In the nineteenth episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy drops out of college to take care of Dawn, only to discover that her work is definitely cut out for her. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I don’t even care what happens with the next three episodes. I know it’s going to be good, but even if they aren’t, I can already say this: season five is my favorite season of this show so far. It’s simply not contest. I have not experienced one mediocre or unmemorable episode in all nineteen that I’ve watched. It’s astounding to me that I can feel so strongly about an entire season this way. But the credit must go to the talented actors and actresses who have given some of the best performances of their whole career on this show, as well as the writers, who have consistently given me a set of exciting, thrilling, and heartbreaking stories.
“Tough Love” is yet another episode that is extremely referential to the past, rewarding those of us who have been watching this show from the beginning. It’s got this powerful emotional continuity to it that I’ve come to love about Buffy. Yes, there’s a main plot line spread throughout season five concerning Glory and Dawn, but so much of what happens in “Tough Love” has just as much to do with the loss of Joyce Summers as it does with the Key. I admit that it was a little hard to watch Buffy drop out of college because I remember how hard it was for me to do the same thing. In a lot of ways, this episode is very personal to me because I was forced to “grow up” before I wanted to. I had to raise myself when I was sixteen. I had to drop out of college to pursue a full time job in order to keep myself fed and housed because I had no one else to help me out.
So I understand what Buffy is going through. You do what you have to in order to survive. A lot of this episode deals with that, too, and how some people might not understand the choices you make because you haven’t lived the same experience or had to make the same choices. When Buffy learns that she has to take a more proactive role in getting Dawn to attend school, I get that Willow doesn’t exactly get why Buffy has to be harsh. Plus, from personal experience, being more strict with someone like Dawn generally does lead to really rebellious behavior. I KNOW THIS BECAUSE THIS IS HOW I REACTED TO THE SAME TREATMENT. But Buffy knows something Dawn and Willow don’t: Dawn might get taken away.
My god, that scene alone is really powerful and important. When Buffy said that Dawn would get taken away, I assumed that she meant by Glory. Unfortunately, there’s yet another factor that Buffy has to worry about. Jesus, can she please catch a break? Please? This endless parade of awful is making my heart hurt. What am I saying? It’s only going to get worse and worse. At least this reveal seems to affect Dawn enough that she gets why she should stop acting out so much.
But good lord, this is not just about Buffy. I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE. I swear to y’all, as I watched Willow and Tara talk about Buffy and Dawn, this thought popped into my head: “Wow, they are like the most functional couple in the history of Buffy. How cool! I really like how much they get along and – wait. Wait. No, that’s just a misunderstanding, they’ll work this out. Oh no, that’s not so – oh. Oh, no. OH NO. STOP IT. STOP YELLING. OH MY GOD, NO, PLEASE DON’T FIGHT. PLEASE WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” Perhaps I should just not think while watching Buffy? That might be a good idea.
There’s a lot to digest about what the two argue over. First of all, Willow’s powers as a witch really have been getting stronger. It’s something that happens so nonchalantly in this season that I know I’ve been lax in commenting on it. It just seems so natural to her, as if she was always meant to be a witch. Once Tara puts the words out there, that she is frightened by how powerful Willow is becoming, it is impossible for Willow to hear it any other way. Even if we know what she truly meant, all Willow can hear is that her girlfriend is afraid of her. Willow truly is dabbling in magic that can be extremely dangerous, and I think it’s fair that Tara is disturbed by this. However, this miscommunication quickly spirals out of control, and soon, Tara’s real fear comes out: she worries that she is just a phase for Willow.
Ouch. I know firsthand what both parties feel like. When I first came out, it was impossible to keep a guy around. No one wanted to be with someone who was so new at being gay. To a point, I later understood that feeling. It’s especially hard when someone isn’t entirely out, and I’m at a point in my life where I don’t know that I could ever maintain a relationship with someone who wasn’t out of the closet. I spent so much of my life hiding who I was that I’m not ready to ever go back to that. It’s such an awful way to live for me, and I know I’d be unhappy. That doesn’t mean I would require the same of any friend of mine, or that I wouldn’t explore my feelings for someone even if they were still keeping their sexuality a secret. But I have been fucked over and taken advantage of by men who remained in the closet, and it’s an issue of protecting my own heart. I mean, the last time I dated someone who wasn’t out was when I was 23. That specific guy was entirely in the closet, and I found out the hard way when his wife nearly caught us making out. YEAH, SO THAT WAS A FUN EXPERIENCE. He hadn’t told me he was married at all! Of course, that was a situation that was rather specific, but before that, nearly everyone I’d dated or was interested in was very much into keeping us a secret.
