Follow along in Bite Me!, pp. 289-293.
If you’re watching Angel, our episodes are:
Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 211-217.
This will be quick; after last week’s musical extravaganza I’ve fallen a bit behind, and this Friday I’ll be in New Orleans giving a keynote at the first ever Lost academic conference, so that’s been taking up a lot of my time. But before I get into Buffy, I know I’ve only been mentioning what Angel episodes to watch and have rarely made a comment, but this week I needed to say that “Lullaby” is one of the most stunning Angel episodes there are… from the backstory to what ultimately happens in the present, it’s heartbreaking, gorgeously told, and beautifully acted. I hope the Angel viewers love it as much as I do. Ever since my daughter was born, I’ve always sung “All Through the Night” as one of my lullabies to her, and I can’t help but always picture Holtz singing the same song, though his has much more tragic consequences. What a scene.
Okay! Now back over to Buffy. This week’s episodes could be titled “The Downfall of Willow,” although we also see Buffy moving over to her “dark side,” if you count her relationship with Spike as such. “Smashed” is that episode you always think about when people say, “How old could my kid be before I can watch Buffy with them?” and you go, “uhhh…. You might want to skip ‘Smashed’ if they’re under, like… 16. And… you probably don’t want to watch it with them.” ;)
“Tabula Rasa” is probably in my top 10 favourite episodes, and features one of the best bits of dialogue in the series, in my opinion: “Ready Randy?” “Ready Joan.” I think this episode is hilarious, and we see a culmination of one of the predictions in Restless a couple of seasons ago, as I point out in my book. Remember Spike and Giles on the swings? Spike was wearing a brown suit, and Giles said Spike was like a son to him. Xander tells Buffy (who is sitting in the sandbox) that he has to move forward, “like a shark, with feet and much less fins,” and Spike adds, “And on land!”
“Wrecked” is where it all goes to hell, and poor Willow falls apart completely. Leave it up to Joss to take the character most fans identify with the most and just make her so effed up we want to cry every week. I remember being devastated, while being immensely annoyed with her. But I never stopped loving Willow. However, I’ve always taken umbrage with the suggestion that her use of magicks is akin to a drug addiction (which is made clear by her visiting Rack, who is basically a drug dealer in a crack house). I prefer to think of the metaphor as being about using things in excess, or doing something for others as opposed to herself. In my book, I chronicled Willow’s use of magicks as far back as season 1, and called it “Willow Wicca Watch.” You just have to go through the book and read that section to see just how many times her use of dark magicks has helped those around her, or how she’s resisted using something that dark and the others have begged her to do it so she can help them. The drugs metaphor doesn’t work for me because that would suggest she “took the drugs” that other people pushed on her, and made the world a better and happier place as a result. Don’t think so. But I do like the idea that it’s a metaphor for what happens when you do things to excess.
When I went to my first Slayage in Arkansas in 2008, I remember listening to a paper that likened this arc to drug addiction, and while I disagreed with her because of what I said above, it was still a very good paper. However, I still remember someone in the audience suggesting that a better metaphor would be to compare her to someone in Overeaters Anonymous: you HAVE to eat, but it's all about what you eat and how much of it you eat. Interesting.
Incidentally, for the Losties out there, Rack is that mechanic from season 6 of Lost who takes off Kate’s handcuffs, as I mentioned back in “Helpless” in season 3, when he played Kralik, the insane vampire.
Now, I've said what I think about the addiction metaphor, but here's another take on it from the lovely and immensely talented Dale Koontz-Guffey, who was part of last week’s musical rewatch with her husband, Ensley Guffey (they did the “I’ll Never Telenovela” bit). The two of them also did the “live blog” analysis of “The Body” a few weeks ago. And really, she'll probably convince you otherwise on that addiction metaphor. I mean, I bet the lady could convince a jury that an axe murderer committed his crimes with a Colt rifle.
Take it away, Dale!
And you’re just bending them for your own benefit.
