July 12th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
There have been a few points in this project where my thoughts on Buffy and Angel have diverged from the general sentiments of the commenters, and I am very glad for this fact: I like that there’s some disagreement, as it allows for new perspectives and for intriguing discussion.
However, I do wish that two of those points hadn’t come in such close proximity with one another, as they have with “To Shanshu in L.A.” and “Restless.” Leading into these episodes, a lot of comments were building up the hype for these hours of television, suggesting that the former was a major turning point for the series and that the latter was on a level with “Hush,” and inevitably I feel that both episodes fail to live up to those lofty expectations.
While I thought “To Shanshu in L.A.” was inherently flawed in terms of how it exaggerated certain developments for the sake of thematic convenience, my issue with “Restless” is that it doesn’t live up to the hype, ending up more generic than I had expected. While the central idea of the episode is well-executed, and I can see the seeds of where the show intends to go with the show’s fifth season, I expected the episode to mean something, for its oddities to coalesce into something tangible which would speak coherently to either the season we just witnessed or the one which is yet to come – instead, the episode coalesces into a pretty typical monster of the week storyline which happens to use dreams as its central construct.
This is not to say that some of the dreams aren’t successful, or that the episode isn’t well-executed, but rather that the same quality which made “Hush” so effective, its connection with ongoing storylines, feels lost when the abstraction gives way to a storyline which fails to capture the full potential of this premise.
Dreams are a function of the dreamer, manifestations of anxiety, or desire, or unconscious feelings that the dreamer does not understand. Within the Buffyverse, dreams are also the realm of prophecy, offering a glimpse into an uncertain (and often unbecoming) future. In this sense, an episode like this one seems like an ideal bridge between two seasons, functional both as an emotional denouement for the transition to College and a launching pad for the next stage in the Scooby Gang’s experience in Sunnydale.
However, the problem with “Restless” is that it’s actually doing three things: not only is it offering a glimpse into the state of mind of our four principal characters and unearthing some anxieties which will carry over into next season, but the episode is also a direct consequence of actions within “Primeval,” as the first Slayer haunts their dreams in order to punish them for tarnishing that power with the spell cast to help bring down Adam. It’s an interesting idea, but once the episode’s narrative shifts from abstract dreamscapes to a direct effort to defeat this primal evil I feel like it loses its momentum. While Willow and Xander’s dreamscapes feel like manifestations of personal trauma and capture that sense of being “lost,” Giles and Buffy’s dreams are too caught up in closing off the story to be as successful.
This isn’t to say that Giles breaking out into a musical number in order to describe his plans on how to stop the Slayer isn’t entertaining, or that Buffy’s brief moment with Tara (about making the bed with Faith) or her showdown with the Slayer (and the idea of who is truly the source of Buffy’s power) don’t gesture towards bigger ideas that are quite compelling. However, I felt like the episode started running out of momentum when we reached Buffy, as Joyce living in the wall or Riley and Adam commiserating over world domination felt as if they lacked the subtext of the earlier visions. As the episode became more linear, so did the content of the visions, and I feel this does a disservice to Giles in particular. His character has meaningfully taken a backseat all year, and yet his dream was caught between investigating his own life (Olivia’s presence, Buffy as child (the stroller)) and hinting towards the identity of the evil chasing them. I wanted to see more of Giles, to get a better sense of how the season impacted him, and his dream was unfortunately trapped in the most awkward part of the episode (and considerably shorter than the others).
Willow and Xander’s dreams are the most successful because they are largely independent of the episode’s structure. Willow’s dream, which takes place before we understand that the Slayer is stalking them, offers an intriguing glimpse of her mind in the wake of having kept secrets – there are hints that there are other secrets she has yet to tell her friends, or Tara, as well as a central feeling that she believes her current identity to be a set of clothes which hides the sly, nerdy girl she once was. It refers back to anxieties like those which were stirred up in “Doomed,” as well as the nods towards greater power which we saw in “Something Blue.” There is no question that Willow’s experience is abstract and playful, considering the ridiculous performance of Death of a Salesman, but the opening scene with Tara beautifully captures the romance of their relationship, and there’s a sense that the dream is a consistent reflection of Willow’s innermost emotions as opposed to a manipulation by an external force.
Xander’s dream, meanwhile, is a really nicely designed glimpse into a character whose struggles were largely trapped in the comic realm this season. Xander didn’t get an equivalent to “The Zeppo” this year, and while his relationship with Anya was central to the season it was largely confined to comedy as a result of Anya’s lack of social prowess. This isn’t a complaint, really, as Anya was a highlight this year and the couple still had some heartfelt scenes like the moment early in “Primeval,” but it does mean that a lot of Xander’s issues which emerged in “Doomed” or “The Yoko Factor” weren’t really allowed to completely play out to conclusion. His dream nicely balanced his more base desires (a crush on Joyce, his response to Willow and Tara’s offer) with some more complex emotions (losing Giles as a father figure of sorts, conflict with his real father, his role as Buffy’s protector). It also features the most impressive bit of aesthetic work in the episode for me, capturing Xander’s aimless existence by having every door lead to a different set, sending him on a journey through the soundstage which gives visual weight to a psychological struggle.
In their dreams, the Slayer is a generic threat, that force in our lives which makes us anxious and which pushes us to go through that next door or make the decisions we do. Once you get to Giles’ dream, it becomes just another case, and while I love the small details (like Willow and Xander raising their lighters while reading) in the dream it just doesn’t have the same sense of impact. When we eventually get to Buffy, it doesn’t feel like a trip into her mind anymore, and when they wake up from their dreams and debrief about their experience we end on the cheese slice punchline instead of the contexts of their dreams which spoke only to them. Yes, each person is obviously shaken up over the entire experience, but the episode values their imminent danger over their psychological turmoil, taking the episode from an evocative glimpse into the minds of the series’ protagonists to a fairly typical story told through an evocative structure.
“Restless” is a compelling hour of television, but it’s hardly groundbreaking. It would have been groundbreaking, perhaps, if it had avoided the Slayer storyline altogether, and simply showed each character’s nightmares (which would be natural after their experience in “Primeval”) without the sense of an overarching storyline, each act featuring a character’s state of mind and ending on a note of pure reflection. However, even then, dream sequences are hardly a new idea in television, and the show has used them in the past, so I guess I’m struggling with why the episode has been placed on a pedestal. Is it the joy of Watchers defying gravity? Or the pleasure of Vampire Harmony trying to bite Giles while he gives his inspirational speech? Or black-and-white movie star Spike? I thought the comic elements of the episode worked really well outside of Cheese Slices (which I think went too far), but it’s not as if the show hasn’t been funny in the past, and I prefer the subtle humour of “Hush” to the sort of broad material we saw here.
While I understand it’s purposeful, for me the dreams and the standalone storyline of the first Slayer are at odds with one another, and the result is a less cohesive episode than I had expected. I’ve talked about Doctor Who before (in regards to “Blink,” which I hope you’ve all watched or plan to watch), and earlier this Spring that show did a dream episode called “Amy’s Choice.” And while the episode isn’t trying to do as much in terms of having four separate dreams or dealing with seasons of character development and an expansive ensemble cast, the Doctor Who episode is upfront about the identity of the dreamweaver of sorts, which allows the dream and its source to coalesce and work in each other’s favour from an early point in the episode. And while “Restless” starts with a pure character piece and devolves into a “Monster of the Week” storyline, “Amy’s Choice” does the opposite, starting as your typical Doctor Who mystery before becoming an intensely personal journey which handles some pretty substantial character development. I think “Amy’s Choice” struggles a bit with its more basic elements in a way which “Restless” handles more successfully, but the central premise is more cleanly connected to character, a connection I feel “Restless” loses track of by the end of the episode.
When first considering the episode, I came close to calling it indulgent, thinking that Whedon had gotten so carried away with crafting fun dream sequences that he had lost sight of the real function of the episode. However, when considering it more carefully, I realized that he had in some ways not indulged enough. It’s very possible that the “First Slayer rebels against spell” storyline is going to be super important going forward, but I felt as if it kept the later dreams from being as effective as the early ones, and kept the episode from entering into the upper echelon of Buffy hours. By clearly defining the primal evil which chased each person, and by shifting the story towards stopping that external force, Whedon’s script loses its abstract qualities and becomes linear in a way which makes it less successful as a denouement and less successful as a launching pad for a fifth season.
It’s still a successful hour of television, but it just doesn’t live up to one’s wildest dreams.
- Not to speculate, as I am sure you’ll all have plenty to say, but I think a lot of the love for the episode, as Noel Murray notes in his review, might come from the fact that it feels like a return to the core group and their core issues – however, I never really felt like they got entirely lost in the fourth season, and so that sense of “return” wasn’t as potent for me.
- Sharing Noel’s concern, not seeing Willow and Tara kiss is a bit copout – sure, perhaps Whedon didn’t want to cheapen their first on-screen kiss by having it be in a dream sequence, but it actually feels more cheaply exploitative when it’s just implied.
- Always nice to see former guest stars return, but there is a difference between meaningful (Oz in Willow’s dream) and fan service (Principal Snyder, Harmoney); this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the latter, but they’re two different modes of recall.
- I know it makes sense that Spike and Anya remain secondary here, with Anya largely constrained to Xander’s dream and Spike a recurring bit player in all of them, but I wish that they could have done something to indicate their growing prominence. This is obviously an episode focused on the core group, but part of the season’s development was how that group is expanding, and so their lesser roles still bug a bit (especially since Tara, who is important but newer, has a more prominent role in the dreams).
- Without spoiling it for those without this knowledge, was surprised to see that the hint dropped in the Faith/Buffy bedmaking sequence in “This Year’s Girl” was absent from this bedmaking scene.
- Probably going to take a bit of a breather this week, but I do expect to get started with Seasons 5/2 by the weekend, so stay tuned for that.
145 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Restless” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)”
I said in a comment on an earlier post that I was also surprised there was so much love for Restless. I enjoyed it, and I thought it was risky and interesting, but I don’t know where the “OMG Restless!!!!” is coming from. It’s not Hush or OMWF and it probably doesn’t even make my top ten.
Side note: I watched this with a boyfriend who had been a philosophy major, and afterwards he had this really good, interesting, cohesive explanation for what the cheese guy represented, based on some semi-modern philosopher whose name I cannot recall. And then on the commentary, Joss explains a lot of the reasoning behind a lot of the choices, and he goes, “and oh, the cheese guy is completely random, he doesn’t mean anything at all.”
I wear the cheese; it does not wear me.
