Willow Rosenberg always looked too cute to be a vamp-hunting badass. She almost looked like she should be part of the Peanuts gang, rather than the Scooby Gang. But Willow had a difficult transition through her teenage years – friend-loving Xander Harris even when he went chasing after first their mutual friend Buffy, and then the school’s arch-snob Cordelia Chase, who regarded Willow as beneath contempt. Willow first found a real, post-crush love with lycanthropically gifted friend of the monosyllable Oz, but his inability to control the beast inside saw him break her heart when he got in a van and drove off to find some sort of control over his full moon fever.
Willow went on to enhance her initial level of usefulness to the Scooby Gang – computer geek, book-learner and all-round research-swot – with an increasing interest in the supernatural science of Wicca (witchcraft to you and me), becoming over time quite an accomplished witch, though she was always constrained by the limits of her own ambition as far as magic was concerned.
Tara Maclay had a childhood that made most of the Scooby Gang look like privileged aristocrats. A powerful natural witch, she was bullied and victimized by her own rigidly religious family and cast as Cinderella in their midst. Attending a Wicca group at Sunnydale UC, she met Willow – the only other natural witch in a group more like a tofu-chewing Rotary Club than any genuine circle of power - and the two girls bonded immediately as the nature of their power united them. When the Maclay clan came calling, determined to take Tara away from all this wanton freedom and imprison her once again in their beliefs of her fundamental evil, the Scooby Gang adopted her as one of their own, and faced down her abusive father and brother. From that moment on, the Scooby Gang had two witches to use against the powers of vampy evil. The girls grew closer, sharing spells and experiences, and an inevitable attraction blossomed between them.
The issue though might have gone unforced had Oz not returned, in zen control of himself, and aimed to take up with Willow where he left off. When Oz returns though, Willow is torn between her old love and the new light she feels stirring in herself – the light that only Tara can make flare and glow. Oz begins to lose control again, sensing someone else has taken what he thinks of as his place with Willow, and when it comes to the moment of decision, Willow follows her heart, and goes, against even her own expectation, to Tara.
Their love grows and intensifies, with Willow acting as Tara’s sounding board, her shield, her safe place, while Tara’s magic and her broad horizons inspire Willow to break the bounds of her own expectations, discovering herself to be a witch of somewhat staggering proficiency and power. She saves Tara’s sanity after a gruesome assault by Glory, and even battles Glory herself more effectively than the slayer can manage. When Buffy sacrifices her life to put a stop to Glory’s reign, there’s little doubt that Willow on her own would have been a help to Dawn, keeping her as much on the right path as possible, but Willow and Tara together, moving into the Summers’ house, are able to provide a proper family dynamic for the girl with a growing kleptomaniac problem. It’s Tara’s sense of what needs to be done that focuses Willow from the simple ghastliness of her grief onto doing what’s right.
But what do you do when the person you love, whose brightness and brilliance fills your life with light and joy, begins to go in a dark direction? When they become addicted to something other than you, and cannot see the problem they have? That’s Tara’s dilemma as Willow begins to use magic more and more as an everyday expedient – rather than changing clothes, she waves a hand and they change for her. Rather than have an argument, she casts a spell of forgetfulness that changes Tara’s mind.
Tara at first raises her concerns, then issues ultimatums, leading to rows and the spell of forgetfulness. As with many other relationship dynamics, it’s the often-overlooked Once More With Feeling musical episode that brings these things to light, and though it breaks her heart to do it, Tara is left with no option but to leave Willow, who after all, has betrayed her trust utterly, choosing her addiction to magic over her dedication to Tara. A devastated Willow determines to get help, to restore the balance in her life and put her love ahead of all else. It takes small steps and big determination, plus Willow’s every day placement of Tara over magic in her scale of importance, but gradually, the two begin to make in-roads towards their reconciliation, Tara’s sensible moral core at war with her aching love for the woman who changed her life forever and her need to apply the tough version of that love to ensure Willow can be saved from the wild, addictive, powerful side of herself.
If there is a hallmark to the love of Willow and Tara, it is passion, in both the obvious everyday sense of the word, and the sense encompassed by the moment in life when someone steps in who is so brilliant and breathtaking you can do nothing else but love them. That’s the essence of Willow and Tara’s relationship, and it powers them to more mature conclusions and courses of action than many of the Scooby Gang’s relationships. When Tara’s in danger, Willow risks her own life to save her. When Willow makes the greatest of mistakes and puts magic before love, Tara does everything she can think of to help her Willow back to herself – even to the extent of leaving her to shock her out of her decline into the grip of addiction.
It’s passion too, that defines Willow’s reaction to Tara’s senseless, unexceptional death at the accidental hands of Warren, robot-maker, sleazebag and prime mover of the Trio. Unable to bring the love of her life back from the dead, even after everything she’s learned and been through, Willow’s passion turns to rage, to hate, to pain, and Dark Willow is born, fuelled by loss and passion to slaughter Warren with barely a second thought, and to bring the world to the brink of extinction because, after all, why should the world survive when Tara, her Tara, has gone from it – what is the point of the world without her? It’s left to Xander to bring Willow back from the depths of her despair, meaning the world gets to live another week. But the impact of Tara’s loss stays with Willow, making her vulnerable both to The First and to unspoken, ungovernable loneliness – so much so that when love again threatens to lift her out of her solitude, she initially takes drastic measures to stay loyal to the memory of her lost love. Tara though was better than any desire to keep Willow lonely and miserable, and eventually, Willow is able to normalize her emotions, while still holding Tara alive and bright and wonderful in her heart.
The relationship between Buffy’s two favourite witches may be based in passion in the best sense, but it’s a relationship that’s altogether more functional and powerful and true than so many that were featured on the show – too powerful to be quashed by betrayal or addiction, it burned brightly in their lives and changed both Willow and Tara immeasurably for the better, making them, like all true unions, more together than the sum of their parts.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk