It's an episode of goodbyes, as Buffy's mentor heads to England and Tara gives her witchy lover the kiss-off, says Jeff Jensen
Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, ...
Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Jaimie Trueblood/UPN

Giles goes and Willow has love woes

”Where do we go from here?” That was the question posed in song by Buffy and her discombobulated buddies on the show’s Nov. 6 musical episode. In Nov. 13’s worthy and shattering follow-up, ”Tabula Rasa,” answers were given: a world of heartbreak for the Scooby gang, and lots of high drama for us.

The plot was put in motion by a magical scheme to purge the emotional pain caused by the musical’s unsettling revelations. Guilt-wracked over unwittingly plucking Buffy from paradise and worried that her romance with fellow witch Tara was in jeopardy, Willow cast an amnesia spell on all of her friends. Much comedy ensued: Professor Giles and Anya assumed they were in love, Spike assumed he was their son, and Buffy assumed she was a normal girl? until she found herself expertly kicking vampire ass. (”Cool!” she marveled.)

True, the memory-wash gimmick was just that — a gimmick — and you can quibble with how whimsically it was executed. Yet it successfully bolstered what’s emerging as this season’s most critical storyline: the corruption of Buffy’s best friend Willow. You would think Willow would be wise enough to handle her power more responsibly, and I think there may be some validity in criticizing the direction of her character on those grounds. Then again, we’re talking about a onetime wallflower with damaged self-esteem who found identity and strength by carving a niche for herself within a subculture whose center is Buffy. Without Tara’s love, there’s no affirmation of her identity; without Buffy, there’s no reason for that identity to exist. No wonder Willow would feel compelled to take such drastic measures. But in the end, her magic act went poof! in her face, and Tara left her.

Willow wasn’t the only one touched by selfishness in ”Tabula.” There was Buffy herself, who tried to neutralize the significance of last week’s passionate liplock with Spike, but then desperately used him again when she found herself unsettled and depressed following the long-promised departure of father-figure Giles for England. Should the show have resisted this temptation of pairing the Slayer with Spike? Maybe. But anyone who has wandered through their 20s unsure of who they are and what they want to be should recognize Buffy’s desperate fumblings; it’s this kind of insight and emotional authenticity that has always infused ”Buffy”’s flights of fancy with true dramatic power. So again, something on the surface that may not make sense is redeemed by the show’s insistence on grounding its characters with psychological complexity.

A word on the goodbyes that concluded the episode. Kudos for not giving Giles a gooey sentimental send-off and for not doting on Tara’s pack-her-things-and-get-out kiss-off. Their departures were cold and undeserved; they were also devastating, which means they were perfectly handled. Anyway, since I have a sneaking suspicion that neither are gone for good, there will be time for gooey later.

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