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"Restless" from a Seventh Season Perspective

March 23, 2003
[Originally a Billie's Bytes column]

[P.S. I considered at one point revising this essay after the series finale aired, but later decided that it was more fun to leave it as it was, faulty and not-so-faulty predictions intact.]

[P.P.S. I don't seriously believe that Joss Whedon planned all of this; I think "Restless" was a stream of consciousness, and later, a lot of those streams turned up in later seasons and episodes.]

There was a wonderful crossover episode of Angel this week (see my review), plus a devastating, emotionally wrenching Farscape finale that simply infuriated me. There was a complex detective story on Dead Zone, and Peter Wingfield guest starred on John Doe.

But with only six episodes left in the entire series, my mind is totally on Buffy.

I recently read Nikki Stafford's book, Bite me! before I interviewed her for N-Zone. Throughout the book, she mentioned "Restless" often, noting the references within it to past and future episodes and suggesting that it might contain clues to the end of the series. Intrigued, I pulled out my tape and started analyzing the damned thing.

I do not read spoilers, and I have no idea whatsoever how the series will end. No one but Joss Whedon and his staff know at this point, anyway; it is still being written. Plus, it's very easy to read meaning into things that may have no meaning at all. But I'm going to do it,anyway.

Looking at "Restless" from a near-the-end-of-the-seventh-season perspective, I found multiple references to the First Evil, starting with the episode before "Restless" where Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles create an enjoining spell so that their power will merge into Buffy, giving Buffy the strength to defeat Adam. The episode is called "Primeval." What does the word "prime" mean? Primeval.... prime evil... First Evil. Joss Whedon is a devious man.

Take a look at the episode or read the transcript of the fourth act (see the Buffy transcripts at the Psyche site), and it's as clear as day. Willow casts the spell, saying, "The power of the Slayer and all who wield it, last to Ancient First, we invoke thee. Grant us thy domain of primal strength. Accept us and the powers we possess. Link us mind and heart with spirit joined. Let the hand encompass us. Do thy will. ... We enjoin that we may inhabit the vessel. The hand, daughter of Sineya, first of the Ones." Later, Adam says, "You can't last much longer." Buffy replies, "We can. We are forever." And finally, Buffy says, "You could never hope to grasp the source of our power." Maybe that's because it's incorporeal.

Clearly, there is a strong connection between the Slayers and the First Evil. My analysis of "Restless" suggests that the source of Buffy's power, of the Slayer's power, actually is the First Evil. What did "last to Ancient First" mean? Will there be a last Slayer? Who will it be?

On to "Restless." Yes, this gets long; if you want a short interpretation, skip to the last few paragraphs.

Act One is full of references to Willow and Buffy turning evil.

Tara and Willow talk about Miss Kitty not having a name and say that she's not all grown yet, but the kitten is then shown as huge and predatory. This could refer to season five's Big Bad, Glory, who was at first unnamed, but I don't think so. At the end of Act Four, the First Slayer is said to have no name; the First Evil also has no name. And if It won't arrive for another two years, it isn't "grown-up" yet. The kitten, and the First Slayer, are both black and white.

Tara tells Willow, "They will find out, you know. About you." Buffy says, "Your costume is perfect. Nobody's gonna know the truth. You know, about you." Tara says, "Everyone's starting to wonder about you. The real you. If they find out, they'll punish you." Buffy: "Well, you must have done something," and "Willow, everybody already knows." In Act Two, in the Summers house, Buffy also refers to the sleeping Willow as a "big faker."

These are obvious references to Willow turning evil in season six, although back in season four they could be interpreted as metaphors for her lesbian lifestyle and her witchcraft. Willow was indeed punished in season seven, by Gnarl.

There is constant talk of Willow being late in Act One. Snyder says in Act Two that time is running out. Giles talks about being late in Act Three, and Buffy and Tara also do it in Act Four. I don't know what the hell this means, but it must mean something. The obvious is that Time itself is running out, and the end of the world approaches. Or not.

In the backstage scene and later, on stage, Buffy, Riley, and Harmony are in costume. They keep telling Willow that she's in costume, but we don't see one. Buffy's costume is all black, including her hair, and she says at one point that she's not in character ("You're already in character! Oh, I shoulda done that!")

Let me slap an interpretation on this. Riley's and Harmony's true selves (soldier and vampire) are much less pleasant than their costumes. Perhaps Willow is not in costume because she isn't evil yet.

