The Virtues of Vamp and Dark Willow
by Kat Muscat
or, How Willow’s Monstrous Bi-Sexuality Taught me to be a Better Lady
–performed at ‘Amazing Babes’, an Emerging Writers’ Festival event.
How many of you are Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans? Okay. Cool. Anyone who is not
a) I do not understand you as a person. There’s no need for us to chat later.
b) hopefully this will be accessible enough anyway. But if not, it’s your own fault. Also spoilers, obviously.
As a quick introduction slash refresher course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is …a pretty self-explanatory show. It’s Sarah Michelle Geller staking the undead through their evil hearts or slashing off their demonic heads. There are also a lot of post-slay witticisms and preventing of the apocalypse. Which is great and everything, but Buffy couldn’t have done it alone. She’s backed up by the Scoobies, a small group of friends including a werewolf, an on-again-off-again vengeance demon, her Watcher (read: mentor) Giles aka sexiest librarian ever, and civilians Cordelia and Xander. Also Willow. Nerd and witch, sweetheart, she of excellent awkwardness and eventual lesbian—whose relationship with Tara is something I massively over-invest in emotionally.
Not to quote BuzzFeed as an authoritative source. But when their ranking of every noteworthy character asserted Willow as the best in the Buffyverse, it was correct. Or if you’d prefer to listen to an academic, Jes Battis describes Willow as ‘a hybrid site upon which several of the show’s most resounding ambivalences converge, overlap and shadow each other’. Battis is also correct.
There are many reasons to adore Willow. She’s smart, hardworking, loyal, generous, redheaded. She is also a non-hetero person on television. Not to mention one half of the first lesbian kiss on primetime TV—hooray! But as everyone knows, we can’t have nice things. So of course the show writer’s must’ve unfortunately forgotten the ‘dead, evil or insane lesbian’ thing is a regressive cliché. Then they decided to run with it for half a season. However, this is where we get Dark Willow.
Dark Willow—a murderer of misogynistic murderers, she of the all the way dilated pupils, and fuelled by grief—is hinted at earlier by Vamp Willow. This happens inna cool as alternative reality episode that explores what would happen if Buffy never came to Sunnydale. Vamp Willow is a demon, thus evil so it’s a little different, but I reckon we could still learn from her.
Though, let’s back up a touch. Letme explain why both Willow’s vampire incarnation and her transformation into revenge powerhouse are worth reclaiming. Because that’s what I propose. We need to reclaim the perceived bad of these incarnations of Willow’s character, or look critically at where their motivations come from.
In a genderswap scenario there simply wouldn’t have to be such a stark distinction between Dark Willow and vanilla Willow. If she was a man, this mess of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour would be coded as being an ‘anti-hero’, ‘conflicted pro/antagonist’ or perhaps Don Draper. For no other reason besides her gender and sexuality, it seems that we have to symbolically split Willow in two or three to deal with these different facets of her personality.
So in the spirit of reclaiming ‘bad’ Willow, let’s look at a couple of things she could teach us about life.
Lesson the First
The media has a hard time dealing with people’s sexuality unless it falls neatly into one of three boxes. This is despite how fun the word ‘homoflexible’ is. Sunnydale is no exception. In Buffy, bisexuality is consistently coded as excessive, transgressive and implicitly dangerous. Everyone who exhibits this behaviour tends to die at least once or already be dead. Including Vamp Willow who, before she carks it for realsies, is very clearly coupled with Vamp Xander. However, she also confidently propositions a girl at The Bronze, and… licks ‘real’ Willow’s neck. Which is about is masturbatory as the show ever gets.
Call this a long bow if you will. But I am convinced that the lesson here is that ladies should be societally encouraged to masturbate more. It’s really great. It’ll help you figure out whatchya like, feels excellent and perhaps most importantly, helps women take agency over their own pleasure. All of that is damn sexy stuff.
And there is something to be said about being unapologetic about your sexuality. The good news is that you don’t even have to be undead to do this, which is nice. Masturbation is something probably best kept to yourself or other consenting adults. However, the politics of orientation are something that happens out in the open. Vamp Willow’s bisexuality is out there—at The Bronze, on the streets, at an underground slaughter factory—for everyone to see. This is a cool thing. Visibility for the lovers of all genders is hard to come by. I personally thought I was gay for a few years there because society kept telling me in order to truly want to sex with the ladies, I had to wanna sex ONLY with the ladies. Otherwise my lezzo credit would be revoked Chasing Amy styles. This is not the case.
Lesson the Second
Particularly if you’re an actively engaged feminist, it can become real hard to not be fuelled by grief or anger. I man, y’know, given the constant slew of seriously whack shit that is perpetrated against our gender. Simply because of our gender. If you’re queer, homophobia isn’t a barrel of laughs either.
I wrote a thing a while ago for The Lifted Brow about how just because someone is emotional doesn’t mean they’re not making a good point. Keeping one’s voice level in a patriarchal society prickly with mircoaggressions and more is difficult. It’s also dangerous. It also eventually becomes tempting to fight hate with hate.
This is how Dark Willow’s reacted when Warren killed Tara with a stray bullet shortly after the lovers were reunited. While this dudebro was the leader of self proclaimed ‘The Trio’, and the season’s red herring ‘Big Bad’ flaying people alive is not the solution I wanna suggest tonight. However, Dark Willow did have conviction. She was (correctly) critical of the justice system and saw what Warren’s action for what it was—a hate crime. While killing Tara was accidental, the intention to kill Buffy was not solely based on her as an adversary, but as an attempt to settle a score against a ‘bitch’ who was denying him privileges he felt entitled to. The privilege of crime and rape. In the wake of recent events, such commentary is especially harrowing. It takes incredible bravery to continue on in the face of such hatred. And while I’m not down for returned violence as retaliation, there is another important take-away tip. Namey, Dark Willow’s refusal to internalise the bullshit perpetrated against her is something we should all strive for.
Lesson the Third
When it came to the crunch, the only reason Dark Willow sought to destroy the world was to end everyone’s suffering. Of which there is a lot, she certainly wasn’t wrong about that. And it wasn’t slayage or swords or mystical powers that saved the day. Instead it is Xander’s act of friendship—what we fans call the ‘breaky crayon’ speech—that allows the imperfect-but-worth-fighting-for world to keep turning. It is two people’s unconditional love that clinches another day saved.
As Giles aka the sexiest librarian ever recognises, rage will only get you so far. Having been the Scoobie’s mentor throughout earlier seasons, Giles returns at the eleventh hour with a secret, desperate weapon.
An international coven gift him the the true essence of Magic (read: interconnectivity). Through this the Watcher was able to reconnect a grief stricken Willow with her humanity. This allows Xander to break down the bullshit binary between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ Willow. In the ‘breaky crayon’ speech the real hook is: ‘I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love scary veiny Willow.’ The two women are the same.
To quote another amazing babe, Karen Pickering, when asked why she does feminism replies: ‘for other women’. It is not just for ourselves, but others as well that we must continue to strive for amazing babedom. Everyone wins in the patriarchy smash. Being able to truly empathise with others is what allows us to engage in the most powerful acts of allyship, of love and of support.
And that is what we have to learn from the darker side of my favourite redhead. Sexual fluidity is a thing and ladies should all masturbate more. And most importantly, that the powerful combination of conviction and empathy can totally save this fucked up world.