Homepage > Joss Whedon’s Tv Series > Buffy The Vampire Slayer > Reviews > The Strange And Incredible Saga Of Willow and Tara On "Buffy the Vampire (...)
Buffy The Vampire SlayerThe Strange And Incredible Saga Of Willow and Tara On "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - Part 2
Erick R. Voshel
Wednesday 23 August 2006, by Webmaster
An Editorial by Erick R. Voshel - Part 2/4
Meanwhile, there were rumors spreading all across the web that Tara would die before the end of the sixth season. Worried fans went to the chat rooms and posting boards to voice their concerns about whether the rumors were true regarding Tara‘s fate. As a result the Buffy writing staff went online and would practically reassure the fans multiple times that Amber Benson was not leaving Buffy. My first example is a statement made by Buffy writer, Drew Greenberg on the Bronze Beta posting Board on April 1, 2002. This is what Greenberg had to say about Amber Benson’s future on the show. “Amber (Benson) and Emma (Caulfield) are both sticking around, neither one is going anywhere, so don’t worry.” my second example is a statement made by veteran Buffy writer, Steven De knight on the Bronze Beta back in January of that same year when he addressed the rumors about whether Tara was going to be killed off or not. This is what he had to say, “As for Tara getting killed---OVER MY DEAD BODY !” And we even have read about how Amber Benson herself was repeatedly saying in public statements that she was never intending to leave the show. The sixth season of Buffy, meanwhile, took a dark (and in my opinion, an unhealthy direction) as the storyline centered on Willow’s growing dependency on her use of magic. Willow was using her powers to do things she could simply do on her own or force her will onto other people. For example, she would cast a “forgetting” spell on Tara to make her forget about an argument they had. Using magic made Willow feel important, powerful, and accepted. The magic made Willow a vital part of Buffy’s fight against evil. The temptations to use her power would prove to be intoxicating and it exposes a dark side to Willow’s personality. Willow’s reliance on magic becomes such a problem that Tara ends up leaving Willow to fend for herself after discovering that her mind has been manipulated by Willow‘s “Forgetting“ spell. It is from here on out that we see Willow’s magic use begin to spiral out of control. Willow finally realizes that she has a problem after nearly killing Buffy’s sister Dawn in a car crash. Meanwhile, Willow and Tara are separated for almost half of the season, while trying to regain their emotional sense of balance. Willow then goes through the long, difficult process of trying to make a full recovery. Willow eventually recovers and she and Tara reconcile in the episode “Entropy.” On May 7, 2002 in the very next episode which is titled “Seeing Red” Willow and Tara are seen naked in bed together for the very first time. We actually see them behaving just like any other couple on the show would. It is important to point out that the scene itself actually shows no real nudity. Their bodies are covered in red blankets from the chest up, plus the fact that a sex scene was implied, but was not actually shown . There was even a scene that the network censors had cut from the episode in which Willow ducked her head under the bed sheets making Tara moan. It is also important to note that Amber Benson was finally made a series regular in this episode, after spending two and a half years on Buffy as only a guest star. Given the present fact that Benson’s name had never appeared in the opening credits before, it seemed, at first glance to Willow/ Tara fans, as if Mutant Enemy was finally willing to expand Tara‘s role on the show. It would later prove to be a move on the part of Mutant Enemy however, that would make a lot of fans very unhappy. I’ll tell you why. At the end of “Seeing Red” Willow and Tara are seen in their upstairs bedroom getting dressed. A few minutes later, Tara shockingly ends up dead, the victim of a stray bullet that was meant for Buffy. Tara is shot right through the heart in front of Willow. Tara’s blood ends up being splattered on Willow’s shirt. Tara falls to the floor dead. Willow tries to bring Tara back to life by using a resurrection spell, but discovers that it can’t be done because the death was the result of natural order, not mystical forces. Utterly devastated by the loss of her one true love, Willow then becomes consumed by Black Magic, becomes psychopathically insane, tracks down Tara’s killer, and in a fit of rage slowly tortures him at her leisure, before literally skinning him alive and incinerating his body. Willow tries to end her internal pain by attempting to destroy the world, while also trying to kill Buffy. In the end of the season finale Willow is talked out of destroying the earth by her best friend Xander Harris after telling Willow that he loves her. Overcome, with emotion she collapses in Xander’s arms sobbing uncontrollably .
Tara’s death would immediately set off a firestorm of controversy in the Buffy fan community that is still being discussed to this very day. Many outraged fans went on-line and angrily demanded to know one thing: Why did Tara have to die? Mutant Enemy has officially said as a matter of public record that killing off Tara had been the central priority of season six all along in order to push Willow over the edge and into the grips of dark magic. Therefore, Tara was required to die, they argued. It was the only way to achieve the ultimate goal of turning Willow into an evil superwitch, that the narrative had locked them into killing Tara off. But why did Mutant Enemy feel it necessary to feed their fans false information? Take into account what Steven DeKnight, had said in an interview he had conducted with The Succubus Club in which he was justifying his decision to knowingly feed the fans false information about Tara. “Well you know, part of the thing here at Mutant Enemy, since I do talk to the fans, is I kind of feel a semi—responsibility to throw up a little smoke now and then.” What Mr. DeKnight seems to be indicating here is that he had to lie, so that plot details could be kept under wraps. But as Robert Black, a professional writer, and a friend of mine, who would later go on to write very extensively on the controversy surrounding Tara’s death as well as examine the behavior on the part of Mutant Enemy while it was interacting with it’s fans through the internet, in person, and in the postal service wrote, “Concealing the truth is not the same as actively lying. No one forces the Mutant Enemy writers to go on—line , and no one forces them to answer any specific question. To spread lies instead of simply remaining silent is irresponsible and disrespectful.” It is interesting to point out that Steven DeKnight was the one who wrote “Seeing Red” in the first place. Even though it was DeKnight, himself who had stated very clearly on the Bronze Beta posting board back in January of that same year that Tara would be killed, “ Over his dead body!” Buffy writer Drew Greenberg also went on the Bronze beta and had been telling the fans not to worry, that Amber Benson was “Sticking around.” That she wasn’t going anywhere. Ironically, this comment was made a full month before “Seeing Red” was aired. This not only proves to me that Mutant Enemy was lying to it’s fans, but that there was a campaign to deliberately mislead people about Amber Benson’s future on the show. Not only that, but we actually hear from somebody who has served on the Mutant Enemy writing staff (Steven DeKnight) admit in his own words that he felt he had an obligation to deceive the fans. DeKnight would also reason that he had been lying to keep plot details under wraps and that the fans shouldn’t have taken him seriously. But the bottom line is that a lie is still a lie. No mater how you justify it. In the words of Robert Black again: “No one forces the Mutant Enemy writers to go on-line and answer any specific question. T o spread lies instead of simply remaining silent is irresponsible and disrespectful.” It is also worthy to note that DeKnight has gone on public record saying that including Amber Benson’s name on the opening credits in “Seeing Red” was meant as a goodbye present for all her hard work on the show as well as the fact that it was meant to be “mischievously” deceiving to the fans. The Lesbian Cliché FAQ would also raise two important questions about the “Credits Issue”: “Seeing how fans would already be shocked and hurt by the ending of “Seeing Red” why did Mutant Enemy have to put Amber Benson’s name in the credits? And why didn’t they make her a regular at the beginning of Season Five?”
