"No Place Like Home" (5x05) quick link here "Fool For Love" (5x07) quick link here
Three quick notes before we get started...
1) This review will almost definitely contain spoilers for episodes after this one.
1) This review will almost definitely contain spoilers for episodes after this one.
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With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?
Here I am, on the eve of my 25th birthday, a time for reflection and contemplation, sitting down to talk about “Family”. Family. How do you define a family? Is it a group of people that are related to you by blood? Is it a group of people that support you and love you, regardless of whether or not you share DNA? Is it something you’re able to choose? This is what “Family” explores and in doing so it integrates Tara into the Scoobies more than she’s ever been before. One of the most wonderful, exciting, heart-warming things about Joss Whedon’s work is that he constantly makes a point of reminding the audience that you get to choose your own family. If you’re not getting what you need from your real family, it’s not the end of the world because you can create a new one that consists of people you’ve chosen, not people you’re stuck with. You can choose people that share the same views and beliefs as you, people that share your interests, that have the same goals as you, that will support you in ways that your blood family sometimes can’t or won’t. How many people reading this can relate to that thought process? I know that I sure can. I’ve talked about my personal life in quite a lot of depth in some of these reviews before. I talked about my turbulent relationship with my father in “Never Kill A Boy On The First Date”, I talked about my best friend’s death and my subsequent depression and attempted suicide in “Amends”, and I’ve touched on other subjects in various other reviews. I can sense that I might, slightly have another personal life talk towards the end of this review in relation to what family means to me.
“Family” is a very simple story about Tara, her connection and love for Willow, her isolation from the rest of the Scooby Gang, and her estranged relationship with her family. Outside of the “we’re family” scene and the cute floaty dancing at the end between Willow and Tara, this isn’t an episode that’s going to set the world on fire. It’s a fan favourite episode, but I think the primary reason why is those two scenes. The rest of the episode is pretty average. Certainly not bad or anything, but there are many, many Joss Whedon written episodes that I prefer to this one. There are two reasons why I don’t find this episode as captivating as Joss’ usual episodes...1) Tara’s family are not well fleshed out. We don’t learn much about them, about Tara’s childhood, or about their motivations. Why does Tara’s father pretend that Tara is going to turn into a demon? What’s the purpose? Spike guesses that it’s to “keep the ladies in line”, but it’s just a guess. Even so, it’s not a very convincing reason if it is true. We learned significantly more about Xander’s family in a 10-minute dream sequence in “Restless” than we do about Tara’s family in a 42-minute episode that almost entirely revolves around them. Both episodes were written by the same man, so we know that Joss is extremely capable of fleshing out one-episode characters well. 2) The Lei-Ach demons and Glory aspect of the episode feels forced. If Glory is powerful enough to kill Buffy by sneezing hard, why not just go and kill Buffy herself? Why give the task to significantly less powerful demons? I can only assume that Glory finds Buffy too insignificant to kill herself. Later in the episode, she calls Vampire Slayers “common” and is embarrassed at having fought one and not killed her. This puts Glory’s character into perspective. All the previous Big Bad’s have been somewhat in awe of Buffy. Even if they didn’t like her or fear her, they respected her skills as a fighter and were at least marginally weary of her. In comparison, Glory finds Buffy nothing more than an annoying insect that she’d love to squish...which brings me back to why didn’t Glory try to squish Buffy herself in this episode, instead of leaving it to demons that look like very ugly deformed clowns with extraordinarily long tongues? Of course, I understand that the big Buffy vs. Glory battle needs to take place later in the season. That’s not the issue. The issue is, if you’re going to delay something (which they should), give the audience a justifiable, realistic reason to do so for the characters. Now that I’ve got my criticisms out of the way, let’s concentrate on the many more positives...
The episode opens with an oh-so-adorable scene between Willow and Tara, where Tara is telling Willow a story about Miss. Kittyfantastico (SHE’S BACK!) in order to help Willow sleep. How can anyone not adore these two characters or their relationship? They’re easily the most loving, realistic, warm, natural pairing in the seven years that the show is on the air.
