Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Family   Rewatch 
October 28, 2015 8:59 PM - Season 5, Episode 6 - Subscribe

Tara's family appears as her 20th birthday approaches, a date she has long been fearing. The distance between Buffy and Riley grows.
posted by yellowbinder (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Amy Adams played Cousin Beth. Which is one of those things where you figure out later that a now-famous actor played a character you're very familiar with before they were famous and you never connected the two together and now your mind is blown.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:25 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ha yeah before they were famous roles are always fun, especially when they occur on good shows. And Adams is quite good at what she is here. Unfortunately, what she is is pretty unexciting.

This is the only Tara-centric episode we ever get, and it's just not very good. I don't think that's Amber Benson's fault, and I've really enjoyed the subtle background work she's been given so far, but this is clearly a plot line from a previous series. I guess this is a good point to finally discard "shy awkward Tara" and move into "emotionally mature, quietly centred" Tara, but it's a blunt instrument with which to do it. Tara's family are cartoons, and while we need to feel Tara's fear that the scooby's won't side with her, we never really do. As a result there's no tension here. Tara doesn't want to go, her friends don't want her to go, there's absolutely no way for her family of hicks to make her go. In a different show, the father figure would be intimidating, but he can't really compete with literal demons. The actual instrument of control that her family would have on her, money, is something the show will absolutely, steadfastly ignore, so that can't be used as a threat here either.

Also, what the hell kind of family is this, where the mother has demon in her. That means Tara's father must have married into the demon family? If he knows its a masquerade, why did he marry in? If he doesn't know it's a masquerade, why did he marry in?

-Tara telling the dorky joke is quite sweet, especially her explaining it to Anya at the end, who declares that it's still not funny
-Riley starts hanging out with vampires. Seriously have no time for this dude right now.
-The demons are really, really bad at killing everyone. They are literally invisible and still lose
-"You're dealing with all of us." "Except me." "Except Spike." "I don't care what happens."
-"I know she like's Willow, but she already has one of those."
-At the end a classic television moment, where inexplicable friends appear for the birthday party.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:24 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tara telling the dorky joke is quite sweet, especially her explaining it to Anya at the end, who declares that it's still not funny

Is this the one where Tara complains that they're all so quippy? You had to feel for her there. You get so used to all the quips on this show and then when somebody points it out you realize how intimidating it could be to be surrounded by that if you're not somebody who can just spout jokey banter at will.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:32 AM on October 29, 2015


"... but it's a blunt instrument with which to do it. Tara's family are cartoons, and while we need to feel Tara's fear that the scooby's won't side with her, we never really do. As a result there's no tension here. Tara doesn't want to go, her friends don't want her to go, there's absolutely no way for her family of hicks to make her go. In a different show, the father figure would be intimidating, but he can't really compete with literal demons. The actual instrument of control that her family would have on her, money, is something the show will absolutely, steadfastly ignore, so that can't be used as a threat here either."

All those are very good criticisms and every time I've watched this I've been annoyed at how cartoonishly villainous her family is.

But even so, I always get choked up when the scoobies side with Tara and she faces her family down. It's obvious and manipulative, but it still really works for me. It hits one of the notes that I think the show often hits very well and is part of why the show means to much to me. And on re-watches it's even more effective for me, because I just love Tara so much. So much.

Tara ends up the one unsullied character on the show, a genuinely good and strong person I admire and love completely without reservation. That's why although it seems sort of silly and unprofessional, I totally support Amber Benson's refusal to appear in "Conversations with Dead People".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:37 AM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


But even so, I always get choked up when the scoobies side with Tara and she faces her family down. It's obvious and manipulative, but it still really works for me. It hits one of the notes that I think the show often hits very well and is part of why the show means to much to me. And on re-watches it's even more effective for me, because I just love Tara so much. So much.

Oh yeah, that's a good scene. It's worth noting here that when I'm harsh on an episode in 5 you can take it as read that it's better than pretty much any episode in 1, say (with the obvious exception of the tremendous Prophecy Girl and the opening episodes). I think fundamentally the writing of the show in 5 is solid enough that even weaker episodes do very well. The cast inhabit their characters at this point, and the writers know them all well enough (with the possible exception of Dawn) that they can write dialogue that fits really well. In fact, this familiarity with these incredible, multi dimensional characters that everyone is makes the guest stars even more transparent.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:05 AM on October 29, 2015


I'm going to be a jerk and say that I flat out hate this episode.