Many fans would also go on-line and practically accuse the staff at Mutant Enemy of being homophobic. It is certainly true that none of the people on the staff at Mutant Enemy are nothing of the kind. However, I can prove that on more than one occasion the Mutant Enemy staff, including Joss Whedon himself would seem to actually encourage this very perception by the statements they would later make while defending their right to tell the story how they wanted to. Take into account the sarcastic remarks Steven DeKnight had made during an interview with the Succubus Club on May 8, the day after “Seeing Red” was aired. Let me share some examples with you. Example #1 (In response to when the interviewer commented on a technical problem that had been plaguing the Buffy set.) “I suspect it was the lesbians. I’m pretty sure.” Example #2 (In response to being asked to talk to the upset Willow/Tara fans.) “Come on, come on! Tara had to go. She had to go!” Example #3 (In response to the interviewer’s question about the Willow and Tara questions that had been sent in.) Q: (Interviewer) “They all just want know why.” A: (Steven DeKnight) “Well, you know there was the whole lesbians-against-God thing.” DeKnight would also go on to say in the same interview that, “Joss explained Tara’s death exactly the way it was filmed, Willow splattered with blood.” Hosts: “Lesbian cliché thing, I don’t get it. We didn’t even think of them as lesbians. “I think it’s actually the opposite, we treated them as just two characters on the show. If we had focused on the fact that it was a lesbian character we would be like no we can’t kill her. We always treated them just like two characters that just happened to be women.” Next consider a comment that DeKnight had posted on the Bronze Beta later that same month when the sarcastic remarks he had made during his May 8th interview with The Succubus Club actually made viewers who had hated both Tara and Amber Benson stand up and cheer: “As for those who are happy that ‘the lesbian got what she deserved’---these are the people I hold contempt, loathing, and disgust for. That’s just plain ignorance and hate, and I openly call for them to stop watching the show and any show I work for.” Now if Steven DeKnight hadn’t made those sarcastic comments about lesbians during his Succubus Club interview in the first place, he wouldn’t have had to make the above statement. DeKnight can blame no one, but himself for what he had said when viewers that he openly claims to hold contempt for agree with his sarcasm. (Sarcasm that is harmful in my opinion.) Next take into account the sarcastic remark that Joss Whedon, himself, had posted on the Bronze Beta on May 22, 2002. “The gay thing is so passé. We’re over that.” But, honestly, that’s just the way Clem acts. We’re having a talk.” And when he was addressing the clichéd manner in which Tara died, Joss gave this comment, “I actually wasn’t aware of the dead/evil lesbian cliché. I think I don’t get out much.” Whedon would also go on to post another statement on the Bronze Beta on the same day that in my opinion further demonstrates his unprofessional behavior and total disregard for his fans. The statement goes like this: “I killed Tara. I couldn’t even discuss it in story meetings without getting upset, physically. Some of you may have been hurt by that, “ Whedon said. It’s very unlikely that it was more painful to you than it was to me. Which is why I knew it was the right thing to do. Because stories, as I have often said, are not about what we want. And I knew some people would be angry with me for destroying the only gay couple on the show, but the idea that I couldn’t kill Tara because she was gay is as offensive to me as the idea that I did kill her because she was gay. Whedon also went on to say in the same statement that: “Willow’s story was not about being gay. It was about addiction and loss. The way life hits you in the gut right when you think you’re back on your feet. I love Amber and she knows it. Eventually, this story will end for all of them. Hers ended sooner. Or did it? Yeah it did.” There are other examples of Joss Whedon’s callous disregard for his fans. Take into account what Whedon had said to E! On-line about fan-criticism and what he thought the viewers needed to see on the screen. “Fan criticism always affects me, Whedon said. At the same time, I need to give them what they need, not what they want. They need to have their hearts broken. They need to see change. They hated Oz and they hated he left. These things are inevitable. If people are freaking out, I’m good. If people are going, ”Hmmm...well, that was fine, ” I’m fucked.” So in essence, what Joss is effectively saying here is that he feels he needs to punish his audience, rather than reward it for all it’s loyalty and to also demonstrate his superiority over the audience. I feel it is important to note that this statement was made on May 3, 2002 just days before “Seeing Red” was aired. This statement could also be seen as yet another attempt by Joss to provide himself cover for the backlash he knows is to come once the Willow/Tara relationship will end.
Tara’s death would also force some people to reexamine the high body count on the show, as well as one of Buffy’s basic premises: Here’s how Steven DeKnight would describe that premise in this excerpt from his May 8 interview with the Succubus Club. “Anybody can die. Anybody can get it. Anybody can be destroyed or broken down, and it’s whatever serves the story.” What Mr. DeKnight appears to be saying here is that Xander, Anya, Dawn, Buffy, Giles, or Willow could have easily ended up dead anytime on Buffy, but as my good friend Robert Black would point out in his essay titled “The Message is— “Pay Attention to the message” that, “The problem with this claim is that it’s simply not true. Perhaps anybody can die, but it’s not just anybody who does die. Among the recurring “good guy” characters over the first six seasons of Buffy, all the main characters that have died were women, except for Larry, who was gay and Forrest who was black. And speaking of black characters, all but one of them—whether they were good or evil—have been killed off. “On the other hand, Black said, if you are a straight white male with reasonably good intentions or at least if people think you’re funny or you’re sexy—you pretty much don’t have to worry about being killed on Buffy.” Black would go on to say in his essay that this treatment of the characters on Buffy would make a columnist from The Boston Herald write: “We all knew that Buffy lived on a hell mouth. Who knew that she lived in Klan country?” To further enhance Mr. Black’s point , let’s examine what Columnist Mark Perigard actually had to say in the Boston Herald article itself dated May 10, 2002. “Strip UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” of good writing, clever dialogue, frightening menaces and believable characters and you are stuck with this season. This week’s episode was especially depressing, capped by the murder of Tara (Amber Benson) in the closing moment, another twist in a cold season. Over on FX, where the good seasons of “Buffy” are repeated, the show’s writers brag during commercial breaks about how no character is safe on the show. But examine that body count for a moment. The most significant character deaths---Jenny Calendar, Joyce Summers , and now Tara—are all women. The show’s two gay characters, Tara and high—school jock Larry, both slain (Alyson Hannigan’s Willow does not count. Creator Joss Whedon told the Herald last year that she is at best bisexual) The show’s black characters? Kendra, Mr. Trick, and oh yeah, that guidance counselor who hung around for half an episode—all dead. We knew that Buffy lived on a hell mouth. Who knew that she lived in Klan country?” It is interesting to note that in the fifth and final season of the “Buffy” spin-off Angel two of the main female characters on that show, Fred and Cordelia both end up dead. Also in the very final episode the main male black character, Angel’s sidekick and best friend Charles Gunn, is grievously wounded in the final battle. So is Principal Robin Wood in Buffy’s final episode. “When we dip into Spike’s past, “Black writes, and see him kill two Slayers, one is Asian and the other is black. The only Scooby love interests to be killed off are Jenny (female) and Tara ( female and gay). The only recurring student characters killed in The Graduation Day battle with the Mayor are Harmony (female) and Larry (gay). The only recurring foot soldier of the Initiative to be killed is Forrest (black). Individually, all these decisions might appear to make sense . Cumulatively, they send a different message entirely, and one that Mutant Enemy might not have wanted to send if they’d been paying better attention. So here we have at least a handful of examples that refute Mr. DeKnight’s claim. The bottom line is: Not just any character would die on Buffy.” (By the way Larry, the gay jock was eaten by a giant snake in the third season finale.) Are Mr. Black and I about to suggest that Mutant Enemy was racist or sexist? Not at all. What we are simply saying here is that Mutant Enemy was being careless, that no one was considering the consequences of what they were doing before they would do it.
Why was Tara killed off in the in the first place? Was it because she was gay? All the interviews Mutant Enemy had given on the subject would seem to indicate that the answer was no, Tara wasn’t killed off because she was gay, but that she was a “plot device” to make Willow go over the deep end and embrace Dark Magic. (Ironically Joss would later go on to explain that Tara’s death had nothing to do with the fact that she was a lesbian, but that it was a plot device used to further Willow’s personality. In other words, Tara was doomed simply for being Willow’s lover. In fact, it became a well-known cliché on the series that any couple tended to have their relationships violently interrupted when they are at their closest.—(Information taken from the Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Mutant Enemy has also stated publicly that the Tara character was treated as a “real person“. But the Lesbian Cliché FAQ posted on the Kitten , The witches, and the bad wardrobe would point out a flaw in Mutant Enemy‘s argument. “First of all how can Tara be both a mere “plot device”---a tool to get at Willow---and also be a “real person”? That’s a contradiction, it would argue. They can’t have it both ways. Is Anya only a “plot device” to get to Xander? No. She has her own storyline and Emma Caulfield is a full regular in the credits. Is Spike a “plot device” to get to Buffy? No. Storyline. Credits.” The FAQ would also point out that “Amber Benson was the only significant other of a Scooby Gang member not to be included in the opening credits. Tara was sent away for most of Season six and not given an individual storyline, only to be brought back as a “plot device” to make Willow go crazy. From this, one can conclude that ME didn’t view Tara as “a real person” at all. She was a disposable object and she was treated as such.” In other words both the actress and the character were viewed by Mutant Enemy only as a means to an end. There is an interesting footnote about the “Credits issue” that the FAQ brings up. A tantalizing piece of information caught my eye recently regarding the reason why Amber was not included in the opening credits. According to a fan report posted on The kitten, the witch, and the bad wardrobe, in May of 2004, Benson would reveal at a convention in Germany that she was never asked to appear in the credits. She would have gladly went along with it if anyone had asked her to be a series regular, but no one ever came to her about it. Amber also went on to say in the same statement that she never pushed to be in the credits either. Benson said that as a result, she enjoyed the freedom of being able to do other things, such as writing and directing while working for the show. So here we read from a fan’s point of view of how Amber has admitted publicly that she was never approached to be a regular on the series in the first place. Plus we discover that Benson would have been happy to appear in the credits, despite the fact that she wasn’t putting any pressure on the people at Mutant Enemy to do it. It is also important to note that it is a well documented fact that Benson wanted to appear in the credits at the end of Season 4, but it would end up never happening that way. Fair treatment? That’s a very arguable point. Consider next what The Lesbian Cliché FAQ had to say regarding how both the Tara character and Amber Benson was treated on Buffy : “The fact that, because Amber Benson was the only Scooby significant other not to be given regular status in the credits, the cards were unfairly stacked against her from the beginning , it argues. It appears that Tara never stood a chance, despite ME’s protest to the contrary. Her second—class contract status seems to indicate that she was always a marked woman. After all, why pay an actor for a full 22 episodes when you’re going to kill them off?” The FAQ goes on to clarify that this wasn’t because Tara was gay, but that appearances mean everything. The fact is that Amber was paid less money than the other actors ( I have read that Benson was paid in the amount of $8,000 per episode and for her final appearance in “Seeing red“ Benson received a pay raise of $15,000 dollars. Benson did appear in the next episode “Villains“ but only as Tara‘s corpse), she didn’t even appear in every episode, and Benson’s name had never appeared in the credits until the very episode in which Tara was murdered . The fact is, the FAQ says, that Benson was treated differently than all the other actors on the show, therefore nearly guaranteeing that her future on Buffy was already in doubt. ( I would like to point out that I remember reading reports and rumors on the internet that Benson would be leaving the show after appearing in only sixteen episodes of season five.)
