“I have no speech. No name. I live in the action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute … alone.”
(This is the second part of the “Restless” recap. As the episode is so packed with symbolism and foreshadowing, our usual 1200 word or less post did not give us enough space for a solid discussion. Part 1 can be found here, which contains analysis of Willow and Xander’s sequences.)
The father-daughter dynamic between Giles and Buffy has always been the backbone of their relationship. But as Buffy (and the rest) have gotten older, Giles has been struggling with his place in the group. He’s no longer an official watcher. He’s unemployed. He’s a nebulous 40-something with no apparent friends his own age, who putters about in a bachelor’s apartment and spends most of his time with people 20 years his junior. Despite his brief romantic coupling with Joyce, as evidenced in the first scene of this episode, they’ve never formed a real friendship. As far as we know, he has no current girlfriend, nor does he get one over the rest of the series.
So let’s look at his dream. It opens on a shot of a swinging pocket watch, with which Giles is attempting to hypnotize a giggling Buffy. He’s annoyed with her refusal to take the matter seriously. The only other time we’ve seen Giles hypnotize her was during the events of her 17th birthday, when he betrayed her trust by injecting her with a sedative that hindered her powers and sent her off to fight vampires, all because the Council told him he had to. This betrayal stunted their relationship for a long time, so it’s interesting that this is where his mind begins. There are cracks in between them that will eventually become fissures. This is a call out to one of those fault lines.
He says to her, “This is the way men and women have behaved since the beginning, before time.” The long shot shows that he is standing over her while Buffy sits. Darker minds than mine have read this as a sexual comment, but I don’t believe that it is. The Buffy hypnotism scene from “Helpless” is the last time Giles functioned as her official Watcher, an organization that is inherently patriarchal, and by its very nature requires that (mostly) male Watchers exert control over and dictate what the always female Slayers do. Keep in mind that this is an episode that links Buffy and the First Slayer, who existed “before time,” and who was created by men who held her down and forced a demon into her.
Then Giles is being dragged by a young-seeming Buffy through a vampire-themed carnival. Olivia, who broke up with him after the events of “Hush,” is there, heavily pregnant and pushing an empty stroller. They’re a family, with Buffy as their wayward child. These are things that are denied to him by his line of work — it’s inherently dangerous, and the ones he loves either are killed by it or frightened by it, and leave. Giles will only ever have Buffy, and in the dream he lectures her about her failings. She isn’t patient. Her aim is terrible. When she “stakes” a carnival game vampire and eagerly looks to him for approval, Giles is unimpressed, the distant, critical Watcher he tried to be in the opening episodes of the series.
Spike appears on the sidelines, and Giles follows him to his crypt, losing Buffy in the process. As he enters, Olivia is sitting on a tomb, weeping, the empty stroller lying on its side. This is his “family”, but he turns his back on them, not even stopping to see if she’s alright. He’ll never get to go down that path.
Instead there’s Spike, who has hired himself out as an attraction, posing dramatically while tourists take photos of him. While Giles mutters that Buffy should have killed him, Spike asks if Giles has figured it all out yet with his “enormous squishy frontal lobes.”
From there, dream logic, Giles is at the Bronze, still looking for Buffy. Xander and Willow are already there. Because all of the dreams are linked and each one feeds progressively into the next, Xander has a “sucking chest wound.” Willow is breathing but “at death’s door.” She can’t really get in any good lines if she’s convulsing on the couch like she was in Xander’s dream. The three share what information they know:
Willow: Something’s after us. It’s, uh, like some primal … some animal force.
Giles: That used to be us.
Xander: Don’t get linear on me now, man.
Giles is almost there. In Xander’s dream, he actually gave away the secret to ending the First’s terror campaign (during the French sequence, when he tells Xander to go back to the house where they were all sleeping), but he doesn’t seem to know it in this dream. The thread is right there and as Giles figures it out, he starts singing, drifting towards the stage to perform the exposition. The crowd holds up their lighters. He’s got to warn Buffy, because the spell that they performed has awoken some primal forces, and it’s stalking them through their dreams. When his mike cuts out, he follows the power cord to find the problem, ending up in a congested labyrinthian maze made out of speakers. The cord is slashed.
Behind him, the figure of the First Slayer rises up. In each dream we’ve seen progressively more of her. Now she looms over Giles in the reverse of the Giles-Buffy hypnotism scene. This is how it’s always been between men and women, indeed. Giles protests that he knows who she is. He can defeat her with the powers of his mind. He can cripple her with his thoughts. She underestimates him because she never had a Watcher.
The First Slayer scalps him.
We’re in Buffy and Willow’s dorm room. Light spills through a window — Buffy wakes up, but instead of seeing Willow in the other bed, it’s Anya. She’s terrified, and tells Buffy to “wake up.” Once again, the answer to defeating the First Slayer has been given out, but Buffy doesn’t know what to do with it. She rolls on her back and sees the First Slayer hanging over her. There’s a couple of layers to this incredibly quick shot. Like in Giles’s dream, the Slayer is above her in a position of power, where she can attack. But she is also “above her” in lineage because she is the one who came before. The First Slayer is chained up — we can see the chains and hear them (and later in season 7 we learn that the First Slayer was literally chained down to receive her powers). She is shackled to the past.
The Slayer drops, and Buffy wakes up again in her own bedroom.
At the end of season 3, Buffy has a prophetic dream after she’s put Faith in a coma. We have to assume Faith is not sharing this dream since she never mentions having any sort of prophetic powers like Buffy does and doesn’t speak of it. In the dream, they make a new bed with clean white sheets for “little sister.” Faith cryptically calls Buffy, “Little Miss Muffet, counting down from 7-3-0.” Whedon plays the long game. From the end of season 3 to the end of season 5, where Buffy dies, is 730 days.
