Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 8: Tabula Rasa
Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by David Grossman
In a season of doom, gloom and sheer boredom, I’m amazed they managed to come up with something this fun. It’s one of those traditional “memory loss” episodes, but I always find these appealing, as they help break up the monotony and allow the characters to do and say things they normally wouldn’t. I especially enjoy Giles and Anya jumping to the conclusion that they’re a couple (because they own the Magic Box together), and Giles and Spike believing that they’re father and son. It’s also very nicely photographed, considering how flat and mundane most of the rest of the season looks. Marks off, though, for the incredibly hokey villain: a loan shark who… you guessed it, is a shark. Yeesh.
It must be said that, for all its strengths, this episode sets in motion some of the worst aspects of the season.
Number 1: it’s the episode in which Giles leaves, and it’s amazing how integral he was to the show’s success. Take him out, and it feels like there’s a huge gap. The writers, to their credit, admitted that they didn’t realise how much the show would suffer without him till it was too late, and as a result made the most of Anthony Head’s limited availability in Season 7 by spacing his appearances out better (not that it helped, though, because they utterly desecrated the character in that season). Another problem is the complete lack of logic in Giles’ decision to leave: he’s just learned that Buffy was pulled out of Heaven (rather than Hell) by her friends, and despite her needing him now more than ever, he simply walks out on her. I know Anthony Head was going to leave either way, but you’d think the writers could have come up with a better excuse.
Number 2: they split Willow and Tara up. I’m not one to proclaim my undying love for TV relationships (believe it or not, I think there’s more to a character than who they happen to be having sex with), but I like this one. It’s believable and realistic, and Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson have considerable chemistry. Tara’s leaving deprives the show of a great character (although she does pop up here and there until her short-lived reunion with Willow later in the season), and turns Willow into a shell of her former self, to the point that she becomes a whiny, self-obsessed junkie (more on that in my review of the deplorable Wrecked).
Number 3: at the end of the episode, Buffy and Spike get together. The two shared a sweeping Hollywood smooch at the end of Once More, With Feeling, but this is the episode in which the relationship gets underway. I’ll explain in the reviews of subsequent episodes precisely why I dislike it so much.
Given all these negatives, I’m slightly surprised to be rating the episode so highly. When all said and done, though, while this episode sets up many of the season’s biggest problems, they don’t really begin “for real” until the next episode. This is really the last time we see the whole gang together, so it’s a moment to savour.
Overall rating: 8/10.
Next time: Smashed.