“Tabula Rasa” is pretty on the nose when it comes to the “Buffy’s not Buffy” motif but it’s also, ironically, the most oldschool episode of the season with a mystical metaphor at the heart of the story and the gang needing to band together to resolve it. The Scoobies also seem more themselves here (again with the irony) as, freed from the baggage of everything that’s happened to them, they present their undamaged selves. Oh, and this episode is funny. Very, very funny.
Skipping to where the real story starts, we’ve got the gang at the Magic Box for Giles’ second farewell with Buffy’s big former secret hanging in the air. No longer able to hide what she’s going through, she does the next best thing and tries to run away (effectively proving Giles’ point, BTW) before losing all memory of who she is. “Joan” not only lacks Buffy’s crippling memories of the afterlife, she doesn’t have the moral certitude that comes with accepting her destiny, the confidence gained through conquering evil, or the trust relationships built up through years of fellowship. Despite this, she immediately assumes the role of leader, steps up to protect the most vulnerable person present and, upon learning she has super powers, risks herself to save the entire group. Joan’s the Slayer we all want to believe that Buffy still is.
Buffy’s the name on the marquee, so she gets the most attention but the rest the Scoobies are also reduced to the elements of themselves that we find most appealing. Xander’s awkwardly goofy as he hasn’t been in some time, and the possibility of a relationship between him and Willow makes for a nice nostalgic nod. Willow and Tara’s connection is also present, without their recent estrangement. Giles is back in librarian mode, enduring the quirks of his younger companions with quickly evaporating patience (plus, swordfight!). And Anya, well, she’s still afraid of bunnies.
It’s a whole lot of fun to watch the cast breathe new life into their old selves, but this episode’s also about the fact you can’t go home again. While it’s nice to take a break from rather dark road these characters have found themselves on, it’s also too easy. We don’t actually want Buffy to be Joan, we want to see her work through her problems and become Buffy again. It’s no coincidence that one of this series’ funniest episodes ends on one of the saddest notes, with both Giles and Tara leaving. Much as we might not want to see these things happen, the only alternative is presto-chango ignorance of where the story’s taking us. The hard road is the one worth taking.
Great as this episode was, I still think that Giles’ exit deserved better. I’m not one of those who think his reasons for leaving were stupid, but I do think that there was a story here that ought to have been told.
Spike’s the big exception to everyone regressing to version of their old selves. Far from slipping into Big Bad mode, he becomes “Randy Giles,” the humiliatingly named and dressed target of the vampire attack. It’s a nice reflection of the humiliation Spike has suffered since getting the chip. When he finally does discover that he’s a vampire, he doesn’t connect with his old identity, he connects with Angel’s.
Loved the Army of Darkness reference.
Sharkie’s an example of the writers getting just a little too cute with the monster design.
1st runner up for this week’s title: “Stay away from Randy!”