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(Meta) The Will to power

22nd June 2008 (22:24)
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A lot has been written over the years on Willow's rise and fall - much of it by me. :-) If her story had ended on Kingman's Bluff in 'Grave', it would have been a tragedy in the classic sense. Her greatest virtues - her urge to help people, her hunger for knowledge - turned into fatal flaws that brought about her downfall.

But her story didn't end there. This essay is about what Willow did next.

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The Will to power - Willow, magic and power after Season 6

"Every elevation of Man brings with it the overcoming of narrower interpretations; every strengthening and increase of power opens up new perspectives, and means believing in new horizons."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, 'The Will to Power'

"I just wanna learn stuff."
- Willow Rosenberg, 'Ted'


So what did Willow learn from her descent into darkness at the end of Season 6? What lessons did she learn?

The first and most important is that she can't NOT use magic. She can't just give it up. She tried that in Season 6, urged on by her friends who thought it was the best solution - and it blew up in their faces. Perhaps the best comparison, ironically enough, is with Oz when he returned to Sunnydale in 'New Moon Rising'. The beast was still there inside him, but he thought he had it under control, that he would never let it out again. His willpower lasted right up until he found himself in a stressful emotional situation - and then he immediately turned into a werewolf and tried to kill Tara. 

WILLOW: It was my fault. I upset you.
OZ: So we're safe then, 'cause you'll never do that again.

Any attempt by Willow to restrain herself from using magic from sheer willpower seems equally doomed to eventual failure, unless she somehow develops superhuman powers of patience and calm. The alternative - as Giles makes clear to her - is to learn how to use her magic responsibly and with knowledge.

"This isn't a hobby, or an addiction. It's inside you now, this magic. You're responsible for it."

Unfortunately for Willow, just as she was starting to learn about "energy and Gaia and root systems" she was forced to return to Sunnydale and do battle with The First. Her lessons were incomplete - "She didn't finish being not evil?!" as Dawn so eloquently puts it. Worse still, it seems to me that The First was deliberately sabotaging her spells (in 'Bring On The Night', specifically)... and with them, her self-confidence.

By Season 6 magic had become the lynchpin of Willow's identity. It was what made her special; it was why Tara fell in love with her; it was the reason she could be Buffy's partner in the fight against Evil rather than just the nerdy wallflower of a sidekick she'd been before. When she discovered that magic could turn against her, make her its slave, something fundamental broke inside Willow. You've only got to compare her choice of clothing in Season 6 with her wardrobe in Season 7 to see that...

Once she's removed from the nurturing atmosphere of the coven in England, Willow again and again expresses self-doubt and self-hatred. She's so worried by what she might be capable of that she keeps herself completely bottled up, unwilling to let her guard down for a moment. In fact, there's this conversation in 'Touched':

KENNEDY: Bad stuff like unrestrained moaning and screaming with joy?
WILLOW: Well, yeah. Sort of. Yeah, with the unrestrained of it. I've been in a place where I kinda should be restrained. I've been controlling myself and if I get out of control... if I let myself go, I could just... go.
KENNEDY: You're worried you're going to turn into Big Bad Willow.

Read that again and consider the meaning. As of 'Touched', it sounds like Willow hasn't even let herself have an orgasm since 'Seeing Red' a whole year earlier, because she's so scared of losing control...

Incidentally, given the explicit connection between magic and sex the show has been known to make, and the whole life-energy versus death mystic thing, you could probably make a case that Willow's disconnection from the Earth's lifeforce was a reason why her magic kept going dark in Season 7, and after she finally slept with Kennedy, she was able to turn all white-haired Goddess instead....

For most of the early part of the season Buffy put up with her best friend's self-doubt and hesitation, and tried to be supportive. But as her own feelings of despair and desperation grew, she became increasingly impatient with Willow's inability to help - the "Wicca who won't-a." This culminates in 'Get It Done', when Buffy quite deliberately forces Willow's hand.  She dives through the portal, and both of them know that only Willow will be able to bring her back - and even then only if she pushes herself to the limit magically.

