Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 1 Episode 10

Nightmares

6
Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM May 12, 1997 on The WB
8.7
out of 10
User Rating
839 votes
37

EPISODE REVIEWS
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Episode Summary

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When strange things start happening to the students at Sunnydale High, it seems that everyone is living their worst nightmares. Buffy and the gang must hold together to stop the phenomena before reality and the nightmare world become one.

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • "Nightmares"

    8.5
    I noted that the problem with "I Robot, You Jane" was that the episode had about a half-dozen potentially good ideas, and wasted nearly every one of them. This week, with "Nightmares," we have the case of an episode with a premise that doesn't seem initially like much more than an uninspired rehash of A Nightmare On Elm Street, but ends up going far deeper than expected. And yet it was still a mild disappointment to me, for reasons I'll get to shortly.



    First the plot, which is all about nightmares coming to life. Xander literally shows up in class in his underwear; Willow has to perform an opera before an auditorium full of people; Giles loses his ability to read, and imagines that his ineptitude has led Buffy to get vampire-ized by The Master; and Cordeliawell, she has frizzy hair. All of these waking dreams have one recurring character: Billy, a little leaguer who's been in a coma ever since his coach knocked him unconscious in retaliation for Billy blowing the big game. Once Billy regains consciousness and confronts his fear of "the ugly man", a new day dawns and everything's sunny in Sunnydale again.



    My problems with "Nightmares" are as elusive as, well, nightmares themselves. For one, I don't think the performances are uniformly strong. Sarah Michelle Gellar has one heartbreaking moment when she talks with her dadmore on that in a momentbut by and large this is kind of an off episode for her and for the rest of the cast, as they either underplay or overplay the script's most dramatic moments. That script felt a little shapeless to me too, tying itself into knots trying to explain a strange phenomenon that could've easily have been left vague and mysterious. There's just an overallslackness to this episode that keeps it from entering the pantheon.



    Which is too bad, because while the presentation is poor, the dish itself is sublime. "Nightmares" signals its intentions in one of its earliest scenes, as Buffy and the gang sit in class and learn about "active listening," and humanity's "fundamental need to be It's no accident then that so many of the characters' nightmares have to do with communication and attention, and that the episode's most powerful scene involves Buffy being told by her nightmare-dad that, "You're sullen and rude and you're not nearly as bright as we wanted you to be," and that she's responsible for her parent's divorce.



    Any TV or movie character can have a nightmare about a killer clown; it's the specificity of the nightmares in this episode that makes it so powerful. In one of the scenarios, The Master riffs on Disney by chirping "a dream is a wish your heart makes," and that line isn't just a joke. It's possible that Willow craves attention as much as she fears it, and that Xander really likes looking exposed and vulnerable in front of the whole school, and that Buffy would rather her parents and friends see her as a bad seed instead of a troubled savior.



    In a way, "Nightmares" cannily subverts the Nightmare On Elm Street concept from its very first scene, in which Buffy is awakened from a bad dream by her mom, who tells her it's time for school. But as we know from the first nine episodes of this series, school in Sunnydale offers no respite from nightmares. From catty popular girls to literal monsters, the high school world in Buffy is as terrifying as anything our subconscious can spit up.moreless
  • Nightmares

    7.0
    "Nightmares" has some core problems, but is partially saved by several really great scenes. On one hand we get some real character gems from Buffy in the form of insight, emotion, and foreshadowing. On the other hand we have a premise that fails to live up to its potential and a pretty poor, heavy-handed plot with no real thematic gravitas or relevance to much of anything. The former certainly sticks around in my mind more than the latter, but I can't let that disguise how irrelevant the episode really is beyond said gems.



    There are some really compelling scenes surrounding Buffy in "Nightmares" and it wastes no time in getting to them. The opening nightmare itself sports a nice dose of foreshadowing while simultaneously recalling the mission statement of the show, despite the usual poor music and the Master actually hissing at Buffy. We see Buffy finding her way down into the Master's lair as he skulks around in the shadows. He comes up behind her and paralyzes her with his gaze as he goes in for the bite. This is almost exactly what actually happens in "Prophecy Girl" [1x12] and is a great way to remind us of the prophetic lineage and mysticism that's always swirling around our complex hero. It also serves as a nice prologue to what happens within "Nightmares" itself.



