Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Restless"

From the vantage point of season four “Restless” seems an odd episode on which to end a season of Buffy particularly when you compare it to the adrenalin rushes of the previous season ending Buffy episodes “Prophecy Girl”, “Becoming”, and “Graduation Day”. From the perspective of seasons five through seven, however, “Restless” seems to take several themes that have haunted Buffy the Vampire Slayer—growing up, the psychological traumas of growing up, responsibility—and add a bit of new blood into the mix (pun intended)—the nature of Slayerness, in particular—to lay the thematic ground for the rest of Buffy from season four until its end in season seven. From this vantage point “Restless” is both the first episode of season five and the opening salvo in Buffy seasons five through seven.

In his commentary on “Restless” Buffy creator and “Restless” writer and director Joss Whedon calls “Restless” his attempt at verbal and visual free associating poetry. The visual qualities of “Restless” are similar, in many ways, to Whedon’s shooting of the Buffy and Angel sex scene in “Surprise”/“Innocence”, a style Whedon compares, in his commentary on “Innocence”, to the visual style of David Lynch. There is some Lynch in “Restless” as well thanks to its visual style, its poetic form, and it’s dreamscape as well as, according to Whedon in his commentary to the episode, the Orson Welles of The Trial, the Stanley Kubrick of Eyes Wide Shut, and the Steven Soderbergh of The Limey and The Underneath. In its focus on the subconscious or unconscious issues haunting our Scoobies in their dreams “Restless” shares a lot with the Buffy episodes “Nightmares” (1:10), “Halloween” (2:6), and “Fear Itself” (4:4) all of which explored the subconscious or unconscious fears of our Scoobies.

It is these dreams and the reason for them that make “Restless” more than simply a dreamscape of free association poetry. Free associating poetry “Restless” may be but it is also a linear—yes I have gone all linear on you Xander—narrative tale that probably contains more symbolism per square 43 minutes or so than any other episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any episode of American television before it. Whedon structures “Restless” around the dreams of each of the Scoobies. The dreams of Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy constitute the four acts of “Restless”. These dreams take us into the minds of the Scoobies, just as “Nightmares”, “Halloween”, and “Fear Itself” did, to reveal the fears, fears very much tied to the theme of growing up, that is at the heart of Buffy, fears the Scoobies have which are generally left unsaid in their waking life.

Restless is a bit odd from the very get go. Unlike every other Buffy episode until now, “Restless” begins with the Buffy theme song and goes directly into a teaser. “Restless” opens shortly after the battle between Adam and the Scoobies that we saw in “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval”. The Scoobies Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy are together at 1630 Revello for the first time in season four. Riley is with them. He is facing a debriefing at the Initiative "in the morning". He expects to be discharged from the Initiative with an honourable discharge because of his role in saving the day and the knowledge he has of the governments own “Bay of Mutated Pigs”, as he puts it, so he leaves but not before Joyce pointedly, as she says, says it is nice to meet him. Shades of Buffy keeping Angel a secret from Joyce.

With Riley gone the Scoobies, still feeling the adrenalin rush of battle, tell Joyce that they won’t be able to sleep and so they are going to watch a film. Xander wants to watch Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Apocalypse Now but Willow and Buffy prefer a chick flick while Giles prefers a British guy flick, something Xander has, in his video choices, has already prepared for. With Joyce in bed upstairs because she is tired the Scoobies are soon asleep downstairs as well.

“Camera moves slowly to…face”. Restless” begins in normal Buffy “realist” mode (every book, film, and TV show creates its own sense of “normal” “reality” that viewers either accept or reject). As we enter the dreamscapes of each Scooby, however, Whedon takes us into a theatre within a theatre (the rehearsal and the performance of the reflexive "Death of a Salesman"), a film within a film (the riff on Apocalypse Now), and a television show within a television show (Xander plying his trade as ice cream salesman as Dream Xander-voyeuristically a la Hitchcock-watches) world, theatrical, filmic, and televisual worlds which Whedon, throughout most of “Restless”, plays with in somewhat Brechtian alienation effect fashion.

