In Defense of Willow and Kennedy, Buffy’s Groundbreaking and Controversial Lesbian Couple

TV Features Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In Defense of Willow and Kennedy, Buffy’s Groundbreaking and Controversial Lesbian Couple

From the moment that stray bullet hit Tara (Amber Benson) during Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, marking the end of both a beloved character and her beloved relationship with Willow (Alyson Hannigan), it became clear that whoever became Willow’s next girlfriend would face a tough, uphill battle. The character handed that daunting task would eventually be Kennedy (Iyari Limón), introduced during Season 7 as one of the Potential Slayers helping to save Sunnydale from the First Evil, and despite a thorny reception both at the time and still today, the relationship between her and Willow actually represents the perfect second chance at love for our favorite lesbian witch. 

Major character deaths are tough, but never more so than when those characters are involved in a seasons-long relationship, one that was not only celebrated in-universe by the characters in the show, but also by the audience. Willow and Tara were that pairing; introduced during Season 4, the two became inseparable and eventually broke ground as the series’ first lesbian couple. As the show progressed, Tara became invaluable after Buffy’s death, stepping up to essentially raise Dawn in her older sister’s absence. When Willow’s magical addiction became uncontrollable, Tara broke up with her, and warned her of the clear misuse of magic she was continually partaking in. But despite their ups and downs, they were finally on the path back to each other when Tara was shot by Season 6’s pathetic big bad Warren, thus marking the end of Twillow

After Tara’s death, Willow is different, especially as she transforms into Season 6’s true villain in its final episodes. She’s cold, callous, power-hungry, and obsessed with taking down the men responsible for Tara’s demise. If Dark Willow represents the pain and anguish of losing someone, then Willow’s magical healing and rehabilitation represents the work that comes after to mourn and live with that grief. When Willow finally returns from England and rejoins the Scoobies in what would become their final fight, she’s not fully healed, but she’s on the right track. Then, in Season 7’s tenth episode, enter Kennedy. Identified as a Potential Slayer and called to Sunnydale for her protection, Kennedy is the oldest of all the Potentials, and instantly ruffles feathers upon her arrival. She’s confident and cocky, and she instantly sets her sights on Willow. 

Pointedly, where Kennedy shines the most is in the ways she differs from Tara. Throughout her series-long arc, the once shy and quiet Tara does find her voice, growing into her own and out of her shell. But while she does stand up to Willow during her magical addiction during Season 6, there was always a gentleness to Tara that she would never grow out of. Kennedy, on the other hand, is her polar opposite in every way; she is unafraid to speak her mind, often standing up to Buffy and the Scoobies, and from the moment she walked in the door to Buffy’s Revello Drive home, she was unabashed in her attraction to Willow. Of course, neither personality is more right or wrong than the other, but the series’ choice to make Kennedy so starkly different from Tara allowed her to step out of the long shadow that would surely be cast over any new lover to step into Willow’s arms. 

The series hits completely different beats with Kennedy and Willow’s relationship, allowing the insecurity and grief of losing Tara to act as a third-wheel in their dynamic before being shed by Willow with the help of her new loving girlfriend. Like in the thirteenth episode of Season 7, when Willow is turned into the personification of her own guilt and grief, it’s Kennedy that walks her back from the edge, and brings her back to herself. While Kennedy’s abrasive and sometimes bratty attitude certainly did not make her an army of adoring fans (see the various “I hate Kennedy” rants littering the Buffy subreddit and message boards), it allowed her to act as a foil for the unending support of the Scoobies, while aiding in Willow’s season-long arc. Kennedy’s pillar-like strength is instrumental in Willow’s recovery, providing her someone solid to lean on as she learns to balance the various ways she continues to use magic on her road to recovery. 

Aside from the undeniable ways in which she supports Willow throughout the seventh season, the pairing also managed to make television history during their comparatively short-lived relationship. While Tara and Willow were a hugely influential and groundbreaking couple, providing consistent lesbian representation on one of the ‘90s and early aught’s biggest teen shows, their first kiss (in Season 5’s “The Body”) was far from broadcast TV’s first lesbian kiss. However, Willow and Kennedy’s love scene in Episode 20, which was intercut with moments of bliss between two heterosexual pairs (fan-favorite Xander and Anya, as well as Faith and Robin), was broadcast TV’s first ever lesbian sex scene. The importance of this scene is two-fold: by showcasing Willow and Kennedy in the same montage as Buffy’s heterosexual pairings, the series puts them on equal footing, allowing audiences to equate the frequency and normalcy of heterosexual sex scenes on screen to this groundbreaking lesbian one; additionally, by placing this scene in one of the final episodes of the series, Buffy ensured that it would reach as many viewers as possible, as audiences eagerly awaited the conclusion to their favorite show. 

More than anything, Willow and Kennedy represent a kind of hopefulness unique to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In almost every instance, hope within the series comes with a caveat of grief or pain or sadness (even Buffy’s final, hopeful smile in the series finale is tinted with the weight of the loss she’s suffered), and Willow and Kennedy’s relationship is a second chance at love, yes, but it still exists with the asterisk of the pain of losing Tara. But even despite that lingering hardship, Willow and Kennedy prove that they are willing to work through it together, and sometimes, that’s all a relationship needs to flourish and thrive. For many, Kennedy could never replace Tara, but she was never meant to, and the vitriol aimed at her in particular forgoes the same grace the series asks its audience to afford all of its characters, and is antithetical to the series’ overall messaging. Whether or not Kennedy should have been Willow’s “endgame,” the relationship that was allowed to blossom between them (alongside their groundbreaking status) is both a fundamental part of the history of lesbianism on TV, while also being a dynamic absolutely worth shipping. 

Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin