Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes. Warning: May contain spoilers for later episodes.
Season 5, Episode 4 “Out of My Mind”
Buffy is patrolling on a particularly vampire-heavy night, staking vamp after vamp, but just as she’s getting into a rhythm, Riley tackles the vampire she’s fighting. “What are you doing here?” he asks, stupidly. “My job??” she says, clearly annoyed. Another vamp shows up, and before Buffy can fight him, Spike jumps in! “Why do I even bother to show up?” Buffy mutters. Hee.
When the fight is done, Buffy starts to yell at Spike for getting in her way, and Riley says, “She’s right. You shouldn’t be out here while she’s patrolling.” She gives him a hilariously passive-aggressive look, and Spike catches it. “I saw that!” he says with undisguised glee. “Looks like neither boy is entirely welcome.” It’s delightful.
Riley is always over-zealous, but in this episode his energy is straight-up manic. When Giles unveils a beautiful training room that he and Xander built for her, Riley ruins the surprise by tackling her like an untrained dog and panting, “Think you can take me?” while air-punching her. Just let her enjoy her present, gahd! (She literally ignores him, which is great.)
This all comes to a head when Joyce has a health scare–she looks at Dawn, says “Who are you?” (!), and collapses on the kitchen floor. The doctors release her and say it’s nothing serious, but Dawn just so happens to hear that Riley’s heart is beating way too fast. The doctors tell him they’ve never released a patient with such severe tachycardia, but he refuses to be admitted. Buffy is rightly freaked out that he might have a heart attack, but Riley just says his body “works differently now,” since the Initiative used him as a lab rat for months. Is that supposed to be comforting?
Buffy decides to get Big Brother’s attention by picking up a random phone receiver and saying, “Riley’s in trouble. He needs help.” (Which is so silly on so many levels. Even if someone’s listening, it’s the NSA, and they probably don’t even know about the Initiative, since it was a top-secret demon department. Also, she doesn’t even say his last name? [Hahaha, I thought that was funny too! –Nerdy Spice]) It works, I guess, because in the next scene, Riley’s Initiative friend Graham finds him and says the chemicals Walsh fed him messed up his heart, and he needs to get an operation. Riley says sure, “Please take me where I can be unconscious and naked.” His mistrust for the government is warranted, but–he’s so dumb! Graham says, “I’m not giving you a choice,” so Riley punches him out and gives the other government guys the slip.
Graham goes to Buffy for help, and tells her, in a nutshell, that Riley is “stronger than he oughta be and feeling no pain,” and that his heart can’t take it. He tells her to find Riley and get him to a specific operating room in Sunnydale General, where a doctor will be waiting to give him the operation. Buffy figures Riley might be hiding in the old Initiative caves, but she doesn’t know them very well, so she enlists Spike’s paid help to find him. (Which is a pretty flimsy excuse to flirt with Spike, tbh, especially since she just ends up finding Riley in the caves anyway.)
Spike decides not to help Buffy–which makes sense, considering he’s evil and she ripped his payment in half!–and instead goes to the hospital to force the Initiative doctor to take his chip out. This seems like a bad plan, considering that Buffy is due there any minute, but I guess Spike isn’t known for meticulous planning. He’s accompanied by Harmony, who’s hiding out in Spike’s crypt because she’s on the run from Buffy. (Or in her words, she’s “totally [Buffy’s] arch-nemesis!”) Harmony holds the doctor at crossbow-point–because I guess her being a vampire isn’t enough of a threat?–while he does the surgery, even though he insists he doesn’t have the right tools. I’m surprised that doesn’t scare Spike more than it does–if I were going to live forever, I would be very afraid of brain damage.
Meanwhile, Buffy finds Riley in the caves. He’s sulking and punching the wall, as sad men are wont to do. Buffy begs him to get the operation, but he keeps insisting that he can “handle” it, and that “people would kill to feel like [him]!” Buffy asks why he’s behaving like this, and he says, “Best-case scenario, they turn me into Joe Normal–just another guy,” and that’s not enough for her. “It’s not like your last relationship was with a civilian.” Ugh, seriously, with the Angel jealousy? Get over it!
Watching this conversation between Buffy and Riley is like playing a game of Toxic Man Bingo: he shames her about a past relationship, then literally tells her that he’s intimidated by her strength. “You’re getting stronger every day–I can’t touch you.” He doesn’t try to claim that she’s shut him out emotionally or anything, he’s just butthurt that she’s stronger than him. And then poor Buffy has to tell him she “needs” him, just to make him feel like a manly man. She doesn’t have to need him! She can just want him! (Which is basically what she’s saying by framing it as “I need you with me, I need you healthy,” but still.) In the end, she says, “Nobody has ever known me the way you do, I’ve opened up to you in ways that I’ve never opened up to anyone.” I don’t believe her at all, just because toxically insecure men can never truly know women who intimidate them, but SMG’s teary-eyed delivery totally sells it.
