ReviewsBtVS and Consent Issues: Episode 6.06 – “All the Way,” 6.07 – “Once More With Feeling,” and 6.08 – “Tabula Rasa”

[Note: I’m writing a series about consent issues in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will post a new entry in this series every other Tuesday. In this series, I will look at an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that deals with rape, sexual assault, or consent issues as a main plot point or as a featured event of the episode. I will examine these episodes in chronological order. If, in my writing of this series, you feel that I have skipped an episode that should be a part of this series, feel free to submit a guest post, and I will consider publishing it.]

EPISODE: “All the Way”
INCIDENT: Memory modification followed by sex
PERPETRATOR: Willow Rosenberg
VICTIM: Tara Maclay

The specifics: Willow and Tara got into an argument about Willow’s dangerous use of magic. The fight took place in the middle of the Bronze and was left unresolved by the time they went to bed that night. At home, Willow tried to talk to Tara again, but Tara, still angry, wasn’t in the mood to resume the conversation and wanted to go to bed. Willow suggested that they forget the fight ever happened. She then performed a spell to wipe the memory from Tara’s mind. Tara, no longer remembering the fight, happily invited Willow into their bed.

In the next episode, she and Willow were more romantic and cuddly than ever and had sex several times. Then Tara found out about the memory wipe, and expressed a desire to leave Willow. In the episode after that, Tara told Willow how betrayed she felt, and gave her an ultimatum: “go for a week without using magic, and then we’ll see.” Willow performed another memory spell that took away the memories of everyone in the group. When Xander accidentally broke the spell, Tara realized what had happened, and she broke up with Willow and moved out of the house.

The mind of the perpetrator: Willow doesn’t see anything wrong with her use of magic and she resents Tara for criticizing her. When Tara criticizes her, Willow’s response is disturbing, to say the least:

“TARA: You are using too much magic! What do you want me to do, just sit back and keep my mouth shut?

WILLOW: That’d be a good start.”

Here, Willow really doesn’t sound any different from a misogynistic, abusive boyfriend who wants his girlfriend to shut up and keep her opinions to herself.

Later, Willow is contrite, but she still doesn’t think she did anything wrong – or at least, she refuses to admit it to herself. She uses the forgetting spell to make Tara happy again. Willow wants to avoid responsibility, and she also wants everything to be nice and happy with Tara. When Tara confronts her in “Tabula Rasa,” Willow admits, “I just wanted to make things better. Better for us.”

Willow’s used to Tara being a completely supportive girlfriend – a cheerleader, if you will – and is uncomfortable with this change in the status quo of Tara challenging her. She doesn’t want to see that Tara is still supporting her and is criticizing her use of magic to help her. She’s too afraid of losing Tara, and she sees one fight leading to several fights that will lead to Tara abandoning her. Of course, she fulfills this own prophecy by violating Tara again.

The victim’s perspective: A memory wipe would be an act of betrayal to anyone, but it’s especially hurtful for Tara, someone who already had her mind and sanity horribly violated by Glory in season five. Ironically, Willow was the one to save Tara’s mind at the end of the season. Now, she’s the one taking Tara’s memory away.

Tara’s no dummy, and she sees through Willow’s excuses.

“TARA: You don’t get to decide what is better for us, Will. We’re in a relationship, we are supposed to decide together.

WILLOW: Okay. I realize I did it wrong.

TARA: You did it the way you’re doing everything. When things get rough, you don’t even consider the options. You just do a spell. It’s not good for you, Willow. And it’s not what magic is for.

WILLOW: But I just wanna help people.

TARA: Maybe that’s how it started, but you’re helping yourself now, fixing things to your liking. Including me.”

Tara’s not exactly known for standing up to Willow or criticizing her in any way, but she’s laying down the law here. She doesn’t like this pattern of behavior in Willow and she doesn’t want to leave her, but she doesn’t want to risk getting her mind played with again.

What does this episode say about misogyny and rape culture?

There’s something called “informed consent,” and Willow violated it. She wiped Tara’s memory and then had sex with her the episode later – sex that Tara would not have consented to after such an argument, had she remembered that the argument took place. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Willow raped Tara.

Tara, though, doesn’t mention this when she confronts Willow. Willow wiping her memory at all is the biggest violation to Tara, regardless of what Willow did afterwards.

Given Tara’s history, it makes sense that the memory modification would bother her more than anything else. Tara’s family tried to “fix her to their liking” as well, telling her that she was part-demon. Much like her parents tried to “fix” her to their liking, Willow’s trying to do the same thing.

