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Recap / Buffy the Vampire Slayer S5E6 "Family"

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"We're family."

"The women in our family have demon in them. Her mother had it. That's where the magic comes from."
Mr. Maclay

Written & Directed by Joss Whedon.

Willow and Tara are on the bed in Willow's dorm room, with Tara reading spell books and Willow under the covers. Willow asks for a story and Tara tells her about a kitten. Willow tells Tara she is tired but Tara asks if she can keep the light on to study spells, telling Willow she just wants to catch up to her level. Willow convinces her to come to bed and the two snuggle.

Buffy tells Giles that Dawn is the Key that the mysterious evil blonde is hell-bent on finding, and speaks of her struggle to come to terms with the fact that the majority of her memories of Dawn are false. They decide to protect Dawn without telling others about it. In order to be able to protect Dawn properly, Buffy moves out of the college dorm and returns to living at home, citing her mom's recent health issues as the reason to her friends. As everyone helps her with moving her stuff out, Willow reminds everyone about Tara's birthday party.

At the hospital, after dealing with another mental patient, Ben enters the locker room to change. A demon starts to sneak up on him, but is intercepted by the mysterious demon woman, who drags it off to interrogate. The demon tells her that Buffy is the Slayer. The mystery woman orders it and its friends to kill the Slayer.

The gang research the mystery woman at the Magic Box, but come up with nothing, as she looks human and they don't know much about her (not even her name). Buffy and Xander admit that they do not really know much about Tara, though they both agree that she is definitely "very nice." They wonder what kind of a present to get for Tara. Xander explains that he doesn't really know Tara; the only thing he knows that she likes is Willow, and "she already has one of those." Meanwhile, Spike fantasizes about fighting with Buffy while having sex with Harmony, all the while assuring her that he was only thinking of her the whole time.

Giles overhears Buffy and Xander's conversation and asks them how they could sit in a magic shop and not have a clue what to get Tara, who is a witch, for her birthday, finally concluding that they are "profoundly stupid." A young man comes into the Magic Box and disparages magic. He reveals himself as Tara's big brother, who has come to town with Tara's father and a cousin for Tara's birthday. While Tara is clearly not thrilled at their presence, she agrees to have dinner with her family that evening.

Buffy returns to the Summers house, where Riley has been watching Dawn. As the two discuss how Buffy will return the favor (with talk of outfits), Dawn prepares to have dinner at a nearby friend's house. Buffy balks at this and refuses to allow Dawn to leave the house, and Dawn goes off in a huff. Riley tells Buffy she overreacted and doesn't understand why she's being so over-protective of Dawn. Buffy won't tell Riley the reason behind her behavior, and Riley leaves frustrated at Buffy's apparent lack of trust in him.

Tara returns to her room to find her father there. He expresses disappointment that she has not moved on from her interest and participation in magic and berates her for being out of reach for months. He tells her she is going home before her friends find out about her evil self. After he leaves, Willow returns and wants to repeat the demon location spell that Tara had secretly sabotaged before. Tara fakes fatigue, so Willow returns to the magic shop. Tara secretly follows her and, from hiding, casts a spell to prevent her friends from seeing her "demon side."

Meanwhile, Riley is drinking very heavily in Willy's Bar after another argument with Buffy. Sandy hits on him, but he recognizes her as a vampire and tells her no. Harmony returns to the crypt and tells Spike that the Lei-Ach demons have been summoned to kill Buffy. Spike leaves, saying he wants to catch a decent seat when they do.

Tara's cousin Beth finds her on campus. When Tara refuses to go home, her cousin derides her for being "a selfish bitch," leaving her father and brother to "do for themselves," revealing that Tara is expected to return home and essentially play the servant to her father and brother. Beth also realizes that Tara has cast a spell on her friends. She smugly tells Tara to tell her friends before she does, and Beth then leaves to find Tara's father to inform him what his daughter has done.

