30 Days of Female Awesome: Day Two

Favorite supporting female character. An even tougher choice. The Americans and The Good Wife both have beautifully realized female characters in supporting roles, whom I am passing over because I could never select just one (if I did it would probably be Nina, but with only one season to analyze that seems a little premature).

 Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Willow Rosenberg is my woman for this slot, because she has that funny thing as a character where she always resonates, even if I don't particularly like her all of the time. I've read more Willow meta than for any other character in BtVS; her construction and the shape of her arc, even when it's derailed by wonky metaphors, fascinates me. It's not even that I identify with her (though I see at least a few parts of myself reflected). It's mostly an intellectual fascination, but it's strong and has more staying power than the emotional pinging that some other characters do for me.

To get at why, I'm citing other people's meta because it is plentiful and most likely more articulate than I could be.

"Witch," Mirrors and Mommy Issues Based in season one episodes, tracing thematic and character parallels through the whole series, some of the most insightful analysis of Willow's mommy issues and mirroring relation to Amy. "Willow struggles with having a core identity, so she tends to reflect back to people either what she thinks they want, or what they actually are.  And people are willing to line up and tell her who they want her to be.  They don’t even realize it.  She takes over Jenny Calendar’s job and in some respects becomes her, becoming Giles’ confidante, technopagan and Gypsy curse spell-caster.  She does magic to impress Giles and to get his attention. She becomes stronger and sexier in part because she thinks that’s what will attract Xander.  She ends up taking Tara’s crystal which belonged to her mother, and in some ways symbolically replaces Tara’s mother (whom Tara compared Willow to in one of their first lines together at the end of Hush).  After she kills Warren, she pretty much becomes him."


Willowy Thoughts I disagree with this meta's statement that Willow's issues are tied up neatly by the end of season seven, but I love this insight "The key to my understanding of Willow is her wordplay. Xander's known for his words, which come off as either "I'm clever; like me, or at least don't hurt me" or full-on attack mode. It's cleverness intended to be heard by others, often based on obscure but not too-obscure references. Willow's more into tongue-twisters and extreme comma-splices and run-on sentences, which are more about a clever mind keeping itself occupied in a vacuum. "

Pride, not ethics Willow's sense of morality in season six, and how little it's changed from the previous seasons.

The Age of Disillusionment One of the best essays for pulling together the disparate storylines of season six into a coherent thematic narrative  "In the early episodes of season 6, the idea of becoming the next Anakin Skywalker seems to exert the same pull on Willow as Supervillany does on the three nerds. She gains the power to remake the world to her own liking, but is that really what she wants? This is the girl who balked at even being called the Big Gun following her first experience of real power in the final episodes of Season 5. Raising Buffy from the dead feels amazing but also absolves Willow of having to stay “boss of us” and that may be the point. Like most of us, I suspect, Willow wants to feel like Super!Willow without the attendant responsibility of being her. She wants power, yes, but largely as means to avoid having to experience unpleasantness, and if achieving that disrupts other people’s lives then so be it. It takes a trip to Rack’s for her to finally see through what she’s been doing and she crashes to the ground, neither Dark!Phoenix nor fallen angel, but just another junkie seeking a fix for her emotional inadequacies."

DarkWillow--is she the result of magic possession, addiction or plain human evil? "Does the magic take Willow over at some point? Or is she acting of her own will till the end? Does the use of magic follow more of the Wrecked addiction model or the pre-Wrecked "magic as a tool" model. Do Willow's control issues come into play? How much of this is identity crisis?"

A Dark Willow Post "The line between “rejecting life” and “rejecting oneself” is blurred throughout these episodes (and the season).  Willow’s third-person dialogue, in which she calls “Willow” a loser, is a manifestation of Willow’s inability even to recognize herself as…herself.  Willow spends so much of her life trying to maintain the illusion of an identity of competence and goodness that she has lost all ability to believe in herself in it.  “Willow’s a loser” and “Willow’s a junkie” are two sides of the same coin—Willow’s a loser for being picked on, and Willow’s a junkie for being so weak and immoral as to become a dirty addict.  Regardless of what one thinks of the addiction aspects of the story, I think it should be comprehensible that Willow views her reliance on magic as a form of weakness."

Willow, Faith and Repentance What makes for a satisfying redemption arc is a trickily subjective question; this essay tries to tackle it, comparing Willow's and Faith's.
oh hi, livejournal told me I was linked here! Thanks for the kind words.