In “Restless” Whedon undermines the “realism” the series has built up over the previous four seasons. Each of our Scoobies dreams in “Restless” are built, on one level, around journeys, the journeys of each of our Scoobies toward growing up and the psychic traumas that result from those journeys. Each of the dreams begin with Whedon panning his camera slowly up to the faces of each of our Scoobies. Once inside Whedon’s dreamscapes we see a very different Buffyverse. We see a Buffy who is flapper in Lulu wig, a Riley who is Cowboy Man (“Restless” has apparently made him into John Wayne, a reference to Buffy’s “Who died and made you John Wayne” quip in “The Initiative”) and, along with Adam, a World Domination Guy, a Harmony who is a European milkmaid peasant girl with braids, a Giles who is a theatre director who finally gets the before the show theatre circle right (a reference to “The Puppet Show” where his speech in the circle was less than motivating), acting that is sometimes self-conscious, a Giles and Anya who speak dubbed French in a scene at UC, Sunnydale, a Joyce who is trapped in a wall, exterior dayscapes, including dayscapes in the desert, which are overexposed, interior shots that are blue, green, and orange thanks to blue, green, and orange gels, interior shots in black and white, the use of a 17 mm lens to give a sense of motion along the walls in Buffy’s house and at UC, Sunnydale, rear screen projections playing the role of rear screen projections, steadicam tracking shots as Xander wanders from set to set, negative images of Buffy as she goes all primitive, 4:3 frames that are largely empty with characters placed on the bottom or or on the edges of the frame, space and time manipulations, and a Greek like chorus.

“It's exactly like a greek tragedy”. The Greek chorus—Chorus Anya says “Restless” is like a Greek tragedy—is made up of several characters in the Buffy verse including Tara, the Cheese Man, Buffy, Giles, Olivia, Willow, Xander, and Anya, all of who function as oracle throughout the episode as they comment not only on the journeys of each of our Scoobies past and present, but in some cases, the future journeys of our Scoobies, and on what is going on narratively in “Restless” in our Scoobies dreams.

In her dream Willow worries that, despite how safe she feels with Tara in Tara’s room, where she writes the poetry of the Greek poetess Sappho on Tara’s nude back, and behind the vaginal curtains (this is what Whedon calls them in his commentary on “Restless”) before she enters her Sunnydale High School stage, both lesbian references, her journey may still take her back to the softer side of Sears loser that she and others thought she was in high school, a fear symbolised in the transformation of the Willow of season four into the Willow of season one and season two who stands in front of a Sunnydale High School class in one of her softer side of Sears dresses and with her long hair back reading her book report. There are other things that are haunting Willow in her dream as well. Just as Willow wasn’t sure why Oz chose her as his girlfriend, she is not sure of why Tara is with her, a fear symbolized by Tara and Oz flirting in the Sunnydale High class. Nor is Willow over her stage fright. Willow refers back, at one point, to the disastrous Madam Butterfly stage role she was forced to play in “Nightmares”. And just as Willow’s family and everyone she has met was in the audience in “Nightmares” they are in the audience in “Restless” waiting to see Willow star in “Death of a Salesman”, a, very different “Death of a Salesman” from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

In his dream Xander is worried that his journey will never take him out of the basement he is living in. Realising, thanks to Joyce, that instead of being a "conquistador" he is a "comfortador" Xander still worries that he is not fully a part of the Scoobies, a fear symbolised by Joyce telling the Xandman that the other Scoobies have left him behind at 1630 Revello and when he sees Spike apprenticing as a Watcher, Junior. Apparently Xander hopes or hoped he might be in line to become a Watcher thanks to his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Giles in season four. He continues to fear that he will end up as soldier guy in his own version of Apocalypse Now. In his version of the film he, playing the Martin Sheen role, is brought before Principal Snyder (a wonderful Armin Shimerman), playing the Marlon Brando role, who compares him to decomposed mulch. There is still a lot of the sex on Xander’s mind in his dream. Remember "Surprise"/"Innocence" (2:13 and 2:14) and "Earshot (3:18)? Xander has a thing for Joyce and is interested in the possibility of the little girl on girl and guy action Willow and Tara invite him to partake of at the back of his ice cream truck, a little girl on girl on guy action for which Xander leaves girlfriend Anya, an Anya Xander fears is failing as a human and is going to return to vengeance demoning—is Xander fearful that Anya will go all vengeancy on him? Xander ends up following Willow and Tara, who have disappeared, by crawling past sheep graffiti (shout out to Cordelia calling the Cordettes sheep in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, 2:16) only to end up back where he began and to which he keeps returning, his dark and dank basement.

In his dream Giles continues to worry about where his life is going after being fired as a Watcher. He may no longer be a Watcher in real life but, in his dreams, he brings his Slayer to a scary nightmare carnival in a graveyard to teach her how to kill vampires by throwing balls at the vampire dummy carnival game. Olivia, who is back at least in Giles dreams, tells him to take it easy on the Buffster after Giles tells her to hold her elbow in when throwing and telling Buffy that he doesn’t have any treats for her as a reward for killing a vampire. Giles seems to harbour little hope for him and Olivia as she breaks down crying after she is unable to fold up the baby carriage she has been pushing as Giles and her walk with Buffy through the nightmare carnival. Spike has a cameo in Giles’s dream just as he did in Xander’s. Giles sees Spike as carnival act in 1930s film black and white. Apparently he sees a Spike who has been to the vet as no longer a threat to him or the Scoobs. Anya also has a cameo in Giles’s dream just as she did in Xander's dream. In Giles’s dream Anya fails at being a stand up comedian. Is Giles afraid that failing at being human Anya will return to her vengeance demon days?

“Restless’s” dreamscapes are not purely surreal nor are they unreal. In “Nightmares” the dreams of the Scoobies burst forth into “reality”. In “Restless” the "reality" of what the Scoobies did in “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval”, break into our Scoobies dreams bringing forth a somewhat different kind of primeval force. Throughout Willow’s, Xander’s, and Giles’s dreams we see fragmented images of the episode’s monster of the week, images that become more and more complete as our Scoobies continue to dream in succession. In Willow’s dream the kino eye reveals, as the script says, glimpses of a woman who is stalking Willow who appears to be wearing soiled rags, rags not unlike a mummy's, who has black hair in coarse dreads as a result of neglect, not for fashion reasons, a face painted in coloured clay and with long, almost clawlike nails. Willow’s dream ends as the Primitive” sucks Willow dry, a la “Inca Mummy Girl” (2:4). In Xander’s dream he hears someone, something, making scratches behind the upstairs door to his basement apartment, catches a glimpse of the Primitive waking on its knuckles just as a panther growls, and watches as his father comes down the stairs, complaining as he comes that Xander doesn’t spend time with him and his mother anymore and wonders whether he is ashamed of them, morph into the Primitive who kills him by pulling out his heart. In Giles’s dream we see the full silhouette of the Primitive as indoor lighting strikes behind her. Seeing her Giles says, “I know who you are. And I can defeat you. With my intellect”. Before Giles can kill the Primitive with his intellect, however, she slashes him across his forehead killing him first.

It is in Buffy’s dream that we finally learn who the monster of the week is. It is “the first, the first Slayer. Sineya (Sharon Ferguson). It is in Buffy’s dream that we see and hear the first Slayer for the first time. And it is in Buffy's dream that the monster of the week, the first Slayer, is named. Naming plays an important role in “Restless”. Tara and Willow try to come up with a name for their cat, “Miss Kitty”. You’d think, Tara says, that she would have told us her name by now. Tara tells Willow that she doesn’t know everything about her yet, and she doesn’t as we know from “The I in Team” and "Goodbye Iowa" where Tara intentionally botched a spell she and Willow were performing. Willow responds by asking Tara if she has told her her real name. Riley and Adam in human form are filing and giving things names in their World Domination headquarters. When Buffy asks Adam what his name was before he became Adam, he replies that not a man among us can remember. It is women who finally name the threat to the Scoobies in their dreams. First Tara, then Buffy, speak the name of the first Slayer, “the first”. With the name spoken the dream spell is broken and Buffy tells herself to wake up. This Sleeping Beauty needs no Prince Charming. As Buffy wakes so do the other Scoobies. This weeks threat over, at least for the moment.

“Restless” ends with the Scoobies sitting once again around Joyce’s and Buffy’s table telling Joyce about the battle with the first they just fought. The power of the first Slayer, they surmise, was affronted when they joined manus, Slayer power, with Willow’s spiritus, spirit, Xander’s animus, heart, and Giles’s sophus, mind, to create Combo super Buffy. The first Slayer, by the way, makes the punishment of each Scooby fit the crime. She sucks the spirit out of Willow, pulls the heart from Xander, slashes Giles’s forehead, and tries to kill Buffy in ancient Slayer fashion.

Beyond the fears of our Scoobies and the attack by the first on our Scoobies, both in their dreams, both of which are at the narrative heart of "Restless", a number of other themes weave their way through the episode. There is the reference to 730 again, a reference that once again raises the question of what exactly 730 is. There is the theme of friendship, a theme that has been at the heart of Buffy since it began, a theme interwoven with the tradition that the Slayer fights alone. There is the theme, the new blood I mentioned earlier in this blog, of what a Slayer is. There is the theme of growing up. And then there is the Cheese Man.

The Cheese Man Cometh. Though Whedon said in his commentary on “Restless” that the Cheese Man and his statements and movements—“I”ve made a little space for the cheese slices”, “These will not protect you”, “I wear the cheese. It does not wear me”, “the Cheese Man leans into frame, dangling a couple of slices invitingly"—are meaningless and just one of those weird things that happen in dreams this hasn’t stopped scholar fans and fan scholars from writing about the meaning or meanings of the cheeseman and cheese in the Buffyverse (see the articles by Fionnagh and Melanie Wilson below). And let’s not forget that Buffy, thanks to being turned into a rat in “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” has, as Willow tells Riley and us viewers in “Doomed”, a thing for cheese.

“THE CLOCK reads 7:30”. When talking to Chorus Tara in her bedroom in her dream Buffy says that she and Faith just made her bed, a reference, of course, to the Faith and Buffy collective dream in “Who are You” and “This Year’s Girl” earlier this season. Buffy also notices that the digital clock in her room says 7:30, a reference to what Faith says in another Buffy and Faith collective dream, this one in “Graduation Day”. Chorus Tara responds by telling Buffy that, “Oh, that clocks completely wrong”. So 730 is still to come? As Buffy leaves to find the other Scoobs Tara reminds her to “Be back before dawn”…Be back before dawn? At the end of the episode Buffy goes upstairs to take a shower, stops and looks into her bedroom, sees that the bed is made and hears Chorus Tara’s voice in voice over saying “You think you know. What's to come, what you are… You haven't even begun.” Are we going to learn something new about Slayerness in season five and beyond?

“Have you seen my friends anywhere?” As Buffy wonders through the dreamscape of her bedroom, of a UC, Sunnydale where she finds Joyce in a closet, and the offices of world domination guys, she searches for her friends asking where they are. Is Buffy naming her friends? When she and the first finally confront each other in the desert Buffy asks the first where her friends are. The first, through her oracle of Tara, tells Buffy that a Slayer lives in the action of death, in the blood-cry, the penetrating wound. The Slayer, she says, is absolute destruction and is absolutely alone in a world she doesn’t walk in. Buffy responds by telling the first, “Im not alone”. “I walk. I talk. I shop, I sneeze, I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. There's trees in the desert since you moved out, and I don't sleep on a bed of bones. Now give me back my friends.” The first refuses speaking for herself for the first time, “No… friends… just the kill… we are… alone”. Buffy rejects this ancient tradition of a Slayer alone for a new tradition of a Slayer with friends and family once again and says to the first that you are not the source of me. So will we learn about more Slayer mythology in season five and beyond?

"Is that a fact?". Buffy tells Adam that she is not a demon when Adam tells her that she and he come by aggression differently than humans. In “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval” Buffy told Forrest that she was not a killer. Isn't the first a killer and doesn't Buffy, by putting coloured clay on herself in her dream, connect herself to the first? Is the first a demon?

“Also in terms of hair care…Not big with the socialization…or the floss…”. Buffy criticizes the first’s hair care, Xander her lack of socialization skills, and Willow her lack of flossing skills. Some academics have seen this as evidence of Whedon and Company’s Western ethnocentrism. I have to admit that occasionally these references to the first’s lack of hygiene (there are so many references to hygiene in Buffy that one might wonder if it was a theme to the show if it wasn’t clear that it was a parody and satire of teenager and adult obsessions with how one looks) skills and lack of socialization skills make me uncomfortable. Perhaps these remarks, however, are supposed to make viewers uncomfortable since they may reflect one theme of the show, Buffy’s, Xander’s, and Willow’s continuing struggle to grow up and move beyond the cultural blinders of late twentieth century middle class American ideologies of hygiene, beauty, and socialisation. On the other hand these remarks may be meant to be humourous. Or perhaps they function to return the Scoobies to from their surreal Wizard of Oz dreamscapes back to their mundane “normal” Buffy world. Joss Whedon, in his commentary to "Restless", says that Buffy’s mundane comments to the first function as a means to bring the dreamscape in which the Primitive threatens her and her friends to an end and hence reflects her return to her mundane mental world of old.

So we’re finally off to season five. At this point Willow, Xander, and Giles appear to be on journeys they would rather not be taking. Willow fears journeying beyond her vaginal curtain world with Tara scared that she will once again see the softer side of Sears. Xander would like to journey beyond his dark and dank basement but at this point he can’t seem to get out of the underground lair he keeps returning to again and again. Giles would like to journey back to his days as a Watcher but is not sure he can. And Buffy seems to have embarked on a journey that I am not sure she wants to be on either, the journey to find out who the Slayer within her is. After all Buffy told the first very pointedly that she was different from her. She, she told her, is a Slayer with friends and family.

The Chorus. Fascinating and important symbolically dense episode with tonnes/tons of character developments. Yet another Joss Whedon penned and directed episode that pushes at the boundaries of conventional American television while still keeping the episode fully within the narrative structure and thematic concerns of the series as a whole.

Awesome. Anthony Stewart Head singing “The Exposition Song”, written by Whedon and arranged by Buffy composer Christophe Beck. The band performing the song is Four Star Mary, the band who were the real musicians behind Oz’s band Dingoes Ate My Baby in seasons two through four. “The Exposition Song” sums up what Giles has concluded about the monster stalking them in their dreams. It is, he sings, some primal evil released by the spell they cast in “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval”.

Transcript of Joss Whedon’s Commentary on “Restless”,
Transcript of Joss Whedon’s Commentary on “Innocence”,
Joss Whedon, Commentary: “Restless”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth season on DVD)
Fionnagh, “An Analysis of Cheese as a Metaphor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”,
Melanie Wilson; “Why the Cheese Man Is an Integral Part of Restless” in Kevin Durand (ed.); Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), pp. 161-168

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