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Discussion of 4.22 "Restless" - Aired 5/23/00 (WB-US)

spikenbuffy

"Why can't I stay"
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Do you think that Spike in a suit with Giles as watchers have any signification ?
 

DeadlyDuo

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Do you think that Spike in a suit with Giles as watchers have any signification ?
I believe Spike wears the same suit in Tabula Rasa. I think that scene is about Xander's own insecurity within the group. His own father is not a great role model (as we see in Season 6 and hear about throughout the show), and Giles is the only other older male that Xander has regular contact with. It could suggest that he wants Giles to take on the father role, to embrace him like a son, and instead Giles is giving all that to Spike. Xander subconsciously feels so unloved by his father that he feels like he's not good enough, therefore the man he wants to be a father figure (Giles) is overlooking him as well in favour of a soulless vampire.
 

DeadlyDuo

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The Buffyverse seems to really dislike fathers. Either they're off screen and we never see them or they're bad dads. Hank used to be a good father but then is turned into an absent father. Fred's dad is the only good father we see, but again, he's off-screen a lot of the time.
 

Mr Trick

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Restless is probably my favourite season finale up to this point even if it doesn't have the emotional impact of previous ones. Its so playful and ambitious. Its fun trying to figure out all the meanings. Like with Harmony trying to bite aGiles' neck and him pushing her a way. Its like Harmony isn't seen or taken seriously, even as a vamp. Its sort of foreshadowing for her stuff in S5. I like the dreamlike eerie quality of the episode. Its a cool way to mark the mid-point of the show. The actors do a great job in playing against type. Amber Benson maybe the stand out.
 

Faded90

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I love this episode

I love how it hints that Riley will remain very much an outsider. Willow see’s him as someone who just came along at the right time and ‘why is there a cowboy in the play anyway?’. She doesn’t view him as fitting in. Buffy obviously doesn’t take him fully seriously
 

Priceless

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I like how Willow sees Buffy as some sort of airhead flapper type, who doesn't actually like men and their urges. Is that just wishful thinking on Willow's part?
 

Oromous

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Sineya
I've been looking forward to this episode ever since I learned of its existence, largely because of Passion of the Nerd's video breaking down every single scene in this episode, what characterization it represents, what Buffy themes it further elaborated on, and what future events it foreshadowed (there are two versions: a spoiler one and a non-spoiler one that doesn't reveal what those future events are; I'm watching the latter). Furthermore, after the disappointing 'end' that was last episode, it built up my anticipation for this one even more, because this is everything I wanted from season 4 since I started the season: in-depth character examination. It's what I watch Buffy for, and it's why I'll continue watching Buffy for.

Even though on the surface, "Restless" seems like a gag episode with comedy bits, it actually contains many metaphors with many layers of meaning fleshing out the characterization of each of the Scoobies. In his video, TPN has done tremendous research on explaining what each of the metaphor means, but in spite of my best effort writing this post (and previous posts) refraining from repeating what he has said, I've ended up reciting his interpretation anyway because it makes a lot of sense. To his credit, I encourage you to check out his video. Most of what I'll be saying is found in the video anyway:

(Spoiler Version here for those who've completed the series)

What I'll be doing from this point on is using his interpretation of what is happening as a point of reference to share my own thoughts on the symbolism of the episode. If a symbolism is explained, however, you could safely assume it's credited to TPN.

With that out of the way, let's begin by addressing the elephant in the room: the First Slayer being a muted savage who needs Tara the White Savior to convey her words. Calling it dated would be an understatement, but it's not the first time either that Buffy has presented dated ideas, some more obvious than others. I've mentioned before that I have a problem with the lack of color representation among the white actors. It's a fault of the '90s and thankfully, that has been better rectified down the decades. Unfortunately, Buffy didn't get that opportunity to mend its mistakes in the first four seasons (as far as I'm aware). Kendra, Counselor Stephen Pratt, Mr. Trick, and now the First Slayer; each of them have problematic portrayals that involved either racial stereotypes (Mr. Trick and Sineya) or just being murdered for the sake of character motivation for the white characters (Kendra and Pratt). But that's an entire lengthier conversation for another day. For now, Sineya.

Much like the other color representations in earlier attempts, Sineya is a problematic character, a muted savage who's stripped of humanity, friends and even language, the very opposite of her more civilized half, Buffy Summers the white girl. While I understand why her character needed to be like that, and I'm certainly not condemning it since it does make sense in the context of the episode and Slayer-lore... it's nonetheless problematic and dated in terms of how she's portrayed. This is further worsened when, after Buffy asked Tara to "let her speak for herself," Tara continued to be the one to do the proper talking on her behalf. When Sineya finally talked, she spoke in short bursts of broken sentences that's stereotyping native Africans. There are ways to justify this representation (a lack of English education in Africa), but it's still part of a poor generalization representative of tone-deaf writing in '90s TV. That said, this is the only inferior part of an otherwise wonderfully-written episode with carefully thought out metaphors, as you will come to see.

Willow painting Sappho's Greek poem on Tara's back is beautiful. "Sappho was a female poet who lived on the island of Lesbos around 6 BC." The poem goes:

Aphrodite, on a many-colored throne
deathless, daughter of Zeus,
weaver of wiles,
I now beg you; don't, my mistress,
crush my spirit with anguish and torment.
But, if ever you heard my voice
before from afar,
come.


Both the poem's lyrics and the scene itself represent the kind of relationship the two will probably have down the line (you'll hear a lot of "probably down the line" from me since I haven't seen the other seasons). Willow's darkness is also hinted here with the play on lighting in the scene, and presumably, Tara will play the light to Willow's dark when the latter becomes corrupted in season 6. I'm still intrigued by what Tara said here regarding "You don't know everything about me." At this point of the series, the audience knew that Tara sabotaged Willow's spell, but it wasn't explained why (not yet). From what I heard, this had something to do with Tara wanting to discourage Willow's use of magic, and with magic being a metaphor of female sexuality on this show, that can say a lot about Tara's reluctance for Willow to engage in magic.

Similarly, Tara remarked that the Scoobies don't know everything about Willow either, possibly hinting at the suppressed darkness within Willow that we'll come to see down the line. As early as season 1, Willow always had this insecurity about others (including Buffy and Xander) dismissing her as just another nerd girl, when she is someone more. Willow's dream is a clear representation of that frustration. Ironically, that frustration (and misinterpretation of Buffy's perception) might have led to her dismissing Buffy as a dense air-headed girl as payback and dismissing Xander as a horny misogynist who couldn't care less about Willow's interests (him fantasizing about Willow and Tara doing "magic," him doing "magic" by himself, and him remarking "Who cares?!" during Willow's show-and-tell). On a meta level, Willow's misinterpretation of Xander wasn't entirely wrong, not entirely. When contextualizing all this, keep in mind that, aside from this being a dream (AKA Willow's subconsciousness), Willow has a tendency to be polite enough not to say how she really feels about the Scoobies, including her own misinterpretation of their perception towards her. This presumably changes, again, in season 6 when Dark Willow came out with a big "F you" finger. It's also noteworthy that some have even go so far as to say "Dark Willow is True Willow."

After Willow passes through the vagina-curtains (a sexual analogy confirmed by Whedon in the commentary) and steps into the classroom, notice how BOTH Tara and Oz looked at Willow's "true nerdy self" with scorn, another representation of Willow's insecurity about not being worthy of either of their love, something that could possibly lead to the same kind of suicidal rampage we saw in Faith (see Dark Willow). And after the Spirit (ego) of the Scoobies, Willow, had her spirit sucked out by Sineya, we now move on to the "Heart" (id), Xander.

I'm not surprised at all about Xander's dream being filled with perverted fantasies, and it has nothing to do with my previous implications that Willow wasn't wrong about Xander. Rather, I (and many men I'd assume) was a Xander at one point, confused about our hormones and our perception of sexuality. Xander being torn between his role as "conquistador" and "comfortador" is representative of such confusion. Throughout this season and the dream, Xander also displays insecurities about being a hermit stuck in the basement with no way to progress forward in life (something I previously mentioned as relatable to my own stagnation not too long ago in my life, especially after the covid-19 hit). His insecurities about not having a distinct role to play among the Scoobies has also been existent going back to season 1, especially now with Buffy and even Willow having their own unique and significant contributions to the world (Slayer and Witch). TPN did a great job describing how such insecurities were represented in the scene where Xander and Anya are riding in the ice-cream truck. Notice the Hitchcockian scenery passing by outside the window, how it feels unreal and artificial. Anya's voice also feels off, echoing off the interior of the truck. "He is moving through his life, but in reality, everything is static and a little suffocating. THIS is the life Xander has built for himself, small and unremarkable... save for Anya, of course."

There's a lot to unpack about Xander's feelings of inadequacies among the Scoobies, so much so that there's an entire "Apocalypse Now" replica to talk about this, with Principal Snyder associating what should've been the "hope of our nation's future" (his students) with rotten plant decay. Xander constantly returning to his insignificant basement is also yet representative of this: none of his choices matter, and he will always be an inadequate basement dweller.

Of course, Xander's insecurities about his insignificance has been discussed to death, but what's novel and interesting here is his insecurities about a lack of a father figure, something Spike is portrayed to have in the form of Giles. Initially, my misinterpretation was that Xander was referring to Spike learning to be a Watcher when he said, "I was into that for a while." I wasn't clear about Xander's family issues, but now it makes more sense (especially when you look back at Xander's subtle jokes about his family problems). Xander's association of his father with a vampire ("I didn't order any vampires!", he said towards the 'monster' trying to open the basement door) is also an interesting subtext about how he was raised as a child by his father, why his lack of self-confidence exists, and it might even explain his awkwardness around women. Going back to the exchange between Joyce and Xander, how the latter conflates "conquest" with "comfort" in terms of love, one might say Xander might've associated his father's toxic masculinity aggressiveness with love. However, Xander was never abusive towards Anya as a lover (at this point of the series). Hypocritical, yes, but not abusive, so the dream's representation of his father as a monster feels more like it's Xander trying NOT to be like his father when it comes to notions of love. He can be confused about whether if love is about conquest or comfort, yes, but in his dream, he tells himself the way to the monster (his father) "is not the way out."

Another bit worth talking about is the way Xander sees Buffy in his dream: a girl who 1) sees Xander as a big brother instead of a potential love interest, and 2) is playing in a sandbox, AKA her Slayer duties are just fun and games to him. I talked a lot about my problems with Xander's relationship with Buffy in the earlier seasons, how her reluctance in dating him as brought out the creep in him. However, I also feel it's a bit unfair to call out Xander's inability to understand Buffy's position as the Slayer alone - Willow too misrepresented Buffy in her dream, thinking of her as dense at best and a killer at worst (Buffy's wig and clothing being similar to Velma from "Chicago" the musical). Both Xander and Willow are not Slayers, and it's what made their ignorance towards Buffy's woes in spite of being bestfriends that's so compelling.

And now we move on to the "Mind" (superego) of the Scoobies: Giles.

Initially, Giles' dialogue seems representative of the patriarchy that the Watcher Council has come to represent ("This has always been the way men and women behave"), but if anything, Buffy's criticism of this being old-fashioned in his dream indicates a self-criticism, especially with how guilty he has felt in "Helpless", an episode where he too "hypnotized" Buffy by the way of drugging her (as opposed to using the pocket-watch in his dream). That being said, Giles too (like Xander and Willow) sees Buffy (in the dream) as childish and carefree, unable to comprehend her burden like the other Scoobies. It wasn't clear to me at first, but when Giles said "What am I supposed to do with all this?", Olivia was crying over an empty stroller, an indication of a normal life Giles would never have because of his duties as Buffy's guardian (even after his dismissal as a Watcher).

Giles' perception of Xander and Anya as unfunny makes sense, though I'm sure some of us (me) has shared similar sentiments towards Xander's comedy routine. What's interesting, however, is whether if Xander's deadpan is a result of Giles' skewed perception, or if it's really Xander's subconsciousness crossing over to Giles' and making deadpan jokes. Yes, dreams crossing over, because Willow here addresses Giles as "Rupert," hinting at her long-term crush and intimacy with Giles, an information that should only be known to Willow herself.