Now let’s examine how the character of Tara was treated on Buffy. The character, herself was painfully shy, stuttered a lot when she was around people and she was also very sweet, kind, and loving. We discover that Tara’s mother was also a witch, who possessed great power. We also find out that Tara’s mother died when she was 17. We find out that Tara has been practicing witchcraft ever since she was a little girl. We also discover that Tara had run away from home probably when she was 18 to escape her abusive family, (Her family turns out to be a group of arrogant, bigoted hillbillies who trick Tara into believing that she’s part— demon when in fact it is proven that Tara actually isn’t part—demon at all.) It was just something her family cooked up to keep Tara obedient. Tara’s family would disapprove of her magic use as well. Tara’s initial romance with Willow is almost kyboshed with the unexpected return of Willow’s ex-Boyfriend Oz (played by Seth Green). it turns out that Tara loves Willow so much, that she is willing to step aside and let Oz take Willow back even if it means that Tara would just be Willow’s friend. In other words , Tara was willing to have her heart broken just so Willow could be happy. To me this is an ultimate sign of true love. In the fifth season episode “Tough love” Willow and Tara have their first real argument as a couple . Immediately afterward Tara gets her sanity sucked out of her head by a hell-goddess named Glory. The Hell—Goddess also breaks the bones in Tara’s right hand. Willow retaliates by going after Glory with a vengeance for what happened to Tara. Does this plot sound familiar ? If you examine the Dark Magic Willow story line, real closely it is only a mere recycled copy of what had happened in “Tough Love” only it’s done with much more extreme violence and Tara winds up dying a gruesome, senseless, death. She is the victim of a stray bullet right through the heart. Willow retaliates by tracking down Tara’s killer, and skinning the man alive after slowly and methodically torturing him.
Now let’s compare the treatment of another long-running couple on Buffy, Xander and Anya for a moment and see how they measure up to the way Willow and Tara were treated in terms of being miserable. They meet in high school; They enjoy a very non---Metaphorical sex life; Xander asks Anya to marry him, they both do research for the Scooby Gang together; They save the world; Xander chickens out on his Weeding day and walks out on Anya at the alter. On the other hand, Willow and Tara’s sex life was always hidden in magical metaphors . Like for example, when they would hang out with each other doing “spells” that could have been just another way of saying that Willow and Tara were having sex. There was the angst filled love triangle with Oz; the issue of Tara possibly being part-demon; Tara getting her sanity literally sucked out of her mind by a crazy hell-goddess after having an argument with Willow; Willow battles an addiction to black magic; Tara leaves Willow and they are separated for most of the season; Tara reconciles with Willow and they have a bout of reunion sex almost for the entire episode; The final, closing scene features Willow and Tara getting dressed in their upstairs bedroom after an implied love scene. Minutes later a stray bullet crashes through the window and Tara gets her heart splattered all over Willow’s shirt. The result of a failed assai nation attempt by Warren who was intent on taking Buffy‘s life; Willow goes crazy with grief, embraces Black Magic and goes on a vengeance — driven rampage that includes the sadistic torture and murder of another human being; she becomes an enemy of Buffy; Willow attempts to destroy the world, but is talked out of it by her best friend Xander when he tells her that he loves her; Willow collapses into Xander’s arms weeping.
The Mutant Enemy staff has clearly stated several times that Willow and Tara were just receiving “equal treatment” in terms of misery just like any couple would on the show, so all was fair, right? The evidence would seem to indicate otherwise however. Veteran Buffy writer Marti Noxon would make the following statement in the August, 2002 issue of the Gay publication “The Advocate” when defending the way in which Willow and Tara were being treated as a couple. (even though the issue was dated August 20th it came out in July.) This is what Noxon had to say on the matter. “We never thought about the fact that these two characters were gay when we were deciding what their fate was going to be, “ Noxon said. They’ve been happy and were together for longer than almost any couple on our show. In some ways I think it is kind of insulting for the gay community to suggest that we can’t do to the gay characters on the show what we would do to anybody else. The negative reaction has been hard, it’s the first time we’ve gotten public outcry where I really can’t read some of the letters, they hurt so much. It’s very indicative of how underrepresented gay people feel in the culture. Because the kinds of letters we’ve gotten have been so emotional and so personal and so deeply felt, you realize that every single instance of a positive portrayal of gay love on television means so much to people.” So let me get this straight, Noxon was lamenting over the fact that the negative reaction was so overwhelming and emotional that she couldn’t read most of the letters that Mutant Enemy was receiving. Noxon also admits that this reaction had indicated to her just how underrepresented gay people feel in society, but on the other hand, Noxon also says in the very same interview that she finds it “insulting” for the gay community to be so upset about Tara’s death and the insensitive manner in which it was handled in the first place? It is important to note that both Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon told “The Advocate” about having “liberal” upbringings. Joss openly spoke with “The Advocate” about his gay godfather, he even talks about how Willow and Tara were based on friends of his, and Marti Noxon also speaks about the fact that she was raised by lesbian parents. Noxon would also go to state that, “My lesbian mothers were bummed out that this relationship was over but have been calling frequently to find out if Tara’s coming back, magically.”