They had an opportunity to actually examine Tara's flaws, to make her a three-dimensional person, to examine the effect that long-term deception has on a relationship, and they blew right past it.

Willow and Tara have known each other for nearly a year, and Tara has given no indication that this relationship is anything but long-term. They've adopted a cat together, they've moved in together, Willow calls Tara "essential" and Tara doesn't try to gently steer Willow away from that perception.

Willow has the right to decide if 1) she wants to be in a relationship with a demon, 2) if she wants to do magic with a demon, and 3) if she wants to be in a relationship with someone who was going to either turn into a demon, die, or leave Sunnydale on her 20th birthday. But Tara decided that she deserved to be in a relationship more than Willow deserved complete honesty and deceived Willow. And when she thought she couldn't hide the truth any more, she did a spell that endangered everyone. And there were absolutely no repercussions for any of this whatsoever.

I didn't expect a break-up over this, just maybe Willow being a little hurt about the deception and Tara's lack of trust in Willow.

And then there's the whole "Tara's family members, who are evil, have hickish accents. Tara, who is good, does not."

Also this bit at the beginning makes me wish they'd never done the cutesy Wiccan = lesbian bit:

BUFFY: Think there'll be a lot of Wiccas there, heavy Wiccan crowd?
XANDER: Well, that's sort of her deal. Her and Willow are all Wiccie. Swingin' with the Wiccan lifestyle.
BUFFY: Which is cool.
XANDER: Well, yeah.
BUFFY: I just hope we fit in, not awkward.

Are they being weirded out by lesbians, or by actual Wiccans? If they are talking about actual Wiccans, are they the useless Wiccan group of Season 4, that Willow and Tara abandoned in favor of exploring magic on their own? If this is a new set of Wiccans, do they practice actual magic? If so, why aren't any of them helping out later in Season 5 when Willow is pushed to the limit, magic-wise?
posted by creepygirl at 9:34 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always read that exchange as purely "We don't want to say the L-word, so we'll stick with the W-word."
posted by Etrigan at 9:56 AM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the word "lifestyle" makes it read that way to me, too. If Buffy and Xander are talking about being uncomfortable about being around lesbians, it makes Willow's Season 4 behavior (waiting to introduce Tara to the group, waiting until NMR to come out) even more understandable to me.
posted by creepygirl at 11:26 AM on October 29, 2015


I think this episode works for me because it makes it absolutely clear to me that Tara is a survivor of an abusive family. (I also think the hickish accent is a total mistake but that's another story.) The way Tara immediately looks cowed, calls her father "sir" when her brother and cousin do not; cousin Beth's diatribe making it clear that Tara's function was "doing for" the menfolk; Tara's slip about "how did you find me" indicating that she took active pains to avoid being found and that her departure was not sanctioned. It's Donny's comment about beating her down which drives it home, but honestly that comment's hardly necessary by that point.

Through this lens, Tara's actions make a lot more sense. I have no difficulty in believing that her mother wasn't a demon either (even before the reveal) but was probably also abused, put down, kept in line, and that the "demon" excuse was simply the justification to keep her under control as soon as she began to show signs of power. Then they did it all over again in the next generation with Tara. But maybe because (and yes, this is headcanon) Tara had some support from her mother, she began to doubt in a way that enabled her to escape.

I'm not saying that Tara was right to conceal all this from the others, especially Willow, but it is so hard to admit even to yourself that you have been abused, that it wasn't something you innately deserved because there was something wrong with you. It is not at all unrealistic that a 19-year-old girl who is experiencing freedom from her abusers for the first time wouldn't have the desire or the mental fortitude to have figured all of this out on her own, along with falling in love with Willow, carrying a full course load and learning that there really are demons, really bad ones, but also that there are different kinds (great line from Anya) and casting further doubt on the core of the psychological abuse she's been enduring her whole life. It took me longer than a year and I was older and had more experience than she did, and it was a much more obvious situation.

Yes, she is wrong. Yes, she fucks up. No arguments. But from my perspective, it's pretty understandable for a 20yo survivor. And that scene where they all rally to support her gives me all the feels. All. The. Feels.