Three Lei-Ach demons arrive to attack Buffy, but because of Tara's spell they are invisible to the gang. They search for the Slayer and attack everyone in their path. Giles hides Dawn under a desk. Only Buffy manages to put up a decent fight. Spike arrives and watches the fight for a few seconds, but can't allow Buffy to be killed and instead helps fights the Lei-Achs, although being demon himself his entire scuffle is unseen by Buffy. Tara arrives, realizes her spell has gone awry, and quickly breaks it. The demons can again be seen, and are now easily beaten.

Tara's family arrives. Her father explains that, because of demonic heritage, all of the women in their family turn evil when they become adults. Willow is visibly hurt that Tara has hidden this from her, and Tara tries to re-affirm her love for Willow. When Tara's family insists on taking her away against her wishes, all her friends make it clear they will fight to defend her, declaring that while the Maclays may be her blood kin, her friends are her real family.

Anya then asks Tara's family what kind of demon she is. Their refusal to give a straight answer arouses Spike's suspicion, so he punches Tara in the nose, activating Spike's chip and proving that Tara is, in fact, human. Spike concludes that the legend of the Maclay women assuming their demonic heritages upon adulthood is just an old family myth maintained by the Maclay males to keep their women frightened and subordinate to them. Bolstered by the knowledge that she is fully human, Tara declares she will stay with her new family, and confidently tells her relatives to leave, which they do after a slight hesitation.