Tara: “I just never feel useful.”
After the adorable story time is finished, Tara confides in Willow that she never feels useful to the Scoobies because she has nothing to offer. No super-strength, no super-intelligence, no werewolf or vampire powers...she feels too ordinary to be a part of the team. It’s similar to how Xander has been feeling for the past four years. The only difference is that Xander has been a member of the Scoobies since they were established, so he’s very much a part of the team. Tara is new. She doesn’t have the history or personal relationships with Buffy, Giles, and Xander to help her feel secure in her newfound friendship circle. It’s sad to hear her feeling this way, but I can see why she does. She hasn’t really been accepted by the Scoobies yet. She spends her first few months on the show with just Willow and wasn’t introduced to the rest of the gang until “Who Are You?”. Since then, she’s been around the Scoobies to a certain extent, but how many one-on-one conversations have we seen between Tara and someone other than Willow? In the nineteen episodes that she’s been on the show, I can think of one off the top of my head – her conversation with Dawn outside The Magic Box in “Real Me”. The Scoobies don’t know Tara very well. This is backed up by the awkward conversation between Buffy and Xander when they’re trying to figure out what to get Tara for her birthday. They establish that she’s nice (about a thousand times), but have no idea what to buy her because they don’t know her. They don’t know her hobbies or interests. They don’t know what she likes. Tara is an acquaintance to the Scoobies at this point, not a part of them. By the end of this episode, all of that changes to a certain extent.
I cannot contain my joy in Buffy confiding Dawn’s true identity to Giles. She’s learning, people! In season three’s “Revelations”, Giles was extremely hurt over the realisation that Buffy had lied to him about Angel’s return. In season four, Giles was highly upset over Buffy not telling him about the commandos, Riley, and Maggie Walsh’s involvement in the Initiative project. He spent so much of the last season feeling neglected and unneeded by Buffy that Buffy going to Giles before anyone here is a really nice thing to witness. Buffy asked Giles to be her Watcher again in “Buffy vs. Dracula” and it’s exciting to see that Buffy is taking Giles’ role seriously. Remember, this scene takes place the same night that Buffy finds out about Dawn’s identity because we see Glory climb out of the debris from the building that fell down because she stomped her foot. That means that as soon as Buffy got home and had her bonding conversation with Dawn, she went straight to Giles with this information. It’s funny that as one father-daughter relationship grows, one biological father-daughter relationship couldn’t be further apart. The timing of these two things isn’t a coincidence with the episode title being “Family”. It’s another example of you being able to choose your own family in life. Since dropping Buffy home in the season two opener, “When She Was Bad”, Hank Summers has become a douchebag. He ditched Buffy on her 18th birthday (“Helpless”) and has now moved to Spain with his secretary, which means that Buffy can’t get a hold of him. Does he not care about his children at all?!
Why do Xander and Riley just have to start becoming friends as Riley is about to leave? Xander hasn’t had a close male friend since Jesse died in the first season’s “The Harvest” and just when he starts to get one, he leaves. Typical. Thanks, Whedon. I am starting to really enjoy the Xander-Riley dynamic. An example of this is the hilarious scene where Riley and Xander have each other in headlocks and are bickering because Riley called Xander a “bad name”, while Giles is yelling at them like they’re naughty children. Riley later insults Xander, but Xander doesn’t understand that he’s getting insulted. It reminds me of a quote from “The Hangover” – “you’re literally too stupid to insult”. Xander’s not actually stupid, but the quote is apt for this exchange.
Xander (talking about Glory): “She’s messing with all of us.”
I love this line because it feeds into what Xander says to Tara’s father later in the episode. It shows that Xander views Tara as much a part of the Scoobies as he does Buffy and the rest of the gang. I just wish that he (and the rest) would show Tara that a little more.
Giles: “You can’t be more specific about what she was like?”
Buffy: “She was kind of like Cordelia actually...”
I’m disappointed that Buffy never gets to meet the mature, empathetic, selfless Cordelia that evolves from “Angel” season two onwards. It’s a shame.
The episode then fast forwards to a highly sexually-charged dream sequence fight scene between Spike and Buffy...
Spike: “You want me, Slayer, come and get me!”
Buffy: “Oh, I’m coming, I’m coming right now!”
*cue to Spike and Harmony’s “happy endings” during sex*
That. Was. Hilarious. Joss and his juvenile sexual humour have been a source of great amusement to me over the years. Also, when did “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” become so adult?! They’d never have attempted this scene two years ago. It’s kinda cool that as the characters grow up, the show grows up with them to keep the stories realistic to where the main three Scoobies are in life. This particular dream sequence reminds me of Buffy and Spike’s first genuine sex scene in season six’s “Smashed”. Spike is clearly turned on by violence. He’s always associated ‘dancing’ with sex. He talks about fighting and sex like they’re the same thing. It explains why he’s attracted to Buffy. Fighting and death are Buffy’s art and her gift to the world. She’s been smacking Spike around for three years now...it’s basically foreplay to him. I swear, if Buffy hit him hard enough, he’d ejaculate on the spot. I feel that this scene was inserted into the story as a reason to get Spike into the episode. However, it does work as an odd sort of prelude to Buffy and Spike’s conversations in the next episode, “Fool For Love”. OH, SWEET MAMA, I GET TO REVIEW THAT NEXT!
“Family” is also a key episode for Riley and is the final nail in his coffin for his departure from Sunnydale. Riley suggests to Buffy that perhaps he could get Graham and The Initiative to help out with tracking down and stopping Glory. This clearly shows that Riley is missing his old life. He misses having a purpose, he misses being a part of The Initiative, and he realises that Buffy is all he has in life now. In turn, Buffy shoots down his idea instantly and forcefully. She does this because she’s worried about The Initiative discovering Dawn’s identity and wanting to experiment on her. The only problem is that she hasn’t told Riley about Dawn. Why hasn’t she told him? It makes no sense! Just two episodes ago, Buffy told Riley that nobody has ever known her like he does. If that were true, why not confide in Riley now? Does she not trust him enough to give him this information? Because Riley doesn’t know, Riley takes Buffy’s comments personally, which drops him further down that “Buffy doesn’t love me” rabbit hole. The biggest problem with their relationship is a lack of communication. Riley doesn’t tell Buffy how he’s feeling and Buffy doesn’t tell Riley, well, anything this season. This lack of communication increases Riley’s levels of frustration and feelings of neglect...
Riley: “I know you’ve got a lot on your mind. If you decide you want to let me in on any of it, you let me know. I’ll come running.”
That sentence, while childish, is pretty heart-breaking when you stop and think about it. Riley is aware that Buffy is keeping a lot from him and that she isn’t in love with him, but he’s still willing to be there if she needs him because he loves her. UGH. It reminds me of what Xander says to Buffy in “Into The Woods”. Buffy expects Riley to be there when she needs him and to disappear when she doesn’t need him. Sadly, she doesn’t need Riley for much at all these days so in turn she doesn’t tell him anything, which leads to more separation and drama. Buffy acting this way isn’t her fault, it’s a simple case of two people that aren’t well suited for each other drifting apart. It happens in real life all the time!
A directionless and miserable Riley goes to Willy’s Place for a drink. Where’s Willy? I miss Willy...God, I can never say anything about Willy without it sounding dirty. A little trivia note for you: the female that Riley talks to in Willy’s Place (who he subsequently stakes), Sandy, is the same Sandy that Vampire Willow sired in The Bronze in season three’s “Doppelgangland”...another Joss Whedon penned episode. What a nice piece of continuity. Riley’s downward spiral into allowing vampires to drain his main vein (I MEANT HIS ARM!) has officially begun. He’s in a shitty place. He feels unloved, neglected, directionless, and depressed. All of this is understandable if you’ve followed his journey closely. Allowing vampires to feed on him for funsies isn’t acceptable at all, but him feeling the way he does is completely realistic. The only problem is that he should be talking to Buffy about how he feels, not moping in a bar and allowing vampires to suck him.
