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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Nightmares

Xander: "If there's something bad out there, we'll find, you'll slay, we'll party."

Nightmares begin to bleed into reality, and Buffy and her friends eventually end up facing their worst fears. This is a terrific story idea, and it is executed beautifully. The cast is gelling and the scripts are improving.

The nightmares are geared specifically to each cast member's personality. Xander's are played mostly for laughs, even though a twinge of discomfort and fear goes with them: walking into class naked; being chased by a knife-wielding clown from his sixth birthday; fear of Nazis translating into swastikas on the walls. We see only one nightmare for Willow, but it is by far the funniest sequence in the episode; she is dragged on stage and expected to sing opera. Her terrified face, as the tenor finishes his part and throws it to her, is classic.

Giles' nightmares are serious and touching, and both relate to his jobs. Early in the episode, he is lost in the stacks and unable to read; later, he sees Buffy's grave and realizes that he has failed her. This is the first time that Giles talks about how good a Slayer Buffy is.

Although Buffy experiences the nightmares many of us have had (the unexpected history test, not knowing where the classroom is), the more serious ones show us her deepest fears. Every child of divorce believes deep down that it was her fault, that if she had been a better kid, it wouldn't have happened; the scene between Buffy and her absentee father, when he actually tells her this, is very powerful. When Hank matter-of-factly tells Buffy, "You're sullen and rude, and not nearly as bright as I thought you were going to be," Buffy's reaction just hits me in the stomach. Sarah Michelle Gellar does some excellent work here.

Even heavier than divorce, we learn that Buffy is terrified of being buried alive, and of being turned into a vampire. At least Buffy is only a dream vampire in this episode, since she does not turn on her friends.

Bits and pieces:

— Cordelia, screaming, with colossally bad hair and nerdy clothes, is dragged against her will into the chess club.

— Again, there is that picture of Willow and Giles in her locker.

— Buffy's tombstone gives 1981 as the year of her birth. They got it right this time.

— The Master quotes Walt Disney: "A dream is a wish your heart makes."

— In the eighties movie Dreamscape, there's a boy named Billy who is helpless against a monster who chases him in his dreams. The main character, played by Dennis Quaid, enters Billy's dream and helps him defeat his monster. Sound familiar?

— Billy does Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz when he wakes up: "I had the strangest dream... and you were in it. And you, and you..."


Wendell: "They're not insects. They're arachnids."
Xander: "They're from the Middle East?"

Xander: "You are a lousy clown. Your balloon animals are pathetic. Everyone can make a giraffe."

Buffy: "Could I be seeing Billy's asteroid body?"

Three out of four stakes,

Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.


  1. Agree that this was one of the better episodes from the first season. All of the nightmares make me uncomfortable.

    As readers of your site, Billie, we are all into creepies and crawlies and things that go bump in the night. Maybe some time we should do a survey about what scares us! :-)

  2. "Buffy is only a dream vampire in this episode, since she does not turn on her friends."

    Alternate interpretation: according to the Romani, a vampire's worst nightmare is having their conscience restored. If Buffy were evil when she was turned into a vampire, it wouldn't be a nightmare for her anymore.

  3. Buffy as a vampire! Epic! Makes you wonder what would happen if a Slayer became a vampire. Is it weird to think SMG still looks beautiful, even with the vamp face? Buffy as a vampire aside, I pretty much agree with your original review, Billie. I love the whole motif of playing out your fears via nightmares. This is definitely a season 1 episode that showed the potential of this series. It was laugh out loud funny at certain points and quite dramatic at others. This is the mix the best episodes capture. Loved this one. 4 out of 4 Buffy vamp faces.

  4. After the puppet one, this was another that was very enjoyable to watch. And it was a Jess W.'s story. It shows. I wonder if he's a non smoker...And Cordelia with her "hair" and Willow"s stage fright. Awesome. Xander facing "his" clown. More awesome.

    Billy. I know that actor's face...ah ok, he began in Dante's Peak.

    "Do shut up !"

    I liked it a lot at the end when Billy removed the "mask" of the monster. Beautiful analogy to the persona. Cool (and awesome).

  5. Similar to my comment above, the nightmares in this episode all make me uncomfortable. I think one of the reasons it is so powerful is that all of us have had at least one of these nightmares at some point in our lives.

  6. Despite not having a final exam of any kind for many, many years, I've never stopped having the "I didn't know there was a test" nightmare.

    In fact, usually my subconscious ups the ante and makes it "I didn't know I was enrolled in this class, and now I have just discovered that there is a final exam in 2 minutes, and I'm lost in a crazy mazelike building."

    For reasons I don't understand at all, the class is typically criminology. My brain is odd.

  7. One of the better season one episodes.

    I agree with you Billie about the scene where Hank tells Buffy how she is the reason for the divorce. SMG did an awesome job with that. She really does have talent, even at such a young age (I believe she was only 19 when he show started?). The burying alive sequence also got to me.

    Willow's nightmare was also fantastic. I was a little confused with the little league coach at the end. I get that he shouldn't have told Billy that it was his fault the game was lost, but was that really the reason he checked on Billy everyday and tried to run from the room when he woke up? Or was it implied that he may have done more to Billy and that's why he was so scared of him waking up?

  8. This is probably my favorite from season one. The plot is not only well thought-out, it's greatly excuted, and the character development is outstanding. It won't be the first time Buffy goes into it's core characters heads, but this first time I feel is very effective at giving us a little bit of what makes these kids who they are.

    Miguel, I thought it was implied that the coach was somehow abusing Billy? Probably physically? And that was the reason he was in the hospital?

  9. The little league coach was the one who attacked Billy and put him in the hospital.

  10. Unlike you others, I really can't stand this episode. This, and The Puppet show is the two eps I really really hate from season 1. I don't know if the creepy nightmares gets to me, or that stupid dummy. I just get angry when I watch this. Give me I Robot, You Jane anytime...:)

    (Note to self: just watch Angel and Prophehy Girl from season one next rewatch)

  11. Josie K., I have the same version of the dream you describe. It has even morphed into a different version now that I am a professor where I find out there is a class I am supposed to be teaching that I have never attended and for which I am not prepared!

    Great review and great episode. I always find Season 1 to be a lot more enjoyable than its reputation would have me believe it could be.

  12. Suzanne, I have that nightmare every August. That's how I know school is about to start!

  13. Newbie report:

    Eek! The show really ramped up the creepy on this one.

    I loved everyone's nightmares, but I didn't really understand - were they real? Like will everyone remember what Xander looked like in his skivvies? (Good thing his personal nightmare included skivvies, right?) How about Buffy's dad? Will he remember what he said?

    As usual, I adored Xander and Willow's bits. (Is there a Xander and Willow spin-off, please?), but this one even made me sympathetic to Buffy.

    No vampires, though. Well, a bit of vampires, but it was just sort of what knitters call a "carry". It's where you know you will need the color later, so you just drag it along invisibly behind the important stuff. Obviously, they just brought on Angel so we could be reminded what Buffy is actually supposed to be slaying.

    But I do like creepy, and this one was definitely creepy. Points for that.

  14. Pucklady, there are a few references later in the series to the people of Sunnydale being remarkably forgetful.

  15. I've never really watched this episode properly before now (I often 'watch' buffy when I'm doing something else and this one has never had my full attention). Having taken the time, I see that this is definitely in the running for best episode of the season. I really like how everything descends into chaos while we all learn about the fears and insecurities of the characters. We can all recognise and relate to their fears too. It is great how they range from the amusing (cordy) to heartbreaking (Hank rejecting Buffy)

    Highlights for me are -

    Cordy getting dragged to the chess club in an ugly outfit with awful hair.

    Xander punching the clown.

  16. Buffy's dad, as part of her nightmare, says that he doesn't really get anything out of the weekends they spend together and suggests that they stop doing them. Even though it was just a nightmare, she really didn't get to see her dad anymore after, did she? Just thought it was interesting that that part of her nightmare came true.

  17. I never had academic failure dreams until after I graduated college. Since then, I have a recurring nightmare that I've either forgotten I still have to take one more class or that I've forgotten I've been enrolled in a class and haven't been going for months.

    This episode bugs the crap out of me, but for a really stupid reason. I just can't stand the decided lack of continuity of Hank Summers. It drives me up the wall.

    I do like how the nightmares start slow. After the spider incident, Giles gets turned around in the stacks and Buffy forgets she has a test. Both could actually happen. I remember the first time I watched this one, it took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on.

    This is the first episode in which we realize that nerdy, dorky Xander's physique is decidedly unnerdlike. They've done a decent job masking those arms with baggy shirts up until now. Brendon played baseball and it shows.

    Other tidbits: Willow has a Nerf Herder sticker in her locker. Nerf Herder does the theme song of the show. Sunnydale has greasers. (Because what high school in the nineties didn't?...) Xander mentions Nazis scare him. Right before he finds the first candy bar, you can see swastikas on the wall behind him.


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