Riley arrives at the birthday party and kisses Buffy. Tara opens cheesy witch-related birthday presents from the gang, and everybody mingles. Tara and Willow embrace on the dance floor and begin to levitate.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • Abusive Parents: More like Abusive Family. As part of Tara's family's misogynistic tyranny over the women of the clan, they told her she was half-demon her entire life and that if she ever left them for too long, she'd turn into a monster. Her father doesn't even need to raise his voice to terrify Tara, her cousin is a vicious bitch and her brother explicitly threatens to beat her up if she doesn't come with them.
  • Action Fashionista:
    • Buffy has seen a nice sweater she could get Tara for her birthday, but she'd rather have it for herself.
    • Glory interrogates the Lei-Ach demon inside a walk-in closet full of expensive dresses.
  • Arson, Murder, and Admiration: Defied. Spike works out that Tara's family have made up the entire demon story to keep their women in line. He then addresses Tara's dad with sarcastic approval, "Oh, you're a piece of work. I like you," with a Death Glare on his face to cement that he's disgusted.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Glory describes Buffy as blonde, short, strong for a human, and massively rude!
  • Badass Boast: Donnie tries and fails. Xander's rebuttal succeeds.
    Donnie: Tara, if you don't get in that car, I swear by God I will beat you down.
    Xander: And I swear by your full and manly beard, you're gonna break something trying.
  • Badass Decay (In-Universe): According to Glory, the Lei-Ach have come down in the world.
    Glory Stop whining! I remember when the Lei-Ach were a proud warrior race, not sneaking around hospitals looking for weak, sickly types to suck the bone marrow from!
  • Badass Normal: We are reminded that Xander and Giles are both this, especially in comparison to a couple of abusive bullies who think they're tough. Donnie would have broken something trying to beat Tara down even if Buffy hadn't been there.
  • Bad Liar: Buffy explaining why she doesn't want Dawn spending the night at a friend's place, because Glory is on the prowl.
    Buffy: I don't want you hanging out with someone that... short.
    Riley: Yeah, a lot of young people nowadays are experimenting with shortness. Gotta nip that in the bud.
  • Between My Legs: Buffy re: Spike during his sex dream.
  • Big Brother Bully: Tara noticeably flinches when Donnie threatens to beat her down.
  • Birthday Episode: Tara's birthday is coming up; on what should be a happy occasion, her abusive family puts in an appearance and tries to regain their control over her, claiming that this is the year her "demon side" will finally emerge.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Harmony asks Spike what he's thinking during sex. Spike replies, "All about you, baby."
    • Spike tells Harmony he's going to watch the demons kill the Slayer; he actually saves her life. (Although it appears that is initially his plan, only to relent and help her when he sees her fighting.)
    • Giles says he's narrowed down the search some for the Big Bad's identity. The camera pans to a table full of open books.
      Buffy: Your definition of narrow is impressively wide.
    • And Spike again, when he claims that he doesn't care what happens to Tara, only to put himself through a good bit of pain when he bops her on the nose to prove that she's a full human.
    • And Spike yet again shortly after that, after deducing that the belief that Tara has that she's a demon is just a family lie to keep its powerful magical bloodline on the female side restrained. He declares that Tara's father is a "piece of work" and that he likes him, but his deadpan tone and disgusted expression defy him.
  • Book Ends: Tara's "insect reflection" joke. At the beginning of the episode, she tells it and nobody gets it; at the end of the episode she explains it to Anya.
    Anya: But it's still not funny.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Xander suggests a "cheesy Crystal Ball" as a present, only to learn Giles already has one gift-wrapped. At the birthday party we see Tara faking a smile as she unwraps the ball.
    • Tara is seen at the end of the episode trying to explain the "insect reflection" joke.
  • Buffy Speak: Willow says there's "Scooby-age afoot."
  • Calling Your Orgasms: In Spike's sex fantasy.
    Spike: You want me, Slayer? Come and get me!
    Buffy: Oh I'm coming. I'm coming right NOW! [Smash Cut to Spike finding 'sweet release' in Harmony]
  • Casual Kink: Buffy promises to reward Riley by wearing "outfits."
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Willow hits the Invisible Monster attacking Xander with a chair.
  • Character Development: Showcasing just how far Tara has come since her first appearance, running into her brother turns her into a stuttering wreck.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Sandy was made a vampire by Vamp Willow in "Doppelgangland".
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Willow suggests using the demon-locating spell to find Glory, even though it didn't work last time they used it—because Tara sabotaged the spell, which we now know was because her family lied to her and told her she was part demon. Ironically, if they had done the spell, it wouldn't have shown anything where Tara was.
