The Red and The Green: Shipping Giles and Willow.
written by Ruth
I should come right out with this at the start – I'm not a W/G shipper as such, an active advocate of this pairing. I've penned precisely
one story in which they get horizontal and that on a one-off situational basis. However, theirs is a very interesting onscreen dynamic,
and as far as I am concerned, never say "never" to a Giles ship. I hope that coming from a
more neutral point of view will help keep things in perspective, as there are a number of pitfalls to be avoided and essentials to
remember, if you want to do more than merely pander to the already converted.
For a start: "hang on half a mo, but isn't Willow gay, gay, gay? How can anyone with any respect for canon pair her with a man?"
Well, with all due respect for canon, what canon says and what it shows do not entirely agree. There are other factors than purely writers'
choice at work. It is commonly thought that one of the reasons (apart from the massive outcry following the death of Tara) that Joss had
Willow repeatedly and firmly underline her "gay now" mantra is because of the unsavoury associations of bisexuality with porn in the US
cultural context. Hence Willow never, ever looks at a man with interest ever again. Um, well except for Xander in his tux. And, er, Giles
singing. And the fact that even after she has linked up with Tara, Oz exerts a tremendous pull on her heart. Oops, your subtext is
showing, and as unconventional shippers know, it's all about the subtext.
Since her relationship with Oz was clearly both emotionally and physically satisfying, I believe that we can dispense with the "man-parts
are yucky" school of ficcing and concentrate on personalities, something that Willow's creator and his colleagues have given an explicit
nod to in interviews. It's not cut and dried, but I should say that whilst her current preference is definitely female, she remains at
least latently bisexual. Willow falls for the person. Could she fall for Giles?
It's not enough to say, "who wouldn't?", however much we as Giles fans are partisans for Our Guy. It's essential not to ignore, denigrate
or bash Willow's canon partners – to paint Oz as a manipulative ego-tripper (seen it done, don't snigger) or Tara as a black witch
ensnaring pure little Willow into evil lesbian perversions (again, not kidding you), or on a milder note, to dismiss either as merely
experimentation whilst waiting for a Real Man to come along. Kennedy? Well, she's canon…
Short cuts are bad, m'kay?
"But he's her father figure! It's incest! Eww! Shame on you!" *Yawn*. Here we go again. Watch the show, people. Giles never acted as any
of the Scoobies' father. He treated them as responsible individuals, young and in need of occasional support, but no more than would be
expected from a good, concerned teacher, and oftentimes a lot less. He was there purely as Buffy's Watcher, in a strange country, and it
wasn't really any of his business; they did all have parents, however inadequate.
We don’t see Giles interfering in Willow's social life, trying to protect her from Oz' wolfiness beyond the mere giving of information to
Oz on how to manage. He's more concerned about the danger to the general public. Apart from one startled exclamation, there is no
discussion, no heart-to-heart about her voyage to Lesbos. Giles butts out. Even in the one sphere in her life where he has the most to
contribute, the dangers of magic use, he is surprisingly low key. Yes, there is constant undercurrent of warning and concern. But does he
play stern Daddy and forbid her outright to go further? No. He tries to withhold some of the more advanced books, but does not appear,
over the course of some years, to seriously read her the riot act over her looking at them anyway. He does not offer, either, to teach
Assuming one doesn't join in the distressingly popular sport these days of tearing Giles down for every possible failing (folk seem to
have a bit of a problem with basically good but fallible characters – they want simplistic 'flawless' or 'failure' labels on everyone)
and just label him neglectful and useless, he presumably had his reasons. One of them was that he trusted Willow. He says so. He gave her
the benefit of the doubt.
Now, I'm not going to argue that this was as a result of deep, unrequited passion on Giles' part for the teenage genius with the shy
smile. As with all Giles/Scooby relationships, I hope we can agree that High School Librarian/Student under age romance is *right out*.
Aside from the legal question, Giles simply has too much integrity ever to go there. If that puts you awkwardly in her changeover phase –
she's only just eighteen when she starts College and meets Tara, if you count external timeline information as contributing to canon – or
later, sorry, you'll just have to deal.
