Restless
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: May 23, 2000

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99/100 – I’m just going to put a score here because this one will be long and if you don’t care about words and only points, there it is, right up top for you. Usually I do a six paragraph/three image structure with a score and then random notes at the bottom. This time? Not so much. There is simply too much to unpack. So, sorry if this is long. Not really, though. This is one of the best episodes of the series so it deserves the attention. Ready? No? Too bad, here we go.

Let’s start out by saying that this episode marks the halfway point of the show in regards to many things. It falls right in the middle of the series and although it isn’t the literal half-way point, it IS a stop and re-examine point for the whole show as well as a look forward to many things to come. But we’ll get to that as we roll, here. At the start of the episode we do away with the need for superfluous characters; Riley, Anya, and Tara. Riley needs to get debriefed so he’s outta here (after FINALLY meeting Buffy’s mom! Man, I’ve missed her this season) and Anya and Tara aren’t full-fledged characters yet, so their further development isn’t necessary. Having said this, we gain some insight into how they are viewed by others, but not much. No, this episode focuses on our core cast of characters: Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles. They sit down to watch some movies and eat some popcorn after their harrowing defeat of Adam and immediately pass the fuck out in a great, comical moment of honest humanity. And then its on.

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The dream sequences in this episode could each get reviewed as their own full-length post, but I’m going to try and fail to be succinct and to-the-point as it is, so we’ll just dive right in to each one in chronological order. But before I begin, the important thing to note is that these dreams are all connected to one another, something I see a lot of reviewers miss. If something doesn’t make sense in one dream, its because its bleeding in to someone else’s. Examine how many things impact Willow’s dream from outside influence and then Buffy’s, where there is only her. Something to think about.

WILLOW:
Willow’s dream is a solid exercise in symbolism, mostly about how she views herself and the changes she’s gone though. In all of the dreams the characters are chased by something (being the First Slayer’s essence in Buffy, but we’ll get there) and it starts to be described by Tara, who we find out later is acting as the essence’s voice. Up to this point in the series, Tara has been slightly mysterious, messing up spells, being wierded out by certain aspects of her new friends’ lifestyles, etc. So she’s a natural choice for being the dream’s narrator. Then its immediately off to a play that Willow is in right away at the first session of her Drama class (taught by Giles, no less). We encounter Oz, Xander, Buffy, Giles, and Riley here. As well as Harmony for some reason! Everyone is on point. Oz and Xander exist together as the two men she’s loved before (Oz says he’s been there for a long time and Xander is, well Xander) and then there’s Buffy and Riley.

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Riley is so excited to be “Cowboy Guy” in “Death of a Salesman” (there is no Cowboy, if you didn’t know) and while this would be easy to assume is Willow’s view of him being a meat-headed soldier excited to play cowboys and Indians, it is safe to assume this is everyone’s view of him, compacted into one. Examine how happy he his to deliver his lines about helping a woman in distress and the bravado he displays. Its clear that at least a few of these people don’t view him as seriously being a real Scoobie, just playing pretend. And Buffy? She is incredibly prepared for her part: she’s in costume, she’s got her lines down, and she’s excited. But Willow shows up “in character” and Buffy’s confidence shatters. This, I think, is a combination of Willow and Buffy’s views of the latter at this point: fully equipped but not sure enough of herself to step up to bat.

Then the dream takes a turn and Willow is in a classroom and Buffy asks why she’s still on costume. This comes across like a standard “showing up to class naked” dream, but after Buffy tears Willow’s clothes off she’s still dressed: under her current haircut and perky clothing was Season 1 Willow, hiding in plain sight. She’s back to nerdy, dorky Willow, giving a report on “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” rather than spunky, blossoming lesbian witch. No one cares, either. And this is where it’s ALL Willow’s view of herself. She’s scared that her new persona is just a costume covering the weak person she views her younger self as. And it is this fear that the First Slayer uses against her, jumping on the unsuspecting girl and begins to kill her, jumping out of the dream to show her dying in her sleep.

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XANDER:
My favorite of the bunch from so many standpoints: the symbolism, the cinematography, the visuals and camera work, everything. Its also one of the actor’s best sequences in the entire series. As seen in previous episodes, Xander feels less sure of himself than the rest, at least visibly and/or vocally. This rings through every last aspect of his dream sequence. Immediately his ability to even hold his dick and piss is called into question by Buffy who asks if he needs help. Xander “has a system” and goes upstairs where he meets Joyce. A seductive, funny, and awkward sequence plays out for comedy, mostly, but it also shows how unsure he is of himself – you’ll note that he looks uncomfortable and leaves the situation without doing anything. And what happens? He gets performance anxiety as soon as he sees a bunch of Initiative white-coats watching him urinate. Its hilarious.

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Frequently, this dream takes Xander back to his own “apartment” in his parents’ basement where he his tormented by a banging from the door to the upstairs. This is the center of his life, a life of uncertainty and a lack of forward progress. The slamming of the door upstairs can be viewed as a few things. But mostly it is “life” – real life is out there and he’s scared and trapped, mostly by his own decisions. We even see how some of these decisions effect him, outright. First, his interaction with Giles and Spike on the swingset: Giles is teaching Spike to be a Watcher (to whom gravity apparently doesn’t apply!) and Xander seems slightly miffed about his father figure no longer taking an active interest in him, though he at least admits its his own doing. He also spies Buffy in a sandbox that appears larger than it could be after initial viewing. He says he’s going places and Buffy says she’s way ahead of him. Willow says this too, later. Xander feels so much further behind because he didn’t go to college, but he’s starting a life and he’s ahead of his friends in that regard. This sequence is him reconciling his two lives – what is expected of him and what he wants. Who expects it? His friends? Family? Himself? Anya? It doesn’t matter. These two conflicting views of a status quo for Xander is the heart of his internal struggle.

In the ice cream truck Xander confronts this best against the competing attention grabbers of Anya and Willow+Tara (is Tara the voice of The First Slayer, here? I think so, as is Willow. Notice they both are against him while the others are either on his side or neutral). Its a battle of “Adult Wants” and “Immature Wants” – Anya can’t do anything on her own, or not completely. She thinks she can steer a vehicle by gesticulating wildly for God’s sake. This is Xander’s – and likely everyone else’s, given the next dream – view of her, subtly squeezed in. She relies on him just like he views her as support. Willow and Tara make sexy-times in the back and Xander wants in, but he doesn’t feel like he should. Anya, here, I think is part of the First Slayer, as well as Tara. Destroying the strength of the character is how it can kill them, and Xander is far more mature and collected than he thinks. When he falls for this one, a few other moments play out: he can’t understand French and thus misses a conversation, he has to run past a dying Willow in Giles’ house, and he fails an interaction with his yelling, screaming father. Then he gets attacked. The First Slayer uses this entire dream, like Willow’s, to pry at a weakness, and it does so very efficiently.

The only part of this dream that seems to not go the First Slayer’s way is the “Apocalypse Now!” segment with Snyder. Here it underestimates him by presenting an authority figure he didn’t respect or fear at all. Snyder tries to get under Xander’s skin but he dismisses all of it by making jokes, insulting the dead man, and suggesting he needs to move on because something that is actually scary is coming to get him. Its an awesome juxtaposition that cements my position on how this dream world works and how the First Slayer makes her move.

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GILES:
The shortest, most concise dream belongs to the ex-Watcher. Its mostly a tale of him failing as a father figure, a boyfriend, a Watcher, and as a jobless person. That’s really it. Its got some of the best single moments in it (Anya’s bad jokes, the warning song to Buffy, Buffy sucking at a carnival game being indicative of his view of her skills since he’s no longer training her or her Watcher, etc.) but the most interesting thing about this one is that The First Slayer already has him beat. As we learn, here, the essence of the First Slayer is attacking them for messing with the purpose and the power of the Slayer at its core: it fights alone, it has no friends. It is death in all meanings. Giles didn’t see this coming though he should have. Notice how he starts piecing things together right away by recognizing the First Slayer when Buffy’s face is covered in mud.

The only purpose of Giles dream is that the First Slayer is actively trying to discourage and show Giles how stupid he’s been. His final lines about beating it with his intellect and how it never had a Watcher are telling: he knows his words are a mere bluff, he knows he failed to stop this by not seeing it coming. And he knows there is very little he can do to save himself. He doomed them all. Think about when he figures it out: he is sitting with Willow and Xander, the others that have already been taken out of the picture, and they are aware of the issue, too. In their dreams, no one knew anything. Giles recognizes he lost the moment he goes up to sing. The First Slayer is acting completely out of spite. To kick him while he’s down. And its awesome.

