Monday, September 14, 2015

BtVS: The Whirlwind: Season 4, “Restless”

Covering “Restless,” in which it is the duck who speaks, and not the man. And he speaks of African genesis.

I’m of many minds about “Restless.” For one, it’s unique among Buffy finales in that it’s not the big action-y climax, but comes after the fireworks, and centers primarily on reflection, and consequences. This is the sort of structure that would become much more common in big prestige shows (The Wire and Game of Thrones being particularly well known for it), but was also employed by the great and much lamented Farscape. It’s a structure that invites us to spend a bit longer than usual ruminating on what we’ve seen. And the idea here, that the core gang being picked off one by one in their dreams is, well, it definitely resembles the M.O. of one Frederick Krueger, but it’s still a good idea. Dreams, I’ve said before, have always been an important element of Buffy, and their importance has only grown since Buffy had a nightmare before her first day at her new high school. “Restless” gives the show a chance to dive into everyone’s subconscious and approach their arcs from a different angle. Nothing we learn is particularly new, and if it is it’s not particularly shocking, but seeing these attitudes, fears, and neuroses play out is fun.
            The nature and motive of the thing attack them is pretty neat as well—when the Scoobs joined to defeat Adam and invoked the essence of Slayer power to do so, they offended the very first Slayer, whose essence is using their lingering connection to stalk their dreams and eliminate them because to her pained and isolated thinking, the Slayer has no friends, she is eternally alone. This is really cool, but…
            But…doesn’t it seem a bit disconnected from the season? Or at least an abrupt shift? Again, Buffy is not remembered for super tight and intricate plotting, but even still, the intrusion of the first Slayer feels sudden and not particularly of a piece with season 4, college, and the Initiative. Not for nothing, big ole exposition dumps at the end of episodes, like we have here, are never a very good sign. What I’ve noticed this time is how easily that could have not been the case. Dreams, like I keep saying, have always been important to the fabric of the show, and Buffy has had plenty of prophetic dreams, but they’ve never been codified as either an explicit Slayer power or something that connected her to that destiny or, to be honest, anything more than a quasi-mystic narrative crutch. Later, both those things would be explicitly the case—I’m specifically thinking of the Angel episode “Damage,” where the visions and dreams of a Slayer are overtly due to their Slayerness, and even show them past Slayers. That concept comes from “Restless,” but what if it had begun in, say, “Hush,” by having Buffy’s dream be more than a fairy tale embellishment, but the line of Slayers actually trying to give her critical information? Or, even better, what if when Faith dreams of Buffy in “This Year’s Girl,” it is a similarly porous shared dreamscape (as was sort of hinted in “Graduation Day,” though not picking up this idea in “This Year’s Girl” makes me want to not call it a hint), so when it’s revealed the stalker is the first Slayer, it’s instantly understood that she is angry at the gang for intruding in such sacred space.
            So that’s the essence of my minds on “Restless”—I find it both incredibly enjoyable, and rather irritating. What I particularly find irritating, however, isn’t particularly the episode’s fault. It’s how the episode was treated, which is as the key to unlocking all future events, the show’s Rosetta stone, bursting at the seams with foreshadowing. For example, Riley’s departure from the show! In her dream, he tells Buffy “I thought you were looking for your friends. Okay, killer, if that’s how you want it, I guess you’re on your own,” and then walks away! You might think this is a sign of Buffy’s fear of abandonment, particularly coming as it does after she cakes herself with mud that seems to symbolize her Slayer heritage, but oh no, what’s important is that Riley would later leave under circumstances that have only the barest connection to what we see here! And how about future characters? After Xander’s dream features talk of a shark on land, would it shock you to learn a demon who looks like a shark is on his way?
            It should, it was a lame ass joke from a fairly indifferent episode.
            But that’s my issue with the alleged foreshadowing of “Restless.” I don’t think it was ever supposed to be taken seriously, and what does seem to be present is so vague that I think they were just a bunch of Post It notes from the writers’ board, some of which ended up being in episodes. And a lot of those episodes aren’t good. A few of them quite actively suck. So, I’m irritated that the answer finding game feels like it diminishes the actually interesting scenes being pulled apart, and mask the character truths being dramatized—while we’re trying to divine what awful season 6 episode might be tenuously connected to Riley and Adam deciding to build a pillow fort, the fact that this is how Buffy sees the Initiative gets lost.
            It has to be said, too…look, the origins of humankind, last of our clade, are in Africa, and thus if in the Slayer-verse the Slayers are as old as we are, the first Slayer must have been of African descent. And there is no small sympathy granted to her sad, lonely rage. But it’s still a bit uncomfortable that she’s so obviously “Savage” and animalistic, and it’s real damn uncomfortable that she needs one blonde American to “speak for her” (though Buffy does insist she speak for herself) and has another blonde American mock her. This would be far less noticeable if Sunnydale weren’t, as Mr. Trick long ago observed, a real honky-ass town.
            Despite all that, I really enjoy “Restless.” I’m not so keen on dream sequences, which often tend to be overly literal (and push it a few times here), but the anti-logic of dreams, often mistaken for randomness (like the cheese man, who I have no time for), is well expressed, their odd disconnect from time and place (I like to think, despite evidence, all the attacks are happening roughly at the same time), and the disorientation felt even in the middle of them. And I’ll always give it up for Giles’ briefing song, perhaps my favorite attempt to shake up the adversary briefing.

            Apex Episode: You really have to ask? It’s “Hush.” Obviously.
            Nadir Episode: You really have to ask? It’s “Beer Bad.” Obviously.
            Season 4 Costuming Theory Check In: I’ve made my case, what remains now is to keep an eye on proceedings moving forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment