Overall Rating: 9.5
The entire Buffy experience in 45 minutes - and a wonderful reminder of why we love this show.
A full recap can be found courtesy of the all-knowing Wikipedia.
You know why this episode works so well? Those painful things Willow was trying to make her loved ones forget - those are the same gloomy things keeping the cast from reviving their zest for life and their full range of quirks and humorous moments in favor of a sort of black malaise. When, for a briefest of moments, the clouds part and their memories vanish, we go on a ride that will remind us of where they came from. It makes what happens at the end a thousand times more painful if we've just seen the happy, capable version of Buffy, the sparks of chemistry between Willow and Xander...and then Willow and Tara, and the joyful bond between Buffy and Dawn (not to mention a happier Giles, Anya at her cutest, and Spike believing for one silly moment that he's noble and on the side of good). Joss and crew love to do this...they just LOVE to bring us our highest joys right before they twist the knife.
Actually, this episode is penned by Rebecca Rand Kirshner - not on the primary staff for Buffy - which makes this episode all the more remarkable. Kirshner must have been a huge fan of the show or something, because she nailed the characters without even the luxury of them realizing that they were behaving in an authentic way. It's not like this script could include much in the way of the usual relationship banter or continuity that could be retained through simple research. You would have to have a tremendous mastery of their entire history to write this script well (and it's written VERY well). So bravo! to Kirshner for proving herself a way better than average freelance writer. Nice one! Although the humor coming from Anya's subplot stretches credibility since it's well established that only people possessing innate magical abilities can actually perform magic and Anya has no such abilities (thought Giles has learned a few). But we'll overlook that bit since the humor works really REALLY well.
As does pretty much everything else in this episode. I mean, you even end up feeling terrible for poor Dawn. GIles is like her father...and he's leaving. Tara has become like a big sister in the absence of a caring Buffy...and she's leaving. The whole thing stinks. And of course, very correctly, the show is painting Buffy's dalliances with Spike as no bit of titillation. Unless you are a blinded Spuffy fan-bot...you can't be viewing their kiss at the end of Once More with Feeling or Tabula Rasa as a positive. It only makes you shudder and fear for the group as a whole. Their leader is lost in a sea of self-pity and despair.
This is a very difficult script to write...and there isn't a significant flaw with it. Not one line I'd rather not have heard.
Good stuff all around, I must say. Especially from James Marsters, Tony Head, Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson. Yep...Tara's final appearance here until her return and unfortunate sudden death at the end of the year is the strongest performance we'll ever see from her. Good timing for your A-game Amber!
The dialogue is obviously written to parallel the magic addiction with drug addiction and the message is quite healthy, IMHO. They don't seem to advocate the cold turkey approach and they certainly don't seem to be portraying the addiction as if it were a medical ailment, rather than a psychological one. Correctly, I believe, they are focusing on the character flaw that leads Willow down this ugly path. For that, the show gets a feature score for the message.