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Monday, October 29, 2012

Wrecked

[Updated May 2, 2013]

Wrecked added a lot of fuel to the fires of controversy over S6. The string of episodes from Wrecked through Seeing Red is surely the most controversial stretch in the show’s history. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of fans of the show didn’t like the magic/drugs metaphor, meaning that Willow’s story line now joined Buffy’s in the internet screaming matches debates. Two members of my family stopped watching the show after this episode.


Let me start with the Buffy of the episode before I analyze the controversial aspects of the metaphor. The basic idea is that Willow lets magic take her over, as Buffy does Spike. Both are escapist:
“WILLOW: I just ... it took me away from myself, I was ... free.
BUFFY: (looks down, pensive) I get that. More than you- (breaks off).”

That’s the parallel, made obvious in several scenes, including the research in The Magic Box, the conversation between Buffy and Spike while they search for Dawn (note the drug use double entendres), and the ending. Buffy’s crisis of the spirit continues, with Willow’s incapacity reflecting Buffy’s internal lack of spirit.
Spike’s behavior in Wrecked continues a theme introduced in Life Serial. I mentioned in my post on Life Serial that each of the four vignettes foreshadowed the behavior of the characters later in the season. Spike’s is the first one we see. He told her in Life Serial that “You're a creature of the darkness. Like me.” Most of his dialogue with Buffy here in Wrecked develops that theme: “I may be dirt ... but you're the one who likes to roll in it, Slayer. You never had it so good as me. Never.” That certainly doesn’t sound like what Buffy (or anyone) needs. This was more ammunition for those who insisted Spike was evil. Of course, then he helped Buffy rescue Dawn.
Buffy, in turn, is abusive to Spike. She repeatedly insults him, lending plausibility to Spike’s claim that she’s using him while adopting the pretense of purity. Since I talked about Spike’s behavior and Buffy’s response in my last post, I’ll move on to the next controversy.
Now to what’s generally called the “magic/drugs” metaphor. I’ve modified my thinking on this issue a lot over the years, and what I’ll give below is only my latest interpretation. It’s certainly not consistent with many things I said at the time.
Like all metaphors, this one is capable of multiple interpretations (that being the whole point of metaphor). It seems to me that the most plausible are the following, but each has its problems:
(1) Magic is a drug. This makes no sense within the confines of the show. Never before had doing spells been shown or said to result in a craving to do more spells. Some people (like me, at the time) pointed to The Dark Age as supporting the “magic makes you high” theme. However, the dialogue in that episode doesn’t actually say that; I misread it back then. What it actually says is that the feeling of power that came from temporary possession by a demon caused euphoria, a “high”. Here’s the dialogue:
“WILLOW:  … (reads) 'Eyghon, also called the Sleepwalker, can only exist in this reality by possessing an unconscious host. Temporary possession imbues the host with a euphoric feeling of power.' *** GILES:  I was twenty-one, studying history at Oxford. And, of course, the occult by night. I hated it. The tedious grind of study, the... overwhelming pressure of my destiny. I dropped out, I went to London... (exhales) I fell in with the worst crowd that would have me. We practiced magicks. Small stuff for pleasure or gain. And Ethan and I discovered something... bigger. BUFFY:  Eyghon.
GILES:  Yes. One of us would, um... (nervously pours a drink) go into a deep sleep, and the others would, uh, summon him. It was an extraordinary high!”

