FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Family
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: After meeting at a Wicca group, Willow and Tara are now in a relationship, but both are still uneasy about how the Scoobies see them. What Willow doesn't know is that Tara has been hiding something. Spike's fallen in love with Buffy and doesn't really know what to do about it. Riley is still dealing with not being Commando Boy anymore.
We've known something has been slightly off with Tara since she first sabotaged a spell with Willow back in Goodbye Iowa. It's an ominous moment, but the show has been more pre-occupied with setting up the new Big Bad. Now, however, it's Tara's turn in the spotlight and it turns out that her deep, dark secret is more a story of familial manipulation and sexism than it is of evil or horror.
When Tara's big brother arrives in Sunnydale, he brings along their father and her cousin to try and convince her to return home with them. It all has to do with where they tell her the magical talent comes from; there's a family legend that, without the proper measures, the women turn into demons once they reach 20, an age that Tara is approaching. As everyone prepares for her birthday, Tara casts a spell to prevent them from seeing her demon side, but it instead prevents them from seeing the Lei-Ach demons sent by Glory to attack the Slayer. Meanwhile, Buffy lets Giles know that Dawn is the key.
Family has always been a big deal in Buffy, whether it's blood relatives or the ones you gather along the way. Buffy and Joyce's relationship is the big one for the former and the way in which Giles functions as a surrogate father for the latter. The Scoobies are the kind of family that assembles out of a bunch of misfits who need a place to go. The episode emphasises their dynamic during the scene in which everyone helps Buffy pack up her room; Giles is there in a 'patriarchal role' to scowl and point, Xander and Riley get to do the fraternal fisticuffs, as Buffy big sisters her way about. Tara feels like she's on the outside looking in.
Tara's own family are the kind you run away from, the kind that object to any kind alternative lifestyles. Here, it's witchcraft functioning as a thin metaphor for Tara's sexuality. Her father and her brother don't want her back because they love her either. Nope, they want her back because they think a woman's place is in the home looking after them. The bastards. Of course, Tara not feeling at home with the Scoobies either means she feels stuck; that scene when her very specific joke falls flat rings so true.
Benson gets across her character's vulnerability so well that it completely sells her struggle and means that when her spell does go awry, it keeps her sympathetic. It also means that the moment in which Buffy places herself between Tara and Mr Maclay is one of the most moving scenes of the series. It's beautifully constructed so that it is not just Willow or Buffy that places themselves in a position to protect Tara, but each one of the Scoobies, from Xander swearing by Donny's "full and manly beard" that he'll break something trying to take Tara to Anya pushing the Maclays on what kind of demon Tara is to narrow it down. Even Spike helps out.
It's nice viewing this episode with the foreknowledge of how essential Tara will become to the group, particularly as a friend to Buffy, who only manages to sum up Tara as "nice" in this episode (that scene with Xander is a great little moment of two friends coming to terms with their best friend having a whole new path in life). I'm trying not to think too much beyond that though because, well, we all know how it turns out. It's easy to see why Tara became such a fan favourite as the series progressed and Family is the perfect way of cementing her as the latest member of the Scooby Gang.
Though the later seasons have their big ups and even further downs, an episode like Family sits towards the upper end of the scale and remains one of the more underrated between-arc instalments. It's one I return to when I need a pick me up. Amusing in places, but full of the kind of heartwarming misfit family stuff that you need sometimes.
Quote of the Week:
Mr. Maclay: This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara's affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?
Buffy: We're family.
Inventive Kill: Buffy uses the steps in the Magic Box to break the neck of the last Lai-Ach demon. Crunchy.
Let's Get Trivial: This is the last episode in which we see Miss Kitty Fantastico. Though it's never confirmed what happened to the cute little feline, something accidental reportedly occurred with Dawn and a crossbow. Bloody Dawn.
Sunnydale Who's Who: It's one of the biggies this week. Tara's cousin Beth is played by none other than the amazing, wonderful, all-singing, all-dancing Amy Adams. Who I love. If you hadn't guessed. In another connection, Adams played the role of Kathryn in Cruel Intentions 2, the role played in the first film famously by SMG herself.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, No Place Like Home, here.