Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Directed by James A. Contner, et al.
Reviewed by Steven Rubio
Wednesday, May 3 2000, 6:58 PM
An integral subplot to the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been the gradually growing intensity of the relationship between Buffy's best friend Willow, and Willow's new friend and fellow Wiccan, Tara. What seemed at first to be buried subtext useful only as a starting point for slash fanfic became, over the course of the season, a triumph of subtext-becoming-text, as the two women's friendship moved slowly but clearly towards something larger. The show's creator, Joss Whedon, admitted this in various interviews, promising that Willow and Tara would indeed become closer, while also insisting that he was not interested in mere ratings-boosting voyeurism.
With "New Moon Rising," BTVS finally delivered the punchline to months of anticipation. As the previews warned us, Willow's ex-boyfriend Oz was returning, but he was about to find out he had an unexpected competitor for Willow's heart. What finally happened has cultural implications beyond the mere advancement of a subplot.
I wouldn't mind a little prurient interest, and I understand, given that heterosexual lovers get to kiss and everything else on teevee, that it's important to show same-sex lovers kissing (at least). When they don't, it generally feels like a cop-out. Therefore, when the final scene arrived, with Willow returning to Tara's house to explain her position, we expected, even hoped for, a kiss.
Which didn't happen, at least on screen. But having said all that, I can tell you there wasn't a dry eye in the house. What we got was better than a kiss, which I didn't expect to be saying, partly because of the above. This was real:
WILLOW: Tara, I have to tell you.
TARA: No, I understand, you have to be with the person you l-love.
WILLOW: I am.
Willow has always been my favorite character on Buffy. This was an emotionally huge moment, and a fairly important cultural moment, too. I wouldn't have minded a kiss. Instead they blew out a candle and the program faded into darkness and closing credits, which may have been a cop-out. But I don't think so. That dialogue, and everything that led up to it over the past few months, was moving.
Seeing a kiss would have been a statement. The question is, what would that statement be? Given that Buffy has on-screen sex with her boyfriends all the time, it does seem a cop-out that the lesbian couple doesn't even kiss on screen.
But, given the actual presentation, I can't really go any further with that line of thought. The declaration of love between Willow and Tara was more intense than just about any sex scene. Anyone can have sex, but love is special, and when, after months of subtext-becoming-text, love is declared, it's an enormous emotional catharsis for the audience. (And, of course, no matter what we don't see on screen, there is no mystery about what happens after they blow out the candle.) It's the antithesis of the highly-promoted scenes of Ally McBeal kissing other women, which are always so clearly nothing more than a ratings ploy, all sensationalism and nothing approaching love or any other emotion beyond confusion and/or horniness. Whedon has stated all along that he absolutely rejects the concept of using lesbianism for its shock factor, that he's only interested in reasoned character development, and last night we saw what he meant.
We've been assuming that everyone else in the Scooby Gang knew about Willow and Tara, because the subtext-becoming-text hints were so clear to us in the audience. And so we hadn't thought much about what the rest of the gang might think, because we thought they already knew and they didn't act like it was a big deal. Well, now we know they DIDN'T know what was going on, partly because Willow and Tara hadn't admitted it to each other yet. Willow tells Buffy, and Buffy freaks in a subtle, wants-to-be-supportive way that was very well done. She recovers quickly and gives Willow her support, and later has a nice revelation when she understands that love isn't black and white and doesn't always follow rules. She realizes her own love affair with Angel the vampire was just as 'un-normal' as Willow's love for Tara, and while in another program, the comparison of lesbianism with the 'freakish' love for the undead would seem condemnatory towards lesbianism, on Buffy, the monsters are always clearly meant to be ongoing metaphors for the so-called normal lives of the human characters, so it makes perfect sense for Buffy to equate her vampire love with Willow's woman love. Willow now has Buffy's complete and unconditional support.
The show isn't even about Willow, of course; it is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer after all, and next week's episode is another Buffy-Angel episode. So my guess is Willow/Tara will just become an ordinary part of the program. Which will be nice.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be seen on the Warner Brothers Network