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FAMILY (ep #5.06)

(a.k.a. Human?!?)

Written by: Joss Whedon
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris
Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg
Marc Blucas as Riley Finn
Emma Caulfield as Anya
Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn Summers
James Marsters as Spike
Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles
Guest Starring: Mercedes McNab as Harmony Kendall
Clare Kramer as Glory
Charlie Weber as Ben
Amy Adams as Cousin Beth
Steve Rankin as Mr. Maclay
Amber Benson as Tara Maclay
Co-Starring: Ezra Buzzington as Bartender
Peggy Goss as Crazy Person
Torry Pendergrass as Damon
Megan Gray as Sandy
Brian Tee as Intern
Kevin Rankin as Donny

Plot Summary

Tara's family arrived to take her away from Sunnydale.

Plot Details

Note: For those who do not get this episode, references to demon (other than lei-ach demon) can be translated as "less than human because she is a woman," and references to witchcraft, magic, or Wicca can be translated as "lesbian." I think that these metaphors are quite clear, but they go over some people's heads.

The episode opened with Tara telling Willow a fanciful story of how she got Miss Kitty Fantastico. After she finished, Tara wanted to do spell research, but Willow wanted some snuggling. Willow was also worried about Buffy.

Buffy was telling Giles about what she learned about Dawn at the warehouse in the last episode. Giles wanted to send Dawn away, but there was no good place to send her. Her father was overseas and unavailable.

Riley, Xander, Giles, Willow, Dawn, and Tara helped Buffy move out of her dorm. Anya resented helping out a few days after they all helped move her in. Riley and Xander were busy scuffling like brothers. Tara stepped out of the closet (I am sure that the visual pun was intended) to watch. She tried to tell a joke, but the room was silent. After Tara left the room, Willow reminded everyone to be at the Bronze the next day to celebrate Tara's birthday.

At Sunnydale Hospital, Ben's shift finally ended. As he changed out of his scrubs, a lei-ach demon creeped around the locker room. Glory grabbed him and said she needed a favor.

Buffy and Xander walked into the Magic Box and discussed what to get Tara for her birthday. It seems that they knew little about Tara, so they could not think about what she would want. Xander suggested that Buffy do something to work off the tension from not knowing what to get Tara.

We next saw Spike and Buffy pounding on each other. After a bit of fighting, we heard Buffy say that she was coming right now. At least, it was Buffy's voice. We then saw Spike doing something else with Harmony that would lead us to believe that it might have been Harmony who actually said that.

Giles was not happy that neither Buffy nor Xander could think of something to get Tara even though they were in his shop. A very annoying man interrupted them. Soon afterward, Willow and Tara arrived. The man identified himself as Tara's brother. Tara immediately began to look upset. She got even more nervous when her father and her cousin Beth arrived. Her father suggested having dinner that night and left. Tara was very eager to start researching.

Buffy returned home to find that Dawn was planning to go to a friend's house. Buffy did not want her to go out, allegedly because the friend was too short. Riley figured out that something was up. Buffy would not discuss anything other than her concerns about Glory and the fact that it was best if fewer people were involved. The latter point hurt Riley and he left.

Willow returned to her dorm to find her father waiting for her. He was very upset to see that Tara was out of the closet as a witch. In fact, for some reason, he thought that sending Tara to college would get witchcraft out of her system. Some evil apparently took over Tara's mother after she turned 20 years old. Her father said that the same would happen to Tara, and he wanted her to go home with them. Tara very much did not want to go. He cancelled dinner and told her to pack.

Glory woke up the lei-ach demon. She was upset to find that she fought something as mundane as a vampire slayer in the previous episode. She wanted the lei-ach demon to gather other lei-ach demons to kill Buffy. The lei-ach demon agreed.

Willow visited Tara than night. There was going to be a meeting to discuss Glory, and Willow wanted to retry the spell to find demons. Tara did not want to go to the meeting and did not want to do the spell. After Willow left, Tara pulled out a spell book. She hid in the back room as Giles, Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Xander, and Anya met. Tara cast a spell on all six of them.

Riley visited Willy's bar, only without Willy. A young woman sat next to him and introduced herself as Sandy. Sandy neglected to mention that we last saw her being eaten by Vampire Willow in "Doppelgangland." Sandy very quickly suggested going to someplace private, but Riley would not date vampires.

