October 7th, 2012

buffy & sam

Willow/Tara and arguing

When I first watched the last few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was not a big fan of Willow/Tara. Partly this was because I was not Tara’s biggest fan when she first appeared. I adore Oz, and was a major Willow/Oz shipper, and I was sad about Oz leaving. Also, I wished Tara had more of a backbone.

My other problem with Willow/Tara—which was not a problem, per se, but contributed to my lack of interest—was the part where they don’t fight. Also, I really love it when fictional characters fight. Relationships with no fighting? Bo-ring. And yeah, my Buffy and Spike really overdid it and had to work hard to learn to communicate in a way that involved a bit less violence and nasty remarks, but hey, it makes them fun to watch. Tara and Willow? Almost never fought, and when they did, they both obviously HATED it, which makes it less fun.

But after looking back over the show and doing some analysis, I had a change of heart. If you analyze Willow/Tara over the long haul, it becomes very interesting. Tara increasingly gaining confidence in the relationship as Willow becomes more and more scared of the consequences of losing Tara. The way their anxiety about fighting is not portrayed as a good thing, and leads to Willow committing a terrible violation, and Tara putting up with more than she should. It’s interesting. It’s complicated. Much as I love Oz and Willow/Oz, I think Willow/Tara is probably more interesting.

I love how you see it develop: They have their very first fight in Tough Love in season five, after having been together for over a year. In this fight, Tara is the one who wants to end the argument, and Willow won’t drop it, although she deflects the topic from Tara’s fear of Willow’s increasing power to Tara’s anxieties about Willow’s sexuality. Willow ends up storming out. Tara goes to the World’s Culture Fair they were going to attend together on her own, and is mind-sucked by Glory, and Willow has to use magic to return her to herself.

After this incident, Willow comes to view fights with Tara as, well, the end of the world, and the only way she knows how to fix it is with magic. In S4, Tara has no self-confidence and will take whatever she get from Willow with no complaints. In S6, when Tara is concerned about Willow’s use of magic, she still hates the fighting (and Dawn, who overheard the fight and has been living in the same house as Willow and for the entire summer, says it’s the only fight she’s ever witnessed them having), but she doesn’t back down. She loves Willow, and knows they need to have this fight. When Willow suggests that she just shut up, Tara retorts, “If I didn't love you so damn much I would!” Ironically, it is the strength her relationship with Willow has given her that allows her to stand up to Willow. Later, Tara refuses to accept Willow’s apology, because “It’s not the simple.” Willow decides to make it simple—and uses magic to erase Tara’s memory of the fight. The build-up is consistent, and interesting, and sad.

And of course it is in character for Tara to leave Willow, and a devastated Dawn, and of course she comes back. Tara openly acknowledges that it takes more than just going out for coffee to fix so deep a violation of trust, but she wants to consider it forgotten, anyway. Tara’s new-found strength has its limits.

I want to point out a little moment from the season 1 episode “Nightmares”: Buffy and Willow are discussing Buffy’s parents’ divorce. Willow says, “My parents don't even bicker. Sometimes they glare.”

This is the first mention I recall of Willow’s parents. Her mother appears onscreen once in S3 in “Gingerbread”. I don’t think we ever meet her father. The first time her parents are mentioned, and what do we learn? They don’t fight. Willow has no parental role models for how to handle open conflict.

That’s not the only mention in the first season of Willow seeing open disagreement as a negative in a relationship. In BtVS 1x8, “I Robot, You Jane”, Willow says of her online boyfriend (whom she does not yet know is an evil robot): “We talked all night, it was amazing. He's so smart, Buffy, and, and he's romantic, and we agree about everything!”

This is Willow’s idea of a perfect boyfriend, folks.

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