Now consider what Buffy writer Steven DeKnight had to say in this excerpt from his May 8th interview with The Succubus Club when the interviewer told him about a despondent gay teen, who was in desperate pain say how Willow and Tara provided a bright spot in her world and that they gave her hope. The Interviewer asked DeKnight how she would feel after witnessing the end of “Seeing Red.” This was his response, “You can’t really think about storylines in that way when you’re trying to tell a big, grand, seasonal story, “DeKnight said. Anybody can die. Anybody can get it, Anybody can be destroyed or broken down, and it’s whatever serves the story.” So here we have two other examples of Mutant Enemy’s self interest coming first. Mutant Enemy was willing to promote the Willow/Tara storyline as long as it served their own agenda. But when the storyline didn’t serve that agenda any longer, Mutant Enemy essentially took any responsibility it had in preserving the storyline and basically threw it’s inititial obligation to it’s viewers out the window. Therefore, effectively elevating itself above any harmful effects the storyline would have had on people. In the words of Robert Black; “So once again we see that Mutant Enemy gladly takes the credit for the good their story does in the world, but refuses to take the blame for the harm their story does in the world, choosing to duck behind the smoke screen they call “Serving the story.” In other words Mutant Enemy was willing to go only so far just as long as their own self interests in the story served their own ends. Robert Black examines the balancing act between creative freedom and the social responsibility that comes attached to it. “In the case of a TV show, Black argues, the writers and producers hold power over their audience, because they control the story that the audience sees and hears. The amount of freedom they have to exert that control, therefore, is tempered by the responsibility they have toward the audience over whom they have power.” Black points out that “the balancing act between freedom and responsibility manifests itself in three ways. First writers and producers are responsible for the messages they craft in the story itself. Second, writers and producers are responsible for the consequences that result once the story is told. Lastly, writers and producers are responsible for the way they conduct themselves when interacting with the audience.” black also goes on to say that, “Mutant Enemy was willing to accept the responsibility of handling the storyline for as long as it suited them, but has tried to deny that responsibility now that the storyline doesn’t suit them anymore.”
What were the consequences for Mutant Enemy’s behavior regarding this incident? Following Amber Benson’s departure from the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer had suffered a plummet of 15% percent in the ratings. (A fact that had actually surprised Amber Benson while she was conducting an interview with Curve Magazine in the November issue of 2003.) In the meantime, let us take a look at just how bad those ratings actually were. According to the May 9, 2002 issue of Variety, “The WB’s Gilmore Girls surged to series highs in adults 18—34 ( 3.1/10) and persons 12—34 (3.5/11) , even topping UPN’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer in young male demos. UPN showed big year-to year gains vs. it’s weak Tuesday scores last season, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer fell to first—run season lows (4.07 million, 2.2/6 in 18—49. Next take into account what appeared in the May 23, 2002 issue of The Salt Lake Tribune: “In what must be a most satisfying result for executives for the WB, it’s season finales of Gilmore Girls and Smallville outpointed back— to—back episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by a ratings average of 29 percent. In the June 5, 2002 issue of Media Weekly: “In the 8 p.m. hour, a repeat of the WB’s should—be—Emmy nominated Gilmore Girls scored a respectable (and fifth place) 3.4/5--- 62 percent above a repeat of UPN’s Buffy (#6, 2.1/3). Stop smiling WB!” Also take into consideration the following item that appeared in the June 11, 2002 issue of Cinescape: “Buffy and Angel fell so far flat that even with shows like Roswell, Wolf Lake and Alias gone (Alias only temporarily) they could not break the genre top ten. Angel only took in 1.7 million viewers with it’s first rerun.” The main reason the ratings took a nosedive was because the fans simply stopped watching. A former Buffy fan would point out on his website , “The Other Side: why I won’t be Watching Season Seven“, that “Seeing Red” was the lowest rated episode of Season Six at a meager 2.7. The result: Buffy had lost over a total of 1 million viewers. This fan also notes that the Seventh and final season of Buffy never got above a 3.1 all year. It was mostly in the lower 2.0s. The fan also goes on to talk about how Buffy finished it’s run with it’s lowest ratings ever. It’s last episode pulled in an anemic 2.9 rating and it finished the season with a 2.7 average. On the average Buffy had lost a grand total of 1 million viewers between both Seasons 6 and 7. Viewers were abandoning the show in the thousands. And as it turned out Buffy only had 5 million viewers to begin with. Robert Black would also note in his essay, “Secrets and Lies Beyond The Fourth Wall” that a special Wednesday airing of a Buffy episode on July 24, 2002 had a Neilson household rating of 0.9, which roughly translates into a total of 950,000 viewers. Which is not bad for a ranking of 125 out of 137 prime-time shows on the seven broadcast networks, Black said. Three of PAX TV’s Touched By An Angel reruns still did much better. Black goes on to say that the regular Tuesday airing on July 23, 2002 performed slightly better, with a 1.3 Neilson Rating. That was good enough for a ranking of 110th place, Black argues. But still there were three of PAX TV’s reruns of Diagnoses Murder which still did way better. Mr. Black also says that that last week’s episode of Angel was ranked in123. It had a Neilson Rating of 1.0. That’s pretty much down in the doldrums if you ask me. To further enhance our point about Buffy’s diminishing ratings, let’s take a look at what veteran Buffy writer and producer Jane Espenson had to say on the subject in her interview with the Succubus Club on May 22, 2002: C: Let’s talk about W/T. The whole Tara death and Willow what happened to her. Obviously people are upset. How do you feel about the backlash? J: I wasn’t aware of it, but we talked about it. What happens (in the cliché ) is one is introduced to be killed. She had been on the show, she was not brought in to be cannon fodder. She was not gay bashed, she was shot accidentally We did talk about, we’re doing that thing, we’re killing the lesbian. But it didn’t feel that way to us, because she wasn’t that lesbian character. C: But Willow went evil. J: She went evil out of deep loving grief. C: People want to know, the backlash, that they are going to be tuning out. J: People always say they are not going to watch anymore and our numbers stay the same. C: But the numbers are down this year. J: Yeah, but our boy numbers are up. We really like this season, we feel we did a really good job. I am distressed to hear people are going to be tuning out. Tara was not our only gay character. Willow is still around and is a good role model. There is no reason to say we won’t be seeing a little or more of...um...Tara or something resembling Tara.”
