Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Restless   Rewatch 
October 7, 2015 9:14 PM - Season 4, Episode 22 - Subscribe

Called on by the Scoobies conjoining spell, a representation of the first Slayer stalks them in their dreams.
posted by yellowbinder (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think I'm the only person on the planet who doesn't looooove this episode, but I am just not into dreams in TV except if there are any psychic bits. Which this one does manage to throw in, go figure. Props to Whedon for the Little Miss Muffet. And Giles singing about not bleeding on his couch because he just got it steam cleaned.

Anyway, not my favorite, but it has its moments. And cheese.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:17 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I actually often hate dream's in TV, or books, because they feel inconsequential. I have a lot more time for Whedon's conception of them, and enjoy this episode. There's no doubt that this is an experiment, and a weird way to end a season, but I really enjoy it for the most part. Everything, supposedly, has a meaning, but I mostly just enjoy the ride. For the most part this is foreshadowing 5, which was partially intended as a final series, and doubles down on the mysticism in the show, and the concept of the Slayer, something the show had kind of discarded.

-Apparently Angel was intended to be the spirit guide, but was unavailable, but Tara gets that job. This mostly works, although might have been misleading at the time
-"Sometimes I think about two women doing a spell, and then do a spell myself."
-"Everyone Willow ever met is in the audience, including us"
-Giles' pep talk is great.
-I've never seen death of a Salesman, so I assume this is a faithful portrayal.
-"Men. With your sales."
-The initiative watching Xander pee.
-"A watcher scoffs at gravity."
-"I think this year is going to be a big year for vengance"
-Willow and Tara make out offscreen because they're not allowed to do it on screen, thus letting the audience fill in the gaps...
-Anya does stand up
-Joyce in the walls is a great image.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:34 AM on October 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've never seen death of a Salesman, so I assume this is a faithful portrayal.

It's a rare case of the reboot being better than the original, I assure you.

I don't think everything in this episode clicks, but I did like it on the balance. It gets extra props just for being the season finale instead of Primeval - I felt like they needed some kind of consequences for pulling a stunt like that, just to demonstrate why they couldn't ever go to that well again. (Granted, gestalt-Buffy still would've been no match for Glory or The First, but the gimmick could've helped against stuff like the Turok-Han.)
posted by mordax at 2:01 AM on October 8, 2015

This is probably a good place to talk about 4 as a complete series. I always find 4 really enjoyable to watch. It's light, breezy, well written and for the most part the writers have a good handle on who the characters are. Some of the individual episodes (Hush in particular) are the best the show ever did. Yet I don't think it could be my favourite season.

It's over arching plot just isn't very emotionally interesting, as the only person who really has any stakes in it is Riley, and the show doesn't do enough to make you care about him. With the death of Walsh, the villain is just an empty shell, and while making Forrest involved could have been interesting, no-one seems to care that much that robo Forrest is around, and certainly Riley wasn't that bothered.

That said, there's some good character work going on in the background. Willow's story is really good, and takes the time to set some seeds for 6. Xander has much less time on stage, but what he does is a clear line of someone going tinto the duldrums (to flourish in 5). And, of course, Spike is a star. He is the character who will change the most over the next few seasons, and I think that's sometimes to the show's cost. To some extent, it feels like the writers are a little bit bored with their core three, and want to start telling stories with fresher characters. But because the writers put the effort in, and Masters is very good, Spike's story is usually very good, even if it sometimes defies logic.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:48 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love this episode because it's just so incredibly fucking weird. So much of TV, still now but especially back when this aired, is all about finding a formula and then sticking to it, and I really appreciate it when the show creators are just like "hey, you know what? The season finale is an episode-long dream sequence with a bunch of surreal jokes and a couple years' worth of foreshadowing. Deal with it."

Even when such an experiment doesn't work, I admire the balls it took, but this weirdo episode has the advantage of basically working. Like Once More with Feeling, it bothers to come up with a sensible in-show explanation for what's happening, and that sense of grounding allows them to go hog wild with everything else.

I also remember, after it initially aired, how much fun it was to periodically revisit it and try to tease out the foreshadowing. Figuring out what meant what, and speculating about what was coming up based on hints from this episode - so fun!

I won't even bother to quote favorite lines, but when the cheese guy finally popped up in Buffy's dream on my first watch, I think I may have actually clapped.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:42 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I didn't think this was a terrible episode, but it didn't work for me and the ways it didn't work were so absolutely Whedon-ish.

Joss Whedon is a terrific talent, and more often than not his work is either very good or great. But when he fails, it can either be surprisingly blah (like the first season of Dollhouse) or it can be weird in this very particular way, with lots of strenuously cute, fakey lines and a plot that just kind of melts. I read some of his season 8 comics a while back, and they were so bad they actually made me question if Whedon was as good as I'd always thought. Every line was a cutesy clunker and I couldn't tell what the hell was going on. It was disorienting and weirdly claustrophobic. Seriously, those comics were as strained and confusing as this episode, but without the dream conceit to justify the incoherence.

Later I went back and watched some Whedon show and saw that yes, it was indeed excellent. When Whedon is on (and he's usually on) it all comes together. When he's way off, he starts writing like some clever teenage theater kid who has learned all the wrong stuff from Joss Whedon. This episode is... OK. It's all a bunch of dreams, so hey, any damn thing can happen. That's fine. It's a damn peculiar way to end the season, but I didn't hate it. The foreshadowing stuff is fun to look back at later, so there's that.

Whedon totally made the silent episode work, he totally made the freaking musical episode work, and he kind of made the dream episode work. As stunt episodes go, that's two A-pluses and one B!

Also, what's with the Death of a Salesman hate? Come on, where my Arthur Miller fans at?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:28 AM on October 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Joss Whedon is a terrific talent, and more often than not his work is either very good or great. But when he fails, it can either be surprisingly blah (like the first season of Dollhouse) or it can be weird in this very particular way, with lots of strenuously cute, fakey lines and a plot that just kind of melts.

This is very true.

I read some of his season 8 comics a while back, and they were so bad they actually made me question if Whedon was as good as I'd always thought.

Oh man, the comics are head a-splodey bad. I tried to get through them, but... no, just no. According to something I stumbled upon, and later confirmed, Spike ends up with a space ship. I don't even want to know how much worse that all got after I dropped them.

Re: Arthur Miller -
C'mon, you know Death of A Salesman would've been improved by a cowboy and a vampire.

"If you're so smart, why aren't you rich moving away from the Hellmouth, pardner?"
posted by mordax at 7:55 PM on October 9, 2015

Well, despite everyone else's diffidence about this episode, I still think it remains brilliant. Maybe it's just because I have often tried to capture the shifting reality of dreams in writing and failed utterly that I have such admiration for what Whedon pulls off here. He does an awesome job exploiting the nature of film and also the set construction to capture the constant surreal shifts in dreams, randomly and abruptly switching locations. The symbolism is awesome (although apparently my theory about the Cheese Man is wrong). There are so many funny bits, like Harmony mock-fanging Giles behind his back, much to his irritation; steering by gesturing emphatically; Buffy at the fun fair and Spike posing for the photographers; Buffy and her diatribe against men, all groin and no brain; Giles and Spike on the swingset. I don't get the cute, personally, I just think it's funny.

There are so many bits that just send chills down my spine even after seeing it approximately 10 times. For example, the terror on Xander's face whenever he ends up in the basement with someone knocking on the door - and when it finally opens, it's his dad there. This is pure speculation on my part, but I can't help thinking that not only is his dad an alcoholic, he probably also hit Xander. The bit where Willow sees Tara and Oz whispering and laughing to each other, capitalising on her fear all over again. The confusion, misunderstanding, implicit knowledge and small things being loaded with disproportionate amounts of significance - all so brilliantly dreamlike.

A couple of things have not aged well for me, on a rewatch: Tara and Willow in the back of the ice cream truck are really not sexy - but then, I'm not Xander so obviously have a different idea of what sexy is (more along the lines of Willow painting Greek on Tara's back). And there are some uncomplimentary comments about the First Slayer (hair care, not much with the floss) that sit uncomfortably with me now that I've noticed the distinct lack of people of colour in the show.

But overall, it's still one of my favourite episodes and if I'm the only one here that likes it, I can live with that. I'll just go watch it again.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:17 AM on October 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, despite everyone else's diffidence about this episode, I still think it remains brilliant.