The “it” in Giles’s last sentence refers not to the magic used to summon Eyghon, but, as the passage Willow read shows, the possession of the host by the demon.
Nor, if magic were like, say, cocaine, would it have been plausible for Giles and the rest of the SG to encourage Willow to use it so often. Neither would that analogy make any sense for the W/T arc in S4-5. No, magic isn’t “like” a drug in any way meaningful to the show.
There was lots of discussion in comments about this issue, all of which are worth reading. Karen suggested that Willow’s problem might be similar to gluttony. We need food for nourishment, but overdoing it creates problems. The issue is one of balance. Sadly, we won’t see the issue addressed this way.
As another solution, State of Siege offered this: “What makes the addiction trope potentially brilliant, what would have made it brilliant had it been executed properly, is that makes sense as a way for Willow and the SG to avoid dealing with her problems… —the very pain and difficulty of giving up magic, to cost to Willow, would have been so great to have made it seem like a possible solution… even as it was clear it was an avoidance, creating terrible tension for the rest of the season, as we waited to see how this played out.” Again, though, this is not the route the show will go.
(2) Abusing drugs is like abusing power. Lots of viewers, including me early on, took this as the most reasonable interpretation because Willow’s storyline previously appeared to one of increasing abuse of her power (as I’ve argued in my posts to date). The text doesn’t offer much support for this reading. The problem is that seeing drug use as similar to abuse of power is hard to square with the dialogue we hear or the images we see. When Willow went to Rack, she wasn’t abusing power, she was allowing Rack to abuse her in return for the “high”. As her dialogue with Buffy at the end shows (quoted above), Willow herself saw her actions as escapist. That also seems like the best way to read Buffy’s parallel story of sex with Spike. The idea of escapism is also consistent with the fact that drugs don't make you feel powerful and they don't give you control – what they do is provide you with a means of escaping yourself. This leads us to….
(3) Magic was a way for Willow to escape from herself, or at least what she most feared about herself. She uses it as a tool, and that gives her power that she never had before. “But I mean ... if you could be ... you know, plain old Willow or super Willow, who would you be?” It’s all about her. I’ll let Rufus from AtPO explain it:
“I find I'm happy with the drug metaphor because it allows us to see just how dependant Willow has become on artifice or something that shouldn't be real to have an identity. What was once used for the benefit of others is now used to bolster Willows scant self worth. When Willow was in bed with the shakes I saw that as reality attempting to put the witch back into the jumper of the high school years. Her need to be special as much physical as mental. Willow going "cold turkey" leaves her defenceless from her own self doubt and fear of being exposed as a fake. Willow needs her magic to be more than she thinks she already is. To not be able to use it has brought reality into her dreams of grandeur.”
This seems consistent with Buffy’s conversation with Willow about magic taking Willow away from herself. Whether it’s consistent with Willow’s arc prior to S6 is more problematic. Yes, Willow has always been insecure, but she’s been insecure about very specific things, namely, her personal appearance and her value to others. She certainly never lacked for self-esteem about her schoolwork, say, or her hacking (she’s proud of that even here in Wrecked).
Magic wasn’t her route to overcoming the particular insecurities she did have. She didn’t take up magic to attract Oz – they became a couple before she ever did a single spell. He didn’t stay with her because of magic either, in fact he cautioned against it (Fear, Itself). Nor did Willow take up magic as a means of attracting Tara. She was already using magic long before that. It would speak poorly of Tara if her attraction to Willow was based on magic rather than on Willow (as Buffy tells her at the end of Wrecked). It would also be problematic for the metaphor used in S4-5 (see below).
Willow didn’t use magic to become Buffy’s friend either, though it’s certainly arguable that she used hacking to stay involved in Buffy’s life in S1-3 and that magic served the same purpose in S4-5. Whether Buffy saw it that way or not, and I think she didn’t, Willow might have.
While we can speculate about Willow’s internal motivations, the official reason Willow pursued magic was expressly stated in the series. In Choices she told Buffy “I mean, you've been fighting evil here for three years, and I've helped some, and now we're supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives. And I just realized that that's what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I-I think it's worth doing. And I don't think you do it because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in. … And, besides, I have a shot at being a bad ass Wicca, and what better place to learn?” In my view, Willow pursued magic not to solve her self-esteem problem, but to fight evil.
One way to avoid this problem is to argue that Willow used magic to fight evil, but also found along the way that it contributed to her self-esteem. It’s hard to deny that this could be true, but it’s also hard to find text to support it. For example, Willow denied that she was Buffy’s “big gun” in The Gift and the idea never seemed to have occurred to her. She even denies to Rack that she has power. Thus, if magic might be a boost to Willow’s self-esteem, she doesn’t seem to have noticed it. Willow can’t be using magic to boost her self-esteem and yet be completely unaware of that.
This leaves one last possibility, namely that Willow wants to believe that magic makes her valuable to others on one level, but deep inside she’s not sure that it does. This form of insecurity is common among successful people, who sometimes remain insecure about their own accomplishments; that insecurity even drives them to accomplish more. Seen in this light, her magic can be seen as a plea to be noticed, just as her hacking was. It would explain her insistence that nothing would go wrong with the resurrection spell and her boastful statement to Giles that “I’m very powerful.” (h/t State of Siege) While this is certainly possible, it’s also true that most of the time her spells have been directly helpful to Buffy and had no obvious connection with Willow’s internal issues.
On the other hand, arguably consistent with the “escapist” theme, Willow’s use of magic in S1-5 was sometimes a response to the pain and helplessness (h/t State of Siege) she felt. We could interpret that as pain arising from an internal sense that she’s not worth much. An episode like Something Blue is the perfect example of when Willow did use magic for her own benefit, though it’s not entirely clear that her pain stemmed from lack of self-esteem or simply that Oz left (the two can, of course, be related). The magic which she used there to alleviate the pain, however, ended up increasing it, which would seem to discourage the idea of using magic to avoid pain. Tough Love is another possible example of Willow using magic to avoid pain, with similar dubious consequences, and Fear, Itself is arguable. Whether a couple of examples from previous seasons suffices to validate the metaphor in Wrecked as consistent with Willow’s character arc is something each viewer has to decide.
State of Siege suggested that magic use actually reinforces Willow’s lack of self-worth:
“I also think that magic works to wear away at Willow’s sense of self—not because magic itself is evil, not because of anything magic is, but because of Willow herself. This, I think, is what she is getting at in her conversation with Buffy, and what we see in the later abuses: as her power grows, she increasingly comes to depend on magic to solve problems, relies less and less on her other powers, so that she becomes less sure about them—and loses sight of the values bound to them. Thus, when faced with a very human problem, she does not trust herself to solve it in a human way: there was obviously a better way to solve the fight with Tara, but Willow was so threatened by it (for reasons that you and others discussed at the time) that she felt helpless and turned immediately to magic. … And I see the next spell, in TR, as an extension of the same sense of powerlessness combined with guilt and self-loathing…, first from the resurrection spell, and then from the one on Tara alone. But this only compounds the guilt and self-loathing, so she turns to Rack, giving him use of her magic so that she can use his to completely escape: the guilt and self-loathing are utterly self-corrosive, leaving her with almost no self at all, and her use of magic becomes completely auto-telic, further corroding what little self remains, leaving but the desire for further escape. But this is not addiction, even on a metaphorical level, self-destructive as it may be.”
Leaving aside my issues with the magic/self-esteem issue, the larger problem is that even if magic/drugs works well in describing Willow’s internal problem, it fails completely when it comes to her behavior towards others. It’s easy to say that Willow was fixing things to her own liking (as Tara said in Tabula Rasa) because of her own insecurities. It’s just that this doesn’t seem to express very well the real evil of what Willow did to Tara. Willow’s moral failure was not her attempt to hide or escape from her own failings – that was a merely personal flaw. Her great moral failure was the fact that she violated Tara’s mind. One is an internal issue, the other is external.
I’ll offer a real world example. Suppose I become addicted to heroin. That’s a problem for me and may be a sign of internal “issues”. But if I steal money from you to support my addiction, that’s a moral wrong done to you. The fact that I took up heroin because of my own flaws doesn’t really get to the separate and distinct issue of my behavior towards you. It’s that disparity which weakens the “magic as escapist” metaphor; indeed, the drug use metaphor actually avoids the serious ethical issues arising from the external wrongs. And treating the issue as a physical “addiction” – “No more spells. I'm finished.” – doesn’t solve either problem.
Whatever the “right” interpretation of the metaphor might be, there is no doubt that the use of magic as metaphor underwent a significant change in S6. As I’ve noted in previous posts, in S4 and S5 magic was a metaphor for Willow and Tara’s relationship: a healthy, normal, loving relationship. Reading the new metaphor on to the Willow/Tara relationship would cause serious problems for some viewers – they took it as degrading the lesbian relationship.
I don’t see it that way. There’s no reason a metaphor has to be used with perfect consistency throughout 7 seasons of a TV show. That said, however, the risk in switching a metaphor is that the audience will be confused, and Wrecked is a perfect example of that. Metaphor works because it takes advantage of double meanings. But if ambiguity is the soul of art, confusion is its bane. The confusion would have more consequences later in S6.
My bottom line view then and now – on this I haven’t changed – is that the magic/drugs metaphor was a serious mistake. I have two reasons for saying this, one which appears now and one which I’ve mentioned but can’t explain further until later in the season because of spoilers. For now I’ll just say that, for me, the depiction was too clumsy and heavy-handed; it came across like an After School Special, complete with the obligatory “tripping” scene, the implied trade of sexual favors for drugs, Amy stealing to support her sudden “habit”, and multiple clich├ęs such as Willow in the shower trying to wash her soul clean.
I know a lot of people were turned off by the seemingly relentless dark tone of the show at this point. The dark tone even inspired a book title: Buffy Goes Dark. That didn’t (and doesn’t) bother me, but I don’t have anything particularly good to say about Wrecked. It’s one of my least favorite episodes in the series, since I think it suffers from clunky dialogue (“meat party in my mouth”??) and bad acting (from AH of all people, in her breakdown scene), in addition to the poor choice of metaphor.
On the plus side, the scene of Buffy and Spike waking up after their night of debauchery is very good, and Jeff Kober (Rack) is really good at playing creepy characters (he was the crazed vampire Kralik in Helpless). Oh, and the scene where Willow fills up Tara’s dress recalls what Tara sang in OMWF: “Willow don’t you see, there’ll be nothing left of me.”
Trivia notes: (1) The title is a pun based on American slang. Willow wrecked the car, which is a metaphor for the fact that she and Buffy are also in the process of wrecking their lives. “Wrecked” is also a slang term for “drunk” or “drugged”. (2) Amy said she could do “transmography”, meaning she could transform people into different creatures (or vice versa). (3) Anya apparently thinks highly of Martha Stewart’s skill at decoupage. (4) Anya said Xander didn’t have to perform the rite of “self-flagellation” which means literally to whip oneself, but is probably a double entendre for masturbation. (5) Rack called Willow “strawberry”, which is (or was at the time) street slang for a new prostitute. Willow’s red hair makes the allusion especially apt. (6) Dawn said Buffy was “feeling all Joan Crawford”, which is a reference to Mommie Dearest. (7) Dawn’s description of Buffy as “such a pig after she kills things” refers back to Faith’s comment in Faith, Hope & Trick that slaying made her “hungry and horny”. We’re supposed to make the other half of the connection to Buffy’s sex with Spike. (8) Amy said she was about to “boot”, a slang term for “vomit”. (9) Spike suggested a Lojack for Dawn, referring to a product which allows you to track the location of a car.

40 comments:

  1. I think the problem that I have always had with the way that the magic=drugs metaphor was used in S6 was that in S4, it had been used so clearly as a metaphor within the Willow/Tara relationship (floating rose, etc), and the mixed metaphor didn't work for me. Not because either metaphor didn't work in itself, but because both were used without a clear distinction.

    S6 was the only season I ever followed boards or spoilers, and after the controversial events of this chunk of this season, i stopped...too much arguing, and too much stressing about show events before they even occurred!

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    1. Yeah, the screaming matches were bad enough -- you could avoid those with some effort -- but the spoilers got to completely out of hand. I was inadvertently spoiled for some critical events in the last part of S6 and I think that really affected how I interpreted the show on first view.

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    2. Hi, first time writing (I think), though I've read every essay so far.

      I've always felt that it was the KIND of magic that got Willow into trouble, her relationship-y magic with Tara was good and healthy and a relationship metaphor because they were doing passive, loving magic. When Willow started using magic for personal gain (yes, I know that Buffy Wicca has little to do with real Wicca), that's when it changed for her, and became a negative force in her life, exaserbated by her self worth issues.

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    3. First, welcome to the comments. Glad to have others join in!

      The distinction you suggest is a good one, and I would have accepted it at the time, but it was never suggested at any time in S6. To the contrary, we got statements like Spike's "magic *always* has consequences", and Willow's cold turkey approach.

      As I've said many times, I don't think we're bound by the text. Even so, it's hard for me to adopt an interpretation which the text directly contradicts.

      SPOILERS FOR S7

      There is, of course, good support for your point in S7. Giles tells Willow in Lessons that "it's [magic] not an addiction". And much of the season shows us Willlow learning to use magic the right way. In retrospect, we could read S7 back to S6, but at the time that was impossible to know.

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  2. For me it works, because at the end of this situation, one thing is clear.

    Willow has a problem. The exact nature of this problem is unclear, it has to do with her magic use and her the way she sees herself.

    The steps that are taken do not adequately address the problem, and that is made apparent by the season's end.

    So I can forgive the fact that the metaphor doesn't track 100%, b/c it gives me Dark Willow.

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    1. Ha, that is pretty similar to what I'll say below.

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    2. ...whoops, apparently not today, I can't quite find the time. Maybe eventually.

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    3. "Nuh-uh, you can't just work us up like that and then just-"

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  3. I have always felt the writing was too weak to support the Magic!Crack! metaphor. It could have worked (for me) with more nuance. Mark, your Afterschool Special comparison is apt. In fact, I always felt that magic is like any other tool or resource. Used wisely it's a boon, used badly a curse. That's not analogous to most drug use; culturally we have too many examples of the negative consequences and the idea of recreational drug use is almost referenced as a joke. But that's the point that had to be made to be consistent with past metaphors and the show's use of magic in-universe. The problem isn't magic, it's Willow's use of magic.

    Imo, an even better analogy could be made by looking at other behaviors gone wrong, such as overeating. The issue for Willow is that she has a true gift for magic, and in fact its use may have shaped and channeled her, may nourish and fulfill her; and so to abstain entirely is to deny her true nature, and also means her spirit suffers, as someone would suffer who is starving. So, someone with gluttony as an issue can't be told to stop eating. Instead they need to find balance, eat healthy, exercise control. Just so with Willow.

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    1. Your point about magic being a resource is how I saw it too. Marti Noxon apparently saw it that way as well: “On Buffy, we play with the idea of witchcraft or magic, and it’s always about the intention of the person who uses it. Magic per se is not a bad thing. What they do with it is either going to be good or bad.” I quoted her statement in my post on After Life because I knew we would get here.

      The overeating analogy is a good one; I hadn't thought of it before. Thanks.

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  4. SPOILERS Through SEASON 6

    I have written far more than I intended here… The more I said, the more I seemed to have to say… Much of this is early speculation, I confess—I have always been most invested in Buffy, and I have a particular stake in her story this season, so this is the first time I have thought deeply about Willow… But that is the end of the caveats… I have broken this up by sections…

    I have many problems with Wrecked—in fact, I am always tempted to stop watching after the scene with Buffy and Spike in the basement (which I love)—

    But I no longer hate the addiction trope in principle (I initially despised it). Or rather, I should say, I would not hate it were it to have been presented slightly differently: had the idea come from Willow and the SG alone, had it not been presented as the perspective of the show, I would have been absolutely fine with it, even in love with it. This would have meant going without the Amy & spices scene (and the later scene, in AYW, where Sam describes the shamans in the jungle) along with, perhaps, some of the other after-school-special effects—but that would have been all to the good. These are the parts of the story that confuse the metaphor on the level of the show as a whole. But what would make it work on the level I would seek to place it, and on which the show seeks to place it at some points (leading to further confusion, unfortunately) is precisely that it does not work: magic is not, as you point out in your trenchant analysis, an addiction, cannot be forced to work as an addiction within the logic of the show—and the end of the season shows that treating magic as an addiction only compounds Willow’s problems. Finally, at the beginning of S7, Giles will explicitly say that magic is not an addiction: the power is inside Willow, and she is responsible for it. What makes the addiction trope potentially brilliant, what would have made it brilliant had it been executed properly, is that makes sense as a way for Willow and the SG to avoid dealing with her problems (more on the SG angle in the third part of this post)—the very pain and difficulty of giving up magic, to cost to Willow, would have been so great to have made it seem like a possible solution… even as it was clear it was an avoidance, creating terrible tension for the rest of the season, as we waited to see how this played out.

    This is perhaps the only time in which I have had a serious complaint about execution on the show, and it pains me to make the complaint, but I cannot help myself, because it seems to me that an excellent opportunity was wasted by clumsy execution, less than clear vision…

    That said, I do think that Willow’s relationship to magic—and her abuse of it—is about her identity, that she does depend upon it to shore up a weak sense of self, that it gives her a sense of power and place that she does not otherwise have. For next to the statements to Buffy and Rack that you cite, Mark, one could cite her statement to Giles (“I’m very powerful”), her assurance that nothing will go wrong with the resurrection spell, her confidence in taking charge of the SG at various points in Buffy’s absence (TWotW, Bargaining I).

    In general, like many people with a wavering sense of self, Willow at once knows and does not know her power, goes from the extreme of denying it completely to the extreme of supreme, even excessive self-confidence. Magic gives Willow a certain confidence, helps her shore up herself—but it does not solve the problem of herself, because it is a relational power, one she only gains by using magic in connection to others (initially, to help people, which gains her the approval of and stronger relations to others). And in this it is a kind of extension of her academic excellence and the confidence she derives from that, for school is another forum in which approval and recognition come from an external source.

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    1. MORE SPOILERS through Season 6

      As I see it, Willow tends—or is tempted—to abuse magic when she feels helpless, powerless: in LW, she could not longer deal with her desire for Xander (“I can’t do this!”), in NMR she felt helpless in the face of Veruca’s power and the pain of Oz’s betrayal, in SB she felt powerless to stop her pain (and abandoned by her friends), in TL she felts unable to help Tara and gain any sort of justice for her. This tendency makes sense, because she has access to this immense power and a wavering sense of her own internal resources, so she reaches desperately, without thinking (save, in a few instances, at the last minute), to assuage her pain, losing her sense of ethics along the way. However, I also think that magic works to wear away at Willow’s sense of self—not because magic itself is evil, not because of anything magic is, but because of Willow herself. This, I think, is what she is getting at in her conversation with Buffy, and what we see in the later abuses: as her power grows, she increasingly comes to depend on magic to solve problems, relies less and less on her other powers, so that she becomes less sure about them—and loses sight of the values bound to them. Thus, when faced with a very human problem, she does not trust herself to solve it in a human way: there was obviously a better way to solve the fight with Tara, but Willow was so threatened by it (for reasons that you and others discussed at the time) that she felt helpless and turned immediately to magic. This is of course not an excuse—I am just seeing it as part of the pattern of her abuses. And I see the next spell, in TR, as an extension of the same sense of powerlessness combined with guilt and self-loathing ( see Local-max’s marvelous analysis, with which I very much agree), first from the resurrection spell, and then from the one on Tara alone. But this only compounds the guilt and self-loathing, so she turns to Rack, giving him use of her magic so that she can use his to completely escape: the guilt and self-loathing are utterly self-corrosive, leaving her with almost no self at all, and her use of magic becomes completely auto-telic, further corroding what little self remains, leaving but the desire for further escape. But this is not addiction, even on a metaphorical level, self-destructive as it may be.


      Metaphorically—and here I am just speculating—I wonder how much this has to do with Buffy’s depression: as she sings in OMWF, she is “just going through the motions”—of life, of course… But how much of her feels emptied out by the resurrection?—As if only the slayer part of her returned, leaving the rest of her behind somewhere, inaccessible. For it is clearly that aspect of her identity that is lost: she needs the part of herself that is not the Slayer, the part she fought so hard to win through her relation with Dawn—and with, I would argue, her mother (the dead are not dead…)—in particular, in S5. So it would make sense that her spirit would also be plagued by a lack of self, a falling into her power—how much of her pleasure with Spike comes through various forms of violence?—at an expense of self and relation. And how much guilt and self-loathing—combined, in Buffy’s case, with anger and resentment at those she loves—are at work in Buffy as well, for her inability to get over her depression?

      In this sense, Willow’s problems are not about magic any more than Buffy’s are about sex: Willow abuses magic because it is a spiritual abuse, Buffy sex because it is a bodily one (this is very in line with Augustinian metaphysics… ), but for both it is about a loss of self and a concomitant sense of guilt and self-loathing—and a powerlessness to stop the slide into selflessness.


