Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow & Tara and Doors

Thanks to the folks over at Whedonesque for the link! My blog has actually migrated, so if you'd like to leave a comment you can do so over here.

Of all the relationships on Buffy, Willow and Tara's feels the most separated from the goings-on of the other Scoobies. That separation is partly forced because their relationship is a lesbian one and thus not quite socially acceptable, especially on network television. Willow and Tara are much less physically affectionate in comparison to the show's other significant relationships, and at the beginning of their relationship their intimacy has to be portrayed through metaphor. In the context of the show, Willow does not openly date Tara at first because she is coming out to herself and worries about her friends' reactions. But Willow and Tara also remain conscious of and even maintain a separate space for their relationship to occupy. Because of the "behind closed doors" nature of their relationship, a close look at door imagery, of which there is quite a bit, is warranted and indeed rewarded. Doors, doorways, and entryways help to illustrate the progression of Willow and Tara's relationship and its integration into the "mainstream" of the show.

Of course, each character opens a door at some point, and theoretically everyone has to go through doors all the time to get from room to room and place to place. But doors are interesting. Doors are obviously associated with entry and exit, but often those entrances and exits relate to more than just the physical space. The ideas, people, and values that space represents are being embraced or dismissed as well. Who can open particular doors or pass through doorways into certain spaces indicates ownership, privilege, and power. Doors also provide isolation or privacy, and in the Buffyverse doors and doorways can effectively protect against vampires who cannot cross some thresholds without an invitation.

Doorways and entryways are also liminal spaces or places of transition. Obviously, people go from outside to inside or from one space to another through doorways, but entryways differ somewhat. They are part of a space but at the same time disconnected and, in fact, almost purgatorial: one only lingers in an entryway until accepted into the rest of the building where meaningful interactions take place. Liminal spaces often play a significant role in portraying queer relationships. Because same-sex relationships have been considered socially deviant, they oftentimes can only safely exist in liminal spaces, like a darkened alley or a bathroom stall. But restricting queer characters to liminal spaces ensures that their "threatening" sexuality does not come in contact with "moral," heterosexual spaces like marriage, the home, and the nuclear family. The confinement also implies that they do not or cannot belong in those places.

Images of doors, entryways, and doorways feature prominently throughout Willow and Tara's relationship, but Tara in particular has a lot of such imagery associated with her starting from her first appearance in "Hush." Indeed, Tara choosing to delve into the Scoobies' world of vampires, demons, and monsters is marked by a door. As Tara leaves her dorm room to find Willow so that they can do a spell together, she opens the door and looks back hesitantly at her room before shutting the door behind her. She has a definite moment of exiting one world and entering another. Because Tara is an outsider to the group, her space exists outside of the Scoobies' domain. And unlike Giles and Xander's apartments or Spike's crypt, Tara's room never becomes a place where the Scoobies hang out or even a place they visit sometimes. Because of that separation, Tara's room becomes a place where Willow may explore her sexuality and transition to a gay identity. Or perhaps that relationship is actually inverse: because Tara is queer she must inhabit separate space, which makes her an outsider. Because doors are such an important part of demarcating space, the majority of door imagery related to Tara reveals the limitations of how she may and what space she may occupy as a queer outsider.
Tara's role for much of season four is allowing Willow access to her room – access to queer space – quite literally opening her door so that their relationship may foster. Tara first opens her door to Willow in “The I in Team” when she drops by to ask if Tara wants to hang out after Buffy blows her off to patrol with Riley. Willow had been in Tara's room before to do magic together in "A New Man," but that scene begins with Willow already inside the room. Thus, this little moment of Willow asking if she can enter Tara's room seems more significant than her simply inquiring if Tara wants to "do something." Their body language also suggests something more: Willow is visibly nervous and hopeful, and Tara's smile is on the warmer side of friendly as she lets Willow into her room. Combined with the door closing, leaving the audience outside the room, I'm inclined to believe that this episode marks when Willow and Tara's relationship becomes more than just a friendship. This scene perhaps represents Willow's coming out to herself, choosing to enter Tara's room in a more significant way than before.

The following episode “Goodbye Iowa” contains a similar scene in which a very smiley Willow comes to Tara's room for help with a spell. They talk about the "spells" they did after the door closed in "The I in Team," and Tara says that she has been thinking about "that last spell [they] did all day," which overtly hints at the romantic nature of Willow and Tara's relationship for the first time. If "The I in Team" represents their first actually sexual (and not just magical) encounter, then "Goodbye Iowa" is their processing of that event. While Willow seems excited by their newly forming relationship, she has yet to fully embrace it because she still needs to knock and be let into Tara's room.

"New Moon Rising" obviously marks an important turning point for Willow and Tara when Willow doubly asserts her queer identity by choosing Tara over Oz and revealing to Buffy that she has been romantically involved with a woman. The first time Willow comes to Tara's room during the episode, Tara opens her door and invites Willow inside. When Willow visits a second time to tell Tara that she has chosen to be with her and not Oz, she steps into the room without a clear invitation. After making that choice and thereby establishing her queer identity, Willow has freer access to Tara's (queer) space and no longer has to pause in the liminal space of the doorway. Indeed, the next time Willow enters Tara's room in “Family” she opens the door without knocking.

While she must open doors to queer spaces for Willow, Tara must be escorted out of liminal spaces and into familiar ones as her and Willow's implied lesbian relationship becomes more explicit. Of course, Willow has to introduce Tara to her friends and their personal spaces, but Tara seemingly doesn't have the agency to enter even public Scooby spaces by herself. When Willow takes Tara to The Bronze in "Who Are You?" Tara had never been to the club before, which implies that she couldn't go there unaccompanied by Willow. Similarly, in “Family” Willow thinks that she hears Tara outside the Magic Box and opens the front door, suggesting that Tara could not have opened the door herself. In "The Real Me,” Tara even has to leave a space that had been familiar to her when the Scoobies begin to occupy it in a meaningful way. Tara says she comes to the Magic Box a lot, and only she knew the dead shopkeeper's name. But as Willow and Buffy investigate the murder scene and Giles begins to contemplate buying the store, Tara leaves the shop and joins Dawn outside, saying that it's "Best non-Scoobies like [them] stay out of the way."
In "Family," Tara finally enters a Scooby space by herself and, not coincidentally, finally feels embraced as part of the group in a way that she hadn't before. As the Scoobies help Buffy move out of her dorm room, Tara makes a joke that no one understands and then walks out the door, which emphasizes her feeling like an outsider despite very obviously wanting to be part of the group. Later in the episode when she walks into the Magic Box with Willow and sees her brother, she fears that his presence might jeopardize her ability to occupy that space, because her family could reveal her misguided belief that she is a demon. Even her personal space becomes compromised when she walks into her dorm room and finds her father inspecting her belongings. Feeling potentially excluded from the group, and indeed even from Sunnydale, Tara is pushed to liminal spaces and must perform her demon-hiding spell from a doorway in the magic shop. While that spell endangers the Scoobies by blinding them to demons, it also creates an opportunity for Tara to help them without any assistance from Willow. And Tara enters a Scooby space by herself for the first time when she walks into the Magic Box and warns Buffy about the Lei-Ach demon about to attack her.

Tara's incorporation into the Scoobies becomes conflated with the group's acceptance of Willow's new queer identity and their relationship. When Willow and Tara visit Giles' apartment in "Primeval” the morning after Willow outs their relationship, Giles must open his front door for them. Where they could barge into Giles' apartment in “Who Are You?” as an anonymous couple, after their relationship has been revealed they no longer have that power and privilege. As the Scoobies' create a place in the gang for Tara during the course of “Family,” they also must resolve their lingering uncertainty about Willow and Tara's relationship. Toward the beginning of the episode, Buffy and Xander are quick to say “it's cool” that Willow is now “Swingin' with the ['lesbian'] lifestyle,” but they also express a sense of alienation, worrying that they won't fit in at Tara's birthday party. And while they think Tara is "nice," “real nice,” “super nice,” they say that they “don't necessarily get her” because they don't understand “Half of what she says.” All they really seem to know about Tara is that she likes Willow, that she is a lesbian, which seemingly hinders their ability to communicate with her. By accepting Tara they also accept her sexuality and relationship with Willow, even though they may not understand it. Willow and Tara dancing together at The Bronze at the end of the episode, their first public display of couplehood, underscores that their relationship has also been newly acknowledged.

Tara does become more integrated into the Scoobies to the point that in “Bargaining” she helps a physically and emotionally exhausted Willow enter the Magic Box – where Willow once had to escort her into places the Scoobies frequent, Tara now helps Willow enter those same spaces. But unfortunately because Tara doesn't receive much character development outside of her relationship with Willow, her acceptance as a Scooby remains tied to her being in that relationship. Therefore, her persistent lingering in doorways seems appropriate, emphasizing her tenuous place in the Scooby gang.

As their relationship begins to strain, Tara is forced out of Scooby spaces and back into liminal spaces. She realizes that Willow has cast a spell to make her forget a disagreement while standing in the doorway to Dawn's room in "Once More With Feeling." Similarly in "Tabula Rasa," Tara stands in the entryway of the Summers' house when she snaps at Willow to hurry getting dressed. At the end of that episode Tara leaves Willow because of her abusive overuse of magic, walking out the front door of the Summers' house. When Tara returns to the house in “Smashed” and "Wrecked," she distances herself from the house's more personal spaces, remaining in the hallway when Dawn goes into Buffy and Willow's rooms to look for them. Her leaving the Magic Box in "Dead Things" also evidences her return to the fringe of the Scooby circle. She also only enters the Summers' house by invitation: Dawn asks Tara to keep her company in “Smashed” and Buffy invites her to her birthday party in “Older and Far Away.” In "Normal Again" Tara can enter the Summers' house without invitation and without knocking, seemingly because she is there to see Willow, which suggests that they could reconcile. When they do finally reunite in "Entropy," Tara can leave Willow's doorway and enter the bedroom as she verbally renegotiates her place in their relationship.
In the context of Willow and Tara's relationship, doors often represent both barriers that they must hurdle to connect with each other and safeguards that isolate their prohibited sexuality. In "Hush," Tara finds herself being chased by the Gentlemen as she goes to look for Willow, so she pushes through double doors into stairwells and knocks on dorm room doors as she tries to escape. The audience is misled into thinking that Tara is knocking on Willow's door, but when the door opens she is faced with a Gentleman holding a freshly harvested heart instead. As Tara runs away from the demon, Willow walks out of her room and they collide. But instead of retreating back into Willow's room, they run through more doors, downstairs, through more doors, and ultimately lock themselves in the laundry room. They then join hands and combine their magic to move a soda machine and barricade the door. In light of the later metaphor of magic representing lesbian sex, that bit of magic can be understood as their first sexual encounter, which takes place in a laundry room behind a locked door. It's almost as if Tara couldn't find Willow's door, they couldn't hide in Willow's room because the forbidden nature of their relationship precluded them from such personal and intimate spaces. They had to retreat through many doors and spaces until they reached the liminal space of the laundry room where they could engage in prohibited sexuality behind a locked, barricaded door. Interestingly, Willow and Tara are never shown alone together in the dorm room that Buffy and Willow share. Willow's room cannot be an intimate space for them as Tara's room is, until "The Real Me" when Willow has a single room and no longer lives with Buffy, making her room an assured queer space.

After running into Faith at The Bronze in "Who Are You?" Willow and Tara return to Tara's room and close the door behind them, which feels like a retreat of sorts. They had held hands at the club, and almost as punishment for being physically affectionate in public, they had been outed and ridiculed by Faith. The closing door coupled with Willow closing the curtain on the window emphasizes the isolation needed to perform the "Passage to the Nether Realm" spell, a thinly veiled metaphor for lesbian sex and the most graphic "sex" scene between the two women ever shown on the series.

Willow and Tara's passages through doorways in "Tabula Rasa" are intriguingly reminiscent of their interactions in "Hush" and readily comparable because they newly discover their attraction to each other after losing their memories. Due to some not unconvincing circumstances – and the fact that no one ever thinks that two women could be dating – Willow falsely assumes that Xander is her boyfriend. Much like "Hush," Willow and Tara have to descend into the sewers before their mutual attraction first surfaces. Then as they run away from a vampire, they hide behind walls and in drains until Willow pushes Tara out of harm's way and they almost kiss. Willow needs to experience a physical attraction to Tara to realize she's "kinda gay" though she never seems very attracted to "Alex." Even with blank slates, heterosexuality is still presumed and more acceptable. While Giles and Anya can explore their falsely assumed heterosexual relationship above ground in a familiar setting, Willow and Tara must again submit to a labyrinthine journey into impersonal space to discover their genuine attraction, even though they have come out and been together for almost two years. However, had Willow and Tara kissed, they would have done so in front of Xander and Dawn, and it would have been an actual display of lesbian sexuality rather than sexuality coded as a "spell." The similarities between "Hush" and "Tabula Rasa" suggest their relationship may not have become more socially acceptable over the intermediary two years, but their insistence at being out and their friends' support has allowed more freedom of expression.

