Joss once again delivers a story rich in meaning and symbolism in this issue that takes Willow into the very depths of her innermost wishes and desires.
“The journey begins and already I’m out of my depth.”
The first layer of Willow's mystical journey in another universe is derivative. It’s where posers reside. It’s a front that Willow herself has used, hiding the shy geek underneath the powerful witch façade. Except the façade is real now. She is a witch, a powerful mo’ of a witch who lacks the wisdom to understand her power and herself.
“The second level is you, but it’s still surface. Being a fierce mo’ has nothing to do with your power. This is you relating to the outside world.” This surface is Willow’s sexuality. Willow puts a lot of energy into telling people, “Hello! Gay now.” She relates to the world as a lesbian, as a woman who is attracted to women.
But the journey is about “going deeper than that”, past the surface definitions of identity to the heart of the individual. To Willow. To a place where fear of dying (“Suffocate, suffocate, suffocate”) can lead to death. If you die in a dream, do you die in real life? If you die in your mind, in your spirit, is that not real death?
The narrative dives back to explain why Willow is on this journey of self-discovery. Willow tells Kennedy it’s tradition, that she needs to understand her power. In this dynamic of awkward pet names, Kennedy reveals her insecurities in Willow leaving. First by denouncing Willow’s need for knowledge which in effect is denouncing a part of Willow who is a seeker of knowledge. Then by teasingly threatening to cheat on Willow if she leaves. Then tossing on a little emotional guilt by explaining how it’ll be a trial for her to “not-getting-any-at-allgamy” while Willow is gone. Finally, Kennedy expresses her true fear: “Just don’t forget about me.”
These are games Kennedy's playing because she can tell Willow is not completely there for her. Kennedy has expressed sexual jealousy in the past against Buffy for her close relationship with Willow. Because while Buffy and Willow's relationship is contentious, there's no denying that they're incredibly close and important to each other and they have a history that no one can touch, not even Kennedy. Kennedy is one hundred percent not supportive of Willow’s journey to discover herself and to gain knowledge of her power. Their relationship isn’t one of a meeting of minds, but more of physical chemistry – if Willow isn’t in Kennedy’s presence, how can Kennedy hope to influence Willow?
Kennedy is more of a surface character while Willow is deep. Kennedy cannot reach the deeper levels of Willow because Ken is a reactive, simplistic thinker and feeler. She simply doesn't have those depths of philosophical, spiritual, sexual and intellectual questioning. In many ways, it's great for Kennedy that she knows who she is and is happy that way. But Willow is someone always searching for answers while Kennedy doesn't care to ask the questions. They’re not a good fit and the cracks are showing.
Returning to Willow’s journey, Aluwyn Saga Vasuki orders Willow to “forget about [Kennedy]… [Willow has] to live from within to truly work the wound.” The Black Knight stands in their path, resulting in an argument between Aluwyn and the Knight over the corruption and chaos Willow will be susceptible to if Vasuki is her “right guide.” Meanwhile, Willow remains full of questions about her identity– “You do [know who I am]? Do I?” “And I would be who now?” and finally “And I know me from…?” She’s lived a derivative existence for so long, stuck underneath layers of layers that she doesn’t know her true self. In the resulting “fight to the death”, Willow is caught “in a loop” of song lyrics because she hasn’t “let go of the surface” of herself and her reality. Only when she taps into her pain, “don’t go breaking my heart,” is she able to channel her magic and disarm the Black Knight without killing him. She makes her own rules – she doesn’t fight to the death, yet she still wins. She transmutes the challenge because she’s “not a killer.”
Finally, when confronted with a boat with painted hearts on it and a vast ocean of nothingness, Willow realizes this isn’t her journey, but a trick of detours to delay her, distracting clichés of “the black knight and the sea voyage” – derivations of a walkabout journey of self-discovering (speaking of living the cliché - note how Kennedy and Willow were living in San Francisco in the earlier scene - cliché much?. These are the type of mythical journeys Willow understands from the surface culture, but her true journey lies beyond these common tropes. This realization brings forth the true Goddesses, the Elementals, who order Aluwyn the ouruboros back to her “mad realm” so that Willow may retain “her reason” and avoid such trickery.
“There are many guides on the path to wisdom, but [Willow has] one in mind.” The image of Tara is revealed, dressed in similar garb to what she wore in Once More With Feeling, standing in front of a warm sunset and looking peaceful. The image brings a tear to Willow’s eye and forces a harsh realization. As she wipes away the image of Tara, denying the offer of her former lover as her guide, she realizes her own truths have been revealed to her in surface. First, she told Kennedy she wanted to understand her power. And this is true. But underneath that, she wants to know her fate, if she’s destined to be good or evil as she feels the pull of both. But underneath that layer, deep inside, she just wanted Tara. “She was [Willow’s] light. She was [Willow’s] order. She was [Willow’s] journey. Completed.” But now Tara is at peace and Willow must find peace in letting her go because she’s finally “heal[ed] the wound.” Tara will not return, but Willow must go forward with her journey. She must still choose a guide because “the journey may not be spatial or temporal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not treacherous.”
So Willow chooses a guide. She chooses Aluwyn. Why? “They say you’re no good. That you run in circles, the snake that eats its tail. I’ve got a bit of a rep myself.” Willow chooses Aluwyn because she sees herself in Aluwyn. She chooses a guide like herself to go “within” on her “path…where none’s beaten…” Willow chooses the warped mirror of herself, Aluwyn, to guide her into the inner workings of her magic “for truth, [she] choose[s] the trickster” who she knows because Aluwyn is like her. Her lies, her deceit, her mask.
Tara was her light and order but Willow has completed that journey; now Willow chooses Aluwyn for her journey within herself, into the twisty roads of within with a warped mirror of herself as a guide. Willow challenges herself to find truth amidst the trickery inside her because she now realizes that within, she’s been lying to herself about what she’s wanted all along. But this realization is key – being aware of the lie means you can ferret out the truth. And that is Willow’s journey now – to find truth within, a complex truth that goes beyond the light and order represented by Tara.
Willow's dark side was already growing when she was with Tara, but it was truly birthed in the grief over Tara's death. That darkness still resides in Willow, creating a duality of good and evil, a duality better represented by Aluwyn as her guide. A guide who is the extreme image of what Willow can become if she gives into Chaos and forgets Order (Tara), yet only by facing the chaos head-on and familiarizing herself with the face of Chaos can she achieve a balance, by knowing the face of Chaos she can avoid doing what Chaos does. If Aluwyn lies, then truth is the opposite of Aluwyn and the opposite of Aluwyn is Tara, an option that is forbidden to Willow because Tara is at peace.
If Tara is Willow's light and order, Aluwyn represents Willow's Chaos, then Kennedy represents Willow's surface that she must "forget". Tara was the journey of light and order that Willow has completed, now Willow will intertwine herself with Chaos which is fitting because Aluwyn points out that Chaos and Order are already "intertwined like lovers" - like the cover of Willow and Aluwyn depicts. This symbolism of "intertwined like lovers" on the cover is meant to showcase Willow's relationship with Order (Tara) and Chaos (Aluwyn). Willow is the Order to Aluwyn's chaos, Willow has become Tara in a way by already journeying through her light and order. So Tara and Order are always with Willow now. Tara and Aluwyn then become representatives of the inner dual nature that makes Willow both Goddess and Monster, dualities that Willow is absorbing into herself like the ouroboros snake that consumes itself.
And here's a link to my friend Xi's review. Some excellent notes on the symbolism of the goddesses there as well as sharp analysis of the art and writing.