September 5th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
If Adam was a philosophical character with no functional use within Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fourth season, Glory is a functional character without any real philosophical purpose in the series’ fifth.
“Tough Love” really drives this point home for me: the character is more fun than she is interesting, existing sort of as a by-product of Dawn’s arrival despite the fact that Dawn is technically the by-product of the situation. This isn’t so much a criticism as an observation: I like Glory, and like what role she plays within this story, but it isn’t a particularly complex role. Instead, all of the complexity is on the protagonists’ side of the story, which is expressly clear when this episode becomes far more about Willow and Tara’s relationship and far less about Glory herself.
Which is only fitting as Glory’s arc appears to be reaching its end.
Admittedly, this episode sort of sits in an awkward space for me: while viewing it at the time would have raised some serious questions about Tara’s condition, having seen an episode of season six means that I know that her condition does not last. This doesn’t make the episode any less powerful for Willow and Tara, but it does sort of mean that I view this as a temporary test of their relationship rather than a seismic shift.
There’s a nice parallel towards the end of the episode, where both Willow and Buffy end up in guardianship situations that they didn’t anticipate, and which pose certain challenges. It’s especially meaningful to Dawn: the episode has her struggling to remain connected to her academic future, but the combination of feeling responsible for what happened to Tara and the awareness that she (unlike Tara) is capable of helping Buffy take care of her is a nice bit of self-awareness. There’s a number of points in Dawn’s story where things could have become heavy-handed, especially the threat of foster care, but they were played pretty well and I bought that Dawn would have come around just in time for a prophetic Tara to reveal Dawn’s identity. It’s pretty clearly structured into the episode, but as a secondary result of the A-Story I quite liked how it built to that conclusion.
As for the A-Story, I thought it was a bit rushed if ultimately well handled. I don’t doubt that there have been enough underlying tensions betweenn Willow and Tara, especially in recent episodes where Willow’s dabblings in magic have been revealed as a source of anxiety for Tara, but I did sort of balk at the idea that this would extend to Tara being concerned about Willow’s commitment to their relationship. I understand how fights escalate, and how even parts of a relationship which are solid are thrown under the microscope, but the lack of evidence for Willow reconsidering her sexuality makes those final moments of the fight particularly hard to take. It felt less like two characters in an escalating argument and more like the script looking to take their fight to a level wherein they would justifiably separate long enough for Tara to go to the fair on her own, and to amp up the tragedy when Tara is attacked by glory.
However, the basis for the fight itself (as the comments have discussed over the last few pieces) is quite important, and Willow looking to test her strength against Glory is a key moment for her character. She isn’t a match for Glory, but (as with most of the season) that moment isn’t about Glory: yes, she is out for a personal measure of revenge, but the moment is more important as a sign of how she’s willing to use her magic. It also shows us how Buffy perceives her abilities: yes, she was right in that Willow was going on a suicide mission, but Buffy has done similar things in the past and battled through, so it shows how Buffy does sort of hold herself back from believing that Willow could be as powerful as she is. She still presumes that Willow, like Dawn, needs to be protected rather than supported, which is a key difference in my eyes.
Within the narrative, Xander is most often considered the character who has the most to prove, having not gone to college and lacking a clear skill to assist in the slaying process. However, at this point, it’s Willow who feels a certain anxiety over her place: she’s so open to dark forms of magic because she feels she has to be open to them, out of fear of never living up to Tara and Buffy. And here we see how that can become dangerous, and how Tara’s illness leads to a reckless decision followed by a sober moment of reflection as she feeds Tara applesauce. And while, as noted, there were some moments that felt a bit exaggerated for dramatic effect, that this remains the primary function of the episode even with Glory finally piecing together the key mystery at the end of the episode furthers the season’s momentum.
- In terms of Glory, are we on the same page that the Ben/Glory story is pretty bizarrely implemented? I mean, it’s not the worst story in the world and I thought it added an interesting dimension to things, but it never particularly went anywhere, largely because Glory is defined mostly by her relationship with her comic minions and because Ben is actually a pretty normal character who lacks any sort of other interesting qualities. It’s a neat idea, but it’s not much more, which makes it seem a little bit unnecessary (unless there’s something coming up that really pulls it together, which seems unlikely.
- I get that they were building to a dramatic showdown later, but the scene with Willow chasing through the park trying to get to Tara felt poorly shot and edited to me: it’s not the climax, but it needed to feel more like one, as it just felt “off” for me.
- Will probably get through one more episode this weekend, and then will finish off the season either next weekend or the weekend after (if I choose to do some Angel instead next weekend).