Tara recognizes that this is all a form of control. What she wants is irrelevant, and much like she rejected her family, she rejected Willow for trying to “fix” her. Willow would be horrified to be to compared to Tara’s family, I’m sure, but the comparison is an apt one.

Willow believes that what she did to Tara isn’t really wrong because her intentions were good. These episodes show that, when it comes to consent, the intention of the perpetrator doesn’t matter. If you take away a person’s memory because you’re a controlling asshole or if you take away a person’s memory because you want things to be nice between you, the person is still violated either way.

I think these episodes did a very good job of showing why Willow had a problem with controlling others, and why that was a bad thing. Unfortunately, much of the follow-up wasn’t strong, and Willow’s need to fix people to her liking, as Tara aptly put it, was pushed aside in favor of magic=drugs metaphors. I think the show could have provided some very strong commentary about consent and control if they had continued with this path.

Rapists and violators don’t rape and violate because they lose control over themselves; they do it because they (for whatever reason) want to control others.Willow’s problem was portrayed as controlling others until the end of episode nine, but was portrayed as an issue of self-control from “Wrecked” on, and it was a huge missed opportunity on the show’s part.

P.S. Even though Willow deserved every bit of Tara’s criticism and then some, she still received approximately 100% more criticism of this action than Angel did with his TWO memory-wiping stunts in “I Will Remember You” and the season four finale in his own show. Fuck you, Angel.

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11 Responses to BtVS and Consent Issues: Episode 6.06 – “All the Way,” 6.07 – “Once More With Feeling,” and 6.08 – “Tabula Rasa”

  1. Gareth says:

    It’s funny I was just thinking about whether or not you would look at once more with feeling the other day.
    Do you think that the demon trying to whisk Dawn to hell has a place in this series? (by series I meant BTVS vs Consent) I wasnt sure if arranged marriage falls under what you are Tryin to achieve with this article series

    • Lady T says:

      Hmm. Arranged marriage, yes, I think would fall under this issue. I just don’t think I have enough commentary on it to write a whole post about it.

  2. Ron M-D says:

    Excellent analysis! You make a good case for Willow violating Tara’s ability to give informed consent.

    Tara confronting Willow in Tabula Rasa is one of the most memorable moments of the entire show for me. I think it’s telling that Tara is more upset with Willow for wiping her memory–for attempting to “fix her”–than anything else. It fits well with her character, as you said, and it also drives home how rape and sexual violence IS about the perpetrators wanting to control others. That Tara, a formerly submissive “cheerleader”, would be willing to stand up to her partner in this episode means a lot. It’s one of the reasons she’s my favorite character for Season 6.

    Might I add that this episode also highlights how rape culture and domestic abuse are not unique to heterosexual relationships? It’s an issue worth recognizing, I think.

    • Lady T says:

      Tara really did grow a backbone in season six. She bores me most of the time, but I appreciate her for sticking up for herself.

      Might I add that this episode also highlights how rape culture and domestic abuse are not unique to heterosexual relationships? It’s an issue worth recognizing, I think.

      Yes, and thank you for pointing that out.

      • Might I add that this episode also highlights how rape culture and domestic abuse are not unique to heterosexual relationships? It’s an issue worth recognizing, I think.

        That’s actually something that, as a lesbian, I appreciate about the show, or rather S6 – that it treated Willow and Tara as two flawed people in a relationship, rather than as an idealized stereotype of “lesbians” that season. I’ve been taken to task for that opinion but I can also say that domestic abuse is no respecter of gender or orientation.

  3. JEL says:

    With respect to “I’ll Always Remember You”, no one can criticize you if no one remembers and only Angel ever remembered the original day. However I believe that strictly speaking what the Powers That Be did in response to the request of Angel, to be turned back to what he was, was not a memory wipe or alteration. Supposedly they rolled back time itself and let the whole world (universe?) relive that day. Note that Angel didn’t ask for that to happen specifically; that was their proposal on how to accomplish what he requested. Though he is responsible for accepting that solution. Most people of the world probably did all the same things the same way as before and were thus unaffected. The anomaly was Angel who still remembered the day that didn’t happen. Angel wasn’t specifically trying to control anyone else either (the way Willow was controlling Tara), just change things back for himself. True this had consequences for Buffy and he didn’t give Buffy any say. Self centered and high handed of him to decide to ask to be made back as he was without giving her a choice. And to accept the solution of the PTB. But I don’t think this particular incident quite works as an example of trying to control or fix someone else by altering their memory.

