Covering from “Tabula Rasa” to “Gone,” in which the season blunders through one of its more infamous stories.
Here we go.
Way back in “Restless,” Xander’s dream features talk of how he has to keep moving, like a shark, but without fins. “And on land,” dream Spike helpfully notes. And lo, in “Tabula Rasa” Spike’s demonic loan shark turns out to be a guy in a suit who has a shark head. Get it? Because he’s a loan shark? Also the currency Spike owes him is cats.
Isn’t it impressive foreshadowing?
“Tabula Rasa” is, I believe, one of season 6’s more kindly thought-upon efforts, if you can’t tell already, I find it rather lame and wan. It’s a return to the solid Buffy game of taking on new personas, and this time the new personas are people who have no memory and are trying to piece things together. And it’s funny, which is probably why it’s kindly thought upon. For my tastes, though, it isn’t funny enough. Most of it is worth a chuckle—Buffy realizes she’s “Joan the Vampire Slayer,” Spike decides he must be not a regular vampire but a heroic vampire with a soul, Willow briefly thinks she’s with Xander and hence straight. It’s all chuckle-worthy at best. The rest of it is people sitting around asking “Who are you?” and “Who am I?” for far too long.
It’s also the episode where Giles leaves, and having already gone on about why this is moronic and damaging to the show’s 2nd most vital character, I won’t belabor that point except to say here he tells Buffy of his plans and she raises some of the same excellent points I did, while he sounds like Obi-Wan in Jedi telling Luke the huge ass lie he told was true from a certain point of view—it would sound like wisdom, if only you could hear it over your brain screaming “What a crock of shit!”
And it’s additionally when Tara breaks up with Willow, a consequence of the latter toying with the former’s memories to avoid a fight. Tara’s song wherein she discovered what Willow had done to her was easily one of the musical’s highlights, and that Willow would try the same trick again speaks strongly to the arrogance they’ve been building in the character, the disastrous consequences a natural expansion. In justifying Willow’s eventual heel-turn, it’s great.
And it was not to last.
Yes, it’s the infamously thin and nonsensical Magic as Drugs storyline, where the issue isn’t so much that Willow violated Tara’s mind, twice, but rather that she broke her promise to be magic abstinent for a week. In the wake of the break up, she turns Amy human again, and they run a bit wild, ending with them getting high at some sort of magical crack house, until Willow hits rock bottom when she nearly hurts Dawn crashing a car while high. On magic. But really, Magic as Drugs is just the cherry atop the misguided misjudgment of “Smashed” and “Wrecked,” a pair of episodes that do some real massive damage to the magic part of the show’s universe while also continuing the season’s tradition of revealing things about characters that do not align at all with how we’ve known them.
Basically, the scene at the Bronze is obnoxious garbage. The use of magic here is weightless, candy-colored, twee frivolity that was best left to Charmed. Magic doesn’t seem dangerous, or elemental, or powerful here, it seems childish and silly. Willow suddenly has God powers without cost or consequence, and bafflingly so does Amy, who’s been a rat for three years due to her own miscast spell (rat transmogrification seemed to be her only move at the time, by the way). Rather than drawing ritual circles and casting out reagents in the hope that dark energies could be wrangled for the light, they flick their fingers and pink fairy dust comes out. It was deeply silly and anti-climactic last season when Willow animated a rug to attack Glory, but at least it seemed sort of scary and wrong. Willow says “open” and a car door opens, she says “drive” and it starts—that’s right, she uses her powers to steal a car. Suddenly, magic is both twee and banal. Then they go to Rack, who Amy knows all about from 3 years ago even though she needed two helpers for a vague protection spell, and it all just falls apart. We don’t even get the barest of jargon explaining what he does to them or what they are doing—there’s no intent or utility in the magic here, there’s nothing but Willow being a cartoonish junkie as she cackles and speeds about high without hands on the wheel, and having the DTs the next day.
Somewhat meant to be parallel is Buffy being drawn by depression and malaise into having self-destructive and self-loathing sex with Spike—there’s a lot of pointed talk about compulsion and doing something despite knowing its bad for you, so on, etc. I’ll admit, this idea of enwrapping Buffy in a mutually abusive relationship is daring, and at the moment it isn’t awful, even if they do make Spike extra smarmy and gross in a way he has never been before. Issue is that both of these stories feel very much like just some stuff that happens, not episodes of Buffy, despite the presence of Buffy, Willow, Xander, et all. There isn’t the, ironic to say this, grounding element of a supernatural problem that needs solving—in theory, the magic crack house is the supernatural problem, but it doesn’t work at all in centering things.
Lastly, there is “Gone,” in which Buffy accidentally becomes invisible, and has to fight the invisible Trio, who are unveiled. Like “Tabula Rasa,” it’s a chuckle-worthy idea that never elevates above that, and even gets a little creepy when she keeps invisibly tweaking Spike in front of Xander. There’s an attempt to create a joke for the ages in a fight that’s all whip-pans to invisible combatants, but it goes on a bit too long. Mostly, I think this episode is notable for Willow taking offense that Xander would think she had been unwise with magic again after she violated his mind (and everyone else’s) trying to violate Buffy’s mind, having not learned her lesson from trying to violate Tara’s mind.Really, the memory spells should have been the event horizon for Willow, but now they go unmentioned in favor of the Rack stuff. And this, really, is the growing problem of the season—the show doesn’t seem to realize what it’s doing to these characters.