Written by Rebecca Kirshner
Directed by David Grossman
We open on campus, where Buffy finds a professor struggling with his projector slides. Buffy is here to inform him that she has to drop out of school to take care of Dawn. Also she wants to thank him for his class. She hopes she can come back the following semester.
Ben is late to work at the hospital, but it turns out he’s fired because he’s been so unreliable lately. Ben wasn’t aware that he’s been gone for two weeks. There’s nothing he can say to explain his absence, so he has to pack his stuff. He rants at Glory for stealing his life. She takes over his body there in the locker room.
Glory is having a bubble bath, being waited on by three blindfolded minions. She wants details on what they observed when they were spying on Buffy and the Scoobies so that she can figure out who the Key is for herself.
Buffy is upset with Dawn because Dawn has been skipping school and hiding it from her. They’re in Dawn’s principal’s office. The principal doesn’t want Buffy to act like Dawn is “just a kid,” because she’s very smart and capable. She sends Dawn out into the hall so she can talk to Buffy alone.
At the Magic Box, Anya has decided that she is an American and she’s feeling very patriotic. Because of capitalism. She’s annoyed at a pair of shoppers who are just browsing and not buying. Xander recommends she try being less prejudiced about un-American people. Buffy and Dawn arrive. Xander is supportive of Buffy’s decision to (temporarily) drop out. Then Buffy talks to Giles in the training room. She wants Giles to be the stern parental figure with Dawn because she has no idea how to do that. Giles doesn’t think that’ll work; it has to be Buffy who is the adult Summers. She still really doesn’t want to, but she’ll try.
When Buffy and Giles come out of the back room, they find Dawn standing in the middle of Xander, Willow, and Anya, who are lying on the floor in a triangle shape, all giggling. Surprisingly, this is homework! Buffy is stern and annoyed, and a party pooper. She decides homework should only happen at home. Dawn is very indignant. Buffy is very insistent about how important it is that Dawn finish her schoolwork. Hmm, what did the principal tell her when they were alone? Buffy and Dawn leave.
Glory has a pretty clear idea of who the Key is now. We don’t hear a name, though, but the current suspect is at least female. She and the minions head out for Key retrieval.
At the dorm, Willow is telling Tara about Buffy’s grouchiness. Tara sympathizes with Buffy, but Willow thinks Buffy’s being a bit draconian. Tara went through something similar with her brother after their mom died, and Willow is all impatient with Tara’s wisdom-through-experience because, being very brainy, she doesn’t like being told she “couldn’t understand.” Tara is surprised, offended, and hurt by Willow’s attitude, and she wants Willow to explain what she did wrong. Oh, Tara. You didn’t do anything wrong. Willow’s attitude is wrong. Willow would rather change the subject, but Tara pries it out of her. Willow sometimes feels like she’s way behind Tara in the being lesbian and being a witch territories. Tara points out that Willow has already far outstripped her as a witch. It even frightens her a little. Willow takes offense at that.
This is a fight! They’re having a fight. Tara wants to avoid it and just go to the multicultural fair. Willow wants to finish the conversation. Tara admits she’s alarmed by how fast Willow is growing, and she’s not sure where she’ll end up. What if Willow’s feelings for Tara are just part of a temporary college thing? Willow is extremely offended by that, and she storms out.
Minions are lurking outside Buffy’s house. Buffy is still being very draconian. She wants to give Dawn a to-do list that she will closely monitor. Dawn extremely doesn’t appreciate it. Buffy is very serious. Dan switches her approach to “well I’m not real, so why should I school?” Buffy doesn’t like that. She finally admits that her custody of Dawn is in jeopardy if Dawn isn’t being a good student. Dawn is horrified, but she wishes Buffy had just told her that in the first place.
Tara is at the multicultural fair, but she’s not enjoying it. Dawn and Anya are at the shop, where Willow is sitting in a pile of pillows, moping. Someone takes Tara’s hand on her bench at the fair. She smiles, thinking Willow’s here to make up. Alas, it is Glory.
At the Magic Box, Willow continues to be mopey. She tells Giles about her fight with Tara. Giles advises her to apologize, ‘cause then she’ll learn that fights aren’t the end of the world. However, for the moment, they need to deal with the minion eavesdropping at the door. Giles tells Anya and Willow to get some twine to tie him up, and in the two seconds their backs are turned, we hear a noise that suggests Giles just didn’t want them to see him torture the minion. When they turn around, he’s talking. Hell yeah, Giles! Minion guy reveals that Glory is hunting the Key right now, and they will not be able to stop her before she reaches the witch. They realize that means Glory thinks Tara is the key, and Willow bolts for the fair.
Glory crushes Tara’s hand and tells her if she screams, she’ll kill everyone at the fair. Tara’s hand starts bleeding from how hard Glory is squeezing it. She licks the blood, then spits it out. Tara isn’t the Key! Glory is furious. She feels betrayed. She threatens to brainsuck her if she doesn’t tell her who the Key is. She starts talking about what it’s like to be brainsucked. It sounds very unpleasant. Tara grits her teeth through the pain in her hand and refuses to tell Glory anything.
Willow is on her way, but the fair is rather crowded. She sees Glory sitting with Tara, and she sees Tara get brainsucked, but by the time she gets there, Glory is gone. Tara is crazy now, and Willow is distraught. She blames herself for letting Tara go to the fair alone.
The Scoobies are at the hospital now, where Tara’s hand has been x-rayed and put in a cast. The doctor wants to keep her there over night. Tara is rambling crazily. Willow can pick her up in the morning. Xander is sick of being in the hospital. Giles and Anya agree. Buffy arrives and hugs Willow. She hugs Tara too. The reason it took so long for her to get there was that she was hiding Dawn at Spike’s crypt.
Cut to Spike’s crypt. Or possibly the Initiative caves. Dawn doesn’t feel particularly safe because Spike is still covered in bruises from his last encounter with Glory. Dawn feels very horrible for Spike and Tara’s injuries. She thinks they’re her fault, because Glory thought they were the Key. She thinks it means she must be an evil thing. Spike disagrees. He knows what evil is, and Dawn isn’t it.
Tara gets wheeled into the psych ward. Willow wants to go with her, but she can’t. She’s not sure she can sleep without her. Buffy tells Willow she needs some rest. Willow would rather confront Glory. Buffy thinks that’s crazy. Willow doesn’t feel like waiting for Buffy’s go-ahead. Buffy doesn’t think she has a chance against Glory at the moment; they need a serious plan and strategy for that. Willow agrees to wait, then leaves to get some rest.
Psych! She just said that to shut Buffy up. She races through the Magic Box, straight for the loft with all its dark magic items. She grabs what she needs, practically ransacking the place to get it, including a book called Darkest Magick.
Glory is still in a good mood after eating Tara’s mind. It was especially tasty. Her mansion starts shaking like there’s been an earthquake, and then the door bursts open. Willow, hovering, comes inside. Her eyes are black, and she does a spell that keeps Glory from moving. Then she uses force lightning on her! Holy crap.
Buffy is sitting with Dawn in the caves while Spike stands off to the side. She tries to convince Dawn that none of this is her fault. She’s sure Willow will be okay to wait to attack Glory until they can come up with a plan. Spike scoffs at that. It doesn’t matter if the odds are stacked against her; she has the right motivation. Buffy realizes he’s right and bolts.
Willow shatters a mirror on Glory. It only rips up her dress. Then Glory punches Willow across the room. She taunts her about Tara, which was a mistake, because it makes Willow angry enough to get back in the game. She fires a bag full of daggers at Glory. She turns the rug Glory’s standing on into a snake that attacks her, but Glory breaks it. Then Glory grabs Willow by the throat. Willow spits on her. Glory’s about to start pinning Willow to the wall with those daggers, crucifixion style, but that’s when Buffy gets there to rescue her.
Fighting Willow took enough out of Glory that Buffy does slightly better against her than she has in the past. Buffy escapes with Willow, thanks to Willow doing the molasses spell again.
Willow, Tara, Dawn, and Buffy are at Tara’s dorm (aha, so Willow and Tara do have separate dorm rooms), having lunch. Tara rambles some more. Willow feeds her some applesauce. Dawn offers to do it, and Willow passes her the container. Buffy would also like to help. She’s very sorry this happened to Tara. Willow doesn’t blame her, and she’s prepared to take care of Tara. Buffy gets it, because she’s prepared to take care of Dawn.
