only talked to them with Willow present to translate their in-jokes. At the end of the episode, I would say that Tara is closest to being friends with Dawn, because of that cute thumb war scene in “Real Me.” But she’s still only friends-in-law with Buffy, Xander, and the rest.
I’m going to be mean and compare Riley to Angel for a minute. Riley feels like being a normal human is bad because it costs him Buffy’s respect (which it doesn’t). Angel didn’t want to remain a normal human because Buffy would have died, and so would all the other people he suddenly wasn’t equipped to protect anymore. That could be the core of Riley’s problem. He’s imagining himself to be inadequate, and instead of looking outward for ways to make himself useful (like Xander, Giles, Tara, and Anya have all done this season), he’s just obsessing over that inadequacy and on Buffy’s failure to be 100% devoted to him because she’s concerned about Slayer duties, school, her mom’s health, and her sister’s safety. The way to fix the relationship is not to ask Buffy for 100%, but for Riley to stop throwing his 100% at her. They should be each other’s safe haven from stress each other’s sources of support in the other areas of their lives. That’s what Buffy clearly wants, but Riley seems to want them to be on their own private island with nothing to think about but each other.
Anya’s delight with her newfound purpose and usefulness is very endearing. She and Xander really are doing well, both individually and as a couple. It’s an effective contrast against Buffy and Riley. In that relationship, Buffy is the one with all the purpose—more purpose than she’s sure she can handle, really—and Riley has none. With Anya and Xander, they both have fulfilling jobs now and they both help out the Scoobies in a non-supernatural capacity. It’s very balanced.
Now that Buffy knows the deal with Dawn, there’s been a slight shift in the way Dawn is portrayed. She didn’t knock anything over in this episode, and she didn’t really argue that much with Buffy when Buffy was putting ridiculous restrictions on her. I wonder if she’s still thinking about the way Buffy grabbed her arm last time. Is she being grudgingly obedient because she doesn’t want Buffy to do that again? That’d be kind of depressing.
As much fun as analyzing Spike is not in S5, the way he obviously conflates the passion of violence with the passion of sex is highly significant. He could have fantasized about sleeping with Buffy while he was sleeping with Harmony, but instead, he was fantasizing about fighting her. But this is nothing new. Before he was chipped, Spike was always overly sexual when he attacked humans, and in “Lovers Walk,” he smells Willow’s neck, vamps out, and then says “I haven’t had a woman in weeks.” Sex and violence. They’re synonymous for him. Which means that Buffy has accidentally been speaking Spike’s love language every time she’s punched him in the face lately. That’s unfortunate.
Giles has been Buffy’s Watcher again this season, so the father/daughter-esque relationship they have is getting majorly revitalized, which I think is clear from the way he doesn’t seem either surprised or gratified when Buffy confides in him alone about Dawn. This is an expected part of his role. And she doesn’t just confide in him about Plot A. She also tells him about what it was like when her dad left and what he’s up to now. That’s some very personal stuff that never comes up in conversation with another character. Go Giles.
“Well, candles, maybe, or bath oils of some kind.”
“I saw a really cute sweater at Bloomy’s...but I think I want me to have it.”
“You’re in a magic shop, and you can’t think what Tara would like? I think you’re both profoundly stupid.”
“Well, we don’t really know the kind of things witches like. What, are we gonna get her some cheesy crystal ball?”
“Bloody well better not. I’ve got mine already wrapped.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.