Story by Amazonchyck, CN Winters, Chris Cook and Zahir al-Daoud
Written by CN Winters, Amazonchyck and Chris Cook
Directed by CN Winters and Chris Cook
Produced by CN Winters, Susan Carr and Chris Cook
Edited by Sharon Kierein and Angie Wilson
Sound by CSR
Art Direction by Chris Cook
Artists – Chris Cook, Zahir al-Daoud, Humaira, Rob
Guest Starring: Amber Benson as Tara, Adam Busch as Warren, Kimberly J. Brown as Mary Allister, Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia, Louise Fletcher as Evelyn Manor, Rhona Mitra as Alex Neel, Andrew Robinson as the Librarian, Sam Waterston as Ira Rosenberg and Peter Woodward as Jordon Tyrell
Scene 01: Geek-bonding between Jeff and Andrew over 'Tron' and D & D. We find out here that Xander has ongoing gaming nights with the others (see BTVS, S7 - Chosen). As the boys talk about why Jeff decided to stay in the aftermath of his mother's death and Bonnie being given sanctuary (Willow forgave Andrew, he can... accept Bonnie's presence in the same way ), Dawn strolls in.
There is some joking at Andrew's expense, but it's all light-hearted as it's obvious that Jeff thinks very fondly of
Andrew's friendship. In addition there are subtle hints of Jeff's continuing attraction to Dawn.
Andrew suddenly is taken with the idea of being like the central character in 'Tron' and being able to enter a game. Dawn and Jeff both express skepticism that even with magic, that would work out. Andrew sees a chess board in the den and thinks it would make a perfect test ("Simple game. Simple rules. No smashing. Boundaries to the board").
His idea is to allow a 'player' to be like the Master Control Program in 'Tron' ... allowing someone to become part of the game, while remaining far enough away from any unpleasant character action that you won't be in harm's way.
Commentary: It's an interesting proposition, I have to admit. I mean, isn't that really the fantasy that underlies
all first person shooter games? Isn't that what allows us to get emotionally invested in movies, books and television - we all wonder how cool it would be to be a real part of the action and relationships in fiction. And, I like that the writers acknowledge their influence for the plot right up front. Of course, there's the problem of magic always going wrong when 'wacky-hijinks' are attempted....
The three conspirators decide to put their doubts aside and test the new 'interactive chess game' spell, but Skye comes in and - mostly to irk Jeff, it looks like - decides that if the spell would work better with three involved, it should work even smoother with four. During the whole discussion, she seems to make it a point to make sure that Jeff see her being affectionate with Dawnie. Obviously there is some jealousy between the boy wizard and Dawn's girlfriend over her.
Commentary: There are problems with the Skye character in these early days, but she gets far more fun later after a 'new actress' takes over the 'role'. Right now, she strikes me as being unnecessarily possessive and off-putting.
Interestingly, we discover here that Skye has chosen to join the Coven as a student under Willow as well (and again, is this due to a real interest in magic - or is it just to compete with Jeff; she even says here that she can't even get a pencil to float, yet).
At the same time, a mysterious woman is watching the Council from across the street.
Scene 02: The next morning Mia meets Kennedy in the Council kitchen - saying she knew she'd find her at the coffee maker if she wasn't in her bed...
Commentary: Yeah, Mia! Norika Fujiwara is gorgeous and I love that her and Kennedy couple-up. The Watchers staff also make Mia a strong character, but that's for later.
There is some domestic humor with Andrew, coffee and everyone's short temper due to early morningness.
Commentary: I still find Skye kind of grating here, too. She improves with the snark immensely later.
Scene 03: Moments later in the library (where an irritable Andrew retreated from the kitchen), Jeff and Andy discuss the apparent failure of their spell. It was supposed to create a subconscious link between the players and the pieces to make the game more interactive.
Commentary: Though how exactly, I'm not quite sure - we they supposed to feel like a knight, or see a movie in their heads of the plays, like a video game? The exact mechanics of what they were hoping to do escape me, here.
Scene 04: Kennedy beats on Giles... but it's okay because it's a training thing. However, Kenn cuts the session short half because she has something else on her mind (the 'thing' she's setting up for Mia for later?) and half because Giles is looking a bit winded out (plus she overdid it a bit with the Slayer strength while complaining about Willow cutting in line to get coffee that morning).