    With Buffy hollering "no no no" to the literal horrors that await her, Joyce's awakening response of "yes, it's time to go to school" is a nice callback to the central theme and recurring metaphor of the season: high school is hell. An additional welcome touch is the post-credits scene with the Master (about controlling fear) that begins in his tomb and slowly rises up through the ground and into the daylight where we see the high school. Note how this is the exact reverse of a similar scene in "Welcome to the Hellmouth" [1x01] where we start in the daylight and then slowly pan downward through the ground to uncover the Hellmouth itself. The earlier scene hints at the danger (and metaphors) that lurk below, while the scene here in "Nightmares" hints at that very danger rising to the surface and invading the world above which it, at least temporarily, very much does.



    There's a truly cathartic moment, for those of us who have full knowledge of the show to come, later in the episode where the Scoobies, sans Buffy, notice that there's suddenly a cemetery across the street from the school and it's nighttime over there. It's not only one of the sweetest-looking effects the season has, but it's also a moment that strikes me both emotionally and symbolically. It alludes to the separation that exists between Buffy's world and that of the other Scoobies. Buffy's always drenched in darkness despite her struggle to embrace the light. This reality will always, to an extent, lead to a separation between her, her friends, and the world around her, all of which informs her sense of loneliness and craving for human connection. As this scene evolves, we see the Scoobies try to enter Buffy's world only to want to immediately leave it, what with Buffy initially appearing dead and then rising as a vampire. While her friends are there to pull her out of the grave (hello "Bargaining Pt. 1" [6x01]) to face a depressing reality (in this case, being a vampire, in S6's case, depression itself), Buffy has already had to face the Master alone and died (hello "Prophecy Girl" [1x12]).



    Earlier in "Nightmares" there are some interesting insecurities unearthed about Buffy's relationship with her dad, which become increasingly important as the series progresses. Early in the episode Willow and Buffy have a conversation about the divorce of Buffy's parents. It's immediately clear that this is a big sore spot for Buffy, one that will not heal anytime soon (and it doesn't). We see that she fears her dad won't show up for their weekend outing and that her personal instability at the time contributed to why her parents got divorced. The scene later, with her nightmare dad, shows that she's also not entirely sure her dad wants to spend time with her. This scene is particularly rough to watch, mostly due to Gellar's ability to suck me into the emotion of the moment. It's heart-breaking to see Buffy's peppy excitement turned upside-down. Even sadder, though, is the knowledge that some of her fears are actually justified -- we see her dad really douche-it-up in the future.



    Interesting to note is Buffy telling Willow that, back when she found out she was the Slayer, "I was in so much trouble. I was a big mess." This tidbit, in conjunction with Joyce's words to Buffy in "Becoming Pt. 2" [2x22], make the future knowledge that Buffy was briefly in a mental hospital ("Normal Again" [6x17]) all that much more believable for me.



    While one would think an episode titled "Nightmares" would inspire relevant insight into most of the major characters, it sadly only does for Buffy in what begins as surface fears (being unprepared for a history exam), evolves to life fears (all the stuff surrounding her dad), and then climaxes with primal fears (the Master rising, being buried alive, and turning into a vampire). If only that logical progression had also been applied to someone else! Instead, we only get mostly surface-y stuff for Willow, Xander, Giles, and Cordelia.



    Willow's sole nightmare here is that she has to perform in front of an audience, thus exposing her inherent insecurities. As funny as this is, it was hinted at already in the end-credits scene of "The Puppet Show" [1x09]. Xander's nightmare goes from walking into class without his clothes on (even though he's clearly in fine shape) to clowns and Nazi symbols on the walls. Giles gets a bit more ranging from getting lost in the stacks to losing the ability to read (which makes "Something Blue" [4x09] even funnier) to seeing his charge (Buffy) dead. Cordelia.... well, apparently Cordelia's deepest fears are having a bad hair day and being forced into the chess club, even though the depth she reveals in "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" [1x11] shows there's obviously more going on there. The major problem with all this is that these nightmares don't really tell us anything new about their respective characters. Where Buffy's are truly insightful, everyone else's nightmares are disappointingly superficial.