Back at the hospital, the doctor tells Spike that he’s successfully removed the chip. Just as he’s finished stitching Spike back up, Buffy and Riley find them. Spike tells Buffy the “good news,” and Buffy says she finally gets to kill him. They have a fight–which Spike sort of wins, I guess? Weird. He tries to bite her, but then the chip kicks in again. It turns out the doctor wasn’t lying when he said the surgery was impossible, and he only pretended to remove the chip. Before Buffy can kill Spike, Riley collapses, and Spike and Harmony escape while the doctor tends to Riley.
After the surgery, Riley is up and at ‘em, walking and talking, and his heart rate is normal. That doesn’t seem totally realistic, but it’s important for the next part: Buffy reassures him that she’s “still touchable,” then asks if he minds if she checks in on her mom. He says he’s fine with it, but judging from his expression and the camera lingering on Buffy’s hands leaving his (because she’s *untouchable*, get it?), he’s totally not fine with it. Dammit Riley, does everything have to be about you? Her mom is sick! It’s not about you!
And then the most important scene: Buffy goes to Spike’s crypt, stake in hand, looking especially pretty with her white tanktop and bouncy hair. She threatens to kill him, and he literally tears off his shirt and dares her to. She gets in his face, hesitates, and then they full-on make out! And Spike tells Buffy he loves her! This is all a dream, of course–Spike wakes up in a cold sweat. But while many dream sequences feel cheap, this one actually pushes the plot forward, and is also, um, super hot?
Notes from a New Fan:
- Riley and Spike are both getting in Buffy’s way with their attempts to kill vampires that she’s trying to Slay. When Riley self-importantly lectures Spike that he shouldn’t be out there when Buffy’s patrolling, Buffy (along with me, the viewer) gives him a massive side-eye. At which point Spike gleefully says, “I saw that!” Hee! Get some self-awareness, Riley!
- Afterwards, Riley gives Buffy a one-armed bear hug and says that he hopes he didn’t get in her way. Buffy gives an awkward laugh and says no. Seriously, read the room, Riley.
- Buffy tells him that she worries about him patrolling alone, and Riley says he’s not one for “benchwarming.” How many times can I write the sentence “Dude, she is THE SLAYER” before it becomes tiresome? Because I honestly never stop thinking it. I just can’t believe he still hasn’t accepted that she’s stronger and better than he is. Why not just be proud of her? Ughhhh.
- Buffy thought that college was going to be a montage where she studies and falls asleep on her books in cute glasses. I so sympathize with the feeling of being disappointed that your life isn’t a montage!
- Speaking of montages, Giles is setting up his shop! That would have made a great montage! What a missed opportunity.
- Ugh, Riley tackling Buffy right when she comes into the amazing training space Giles made for her–and then interrupting her gratitude with immature shit like “Think you can take me?” SHUT UP RILEY. Let her enjoy her present for a minute before making her tend to your fragile masculinity!
- Spike: “Oh, Pacey, you blind idiot. Can’t you see she doesn’t love you?” Ha! Except, of course, he’s wrong. Joey DOES love Pacey! But I love that Spike is a Dawson’s fan. [Edited to add after finishing the episode: and I LOVE that this reference is made exactly when Spike becomes the Pacey by developing a doomed crush on Buffy when she’s already decided Angel is her soulmate!]
- “That was relaxing,” Buffy announces after sex with Riley. I mean… is that what a guy wants to hear? And even grosser pillow talk follows which I won’t go into.
- Suddenly Mrs. Buffy doesn’t know who Dawn is, and falls to the ground. Is that a meta-joke?
- Willow’s theory is that Riley’s body can handle his tachycardia because “he’s in really good shape.” Hee!
- I feel like it’s not entirely unlikely that you could get the government’s attention by lifting the phone and saying something really juicy into the receiver. The NSA is probably listening. Although personally, if I were Buffy, I wouldn’t just say “Riley’s in trouble.” I would say, like, “JIHAD OSAMA BIN LADEN Riley’s in trouble” to make sure they were listening. And… it would probably be helpful to say his last name, but I hate to quibble.
- I read Riley telling Buffy not to worry as him not wanting to interrupt her important life with his silly problems. But maybe it’s more that he thinks he’s less of a Man if he is sick, which is… stupid, and rife with toxic masculinity, and thus not out of character.
- Tara looks sexy AF in this episode in a boho off-the-shoulder sweater and an orange tank that shouldn’t match but does, and several necklaces.
- Although now that we’re talking outfits, Buffy’s wearing a white tank, Tara is wearing a cold-shoulder outfit with layers, and Willow’s in a full fuzzy wine cardigan. WHAT MONTH IS IT?
- Spike asks if the “enormous hall monitor” (aka Riley) is sick and Buffy slaps him in the face. Guess who has better chemistry with Buffy, the enormous hall monitor or the guy she just slapped?
- I loved seeing Spike and Harmony storm the operating room with a crossbow. Mainly I like seeing Harmony do stuff because she seems so doomed.
- I love how Riley is refusing to get treated so that he doesn’t become Joe Normal because Joe Normal isn’t good enough for Buffy, but like… he is already not good enough for Buffy. He already admitted that she doesn’t love him! Just get your tachycardia fixed, Riley!
- Buffy says no one has ever known her like Riley. COME ON! He doesn’t know anything about you. He thinks you need to be protected from demons. So he doesn’t actually know you that well.
- Riley goes all emo about how Buffy doesn’t want to be with him because he doesn’t have superpowers, and she says, “If that’s what I wanted then I’d be dating Spike!” Lol, famous last words.
- After living through the last year, I find it disturbing that the surgeon and Harmony are both discussing this surgery at the top of their lungs, WITHOUT MASKS ON, while Spike’s brain lies open to the air. Come on people!
- Spike’s mad about Buffy’s shampoo-commercial hair. Hee!
Notes from a True Stan:
- It should be a red flag for Buffy that Riley says he’s “not much for bench-warming.” If you’re fighting demons, and you’re working alongside the Slayer, bench-warming is basically the only–and most helpful!–thing you can do.
- Buffy’s description of movie studying is so spot on: “Inspirational music, a montage, sharpening pencils, falling asleep on books with my glasses all crooked, because in my montage I have glasses.”
- OMG I always squeal when Spike is watching Dawson’s Creek: “Oh Pacey, you blind idiot. Can’t you see she doesn’t love you?” Aw, he’s projecting! (And he’s wrong!)
- More of Dawn acting age-inappropriate: in this episode, she pours out a box of cereal to get to the plastic toy inside (which are made for what, five-year-olds?), and plays with Ben’s stethoscope. [Oh, see, I thought that Ben was flirting with her, which was also age-inappropriate but in a very different direction! –Nerdy Spice]
- I’ve seen a lot of people arguing that Dawn’s character isn’t actually as annoying as we all thought she was–she’s just as annoying as any other teenager would be in her situation. I really have to disagree there. In this episode, for example, Buffy is upset that her boyfriend might die, and Dawn babbles on about how the CIA put itching powder in Castro’s beard. That’s annoying and self-centered, even for a fourteen-year-old!
- “If you tell me to hurry, I’ll kick your ass.” Heh.
- Xander is, as usual, supremely unhelpful. He has some insight into why Riley is acting out, but instead of just telling Buffy privately that Riley might be feeling insecure, he tells everyone a hypothetical, rambling story about a “friend” who thinks his girlfriend doesn’t like him anymore. (Which leads to a funny moment where Anya thinks he’s talking about her and specifies that her “friend” actually really likes his “friend.”) If he wants Buffy to know what Riley said, why doesn’t he just tell her? And honestly, why does any of this matter at this particular moment anyway? Knowing why Riley is being stupid won’t help Buffy find him, or prevent him from dropping dead of a heart attack!
- Picking a bread box for twenty questions is a brilliant move. Also, what’s a bread box?
- A bit of foreshadowing: Tara is surprised, and a little concerned, that Willow’s magic is advancing so quickly. She taught Willow “tiny Tinkerbell light” and Willow “tinkered with the Tinkerbell” and turned it into a giant flare.
- I paused the episode at this moment, and it made me and my partner laugh every time we looked at it.
- I’m so glad to know that Spike can pick flowers.
- Even before the dream, Buffy and Spike are so passionate about each other this episode. Buffy keeps talking about how much she wants to “rip Spike’s head off,” and Spike says Buffy’s “everywhere… She’s haunting me!”
- Ew to Graham saying that Riley should come back to the army because he used to have a mission, but now he’s “mission’s boyfriend?” WTF does that even mean? His mission is the same as all of the Scoobies–to fight demons, and the entire point of season four is that the Scoobies are a hell of a lot better at it than the army is. Graham is just saying what’s on Riley’s mind right now: that no matter how much good he does, it doesn’t count if Buffy is the boss.