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    2. AND MORE SPOILERS

      A few last thoughts:

      Although Buffy shows understanding of Willow’s plight at the end of the episode, she is remarkably unsympathetic in her demeanor; this is in part because of Dawn, of course, but even more because forgiving Willow, I think, would mean forgiving herself, which she cannot do. And of course Willow asks for help—but Buffy cannot… Willow has not exactly shown herself to be trustworthy, of course, and, too, trusting Willow would be forgiving her, in a sense—and, again, beginning to forgive herself.

      (Willow says magic is not worth is if it “messes with the people I love”: it is in this episode that Dawn’s feelings of abandonment first begin to manifest themselves fully: we’ve seen flashes before, but here they begin to feel symptomatic of her life—an indication of what Buffy fought so hard to establish in S5 is, if not completely lost, then in perilous abeyance.)

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    3. Wow, there's so much here I need some time to process it all. Some quick reactions:

      Very much yes to this, and for the reasons you give: "I would not hate it were it to have been presented slightly differently: had the idea come from Willow and the SG alone, had it not been presented as the perspective of the show, I would have been absolutely fine with it, even in love with it."

      I like the idea that Willow uses magic for her own benefit when she feels particularly helpless on her own (which is all too often). To some extent, all her magic, like her hacking before, was her way to participate rather than to be a helpless victim.

      Yes, Buffy's depression is definitely related to her identity as the Slayer. I'll leave the rest unsaid, but what you labeled a spoiler is the key (heh) to the season IMO. I think the same will be true of Willow -- the metaphor holds with the parallel in Grave.

      I definitely agree with your final spoiler point. I think it's been building since earlier, but is, as you say, fully manifest because of Wrecked.

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    4. Excellent writing, here -- I agree very much. I have more thoughts on the role Wrecked plays in her story which I may or may not get to tonight (I just wrote about the way Willow came to see magic as essential). I have used "drugs are to Willow what sex is to Buffy" before as an analogy. I think we can complete this by saying that this is what kleptomania is to Dawn and wedding woes are to Xander and Anya. They are symptoms and manifestations, not the central issues. But part of season six is that the manifestations of the characters' problems BECOME banal, real life-type problems, and the characters fear that all there is to life is...life, like they are caught in a rerun.

      The point about Willow's other skills atrophying, or rather her confidence in her other skills atrophying, is not something I had thought about too much, but it is very much pointed out in the text several times, starting (perhaps?) with Spike's using it to taunt/manipulate her in The Yoko Factor (and Willow never *did* decrypt those discs, and felt frustrated that she didn't/couldn't). I think that as I articulate below, there is a real sense, to me, in which Willow constructs her entire life up to Something Blue as a failure: she, as Spike said in Doomed, couldn't even keep dog-boy happy, and Oz cheated on her and then ran away. She lost Xander to Buffy, Cordelia AND Faith (and still, like an idiot, said that she loved him in The Zeppo only for him to run off). She was, in Choices, confident about herself, but that confidence is still very much tied to her magical abilities, and her bravery and resourcefulness when under pressure. And Oz' rejection of her and her inability to find what she needed from her friends very much convince her that she is unable to deal with her pain, unsuccessful and worthless as an individual. Her relationship with Tara, and her deeper skill in magic with Tara, become her salvation from the pain of Oz' departure, but that brings with it a deeper dependence on Tara and magic, both separately and together.

      I really like the way that you talk about magic wearing at Willow's sense of self. And I think this is the way power works, in this show -- if you focus too much on your power, then it becomes all you think you are capable of. And in particular, Willow's and Buffy's power, as time goes on, has nowhere to go. Last year they fought a God, Willow as the Big Gun and Buffy as the slayer. Then Willow did the unthinkable in bringing Buffy back from the dead. Now Willow's identity rests on the huge, huge leaps she made in power, but the power has nowhere to go. She moves from helping the world to helping the gang, to helping herself in the guise of helping others, to finally the exercise in this episode, in which the magic is purely pleasure and purely escape from consciousness -- as if without Tara, she's left with basically a form of magical masturbation and nothing else. It feels like there are circles closing in on Willow and by Wrecked, they become closed loops and she has closed in on herself completely, finally hurting Dawn not so much by doing magic on her (she doesn't) but by failing to be her guardian and losing track of the outside world.

      This parallels Buffy, because, after all, if Spike is not a real person, going to be with Spike is a complete rejection of the outside world. She's rolling in the dirt. And since she initiated the sex, she has set the terms for their relationship, and is wallowing, trapped in her own conception of reality and herself. The question of what it means if Spike actually is a real boy is important.

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    5. Thank you—

      And I hope very much that you are soon able to write up the remainder of your thoughts about the role Wrecked plays in Willow’s story: I very much look forward to reading them.

      I agree very much with your point about symptoms beginning to feel like causes this season; I see this as a consequence of the end of S5—not just Buffy’s death and Willow’s resurrection, but something you mention in your discussion of power: the after-effects of having fought a god, the sense of what remains for the SG as a whole to do. After all, Dawn is now a real girl (so her stealing matters), unsure of what that means, without a mother or a sister to guide her (even after Buffy’s return—if not more so), while Xander proposed to Anya at a moment of heightened heroism and now has to live with the quotidian consequences…

      On a more abstract level, I think this has to do with the nature of identity in BtVS, which I see as relational, as I write below, and how that, in turn, is formed by its conception of power—but I have to think through that aspect more fully… With any luck, I’ll have it done by the time Mark gets to the finale. For now, I’ll just say that I like very much what you have to say about how power works, agree very much with it and think it has deep consequences for the nature of identity and Buffyan ethics.

      I also very much like your description of Willow seeing her life up to Oz’s departure as a failure—and then healing herself through Tara and magic. I had not thought of it that way, but I think you are absolutely right. Given this, we can see why Willow reacted so strongly when Tara began to question her magic use: doing so threatened the dual foundation of the self Willow had made out of the ruins of Oz’s departure.

      And yes, if Spike is a real boy…

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    6. I agree about the confusion of symptoms and causes being a consequence of s5. Part of that is surely that the causes are things that are just simply too difficult to examine. In WotW/The Gift, Buffy's dying, Willow's use of huge amounts of power (including the somewhat questionable, but necessary, entering into Buffy's brain to help her), Xander and Anya's union, Spike's total heroism, Dawn's becoming a real girl -- are all not just important but necessary and clearly right. I feel at times like The Gift is every character at their most heroic, but with that darkness and uncertainty lurking just below the surface. It's not that Buffy's jump is a suicide, but there is a slight suicidal subtext to it, which becomes major in season six, for example. Beer Good Foamy, one of my favourite posters on livejournal, once phrased the Willow question thusly: "She's spent years becoming the big gun. What do you do with a big gun in peacetime?" And this ties in with the quote Mark put up from the other poster about PTSD. You could even say the whole cast has it, in a way, to different degrees: the fact that they needed to commit fully to the identities in season five, because of the huge, external threats, makes them powerless when they start to become their central problems in s6 in the absence of any godlike figure.

      And I think this is related, in the metaphor, from a shift from an adolescent perspective to an adult one -- as an adolescent, you do not really have the power over your life, and the institutions, or even emotional problems, in your life, seem larger than life. Your first breakup feels like "Becoming" (or "Wild at Heart"), your first rebellion and negative consequences feels like "Bad Girls"/"Consequences," authority figures seem like the Mayor, etc. College is not unlike high school, in that it provides a constant external incentive. But at some point, for a lot of people, the external forces stop being dominant, and the fact that you don't actually know what you are doing with yourself becomes your central problem. It manifests differently in all the characters, but all the problems are at least partly created either by themselves, by the group of friends, or by people like the Trio. And the things the characters have failed to examine come back to bite them.

      I think I agree that identity is relational in BtVS -- characters are not really ever truly alone for long, and it's not very easy or possible to talk about any character's arc without reference to the people they interact with, and how. I hope, too, that you finish that work on the relationship between the relational bits and the conception of power.

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    7. Interrupting to say that I agree with much of this. To follow the soldier analogy, it's pretty much a stereotype that soldiers have difficulty adjusting to peace time after the war. When you spend that much time living on the edge, your reactions are primed to be extreme and holding yourself back can easily lead to depression. Failing to hold yourself back can lead to disaster.

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    8. Oh Mark—

      You are not interrupting—

      Please join in any time—

      More soon, when I can take a longer break—

      I know, stupid of me to let my real job take me away from truly important things like Buffy...