    Sadly, the plot of "Nightmares" doesn't fare much better than the characters. Whereas most Buffy plots are supernatural metaphors for real-life problems, the plot here ends up being a straight-forward tale of a random man beating up a random kid in anger. Beyond the plot being poorly drawn and its resolution being ham-fisted, how is this relevant to either the characters or the larger story? The theme of the episode seems to be the effect one's fears have on those around them, but this theme is very poorly sewn into the episode and doesn't resonate at all. The finer details of the plot are pretty shoddy too, what with the lame "Ugly Man" bumbling around hollering "Lucky 19." Contrast all this with the similar but vastly superior "Fear, Itself" [4x04] in S4, where the plot and theme are clearly drawn and exist to serve the characters rather than to make a heavy-handed statement that doesn't have resonance or relevance.



    There's material surrounding Buffy to admire in "Nightmares," some of which proves to be surprisingly meaningful and potent in the seasons to come it's these scenes that hold the episode up. Unfortunately, there is almost just as much to be frustrated by. The episode is centered on a plot that is completely irrelevant, the byproduct of which give us nightmare sequences that are fun to watch but also largely uninteresting. While I love the episode's meaningful moments, they just simply don't connect well to what's actually happening in the episode itself. "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" [1x05], flawed as it is, is a better example of a plot with a coherent message that consists of both thematic and character relevance from start to finish. It's disappointing that "Nightmares" couldn't follow suit.moreless
  • Great stuff!

    8.0
    The Good;

    Buffy's dreams of the Master are truly terrifying as is his burying her alive which of course she'll experience for real in Bargaining. Giles' fear of not being able to read and Buffy dying are also excellent. Willow's stagefright and Cordy joining the chess club/bad hair brigade are utterly hilarious. It rather reminded me of the ep of Sabrina;TTW where Sabrina places a spell on her arch enemy Libby the haughty cheerleader turning her into a nerd only for Libby to become Queen of the nerds and start mocking the less clever. Semi-naked Nic Brendon who in the great comedy tradition wears embarassing boxer shorts. Some great CGI giant wasps. The Joyce/Buffy scenes. The tough guy whose mum turns up at school (don't know who he is but he resembles a character from Grease?)



    The Bad;

    The scene with Buffy and her dad is just too cruel. Apart from that, not much.



    Best line;

    Almost Xander's; Your balloon animals were pathetic!

    But the winner is Joyce; Your father loves you dear but no more than I do



    Observations and questions;

    Xander suffers clourophobia (fear of clowns) whilst Willow suffers arachnaphobia (although she faces down a giant spider in season 7). He also fancies a teacher called Miss Tishler demonstrating his fondness for older women again. Willow says that there is marital tension in her House (and as we later learn in Xander's also). The Master says he met the last Slayer, did he kill her?

    Here we have confirmation that Buffy was born in 1981 and is 15 turning 16 in this ep (so shame on you if you fancied her up to this point ) This begins the long tradition of disasterous birthdays for Buffy. First appearance of Hank Summers in the show. The only time we'll ever see Buffy as a vamp but she's still Buffy. You wonder if this is because it's just a nightmare and she's not truly been sired or even if a Slayer becomes a vamp that they're not evil, they're still the Slayer?

    Great ep, 8 and half out of 10 again

    moreless
  • You were a lousy clown! Your balloon animals were pathetic! Everyone can make a giraffe!