In "New Moon Rising" contrasting door imagery related to Tara and Oz also delineates a difference in power and privilege between gay and straight relationships. The episode begins with Tara attending her first Scooby meeting in Giles' apartment, where of course Willow had to escort her. When Oz first returns, he stands in Giles' entryway having entered the apartment without knocking. His ability to walk into the Scoobies' personal space without permission underscores his privilege and perhaps even his status as a more socially acceptable partner for Willow. Later in the episode, he opens Willow's door when Tara knocks, which again emphasizes Oz's privilege, in this case to occupy Willow's personal space and even grant others access to it. The action also asserts Willow and Buffy's room as a heterosexual space that Tara cannot enter. In fact, there's a sense throughout the episode of Oz forcing Tara out of places, reclaiming them as heterosexual space and making her retreat. When Oz returns at the beginning of the episode, obviously wanting to regain his place in Willow's life and by extension the group, Tara "has to" leave Giles' apartment. Oz prevents Tara from entering Willow's bedroom, even though she had performed a spell with Willow and Giles there in "Where the Wild Things Are," and Oz literally chases Tara at one point in the episode when he becomes a werewolf.
Despite being forcibly segregated to an extent, Willow and Tara also maintain separate space for their relationship. Willow takes her time in introducing Tara to her other friends because she “kind of like[s] having something that's just, you know, [hers].” In "Restless," she says that she "never worr[ies] here," marking Tara's room as a safe space separate from the rest of her world. Similarly, in "After Life" Tara encourages Willow to be honest about her concerns as they get ready for bed, saying "This is the room where you don't have to be brave." Then as Willow expresses her worries about Buffy, she closes their door before she really starts opening up. After something that looks like Buffy violently wakes them, they peer into Buffy's bedroom without stepping inside and then return their room, closing the door behind them, before discussing the strange occurrence. They maintain a separate space in which they may converse meaningfully. And just as Willow and Tara need to be invited into Scooby spaces at times, Buffy must knock on Tara's door and wait for Willow to let her inside when she comes to check on Tara in "Superstar."

Because of Buffy and her mother's (and later Dawn's) positively portrayed relationship with each other, the Summers' house comes to represent the ideal nuclear family on Buffy. Therefore, Willow and Tara's presence in the house as an openly gay couple demonstrates how their relationship is becoming intermingled with more traditional ideas of relationships and family. Season five begins with the Scoobies having a day on the beach in "Buffy vs. Dracula," and Willow and Tara's relationship seems to have been acknowledged by the group, which Xander confirms when he tells Willow that "Everybody knows." But not quite everybody seems to know. Later in the episode Joyce tells Willow and Tara that when older women date they sometimes "feel like giving up on men altogether," causing Willow and Tara to exchange surreptitious little glances. They stand in the entryway during this conversation with Joyce, emphasizing that they are, at the moment at least, confined to a liminal space because Joyce doesn't know about, and thus has not accepted their relationship. The following episode "The Real Me" indicates that Joyce has become aware that they are a couple, and when Willow and Tara next come to the Summers' house in "Checkpoint" they can occupy the living room. After Buffy passes away, leaving Dawn without a guardian, Willow and Tara move into Buffy's house to take care of her. They demonstrate their newfound comfort in domesticity by moving through doorways in the house and even sharing a kiss in the hallway. In Joyce and Buffy's absence, not only can their relationship exist alongside the traditional nuclear family, they have redefined it.

Doors receive a lot of attention on Buffy. If someone were to take the time to note all the characters' interactions with doors, Tara might not stand out in comparison. But because of Willow's appreciation of her relationship with Tara as "something that's just [hers]" coupled with its socially taboo nature, Willow and Tara's association with doors seems more significant. The doors that the show runners choose, and sometimes are forced, to use also reveal the restrictions of portraying a lesbian relationship on network television at that time. Few lesbian relationships on network TV compare to Willow and Tara in regards to its duration and the amount of screen time they receive. And though instances of "lesbian" sexuality have become more common and less coded since 2002, the number of significant, recurring lesbian characters has not increased. If a network show were to tackle a long-running lesbian relationship not intended to titillate men or garner sweeps ratings, I wonder if it would still have to develop behind all those doors.

List of Every Single Time Willow/Tara Are in a Doorway Ever