In the twentieth episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow seeks out Warren to enact vengeance on him. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
So, it’s clear that I don’t like what’s happening with Willow’s storyline at all. It’s hard for me not to see the Angry Lesbian trope being used here, but at the same time, I also don’t want this to be the only thing I’m getting out of this. First of all, I don’t know that I’ve ever had to deal with a favorite character of mine being written as doing such terrible stuff, so this is like NEW TERRITORY for me. I’ve always talked about how much I not only enjoy Willow, but how easy it is for me to relate to her story. But by the end of “Villains,” I found the point of the story so effective that I didn’t know how to feel about Willow anymore. How do you enjoy a character who does something so absolutely horrific? Second, I don’t want to ignore that there is an in-universe history for what Willow does here. At times, I got a Vamp Willow vibe from Dark Willow. Other times, I was reminded of how Willow reacted to what Glory did to Tara. And I think that’s important to acknowledge. Willow has a history of using magic when she’s angry. Obviously, this season also set things up to happen this way.
Still, I guess that ultimately, I’m just a confused mess of emotions. I’m upset over the loss of Tara. No, I’m furious, and spending time away from this show after finishing “Seeing Red” has done nothing to make me feel better about it. I feel gross and betrayed. I’m also bewildered by Willow’s storyline. I’m incredibly happy with every second involving Clem and Dawn. I respect Buffy’s insistence that they shouldn’t murder a human, no matter how awful he is. I am conflicted over Xander and Anya’s state. And I’m REALLY ANGRY WITH SPIKE, who seems to have learned absolutely nothing from his attempted rape of Buffy. What is this show doing with him? Okay, first, HOW DID HE GET ALL THE WAY TO AFRICA SO QUICKLY? Second, what’s with this whole revenge plot of his? Like, you were the one who tried to rape Buffy, and now you want to get the chip out of your head and go back to her? Ugh, I DON’T LIKE THIS AT ALL.
So that is what I’m going through. I have about a quarter million feelings about “Villains,” and never have I felt so overwhelmed by so many contradictory things. Perhaps that’s the point of this episode and this final story arc. It’s supposed to be chaos. As these characters all struggle with what it means to be alive, they make terrible, life-altering decisions. I’m being very particular in saying “life-altering.” I genuinely don’t know how Willow is ever going to repair what she has done by the end of “Villains.” I admit that I am fascinated by the idea that this season’s Big Bad, Warren, is murdered by the very character who takes his place. What are villains? Why do they exist, and what qualifies a person to earn that title? (Let me just say that what Willow does to Warren pretty much earns that? I think that qualifies you.)
Most of this episode is a chronicle of Willow progressively becoming more and more horrifying. After Tara died, though, she is in grief. This moment lasts just a few minutes, and I do think that’s important to acknowledge. She grieves over Tara for maybe five minutes before she takes off to get revenge. I think that’s partially the reason why she reacted the way she did. She spent no time grieving over Tara, or at least not any significant time. Again, we see isolation take control of a character. Willow loses someone she loves very dearly, someone she just got back in her life, and she feels like none of her friends could provide her with what she needs. And that’s not to say that Xander, Anya, Buffy, or Dawn are bad friends. That’s not the case! But Willow needs Tara back, and no one can give that to her. So she isolates herself from her friends and seeks out the only thing she thinks will satiate her: Warren’s murder.
So Willow’s friends all try to stop her. Bless them, because they fail and not for lack of trying. They accompany her to the middle of the desert and do their best to convince her that what she’s doing is wrong and won’t make her feel better. Anya tries to stop her from stealing from The Magic Box, but even she can’t do anything. I think that’s what makes Dark Willow so frightening and upsetting. At this point, she doesn’t seem to have a weakness. She gets whatever she wants when she wants it. It’s so unlike the Willow we’ve known over the years, aside from her addiction to magic this season, and it’s painful to watch. Again, this is my favorite character we’re talking about. It hurts watching this! It’s a constant disappointment. And it’s not that I want to ignore what Willow is going through. Honestly, while I’ve lost quite a few people close to me, I definitely don’t know what it’s like to lose someone I love right in front of me. I don’t know what that does to a person, so I don’t want to deny that Willow has got it rough here. But Buffy does know what it feels like to have killed a human. She thought she’d killed Katrina in “Dead Things.” She knows how much that fundamentally changes a person, and that’s another reason why she wants to stop Willow.
