A New Start
Willow/Kennedy, Kenlow; it's an idea that many fans and fanfic writers have reservations about. After the controversial ending of season 6 and the outcry that followed surrounding the death of Tara, there were many doubts into the integrity of Joss, the slayer franchise and the ideas they stood for. They dared to do as few others have, and had the ability to throw away the textbooks and make a new lore. This tested even the most loyal of 'Buffy's' fanbase. The announcement during the summer following season six that there would be a new love interest for Willow was met with mixed feelings; on the one hand Willow would still be gay- there would still be a lesbian couple on our screens to hold up as an example of what happens in the real world, but also this would clearly be a Tara-replacement, someone put there to appease the masses who had complained about the cliché now upheld by the previously untouchable Joss. Even Alyson Hannigan expressed her doubts.
And maybe on some levels there was a basis for complaint. Amid the chaos that became season seven with minimal screen time given to anyone that wasn't Buffy, Spike, or that week's feature character, the Kenlow relationship seemed to be an exception while all the other main characters remained noticeably single (with the exception of Xander and Anya's bouts of break-up and end-of-the-world sex) and even friendly relationships were kept to a minimum. Special treatment was, in a way, being given.
'The relationship was rushed' has been the main outcry of many fans. Well- possibly. There are four episodes between Kennedy's introduction in 'Bring On The Night' and the beginnings of the sort-of, in-a-tenuous-way relationship she and Willow share in 'The Killer In Me'. But when you take into account that of the ten episodes between 'What's My Line Pt 2' where Oz and Willow first meet to 'Becoming Pt 1' where the couple seem in a pretty steady comfortable relationship, Seth Green appeared in a total of four episodes, and similarly, in season four between 'Hush' and 'This Year's Girl' where the Willow/Tara relationship is expressed to all but the densest of viewers, Amber Benson is only in four episodes, being introduced only three after Oz's departure. Oh how soon we forget, but in light of this, I don't feel Kenlow was anymore rushed than any of the other 'ships on the show.
'It will cheapen the Willow/Tara relationship.' I've seen/heard this so many times, but I think that anyone who still holds this thought needs to reexamine the show. Willow's initial careful avoidance of the new character who almost instantly began flirting with her, followed by Kennedy's selfish trickery of getting her on their first 'date' made it evident from the start that Tara was far from forgotten, and the main storyline of 'The Killer In Me' was a perfect topping. The pain of Willow and confusion of Kennedy, played amazingly by all three of the actors involved (Alyson Hannigan, Iyari Limon and Adam Busch), shadowed by the ominous presence of Warren, was gripping to watch and let fans know that there would be no Tara 'replacement,' just someone else there with Willow as well. Right until the end of the season it was shown that Kennedy, at least, knew that Tara would always have a large part of Willow.
So, reservations aside, why is Kenlow so good/interesting/anything, why does it have (sorry- pun had to be made sooner or later) potential?
Well first off, because Willow needed something new; there was always a danger this year that one of our best-loved characters would become stale- moping over Tara, moping over Warren, trying to prove herself to her friends, not being able to cope with her magicks. Alternatively she could go the other way, and it would be as if last year never happened. Kennedy added that new dimension- she challenged Willow, puzzling and surprising her at first, then making her face some of the things she had previously refused to, and finally simply confusing her by being a brat she could trust.
Second, Kennedy helps to round and define Willow's other relationships; the many aspects of her personality being shown well in the limited time available to the writers. The most evident is the 'brat' as Kennedy herself calls it, the part that's still footloose and fancy-free and, overall, young and fresh, something fully explored in season six Dawn when the previously mini-Willow turned into a sharp mouthed kleptomaniac with an attitude problem at life in general. You can't blame her, she had her reasons (okay, you can, but still) and as rebellions went it wasn't an apocalypse, but facets were reflected in season seven as it became Kennedy's job to challenge the authority, Buffy, Faith, Giles, whosever turn it was and have Willow now necessarily trapped, but definitely there, in the middle. Then there's the scene from 'Get It Done.' Willow's use of Kennedy's power, and the potential's mixed, confused reaction afterwards is hauntingly familiar from 'Wrecked,' where Willow's betrayal of Dawn is one of the heights of her magic abuse.
