Now that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has staked its last vampire, we can finally examine the series’ contribution to lesbian visibility in its totality — for despite some controversial storylines and consistently low ratings, there is no denying that Buffy has had a lasting impact on the way lesbians are portrayed on television.
Beginning in 1997 on the fledgling network The WB, the series about a high school girl who fought demons and vampires quickly developed a small but loyal fan base despite the fact that few believed a show organized around a female lead fighting evil could be successful; when the series end in 2003, there were a dozen shows trying to copy the formula.
Besides its contribution to the advancement of women in television overall, Buffy broke more television taboos around lesbianism than any other series on network television, and introduced American TV viewers to three sympathetic lesbian characters during its seven-year run.
It all started — and ended — with Willow, masterfully played for seven seasons by Alyson Hannigan.
Over the years, we watched Willow transform from a shy, insecure teenager to an assertive, self-confidant young woman, from a computer geek to a powerful witch — and from a straight teenage girl with a boyfriend to a lesbian.
Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller), Willow, and Xander (Nicholas Brendan) were the backbone of the series, and Willow not only appeared in almost every one of the 144 episodes, but had the second greatest number of lines (after Buffy).
Willow became one of the most popular characters on the show almost immediately, a fact which was not lost on the writers who early on coined the acronym “PWIP” to describe the plot device most likely to emotionally engage viewers: Put Willow in Peril.
Willow’s popularity did not wane after she came out as a lesbian in the fourth season, either, when she fell in love with fellow wicca Tara shortly after ending her relationship with her high school boyfriend Oz (Seth Green).
The two women had a relationship for two and a half years (although technically they were broken up for awhile during that time, emotionally Willow and Tara were always together), during which time they became surrogate parents/big sisters of sorts to Buffy’s younger sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg).