FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Restless
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles magically combined to take down Adam and the Initiative, invoking the power of the First Slayer to do so.
Usually this is the point of the review where I give you all a little plot breakdown to remind you of what goes on in the episode. It might not be all the details, but just enough to jog your memory. For Restless, there's not really a whole lot of plot to sum up; Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles settle in for a night of movies after they take down the Initiative, still feeling wired. Alas, they upset the First Slayer with their spell and she tries to kill them in their dreams. That's pretty much it, but the meat of Restless does not lie within its plot, but rather in everything else.
It would be absolutely impossible for me to talk about all the things I love or that are of note in Restless because it's so densely packed with thematic content, character exploration and that all important Buffy hallmark of foreshadowing. Dreams in this world have always functioned as a form of prophecy, particularly for Buffy herself, so it's fitting that we have one such narrative entirely constructed around what has been and what is coming takes place within a dreamscape. It's an episode that only gets richer on repeat viewings as a result, something which many instalments can boast, but not to quite the same levels. Later watches tend to be reference spotting, but my first watch was mainly revelling in how surreal and comical everything felt. A prime example is Buffy offering Xander popcorn:
"New car smell."
It's also an episode that gets a lot funnier when you've seen Death of a Salesman. Many dream sequences in television often feel a little too well crafted to really embody the random twists and turns dreams can take. Restless manages to keep that sense of unpredictability for the most part; it's tautly wound chaos, capable of spinning off in different directions as required.
Whilst it's very amusing to hear these exchanges and to witness the kind of bonkers delights Whedon comes up with, there's also a lot of deeper work going on when it comes to exploring the characters and their relationships with the world around them. Willow's dream is positively brimming over with her various neuroses, but also foreshadowing for the character. There's even a nod back to her disastrous performance in Madame Butterfly from the first season episode, Nightmares.
The big theme across her dream is the idea of her true self and people (including a cameo-ing Oz) make references to others finding out who she really is. The end of her dream indicates she still feels like the high school geek that everyone makes fun of behind her back. However, in hindsight, it's easy to see those comments as nods towards her future as a powerful, and briefly evil, witch and her addiction to magic that she works hard to keep hidden from everyone. Tara also notes that we don't know everything about her yet, something which will crop up again in the episode Family.
The erotic element to Xander's dream speaks a lot to how he's always treated the women around him, mainly that they're sex objects, even, perhaps disturbingly, Buffy's mom. Additionally, it also demonstrates his own feeling of inadequacy in the face of them, how he feels stuck in his basement and that he's of no help to his friends. The military aspect of his dream builds out from the history of the character as well as becoming another system in which he feels trapped. As if to really make the point that his journey is dark and aimless, there's Snyder at the end of it to confirm how pointless he is in the scheme of things. But he's the 'comfortador', a role that will become increasingly important in the show's later seasons.
Giles' dream is perhaps the clearest, simply because his role in the show is relatively straight-forward. He's the father figure for Buffy and their fairground night out in the cemetery reiterates that for everyone. Even his antagonistic relationships have an element of the paternal in them, such as his scene with Spike on the swings (Spike's wearing the suit he'd later wear in Tabula Rasa as well as Giles commenting that he's like a son to him).
His big moment of the episode though is the classic Exposition Song (look out for composer Christophe Beck on the piano - also a quick shout-out to his awesome score), possibly Giles' greatest scene not involving a sombrero. He does his usual role of getting the audience up to speed on the episode bad guy and giving out instructions to the others, but via the medium of song (see Quote of the Week for some lyrics, obviously).
"Come on, put your back into it. A Watcher scoffs at gravity!"
Buffy's dream is the most important one when it comes to foreshadowing and as such, definitely didn't make very much sense upon first viewing. Her conversations with Tara, representing herself and the First Slayer, hint to Buffy's path for the fifth season. She's referred to as 'killer' several times by Riley, who goes on to leave her on her own. A lot of the fourth season has been exploring the successes and weaknesses inherent in being a Slayer with friends. Despite the magical joining spell that saw them all make up and take down evil last week, the message here is that Buffy, at the end, will be on her own. Tara cryptically states: "You think you know... What's to come... What you are. You haven't even begun" hinting towards Buffy's exploration of her Slayer heritage in the coming season.
The source of Buffy's power will become increasingly important now as the seasons develop and of course, there's a new character on the horizon: "Be back before Dawn..." Not only that, but we also have another nod to Buffy's impending demise, something which might not be apparent to any first time viewers of the episode. The focus on the incorrect clock in Buffy's room is a deliberate reference to her death. Back in her Graduation Day dream, Faith warns of something "counting down to 7-3-0." Buffy would die approximately 730 days after that initial warning. When Tara states that the clock is wrong, she is indicating that Buffy no longer has 730 days.
Hush was probably the moment when Buffy the Vampire Slayer truly started to embrace the more experimental aspect, but it's Restless that really runs with it, producing a season finale that is both wholly unconventional and entirely fantastic. It's a bold move to put something like this as a finale and it's a complete oddball of an episode, but it's an experiment that pays dividends for fans returning to the show. And so we come to the end of this season, which is the most consistently inconsistent of Buffy's entire run. When the story has focused on the Initiative, the interest waned, but episodes like Hush, Something Blue, and Pangs keep the show going and Restless is the surrealist icing on the cake.
So after saying it would be impossible to talk about everything in this episode, I managed to give it a damn good go. It's hard to do it justice really, so layered is it as a piece of work. But what's this? I didn't mention the Cheese Man. He wears the cheese. It does not wear him.
Quote of the Week:
Giles: "I've got to warn Buffy / there's every chance she might be next / And Xander and Willow / Try not to bleed on my couch / I've just had it steam-cleaned..."
Let's Get Trivial: This is the show's only episode to begin straight away with the opening titles and not with a cold open.
Demonology 101: This is only the first appearance of the First Slayer. She will return later when Buffy embarks on her vision quest to learn more about her origins.
Sunnydale Who's Who: Originally this episode was to feature far more cameos than it eventually ended up with (just Oz, Olivia, Harmony and Snyder). Those supposed to appear were Jenny Calendar, Larry, Faith and Amy, with Angel and Cordelia having been written into the episode only to be taken out again once scheduling with Angel became too difficult.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Primeval, here.