Kennedy also manages to teach Willow a little as well though; she's the bona-fide lesbian- since she was five apparently- not someone who just happened to fall for a girl, she's self-confident and sassy, knows what she wants and takes it- that's something Willow's been aspiring to be for years but never quite managed fully, and it was only in Buffy's absence that she became any kind of leader in the way Kennedy and Rona lead the younger girls through the season. It's interesting to see her nurture this part of Willow in the same way that Giles spent five years working on her other more creative, methodical side. Indeed, in 'Chosen' it is Giles' magical and fatherly guidance and teachings in England, and before, and his confidence in her abilities that gives the witch what she needs to believe in herself and her power. Kennedy's plain stubbornness together with the helping hand she's given Willow over the past few months, and unwavering support of her girl , help Willow to work her magic and help save the day.
The more gentle, caring and healing side of Kennedy is something that's only shown to Willow, even to other potentials she seems to have a need to prove herself as the 'hard' one and her attitude towards Buffy leaves much to be desired, but when she's simply 'there' for Willow with her complete belief in her it's easy to be reminded of the days when the main thing driving the show was the Willow/Xander/Buffy friendship, because nothing has been more constant since the beginning than the duo who've been together since kindergarten. This year, however, saw the first real breakdown of the Willow/Xander relationship with the exception of scenes such as the hospital one in 'Empty Places,' as the pair have shared so little screentime together; Xander philosophising with Dawn while Willow has been with- yup- Kennedy. It's therefore been up to the potential to provide the 'friendship' side that a person like Willow thrives on.
And then there are the slayers: Buffy and Faith, and I challenge anyone to write a Kennedy essay without a comparison to at least one, if not both. Kennedy's headstrong like-to-slay attitude is very reminiscent of an early Faith and the amount of 'Bad Slayer's Little Sister' fanfic out there is hardly surprising, in fact, it's not a huge leap of the imagination to see some of the less intimate aspects of the Kenlow relationship in the blossoming friendship between Faith and Willow very early in season three- obviously before she stole Buffy, slept with Xander and killed a man. And finally Buffy- a girl that Willow would do almost anything for, that she brought back from the dead, but who, for the past two years, has rejected the intimacy and confidence offered to her by the witch. The introduction of Kennedy helps to reassert the witch/slayer relationship, eventually leading, in the final episode, to a Buffy/Willow relationship echoing that which existed a few years ago. Unconvinced? Well the one thing that the season finale exudes is a return to the ways of old. Looking back at the interaction between the three main characters in 'Same Time, Same Place' at the beginning of the season, it is difficult to see how this would be possible with Buffy and Willow uncertain how to react to each other and the former only too willing to blame the latter for the flayings that occur. An intermediary was needed, provided in the form of Kennedy.
The third and final reason that Kenlow works is because of the support they give to one another. Willow helps to 'tame' Kennedy, being the one to hold her back in her rants, but also opens her eyes to things that maybe she didn't want to see; the world of magic, the world of pain and above all the world of dependence, something that it's hinted Kennedy has never had before; someone who will rely on her, that she will have responsibilities to. And for her part she helps Willow to feel something again both for herself and another person, her unwavering belief and outspoken confidence in the witch echoing the behaviour of both Oz and Tara, but done very differently to either and helping to bring Willow the self-confidence she needs to fulfil her part during 'Chosen.'
The Willow/Kennedy is one of the least explored in fanfic so far despite the enormous potential (I searched for another word, really I did.) and much of what is there is heavily shadowed by Tara's presence, I'm not saying this is either a bad or a good thing, but it is very definite, and yet, in a time when it has been difficult to find many fresh ideas in the world of Willow fanfic (the ever popular Spillow stories being made much more difficult and darker by the Buffy-Spike inter-dependence on the show), it's pleasing to see the new couple being a breath of air that more and more writers are turning to for short bouts in their post-'Buffy' fics. The amount to write about is immense- Kennedy's history never having been mentioned and the new slayer knowing little about Willow's, as well as their new positions in the 'gang' being unexplored- can Willow open herself fully to Kennedy, knowing the girl's future is now as uncertain as Buffy's and she is risking heartbreak once more, and was Kennedy's simple "You're a goddess" meant as literally as Willow's reply ("and you're a slayer.")? Maybe they won't be riding off into the sunset together, but they're going to have fun and both of them deserve a break. Now, to encourage more writers to give it to them...
(As a little postscript- I never thought I'd be able to convincingly pull off a comparison between Kennedy and Giles until I wrote this- I never thought I'd have to.)