Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 5, Episode "Family"
Broadcast November 7, 2000
Sarah Michelle Gellar .... Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon .... Alexander 'Xander' Harris
Alyson Hannigan .... Willow Rosenberg
Marc Blucas .... Riley Finn
Michelle Trachtenberg .... Dawn Summers
Amber Benson .... Tara
Anthony Head .... Rupert Giles
James Marsters .... Spike/William the Bloody
Kristine Sutherland .... Joyce Summers
Mercedes McNab .... Harmony Kendall
Emma Caulfield .... Anya Emerson
Tara tells Willow a bedtime story and in return, Willow reassures Tara that she’s an essential part of the Scooby Gang. Meanwhile, Buffy and Giles have learned that Dawn is actually a living embodiment of an energy source called “The Key.” The monks who sent Dawn to Buffy, also sending a full range of artificial memories to everyone, did so for a reason, and Buffy vows not to reveal the secret to Dawn. “I have to take care of her,” Buffy says-- especially since the mysterious blond demon hunting for Dawn the Key is still out there.
Just a few days after the gang moved Buffy into her dorm room, Buffy has them move her back out. She’s moving back in with her Mom. While they move, Tara’s feeling awkward and Willow wants everyone’s assurance that they’ll be at Tara’s birthday party the following night at the Bronze.
Anya’s having a wonderful time working for Giles: “I have a place in the world now... I’m a working gal.” Xander and Buffy, meanwhile, beat their brains trying to figure out what to get Tara for her birthday, revealing they know little about her.
Across town, Spike is fantasizing about Buffy while making love to Harmony (his fantasy involves not sex but violence, but there you are).
At the magic shop, a creepy blond guy (blond guys should not grow beards) comes in and irritates Giles, Anya, Xander and Buffy until Tara and Willow show. Tara looks frightened as we learn the stranger is Tara’s brother.
His name is Donny, and Tara’s visibly unnerved and eager to know how the family found her. But she has a hug for her dad and cousin, who come in next. Tara stays nervous even after they leave, but she promises to see them that evening.
Later, Buffy is over-protective of Dawn enough to practically ground her, and Riley thinks she’s over-reacting. He also suspects there are things Buffy’s not telling him.
Speaking of deep secrets, Tara’s dad is disgusted that Tara, so close to her vitally important twentieth birthday, has hidden from them. She “has evil inside” her, just as her mother did. She should come home. Dad wants her away from all this witchcraft stuff and at home where the upcoming transformation to her “true face” occurs.
The blond demon girl dispatches a bone-eating demon to find and kill Buffy.
Willow wants to cast a demon-finding spell (one Tara sabotaged once before), but Tara sends her away. Later, while the Scooby Gang meets, Tara sneaks up on them and casts a curse (of unknown purpose) on them.
Riley goes out drinking at “Willie’s” and immediately finds company in a brunette named Sandy. Sandy wants to go somewhere else, but Riley knows a vampire when he sees one.
Harmony has come back from shopping (killing the clerk and taking the goods) and reports that the blond demon has been siccing demons on Buffy. Spike
Tara’s cousin Beth calls Tara a “selfish bitch” for not wanting to come home with her family. “Your friends are going to know the truth about you.” When Beth guesses that Tara put a curse on the gang “so they wouldn't see the demon part” of her, Tara begs Beth not to tell her dad.
Unfortunately, the spell makes it impossible for the gang to see any demons, which becomes a major problem when several arrive at the magic shop door.
Tara is out of control, Beth says. If her father doesn’t force Tara to come home, he’s at least going to reveal her demon-ness to Tara’s friends. Tara should tell them first.
At the magic shop, demons wander, invisible, until all Hell breaks loose when they attack Buffy. Spike arrives, ostensibly to watch Buffy die, while the gang fights an invisible army. But Spike joins their fight.
Tara arrives in time to break the spell, allowing Buffy to prevail. But Tara and her father reveal that the women in Tara’s family, including Tara, are demons. Buffy’s not very forgiving and Tara is almost dragged away by her father, but finally the Slayer stands up for their demon friend. The whole gang, in fact, appears in their leather jackets and proclaim themselves Arthur Fonzerelli. No, actually they proclaim themselves Tara's family, a moving statement.
But then, a shock: Spike tests a theory and attacks Tara, causing himself pain. This can only mean Tara was never a demon in any event. “It’s just a family legend to keep the ladies in line.” She's just a human, adept at magic.
The birthday bash for Tara is a hit, and Willow and Tara dance into the night, about two feet off the ground.
"Family" will for me stand as the episode when Buffy actually grew up, although the episode doesn't focus on her at all. The reason, to me, is the mature choice she makes at the end when she defends Tara from her father. This is Buffy, remember, as self-centered and megalomaniacal a protagonist as episodic television has ever seen. The world revolves around Buffy, she takes her life and work very seriously, and she gets very angry whenever other characters make her life any more difficult. When sister Dawn made a dangerous mistake last episode, Buffy was ruthless. Because it rarely happens, we forget how easily Buffy is riled into rage if things don't go her way and she feels betrayed. But now, some things have changed: Buffy has more responsibility than she did before, because she now knows Dawn is depending on her. And whatever over-protectiveness that might bring out, it's softened her edge. So when Tara, not even a close friend, makes a dangerous mistake, Buffy (as expected) genuinely looks like she's ready to feed Tara to the wolves. But then she snaps out of it, and tells Tara's dad that he'll have to come through her to take his daughter home.
This is a nice enough development that it doesn't really matter that the revelation that Tara isn't a demon after all is somewhat anticlimactic. I'm glad, anyway, because we already have Anya the demon. It was good to learn some more about Tara's pre-Buffy life, and interesting to find Tara is the only human character since Xander who doesn't come from an upper-middle-class background. The powers that be use Tara's witchcraft to stand for her lesbianism here, as her stodgy father reacts with revulsion about the lifestyle she's living. He says he'd hoped it was a phase. (If it is a phase, of course, he's a little early: one expects she'll at least be a Witch until Graduation.)
Tara's relationship with Willow, meanwhile, continues to be the sweetest romance on TV, gay or straight-- and stands as certainly the most well-handled and mature gay romance we've seen yet in a TV show.
I was a little turned off by the painfully realistic discussion between Xander and Buffy about Tara, who they do not know very well and frankly haven't invested the time to know any better. But I was more troubled by the reaction Giles, Xander, Anya, Buffy and Dawn have to Tara's brother when he comes in the store. Admittedly he's kind of a jerk, but even before he says anything insensitive, the whole gang stares at him, chastising him silently for being the outsider he is. Here's a rule of thumb to take with you through life: if your friends seem like nice people, but they're mean to strangers, they're not nice people.
Oh, minor note: more Buffy/Riley stress. I still think boyfriend is doomed, doomed, walking-dead-doomed.
And that's all the predicting I'll do.
Giles: “People help each other out, Anya. It’s one of our strange customs.”
Giles: “I’ve narrowed it down some.”
Buffy: (looking at Giles’ mountain of open books.) “Your definition of narrow is impressively wide.”