Scene 05: In the lobby at the same time Giles is telling Kenn how proud he is of her progress, Jeff is greeting his attorney in the lobby. He is pursuing emancipation, since he is still a minor and hasn't parents any longer. Alex Neel wants to look around, and Tracy almost blows the secret that their 'school' is rather more than that, but recovers before Ms. Neel becomes suspicious.
Scene 06: Back in the library, Willow and Rowena are trying to get comfortable with both being in the same room again, now that Ro has returned from London. Ro tries to make a joke that she might be rubbing off on Willow, when she uses the word 'prudent', but Willow is unnecessarily bitchy here:
"Great," Willow muttered as she leafed through one of her books. "Just what I need – for uptight, priggish, and
panicky to become me," Willow continued before she could stop herself.
Ro takes Willow's ... I'm sorry, I don't know how else to say it - the word pissyness keeps coming to me ... and in an attempt to disperse this lingering resentfulness challenges Willow to have her ass kicked in chess.
Will takes the challenge, but as she moves her first pawn, the room ripples into a star-filled backdrop. In addition, the 'field of play' stretches to giant sized with the pieces dwarfing Ro and her, standing at opposite ends...
Obviously, Andrew, Jeff, Dawn and Skye's spell has taken effect.
Which is the conclusion he comes to himself a moment later when he walks in and finds the women (from outside the game's perspective) as being frozen....
Scene 07: In the lobby, Rupert meets with Alex to go over what Social Services is likely to look for during their
visit for their report to the court on Jeff's behalf.
Alas, things quickly head downhill as Andrew arrives to pull Jeff aside and tell him about he board 'working'. As they put a plan in motion to keep Alex and Giles away from the library where the frozen women are sitting 'catatonic', Evelyn Manor arrives... the Social Services agent.
Wackiness should ensue.
Scene 08: Jeff chooses over Andrew's objections to go straight to Giles with what has happened so they can come up with a way to avoid the weirdness coming to Alex and Evelyn's attention - he is less than calm.
Scene 09: Back at the expanse of stars, Ro and Willow are standing on the chessboard. As Ro and Willow try to figure out where they are, Cordelia Chase appears in the place of a pawn and tells her to make a move, already.
Silencing Cordy's cutting remarks, Will finds that when she orders her to move two spaces forward, Cordy is replaced by the pawn piece again. Experimenting now, Ro decides to try an illegal move, hoping that will disrupt the 'game' and end whatever magic is at work.
Commentary: And what I like about his scene is we are getting the rules, yes, but we are also skipping through the "what has happened, what's going on" scenes too. Willow and Ro immediately guess that they're in some sort of spell and start thinking through their options....
Unfortunately, trying to make a cheating move sends a lightning bolt into Ro, knocking her to her knees with a howl of pain. Will tries to get to her, but as she attempts to move past the Cordy-pawn, she hits an invisible barrier and falls back on her butt.
Recovering, Ro orders a pawn to make a move, but no vision occurs, annoying Willow. She makes her second move and, again nothing happens, nor does anything occur after Ro's second move... until Willow irritates her about using 'textbook' moves instead of 'throwing caution to the wind'. With Willow's critique, suddenly Ro's pawn becomes her 'underachieving' younger sister.
"Mary" then goes on a tirade about how Ro thinks she's so perfect... even too perfect to voice any critisms out loud.
Mary-pawn continues, "Oh and get this," the pawn said looking back at Willow. "Not only was she perfect but pretty soon she got pretentious. She informs us all on her next visit home she's no longer Blanche. We have to call her "Rowena" from now on. I'm sure the next step would have been an unpronounceable symbol that meant 'The Watcher formerly known as Blanche'…we all make choices Blanche. Lucky you. You always make the right ones, don't you?"
As Mary returns to pawnhood, Ro starts to think about the connection between Willow/Cordy and Ro/Mary. Theorizing about what may be happening seems to annoy Willow more.
