Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 4: Part 1

1.10 Nightmares
1.11 Out of Mind, Out of Sight

This week we have two guest writers, and since one of them focused entirely on “Prophecy Girl,” I thought the best way to handle this (and not overload everyone in one post) would be to separate the finale off into its own post. So this first post will be about the two episodes leading up to the finale, “Nightmares” (where some kid is dreaming and they’re all stuck inside his wacky Broadway nightmare…) and “Out of Mind, Out of Sight,” an episode where you probably instantly recognized guest star Clea Duvall, who was yet to go on to appear in movies like Girl, Interrupted, star in the brilliant Carnivale, or have a prominent role in Heroes (among many, many other roles). At the time of this episode, her career was just beginning.

When this episode first aired, it was actually called “Invisible Girl,” and I often slip up and call it by the wrong name all the time, because that’s what it was when I first saw it (I might have called it that in the first edition of my BtVS book). Perhaps when they were putting the DVDs together they noticed the similarities between the eleventh and twelfth episode titles and decided to change it. It’s now alternately called “Out of Mind, Out of Sight,” or “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” (even the WB official site couldn’t make up its mind at the time). But we’ll go with the first one.

I adore “Nightmares”… I know it’s been said in the rewatch so far that some suggest to Buffy n00bs that they skip the first season, and I, instead, tell people to just get through it and into season 2 and they’ll be rewarded there. Now, on the rewatch, these first season episodes really stand up for me. I’m a much bigger fan of season 1 than a lot of people, I think (always have been), and “Nightmares” is a perfect example of why this show was so great. The dream sequences were much like real dream sequences – not necessarily making sense, with no logical connections from one second to the next. Joss will master the dream sequence by season 4’s “Restless.” “Out of Mind” isn’t the best episode of season 1, but it is the beginning of a common trope throughout the series – the idea of the wallflowers who are mocked by others and whose high school days were not the happiest years of their life. However, in the moment where we actually see Cordy as a human being for once (in the episode where she becomes a Scoob for the first time), she mentions that things aren’t exactly all peachy for the cool kids, either, something that will come to the fore in season 3’s “Earshot.”

First, a few observations I had:

• Willow on spiders (sounding a LOT like Anya in OMWF): “Why do they need all those legs for anyway?”
• Wendell corrects the group that spiders are not insects, they’re arachnids. Xander: “They’re from the Middle East?” LOL!!!
• “What am I, knowledge girl now??”
• “Could I be seeing Billy’s asteroid body?”
• Xander just turning around suddenly and clocking the clown. HA!
• “A vampire in love with a Slayer. It’s rather poetic… in a maudlin sort of way.”
• Angel: “Looking in the mirror and seeing nothing there… it’s an overrated pleasure.”
• Try to listen to Cordy’s speech in the background as the others are talking… she’s hilarious!
• “I think I speak for everyone here when I say, ‘HUH?!’”

Did You Notice:
• Buffy has crocheted pillowcases. I’ve never noticed this before… my stepmom has these on the bed in her house, and they belonged to her grandmother, I think. However, we always take them off before going to bed (there are other pillows underneath) because… who the hell sleeps on crocheted pillowcases?!
• I hope this isn’t revealing too much about myself, but I know so many people who have dreams of flying or their teeth falling out, and I’ve never had either. Instead, I have Buffy’s nightmare… over and over and over and over again. ALL THE TIME. I’m at school again, it’s the final exam, I don’t know where the room is, I can’t believe I’ve gotten myself into this mess, I’m not going to graduate, I know NOTHING about the exam or even what the class was on, I have trouble finding my way there… the first time I saw this episode and it got to Buffy’s dream, it gave me a serious case of the wiggins.
• The kid in the hospital is in room 316… like the Ajira flight!!! (This one’s for the Lost fans who, like me, are still looking for numbers.)
• When the monster guy beats up the girl in the basement of the school, the Smoking Kills poster behind her is hilarious.
• I remember the first time I saw Nightmares, and Buffy’s dad showed up and I said out loud, “Oh my GOD, her dad is Almanzo???”
• UGH I seriously hate the Doogie Howser music of season 1.
• Watch in “Out of Mind” when Buffy falls and appears to be unconscious on the floor: Sarah Michelle Gellar jumps when the doctor bag lands beside her.
• The Bronze has a Closed for Fumigation sign on it, but the fumigation has already happened. If I recall correctly, this episode was originally supposed to happen earlier in the season and then it was moved…