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BUFFY:
And the final dream goes to the one that’s had dreams before. And that’s where we start, in the bedroom she and Faith have made up in the past, only now Tara is present instead. Clocks, “before Dawn”, and “you have no idea blah blah” are all thrown around and Buffy is confused. But she takes it in stride. She knows she needs to find her friends and, since they have been picked off one-by-one, they are nowhere to be found. The only people left are Anya, Joyce, and Riley. Anya shows up in Willow’s spot because of a few things, but mostly because SOMEONE has to be in that bed and there is no Willow. It creates confusion for the viewer as well as confusion for Buffy. Its a subtle fourth-wall break that I really appreciate. Speaking of broken walls, Joyce is stuck in one. This is a really easy sign of The First Slayer showing her how stuff holds her back – her mom is stuck watching from a hole in the wall where she shrugs of discomfort and says “all is well” – Buffy could break her out easily, but doesn’t. You could easily view this one of two ways: one being that Buffy ignores her mother or the other being that Buffy doesn’t need to look after her mother because she is part of her very foundation. She always knows where she is and that she’s almost literally “safe as houses” – I prefer the latter, since – for once – the First Slayer isn’t trying to kill anyone, but prove a point, and this fits in with my interpretation.

This point is further driven home in the next sequence with Riley and a pre-cyborg Adam. This entire sequence is the First Slayer deconstructing Riley and her need for him in her life. You’ll note that I say this is the First Slayer’s doing, when previously I’ve said that the dreams were people’s views on characters and events. This is because in the act of taking each member of the team out of the shared dream space, the First Slayer has more control. Notice how Giles and Buffy’s dreams are less metaphorical or symbolic and absurdist and more ‘on-the-nose’? This is because they have less control than the others. But what about Riley? He’s seen as secretive, authoritative, and in collusion with the enemy. Adam is shown as a human to signify that they are both made of the same stuff, even though Adam mentions that his strength comes from something outside of human ability, same as Buffy, which we learn MUCH later is because of the Slayer’s origin eons ago.

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When an alarm goes off, Buffy wants to search for weapons in her bag, but only finds mud. The boys talk of making a pillow fort, clearing “playing at war” while Buffy smears the stuff on her face, much like her appearance in Giles’ dream. This stuff is planted in her bag to show that the only weapon a Slayer needs is her primal urges, the Slayer essence. This is why putting it on transports her to the desert, the giant sandbox from Xander’s dream. This is where the primal essence of the First Slayer lives, as explained by its ‘voice’, Tara. It can’t speak, it just wants to show. And here we get to the root of her dream sequence: The First Slayer doesn’t want to kill Buffy… notice how it stands and stares when presented? It wanted to take her friends away, take away the things that defile the nature of the Slayer, and show her that she doesn’t need them. Its only after Buffy rejects this that we get the fight (that reduces the perfect score by one point due to stupid, unnecessary slow motion) and its through fighting it that she realizes the way to defeat it.

The way to stop the Slayer Nature and keep it from killing her is to do what she’s always done: Ignore it.

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The rest of the team wakes up and they lament the situation they were in. Its a learning experience and a moment of growth for all of them. But before they can all shuffle off back to real life, the episode throws Tara speaking on behalf of the First Slayer back at us as Buffy passes the bed she was making before: “You think you know…. what’s to come; what you are. You haven’t even begun.” AND END SEASON.

All in all, best season ending. And though this was more an analysis than a review (some commentary of my opinion on quality was here and there), my love for dissecting symbolism and uncovering meaning was met head-on by this episode. Nothing to sneeze at. There is probably plenty I missed along the way, but that just leaves stuff for you to inspect on your own viewing. When all is said and done, this is the best season finale and the best dream episode I’ve ever seen, rolled into one. Who wrote it? And directed it? Oh. Oh, right.

Episode Rating: 99

Additional Notes:
-Cheese Man. There. I mentioned him.
-I love that shot of Riley through the glass table framed by his pistol. Fantastic camera work throughout the episode.
-Spike is hilarious throughout this episode and I didn’t touch on him much because he isn’t really central to the analysis. But Marsters probably had a hoot
-That Willow+Tara scene in the back of the ice cream truck was likely extremely racey for early 2000’s television!
-I don’t know that I’m going to put together a full season review this time. Seems like a ton of work for no reason
-Joyce is still the perfect TV mom when outside of the dream world. “Finally” meeting Riley. LOL!
-It is extremely easy to dress up Willow like her younger self
-Last appearance of Oz in any fashion on the show(s)

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