I would argue that Giles sees enough of himself in Willow to either a) assume that she has, at heart, as much basic respect for the
mystical forces as he now has- she does assure him of that on several occasions, and whilst she may well be deceiving herself, she isn’t
necessarily consciously lying to him; b) trust that with the right peer company (Oz, Buffy, Tara) rather than the wrong (Ethan – about
which, cf Rack and Amy, but by then Giles was gone) her forays into magic could be channelled constructively. His comments to Maggie Walsh
about arms-length mentoring Buffy would seem to be of a piece with his attitude to Willow's magic – that she has to find out her own path
Perhaps he subconsciously knows that coming down heavy-handed would only lead to outright rebellion – remember her reaction to his gentle
chiding in "Something Blue"? When he does strongly chastise her (Flooded), it is neither forgotten nor forgiven (Grave). Giles appreciates
Willow's good qualities: "truly she was the best of all of us", enough so that he is not only angry, but deeply disappointed at her fall
from grace. Perhaps he has forgotten that intelligence needs time and right circumstances to breed wisdom; perhaps it is all too painful
to remember how it happened to him. There is an element of over-optimism, that Willow can avoid the pitfalls, can get it right this time
around. Willow of course, duly proves him wrong. No-one's perfect in the Buffyverse… and of course, you can take the line that Giles
bears some responsibility for not overcoming his fears and hesitation, and use that as an angle to explore the context and future of
Plenty of fruit there for angsty, conflict-ridden shipping, for hurt/comfort on both sides slipping into something more. What you
absolutely can’t do, if you are looking at the series as a whole, is gloss over it. Speaking of which:
A word of warning. Beware Willow Sue. You may have heard of the phenomenon of the Mary Sue, the idealised author projection original
character who is exceptional in every way, who overshadows all canon characters and gets the love interest of the author's choice. It's
possible to do this to a lesser, but still ruinous, extent with an existing character, and Willow is one of those most frequently Sued.
Since many female viewers strongly identify with her – the brainy outcast who finds true friendship, power and significance at last –
there is a temptation for them to paint her as Perfect Partner, as Innocent Wronged Party (usually by a canon love-interest, but often by
Buffy or Xander for failing to adequately worship her specialness), or as Most Unselfish of All – okay, so none of the others are
particularly selfless – they're modern youngsters - but Willow for all her overt and genuine sensitivity and capacity for love, also has
a controlling and needy streak a mile wide, and to deny this is to flirt with Sueage.
Giles and Willow do have a lot in common. They are not only extremely bright – well into the "gifted" range - but they *love* knowledge.
Willow looks to technology as well as paper and ink; Giles does not have any truck with the former himself, but is glad of her expertise
in the service of the fight against evil. It could be argued that for both, intellectual companionship is a pre-requisite in a partner. A
glance at their canon partners (though we don’t know enough about Olivia) would seem to confirm this in spades.
Both are shy, socially clumsy and unhip – partly as a matter of personality, partly through bad experiences. In Giles' case, we discover
just how bad in the episode "The Dark Age". In Willow's, it is the drip, drip of lack of validation from parents, from contemporaries,
from the Zeitgeist, where to be shallow and anti-intellectual is to be "in" – look at how Buffy and Cordelia, with their perfectly good
brains but greater inner confidence and eagerness to fit in, espouse that culture before life teaches them otherwise.
Their shared devotion to Buffy and her cause both unites them and can cause stress between them when their interpretations of that
devotion differ. Giles' reason for being in Sunnydale is to support Buffy. There is more to being a Watcher than that alone; but over the
run of the series and probably at least for the immediate future post-Chosen, you can't step too far away from the centrality of Buffy's
welfare in his life. If you want to write him becoming involved with the Slayer's best friend, unless it's part of your plot that it's a
big dark secret, then Buffy's reaction and the effect on Giles' ability to serve her must be dealt with. Furthermore, you can't assume
that the reaction will be automatically positive. Likewise, what of Xander, arguably the bedrock of Willow's life? Just because you see
it, canon characters may not. Conflict makes for drama. It's not a quickly-dispensed-with obstacle to your One True Pairing.
Shared traits and interests are not, by themselves a guarantee. What of that elusive element 'chemistry'? Much has been made of in some
quarters of the small number of occasions in which Giles and Willow share a moment of emotional closeness, physical connection or,
possibly, sexual appreciation. Personally, I'd not overplay them. A schoolgirl crush may lead to mature romance, but may remain only a
fond memory. A man noticing an attractive female in a skimpy costume may be potentially smitten, but it could just mean his eyes are open,
to paraphrase a certain carpenter. Not to mention that for both these characters, physical qualities are by no means the thing uppermost
in their requirements. You'll need more. A moment of realisation, a crisis, or just a growing attraction over the course of a narrative
which may be about something else entirely.
As Willow herself once put it, "it's complicated". These are two people with powerful, contradictory and conflicting impulses both within
themselves and in their interaction with each other. Don't be afraid to explore them fully, and you'll have a W/G you can be proud of.
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