Now, this week’s guest commentator on these two episodes is David Kociemba, another Slayage person (next week, by the way, will feature the first non-Slayage rewatcher!). I met him in 2008 at the third conference, and he did a fascinating paper on teaching Buffy in the classroom, asking the important question: if some of the class has seen all of it, and the rest of the class is entirely new to it, then can you reference future episodes when talking about the early ones? How do you get around the spoiler aspect of the class? It was a very interesting topic (one we seemed to have solved in a blog format for now, but the classroom is an entirely different thing… you can’t exactly white out the words you’re saying!) He links to it in his introduction, so please check it out!

I'm going to run just the first part of David's paper here (I tried whiting out the spoilery stuff, but it's rife with it, and ended up making about as much sense as listening to a censored version of a Jay-Z song). The entire paper, intact, appears below in the spoiler post.

At the most recent Slayage conference, I got to chat with him more than the first time, and met his lovely fiancée, Kristen, who will be a guest contributor on the rewatch near the end of season 3 (they actually got engaged at Slayage… how cool is that?!) They sat at the table with us during the banquet, and we talked about all sorts of TV… my favourite kind of conversation! I’m a big fan of David’s writing, and I’m pleased to have him on the rewatch. So… take it away, David!


I first met Nikki at the third Slayage conference and we spent some time sitting on a veranda chatting away with one of the liveliest band of conference-goers you ever did meet. Nikki met my fiancée, Kristen, at the last Slayage in Florida, just before her verbal duel with Matthew Pateman. (And, since he is such a good sport about the ribbing he gets from Nikki (I have NO idea what David's referring to here. —Nik), I want to thank him again for his patience in editing my piece on the opening title sequences of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was a writer lost in the woods, but he let me find myself.) I’m flattered that Nikki likes my writing on the effect of spoilers on readers and I’m eager to delve into her books on Lost before I propose a course on that series for next year.

I teach a seminar on Buffy the Vampire Slayer at Emerson College, along with other courses on media history, digital cultures, fandom and the representation of disability. I’m also the editor of Watcher Junior, a peer-reviewed online journal for undergraduate scholarship on the Whedonverses. (Take a look at the article on Restless or the one on the many faces of Buffy. They’re amazing.) The sixth issue is coming out this winter and we’re currently accepting submissions on Whedon's work outside the Buffyverse. We welcome completed essays and research papers that exhibit familiarity with previously published scholarship in Whedon Studies.

Right now, we’re doing a fascinating study of today’s fans of Joss Whedon, asking them what values are represented in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can find the initial survey here, the survey results summarized here, and the beginning of the summary of the comments here. We can’t wait to do the same survey on each of Whedon’s works.

Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer…
The first guest blogger, David Lavery, mentioned that when he encourages people to skip the first season when he introduces people to the wonders of this novelistic television series. I have a great deal of sympathy for his approach. The series tends to face a triple whammy of media prejudice: fantasy is a low culture genre, a lot of people look at melodrama as failed realism and it can be hard not to prejudge the series as Dawson’s Creek with fangs. Twelve episodes is a long time for people to expect people to have faith in a new series. (The fact that Buffy’s outfits seem to be designed to show off her bra is a fourth whammy.) That’s why I’ve taken to showing its best episode to introduce the series, “The Body”, from its fifth season. It’s surprisingly accessible to new viewers.

This will definitely be one of the more spoilerriffic of the early rewatches. I’ll start us off with a very brief look at the first season as a thematic foundation for the series. My reading of “Nightmares” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” should have so much whited-out that it will read like experimental poetry to any spoiler virgins in the audience. It’s necessary to delve into narrative construction, however, because, as Roz Kaveney put it, the series’ use of intricate foreshadowing “indicated a real commitment to, and respect for, the intelligence of its viewers.”

The Essential Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The first season was Joss Whedon’s one chance to tell the essential story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Indeed, he anticipated that few people would even watch the midseason replacement series with the cult title on the two-year-old network, let alone expect it would get some of the WB’s top ratings. So what parts are essential to Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Jesse shows us that vampires are sexual predators through his interactions with Cordelia, even more than Darla does. But why taking back the night is foundational, Xander’s interactions with his friend shows that these predators are simultaneously victims, an understanding he comes to long before Buffy will, even if his jealousy and anger prevent him from applying it to other vampires. “The Pack” shows us that cruel humor that inflicts emotional trauma is an essential trait of a great villain, which definitely becomes central characterization techniques in seasons two and three. The bedrock themes of the series reveal themselves in these early episodes: the just use of power; re-imagining families through the biological, vampiric and friendship models; and teaching men new ways of seeing women through Xander. We also see that while the creativity of linguistic playfulness is an essential heroic trait, so is the inability to perform on stage or to pretend to be someone you’re not. And, with Jesse and Principal Flutie, Whedon learned that killing seemingly essential characters increases suspense by undermining the audience’s assumption that everyone will make it out alive and unharmed.

Given these expectations, should we watch the first season with long-term narrative construction in mind? Whedon and his fellow writers knew the overall arc of a season prior to its start. They planned some character deaths as much as two years in advance. But Whedon left room to react to unexpected developments on set. According to Nikki, Robia LaMorte’s chemistry with Anthony Stewart Head upset the initial plan to have Jenny Calendar appear only in “I, Robot… You Jane”. Whedon similarly responded to Julie Benz’ quality performance, upgrading her role during season one. The writers also responded to unexpected developments in their own writing, such as deciding on Calendar’s true identity during the second season. And, of course, fans of the series can’t watch Alyson Hannigan’s performance without looking for clues that Willow is gay. Writer Jane Espenson recalls the first time that plot development was foreshadowed, “In “Doppelgangland”, [Willow] notices that her vampire self is ‘kinda gay.’ When we started plotting the Tara arc in Season Four, Joss said, ‘Were we planning this back then?’ And even he didn’t know for sure…. Some of [the foreshadowing] is conscious and some of it is not conscious, but it is clearly there anyway.”

Such retroactive continuity is an inherent feature of creating complex narratives in a serial format. Rhonda Wilcox observes that these moments are not simply about the momentum a narrative develops as it is created, writing, “… it is possible that the early versions of a pattern are purposeful foreshadowing; it is also possible that they are preliminary explorations or first inklings of an idea which the writers will choose to develop more fully later. Retroactive continuity allows for the effect of foreshadowing…”. For her, these processes are one way that complex narratives develop “…the wonderful quality of much great literature, of seeming both surprising and inevitable.”

Next week: We move to season 2 with guest commentator, Becca Wilcott, author of the companion guide to True Blood.
2.1 When She Was Bad
2.2 Some Assembly Required
2.3 School Hard


AEC said...

I thought Nightmares was a great episode, one of my favorites so far. I could identify with several of the nightmares that happened in the show- especially the one of realizing I have a final that I'm not prepared for!

And I also got excited when I saw the kid's hospital room number, I'm glad you mentioned it!

I had a couple other things I planned to mention, but I watched these episodes a couple days ago and have already forgotten. *sigh* I should start taking notes!

Anonymous said...

Clowns! Clowns are evil! Xander is right! You go too far with the horror, Whedon!

Okay, got that out of the way.

The elongation of Buffy's shadow at the beginning of Nightmares is reminiscent of Nosferatu. You don't know if it's a villain or the hero until you see her appear.

Buffy always wears a bra to bed. Is this to conform to standards and practices, or because it's the only way to pad her? One of her bras is up now on eBay and it's scary.

