Going by episodes, I’ve recently passed the halfway point in these rewatches. “Chosen,” the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series finale, is episode 144, which makes the middle point of the whole televised story arc “Who Are You?”, the second half of Faith’s return. Or put another way: “Superstar” was the first day of the rest of the Buffy.
Based on the comments here and conversations I’ve seen online since BtvS began airing in 1997, I think I can safely say most fans would agree that Season 2 was better than Season 1. The show had been promising from the beginning, but when Angelus became a big bad, the storytelling hit its impressive, must-watch stride.
Then many of us split over whether S2 or 3 was the best year of the bunch.
So, year four. Not a fan favorite with very many viewers, am I right? As we wrap up Buffy’s first year of college, I’ll hazard one last generalization: I’d guess most of us would agree things got better in S5, when Glory and Dawn showed up.
I will pause here for outrage and shouting by all Dawn haters.
As “Restless” opens, Tara and Anya are nowhere to be seen. Riley is humping off for a debriefing. He’s going to get a perhaps-improbable honorable discharge, in exchange for his silence about Undead Scientist Maggie’s crazy demon-mashup scheme. We get a glimpse of Joyce, too, but the point we’re meant to absorb is the original Scooby gang is warmly, fuzzily back together. After a year of estrangement, failed dates and sublimated conflict, they’re planning a long night of kicking back and watching videos as they recover from the battle.
The rationale is they’re all too buzzed after the spell and fighting Adam to sleep, and they’re too newly rebonded to chill out anywhere but with each other.
So Joyce goes upstairs, and they throw in a video. Wow, those videos look oldey timey!
The gang immediately passes out, and everyone has a funky dream.
Willow’s first. She’s painting Greek letters on Tara’s back and they’re talking about Miss Kitty Fantastico’s name. Tara tells her “They will find out about you,” a refrain that keeps popping up as this sequence unfolds. Willow, it seems, has something to hide. Are you shocked?
She’s supposed to go to class, but doesn’t want to leave. There’s a desert outside the red-curtained window, and the vibe is not happy. Windows and menace and Tara handily nearby. I feel sad in advance about where this relationship is going.
Then Willow is back in high school, talking to Oz and Xander and taking drama.
This part of the dream is a classic performance anxiety schtick. It’s supposed to be the first day, but when Willow shows it turns out class has reached the point where they’re putting on a show. Giles is the director, Riley’s cowboy guy, Harmony is a milkmaid, and Buffy is dressed for Chicago.
Willow, naturally, is the unrehearsed, OMG, what’s going on? star of the whole operation. As the refrain of ‘hide your true nature’ and ‘lie like a dog’ continues, it turns out everyone she knows is in the audience.
Then, just as this is threatening to make some narrative sense, we move into some fleeing, as the first Slayer, or the first Mister Pointy at any rate, puts in an appearance. Buffy rescues Willow and they run away, to a classroom where Buffy rips off Willow’s “costume,” revealing the old S1 Willow in her ‘softer side of Sears’ costume. Now she’s facing a class that includes flirting OzTara. The whole room is very bored and hostile as she first tries to deliver a book report on The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, and then gets attacked by the first Slayer. She’s gasping for air when Xander appears to wake up and begin his fun journey toward a similar confrontation.
I will say at this point that the Cheese Man who appears in all four dreams, in my opinion, should really be played by Joel Grey.
Moving on! Xander wakes up to find Willow suffocating while Giles and Buffy watch Apocalypse Now. He goes upstairs to pee and finds Joyce experimenting with being MILFy and up with people.
Be right back, Xander says, but then he finds the whole Initiative primed and ready to take notes on his bathroom performance. (There are a lot of performances and viewer/audience bits in this episode.)
This drives him into the Casa Xander basement. Something’s rattling at the door and Xander says, “That’s not the way out.”
He’ll end up in the basement again, repeatedly, but for now he segues out, to a park where Buffy’s playing in the sandbox and Spike’s going to be a Watcher. “Spike’s like a son to me,” Giles says.
“I was into that for a while,” Xander replies. He’s watching himself from the ice cream van and, after an exchange with Buffy about sharks and one glimpse of the endless desert, the truck is where he ends up.
He’s with Anya at first. She’s thinking about getting back into vengeance, which might be far more interesting to him if, in the back of the ice cream truck, WillTara weren’t dressed sexy, getting it on and luring him in for the fun. Anya’s cool with it. What a girlfriend! What would she have said about Joyce?
