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So, amazingly enough, more Buffy spoilers.

So I think I've actually posted about my unhappyness with Tara's death before. Killing the character sucked, but that's not the issue that really bothers me the most. (I'd have been sad that she'd died no matter how she died, and the fact that her resurrection was planned and then scrapped is sort of annoying, but that's not the issue.)

The issue is that you had a popular main character (even if she was not credited as a cast member until her last episode in order to do something that Whedon had wanted to do since the beginning of the show. Too bad he didn't have the funding to do it with the first episode. It would have worked better in season 1 than season 6.) who was killed for a single point of plot progression. Taking a strong layered character and killing them for a single plot point and some shock value? Not so graceful. Tara's death was important, but shallow. Admittedly, Season 6 is all about the shallow and the nihilistic, but this episode is past the turning point on the theme.

A character's death should always be a piece of character building for that character. We should either see something new or reinforce something important about the character who dies. What we learned about Tara? She has blood. Except I'm fairly certain that we've seen her bleed before. Oh and that Warren apparently has Kennedy-style magic bullets. So two things. (And that the producers have a real love on for Tara's blood splattered on Willow's face in the "Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer" segments. I should really have watched this on DVD.)

So the setup as it really is:
Willow and Tara have made up from an extended estrangement that was caused by Willow's abuse of magic and of Tara. They've spend the last day or so mostly locked inside their second story room making up for lost time. When we see our girls, Willow is facing the window and Tara is facing Willow. Tara's at least 3 feet from said window, likely more. Shots ring out from the back yard. One of those shots comes in the window, putting a hole in the glass at about the level of the base of Tara's rib cage. Then putting a hole through Tara, her heart, and the front of her chest. It then disappears before striking Willow. Willow's face and shirt is splattered with Tara's blood. Tara says that there is something wrong with Willow's face and collapses, dead. (Also, I'm almost certain thinking back on where the body falls that 3 feet is too close to the window.) Willow goes all magicy, tries to resurrect Tara, gets told off by a God and then sends him packing. Assorted other things happen, Willow becomes the season's big bad, etc.

So, that's what happened. Tara's death is entirely random and passive, essentially it is there to make Willow go evil. Tara is a gentle and caring character, which can be mistaken for passive, but really, isn't the same thing at all. Let's rewrite the scene. Assumptions we have to keep. Tara dies (though I can imagine other routes to evil Willow, especially in a show that has focused on the perils of super powered characters not stopping to get the full story before acting. We'll just take the death of whoever Willow is dating at this point as required by authorial fiat.) Tara dies in Buffy's house in such a manner that Willow is the only one who notices until Dawn finds the body. And Tara dies from a stray gunshot from Warren.

So, Willow and Tara haven't spent the entire last 24 hours locked up in their bedroom. They come down for air on occasion. In this case, Tara comes downstairs after their conversation, she's by herself because Willow had something she had to do first. Tara's facing away from the bank of glass that looks into the back yard, she's picked something up, a gift of Willow's from before they broke up the first time, something fragile.
Willow comes down the stairs, full of puppy energy, a return to the peppy/happy Willow of seasons past, making enough noise that Tara hears her and turns to face her. In turning, she is now facing the back window. A big grin on her lips as she turns turns into fear and horror as she sees Warren with a gun through the back window. From Willow's viewpoint, Tara has turned, seen her, and reacted in fear. Face crumples a bit. Tara throws her hands up, dropping the breakable, and shoving Willow away with her Telekinetic ability. Pushes her into an ottoman or something similar, with Willow ending up on her back on the floor. The gun shot is covered by the crash of Willow hitting the ground. Willow scrambles to her feet, pain and anger on her face, a hint of magic on her hands, trying to figure out why Tara had rejected her again. (elapsed time no more than 3 seconds between the shot and her getting back up) Willow starts to complain and Tara collapses. This is when Willow realizes that Tara's been hurt, she runs over and finds her dead, does the summoning, etc.

This scene gives Tara's death some meaning, and it gives Willow's despair some extra layers.
We've seen Tara stand between Willow and perceived danger before, so this isn't out of character, and it is right at the edge of her abilities as seen within the show.
Willow on the other hand, has to deal with the triple whammy of self doubt ("she hates me, why?") self recrimination ("how could I have thought that she hated me? she was saving me!") and her magic reflexes ("I almost hit her with magic, she used magic on me and I almost used it back on her.") plus the current "Tara's dead, oh my god Tara's dead, Warren!"

Every scene should do multiple things, should add layers, and as it stands, Tara's death fails to do so.


Hazel said...

Hi there,

There are many reasons why Tara's death sucks and I hope one day to write a coherent blog post on that subject.

However, I must say, you are absolutely right to label it as "entirely random and passive" and your re-write is an excellent attempt at giving Tara a better ending.

I do wish the writers had simply cared more about her and remembered her defensive and protective nature (e.g. in "Bargaining II" and "Older and Far Away").

(Apologies if this turns up twice.)

Michael Phillips said...

Well, mostly, I was offering an alternativs so I wasn't just griping without providing some potential answer to my complaints. Saying that X is broken without offering a functional replacement always seemed off to me.