Are Robert Black and I suggesting that Tara’s death was the only reason for the ratings decline? Not at all. What we’re simply saying here is that Amber Benson’s departure was the most visible symptom of a much larger problem. Other symptoms existed as well. Many fans (Including me) were openly disturbed by the oppressively dark direction the series was taking, others were upset over a number of different things as well, from the sick, twisted relationship between Spike and Buffy, the attempt made by Spike to rape Buffy to the last scene of the season in which Spike gains the reward of his soul. Fans were also troubled by the fact that a series which had stood for the past five years as a champion for female empowerment became more like a symbol for female degradation instead.” And then there was also the issue regarding the kind of message that Joss Whedon had been trying to send his viewers or not trying to send his viewers with the Season Six storyline in general. This is what Whedon told Wanda about “Seeing Red” in her July 26, 2002 column on E! 0nline: “It was an episode that was so clearly about male violence and male dominance.” However my good friend Robert Black would point out a flaw in Joss’s argument. “But if this was supposed to be the point of the story, it’s a very muddled point, “Black wrote . In the episodes that followed, Warren paid for his acts of violence and dominance with his life—but the act of making him pay that price destroyed Willow as well, turning her into the very “Evil Witch” stereotype that she herself rallied against earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Spike tried to rape Buffy and yet Buffy still trusted him enough to seek him out in the very next episode and ask if he would protect Dawn, and Spike ended the season by gaining the reward of his soul. Black then raises an important question: “So exactly what is it that Joss is trying to say about male violence and male dominance? It doesn’t look like he’s entirely against them now does it?” Next consider what Joss Whedon went on to say in the very same interview with Wanda in her July 26 column on E! Online: “I don’t court controversy, “he said. I don’t really care about issues. I didn’t care about the one that I introduced with Tara, and I didn’t care about the one when I killed her, “ Whedon said. I cared about narrative and what I needed to do with Willow.” So once again we see here how Joss Whedon conveniently ducks behind the classic “narrative” excuse now that the storyline doesn’t suit his agenda anymore while indicating at the same time about how the issues that he introduced with the Willow/Tara relationship suddenly do not matter to him anymore either. Robert Black then points out here how Whedon also appears to be upset with those members of the audience who didn’t get his muddled, morally ambiguous message, but Whedon does not care about the issue of giving the gay and lesbian community it’s only realistic depiction of a healthy and loving same—sex relationship on prime—time television? Mr. Black also raises two other important questions: “In this light, are we supposed to believe that Buffy is a show about female empowerment? Are we really supposed to believe that Willow and Tara were being treated just like everyone else? In my opinion this not only demonstrates to me that Joss Whedon was not only clueless about what his fans wanted, he simply just didn’t care about what they wanted either. Whedon was only willing to go so far as his own self—interest would take him. Whedon always seems to put what he does or doesn’t want to do at the very heart of the issue. it’s not about what the audience wants, not about what the network wants, or even about what the advertisers want. It always seems to be more in—line with what Joss Whedon wants instead. Whedon never thinks of the consequences of his actions before he actually does something. Whedon just does it and assumes people will go right along with it. The bottom line is that Mutant Enemy had formed a bond of trust with the gay community regarding the Willow/Tara relationship and Mutant Enemy then chose to betray that trust when it ultimately decided to do away with a storyline that it claimed to care so much about in such a violent and senseless manner. Writers need to be held accountable for the messages they intentionally or unintentionally send to their viewers. After all, what’s the purpose of becoming emotionally invested in both the characters and the story if things always turn out for the worst in the end? Robert Black illustrates how Tara’s death demonstrates the need for a writer to maintain a sense of responsibility toward the audience and society as a whole. Black points out that writers who succeed do so because they’re able to form relationships with their audience. Relationships can’t work if they’re one sided, Black argues. Neither the writer or the audience have total domination over the other. Relationships are based on trust and without it they fall apart. Black amplifies my point when he says that, “look at Mutant Enemy’s track record and you’ll see what happens when trust disappears. If no relationship ever turns out well, if no character is safe from emotional destruction, if no promising future ever comes to pass, and no assurances that the writers and produces can be believed, what reason do people have to invest their emotions in the show?” Black then raises some very important questions: “Today Willow/Tara fans are in mourning—whose turn will it be tomorrow? Yesterday Mutant Enemy was lying to the Willow/Tara fans—who are they lying to today? If Joss identifies someone as “ A big part of the heart of the show” ---as he labeled Amber Benson last year and has labeled Charisma Carpenter more recently---is that a good sign of things for that actor’s character, or a sign that you’ll be hearing how much it hurt to let that actor go?” Robert Black also goes on to point out that during the entire course of Babylon 5’s run it’s creator J. Michael Straczynski would spend far more time on-line interacting with his fans than all of Mutant Enemy combined. At the same time , he would visit the America Online forums occasionally and his producer John Copeland was a regular there. Neither one of them ever spread disinformation on the scale that Mutant Enemy did with Willow and Tara. When a question about spoilers came up, they either ignored it, or gave an extremely vague answer or said “I’m not going to answer— you’ll have to wait and see.” There were never any statements like “I have no plans to send Marcus Cole anywhere,” or “ I think Talia Winters is a big part of the heart of the show, “or “Kill off Warren KEFFER? OVER MY DEAD BODY!” (These are all characters who were killed off, in case you didn’t follow the series.) So, Black argues while it’s reasonable to expect producers to protect their secrets, that doesn’t mean they have to behave the way Mutant Enemy has behaved.” I also feel it important enough to note that even though she was aware throughout the course of Season Six that Tara would eventually end up dead, Amber Benson would never lie about it and she never let the spoiler slip. This despite the fact being that both the media and the fans would constantly ask her about her character’s future. She was polite, respectful, and appropriately vague. Lying isn’t a necessity, it’s a choice.
