I was actually pleasantly surprised at how hard this challenge was. There are many, many bad episodes of Buffy. I mean, the show spanned seven seasons, so naturally, there have to be at least a few turds in that salad. I can’t really say there are any episodes I won’t watch on principle. (Wait, that’s not entirely true. I can only watch “The Body” once every year or so because it is so emotionally charged, but it definitely ranks up there as one of my favorite episodes period.) There’s several I’ll skip because, meh, and more often than not, those exist in Season One, which I find a bit too easy a target because, let’s face it, it’s kind of like judging a child for figuring out that hot things hurt when you touch them. They’re still learning. The other seasons, though, don’t get that lenience from me, particularly the latter ones. I’m looking at you, Seven.
But since I have to choose one, I’m going with Season Five’s “Family.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Tara is in my top five favorite characters list (Anya, Cordelia, Tara, Giles, and Oz, in case you’re wondering), and I’m exceptionally disappointed that this was her episode. All of the other loves interests of the main characters had their own major subplots going on (Oz being a werewolf and learning to deal with that, Anya becoming more human/self-aware, Jenny being Roma and trying to maintain Angel’s curse, Riley being a science experiment/commando, etc.), but Tara got a singular episode. Uno. And sure, she was involved in various plotlines, but it was always directly related to another character’s arc. And stuff was always being done to her (Glory and later, the Trio, for example), so she was never an active participant. She was always a tool, either to torture another member of the gang (Willow) or to be a repository of information, like when Buffy was trying to figure out if she came back from the dead “wrong.” Poor, poor Tara. She deserved so much more than this.
Every aspect of this episode felt so contrived and pointless, and even the better parts of it were poorly executed. Like the scene where Buffy steps in between Tara and her misogynistic family (also, hi, Amy Adams!)? I roll my eyes every time. Oh, “she’s family” now? Didn’t you but just a little while ago confess to Xander that you had no idea what to get Tara for her birthday because you know next to nothing about her? I mean, yay for standing up to the jerks and Amy Adams, but it’s not like Buffy even makes an effort again throughout the entire series to get to know Tara better, at least not on screen. When Willow and Tara break up in Six, the only person that is show interacting with Tara is Dawn, so all of this posturing for the McClays, although nice on the surface, is just absurd.
And everyone seems to have forgotten that Tara nearly just got them all killed with her spell to hide demons, which brings me to my next point. While it is nice to have the writers explain Tara’s odd behavior in the previous season (she sabotaged the spell she and Willow were working on to locate a demon), it irritates me knowing that Tara gets all Judgy McJudgerson with Willow for casting a forgetting spell, when she herself had, only a mere year previously, altered the perceptions of her supposed friends for her own purposes. I’m not excusing Willow’s behavior here; her mystical rape of Tara was horrible, and she had every right to be super pissed about it. But to act all high and mighty about it seems might hypocritical and not like her at all. Her actions in “Family” aren’t even brought up, something I think Willow would have at least tried to throw in Tara’s face because she was going full-blown asshole at this point.
There’s not much else I can say about this episode, except that it just doesn’t work, both as a standalone entity and as part of the narrative whole. It might as well have never aired, although Amber Benson’s makeup is on point throughout most of it.
I guess that’s ending on a positive?