Commentary: I will say it now - I think the writers lost Willow here. She's been irritible before, sure, and I could go along with her being snappy around Ro before they got themselves in trouble - but here? In the straits they find themselves in? I just don't see willow continuing to be this angry about Ro leaving for London without talking to her all summer, no matter how hurt she may have been. Unless there is some sort of revelation that the game is forcing their emotional states to be hightened, I'm just not liking how Willow gets handled here.
But back in the real world, Dawn tries yelling next to Will's ear, and the witch is able to hear her in Chessworld.
Scene 10: With Willow showing no outward reaction to her, Dawn takes charge and begins to organize research for the coven room to see if they can interrupt the spell they've cast. I like this short scene with her and Skye:
Dawn turned to Skye. "I knew this was a bad idea."
"Then why did you agree to do it?" Skye asked.
Dawn released a heavy sigh. "Because I'm an idiot, obviously. Look, stay here and start pulling books down and putting them around the room. Try to do it as messy yet orderly as possible." Skye looked confused, so Dawn explained. "If it's messy the nose pokers won't stay long, if at all. But keep it ordered enough that clean up won't be too hard. We'll tell Jeff's investigators we're reorganizing the room and Rowena and Willow are in an intense game. Follow me?"
Skye nodded. "Organized mess. Intense game. Got it."
Scene 11: Giles and Jeff have to do some fancy footwork (metaphorically) when the two visitors interrupt Mia and Kenn sparing with wooden swords, while Faith makes an offhand comment about 'lover's quarrels' setting off questions about the school's seemingly liberal policies regarding relationships in such a setting.
Jeff snaps at Evelyn causing concerned wincing from Giles and Alex - best not to be rude to the nice investigator, Jeff!
Scene 12: Just after Giles rushes his 'tour' out of the gym, Andrew comes in to recruit the others into research mode.
Scene 13: The girls trapped on the board make more discoveries about what sorts of visions they can expect as Ira Rosenberg tells Ro that Willow's going to leave her as soon as she finds the right man. When Will denies this, Ira asks if it isn't true that she has thought the same thing:
Willow paused a moment and thought seriously about the question. She then began to grin. "I haven't. But I believe that you have."
But just when Ro and Willow believe they can deal with what is happening, Wills takes out Ro's rook - and they see a re-enactment of Rowena's Potential being murdered by a Bringer - but not before she has an opportunity to berate her former Watcher over it....
Scene 14: Back in the real library, the Slayers, Andrew and Skye are able to hide the frozen Willow and Ro. Leaving Vi to keep the library locked (and to put back all of the books Skye got out so the room would look like it was being reorganized) the others head with research texts to the Coven room, where Dawn is waiting...
Scene 15: In Chessworld, Jordan Tyrell (or at least his image) has a chance to taunt Rowena. First it was Ira taunting Willow (in part) for jumping to her heart's command instead of being more thoughtful and careful. Tyrell insults Ro for the entirely opposite reasoning, she's too careful, unwilling to make leaps of faith (which is what Willow has been complaining about, incidentally).
As they continue to play, Willow tells Ro that she can feel Kennedy touching her. This leads Ro to conclude that they are still in the library, after all, that they haven't physically relocated and mentions that was why they heard Dawn's voice earlier. This switches a lightbulb in Willow's mind... Dawn was acting wonky earlier, like she was up to something and now she realizes that she wasn't the only one... and that everyone's excuse for acting funny was because they'd been up late watching Tron.
Ro puts the pieces together and realizes that they're stuck in a game created by Andrew... but that doesn't help them leave it any sooner. They're still going to have to finish and with Willow's move, she gets an image of the battered Giles from her rampage in BTVS: S6, 'Grave'.
Scene 16: Back on the tour, Giles shows the ladies Xander's workshop, where he is currently running a circular saw. There's a few bumps in Xan's shop with the tools being freely accessed by students and the fact he has a box of STAKES... but Giles is able to cover with some malarkey about fencing to explain that part of it away.
Scene 17: Back at Chessworld, Giles laments that Willow took so much joy in beating him, but she's able to control the situation by reiterating a promise never to hurt him again - he quickly turns back into a game piece.
Scene 18: In the Coven room, everyone gathers supplies they'll need to try to cast Ro and Willow out of their spell. Faith expresses annoyance at all four of the spellcasters for messing around powers they obviously didn't know all of the rules for.
