Episode Name: “Tough Love.”
Writer(s): Rebecca Rand Kirshner
Director: David Grossman
Quote of the Episode:
Principal Stevens: “Now I think we all know that Dawn is more than just a kid.”
It’s like she knows!
Screenshot of the Episode:
Firstly, this is actually Clare Kramer in the bath so perfect timing, and secondly, what other evil hell god loves bubble baths?
Buffy and friends have the threat of the hell god Glory hanging over them. Some infighting occurs between Buffy and Dawn, and Willow and Tara. One these fights end in tragedy when Glory thinks she’s found the key, and as a result, destroys Tara’s mind.
There is something truly awful about fighting with someone you love. When we fight with a stranger or an enemy, it’s less personal, less painful. When we fight with our loved ones, we are vulnerable and we can cause pain. In “Tough Love” we see the agony we can inflict on our loved ones, and the agony they can inflict on us.
The female relationships take the fore in this episode, and even the subtext from the male characters is female.
Xander: “Whatever you choose you’ve got my support, just think of men as your *pause* you know I’m searching for supportive things, and I’m coming up all bras so… something more manly, think of me as that so…”
BtVS has always managed to subvert the male viewpoint and present itself from the female perspective. The Slayers are female, the male characters are in a passive position, and the morality of the show is presented from the care perspective which is explained beautifully by Jessica Pratt Miller:
“The justice perspective, with its abstract focus on reason and impersonal rules and authority, echoes cultural ideas of masculinity, while the care perspective, with its contextual focus on personal relationships, including feelings and emotions, fits with ideals of femininity.”[i]
Even Giles who is a strong father figure to Buffy points out that although he is there, she needs to take control of her responsibilities with Dawn.
Giles: “I may be a grown-up, but you’re her family, her only real family now, she needs you to do this.”
Buffy’s been struggling with her new found guardian role, as she cannot approach it with her fists. She must get Dawn to attend school, and do her homework, but Dawn doesn’t think it matters. Buffy has to tell her the horrible fact that if she can’t make her, then Dawn will be taken away. Of course in the Buffyverse, this is intensified by the fact that Dawn would without Buffy’s protection from Glory, she would be exposed.
Dawn: “Who cares if a key gets an education anyway?… Those monks put grades K through 8 in my head, can’t we just wait and see if they drop 9 in there too?”
Buffy: “Because they’ll take you away. If I can’t make you go to school, then I won’t be found fit to be your legal guardian.”
Meanwhile, Willow, is grappling with her identity once again, as we have discussed in previous Buffy posts. She doesn’t want to be considered the “Side-Kick.” This identity crisis continues in her fight with Tara. She fears she’s the “Junior Partner” in the relationship. The key reasoning is that Tara has lost her mother, unlike Willow, Tara has been a practicing Wicca longer than Willow, and Tara has been out as lesbian longer than Willow. According to James B. South “…her biggest fear is that, deep down, she hasn’t changed at all; that beneath all the layers of social roles she has assumed, she is still the nerdy schoolgirl that she was when the show first started.”[ii]
Willow bites back at Tara with this bitter retort: “I’m really sorry I didn’t establish my lesbo street cred before I got into this relationship *pause* you’re the only woman I’ve ever fallen in love with so, how on Earth could you ever take me seriously?” This causes a fracture and Willow leaves. This leads to the consequence of Tara being alone when Glory finds her. When she discovers she is not, in fact, the key, she becomes angry and steals her mind. This is the worst punishment a character can face in the show as Glory describes it thusly: “It doesn’t kill ya. What it does is make you feel like you’re in a noisy little dark room, naked and ashamed, there are things in the dark that need to hurt you because you’re bad…” This makes me shiver every time.
Spike’s character this season, while mixed ( we cannot forget the Buffybot…), has shown genuine courage and strength. He did not reveal Dawn to be the key, even though Glory tortured him for hours. His face still shows the scars of this valor, born of a new morality, the morality of the Slayer.
He comforts Dawn as best he can, when she is under his protection.
Dawn: “Anything that happens to Tara, that’s cuz of me… I’m a lightening rod for pain and hurt… I must be something truly evil.”
Spike: “I’m a vampire, I know something about evil, and you’re not evil.”
Dawn: “Maybe I’m not evil, but I don’t think I can be good?
This compelling scene has the added dimension of not just Dawn as a mystical key but as a human being. None of us are truly good or truly evil. This is something we struggle with as we grow, and Dawn is getting a lesson early.
Finally, we see the further evidence of Willow’s descent into evil which will culminate in the final episodes of season 6. She reaches for a book with “Darkest Magick” on the cover.
As with Dawns realisation that she can neither be solely good nor evil Willow shows us her dark undercurrents. This was put beautifully by James B. South: “…because our ordinary notion of Willow is one in which Willow would never do the sorts of things she did. It is incomplete as a response, though, because it assumes that we could ever fully understand Willow, that there are no dark currents in her, that we could ever construct a coherent and consistent narrative for Willow.”[iii]
While the episode doesn’t end in death for Willow, she has incurred the wrath of Glory. When Glory tracks her down (“I told you this wasn’t over,”) poor Tara inadvertently reveals to her that Dawn is the key. Had she kept her head as Buffy asked her to, Dawn may not have been discovered so early. We see the fallout from giving in to our desires, a conflict which Willow contends with for seasons to come.
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“Tough Love.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 5, episode 19, The WB, May 1, 2001
South, J. B. (2003). “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale.” (Vol. 4). Open Court Publishing.
Field, Mark. 2013. “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Myth, Metaphor, and Morality. “Amazon Digital Services LLC.
Gilligan, C. (1993). In a different voice. Harvard University Press.
[i] Pratt Miller, Jessica. (2003). “The I in Team2: Buffy and Feminist Ethics.” (Vol. 4). Open Court Publishing. Page 37.
[ii] South, J. B. (2003). “My God, It’s Like a Greek Tragedy”: Willow Rosenberg and Human Irrationality.” (Vol. 4). Open Court Publishing. Page 135.
[iii] South, J. B. (2003). “My God, It’s Like a Greek Tragedy”: Willow Rosenberg and Human Irrationality.” (Vol. 4). Open Court Publishing. Page 145.
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