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Monday, May 28, 2012

Something Blue

[Updated April 30, 2013]

Something Blue is a fun episode, and it works very well to advance certain plot points (Buffy/Riley) and to deal with Willow’s pain from Oz’s departure. The problem I have in writing this post is that the episode has no apparent relationship to any of the season themes. I’ll therefore deal with the episode on its own.


I’ll start with Willow’s spell. Like most spells, the secret is in the exact (and frequently ambiguous) wording. The key language is this: “Out of my passions, a web be spun. From this eve forth, my will be done.” The spell called for her will to be done “out of my passions”. That’s why only some of her wishes came true – she had to say them when she was feeling emotional.
I’ve seen criticism of Willow for casting spells on her friends without their consent. She’s attempted such spells in the past (Lovers Walk, Wild at Heart), though she’s never carried through on one. This spell was different. At no time did she try to make Oz come back or punish him. The whole point of the spell was to enable her to control her own emotions, that is, to enforce her will upon herself. Her very first words after casting the spell were “It is my will that my heart be healed. Now.” Only when she thought the spell had failed and didn’t realize the impact of her words did she say something which affected others.
For this reason, D’Hoffryn’s effort to recruit her as a vengeance demon was never likely to succeed. Willow really didn’t intend to hurt her friends. She wasn’t calling out for vengeance, she was expressing her pain.
There are a couple of ways to look at the issue whether Willow was justified in her pain. One is to compare her reaction to that of Buffy over Parker. It took Buffy 2 episodes to get her catharsis with Parker in Beer Bad. It’s taken Willow 3. That doesn’t seem excessive given that Oz was much more important to Willow than Parker was to Buffy. Indeed, the real comparison should be Buffy/Angel, and as Buffy herself told Giles in The Initiative, she ran away for months and went to hell. If we’re grading on a curve, Willow comes out far ahead.
Because Buffy/Angel is the obvious comparison, I’m inclined to think that Willow’s experience here was intended to serve as a message for Buffy as well. She told Willow in the teaser,
Buffy: I don't know. I really like being around him [Riley], you know? And I think he cares about me.. but.. I just.. feel like something's missing.
Willow: He's not making you miserable?
Buffy: Exactly. Riley seems so solid. Like he wouldn't cause me heartache.
Willow: (Fake worry) Get out. Get out while there's still time.
Buffy: I know.. I have to get away from that bad boy thing. There's no good there. Seeing Angel in LA.. even for five minutes.. hello to the pain.”

Since the remainder of the episode deals with Willow’s pain, I think Buffy is supposed to take the hint and get over Angel, just as Willow needs to move past Oz. This is all the more true because Buffy has a potential relationship with Riley; she can’t hold on to Angel at the same time.
That said, the two situations are different in ways that make it more understandable for Willow to grieve for Oz than for Buffy to grieve for Angel. Among other things, Angel has been gone for much longer already. In addition, Willow has always been very supportive of Buffy in her grief, as we’ve seen in, for example, The Prom and in S4 regarding Parker. Buffy is more supportive in Something Blue than Xander is, but that’s a low bar. Willow probably deserved a little better.
Buffy and Willow tend to cope in different ways. Buffy avoids other people, while Willow tries to eliminate the pain. In my experience, people are inclined to see their own coping strategy as “normal” and to be less sympathetic to different strategies, even to see them as “wrong”.
Trivia notes: (1) The title comes from the old “folk wisdom” rhyme about weddings: the bride should have “Something old, something new/Something borrowed, something blue”. Here it has a double meaning, referring both to Buffy’s “wedding” and to Willow’s mood (“feeling blue”).  (2) The first transition in the teaser contains very subtle foreshadowing of a spoiler point. (3) Buffy saw Angel in the AtS episode I Will Remember You. (4) The Zagat Guide which Spike mentioned is a restaurant guide for major cities around the world. (5) Willow referred to Spike as “the undead English patient”. The English Patient was a 1996 movie. (6) Spike’s favorite soap opera was Passions. (7) Riley suggested taking Buffy for a ride “past the vineyards”. The area just north of Santa Barbara has many vineyards. (8) Xander’s description of Willow as a “brave little toaster” referred to the movie The Brave Little Toaster. (9) Xander’s wistful mention of a “fuzzy bikini” referred to the outfit worn by star Raquel Welch in the movie One Million Years B.C. (10) The movie Steel Magnolias might make Willow feel better in a “there but for the Grace of God” way – one character in the movie died from the complications of diabetes. (11) Xander may think they’re not all doomed to relationship badness, but remember the ending of IRYJ: “Buffy: Let's face it: none of us are ever gonna have a happy, normal relationship. Xander: We're doomed! Willow: Yeah!” (9) If you’re used to the Centigrade scale for temperature, the blood Buffy handed Spike was 37 degrees (human normal). (10) Foreign viewers: American couples register their preferences for gifts at department stores so that wedding guests have some idea what to get them.

