Cultural Catchup Project: Alert Status “Restless” (Buffy and Angel)

Alert Status “Restless”

July 16th, 2010

There was some talk late in the comments on my less than hyperbolic – which, for the record, still qualifies as positive – take on “Restless” about how I wasn’t responding, worried that I was scared away by recurring dreams where I’m backstage at a performance of “Death of a Salesman,” I missed every rehearsal, and the audience is made up of nothing but angry Buffy fans.

The truth, of course, was that I was taking a bit of a breather, but I won’t lie and say that the response to my “Restless” review wasn’t a bit…intense. I understood going into writing the review that I wasn’t seeing what it seemed like others were seeing, that the parts of the episode I enjoyed felt like they were in conflict with some of the elements which felt underdeveloped, so it’s not as if I expected to be met with a chorus of agreement. However, there was definitely a point within the comments where it seemed like the response (subtly, and never vindictively) shifted from “I think you need to look at this more carefully” to “Why didn’t you look at this more carefully,” which is actually a perfectly logical question which is unfortunately largely antithetical to this project, which is why I wanted to take a moment to discuss it before diving into Season Five (and Season Two of Angel) in the days ahead.

By suggesting that this question is antithetical, I do not mean to say that I don’t look at episodes carefully, but rather that there’s a limit to how far I’m willing or able to go with digging deeper into my response of an episode. I could sit down and watch “Restless” three times, taking notes and discovering all of the nooks and crannies, and I would likely write a very different review than the one I wrote, and probably a better one to boot. However, doing so would take a lot longer than I really have time for considering that I’d like to get as much done on the project before my free time goes from infinite to scarce in about a month’s time.

I also think that one of the few things I can say I’m legitimately adding to the discussion about these two series is my own reactions to the various episodes, and in the case of an episode like “Restless” I had to make a choice: either I keep watching searching for what the readers were hyping up, or I write my initial response to the episode and count on them to continue the discussion. There were comments which more or less said that “Restless” is not congruent with the model of reviewing which we use with contemporary series, the notion of responding to a single episode independent of that which comes after, but I would argue that every episode fits into this model in terms of offering a particular perspective. The goal of any critic is not to offer the definitive take, or even an “ideal” take on an episode of television, but rather to offer our personal experience with that particular text.

It’s true that I could have written a review which was more experiential than critical, which focused on why I couldn’t engage with the episode in “that way” as opposed to trying to break down how the episode created that reaction. In some ways, it could be argued that this would have resulted in a less divisive environment, focused more on collectively understanding the episode rather than pitting one position against the other. However, I’m a critic at heart, and I felt it would be a bigger copout if I had felt the episode was good, rather than great, and simply stepped back from criticizing it so as to avoid invoking the wrath of the episode’s bigger fans. In the process, I certainly reduced certain parts of the episode (although I think we need to have a discussion about how “Monster of the Week” indicates structure more than quality), but this was because I hadn’t felt their impact, not because I was searching for parts of the episode to attack in order to justify my decision.

I don’t think any of my complaints with the episode are unfair, just as I don’t think any of my complaints achieve pure objectivity: I think my review was pretty up front about my reservation of final judgment for when I see how the episode gains more importance in future seasons, and that’s why I think episodic criticism has value. It shows how our opinions evolve, how the process that many viewers experienced (with “Restless” gaining in stature over time) unfolds over the course of the following seasons. If I held back those initial reservations, my experience would have seemed mediated, censored for the sake of avoiding the debate which followed. And while there were moments where the sheer number of comments and their intensity was a bit overwhelming, there was no point where I felt as if it was a mistake to ignite that debate, or that I should have sat on the episode for a few days instead of posting my immediate impressions. This project is about preserving my experience watching these series and engaging with those who have watched it in the past, and my review of “Restless” achieved both of these goals.

The Cultural Catchup Project will not be completed this summer: I’m writing more than I expected to (a symptom of having readers, something which I did not expect to this degree when the project began), and I’ve been writing more about Summer TV than I have in past years. And since I’ll be moving and starting a whole new chapter in the real life in a month’s time, I really don’t know how far I’m going to get, or whether I’ll have time to pick away at the project through the fall, or whether it would even be possible to write less, or write less often, after having been able to write so consistently over the past three months. Part of me thought about just switching to writing about Buffy (to try to get through all 7 seasons before the end of August), but I find that adding Angel into the mix has kept things dynamic, keeping the writing topics diverse enough to stay motivated. I like the project as it is right now, and feel like changing it to fit into a schedule would be doing a disservice.

