Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 4 Episode 22


Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM May 23, 2000 on The WB

Episode Fan Reviews page 2 of 2

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  • Just weird to watch...

    It wasn't explosive, it wasn't exciting, and it was kind of boring. The spirit of the first Slayer tries to kill them in their dreams? Not to mention they were weird dreams. It just wasn't good for a season finale for me. I feel that finales ought to put in a bit more punch rather and leave the audience wanting more. I didn't feel that.
  • It makes you think.....

    At first, I thought, huh? It really didnt make sense. But when the series is over, and you can look back at what happened, it really pays off. This has got to be the best episode in my opinion. It is full of emotions, puzzles, and foreshadowing of what's to come. Seeds are planted and they grow. That's what I love about Buffy. They do dream sequences beautifully. It's so thought-provoking! I could write a full college paper on Restless, even though I'm not in college! This is my baby, my heart, and I love this episode to death.
  • It grows on you.

    When I first saw this episode back in 2000 on TV, I was very disappointed. The Scoobies had just defeated their most powerful evil being yet, and I\'m left wondering \"What are they going to do now!?\" And I have to say, when I first saw it, as a 15 year old, I was VERY disappointed. It wasn\'t until I got older, and watched the entire fourth season again on DVD that I really realized the genius of this episode. Watching this episode, as well as Joss Whedon\'s commentary, really helped me understand the episode, along with simply being older and being able to read more of the symbolic meaning behind the episode. This episode does such a great job of following the hopes, dreams, and fears of all the characters. Season Four itself seemed to be mostly about personal character growth as opposed to group solidarity, so this episode ties it up very well. If you are looking for a brain teasing smorgasbord of stimulation, this is the perfect episode for you to watch. This is also one of the episodes I will show to Buffy \"virgins\" to get them hooked on the show. It always works.
  • Overall, this episode is a rare gem, an example of storytelling that transcends its intended purpose and inherent flaws through sheer scope and originality.

    By most measures, the fourth season was something of a failed experiment. Joss had his attention divided, thanks to an inconsistent first season of “Angel” in need of closer attention, and he had a good production staff already in place for “Buffy”. And so he did the most logical thing: he placed “Buffy” in the hands of his able staff and let them bring forth his vision. Unfortunately, the execution was hampered by issues with guest cast and a concept that couldn’t be addressed fully in one single season arc.

    Joss took the initiative (no pun intended) to underscore the season’s theme by wrapping up the Initiative arc one episode early and ending the fourth season in a more unconventional manner. While this would leave the fifth season with a somewhat questionable starting point, it did provide Joss with a chance to expand his writing techniques. The result is an episode that was hailed by some as pure genius and reviled by others as the death of the series.

    The premise is simple: the four primary characters deal with the consequences of their actions in “Primevil” within a shared dreamscape. As such, many of their personal issues of self-identity merge with the sense of being stalked by something incredibly old and primal. It serves to bring each character’s arc to something of a transition point: if the fourth season brought forward questions of self-doubt, then this episode clarifies those questions and points to where the characters might be heading.

    Each act becomes a mixture of wacky dream imagery, character analysis, and plot, told from the four primary perspectives. While focusing on the dream world of each character, it is quite an interesting and fun piece of fiction. Not everything comes together as it could, but the overall tone and consistency is quite impressive. It’s only at the end, when Joss needs to end the cycle and get things back to the “real world”, that the episode stumbles.

    As with most dream sequences, there are levels of interpretation and communication that differ with opinion. There’s what Joss intended, what he managed to convey, and how each member of the audience interprets that information. This analysis is an attempt to reconcile the entire series with the ideas and concepts that Joss had communicated before and after the episode was written and aired. It’s not meant to be the authoritative interpretation for all of fandom.

    Starting with Willow, the episode sets its dreamy tone with a great sequence involving Tara, a paintbrush, and a poem by Sappho. This initial shot is actually a means of introducing the idea of the primal hunter. Many shots of Ms. Kitty Fantastico are designed to show the hunter at the heart of the fuzzy little kitten, which is exactly what Joss is saying about Buffy: at the heart of the Slayer is a primal force, ancient and instinctual.

    In retrospect, Tara is the voice of the First Slayer, and so there are levels of subtext to the scene that might otherwise be overlooked. Tara hints at having secrets of her own; however, is this Tara speaking, or the First Slayer? The fact that she says that Willow already knows her real name, in light of the final season, is intriguing. This suggests the later revelation that Willow’s wellspring of magical power was essentially the same connective female source that originally gave power to the First Slayer, before the Watchers took dominion through forced mergence with a demonic power source. Thus the First Slayer, through the form of Tara, seems to be telling Willow that she knows the source of the Slayer’s origins, even if she doesn’t realize it.

    Shortly thereafter, Willow finds herself as she is at the end of the fourth season, but back in Sunnydale High. This is the first suggestion of a fear that her new lifestyle is far from genuine. In a sense, it also plays on the season’s theme of Self-identity in the Young Adult. Willow is left wondering if those things she discovered about herself at UC-Sunnydale are really parts of herself, or if she’s just trying to hide the same ol’ Willow.

    Willow’s anxiety over the swift nature of adult change is reflected in the immediate jump from signing up for Drama and starring in a production. It’s telling that Riley, for instance, shows up “on time” and gets to be “Cowboy Guy”. After all, he had a strong sense of direction before working with the Initiative, or he wouldn’t have been so valued by the military (at least, as it was suggested he was). Giles is, of course, the director, demonstrating the role that she still gives him in her life (denoting, over time, how she comes to reject the “limitations” of her parent figure). Willow also sees this performance as lying to the world and everyone she knows. All in all, it underscores all of her doubts and fears.

    Tara, the voice of the First Slayer, points out that Willow isn’t waiting for a play to begin, because life itself does not “stop” or “start”. It simply moves forward, and one must endure and find one’s own way. The First Slayer is striking Willow at the heart of her fear. Meanwhile, out on the “stage”, Buffy’s character gives a screed about men and their disgusting biological urges, all of which sound like what some in society would expect an emerging lesbian to spout. (And perhaps there is a bit of resentment towards Riley for stealing Buffy out of her life, hinting again at a latent attraction to the Slayer.)

    The dream imagery gets a little obvious as Willow finds herself exposed and betrayed by just about everyone she trusts, back in the persona that she had before the Slayer ever entered her life. It’s actually hard to believe how easily Allyson Hannigan slips back into that role, and the production crew should be commended for the costume and makeup. This act sets the stage for Willow’s growing sense of identity in the fifth season, most especially the connection between her self-image and strength in magic.

    The second act pertains to Xander, who is a character in serious need of development by the end of the fourth season. It begins with Xander in the real world, but there are indications of the deeper meaning. Willow is called a “big faker”, and Giles points out that the movie they are watching is “all about the journey”. Xander doesn’t get it, which is largely due to the fact that he doesn’t see himself as having made a journey. If Willow is terrified that her changes are cosmetic and false, Xander is terrified that he never will change.

    Xander is worried about measuring up in the world (hence, being observed by Initiative scientists as he urinates). He believes he should be striking out on his own, taking command of the world around him, but he’s mostly looking for a role to be comfortable in. As the only “normal” member of the gang, he has even more reason to question his ability and utility.

    Once on the playground, Xander comes face to face with what he thought he wanted. First, there’s Giles and the potential to become a Watcher. Like Willow, Xander has placed Giles in something of a parental role since the very beginning. Similarly, Buffy is placed in a sisterly role instead of a love interest role. (One could also consider that Buffy in this scene is also a presage of Dawn in the fifth season; Xander plays “big brother” for her on many occasions.)

    The scene in the ice cream truck has some obvious elements, especially in terms of Xander’s thoughts on Willow and Tara and what they are like behind closed doors, but there are also some obtuse moments with Anya. One could take their conversation as something of a hint towards the sixth season and Xander’s doubts about Anya’s demonic past.