Let’s be honest, though. The main focus of this episode is Tara. Tarafest ‘00, if you will. You can tell from the instant that Tara sees her brother that she has a very complicated, intimidating family life. She acts as though she’d rather see anyone in the world than her brother (who I imagine used to beat her up when they were kids based on his “beat you down” comment later on), and the iciness of the hug between her and her father would allow penguins to live in it. She calls her father “sir”! AMY ADAMS IS HER COUSIN! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE!
Mr. McClay: “Your family loves you, Tara, no matter what. How do you think your friends are going to feel when they see your true face?”
As I mentioned before, I still don’t understand the lie. Spike’s guess of doing it to control the women of the family seems accurate, but we shouldn’t need guesswork for an episode like this one. The one-on-one scene between Tara and her father was very intense. It’s more like the relationship you’d expect between an army captain and his troop. That couldn’t have been the warmest environment to grow up in. It helps explain why Tara was so shy when Willow first met her. She’d been trained to only speak when spoken to for her entire young life. With Willow’s love and support, Tara overcomes this problem and her stutter, but the instant her family are around, both of those things return. Tara thinking that she’s part demon also explains why she faked the demon locater spell with Willow in the last season’s “Goodbye Iowa”. She was afraid that she’d show up on the map of Sunnydale as a demon. Tara’s father disapproves of magic and he acts as though he’s ashamed of Tara for meddling with such forces and for leaving her family behind with little contact. Tara’s father is yet another example of shitty parenting in the Buffyverse. Sometimes I feel like the Scoobies are so close because all of their parents suck (except Joyce)!
Feeling nervous about becoming a demon on her 20th birthday, Tara does a spell so that the Scoobies can’t see the demon side of her. There’s just one problem...now they can’t see any demons at all. I’m sure that won’t be a problem for someone who hunts demons and vampires for a living, right? It’ll be fine. To be fair, Willow and Xander have both royally messed up spells themselves which led to catastrophic results. Xander did a love spell with Amy in “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” so that Cordelia would fall in love with him again. It backfired and every female in Sunnydale fell in love with Xander except Cordy. Willow did a spell in “Something Blue” to have her will done and everything she said started coming true. Giles was blind, Xander was a demon magnet, and Buffy and Spike were engaged. It does beg the question of why the Scoobies continue to mess with magic. The difference is that Tara is still something of an outsider. Can she take such liberties as Xander and Willow and get away with it?
In a turn of events that surprised nobody, Spike arrived at The Magic Box intending to kill Buffy, only he decided to help her instead. Colour me shocked.
Then, we arrive at the scene that makes this episode work. The scene that caused this episode to exist in the first place. Tara’s family arrive at The Magic Box intent on taking her home against her will. Due to almost getting all the Scoobies killed with her spell, Tara decides that she’ll go with them to stop any more trouble...then Buffy steps in and my heart melts. This scene is one of my favourite from any “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” episode for a multitude of reasons. Some of the reasons are personal and some of the reasons are confined to the shows itself...
1) Buffy is the one to step in. We’ve only seen Tara interact a great deal with Willow and Dawn thus far. They’re the only two characters that have ever shown that they care about Tara. Buffy, our hero, stepping in and proclaiming that Tara is part of her family makes me so happy that I legitimately get teary-eyed almost every time I watch it.
2) The look that Anya gives Xander as she says that some demons are considered useful members of society and Xander’s returned smile of pride. STOP BEING ALL CUTE AND GIVING ME FEELS.
3) This speech cements Tara’s place in the Scooby Gang. She’s a part of them after this episode. She’s involved in the show more, she has more one-on-one conversations with people outside of Willow, and she gets more screen time. These are nothing but good things.
