So I sat down to work on my Season Six list, and remembered that when I started making this latter-seasons list, I knew I’d have to have one season that got only three eps instead of four. The fan in me thought of maybe making it a Top 26 list instead of 25. But then the old-school fan in me Got Serious, because if I had to make cuts among my originally beloved S1-3, then despite how into the later seasons I’ve gotten, the same sacrifices must and shall be made for them!
That sacrifice is going to Season Six. Now here is the thing about Season Six: I am not an S6 hater, wasn’t even back in the day, and there were many. I understood many of the criticisms, even agreed with some, but I liked the darkness of S6, especially rewatching it in my 30s. I thought the series overall did a phenomenal job of traversing that confusing time from high school through young adulthood, and how each side holds its own set of demons, in this case, both literally and figuratively.
But why I only chose three eps from Season Six is that the other episode I would put on my S6 list is a two-parter: the awesome premiere of “Bargaining.” But I couldn’t choose between the two halves, and I had four on my S7 list that won out if I had to split up “Bargaining” (I haven’t cheated and put a two-parter as one ep!). Also, there is the issue of the first ep on my list:
Once More, With Feeling
Considering that I dedicated a whole blog to one Season Six episode, I feel that I’ve given S6 proper love, overall. ‘Nuff said about this ep a month or so ago, but on top of that, on Halloween, Josh went as Spike and I went as Buffy-as-Red-Riding-Hood. His costume was way more method (and way more spectacular!), but point is, we both went as “Buffy” fans, and met up at the end of the night with two other “Buffy” fans and friends, Mark and Maye, at the place where I work/ed with said other “Buffy” fans. Combine that fandom with alcohol and an Internet jukebox containing the “Once More, With Feeling” soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself an intense singalong of glory! (Not to be confused with S5 Glory.)
OMWF and “Tabula Rasa” do not comprise an official two-parter, but “Tabula Rasa” deals with all of the fallout from OMWF, which in many ways was an episode of fallout from the entire beginning of Season Six and by extension, the series overall. There’s a lot going on in “Tabula Rasa,” but at the crux of it, Willow is feeling all down and out now that she knows that upon raising Buffy from the dead, she was not the god she fancied herself, saving Buffy from some hell dimension. Rather, she, as Buffy’s best friend, has ripped her from heaven, from final peace after all of the heroism and angst. So she’s dealing with that, and plus Tara is rightfully both pissed at and worried about her girlfriend, given Willow’s increasingly raging witchy ego.
Also, Giles is moving back to England. Everything seems to be falling apart. So Willow casts a forgetting spell, Tabula Rasa, in hopes of getting Tara and Buffy to forget the pain that Willow has caused them, inadvertently or otherwise.
Although Willow has grown way more powerful since Season Four, as in “Something Blue,” her spell leads to unintentional first hilarity, then heartbreak, and both “H” results are why “Tabula Rasa” makes this list, despite my love for many S6 episodes. Because everyone’s memory, even Willow’s, gets wiped in this episode, and there is no Cat Cordelia to play the Greek chorus of non-amnesia.
Hilarity-wise: Spike as Randy “Why Not Just Name Me Horny” Giles! Rupert as Randy’s Dad! Buffy as Joan! Credits shot of everyone screaming in terror at demons! Anya/Giles kissing, which really isn’t as funny if you ‘ship them, which I kind of do!
Then in between, there is another “H” word, humanity, which is where all the characters, despite having lost their memories for the time being, still seem to retain their personalities, at the core. Particularly the two women that Willow cast her spell on – Buffy, as she comes to realize that she is both funny and strong, and also has a sister that she loves, and Willow, who as memory-wiped-yet-still-regular-Willow echoes S3 foreshadowing VampWillow in realizing: “I think I’m kind of gay,” as she interacts with the mysterious Tara that she thinks she’s just met.
That to me, is what makes the Heartbreak so…heartbreaking. In a very meta-way, “Tabula Rasa” IMO, explores a lot of criticism of the fans at the time. It kind of takes away all of the past, all of the dark, makes it funny and light again for a moment, while allowing the characters to go back to the beginning. Willow wakes up and she and Xander think they are boyfriend and girlfriend, just like it * should * have always been, according to many ‘shippers and fans. Buffy wakes up and she is chipper and simple, and sans little sister – just like, according to many ‘shippers and fans, how it * should * have stayed.
But things change, and people grow up, and all the magic(ks) in the world(s) can’t change that, and so even as Willow’s created from desperation a “clean slate,” the Buffyverse as it exists will not be denied.
Because the monks made Dawn out of Buffy, and Dawn became Buffy’s sister, which led to Buffy’s dying. And because Willow outgrew Xander, then loved Oz, and now loves Tara.
And now Willow’s just fucked it all up. So as her spell blows up in the face of herself and those she loves most, Michelle Branch has to sing about saying “Goodbye to You.” As with Willow’s “Something Blue” mishap spell, Buffy and Spike make out, only this time, for real.
And as with Willow’s “Something Blue” mishap spell, she’s forced to realize that sometimes, magic not only fails to bring someone back to you; it sometimes forces the one you truly love to leave you. In “Something Blue,” it was just Willow and Her Pain in the bathroom, her love Oz already long gone – nothing to lose but the pain.
“Tabula Rasa” ends with Willow once again on the floor of a lonely bathroom. Only this time, her romantic loss is destroying a family. For at least a season now, Tara has become not only Willow’s love, but a proxy-Joyce – a mother figure to everyone in the Summers house, since Joyce made an early and unfortunate departure. But she, along with Giles, say “Goodbye to You,” and the rest of Season Six deals with Willow’s carrying on of that carrion.
Which leads to:
My friend Andy commented recently on Facebook that this episode had increasingly become one of his favorites, and I feel that. To me, as a “Buffy” fan, this is the one of the most visceral and game-changing episodes of the series ever. From Willow’s palpable desperation in the first scene, to her terrifying lack of emotion in the last, Alyson Hannigan totally rocks the entire episode. Adam Busch is also awesome. I like the character of Warren a lot, but/so few deaths on the show have been more scarily satisfying.
I also was struck even more this time around, at just how great a loss Tara was. Her death at the end of “Something Red” is one of the most jarring things I’ve ever witnessed as a television fan, and you really feel her absence in “Villains.” Within the 46 minutes from the end of “Something Red” to the end of “Villains,” we’ve seen two humans get killed by two humans. Intense.