Sweet, goofy Willow – everybody’s best friend – the shoulder to cry on – the voice of reason – the smartest person in the room and always, always second best to beautiful, bad-ass Buffy. It’s a situation that many (if not most) of us are painfully familiar with. It’s tough being a sidekick – half-lit by reflected light – moon versus sun, watching the world turn away. Perhaps that’s why, when Willow loses control there’s something delicious about it (“You taste like strawberries” quoth the Rack) and something terribly exciting.
Buffy is born a Slayer – her strength is supernatural, but not of her own choosing. Willow has a small gift that she is smart enough to recognize and then labors to develop. She creates herself – her confidence and power accelerating with each success. Magic is something that must be earned, and controlled. But when out of grief and loneliness she takes shortcuts to power, when it becomes an escape rather than a path, she loses it. Little Willow becomes an addict. Terrible things happen to her and she does terrible things in turn, and when it is all over she is altered. But magic isn’t like other drugs. Willow can never recover sobriety. She must learn instead to control the high. In the final season of BTVS, after losing the love of her life and very nearly losing her soul, Willow becomes, surprisingly, more powerful and more deadly. One of the beauties of her story line is that she is allowed to remain dangerous, and although remorseful, unredeemed. Giles teaches her what he can about harnessing and directing her abilities, but in the end Willow is beyond education. She is on her own, and must (as always) figure it out for herself. Her punishment is the knowledge of her own potential for destruction. Her reward (if one could call it that) is the freedom to evolve beyond it.
Red, Black, White – Willow is the full spectrum of magical intent. It is rare in any sort of fiction that we are allowed to see a character develop past known definitions. But Willow does just that. She ventures into the extremes of love and loyalty, darkness and rage, and comes out, not intact, but true – truth being always, always much more than it seems.