Harmony returned home from a shopping trip, if you can call it a shopping trip when Harmony killed the clerk rather than paid for the clothes. Harmony also reported that the lei-ach were planning to kill Buffy. Spike decided to go, allegedly to watch.

Tara was walking around campus when she ran into Beth. Tara said that she was not planning to leave, which infuriated Beth. Beth guessed that Tara cast a spell to make the others not see her demon side and decided to tell Tara's father.

Willow heard knocking at the door of the Magic Box. She opened the door and saw nobody, even though we could see three lei-ach demons. They wandered through the front part of the store without anyone noticing. In the back, Buffy thought that she felt the presence of something but could not see anything.

Eventually, they attacked her. Xander tried to help but was blocked. One lei-ach tried to strangle him, but Willow could tell that it was something invisible and banged it with a chair. Spike arrived and decided to join the fight. He did not understand why Buffy did not acknowledge him, but he continued and took one lei-ach out.

Tara arrived and warned Buffy of a lei-ach demon behind her. When Buffy asked if Tara could see them, Tara realized that her spell meant that Buffy could not. She undid her spell just as her relatives arrived. Buffy took out one that had just attacked Tara and was about to attack Tara's relatives.

Buffy was quite upset at Tara, who was very apologetic. Her father said that Tara had demon in her. Perhaps remembering what happened in "Something Blue," Willow said that Tara simply made a mistake in casting her spell. However, she was hurt that Tara hid the demon part from her. Tara's father was insistent that she return with her relatives, but Buffy, Dawn, Giles, and Xander all made it clear that they would stop anyone from taking Tara against her will.

Eventually, Anya asked for the type of demon that Tara was supposed to become. Tara's father said that it did not matter. Spike figured out what was going on and punched Tara in the nose. It hurt him as much as it hurt her. The story about being a demon was just to keep the women in line. Tara's relatives left.

Tara had a very happy birthday. Giles gave her a crystal ball, and Dawn gave her a broomstick. Riley showed up late, but at least he came. Tara tried to explain her joke from earlier in the episode, but Anya still did not think that it was funny. Willow took Tara to the dance floor. They started to float off the floor as they danced.

The Good

As far as I am concerned, the more Tara the better.

Joss Whedon episodes are great in part because he reserves most of the big event episodes and the season finale episodes for himself. However, even in a more typical episode like this, he shows that he is still a master at writing and directing. See Random Commentary below for some reasons why.

One of the main themes of Joss Whedon's work is that family is a group of people who care for each other and support each other regardless of whether they are related. Giles was described as the father figure in "Helpless," "Pangs," and "Something Blue." Buffy addressed Xander as "big brother" in "Restless." Angel, Firefly, The Avengers, and even Dollhouse all touch on this theme, even if Dollhouse showed a dysfunctional family with a near-literal pimp daddy. Throughout all of Whedon's works, however, no one installment illustrates this theme more clearly than this episode. There is a reason why he chose to write and direct this episode rather than the next episode, which is an event episode that is more typical of his work on the later seasons of Buffy.

The characters have gone through a lot of pain over the past four seasons and will go through more over the final three. Therefore, it is nice to have an occasional, unqualified triumph every once in a while.

The Bad

Tara's family appeared a bit stereotypical.

When the fact that Tara is a normal human is seen as a big reveal, it means that the show has been overusing the trope of having a hidden side to each character.

Overall Rank: 9

Action: 6

Spike and Buffy beat each other up in his fantasy.

The lei-ach demons fought Spike and Buffy.

Comedy: 3

Tara tried to tell a joke.

There was a nice double entendre when Spike was fantasizing about fighting Buffy.

Spike came up with a painful way to test whether Tara had any demon in her.

Drama: 8

Tara's relatives wanted to take her away from her real family.

Tara cast a spell that endangered her friends.

The characters confronted Tara's relatives to keep them from taking her away from Sunnydale.

Romance: 7

We see Willow and Tara in bed together.

Spike and Harmony had sex, although Spike was thinking about doing something else with someone else.

Sandy tried to hit on Riley.

Willow and Tara did the floaty dance.

Character Development: 7

Tara had felt like she had been falling behind Willow in magic and was not useful to the rest of the group. Her father had convinced her that she would turn into a demon soon, and he disapproved of her use of magic. It appeared that she was not very social in high school, although Donny was probably exaggerating when he said that there were more people in the Magic Box than she met in high school. In one of the most unexpected twists in Buffy history, she turned out to be a human being. She also shares Giles's tendency of not locking her door.