    Xander pursues his fantasy versions of Willow and Tara only to find himself back in the basement. Upstairs, there’s something pounding and growling. Like with Willow, this is the source of his fear and weakness. Xander is terrified of becoming his father, and by extension, just another member of his less-than-illustrious family.

    The next several moments represent Xander’s fear that he can’t keep up with everyone else, who seems to understand what’s happening from moment to moment. He finds himself pushed into the role of the soldier in his mind’s version of “Apocalypse Now”, and soon he’s confronted with a version of Snyder, who questions Xander on his direction in life. He tells Xander exactly what Xander fears: that he was destined to be a nobody, another victim, not someone capable of fighting back and surviving.

    Xander seeks a safe haven (Giles’ apartment, Buffy’s dorm room) only to find himself back in the basement, having made no progress at all. The only way out of the basement is through his fear, but he can’t overcome that obstacle. And because he cannot overcome it, the First Slayer defeats him.

    The third act is focused on Giles, the eternal parental figure. This segment is intriguing because it introduces complication in terms of the role between Slayer and Watcher. The initial scene could be seen less as Giles’ attitude than the attitude ingrained in the Watcher mythos: men need to control the feminine, to harness and direct that primal power. This fits perfectly with the idea of the First Watchers, men who saw a need to defeat demons but needed to twist and pervert a woman with that ability to their own ends.

    As usual, Olivia (and the potential that she represents) is only present in a Joss Whedon episode (which is actually rather disappointing). In this context, she represents what Giles wishes he could have, but never will: a normal family and a child of his own. Faced with the first glimpse of the “enemy”, however, Giles recognizes (at least intellectually) some aspect what they must be facing.

    Giles is faced with the tatters of a family life, having chosen (through that recognition) the role of Watcher again. Yet he sees that Spike, clearly a demon and a fixture of unrelenting evil in the mind of any Watcher, has chosen a different way: sideshow attraction (in one of the more hilarious moments of the episode).

    Giles is more in control of his own dream-state than Willow or Xander, but he’s still caught up within the confines of his own fear: the loss of his own dreams and desires for a normal life. Giles, being older, is less driven by fear than by regret. This becomes a primary influence on his character arc throughout the rest of the series. Even as he tries to rally Willow and Xander to determine the nature of the threat and prepare a response, in his usual role, he slips into another expression of his desire to break free of obligation: his recent return to singing.

    Realization dawns too late to keep him from giving in to his fear, and his own Watcher tradition becomes the bait for the trap set by the First Slayer. But Giles’ defeat brings up an interesting continuity question. Why would Giles say that the First Slayer never had a Watcher? Of course she did; otherwise, the whole point of the initial scene for Giles’ dream would lose meaning. And Joss would have known what his intentions were for the origins of the Slayer traditions, if he brought them to question this early in the game.

    The answer may lie in the Watcher traditions themselves. If Giles is under the impression that the First Slayer was a wild power to be harnessed, within the traditions of the Watcher legacy, then he might believe that they dealing with the most untamed aspect of the First Slayer. Just how much does Giles know of the Slayer’s origins from the point of view of the Watcher legacy, anyway? For all he knows, the First Watchers took a power with little direction or purpose and gave it meaning.

    This calls into question many of the traditions of the Watchers. Many assumptions about vampires are Watcher lore, and seem designed to keep considerations of possible redemption out of the equation. Similarly, the Watchers have taken great pains to keep strict control over the thoughts and actions of the Slayers. The goal of the Watcher is not to teach or to direct, but to control; the Watchers Council becomes, from this point of view, a paternalistic attempt to save mankind through systematic (and ultimately, needless) sacrifice of, in essence, young women (symbolically virgins, especially when the Slayers in question are raised in the Watchers’ preferred environment).

    All of which brings to mind the Chosen legacy, which brings the episode to the final act and Buffy’s dream. Things get interesting once Buffy wakes up in the Summer residence and sees the bed that she and Faith made in “This Year’s Girl”. This suggests that there is a shared spiritual space for the Chosen, which does much to explain why those connected to the Slayer experience the sudden emergence of the First Slayer into Buffy’s dreams.

    The clock once again reads 7:30, or 730, but Tara notes that the time is wrong. Since Tara is the voice of the First Slayer, it makes sense that she would know what the time means. The earlier incidence of 730 in “Graduation: Part II” indicated that Buffy would die in two years. The First Slayer would know that Buffy was now closer to the time of her death. Since the First Slayer believes that the gift of the Slayer is her life, to die to save the world, awareness of that fits.

    At the same time, Tara says what is essentially the theme of the fifth season: “You think you know what’s to come, what you are…you haven’t even begun”. This is an indication that Buffy’s journey of self-discovery is about to reveal, for her, what part of her is the Chosen legacy. At the same time, in retrospect, it could point to Buffy’s inevitable role.

    One thing that is easy to forget is that Buffy is, at this point, outside of the normal Chosen line. Faith is technically the true Slayer. Therefore Buffy is something of an interloper; she shouldn’t exist and shouldn’t have the connection to the Chosen legacy that she has. Therefore her role could be seen as “pre-ordained”. She was meant to be, on a certain level, the Last Slayer. Even Faith is never technically the Chosen One; Buffy begins a process that will end by the series finale by making it possible for more than one woman to possess the power of the Slayer.

    So what is to come? In the short term, Buffy will sacrifice herself and once again return to life. The net effect is that Buffy has access to the Chosen legacy without being a part of it. Buffy therefore has the ability to change the system, which is what she accomplishes. Therefore Buffy is unique among Slayers, and once she fulfills the goal of transforming the Chosen legacy into a veritable army, she will truly come into her role as a seasoned leader. So it is quite true for the First Slayer to say that Buffy hasn’t even begun to understand her destiny.

    But why would the First Slayer fear that destiny? Why would she want to attack Buffy and force her into the box that the Watchers have created? This suggests that the First Slayer in this case is the post-First-Watcher version of the First Slayer, the one convinced that the Chosen must fight alone without support. This is in apparent contradict to the previous dreams. (The easy explanation is that the writers, including Joss, hadn’t foreseen the contradictions.)

    Tara also mentions that this needs to be finished “before dawn” is an obvious reference to the fifth season. This could be the key to why the First Slayer acts in contradiction to her apparent knowledge. Tara could, in fact, be more than just the voice for the First Slayer, as suggested by Willow’s dream. She could be the voice for the part of the First Slayer connected to the Goddess power suppressed by the First Watchers, whereas the First Slayer is acting without full understanding.

    The First Slayer tries to play on Buffy’s fears of isolation, first by isolating Buffy from her friends, and then reminding her that she’s personally placed everyone at arm’s length and behind metaphorical walls over the past year. There’s also a hint of Joyce’s fate within the metaphor; Joyce will soon be locked away from Buffy forever.

    The conversation between Buffy, Riley, and Adam reveals some of her thoughts on the military and their attempts with the Initiative, but it turns quickly towards a hint of her own fears about the Chosen legacy. Adam seems to suggest that there is a demonic element to the Slayer; this is later confirmed in the final season, though not in the way Buffy suspects.

    Buffy finds herself in the desert, a metaphor for the isolation of the Chosen. One is left to wonder what the “right questions” are, though those could be related to the nature of the Slayer’s origins. Buffy’s fear is, in fact, that she will be alone, and the First Slayer represents a way of being the Slayer that she cannot abide. How this is resolved is one of the weaknesses of the episode.

    One could interpret the ending as a subtle means of demonstrating how Buffy defeated the First Slayer. Buffy tries fighting the First Slayer when she attacks, but that doesn’t seem to get her anywhere. Buffy’s real victory comes when she decides that it needs to end. It could be interpreted that she decides not to fight, and thus achieves victory. However, this is far from clear, and it comes across as unconvincing writing, as though Joss couldn’t figure out how to end it and just had Buffy take control as a default.

    Despite that drawback, Joss turns an unconventional season finale, quite apart from the “Big Bad” plot arc that ended in “Primeval”. Instead, he focuses on the character arcs, all of which centered on questions of self-identity. Joss realized that the search for one’s place in the world is accompanied by uncertainly, and therefore, fear and regret. Each of the primary characters in the cast is faced with their weakness, and Buffy is the only one to come through to the other side.

    What does that suggest about the fifth season and beyond? In essence, it suggests that Willow will continue to struggle with the uncertainty that her abilities and choices are just an affectation. This is exactly where the fifth season was originally meant to go; Willow’s descent into dark magics was extended into the sixth season. Xander would continue to struggle with finding a direction and thus happiness; he would continue to create a false sense of security making choices he thinks he should be making.

    Giles would continue to take issue with his “father figure” role, especially as Dawn’s needs emerged and Joyce’s fate came to pass. He would also be forced to evaluate his own regrets and balance them with the obligations to Buffy’s unique situation. And of course, Buffy would take her own questions about herself and take it to the obvious next level, and explore what of herself is a product of the primal demands of the Chosen legacy.

    The net effect is that the fourth season finale avoids what the previous season finales accomplished with relative ease: resolution of a main theme. The theme would essentially blur and become less discrete over the rest of the series’ life. In short, the fourth season is the initial fear and uncertainty of adulthood, reflected in questions of self-identity; the fifth season is the doubt over how much of one’s life is the legacy of one’s origins, and the sixth season is about facing the inner demons that feed on those doubts. The seventh and final season was the logical culmination of that journey: self-realization.

    The nature of this episode is such that layers of meaning and potential context are easy to miss. Every scene, every line of dialogue, every lighting choice could be mined for pages and pages of analysis. In this case, Joss does his best to give a lackluster season a depth of meaning and an overall context within the scope of the series as a whole. It may not fully fulfill that purpose, but it does represent an important moment in the growth of a gifted storyteller.
  • After a battle with Adam the slayer and her friends go home to watch a movie. They fall asleep and have strange dreams

    In my opinion this is the greatest episode of a tv show ever. To end a series with an episode when the big bad of the season has already been defeated was pretty risky but pays off in spades. This episode even has the guy with the cheese who I think could have had his own show.
    It even has spoilers for what is going to happen the next season, namely the introduction of little sister Dawn
    A monumental moment of tv which gets better with every viewing.

    This is my favorite episode ever!! I don't know why but everything about this episode is exactly why I grew to love this series. The exciting twisting and turning of plot. The strange nothingness that surrounded the chese guy ( really Joss, what was that), and all the hidden meanings that ly within every word thats said and every movement made by the characters. WOW is all that i can say. This, and the Yoko Factor are the episodes that i look forward to seeing every time that i rewatch the series.Woo Hoo.
  • Fascinating dream sequence of all four main characters.

    This episode is a prime example of the brilliance of Joss Whedon. It is creative and plays out just the way dreams do. If taken literally it makes no sense, yet is still entertaining to watch. For true Buffy fans it is fun to try to see the hidden meaning in it all. It's all around fabulous.
  • After killong ADAM, the guys are gonna watch a movie, but falls quickly a sleep. And has a wierd dream

    The scoobies are being invaded in their dreams by the first slayer, and a cheese man.
    It's the after affect of the spell that killed ADAM and this is an intersting episode. It's makes you wonder if you really are awake and are relly watching the show. Seriously though. It's not like the other episodes I've watched so far. We get to see their dreams, their fear. Willow being as she were in season one, Xander being a no budy, Giles being, what is he being? And in the middle of it all Buffy gets a warning:

    "You think you know ... what's to come ... what you are. You haven't even begun."

    And to be home before Dawn.

    I really liked this episode. It stood out from the rest.
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