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  5. If the addiction trope had been handled properly, the SG would clearly be seen as falling into it because of their inability to face the violence wrought upon them by Willow’s spells: both the violation of their minds by the spell in TR and the violation of Buffy, in which they participated, by bringing her back. They call it doing “too much magic” in their conversations in both Smashed and Wrecked, for it is easier to blame magic itself, to talk about Willow having a problem with magic, than to talk about Willow’s violent abuses of power—and their collaboration in some of them. Better no magic than no Willow—which is a possibility that they would have to face. Of course in the past, they would have spoken: first with each other, then with Willow…

    I wrote in an earlier post on this season that the resurrection spell had disarticulated Buffy’s relationship to the other members of the SG: that she could not face them—they could not face her—they could not discuss the spell with her, take responsibility for it in front of her. I would now take that further and say that the spell disarticulates the group as a whole, and that we see the effects here, in their inability to face Willow’s problems just as they were unable to face Buffy’s. As Mark pointed out in his post on TR, in their discussion of the fact that Buffy was in heaven, none of them truly face the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for them—and immediately after that discussion, Xander flees the conflict between Willow and Tara where he would have once intervened… Now, again, they shy away from the real problem, Willow, her use and abuse of power, the ethical horror behind it and the person, perhaps irreparably changed, before them. That they may have played a role in that change makes facing her even more impossible.

    This also shows something I’ve been promising to demonstrate—I’ll do my best to get that post up this weekend, really—that much as Joss articulates, as you, Mark, have beautifully shown, a modernist, existentialist concept of identity, the show also articulates a post-modernist, relational concept as well: the serious disarticulation of on member’s identity leads to the disarticulation of the identities of all the others.

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    1. I'd very much like to read your thoughts on post-modernist aspects of the show. manwitch, whose comments at AtPO influenced me a lot, always argued that it was a very PoMo show. Most of that discussion came in S6 and S7, and I think those seasons do fit that analysis.

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  6. Well, I have a two-hour train ride ahead of me, so maybe I can get some thoughts down.

    Before getting to the drug stuff, I wanted to talk about the "would you rather be plain old Willow or super Willow?" line. It's true that Buffy isn't friends with Willow because she can do magic, that Oz wasn't with her for that reason, and that Tara being with Willow because of magic would make her look bad. But I don't think Willow's construction of magic as being what makes her worthwhile is at all new. There's another point that I had discussed with Dipstick (I think she is the one who first used the term w.r.t. Willow that I've seen): Willow commodifies herself, and defines herself in terms of externals. This works in (at least) two ways: she thinks that people treat her differently based on how useful she is to them; and that people find her more attractive as a friend/lover based on her level of power. In turn:

    Here's Willow's very first exchange in the series:

    Xander: I'm Okay. I feel good.

    She looks down at him, smiling and pulling her hair behind her ear.

    Xander: (sees her) Willow! You're so very much the person that I wanted to see! (gets up)

    Willow: Oh, really?

    They start walking toward the school.

    Xander: Yeah. You know, I kinda had a problem with the math.

    Willow: Uh, which part?

    Xander: The math. Can you help me out tonight, pleeeease, be my study buddy?

    Willow: Well, what's in it for me?

    Xander: A shiny nickel!

    Ha, so, in other words, Willow feels her worth to Xander is not who she is, but what she can do for him (her initial excitement quickly wears off), and even then, while it's a joke, the worth of what she can do for him is...a nickel. In The Pack hyena-Xander drops trig and tells her he no longer needs her. In Prophecy Girl, he clearly is using Willow because she's convenient. This is basically the Xander/Willow dynamic, and that's the only person in her life who actually seems to care about her, before Buffy's arrival (her parents may care, but they don't show it). He does save her in The Pack, and we know he cares about her -- but some of the biggest moments of Xander genuinely caring about Willow are when she's absent or unconscious (his threat to Buffy in When She Was Bad, the "I love you" in Becoming). Meanwhile, Cordelia, in WSWB, asks, "Who gave you permission to exist?" and Willow acts very much, in that episode, like someone who doesn't think she has the intrinsic right to exist -- if Buffy wants her to move from the water fountain, she should move. This is not a girl who's likely to attribute people's love for her to her intrinsic worth as a person. She feels she has to *earn* every scrap of affection she gets, and other people reinforce that behaviour. This is brought up again in many of the Willow-centric episodes -- she feels she has to be reliable and do service for Giles/Xander/Percy in Doppelgangland, and is treated like an employee by Giles in Something Blue. She actually tries to commodify her relationship with Buffy, too -- c.f. her attempt to win Buffy's favour in Bad Girls, after Buffy has already started pulling away to Faith, by giving her a gift, *with magic*, and her reaction when that fails.

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    1. The reason that magic becomes the central thing on which Willow hinges her identity is caused by a few different things, but one of the big ones is: It's About Power. She feels that she's the nerd from WttH deep inside, as we know, and only has a costume to protect her from it. And that nerd is boring ("Oh who cares!?"), and unable to defend herself. She practically deserves to be mocked by Cordelia. People like Buffy, Cordelia, Faith and Veruca have power in some sense or another -- social power in Cordelia's case, literal, magical strength in the latter two cases. And people consistently reject Willow in favour of them -- Xander for Buffy, Cordelia and (in Willow's mind) Faith, Buffy for Cordelia in Reptile Boy and Faith in BG/Consequences, Oz for Veruca. In Consequences, Willow notes that she feels that Buffy can't hang around with her because she [Willow] can't kill things with her bare hands. Of course, Faith had killed someone and Buffy had come back to Willow, but did Willow really believe that Buffy would have returned to being best friends with Willow (over Faith) had Faith not killed someone, but continued being stronger?

      The Oz breakup, while not explicitly about magic, is still related. Oz cheated on Willow with Veruca. Veruca had power. And animal magnetism. We get a bunch of hints about this. Willow is obviously insecure in Wild at Heart about her attractiveness, and when Oz does cheat on her, she blames it on his finding Veruca attractive in "an animal way." She continues to believe that she's unattractive in The Initiative, though she manages to get some mild consolation from Spike (who later undermines it by telling her and Xander in Doomed that they don't contribute anything useful to Buffy). Later, when she almost does the hex, Veruca insists that Willow couldn't have gone through with it because she didn't have "the teeth."

      In Something Blue, there is also this exchange:

      Willow: I am a bad witch.

      Buffy: No, you're a good witch.

      Willow: I'm not kidding anyone. If I had any real power, I could have made Oz stay with me.

      Buffy: Will, you wouldn't have wanted him to have stayed—

      Willow: And I didn't have the guts to do the spell on Veruca, and my "I Will it So" spell went nowhere. The only real witch here is fuzzy little Amy.

      Buffy: I think you're being a too hard on yourself.

      Willow: She's got access to powers I can't even invoke.

      Note how quickly this exchange goes -- Willow believes that if she were a real witch, she could have 'made' Oz stay with her. The fact that she says she doesn't have the "guts" also suggests that Veruca's remark either got to her, or resonated with something Willow already believed, that her mercy is a form of weakness, and that itself is part of the reason she's unattractive. This suggests that commitment to power -- to willingness to exercise power, no matter what -- is something that Willow thinks she needs in order to be an attractive person (as opposed to the nerd from HS). This also is part of her fascination with being "bad" (c.f. Doppelgangland, the line in Choices of "Oh yeah, I'm bad!"), since "badness" and "power" are somewhat intertwined for her.

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    2. Regardless of whether Tara actually loves Willow for her magical ability, it's not hard for me to see why she would believe that's what Tara saw in her. They met through the Wicca group; Tara sought Willow out because she's a real witch. And the EPISODE after Something Blue, with that exchange above, we have this dialogue:

      Tara: "Always, I mean, since I um, was little... my, my mom used to,
      She um, she had a lot of power, like you."
      Willow: "Oh I'm not .. I don't have much in the way of power."
      She smiles.
      Willow: "Really, I mean most of my potions come out soup
      Besides... spells going awry, friends in danger...
      I'm definitely nothing special."
      Tara: "No, you are."

      Tara's statement that Willow's special is *because* she is powerful.