Anya very much enjoys working in retail, but only if it involves money.

Riley feels that Buffy is isolating him from important parts of her life. He has taken to spending time in demon bars.

Importance: 3

Tara is human and a fully accepted member of the group.

Riley is feeling isolated from Buffy.

Most Valuable Player: Spike

When the victory was a clear group effort, it is hard to single out a single MVP. Tara would be an obvious candidate if she did not endanger her friends through her spell. I will reluctantly give the MVP to Spike. By helping Buffy with the lei-ach demons and proving that Tara was human, he might have slightly reduced the extent to which Buffy hates him.

Who Figured It Out? Spike

Actually, it was Spike's chip that really figured out that Tara was human, but Spike gets credit for using it and for figuring out that her father made up the story about her being a demon to keep her under control.

Goat of the Week: Mr. Maclay

There are three candidates. Tara's spell had was definitely not "harmless," especially when cast on people who hunt and are hunted by demons. Her relatives failed to hide the fact that the whole demon story was BS and failed to bring her home with them. Finally, the lei-ach get consideration for failing to kill Buffy even though she could not even see them. In the end, Tara's spell did very little harm, and she did get to stay with her friends, so she avoids the Goat. The lei-achs were defeated by a superior foe, even though they did have an advantage. Mr. Maclay gets the Goat.

Random Commentary

Having seen the episode and knowing what Taglarin rites are, I get amused when Tara told the joke early in the first act. I know what that makes me.

Episodes that Joss Whedon wrote and directed dominate any list of the best episodes of the show. Much of this is because, as the show-runner, he reserves most of the big-event and season finale episodes for himself. He also likes to challenge himself. He wrote "Hush" to show that he could tell a story without depending on dialogue. He wrote "Restless" to do an episode without any plot. He will write another episode in which he created a specific mood without any musical cues to tell the audience how to feel, which is much harder than it sounds. In all cases, he created great episodes despite the self-imposed limitations. He showed that he can create great episodes without dialogue, plot, or musical cues. This episode provided another challenge. He created a great episode without any gimmick or big event to make it memorable. He showed that he does not need them to show what he is capable of as a writer and as a director.

One of Joss Whedon's strengths as a writer and as a director is his attention to detail. For example, when Buffy and Xander entered the Magic Box, Tara's brother Donny could be seen in the background. This meant that he would have heard the entire conversation in which they talked about how little they knew or understood Tara. This would give Donny the (false) impression that they did not feel connected to Tara. This explains why Tara's relatives was so surprised when the characters stood up to them. A first-time viewer would not know the significance of Donny being in the background because he simply looked like an extra. Even repeat viewers might not catch it. I probably did not catch it until about the fifth time I saw the episode. However, it shows how careful Whedon is.

Another detail is the fact that the characters stood up to Tara's relatives and defended her right to stay in Sunnydale before Anya asked what type of demon Tara was. Whedon established that the characters would have defended Tara even if she were a demon. This made the eventual reveal that Tara was a human a twist rather than a cop-out as some people with less attention to detail believe.

I also like Joss Whedon's use of minimal dialogue. He knows to use silence and facial gestures and body language to tell a story. "Hush" was an extreme example, but there was another good example here. When Tara was asked if she were happy now, Tara never said a word. Whedon had the confidence in Amber Benson to be able to give an unequivocal answer with just a smile. It helps that she has a very expressive face, but this shows that Whedon knows how to use his actors' talents to full advantage.

I have noticed that some commentators on this episode found themselves hating Cousin Beth more than they hate Tara's other relatives. They come up with some explanation such as that it is worse for a woman to conspire against Tara for misogynistic reasons that it is for a man to do so. Over a decade after the episode aired, another reason becomes far more plausible. As Amy Adams has become a perennial contender for Academy Award nominations, it appears that she was simply the best actor of the three who played Tara's relatives.

In an interview on the BBC Cult web site, Joss Whedon said that Tara was originally going to be a wood sprite from a happy family of wood sprites. Fortunately, he very quickly realized that this was a bad idea.


Of all the people in the Magic Box when her relatives arrived, why was Giles the only one that she introduced by name to them?

Many people believe that, according to her father's story, Tara would turn into a demon on her 20th birthday. They wondered why he did not come for her sooner. However, he said that her mother turned into a demon when she was 20 years old. This would suggest that, if the story were true, Tara would not be a demon yet, but would be soon.