"You want to surprise the enemy? Surprise yourselves. Force yourselves to do what can't be done or else we're not an army. Just a bunch of girls waiting to be picked off and buried."

The lesson here - other than the complete trust Buffy clearly still has in Willow - is that you have to use the power you've got. Retreating into yourself may not be as dangerous to the world as turning black-haired and trying to blow it up, but it's still a failure. "All that is necessary for the triumph of Evil is that good men (and women) do nothing".

So, Willow needs to learn again to take risks and be confident in her ability to recover from mistakes. She can probably take some lessons in this from her new girlfriend, who is nothing if not resilient - Kennedy's reaction to any setback is to bounce back and look for another option. Of course, the side-effect that Willow now has a gorgeous young woman who clearly thinks she's the most wonderful thing ever doesn't exactly hurt her still-fragile self-confidence.

So, by the end of Season 7 Willow knows that she has to continue to learn about magic and her own limits - that neither trying to abjure it through sheer willpower nor retreating into herself and refusing to engage with the world at all are viable options. The Slayer Empowerment spell she casts gives her physical proof that powerful magic need not involve turning dark. In a passage that was trimmed in the broadcast version of 'End of Days', she and Giles discuss it:

GILES: Willow... you know there's a way to do it without endangering yourself. Drawing positive power from the earth, the power that connects everything...
WILLOW: I know. And when I was in England I got it. But here... I can't do it.

But when she had to, she did. And after the end of 'Chosen', what would she choose to do next? I think the answer is obvious: learn more about her power. 


"The measure of the desire for knowledge depends upon the measure to which the will to power grows in a species: a species grasps a certain amount of reality in order to become master of it, in order to press it into service."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, 'The Will to Power'

Power is often thought of in terms of domination and control - not least by Nietzsche's sister who posthumously edited his book. But in fact, the most important power is over ourselves. Power to act; power to influence our surroundings. Without power, we can only be slaves - to our own instincts and emotions, to our environment, to other people. That's why the Slayer Empowerment spell at the end of 'Chosen' can be read as a metaphor for liberation: giving people the strength to break their own chains. Equally, without the knowledge to use and apply it properly, sheer power is worse than useless. And so, Willow sets out to seek greater knowledge and power between seasons 7 and 8.

So far, we don't know the full story about what she did during that time - but have plenty of little details that can be put together into a more complete picture. We know she went on a "six-month mystical walkabout", during which time she could not be contacted by Buffy and Xander. Kennedy's death is almost certainly a part of this (of course, I have my own ideas on what happened there).

At some point she made contact with the five mystical elemental spirits she sought sanctuary with in 'The Long Way Home'. At another time, she became a student of Saga Vasuki, the mysterious snake goddess we saw in 'Anywhere But Here' and again in 'Wolves At The Gate'. In the Angel episode 'Shells', Giles tells Angel that Willow has gone to Tibet, and is currently on the astral plane.

The impression I get is that Willow has been moving from one tutor to another, studying with them and seeking to learn her limits and strengths. My guess is that she started with the Coven in England, and progressed from there once they'd taught her all they knew. I also suspect that Giles took an active part in the process, at least at the start. He was offering her support and practical advice in 'End of Days', and he knew that she was on the astral plane in 'Shells'. More indirectly, he and Willow are still clearly on good terms in Season 8, unlike the rift that has developed between him and Buffy - they both have each others' number programmed into their mobiles, for instance, and Giles doesn't seem surprised to get a call from Willow in 'No Future For You'.

So what has Willow learned from this succession of tutors? The powers she's demonstrated so far in Season 8 seem like greatly enhanced versions of what she already had. In 'Same Time, Same Place' she was able to heal herself from being flayed by Gnarl, but it took all her strength; in 'The Long Way Home' she can heal her own lobotomy and then go on to heal a base-full of mortally wounded soldiers before her strength gives out. She was shown flying in 'Tough Love' and 'Two To Go', but in Season 8 she does it casually and all the time - although it seems like the power is new enough that she's still excited about it, as her comment to Buffy in 'Anywhere But Here' shows. ("We're flying!" "You're flying. I'm dangling.")

In fact, the biggest change seems to be not her powers, but her confidence. She's no longer afraid to use magic; not afraid that her own powers will turn against her. That's a huge change from Season 7. Some people have argued, in fact, that she's reverting back to her bad old Season 6 ways. That's possible, of course, but it's not the impression I'm getting. Willow now knows, to the core of her being, that the magic can be dangerous; but she also learned from her best friend that not using the power you have can be equally dangerous.

She's learning how to follow a middle path; discovering exactly what her limits are, and just how near to them she can safely tread:

DAWN: "Are you evil again?"
WILLOW: "It'll fade."

Of course, we've still got a big mystery: who is Saga Vasuki, what has she taught Willow - and what price did she demand? Is Willow running away from what Saga Vasuki demanded of her, or what the goddess revealed to her of Willow's own true self?


"Companions the Creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators the Creator seeks - those who write new values on new tablets. Companions the Creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about Her is ripe for the harvest."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra'



*Resists the temptation to write '(Datalinks)' after the Nietzsche quote attributions.*

*Wonders how many people will get that reference <g>*
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Comments

Posted by: icemink (icemink)
Posted at: 22nd June 2008 22:47 (UTC)

lol just so you know, I totally heard the Alpha Centauri voice when I read that. *not a nerd at all*

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd June 2008 22:56 (UTC)

I'm glad I'm not the only one. ;-)

Posted by: tankiawee (tankiawee)
Posted at: 18th April 2011 04:40 (UTC)

I got it too. SMAC is truly one of the greatest games ever made, if not for gameplay, for its true-to-life envisioning of human technology and social evolution.

Posted by: araceli (mana1023)
Posted at: 22nd June 2008 22:54 (UTC)

I love how you analyze everything and love Willow. That was great. What do you mean about the difference in clothing? And I'd never thought about how much Kennedy influenced Willow in S7 and helped her to grow. I wonder how different she'd be without Kennedy being there. How things would have gone.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd June 2008 23:13 (UTC)
kennedy

What do you mean about the difference in clothing?

In Season 6, Willow's clothing choice often verged on the outrageous:


She also started wearing much more revealing clothes, like her low-cut top in 'Tabula Rasa'. She'd always been a quirky dresser, but this was all a sign of her vastly increased self-confidence.

In Season 7, by contrast, she wore much more drab earth-colours with high collars and long sleeves and minimal skin on display, like she was trying to hide herself away from other people's eyes.


I wonder how different she'd be without Kennedy being there. How things would have gone.

I'm pretty sure she'd be far more mopey and broody, and might not be able to bring herself to act at all... when she had crises of confidence in her powers at the end of the series it was always Kennedy who talked her through them and gave her the strength to carry on.

For that matter, there's the penitence malediction Amy had cast on Willow. Without Kennedy's pushiness it might have taken Willow another six months or more (or forever) before she dared to open up to someone else emotionally - but at that point, she'd turn into Warren. Remember how all Willow's friends basically left her alone with her problem, but Kennedy was loyal and stubborn and cared too much, and followed Willow even when she tried to push her away - and was able to break the spell?

Someone less strong-willed than Kennedy might have abandoned Willow, leaving her to change entirely into Warren... and, presumably, buying the gun and shooting Buffy with it, only this time there'd be no Willow to save her life with magic. Buffy dies, the First wins, the world ends. Kennedy stopped that happening. :-)

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 00:03 (UTC)

I love reading your essays, but most of all, I love it when you discuss Willow. She's such a deep character, more so than people think, in my opinion. People love to go into long discussions about Xander, Buffy, Spike, etc, which is sad, because like I said, Willow's character is so deep.

Thankfully I have your essays to read. I wish I could actually contribute and offer my own ideas, but I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head right here. :D

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 13:20 (UTC)
willow

I never got the impression she's one of the ignored characters - but then again, that might be because I keep mentioning her myself. :-)

Thanks!

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 13:45 (UTC)

Well, like I've said before, maybe it's just the circles I run in. :D

Posted by: J.M. (firebirdgrrl)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 03:10 (UTC)
Willow Invoke Often

This is beautiful--I love the idea of Willow working on a balance and it's something that I've been playing around with too (http://jessicamelusine.livejournal.com/1144679.html).

Regarding Saga Vasuki, there's a great story of Krishna fighting a monster and starting to lose and then one of his companions saying "Krishna! Remember you are a god!" and then he wins...I am wondering if Willow is a deity and that is part of what she has been hiding, that in this case being powerful is scarier and unknown, that once this is out of the bag, she won't be in the same position ever again.This is going to be really interesting.

(and ooh, I love your meta essays, please keep them coming!:))

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 09:23 (UTC)
Scoobies

I am wondering if Willow is a deity and that is part of what she has been hiding,

Intriguing idea. The only problem I see is that gods (Glory, Jasmine) are usually bad, destructive force in Jossverse.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 13:27 (UTC)

It is an interesting idea. Personally, I prefer the story of 'human becomes god' to 'god becomes human', probably because it appeals to the wish-fulfilment side of me.

Buffy's powers are innate to her because of her supernatural origin, but she had to learn how to come to terms with them; Willow got her powers through study and hard work, and likewise had to learn to use them properly.

Thanks!

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 09:19 (UTC)
Scoobies

Very interesting meta.

I doubt Joss will give Willow more powers - it would devaluate Buffy's struggle, having such a strong ally who can do practically everything. But, of course, Willow's journey is very interesting, and random mentions Joss makes only increase our curiosity.

Is Willow running away from what Saga Vasuki demanded of her, or what the goddess revealed to her of Willow's own true self?

I've got the the impression that Willow summoned Saga Vasuki's ghost (or something) on the last panel. The vibe of the pic is pretty contemplative.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 13:36 (UTC)
willow-snake

it would devaluate Buffy's struggle, having such a strong ally who can do practically everything

Well, like the Nietzsche quote I opened with says, "every strengthening and increase of power opens up new perspectives, and means believing in new horizons." Likewise, every time Willow becomes more powerful just means that she has larger challenges to overcome, and more dangerous opponents to face. And yes, it also means that the writers have to sometimes think of ways to hobble her temporarily so that she can't just wave her hands and dispose of the problem - whether it's her own lack of self-confidence (S7), or her avoidance of Buffy for personal reasons, or defensive magic by the enemy, or whatever. But Buffy's still the protagonist - she comes up with the plans, and asks Willow to help her carry them out. Willow is "her big gun". She's the Merlin to Buffy's Arthur, or the Gandalf to her Aragorn.

I've got the the impression that Willow summoned Saga Vasuki's ghost (or something) on the last panel.

Likewise. I think Willow was running away from something, but being confronted by the vision of New York in flames has convinced her that she can't escape forever. I think the last page of 8.15 is Willow facing up to her responsibilities at last.

Posted by: satsux (satsux)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 20:59 (UTC)

Nice analyzing, like with most of your writing. But how do you factor the self confidence that was demostrated in Angel's Orpheus? There could be a number of explanations as to why that was that don't directly contridict what you're stating on how Willow only grew confident after Touched.

Like:

- Putting back Angel's soul is easy as pie.
- The First was a major factor in her self doubt and Hell. A. was far enough from his influence.
- She wanted to get in Fred's pants and needed to impress her fully.
- She didn't want to seem worse off that Emo Wesley.
- Angel is a COMPLETELY different show with characters with the same names and played by the same actors as on Buffy but the same rules don't apply.

Er, I think I started to go on a rant there...

Anyways, my point is, since you basically took all the major points of of Willow's power just wanted to know your take on that little adventure with what you just stated here. She faced a Power Controlled Pregnant Cordelia here, freed a soul and placed it back to where it was originally cursed before it faded away.

