Read along in Bite Me, pp. 244-246.
If you’re watching Angel, this week’s episode is 1.12 To Shanshu in LA, a brilliant first-season ender. For everyone who’s stuck with it through season 1, this episode is the payoff…and season 2 is even better.
Now, before we discuss “Restless” here in the non-spoilery post, I just wanted to remind people that while “Restless” is notable for foreshadowing much of the coming seasons, please don’t talk about any of that unless you’re over on the spoiler board below. We’ll keep this board as a discussion of the references made to previous episodes, and the other board will be where you can talk about “what is to come.” (In my book, I actually included "Restless Moments" throughout for the following episodes, talking about the events that happened that had already been foreshadowed in "Restless.")
Ah, “Restless.” As I mentioned last week, this is an episode unlike anything else in the Whedonverse. In season 1, with “Nightmares,” Joss showed that he has an incomparable grasp on conveying dreamscapes in a way we can all identify with. The “oh my GOD I’ve had that dream too!” feeling that accompanies many of the scenes is repeated in several other dream sequences that he builds in season 2 (the one in “Surprise” where Buffy is walking through the Bronze, hearing snippets of things that had been said in previous episodes), season 3 (the Faith/Buffy dream “counting down from 7-3-0” – a line that will have immense significance in season 5) , and season 4 (the more Faith-perspective sequel to that dream in “This Year’s Girl). But nothing compares to “Restless.”
In this episode we see the innermost thoughts and subconscious of our four main Scoobs – Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Xander – through their dreams, which are at times frightening and funny. Interestingly, Xander’s is the one we might expect to be the funniest, but it’s not. As with many goofballs, he’s a funny guy on the outside to cover the torment that he deals with every day, and his dreams show that. He moves in and out of Apocalypse Now, but always ends up in his bedroom, which is clearly not the way out. We see his father for the first time, albeit briefly, and it’s not a happy moment.
Willow’s dream is a bit of a repeat of the one in “Nightmares,” but this time around she’s not so much worried about having to walk out on stage, but that every day she’s wearing a costume and pretending to be someone she’s not. As many people watching can attest, you can slough off the trappings of being the school nerd or browner, but you’ll always carry those taunts with you.
But seriously, how much do you love the production of Death of a Salesman? Even I loved Riley as Cowboy Guy.
Giles’s dream is where we begin to break through to what is really happening. Oddly, while I love Giles’s dream, watching it this time through it seemed like the least dream-like to me. Giles is in complete control throughout the dream, shrugging off everyone and not looking confused or perturbed by anything happening around him. The scene on the stage is BRILLIANT, and the line, “And try not to bleed on my couch, I just had it steam-cleaned” is so hilarious I laugh out loud every time I see it. (This is why Joss had to do the musical in season 6…) If the dreams are Alice in Wonderland-like in feel and terror, Giles is the White Rabbit, believing he’s late for everything and things have passed him by.
Buffy’s dream is the most prophetic for reasons I won’t go into here. In case you didn’t notice, the other agent sitting at the table with Riley is the guy who played Adam… in one piece instead of a mish-mash of demon-ness.
But for all the intertextual subsconsious-y goodness at work here, what many people want to know is the significance of the Cheeseman (“I wear the cheese… it does not wear me”) and as I said in my book, and still say, he doesn’t mean anything. It’s one of those wacky things you see in your dream and wake up to think, “WTF was THAT?!” Why does he appear in all of their dreams? For me, it’s just because of the interconnectedness of the group… and possibly an aftereffect of them all coming together to do the spell.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s move on to the cheesiest man I know (ha-HA, how’s THAT for a segue!) When I initially wrote my entry for “Restless” in Bite Me I said that an entire dissertation could probably be written on this one episode. And then Matthew Pateman one-upped that and wrote most of a book on it. I’ve mentioned his book, The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, several times before, and we last encountered him in his “Beer Bad” recap (he was the hatiest of the hate camp) and in week 3 of the rewatch. You may know
Because he’s basically written the ultimate analysis of “Restless,” I wanted him to cover this week, obvs. But by that same token, it’s like asking me to say a few words on Lost: when you’ve researched something as much as this, how can you speak generally about the topic? But he came through, as always. If you’d like a really fantastic, and occasionally (chuckle) academic look at the episode, I’d recommend his book, but first, here he is:
‘Restless’ is many things, and many of the things it is have been discussed me at interminable length in the book which I am really hoping Nikki plugged in her preamble! [I have no idea what book he’s talking about. — Nik] Let’s get the simple things out of the way first – though their simplicity should not be mistaken for being unimportant: it is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the 78th); it is written and directed by Joss Whedon (the 15th such one to this point); it is the last episode of season four (the fourth finale episode to this point – yes, obvious, I know, but pertinent). A few less simple things (all that I just wrote by the way, is open to dispute: surely ‘Surprise’ is a finale of sorts; isn’t the unaired pilot also an episode?, how are we defining ‘written’)... Be that as it may: a few less simple things – it concludes season four; it is an episode made up of a series of dreams; it is highly allusive; it reflects back on much of the previous myth we thought we knew; it offers hints (if only we knew) about some things to come – as a spoiler free discussion, this cannot engage with those, but phew!, have we got some stuff coming!
I want to leave the detailed discussion to the board – few episodes provide more cud to chew than this one, and few allow for so many points of entry, baffled questions and wonderfully elaborate answers.
So, I will propose an idea about the episode, which is that it operates (among its many other modes of operation) as an essay on interpretation. It is an episode that freely plays with a range of hermeneutic possibilities, and does so both to expand the kinds of discussions that television can be thought to allow, and to offer a warning against an excessive over-determination of interpretive engagement.
In terms of interpretation, the first question it poses is: what is this episode meant to do? It’s the last of the season, so surely it will sum up what’s happened, provide answers, conclude stories. But that happened already in ‘Primeval’. So, what function does this have? Maybe it will start season five early? Nope. It alludes, certainly (but only in a way that can be made sense of after the event, again questioning our role as interpreters), but it does not begin. Perhaps it will offer a stand-alone character episode. Again, nope. Each of the acts is focussed on a character but not in a way that adds up to systematic character episode (unless the character s the First Slayer, but then her introduction is so cryptic, allusive, gnomic that this seems unlikely).
The question remains unanswered at the episode’s end. Indeed, it’s possible the question is even more pronounced, more angrily vented: ‘what the hell was that?’; ‘what just happened?’ and so on.
And what did just happen? Well, Riley left, Joyce went to bed, the gang were left alone and we have the very last time the ‘original’ Scoobies will be like this: three kids and an adult hanging out watching movies. Except they don’t. They fall asleep. Except it’s more than sleep – what, though, is it? Then they wake up and ponder about the dreams they just had (except they were more than dreams)."
What these sleep-visions are is not entirely clear. The presence of the First Slayer is not accidental or unmotivated (even if it is cryptic until the Buffy’s act); indeed in many ways the visions seem to need to be read as manifestations of her spirit. Tat poses many unanswered questions: how does she get in their minds? How dos she know which memories, ideas, desires, thoughts to stimulate? Or does she simply promote a dream that she is then able to inhabit, in addition to being able to make somatically present that which is seemingly only in the mind?
And if she only prompts dreams, why would each of them dream of the cheeseman? Is he simply the sign of her presence, a kind of dream-glitch, necessary for her to be able to work? Or is he, as I maintain, an authorial joke – Whedon studied film, knows the literature, and will have sat through the psychoanalysis lectures. Cheese man in this case is a purposefully exaggerated site of the possibility of both over-interpretation in dreams, and the over-interpretation of the episode. By over-interpretation I mean the desire to read the episode as some kind of psychological truth either about the characters, or (worse) Whedon.
The dreams / visions / manifestations cannot be ‘truths’, but as mini narratives they do offer us a different way of thinking about the character from ‘inside’ as it were. Their acts (whether motivated by the First Slayer or just inhabited by her) draw from the character’s histories, events, relationships, and as such offer reflections on these. These reflections at the level of character also reflect upon the aesthetic practises and narrative trajectories of the show itself: complex, multi-faceted, witty, playful, intense, ambiguous, over-lapping.
I spent half a book offering my ideas about what these might be, so will not bore people by repeating those here. However, it is worth saying that the title is also a reflection of this kind. Whedon as writer, producer, director is always restless; he never sits on his laurels, simply repeating what has succeeded before. “Restless” is not just a wonderfully ambitious, bold and brilliant attempt to structure a four-act drama in a new way; nor is it simply a visual tour-de-force; neither can it be praised solely for its cultural references, homages, pastiches and formal innovation; and it is not merely a staggeringly sophisticated re-statement and pre-diction of the show’s history and future. It is all of the above, and more, but it is also a manifesto: the enactment in artistic form of an artistic belief and this belief is that art is not simple, that Buffy is art, that art requires audiences to work, to interpret, but that interpretations should be challenged, questioned.
“Restless” is an essay about interpretation (though as this is my interpretation / summation I imagine some strong counter-views to such academicism!) . It is part of an on-going declaration that popular culture, popular aesthetics are deep, rich, textured... and it is a perfect ending to a season that took Buffy to University where spurty knowledge and the interpretation and re-interpretation of self is so central.
(*In case Matthew’s title seemed strange, it’s because I emailed him to ask what he wanted to call it. He replied simply, “‘Restless.’ Not adventurous, but accurate.” The second part of that note was simply his own comment, but I took the whole thing to be the complete title. When I stared at it for a bit, thinking, “Really? You don’t think the episode is adventurous?” it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t the subtitle. I told him what I’d done and we both laughed a lot, and then he said we should keep it. So there it is!)
Next week: We enter season 5 of Buffy, season 2 of Angel, a brilliant year of television.
5.1 Buffy vs. Dracula
5.2 Real Me
5.3 The Replacement
2.2 Are You Now or Have You Ever Been
2.3 First Impressions
Your hosts will be Cynthea Masson and Stacey Abbott! See you next week!