Season 5, Episode 5 “No Place Like Home”
The sibling rivalry between Dawn and Buffy is fierce in this episode, starting with Dawn taking credit after Buffy cooked their mom breakfast in bed. Wow, Dawn really sucks! That said, the entire subplot was–for the first thirty-five minutes at least–very distracting and weird to me because of how Dawn didn’t exist five episodes ago.
OK, so back to the baddie of the week: Buffy acquires an orb from a security guard outside a seemingly abandoned warehouse (although not so abandoned that it doesn’t need security guards!) after killing a throwaway demon. Later, we see that Mrs. Buffy is sick with a mysterious disease that causes her to lie on the couch and be all frail. Buffy runs to the pharmacy at the hospital that’s been treating Mrs. Buffy, only to run into the security guard, who warns her that there’s some unnamed “they” who will “get to your family.” She becomes convinced that her mom’s illness is the work of demons.
Speaking of demons, the episode started with a flashback from two months ago in which three monks perform a mysterious ritual after running from what is presumably a demon. Now, we can see that at least one of the monks is still alive, and the demon chasing them is a sexy blonde woman in a red dress. (I don’t know the actress’s name but she was very memorable in Bring It On as one of the mean, popular cheerleaders. So I’m going to refer to her as the cheerleader demon, since she currently doesn’t have a name and “lady demon,” as Buffy terms her, is so unimaginative.) Cheerleader Demon tries to torture the monk into revealing where some unnamed “key” is, and eventually gets so mad that a weird light comes out of her hands and she sort of squishes the face of one of her other captives. Ouch! But the monk doesn’t budge.
Buffy tells Giles her theory that someone is hurting her mom to get to her. Giles says that the night watchman’s ramblings aren’t much to go on. Buffy is like, “Maybe not, but I definitely need to find the people who are doing exactly what he said.” (To paraphrase, anyhow.) Anya suggests a spell called “tirer la couverture” that can help Buffy see traces of spells left in the air, so she can find out more about what’s happening to her mom.
Unfortunately Buffy doesn’t see any spells around her mom–but she does see Dawn fading in and out of photos, and then in and out of real life. She realizes Dawn’s not really her sister. Gasp!! I really thought after three episodes that Dawn was just never going to be explained, but the show had a plan all along! However, before she can confront Dawn about being an impostor, Giles calls to tell her that the orb is actually called the “Dagon Sphere” and is used to ward off the really scary kind of evil, so Buffy needs to go investigate. Dawn gives Buffy a defiant look and warns her that their mom’s coming back. “I’ll be back first,” Buffy says. It seems like Dawn is basically admitting that she’s going to hurt their mom if Buffy isn’t around to protect her. She goes back to the factory to look for whoever planted the orb.
Buffy finds one of the monks, being held captive and used as bait by the Cheerleader Demon. Cheerleader Demon tries to surprise Buffy, who is totally on top of things, but once they start fighting Buffy has a hard time holding her own. Buffy finally eludes Cheerleader Demon by grabbing the monk and doing her favorite trick, crashing with him out the window and landing far below with no cuts or serious broken bones. Meanwhile, the demon accidentally collapses the ceiling on top of herself by stamping her foot too hard, so she can’t pursue them.
But the monk collapses, about to die. He says in a fairly fake-sounding Russian accent that they molded some energy, made it human, and sent it to Buffy. Buffy realizes that’s what Dawn is. She’s the Key! The monk says that Dawn truly is human and helpless, and an innocent. She doesn’t know she’s not Buffy’s sister. Then he dies, leaving Buffy looking horrified. When she arrives home and finds her mother and Dawn hanging out on the couch, Dawn acts like a regular kid—”I wasn’t bothering her,” she mutters sullenly. And it recasts the entire rest of the episode, showing that the previous conversations only seemed sinister because we were in Buffy’s point of view.
Buffy knocks on Dawn’s door and apologizes. Dawn is still mad, and Buffy starts to complain that Dawn never accepts an apology when she realizes that all those memories are fake. She sits by Dawn and strokes her hair.
Wow, this is a clever way of making Buffy have a sister without retconning it! Their relationship has all the nuances and history of a “real” sibling relationship because the monks implanted them, yet we don’t have to pretend (anymore) that Dawn’s been there all along. Plus, Buffy knows she has to protect Dawn while also knowing that their entire relationship is an invention — but her love for Dawn is real anyway. It’s really interesting! And like, THANK GOODNESS because Dawn as an unexplained regular human sister was driving me crazy. Literally one of my notes for earlier in the episode was “Why is Dawn a thing?”
