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Monday, July 9, 2012


[Updated May 1, 2013]

Many of the commenters at AtPO were of the view that “all things lead to Restless”. By this they meant that the episode works both forward and backwards. Looking back, it gives insight into previous episodes by telling us how Joss saw the characters up through that point in time. “I thought a nice coda to the season, which had been very anarchic and sort of upheavely season, would be to do a piece that just commented on the four characters we had grown to know and love, and where they were in their lives, what they felt about things and each other….” (Joss DVD commentary; all quotes from Joss below come from the same source.)
Looking forward, it sets the stage for seasons 5-7. Many of the themes and images from Restless will be used in future episodes. This is specifically true of the prophetic aspects of Buffy’s dream (see below), but it’s also true in many other respects as well.
I might not be quite as enthusiastic in my acceptance of the “all things lead to Restless” view as some, but I do think it’s generally true and a very useful way to explore the themes of the episode and the show generally.

The unique status of Restless, in its structure, in its concept, and in its role as the season finale, make it the most difficult episode to write about. I’ll do the best I can with this “tone poem” (Joss’s words). Joss helpfully provided a fairly detailed commentary on the DVDs, so I’ll include parts of that as well as some of my own thoughts.
As a preliminary matter, I want to emphasize that in each case the character’s dream reinforces the association of that character with the aspect of Buffy that we saw in The Yoko Factor: the First Slayer chokes Willow so that she’s unable to breathe (aspirate, which puns with spirit); she rips out Xander’s heart; and she cuts open Giles’s head to reveal his “enormous squishy frontal lobes”. We’re even shown the dreams in the same sequence as Willow laid out the Tarot cards when she performed the joining spell in The Yoko Factor.
Again, these associations will be made in future episodes as well, but I think it’s worth calling attention to them here because of the Janus-like features of Restless.
Fundamentally, I see the dreams as expressing (exposing?) the characters’ insecurities and how they see themselves and each other. These insecurities are very similar to those we saw on display in Fear, Itself and A New Man, and rubbed raw by Spike in The Yoko Factor. I’ll begin the discussion of each character’s dream with a quote from my posts on those episodes. I’m sure you’ll see the connection.
Willow’s dream.
Fear, Itself: “As we’ve known since Nightmares, Willow fears that underneath it all, she’s still just a badly dressed geek.”

Her dream opens with a beautiful scene of Willow using calligraphy to write a poem on Tara’s naked back. “This scene [with Tara] is largely about their intimacy and trust and the safe place in her life that is her relationship with Tara.” (Joss)
The scene is an homage to the movie The Pillow Book, which fits the calligraphy. The words, however, are written in Greek and come from a poem by the Greek poet Sappho called Hymn to Aphrodite. Here’s one translation of the complete poem (well, it’s actually a fragment to begin with):
Deathless Aphrodite on your lavish throne,
Enchantress, daughter of Zeus: I beg you, queen,
Do not overpower my soul with heartaches
and hard troubles,
But come here, if ever at another time
Having heard my voice you paid me attention
And leaving the golden house of your father
you came to me,
Yoking your horse and chariot: gorgeous swift
Sparrows carried you over the coal-black earth,
Thickly whirling their feathers through the midst of
heaven's ether.
Swiftly they arrived, and you, O blessed one,
Smiling with your immortal face, you asked for
What I suffered, and why again I call you
And what in my maddened soul I desire most
To happen to me: what dearest one shall I now
Persuade to lead you back to her — who, O Sappho,
wronged you this time?
For even if she flees, swiftly she will pursue;
And if she does not receive my gifts, she will give;
And if she does not love me, swiftly she will love,
Even against her will. So come to my aid now,
Release me from my grievous cares, fulfill as much
As my heart yearns to be fulfilled: come, be my

Interestingly, Joss describes the scene as one of warmth and trust, but the poem expresses a concern that the poet’s lover doesn’t actually love her; that’s the reason she calls on Aphrodite, the goddess of love. I think we can see Willow’s fundamental insecurity in this contrast. The fact that Tara tells her “you don’t know everything about me” reinforces this in my view. Tara’s statement, like many of her statements in the dreams, will serve as the basis for one episode in S5.
Willow had mentioned in The Yoko Factor that she was thinking of taking drama. It’s therefore natural that her dreaming mind would turn to that. In addition, her stage fright has been well-established since the S1 episodes The Puppet Show and Nightmares, so the context of a play is an obvious way to explore her insecurities.
The play we see is nominally Death of a Salesman, though the dream version is, naturally, fanciful. The actual play relates the story of Willy Loman, a salesman whose deterioration at the age of 60 leads to his failure at his job and his eventual suicide. It’s at least possible that Willow’s dream focuses on that play as a reflection of her own underlying insecurities about who she is (see below). The scene of Riley and Harmony with the milk jugs (heh) cuts directly to this dialogue:
TARA: (offscreen) Everyone's starting to wonder about you. The real you. If they find out, they'll punish you, I ... I can't help you with that.

Willow’s dream ends with her exposure in front of a high school class. Two features of this part of her dream are interesting. Taking the more mundane first, her book report was on the C.S. Lewis novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The title of the book names 3 parts of Willow’s dream: the lion = Miss Kitty Fantastico; the witch = Willow (and Tara); and the wardrobe = the references to Willow’s attire throughout the dream (“you’re not in costume”; Buffy ripping Willow’s clothes off to reveal her S1 outfit). This segment gave the name to a fan board – The Kitten, The Witches, and The Bad Wardrobe, known colloquially as The Kitten Board – which will become very important in S6. I’ll discuss it in connection with the episode Seeing Red.
What’s psychologically important about the classroom scene is that it highlights Willow’s concern about her true self being revealed for all to see – she’s always worried that in the end, she’s the same inadequate loser Cordy always told her she was. This concern gets expressed with reference to her attire, which we’ve seen since the “softer side of Sears” scene at the drinking fountain in Welcome to the Hellmouth. Joss says that “Willow is feeling like she is wearing a disguise, she isn’t telling anyone the truth. The mislead is that what she’s talking about is her sexuality. In fact what she’s talking about is that she still considers herself to be a big nerd.” If her friends saw her as she really was, she worries that they’d sit and watch while she was killed.
Xander’s dream.
Fear, Itself: “Xander fears that he’s invisible to the group and to Buffy in particular. Xander isn’t in college, he isn’t employed, and he feels himself inferior to those who are.”

Xander’s dream invokes two of my favorite movies, The Graduate and Apocalypse Now. It begins with the latter because that was the movie they were going to watch when the episode opened. “Giles says that it’s [referring to Apocalypse Now] all about the journey, and that’s particularly true in the case of this episode. It’s the journey of life, it’s a journey through these people’s psyches. … But it’s not about the twist, it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey. You could say that about the show as a whole.” (Joss)
Before Xander actually embarks on his journey, he goes upstairs and encounters Joyce. He imagines her in a scene reminiscent of the famous scene from The Graduate between Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, inspiration for the Simon & Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robinson”. “[W]hat I was really saying with that was Xander is looking for love, not just trying to get into the pants of every pretty girl he’s friends with, but really looking for some comfort, some love that he’s clearly lacking from his family life.” Joss.
Xander really does think about sex all the time. He said so in Earshot and we have no reason to disbelieve him. We know he’s enamored of Buffy, so the fact that his dreams fantasize about Joyce too is not all that surprising. If there were another Summers woman, Xander might be interested in her too. ;) Note that in parts of their conversation Joyce’s lips don’t move even when we seem to hear her speak; we know it’s Xander’s dream putting words in her mouth.
The Initiative doctors and soldiers who stare at Xander in the bathroom are acting just as Michel Foucault described society; see my post on Goodbye Iowa. Their observation alone is enough to make Xander change his behavior. Xander’s problem is that he hasn’t yet figured out how to actually make his life better. When he left the bathroom he simply ended up in his basement. “And now we find that the door leads to his basement, and of course this becomes a constant theme for Xander, the way disguise is for Willow. The journey always seems to end up in the same place for Xander, and it’s the place he doesn’t want to be. Partially, because it gives him a sense of failure, and partially because of something in there that frightens him.” Joss.
Upon leaving the basement he finds Buffy, Giles and Spike outside. Buffy calls him “brother” which is how Xander now realizes that Buffy sees him. Xander apparently once envisioned himself as a Watcher, but now rejects that because he has to “keep moving forward”. Like a shark. On land.
His dream then circles back to other evidence of his failure, this time the food truck where he and Anya had the embarrassing conversation about sex in WTWTA. His conversation with Anya exposes two of his fundamental concerns:
ANYA: Do you know where you're going?
(Xander looks at her, surprised.)
ANYA: I've been thinking about getting back into vengeance.

He can’t hold those thoughts for long, though, and his mind drifts back to sex, this time a fantasy about Willow and Tara (as with Joyce, their lips don’t move during much of the “dialogue”). At this point the network was still censoring any actual lesbian kissage, so all we saw was Xander’s reaction. Even so, “This is the kiss, the longest lesbian kiss on tv. They actually asked us to cut down his reaction shot, but we held it for as long as we could, because we thought it was amusing to have the biggest kiss and not show anything.” Joss.
Xander’s trip to UC Sunnydale expresses his unsuitability for college; that’s not his way out either. Everyone there speaks French to him, which is exactly how he’d feel not understanding the courses in college. “Everybody speaking a different language, everybody is ahead of him, everybody is growing up, moving on and he’s stuck and he doesn’t understand why. He can’t figure anything out, which is part of what his dilemma is about.” Joss. If you don’t speak French and don’t have a transcript, here’s the scene:
GILES: (??) Ce n'est pas le temps pour des jeux. [This is not the time for games.]
(Anya approaches.)
ANYA: Xander. (Fake French woman's voice) Il faut que tu viens avec nous maintenant. On t'attends. [You have to come with us now. They're waiting for you.]
GILES: C'est que j'ai vous dire. [That's what I said.]
XANDER: Honey, I don't... I can't hear you.
(Anya takes his hand.)
ANYA: C'est pas importante. Je t'escorte. [It's not important. I'll take you.]
GILES: Allons-y la. [Let's go.]

From the moment they pick him up in the hallway and turn him upside down through the dialogue with Principal Snyder, his dream becomes a shot-by-shot reenactment of Apocalypse Now. It’s brilliant. Snyder speaks for all authority figures as Xander sees them – telling him he’s worthless.
His final trip to the basement shows us the reason why: “The evil father there, a real problem. The heart of his story, the heart of his misery. He can’t stop being a Harris, that’s his real fear.” Joss.
Giles’s dream.
A New Man: “When kids go off to college, they don’t need their parents as much and they don’t communicate with them as often. At this stage of Buffy’s progression to adulthood, we’d therefore expect Giles to feel neglected. In fact Giles was feeling useless as early as Wild at Heart, when he showed up at the Bronze very awkwardly, and then later when he was watching game shows on TV and appeared over-eager to see Buffy.”
His effort to hypnotize Buffy as his dream opens exposes some of the more questionable aspects of the Watcher/Slayer relationship:
GILES VOICEOVER: You have to stop thinking.
(Fade to Buffy's face, looking pleased. The reflection of the watch moves across her face.)
GILES VOICEOVER: Let it wash over you.
BUFFY: Don't you think it's a little old-fashioned?
GILES: This is the way women and men have behaved since the beginning...

Giles doubts that he still functions as a Watcher, or that he should. The scene at the carnival tells us that Giles, much like all parents, still sees Buffy as a child. That’s one option, but the presence of Olivia suggests another: “Giles’ big problem is he can’t decide who he wants to be. Should he be going off and being a father, having a real life, what’s going on.” That’s why we see Olivia, crying, sitting on a coffin next to the baby carriage.
Spike calls him on his indecision:
GILES: (very confused) What am I supposed to do with all of this?
SPIKE: (offscreen) You gotta make up your mind, Rupes.
SPIKE: What are you wasting your time for? (Pose, flashbulbs)
SPIKE: Haven't you figured it all out yet, with your enormous squishy frontal lobes?

The scene in the Bronze emphasizes his indecision. “We just stuck Giles’ living room in the bronze. This just highlights Giles’ problem because should I raise a family? Should I be a rock star? Or should I give the boring exposition in every episode of Buffy? And of course we combine the two by getting him to get up and sing the exposition.” Joss. The band on stage for his song was Four Star Mary, the real life Dingoes.
I think you can interpret Giles’s attempt to untangle the power cords as a metaphor for what he does in his role as Watcher. But though he claims that he can defeat the First Slayer using only the power of his intellect, in fact he can’t.
Buffy’s dream.
Fear, Itself: “Buffy's fear is fear of abandonment, i.e., that every time she cares about someone she'll be deserted. Worse than even this is her fear that the reason people abandon her is that there’s something wrong with her, that it’s her fault.”

Her dream opens with a reference to the past, namely to Faith’s dream in This Year’s Girl. That was a prophecy then and this scene adds to it. We’ll see the results next episode. Tara’s comment that the bedroom clock is “all wrong” refers to Buffy’s dream in Graduation Day 2 and is also a prophecy which we’ll see fulfilled in S5.
Her actual dialogue with Tara sets the theme of her dream:
BUFFY: (looking back at bed) The guys aren't here, are they? We were gonna hang out (looks at Tara) and, watch movies t-
TARA: You lost them.
BUFFY: No. (Looks confused) No. I think they need me to find them.

En route to looking for them – and note that she doesn’t find them until she wakes up – Buffy stops briefly to talk to her mother. Buffy’s keeping her mother walled off from the rest of her life. “[S]he ignores her mother when she does ask for some help because she’s off doing the next thing.” Joss.
When Riley greets Buffy with “hey there killer”, that suggests that she’s concerned that he won’t accept her Slayer side. She fears that she is, indeed, nothing other than a killer. A bit later we’ll see “the side of her that really is primal, and we can see the demon within, sort of, and Riley can’t seem to handle that.”(Joss): “Riley: Okay, killer... if that's the way you want it. I guess you're on your own.”
Buffy’s view of Riley sitting there with Adam (yes, that’s him without the makeup) shows that she’s worried that Riley still truly belongs to the Initiative. Whether you see the Initiative as “college” or as “society” or both, the fact that they’re drawing up a plan for world domination suggests that he still is influenced by his programming. “[Riley] playing Buffy’s fear of what he could be, the Government incarnate, the businessman, the suit, evil corporate CIA guy. This shows that the relationship is not entirely stable, and even though she loves him, in her dream he is someone who doesn’t get her and who doesn’t belong in her world.” Joss.
Adam and Riley have to go off and name things, which is interesting on two counts. First, giving names to things was one of the Biblical Adam’s roles in Genesis. The other is the contrast between their attitude towards names with that of Willow and Tara: “Someone actually pointed out to me something I hadn’t noticed, which was they [Willow and Tara] talk about letting something tell you its name, and then Riley talks about naming things, specifically. The idea of the masculine and feminine version of how to experience the world. The feminine version of letting it come to you and the masculine version of sort of conquering it and codifying it yourself. That is actually someone on the internet who mentioned that.” Joss.
Why is it the First Slayer who attacks them? In my reading it’s because Buffy’s determination to become an authentic adult threatens her friends. Buffy herself worries that this is true, that her Slayer side will cause her to become cold, unfeeling, and isolated from her friends. The attacks of the FS come when the victim’s secret fear stands exposed: when Willow stands in front of the classroom; when Xander faces his father; when Giles tries to unravel the cords; and when Buffy rejects the FS’s insistence on “no friends, just the kill.” Buffy’s confrontation with the First Slayer demonstrates that at some level Buffy herself doesn’t believe that isolation is inevitable. She can choose. When she does, her friends wake up.
Shadowkat: “I found Buffy's dream unlike the other three to be very existentialist. (Assuming I understand existentialism). She basically was telling the powers that be - that she sets her own course, makes her own decisions, not them. She doesn't believe in fate. She will be more because she chooses to. It makes her a wild card - sets her outside the boundaries. When we grow up - we take charge of our own lives, we stop letting others tell us how to live them. Age may factor into this to some extent - but I've always believed that the true sign of maturity is when you start taking responsibility for your own actions and the consequences of those actions and stop blaming others for them and stop waiting for someone else to tell you what you should or should not do.”
“You think you know ... what's to come ... what you are. You haven't even begun.”
Trivia notes: (1) Riley’s description of the Initiative as the “Bay of Mutated Pigs” refers to the Bay of Pigs debacle under President Kennedy. (2) The movie Apocalypse Now was based on the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, which is why Willow asks Xander if he has something “less heart of darkness-y”. (3) Buffy’s costume for the play was based on the musical Chicago. (4) Willow’s concern that the performance will be Madame Butterfly refers back to her nightmare in Nightmares. (5) The cheese man’s words in Giles’ dream – “I wear the cheese. It does not wear me.” – reference the 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask. Joss: “What is the meaning of the Cheeseman is the question I get asked constantly, which shows me that we are getting it right because he is the only thing which has no meaning.” (6) When Buffy’s dream begins, she still has the cut on her head from The Yoko Factor. (7) Buffy’s statement about being a fireman when the floods roll back refers to the Gospel song “God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign”.


  1. Excellent analysis!

    I've read a different interpretation of the Willow/Tara scene that I also like, because its also a reference to things that happen in the future.

    Miss Kitty in the dream also represents Willow, and that the Willow hasn't named* her power, and then her nonchalant unconcern about her own name and power, will lead to disastrous consequences later.


    In the S8 comic Goddesses and Monsters, a Willow one shot written by Joss, it is explained that some of Willow's inability to control her magic came from the short cut route she took in her self-instruction. For example, she should have gone on a vision quest of her own, to find her spiritual guide, a lack she is making up for in the comic, which takes place post-S7 pre S-8. This to me demonstrates that this interpreation of the Restless dream has some validity.

    And that's the awesome thing about metaphor, is how many different ways it could be read.

    And this:

    nd if she does not receive my gifts, she will give;
    And if she does not love me, swiftly she will love,
    Even against her will. So come to my aid now,

    Spooky! I know the future Willow storyline was planned out for S5, but still.

    *It's similiar to that, but the concept of true naming is all jumbled in my head right now on account of just finishing Paolini's Eragon series, which I must say improved greatly over the initial introduction to the series. The first two books were very predictable, but as he grew as a writer the story became more independent and less reliant on previously established fantasy tropes. If anyone gave up after the second, I'd recommend giving it a finish.

    1. Thanks! That's an interesting read for Willow. I definitely agree that the lack of guidance for Willow is problematic. Hello, Giles! I mean, he encourages her (mostly) but offers no guidance himself nor aid in finding someone who can. She's self-taught, for good and bad.


      Yeah, the idea of calling on supernatural aid to keep her love was an idea better kept away from Willow.

    2. SPOILERS FOR S06 cont'd

      I'm sure you'll get to this in the future, but really the bad idea was calling on the supernatural to keep her best friend. It endowed Willow with senses of both overwhelming power (the sense of which she exhibits early in that season in her confrontation with Giles), and inescapable guilt (once she learns where Buffy had really been) - a noxious, dangerous combination.


      Definitely. That's one reason I alluded to it now.

  2. This was a really....eerie episode. Frankly, I found the dialogue between Buffy and the FS to be a little bit lack in something, but I can't quite place my finger on what it is.

    I'm curious about your "everything leads to Restless" comment, I suppose it does kind of capture all the characters innate insecurities, but I am having a tough time seeing what it really does beyond that. Perhaps this is an episode that benefits from multiple views, it certainly seems that way.

