Sunday, April 20, 2014

Buffy's "Restless" Revisited.

As described in my last blog entry, I am on a quest to find my top ten TV shows of all time. I have a chart and there's math involved. It's all very organized and methodical. I chose to watch my favorite episode of each of the top 12 contenders, assessing both the episode and the show as a whole on several different criteria.

There's no contest for the top spot on my list of television. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has crawled into my lizard brain, coating the bean of my being (what?) with a light glaze of Summers' blood. I couldn't escape the power of Buffy even if I wanted to, and I'll never want to escape the Slayer's superpowered grip on my psyche. There's a black hole in my personal history that occurred during the last couple of years of high school followed by the couple of years after that. I was in a dark place with a terrible man at my side. In 2001 I was reunited with Buffy Summers when the show appeared on UPN late at night after it wasn't available to me for all of seasons 4 and 5. Mercifully, I got to watch seasons 6 and 7 as they aired. If you're not familiar with Buffy's arc, season 6 was the season that each character was their own "Big Bad". Their angst was so pervasive that they destroyed themselves episode after episode. It was heartbreaking. I cried every week, copious tears of recognition and solace. I saw my boyfriend in Spike, the character that mentally manipulated/verbally abused Buffy. Spike attempted to rape Buffy that season. I started using the name in my online blogs in place of my boyfriend's real name. I wouldn't leave my Spike until 2003, about five years too late. Were it not for Buffy I would have sunk, maybe irretrievably, deeper into that hole.

Am I attributing too much to a TV show? Perhaps, but I say all this to express that my relationship with Buffy is emotional. She is an icon that's imperfect, badass, and relatable. The character was only two years older than me. Her struggles were my struggles, though mine dealt far less in metaphor, unfortunately.

I'll reveal the scores I gave each episode and show at the end of my assessments, but I wanted to speak to my feelings while viewing each piece of entertainment.

Buffy's "Restless" is the last episode of season 4. In atypical season-ending fashion, the "Big Bad" of the season had already been defeated. This is an episode of dreams. We get to see into the psyches of Xander, Giles, Buffy and Willow and it is fantastic. Joss Whedon is the only writer that has ever successfully filmed dreams, in my opinion. In this episode alone, he gets the odd flow of the dreamworld exactly right. Things are said that make sense only in dream-speak. Words are spoken in languages not understood by the dreamer for a character that often doesn't understand in real life (Xander). Metaphors are employed in the ridiculous way of dreams. It is an episode filmed as if underwater, as restorative as a nap.

The score of this episode is minimal, meditative, and sensory. There's a sequence wherein Buffy reaches into a medicine bag full of clay, then rubs it into her face and walks slowly through the desert. The music and picture above are from that scene. It's breathtaking. I don't think I've ever watched this episode out of sequence. It was a fantastic experience. It was a breath. In one episode, the psyche of each character was revealed, mostly through images. Almost every one of my favorite characters (Tara, Oz, Anya, Harmony, etc) makes an appearance here. Tara is sort of the spiritual guide of the dreams, speaking in low-ASMR tones saying things like:
which is equal parts foreboding, as to the later-revealed nature of the Slayer, and simply gorgeous dream-flavored existentialism revelatory of Buffy's view on herself. This statement is so wholly indicative of identity's fluidity over the span of one's life, too. Go ahead, try to grasp what you are. You can't, though we'll spend our lifetimes trying.

In the best episodes of Buffy, most symbolism employed within works on several levels and can be applied upon many different situations. The best art leaves itself open for the viewer to impose one's own interpretation upon it, without the burden of authorship intent impeding, trampling your experience. Buffy is seldom ever heavy-handed in its approach to symbolism. Even inside the dreams of specific characters you've known for four years, one doesn't feel oppression from already knowing their history conflicting with your projections of their dreamworld. In other words, it's easy to tell what their dreams mean to them while simultaneously pulling what YOU need from their dreams into yourself.

Without question, this is my favorite episode of television ever, which makes it hard to quantify it with worrrrrrds. Words pale in comparison to the feeeeeeels. I feel existential calm when watching "Restless". I feel warmth and peace. I am in awe and completely engaged every moment. Most television and movies I enjoy have those parts that you dread or want to fast-forward through. Not "Restless". Nothing in this episode is wasted. Every image, everything going on in the background, every sound, every word uttered is carefully placed and multidimensional in meaning.

Plus, it's a really funny and quotable episode.