One of the elements of Joss shows that I’ve always been really fond of is the way he deals with dreams. In some ways this is a clumsy example of that but on the other hand, it’s a complicated idea. He’s not dealing with a dream in the strictest sense, after all. It’s their nightmares coming true but they are TRUE so it would need to lack a little bit of the dreamy quality and randomness I think he does quite well in later episodes. I’m still not sure it’s a complete sucess but I like the episode well enough, so I won’t bitch about it.
We open on one of Buffy’s nightmares. While watching this, it occurred to me for the first time – how does she know what The Master looks like? We’ve seen him so many times that I had more or less completely forgotten that she never has. Is it the prophetic element of the dreams? This one really isn’t exactly prophetic in nature, it’s just her being understandably afraid of the bat like man who wants to murder her. Or maybe it is supposed to be prophetic and I missed it? Either way, it had just never occurred to me before.
Buffy’s hurt while she explains to Willow about her parents splitting up just absolutely kills me. (See how I could have said slays me and didn’t? But then ruined it by saying it? Yeah.) SMG has always been so talented at crying and looking hurt. The dialogue is a little clumsy and a little over the top but I don’t even care. I just want to hug her and tell her everything will be okay and to hang onto Giles because he’s the best daddy figure she’s going to have. Instead I sit back to watch the emotional carnage.
We have our first nightmares are real moment with Wendell (what a great name). Wendell and Xander have a nice little moment making fun of Cordelia. I like it when you occasionally get a glimpse of how other people know who the Scoobies are and have friendly interaction with them. I wish we saw more of that. Unfortunately Wendell opens his book and is suddenly covered with tarantulas. I know he says later that he had lots of different kinds of spiders but apparently only the tarantulas could make the party. General horror ensues and then we are taken below ground to the Master.
This is where The Master takes some time out of his busy day to monologue to Colin, in fairly tired cliches, about how great fear is. I’m really fond of the Master but all these big bads do seem to head towards overdramatic cliche more often than not. Colin listens raptly (why, I wonder? His kid self had a way shorter attention span). The Master talks about pain like fear and how the cross fills him with mortal dread but it can be controlled and blah, blah. This actually led me to another line of thought that I find frustrating in Buffy. Why do crosses work? There is no indication in Buffy that the notion of Christ really has any weight. As Joelle mentioned in an earlier post, the show generally sort-of skirts the issue of whether or not God even exists. Now I have read/watched quite a few vampire things and there are certainly mythologies where God’s existence is pretty much untied to the cross warding off evil. The usual explanation for this is that it’s not the symbol itself that works; it’s a person’s faith. So if you’re holding the cross and don’t believe it, you may as well be trying to ward off a vampire with a rubber ducky; it’s not going to be very effective. However, that is certainly not true in Buffy. Anyone can use a cross and it always works. Holy water is also consistently useful. Why? Just wondering.
Back to the gang. Xander makes fun of Willow for being totally insane about the spiders, which I think is a little unfair. I’m not overwhelmingly freaked out of spiders but that would certainly throw me. Whatever, he’s really just setting himself up for walking into the classroom wearing only boxers. Is that what he dreams about? The stereotype is naked, after all. But then, I’ve never had one of these dreams at all so I have no idea. Seeing Xander shirtless makes me a little sad. He’ll get so doughy in years down the line, as the alcohol and all that starts to get to him but here he’s a good looking guy who very obviously has not been 15 in a number of years.
Also, they interview Wendell. Just like they’ll later interview the smoker girl, whose name I have already forgotten. Apparently everyone in the school has simply accepted their detective status? Or… something? Whatever. Wendell waxes a little too poetically about spiders, in my opinion. Like dude, I get that you loved them and you feel guilty about them being dead or whatever but I’m pretty sure their relatives are not plotting in sewers about killing you for the death of the brethren. If that’s what happens, we’re all probably in very big trouble. He then disappears from the Buffyverse for the rest of time. I like to imagine that he went insane and got sent away, raving about spiders.
Let’s also picture the clean up of this scenario, btw. What happened? Wendell started screaming, everyone started screaming, there were probably two dozen tarantulas on him. Did someone come pluck them off of him? I mean, they’re not especially dangerous spiders but in his nightmares they might be. Clearly none of them hurt him, they just kinda… crawled around. So did like the maintenance guy (man, the maintainance crew at Sunnydale must HATE their jobs) get pulled in to pluck these spiders off one by one? Or brush them into a container? Then what? Did they give them to a pet store? Don’t you think they would have closed school, to take care of the clear (albeit impossible) infestation they seem to be having? I HAVE QUESTIONS, PEOPLE.