11 comments:

  1. I had never before considered Willow's level of emotion being the operative element of her spell. The one other theory I've heard for the episode's spell's inconsistent effects has been proposed by SpringSummers, which is a little spoilery. (SPOILERS) She thinks that the spell only works if there is an element of truth in the words Willow says. So hearts don't heal instantly, and Q-tips don't unbend themselves. But Giles is somewhat blind; Xander is something of a demon magnet; and Buffy and Spike are (perhaps) somewhat attracted to each other. How much one accepts this theory depends on how much willingness one has to accept the idea that feelings have already sprouted between these two.

    In general, the other thing notable is that Buffy avoids people, but Willow tries to get people to help her, or reassure her. Buffy wants to be alone, and Willow wants to be surrounded. The question of which is more appropriate is up in the air. Buffy advocates could say that she prefers not to burden people; Willow advocates could say that she prefers not to shut people out or unduly worry them by abandoning them. Both strategies have pros and cons. I admit to being more sympathetic to Willow on this point, and unhappy with the gang for giving her a hard time for whining or shirking her "responsibilities" to do spells for Giles, especially since The Initiative and Pangs saw her suppressing the urge to talk about her problems around others, and, in The Initiative in particular, working hard on helping Buffy.

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    1. As I think I mentioned before (Dead Man's Party, maybe?) I'm personally more like Buffy on these issues. I can understand how it gets wearing to deal with someone else's emotions, but I find myself on Willow's side in this episode.

      It's interesting at this point in the series that Giles is encouraging Willow to use magic, though both Oz and Buffy have expressed doubts.

      When spells go wrong, my first reaction is to look at the wording (my lawyerly instincts, I suppose). I believe most of the time the problem can be explained that way. For example, in Fear, Itself this was the sequence when Willow tried to summon the guide:

      "(She opens her eyes and smiles as she sees a tiny speck of light floating in front of her face) Woah! I did it! I did you. Hi! - Right, you’re waiting for instructions. Lead me to Oz. (The speck of light starts to float past her, and Willow gets up) Wait! I should try to find the people trapped upstairs first. (Willow looks down and doesn’t see that there are now two then three sparks) But even if I get them we still need to find a way out of the house. (The sparks keep multiplying)."

      IOW, by constantly changing her mind -- asking for the guide to lead extra people to different destinations -- Willow confused the guide and generated the additional lights which ended up overwhelming her. There are similar examples from future episodes as well (Triangle comes to mind).

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    2. StateOfSiege97@gmail.comMay 29, 2012 at 7:12 AM

      Is it really a matter of whether Buffy or Willow is right here? I see it more as a matter of personal tendencies, the point being to respect and support one's friends when theirs are different from one's own. For example, I tend to be like Buffy, my sister more like Willow, and for years we hurt each other because we expected each other to act the way we ourselves did—now we understand that we just deal with problems differently and are able to be supportive. The problem, as I see it here, is that neither Xander ("So, so tired of it") nor Buffy ("We're all tired of it") nor GIles (it is not like you to shirk your responsibilities) are truly supportive of Willow: they want her grief, as she says, to cease being inconvenient. I agree with you, Mark, in in your measure above—and I see the impatience with Willow as another sign of the group's fraying, which does link it to the season's themes, at least a bit.

      On the level of the spell, perhaps my background in literature places me on the lawyerly side... I tend to go with the wording, too: in Greek mythology, that is always the catch in making requests from the Gods (such as asking for eternal life but not eternal youth and ending up a grasshopper... ). The hinge would be Amy—I see her as being emotional about her spell-making ability when she is able to turn Amy human, then reverse the spell again, which is why her words have power—is that how you read the scene?

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    3. Yes, that is how I read the Amy scene. I also agree about the strain the events of SB put on the various relationships, though I didn't see that on first watch -- it only seems likely in retrospect.

      This leads me to a point which I thought about making in the post but didn't: whether Willow's spells open doors to possibilities that otherwise might have remained closed. Giles warned her of that when she did the spell in Becoming 2 and I think it's possible now.

      SPOILERS

      Would Spike have realized his love for Buffy in S5 if not for the spell here? Would Xander's attraction to Anya have been so strong if Willow hadn't told him he was a demon magnet?

      These are probably unprovable one way or the other, but thinking along these lines makes sense as a "but for cause".