    9.5
    This episode is one of the most original episodes that comes from Buffy, which is saying something, I'm pretty sure that a little boy getting beaten by his little league coach and being put into a coma, bringing the nightmare world alive is pretty original. This episode also shows some revealing things about the core four, such as Willow's stage fright, Xander's fear of clowns, Buffy's fear of being alive and becoming evil, and Giles' fear of losing Buffy, and how all of their fears can coincide with each other. It's also the first time that Buffy and the Master meet, and it foreshadows The Master easily beating Buffy, and then her coming back from the dead. Where's Paul Reveire when you need him, "The apocalypse is coming, the apocalypse is coming!"moreless
  • Buffy is worried about an impending visit from her father, but soon has more to worry about when the nightmares of the students of Sunnydale High start coming to life. A filler episode; I'm the odd one out here – my least fave ep of the first season...moreless

    5.5
    This review contains spoilers.



    Okay, I'll put my hands up straight away on this one – I'm seemingly the only person who didn't particularly like this episode.

    Reading the other reviews, I'm pretty amazed – everyone seems to have found it wonderful, some citing it as a "classic" and even "the best of the first season". But personally, I found it to be a knocked-together filler episode, with little of real interest.

    So I know straight away I'm the odd one out here; but part of the appeal of 'Buffy' is that it has different episodes for different tastes, so I'll run down why this one didn't work for me.



    First things first, this is one of the numerous first season episodes not to feature Angel, but it does at least feature the Master (who, on hindsight, was maybe underused through the series to build up to inevitable season finale showdown). Buffy even gets to finally meet him in this one. Sort of. Or was it a dream? More on this in a bit.



    This one just cries to me of a last minute "We need an extra episode to bump up the count. Hey, let's do something about people's nightmares!". Which could be fun. If it were given the usual BtVS unique spin. But for the bulk of this one, the characters just seem to wander around from one nightmare to the next, with little real structure of the story, other than the realisation that it all revolves around Billy, the young boy in the coma.



    Now I'll confess something embarrassing: When I first watched this episode, on BBC Two way back when (about 1999ish), it took me a great portion of the episode to work out that Billy wasn't in fact Collin, "The Anointed One". I thought it was all part of some plot by the Master; I didn't work out until later on that Billy was a different person! Okay, I was young and not paying full attention, but they certainly do look similar.



    Anyway, back on course, I'll say again how *amazed* I am how popular this episode actually is. Although some deride them, I personally even like things such as (the much knocked) "Me Robot, You Jane", or "Teacher's Pet" over this episode; at least they had intriguing plots. For me, just watching characters "walk around in nightmares" for 45 minutes got a little tiring after a while, I'm afraid.



    There are some fair moments, although I'm a little lost why some deem this story to be "hilarious". Willow being thrust on stage for a performance she doesn't know the words to (the weird noise that comes out of her mouth is very funny), and, of course, Buffy being buried alive and coming back as a vampire. But these are good moments too few and far between; the concept needed more of a structure to pull it all together. And why did it all centre around the Highschool (and oddly, a cemetery that had appeared across the street)? As far as we know, Billy didn't even attend there. Why did it not affect a larger area of Sunnydale?



    That thing I mentioned with the Master earlier... well that's another niggle. It is never explained what is real and what was an illusion (i.e. never happened) at the conclusion of the story, and who does and who doesn't remember what from it. Buffy and co. seem to recall it all, but Buffy's father arrives as if nothing happened, so presumably he was just an illusion earlier? We are never given any clue as to who else remembers what, including if Buffy did in fact meet the Master or not.



    Well, I think you get the idea. Sadly, not one of my favourite episodes; in fact, possibly my least favourite of all, up until the sadly much weaker sixth season. It just reeks of a filler instalment to me, with some unanswered plot questions, and personally has little re-view value. I hadn't seen the first season for quite a while, and thought previously that "The Pack" may have been my least favourite episode from season one, but "Nightmares" sadly takes that award hands down. I know I'm gonna really get some "disagree" votes for this, but sadly, I can only bring myself to give "Nightmares" a *much* lower than usual 5.5.moreless
Terry Urdang

Terry Urdang

Ms. Tishler

Guest Star

Scott Harlan

Scott Harlan

Aldo Gianfranco

Guest Star

Brian Pietro

Brian Pietro

Coach

Guest Star

Mark Metcalf

Mark Metcalf

The Master

Recurring Role

Kristine Sutherland

Kristine Sutherland

Joyce Summers

Recurring Role

Andrew J. Ferchland

Andrew J. Ferchland

The Anointed One

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

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  • TRIVIA (14)

    • This is the first time you see Buffy's Dad in the show, he appears 4 times in Season 1 Episode 10 "Nightmare", Season 2 Episode 1 "When She Was Bad", Season 5 Episode 21 "The Weight of the World", and his last appearance is in Season 6 Episode 17 "Normal Again".

    • Nitpick: Aldo and Willow were attempting to preform the famous duet from Puccini's Madame Butterfly. Willow was dressed to play the title character Cio-Cio-San and Aldo was playing her new American husband Pinkerton. In the actual duet, Cio-Cio-San does not come in until after Pinkerton's first five lines (where Willow asked if it was her turn). The first prompting look Aldo gave her was factually inaccurate.

    • Goof: At the beginning of the episode, an exterior shot of Sunnydale High is shown for a few seconds. This shot was taken from "Teacher's Pet" (1x04). You can see Willow sitting on the bench wearing her red shirt and plaid pants from when she first met Ms. French in "Teacher's Pet." However in the next scene, which takes place only a few seconds later, Willow is wearing a black and brown shirt and a flowered skirt.

    • Willow still has a picture of herself and Giles in her locker.

    • Willow has a Nerf Herder bumper sticker in the inside of the locker door. Nerf Herder is the band that made the opening theme for the show.

    • When Wendell says that he doesn't hate spiders and that in fact he loves them (spiders hate him), Xander asks "that's platonic right?" After the praying-mantis-woman tried to mate with him in "Teacher's Pet" (1x04), Xander may not consider this a rhetorical question.

    • When Xander reaches down to pick up the candy bar (just before the clown attacks), it appears to be a Hershey Bar. But if you look closely, you can see that the name has been altered. Both H's are gone, and the R has been changed to a P. The name of the candy bar is now "EPS EY."

    • Nitpick: After Billy wakes up, everyone obviously still remembers what happened over the last few days. Just moments before he wakes up, the hospital staff is panicking: yet immediately after he wakes up, you can see the hospital staff wandering through the hallways, as though it were a perfectly normal day. Unless Buffy and the Scoobies only remembered because of their close proximity to Billy, that seems far too fast to get over such traumatic events.

    • Nitpick: Buffy's tombstone shows the dates "1981-1997." This birthdate contradicts both of the dates (1979 and 1980) from "I Robot, You Jane" (1x08). Ironically, this date (appearing, as it does, during a dream sequence) is more reliable than the ones mentioned previously, and is the one that seems to stick for the rest of the series. Also, this episode had to have taken place after Jan. 1st, 1997, because in the episode "Witch" (1x03) the sign in the gym says "1996 Cheerleading Tryouts."

    • Nitpick: It is unclear how the vampire Buffy made it to the hospital in daylight.

    • We learn that Giles can read five languages. On a normal day, anyway.

    • Goof: The Master's artificial thumbnail is visibly falling off in a few shots of the opening teaser.

    • Goof: In the beginning of the episode, when Buffy is talking to Willow before class, she closes her locker door. But seconds later, the camera cuts back to Buffy's open locker, and she closes it again.

    • Goof: In the climactic scene where Buffy is going up against "The Ugly Man," he has two "dead eyes" contacts on, but later he only has one. He has two when Buffy is about to leap on him in the hallway, and he has one when he is slumped over in the room.

  • QUOTES (18)

    • Cordelia: (to Wendell) Hello? Doofus! You're in my light.
      Xander: Wendell, what is wrong with you? Don't you know that she is the center of the universe, and the rest of us merely revolve around her?

    • Master: Fear is a wonderful thing. It is the most powerful force in the human world. Not love, not hate... Fear! We are defined by the things we fear. (goes to the large cross) This symbol, these two planks of wood, it confounds me. Suffuses me with mortal dread. But fear is in the mind. (puts his hand on the cross and holds on while it burns) Like pain. It can be controlled. If I can face my fear, it cannot master me.