Scene 19: 'Tara' forces Ro to admit she's been avoiding getting any closer to Willow out of a sense of fear that she won't be able to get in - the way that Kennedy failed to reach through to Willow. She's concerned that Will is idealizing what she and Tara had, so anything less than perfect will be a let down and drive her away. It's something that Willow dismisses, explaining that her relationship with Tara wasn't close to perfect and she IS ready to move on with someone else - with Ro, in fact.
With the revelation out of the way, Tara returns to a chess piece. A few moves later, and Willow is ready to take another of Ro's pieces but hesitates. Ro wonders aloud why, but Willow takes the move suspecting what the next vision will be that she's subjected to:
Scene 20: Ms. Neel's and Evelyn come to an agreement that Jeff seems very well taken care of, and we also find that Evelyn is the one who had been surveilling Jeff at the end of the Teaser Act. She has a few recommendations, but things look smooth for Jeff to be given his emancipation.
With their exit, Giles runs to the library....
Scene 21: In Chessworld, Warren confronts Willow, while Dark Willow moves in to remove him from the board. She doesn't immediately disappear however, forcing Willow to admit that she's always there with her. But, Will also realizes she doesn't ache for Dark Willow's power and that she never gave her strength... that was the lie. The strength was always Willow's, and hers alone.
Commentary: This confrontation was especially well written both between Willow and her Dark alter-ego and between Willow and Rowena. But Ro gets her own powerfully written scene next:
We learn here that Ro's reserve and her need to excel come from the fact she was raped at fifteen by a librarian at the Old Council, but the Council stood by her and made the rapist pay for his crimes. That's why she stayed and was so loyal to the elder Tyrell - he defended her when she was vulnerable. In addition, she tells Willow here (in a roundabout way) that she's the way she is because she doesn't want to be seen as weak... as a victim.
Willow offers her 'Tara-piece' to Ro (the Queen, of course), to prove that she can put the past behind them. (Or that's my interpretation of this part, anyway) I take this as significant in saying that both of them can put aside what happened and not let it color who they are now or their relationship, if Ro wants to start one.
Scene 22: But, before we can here Ro's response to this, the counter-spell in the real library takes effect and both are whisked back to the real world. Willow sets her jaw, not saying anything to anyone and leaves the library while everyone else looks on Rowena confused by the tears flowing down her face....
The Good: Mostly, I like the clever way the chessgame is used to allow Willow and Ro insight into each other's pasts and how those events have shaped who they are now. The 'screenshots' of the chessboard characters were very nicely done, as well.
I also liked the exchanges between Mia and Kennedy (no surprise, there's a reason I loved their ship).
I liked that this wasn't just an 'Andrew screws up again' story; Dawn, Skye and Jeff are all equally guilty for this mess.
I especially liked the scene of Willow confronting Dark Willow and how easily she's able to overcome her by realizing that isn't who she is now, which is what is important. Especially powerful, she tells Ro straight up that she'd never kill again - not even for her.
The Bad: The only problem I had with the whole episode is Willow's attitude and dialog in Acts Two and Three toward Ro, which just seemed unnecessary to make the point that they have a strained relationship and seemed too harsh for the circumstances.
Other Thoughts: Not a good or bad, but I did wonder why we didn't get any more of Bonnie's circumstances with the Council. I'm also not sure I can buy Jeff's acceptance of her presence so easily, despite his explanations to Andy.
Scoring: Well, the plot idea is a great one and the artwork in Chessworld was really nice. I enjoyed the scenes with Tara, Dark Willow and Ira Rosenberg as well as with Jordan Tyrell. I also liked that both women's subconscious were attacking them for the opposite reasons - Willow for not be cautious enough, Ro for not being more spontaneous. But, Willow's basic unlikeability in the two middle acts hurts their interaction together and Jeff's subplot just wasn't all that interesting - perhaps if there were more risks associated with Evelyn's
Also, I would have liked to see more of Rowena's past being laid open, since we already know Willow's history so well. I did like this episode though for bridging the Ro/Willow distance in a creative way and score it:
3.75 out of 5.0