Sometimes there is meaning, even if the author didn’t consciously intend there to be.
oddly enough in its meaningless the cheese is the most meaningful. Whedon is an absurdist (which some existentialists are). By showing this meaningless thing Whedon demonstrates that somethings in life are meaningless. A core belief of existentialism being that life is meaningless and there is no greater explanation. So it is the most philosophical point in the episode in my mind.
Whedon most emphatically shows he subscribes to this idea when he has Angel say “If nothing we do matters (in the course of the universe or in eternity) then all that matters is what we do (then we should live for ourselves and do what we think is right in our interactions with other humans).”
He pushes this idea further in Objects in Space the Firefly episode. The planet at the beginning of the episode is perfectly spherical and red just floating in space. This image is later reproduced in River’s hand as a jack’s ball. Both objects if you think of them abstractly are just objects floating in space and have no higher meaning.
Also the scene with the gun shows that people impart meaning on objects as well. River uses guns to help her friends and sees it as meaningless as a branch. Jubal sees it as an instrument of pain.
Whedon felt that objects have a meaning but can be used in different ways (a ball is to be thrown but is also just a round thing). People give things meaning in his mind.
In terms of the success of this episode Whedon was trying to convey two things. One the best way to enjoy a story is to understand and enjoy the journey (best exemplified by Xander’s dream, Willow’s marks how far she has come in own her own power and strength). Buffy’s dream is meant to evoke a crisis of identity. What doesit mean to think of identity as a long processual (at times linear journey). Who aare you in terms of your friends? Who are you when you are alone? What do other people mean to you in your journey of life? The First Slayer makes this point when she says no friends. Buffy also beginnings to deal with her nature as a killer and what does that mean in her relation to other people.
Also Buffy’s feet like River’s are great visual story telling aids for the passage of space and time.
“If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.”
This. It’s the entire theme of AtS (maybe not BtVS so much) summed up in one sentence. It’s interesting to think about, how this epic struggle between the PTB and the SPs has been going on essentially forever and, even if you’re all immortal and super powered like Angel is, it seems a little pointless to even try to make a difference. But, of course, that’s the point.
But, hey, I’m in the wrong thread to be having this discussion.
I’ve never understood the “Restless” love either. It’s an entire episode of dream sequences, whoopetydoo? Sure, it forecasts Dawn, but other than that…eh, I’ve never cared too much.
The DVD commentary for Restless really sheds light on the purpose of the episode. The length of the episodes, for instance, is a function of the characters figuring out what’s haunting them. Willow’s dream is medium length, because she’s stuck between the mystery of the dream and her fears and secrets that she’s trying to hide. Xander, naturally, gets the longest dream sequence, while Giles, the most intelligent and focused, gets the shortest. Not to mention that the characters were each killed by the thing that they represented in the spell in Primeval – Willow had her soul sucked, Xander’s heart was ripped out, Giles had his brain sliced. The episode is so well-received partially because it has so much more meaning than a first viewing can reveal. I recommend coming back to this one later; you might be surprised at how well it ages, especially once you’ve seen the whole series.
So you noticed the Faith/Buffy bed-making scene as a hint of something greater, but have you caught the other major Season 5 foreshadowing? 😉
Yeah, we need to discuss the bed making (and the clock) once season 5 is over.
Having seen this episode for the first time recently after seeing bits and pieces of the upcoming seasons, my thoughts are that this is an episode that is much better in retrospect. Throughout the episode there are sublte hints to story arcs to come which make the episode all the more enjoyable once you know that these things are on the way.
I enjoyed the episode immensely, but do wonder if it would have the same impact if I hadn’t had those moments of realisation and reflection on how these characters will grow after this season. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the episode again once you’ve gotten through the rest of the series.
Either way, I agree that the clashing aspects of the episode hurt it, and thought the comparison with Amy’s Choice was really interesting. Excellent analysis as always.
Whedon thought the show might be cancelled and felt this was a good way to end the series as well as push it forward. You think you know what is to come… could be about the story but also about life.
Really? I thought that towards the end of S5 was when he thought it might be cancelled.
I think he thought this every year. Which is why he always ends each season with some resolution and some questions. You are right Season 5 was the most serious. Thank God For UPN (never thought I would say that).
IIRC, they *never* knew whether they were going to be renewed at the end of any season (except season 6). So every season finale also had to serve as a possible series finale.
The end of S5 was particularly tricky, b/c they knew the WB was not going to renew the contract, and UPN hadn’t picked them up yet. Which is why the S5 finale really could be a very good series ending.
When UPN did pick them up, it was for two seasons, so for the first time ever they knew they’d have both S6 and S7.
I think it was on the Restless commentary that Whedon says he made this seasons finale open-ended because it was one of the very few seasons he was fairly certain the show would be coming back the following year.
I don’t recall any worries about being canceled at that time. They seemed to be ready to go right into S5.
Yeah, I saw Restless after reading about it extensively, and kind of knowing why it was significant later on, so I’d definitely say the impact is higher when you rewatch it knowing what’s coming next. I do think it’s enjoyable watching it the first time ’round though. Even if I don’t really understand the deep meaning behind everything.
Exactly what I was going to say. You can’t know how well the foreshadowing works until you’ve seen all the way through S7, and by then you can’t remember it, so need to see it again.
**Not sure, but this whole comment might be worth a spoiler alert.**
Not much time just now for a thoughtful comment, but I wanted to say this: I wonder if the genius of “Restless” is more evident in retrospect. There’s a LOT in the episode that resonates far into the future. It’s couldn’t be apparent on one’s first trip through the series, but “Restless” lays out something of a map for the rest of the series.
In fact, I considered suggesting that Myles take notes as he watched. I do worry about spoilers, though.
Although “Restless” is a superior episode in writing and execution, it is much like “To Shanshu” in the way it looks forward. It is the only “finale” episode of any Buffy season that occurs after the season’s actual arc is over.
Again, I recall being pretty stunned with “Restless” on first viewing, but my awe for it has no doubt grown since then and simply been assimilated in my fully formed experience of the entire series.
It would be interesting to know Myles’ estimation of episodes like “Restless” after he finishes the series.
I agree with you, Susan, Restless is far more significant after seeing at least the entire next season if not the rest of the series. Myles is right that humor plays into the delight many fans take in this episode, but I have to say, when I saw it originally I found it all anti-climactic and disappointing. Now its definitely in my top ten.
I hope I wasn’t one of the ones who made Shanshu seem like a big deal, Myles (I’m ardentdelirium on twitter)–my suggestion that you review it rather than cover the last three episodes equally was more to do with the fact that the preceding two were not directly related (the last three eps of season 2, for example, I would suggest you do together when you get there, because they’re bound by story arc)
Re: the Willow/Tara kiss, I could be wrong but I think The WB were still reluctant/against having them kiss on-screen at this point?
I like ‘Restless’, it’s not my favourite episode ever but it has some nice character insight. It does improve once you’ve seen the rest of the series, but obviously you can’t be expected to know that yet Myles (and I’m glad you don’t).
I do agree with you that from what we know at this point in the series, it’s definitely an episode that works better for Willow and Xander. Willow’s fear that she’ll always be the geeky, lonely girl from the pilot* and Xander’s fear of being forever trapped in his parent’s basement. Of course that’s a pretty basic reading and I’m sure someone else will comment on the nuances better than I could, I’ve read plenty of great essays about ‘Restless’ and the meanings behind various things.
I love the direction and music in the episode and all the little quirks (speaking in French, black and white, crawling through the back of the ice cream truck etc), it feels very dream-like to me.
I feel like I want to add more but I’m weary of spoilers so I’ll just add keep up the good work Myles!
*I don’t know how AH stays so ageless, she looks exactly the same as she does in S1 when Buffy rips her ‘costume’ off.
I dig the French sequence, too, but I always wondered why it wasn’t in Spanish. I grew up in Southern Cali (and still live here) and I hear Spanish about as often as I hear English on the average day (and don’t even get me started on why Sunnydale has no Mexicans. That doesn’t even make sense). Whenever there’s funky language confusion in my dreams, it’s always in Spanish, probably because it sits right on the surface of my subconscious.
Agreed. I grew up in Texas and I never understood why some of my friends took French in high school. It’s not exactly USEFUL around here.
Then again, the students at Sunnydale all seem to be francophiles. Buffy studies French with Willow at the Bronze (season one, I think?). Oz has his little “All monkeys are French” moment. And then there’s the French in Restless.
From a critical point of view, BtVS and AtS are incredibly whitewashed. Firefly is a bit better, but it loses points b/c it doesn’t live up to its self-imposed “half the universe is Asian!” idea. Dollhouse is somewhat better than that — at least we have Boyd, Ivy, Sierra, etc.
For real. Try to find any group of alternative young people in LA that’s composed entirely of white people. I’m sometimes kinda confused as to why Gunn hangs out with them sometimes as he’s so street. I think he even makes a comment about it; “I used to be cool before I started hangin out with y’all,” or something like that.
Sometimes proofreading is good.
Poor Gunn. The subculture of his little hood is not always handled in the most nuanced manner.
I think it is in French only to convey how Xander does no understand what the smart people (Giles Willow) are saying (French being the mark of intellectuals) and Anya speaking in French is his fear of not understanding women and failing the one he cares about. To use Spanish would just show he lives in Southern California.
That’s pretty good, Tausif Khan. I guess I really never dug that deep into it. That’s why I’m digging this thread. There’s so many layers to Restless that even after all my viewings of it I still haven’t wholly figured it out.
I believe you’re right about the kiss. If I recall correctly, Joss had to fight to get it placed where he did, too, because once the WB was behind it, they wanted to make a huge spectacle of it.
Myles, I’m not sure what continuity you were expecting between the Buffy/Faith bed-making scene and “Restless”, but there was definitely a hint dropped there that was also dropped (in different form) in Restless. It is one of the first callbacks to Restless (but not the first) in season 5, so you won’t have too long to wait on that, and I’m sure that dozens of us will gleefully point it out.
Talking about risk, one aspect of Joss taking risks in Restless is that there’s no way to evaluate it on first viewing, especially without knowing the rest of the series, especially seasons 5 and 6. In this sense there’s a bit of a parallel with Epitaph One in Dollhouse, writing a map to a future that hasn’t been written yet, not even knowing for certain that it will ever be written.
Perhaps Restless is an episode that can be ruined by getting too analytical. It is a dreamscape, after all, and we’re far enough beyond Freud that the cheese man really doesn’t have to mean anything.
One other thing, about Willow and Tara not kissing (on screen, anyway) in Restless. This is exactly the kind of spotlight that Joss didn’t want to put on their first kiss. And that’s by his own words.
This may be one of those things I made up in my own head… but I remember something about how the WB made them wait on the Tara/Willow kiss, b/c they wanted to do the Jack/whatsisname kiss on Dawson’s Creek first? And that (the DC kiss) was the first same-gender kiss on network tv?
I know you think the first kiss was a copout, but I think you will be pleased by their first kiss on screen, it is really sweet and timed just right, you will have to wait a while tho.
Agreed. Their first kiss is very, very sweet.
I certainly think it would have been cheap to have seen Willow and Tara’s first onscreen kiss in Xander’s dream, and I’m not sure that it would have worked in Willow’s dream.
It’s so funny to me to go back and watch Buffy after having seen Torchwood and watch them be all weird about same-sex relations. Silly WB.
I’m not really sure what to say here, Myles. This was a really good review (as usual), and I can tell you put a lot of thought into what you wanted to say but, frankly, I pretty much always agree with you and it makes me a little sad that you didn’t dig what Whedon accomplished here. Maybe it is because you haven’t seen what’s to come (You think you know? 😉 What you are…) This episode is real epic with the foreshadowing; Whedon explains all of it in the commentary but, really, avoid till you’re done because it’s MASSIVELY spoilery. Even without all the understanding, though, the dialogue and the music (oh, God, the music) do it for me every time.
Oh, and, um, sometimes I think about two girls doing a spell… and then I do a spell by myself.
Speaking of music, that was Christophe Beck on piano when Giles goes on-stage to sing.
And the band was most of Four Star Mary, the real band behind Oz’ Dingoes. Though the bass player couldn’t make it, so the singer was miming bass. The funny bit is that the blond guitarist was only very briefly in the band and he’s the one seen in the clip in the S5 opening credits (he was out by the time S5 aired). Besides the singer, the other guitarist is the only FSM member still in the band and you can barely see him. It was great that they also got their on screen moment of glory. But the recording was done by Chris Beck and Four Star Mary.
Just a general bit of reply here, not long after this aired, a girl on the Bronze posted this long en depth explanation about how the Cheese Man fit into the story of each character. It totally made sense. Joss even read it and thought what she said was extremely insightful…except for that he had zero meaning at all, and therefore she was very much wrong. I liked the Cheese Man.
I feel a lot of agreement with what you write here, Myles. While others are also correct that the episode works better after the series, your initial impressions remain valid; I’m sorry that the hype worked against you.
Though you say that dreams are hardly new to television–and that’s true–one of the things I like about Restless is how it manages to capture how dreams actually seem to *feel* (to me, at any rate); it does it better than most TV I’ve seen.
As to whether or not this would’ve worked better had there been no monster to face and no “single story” issue to resolve… maybe so. But BtVS is dedicated to having a plot to resolve and a monster to fight in every episode, even when I think they’d be better served to avoid it. (I wouldn’t even pick Restless as the first to drop the monster; I’d pick 5×16.)
The monster in 5×16 serves a definite purpose, one I’ve understood better over time. But yeah, jarring.
One of the things I admire about BtVS as a whole is that dream sequences are so extremely well done, both in capturing the feeling of dreaming, and (especially) in comparison with just about anything else that even tries to use dreams.
I couldn’t agree with this more.
Like many of the other commentators have already said, it’s really difficult to make a comprehensive case on why “Restless” is one of the best episodes in the entire series without having seen the rest of the series. I’ll do my best, though, to explain why this is such a fantastic episode without getting into spoilers.
First of all, I think you’re looking at the episode in the wrong way. Where you see a “monster of the week” episode, I see a fluent character study where the First Slayer is there to, yes, give structure to the episode, but the themes and meaning behind what it represents — particularly to Buffy — play a HUGE role in S5 and her character development for the rest of the series. That Initiative scene with Riley and Adam is actually tremendously packed with direct character relevance. It also has relevance when looking back on the earlier seasons as well after seeing the entire series.
“Restless” functions as the nexus of the entire series for the characters, a true center point that separates what came before, how things are now, and what will come next — I’m not not just referring to S4 and S5 here. The episode has a far greater scope than you give it credit for and very much speaks to the characters’ pasts going back to S1, the characters’ present, and the characters’ futures leading right up to the final episodes in S7. There’s a lot more purpose and prophecy than you’re aware of here.
Your claim that the later dreams have less relevance, beyond the plot at hand, than the earlier dreams doesn’t ring true to me. In fact, Buffy’s dream, in many ways, ends up being the most prophetic, thematically relevant, and overall significant of all them. While, yes, the last two dreams are a little bit more coherent in structure, due to Giles’ focused intellect and Buffy’s obvious direct connection with the Slayer line competing with her own strong personality, the last two dreams are no less purposeful or meaningful to the characters.
Both Giles’ and Buffy’s dreams say truck-loads about both characters — again, their pasts, present, and future. From their motivations to their struggles to their complexities, it’s quite amazing how chock full of content there is in such a short span of time. For example, Buffy’s solution/ability to fend off the First Slayer here end up being very thematically relevant to her upcoming character arc. While you’ll see some of these dreams pay off immediately in S5, the full extent of what’s being communicated won’t be known until far later.
The episode is also impressive on a visual level, and how many of these visuals, again, say things about the characters and hint a lot at what’s to come. Almost every line and visual moment throughout the dreams have tangible meaning when thought about with a full understanding of the characters and where they’re headed. Oh, and the music rocks too.
Another part of why “Restless” is so impressive is because of how much it purposefully foreshadows a lot of the next three seasons. This is impressive because it demonstrates just how well thought out many of the bigger stories, themes, and character arcs in the series are. It’s also impressive partially on a find-the-Easter-egg level as there are a TON of little things in this episode that show up in later seasons.
Myles, you said, “[W]as surprised to see that the hint dropped in the Faith/Buffy bedmaking sequence in “This Year’s Girl” was absent from this bedmaking scene.”
-If you’re talking about what I think you are, then it wasn’t absent. You just don’t know enough yet to recognize the second hint dropped here. It’s in the line “Be back before dawn,” which you’ll fully understand soon.
“Restless” is a must-watch episode after you finish the entire series. I’d be flat-out shocked if you didn’t take away a lot more meaning the second time around. It’s interesting because, while I loved the episode the first time around, it wasn’t until multiple viewings later that the episode really began to accrue real brilliance. It gets better each time you watch it and pick up more and more of what Whedon was presenting. Despite that it may look like a basic monster of the week episode to you now, it’s anything but and is actually one of the most complex and dense pieces of television I’ve ever seen. None of the dreams are superfluous here except, of course, the cheese man. I hope one day you’ll come to appreciate this episode more.
Oh, and if that wasn’t long enough, I just wanted to add that that whole business about the clock (7:30, which was first mentioned in “Graduation Day”) isn’t just random nonsense — it’s referring to something specific.
“You just don’t know enough yet to recognize the second hint dropped here. It’s in the line “Be back before dawn,” which you’ll fully understand soon.”
Wow, did that one ever go over my head – I do actually know enough to recognize that second hint, I just clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to be able to spot it.
I’m sure you’re making some valid points, but really the central line here is “Unless you can predict the future, you can’t really get the whole value of the episode.” Know that I haven’t shut my mind to the episode’s potential brilliance, and will certainly go back after the series is over as you and others have suggested.
I still say “Meh.” But I’m well aware that I’m in the minority.
That’s good to hear Myles. Your thoughts on the episode just made me desperately want to say ‘something’ to explain why some of us think so highly of it, which put me in the tough spot of trying to get that across without actually having seen what’s to come.
Nonetheless, the analysis was well-written as usual and I really enjoyed it even if I did also find it a bit frustrating in terms of what you can’t yet know — no fault of your own of course, just the nature of the beast. More than anything else it makes me that much more eager for you to get started with S5 (imo, Buffy’s best season on all levels). 🙂
Thanks for the read!
Joss is absolutely a long-form storyteller. As we’ve been saying, Restless sets up aspects that don’t pay off for years. There’s an issue that’s set up in “Becoming” that waits five years for its payoff.
Joss has said that he always tries to write on at least three levels, and to keep one of those buried so that it’s not even visible. That’s not to say that any of us come to any episode with perfect foreknowledge. Rather, we need to stay open to the extended story that’s going on underneath. Myles, I do think that your reviews of both “Shanshu” and “Restless” cut that aspect short.
This will be especially important in future seasons of both series, as the extended narrative takes precedence at times over episodic structure.
Diane, you’re right that I don’t take a look at the extended story in these two episodes, but how can I do so? I don’t think that I’m cutting them short on purpose, I think that I have no idea what counts as an extended story, and so I really have no way of judging how successful it is. For me, I can only judge what I’m being given: in that sense, I think both episodes are let down in certain areas, and even if there ends up being a myriad of really intelligent bits of foreshadowing within each episode it isn’t going to change the ways in which the episodes don’t quite come together as a standalone episode of television.
I’m all for looking back in retrospect and seeing that Whedon and Greenwalt did some genius work in these hours of television, but I think to say that I “cut that aspect short” is expecting something I couldn’t really possibly do. I don’t feel as if I have judged the episodes unfairly for judging them only on those merits which are visible to the naked (read: unspoiled) eye.
The reason I raise this point about extended story is that it’s about to get even more pronounced. In seasons 5 and (especially) 6, narratives take more of a novel form, and often the story simply steamrolls over episode boundaries. Angel season 4 is even more extreme in this sense. I think that some (not all) of negative fan reaction to those seasons is rooted in this looser, open-ended structure.
So, given your response to Shanshu and Restless, I’m concerned that you may be setting yourself up for that negative response later on. Forewarned is… well… forewarned.
In less vague terms, sometimes you seem to expect closure in situations where closure is nowhere to be found. Shanshu is a perfect example of this, because it sets up Darla and Wolfram & Hart for season 2. The old “batcave” office is blown away, with nothing to replace it. Cordelia has a new perspective on her role. These are not closures; they are prologues.
It’s certainly true that we all bring our own biases and expectations to any work of art. I’m guilty of that myself, and I’ve had very negative reactions to some things that are generally well-regarded. (The first “Matrix” movie as case-in-point. I hated it. Virulently.)
When I did my paper for the Slayage conference a few years ago, I read a lot of Mikhail Bakhtin’s writings, not just on Carnival Theory (wonderful stuff, and relates well to Buffy), but also to his anlysis of Dostoevsky’s narrative structure. Bakhtin called it “dialogism”, where Dostoevsky sets up all his characters as fully realized, independent individuals, outside of the author’s control, with their own viewpoints and obsessions. He then turns them loose in his stories, and lets them argue and fight with each other.
I see a lot of this kind of structure in Joss Whedon’s work. Willow, Xander, Spike, Dawn, Faith, Giles, and Anya all have their own long-term arcs, and many of them were not at all thought out before the characters were introduced. This is even more pronounced in Angel; Angel (the character) has a long-term arc of redemption issues, first introduced back in “Amends.” Over time, many other characters in Angel will also struggle with that issue.
The point of all this rambling is to talk about closure. Simply because an episode ends, doesn’t mean that the story ends. The characters have “real lives,” so to speak. Up to now, longer stories have been somewhat packaged up as two-part episodes, but in both series, we’re pretty much past that now. Narratives begin and end where they begin and end, and are less contained by the artifice of episodic television.
So it’s not about whether we know what’s coming, or don’t. We never know what’s to come, what we are. Like Buffy, we haven’t even begun. And that’s the key. (No pun intended.)
Myles, I found your comment above about how the episode doesn’t “quite come together as a standalone episode of television” fascinating. You seem to be placing some importance on the concept of a “stand-alone episode,” which is why “Hush” stood out for you so much. For me, at least, Buffy is at its best is when its episodes *don’t* necessarily stand alone that well and instead use all the accrued character material from the past as their primary basis to move things forward — the plot is only there for the structure and to act as a metaphor and/or parallel to what the characters are going through and to set their personalities loose.
What makes Buffy such a landmark show *to me* is not its plots — even the best ones — but rather its character fluency and memory; how the big moments are built out of that history, connectivity, and memory. This is why “Becoming,” for example, is actually one of the very top episodes of the series in my book — more memorable and personal than “Hush.” Ultimately the plots are simply a means to service the characters, and this is where I feel Buffy separates itself from a lot of other quality shows. I guess my question is, why do you care if an episode stands alone or not in the context of the larger character stories being told? Or, to put it another, what makes “the stand-alone episode” important to you in your analysis?
First off: do not worry, whatsoever, about me being impatient with long form storytelling. As a very big fan of The Wire, I am totally open to shows which don’t have “standalone” episodes. If the show is heading in that direction, I certainly welcome it; however, I don’t think that this episode clearly indicates to first-time viewers its position as a pivot point for the series in that direction, so I think some skepticism is only logical.
Second, Mikejer, I think “standalone” is probably the wrong word, as that makes one think of episodes which needs to have a beginning and end (speaking to Diane’s very good point about closure). The last thing I’d want this episode to do is to end here, and I certainly don’t read the conclusion of the episode as the absolutely last chance any of the issues from this season or previous seasons are ever going to be discussed again.
Rather, in terms of standalone, I simply mean whether or not the episode is successful if you don’t have the benefit of knowing how important it becomes in later seasons. As Ashley said in above comment, the episode simply DOESN’T standalone in any capacity, which to me is something that could have been avoided without necessarily losing the foreshadowing. I think it would have helped if the first Slayer was less interested in murdering than she was in terrifying, allowing us to excise the “defeat the Slayer” part of the story and spend more time focused on each character and their dreams. This way, the episode doesn’t get caught between two storytelling modes, and it could more cleanly transition between the two seasons.
Mikejer, this. You said it so much better than I did. And yeah, counting down from 7-3-0…
I think that I have no idea what counts as an extended story, and so I really have no way of judging how successful it is.
Though I agree with others that the foreshadowing is densely layered and will bring a lot to this episode on a post-series viewing, I think you’re looking at the wrong element in your search for an “extended story,” and I think this is even more important than whether or not you’re expected to guess what all the hints and foreshadowing mean.
“Hush” succeeded for you because, though it was a departure stylistically, it continued to move the overall plot forward in recognizable ways. “Restless” did not. But — this is important — “the plot” as you’ve known it ended with “Primeval” (remember that it had every component of a season finale…because it was the season finale). I’m not saying that some things don’t continue, nor that certain events don’t flow from what you’ve already seen, but “Restless” isn’t a continuation of the narrative that has passed. And despite the foreshadowy goodness within, it doesn’t kick off the narrative to come, either. It exists separate from both.
In fact, “Restless” is a bottle show. Oh, it doesn’t look like one. Especially given the freedom of dreams, it looks like the opposite, if anything. But remember that these are dreams. The entire episode takes place in Buffy’s house, and 95% of it in Buffy’s living room, with the actual characters barely moving and barely talking for most of the episode; the action and dialogue you see are not “real.” It’s the ultimate bottle show, in that sense. And the bottled nature is yet another way of highlighting that the episode is not moving any sort of narrative along in a previously-familiar way. Because looked at from the perspective of the preceding narrative, here’s the entire plot: the gang falls asleep while watching movies, the gang wakes up and talks about their dreams, Buffy walks upstairs. Add a Joyce/Riley character moment, and that’s your show.
(There’s precedent for moving the plot forward via dreams — usually Buffy’s — but the dreamer has always then woken up and gone on to act on those revelations. That doesn’t happen here; they go to sleep ignorant of the danger and wake up after its resolution. Again, everything’s pointing to the fact that there’s no plot here in a sense that would be familiar. And it’s not an accident.)
If you’re looking for the plot, you’re looking at something that (very deliberately) isn’t there…aside, of course, from the episodic plot of danger –> monster –> discover monster –> defeat monster. That “Restless” uses such a familiar and foundational Buffy plot (it should remind you of seasons one and two in that, and I don’t think by accident) means that it doesn’t actually want you to pay that much attention to it. And the other early-Buffy trope of monster = metaphor is subverted here as well. The narrative isn’t the story, and the monster isn’t the metaphor.
It is, as was noted earlier, a nexus. A midpoint. The best description I’ve ever heard is that it’s not an episode, it’s a meta-commentary on the series.
Without knowing what’s to come, of course you’re going to miss some of that commentary. But in fact, the “you think you know, what’s to come…” business, repeated for effect just in case it wasn’t absolutely clear that you’re supposed to take note of the line, highlights this. In these lines, the episode tells you — twice — that you haven’t seen the beginning of the next story…that season 5 is not going to be seasons 1-4. Not for Buffy. Not for the series. And not for you.
But there is a story in “Restless.” Not a plot, not a narrative, but something intimately connected with what’s been and what will be. That story is the characters. It’s as pure a character piece as you could ever hope to see…almost as if Joss is reading the series bible’s descriptions of each character to you. It’s just that he’s doing it using dream logic, so that it’s not quite as boring as that actual reading.
If you’re not viewing this as “here’s Willow’s character arc…and now here’s Xander’s…” you’re missing the core of the episode, looking instead for something that’s consciously absent. And here’s the bonus: if you view it that way, though the lens of long-term characterization, a fair bit of the actual foreshadowing that’s going on will suddenly become clear. Or at least clearer.
For example, Willow. Does her view of herself match what you’ve seen in the conscious (waking) narrative, especially in terms of what has appeared as development and maturation from “Welcome to the Hellmouth” through “Primeval”? Does the difference between what we’ve seen and what she feels surprise you? How does Willow view her relationship with Tara? With Oz? Is that different from what we’ve been shown in season 4? How does Willow view her relationship with Buffy, in terms of the dangers they face? Because while it seems to have changed a lot from early season 1, Willow’s subconscious view of that relationship seems to be still stuck in early season 1 power dynamics. Does that surprise you? Given Willow’s view of herself and her guess at how others view her, can you revisit some of her most dramatic (and often worst) decisions with a new insight into her core character traits? Her core character flaws? Do you see a consistent pattern of action derived from a character you might have thought she’d gradually left behind? And now…assessing the current state of her life and her relationships through this new lens, what paths forward do you see for her, personally and “professionally” (that is, monster-fighting)?
Since I suspect you already know some of what’s to come for her, I think you can guess what some of this means. If not, then even better. But I wonder if you weren’t deliberately trying to avoid thinking along those lines. Having watched a fair number of these “newbie-watches-[series]” projects in which the newbie (as expected) cannot actually be 100% unspoiled by a cultural touchstone, I do think that, sometimes, there’s overcompensation. Were you to go back to the contemporaneous discussions of these episodes (don’t, for various reasons), on Usenet, or the Bronze, or wherever, you’d see a lot of well-founded speculation and a pretty solid set of what turn out to be correct guesses. Plenty’s wrong, of course. But good, supportable speculations are quite possible just based on what you’ve already seen. That is, they’re possible if one is looking where the writer/director wants you to look, rather than searching for something that he has deliberately left out so it won’t distract you from the essentials.
I think David Simon’s comment on reviewers talking about character arcs without seeing the entire arc applies here. The only difference is that you have a DVD set which means you can find the arcs and watch them completely. However, you are trying to review this series as if you were watching it as it originally aired. I think that you should take advantage of the fact that you own the DVD set and find out the relevant arcs and review them as such to bring out their full meaning.
Also I don’t think Whedon ever leaves the standalone/serialized version of storytelling. Their is always a conclusion (however facile) to each episode/chapter.
I dunno, I never thought the “Becoming” issue really paid off…especially since after the “Wait, what?” moment, it was never brought up again or followed up on in that moment. What a waste.
Not a waste at all Jennifer. Buffy calling out Xander on that point is the moment he lost his argument against her, which end up having pretty profound ramifications for Anya.
Amen. Preach it. Be careful with spoilers, though.
Excellent review, Myles, outstanding rebuttal, Mikejer. BtVS is a series well worth watching over and over again, and each time I do, I take away something new.
With such excellent commentary, Mikejer, you can skip the apology. 😉
The first time I saw Restless, I was, “WTF?” But….had to rewatch two weeks later. (It was taped on a VCR at the time and Buffy was never recorded over.) Out of sequence, midway, thru S5, I had to watch again. Still thinking, WTF, but also….well, damn.
After re-viewing the entire run of the series more than a couple times, I’ve come to appreciate it more and more. And this is one of the episodes, I think, that loses a little if you watch it *now* as opposed to when it aired. It *seems* a little less innovative and creative if you are comparing it to what has developed since then in television.
I totally agree with you mikejer. I think it’s a shame to dismiss the first slayer as another MOtW considering how deeply connected the entity is to Buffy. I really enjoy how the story gradually and continually become more linear as the characters become lucid–struggling to understand what has hold over their unconscious minds. Also, it’s clear to me that Joss was playing with the “Buffy” format. If you didn’t know, Joss, somewhere in the 4th season (I believe), decided that he didn’t really like the idea of the two-part episode. I’ve heard him muse about how you can accomplish everything you need to within 43 mins and 43 mins alone. He’s a purist. I think the realization of this fact influences not only this episode of television, but all he’s written after (aside from the Firefly pilot). Myles’ review seems like a call for “Restless the Movie”, but I think that belies the inherent fun of basically following the show’s traditional structure while attempting to subvert it, within the time allotted. This episode has an exuberance regarding what television can be. I don’t think you need to see the rest of the series to appreciate that this type of rich story telling, nuanced psychological imagery, and hefty subtext has really done a lot to elevate the medium. All of that being, I’ve always been less than pleased by how much the Buffy fans condemn some episodes and hype others through these projects. It just seems like, for the reviewer, watching episodes is merely the response to the backlash or hype you’ve already been exposed to.