“She’s Got a New Spell” Billy Bragg
In last week’s musical spectacular, Willow’s solo line may have been “mostly filler,” but the red-headed witch is at the core of this week’s viewing. “Tabula Rasa,” “Smashed,” and “Wrecked” are All About Willow, but I doubt she welcomes the focus by the end of things. Willow has been rushing headlong downhill for a while now – she’s working with larger, more powerful magics that have taken on a distinctly darker tone. Willow is now using magic to get what she wants, when she wants, and how she wants. She’s running on pure Will-Power and in these episodes, we see what happens when that tank finally runs dry.
“Tabula Rasa” manages to both raise the stakes and still make the viewer laugh out loud as the episode opens with Spike’s trouble with a literal loan shark over an unpaid kitty debt. (There’s much less laughter in the other two episodes this week.) Meanwhile, Willow and the Scoobies are horror-stricken that their well-intentioned actions yanked Buffy back to life from a peaceful, heavenly place. While Willow acknowledges that she “was so selfish,” she can fix it – she’s got a spell that will make Buffy forget. Tara is adamant that Willow stop. Tired of having the same fight on a different day, Tara breaks up with Willow, who desperately throws out the addict’s boast that she doesn’t need magic. Tara relents and tells Willow to go without magic for a week.
Like most addicts, Willow sincerely meant that she’d go a week, but . . . well, just one more. Reasoning that Buffy really needs to forget and so does Tara, so they won’t fight anymore, Willow casts the spell but leaves a crucial ingredient too near the flames. This error results in the spell being bigger and more intense than was planned and all the Scoobies forget their very identities.
Let the hilarity ensue. “Tabula Rasa” is a fun exploration of identity as we see these characters who we know so well try to piece together who they are from the contents of wallets, jewelry, an airline ticket, and so on. Spike’s eventual discovery that he’s a vampire leads to high comedy as he echoes Angel’s lines about “I help the helpless. I’m a vampire with a soul!” Buffy/Joan is not impressed. Anya’s attempts to magic things back to normal result in a shopful of terrifyingly soft bunnies. But some things can’t be suppressed even with magic – Buffy instinctively protects Dawn and Willow thinks she’s “kinda gay.”
Despite the comedy, this whole mess is Willow’s fault and when the spell ends, Xander, Dawn, and Tara are all standing, while Willow is on her knees. The three walk away, leaving Willow to sort it out on her own. Buffy is likewise down and Spike offers a hand, which Buffy angrily refuses. In the Bronze, Michelle Branch sings “Goodbye to everything I thought I knew” as Tara packs, Willow slumps sadly against the wall, Giles travels thousands of miles away from Sunnydale and – is that Buffy and Spike in the corner? Kissing? (Willow and Buffy are on parallel tracks with their unhealthy attractions to the Dark Side here, especially after their enablers detach themselves, but my focus is on Willow.)
The titles for the next two episodes – “Smashed” and “Wrecked” (along with the episode that immediately follows, “Gone”) – are euphemisms for intoxication and Will’s on a bender. Heartbroken and lonely, Willow wishes she had a friend and lo and behold, the right words to un-rat Amy Madison appear to her. After three years in a Habitrail, Amy is understandably eager to get out so she and Willow decide to paint the town Bronze. While viewers may laugh at the poetic justice of two jerks being transformed into not-very-good cage dancers, Amy and Willow quickly escalate to subverting the will and agency of all the patrons for their own amusement – the band transforms, a giant strawberry dances, people grow and shrink as if in Wonderland, and a flock of sheep scamper through the club while Amy and Willow smugly watch the goings-on from above. They eventually return everything to normal, but Willow’s appetite has been whetted and she’s convinced that “there’s got to be someplace bigger than this.”
At the beginning of “Wrecked,” we briefly see Tara again – she stayed over with Dawn when no one else was home. Seeing Willow with the un-ratted Amy is disturbing to the point of bringing back Tara’s faint stammer, especially when Amy begins to gush about Willow’s magical prowess. Willow has been messing with dimensions, making people’s mouths disappear – definitely heavy lifting. Exhausted, Willow goes upstairs to “crash,” so tapped out from her night of magical debauchery that she can’t spell the drapes closed.