    • In the previous episode, Anya said crystal balls were popular with amateurs, which explains why an experienced witch like Tara isn't impressed by them.
    • Sandy, the girl bitten by Vampire Willow in Doppelgangland returns, now a vampire herself, to play a role in Riley's downward spiral.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Buffy finishes a close fight by literally curb-stomping a demon.
  • Cute Kitten:
    • The episode opens on Miss Kitty Fantastico playing about in Willow's dorm.
    • Glory treats her imprisoned Lei-ach demon like one.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Tara is... nice. Buffy and Xander just don't interact with her enough to say more than that.
  • Dark Magical Girl: Tara is definitely one of these and here's the list: family issues leading to isolation and insecurity? Check. Being with a friendly fellow magical girl? Check and bonus points for starting a relationship with her. Believing herself to be evil/demonic/etc. but overcoming this with The Power of Friendship? Check!
  • A Day in the Limelight: The episode establishes Tara's backstory and fleshes out her relationship with the rest of the cast.
  • Daydream Surprise: Spike's Spuffy fantasy. As if that will ever happen.
  • Description Cut:
    • Buffy says she could "use a break from all this craziness." Cut to another crazy person being wheeled into Sunnydale hospital.
    • Xander advises Buffy to work out to get rid of her tension. Cut to Buffy fighting Spike—which turns out to be Spike working off his tension with an erotic daydream.
    • "How do you think your friends are going to feel when they see your true face?" Cut to close-up of a demon.
  • Disappeared Dad: Buffy says that her father is now living in Spain with his secretary, and that he didn't even call when she left a message about Joyce being sick.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Wicca lifestyle as homosexuality.
    • Tara's father says she doesn't try to hide who she is anymore, while holding a phallic crystal. Then there's this exchange:
      Buffy: Thinking there will be a lot of Wiccans there? Heavy Wiccan crowd?
      Xander: That's sort of her deal. Her and Willow are all Wiccie. Swinging with the Wiccan lifestyle.
      Buffy: Which is cool!
      Xander: Oh yeah.
    • Tara doesn't want to "cast spells" with Willow because she's too tired.
    • On his way out the door, Mr. Maclay stops, looks at Tara, and spits out, "Magic!" as if it's the most disgusting insult he can throw at her.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Tara tries to explain the insect reflection joke.
    Tara: No, see, 'cause your insect reflection represents your insignificance... [Anya nods] in terms of the karmic cycle.
    Anya: But it's still not funny.
  • Dramatic Irony: Buffy is (and remains) unaware that Spike rescued her from a Lei-Ach demon during the fighting, since the spell rendered him invisible to the gang as well.
  • Easily Forgiven: Tara only gets an extremely small scolding from Buffy and Willow for her demon-hiding spell. Justified as everyone understands why Tara did it and it's clear Tara knows she did wrong. Besides which, Xander and Willow have both been involved in spells cast for selfish reasons gone dangerously awry, so it would be hypocritical to be very harsh.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Even the Lei-Ach find Glory's ranting about her problems tedious.
    • Spike towards Tara's father and his horrible method of parenting.
  • False Memories: Buffy ponders how Dawn cried for a week after their father left. "Except she didn't. She was never there, but I can still feel what it was like."
  • False Reassurance: Beth at first seems to be the only family member that knows why Tara left. She "reassures" her that her right place is at home, to help her out with the housework.
  • Family of Choice: Despite confessing earlier to not knowing her very well, Buffy and the Scoobies step up to claim Tara as a true member of their family when her own proves to be abusive and controlling.
  • Fantastic Racism: Tara's family harbors an incredible hatred for magic-users and raised her to believe that she was part demon on her dead witch mother's side.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Angry that Buffy is holding back information from him, Riley goes to a Bad Guy Bar to drown his sorrows and gets hit upon by a female vampire. He turns her down. This time.
    • Buffy doesn't want to tell the other Scoobies about Dawn because they'd act weird around her, and Dawn would Freak Out if she knew the truth. This is exactly what happens in "Blood Ties".
    • Tara is stacking up books on magic "to keep up with" Willow - a throwaway line that shows how rapidly Willow`s powers are progressing. Later in the season, Tara lets slip that this actually frightens her, making way for the first real argument between her and Willow (and much of Willow´s arc in the next season).
    • Mr Maclay may be wrong about many things, but is uncannily prescient when he says he wants Tara out of there "before somebody does get killed". Tara, at this point of the series, has 18 months left to live (give or take).
    • Glory ambushes the first Lei-Ach demon in the hospital locker room before it could reach Ben. Did he hear anything?
    • All the Scoobies (even Spike) are there to defend Tara - except Riley. His time on the show is running out.
  • Friendship Moment: The whole gang gets one towards Tara: "We are her blood kin, who are you?!" "We're family."
    • Except Spike. Or so he claims, though he did take it upon himself to prove Tara was fully human (via his chip), and call out her family's lie/control tactic.
  • The Friends Who Never Hang: Buffy and Xander realize that they don't know much about Tara other than her being nice.
  • Gaslighting: Tara was told all her life that she had demon blood and that it would manifest as a curse. This turned her into the Shrinking Violet that we saw from the start. Even so, some part of her realized this wasn't right and ran away, going to college. When she realizes that her family lied to her, she stands tall and tells her father, brother and cousin to leave.
  • Get Out!: A rather restrained version; when Tara's father, having lost the argument completely, makes one final attempt to reassert his control over Tara by asking if she's prepared to turn her back on her family, his daughter calmly but firmly tells him, "Just go." And Giles adds in, "Mr. Maclay, I would say your business here is finished," in a way that is just dripping with venom and disdain.
  • Go Through Me: Just about the whole cast (except Spike) does this for Tara when her emotionally abusive family shows up. That said, when Spike realizes her family has been lying to her, he voluntarily steps in to prove that she isn't a demon by punching her in the face.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Tara cast a spell on the other Scoobies to hide her supposed demon-side from them, but it instead makes all demons invisible to them—which proves to be a bad thing when the Lei-Ach demons show up.
  • Hate Sink: The Maclay family, consisting of Tara's father and brother, are an allegory for homophobic families and abuse against their gay children, using Tara's magic as a substitute. The Maclays claim to have Tara's best interests in heart and want to take her back home, revealing to have emotionally manipulated her with the lies that she is a demon waiting to awake. It's revealed that this is a lie the men of the family spread to the women to control them and treat them as slaves. When Tara's brother threatens to beat her down, Buffy and her friends stand up for Tara to her family and expose their lie. While Tara's cousin, Beth, seems sympathetic, she sees Tara as a "selfish bitch" for wanting to live a free life, angrily asking if she's "happy now" when the lie is exposed.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Spike saves Buffy's life from a demon, and despite his claim of indifference hits Tara to prove she's not a demon.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: Spike hitting Tara square in the nose. Comes out of nowhere, but immediately proves that she's fully human as they both go reeling back in pain.
    Tara: He hit my nose!
    Willow: [excited] And it hurt! Uh, him, I mean!
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: When all the Scoobies close ranks to protect Tara, Spike states he doesn't care what happens either way. And yet, as soon as he thinks he's figured out what's going on, he immediately steps forward to test his theory.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Tara's family abuse her emotionally and lie to her to make her hate herself, fooling her into believing that she's less than human. When she breaks free and makes a life of her own, they start threatening to move on to physical abuse, and would most likely have made good on their threats if it wasn't for almost the entire cast closing ranks around her and telling them that they would have to go through them to get to her.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Spike fantasizes about getting his ass kicked by Buffy while having sex with Harmony.
  • I Resemble That Remark!:
    • Xander's well aware that he's uncool, thank you.
      Tara: Yeah. You learn her source [grins] and, uh, we'll introduce her to her insect reflection. [everyone stares at her] Um... that, that was funny if you, um, studied Taglarin mythic rites... and are a complete dork.
      Riley: Oh, then how come Xander didn't laugh?
      Xander: I don't know that Taglarin stuff.
    • Beth snaps, "Are you happy now?" after Tara rejects her blood family for the Scoobies. Tara just smiles because yes, she is.
  • Isn't It Ironic?: You'd think they could have chosen a better number for the closing scene than a love song to a television!
  • Last-Second Word Swap
    • Tara seeing her family again.
      Tara: How did you fi— I, I mean, how come you came?
    • Spike hearing the demons are going to kill Buffy.
      Spike: God, that would be... pleasant.
  • Love Floats: The episode ends with Tara and Willow slow-dancing at the Bronze. A Reveal Shot shows they're floating a foot above the ground.
  • Magic Misfire: Tara's spell is meant to hide her "demon self" from her friends, but instead makes all demons invisible to them.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Buffy senses a demon about to hit her just in time to spin and block it, preventing it from hitting her.
  • Neck Snap: Buffy breaks the neck of a demon with her foot.
  • Non Human Lover Reveal: Played with: even if Tara is a demon, Willow loves her just the same. Then Spike shows that she's not.