I can’t add more than what others have said, except I want to reassure you that your initial impressions are valid. You can’t know the future and so much of the episode’s greatness comes in hindsight. At first I didn’t love this episode – it was a bit boggling for me, frankly, since I started watching Buffy in Season 4 when it aired. Over time I’ve come to love it – as someone mentioned, I think it gets better on every viewing (up to a diminishing-returns-point obviously, haha).
I agree with what every other person has said here, so I don’t want to say too much more about the episode being better in retrospect (it would just be repetitive), but I DO want to say that I also think it a bit bizarre that you’re calling this a ‘Monster of the Week’ episode when it’s really what I would call the very first Buffy ‘Mythology’ episode. I mean, it’s the first Slayer!
I was also surprised that you didn’t pick up on (or at least, you didn’t mention it) why the first Slayer was there in the first place (and not just because of the spell in “Primeval”). She was offended by the notion of Buffy having friends, that she didn’t work alone. I think that’s really important (and a key to really getting at the meaty meat of the episode, and really, the series). And that’s not just considering future developments, of which you know relatively little, but past stuff, too.
I definitely saw that within the First Slayer storyline, but I think that’s something which we’ve seen much of in the past: it was central to the difference between Buffy and Faith, for example.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not paying attention because these little bits and pieces of information don’t seem important: rather, I thought the episode could have done a better job of emphasizing themes like this one (which, frankly, I found buried by the dreamscapes rather than accentuated by them) while still maintaining its abstraction.
As for the “Monster of the Week,” I mean this more in terms of structure: there’s a threat, it’s a monster, and it’s defeated at episode’s end. It’s a particularly intriguing Monster of the Week considering its mythological content, but its form is typical of standalone monsters, which is where the conflict with the dreamscapes comes into play for me.
No, no, I get where you’re coming from with the ‘MotW’ thing, but again (you’ll probably get sick of hearing it), the episode (and the first Slayer aspect in particular) doesn’t play as a standalone at all in retrospect, but more as ‘the beginning of the end.’
Oh! And I forgot to mention something. One of the reasons that I think that theme is so central to the episode is that (as Cameron pointed out above), I *do* see it as being emphasized enough. It’s built into the very structure of the episode. One by one, the first Slayer enters their dreams, first attacking the soul, then the heart, then the mind, etc. She is literally trying to take out Buffy’s connections to the world for almost the entire 42 minutes.
I dunno if it’s the *first* mythology episode. I think I’d say Becoming is, especially everything that Whistler says: “There are forces at work here to create a Slayer unlike any other,” etc.
It’s interesting to note, at least to me, who the First Slayer went after first. Who did she view as the biggest threat to the Slayer legacy? Willow.
I’d say it isn’t just a link from season 4 to 5, but from 1-4 to 5-7.
Pretty much everything significant that happens in the rest of the series is somehow foreshadowed in Restless, even if only subtly or in passing. It becomes a much more amazing episode once you’ve seen the other 66.
I think Restless represents the true loss of innocence of the series. It opened a door (several, actually) that now cannot be closed or even ignored. And it’s quite a ride from here.
The way you feel about Restless was what I felt the first time I saw it. Then I saw it again a little later and loved it. That being said I hope you enjoy an episode in Season 5 that I think is the best episode of TV ever. Time to hype stuff up again.
Just a quick note to say that on my part, “Restless” didn’t need to wait to be evaluated based on its foreshadowing elements. Yes, that’s brilliant, but I’m one of those who loved it from the first time I saw it. Perhaps I do “put it on a pedestal” but only because the only thing like it I had seen before was in Twin Peaks. Maybe I just didn’t see these other TV shows of the time that threw out prose and went for an episode of mostly poetry to illustrate some of the most rounded, realistic characters ever seen, and that’s why it made a huge impression on me.
Sorry it wasn’t as enjoyable for you, but appreciate your point of view. It’s a pretty harshly worded critique, but I suppose that’s in response to the level of “hype” you perceived before you watched, so fair enough.
Looking forward to future reviews.
I’m with Witnessaria. The visual poetry of the episode entranced me from first viewing and still does. Willow’s casually intimate transformation of Tara’s back into an artistic tapestry is a potent image in and of itself, even without knowing that the writing is a poem by Sappho, and a portentous one at that.
The episode is filled with these powerful images, with penumbras of meanings that can’t be totally articulated, only felt. Miss Kitty Fantastico looming toward the camera, the picture of force, menace and grace. A Joyce we’ve never known; sensual, alluring, wise, insightful. Xander and Buffy gazing into each other’s depths for what seems like centuries, while Giles and Spike swing ever higher. Buffy’s mysterious and liberating laughter breaking through Gile’s controlling trance. Tara practically flowing across the desert, a prophetess or goddess come to earth, intoning a rhapsody on death and destruction.
I could go on like this for paragraphs, and I haven’t even gotten into the contributions of the evocative, epic, mysterious, musical score. I’ve sometimes thought, while reading these essays, what it would do to my experience of the series to be analyzing an episode while I watch it. Thinking in terms of how well it lives up to the hype, advances the arc, expresses seasonal thematic concerns or stands successfully alone to a casual viewer. While I’ve enjoyed these analyses, and even been enlightened by them sometimes, I think the true power of a tone-poem like this, which slips through these categorical nets with ease when you immerse yourself in it, can’t be captured by this sort of approach.
Yup, I’m with you two (and I hadn’t seen Twin Peaks). I just loved it for its atmosphere, and for the fact that some of the dreams felt like my sort of dreams. (Though that doesn’t mean much; have you ever tried talking to other people about dreams? Other people’s are always kind of like yours and yet you know they could never be yours… it’s odd. Um, tangent.) I do prefer the more ambling, pointless early dreams to the more First-Slayer-focused stuff just because it gets to be more artsy, but I love the episode as a whole.
But it probably helped that I hadn’t had it hyped for me beforehand except for one friend telling me it was a bit special.
I loved “Restless” the first time through. But I’m sure my experience was very different from yours, Myles, as I was not watching it with an online community sitting alongside me saying “Wait until you see this one! It’s the best episode!” In fact, I watched the whole series by myself, totally unspoiled. I suspect it is hard watching some of these fan favorites without some high expectations and can imagine that it’s hard not to have those color your experience.
Yes, “Restless” has only improved for me after watching the rest of the series, but I found it a really strong, very fun, densely symbolic episode even when I didn’t know what everything meant or what was being foreshadowed.
As an example of that density, the words Willow is painting on Tara’s back at the beginning of Willow’s dream are in Greek and are the words of Sappho’s ‘Hymn to Aphrodite’. And it is written in capital letters, which honors the way the poetry was originally written.
So the subject of the poetry and it’s history is appropriate for Tara and Willow, and at the same time, in both form and content, it hints at the depth of the past for which we are bound later in the episode with the first slayer. It also shows an honoring of tradition or even an exploring pre-history. And the painting feels like a primitive ritual while utilizing classical content.
All this in what, my first time through, appeared to me to be just odd writing on Tara’s back, a way to make the scene more dreamlike.
That’s what I love about the episode, personally. It’s like a giant brain puzzle, except what you get when you solve a part of it is a far better emotional payoff than solving, say, a crossword.
That poem is not only appropriate in general for the couple, but it also cleverly foreshadows some pretty important character moments in S6.
I was just thinking about a review that I read a couple years ago that I remembered as having deconstructed the episode beautifully, and it turns out it was yours!
I just happened to be curious and click on your name and when I got to your site, I recognized the layout and POOF. Life’s funny sometimes.
That’s pretty funny, and thanks! What’s also amusing is that, despite how thorough that review is, there’s still new stuff to add to it that I’ve discovered since writing it. I’m close to doing one more clean-up run of my reviews to patch things up that I didn’t quite get right the first time around (like my terrible S1 reviews). I look forward to tacking on some additional insight onto that “Restless” review in particular. 🙂
Also, the content of the poem is in itself foreshadowing of coming events in the series.
Holy cow, I never realized. I’ve seen this ep probably a dozen times (or more) and there’s still new things to be discovered about it. I just went and read “Hymn to Aphrodite” and, yeah.
Especially the last verse.
The thing that makes this episode stand out, in my opinion, is it’s placement. I think it’s the fact that everyone was so underwhelmed by this season’s Big Bad and they expected the season to end with Adam being defeated in the last episode, that this was such a suprise. It gains merit just by Joss Whedon taking the risk of going a different direction. So, unlike your experience, most people had low expectations for the season finale.
Also, being 14 at the time, I thought the Cheese Man was hilarious.
I still love the cheese man. xD Maybe I’m not so mature.
I still love the cheese man, too. I detest the idea that a mature person could not possibly find the cheese man funny.
Wow, I think this is the first time that I have 100% disagreed with something you’ve had to say Myles.
I’m basically just going to lay out all the points here;
– Because the episode foreshadows the rest of the show, going back to it once you know everything that happens will make the journey that much greater.
– Also in general a second, third or even fourth time viewing will always be better than the first. I didn’t understand this episode at all when I first watched it but now it’s my very favourite.
– It is possible (Actually probable) that you didn’t pick up alot of the subtleties behind all the symbolism and metaphors and such (Since I’ve seen it 10+ times and I’m still picking up new meanings) as you failed to mention anything about Buffy’s dream and Dawn (Of whom I know you know exists) and its connection with both dreams Buffy shared with Faith (Graduation Day, This Year’s Girl). The number 7:30 on the clock (A call back to Faith’s comment; “Little miss muffet counting down from 7-3-0.”) and Tara’s comment “Oh that’s completely wrong.” Very, very important. Also, although you mentioned alot of things abot Xander’s dream you left out the most pivotal part – All roads lead to the basement.
– Tara and Willow didn’t kiss on screen because they were not allowed to by Network mandate/order thing. Joss gets them kissing eventually but it takes its time.
– The cheese man was designed to have no point because there is always something in your dreams that makes no sense.
– I actually prefer Buffy and Giles’ dreams more than the first two. Giles dilemma about what to do with his life and Buffy’s “slayer journey” as it were I think were phenomenal. My favourite part of the whole episode was when she’s in the initiative and the first Slayer’s standing behind her out of focus and buffy claims (Whilst talking to Adam); “We’re not demons.” This too will be very important later on.
– Even if you do have problems with its structure I’m surprised you didn’t mention anything about Joss’ writing and/or directing as well as the show’s ridiculously awesome visuals. I don’t want to overwhelm you with my fanboyness but Joss is one of the best writer/directors on TV and I think this episode proves it as well as any.
– Also, you failed to mention Christophe Beck’s awesome score. That scene where Buffy comes out into the desert and the camera pans out to show the scope of it (And Buffy’s tinyness – again very important. Also, insanely epic) has one of the best pieces of music from the show, IMO.
– The reason fans love this episode is because it delves further into the psyche of these characters than any episode before or since. Everything that has happened to them, is happening to him and will happen to them is layed out here (The, almost, very middle of the series) so in that sense it is the ultimate Willow ep, Xander Ep, Giles Ep and Buffy Ep all rolled up into one incredibly entertaining hour of TV.
– Seriously though, the episode’s visuals. Did no one but me notice how incredible they were???? Maybe I’m just watching it on a higher def TV or something like that.
Anyway Myles, I’ll let you off with your mean, slanderour remarks because I think anyone watching this for a first time will fail to see why it is so, so, so, so good and because it is so, so, so, so much better once you’ve seen the rest of the show. (In that sense, it’s a really badly made episode of TV. But only in that sense). Buffy is a show designed for the fan which, again, Restless proves more than any.
I didn’t read anyone elses comments before writing my own but now that I have I see that Mikejer has written pretty much exactly what I wrote only far more fluently. lol, oh well.
Something I meant to mention; “You think you know, what you are, what’s to come. You haven’t even begun.” – That pretty much sums up Season Five.
You lost me (and made me angry) when you called the First Slayer “this primal evil”. Seriously? Why is she evil? Because she dares to go after the infallible Scoobies? I really, really cannot believe that you called the First Slayer evil, not once but twice! And “generic threat”? Holy frickin’ cow.
“It is always different. It’s always complicated. And at some point someone has to draw the line and that is always going to be me. You-you get down on me for cutting myself off, but, in the end, the Slayer is always cut off. There’s no mystical guide book, no all knowing council. Human rules don’t apply. There’s only me. I am the law.” – Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer (who is not the only ‘the Slayer’ she speaks of here; the First Slayer is also ‘the Slayer’; what, because she’s not blonde with green eyes, you missed that?)
(Medium-term time lurker, first time poster.)
To be fair, Giles sings the phrase, “The spell we cast with Buffy must have released some primal evil. …Willow, look through the chronicles for some reference to a warrior beast,” so it’s not like Myles made up the term. Though he may not have caught that Giles quickly realized that he was utterly and completely wrong – “No, wait…”
I’m also a little taken aback that the review seems disappointed that the First Slayer didn’t stay undefined and unnamed. While I can’t recall my initial response to the episode, I imagine it was along the lines of “There’s a FIRST Slayer! And she didn’t have a Watcher! How did the line of Slayers get Watchers? What sort of yummy Slayer mythology awesomeness will happen in the coming season?!” That said, he’s certainly being a lot more reasonable than the commenters complaining that he’s wrong because he isn’t taking into account the stuff that hasn’t happened yet. We should wait to gleefully point out how terribly wrong he is when we get to the foreshadowed plot points. 😉
Now, I know a lot of us are disagreeing with Myles on this one, but let’s try to remember to be respectful of his perspective. He’s already said he’ll keep an open mind about the episode going forward. While some of us saw the beauty in “Restless” the first time, most of us had no clue what a lot of it meant. The first time I saw it I didn’t get hardly anything, and was only left really excited to start S5.
Let’s give poor Myles a breather here. Haha. I disagree with him quite a bit on this one, but that’s okay! 🙂
Also, let’s try to not quote important scenes that Myles has not yet seen. That quote should have a spoiler tag, imo.
I agree. I was kinda bummed to see that line quoted here, even though I referred to it obliquely in a comment on an earlier review.
It’s hard to know where the line is, but I’d say *anything* remotely substantial (quotes, plot, scenes, unexpected characters) from future episodes should be tagged as spoiler or avoided entirely.
“Anyway Myles, I’ll let you off with your mean, slanderour remarks because I think anyone watching this for a first time will fail to see why it is so, so, so, so good”
Oh wow. You act as if he’s personally offended you with his response to this episode. I believe both himself and the commentators have expressed reasonable justifications to their feelings.
I adore Restless and was slightly disappointed Myles’ didn’t share that same impression but I also find it refreshing that he didn’t because at least it opens up an discussion worth of differing viewpoints rather than one showered in complete unanimous praise. (and c’mon, there have been MANY of those)
It’s *really * not necessary to accuse the piece and his own opinion of being slanderous when it contains no noticeable intention of doing so.
Yeah I meant that as a joke. It obviously didn’t come off right because you can’t indicate inflection with the written word but I wasn’t actually annoyed, offended or anything. I was literally joking.
A tip, Morda: Generally a wink face helps with getting across a joke online. i.e. 😉
I was kind of worried after I wrote that because I read it again and saw it from that perspective.
So now that it’s confirmed that that was in fact the intention, completely disregard what I said. 😛
lol will do.
I can see how you thought I was being serious though. After writing it I re-read it and I was like, “huh. I hope people don’t take that the wrong way.” :P…Oh well.
Well, count me in as someone who has seen every episode of both shows multiple times, explored and examined all their intricacies, and still prefers “Hush” to “Restless.”
I think they are both brilliant, but in different ways, as described above. If I’m just considering these two episodes, in some moods I prefer “Hush,” in other moods “Restless.”
And I really like Shambleau’s description of “Restless” as a tone-poem.
I meant as others have described above.
Oh, I like the episode very much. I think it’s entertaining and a fascinating artistic piece. I just find myself puzzled by the sudden swooning people seem to fall into over the mere mention of it.
I rewatched “The Body” the other night, and I’d put that one above Restless as well as a showcase episode of the brilliance of “Buffy.”
So are there any episodes that do make you swoon? 😉
“Passion”, “Bad Girls”. Heck, there are bits of “I Robot, You Jane” I find swoon-worthy.
Swooning over an episode is such a personal thing. It’s the sheer number who swoon over “Restless” that gives me pause.
Yeah, I agree with you on “Passion”. I am blown away by that episode. I wasn’t trying to be snide, btw, I was really just curious if there were any episodes that you were affected by to the level of what you called swooning.
And I totally agree about it being a personal thing. Some episodes/scenes/whatever resonate more for some people and not others.
I remember thinking “I Robot You Jane” was really weak when I watched it the first time through, but on rewatches I’ve found it to be a decent episode with some good moments and not worthy of the hate it gets. So that’s me outside the fandom’s consensus.
I Robot, You Jane is a fairly weak episode if you take the whole canon into account. On the other hand, the Giles-Jenny debate in that episode inspired my BtVS website. So you just never know.
When Oz and Tara are sitting next to each other in the classroom and Oz turns to look at Willow I felt that his facial expression was oddly similar to that of David Boreanaz.
I love the way that Tony Head says patient Fox.
Also, don’t bleed on my couch because I just had it steamed cleaned.
“It’s like a Greek tragedy. If only we were Greeks.”
So many sublte things going on in that classroom. Oz and Tara talking to each other would set fire to so many of Willow’s insecurities.
Interesting analysis–I would say, though, that perhaps part of your response is due more to the expectations heaped upon this episode than to the merits of the show itself. I have noticed many commentators pointing to this ep. as the best of the season if not of the series. How could any show live up to this kind of hype? For an un-Buffy example, I recall finally seeing “Casablanca” as a young teen after years of hearing about what a great movie it was. My response then was along the lines of “That was it?” Over the years however, I have grown to love it with a passion.
Has anyone else experienced this?
For me Casablanca was really hard to get into. I had to watch it for a class. One of my friends explained stuff for me and then I was able to get into it. You could say the same for Buffy for most people (you need to at least watch the first 2 seasons before it starts to get good…)
I still haven’t watched Casablanca for exactly this reason – I fear there is no way it could live up to its cultural status. Have had that problem with other ‘classic’ films too…
It depends on the particular classic; some of them age better than others. But I know what you mean. Citizen Kane is a prime example; it felt so incredibly self-important and full of itself. On the other hand, Casablanca didn’t feel that way at all.
Casablanca has quite a number of quotable lines that are still part of popular culture. It’s worth seeing just to get the context. And you might like it; it really is a good movie, in spite of what people say about it!
Thanks – I’ll have to try it someday. Catching up on things you missed when you were at the right stage for them is fraught with problems, though – some friends of mine discovered I had never watched Dirty Dancing last week and decided to force me to watch it. I’m not sure they appreciated me mocking it as I watched… *coughs*
Hype is always going to be an issue when one is “catching up.” I didn’t watch Buffy on its original run, so I definitely experienced some of that. But what’s amazing about the show is how much it *does* live up to the hype.
What’s interesting about “Casablanca” is that if you see any documentaries on the making of it (or read about it), it wasn’t *meant* to be a “classic” at all. I think that’s one reason it stands up better to other classics like “Citizen Kane” (mentioned below by Diane), because it wasn’t trying to be more than a good yarn about the war.
I feel that way about Blade Runner. I’m a huge sci-fi geek (as I’m sure we all are) and that movie just really doesn’t do it for me. I was probably 23 or 24 when I saw it and after a whole lot of “OMG greatest sci-fi movie evar all should be judged by this!” etc., I was just, kinda, huh. Okay. That was… sort of lame.
Of course, I also saw it immediately after having read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and that book BLEW MY MIND. I felt like the movie really missed the point.
Just out of interest, original or directors cut? I was pretty ‘meh’ about Blade Runner when I first saw it, but a few years later I watched the directors cut and it was so much better. Then again I’ve never read the book.
I’m pretty sure it was the director’s cut but it’s honestly been a little while. I dunno that it would make that much difference, though. The book is really just miles better. I’d explain why, but it would be really long, and I don’t want to threadjack.
I just have to say this because I think I definitely in the minority here because I think I liked this episode because of how it showed how far the characters had come. I don’t think it was mere fan service with Snyder and Xander. Snyder always told the kids they would never amount to much and that they were hooligans. This is most relevant for Xander who is holding done odd jobs now, didn’t go to college and is stuck in the basement.
Most of the best comments have been already been made.
As I’ve said before, as a critic I ake a good historian, so I never had a word for the change of pace once we get Giles’s and especially Buffy’s dreams. Now that I have one, I tend to think it was dleiberate, to show the different way they were dealign with it.