Also, in a rather heartwarming subplot, Giles has his grand opening, for which he sees fit to don a purple velvet wizard costume. But that’s not the good part. The good part is that Anya has a blast helping him out and he gives her a job!
Notes from a New Fan:
- These monks’ rituals are way less sexy than Tara and Willow’s sensual hand-holding. They just do a wordless chant while their eyes bug out.
- Buffy kills the first baddie of the episode without even bothering to put her hair back in a ponytail.
- My guess is that the security guard works for an evil corporation that’s actually run by demons, using this abandoned warehouse for nefarious deeds.
- Buffy actually made her sick mom breakfast?! That’s shocking. AND THEN DAWN RUINS IT… and then she takes credit for it! Wow. Dawn sucks. Even for a fourteen-year-old.
- Oh no, Mrs. Buffy has a mysterious illness. Is she gonna die?
- Buffy’s jealous that Dawn gets a cute nickname, “Pumpkin belly.” I can’t say I’d be jealous of that.
- Buffy brings the orb to the magic shop and Giles identifies it as paranormal because it’s “so shiny.” Um, thanks for your expertise? But he’s not the biggest doofus: that would be Riley, who immediately suggests “we” go out to patrol, failing to get Buffy’s extremely obvious hints that she doesn’t need him. Enter Dawn, who endears herself to me completely by piping up to remark that Buffy said that Riley couldn’t patrol because Buffy thought it would be easier if she didn’t have to look out for anyone. Heh!
- I’m sure I should feel bad for Riley that his girlfriend thinks he’s a drag on patrol. But I don’t. He clearly sees this as evidence of her not being in love with him, but if being in love means that you pretend your boyfriend is just as strong as you even though you are a damn superhero and he’s not, then I don’t think I wanna be in love, you know?
- Buffy says, “You just have no idea how much I wish I were an only child these days.” Is that a meta-joke? I’m SO CONFUSED by this Dawn thing!
- Giles is all giggly that he has customers and Willow quips that he’s a “capitalist running dog,” and I mean, I’m all for making jokes about capitalism, but I think even a socialist can sympathize with a man running a very small, very unsuccessful magic shop with exactly one sale under its belt, and also, be a friend, Willow! Don’t call him a capitalist pig right when he’s celebrating a major professional success!
- “But I have their money. Who cares what kind of day they have?” Anya says when Xander tries to coach her on her customer service skills.
- Buffy was apparently paying great attention in French: her guess for “tirer la couverture” is “rotate many foodstuffs.” Hee! I honestly would have guessed something pretty similar. It actually means pull back the curtain, according to Willow.
- Buffy tries to come up with something Riley can do during her ritual, like lighting incense and pouring sand. But, she promises, it’s “magic incense and spooky sand.” He asks if it’s her way of trying to make him feel less useless. She doesn’t exactly deny it. He promises her he’s OK that he doesn’t have his Initiative superpowers anymore. THEN HE SAYS, “Maybe instead of you taking care of me, we agree to try to take care of each other.” Oh my God, Riley, you were so close. But no. Buffy does not need you to take care of her!
- Giles tells Buffy the Dagon Sphere is used to ward off “ancient primordial evil.” Gee, it’s ancient AND primordial! That IS concerning!
- Buffy runs into Spike on the way to the factory to look for the Dagon Sphere. He’s apparently been skulking outside the house — and there are like a hundred cigarette butts to show exactly how long he’s been hanging out, I assume, trying to figure out if he’s still in love with Buffy. He doesn’t exactly cover well. He starts out by making a jealous remark about Buffy “shagging Captain Cardboard,” which, hee. Then he concludes with, “And you have stupid hair.” Oh, Spike! Could you be more obvious?
- While Buffy’s still out, Mrs. Buffy arrives home and Dawn pops up behind her with a cup of tea and an innocent smile like a terrifying girl ghost in a horror movie. My real-time notes were: “OH NO! EVIL DAWN IS GOING TO GET HER!”
Notes from a True Stan:
- I know I’ve been beating the “Dawn is worse than the average teenager” horse to death, but she takes credit for Buffy’s carefully made breakfast?? This is not teenager-terrible, this is sociopath-terrible.
- And again with the lap cuddling. She’s definitely supposed to be ten or eleven years old.
- Okay, last one, I promise. Dawn tells Riley that Buffy said he was “weak and kitteny” behind his back?? And we’re supposed to believe that she doesn’t know that that would upset him? There is no fourteen-year-old in the world who’s that dense.
- Ben is so WB-handsome. I think that actor played an asshole in like, every teen WB show.
- This season’s depiction of “crazy people” ages pretty badly.
- I can’t believe Glory is our first woman Big Bad! It’s about time.
- I also love that she’s basically the villain version of Buffy. (Or like, Cordelia.) Girly, snarky. “And feel free to tell me if this next part gets a little too personal, because I’m told I have boundary issues!!”
- My boyfriend walks in, watches one scene with Dawn, and says, “If the monks wanted people to protect the key, why wouldn’t they make her less annoying?”
- “Out. For. A. Walk. Bitch.” LOL. Spike is the best.
- Although “I never really liked you anyway, and you have stupid hair,” is also a contender for best Spike line of the episode.
- I really like the way the writers introduce sickness into this world: Buffy’s stronger and more powerful than ever, but she can’t fight everything.
- Glory to Buffy: “You hit me! What are you, crazy?” Hee!
Season 5, Episode 6 “Family”
Tara’s been around for more than a season, and we still don’t know all that much about her. This whole episode is basically a meta-response to that issue–Tara tells Willow she’s insecure that she isn’t part of the group, she doesn’t feel “useful.” Willow reassures her that she’s “essential” and like, I love Amber Benson, but is she? This episode tries to make a case for it, at least.
It’s Tara’s 20th birthday, and Willow is super excited about throwing her a birthday party at the Bronze, but the rest of the gang doesn’t even try to feign excitement. They’re actually uncharacteristically mean about it–Buffy says it’s “not exactly the social event of the season,” they complain that they don’t know what to get her, and they passive-aggressively say that Tara’s “super nice” while admitting that they don’t really “get her” or “understand half the things she says.” (Just because she made one joke about Glory’s insect reflection??) “But she’s super nice,” they insist. Yikes.
Then Tara’s super-Southern family shows up at the Magic Box, and there’s crazy tension right off the bat. “How did you find me–” Tara starts to ask, before correcting herself, “Why are you here?” She calls her dad “sir,” and it’s stiff hugs all around. The gang has no idea where this tension is coming from, which makes sense, since they were just talking about how they know nothing about Tara. But Willow also seems to know nothing about Tara’s family, which is a little weird? They’ve been dating for about a year–either Tara would have told Willow about her family, or by now Willow would have assumed that they were estranged because Tara refused to talk about them. It feels like maybe they should have done this episode about a season ago.
Tara’s sour-faced dad corners her in her dorm room, all upset about the witch paraphernalia. “You’re not even trying to hide it anymore,” he says, continuing the magic-as-lesbianism motif. He says he’s come to take her home. He alludes to Tara’s 20th birthday, which is the same age her mother was when she… well, he doesn’t say, but it sounds pretty ominous. He says that Tara has evil inside of her, and that’s where her wicca power comes from. She says it doesn’t feel evil. “Evil never does,” her dad says in his best scary evangelist voice. He taunts her that her friends will never accept her if they see her “true face” (although, to be fair, they don’t really seem to accept her now). Her prim cousin Beth, played by Amy Adams (!) in one of her first roles, gets a few shots in too. When Tara says she’s not coming home with them, she calls her a “selfish bitch” and scolds her for leaving home when there’s a “house to be taken care of,” and her dad and adult brother having to “do for themselves” while she’s off living “God knows what lifestyle.” Gee, do you think this is a metaphor for sexism or what?
Willow, who still doesn’t seem especially curious about Tara’s family drama, wants to find Glory by casting a spell to find demons in the vicinity–the same one Tara sabotaged way back in “Goodbye Iowa.” Tara is, of course, still worried that this spell will unmask her as a demon, so she gets snippy with Willow, saying she has to focus on her family “Not everything is about your friends and stuff.” Willow gets this hurt-bunny look, but in any normal relationship between equals, this would be a clear sign that Tara is going through something and Willow should, um, ask about it?? I’m with Tara, not everything is about Willow’s friends and stuff!
Anyway, rather than go home with her horrible family, Tara casts a spell on the gang so they can’t see her demon face. She intends the spell to be harmless, but she accidentally makes the gang unable to see any demon–which is definitely an occupational hazard! So when Glory contracts a very scabby demon to kill Buffy, the gang can’t see him or his scabby friends. Willow literally opens the door to a gaggle of scabby demons and says blithely, “No one there.” The demons sneak in and surround Buffy while she’s training in the back room, but luckily she’s been honing her Slayer senses this season, so she punches them out just as they attack. The gang is at a real disadvantage though, and the gaggle of scabby demons starts to get the upper hand. (Buffy is helped a little by Spike, who claims he wants to get a front-row seat to her death, but then tackles a demon who’s about to attack her. Aw!) Tara comes in and sees the damage she’s caused, and immediately breaks her spell so Buffy can kill the scabby demons.