Memorable Dialogue

"Once upon a time, there was a kitty. She was very little, and she was all alone. Nobody wanted her." Tara
"This is a very upsetting story." Willow
"But it gets better, 'cause one day the kitty was running around the street, and a man came and swooped her up and took her to the pound, and at the pound, there were lots of other kitties, and there were puppies, and some ferrets." Tara
"Were there dolphins?" Willow
"Yes, many dolphins at the pound." Tara
"Was there a camel?" Willow
"There was the front of a camel, a half-camel." Tara
"Did the kitty get chosen by some nice people?" Willow
"Well, now you ruined the ending." Tara

"That's fine. I don't need to be snuggled." Willow
"Vixen." Tara

"You learn her source and we'll introduce her to her insect reflection. [blank stares] That was funny if you studied Taglarin mythic rites and are a complete dork." Tara
"How come Xander didn't laugh." Riley
"I don't know that Taglarin stuff." Xander

"Your definition of narrow is impressively wide." Buffy

"I'm coming. I'm coming right now!" Buffy (or was it Harmony?)

"You're in a magic shop, and you can't think what Tara would like. I believe you're both profoundly stupid." Giles

"Wow, that's more people than you met in high school." Donny

"This earns you a big favor. There could be outfits." Buffy

"Melinda's a bad influence. I don't like you hanging out with someone that short." Buffy

"A lot of young people nowadays are experimenting with shortness. Gotta nip that in the bud." Riley

"Your family loves you, no matter what." Mr. Maclay

"Oh, God, please don't tell me I was fighting a vampire slayer. How unbelievably common. If I had friends and they heard about this, and you know she's going around telling everybody. I mean she's probably just... Pay attention! I am great, and I am beautiful, and when I walk into a room, all eyes turn to me because my name is a holy name, and you will listen. Get your friends. Find the girl. Kill the girl. OK, baby? You have the cutest little suppurating sores. Has anyone ever told you that?" Glory

"You wouldn't believe it. I went to April Fools, and absolutely everything was on sale." Harmony
"You paid for it?" Spike
"Oh, no, I just killed the clerk. Still, a bargain's a bargain." Harmony

"You don't care the slightest bitty bit about your family, do you? Your dad's been worried sick about you every day since you've been gone. There's a house that needs taking care of. Donny and your dad having to do for themselves while you're down here living God knows what kind of lifestyle. I can't wait till your little friends find out the truth about you, and they will, you know. It doesn't matter how innocent you act. They'll see." Beth

"The girl belongs with her family. I hope that's clear to the rest of you." Mr. Maclay
"It is. You want her, Mr. Maclay? You can go ahead and take her. You just gotta go through me." Buffy
"What?" Mr. Maclay
"You heard me. You wanna take Tara out of here against her will? You gotta come through me..." Buffy
"... and me." Dawn
"Is this a joke. I'm not gonna be threatened by two little girls." Mr. Maclay
"You don't wanna mess with us." Dawn
"She's a hair puller." Buffy
"And, you're not just dealing with two little girls." Giles
"You're dealing with all of us." Xander

"This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara's affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?" Mr. Maclay
"We're family." Buffy

"Tara, if you don't get in that car, I swear by God, I will beat you down." Donny
"And I swear by your full and manly beard you're gonna break something trying." Xander

"What kind of demon is she? There's a lot of different kinds. Some are very evil, and some have been considered useful members of society." Anya

"There's no demon in there. That's just a family legend. Am I right? Just a bit of spin to keep the ladies in line? You're a piece of work. I like you." Spike

"You're insect reflection represents your insignificance in terms of the karmic cycle." Tara
"It's still not funny." Anya

"Only losers drink alcohol." Dawn

"I was just afraid if you saw the kind of people I came from, you wouldn't want to be anywhere near me." Tara
"See, that's were you're a dummy. I think about what you grew up with, and then I look at what you are. It makes me proud. It makes me love you more." Willow
"Every time... Even when I'm at my worst, you always make me feel special. How do you do that?" Tara
"Magic." Willow

Characters in Peril


Evil Escaped

Departed Characters Remembered

Buffy and the Law

Strictly the Caucasian Persuasion

Unusual Pairings

Spoiler Questions

Highlight the space after each question to find the answer. It is strongly recommended that you do not do so if you have not seen episodes through the episode indicated.

This page was last modified on November 28, 2012