“Tabula Rasa,” by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
Spike and Buffy have kissed, and Spike for one wants to to know: where do we go from here? And—what a shock—Buffy would prefer to just forget about it. It was Sweet! And the end of his mystical kumbayayas. Her slayer lips definitely didn’t mean it and they won’t be going there again.
She’s just declaring that there won’t be a repeat performance when a shark-headed demon shows up in pursuit of some poker kittens Spike owes him.
Buffy joins the fray—though we can safely assume he didn’t really need the help—and Spike runs off. Just before the credits roll, she remembers that if she’d just stand back and let him get dusted, her crushed-out vampire problems would be over.
Which would be one problem down, ten or eleven to go. Back at Xander’s place, the four architects of Buffy’s resurrection from the dead are freaking out over having learned that they didn’t, in fact, rescue Buffy from a hell dimension. They’re all aboard the good ship Guiltypop, trying to figure out how they can make her life less painful. When Willow suggests her new favorite spell, Lethe’s Bramble, Tara vetoes the idea in a rage.
XandAnya flee to minimum safe distance as the argument unfolds. Willow tries to skate on taking responsibility for having brain-wiped her third true love. Tara, unimpressed, comes to wonder if the two of them are finished. In a panic, Willow promises to swear off magic for a week. That’ll do it, right? Easy peasy, everything back to normal?
We’ll see, says Tara, which rather leaves Willow reeling.
Elsewhere, Giles is hitting Buffy with the same emotional hammer, and it’s no empty threat: he’s on his way back to England for good. We’ve all been discussing how ill-timed and unfair this is. Buffy’s busted up and deeply furious, and rightly so. She doesn’t want to accept that Giles has the will and the power to take off. But what can she do?
Solve her problems with magic, that’s what! Willow’s feeling much more pro-active about keeping her loved ones in check and within arm’s reach. She plays at magical abstinence for all of a minute before slipping out the magic kit to get her Lethe’s Bramble on again. The goal is to make Tara forget she’s mad and make Buffy forget was ever in Heaven.
She whips up this little concoction just before they all zoom off to the latest Scooby assembly, whose sole agenda item is Giles’s departure.
Midway through, Spike turns up, seeking protection he really shouldn’t need from our good friend Jumpy the Sharkfaced Boy. Buffy breaks down when the discussion gets heated, just as the spell is taking effect. She feels like she’s dying. And poof! Everyone passes out.
Willow’s spell overachieved, you see—she left some extra bramble out and it all got zorched, taking the whole gang’s memories with it.
Some undefined period of time later, they wake up. They’re confused, fearful, and clumsy. One wee stumble at a time, they begin trying to sleuth their way into recovering their identities. XandAnya, WillTara and Giles have ID, so they mostly get their names right... though their relationships are all wrong. “Alex” and Willow find his coat on her body, and speculate about being a couple; Giles and Anya, seeing Anya’s engagement ring and papers showing they run the Magic Box together, assume that they’re plunging toward matrimony. Poor Spike has Randy written inside his goofy coat, and so they all figure he’s Rupert Junior, an ill-dressed human of British origin.
This last misunderstanding notches up the hilarious considerably, as Spike embraces his latest identity, railing at Giles for non-existent parental failures.
Dawn and Buffy—who has by now named herself Joan—use the power of annoyance to figure out that they are sisters, and the whole group moves from there to realizing that they really need a hospital. Which would be fine, except that by now Jumpy’s vampire minions have turned up, looking for Randy.
In the midst of all the s6 dourness, it’s the moments like these—the shot of the gang, Buffy included, shrieking in terror and slamming the shop door as they’re confronted with eeek vampires!—that stand out as the bright points. They’re delicious little sprinkles of wonder.
And, in this episode, the going gets even goofier. When the gang hears the vampires calling for Spike, they duly gather up the shop’s collection of stakes. Then the bad guys bust in, Joan dusts one—“Stay away from Randy!”—and she is completely thrilled to discover that she’s got superpowers.