A couple of random asides:
- Tara has a huge wall poster of a drawn mug shot of a woman vagrant, blonde and blue-eyed, from 1947. Makes me want to headcanon it into her family history.
- Buffy can see Tara when she can't see the demons. Ergo, Tara is not a demon. Nose punch not necessary. Stupid gimmick anyway. Makes me angry.
- Watched it this time with my sweetheart, who pointed out that the actors who play Tara's father and brother are actually RL father and son. Also that Sandy, the vamp who hits on Riley in the bar, we have seen being bitten by evil Willow in Doppelgangland.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:42 PM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


So. I know that actual religion (beyond Riley going to church & the weird "Wicca" references) was beyond what Buffy wanted to do but I hated that they completely made Tara's family fundamentalist Christians (or whatever) and then completely ignored that they were. I get that's a lot more than 44 minutes of TV can really get into, but it always bothered me that Buffy, with all its demons and Hell dimensions (and Heaven dimensions) tended to ignore all the spiritual baggage that came with those things.

I liked Tara and wish she'd gotten to do more on the show as a character. I wish her upbringing hadn't felt so ... generic, or obvious. It was a good emotional punch, sure, but they gave Tara this pretty dark backstory and then wiped it away all in one episode, to never be brought up again (mostly -- Tara talked about her mom dying and rebelling and all).

(Of course -- whatever happened to Willow's parents? Her mom appeared once & her parents were mentioned a few times but not after season 3 ... so ... Buffy is weird at the full lives of its characters that aren't Buffy, really.)
posted by darksong at 8:15 PM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Of course -- whatever happened to Willow's parents? Her mom appeared once & her parents were mentioned a few times but not after season 3 ... so ... Buffy is weird at the full lives of its characters that aren't Buffy, really.

Indeed. I actually think Gingerbread is a good contrast to this episode, simply because Willow's mother felt more well realised than a lot of the characters did here. As Athanassiel says, Tara has clearly come from an abusive background, emotionally if not physically; I think the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it here, with the whole "ooh Tara's got a mysttttterious background!!" and then say "no actually it's just a really horrible background". Which, obviously it can be both but actually selling it at once is messy. Also, did anyone think first time through that Tara really was a demon? And that it would matter if she was? At this point in the show, as Anya points out, the gang regularly hang out with two demons! (Well ok, Anya is no longer a demon, but still).


I think you're probably right creepygirl, but I don't think the show had the time to deal with the ramifications of Tara's behaviour, and it basically will forget this ever happened. When Willow and fight later this season, there won't be a mention of this episode, which is the sort of thing a partner might throw at the other in a big fight.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:59 AM on October 30, 2015


The more I think about it... on Buffy we never deal with how anybody is making a living, we never deal with anybody's parents (except for Buffy, and her mom was underused as a character and her dad was entirely AWOL), we never really get into how all this demon and god stuff connects or doesn't connect with the world's religions. I'm a major fan of the Buffyverse, but there are all these major things that are addressed rarely if at all.

Maybe it sounds harsh, but I think it probably reflects a lack of courage on the part of the writers, that they didn't believe they could handle that real world stuff. They developed such a complicated mythology and they had all these interesting characters to populate it, but it's almost like they thought that if they addressed how these people were paying the bills (for example) they'd botch it and then we'd start asking more questions they couldn't answer and the whole thing would fall apart.

Buffy and Supernatural are very similar in some ways and very different in others. I think Buffy is a better show on balance (it helps that they clocked out at seven seasons) but I think this real world stuff is one place where Supernatural really trumps Buffy.

We know that the Winchesters earn a living by running credit card scams and hustling pool. We have met their dad, spent quality time with their whole family in flashbacks and we know all about how the brothers felt about their parents. We know a lot about how angels and demons work and where they fit and don't fit what the bible tells us. We also know how this all fits within the world's other religions. (Although that's mostly dealt with as Lucifer rounding up and then slaughtering the gods of a bunch of other religions, in an episode that I can't believe wasn't more controversial.) We know how they got the Men of Letters HQ, and we know that place's history. We know that both of the brothers vote Democrat and Dean particularly dislikes Cheney. What are Buffy's politics? Did she ever vote? I couldn't say.

I probably learned as much or more about the history of the CAR on Supernatural as I ever learned about the history of Rupert Giles.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:38 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


But Tara decided that she deserved to be in a relationship more than Willow deserved complete honesty and deceived Willow. And when she thought she couldn't hide the truth any more, she did a spell that endangered everyone. And there were absolutely no repercussions for any of this whatsoever.

...well shit, I never put this together with what Willow pulls on Tara in Season 6. Not saying two wrongs make a right but in retrospect, after OMWF they should have at least addressed the fact that Tara had once fucked with Willow's brain via magic.

They developed such a complicated mythology and they had all these interesting characters to populate it, but it's almost like they thought that if they addressed how these people were paying the bills (for example) they'd botch it and then we'd start asking more questions they couldn't answer and the whole thing would fall apart.

Well, this is exactly what happened! They decided in Season 6 to address it, but they did it in a pretty hamfisted way that did, in fact, only raise further questions.

I was perfectly happy to have NO explanation and just assume Buffy and Giles got stipends from the Council to live. But when they decided they needed to do a 'Buffy has realistic money woes' storyline, it only served to highlight the fact that they'd never addressed whether Buffy or any other Slayer got paid, and the idea that they just don't, at all is kind of insane.

And if the idea was that the Watchers (who we know DO get paid) were meant to be supporting their Slayers, then Giles' initial refusal to help Buffy out financially was inexplicably dickish.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:58 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just rewatched season 7 and caught a new "before they were famous"! One of Dawn's schoolmates is Riki Lindhome (not exactly FAMOUS famous but currently EVERYWHERE on tv... she's 1/2 of Garfunkel and Oates, costarring and cocreator of Another Period, dating Fozzie Bear on The Muppets, and I think a regular on that Fred Savage/Rob Whatsisname courtroom sitcom)
posted by elr at 11:31 AM on October 31, 2015


Well, this is exactly what happened! They decided in Season 6 to address it, but they did it in a pretty hamfisted way that did, in fact, only raise further questions.

I thought the Doublemeat Palace episode was a good story idea, handled not very well. I suppose it's a fair point, that when they did try to address jobs and parents and other real-world stuff it usually just felt awkward and weird. I wonder why the show was so consistently off about that more earthbound, practical stuff? Why wasn't Buffy working at the Doublemeat Palace for a while, or working as a waitress someplace? It could have been a background thread in a season, where maybe she gets leads on supernatural stuff at the restaurant or her shifts at work keep conflicting with her patrols. There are plenty of potential stories that could come out of Buffy trying to work some cruddy job. (And Whedon's original idea for the character was that Buffy was a waitress who slayed vampires! Why not actually do that for a while?)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:27 PM on October 31, 2015


Basically, I don't care about things that the writers don't care about, until it becomes a plot point. Anya doesn't seem to need money? Sure, whatever. Angel and Spike somehow manage to get electricity to their homes, it's just a little quibble. It's funny to point it out, but it doesn't hurt the story. But when these things suddenly become plot points it becomes an issue. Anya suddenly needing a job is really weird when she didn't need one for 3 whole years, and as mentioned in the other discussion, if Buffy needs money, why don't Willow and Tara? It's less of a problem with Anya, because it's just a way to get her in the shop, which is great for the show, but in 6 money worries are a key part of the entire season, so it's incredibly odd that two main characters have absolutely no given source of income and don't ever worry about money!

But this is all really a discussion for another day, as we shall reach 6 soon, I probably shouldn't pollute 5 too much with concerns from 6.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:31 AM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I actually love season six, and part of that was because it seemed like they were trying to ground the characters in the real world more. It didn't always work, but when it did I thought it made the drama hit harder.

But it's true that sometimes when they did try to confront this stuff, it just drew attention to how weird it was that they'd never dealt with it before. I suppose sometime after Joyce died the writers sat down and said, "So, maybe we should have Buffy's dad come back..." And then they realized that he was A), not a terribly compelling character when we did meet him, and B), he'd been gone for so long that if he suddenly came back it would be a big, awkward thing that maybe couldn't be dealt with in just one episode. It would be a big family drama centered around the return of this kind of boring guy. So, they just kind of wished him into the cornfield and that was that.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:06 AM on November 2, 2015


The original idea of the show was fighting literal monsters as a metaphor for the inner demons of adolescence. Once the writers decided college wasn't really working out, and the new challenges should be acclimating to adult life, they waffled on whether those challenges should be real or metaphorical. Text and subtext kept colliding messily. There are a lot of moments to love in later seasons, but after Graduation Day, the show never has the same thematic force.
posted by rikschell at 4:26 AM on February 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


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