The gang realizes that Tara put a spell on them, and her dad finally explains what Tara was trying to hide: all of the women in their family “have demon in them.” They want to take her home so she doesn’t hurt anyone else. A tearful Willow asks Tara if she wants to go, and she says no. Buffy, who seems angry that Tara’s spell could have hurt Dawn, says, “You want her, Mr. Maclay? You can go ahead and have her.” Then she turns around and dramatically says, “But first you’ve gotta come through me.” Ah, I see what you did there! Dawn pipes up too, and the sexist father says he won’t be threatened by “two little girls.” Giles and Xander say it’s not just two little girls, but all of them. (“Except me,” says Spike. “I don’t care what happens.”) The dad says they have the right to take Tara because they’re “kin,” but Buffy says the gang is “family.” Hm.
Cousin Beth spits that she hopes they all have fun hanging out with a “disgusting demon,” and Anya asks what kind, because some of them are evil, while others become “productive members of society.” When the family is flustered by this question, Spike figures out their game, and punches Tara in the nose. His chip goes off, which means Tara can’t be part demon. It was just family folklore, or, as Spike colorfully puts it, “a piece of spin to keep the ladies in line.” Tara’s family leaves with their tails between their legs, and Tara officially becomes a member of the Scooby family.
Or at least that’s how we’re supposed to feel by the end of the episode, but I don’t totally buy it. I think it’s because the writers overdid the gang’s meanness at the beginning–we’re really supposed to believe that Buffy goes from complaining about attending Tara’s birthday party to calling her “family”? She and Xander talked about her like she was a mildly annoying coworker, at best. And literally nothing has happened in this episode to change Tara’s relationship with the group, except that she accidentally tried to kill them all. This shift isn’t really earned, which is only underscored by the gang’s underwhelming and impersonal birthday gifts. (A broomstick and a crystal ball, really? Were they shopping for a cartoon witch?)
Meanwhile, after the revelation that Dawn is the Key, Buffy starts acting super overprotective of Dawn in front of Riley–for example, she says Dawn can’t go to a girl’s house for dinner because she “doesn’t want [Dawn] hanging out with someone so… short.” Riley is understandably flummoxed. “Yeah, a lot of young people nowadays are experimenting with shortness these days,” he responds, “Gotta nip that in the bud.” (This is without a doubt the wittiest thing he’s ever said.) He tries to get her to talk to him about what she’s going through, but she and Giles decided not to tell the gang about the Key for their own safety, so she clams up. He leaves in a passive-aggressive huff, saying “You’ve got a lot on your mind. If you ever want to let me in on any of it, let me know.” This is a little more sympathetic than Riley’s other grievances, but still, he needs to chill out. The girl has a big job! She might have a secret every once in a while!
So Riley does what any TV man does when he’s feeling sad and emasculated. No, he doesn’t purposely get beat up so his internal pain becomes external, but it’s pretty close. He goes to Willy’s demon bar (sans Willy–why?) and flirts with a pretty girl, even though he knows she’s a vampire. Bad decisions are on the horizon.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Willow is using a baby voice talking to Tara and it’s… very grating, but also totally how people talk to their significant others.
- Buffy tells Giles about Dawn being the Key. And I hate to be crass but they are sitting really close together, aren’t they? Giles has always been kind of a creeper.
- Poor Tara makes a weird joke about spells and it falls totally flat and the gang don’t even pretend to laugh. Come on guys! Do a fake laugh to make Tara feel welcome! It’s not that hard!
- I did, however, genuinely laugh when Riley called Xander a dork.
- Buffy admits to Xander that she forgot about Tara’s party because it’s “not the most thrilling social event of the season.” That’s pretty cold. Xander comes off looking like a hero just because he recognizes that this is a big deal for Willow and apparently, you know, cares about that.
- Also, Xander has taken charge of buying presents because Anya doesn’t perform emotional labor (and because Willow is his friend and it should be his job anyway). Buying a present for a party that his girlfriend was also invited to is probably the most feminist thing Xander ever does.
- A rare Cordelia reference from Buffy! She says the red dress demon was kind of like Cordelia. They do share a similar vibe.
- Buffy and Xander have a hilarious conversation where they agree emphatically that Tara is super nice but they don’t, um, really get her. I love it.
- Xander suggests Buffy go train to get the tension out, but instead she goes and finds Spike in his crypt and has a big fight with him? Complete with a lot of silly double entendres about “coming”? Is this a dream too? Ope, it’s a fantasy Spike’s having while having sex with Harmony. Awkward.
