Same Time, Same Place

Season Seven, Episode Three

Where are you coming from?.

Same Time, Same Place: The Review

Really abstract.

Same Time, Same Place returns to the familiar idea of reality as a personal and communal construct, one of the primary ideas of the series. Out of misgivings about her reception in Sunnydale, Willow has constructed her own world, one that exists in the same time and space as Buffy's universe, but which excludes her closest friends, Buffy, Xander, and Dawn. In a sense, Willow has been living in such a world since she first attempted with magic to shape the world to her desire, but now she has retreated from the consequences of those acts into a world constructed from fear and guilt. Willow's magic is now so strong that her unconscious desires can take shape without intention. Volition in the purest takes precedence, working against her conscious attempts to find her friends. Willow's inner struggle is realized.

Abstractly, the story is engaging as a metaphysical, philosophical thought experiment. It ambitiously takes up three separate but related themes that have run through the series and makes a creditable effort to use one story to investigate them all.

Geometry as drama.

The primary subject of the episode is the creation of reality by will and perception. The notion of showing the same story from alternative realities has been done frequently, of course, and the problem of multiple versions of perception as the basis of any search for truth is best exemplified by Rashomon. The problem of creating a dramatic work from an abstraction is challenging, and the pacing of the episode flags as the conceptual dual time-space divisions enforce an iterative lentor upon the story. Numerous scenes are repeated from the alternative point of view, e.g., the arrival at the airport, seen first with Buffy, Xander, and Dawn, then afterwards with Willow, and this induces impatience with the narrative, as time for the viewer becomes protracted by recycling. One might contrast this simple bivalent conception of reality with the more complex one of Rashomon, for instance, and wonder why the simpler form is less dynamic and more tedious. One reason other than the repetition for the snail-like advance is that the vague anxiety felt by Willow has the inertia of depression rather than the nervous energy of worry, anger, or even anticipation. It is only when there is a physical danger that the story gains some moment. The initial lack of urgency that the Scoobies and Willow feel in their searches for one another carries over into the later searches for the demonic killer. Adding to the halting pace is the increasingly frequent habit of the show to interrupt the story with comic vignettes, in contrast to the former practice of making an ironical self-commentary part of every scene. The humor now appears to be applied rather than organic. Dawn is especially useless in that respect (not to mention others), even when there is a conscious effort made to use her as the butt of several jokes, both visual and verbal.

Willow's visit to Anya's apartment is the scene that crystallizes the reality that Willow has constructed for herself. She tells Anya that she has already used a locator spell to find Buffy, Xander, and Dawn, but that the spell has returned the answer that they do not exist, convincing evidence that Willow's universe is a separate creation from Buffy's. The world according to Buffy, the show has always maintained, is the best of all possible worlds, and Willow's world is, therefore, not. Willow's withdrawal from Buffy's reality (Buffy's new reality) is the equivalent of a moral abdication, an error on the order of that committed by Cordelia in The Wish.

The second theme is that of concealment of information and lack of communication. This is a frequent source of conflict in the history of the show, and the characters have repeatedly been brought to grief by their unwillingness to be honest with one another. Most recently and glaringly, Xander was unable to admit to Anya his doubts about their impending marriage, bringingf about all the attendant and still unfolding consequences. During STSP, the players are frequently all in the same place simultaneously, but they cannot communicate with one another. They in fact talk past one another. The metaphor is rather obvious, and the twice-played scene with Spike in the school's basement spares nothing to make it the moreso, when Spike says that everybody is talking to him rather than to each other. Buffy's continued reticence regarding her encounters with Spike and the reacquisition of his soul looms in the background as the source of yet more tension between the Scoobies. Her treatment of Spike as a bloodhound, despite his attempt when soulless to rape her, knowing his present condition, is inexplicably callous.

The third of the three elements which the episode addresses is that of poetic justice. When she is attacked by the demon Gnarl, the allegorical embodiment of her rage for vengeance, Willow must face in the most personal manner the horror of the flaying of Warren, by experiencing it herself. It is unclear if Gnarl, a Smeagol/Gollum imitation, was conjured into existence by Willow's unconscious or was summoned from his cave by Willow's guilt, but it is clear that the show has shaped him thus for the sake of the similarity between his gustatory habits and the manner of execution of Warren. It must be considered significant that Gnarl is immune to Willow's magic, suggesting that he has some link to her that is deeper than magic. Even if the show has no legal mechanism by which Willow can be tried and punished, it does have the resources of drama, and poetic justice visited upon Willow in this form satisfies the sense of moral balance. Willow's feelings of abandonment, helplessness, and revulsion give her back the human quality of empathy that she had lost.

The only thing to fear...

Willow's relationships with, and attitudes to, Anya and Spike are curiously mixed. By the terms of her wish, it is evident that she does not fear the opinions of either, yet they both are most frank in their assessment of her past behavior. Coming from them, the plain truth that she killed Warren horribly is not so hard for her to hear. Both Anya and Spike have done worse, yet is they who help her the most in returning to her friends. Anya, Spike, and Willow share a common fear of allowing themselves to become the slaves of their baser natures. It is Anya who comforts Willow, reassures her that Buffy, Xander, and Dawn have not forsaken her, and it is Spike who confirms Willow's presence to Buffy and leads her to Gnarl's cave where Willow is being slowly devoured alive by her guilt. One might reasonably expect Willow to attempt to help both Anya and Spike in future, although Spike is probably more of a project for Buffy. Anya, certainly, could use a friend other than Halfrek, and Willow is obligated to her for the kindness that she received from Anya in this episode.

In Sum.

Same Time, Same Place is thoughtful. It is complex. It is also boring. It has more of the essay than the play about it. A few scenes have the familiar sparkle, while others appear to have been constructed merely to illustrate an Euclidian proof. The episode can't be shrugged off, for it is a serious effort, but, apart from the memorable scene in Gnarl's cave, as he peels away Willow's skin, it can be forgotten.

Horace LaBadie

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