4) Tara’s family have been pretending for TWENTY YEARS that Tara has a DEMON inside of her. Let’s take a second for everyone to digest that appalling behaviour, shall we? This is unforgiveable. It makes me wonder if Tara’s family attended her funeral or not. This is not how families are supposed to operate. It could be argued that Tara’s family are worse than most villains on the show because they have souls and no excuses for their actions.
5) YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND SKIP NUMBER FIVE IF YOU’RE NOT INTERESTED IN A PERSONAL LIFE TALK.
Finally, this scene means more to me than most people because of my relationship with my own family growing up. The idea that you could create your own family was a surprising and appealing one to me very early on in life. During my childhood and teenage years, I wasn’t close to anyone in my family. As far as my father and his side of the family are concerned, I barely know them and I see them about 20 minutes a year. Those of you that have read these reviews from the beginning know that my father walked out on my mother, my sister, and myself for a “woman” 15 years his junior (she was 16 at the time). I was eight years old and my relationship with him has never recovered. I barely see him, I barely talk to him, and he shows about as much interest in my life as Hank does with Buffy. I’m closer to my mum and my sister since I grew up and moved out, but during my childhood I wasn’t particular close to either of them. I spent most of my time with my friends, who became family to me just as much as my blood family. The older I turned, the closer I became to my friends. Just like the Scoobies, they were my family in my eyes. The closest of all of those friends was Luke. He was the guy who supported me the most, who taught me what it was to be a man, and who shaped me into the person I’ve become. I’m not going to go into depth on this topic because I already did so in my review of “Amends”, but just before my 18th birthday, Luke died in a hit-and-run car ‘accident’. After that, my friends that remained behind meant even more to me than they did before. I once read that if you can honestly say that you have three true friends in life, you’re blessed. Amazingly, I’ve had even more than that.
There are four people in my life right now that I would struggle to live without. Four people that have helped shape the person I’ve become since overcoming depression and my attempted suicide. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of other wonderful friends as well, but these four stand out above the others as people that I can talk to about anything and know they’ll be there. What you’ve got to remember is that three years ago, I wanted to die. I wanted a way out of life. When I magically survived, I had to start my life over. From scratch. I’d given up my old life when I tried to end it. I had to completely rebuild my life mentally after somehow surviving something that I never intended to survive. I couldn’t have built this new life alone. I didn’t have the strength to do everything myself while also finding the strength to keep depression and suicidal thoughts at bay.
Firstly, there’s my friend Amy, who I’ve never met (she lives in Vermont, I live in England), but has been like a sister to me for half of my life. When Luke died, Amy was the sole reason I survived that summer. While my other friends were disappearing off to university or were preoccupied with their own lives, Amy listened to me on the phone almost every day for months. My mum didn’t appreciate the phone bill (it was a lot), but Amy gave me what I needed, when I needed it, in order to survive the most depressing year of my life (2007). She was a great friend before 2007 and she’s still an amazing friend all these years later.
Next up, there’s my friend Rach. Very few people can understand depression and the struggles that come with it. Rach can. She’s lived it and sometimes still lives it. She’s always supported me, always gave me someone to talk to, and we’ve basically become our own little two-person AA group about depression. If I need a laugh or to exchange sarcasm with someone, she’s the first person I’ll message. I don’t see her anywhere near as often as I should (Rach, if you read this, get yo’ ass in gear!), but she’s someone I’ve very proud to call a dear friend.
I would be remiss in this review regarding ‘family’ if I didn’t mention Hannah. My best friend, my partner in crime at conventions, and my parabatai. I can say with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t be here today with Hannah. When I tried to kill myself, Hannah was the person who was there for me the most. When I was in the middle of a very turbulent breakup, after my girlfriend of three years, who I lived with, dumped me over text message for her ex-boyfriend (yep, that happened), Hannah was there. When I was going through the emotional distress of an abortion, Hannah was there. When I needed someone to talk to, Hannah would spend hours talking to me. When I needed a distraction, Hannah would grant me one. When I needed a partner in crime for conventions, Hannah obliged. Very rarely do you meet people in life and instantly know that you’re gonna be friends forever. Hannah was the embodiment of that. We nerd out together, we game together, we flail at “Game Of Thrones” together, and we rarely go a day without speaking. So, if you ever get around to reading my Buffy reviews, Hannah, thank you.