      Part of this is because of the shifting metaphor, but Willow and Tara's relationship in season four continues to be centred around magic -- it is the thing they have in common. And Willow is hiding aspects of herself -- her nerdy parts she's afraid of -- so what exactly is Tara going to love besides her magic? And in OMWF, Tara's love song includes lines like

      "But your power shone
      Brighter than any I've known" --

      which further reinforce the idea that Willow's magical talent is what makes her so impressive. In fact, it could be argued that all of Tara's song is about how impressive Willow's power is and how that impresses and awes Tara.

      None of this is to say that Willow consciously thought that she would take up magic in order to deal with her insecurities. Rather, she feels that she is without intrinsic worth, so she needs to do things to be attractive, or doing acts of service for others (or a combination). Willow brought up her past as a geek immediately before the big fight in All the Way. Her desire to stay in Sunnydale as part of the fight is partly a genuine desire to help other people. It's *also* because I don't think she believes deep down that she is worthwhile as a person if she is NOT in service of others. And it's also because becoming a badass Wicca is to her a path to becoming more attractive as a friend/lover.

      To sum up: I think there has been ample set up for Willow to believe that her magical power, or, in any case, the thing that allows her to be "Super Willow," is important to who she is, and important to making herself worthwhile as a person.

      OK, so, onto the episode proper (ha).

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    3. Wait, before I continue -- I do want to add that Willow's empowerment of herself, and her ability to avoid being a victim, as StateOfSiege said above, is very much in play. Willow wants to be able to save herself, and to feel that she is not helpless. I de-emphasized it because I wanted to talk about Willow's reasons for believing that magic gives her social capital. But Willow's need for power and magic as a way of dealing with feelings of helplessness (either due to physical threats, like vampires, or emotional fears) is extremely important. This does also tie into her insecurities with respect to how others perceive her, because Willow can't conceive of herself as being worthwhile if someone else has to save her, but it is not wholly about other people's perception.

      And obviously, her going to use magic in this episode is not about other people's perception of her, when she goes back a second time (she is partly responding to social pressure from Amy the first time).

      Her inability to believe in herself is part of why she feels as helpless as she does; she doesn't believe that she can continue without other people's approbation, and when she loses that, then she falls to magic to deal with her sense of helplessness.

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    4. Lovely, lovely work here—I very much agree with all of it. I particularly like the analysis of Willow’s self-commodification: I had not thought of it quite that way, but it strikes me as absolutely precise, correct.

      Although I emphasized Willow’s abuse of magic at points of helplessness, I do see her initial turn to it as a kind of social capital, an extension of her hacking, on the one hand, and her school work, on the other (without the latter’s nerd aura, given, as you point out, it allows her to be bad and still get approval, which is the perfect mix for her).

      I don’t have much more to add, just a few small notes—

      Although Buffy shows, even in WttHM, that she is not going to simply commodify Willow (the sympathetic look back after their first encounter, the conversation at the Bronze in which she insists she’ll come back), their first actual conversation does involve Buffy asking Willow for a favor: help catching up on school work…

      With regard to Tara: I responded to your post on TR, discussing our reluctance to criticize Tara, and I do think, as you imply, that she comes in for some here. That is, while she is uncomfortable with and ultimately critical of Willow’s use of magic, she is also consistently supportive of, if not full of admiration for, Willow’s power. This is sending Willow a double message that leads, I think, both to Willow believing, given her insecurities, that Tara loves her for her power, and thus, as I wrote above, to being especially threatened when Tara questions the use of that power. Part of the problem, as we discussed earlier, is that Tara does not fully understand how deeply Willow’s identity is rooted in magic; part, as you wrote earlier, that Tara does not fully know herself, and is thus not able to clearly articulate the source of her discomfort… But neither is an excuse—although neither, of course, excuses Willow’s violations of Tara or the rest of the group.

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    5. Thank you! And I am very glad for this response, which is great.

      I do agree that her turn to magic is a kind of social capital, and indeed she turns to magic at a time when that is a skill set that is both necessary and missing from the group. And it follows from her taking over as Jenny's teacher; in a lot of ways she takes over a hole left by Jenny (including consoling Giles in IOHEFY). I think we don't have to separate Willow's attempt to gain social capital from her desire to help people. They are one and the same: helping people is how she can be important, being important is how she can help people.

      I think Buffy understands immediately the kind of relationships Willow expects and plays into it with a (mostly) faked request for homework help. But Buffy also does regularly get homework help from Willow, and I think that her moving very quickly into Buffy/Angel cheerleader is partly Willow intuiting that that's the role that a best friend is expected to have and filling it in. It's also partly because she loves living a romantic life vicariously through Buffy without taking any of the risks that an actual relationship would have. I do think that her desire to be helpful to Buffy is genuine, but it's hard to separate out "I like Buffy [/Xander/Giles/etc.] and want to help her out" from "it's my job to help Buffy [et al.] out." (SPOILERS) I think that's why her total dark turn is necessary in some ways -- her realization that she CAN be accepted by her friends after she has completely failed at the social contract is what allows her to move away from defining herself entirely in those turns.

      I think that's right -- Tara is both supportive of and afraid of Willow's power. She is consistently supportive of it in season four (IIRC) and much of season five, but is afraid of how she uses it, and in TL says that it frightens her how powerful Willow is getting. The double-meaning is impossible for her to reconcile, and her immediate impulse is simply to assume that Tara is talking about something else (whether or not Willow is an authentic lesbian in Tough Love).

      I have to think about it some more, but I think season four reads especially interestingly if the magic = lesbian sex metaphor is only a surface effect, and, on a deeper level, magic is...power, but a particular kind of power. Love as a kind of exchange of power makes sense; magic as, perhaps, a kind of intrinsic power that people can access by knowing themselves would suggest that Tara (and love with Tara) is Willow's path to self-knowledge, which then works in concert with the "coming out" story, since in order to access her greater power, she has to know herself, and the self-knowledge involves discovering her new sexuality. If magic is related to self-knowledge (not necessarily a meatphor for it, but, the ability to access magical power comes from the self in some way), then Tara's fear of Willow's magic use is a (justified) fear of dark parts of Willow that Willow simply does not have under control; and Willow's total abstinence from magic, post-Wrecked, is a failure to try to know herself. This ties in with Buffy's story, too, in which her knowledge of the source of her slayer story is deeply important (and related to the Buffy/Spike sexing). Or something. I feel sometimes like magic DOES have a metaphorical function that is consistent throughout the series, and it has something to do with bringing one's internal world into the external world, but I can't quite make it all fit consciously. This might tie into your point below about Rack/Giles' magic.

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  7. A lot of what I was going to say about the drug aspects of this episode was said by StateOfSiege above. So just a few comments.

    1. I think that Rack's magic is drug-like, or, rather, has psychotropic effects, and has internal effects on the user. That doesn't strike me as all that improbable. Willow seems altered in Becoming Part 2, with a force going through her; she is in ecstasy in Who Are You; she has a force travel through her in After Life, seemingly, etc. Some magic spells having an effect on the user doesn't seem improbable. SPOILER point: The only time we see Willow with this level of drugged-out-ness is as a result of Rack's magic, though there is something similar in DMP; while she is not as far out in Two to Go as she is in Wrecked, she does not start having somewhat druggy behaviours in Villains after sucking the magic from the books; there is clearly something specific about Rack's magic that has these, er, mind-expanding powers.

    2. I think that Willow uses magic to alter both her inner landscape and her outer landscape. She both wants to change herself (because she hates herself), and the world (because the world is hostile to her). Wrecked focuses on the former, and makes it explicit through the drug imagery, though in a way that, as you pointed out, is somewhat confusing. There is some setup for this in Something Blue -- she goes to magic right after trying alcohol, after all. The point is, though, that there is a big element of magic that is genuinely about self-gratification, and about transforming her inner landscape. In her magic "trips," for a moment Willow sees the world differently, and becomes disconnected from reality enough to forget her pain.

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    1. 3. All that said, this episode is not about how Willow's magic is all about drugs. It's an episode about Willow's magic moving into entirely self-indulgent territory. Here is an excerpt from a separate piece I'm working on:

      "At this point, having behaved even worse than before her guilt set in totally, Willow changed tactics. Rather than try to repeat her failed attempt at memory spell-ing her friend and lover into happiness, Willow sought to change their guilt into nothingness: Tara left her “for no good reason.” She repeated the Buffy resurrection with Amy by bringing her back from being a rat, and finding in Amy someone grateful for the chance to be back alive. Amy indulged Willow’s feelings of entitlement—yes, of course she deserves to party!—as well as preying on her self-loathing for the nerd inside her. The narrative that Willow creates with Amy is one in which the recent events were not Willow’s fault: the repeated “resurrection” shows that, yes, resurrectees should be thankful, and yes, Willow’s magic can be used to make people better. The emotional devastation was an error due to an inexact application of magic, rather than a fundamental flaw in her behaviour.

      "This becomes punctured in Wrecked. Up until the end of Smashed, while Willow often acted for selfish reasons, virtually none of her actions were done without some conscious justification for the good of someone else: the resurrection was for Buffy, the memory wipe for Tara, rehumanizing Amy for Amy. These rationalizations were not even false (and in Buffy’s case, I’d argue still primary). But her night at the Bronze, and later trip to Rack’s, were purely for her own pleasure, and this is something untenable to Willow. The Bronze night has no lasting consequences in and of itself; fueled by Amy's explicit framing of the night as a rejection of her high school identity as a nerd and loser, Willow starts by getting magical revenge on bullies (coding for high school bullies) and eventually extends this to rewriting the entire Bronze, albeit temporarily, according to her desires. It's also partly an attempt by Willow to prove to herself that her power is good and that she is justified in using it. The trip to Rack’s, and her later return there with Dawn, which nearly get Dawn killed, do three things. 1) Rack’s magic is mind-altering, which brings out a shading to the magic she’s taken in the past to the next level. In previous episodes, Willow has used mind-altering magic on other people, not in a mood-altering druggy sense, but in ways that changed/altered their internal realities. While magic has altered Willow in some ways before, her last attempt to use magic for specifically that purpose—Something Blue—failed to change Willow, though it changed some of those around her (Buffy, Spike, Giles—it only changed Xander’s external reality). In a sense then this lays bare part of what Willow has wanted from magic all along: something that satisfies her emotionally and makes the pain go away. 2) Rack’s magic threatens Willow’s tenuous sense of control over herself and her emotions, and thus scare her on an even deeper level than her failed spells on other people. 3) Willow has no rationalization available for her experience with Rack and Dawn’s near death. This leads Willow to the decision that she must give up magic. It also, in effect, becomes its own rationalization. While Rack’s magic is mind-altering and probably addictive, she was in her right mind when she performed the memory spells. It’s a post facto rationalization ascribing Willow’s ethical defects to incompetence and weakness to magic."

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    2. SPOILERY

      Lovely work once more—

      I particularly like your reading of Amy’s de-ratting as a second resurrection and of the way Rack’s magic allows Willow to avoid facing the violence she wrought upon others (aside from the one incident with Dawn) by giving up magic.

      On Rack’s magic itself—

      I am just speculating here, but I think it has a purity that the magic from the books does not carry: the books, like the other spells Willow has done, work through words (even if Willow does not say them, she takes the words into her body), while Rack works though pure light and bodily contact. I think that the only other time we see Willow get this high—and I confess that I have not had time to go back and check (Melville is still claiming most of my time… )—is when she takes the magic from Giles, which she also does thought bodily contact, not words. And there is another parallel in the effects: with Rack’s magic, Willow also feels more intensely, in that she becomes vicious—she does not speak cruelly, with such devastating effect, to others, the way she does at this point to Dawn and Buffy. (Well, she is cruel to Warren, but that is a different case and a different kind of cruelty.) It as if she has tapped into the darkness of the world at this point, and this is what is making her high at both points—hence the monster in Wrecked and the viciousness in TTG. On the other hand, after taking the magic from Giles—white magic, the love of the world—she begins to feel the pain, to feel extreme compassion. That she takes this to the extreme of destroying the world… Well, this has to do with who Willow is, not the magic, it seems to me—but the kind of magic itself is also what opens her to Xander’s salvation: his words would not have been able to reach her had she still been high on Racks’s dark mojo.

      It would also make sense that the dark mojo could become addictive because it is so self-involving when taken in the way that Rack administers it—like a drug, as an end in itself, as a kind of masturbation—the body itself is charged, changed by the effects, begins to depend on the light for any feeling at all, the way dopamine receptors are changed by heroine or cocaine. (White magic presumably would not do this, because it is good… And sucking up books must not do it, it must have to be a wordless power, because otherwise all the magic books would have been drained centuries ago—or people would have found ways to perpetuate the state through endless chanting…)

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    3. SPOILERS

      I like the speculation about Rack's magic, and I think the point about purity is right. Books are, ultimately, text, information. I think that Willow is affected by sucking in all the dark magic from the books in Villains, but it's not quite a high. But I know that when I read a lot, or watch a particularly exciting movie, or have any experience, I sometimes feel myself altered by the experience -- that my mind doesn't quite work the same way, I'm so influenced by it. If magic is an information system, which it seems to be insofar as it's usually locked up in text(s), then I can also see how magic that comes without words is something that hits more emotionally, without actual verbal cues. In Wrecked, I haven't watched the episode in a long time, but Willow sees the world differently as a result of the magic -- and I think that maybe part of what is being communicated is that the world IS different, or Rack is transferring to Willow and Amy a way of seeing the world, and a way of seeing the world in which things like a breakup from Tara doesn't seem so important. This reminds me of people saying that LSD or mushrooms give them epiphanies about the way the world works, and I think this aspect of drugs is what the middle portion of the episode somewhat gets at; drugs are a framework for talking about that aspect of magic. (Maybe.)

      Anyway, "Doppelgangland" announces in the teaser that magic is "all about emotional control," and I think that's a big hint as to the meaning of magic in Willow's story. Anyway, Willow goes into altered states in Becoming and After Life (at least), not to mention Bargaining (though you could argue that's just because of the physical demands); and the interpersonal aspects of the Willow/Tara spell in Who Are You reach her deeply. So I think the idea that magic takes and gives a huge amount of emotional input makes sense -- magic is an emotional thing.


      Willow does get a bit of a high from taking Rack's magic in Two to Go -- I think the reason that it's so different there from in Wrecked (she's a bit high, but I think except for a bit of a euphoric tinge and a more distractible behaviour, she's pretty in control vs. being totally out of control in Wrecked) is because Willow is more powerful and more confident, and, besides, takes everything of Rack's and not just what he gives her; she is able to see the big picture and decode it and use what she wants. I agree about the cruelty to Dawn and Buffy, which is different from the cruelty in Villains for lots of different reasons. With Giles' magic, she is totally unprepared -- but conversely, Giles seems to be not-high with the magic he has, so presumably emotionally he has some kind of resources to handle it. And plus he's prepared for it, which Willow is not.

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  8. SPOILERS (for Buffy Season 9 Willow arc #3)

    This issue raises the "magic as drug" issue once again. A character Marrak is trying to get Willow to refocus on her quest to restore magic. Willow has been drifting away from that focus while staying with a bunch of other witches including her mentor in a fairly nice place. Marrak highjacks a dream of Willow's and has a conversation with Willow of which this is part:

    Marrak: You've studied your own kind, right? You know why witches form covens?
    Willow: Because together we're a force of nature. We complete each...
    Marrak: Spare me the women's studies crap. You're a hive where everyone's a queen. It feels great. Like a hit of your favorite drug. Because that's what it is.
    Willow: I am *not* abusing magic.
    Marrak: You don't have to. There's so much flying around, you keep each other doped around the clock. A self-sustaining contact high.

    I have not had time to carefully read all the prior comments; only skim them. (I really like what I have read.) I think there may be in the above already what I'm now inclined to think which is that the only way to reconcile this is that it is not either/or but both (or all). Willow has problems with handling (using wisely) the power magic gave her, she has problems around using being a powerful witch as a psychological crutch and particular magic or extensive use of magic can feel good and be a temptation in its own right. (A means to an end becoming an end to itself.) Maybe all of these are true all at the same time. And as a variation to what was said above, Buffy & the SG weren't wrong to think of it as an addiction, but that thinking was incomplete and only focusing on one part (the simplest part) of a multifaceted issue of Willow and magic.

    Or maybe the writers are just being inconsistent. But that feels particularly unsatisfying.

    JEL

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    1. SPOILERS THROUGH S9, Wonderland II

      That's an interesting way to look at it. What you suggest is probably consistent with the self-esteem point I made in the post, and possibly the escapist one too.

      I'd hesitate, though, to read too much into what Marrak says. I'm not entirely sure what his game is, but I seriously doubt he's trying to push Willow in the right direction. That's not to say that the coven is good either (whether good for Willow, good for the restoration of magic, or good for the world). I'd like to see where this arc leads before adding it into the mix.

      One possibility is that the message for Willow is something like, "You're hanging out too much with people who think like you. Don't drink your own Kool-Aid; there are lots of issues to consider here."

      Like I say, I don't really know and that's just a possibility for now.

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  9. Few unorganized thoughts..

    Back in season two, you mentioned that Giles' history of Ethan and dark magic was metaphor for drug use. So, I think that groundwork was laid way early on, while magic as metaphor for romance didn't occur until season four. Also, here they seem to focus on the dark magic as the magic getting Willow into trouble. Given your comment from Marti Nixon, perhaps it is dark magic in particular which stands as metaphor for drug use.

    What confuses me is that the dark magic here also seemed to stand as metaphor for sexuality. The phrase "giving off vibes" is often used when speculating on one's sexuality, so I'm not sure why it was used here in the dark magic situation.

    Also, with Willow herself standing as metaphor for Buffy's spirit, the metaphor as it affects Willow may not matter. If Willow's problems with magic are metaphorical for Buffy's crisis of spirit, as far as Buffy's concerned, that metaphor is for her relationship with Spike, which is in fact romantic/sexual.

    Not sure how far to expand the SG-as-parts-of-Buffy metaphor, but Willow's almost getting Dawn killed could parallel Buffy's crisis of spirit with Spike threatening to destroy her childlike self.

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    1. Good thoughts, even if unorganized. :) Some thoughts in reply:

      "Back in season two, you mentioned that Giles' history of Ethan and dark magic was metaphor for drug use."

      Yes, though in my post on The Dark Age, I noted that the "high" was a consequence of demonic possession, not the magic per se.

      "Given your comment from Marti Nixon, perhaps it is dark magic in particular which stands as metaphor for drug use."

      Certainly possible, though the distinction between dark magic and "white" (?) magic isn't altogether clear from the show. I think the controversy over Wrecked and subsequent episodes would have been much less if this distinction had been made within the show.

      "What confuses me is that the dark magic here also seemed to stand as metaphor for sexuality. The phrase "giving off vibes" is often used when speculating on one's sexuality, so I'm not sure why it was used here in the dark magic situation."

      Good point. I think storyline was taking priority here: the trade of sex for drugs.

      "Also, with Willow herself standing as metaphor for Buffy's spirit, the metaphor as it affects Willow may not matter."

      Agreed to some extent. Buffy's issue with Spike was one of losing herself. Drug use is a good metaphor for that. The problem comes when we have to deal with Willow's storyline on its own.

      "Not sure how far to expand the SG-as-parts-of-Buffy metaphor, but Willow's almost getting Dawn killed could parallel Buffy's crisis of spirit with Spike threatening to destroy her childlike self."

      I might rephrase the last 3 words to say "her innocent self", but nice idea.

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  10. Hum interesting! I wasn't on the fandom sites back then (didn't even have internet!) and though it is difficult to imagine the intensity of the debates, it is less so on the intensity of the emotions for a show who unapologeticly decides to go even darker, using and mixing metaphors on their way. It makes commenting on season 6 very difficult.

    I almost want to write something on The Importance of The ReWatch , especially linked to the many points you have discussed on your last posts but here are just my reactions so far:
    - Willow + Tara
    Back then I didn't see the forgetting spell and OMWF actions as rape, it didn't even cross my mind a second. I still don't. I was completely shocked to read that interpretation - even more so when it is not the use of magic and the spell in itself that people saw as rape but the everyday life actions following the spell. For me, the spell is clear on what it does: manipulating Tara's mind, by hiding the truth. That has a name: A Big FAT Lie. No wonder why Tara feels disgusted, as much as one would if s/he would discover that they have been cheated on for instance. But seeing her as a victim of rape doesn't do Tara justice.

    - Giles
    Back on my first viewing of the series, I understood his leaving as two fold: he is the only remaining 'old' adult around Buffy and the SG, and as the father figure, he has to go to make room for the 'young' adults. On Buffy's depression, I think he is convinced that his departure will be like a wake-up call for her, that it is in a way going to save her, shake her out of depression. Whether this is really genuine of his part or an inflation of his ego, I don't know, but the difference now is that I know he is not gone for ever which makes it less painful(side note: I like that the show defies series' conventions on how to add or take away characters).

    - Buffy + Spike
    I had completely misunderstood all the hints on that one. As Buffy goes to see Angel in an episode that to this day I haven't seen, I really thought that she was missing him and that in 'all the way' they were reinforcing that message. So I was completely shocked with the ending of OMWF and that she would finally give in to Spike. And as immediately, I was shipping them! But couldn't quite figure out what it is that she was looking for in that relationship. Today, I still don't quite get that - though I can see how I don't fully comprehend depression and its ramifications. On Spike (and I'm fearing the upcoming event, post and comments), the hints were all there too, from the start - but yes still I feel the message from the show was: "Surprise! You had forgotten that he lacks moral compass, really? How? why?!!".

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    1. - Willow + magic
      On this one, let's deconstruct a little bit what we are talking about here when people say magic= drug, not so much on the magic side since everybody has done it but more on the drug side. Let's swap 'drug' with an addictive substance such as cigarettes, coffee or better still alcohol. One starts drinking alcohol for plenty of different reasons and in different ways or amounts and our consumption changes with time. Not everybody who drinks becomes an alcoholic and those who do become alcoholic for different reasons. You can abuse alcohol and yet not become an alcoholic. Alcohol is usually accepted socially, and I have seen people drinking just one glass to feel more in the mood of a party or a date, or one bottle to finish a report, work on their PHD, or just one to two drinks everyday to get going or just because. We can then say that the problem here is not alcohol as such but the abuse of alcohol. I saw and still see that the same way with magic with Willow in season 6. It works for me. In that episode, I think Willow crosses another line with Amy which we don't see - after they leave the Bronze. From "drinking" she seems to have gone further than that, which then leads to going to Rack(I knew his face was familiar!!). [Here we don't quite know what he does really: is it a spell to get people high? is he giving Willow more power? Opening new channels in her?]

      Then about the show not treating the real problem of Willow, well I truly believe that addiction has become a real problem for her at that stage (that's why Tara leaves her in the first place). She has been consistently warned on the danger of loosing herself in magic, playing with forces she doesn't understand, and I tend to see the remark from Spike 'there's always consequences' as true - the consequence can be you're tipsy, you have a headache the following morning, or you don't remember a thing of that night, or you summon a demon not-knowing. It doesn't always have to be 'bad' and the more you use and abuse, the bigger the consequences become. I can see that with magic too.

      At the end of Wrecked, Willow starts to tell to Buffy why she has turned to magic, e.g. to face some of her insecurities but is that the main issue for Willow's addiction? I tend to understand the abuse and addiction the same way than Buffy's depression: one of the possible consequences of dealing with life, loss and pain. (which I don't think is incompatible with your analysis on how now everything is about power).

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    3. Heh. This is a pretty close description of my initial reactions to these episodes.

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    4. Yes! And to drive the point home, I realise I haven't quite finished what I was saying on drugs. What are they? Substances that has physiological effects that can become addictive. Some are/were used in traditional medicinal ways, others for connecting with the ancestors or for spiritual purposes, and even within the recreational use, there are different ways and reasons for consuming. I feel the comparison with magic is quite fitting. The show has shown there are different kinds of magic too (the 'darker' and more potent books are stored separately from the rest, the book Dawn takes for the resurrecting spell's title is "Dark Magic").

      Also I meant to say the abuse of magic is what got Willow and Tara to argue in the first place, back in season 5. When does addiction start? Willow has crossed so many lines over the season but the last ones!... how do you explain them if not for addiction? how do you explain that a person super intelligent and emotionally sound as Willow who has been fighting against the forces of evil for long and on her own free decision, can after almost loosing the girl she loves so much, how can you explain that she can be so bitchy, so carefree and do to Tara (and her friends) what she does since the beginning of season 6? If this is not because she is denying her addiction, then I can't explain it and forgive her for that.

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