Anyway, Buffy has a traumatic test experience. This is another thing I wonder about. Does she really not have that class at all and the nightmare reality just made her think she did? Or did she have the class and the nightmare reality made her forget? Did all those other people come in there with similar nightmares or did they experience just taking a test in normal time? Buffy certainly can’t be the only person with test anxiety so in the interests of time, it would seem prudent to have everyone having the experience together. Maybe it was a reality altering thing so everyone was freaking out but to them, everyone around them looked calm. Except Cordy, who shows no sign of nerves. So I don’t know.
This is followed by the girl whose name I can’t remember going down into the basement (which turns out to be another place that they are turning off lights to save on electricity). Okay, first question. Is smoking in basements a common thing? I would think that smoke alarms would be an issue. I get that you don’t want to get caught but in other movies I’ve seen, it’s usually behind a bush or something. Then there’s me wondering why the monster attacked her. I mean, he’s after the kid and there’s really never any indication of him assaulting someone else except when people are with the kid. Clearly this girl was not with the kid. Why was he hanging out in the basement anyway? Just sitting there, grunting and pondering his next move when she was unfortunate enough to wander down? Everything else that happens to people is part of their nightmares but the girl… Laura! I think her name is Laura. Man, I really should have been able to remember that. Anyway. Laura did not dream about getting beaten up and so it’s a confusing thing that doesn’t really fit with everything else.
As mentioned earlier, they go to interview Laura. She’s happy to see them so that she won’t be alone (which is understandable, except where is her family?) but what is less understandable is when they start asking questions because they are “anxious to make sure this doesn’t happen again” says the school librarian and high school sophomore. That’s totally acceptable, right? Whatever. Lucky 19.
Giles then has his worst nightmare fulfilled, which is suddenly not being able to read. OMG, this horrifies me every time. I literally cannot think of many more bizarre things. Buffy seems weirdly unwigged by it, not nearly sufficiently upset for poor Giles. I know she’s distracted but come on! Well, she’s about to have her heart shattered into a hundred pieces and kicked around a bit so I guess I’ll let it go.
In comes her father. I know it may not be 100% fair to hate him because of this scene. But honestly, since he basically never comes back except for this next summer she’ll spend with him and he never calls her back when death happens and… well, dammit, there’s just a lot to hate. He sits down and tells her what most children probably dread hearing; that the problems in their parents lives were their fault. When she is understandably devestated, he tells her she’s being immature. I know it’s over the top, I know it’s extreme to the border of ridiculous but it totally gets me every time.
But of course Buffy is the Slayer. No matter how personally damaged she is right now, she has to fix this, has to find out what’s wrong and set it right. So when she sees Billy she follows him. Meanwhile, Giles is busy with Willow and Xander making the intuitive leap to what’s going on. They decide, not terribly wisely as Willow points out, to split up to find Buffy. Meanwhile, Buffy and Billy are being assaulted by the giant man. Willow is adorably terrified of opera singing in front of people, Xander is a moron and picks up tons of candy in a construction zone. Was someone afraid of construction zones? There’s a lot of that going on in this episode. I like to picture someone afraid of construction zones. Is there a name for that phobia?
Then Buffy runs into The Master, who tells her she’s prettier than the last Slayer (indicating HE didn’t know what SHE looked like, btw). The Master is just one of many, many people over the course of the show to tell Buffy that she’s prettier than the last Slayer. Who was that poor Slayer? I mean, every single one we ever see is really hot; was she just the unfortunate exception? Anyway, here’s my question here. Is The Master really out? I mean, we never really see him reacting to being out or to being back in his cave. Is this a reality shift or whatever so the “real” Master is still underground? Or does he actually get to come out and play but only under the guidelines that he goes after Buffy? I would think he would be quite frustrated about being shoved right back underground if that was the case and the whole turning her into a vampire thing would seem to muddle things. Does the alternate universe remain an alternate universe even when they go back to the real one? Is there a new Slayer to take Buffy’s place in that universe? Is it still Kendra? Anyway. He buries her alive, which is fairly terrible (and make events of season 6 even more so). Giles has his heartbreaking scene where he says he failed in his duty. Oh Giles. Every watcher fails. It’s a terrible job.
I am not a big fan of Buffy as a vampire. I mean, it’s partly because they haven’t really gotten the make-up down yet and it still looks super awkward and giant but I just don’t think it’s a good look for her. I’m glad it was never a repeat thing. Giles screams at the comatose boy, eventually they convince him to jump back in himself. Lo and behold, the kiddie league coach is the monster, he is caught by Xander being heroic (or something). Then Buffy heads off to hang out with her dad, which is supposed to be happy but, let’s be honest, isn’t really because you know that while he may never actually say something as cruel to her as he did in this episode, he absolutely is going to pretty much abandon her forever. SAD.