Buffy is dressed like the lead character in Chicago, who kills her husband and sister when she catches them having an affair. This is the first, but not the last, reference to Buffy becoming evil. Will she kill, or try to kill either Spike, or Angel, or perhaps Dawn? Remember that the ghost of Joyce told Dawn that when the time came, "Buffy won't choose you."

Giles, the stage director, tells everyone to stay in character (remember, Buffy forgot to get into character). He says, "The audience wants to find you, strip you naked, and eat you alive, so hide." These could be references to Warren hiding and being stripped in season six, and Willow being eaten alive in season seven, especially since later, Buffy strips Willow of her clothes. Giles was a stage director before ("The Puppet Show"). He mentions musical numbers and being stripped naked; in "Once More, With Feeling", the emotions and secret truths of the cast are naked, and revealed.

Buffy, on stage, rants at Riley about the shortcomings of men, while Harmony, behind him, is weeping, as if she were the other woman. Buffy says, among other things, "all groin no brain three million of you passing around the same worn-out urge." In season five, Riley began seeking out vampire "prostitutes;" is Harmony symbolically representative of this? Buffy also says of men, "Throw 'em in the sea for all I care," which I can, with great silliness, relate to the end of season three on Angel.

There is a dead body at Harmony's feet during this scene. I'm not certain, but it looks like Oz in a black suit, with black hair. This might symbolize the death of Willow's relationship with men in general, and Oz in particular.

When Willow is being stabbed by the First Slayer, who is behind the red curtain, Buffy comes out from the exact same place behind the curtain to save her. Taken literally, Buffy and the First Slayer came from the same place.

In the classroom, Buffy strips Willow's outfit off, and Willow is now wearing what she wore in "Welcome to the Hellmouth". Willow's book report is on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and while she's reading it, all of her friends in the schoolroom mock her and turn against her. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, magic turns out to be not so cool. And there's, of course, the obvious closet reference.

Act One bits:

-- There are many, many beds in "Restless", but no one is sleeping in them. Are these visual puns on the title?

-- One of the videos in the teaser is labeled 2/1/96. Was that when Buffy was called?

-- The Greek letters Willow is painting on Tara's back are a poem by Sappho, I'm told.

-- The teaser mentions puppies. Many Buffy and Angel episodes mention puppies; it's a standing joke.

-- Tara says, "You don't know everything about me." ("Family")

-- Oz says, "I've been here forever." This is odd because he left that year.

-- Willow says, "This isn't Madame Butterfly, is it, because I have a whole problem with opera." ("Nightmares")

-- In the classroom scene, Anya says: "It's exactly like a Greek tragedy. There should only be Greeks." Is this a play on the word "geek," since Willow is in her old geek clothes? Perhaps it's a reference to the Angel/Cordelia/Connor Oedipus Rex plot going on this year on Angel. Yes, I'm reaching.

Moving on to Act Two... the entire act tells us that Xander is not getting anywhere with his life, and that he'll die before he truly achieves adulthood.

The famous playground scene is absolutely fascinating. Giles and Spike are dressed alike (tweed) and doing the same thing (swinging). Spike says, "Giles here is going to teach me to be a Watcher. Says I got the stuff." Giles says, "Spike's like a son to me." Spike also wears the same suit in "Tabula Rasa" and Giles and Spike mistakenly believe they are father and son. It could also mean son-in-law; with Giles as Buffy's father figure, perhaps Buffy and Spike will end up together at the end. Joss Whedon is not known for happy endings, but one can hope.

I've been fantasizing for years that Spike will cap his long journey toward redemption by becoming a Watcher, and it was "Restless" that gave me the idea. I think the chances are good that if Spike lives through the finale and retains his soul, he might become a Watcher; there are certainly plenty of openings in the profession right now.

Xander says he was into that for awhile (being a Watcher? being Giles' son?), but now he has something else going on, and gestures toward the ice cream truck (journey, departure). If Xander was "into" being Giles' son, is that why Buffy refers to him as "Big Brother"? Buffy's friends really are her family, after all.

Buffy is in a sandbox, playing with a bucket. Xander asks her if she's sure she wants to play in there. This is the first of two portrayals of Buffy as a child. Buffy says, "Are you sure it's us you were looking for?"

Is Xander looking for love, sex, a mature relationship, an end to childhood? It certainly isn't coming to him here. He is approached by all of the women in the cast with the exception of his own girlfriend (and Buffy), but he never follows through. They all wear sexy clothes and way too much makeup, and talk to him without moving their lips; does this mean that he's hearing things they're not really saying? Xander has never had a successful romantic relationship, and I don't think he ever will.

Xander also keeps going places, but not accomplishing anything. He rejects slaying for working in the ice cream truck in the playground scene, and the school scene and military scenes don't seem to be possible futures for him since they are strange and surreal. After each scene, Xander finds himself back in the basement, although he clearly doesn't want to be there.

Buffy says, "I'm okay. It's not coming for me yet." and Xander replies, "I just mean, you can't protect yourself from ... some stuff." Later Xander says to Snyder in the Apocalypse Now segment that he's trying to get away, "there's something I can't fight." In the short transition segment in Giles' apartment, Buffy says, "I can fight anything, right?"

Something is coming that the Scoobies truly cannot fight. Well, duh. It could be a reference to Xander defeating Willow with love at the end of season six, but it could also refer to being unable to fight the First Evil.

I am handicapped by the fact that I've never seen Apocalypse Now, but what is said is pretty clear. Snyder says that a "bunch of you were sitting there... waiting to be shepherded" and he mentions dead flowers and decay. He tells Xander, "Your time is running out." And most tellingly, he says to Xander, "You're a whipping boy. Raised by mongrels and set on a sacrificial stone."

This is the first of three references to Xander's death. The mongrels are Xander's parents, and the sacrificial stone could be referring to the Ashanti scene in "First Date", but it could also mean that Xander is the sheep -- the ultimate sacrifice, or as Giles says in Act Three, "the blood of the lamb." (There is also a sticker with the word "sheep" on it in the ice cream truck.)

Xander ends up back to the basement for a third time, and this time his father opens the door and comes down the stairs. Before the First Slayer rips Xander's heart out, his father says, "The line ends here with us, and you're not going to change that." Interpreted literally, Xander is going to die before he has children.

Act two bits:

-- In the Summers house, Buffy refers to a "bunch of massacring." Season seven of Buffy? It has certainly been happening on season four of Angel.

-- Xander talks about "gotta be moving forward." Buffy says, "Like a shark." Xander: "Like a shark with feet and much less fins." Spike: "And on land!" Is this just another silly reference to the shark character in "Tabula Rasa"?

-- Anya says she's getting back into vengeance, which she later does in season six after "Hells Bells". (Duh.)

-- Giles says, "It's because of what we did, I know that." Is he referring to raising the First Evil?

-- In Sunnydale High, Giles says, "The others have gone on ahead," and he and Anya speak in French that Xander doesn't understand. Giles says Xander needs to get back to the house where the others are all asleep, and that the demon that's after him can't find him there. He tells Xander to stop playing around. Anya says that everyone is waiting for him back at the house; she'll take him there. (Thanks to Nikki Stafford for the translation.)

-- Xander tells Snyder, "You know, I never got the chance to tell you how glad I was you were eaten by a snake." ("Graduation Day II")

Act Three begins and ends with a watch. Watch, Watcher. Duh.

In Giles' empty apartment, Giles is trying to hypnotize Buffy with his watch, like he did with the crystals in "Helpless". He says, "You have to stop thinking. Let it wash over you." Buffy: "Don't you think it's a little old fashioned?" Giles: "This is the way women and men have behaved since the beginning... before time." Another reference to something ancient, and another reference to time.

In the park at night, Buffy is a child again, pulling Giles by the hand; Olivia is there, pregnant, pushing an empty baby carriage. Giles later abandons a sobbing Olivia in Spike's crypt; the baby carriage is overturned. No family for Giles? Buffy is Giles' only family? Giles and Buffy do a simplistic parody of him training her, including her standard joke about him giving her treats for slaying vamps.

Giles refers a great deal to his job. He says, "This is my business. The blood of the lamb and all that," which means there will be a sacrifice.

For the first time, but not the last, Buffy's face is covered with mud, like the First Slayer. The color changes as if it were a photographic negative. This is a transparent metaphor for Buffy turning evil as she becomes the First Slayer.

The Spike's crypt scene is fascinating. Spike tells Giles that Giles is going to miss everything, that he has to make up his mind, stop wasting time, and that he has to figure it out with his "enormous squishy frontal lobes." Spike rents himself out as an attraction; those scenes are all in black and white, which probably refers to Spike being both good and evil. Right after Giles says, "I still think Buffy should have killed you," Spike strikes a crucified pose, suggesting that he may be sacrificed to save the world. This is the second possible fate for Spike; frankly, I prefer the Watcher scenario.