Oh I agree, I definitely like this episode. It has some emotional truths about the characters to deliver which have remained in the background; you are correct that there is an indication that Xander's parents are abusive, if not physically then definitely emotionally. It's often played for laughs, but here we get a glimpse of how it effects him. I also love the metaphor of Joyce being stuck in the walls of the school, which reflects Buffy's neglect of her, but maybe the show's as well.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 10:55 AM on October 10, 2015

This episode is top 10 for me. Like Cannon Fodder said, it's got some emotional truths about the characters, so it's not just a zany/funny dream episode. But, it is also very funny, very creative. I think it's Joss firing on all cylinders, actually.
posted by Mavri at 1:55 PM on October 10, 2015

Fun fact: the day this was posted to FanFare, I was teaching Death of a Salesman to my university students, and this ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

Me: So, when Willy Loman kills himself...
Student: *gasps*
Student: He dies?
Me: Well, it is called Death of a Salesman...
Student: I gotta read this more carefully!

Being a theatre person, that part of the episode makes me laugh harder than anything. Cowboy Guy! I've come looking for a man. A SALES man. It's so good. But there's symbolism, as well. Willy Loman (Will-Lo) is essentially destroyed as his unrealistic dreams encroach on reality, as is happening here. Each character is looking for some degree of societal acceptance, power, and popularity, as Loman is, and it turns out to be a very damaging goal in most cases (they have to accept their own weirdness and odd family unit to thrive). Buffy in particular has to declare that she is not alone and that her friends are allowed to help her. Willy Loman refuses help from his friend Charley in the form of a job offer, and also will not ask his sons for help, choosing instead to kill himself for the insurance money to help his family. It's his hubris and insistence that he be solely self-sufficient that forms the basis of the tragedy. Whedon's showing us that ties and connections are the way out.

Just like Loman sees the ghost of his brother Ben, along with his rose-tinted vision of the past, these dreams are populated by ghosts, characters who have died (eg. Snyder) or left, taking promises with them (eg. Oz; it's really weird that this is his last episode in the BuffyVerse, with his last line ever being "I tried to warn you").

I like "Bay of Mutated Pigs" and blackmailing the government, but in a patriotic way. Also, Riley finally meets Joyce, in a moment seen offscreen, which I think is interesting (hence the dream with her in the walls). Everyone really has been separated!

I like that this episode echoes the fears and characters growing apart of the rest of the season, because that's basically what dreams do. The foreshadowing is a storytelling bonus. There's good continuity with some of the issues from Nightmares (like Willow's fear of performance; "it's an ugly crowd out there tonight" from Nightmares becomes "Your whole family is in the front row and they look really angry") but not so much that it feels like a repeat; "the reviewers" from Nightmares, for example, which is a more impersonal, societal fear, turns into Willow being more confident about her abilities but now terrified specifically of the judgment of her "family" or even anyone she's met, in particular her best friend Buffy, who rips off her "costume" to reveal the nerd underneath, and chides her after her stabbing, stating that Willow must have done something to cause it. It's hard to reinvent yourself and maintain your past connections. Even in Xander's dream, Buffy calls Willow a "big faker." Staying in character "especially during the musical numbers" so nobody will find out the truth foreshadows how everything comes crashing down for Willow during the musical episode, once Tara finds out Willow erased her memory of their fight.

Xander's dream is also a more sophisticated version of his experience in Nightmares. Instead of a knife-wielding clown, it's his father who he fears will rip out his heart. Instead of following chocolate bars (instant gratification) toward his doom, he's now driving the ice cream truck, but worried that it's steering him toward a dead-end path in both his career and his relationships; he can't get out of the basement, even though he's trying to "keep moving forward". Xander's nightmare is a bunch of twists on the tropes and expectations of manliness (his performance being graded, war movies: "Men! Oh my god, what's happened to my MEN?!" the soldier in the weird version of Apocalypse Now at the beginning of his dream cries).

Giles (an attempt at a positive father figure, but one that Xander later sees training Spike instead of him) tells him that the movie (his conception of manhood) is overrated. Xander desperately protests, insisting "It gets better. I remember that it gets better," but it doesn't. Xander must be concerned about Willow as well, because Willow's choking shows up in his dream twice, but by reducing Willow and Tara to objects of titillation (and Joyce too), he does a great disservice to their friendship, again reinforcing the idea that this stereotype is toxic. It does, however, get into Xander's fear that Willow is now "way ahead of [him]," as she says, which is echoed in the scene where Giles and Anya are dubbed into French, which Xander can't understand. Interestingly, Buffy is the only woman Xander doesn't sexualize (and, I guess, to a lesser extent, Anya), having her call him "big brother" and sharing a meaningful look. Xander says he's going toward scary plummeting death, the test of a man, but when Anya (who calls him on his bullshit) asks again if he knows where he's going, he honestly answers, "no." Anya then says she's considering going back into vengeance, highlighting Xander's fears about her and their relationship, which will mostly come true in a bout of self-sabotage in season 6. Snyder telling Xander he's a "whipping boy" probably leads to the "no more butt monkey" speech in S5e1, the next episode.

The long tracking shot of him trying to escape is great, and I think some of the continuous shots in "Restless" were actually possible because the sets were right next to each other, so shooting BTVS might have been more like "Restless" on a daily basis.

Buffy's "Nightmares" experience shows the Master going free, and her burial alive (which is, in a way, foreshadowing for the S6 premiere), and becoming a vampire, but "Restless" has a more grown-up, nuanced version of this; she's not afraid of the bad guy beating her, she's afraid of who she is, her power, and the force that's inside her, which will lead to her vision quest in "Intervention," the concept that she initially rejects, "death is your gift," and the discovery of how the Slayer was made, in "Get It Done" (a process not unlike Buffy's fears of becoming a vampire in "Nightmares"). Her friends are gone, Riley calls her "killer," and Adam basically reveals that both of them are part demon; George Hertzberg finally gets to not be in full makeup as Adam, which actually makes Adam a little more interesting in retrospect, seeing who he used to be, and thinking of the later parallels to Buffy's creation.

Buffy fights the dirt that falls on her in the open grave in "Nightmares," but willingly smears mud on her face in "Restless," which turns into a negative shot, showing the transition from fear of an external force to fear of the internal. (Xander worries about her playing in a large sandbox and Giles is unhappy with her getting her face dirty, reminding me of the end of S5 when he says Buffy is a hero, and men like him are the ones who have to get their hands dirty.) Of course, we have another reference to Faith and 7:30 and Dawn.

Giles in "Nightmares" was terrified of getting Buffy killed, which was understandable but largely generic. Now, his dream is about him raising Buffy from childhood, the place she holds in his life and potentially missing out on his own life because of it (with pregnant Olivia and an empty stroller). In fact, it's not just Buffy now; he's frantic at his inability to protect Willow and Xander, as they accuse him of showing up late to fix their dying problem ("this is your fault," says Willow. She also calls him by his first name, indicating their more and more equal footing, particularly come s6). As the Brain, his first line is "you have to stop thinking." He can't think of the fable he's trying to reference.

"Buffy, you have a sacred birthright to protect mankind. Don't stick out your elbow" is a great line and also Giles mocking himself. He feels guilty about how hard he pushes her, without any "treats." Spike tells him he has to make up his "mind" and the Cheese Man even puts the cheese over his head. Flashbacks to "The Puppet Show," where he was almost guillotined. Giles' belief that Buffy should have killed Spike comes to a head in the conflict in "Lies My Parents Told Me." "Honestly, you meet the most appalling sort of people" makes me howl with laughter, and Giles' song is tied with Salesman for my favourite part of the episode. Giles can defeat the First Slayer with his intellect, but regrets deeply his own failures and the failure of his former organization: "You didn't know. You never had a Watcher."

Even the Cheese Man is continuity, as we (and Riley) already know Buffy likes cheese.

Interesting, possibly feminist comment moment when Giles shoots down Harmony's suggestion of "props" and then eagerly accepts Riley's identical suggestion. Perhaps that's a nod to the poor behaviour of the Watcher's Council, or maybe even how it's not the greatest idea to immediately ignore something even if it comes from "evil." (Suggesting the more and more nuanced view of evil in the series.) Of course, Buffy's rant about men and their sales indicates the dysfunctional relationships she's had (and, obviously, delivered to Riley, suggests doom for that coupling). More comments on the roles of manliness with the Initiative being reduced to filing, coffee makers that think, and pillow forts.

Spike's tweed suit in Xander's dream reminds me of Randy Giles in "Tabula Rasa," particularly with the comments about a shark with feet, on land. A Watcher scoffs at gravity!

I...guess I had more to say about this episode than I thought. Sorry for the novella!
posted by ilana at 12:24 AM on October 12, 2015 [18 favorites]

"Your whole family is in the front row and they look really angry"

Maybe my favorite line-reading in the history of line-readings.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:48 PM on September 23, 2022

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