When Buffy rolls out of her bed, Tara is there. Tara’s appeared in Willow and Xander’s dreams, serving a different function in each one. For Buffy, Tara is her spirit guide. In other circumstances, Giles might have appeared as the guiding, explaining force, but Buffy’s struggle against The First Slayer is about a sisterhood, about matrilineal power. Her guide also needs to be a woman.
Buffy stares at the rumpled bed and says that she and Faith “just made that.” This is the same bed from the earlier dream, and when Tara asks who the bed was made for, Buffy can’t answer it. She’s struck by the clock on the bedside table, which reads 7:30. “Oh,” Tara says, “that clock is completely wrong.” Only one year has passed — Buffy still has another before the countdown is finished.
Tara offers her the tarot card used in the Enjoining spell — Manos, the hands, drawing with one hand open and one hand in a closed fist — and tells Buffy that she’ll need “this” to find her friends. Buffy says she won’t, because she doesn’t like being defined as only the Slayer, only the fist, but Tara tells her, “You think you know … what’s to come … what you are. You haven’t even begun.”
Buffy leaves to rescue the Scoobies and Tara tells her to be back before d(D)awn — before little sister arrives to take her place in the bed.
At Sunnydale University, Buffy wanders down the hall that leads to her psych class, where she encounters Joyce behind a wall. For most of the season, Buffy’s life has revolved around the University. We’ve hardly seen Joyce, but that’s because Buffy has hardly seen her. When Faith takes her hostage, she points out to Joyce that Buffy has a pile of unopened mail at the house, because she never comes home. Buffy does show up to rescue her mother, of course, but Joyce’s pointed comment at the beginning of the episode (“Nice to meet you, finally.”) proves that Buffy hasn’t gotten better at spending time with her mom. And so we find Joyce literally hidden away. Buffy tries to coax her out, but Joyce keeps saying she’s fine where she is. Buffy’s subconscious seems to working up the guilt trip. There’s mice in the walls and it’s dirty and cobwebby, but Joyce is “just fine” and Buffy should go on without her.
And then we’re somewhere in the Initiative. In Willow’s dream, I spoke a little bit about the importance of naming, of giving identity and power to a thing. It’s important again here in Buffy’s dream, and it starts with Riley, who addresses Buffy as “killer.” Buffy’s already tried to deny that part of herself to Tara, now Riley is confronting her with it again. She’s adamant that being the Slayer is more than being a killer. Riley isn’t alone — he’s joined by a un-Frankensteined Adam. The two of them are planning world domination. Buffy asks if that’s wise, and Adam observes that Buffy is “uncomfortable with certain concepts.” He’s again pointing out that she denies her nature as the Slayer.
Adam: She’s uncomfortable with certain concepts. It’s understandable. Aggression is a natural human tendency. Though you and me come by it another way.
Buffy: We’re not demons.
Adam: Is that a fact?
Briefly, the First Slayer can be seen over Buffy’s shoulder. The First Slayer is the “another way,” but the even deeper truth of this conversation won’t be revealed for two years. Buffy is part demon. All the Slayers are. And Joss tells us that here, in this dream. We may not know what the entire puzzle looks like, but we’ve been given the pieces as we go along.
Buffy asks Adam what his name is. The answer is heartbreaking, “Before Adam? Not a man among us can remember.” Names are power. Taking Adam’s name from him gave all the power to the Initiative.
From the Initiative, Buffy finds herself in the desert, back with Tara. She doesn’t think she’ll find her friends here, but Tara tells her that of course she will. That’s why she came. The desert has been haunting the dreams, showing up in flashes, and Buffy stands in it now. The desert is the First Slayer’s home.
The two finally confront each other. The First Slayer is wary, always crouched, ready to spring into violence if need be. She is a warrior, a predator. And she has no voice, because it was taken from her. Tara speaks for her. Having her voice stolen, reduced to nothing but the edge of violence, has always been Buffy’s fear. It’s why she tried to deny her birthright. It’s why she fought so hard to have a semblance of life. It’s why she holds the Scooby gang so dear. The First Slayer is Buffy’s terror, but she can’t ever break free. They’ll always be connected. And it was Buffy’s own actions that drew The First Slayer into this world.
Tara: I have no speech. No name. I live in the action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute … alone.
Buffy: The Slayer.
Tara: The first.
Buffy: I am not alone.
Tara: The Slayer does not walk in this world.
Buffy: 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. Now give me back my friends.
First Slayer: No … friends! Just the kill. We … are … alone!
When Buffy tries to walk away to find her friends, The First Slayer attacks her. The fight is highly cinematic, slow motion, sand flinging up in the background. Buffy swore she wouldn’t need violence to save her friends, but here she is, drawn into it by her ancestor, by the literal embodiment of her Slayer-ness. The two fight until suddenly Buffy draws back and refuses to engage.
She finds herself in her living room. The rest of the Scoobies are there, twitching in their death throws. Buffy’s figured it out, though she’s had the answer all along. She doesn’t need to fight off the First Slayer. Not every problem is solved by The Hand, and her gifts are more than that. She has choices that the First Slayer was never given: to have family, to have friends, to have a life that isn’t lived on a bed of bones. That’s the world she wants. To be the Slayer on her own terms.
Buffy retakes her place in the dream-living room and when she wakes up again, it’s in the real world. Giles, Xander and Willow are alive. The gang muses over the encounter with the First Slayer around the dining room table until Buffy excuses herself briefly.
The last shot of the season is Buffy in the doorway of her room, looking at her white bed. She doesn’t know yet what’s to come, what she is. She hasn’t even begun.