[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Rebecca Rand Kirshner | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 11/13/2001]
This is a fun, emotional, and moderately probing episode that unfortunately isn’t consistently so. The first half or so along with the end of the episode are excellent and provide all kinds of important, memorable, and intriguing moments. All the stuff in between, though, is another story. I’ll concede that the middle material is occasionally hilarious but, unlike “Something Blue” [4×09] for example, it just doesn’t have very much depth or value. Did any of the memory-loss stuff propel any character arcs forward? No. Even for Willow, because it was her act of causing the memory loss that was the last straw for Tara. So, this episode marks one of those rare occasions where the main plot did not service the characters and, instead, we got it the other way around, played for (some admittedly fun) laughs. Because of this, I don’t feel the plot works very well.
Since “Tabula Rasa” is so cleanly split into different parts, I’m going to talk about the pre-spell stuff and the post-spell stuff separately (exactly like the episode itself is structured) — the former being the much meatier topic. It begins doing something that I never tire of and is extremely rare in television: good, solid, and immediate follow-up from the events of the previous episode. In this case it involves Spike running up to Buffy trying to pry her thoughts out on their big kiss in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] . Buffy claims it was the spell and that it will never happen again, although we (and Spike) can see right through her words.
This episode-to-episode continuity continues strong when the Scoobies discuss the big news of Buffy’s deathly whereabouts. Each person has a very unique reaction that’s in character and still interesting. Willow says she was selfish (which is true), but then suggests another reckless action: doing a spell to make Buffy forget she was ever in heaven. This is typical of the way Willow’s been doing a lot of things lately: using spells to make things better in uber quick time. A shame she didn’t take what happened in “Something Blue” [4×09] to heart, but that’s not where the character has been heading since then, which is the point. Although robbing Buffy of her heavenly memories would, in the short term, make her happier, it is completely side-stepping the real issues. Plus, heaven was a happy place, somewhere Buffy felt endlessly warm and loved. Even if that memory causes her pain by contrast now, it is still a huge sin to rob someone of knowledge, let alone happy knowledge. Buffy’s traumatized enough. The Scoobies must suck it up and deal with the horrible decision they made in resurrecting Buffy, but Willow’s not listening.
Tara’s reaction is mute until Willow starts the undoing discussion. This is when Tara angrily bursts out “No! No more spells! … God, what is wrong with you!?” She’s been extremely clear of her opinion of magic and its proper use since she was introduced, but especially clear in S5 up until now. The fact Willow’s completely ignoring her partner (while erasing her memory) combines to push Tara to threaten ending their relationship. Tara gives Willow one final chance to show she can live without this magic on a daily basis, and Willow fails nearly immediately while additionally screwing around with everyone’s memories again and “fixing things to [her] liking.” This episode shows just how much growth Tara’s had since S4 and, while very sad to see, she’s completely right to show this kind of individual strength.
Xander’s opinion of Buffy’s situation is probably the most intriguing of them all. Although he pretty much agrees they made a monumental mistake, I sympathize with him when he says he’s having a hard time feeling bad that their friend is alive. While I have sympathy, it doesn’t make his statement anything less than extremely selfish. Buffy’s in awful emotional torment and pain because they made her ‘alive’ again. It’s time for Xander to see the context of the situation. But as Anya will tell him in “Selfless” [7×05] , “Xander, you’ve always seen what you wanted to.” Here and throughout most of S6, this trait of Xander is in full effect until he is forced to see what is sitting right in front of his Xander-face. On the other end of the spectrum, Anya’s reaction to this Buffy stuff is unsurprisingly superficial: harps and clouds. At least she keeps quiet and is understanding during the rest of the conversation.
Someone who sure didn’t have a superficial reaction to the situation is Giles. His conversation to her about going back to England is just as heart-breaking as Tara telling Willow it isn’t going to work out, if not moreso. Right or wrong, Giles has made his choice and Buffy isn’t happy about it one bit, going as far as practically begging him to stay and telling him he’s making the wrong decision. Both Buffy and Giles have valid respective points — Buffy’s being the emotional one and Giles’ being the rational one. Although one may lean to be inclined to agree with Giles here, it’s important to remember sometimes that we’re all human beings with complex, powerful, and relevant emotions. Although our emotions should never rule our rational thought, the same must be said of the reverse. This whole situation, as pointed out in my “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] review, is very complicated and, well, perfectly represents how real life actually is.
When Xander and Willow enter the Magic Box before the spell occurs Willow says, “Thanks for the jacket. It’s cold out there.” Xander replies with something incredibly subtext-filled in “Not a problem, the cold only makes me stronger and more macho-like.” The cold only makes me stronger, huh? Don’t I recall hearing Buffy saying something about touching the fire and it freezing her… about her friends not being able to face the cold? Didn’t Angel grow stronger after hitting rock bottom and feeling “the cold” in “Reprise” (AtS 2×15)? I think we know the answer to all these questions is a big yes! This will be true of Buffy as well, but it will be a much longer, personally painful, and harrowing internal journey than Angel’s in AtS S2 or, for that matter, anything else in the entire Buffyverse. This is also the exact reason why Giles is leaving, of which he’s going to tell the group right after Xander’s comment. I think we’ve just witnessed some more sublime writing!
At the Magic Box a big scene starts unravelling. Willow tells Buffy’s she’s sorry. Buffy’s reaction is fitting: apologies don’t help one bit for what the Scoobies did. Normally I’d be pissed that Willow’s spell cut Buffy actually verbalizing her feelings out loud short, but in this case there’s actually severe consequences from it, and not just for Willow. If Buffy had gotten out what she was trying to say, it would have been an important step to begin her healing process and things may have not dove into living hell for her after this episode. Interesting to think about.
Anyway, it’s at this point in the episode where the interesting material starts to disappear. There’s still a few things, though, that I find worth talking about. For one, the initial memory loss sequence is hilarious. Everyone seems to maintain their base feelings for one another. It’s like the part of their memories that holds their acquired instincts is still there, and only their raw memories have been lost. The thing I find most fascinating about this entire process is how Buffy begins to stroke Dawn’s hair again, something we haven’t seen out of her since S5. This is a really nice little touch that reminds us that, yes, Buffy still deeply cares about Dawn, but her revived situation is overriding her normal feelings and reactions. It’s also a hint that Buffy didn’t “come back wrong” in the demon-y sense.
It’s about at this point where the episode really starts to lose steam (and humor). The rest of the memory loss material — the sewer chase and the Buffy/Spike combo fighting outside (aside from Spike’s “I’ve got a soul!” speech) — is quite boring. It’s not until after everyone gets their memories back that I become interested in the episode again. When Buffy gets her memory back we see this huge contrast in feeling represented in only her face. Her fun time wailing on vamps with no memory is immediately dampened by this huge visible wave of depression and pain. In fact, being kicked repeatedly in the gut seems to hurt her much less than the emotional pain she’s feeling.
Spike reaches his hand out to help Buffy up. She just looks at him with sickness, disgust, and confusion that is completely meant to reflect her feelings and choices up to this point. Those emotions — sickness, disgust, and confusion — are where these two are headed as soon as the next episode, so that look from Buffy says a lot. The ending song “Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch is very obvious in meaning, but powerful nonetheless as we watch Giles flying away for good on a plane, Tara packing up her stuff and leaving Willow, Dawn in tears, Willow in the corner of her bathroom crying, and Buffy completely failing at listening to her feelings of disgust with herself while having an extremely passionate/hot kiss with Spike.
And so the extra complicated times begin! To sum this episode up, I enjoyed it a lot but felt that something was lacking. That something boils down to the disjointed and unsupportive nature of the main plot. The memory loss doesn’t serve the characters very much and it doesn’t show the audience (us) very much either. With that said, the rest of the episode, which is still a sizable chunk, is excellent and does offer up loads of development and assorted character-related goodies. So, like most plots that struggle but still have a lot of excellent material in the episode, this gets a B+.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy getting all jittery after throwing Spike on the ground.
+ The awesome visual of seeing the flame of Willow’s spell burning transparently over a photo of Buffy in a happier time.
+ All the “Restless” [4×22] connections such as the shark “on land” and Spike being “like a son” to Giles.
+ Buffy calling herself Joan.
+ The group scream scene. Hilarious!
+ Buffy’s super excitement over being uber strong.
+ Anya summoning endless bunnies. I just love that popping sound!
– The “loan shark.” Simply too silly. Thankfully it doesn’t take up a big part of the episode.
– The shark’s minions getting uber cliched and annoying dialogue.
* Spike rambles on about thinking he’s a vampire with a soul. This is both foreshadowing of Spike’s future and, thanks to Buffy’s “how lame is that,” a hilarious jab at Angel.