classic episode
buffy the vampire slayer : "new moon rising"

4.19 / Original air date May 2, 2000

Written by: Marti Noxon
Directed by: James A. Contner

All BtVS fans know that as good as Joss Whedon was at writing monsters, he was at his best when writing about human beings. When stripped back to the basics, with stories about love, friendship, passion or loss, BtVS was pretty hard to beat on any level. It was the way humanity took hits and survived that made the show so appealing.

Willow Rosenberg had a couple of what Buffy herself termed "unconventional relationships", first with Oz the Werewolf, and then with Tara the Wiccan lesbian. One could say that she was attracted to power from the very beginning. In "New Moon Rising" we see Willow at a crossroads. She's not just deciding who her boyfriend or girlfriend will be, Willow is deciding between two vastly different lifestyles, and also two vastly different forms of power. No matter what anyone says, decisions like this are not just based on love, or what will make you happy, and kudos to Marti Noxon for recognising this fact.

In season four, Willow was still close enough to the light to recognise Tara's power as the "good" and Oz's as dangerous. The Willow of later seasons might have viewed the whole thing quite differently. After all, her power grew and transformed monumentally between seasons five and six, spurred on by the need to replace Buffy as leader of the Scooby Gang, and the dip into black magic she made while trying to defeat Glory on her own terms. But that Willow was in the future. Here, at the beginning of Willow and Tara's relationship, we knew Willow was capable of messing with the dark side, but she always turned back at the brink. It would be another season before we would see Willow's eyes turn black for the first time.

There's nothing dark about Tara. Behind the baby-talk and shy personality lies a strength it took two seasons to really bring out of her. When tested by desperate circumstances, Tara briefly stepped over the line in "Family" (season five), but from that point on we got the feeling that Tara would never again stray, that she would be there to draw a line against dark magick. I guess that was what made her so annoying at first, knowing that this character was meant to be the conscience of the group, the constant reminder that power always has its price. She was also the victim; of Glory's mind-meddling, of her family, of Willow herself, and finally of Warren. Of course, Tara could foresee none of this while Willow was standing in her doorway with a candle welcoming her into that world. But let's face it, if Willow Rosenberg were standing in your doorway with that come-hither expression promising to make all your dreams come true, could you say no, even if you could foresee the future?

Buffy's reaction to Willow's coming out is a particularly interesting point in this episode, and in the history of the series in general. At the time she's freaked; probably more so than if Willow had come to her and confessed to her that she was in love with a Polgara demon. Later she admits to a "momentary wiggins", which in Buffyspeak means she was surprised, but she got over it. Despite the fact that Joss didn't write this episode, this idea is classic Whedon. People react and then they move on. There isn't time for Buffy to weird out over the nature of things, there are soon far more important things to be considered. The way that sexuality is firmly backhanded into its place is somewhat reassuring.

Oz doesn't even blink at the fact that Tara is a girl when he discovers the truth by accident. His animal nature sees her only as a rival, the ultimate test to his newfound inner cool. He fails this test miserably, but somewhere in that automatic treatment of her as the enemy, as an equal to be destroyed, is a reassuring sense of acceptance. He doesn't laugh it off as some kind of joke. His reaction, to turn into the wolf and try to kill her, is the ultimate validation.

"New Moon Rising", for all its commando action and other distractions, is about recognition and acceptance. Oz accepts some things about himself that he can never change. Riley finds out that his vision of things is not as clear as it once was. Buffy finally begins to reveal to Riley her history with Angel, and why the line between human and monster can never be clear for her again. And what is Willow but a perfect example of how lines can be blurred? True, nobody ever talks about her bisexuality. She seems to walk into the clubhouse a fully-fledged, card-carrying lesbian, but for this important stage of self-discovery Willow is walking the lines between two different worlds, sexually and magically speaking, and her friends just have to deal with that.

Most of all, "New Moon Rising" was the beginning of the commitment between Willow and Tara. It's a very human connection, one that has nothing to do with witchcraft or demons or any of the other powers swirling around them. Whedon would continue to associate magic and sex for a while to come, but the emotional side of Willow and Tara was initially blissfully free from that. Before Willow began to change, and before the power began to be the focus of her existence, we got to witness the beginning of this relationship that was all about love.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer series overview and review

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