This week, I’m looking at an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Today I’m picking the episode Tabula Rasa. This is the eighth episode of Season 6. Willow casts a spell to try to help Tara and Buffy deal with the after effects of previous spells that have caused them both misery (including bringing Buffy back from the dead). But the Tabula Rasa spell (which means "blank slate" in Latin) goes wrong, and the "Scooby Gang" end up with no memory of who they really are.
This episode contains Whedon’s usual humour, from Spike concluding his name is Randy due to the label in his coat, to them all screaming when they’re confronted with vampires.
But this episode is one of my favourites for more than that. It addresses the nature vs nurture question—ie who are we really if the experiences and memories of our lives are removed? What does that leave us with? This has happened to me on two occasions. The first was as a teenager—throughout my school years, I was known for having long blonde hair, long enough to sit on. At the age of fifteen, I was taught English by a blind teacher, and at one point in the lesson she couldn’t remember my name, and I realised that I did not stand out for her because she didn’t know I had long blonde hair—my physical appearance meant nothing to her. I realised that in terms of my personality, because I was quiet and shy, I did not stand out from the other students from her point of view. That was quite an eye-opener.
The second time was when—about four years ago—I decided to give up writing. I’d been submitting novels without any luck, and I lost heart and decided that was it, I couldn’t be bothered anymore. I didn’t write anything for six months. But during that time, I was lost. My writing defines me—it is who I am. Without it, I don’t know how to describe myself.
The whole issue of how you would reinvent yourself if you had no past to hold you back is a fascinating one. What name would you call yourself? (This is something the writer has to struggle with when considering pen names.) What sort of person would you like to be? Who would you choose as your friends and family if you could start all over again?
It’s also a very poignant episode at the end when poor Willow gets upset as Tara packs her bags. Whedon is very skilled at bringing out the normal part of “abnormal”, and he skilfully illustrates the breakdown in the gang’s relationships as they get their memories back and realise what mistakes they’ve made in their lives that they must now struggle to put right.
As a writer, it makes me think that in any story I right, although the "effects" are important, it's ultimately the way the reader associates with the characters that will make it a memorable story.