For now, though, it’s time to pick up and move on, which is why I popped in “Buffy vs. Dracula” earlier this evening (okay, it was morning, but that’s pretty normal). And immediately, what do I see but a pretty substantial continuation of the “Monster of the Week” storyline which had so underwhelmed me earlier in the week – spare me the “I told you so,” but do make sure to keep telling me so in the future, as this project is nothing without the extension of the discussion in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and I look forward to the discussions in the weeks ahead,

Myles

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34 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

34 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Alert Status “Restless” (Buffy and Angel)

  1. Cameron

    We just like to pick the nits. :) Always looking forward to new posts from you, Myles, no matter how long it takes you to get one ready for us. I like reading fresh perspectives on series I love.

  2. morda898

    It’s funny. This post seems like an apologetic statement issued by a politician in light of certain less than savoury information being released to the public. (That, by the way, is in no way a judgement/critiscism/appraisal etc. That’s just what I took from it).

    As a vocal supporter of Restless I will admit I was…Emm…Concernced, about your last post. Your reaction was far from what I expected but reflecting back on it I’m not sure why I thought that. Considering my first viewing of the episode I remember being, well, bored (I was fifteen okay!) yet now it is my all time favourite episode. Not just of Buffy or Angel but of Television. I know everyone (Including me) said this to you in your Restless post but the love for this episode will come in due time. The fact that you were less than ecstatic about it your first time through is understandable. Heck, it’s expected. So, in retrospect, maybe we (As intricately passionate fans) went a little overboard in our potent defense of the episode’s virtues. What can I say. Whedon fans are notroriously intense and I say that with much pride and joy. :)

    P.S. Do NOT give up on Angel. Please keep watching. I was thinking about this the other day, Angel and Buffy follow really, really similar seasonal trends; A fairly weak first season, a dark and endearing second season that is still flawed, a brilliant third season and then…Well, I won’t go there. My point is that the same thing happens to Angel as happened to Buffy. If you liked where Buffy ended up post season one then there’s no reason to think that that won’t happen with Angel. (P.S. Narratively, thematically and character-ly they end up in completely different places. I just meant that in terms of the overarching quality of the seasons they are strangely similar).

  3. diane

    Myles, sorry if I crossed any lines. People here are passionate, and have lots of opinions. Don’t let that be too much of a distraction! I appreciate your sharing, and hope you continue on your own path. I understand that after moving your posts will be less frequent. No problems with any of that.

    Yes, Dracula is a Monster of the Week. Those episodes won’t go away; the point is more that there won’t be a MotW in every episode.

    • Jack_Kay

      When Myles mentioned a continuation of the MoTW storyline, I believe he was referring to the introduction of the First Slayer in Restless, not the standalone presence of Dracula in the season 5 premiere.
      Seeing as he said it had underwhelmed him earlier in the week, he’s basically saying that he can already see progression from the inclusion of the First Slayer references back to some of the dream concepts in Restless (mostly Buffy’s) within Buffy vs. Dracula. I don’t think he was saying Dracula himself as a MoTW underwhelmed him.

      I hope that was me clearing something up and not just making something even more tangled-sounding :)

      never mind.
      I really enjoy all your perspectives on episodes too Myles – it makes me somewhat re-evaluate my own stance on episodes/plotlines and really consider why I particularly connect with certain elements of the series’ and partcularly don’t with others – to understand better why/what I like about the series’

      Nice to see you’ve already experienced a bit of follow-through from the seemingly outlandishness of Restless in the opening of Season 5, I often forget how much they reference it all again this early on – what with Drac quoting ‘Prophetic-Tara’ and all.

      One aspect of Restless I’d still be rather keen to just briefly know what you thought of (as I think a few people
      mentioned in the Restless comments) is the general aesthetic flare/appeal of the the episode – the visuals, the score, the sound – it just all feels quite cinematic no?
      I always liked the bizarre shots in which sultry-Joyce is heard speaking but her mouth remains static, it was like an unspoken suggestion of his retaining the memory of her attraction towards him from Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered in season 2, as both times she really suggests anything – “not comfort?” and “would you like to rest?” her mouth doesn’t move.
      And her being stuck behind the wall…

      Also “I’ve figured out how to steer by gesturing emphatically” is just wonderful Anya.

      Anyhow! Bring on season 5 yay!

  4. Pat K

    See, I loved Restless the first time I saw it ten years ago. I had no idea what I’d seen at the time, but the music, the mood, the way it presented itself and got into the characters psyches….I became kind of enthralled.

    And I didn’t know what significance it would have later.

    There’s nothing like a Joss Whedon-penned episode, especially that one. I must’ve rewatched it twenty times over that summer trying to decode it and catch everything, and it got me incredibly pumped for the next season.