Lastly, there’s Robyn. My girlfriend and the person I’m planning a future with. For the longest time, I never wanted a future. Let alone actively planning one happily. As if the Buffyverse hadn’t given me enough over the course of my life, I met Robyn through the Buffyverse page I run on Facebook (www.facebook.com/BTVSFC). We instantly were attracted to each other and things steamrolled from there. Above anybody else in my life, I can tell Robyn anything and know that I’m not going to be judged. She’s one of those rare, wonderful people who puts other people’s needs above her own. I can’t thank her enough for everything she’s given me and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
6) Spike uses violence to solve the puzzle, rather than just tell the Scoobies that Tara’s family are lying to her and manipulating her. Classic Spike. He deserves the headache.
Tara’s family leave Sunnydale without her and everything is right in the world again! Now, it’s party time. My Vitriol’s “Cemented Shoes” plays at The Bronze as the Scoobies celebrate Tara’s birthday and give her their presents. Talk about the perfect time to play an uplifting, energetic song, after all the drama and emotion of the last 30 minutes. The episode closes, just like it began, with an adorable scene between Tara and Willow. For a lot of people, this is their favourite Willow-Tara scene and I can see why. Sometimes, even in a review, you have to let the dialogue speak for itself and just enjoy the moment. This is one of those times...
Tara: “I was just afraid that if you saw the type of people that I came from, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near me.”
Willow: “See, that’s where you’re a dummy. I think about what you grew up with, then I look at what you are...it makes me proud. It makes me love you more.”
Tara: “Every time...even when I’m at my worst, you always make me feel special. How do you do that?”
*They slowly dance together and gently lift off of the ground*
Quote Of The Episode
Buffy: “You want her, Mr. McClay, you can go ahead and take her. You’ve just got to go through me.”
Mr. McClay: “What?”
Buffy: “You heard me. You want to take Tara out of here against her will, you’ve got to come through me.”
Dawn: “And me!”
Mr. McClay: “Is this a joke? I’m not going to be threatened by two little girls.”
Dawn: “You don’t want to mess with us.”
Buffy: “She’s a hair-puller.”
Giles: “And you’re not just dealing with two little girls.”
Xander: “You’re dealing with all of us.”
Spike: “Except me.”
Xander: “Except Spike.”
Spike: “I don’t care what happens.”
Mr. McClay: “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.”
Donny: “Dad! Are you gonna let ‘em just...Tara, if you don’t get in that car, I swear by God, I will beat you down.”
Xander: “And I swear by your full and manly beard, you’re gonna break something trying.”
Beth: “Well, I hope you’ll all be happy hanging out with a disgusting demon.”
Anya: “Excuse me, what kind?”
Anya: “What kind of demon is she? There are a lot of different kinds. Some are very, very evil and some have been considered to be useful members of society.”
Beth: “I...what does it matter?”
Mr. McClay: “Evil is evil.”
Anya: “Let’s just narrow it down...”
Spike: “Oh! Why don’t I make this simple? *he punches Tara in the nose and his chip goes off*...Owww!”
Tara: “He hit my nose.”
Willow: “And it hurt...him, I mean.”
Buffy: “And that only works on humans.”
Spike: “There’s no demon in there. That’s just a family legend, am I right? Just a bit of spin to keep the ladies in line? You’re a piece of work...I like you.”
Tara: “I’m not a demon?”
Willow: “You’re not a demon.”
Tara: “He hurt my nose.”
Spike: “Yeah, you’re welcome...”
Giles: “Mr. McClay, I would say your business here is finished.”
Mr. McClay: “Tara, for 18 years your family has taken care of you and supported you. If you want to turn your back on...”
Tara: “Dad, just go.”
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
What are your thoughts on "Family"? Did you enjoy this episode? Dislike it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments section below!
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