- Tara’s brother pops in and aggressively questions everyone in a drawling Southern accent. It’s totally nervewracking. Hollywood has really trained me to assume that when a man with that accent accosts people for no reason, something really ugly is about to happen.
- Omg, Tara’s cousin is played by baby Amy Adams! I didn’t even recognize her till she turned to the side and I saw her cute nose!
- More on lesbianism-as-witchcraft: Tara’s dad says a bunch of things that could be an almost winky reference to lesbianism: “You’re not even trying to hide it anymore,” for example.
- I have advice for Tara. Any time your parents are trying to get you to suppress your powers, you should… “Let it gooooooo.”
- The cheerleader demon, when she finds out that Buffy is a Slayer, moans, “How incredibly common.” Heh!
- “You have the cutest little suppurating sores!” says cheerleader demon to the Leiach demon. Gross! But funny?
- Riley goes to a bar and buys a drink for a friendly brown-haired woman who looks a little like Faith. But then I look it up and it turns out to be a vamp played by the same actress who played Emma, one of the most annoying subplots of Dawson’s season 6. (And yes, that’s saying a lot.)
- Harmony finds out that the cheerleader demon has recruited someone to kill Buffy and suggests that she and Spike send a gift basket to whomever kills Buffy.
- Oh my gosh this thing Amy Adams is wearing that is a slightly-sheer lavender shrug with droopy ruffles that tapers off into two strips of limp fabric that you tie in a knot across your boobs… it is the most 2002 thing ever. I had so many articles of clothing that contained at least one of these elements, though never did I acquire one that combined them all.
- Spike comes in, pretends to be happy that Buffy’s being overpowered by invisible demons, then finally remembers that he loves her hair and decides to join the fray, holding back one of the Leiach demons so Buffy can fight the other. I am torn between being a total fangirl who LURVES THIS and being annoyed that Buffy needs him to help her with a couple of invisible demons.
- Ooh, Willow’s fierce “I know that!” to Tara’s dad when he tells her it’s not her decision is such a good moment.
- Tara looks so pretty in this episode. I love her lipstick.
- I feel like this episode has so much subtext about the LGBTQ experience, like the difference between “blood kin”–who aren’t always kind to you–and “family,” which can be whomever you choose, and for LGBTQ people, often are very different than their blood kin. And also, of course, that Tara’s sexist dad has been trying to suppress her true personality.
- Spike punches Tara to prove that her dad’s been lying that she’s a demon at all, to keep the women in the family in line. Go Spike!
- [spoilers] Willow and Tara say really sweet stuff to each other at the end of this episode. Does that mean Tara’s going to die soon? Poor Tara.
- Aww, they’re floating!
Notes from a True Stan:
- I hate to say it, but Willow and Tara’s relationship is kind of… too cutesy? Maybe even a little cringe? I’m just not sure I see the chemistry there–it seems so forced and awkward when Tara calls her a “vixen.”
- Buffy tells Giles that Dawn is the key, and that Dawn can never, ever find out, and for some reason they choose to have this conversation in Buffy’s living room. It’s late, and they’re whispering, but come on. They couldn’t talk about this at Giles’ house?
- We finally get a reference to Buffy’s father–he’s in Spain with his secretary, “living the cliche.” Poor Buffy.
- Anya asks, “Birth is a present thing, right?” Which is funny, but also–she’s been living and working among humans for 1,000 years! She would know what a birthday is!
- Although I do love her love for capitalism, and her job at the Magic Box. “I just want to do the money parts!”
- While Buffy and Xander are being catty about Tara’s birthday gift, Giles continues to be the best. “You’re in a Magic Box,” he says slowly, “and you can’t think of what to get her.” Hee!
- But really, I don’t understand why they’re having so much trouble, or why they end up getting such awful gifts. Can’t they just ask Willow what she wants? And do twenty-year-olds even buy birthday gifts for each other?
- Tara’s aggressive Southern brother is played by Kevin Rankin, aka Herc from FNL and Devil from Justified! He is so typecast.
- Does anyone else think these scabby demons look like scarier versions of Glory’s minions? I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was the queen minion, like the queen Xenomorph.
- I don’t like this episode, but I appreciate that the writers had been planning it since mid-season 4. Or maybe they just realized they had a loose thread and wrote this episode to wrap it up, either way.
- Wow, SMG is insanely flexible this season. That back bend looks painful!
- Alyson Hannigan, as always, is such a good crier.
- Aw, it’s really cute when Willow and Tara slow-dance at the Bronze and float in the air. I’m not a hater! I just think they deserve better writing.