In the case of Willow and Tara, I think it’s a much more delicate situation. Willow really doesn’t seem to have an issue with being out at all, and that’s really awesome! I wonder if Tara had an experience with someone prior to Willow where she was betrayed or hurt by a woman who thought of her as nothing more than an experiment. Still, it was obvious immediately that Tara was way off the mark. God, I just wish they’d had this conversation in any other context, instead of when both of them were so upset. NO, STOP IT, PLEASE STOP FIGHTING.
It was after they parted ways to blow off steam that I thought I knew where this was heading. I knew Willow was upset that she even had a fight to begin with, but when she was in The Magic Box talking to Giles, I thought she was ready to go apologize to Tara. It was inevitable that the two would fight, and Tara seemed pretty sad at the cultural fair. It was clear they were both ready to make-up with one another.
And then a hand is clutching Tara’s, and she looks up, offering a smile to Willow, and JESUS FUCK, OH MY GOD IT’S GLORY. WHAT? WHAT? OH MY GOD SHE THINKS TARA IS THE KEY. I just can’t. This season in particular has had so many tense, thrilling, and downright frightening moments concerning Glory. And I know that fear comes from the fact that she is the most legitimate and terrifying threat the group has ever faced. They’re just so powerless against her. I had hope, though, that there’d be something Willow could do to at least delay Glory sucking out Tara’s brain. I was already fucked up from the way Glory broke Tara’s hand, but it couldn’t get any worse. Willow was running towards her! She’d stop Glory, and then everything thing would–
And then I just crumpled in my seat. Willow was too late. I couldn’t believe. No, no, you can’t. Please, NO. THEY JUST HAD A FIGHT. Why? Why now? WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME, SHOW?
Three very significant things happen because of this. First, we see Buffy lower her guard once again around Spike. It wasn’t even that long ago that she told Spike that she wanted absolutely nothing to do with him, but now she’s entrusting Dawn to him. Is this the start of a gradual acceptance on her part? I know the Scoobies are going to have a hard time welcoming him back into the fold, but that’s to be expected. It’s clear that she really did appreciate the sacrifice he made in “Intervention.” Plus, there’s that moment where he tells Buffy he would get revenge on Glory as Willow is doing for her and Dawn, and it’s like… genuinely sweet? Spike, what are you doing to me what the fuck.
Second, Dawn spends more time with Spike, and it’s during this time that we find out that she personally blames herself for what has happened to everyone. Fuck, it’s just so heartbreaking. Because she a Key to something, there’s all this chaos and terror around her. Of course it’s not her fault! It’s Glory’s. But how can she see it any other way? Ugh, I hope this doesn’t lead to her doing something foolish.
The third and most important development from this is Willow. Holy fuck, Willow. The last act of this episode is just… my god, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. This season really has been leading to this point, and Willow’s casual interest in stronger and darker magic comes to the forefront when she seeks out some FUCKED UP MAGIC to get revenge on Glory. Seriously, did Buffy actually believe Tara wouldn’t go after Glory? Well, that’s sort of irrelevant now, because Tara arrives at Glory’s place, her eyes jet black from whatever hellish power she is wielding, and she fucking levitates into the room, and BLASTS GLORY WITH BOLTS OF SOMETHING THAT I DO NOT UNDERSTAND AND WOULD LIKE TO NEVER EXPERIENCE. Oh my god, OH MY GOD! Do you realize what a huge moment this is? No one has ever been able to harm Glory, and Willow just did. USING DARK MAGIC!!!! Oh my god, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???
Buffy and Willow do manage to escape, and the sheer futility of the situation hits them the next day. That final scene is so sad and scary. I feel like absolutely everything has changed. I’m happy that Willow is unconditionally going to love Tara, regardless of her condition, but I can’t help but feel so goddamn hopeless. And now Buffy knows that Willow possesses abilities as a witch that no one expected. What’s the next step? What on earth can they do? They resolve that, at the very least, they can take care of the people they love, protecting them from any more harm. My heart. It’s a beautiful message about acceptance and the importance of love. These two young women have faced such an–
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD WHAT. WHAT THE FUCK. HOW DID GLORY FIND THEM. OH MY GOD SHE JUST RIPPED THE WHOLE WALL OUT. NO. NO, TARA STOP IT! DON’T DO IT. DON’T. OH MY GOD, GLORY KNOWS. SHE FUCKING KNOWS DAWN IS THE KEY.
HELP ME. HELP ME.
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