    I have to be honest, I found Willow's portion to be a bore, we've been here before, in fact, it feels like we always come back here and I didn't really need to be told again about how she isn't sure of herself. Or rather, I wish each character could have found a way to overcome these insecurities in the episode because I find it to be fairly apparent at this point that Willow is in fact more than the girl she was in high school, and certainly not someone who's friends would let her die in front of her. I don't know though, I feel like sometimes I focus too much on the story aspect of the show and don't give metaphor and subliminal messaging enough credit, something I'm trying to amend. And, frankly, I wasn't thrown by the lesbian herring, I saw it mostly for what it is.

    Now, Xander on the other hand, now that portion was excellent. I often feel like Xander is one of my least favorite characters on the show for the way he occasionally treats people, but wow, this almost showed me why. I think there have been other references to his home life in past episodes, but the way it was specifically addressed her was so saddening to me. It felt so real and circle to me that in all Xander does in trying to be better, his greatest fear is, like you say, the fact that he will end up the same person as his father. The scene with Anya and Xander in the car was particularly telling of this. That was very reminiscent of the kind of miserable wife and husband. I am sort of rooting for him now.

    Giles was definitely on point here. His dream was by far the most funny (Spike posing for the camera). I actually almost feel like Giles resembles Xander's struggle in a way if only because he too is trying to find a purpose to his life. Buffy doesn't really seem to need him as her Watcher anymore, so should he commit to a kind of fatherly role or just move on completely to pursue his own ends? Might be a stretch, but I don't know, everything seems to have that existentialist feel to it of forging that authentic self.

    In Buffy's dream, I wonder if you would agree that the FS almost represents the kind of adult Buffy should be avoiding, the kind that succumbs to conformity and the doesn't recognize any other part of one's self? It kills the heart, spirit, and mind making the person nothing more than a mindless -- passionless -- being compelled only to complete the task before them, kind of like the FS that doesn't even has a voice through which to speak.

    Love Joss's explanation on Riley, I was worried he might be the one, but it doesn't really seem that way and the "killer" comment shows once again how little I think Riley understands Buffy's life.

    Head is spinning a little bit, but definitely a great episode, I kind of like that they ended it this way rather than with the fight with Adam who was, despite being a little bit cool, a kind of lackluster Big Bad for the season. This is one of those episodes where I'm really glad to have your reviews though, so thanks for that!

    1. It does help to watch Restless more than once (most episodes benefit from that), but I think you'll get a better sense of it when you watch for themes from the episode in later seasons, particularly S6 and S7. I'd say more, but you haven't seen the later seasons and I don't want spoilers.

      I'd agree that Willow's insecurities are more familiar, and therefore less interesting at this point, than Xander's. For me, the important thing is not whether Willow's view of her own place in the world is accurate, it's whether she is able to get past those insecurities. As we saw in The Yoko Factor, she's still worried that she's "just" a sidekick, and it gnaws at her. There will be consequences; on Buffy, there are always consequences.

      I think you got the point of Buffy's dream perfectly. It's going to play out in S5 and, to some extent, S7.

  3. One of my favourite episodes! It's a fascinating character study, beautifully shot. It's not easy to get that oniric quality right. It reminds me a lot of David Lynch. I love it!
    To me it feels more like the season 5 opening than season 4 finale, if that makes sense.

    Your analysis is great as usual, I don't think I have anything to add. However, I noticed something rewatching the episode and I wanted to know your opinion on it. During Giles' dream Willow calls him "Rupert". I thought that was very curious, it's certainly odd. I wonder what's the reason behind it. In my opinion it's because Giles thinks Willow is close enough to him to call him that, even if she doesn't normally.

    The only other time she calls him that is when she's mad he called her an amateur. Oh, well.

    Another thing that I found interesting was how Anya was sleeping in Willow's bed in Buffy's dream. Perhaps Buffy thinks Anya is replacing Willow somehow? Her relationship with Xander could be the reason. Buffy might see her as an intruder.

    1. I didn't think about Willow calling him Rupert. That's odd. I just did a quick search. If I did it right, she doesn't call him that again until Grave.

      My best guess is that she does this during Giles' own dream, so he's really thinking to himself and therefore using his own name in his internal thoughts.

      I'll have to think about why Anya might be in Willow's bed. I don't have a quick answer.