Who wouldn’t be?
“Tabula Rasa” is one of the great Sarah Michelle Gellar episodes of BtVS. It has been so long since her character has had anything resembling an opportunity to be lighthearted, or pleased with her lot. As she shrugs off the weight of all her losses and her memories, both terrible and heavenly, and just revels in her strength and vampire-dusting abilities, it’s an immense contrast. She’s Buffy as she (often) was when she first got to Sunnydale: peppy, cheerful, ready for action.
It’s hard not to wish Slayer Joan had lasted for three or four episodes. Alas, it’s not to be.
The team, amnesia despite, manages to fend off the first attack. The vamps back off, promising to return with reinforcements. Joan and Randy hare off out the front door to serve as a distraction, so the others can make for the hospital with Dawn and RupAnya can conjure bunnies in the Magic Box.
(But first, there’s a tender father-son moment between Giles and Randy. Awwwww.)
The plan works beautifully until Randy ends up in his vampy game face, terrifying Joan. It turns out he’s a vampire with a soul! Or perhaps not. Jumpy’s still after him so they shelve the question and get back to the fighting.
Down in the sewers, Willow, Xander, Tara and Dawn are playing hide and seek with another disposable vamp, who seems eminently qualified to find them. WillTara are figuring out pretty quickly that they have major voova for one other. Upstairs, RupAnya have moved from conjuring bunnies to raising monsters, and from there to breaking up. It’s looking bad for their non-existent relationship, but they pull it out of the fire at the end, banishing the latest whatever-it-is, retrieving the engagement ring Anya has tossed away, and embarking on a major lip-lock.
This is what WillTara are about to do, too, when Xander accidentally breaks the amnesia spell.
RupAnya are, of course, horrified when they find themselves embracing. Tara’s horrified too, though in a completely different way. Willow is (one assumes) mostly very sorry that she didn’t pull it off. And Slayer Joan is quite clearly shattered to have to let go of cheer and inexperience and once again come back from the depths to Buffy’s incredibly sucky life.
Which is presumably why, as Giles flies back to England and Tara packs her things and Willow curls up on the floor of Casa Summers for a long cry, that Buffy ends up on the dance floor of the Bronze, sucking face yet again with Spike.
What I remember first about “Tabula Rasa,” of course, is all the comedy. Even though the humor is sandwiched between two slices of angsty pain, it’s the silly misunderstandings and the wacky joy of watching the Scoobies discover vampirekind, Buffy’s powers, and each other that make this episode so memorable.
But this is also the point where we start seeing the group—at least the young adult portion of it—buy into the idea of magic as an addiction. The structure of the WillTara fight is built around it: the whole ‘I can do without magic, I don’t need it’ declaration, for example, and the setting of a period of abstinence for Willow. Not to mention the fact that she’s flat-out lying (you all know the joke, right?) about giving it up.
Are any of you on board for the addiction part of this storyline? Does any of you like that it’s treated that way?
Because here’s the thing: I do very much like that the season ends in a Dark Willow vs. Buffy confrontation. I believe the trigger for Willow’s final meltdown, I enjoy watching her take out her fury on the Trio, and—like many of you—I love seeing how the world gets saved this time around.
From your comments, I’d say I’m not alone. So how much icky addiction stuff is Dark Willow worth?
If we were in a weird alternate universe where the bunch of us got to tweak the finer points of Willow’s Phoenix-y rise, what details would you change? Could it be done without resorting to the language of addiction and recovery?
Go ahead, second-guess the well paid Mutant Enemy writing team! What bits of this season do you think are broken? How would you fix them? I’m curious.
From my point of view, the first thing would be to shore up Giles’s ill-timed abandonment of Buffy and Willow. They can’t make these bad choices if he’s present, maybe, but he’s lacking a believable reason to fly home. Any horrific family emergency or even a deportation would do.
Next up: Ker-Smash!
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second Gale, story too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)