All with smiles, no doubting, no hesitation, and going black eyed.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 22:16 (UTC)
willow-fearlitany

Well, to be honest, I go with your reason #5 here. Different show. They wanted Willow the Witch, not Willow the Complex Character With Her Own In-depth Storyline On Another Show That Angel Viewers Won't Necessarily Be Watching.

But if I had to fanwank it: she's on holiday. She's got away from the oppressive, doom-laden atmosphere of 1630 Revello Drive; she's meeting people who only remember her from the old days, and didn't witness her descent into darkness; she's doing a spell she's completely familiar with.

Most importantly, there's the fact that Willow is, to coin a phrase, only good in a crisis. Far too often, she second-guesses herself into indecision and paralysis through self-doubt. But when it's a real emergency, she's utterly decisive and completely ruthless. We've seen that from the earliest days in the high school seasons. Ask Willow to face a monster, and she'll panic. Confront her with the same monster without time to think about it, and she'll not hesitate to do whatever it takes.

Posted by: satsux (satsux)
Posted at: 23rd June 2008 23:19 (UTC)

Yeah, I can see the point there. It was a crisis and they needed her enough to get her to LA regardless of their own crisis. Plus, it's more than likely that after almost destroying the world, putting a soul in a glass ball seems so trivial.

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 25th June 2008 16:20 (UTC)

Hi Stormwreath. Waves at you. Is glad to see you back.

Interesting piece of meta, as always.The concept of power has always been one (for me) of the more muddled theme in Btvs, perhaps because it was supported by shifting metaphores. It is also tightly linked with the question of identity: her powers as a slayer are indissociable to who Buffy is, as are Willow's magic powers.

I'll take the liberty to nitpick at one or two little things:

I'm not sure that one of the things Willow learned in S6 is that she can't not use the magic. I always read her failures in S6 much more as a demonstration that deep down she wasn't really decided to renounce to it. At the beginning of S7 she was rather successfull at avoiding to use it. What she couldn't do though was suppress that power in her.

I'm not sure either that her power was only gained by hard work. It's also something that is natural to her ( potential, sorry couldn't resist...), that she developped by hard work and curiosity. The comparison between her abilities and Amy's show a difference that could be attributed to "natural" gifts.


Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th June 2008 17:56 (UTC)
willow

Hi! (It's been quite a week; I had the VAT inspector round to my house earlier on... (VAT = TVA en français?))

I think the theme of power isn't so much muddled as complex. Power can't be defined as either good or bad - it can be used for evil purposes, and having power can tempt you into behaving in a selfish fashion, so it's problematic - but without power you can't do good or protect innocent people or anything else worthwhile.

I'm not sure that one of the things Willow learned in S6 is that she can't not use the magic. I always read her failures in S6 much more as a demonstration that deep down she wasn't really decided to renounce to it

My idea here is that renouncing all use of magic forever would be beyond the strength of any normal human. Sooner or later some sort of crisis would come up - maybe not as drastic as Tara dying, but something - and Willow would turn to magic again. In fact, we see in 'Selfless' (with the spider demon) and 'Get It Done' (with sucking the lifeforce from Kennedy and Anya) that it's pretty much instinctive for her; she needs to do something, and she reaches for the magic without even thinking about it.

I'm not sure either that her power was only gained by hard work. It's also something that is natural to her.

Fair point, but she did still spend an awful lot of her time studying and practicing magic between seasons 2 and 6. I think her rise to power was a combination of natural talent, curiosity, high intelligence, a lot of hard work and intensive practice, and a fair amount of dangerous corner-cutting and experimentation.

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 28th June 2008 19:24 (UTC)

VAT = TVA, yes.

Poor you, taxes are not fun at all.

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 28th June 2008 19:43 (UTC)

Grr! I had not finished to answer you and stupidly pressed on the Post button...
"Power can't be defined as either good or bad - it can be used for evil purposes, and having power can tempt you into behaving in a selfish fashion, so it's problematic - but without power you can't do good or protect innocent people or anything else worthwhile. " I agree with the first part of your sentence, but the second part is more problematic : do you really need power to do good or protect innocent people? Anne in Ats who sheltered stray teens didn't have power, yet she protected these people and did good.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th June 2008 20:56 (UTC)

If Anne had no power, she wouldn't have been able to protect anybody.

Her power came from her determination, organisational skills, skill at making contacts and ability to inspire people - in short, leadership ability. When demons attacked her teen shelter (I forget the episode - was it 'Thin Dead Line'?) she rallied the people there to fight back and keep them out. That's power. If Anne had truly been powerless, the demons would have eaten them all...


(And I don't really have a problem with paying VAT itself - it's more the intrusiveness of an inspector coming round to my house... (I run my own business from home, so I don't have a separate office where I can keep these things apart).)

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 29th June 2008 09:51 (UTC)

"And I don't really have a problem with paying VAT itself - it's more the intrusiveness of an inspector coming round to my house... " I was thinking more along papers, calculations, confrontations with strange and incompréhensible for the non initiated administrative language and so on which invariably get me into a grumpy panic each year when I have to accomplish my duty as a citizen. :) As for the intrusiveness, your feelings are perfectly understandable.


Now back to the power theme: I wouldn't identify Anne as a figure of power. She is a symbol of ordinary people in the same way Xander and Dawn are, which doesn't mean they are devoided of power. It is a sort of power linked to various human and personal capacities that everybody posess, even slaves.

But there's also an another sort of power manifested through Buffy, Willow, Angel and Spike (and by extension all the vampires) who are the figures of power in the verse. Its origin and nature are different : it is magic or demonic (supranatural), exterior to the person and granted by choice (See Buffy, Angel and Spike, Willow's case for that matter is unclear or could be different). From an historian POV the writers used there a very archaic concept of power, this which defines the power of the king in indoeuropean mythology and makes him a being above the other men. This concept is also easily recongnisable in its french medieval form : the king as a sacred person, chosen by god, able to cure scrofula... Interestingly enough the theoricians who developped later the concept of royalty created the concept of the "two bodies" of the king : the first body being the normal mortal human one, the second one (to simplify) being the king one which couldn't die and survived in the descendant of the king (and if you look at it you'll find the same idea in the transmission of the power of the slayer: one dies, another arises). Of course in Btvs there are differences with the original model: one being for exemple that the right for the chosen ones to decide for others is questionned and negated because we live in democratic society, another one being the muddling of this concept with the precedent one as it can become a metaphore for various powers of the first category (sexuality...).

And now I'm going to shut up because I don't want to hack your LJ. Have a good week end Stormwreath. :)




Posted by: chianazhaan (chianazhaan)
Posted at: 3rd July 2011 14:15 (UTC)

From the comments section of: http://stormwreath.livejournal.com/3723.html

That is also one of the reasons the magic-as-drugs metaphor in mid-s6 seems so silly to me; it would have worked just as well, even better, if they had stuck to the established character arc

To my mind that's exactly what they did. Willow started off using her most powerful magic to help others; then she began using it primarily for her own benefit, but also to help others; then purely for her own benefit, regardless of the consequences to others; and finally for her own self-gratification and pleasure. Magic's a tool, and in her growing arrogance Willow saw no harm in using it to give herself a happy.

And then what happened? She and her friends decided that magic was a drug, and so Willow's behavour wasn't her fault - she was just a victim of addiction. All her irresponsibility, hidden resentment and love of fixing people's problems by a grand gesture weren't addressed, weren't dealt with - until it was (almost) too late.

'Wrecked' wasn't the end of Willow's arc: it was a deliberate misdirect.

I like that META and this META, but the part I quoted is just as important to get a clear picture about Willow's character, her use of magic, and lots of other things.

That's the problem with characters explaining things and the audience/readers believing them to much. (BTW, that reminds me of a discussion thread about the Fidelius Charm I recently read, where a similar thing happens. Just because a character explains it, doesn't mean it's true.)

Thanks for BOTH of the brilliant META's.

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