  • Not Worth Killing: Buffy assumes Glory will come after her; in truth Glory is embarrassed to discover she fought a mere Slayer, and just sends some demons to kill her as she regards Buffy as an interfering nuisance.
  • Oblivious Mockery: Buffy warns Dawn against boozing at the party; she replies that only losers drink alcohol. The Scoobies all look at their drinks.
  • Omniglot: Glory can understand the demon's language.
  • Once Upon a Time: Tara tells a story of a stray kitten who was placed with a bunch of other strange animals in the pound and eventually adopted by a nice family.
  • Perception Filter: Tara casts a spell so her friends can't see her demon side. Unfortunately this means they can't see the demons attacking them. Or Spike.
  • Prodigal Family: Tara's family are an example of the possessive, malevolent variety.
  • Right Behind Me:
    Anya: But we just helped Buffy move her stuff a few days ago... [turns and sees Buffy] ...and it was fun!
  • Sarcasm Mode
    Donny: So all these books got spells in 'em? Turn people into frogs, things like that?
    Xander: Yeah, we're building a race of frog people.
  • Shirtless Scene: Ben changing his clothes in the locker room. The camera pans away just as he's taking off his pants.
  • Speech Impediment: Tara's stutter returns with a vengeance the moment her family turns up.
  • Spider-Sense: Buffy senses the 'invisible' demons creeping up on her while she's in the training room.
  • Spotting the Thread: Anya, being a former demon herself, is the one to notice that the Maclay family isn't specifying what type of demon they claim Tara is, and when she questions them they have no idea what to say.
  • Straw Misogynist: Tara's father reveals that demon blood runs through it on the female side so all female members of the family must stay home to avoid revealing the curse. Though by the end of the episode, everyone discovers that this is just a lie to make sure the women stay subservient.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: Giles is trying to establish who Glory is, but isn't having any luck—all Buffy can tell him is that she looks human, acts like Cordelia and recently dyed her hair.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Glory pushes out of a pile of rubble.
    Glory: OK. Now... I'm... upset.
  • This Is Something She's Got to Do Herself: Riley offers to contact the military for help in fighting Glory, which Buffy quickly turns down.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Inverted; Tara spent her whole life thinking she was a demon and ran away from her family as soon as she could go to college. Spike reveals that she is human through and through, meaning she's no tomato.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Thanks to the confidence boost gained when all the Scoobies rally behind her (even before learning that she's not actually a demon), Tara is able to stand up to her family, for what seems to be the first time ever.
    Tara: Just go.
  • True Companions: The Scoobies have a Friendship Moment at the climax.
    Mr. Maclay: This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara's affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?
    [Shot of Giles, Dawn, Buffy, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya all standing together in a group, with Spike in the background.]
    Buffy: We're family.
    • Also a moment of Foreshadowing: it's no coincidence that Spike is there (and Riley isn't).
  • Tuckerization: The jars behind the counter at the Magic Box contain ingredients named after the cast and crew. There’s Tony's Heads, Charisma Charms and Boreanaz Beads.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The episode ends with Willow and Tara dancing half a foot above the dance floor, with no one at the Bronze paying attention. However, given that it's Tara's birthday party, they're presumably mostly friends with the two and aware of their witchy powers.
  • Visual Pun: Whedon's script had this bit when the gang is helping Buffy move:
    Tara is in the closet (no jokes please).
  • Was It All a Lie?
    Willow: Tara... look at me. I, I trusted you more than anyone in my life. Was all that just a lie?
  • Wham Line: One for Buffy.
    Buffy: You want to take Tara out of here, Mr. Maclay, go ahead... you just gotta go through me.
    Mr. Maclay: What?!
    Buffy: You heard me. You want to take Tara out of here against her will, you gotta come through me.
  • Wicked Witch: Tara gets some rather cliched presents for her birthday (justified in-universe since no one outside of Willow knows Tara very well yet), including a crystal ball from Giles. Dawn's present is a broom with a bow on it, but Dawn's barely-concealed mirth indicates that it's a joke gift.
    Giles: You're in a magic shop and you can't think what Tara might like? I believe you're all very stupid.
    Xander: What are we supposed to get her? Some kind of cheesy crystal ball?
    Giles: Bloody well better not. I've already got mine wrapped.
  • Wife-Basher Basher: Xander has absolutely none of Donnie's threats to beat up Tara, bluntly but coolly stating that if he tries, Xander will personally beat the crap out of him.
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: Tara's family threaten to take her away by force, and aren't impressed when "two little girls" say they won't.
    Dawn: You don't want to mess with us.
    Buffy: She's a hair puller.
  • Your Door Was Open: Tara finds her father waiting in her dorm room.