Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S04E19 – New Moon Rising

In the nineteenth episode of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I concede the greatness and brilliance of this show and the people who help make it a reality. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.

I have a feeling that a great deal of the rot13 in the past two weeks has concerned itself with “New Moon Rising.” I went back and revisited some of those recent reviews about Willow and Tara, and I now know just how ridiculous and hilarious I seemed at the time. The truth is that I made those comments about those two out of a place of doubt. I doubted that this relationship would ever actually come to fruition, and I did that because it just never happens. I know that I’ve missed out on a lot of television, more so than all the literature I haven’t read. I’m aware that this sort of story may have played out on other shows, but the whole point of Mark Watches (at least for me) is to expose myself to the dearth of fiction on television that I never got the chance to experience.

I’m hoping that I can convey to you, then, just how important it is to me that “New Moon Rising” exists.

I’ll start this way: I needed this story when it aired. I was only sixteen years old, still living with my parents at the time, and utterly convinced with every fiber of my being that I was a mistake. For the vast majority of my sophomore year of high school, I knew definitely that I was gay and that I wasn’t supposed to be that way. I felt broken, fractured, incomplete, and utterly worthless. My parents routinely insulted me for any feminine or flamboyant tendencies (which, ironically, only brought them out more); my peers ridiculed me or threatened me with physical violence any time they perceived me as anything other than a straight man; sometimes, that violence was acted out on me, and I saw the inside of more toilet bowls or the intricate paintwork on poles around campus than I could have ever wanted; I learned to blame the bruises, cuts, scrapes, and swelling on my clumsiness whenever my mom would ask what had happened to me, and every time she ever figured out that I’d been bullied or beat up, she told me it was because I was weak, because I made myself a target, and because I refused to fight back. I deserved what I got, she’d tell me, and if I’d just stop acting so gay, they’d leave me alone.

It was an extremely effective form of abuse that I grew up with, one that has only begun to lose its grip on me in the last two years or so. But despite all the pain and torment I went through, the most pervasive part of it all was that I believed it. I didn’t feel like I was suffering some great injustice because of my identity. I genuinely believed that there was something deeply wrong with me. It wasn’t until I ran away from home the first month of my junior year that I began to hear or see or read positive messages about being gay or queer, and even then, it took me nearly two years to finally come to terms with my sexuality, and even then, I was forced into it after being outed.

I needed “New Moon Rising” more than you know. It’s no surprise that I had become quite attached to the idea of Willow/Tara, but I wasn’t sure where this was going to go. I didn’t know if the writers would commit to having the two be in a real relationship. Would it all be glances, hand holding, and hints? When this episode’s focus was revealed (the return of Oz) (!!!!!!! OH MY GOD !!!!!!!), I guessed at the outcome: the show would abandon a very queer storyline for one that’s straight. Which is not to say I don’t adore Oz or Oz/Willow as a thing! I VERY MUCH ENJOYED THEIR RELATIONSHIP. But it was over, and you can’t just waltz back into someone’s life after abandoning and rejecting them, hoping that things can return to normal.

Thankfully, “New Moon Rising” does what I desperately wanted it to do: be honest. I’m avoiding the use of the word “realistic” because LET’S BE TRUTHFUL. This is a story about a werewolf mastering his powers in Tibet and returning to his witch girlfriend who is friends with a Slayer of vampires and demons and I clearly know this is not a realistic portrayal of the world. What I wanted, though, was for the show to give us a story that was true to these characters and honest about what this experience might be like. In that sense, “New Moon Rising” certainly succeeds. There is no way to play Oz’s entrance except as horrifically awkward. If he had received a celebratory welcome, I would have called bullshit. Whether he left Willow for his own good or her own good, either way he broke her heart and left her devastated. Everyone (Riley aside) knows this, so the mere sight of him is painful and confusing. How do they react? What do you say to someone who did what he did?

And seeing an ex really can be as confusing and disorienting as this episode portrays it. Some people don’t have a burning hatred for their exes, nor are they left constantly desiring them. Some people, like Willow, land in the middle of that, and it’s all the more frustrating for them. On top of that, Willow was so certain that Tara was the one for her, and now Oz is suddenly back in her life, ready to start things up again. This is not an easy episode to watch by any means, especially as someone like me who wanted Tara/Willow more than anything. But even if she chose Oz and I was disappointed by this, I suppose that I wanted to respect Willow’s choice, whatever it was. How was she going to make this sort of decision? Whose heart would she have to break?

