My brother Gary was the one who got me interested in cult TV in the first place. I saw him watching Buffy‘s ‘Hush’ during its original airing when I was 7 and was hooked straightaway. For the next three years, I watched the series religiously with him. This opened the door to other cult series – Buffy’s spin-off series Angel, spy drama Alias, even the ridiculously convoluted yet captivating island drama Lost. On Gary’s recommendation, I saw all these series as they aired and enjoyed them as popcorn TV.
Image from Lostpedia
It was Lost that turned me from a casual viewer into one more interested in discussing and analysing what was going on. Whilst it started off fairly straightforward, by Season 5 there was a complex time travel storyline placed on top of a handful of other mysteries. What started off as a quick Google to understand the plot led me to online forums full of people discussing what was going on, trying to guess what would happen next, and posting pages of theories on how the series would end.
From vampires and witches, to robots and demons, on the surface Buffy the Vampire Slayer may seem like just another fantasy series. It had its fair share of memorable monsters – who can forget the Gentlemen? But watch a little closer, and you find a wealth of deeper meanings in the show’s subject matter. There is so much potential for analysis when it comes to Buffy, in fact, that it’s spawned its own area of academic study: ‘Buffy Studies’.
Biennial conferences take place in the USA under the name of Slayage conferences, encompassing both Buffy and all other works by Joss Whedon. These conferences see around 200 people travel from all over the world to discuss the show. What makes Buffy so special? What makes it worthy of such in-depth study?
Matthew Pateman, head of Humanities at Sheffield Hallam University, has delivered keynote talks at previous Slayage conferences. He is also the author of The Aesthetics of Culture in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Why was Buffy so ground-breaking? “Buffy was a first. It was clever, and demanded viewers to pay attention. The X-Files came close, but its characters never really changed or evolved. The characters on Buffy had memory, they learnt and grew as the series went on.”
The ‘Restless’ analysis continues with a look at Xander’s dream.
The main theme of Xander’s dream is his fear that his friends are moving on and growing up without him, whereas for him, all paths lead back to his parents basement. This is demonstrated literally throughout the dream – no matter where he goes and how far he seemingly ventures, everything ultimately takes him back to the basement. His fears aren’t all that ridiculous, either – considering how uneventful his life has become in Season 4 in stark contrast to the adventurous lives of Willow and Buffy.
Not only is he afraid of not really going anywhere, but perhaps worse than that is the idea of ending up like his parents – specifically his father.
Continuing the analysis of ‘Restless’, it’s time to look at Willow’s dream.
The overarching theme of Willow’s dream is a theatrical one – her life is a play, she is acting, and she fears her friends seeing her for who she really is. Willow has changed a lot, particularly in Season 4 alone, though her dream serves as a reminder that on the inside she still feels like the same girl we were introduced to in Season 1.
Buffy’s Season 4 finale ‘Restless’ is one of the series most unique episodes. Breaking the trend of an explosive finale, ‘Restless’ instead shows us the dreams of each of the four core characters, and provides the best opportunity in the series to examine the characters most private thoughts and feelings.
Image from the Buffy Wikia
The episode is crammed full of foreshadowing, symbolism, and layers of meaning. If you haven’t seen ‘Restless’ – expect to be very confused in the following paragraphs. And what are you waiting for? Go and give it a watch!
Rather than one enormous post, I’ll split up my thoughts on each of the characters dreams in to four separate posts.