Tara Maclay is a fictional character created by Joss Whedon for the cult television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, portrayed by Amber Benson.
Tara is introduced in the Season Four as a member of a campus Wicca group of which Willow Rosenberg is also a member. In many ways, the painfully shy and quiet Tara is reminiscent of Willow of seasons past. As Willow's romantic relationship with Oz caused her to bloom, it is through Tara that Willow becomes a powerful young woman, and through Willow that Tara's confidence grows. As the season progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the pair are destined for a romantic liaison. Willow realizes that Tara is the person she loves, choosing Tara over her ex-boyfriend Oz. The two thus became one of the few lesbian couples on television and the first-ever prime-time lesbian couple which included a starring character. Magic came to serve as a metaphor for lesbianism and love.
Not much is known about Tara's past. She was born on October 16, 1980 (as seen in the season 7 episode "Help"). Her family life was clearly traumatic, and she had not had many friends before meeting Willow. In the episode "The Body," Tara tells Buffy that she lost her mother when she was 17, at which point she went through a brief rebellious period. In the episode "Family," it is revealed that her father had told her at a young age that she was partially of demon descent on her mother's side, who, just like Tara, had magic powers. After she finds out this was merely a lie designed to keep control over her, Tara's ties with her family seem entirely severed, leaving Willow and the Scooby Gang her only remaining loved ones, her new family. In the episode "Tough Love," Willow points out that Tara has been out longer than Willow has, perhaps implying that Willow is not Tara's first girlfriend. It is also inferred through a comment her brother made that her family may have been abusive.
Although Tara is credited as a recurring character she plays an important role in the story on several occasions, primarily through her relationship with Willow. At the end of the fifth season the evil hell-god Glory sucks her mind out, leaving her in a babbling, childlike state until Willow cures her. In the sixth season of the series, Tara feels that Willow's addiction to magic (which was, by this point, used as a metaphor for drug abuse) has become out of control, and leaves her.
By the beginning of the sixth season, Tara and Willow have been surrogate parent figures to Dawn Summers since Buffy's death at the end of Season Five, and Tara remains devoted to Dawn even after she leaves the Summers house following her breakup with Willow. Inasmuch as Dawn was unaware of the plan by Willow and the others to resurrect Buffy, it would seem she expected to remain in Willow and Tara's guardianship until she turned 18, and her overjoyed reaction to their reconciliation in "Seeing Red" reflects her love for them. Tara is also supportive and understanding of Willow's efforts to deal with the pressure of Scooby Gang leadership, reminding her that their bedroom is "the room where you don't have to be brave." In season six we see Tara as a much more confident human being with great magical skills and knowledge. She is shown to be very friendly with a good sense of humor. She becomes very close to Dawn, who takes her death especially hard.
Tara is killed (according to her gravestone, on May 7, 2002) by a stray bullet when Warren shoots Buffy in their backyard in the episode "Seeing Red." As a result, Willow is propelled into a destructive fury, and soon attempts to destroy the world.
After Tara's death, it was fiercely debated whether it constituted an example of a cliché in television that lesbian relationships usually turn out badly, often with one partner dying or turning out to be evil. Joss Whedon later explained that Tara's death had nothing to do with her being a lesbian, but it was just another plot twist designed to further Willow's personality; allegedly, if Willow had still been involved with Oz in Season Six, he would've been killed just as Tara was, so Tara was doomed not for being a lesbian but for being Willow's lover. In particular, it had become a well-known cliché that any couples in the series tended to have their relationships brutally interrupted when they're at their closest.
Amber Benson was originally going to return to the show in the Season Seven episode "Conversations with Dead People," in which Tara would appear as one of the many forms of The First Evil, and attempt to coerce Willow into committing suicide. However, Benson decided that she didn't want to return, believing that appearing as a form of the season's villain, taunting Willow about her love for the real Tara, would ruin Tara's image and needlessly upset Tara's fans. Instead, the First appeared to Willow as Cassie Newton, claiming to speak for Tara and that Willow couldn't see Tara (unless she killed herself) as a consequence of her actions as Dark Willow.
While speaking at the Wizard World Chicago Convention in August 2004, Joss Whedon claimed that he had planned to bring Tara back from the dead at the end of Season Seven. According to Whedon, the episode would have centered around Buffy being granted one "life-altering" wish. Buffy would have spent the whole episode trying to decide what she wanted to do with the wish (including, possibly, restoring Angel's humanity). The episode would have ended with Buffy telling Willow that she'd just gotten a great new pair of shoes, and when Willow asked her if she used up her wish on new shoes, Buffy would have said, "No, silly!" and stepped aside to reveal Tara. This plan was abandoned when Amber Benson was unavailable for filming. At the 2007 Comic-Con, he referred to this idea as well.
Tara appeared within Buffy's dreamspace in the third issue of Season Eight, and was later discussed in the tenth issue by Willow when explaining to Buffy and Kennedy that she was keeping Kennedy and herself away from Buffy because she felt guilty for her decision to resurrect Buffy, returning to the life of increased danger associated with slaying which ultimately cost Tara her life, rather than taking the opportunity of Buffy's death to be with Tara in a safer environment and she did not want to repeat the same mistake with Kennedy.
Powers and abilities
Tara is a powerful witch and is shown to perform a wide range of spells during her time on the show. Tara also demonstrates telekinesis, which, when she is in physical contact with Willow, is stronger than it would otherwise be (i.e. she and Willow pool their power by concentrating on moving the same object). An unusual ability she displays is the ability to magically know something is wrong with someone and to sense the use of mental powers, which she does by "reading" a person's aura (such as when Buffy is possessed by Faith). This ability is one of very few that Willow Rosenberg did not have during the show. In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG this ability is known as "The Sight". Tara has a good knowledge of Latin and grew up riding horses. Tara is also shown in "Once More, With Feeling" to have a strong singing voice as she has an entire number to herself (Under Your Spell). She also sings a duet with Giles and sings back-up in "Walk Through the Fire".
In an essay published in Salon, Stephanie Zacharek argued that "gentle and sensible" Tara - more than any other character on Buffy - quietly and sympathetically stood for the right of all people to choose their own path and make their own mistakes. Zacherek writes, "Her soft, pearlescent voice and shy, doelike eyes didn't contrast with her resolve; they were a huge part of it."
Notable spells and incidents
In season four, Tara is the only character to notice that Faith's spirit is trapped in Buffy's body, and she is also central in sending Willow to the "nether-world" in order to discover how they can reverse the soul-switching (cf. "Who Are You"). "Superstar" shows Tara cast a defensive spell which fends off a demon by conjuring a magical "fog of protection". In the episode "Where the Wild Things Are," Tara aids Giles and Willow in an attempt to reach and reason with the residual spiritual manifestations of numerous abused children who are plaguing a fraternity house.
In season four's "Restless" Tara is 'borrowed' out of time and space in order to speak for the First Slayer who is a primitive without speech. From Tara's mouth is first heard the prophetic line that is later repeated (almost verbatim) by Dracula in Buffy vs. Dracula, "You think you know, what's to come, what you are. You haven't even begun."
In the season five episode "Family," Tara casts a spell to stop the Scooby Gang from being able to see demons so she can hide her supposed demon side. This spell almost gets the entire gang killed but Tara reverses it in time. Tara is also seen casting more offensive spells in combat situations.
In season six, Tara also uses effective combat spells and once again she is the only one that sees Buffy for what she is after she returns from the dead. For example, during the two-part Season Six premier "Bargaining", Tara casts a spell creating a "bolt of light" that strikes a demon biker attempting to kidnap Anya, thus freeing her friend. During the second part of "Bargaining", Tara magically conjures a jet of flame in an attempt to intimidate the bikers' leader. In the episode "Older and Far Away," she casts a spell to free the trapped party goers in Buffy's house but the spell instead frees a demon from a sword. "Normal Again" shows Tara cast a spell that instantly dissolves her friends' bonds, and another spell that makes a big shelf fly through the room and hit a demon.
It is also during "Bargaining" that Tara makes her first demon kill. She axes a demon in the back as he tries to strangle Willow.
Tara's mother died some time before Tara attended UC Sunnydale. She has at least one brother, Donny, and a cousin, Beth.
- Willow Rosenberg — Tara meets Willow in a Wicca group during college, and begins a relationship which becomes sexual (cf. "The I in Team"). Unlike the heterosexual couples on Buffy, the two are very rarely shown in remotely intimate situations with each other, not kissing on screen until the season 5 episode "The Body", nearly a full season after they came out. They are portrayed as each others' "true love" throughout the series, shadowing Willow's Season Seven relationship with Potential Slayer Kennedy. During the episode "Tabula Rasa," in which the Scoobies fall victim to an amnesia spell, there is still a heavy attraction between Willow and Tara.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Tara appeared in 47 episodes overall.
- Season 4: "Hush"; "A New Man"; "The I in Team"; "Goodbye Iowa"; "This Year's Girl"; "Who Are You"; "Superstar"; "Where the Wild Things Are"; "New Moon Rising"; "The Yoko Factor"; "Primeval"; "Restless"
- Season 5: "Buffy vs. Dracula"; "Real Me"; "Out of My Mind"; "Family"; "Shadow"; "Listening to Fear"; "Triangle"; "Checkpoint"; "Blood Ties"; "Crush"; "I Was Made to Love You"; "The Body"; "Forever"; "Intervention"; "Tough Love"; "Spiral"; "The Weight of the World"; "The Gift"
- Season 6: "Bargaining, Part One" and "Part Two"; "After Life"; "Flooded"; "Life Serial"; "All the Way"'; "Once More, With Feeling"; "Tabula Rasa"; "Smashed"; "Wrecked"; "Dead Things"; "Older and Far Away"; "Hell's Bells"; "Normal Again"; "Entropy"; "Seeing Red"; "Villains"
Tara also appears in Buffy expanded universe. She appears in a few Buffy novels/comics notably in her mini-series: Willow & Tara. She also makes an appearance in the 2003 video game: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds, in which she is playable in Multiplayer only.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG
Willow and Tara were prominently showcased in the first published adventure for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, The Dark Druid. The adventure features Fionn mac Cumhaill as a protagonist and ally. His battle with the druid Fer Doirich continues into the modern age and posits that Willow and Tara are the reincarnations of his fosters Bodhmall and Liath respectively.
Writing and acting
- Joss Whedon originally wanted an actress with a smaller, less voluptuous frame, but Marti Noxon saw the vulnerability in Amber Benson's portrayal of Tara and called her back after her audition .
- Benson described her character in an interview, "She's quiet. It's mostly because she is shy, I think. I can identify with it in a sense, because I can be very shy too. It's almost like acting is an outlet for me that helps me to not be shy. I feel like Tara's the same way; her witchcraft empowers her and it forces her out of her shell."
- Hannigan was asked how Whedon planned the Willow-Tara relationship, "I don't know if he had any idea that was going to develop the relationship the way he did. He was very hands-on in the Willow and Tara scenes.. he only does that when he really cares. But then we started reading the stuff and it's like 'OK, this is clearly going beyond the subtext here.' And he tried to stick to the 'No, no, it's just subtext' defense. Finally it was like 'Oh come on, hit-yourself-over-the-head-with-the-it' text."
- Amber Benson was usually credited as a guest on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, despite appearing in more episodes than other regulars Oz and Riley. The only time she was credited as a cast member was for the episode "Seeing Red," the episode in which Tara was killed. As Joss Whedon said in his commentary for "Welcome to the Hellmouth," this was something he had wanted to do from the start: kill a character listed as a regular in one of their first appearances as such. Whedon had considered listing Eric Balfour (who played Jesse) in the two-part pilot as a regular, only to surprise the audience by killing him off, but financial restrictions didn't allow for this.
Notes and references
- The Lesbian Cliche FAQ
- Conversations with dead people: Alternative dialogue between Willow and Tara
- Ten Minutes with Amber Benson by von Metzke, Ross, Lesbianation, March 30, 2007. 
- , <http://comicbookresources.com/news/newsitem.cgi?id=11422>
- Zacharek, Stephanie (May 22, 2002), “Willow, destroyer of worlds”, Salon, <http://dir.salon.com/story/ent/tv/feature/2002/05/22/buffy/index.html?pn=2>. Retrieved on 30 August 2007
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- The Dark Druid by Brannan, Timothy S., Games Unplugged , July 2002, p.25. 
- Springer, Matt, "Every Little Thing She Does", from Buffy the Vampire Slayer magazine #16 (UK, January 2001), pages 8-12.
- Eden, Martin, "Alyson Wonderland", from Buffy the Vampire Slayer magazine #15 (UK, December 2000), page 8-14.
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