Also take into consideration what veteran Buffy writer David Fury had to say in this excerpt from his interview with the Succubus Club on May 15, 2002 when he was asked if there was any chance that Tara could be brought back from the dead. “Understand, we can’t cheapen death on the show, “Fury said. We have explored bringing people back already. So um, I don’t think there’s any. Joyce is really dead, Tara is really dead.” But once again, my good friend Robert Black would point out a flaw in Fury’s argument: “There have been deaths on Buffy that have had a profound impact, most notably the deaths of Jenny Calendar and Buffy’s mother Joyce. But at the same time, Angel was killed and brought back, while Buffy was killed twice and brought back. Black then goes on to say how if you consider both Buffy and Angel, we’ve now seen Darla die as a vampire, come back as a human, die as a human, come back as a vampire, and then die as a vampire again. Bear in mind that all of these events took place before “Seeing Red” was even aired. So Mr. Black raises an intriguing question: “Why is it that bringing Tara back would “cheapen death” when all these other resurrections didn’t? In what way hasn’t death already been cheapened?” Next also take into account what David Fury had to say in the very same interview when addressing the clichéd manner in which Tara dies. “In retrospect, I can see the cliché, “Fury said. That was not our intent. We wanted to show them together and happy. We dramatized them being back together, it created the impression in a lot of people’s minds that the event of her death was linked to them having sex. I do understand it. I say, ‘Oh yeah.’ It was not intended. We make mistakes.” Also take into consideration what veteran Buffy writer Jane Espenson said during her interview with the Succubus Club on May 22, 2002. “I am very sorry about Tara, really. We really felt bad. It is very possible that we did a bad thing. And I don’t want to completely exonerate us. It is possible.” So both Mutant Enemy and the fans seemed to agree that what appeared on the screen was harmful. Yet Mutant Enemy still maintained their intentions were completely innocent, even though the results on the screen were proven not to be. The Lesbian Cliché FAQ states very clearly that, “Besides the reassuring words of the writers, the reputation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer itself provided great hope that “The Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché” would never touch Willow and Tara. The entire premise of BTVS was built around a shattered cliché. Buffy herself was created as the antithesis of the stereotypically helpless blonde girl who is always killed by the monster in horror films. Buffy is a blonde girl who kicks the monster’s ass. Up until now, BtVS has been known for it’s clever writers who take glee in over-turning any and all clichés on their head. Other clichés BtVS has conquered include “the magically appearing younger sibling/cousin cliché.” This was brilliantly mocked when Buffy’s previously unheard of little sister Dawn suddenly appeared in the mist of Season Five, and the oblivious Scoobies acted as though she’d been there all along. “Buffy: The Musical” overcame the silliness of the cast randomly bursting into song by making the Scoobies the unwilling participants of a musical production forced upon them by a demon. This mocks the “novelty episode cliché” by openly winking at the conceit of the ploy and making it a plot point to be solved. Mutant Enemy knows clichés. They knew all about the “Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché” by their own admission and their own experience. The Lesbian Cliché FAQ also points out that, “While it is gratifying to hear Mr. Fury not only admit the existence of the cliché, but also that the Willow/Tara storyline falls into it (something Mr. DeKnight was unwilling to do), it is disappointing that he claims ME can see only see this in retrospect. It is clear from ME’s previous statements on the subject that they were well aware of the cliché before planning Tara’s demise. They were aware of it, they indicated that they would not repeat it.... Then they did it anyway.” In other words, Mutant Enemy was making public promises not to kill Tara or use the “Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché” and then killed her anyway.
When you compare the treatment of Xander and Anya with how Willow and Tara were treated you can clearly see that Willow and Tara had endured the most physical, emotional agony as a couple. Xander and Anya on the other hand, didn’t suffer any real serious setbacks until Xander left Anya at the alter. The only conclusion I can come to is that Willow and Tara not only suffered more pain and anguish as a couple , but in the end Tara would eventually end up dead, the victim of a brutal and senseless act of violence. While it is true that Anya would die in the seventh and final season, her death was given moral meaning to illustrate the fact that she had died willingly to save someone else’s life.
It is important to note that in Season Six the magic which had originally stood as a clever metaphor for lesbian sex and love during the previous two seasons on Buffy, all of a sudden had taken on a whole new meaning as a symbol for drug addiction, insanity, destructive behavior and death. In fact the clichéd manner in which Tara dies occurs shortly after she performs an implied sexual act with Willow. The “sex scenes “ that Willow had with Tara were remarkably tame. Here are two excerpts from The Lesbian Cliché FAQ that examine two examples of Willow and Tara having “sex.” “Up until “Seeing Red,” all of Willow and Tara’s sexual activity had been shrouded in magical metaphor,” they reasoned. A sensual magic spell that ended with Willow writhing in orgasmic ecstasy was used to illustrate their first time making love in Season Four’s “Who Are You?” Tara magically floats above the couple’s bed as Willow hovered out of frame in Season Six’s “Once More, With Feeling” They never kissed and barely touched during those “Love “ scenes. But “Seeing Red “ removed all magical metaphors and placed Willow and Tara naked in bed together for the very first time. Viewers saw them behave just like the straight couples on the show and immediately one died and one turned evil. This seemed to say that Willow and Tara were safe as long as things were metaphorical and hidden, but the moment their sex life was brought out into the open, there was hell to pay.” Now I know the network censors probably had something to do with that, maybe for fear of offending people or making sponsors pull out. But consider for a moment that these same network censors apparently had no problem with showing several key sex scenes which were very explicit in nature between Buffy and Riley and then later Buffy and Spike. These scenes would involve full pelvic thrusts, and groans. The lesbian Cliché FAQ also goes on to point out that the simple fact that Mutant Enemy had to fight the network over what to even show regarding intimate scenes between the two girls should tell people that more gay characters are needed on TV and that how simply killing them off not only sends a bad message, but that it wastes a perfect opportunity to continue making a difference in people‘s lives. The FAQ would also go to state that, “Despite all of ME’s pushing, Willow and Tara were only blatantly intimate in their last episode together. Even then no actual sex scene was shown.” The Lesbian Cliché FAQ would point out also that, “ The connection between the act of sex and bad things following sex had already been deliberately established and discussed” by the writers on Buffy. In the second season for example, Angel loses his soul and turns evil almost immediately after having sex with Buffy. The Staff at Mutant Enemy has publicly stated for the record that they were making a deliberate attempt to make a point about how sex sometimes changes men for the worst. Willow and Tara just happen to meet a tragic, senseless, end after they spend almost the entire episode in bed together. Hence, the connection between sex and bad things. Plus, Tara is shot right after engaging Willow in a conversation which just happens to be laced with heavy sexual flirtation. The FAQ notes that when comparing other significant character deaths on Buffy (Joyce, Jenny, Angel, Buffy) not one of those deaths occurs after a real or implied sexual act is performed. Jennifer Calendar was looking forward to reconciling with Giles after her betrayal of Buffy and the gang. Buffy’s mom Joyce Summers was dating again when she suddenly died of a brain aneurysm . While they don’t qualify as punishments for anything, these two character deaths (Joyce and jenny) were used to illustrate the exact opposite emotional effect. Disappointment at the anticipation of something that was good, being unfulfilled; In the case of Angel Buffy ends up killing him for the greater good in order to save the world from being sucked into Hell in Season Two‘s “Becoming“ part two; Buffy finally accepts her fate and gets bitten by The master while attempting to kill him in Season 1’s “Prophecy Girl;” In Season five’s “The Gift” Buffy willingly sacrifices her own life to save her sister Dawn. In fact, almost all of these deaths have some moral meaning behind them. I would also like to point out that all the above characters were straight. Tara’s death, on the other hand was senseless, brutal, and certainly had no moral meaning behind it. Mutant Enemy had just simply decided to kill Tara because it was a quick, easy way to get Willow to embrace Black Magic and essentially go nuts.
Just what is this Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché anyway? The cliché is when lesbian characters are either introduced to be evil or die horrible, gruesome deaths, just like the one involving Tara. I have already shown numerous examples at the beginning of this essay how the entertainment industry has followed this clichéd pattern several times on both TV and film in the past. One of the key components of the cliché itself is that one of the lesbian characters will usually die tragically after a real or implied sex act (the fox starring Sandy Dennis). The distraught lover meanwhile will hurt and/or kill herself or/and other people. (Mulholland Drive, Lost and Delirious) I have also already demonstrated numerous times in this article how the Willow/Tara storyline falls into at least three of the main components of this cliché. However, as The Lesbian Cliché FAQ would point out, “And what of Willow? While it is believable that this historically gentle, moral character, who also carries deep—seated insecurities and rage, would murder Warren (Tara’s killer) to avenge Tara’s death, her utter descent into evil is extreme and over the top, to say the least,” it says. Warren’s murder is not a quick “crime of passion,” it points out, but a prolonged stomach—turning gore-fest that climaxes in his skinning and immolation. Her thirst for vengeance unsatisfied, Vengeance Willow (as UPN calls her) then tries to hunt down Warren’s accomplices, Andrew and Jonathan, eliminate her friends and then destroy the world.” The FAQ would also note that Willow’s descent into madness would follow the very first non-metaphorical sex scenes that Willow and Tara were allowed to have on screen and that the closing scene of “Grave” in which Willow collapses into Xander’s arms crying seemed to openly suggest that all Willow needed was “the love of a good man” to save her from herself. In other words, a man saves the world from the crazy, unstable lesbian. It also goes on to say that, “The message—unintended as it may have been—of the storyline: Lesbian love is an intense, dangerous thing. Death and destruction awaits.” ( It is interesting to note that in the episode “Tabula Rasa” Tara has an argument with Willow about just how “powerful and dangerous” magic is. Ironically Tara also tells Willow during this argument that she could hurt others, maybe even hurt herself. )
What shocked me is that how in the wake of Tara’s death, nobody ever expressed any real grief over what happened to Tara except for Dawn and Xander. Sure Buffy is shocked and saddened by the news of Tara’s death, but then she quickly puts up a wall around herself to prevent people from seeing any real emotions. And Giles? The first thing that Giles does when he comes back from England to save Buffy and Anya from Willow at The Magic Box is that he hugs Buffy and makes a comment on her new hair style before calmly going over to Willow and casually mentioning that he’s “very sorry about Tara.” In Season Seven Tara’s name is occasionally mentioned maybe once or twice in passing. (Anya says her name, when she refers to the spell the gang had used to bring Buffy back from the dead.) In fact, the only person that ever truly mentions Tara’s name with any real fondness is Willow. I also found it equally disturbing that Dawn had never mentioned Tara’s name even once during the entire course of Season Seven, despite the fact that it was Tara who had a profound, significant influence on Dawn’s life. She became Dawn’s surrogate mother after Joyce died. Tara was the one who told Dawn to eat her vegetables, do her homework, do her chores, and go to bed on time. Plus we never see a memorial service for Tara either. All we get to see is a brief shot of Tara’s headstone when Willow visits her grave. That’s it. The only conclusion I can draw is that ME viewed Tara as nothing more than a plot point to be discarded and forgotten. In other words, as far as Mutant Enemy was concerned the character had served her purpose and was no longer relevant to the story. And this only seems to reinforce the Lesbian Cliché FAQ’s statement about how ME viewed Tara as nothing more than a “disposable object and then treating her as such.”
Mutant Enemy had publicly stated in countless interviews when addressing the issue of Tara’s death that the “narrative” required them to kill Tara. That it was the only way in order for Willow to go evil. However, Robert Black points out in his essay “Secrets and Lies Beyond The Fourth Wall” that this “Narrative” thing isn’t as rigid as Mutant Enemy would have us believe. Black says that writers never find themselves in a situation where they have one way to tell a certain kind of story. There is a whole, vast array of options available to them and it gives you, as a writer plenty of room to maneuver. The narrative is never rigid,” Black says. It’s fluid. When you’re telling a story, all sort of possibilities open up to you. And there is always an opportunity to make changes to the story either based on the reaction of the sponsors, the producers the network, or the audience. Before I go any further, I would like to point out that my stepfather has openly suggested to me that Joss Whedon may have written Tara out of Buffy, due to pressures from advertisers threatening to pull out if he didn’t end the relationship. While it is an intriguing possibility, I find this highly unlikely because Mutant Enemy has very clearly stated for the record that if Seth Green had stayed on the show, his character Oz would have been the one to die instead of Tara. So this provides us with a clue that it was Joss Whedon’s decision and his alone, to kill off Tara and we also can see that Whedon was definitely not backed into a corner by either the network, the sponsors, or the audience. In other words, Whedon was not forced to write Tara out of the story at all. Joss chose to kill Tara off because it was the easiest way to hurt Willow. However, Mutant Enemy would have us believe that the narrative “locked” them into killing Tara, that it was the only way to advance Willow’s storyline. But is this really true? The evidence tells us a completely different story altogether.
2 Forum messages