    • Joyce: (to Buffy) You just have to remember that your father adores you. No more than I do, by the way.

    • Willow: I don't like spiders, okay? Their furry bodies, and their sticky webs, and what do they need all those legs for anyway? I'll tell you: for crawling across your face in the middle of the night. Ewww! How do they not ruffle you?
      Xander: I'm sorry! I'm unruffled by spiders. Now, if a bunch of Nazis crawled all over my face...

    • Willow: (to Wendell) What do you mean, you love spiders?
      Xander: It is platonic, right?

    • Giles: The boy has been in a coma for a week. How can this be possible?
      Buffy: What, am I knowledge girl now? Explanations are your terrain.

    • Buffy: Could I be seeing Billy's asteroid body?
      Giles: Astral body, and I don't know.

    • Buffy: This isn't real. You can't be free!
      The Master: You still don't understand, do you? I am free because you fear it. Because you fear it, the world is crumbling. Your nightmares are made flesh.

    • Joyce: You want to go to school?
      Buffy: Sure. Why not?
      Joyce: Ok. Good day to buy that lottery ticket.

    • Xander: So our dreams are coming true?
      Giles: Dreams? That would be a musical comedy version of this. Nightmares. Our nightmares are coming true.
      Willow: So, why is this happening?
      Giles: Billy.
      Xander: Well, that explanation was shorter than usual. It's Billy! Who's Billy?

    • Xander: It'll be faster if we split up to look for her.
      Giles: Good idea.
      Willow: Uh, faster, but not really safer.

    • Wendell: I don't know what to say about that.
      Xander: There's nothing to say. You saw two hundred insects, you gonzoed. Anybody would have.
      Wendell: They're not insects. They're arachnids.
      Xander: They're from the Middle East?

    • The Master: So, you're the Slayer. You're prettier than the last one.

    • Xander: I'm not worried. If there's something bad out there we'll find, you'll slay, we'll party!

    • The Master: What's the fun in burying someone if they're already dead?

    • Willow: When Buffy was a vampire, you weren't still, like, attracted to her, were you?
      Xander: Willow, how can you... I mean, that's really bent! She was... grotesque!
      Willow: Still dug her, huh?
      Xander: I'm sick, I need help.
      Willow: Don't I know it.

    • Buffy: This is a dream.
      The Master: A dream is a wish your heart makes. This is real life.

    • Buffy: Scary. But there are a lot scarier things out there than you... and I'm one of them.

  • NOTES (3)

    • Featured Music:
      Vieni La Sera from Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini - The opera duet that Willow is supposed to perform

    • According to the first Watcher's Guide, Joss Whedon stated this is the episode where Xander "officially" grows up, due in large part to his punching out the clown.

    • It was Alyson Hannigan's idea for Willow to suffer from stage fright, which is how the writers decided to make performance anxiety her biggest nightmare.

  • ALLUSIONS (5)

    • Billy: I had the strangest dream. And you were in it, and you...
      This line is very similar to what Dorothy says at the end of The Wizard of Oz, when she wakes up from her dream.

    • The Master: A dream is a wish your heart makes.
      It's amusing (and slightly ironic) that The Master is familiar with Walt Disney. This is a line from a song in Disney's 1950 movie Cinderella.

    • Xander: Your balloon animals were pathetic. Everyone can make a giraffe!

      Balloon animals refers to the practice of twisting long balloons into shapes representing animals. The giraffe is a particularly common balloon animal. Clowns often do balloon animal shapes.

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

      This refers to the theories of Theosophy, which teach seven different planes of existence with a corresponding body. The Astral body is able to leave the physical and move about the Astral plane.

    • Willow: Why is she so Evita like?
      Both a play and movie, Evita is based on Eva Peron, wife of Argentinean president Juan Peron. Immensely popular with the people of Argentina, she is portrayed as self-centered and opportunistic.

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