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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tough Love

[Updated May 2, 2013]

Who’s the object of Tough Love in this episode? One obvious answer is Dawn, given Buffy’s treatment of her. Or maybe it’s Ben getting the advice to “take responsibility”. Perhaps it refers to the fight between Willow and Tara. It could mean any or all of these, but in my view the title refers to Buffy.


The teaser usually gives us a clue, and in this case the clue comes from Ben talking to his evil half right after getting that “tough love” advice:
BEN: This is so unfair. You're taking everything away from me. Everything I worked for, I earned, I care about. These are my choices, this is my life, and you're ruining it!

Later on we see Buffy make the same complaint right after Giles refuses to help her:
BUFFY: I can't do it, Will. Don't worry. It's not like I don't have a life. I do. I have Dawn's life.

The connection appears right in the teaser. Buffy says “when I’m more myself again” and we segue to Ben trying to explain why he’s been gone for 2 weeks and then turning into Glory. I think that’s emphasized when the doctor tells Ben to “take responsibility”. That’s not just a theme of this episode, it’s a theme for the entire show.
It seems harsh for Giles to tell Buffy that she’s the one who must deal with Dawn given Joyce’s recent death, but it’s just what he should say in light of Dawn’s metaphorical role: “I may be a grownup, but you're her family. Her only real family now. She needs you to do this.”
It also fits the “growing up” theme – Buffy has to learn to take on an adult’s role: “She needs me. (Giles looks sympathetic) Me, the ... grownup. (more confidently) The authority figure. The, the strong guiding hand and, and stompy foot that is me.” Buffy no longer has Riley or Joyce or Giles to fall back on. The first two are gone and Giles just told her she’s on her own. That’s what it feels like when we become adults – that we’re all on our own. That’s both true and not true, for Buffy and for us, but Giles’s refusal to get in the middle of Buffy’s relationship with Dawn is consistent with the sense of loneliness which accompanies adulthood. Metaphor and storyline fuse together seamlessly here.
Buffy’s situation should call to mind this dialogue from the S2 episode Bad Eggs:
“Buffy:  I'll just lay that one off on my partner. (looks up, worried) Who'd I get?
Willow:  Well, there were an uneven number of students, and you didn't show, so...
Buffy:  (in shocked disbelief) I'm a single mother?
Xander:  (nods) No man of her own.
Buffy:  Do you know what this says about me? That I am doomed to lead my mother's life! (paces back to them) How deeply scary is that?”

I think Tara’s behavior in the face of Glory’s threats reflects how Buffy treated her in Family. Before Family, Tara was concerned that she was an outsider, that she didn’t fit in. I think it’s also notable that Glory confuses Tara for Dawn, reinforcing the way the two were equated prior to Family. Tara’s courage now is, IMO, born in part of the love she got from Buffy and Dawn and can now reciprocate. That courage is all the more impressive because Tara made clear her horror of brain sucking in Blood Ties:
“TARA: She, she, she's a brain-sucker? (Willow and Tara exchange a look)
GILES: She, um ... (leans over to read from book) "absorbs the energies that bind the human mind into a cohesive whole." Once drained, all that's left behind is, uh-
BUFFY: Crazy people.
GILES: (pouring more tea) Which is, I'm afraid, why there's been a marked increase in the ranks of the mentally unstable here in Sunnydale.
TARA: At least vampires just kill you.”