Unlike Willow and Xander, Giles has almost no insecurity about himself. In spite of his midlife crisis and regret over "Helpless", he's confident about his place in the world - guiding Buffy. Hence, he's confident and singing professionally when performing on stage, unlike Willow who saw herself as a fool in her own dream. Appropriately, unlike Willow and especially Xander, I have little to say about Giles because his character lacks in flaws, and therefore, not much character development is needed to be expressed in his dream (hence the shortest dream sequence out of all four). Giles' only fault isn't even a real fault: he's aging and couldn't fit in with the Scoobies.

And finally, the Slayer, the combination of the three Scoobies (id, ego and superego).

Buffy's dream is unique in that it's more about foreshadowing of what's to come over the next three seasons of Buffy:

Yikes. Take a chill pill, Dawn. 😆

But there is still representation of Buffy's worries in her dream: solitude. Buffy's fears have always been about being alone. It's also why her going solo was such a big deal last episode because it's the Achilles' heel of the Slayer: no friends. In her dream, Anya's the one who wakes up next to her, not Willow. Xander is seen heading upstairs at school, but in a way as if he's trying to get away from her.

The scene with Joyce is painful to watch because of what I know is coming (almost gives me a aneurysm just thinking about it ;)). The meaning behind Buffy's separation from her mum by a wall is obvious, and also the fact that she's distracted by other things going on in her life as she walks away before Joyce finishes her sentence. Yet such a straightforward scene carries such a powerful weight even if you're unaware of what follows since Buffy has already began to drift apart from her mother at this point.

The Riley/Adam scene is representative of Buffy's lack of trust towards her boyfriend, a fact that would DEFINITELY not be justified I'm sure. It's not as if Riley's gonna go cheat on her and visit the brothel at some point... But regardless, Buffy's been worried about any romantic relationship of hers going awry ever since Bangel ended, and with good reasons (considering how Parker turned out). If only Briley was in fact a healthy relationship instead of one that didn't originate from keeping secret identities from each other, then Buffy's trust issues of Riley might not have been justified (at this point).

My problems with Sineya's portrayal aside, the desert talk between her and Buffy is not only fantastic writing, it's important character development. As I've mentioned, the three Scoobies have very skewed views of Buffy and her Slayer duties. Buffy says otherwise:

"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."


This is Buffy differentiating herself from just being a savage Slayer devoid of humanity. She's more than that, more than a killer of demons. Like average teenage girls, she desires the superficial activity of shopping in spite of her Slayer duties. Or as TPN put it, "Being the Slayer does NOT define her."

The other three lines of the above speech are more about how she carries out her Slayer duties. "When the floods roll back" represents circumstances beyond her control, but she will adapt regardless (note her adaptation in the face of the Initiative). "Trees in the desert" represents "life, growth, cultivation and nourishment, the opposite of the desert in which Buffy finds herself now, and a symbol of her connections to the people she loves. Her life is NOT simply about death. And it's the balance she's achieved that, as Joss puts it, makes her the greatest Slayer that's ever existed." I know I pretty much copied word-for-word in that last part of the explanation, but TPN just worded Buffy's character maturity so perfectly that I couldn't bear to rewrite any of that.

The speech is a beautiful proclamation of Buffy accepting who she is even more ever since "Anne" in season 3. This is her fully coming to terms with who she is as a person, so much so that if the series ends here, it would've made perfect sense as a concluding episode. Unlike Willow, Xander and even Giles to some degree, Buffy is done with being afraid and questioning who she is. Unlike those three, she knows who she is and fully embraces it, hence the way her dream ended differently, "That's it. I'm waking up." Forcefully ending this nonsense of trying to make her doubt herself or her role in life. It makes my knowledge of how season 5 ends make perfect sense. This is believable character growth.

This difference between Buffy and the Scoobies' way of dealing with their anxieties in the dreamscape is also an important callback to the main theme of both Buffy and Angel: free will vs. fatalism. All four characters in their dreams have fears and unknowns; Buffy CHOSE to be better in spite of those fears. In the end, that's all that really counts, and that's something Angel and the other AtS characters (Cordy, Wes and Lindsey) will have to come and understand in Angel: The Series in their path to redemption. Their origin and past mistakes don't define them; their choices do.
 
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DeadlyDuo
DeadlyDuo
The original plan was for it to be Angel taking Tara's role in Buffy's dream but they couldn't get DB due to his commitments on Angel.
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