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    4. I definitely don't think it has to be "either/or" Buffy or Willow.

      On the point below (I'll just write out my response here), I think it's true that Willow shouldn't be using magic to change her fundamental emotional makeup. On the other hand, I think it's hard to know which spells are truly "acceptable" morally and which are not. Is it wrong to, for example, drink to make oneself feel better? That is one possible comparison (and indeed she tires the spell shortly after trying alcohol). I'd say that the real instance is that one does have to accept that the world exists as it is, and that any attempts to change the world will be met with resistance. So alcohol can make one feel better temporarily, but can't make the problem go away and has negative consequences as well (like hangovers, and the like). Changing the external world with magic is sometimes necessarily in order to help/save lives, but there are almost always negative consequences associated with it.

      (SPOILER) It takes until S6 for Willow to gain a full appreciation of those conesquences, but the show's final message, as of S7, is not "do not do magic," but to have a full understanding of the pros and cons of it and to do spells when the benefits outweigh the negative consequences. It seems likely that even if a spell could be done to remove Willow's pain without external consequences, the internal consequences could be negative: pain exists "for a reason" -- it does something positive (by forcing us to learn important lessons, by making us pay attention to what we have lost so that we value what we gain next time), and a Willow who had no pain at all would be a less whole person. That said, I am not so sure that I'd consider it morally wrong to remove one's pain, if it could be done in a way that didn't hurt other people: it's more something I'd say is unwise.

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    5. I meant "real message," not "real instance." Bah.

      As far as the final point you (Mark) make, I'd add that this episode also solidifies Anya's trustworthiness to the gang, since here she summons D'Hoffryn for the sake of the gang, rather than, in Doppelgangland, to try to return to her previous occupation. Her commitment to Xander over her past is now well-established.

      SPOILERS

      I think that it's partly true that the effects of Willow's spell leads to future relationships being partly determined, especially about Spike's feelings for Buffy. It also is partly what encourages Buffy to go for Riley more fully -- trying to put badboy attraction out of her mind completely is not just about her brief (from her perspective) encounter with Angel, but the memory of "lips of Spike." It's also partly that this episode acts as foreshadowing.

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    6. The ethics of Willow's magic use was one of those topics guaranteed to generate an argument at ATPO. It was forever unresolvable for several reasons, not least the fact that the show itself never tried to offer a Unified Theory of Magic. In addition, using magic as a metaphor in different ways at different times further complicated the issue.

      I'd like to say I had an easy answer, but I don't. I've pretty much come to the point of Justice Potter Stewart's infamous line about pornography: "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." In my charitable moments I see this as consistent with an existentialist ethics as discussed in my post on Choices. :)

      In this particular case I think that Willow needed to let time do the healing. That's partly because we've all been through something similar; her situation isn't unique, not even on the show, and we can be confident the pain will subside. But I'd be reluctant to make this a general rule, as though every loss, no matter how awful, should be met with "just get over it". It depends.

      And as I said, I think Willow deserved better from her friends here, even if the spell was the wrong approach.

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  2. StateOfSiege97@gmail.comMay 29, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    My criticism of WIllow was never that she performed spells upon her friends but precisely that she sought to perform one upon herself: while I understand and sympathize with her motives, especially given the lack of sympathy she is finding with her friends, she is still abusing magic here, for she is seeking to avoid human emotions, cut short the grieving process—changing the world to suit herself, to echo what someone will say later... In LW she was also trying to work magic upon Xander, but I saw it as almost as problematic that she was turning to magic to control her own desires.

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  3. Interesting take on Buffy vs. Willow. While I wholeheartedly agree that Willow deserves better from her friends, and I definitely see your point about Willow wanting to have people around while Buffy withdraws, I feel that Willow's belief that her pain should be gone now makes her handle it less well than Buffy, who at least understands that you have to go through it and that it takes time. Willow's inability to accept this and cope --SPOILER--causes bigger problems in the future. It's not that I think Buffy is great at coping, since obviously she isn't (and who among us is), but I see this issue as maybe Willow's greatest character flaw. And I don't mean to imply either that she doesn't deserve great sympathy for this loss, and any others that may come her way. It's just her reactions to these losses that is problematic.

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    1. I'm sympathetic to this, and to Buffy, since her coping strategy is my own. The show, interestingly, is very unsympathetic to both. Buffy's friends treated her pretty badly in Dead Man's Party (at least in my view). Willow's friends aren't much help here, though certainly better than DMP. In each case more understanding and more sympathy might have done the trick.

      That's not to say I'd give carte blanche to a Willow pity party, because there IS a point at which she needs to get over it. I just didn't think that point had come quite yet.

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