I wonder; if Buffy’d lost in her dream, would her hands have been cut off? Would she have died, or awakened to find herself “alone” in the room?
Your comment that the Cheese Man went too far shows you understood why he was there!
A lot of the foreshadowing was deliberate as will become obvious soon, but I’m convinced soem of it is “fauxshadowing.” MEaning, Joss came up with ideas over his keyboard and thought, “Hey, this’ll look cool in a dreamscape” and threw it in, then later went back to the episode to mine story ideas.
“Would never have thought to use the words “lack of social prowess” to describe Anya but it’s beautiful. And I think you menat Willow was shy @ 16; Joyce was the *sly* one at that age, apparently :-).
I’m not sure about certain guest stars beign there for “fan service;” Xander’s dream needed a direct Apoclaypse Now reference and Snyder was the most logical choice. As to Harmony, they needed a milkmaid, and also she confronted Willow directly about stepping on her cues. In “Graduation Day” and “harsh Light of Day,” it was made clear Willow and Harmony were personal, individual enemies in a way that went beyond the fashionsitas vs. nerds thing, so she’s the logical choice.
Pseudo-spoiler: Topping drew attention to the milkmaid crying over Xander’s salesman so bitterly and wondered about it. Joss never did naythign with ti so I gave them a very explicit het-slash scene in one of my fics :-).
… to Harmony, they needed a milkmaid…”
I guess I missed that.
Why did they need a milkmaid?
I couldn’t agree more. I think a lot of the “foreshadowing” in Restless is actually kinda generic and vague, so that after watching the next few seasons you can go back and “fill in”. I *don’t* think it was some big detailed complex plan.
It’s a great episode for delving into our core characters’ psyches and seeing how far they’ve come in the past four years. I don’t think there’s nearly as much there that looks towards the future.
I don’t think you need to be psychic to like Restless on the first time, Myles. Of course knowing about all the foreshadowing stuff in the episode helps to appreciate the episode, but it’s not necessary. I, for one, loved the episode from the first time even though I didn’t understand all the elements in it.
I’ve been glad that you have liked season 4 as much as I have for the exact same reasons as I have. The big bad arc wasn’t good but I’m glad you understood it wasn’t the point of the season. I was hoping that you would have loved Restless, so that our opinion of the season would have been exactly the same. Oh well, you can’t have everything. The thing I disagree with your Restless review is the monster-of-the-week thing. I never thought the episode “devolved” into MOTW episode towards the end. Both Giles’ and Buffy’s dreams are thoroughly about the characters with the first slayer stuff was still very minimal. Even when Giles was explaining what was going on, the scene was all about Giles’ character. He was singing the exposition, which conveyed the fact how Giles is struggling with the elements of his life – whether to be a rock star or a watcher or a dad. A sort of a mid-life crisis.
I would also like the point out the most revealing line of the episode: “I’m beginning to understand this now – it’s all about the journey isn’t it!” Yes it’s all about the journey – the journey through these characters minds. It’s not about the destination(the first slayer revelation) but the journey(character stuff).
Nice work Myles. Despite so many telling you how bad Season 4 was (expect more comments like those from here on out), you watched it and I enjoyed your take on it.
And despite all the “just wait ’til you see the amazing “xyz” episode” type posts, you just gave us your view.
Like many others, I also disagree with some of your points on Restless but I’m not sure how I felt about it after one viewing ten (YIKES!) years ago.
Looking forward to Season 5.
(Don’t know how much of this has already been said, btw. Don’t have time to read 100 comments but still have my $.02.)
A point about significant people–apparently when this episode was first “broken”, Angel and Cordelia did feature rather prominently, in the back-to-high-school scenes as well as the more “prophetic” sequences. However, due to scheduling conflicts with Angel filming, Angel was replaced by Tara and Cordelia by Harmony.
I think a lot of people (myself included) feel like Season 4 was disrespectful of some of the characters, especially Giles & Xander, so even an MotW in which their personal issues were explored was preferable to yet another relegation to comic relief. Also in retrospect it is a turning point to the series, but I personally enjoyed it very much the first time around. However, I wasn’t really anticipating it–I think your expectations are too high for “fan-favorite” episodes.
Also, technically the episode is very interesting because there are lots of continuous shots going from room to room, simply because you could just open a door in Spike’s crypt and end up in the Bronze on the actual Buffy sets. It really is the little things that make this episode, you probably just had been set up to look for something a lot bigger.
I’m responding here before reading over a hundred comments, so my apologies if I repeat points already made.
It also features the most impressive bit of aesthetic work in the episode for me, capturing Xander’s aimless existence by having every door lead to a different set, sending him on a journey through the soundstage which gives visual weight to a psychological struggle.
Xander’s dream is a highpoint, I agree, but the key point is that every way out returns him to his parents’ basement. It’s not just that his existence is aimless, but that there seems to be no escape. Even Snyder recaps his need for adequate parenting in the “Apocalypse Now” sequence – and his interaction with Dream!Joyce does that too. Xander is trapped in his high school persona, even more than the other Scoobies, who have all encountered significant change in their lives.
when they wake up from their dreams and debrief about their experience we end on the cheese slice punchline instead of the contexts of their dreams which spoke only to them.
Except that the Cheese Man is the only consistent figure in all four dreams – the fact that they all encountered him links those dreams and gives them added weight – as prophecy and as commentary – even while the figure himself is deliberately meaningless.
By clearly defining the primal evil which chased each person, and by shifting the story towards stopping that external force, Whedon’s script loses its abstract qualities and becomes linear in a way which makes it less successful as a denouement and less successful as a launching pad for a fifth season.
Hmm. The First Slayer is far from being Primal Evil, IMO. She is a reminder of the roots of Slayer power and of duty, and also, by attacking the group, a reminder of how important it has been for Buffy to have that core of supporters. As Spike comments way back in School Hard, a Slayer with friends and family certainly wasn’t in the brochure!
Not to speculate, as I am sure you’ll all have plenty to say, but I think a lot of the love for the episode, as Noel Murray notes in his review, might come from the fact that it feels like a return to the core group and their core issues – however, I never really felt like they got entirely lost in the fourth season, and so that sense of “return” wasn’t as potent for me.
That was never an issue for me – after all, Primeval united them pretty firmly, and the dreams feature a huge cast of others. No, I think I love it more in retrospect than I did on first viewing, because so many themes at the core of the remaining three seasons are explored here. And not in a linear way, either!
# Always nice to see former guest stars return, but there is a difference between meaningful (Oz in Willow’s dream) and fan service (Principal Snyder, Harmoney); this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the latter, but they’re two different modes of recall.
Hmmm. Snyder represents the past that Xander fears he is trapped in, like other minor characters we’ve met for whom Senior Year was the high point of their lives. This is Xander’s greatest fear – he is inadequate when set against his friends (The French sequence is particularly telling in that respect), his sexual experiences, his future, or rather his fear that he will not have one. Harmony is the nuisance – her role in “Death of a Salesman” perfectly echoes her inadequacies as a vampire.
I know it makes sense that Spike and Anya remain secondary here, with Anya largely constrained to Xander’s dream and Spike a recurring bit player in all of them, but I wish that they could have done something to indicate their growing prominence. This is obviously an episode focused on the core group, but part of the season’s development was how that group is expanding, and so their lesser roles still bug a bit (especially since Tara, who is important but newer, has a more prominent role in the dreams).
Tara is an essential part of Willow’s life now, so her role is hardly surprising. Spike is more important in terms of foreshadowing – the swings sequence comes good a third of the way through S6. At this point he is less important in the minds of the Scoobies. Anya is barely integrated into the group yet – she is the girl who ran away from the apocalypse, after all.
An interesting first viewing analysis, Myles. Like many others, I suspect, I think you will feel the need to rewatch later, when you will recognise more of the complexity. The “counting down from 7-3-0” is in there, BTW.
I love the later seasons even more than the earlier seasons – S4 is transitional for me in that way too. I look forward to seeing your take on them!
Myles: I think the “7-3-O” reference ties into Tara’s “That clock is totally wrong.” (and as one of her hard-core fans, I can’t help thinking she was subconsiously aware of what was happening with her lover and friends, & she had partial control -maybe about 30%- of the actions of herself as she appeared in their dreams *grin)
Definitely, Xander’s moves were a Janus-faced process; he never ended up in the room he thought he was going into, but ended up in the basement anyhow.
I agree Aly doens’t seem to age fast; I have 4 seasons of HIMYM and the only thing that “looks 36” about her is the skin on her neck. Charisma ages even slower and I still say Cordelia should have been Vocus the Voice in the enjoining spell. (And this is first I’ve heard that it was seriously considered bringing her and David in for this.)
diane: I don’t think what happened in “Becoming” led to a pay-off in S-7, justa second avoidance of the issue. (I dealt with that also in the fic I mentioned *grin.)
Eldritch: well the milkmaid did have a line in the opening scene. And they ahd a cowboy and a flapper, so a milkmaid is the natural third part of that set, right? Right?
voluntarymanslaughter mothergunn; I don’t think the (admittedly absurd) lack of Hispanic presence in the high school ties directly into the French-language scene. Presumably Xander also studied French* in high school like Buffy and Willow; as was shown in “Beer Bad,” he didn’t retian as much. And French is a natural choice for Giles and Anya to be speaking, given their Euro-ish backstory.
In connection with a discussion at whedonesque, I’ve been thinking about this lately. (A Hispanic female psoter there said it wouldn’t have chanegd Cordelia’s story arc if her name we3re Chavez instead of Chase.) I’ve heard Bianca Lawson was actually ahead of Charisma in the roiginal casting for Cordelia, but a prior obligation began filming and she had to drop out. Given that, and given that Charisma can play Hispanics (altho she never has) I wonder if Joss considered changing that.
* I’ve often wondered why Xander was in College Prep courses in high school anyway. Okay, in a suburban-ish high school like Sunnydale Vo-Tech wouldn’t be a choice because it’s seen as reform school (I grew up in a rural area where it wasn’t) but wouldn’t they have a Commercial section, typing shorthand, business math, bookeeping?
“Eldritch: well the milkmaid did have a line in the opening scene. And they ahd a cowboy and a flapper, so a milkmaid is the natural third part of that set, right? Right?”
Uh, sure. Whatever you say. And besides, the cowboy was such a gentleman to offer to hold her milk pails, right?
“Men! And your… sales.”
I love Buffy’s rant in this scene. It makes me giggle every time.
I dig that Giles and Anya are Euro but it’s Xander’s dream. I’m not trying to logically argue against the presence of French (how could one logically argue anything with regards to this ep?), it just kinda bugs me sometimes that the Buffyverse is so whitewashed. Sunnydale I can dig, I always imagined it to be located somewhere in the Silicon Valley / Orange County regions. But LA? A city that’s *maybe* 40% Caucasian? And Angel hangs out with a whole bunch of white people and one black guy? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
voluntarymanslaughter, you mentioned earlier that Gunn’s culture is very misrepresented. This is so terrifyingly true. One use of “Gangsta’s Paradise” does not a thug make.
Suunydale is roughly about as far away from LA Proper as its model, Santa Barbara.
And as a Cream Of the Jest aspect to this, the French-language scene needed to be re-dubbed and Tony wasn’t available so Joss gave the lines to his tri-lingual Personal Assistant…Diego Gutierrez.
(Egotistical post follows: French can be useful in writing English. I once had a friend of mine who’s Quebecois translate a line from an old porno so I could have Tara compliment Willow’s tetons in in a fic.)
Suunydale is roughly about as far away from LA Proper as its model, Santa Barbara.”
I live about 40 miles from Santa Barbara. Nearly everything the series says about Sunnydale is pretty much consistent with Santa Barbara. The distance from LA, the establishment shots of the city that you often see look like the Santa Barbara area, the architecture, the view of the coastline from the hills, even the city map shown in one episode closely resembles the actual city.
Of course, they took a number of liberties. There’s no major state university there, no deep water sea port, no big military base, and no Dracula’s castle. The mansion that Angel lived in in seasons two and three is actually in LA. And of course, there’s no hellmouth. And while Buffy can pretty much easily walk anywhere in town she needs to go, you actually need a car like most places.
It’s kinda of an expensive place to live, but it’s a lovely town.
Here beginneth the sermon in the desert of the first slayer. We shall read from the book of unlikely symbolism and we’ll sing the gospel of overreaching interpretation. Lastly shall we shun the non-believers and fanatically defend the works of god, Joss Whedon. Amen.
And lo, the First Slayer was beholden to the Old Black Guys, who were unto us a symbol that the color of the skin does not matter, for they were identical with the Old White Guys who have been our enemies from time immemorial, or at least since the emergence of the postmodern feminist socially-conscious upper-middle-class liberals.
And the First Slayer was in unaccountably hideous makeup, but our Heroine cared not, for she was blonde as the desert sun and her lip gloss gleamed with the sparkle of diamonds. And once again our Heroine cast aside rules that had existed for thousands of years, possibly with very good reason, and yet she suffered not. For Our Lord Joss has decreed that The System Is Always A Bad Thing.
Here endeth the lesson.
And the gays. Don’t forget the gays.
Man, you guys are making me laugh until the tears come out. Fantastic.
Heh. Yeah. Here is about where the Messages of Buffy start getting on my nerves a bit. Middle-aged white men = symbol of repression and evil. Well, unless they’re Giles, because he only does that on his days off.
I sometimes feel like Magic Bullet has more real feminism than the whole of Buffy s7. But then Angel s5 comes along and I am unable to defend anything along these lines, so… whatever.
Myles, I hope we haven’t put you off (I just noticed that you haven’t commented in a while). While I may not agree with your review of this particular ep, I still think you are an intelligent and good critic and I’ll still be reading this project. Actually, I’m looking forward to what you have to say about the last 3 seasons because here is where we (the fans) start to disagree as to what constitutes “good” and “bad” Buffy. I’m firmly for the second half of the series, myself, and this is where I feel it starts to get really good.
I look forward to disagreeing with you in the future!
“Myles, I hope we haven’t put you off.”
-Myles mentioned that he was going to take a Buffy/Angel breather until the weekend, so that’s probably why he’s not commenting much right now. After the onslaught of disagreement with his review, I can’t blame him for wanting to step away for a moment.
“[T]his is where I feel it starts to get really good.”
“I look forward to disagreeing with you in the future!”
Awesome line. lol
I read your analysis, btw, and it was really amazing. You read way deeper into Willow’s dream than I had but I totally agree.
You know, with the thing. And that other thing 😉
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[“It’s an interesting idea, but once the episode’s narrative shifts from abstract dreamscapes to a direct effort to defeat this primal evil I feel like it loses its momentum.”]
The First Slayer was not a primal evil. You wrote this article in 2010. Surely you must have known this when you wrote it.
(I warn you, this is VERY long, but please at least see what I have to say)
I completely disagree with you on this episode… The structure, in my opinion, is flawless. It most certainly wasn’t a monster-of-the-week episode. The First Slayer set the stage for Buffy’s growing interest in her slayer heritage. This episode is vital to Buffy’s character and the series itself. Willow and Xander’s dream didn’t really include much of the first slayer simply because Buffy’s slayer heritage was not as big of an influence on them as it was on Buffy and Giles. Giles’s and Buffy’s dreams were not trying to close off the story as you pointed out. Their dreams merely brought out the first slayer because of the reasons I just pointed out to you earlier.
“When we eventually get to Buffy, it doesn’t feel like a trip into her mind anymore, and when they wake up from their dreams and debrief about their experience we end on the cheese slice punchline instead of the contexts of their dreams which spoke only to them.”
If the characters had debriefed about their experiences in the dreams, they would have been revealing very personal secrets about themselves. The reason they didn’t share their dreams is the same reason they grow apart from season 6 onward…
In what way doesn’t it seem like a trip into her mind anymore? The reason Buffy met the First Slayer in the desert dreamscape is because of Buffy’s growing interest in her slayer heritage. In this sequence Buffy says “I’m never gonna find them here” and then Tara (speaking for the First Slayer) responds, “Of course not. That’s not the reason you came.” This brilliantly conveys what’s in the back of Buffy’s mind. The reason she came to that desert-scape was to get away from her friends so she could she explore what it means to be the slayer. That’s the importance the First Slayer serves in this episode. She’s not a monster of the week but an excellent way to delve into the back of Buffy’s mind and set the stage for Buffy’s arc throughout season five, ultimately summating into the events of “The Gift”.
“However, even then, dream sequences are hardly a new idea in television, and the show has used them in the past, so I guess I’m struggling with why the episode has been placed on a pedestal.”
An idea doesn’t have to be original for it to be good, it merely has to be well executed. The brilliance of this episode doesn’t lie in it’s structure or format (which I still think are excellent) but in its deep complex exploration into the core four characters.
“And while “Restless” starts with a pure character piece and devolves into a “Monster of the Week” storyline…”
Like I said before, it doesn’t devolve into a monster of the week storyline. The First Slayer represents the overall nature of the slayer heritage, which serves more importance to Giles’s character than Xander’s or Willow’s characters and serves the most importance to Buffy’s character. This episode was set up so that it started with the dreams of the characters who had the least amount of connection to the essence of the slayer (Willow and Xander’s dreams) and then went to the dream of a character with more of a connection to the essence of the slayer (Giles, the watcher’s dream) and then went to the slayer herself (Buffy’s dream). While following this format, it began to uncover the mysteries of the “monster” that was attacking them (effectively weaving plot and character development together). It then ended with Buffy fighting the First Slayer. This fight shows that Buffy, although she is very curious about her slayer heritage and has some desire to embrace it, is not quite ready (and never really is) to abandon her friends.
If this episode had followed the format you suggested (exploring the characters without, or without much of, the presence of the First Slayer, if I understand you correctly), it would not have retained any coherence whatsoever. It would have been divided into four different parts, thereby failing to show the one thing that connected all of the characters to: Buffy’s slayer heritage or “slayerness” as I like to put it.
I apologize if this is too long, I felt the strong need to defend this episode as it is, in my opinion, the best episode of the series. 🙂
Oh and there’s a website that explains it better than me: http://www.criticallytouched.com/buffy/4x22_restless.php
“Not to speculate, as I am sure you’ll all have plenty to say, but I think a lot of the love for the episode, as Noel Murray notes in his review, might come from the fact that it feels like a return to the core group and their core issues – however, I never really felt like they got entirely lost in the fourth season, and so that sense of “return” wasn’t as potent for me.”
I disagree… Buffy got caught up with Riley, Giles just stayed at home, Willow mostly stayed with Tara, and Xander wasn’t in college with them and was with Anya quite a bit… Also, the love doesn’t stem from that… Like I said in my earlier post, the reason this episode is so highly acclaimed is because of how deeply it delves into the core four characters.
“Sharing Noel’s concern, not seeing Willow and Tara kiss is a bit copout – sure, perhaps Whedon didn’t want to cheapen their first on-screen kiss by having it be in a dream sequence, but it actually feels more cheaply exploitative when it’s just implied.”
Warner Bros didn’t allow Whedon to show a lesbian kiss until “The Body”, and even then, it took a lot of convincing.
“Always nice to see former guest stars return, but there is a difference between meaningful (Oz in Willow’s dream) and fan service (Principal Snyder, Harmoney); this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the latter, but they’re two different modes of recall”
Again, I disagree. Oz was a very important person in Willow’s life and served a lot of importance in her dream. I saw nothing wrong with Principal Snyder’s appearance in this episode. It didn’t detract from the over-all quality of the episode did it? I think not. And Harmony represented the cliched blond damsel in distress. So she served some significance to this episode as it demonstrates who Riley wants Buffy to be.
“I know it makes sense that Spike and Anya remain secondary here, with Anya largely constrained to Xander’s dream and Spike a recurring bit player in all of them, but I wish that they could have done something to indicate their growing prominence. This is obviously an episode focused on the core group, but part of the season’s development was how that group is expanding, and so their lesser roles still bug a bit (especially since Tara, who is important but newer, has a more prominent role in the dreams).”
I thought Anya and Spike got plenty of time in this episode. And they delved into Tara’s character no more than they delved into Anya and Spike’s characters.
“Without spoiling it for those without this knowledge, was surprised to see that the hint dropped in the Faith/Buffy bedmaking sequence in “This Year’s Girl” was absent from this bedmaking scene.”
Did you just miss the scene in the bedroom with Buffy and Tara? That entire scene was a reference to the dream sequence in “This Year’s Girl”, especially when Tara says, “Be back before Dawn.”
Okay… NOW I’m done… 🙂
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The way this episode worked when it was first aired – I got a sense it was foreshadowing many things (as well as the callbacks), so I tried to remember as much of it as I could.
When each thing played out in the seasons to come (and this is not just the next season, but the two after as well!), I sometimes would remember this episode. So do try to work beyond the initial disbelief and disappointment from no doubt having seen the praise heaped on it, it’s worth it.
Finally, rewatching it after watching the entire series – well worth it. Some gulp moments in there 😦
I never got the cheese man. That’s the idea!
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