The pursuit of wholesome threesome action takes Xander back to the basement, and from there to high school. Giles tells him this is because of “what they did.” By this he means the enjoining spell. After a general outbreak francais, Xander is dragged by Giles and Anya to a Sunnydale version of Apocalypse Now where Snyder is Colonel Kurtz.
(Snyder! Harmony! Oz! Yes, it’s a cameo-palooza!)
Once again this leads—surprise!—back to the basement. Xander’s father busts through the rattling door, rips out his heart, and turns into the last Slayer.
Giles’s dream starts with pregnant Olivia, an empty baby carriage and Buffy wanting to train by playing carnival games. Spike’s got a tomb fronted by lawn gnomes, and he’s hired himself out as an attraction. I nominate his photo shoot as the single funniest thing in all of the “Restless” dreams.
Within the crypt, Olivia’s crying and the empty carriage is tipped over. The cheese man, who is still not Joel Grey, arrives to tell Giles : “I wear the cheese, it does not wear me.”
And then we’re in the Bronze! Xander and Willow are trying, with some urgency, to find the answer to what’s happening to them within the usual book suspects.
But there’s also another show on: Anya is doing stand-up comedy and explaining her jokes as she tells them. I find this incredibly awesome. I could watch Emma Caulfield do meta-comedy for awhile. Is it possible to give her enough praise for the peculiar delight that is Anya?
Then Giles sings. He starts to explain what’s happening, with the first Slayer and the spell they all cast in “Primeval.” He exhorts Xander not to bleed on his newly steam-cleaned couch, loses his amplification, and has to chase his mic cable back to a watch he’d been using earlier to hypnotize Buffy.
Then the first Slayer, who never had a Watcher, cuts into his head. Giles—the real Giles in the living room of Joyce, that is—begins to have what looks awfully like a seizure...
...and with that, we move on to Buffy. First she’s in her dorm room, and Anya’s trying to wake her up. It’s the beginning of “Once More With Feeling,” am I right?
Then she’s back at the bed she and Faith made, not long ago, in one of their shared visions.
Tara asks who the bed’s for. She adds: “You think you know. What’s to come. What you are. You haven’t even begun.”
Buffy goes looking for the others and we get another tasty tidbit from Tara: “Be back before dawn.”
Next she’s wandering the university set (sort of—it has Sunnydale High’s lockers), wearing a deeply cute dress. She finds Joyce in a wall. “I don’t think you should live in there,” Buffy says. Joyce suggests she could probably break through and get her out, but Buffy has spotted Xander. She moves on, leaving her mother behind.
Kind of heartbreaking, no?
After an encounter with Riley and Adam, she gives herself a clay facial, walks out into the sand and hooks up with both the first Slayer and her interpreter, Tara.
Like much of the official apparatus of Slayage, Firstie is not so impressed with Buffy’s practice of having friends. She sees herself as a thing apart from humanity, something that “lives in the action of death,” as she cheerily puts it.
But Buffy is pretty confident that she doesn’t have to lie around putting up with nonsense from a girl who’s been dead since just about the dawn of time. She tells her “I’m going to ignore you and you’re going to go away.”
And it works! It takes two tries, but soon enough she wakes up, safe and sound, and so do the others.
All that’s left is a little wrap-up explanation—by casting the enjoining spell, they affronted the Slayers’ power source—and one last stare, on Buffy’s part, at what will turn out to be Dawn’s bed.
There’s so much in this episode and I caught a lot more of it, this time, because of course I’ve seen the whole run of the show. I’ve mentioned some of the main predictions, clues and images—the ones that felt significant to me—but I left plenty for you. What are your favorites? Within that mishmash of intriguing Joss imagery, what’s most meaningful to you?
“Restless” is fun to watch, despite its necessary dreamlike opacity. Is it a great ending for the season? I’d say it’s better than “Primeval” would have been. And it’s something of a nice change to see, just once, the way the team embarks on coming back after their annual ‘fire bad, tree pretty’ moment. The episode affirms the core around which the series is built: Buffy is changing the Slayer rules, rejecting the whole ‘she who slays alone dies alone’ paradigm. And in the process, she’s taking the fight against evil to a whole new level.
Next: Would you like some bugs to go with your Dracula?
A.M. Dellamonica has so much fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.