Buffy was a seminal show for many young queers in the 1990s. The show was about Buffy, a vampire slayer in southern California, who lived on a Hellmouth and fought demons while in high school. It was a direct ‘High School is Hell’ allegory.
But Joss Whedon won many hearts by his irreverent and flippant attitude to norms. He wrote a show that sang to our hearts and seemed to make us all feel normal. This love grew deeper when regular character Willow realized she was attracted to shy witch, Tara, and they became girlfriends.
And then Joss ripped our hearts out and stomped them into the ground by abruptly killing off Tara. This is one of the most significant deaths in Bury Your Gays history. Decades later it still hurts.
The short version is, after a break up, Willow and Tara got back together and seconds after they had sex, Tara was killed by a stray bullet, meant for Buffy, which turned Willow into the great evil who destroyed all things.
Take a breath here folks.
This was 2001. We really hadn’t had a lot of lesbians that we could look at and feel kinship with. And then we had Buffy, which made us all feel like we weren’t alone. And then we got Tara, and we felt loved. And then she was murdered. There were protests, but in 2001, it was a very different social media world. Joss swore up and down that it was the only way to make Willow’s character arc go full evil. Everyone on the show swore there was no malicious intent behind the decision.
And years later, if you ask someone who liked the show “How’d you feel about Tara?” you’ll probably get a very emotional answer.
Simply put, Joss had no idea he was playing with fire. He had no idea that people who were so marginalized and ignored by popular media would take so much from his work the way that we did. And Joss? Well he accidentally invented a trope of killing a lesbian ‘by accident.’
Queer Plotline Timeline
Tara is introduced in university (Season 4) and she and Willow quickly become friends and then girlfriends. They date through season 4 and 5, only to break up for a short while in season 6. They reconcile, only for Tara to die moments later. In season 7, Willow eventually starts to date other women, including a potential Slayer named Kennedy. They remain together at the end of the series (and no, we don’t count the comics).
Notable Queer-Centric Episodes
- Season 4 Episode 10, “Hush” – Willow and Tara see each other for the first time at the school Wicca group. Later they perform telekinesis together running from a group of fairytale ghouls named “The Gentlemen”
- Season 5 Episode 6, “Family” – Tara’s family makes a surprise visit on her birthday and try to take her home with them. This is the first episode where you learn Tara’s backstory.
- Season 5 Episode 16, “The Body” – Known as “one of the greatest episodes of television ever broadcast,” the Scooby Gang deals with the death of Buffy’s mother. Also, after a year of only holding hands and doing spells together, Willow and Tara finally kiss. Network execs pushed back against the kiss, but show creator, Joss Whedon, threatened to quit the show if the network forbade it.