    I read your initial reaction. Didn’t comment, though. I was disappointed, but the only thing that really bugged me was calling it a MotW episode.

    Even though the First Slayer is the enemy here, the episode isn’t built around her threat to the characters. When they’re on the run, they’re not really on the run from her, they’re on the run from their personal fears about themselves and their lives.

    Giles doesn’t even figure out who she is until she’s cutting his head open. She “kills” three out of the four members of the gang in the last ten seconds of their dreams. She really has nothing to do with the story until Buffy’s dream, and not until the end.

    Then when she tries to kill Buffy, she can’t. Because Buffy basically says, this was never about you, you have no power, leave me alone.

    She wasn’t the cause of the dreams, either. She just invaded them.

    Now, “Hush”–“Hush” was a MotW. Evil happens, forces Buffy to deal with something in her life one way or the other, plot moves forward, Giles figures out the evil, tells Buffy, Buffy slays.

    “Once More With Feeling”–a giant, musical MotW.

    “Restless”–we get a peek into everyone’s state of mind, nobody deals with anything as such, plot doesn’t move anywhere, Giles figures out the “evil” too late, Buffy doesn’t slay. Because you can’t slay something that’s part of what you are.

    It’s such a unique episode to me. To semi-quote Giles, “It was about the journey.” I just think it’s a disservice to call it a MotW, is all.

  5. Lockhart

    I’m a first time poster on this site. I just found your blog last week. I’ve had fun reading your analysis on Buffy and Angel and I can’t fault you at all for finding Restless less than what its fans have endeared it as. I don’t remember the first time I watched the episode, I think I wasn’t quite 12 when it premiered in 2000, but I’m sure my reaction was a lot like yours. I mean, I knew there was heavy foreshadowing throughout the episode and there was a certain brilliance that I was missing out out on just because the following seasons had yet been written and filmed and seen by the masses. Hindsight is 20/20, you know?

    However, I’m sure the episode will rise in your ranks by the time you finish season 7, whenever that may be, just like it did mine. Restless is the Rorschach test for the entire series, everyone sees it a bit differently. There’s no getting around it.

    Good luck on the project. These were great series and they will go down as two of the best of all time. Hope you enjoy the journey as much as the rest of us.

  6. Nicole

    Don’t worry about us, just keep writing what you want. It’s your blog, not ours, after all. Though it was very nice of you to write the post. =)

  7. jules

    I haven’t read the comments on Restless closely, but I will say that when I first watched it (when it aired), it underwhelmed me. I was more surprised that it wasn’t the big-bang destruction of the big bad finale, and didn’t think much of the dreams, or care much about their subtext. It’s since become a favorite for me, one that I like revisiting after seeing S5 and a certain episode or two in S6.

    It’s tough for long-time fans to keep the necessary distance of a first-time watcher. We want you (or other BtVS newbies) to love the series the same way we do, and of course that isn’t possible and the same episodes won’t resonate with everyone.

    That said, I am *very* excited for your coverage of S5 (my favorite) and look forward to your upcoming reviews.

  8. You should know that after season 5 of Buffy and season 2 of Angel, there are only (to my recollection) two more crossovers between the two series. This may have something to do with Buffy switching networks, I don’t actually know. But after this season I think it makes a lot of sense to watch through the rest of Buffy and come back to Angel later. I don’t think you’d be missing out on anything by doing that.

    • While that certainly seems true for Buffy Season 6/Angel Season 3, I would argue that the crossover in Buffy Season 7/Angel Season 4 is significant enough that’s it worth staying caught up, otherwise you’re going to be wondering where the hell that character came from and how they got to Sunnydale after we last saw them. (Trying to be as non-spoilery as possible with general pronouns here.)

    • Actually, now that I think about it there’s a bit more than two crossovers. But my advice is still good- it’s mostly Angel (the series, not the character) reacting to what happened in Buffy and not vice versa, and on the rare occasions that it goes the other way, the Angel backstory is completely irrelevant for the Buffy stories. So it’s not so clear-cut that there aren’t crossovers, but still I think you ought to stick to Buffy first if you’re pressed for time.

  9. Amy

    I didn’t comment on the previous entry, but suffice it to say that I was somewhat underwhelmed by Restless when I first saw it. I remember thinking “That was interesting… a little weird… kinda cool… not a great season finale though.”

    Now when I watch, it’s definitely one of my favorite episodes.

    I think you’ll probably come to appreciate it more with time, just like many of us have. :)

    • Eldritch

      In fairness to Myles, I recall being sort of lukewarm on my first viewing of “Restless.” Much of it’s charm is in it’s hints of events and developments in future seasons, which are opaque to the first time viewer. Now that’s it’s themes are clearer, it’s more entertaining. It says a lot about the characters, both current and what will be. Though if I could only choose one episode to take with me to a dessert island, I’m pretty sure it would be different episode.

  10. Susan

    I wanted to comment on your point that “Monster of the Week” is more indicative of structure than of quality, because I think this is a very good point.

    We Buffy fans tend to adore the show because there is so much more going on than one episode–or one season could possibly hold. So much beautiful, brilliant continuity from first to last. It’s why, I think, we (as a whole) are so, um, *assertively* protective of “Restless.” The elements of payoff and foreshadowing are just dizzying.

    That said, there’s some flavor of “MotW” in just about every episode. Buffy kicks some particular demon’s ass, learns something key about the Big Bad, or something. There is resolution of some kind in every episode, even those devoted primarily to the main arc. Conversely, in episodes that are obviously “MotW”–like “Buffy vs. Dracula” (which, btw, I teach every semester as part of a unit on Stoker’s novel)–something important about the main arc is introduced or developed. The genius of the writers is the balance.

    We tend to bristle at the phrase “Monster of the Week” because it just sounds so dismissive. But it’s structurally true, and it’s structurally sound.

    • diane

      Yes. “Monster of the Week” is a formula, and Buffy is not a formula-driven show. We’ve already seen episodes that don’t have a MotW, and where the monster, in this case a “Monster of the story arc,” won (“Passion”). Also, in Angel, we’ve seen the MotW be a throw-away (Vocah in “Shanshu”) who is simply a hired gun (fang? claw?) for a larger, continuing evil. There will be even more significant deviations from the MotW formula in episodes to come. (Can’t get too spoilery here.)

      So even when the formula applies, it’s rarely all that there is. If it’s nothing but a MotW episode, you end up with Bad Eggs. More often, either the monster is a metaphor, or the monster sets up character, emotional, or ethical issues, about which the monster is unaware.

      So, yeah, we do bristle about that sometimes. Call it a character flaw.

    • Eldritch

      …“Monster of the Week” is more indicative of structure than of quality..”

      I just wanted to say that while it is a MotW, that’s the least important thing about it. Like many other long lived franchises, Star Trek is a good example, occasional episodes break from the normal format for some special purpose. “The Trouble with Tribbles” comes to mind as one of Star Trek’s funny episodes.

      “Buffy vs Dracula” is not only a funny episode but it’s a clash of the Buffyverse with another universe. Season 4 itself was a clash of the magical Buffyverse with the universe of science. in “Dracula” the Buffyverse clashes with Bram Stoker’s vampires. It points out the ways Stoker’s established, traditional vampires work by different laws, say incompatible laws, than Whedon’s. That made it fun and funny.

      Perhaps had Buffy stayed on for another 20 seasons, we would have had a Buffy meets Twilight episode. I can envision Oz returning only to clash with Jacob, both desperately trying to protect the helpless Willow who must decide between them, but is having trouble making the decision, because secretly she wants Spike to make her vampire!

  11. lawrence

    There are still a few crossovers in the series, but almost more importantly, the style of the shows *really* starts to diverge in B5/A2. In season 2, Angel starts to find its way as a show after the disjointed first season, and the feel of Buffy is like no other season.

    If you choose to watch them together, though, I recommend not alternating episodes, but instead watching in the following order:

    B: 1-6, A: 1-6, B: 7, A: 7, B: 8-11, A: 8-11, B: 12-14, A: 12-16, B: 15-18, A: 17-18, B: 19-22, A: 19-22

    The reason for this is partly crossovers, but also continuity, and also also minimal disc switching. I really don’t like splitting up the last 4 episodes of either season, since they really flow together, and the tone of the two series at that point is so different it would be jarring to watch them interspersed.

    And on Buffy, it is critical that 15 and 16 be watched back to back.

    As far as Buffy vs. Dracula goes, it may be MotW, but the last 5 minutes are the most important (and probably the most confusing). I’m assuming you’ll write more about it later.

  12. Don’t take anything personally, Myles — we do sometimes get carried away — but it’s your blog and your project and I like how you’re approaching it.

    That said, I think Restless is interesting, but I don’t share the passionate love. I had no idea that so many people feel so strongly about it until your post!

    At some point you may want to reconsider the simultaneous Buffy-Angel watching. I don’t think it’s worth it, to go through all of them together, just for the sake of the (important) B7/A4 crossover. But as long as you’re enjoying it this way then by all means continue.

    Naturally you’ll have to take a hiatus at the end of the summer. But I fervently hope you’ll pick the project up again when you have time. I love Angel, more than Buffy, even, and I’m really interested to see your take on season 3. Um, and 4. And, er, 5.

    Slightly OT, but if anyone missed this on Whedonesque, SFX is taking a poll on the five best episodes in the *Whedonverse.* http://www.sfx.co.uk/2010/07/16/vote-pick-your-favourite-joss-whedon-episodes

  13. stevi

    I didn’t comment on your review of Restless, but I totally agree with you. On my first viewing of the episode back in the day, I wasn’t impressed. I felt it was compressed and the characters you mentioned got short shrift. I went into the summer wondering where the show was heading, and very skeptical of the next season.

    Multiple views later, I understand the details better, and the reasons for how it was structured, but I still feel like it was a very strange way to end the season. It will never be one of my favorite episodes, but I can appreciate the peek at the back of the tapestry, even if it wasn’t a completely fulfilling one.

    I really can’t imagine that all of those folks were so enamored with the episode the first time through. I suspect many of them were just as “WTF?” as I was the first time around. That’s why reading your reviews is so fun. You’re reminding us of what it was like to watch it all unfold for the first time. That’s fun and interesting. So thanks for all your hard work, and your thick skin. Keep it up, we’re enjoying it.

  14. Susan

    Myles, I just wanted to say that I hope that you are able to stay with this project, even if you need to slow waaaaaay down when school starts again. It’s been a complete joy to follow your thoughts and to engage with this community. Even if you only post every few weeks, if you tweet that a review is up, I’ll be here.

    Though I’ve been a Buffy fan since the beginning, this is the first time I’ve participated in (or even lurked on) an online discussion. Heck, though I’m a fan of all the shows you’d expect, this is the first time I’ve participated in *any* online fan discussion. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

    I do participate in news/politics fora, and I find it generally demoralizing, because, well, people can really suck. But not here. Even in our sometimes emphatic disagreements, we’ve all been so . . .*agreeable.* It’s been just wonderful.

    Sorry we nipped at you in our response to your “Restless” review.

    • Aeryl

      Me too. First time Buffy commentator online, that is. I didn’t actually get into Buffy until right before it moved to UPN, and only caught a few sporadic eps of Buffy S5.

      I’ve been squeeing since it started running on LOGO.

  15. AO

    Wow, I had no idea what the comment section in that thread had become. I read your review of ‘Restless’ less than an hour after it had been posted, very much understood where you were coming from and why you would view the Episode in that way, read the 5 or so comments at the time, didn’t think that I could add much to the discussion, and moved on. It looks like I need to catch up on what my fellow Buffy fans have been saying.

    Before I do, and possibly become unduly influenced by the discussions, then let me say that I pretty well agreed with your analysis. I think that I felt much the same as a first time viewer. I did appreciate that there was an epilogue of sorts to the Season and that the focus made it’s way back to the main characters, who had been going in separate directions for at least parts of the Season. I especially enjoyed seeing more of Giles. I understood why less time was devoted to him in S4, but I was not a fan of the storyline in which he was employed.

    But I’ve never been a fan of “strange dream” sequences or Episodes, so that might have negatively affected my initial impression. Once I had seen the entire show, then my estimation of ‘Restless’ did increase, but it still never became a favorite. I have seen other shows that foreshadowed and began story lines that wouldn’t play themselves out for Seasons to come, so while it’s a technique that I always at least moderately enjoy, it’s not a technique that is enough by itself to cause me to love the Episode.

    The fact that you are watching these two shows for the first time, with little knowledge of that which is to come, is one of the appeals of following this Project. That lack of awareness might be a weakness in an evaluation of a certain Episode, but it is very much to be expected and integral to making this Project what it is.

  16. While “Restless” falls in season four, it really is tied into season five much more. Personally, I read a lot of your critiques of the episode based on expectations of it as a season finale for four’s arcs (which is totally understandable), but it’s really more of a preview of the themes of season five. If you get a chance, I do highly recommend revisiting it after you’ve completed five.

  17. Tyler

    Not so much about Restless, but regarding the Cultural Catchup Project… I hope you’re not planning on stopping after Buffy/Angel; I remember that originally there were a few series you were going to look at.

    For instance, The Shield is incredible TV, and there are a few others that I’m sure we could recommend. (If you’d like to look at some earlier genre work, you might consider Babylon 5.)

    TV’s a changed landscape over the last decade or so, and much of what came before isn’t *really* suited to the kind of analysis you’d like to do… but the shows I mentioned, and some others, probably could hold up.

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