Xander's nightmare would be more realistic if he lost the boxers. (A girl can dream.)

I wonder how much chocolate Nick had to eat in his dream sequence, since we only see one take. Actors have to eat a lot where there's eating scenes, take after take.

Cynthea said...

LOL re: the pillowcases! Every time I see those pillows I say, "Who would sleep on those!"

Thanks Nikki, David, and Jennifer for your insights this week. These commentaries are helping me to appreciate Season One!

Page48 said...

Buffy dropped the "Crush, Kill, Destroy" line in Invisible. I remember that from my early childhood love affair with "Lost In Space".

I enjoyed seeing Buffy all vamped out, and, like Xander, it did nothing to diminish my crush.

Anonymous said...

THAT'S where that line's from. Thanks, Page48.

Marebabe said...

Since a lot of people have mentioned those crocheted pillowcases, I would like to chime in with YES! I have noticed them over and over again, beginning with the Pilot, I think. They’re fine if you only ever sleep on your back. But if you ever turn on your side, you’ll have “pillow face” that will take until lunchtime to go away!

Seeing Dean Butler (who played Almanzo Wilder on “Little House”) as Buffy’s dad was quite a surprise. (Maybe not surprisingly, it caused me to flash back to the last season of LOST, when we were briefly discussing the “Little House” scene that Sawyer was watching.) Anyway, all during the scene with Buffy and her dad, when he was telling her what a disappointment she was, and how it was her fault that her parents got divorced, I was torn between snickering at how absurd it was, and feeling Buffy’s pain at hearing such a devastatingly awful speech from her dad. Many times, dreams are ridiculous, except that, when you’re immersed in them, it’s all real, and totally plausible. So I was impressed with how real Sarah Michelle Gellar made it, by squeezing out some real tears. She’s quite good at crying on cue, as we have already seen many times.

Beth said...

Adding to the chorus of those who always said "Who could sleep on those crocheted pillowcases?" They bugged me from day-one, and I was a fan from the start.

I'm learning so much from this rewatch, though--like the seekrit identit of Buffy's father. Now I'm very glad that I never watched Little House on the Prairie, because I might not have appreciated his character if I'd had to erase that memory [shudder].

The Question Mark said...

Cordelia is hilarious, and such a likeable character even though she's supposed to be Sunnydale's resident bee-yotch.
It'll be cool to see her hanging out with the good guys in Season 2.

Efthymia said...

"Nightmares": How traumatised are we all from the school experience to share the exam nightmare? I completely understand Buffy in this episode, it was History for me as well, mostly during the year after the end of school.
I'm also right there with Xander: what's scarier than clowns and Nazis? But I've never really had nightmares about either... I believe the clown in this episode is a tribute to Stephen King - or maybe it's just me seeing it as such because of my love for mr. King.
By the way, the kid that plays Billy always reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

"Out of sight, Out of mind" (or whatever the title is): Could a person really be so ignored that not even the teachers knew who they were? It seems far-fetched to me, but then again, school life in the USA as presented in cinema and TV always seems completely different to what I've experienced in Greece.

David Kociemba said...

re: "disappearing"

I remember a conference paper at Slayage 2 that talked about using Buffy to teach American slang in China to elementary school students. A girl, young for her elementary school class, watched “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” This girl, who never spoke in class or even much outside of it, came up to the teacher at the end of the semester. She asked the teacher in that troubled way that kids do when they’re trying to figure out something on their own, about the episode. She asked for confirmation, essentially, of her understanding that the girl in that episode disappeared because no one thought of her. Getting that confirmation, she nodded. Later, back in the states, the teacher heard word of this student again. It’s a tradition in the foreign language classes to take a name from the culture being studied. The next semester, this quiet young girl had taken the name Buffy. She’d started speaking up for herself in class and outside it, just a bit.

Anonymous said...

I've had Willow's dream, though it's being on stage and not knowing the script or blocking rather than a song.

I thought that Out of Mind captured the way it can feel in high school - that you're a non-entity.

Marebabe said...

I just remembered another thing I really enjoyed in “Nightmares”. Cordelia’s dream of frizzy hair and a hideous outfit. That was so perfect!

Suzanne said...

Like so many others, the crocheted pillow cases have bothered me for a long time. Not only did I wonder how she could be comfortable sleeping on them, but I couldn't get the image of the disgusting drool that would be embedded in them since they would be fairly hard to clean as often as needed. What a riot to read Nikki's observations and see that she too (and many others here) noticed them.

JavaChick said...

Nightmares is one of my favorites and my mind made the exact same jump to OMWF on the 'what do they need all those legs for' and the 'wacky broadway nightmares'.

And how heartbreaking was Buffy's nightmare with her father? Or Giles nightmare of Buffy's grave for that matter. And Cordelia's were hilarious! :)

JavaChick said...

Also, in defense of season 1...While many people refer to it as being not very good, it was obviously good enough to capture an audience. Yeah, some of it may seem dated & hokey, but there are some good stories there in addition to the characters that we know and love.

I didn't actually start watching Buffy until sometime in season 3. While I have been a sci-fi/fantasy fan for as long as I can remember, I can't watch horror so I thought I wouldn't like Buffy. When I did start watching it, I loved it. I started catching up on the earlier seasons in syndication, and it was so cool to me to see all these things that had been referenced in later episodes. I love that about Buffy & Angel.

Lesley C said...

Late to the party - I just wanted to chime in that, upon see Billy for the first time in "Nightmares," I had to pause the episode and visit IMDB just to make sure it really wasn't a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Glad it wasn't just me, Efthymia!

Hazel said...

"Nightmares": Cordelia with her wild hair and long skirt looks like she is Kate Bush from one of her videos from the 80s.

Sara D. said...

I always found it amusing the wide variety in level of seriousness that is present in each person's nightmare. We go from Cordelia having a bad hair day to Giles at Buffy's grave. That type of rapid swing in emotional tone is one of the things that makes the show so great, in my opinion.

Blam said...

Nikki: A great finish to the first season of a great show that isn't off to nearly as bad a start as many make it out to be (as so many of our comments have proven)...

The dream sequences were much like real dream sequences – not necessarily making sense, with no logical connections from one second to the next.

Yes! This was one of my quibbles with Inception, actually. For all the characters' talk about the malleability of the dreamscape, the inner/sub/unconscious realm was more "dreamlike" than actually "dream-like" (if you get my distinction) — suddenly fantastic things happening, yes, but abrupt scenic transitions, not so much.

I know so many people who have dreams of flying or their teeth falling out, and I’ve never had either.

Hmm... I've had both on plenty of occasions. The latter are horrible, as you'd imagine, but, Nikki, the flying is so awesome.

VW: exest — adj. 1. The most former. 2. (exEST) A transplant from the Atlantic coast of North America.

Blam said...

I (*gasp*) never watched Little House (yet am culturally savvy enough to call it that), so seeing Whom Ever all grown up as Buffy's dad in "Nightmares" wasn't a thing for me — but it was interesting to meet Buffy's dad.

We also see Buffy as a vamp for the first time, and it does not compute, sort-of like seeing Picard made up like a Romulan (or, given the forehead, a Klingon, if they ever did that) on ST:TNG.

Meanwhile, over in "Out of Sight, Out of Mind", I was shocked to see the Buffster wearing a skirt below the knee. Take note: Doing a shot when Buffy wears appropriate clothing in Season One is the safest drinking game ever.

The other persistent thought that I had during that episode, which dwarfs even the cliché of the villain taunting her captives until the hero can escape, is, "Who in the history of television knowingly fights an invisible person without spray paint or pudding or some kind of goop to throw on her?"

VW: spones — Do you like soup served in edible bread bowls? Then you'll love to eat it with spones. It's a spoon... It's a scone... It's a spone! (And for you meat-eaters out there, we're pleased to introduce fporks, available now in the deli section!)