I like those other essays too. I especially like the insight in the "Willowy thoughts one" about Willow's run-on sentences and her thoughts jumping around in her brain before they exit, and suggesting someone used to operating by herself. I don't entirely agree with the other assertions there (i.e. I don't think she lacks empathy exactly, though her form of empathy is kind of screwed up and can be overwhelmed by her own pain; and I agree her issues aren't fully wrapped up in season seven) (and I also really don't think that Willow magicked Tara into coming back in "Entropy" as she implies in the comments).

Despite some of the wonky metaphors, I feel kind of like everything in Willow's story does make sense, but it requires more digging than it does for other characters (or at least, I think so), which is cool/annoying depending on your perspective. I feel a little as if the rules for magic are entirely consistent and perhaps even obvious, but no one actually bothered to write them down, in that they just sort of...seem to always make sense, but I can't easily put my finger on how, and end up disagreeing with others on some basic stuff, proving that it's not so obvious. But I suspect that the most basic rule is from "Doppelgangland's" teaser: "it's about emotional control." She needs "emotional control" to use the magic, and she tries to use magic, in one way or another (as the "age of disillusionment" essay suggests) to get control of her emotions.

ETA: Rereading the excerpt you posted from the Dark Willow post, wow, I'm glad you understood that because I couldn't quite parse my own statement. It's good that it came across somehow (i.e. that the third-person "Willow's a loser" is Willow regarding her own identity with distance and contempt, and this being possible because she is so used to constantly watching over how she presents herself).

Edited at 2013-12-20 11:21 pm (UTC)
Hi, thanks for the lovely meta and for commenting.

I agree with you actually that Willow's story makes sense when you dig deep enough; the failure in execution for me is that I think the narrative could have presented the same thematic and character arc in a more above-board manner. Of course, Willow is not exactly an above-board character because she's so involved in maintaining personas and emotional control, and it's difficult to write for a character who alot of the time can't be fully honest even with herself about what's going on in her head.

In the excerpt from your Dark Willow essay, I thought there were two interlinked statements there? Willow has put so much into maintaining a certain persona that she doesn't have much sense of an identity underneath the persona left? That's the reason for the third-person dialogue and then there's the substance of the dialogue, which is that Willow hates both sides of the shell of herself: the hollow, weak little girl and the hollow, selfish addict. Both those negative self-images are the negative flipside of the persona she's tried and failed to maintain--the good, competent Willow. Along with being an identity crisis I see the dark Willow arc as a crisis of Willow's faith in herself, which had been corroded by her efforts to live as a persona she didn't really believe in.




Edited at 2013-12-23 11:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I agree with you actually that Willow's story makes sense when you dig deep enough; the failure in execution for me is that I think the narrative could have presented the same thematic and character arc in a more above-board manner. Of course, Willow is not exactly an above-board character because she's so involved in maintaining personas and emotional control, and it's difficult to write for a character who alot of the time can't be fully honest even with herself about what's going on in her head.

I agree with that. I have realized lately that I'm glad it is the way it is if only because untangling it has been a little challenging & therapeutic in a way untangling a less conflicted, seemingly contradictory character arc might not have been. OTOH, I'm still left with the vague uneasy sense that maybe I'm wrong, which maybe I wouldn't have elsewhere.

In the excerpt from your Dark Willow essay, I thought there were two interlinked statements there? Willow has put so much into maintaining a certain persona that she doesn't have much sense of an identity underneath the persona left? That's the reason for the third-person dialogue and then there's the substance of the dialogue, which is that Willow hates both sides of the shell of herself: the hollow, weak little girl and the hollow, selfish addict. Both those negative self-images are the negative flipside of the persona she's tried and failed to maintain--the good, competent Willow. Along with being an identity crisis I see the dark Willow arc as a crisis of Willow's faith in herself, which had been corroded by her efforts to live as a persona she didn't really believe in.

Yeah, that was what I was going for, I just wasn't clear if it came across, or if those two points went together easily. I think it's too often that fans suggest that Willow "only" hates her nerd self and doesn't mind seeing herself as evil, which is a mistake -- though, yes, her Dark Willow identity crisis gives a bit of that. But somehow being good and being competent all get mixed together, because why exactly is being a nerd so bad if it's not a moral failure on some level? She seems to think on some level she deserves to be treated badly just for being a nerd, even if another level has a sense of anger at the recognition that it's not fair.