When Giles arrives at the Bronze, he apologizes for being late. Xander says, "I promised Anya I'd be here for her big night." Is this a reference to their wedding in "Hells Bells"? Xander continues, saying, "Now I'll probably be pushing up daisies, in the sense of being in the ground underneath them and fertilizing the soil with decomposition." This is the third reference to Xander dying.

Willow says to Giles, "Do you know this is your fault?" Also, Willow says, "Something's after us. It's like some primal... some animal force." Giles: "That used to be us." Then when Giles is singing: "It seems familiar somehow. Of course! The spell we cast with Buffy must have released some primal evil that's come back seeking... I'm not sure what..." The term "primal evil" literally means first, or ancient evil. If you think of this not as the First Slayer but as the First Evil, it makes a lot more sense.

Giles says "I can defeat you with my intellect. I can cripple you with my thoughts." A reference to how he defeated Evil Willow? Or a reference to how they will defeat the First Evil? He follows the microphone line back to the watch. I wonder if this has something to do with the Watcher line and how the Watchers originated, something we know very little about.

Act three bits:

-- Did Anya and the duck joke actually mean anything?

-- Giles called Spike a sideshow freak ("Beneath You").

-- Spike's crypt has garden gnomes in front of it (the Troika camera in "Entropy").

In Act Four, Buffy's dream contains many references to Buffy dying, being alone in the end, and becoming evil.

Buffy awakens in her dorm room. Anya in the other bed tells Buffy to wake up, and Buffy says, "I'm not really in charge of these things." This may refer to Buffy's unwilling resurrection in season six.

She sees the First Slayer hanging over her, then she is back in her own bed in the Summers house. Then she's at the doorway, looking at the unmade bed, and she says, "Faith and I just made that bed." For whom? The next Slayer? The Slayers in Training?

There's a shot of Buffy's alarm clock; it says 7:30 am. (Counting down from 7-3-0.) Buffy says, "It's so late," and Tara replies, "Oh, that clock's completely wrong." Buffy won't die after 730 days, after all, as predicted by dream Faith in
"Graduation Day" because the Scoobies will resurrect her. Tara says, "You think you know what's to come, what you are. You haven't even begun." The bed is now made. And it closes with Tara saying, "Be back before Dawn" who arrives in season five.

In the Sunnydale High/college sequence, Joyce is trapped inside the wall; all Buffy can see is her face ("School Hard"). Joyce says that Buffy could probably break through the wall, but Buffy doesn't even try. This is symbolic of Joyce's upcoming death in "The Body", and Buffy's failure to prevent it.

Does Buffy see Xander going up the stairs right after this part? If that's Xander, I have no idea what this means.

In the conference room scene, Riley calls Buffy "killer," something Dracula also does in the season five opener. Buffy has never killed a human; is that what's coming? Riley talks about drawing up a plan for world domination, to which Buffy replies, "Is that a good?" It's what the First Evil is planning, isn't it?

Adam, out of costume, says, "She's uncomfortable with certain concepts. It's understandable. Aggression is a natural human tendency. Though you and I come by it another way." Buffy, with the First Slayer appearing momentarily behind her, says, "We're not demons....?" And Adam says, "Is that a fact?" Does this mean that Buffy and Adam both became, or will become demons? Is a Slayer in fact a form of demon? Or did it mean that Buffy and the First Slayer are NOT demons, but come by their power another way?

Riley then talks about giving things names (Willow and Tara were talking about the kitten being nameless in Act One). Adam doesn't know what his name was before; he says, "not a man among us can remember," a reference to ancient times? An announcer says the demons have escaped, and Riley and Adam decide to make a fort to defend themselves. Adam says, "I'll get some pillows." I was immediately reminded of season seven at the Summers house, although that's probably a stretch.

Buffy says, "Wait! I have weapons!" She opens her weapons bag, but finds it full of mud. Is becoming the First Slayer or becoming evil the only weapon Buffy will be able to use against the First Evil? Again with the photographic negative as a metaphor for turning evil as Buffy smears the mud on her face.

Back in the desert, Buffy says that she won't find her friends there, and Tara says, "Of course not. That's the reason you came." Buffy isn't really looking for her friends. She is alone.

Buffy and the First Slayer (through Tara) talk. Buffy asks why the First Slayer is following her, but the First Slayer says, "I don't." And "You're asking the wrong questions." "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 says, "The Slayer." Tara replies, "The First."

Tara/First Slayer says, "The Slayer does not walk in this world." Buffy replies, "I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I'm going to 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." Buffy does indeed walk in this world, partly because of her friends. Buffy also sang about walking through the fire and wanting the fire back in "Once More, with Feeling".

The only words the First Slayer actually vocalizes herself are "No friends! Just the kill. We are alone." Here, the First Slayer reveals her purpose. Although it may seem that way, I don't think she was there to kill the Scoobies; I think she was trying to communicate something very important to Buffy about the source of Slayer power, and about how in the end, she will be alone.

Buffy ends up back in the Summers house. The First Slayer, who managed to kill Willow, Xander, and Giles in the previous three acts, cannot kill Buffy; instead she stabs Buffy repeatedly, but Buffy is unharmed (incorporeal?). The First Slayer has no power over Buffy. Buffy says, "You're really gonna have to get over the whole primal power thing. You're not the source of me." I think that we have been told repeatedly by now that the First Evil, not the First Slayer, is the source of the Slayer's power.

In the coda, Giles says, "Somehow our joining with Buffy and invoking the essence of the Slayer's power was an affront to the source of that power." Buffy's friends are a threat to the First.

In the end, Buffy once again looking at her own bed, while Tara repeats, "You think you know what's to come, what you are. You haven't even begun."

Act Four bits:

-- Giles' apartment is empty; he moves back to England in season six.

-- Buffy throws a nerf ball at a Dracula puppet ("Buffy vs. Dracula"). She really did play with Dracula in season five; she didn't slay him.

-- Twice Buffy wakes up and the First Slayer is hanging over her. That's sorta symbolic, huh?

-- Riley tells Buffy, "If that's the way you want it, I guess you're on your own." (Their break-up in "Into the Woods".)

-- I haven't mentioned the infamous Cheese Man, because Joss Whedon says he doesn't mean anything. But hey -- cheese comes from milk. Milk represents life. Is Joss saying life is meaningless? :)

What does it all mean?

Put simply, I'm guessing that Buffy will either channel evil, or will become evil, to defeat the First Evil. She will use the First Slayer to do it. She may become a demon, possibly a vampire. She will kill, or try to kill, a human being -- possibly Dawn. Giles will be the one to figure out how to defeat the First. The Slayers-in-Training and her friends won't be able to help; when it comes right down to it, Buffy will be alone.

Xander may be the final and most devastating Scooby martyr. Spike will either become a Watcher to complete his journey toward redemption, or he will sacrifice himself to save the world.

The First takes the form of people who have died, but who is the only person living whose form it takes? Buffy. Maybe what the First wants is the one thing It doesn't have -- corporeal form. And who would it want as a host? The most powerful human on Earth who is not the real Slayer any more -- Buffy. Which is why the First is trying to eliminate the Slayers in training, Faith, Willow, and Spike, so no one else on earth would be able to stop It. (Thanks to Dan for that one.)

I could have written another ten pages on "Restless", but enough already. I think I have some of it, but I truly don't know what it all means. We'll all find out by May 20, when the series finale airs.

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


  1. What a fantastic article, Billie. As I said in my comment on the episode itself, this time through it all made much more sense and I enjoyed it a great deal more.

    For all the reasons you enumerate here. Great, great piece.

  2. Hey Billie!

    Love me some Buffy and love your reviews. Buffy actually brought me onto this site a few years ago. :)

    Whilst reading your review, a thought popped into my head: Buffy in the sandbox and Xanders question about her really wanting to play in there could somehow refer to her meeting the First Slayer in the desert. Compared to later seasons Season-4-Buffy is still kind of playing, not sitting at the grown-ups table.

  3. Thanks, Anon!

    Good point about the sandbox and the First Slayer, especially since I'm convinced that "Restless" was all Whedon stream-of-consciousness.

  4. Cheeseman might not mean anything but his existence did make me snigger uncontrollably on my rewatch when earlier this season Willow tells Riley Buffy likes cheese. I was laughing before I could even remember what the funny association was, I can't believe I forgot about our cheese-buddy.
    Anyway this was a great breakdown of, if not for the existence of that excellent s5 ending coming up, what would've been my favourite finale of the show. But yeah a very close 2nd, I love this un-revisited format of action-heavy penultimate ep followed by a denouement-ish finale.

  5. Onigirli, just wanted to say that I'm reading and enjoying your comments. :)


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