Note the way the magic/lesbian metaphor plays back and forth in the argument between Tara and Willow. They might seem to be talking about magic, and then Willow says no, this is about being a lesbian, but it’s really all the same – part in metaphor, part in “real” terms.
Willow’s reaction to Glory’s assault on Tara reminded me of Giles’s in Passion. I can’t say either one is very sensible, but I’m kinda with Spike on this: “I’d do it.” The important thing to take away from Willow’s attempted revenge is somewhat subtle and I missed it the first time: her eyes turned black, like Doc’s did in Forever. That’s a sign, not only of Willow’s anger, but of the nature of the forces she invoked.
As Buffy’s metaphorical spirit, Willow expresses Buffy’s helpless rage at Glory. Whether the violence was cathartic or whether Willow just recovered, the ending shows that Willow reached a point where she could recognize that others could understand her pain even if they hadn’t personally experienced it. Buffy first told Willow that she couldn’t understand: “Look, Willow, I know that you mean well, but you just don't understand, and there's no way that you could.” Then Tara said it: “I mean, you can't really know what it's like to-“ But at the end, Willow acknowledges Buffy’s ability to understand: “BUFFY: I understand. WILLOW: (nods) I know you do.” That’s a way for Buffy to understand the point too.
Trivia notes: (1) The phrase “tough love” was apparently coined in 1968. (2) When the senior doctor sarcastically suggests that Ben disappeared as a result of eating Twinkies, that refers to the “Twinkie defense”. (3)  Glory’s phrase “pardon my French” is an American idiom meaning “excuse me for swearing”. (4) When Xander tells Anya “a watched customer never buys”, he’s playing off the old saying that “a watched pot never boils”. (5) When Xander refers to Dawn as “Dawn Giovanni”, he’s making a joking reference to Don Giovanni. (6) Buffy’s litany of rules for Dawn includes Ben Franklin’s saying “early to bed, early to rise [makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise]”. (7) “Hospital corners” refers to making one’s bed with the sheets folded perfectly. (8) Willow’s reference to Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Girls is a reference to the book The Little Princess. (9) Willow’s spell invokes Kali, Hera, Kronos and Cassiel.

5 comments:

  1. SPOILERS!

    I think this episode is a turning point for Willow. It's the first time she used magic for purely selfish reasons, revenge.It's also the first time she feels the need to hide her magic use from the rest of the gang, something she'll begin to do a lot in the next season. It's also the first time she get's Dark Willow's signature black eyes. Also the fact that she reverted to black magic to avenge Tara is probably a hint at season 6. Just my $0.02

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    1. I'm not sure Willow actually expected to return from her confrontation with Glory. I mean, she might have harbored some hope, but she wouldn't have cared if she didn't. Much like Giles with Angelus. I don't know if either was exactly selfish, though I think you can see it that way. They just forgot that revenge is a dish best served cold.

      I agree with your assessment of where this is going.

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    2. I had a comment about this, but it got ettin(eaten in Southern, FYI)

      First, the use of black eyes as a visual cue for the use of dark forces goes all the way back to S1.3 "Witch". Katherine Madison's eyes turn black right before she casts the spell to trap Amy in the trophy.

      Second, Willow's use of magic has been motivated by selfish reasons from the beginning. Spell to ensoul Angel-to protect Buffy from having to kill him. Spell in Lovers Walk-to protect others from her and Xander's infidelity Spell in Something Blue-to get over her pain of Oz's leaving already. They aren't totally self centered, but they are enough that you know she needs to spend some time reexamining her motives. Which she never does, leading to this.

      What Willow did here was darker than anything she'd ever done before, because she was motivated by vengeance(much like Katherine Madison in her final moments in Witch). The show has explicitly demonstrated that vengeance is ALL BAD, no matter how chillax D'Hoffryn is. And she definitely fell into this trap so easily, because of her inability to recognize and learn from her own selfish motives(Something Blue, she bakes cookies, instead of taking the time to look at what she did wrong. For her, the problem wasn't that she used magic to selfishly try and fix a problem, it was that the spell went wonky and worked after she thought it had failed). And it is definitely an indicator of things to come, this is when Willow's big arc is kicked off.

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    3. I'll defend Willow a bit on this. I don't see her spell in Becoming 2 as selfish. She offered to do it because Buffy wanted it done. Buffy's motives were partly selfish and partly tactical. In Lover's Walk she certainly had selfish motives but didn't actually do the spell. In Something Blue her motives were partly selfish, but she was goaded into it by her unsympathetic friends.

      Other of her spells wouldn't qualify as selfish at all: WAY or Primeval, for example.

      All that said, some of her recent spells do seem selishly motivated. The "let there be light" spell in OomM had no real justification, and the "sunshine" spell in Triangle had a thin one.

      As I see it, Willow began doing magic for essentially good reasons, but as Giles said, that opened a door she might not be able to close. As she's grown more powerful, she's gotten less cautious and more arrogant about it.

      JMHO, of course.

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    4. Like I said, I see this episode as basically a tipping point in the show where Willow starts losing control over her power and the magic slowly starts to take control her, and we all know what happens next. Also interesting how she turns to dark magic because of Tara, kinda ironic.

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