And then the wall gets ripped out. Glory has arrived. Tara freaks out, and then she looks at Dawn and starts talking about how she sees all this green energy. (Side note, the way Amber Benson delivers that line has always struck me as incredibly hokey and unnatural. But is there a way to say “Such pure, green energy!” that doesn’t sound hokey and unnatural?) Whoops. The game is up.
I feel like “Tough Love” could have benefitted from slightly better writing and/or directing, but it’s not bad. Buffy and Dawn’s plotline is very effectively paralleled with Willow and Tara’s, Glory does damage to a Scooby, damage actually gets done to Glory, and we end with the stakes higher than they’ve been all season. Buffy’s fear of Dawn getting taken away from her in a Plot B way goes very well with the Plot A threat of Glory’s search for the Key. I just sort of wish that Hank Summers could have been a part of that plotline in a way other than being an absentee dad. Watching Willow attack Glory was incredibly satisfying after everyone getting their butts kicked by her all season. It was also great to get another glimpse of Ripper. That’s always fun. Things are ramping up for Ben vs. Glory too, what with her steamrolling over the life he’s trying to build. The one thing I kind of have trouble with is Tara’s fear that Willow might go back to preferring men, but more on that in Willow’s section of the character analysis.
While watching the episode, I was very annoyed at Buffy for the way she started treating Dawn after talking to the principal, but now that I’ve thought about it more, I’m not very surprised. Several episodes in the first three seasons involved Joyce and/or Giles being very draconian in their parenting/Watcher-ing of her. So it makes sense, in a tragic cycle sort of way, that when things get tough, Buffy’s parenting style would mimic what she experienced as a teenager. Hopefully she’ll figure out a better way to do it.
Xander continues to be Anya’s coach in how to interact with other humans, but I was struck by how loving his expression was when he looked at her, even when she was being ridiculous. I don’t think he ever looked at Buffy like that when he had a crush on her, and he definitely never looked at Cordelia like that. This is the real deal.
In the last few episodes, Willow has lusted after a female sexbot and talked about eggs sunny-side up looking like boobs. Tara’s fear would’ve made more sense if Willow had been showing signs of being bisexual (or pansexual, which is what I think she actually is—if that’s the one that means you fall in love with someone based more on their mind than physical attraction, regardless of gender). Is this fear supposed to be completely irrational, or is it supposed to be based in something? If there’s a real threat to Willow and Tara’s relationship, it’s Willow’s selfishness, not her sexuality. I wish the fight could’ve been about that instead. I mean, in “Family,” Tara got irritable with Willow for making everything about her circle of friends, but ever since then, “Tough Love” is the first time we’ve even seen Tara’s dorm room. She has existed on the show only as Willow’s love interest, not as a character with other interests and attachments outside the relationship. Willow’s selfishness would’ve been the perfect topic for their first fight.
Anya’s patriotism is very amusing, and it fits in well with the other things she’s decided and/or discovered about herself this season. Also, I think this is a good color, style, and length for her hair.
Dawn’s actions make perfect sense. She’s still struggling to find meaning in her existence as a Key-turned-human rather than a plain old human, and now suddenly her big sister is trying to act like a parent. She naturally wouldn’t respect Buffy’s authority like she respected Joyce’s, so she’ll fight back. And Buffy definitely isn’t handling that authority well, yet.
Spike, thankfully, isn’t in this one very much. I needed a break from him after “Intervention.” It’s interesting how he’s always been so intuitive about Willow in particular. If, as I theorized a few episodes ago, he represents the selfish tendencies of the human characters, then that makes sense, because Willow is definitely the most selfish of the Scoobies.
Giles as Ripper is fantastic, but this is the first episode where he declines to play a fatherly role. It will not be the last. I think he’s right about how Buffy needs to deal with Dawn, but I wish Buffy had confided in him about what the principal said. (It’s possible that she did do that, just offscreen, but based on their dialogue in the actual scene in the training room, I doubt it.) His advice probably would’ve been more helpful if he’d known the whole situation.
“You know what else is un-American? French people.”
“You don’t say.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.