Buffy the Vampire Slayer had some deep storytelling in Season 5. It was the transition season from dealing with pre-college life to entering into post-college life. Buffy went through some serious growing as both a woman hitting her early 20s and a vampire slayer.
The stories of this season reflected the changes not just in Buffy herself, but in all the members of the Scooby gang. Riley was figuring out post-Initiative life. Anya took up working for The Magic Box with Giles. Then there’s Willow, who was finally adjusting to her relationship with Tara.
The sixth episode, appropriately entitled “Family” examines how families can sometimes be more demonic then your run of the mill Hellmouth monster.
With her mother still in the hospital being treated for a brain tumor, Buffy decides to move back home so she can take care of her kid sister, Dawn. She’s also just discovered that Dawn is a mystical key that’s been fashioned into a human by a secret society of monks. This key has the ability to open the door between our world and Hell. It’s being sought after by a powerful woman, who we soon discover is a god that has been trapped on Earth, named Glory.
This discovery has Buffy contemplating everything that has happened between them. What exactly does this make Dawn? Since all the memories of holidays and growing up are false is she still a member of the Summers family or just is she another “thing” that Buffy has to protect? An even bigger question arises, should Buffy tell Dawn?
Meanwhile Tara, the newest of the Scoobies, is busy trying to “fit in” to the dynamic with the others. Up to this point she’s really only been an attachment to Willow. She’s the one who is quiet and shy, and says random things in hopes that others will get it sometimes (they don’t).
When it turns out to be Tara’s 20th birthday Willow wants to throw a party for her. It would act as a way of inducting her into The Scooby Gang officially. The others are hesitant because although they have interacted with Tara, they don’t really know her. Of course this would be the perfect time for Tara’s very backwater thinking family to appear.
Fresh faced Amy Adams (Yes, that Amy Adams!) guest stars with Steve Rankin and Kevin Rankin as Tara’s cousin, father and brother. From the greeting that Tara gives, it looks as though she was not expecting to be found. Their arrival comes with one mission: to get her to come home. According to her family lore, “the women have half demon in them.” and it seems to manifest itself on their 20th birthday. If Tara already didn’t feel accepted by the Scoobies, having them find out about her half demon part certainly wouldn’t help anything.
In order to hide her “demonic” self, she places a spell on the gang. This way they wouldn’t see her demon side. The problem with that is, it turns out they can’t see any demons. Which makes it a perfect time for Glory to send in some to take Buffy out. When Tara realizes what she has done she reverses the spell, and explains why she cast it in the first place. She would rather hide a part of herself from them than not be accepted.
But this is Buffy we’re talking about. She of all people knows how it is to be an outcast. So even though Tara made a mistake, Buffy knows that it was with good intentions. The Scoobies end up accepting Tara as one of them and they stand together when Tara’s “tribe of relations” come to collect her.
The beautiful message this episode brings not only to Buffy, but to the viewer, is that the “family” element takes all forms. There doesn’t need to be blood shared in order to consider someone a sister or brother. A mother or father. Your family is where you feel like you belong. For Tara, that is with the Scoobies.
In recent years this episode has resonated with me more and more. I haven’t lived with my “birth” family since I was fifteen and that wasn’t by my choice. My mother had decided that she didn’t want anything to do with me, and I didn’t know why. I ended up moving in with a friend and her family where that revealed its own problems.
Once I hit legal age I just went from home to home but never settling. During college I lived in my dorm and during the summers on a couch. The only constant was work. I was always excited to go because I knew at least for those hours I had a place that wanted me there.
Then luck fell upon me one summer. I started working at this amazing summer camp and for the first time I really started to feel accepted by those around me, and safe. I began living with my current house mate (one of the best people in my life) and her daughter shortly after. They took me home with them, and home is exactly what it felt like for the first time. I had people surrounding me that actually cared.
Tara’s family used a family lore to keep their women in check. She never was part demon (as Spike so clearly demonstrates when he punches Tara in the face.) My family used fear. My mother would constantly tell my siblings and I to lie to social workers because “they’ll take you away and separate you.” We believed her because it happened. We were taken and placed into foster care, and because there were many of us, separated.
The Scoobies assured Tara that she was right where she belonged. When the holidays come around, it’s hard for me. I’ll admit to being jealous seeing everyone so happy. Even though I know I’m loved where I am, I still need that extra reminding because deep down there is that little voice of doubt. The same voice of doubt that was guiding Tara’s thoughts when she was willing to leave and go home. She knows it wasn’t the right choice, but it’s her family so there could be a chance of change. I constantly think one day mine might come to their senses and own up to everything they’ve done, though deep down, I don’t think it will ever happen.
It’s taken many re-watches of this episode for me to learn its importance. The family we’re born into doesn’t have to be the one we stay in, and blood is just one factor of many. Thanks, Buffy, for continuing to teach us the important things.