It’s with this that it became inevitable that Willow would have to tell someone what her dilemma was. I am glad that the very first person she comes out to is Buffy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even then, the show plays the moment honestly: Buffy is initially horrified that Willow is attracted to women. I can’t determine if that was some weird manifestation of homophobia for the briefest moment in time, or if Buffy simply couldn’t comprehend the revelation. Personally, I don’t think it matters, but that’s just me. You have to understand that I was outed, and that the vast majority of reactions I got to people finding out I was gay were violent, crude, and vicious. I wish I had someone express shock for five seconds, and then sit down and tell me quite earnestly that it does not matter, that they cared for me unconditionally. In that moment, I had so much respect for Buffy. She put aside whatever strangeness she felt for the situation, and made it about Willow: she told Willow that she supported her (in her own way, that is).

I can’t even begin to explain to you how much I needed that as a teenager. I needed anyone to tell me that this was okay, that just because I experienced love and sexual attraction differently than pretty much anyone around me did not mean I was a lesser person because of it. I would rather that someone act weird for a brief spurt and then accept me than what I got.

I know I’ve said before that sometimes I am a bit weirded out when fictional narratives use metaphors to represent real-world oppressions and societal disadvantages. I sometimes feel like you could just the real people who are actually affected by it instead. And that’s why I like this episode so much! Buffy’s experience with Riley’s prejudicial thoughts about demons is a direct parallel to Willow’s, but the show goes out of its way to give us Willow’s fears and experiences, too. In a way, Buffy experiences something with Riley that’s akin (not identical, obviously) to what she’s going through. Her relationship with Angel was enormously atypical, and she fears how others are going to perceive that. Given this, I’m absolutely fascinated to see how Buffy might help and support Willow in the future with coming out to others.

There really is a lot of great shit in this episode. Spike joins up with Riley, which seems like a TERRIBLE idea. Riley eventually comes to terms with the hardline anti-demon policy that’s been drilled into his head, joining the Scoobies full-time after abandoning the Initiative. We see more than ever just how horrific the Initiative is when they fully detach from acknowledging how terrifying and traumatic their work is. But this episode is important and meaningful for one reason, and that reason was made abundantly clear to me in the final scene:

Willow has chosen Tara.

As Oz was on his way out and Willow gives him a tearful goodbye, I got the sense that his storyline was, largely, tied up. I don’t know where else they could go with him, but I appreciated how truthful the writers were with this predicament. Oz expected Willow to have waited for him, and he misjudged who she was. He came back to her life and nearly ruined everything for her! But he knows that his escape from the Initiative (and his avoidance of her) are actually for the best, as hard as it is for him to decide this. I don’t think he’s coming back, and if he did, it would be quite a challenge for the writers to figure out a way to do it faithfully.

But this was always about Willow and Tara. I can best describe my reaction to that final scene as one of joyous sobbing. I wanted this so badly, and in that moment where Willow reveals to Tara that she was with the one she loved, I simply could not believe this was real. It’s real, it’s a main story plot, and there’s no backing down from this. Buffy now has a queer relationship at the forefront of their story, and the joy I felt at seeing this overwhelmed me.

I needed this. I needed this when I was a confused gay kid who had no positive forces in my life, and I need it right now, too. I am so happy with Buffy, and I am so satisfied with practically everything this episode has given to me. It’s not going to be hard for me to tell folks in the future that “New Moon Rising” is absolute proof that Buffy is a fantastic show, and I am just so honored to have experienced this.

Thank you, Buffy.

Mark Links Stuff

– My eBook adaptations of reviews I’ve posted are on sale at MarkDoesStuff.com. Harry Potter, Twilight, and Firefly books are priced from $2.99 to $3.99 a piece, and are available in ePub (iBook, iPod, iPad, Nook), Kindle, and PDF files.
– I now have a Lulu storefront, where you can purchase physical copies of all of my previously released books, including a full Mark Reads Twilight book that includes all four sets of Twilight reviews.
– I am going on tour in the following cities this month (click the name for the Facebook RSVP page): San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise, Spokane, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver B.C. I still need venues/spaces in San Diego, Salt Lake City, Spokane, and Portland. Even if it’s your house, I don’t care. I’ll show up! Please let me know if you have any ideas. I can also be reached at markreadsandwatches [at] gmail [dot] com.
– I am presenting for three days at Ascendio 2012! Come hang out and have the best weekend ever in July!
– Mark Watches The Two Towers will happen most likely on Sunday at 1pm PDT, which is the same as this past weekend. Y’all better break the comment record again.
– I finish Mark Reads The Princess Bride on April 13th, and then Mark Reads Sandman begins on Monday, April 16th. I will split up reviews by issue, and I will be reading the extra books/volumes. IT SHALL BE GRAND.
– I’m on Twitter (@MarkDoesStuff) and I have a Facebook page y’all can Like and flail about on. Join me!
This is my fifth consecutive year riding in the AIDS/LifeCycle! I’m aiming to raise $10,000 this year. For every $1,000 I raise, I will make a video live reading of a community-chosen fanfic. I am not bluffing. I will read as much of it as possible, and it will be beautiful. Help me out if you can!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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