Willow and Tara Live On

"I am, you know?"
"What?"
"Yours."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer broke the norm in many ways and delivered stories that meant the world to the fans and had a lasting impact on television. One of those stories was the relationship between Willow and Tara, one of the first same sex relationships ever depicted on network TV. If it's regular business today to have series like Sense8 and How to Get Away with Murder filled with LGBT characters, it's because of TV shows that dared to tell the tales of those characters when it wasn't popular, when it was a risk, when they didn't really have the network's blessing nor could guarantee the audience's approval. And I'm so glad Buffy the Vampire Slayer is part of that conquering story.

Although Buffy was a series about the outcasts from the beginning, it took them awhile to tackle the issue of homosexuality. That topic first gained some serious — and metaphorical — attention when Buffy came out as a vampire slayer to her mother in season two. It's one of my favorite moments of the series because it perfectly captures what a lot of young people go through when they tell their parents they are LGBT. "Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous?", questions Buffy to a disbelieving Joyce. Joyce's initial reaction — kicking Buffy out of the house — mirrors the unfortunate reality that a lot of "out of the norm" teenagers face. The much happier other side of the coin — a parent coming to terms with who their child is — also gets some attention later after Buffy returns home.

It was only on season 4, though, that the writers decided to portray a homosexual relationship and they couldn't have done it more beautifully. Willow, who previously identified herself as straight, met the newly introduced character Tara, and their connection was immediate. As Billie said in her review of Hush, "there was almost a click between them, as if something had fallen into place". At first, the nature of their partnership was unclear, but as the season progressed it became evident that it was a romance, even if the actresses weren't allowed to display much physical contact.


It must seem odd to a lot of people who watch Buffy today that it took longer than one season for Willow and Tara to kiss onscreen. But back then a same sex kiss on television was a big taboo and most networks didn't allow them to happen. Joss Whedon and the writers went around the censorship as much as they could to show any physical interaction between the two witches. One of the brightest examples was the "spell" Tara and Willow performed together, which was for all intents and purposes a disguised sex scene that ended with Willow having an orgasm.

I appreciate all the respect and love that was put into the development of Willow and Tara as a couple. It was never exploitative nor objectifying. There was never a promo saying "tune in to see two chicks making out". When they couldn't kiss, they floated above homophobia. When they finally kissed, it was beautiful and tender, just like their relationship. In a way, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an audiovisual record of how the treatment of homosexual couples changed and progressed on television. As a fan and as a gay person myself, I feel represented and proud.


One of the highest points of their relationship for me is when Tara becomes temporarily insane near the end of season five. Not that I enjoyed Tara becoming a victim of Glory, but Willow's decision to take care of her no matter what, even if Tara never regained her sanity, melted my heart. This was a commitment for life, made by a woman who was only twenty years old. "She is my everything", explained Willow and we knew just what she meant.

In season six, it's Tara's turn to take care of Willow, and she does that by leaving her. She understands that Willow's destructive behavior isn't good for either of them. The breakup is one of the things that pushes Willow to reevaluate and correct her path, and the hope that she might resume her relationship with Tara pushes her to try and become a better person.

Tara reminds me of Melanie from Gone With the Wind. Religious practices aside, both characters have a heart of gold and see the best in people. They are loving, caring, and where Tara is the superior person during season six, Melanie is the wise one in Gone With the Wind. Also, they both died before the story was over.

Willow and Tara were happy. They were just back together when a stray bullet hit Tara right in the heart and took her away from Willow. And from the fans. Those were not easy days to be a fan of Buffy, let me tell you. Many of us were angry and upset, some stopped watching the show. It didn't matter if every damned couple on the series had a sad ending. The LGBT representation on TV was too little and now a beloved character was gone.

I understand the anger. I too wish it hadn't ended like that. But I don't think Tara's legacy was tarnished by her death. Buffy and Angel didn't have a happy ending, but there is no denying their relationship lasts in our memories. Buffy and Spike had a dysfunctional affair, followed by an emotional non-affair, and then they also did not have a happy ending. But their complicated relationship still matters, still has meaning.

The legacy of Willow and Tara does not end because Tara died. We can always remember — and relive — their love and caring for one another. We won't forget what an amazing human being Tara was and how she was able to bring the best out of Willow. Tara lives on. Willow and Tara live on.

One day, when Willow is old and blue-haired and she finally travels to the afterlife, she will turn a corner and find Tara singing on a bridge. The two lovers will reunite, cry, laugh, overcome with happiness. They will live happily ever after, naming constellations and stars. I can dream. And I can live with that.
--
Lamounier, who is still looking for The Big Pineapple in the sky.

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

This is really lovely, Lamounier. I loved Willow and Tara. It was a special relationship. And I loved how strongly Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson felt about it.

Josie Kafka said...

Lamounier, this was so beautiful.

Juliette said...

I remember being mildly annoyed when I heard Willow was going to get a girlfriend because I was afraid the show was being exploitative and trying to get straight teenage boys to watch it. I couldn't have been more wrong and Tara ended up being one of my favourite characters! I love Tara, and Willow and Tara's relationship, so much. This was lovely Lamounier, thank you :)

Mallena said...

Tara was a great character. She started out so shy, but blossomed when she realized that the whole group liked her and she fit right in. I loved Tara when she was lost in the dark room of her mind, and her recovery. Amber Benson really did a good job with her.

Panda said...

This is such a beautiful post.

When I first started watching the show when season 6 was airing I was only 12 years old, so the significance of the inclusion of a gay romance didn't really have the impact it should have. When I rewatched the series again in my teens, during a time when I was starting to realise I was different, I finally understood what this relationship was all about and I was very grateful to see how well it was represented. I do think her death was a huge blow for fans, but it does make sense in terms of where Willows story was going in season 6.

Nobody seems to mention Joss' original idea to have her return at the end of the series after Kennedy died(she survived in the actual ending). Do we think it would have been a good idea? I think it would have been beautiful, and overcome Amber Benson's fear of having Tara return as a bad guy.

Lamounier said...

Panda, that's actually very similar to my own experience. I was too young to know the relevance of Tara and Willow's relationship when I first watched Buffy. However, growing up in a homophobic environment and following a homophobic religion, the exposure to a gay couple that was treated just like any other couple was a good thing, even if I didn't realized that on a conscious level then.

About Joss' idea, it's not clear when he had it. It was a beautiful idea (to have Buffy make a with and her wish be to bring Tara back), but it would have been yet another character that died and resurrected. I'm okay with Willow moving on and Tara being happy in the afterlife.

I totally forgot to talk about Amber and Aly. Thank you for mentioning them, Billie. Since you did, I remembered of this wonderful featurette about Willow and Tara in which Amber mentions that they received letters from people thanking them, which is just wonderful.

Logan Cox said...

Great write-up, Lamounier.

Like some of you, I also first watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was just a little kid. And looking back, Willow and Tara was one of the first times I saw a gay couple portrayed seriously on TV. The issue was always handled well, especially with the constraints of the time.

They were indeed one of, if not the most meaningful relationship on the show. The actresses really made it feel real. Tara's killing and Willow's turn to darkness is the kind of stuff that never leaves your mind.

"It was never exploitative nor objectifying. There was never a promo saying 'tune in to see two chicks making out.'"

This. I totally agree. Nowadays having a lesbian couple or gay best friend character as part of a show or movie's advertisement is kind of obligatory. Not to say that's necessarily a bad thing, but like you said: Willow and Tara didn't really need that. That relationship felt like something natural, special.