    The end of season 4 of AtS: yes that was a memory wipe and alteration. Of course the monks did something similar at the start of season 5 of BtVS. In that case they didn’t wipe any memories but “only” altered and inserted ones. And in SuperStar Jonathon messes with everyone’s memories and perceptions too. Willow and Angel are not the only ones in the Buffyverse messing with people’s minds.

  4. Of course the monks did something similar at the start of season 5 of BtVS. In that case they didn’t wipe any memories but “only” altered and inserted ones.

    Very true, and I find it ironic that for all the discussions of consent on the show I’ve seen in fandom, the fact that the monks altered the memories of all of these people (never mind created a human being out of whole cloth) without their consent is rarely or ever discussed in this context.

    • The anomaly was Angel who still remembered the day that didn’t happen. Angel wasn’t specifically trying to control anyone else either (the way Willow was controlling Tara), just change things back for himself. True this had consequences for Buffy and he didn’t give Buffy any say.

      I don’t see any difference. “Change things back FOR HIMSELF” and “didn’t give Buffy any say” are the operative words here IMO. He made unilateral decisions without giving the people most affected any say in the matter, without their knowledge or consent. His motivations or “intentions” may have been honorable in his mind, but that doesn’t make his actions ok. Or at least to my mind it doesn’t – apparently on the show it’s a different matter. Likewise, Willow certainly didn’t “intend” to hurt her lover but Tara was right to call her out on it.

      Most people of the world probably did all the same things the same way as before and were thus unaffected. The anomaly was Angel who still remembered the day that didn’t happen.

      Obviously we have no idea (isn’t a constant theme in SF that of going forward or backward in time and how changing even one small thing can have enormous, unintended repercussions? It’s also why amnesia is such an overused trope in fiction, because it allows us to play with the question “who are we, when our memories are gone, and how is identify constructed”?) The only people who matter are those on the screen, and the fact is, Angel sets in motion events that rob Buffy of a memory, without her consent. Our memories are part of what make us who we are, we are shaped by our experiences. (In S5 of BtVS, Buffy and the Scoobies have memories inserted in them of a history with Dawn, which slightly alters events and relationships; most notably Buffy and Joyce’s relationship is altered. Buffy’s sense of self is altered; there’s a huge difference between being an only child and the older sibling of two in a divorced family.)

      Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier is a wretched film (and I can’t believe I’m referring to it at all) but there’s a moment in it when Kirk refuses to be purged of his painful memories because they are part of “who I am”. Dumb movie, great moment.

      But the bottom line for me is still “he didn’t give Buffy any say”. That’s no less wrong IMO than Spike’s actions in SR; the difference is in degree, not kind.

  5. Jason Barnett says:

    informed consent is something I always had a problem with regarding Tara. See, according to the season 5 episode Family Tara grew up believing she was part demon. She never told Willow this, despite Willow being in a previous relationship with a werewolf. And in fact she took steps to keep Willow from finding out, using a spell and disrupting another.

    Personally, I find the idea of Willow wanting to control others pretty ridiculous

  6. drush76 says:

    [“I think these episodes did a very good job of showing why Willow had a problem with controlling others, and why that was a bad thing. Unfortunately, much of the follow-up wasn’t strong, and Willow’s need to fix people to her liking, as Tara aptly put it, was pushed aside in favor of magic=drugs metaphors.”]

    The “magic=drug metaphor”, along with the assault upon Tara were two problems that were a part of Willow’s main problem – her self-hatred and her willingness to use anything to escape from herself. Magic (or drug) addiction was never Willow’s problem. It was one of the things she used to escape from her own self-hatred. Other things she used were her relationship with Oz and being part of Buffy’s inner circle (or being a “hero”). Everything and everyone – use of magic, her habit of asserting control over others, her relationships with Oz and Tara, and her role as a “Scoobie” were tools that Willow used to escape from herself. Sorry, if I’m being ridiculous.

    [“Personally, I find the idea of Willow wanting to control others pretty ridiculous.”]

    It sounds like a trait of a typical control freak. And to me, control freaks are those who feel who has to inflict their will upon others to compensate for their own feelings of lack of control and self-hatred. I suspect Angel was another.

  7. In “I Will Remember You”, Angel told Doyle, the half-demon with whom he was friends, about his decision to allow the Powers to Be to set back time and wipe away the memories of everyone else. He told Doyle everything. He never told Buffy or Cordelia – the two women he had loved as a souled vampire. This makes me wonder what it would be like to be in a relationship with a controlling personality like his.

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