But there was a singular moment when I realized that Willow wasn’t going to come to this conclusion: when she killed the Warrenbot. There was no reflection. She didn’t react in horror at what she’d done. She wasn’t phased for even a second before realizing that this wasn’t a human. She just turns to Buffy and Xander, mechanically tells them of Tara’s death, ignores their pleas to stop, and then blasts them to the ground. She wasn’t going to stop until Warren was dead or someone else found a way to take her down. DAMN IT.
I do think that “Villains” deserves praise for all of Dawn’s story. I can’t ignore the visual and story parallels to “The Body” that I saw here. Dawn finds a motionless body in the Summers house; Tara’s been dead for a while when Dawn finds her; Dawn remains with the body; Tara is taken from the house in a black body bag. Dawn, however, is quick to anger. It became clear to me that Buffy would be the only one to truly feel like Warren shouldn’t be killed by Willow. Xander doesn’t make this any easier when he points out that Buffy has killed plenty of vampires who aren’t as bad as Warren. OH, MORAL AMBIGUITY, YOU ARE LIKE MY BEST FRIEND. I like that the writers don’t force Xander and Dawn to give up their opinions to help Buffy, either. They still maintain that Warren should die, but concede that Willow shouldn’t also destroy herself in the process.
UNFORTUNATELY, WILLOW IS DOING A GOOD JOB AT THIS ALREADY. So while Dawn gets to hang out with Clem, who is ADORABLE and LOVELY and honestly I WOULD LIKE TO BE HIS FRIEND, Buffy, Xander, and Anya do what they can to find Willow and stop her before she gets to Warren. That means there is one HELLA AWKWARD scene between Anya and Xander. Ugh, why did “Hell’s Bells” have to happen? I miss them being a couple. Oh god, I just realized that all the Scoobies are single now. ALL OF THEM. Oh fuck, WHY IS THIS SEASON ENDLESS TRAGEDY.
So, yeah. It’s time to talk about the final scene of “Villains.” It’s upsetting, yes, but it is thrilling as hell. It’s done so well in terms of plotting. Like, first of all, Warren plants an axe in Willow’s back right at the beginning, so when I thought that Warren had killed her and I was going to be extremely, extremely mad at this episode, she stands up. Yeah, Willow’s magic is so powerful that SHE CAN’T EVEN BE PHYSICALLY HURT. I admit that I was more conflicted than ever at this point. On the one hand, I thought Warren deserved to be hurt. I hated him so much, and I hated what he did to Katrina, the Scoobies in general, to Buffy, to Willow, and to Tara. But I had to examine why I thought his life should be taken, or he should at least experience a whole lot of pain. All of this is happening as I watch Warren do more and more to keep Willow at bay. I saw him taunt Willow, and then insult the image of Katrina. He’s so gross and I hate him and I don’t know what to do with my hatred of Warren and my love of Willow and my fear of Willow and WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO FEEL HERE? Well, there’s nothing I’m supposed to feel, and that’s the difficulty here. It’s confusing. It’s conflicting. It’s complicated.
All of this became so much clearer, though, when that thing happens. Willow says, “Bored now,” and then flays Warren alive. SHE FLAYS WARREN ALIVE. SHE FUCKING FLAYS OFF ALL HIS SKIN IN ONE MOTION AND I DON’T THINK I SIGNED UP FOR THIS. Warren is dead, and she burns up his body. And in that moment, I get it. If this is all about life and the struggle to understand it (and the loss of it), then this is the exact moment that Willow demonstrates that she has no understanding that she just took a life. She is bored with Warren. She killed someone, and now she’s off to kill two more people. Is there an end to this? Does she even care?
Seriously, that scene might be the most disturbing visual thing on this show. FUCK, WHAT THE HELL??? Oh god, my favorite character is doing horrible things, I can’t deal with this. It’s awful. Everything is just so awful.
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