Later, Willow is still dragging from her magical hangover. Not a problem – Amy knows “this guy.” After three years as a rodent, one would expect Amy to be somewhat twitchy, but we learn that she frequented Rack’s Moving Crack House of Magic prior to her self-inflicted transmogrification back in Season 3’s “Gingerbread.” Rack reveals that he knows Amy’s been a rat. The fact seems to faintly amuse him and it’s worth noting that he certainly didn’t drop what he was doing to un-rat a faithful customer. Junkies come and go, but dealers always have new customers and the redheaded one “tastes like strawberries.” (Rack is played by Jeff Kober, who always does looming menace well. So well that he also played the psycho vampire Zachary Kralik back in Season 3’s “Helpless.”) Rack’s spells work as advertised and after allowing Rack a “little tour” of Willow’s insides as a quid pro quo that has disturbing echoes of penetration and ecstasy, Willow is quite literally high on the magic as she hangs out on the ceiling, watching a verdant garden. At least, until a skinless demon appears. Willow then rushes through time and space, waking up alone and confused in her own room. She showers herself into a semblance of clean, crying as she does so, then uses magic to fill out the form of Tara’s clothes to create a copy to curl up to for comfort.
OK. Bad trip. Lesson learned and Willow won’t be doing anything like that again, will she? She’s going to beg Tara’s forgiveness and soon enough, Tara will be back in those clothes instead of magical air, right? Oh, the twisted, selfish world of the addict whose creed is all id, all the time. Trying to make up for staying out all night, a still-queasy Willow offers to take Dawn to a movie. Once they get out of the house, Willow's good intentions evaporate and she decides she “just has to make one quick stop first.” In a move of stunning selfishness, Willow takes Dawn with her as she goes back to Rack’s for another fix, leaving Dawn alone in the grimy waiting room.
Buffy frantically searches for Dawn, even asking for Spike’s help. While they are combing downtown Sunnydale for Rack’s cloaked house, Willow finally emerges hours too late to make the movie, but too high to care. Her eyes are black, she’s unsteady on her feet and she tells Dawn to just lighten up, oblivious to the fact that she and Dawn are not alone. The violent demon Willow sees during her “high times” isn’t a hallucination; she actually raised him into this world. Willow and Dawn flee and Willow uses magic to open a car’s doors, start it, and drive away. Laughing at her cleverness, Willow looks back as the demon recedes into the background, and the car slams into a bridge embankment.
The demon is vanquished but Dawn has a broken arm. Willow is contrite as only those who have massively screwed up and gotten busted can be. Bleeding, crying, snot running from her nose, she repeatedly babbles her apologies – and Dawn uses her good arm to slap her. Shocked into truthfulness, Willow cries out the addict’s prayer – “God, I need help! Please, please help me!” Whether Willow is actually addressing this plea to God, Buffy, or the uncaring universe can be debated, but for the first time, Willow admits that things are out of her control.
“Wrecked” ends with Buffy not getting answers to “why” because Willow doesn’t have any to give. She can admit that she “thought I had it under control and – I didn’t. It started before [Tara] left. It’s why she left.” Buffy sees her parallel with Willow and when Willow says, “It’s over,” Buffy’s emphatic “Exactly – it’s over” isn’t meant just for her friend.
But it’s not over. The final shots of these three episodes show Willow tossing and turning in bed, half-sleeping with clenched fists. Sweating and breathing raggedly, Willow’s going through magical withdrawal. In her room, Buffy sits in bed, hyper-alert. Surrounded by heavy braids of garlic, the Slayer fingers a cross, speculating on her own substance abuse and hoping that herbs and willpower are sufficient guards against capitulation, but fearing from Willow’s experience that they probably aren’t.
Thank you, Dale!
Next week: We are joined by guest host Stacey May Fowles to look at the next three Buffy episodes, two of which I don’t much care for, and one I really like a lot. Can you guess which is which?
6.12 Doublemeat Palace
6.13 Dead Things
Next week’s Angel episodes will be:
3.13 Waiting in the Wings
Which contains two excellent episodes and one “meh” one. And “Waiting in the Wings” is the one for you Firefly fans who haven’t yet checked out Angel. See you soon!