In case it was a little too complex for you to get, the episode Nightmares was about… wait for it… Nightmares.
I know… crazy, right?
Well, okay, I’m being a little facetious here. This episode is actually a treasure trove when it comes to characterization. The S1 precursor to truly orgasmic S4 episodes that are also characterization treasure troves. And that is in no way an attempt to get you to stick with this show for at least that long. Nope. Not at all.
Anyway, this episode is a bit heavy on Buffy’s nightmares, featuring such gems as her fear of being the cause of her parents’ divorce (and as the child of divorced parents myself, fucking ouch), being unprepared for exams (again with the History), and becoming a vampire herself.
What strikes me most is that Buffy’s so used to fighting actual physical nightmare things that most of the things she fears are emotionally-based. Her fear that she’s at the center of the breakdown of her family and that she will fail so badly at her job that she becomes the monster she fights (Nietzsche, anyone?) are things she can’t really counter with a punch to the face like Xander does with his fears. Even worse, even if she doesn’t fail at her job, she risks being so good at it that she alienates the people she’s protecting and becomes more like the things she fights anyway. Fuuuuuuuck. Whatever happened to dreaming you’re plummeting to certain death or something?! Oh. Never mind.
Giles fears failing, too, and losing Buffy. Actually, losing Buffy would be a direct consequence of his failing, so I guess those are two sides of the same coin.
Giles’s worth this early in the series is mainly demonstrated by his access to arcane knowledge; knowing what to look for and how (navigating the stacks, so to speak) and communicating that to Buffy, who then uses that information to not get killed.
When he can’t do that, well:
And given that Giles is beginning to care for Buffy as a father would, this is doubly devastating.
Xander fears being exposed, obviously, but the clown thing, hmm…
First of all: fuck you, Whedon, for dredging up all those It memories. And second of all, we’ve gotta see the hint here. Xander’s like the class clown, right? How is this not symbolizing that on some unconscious level, he’s afraid of being perceived as just a clown? And a bad clown, at that? What I like about this, though, is that Xander is the first one to actually face his fear. And—you know—punch it in the face. He’s rejecting this view of himself before anyone has the chance to use it against him. In this episode, anyway.
Willow, having been the least developed character in the series so far (barring background characters, that is), only gets a cursory treatment here. She fears being the center of attention as much as she envies it. Willow’s afraid of coming into her own power.
(I’m gonna go ahead and assume those red curtains are symbolic.)
It also kind of brings us back to Buffy; specifically, her fear of the Master. However, this ties in closely with Prophecy Girl, so I’ll reserve that analysis for then. Stay tuned!
- First episode where we see Hank Summers. It doesn’t really last—we see him once more, and that’s it.
- So… dreams coming true would be a “musical comedy version” of Nightmares, eh, Giles?
- Notice how Buffy chides Billy for putting too much responsibility on himself. I wanna say “how ironic,” but the internet has instilled in me a healthy fear of that phrase.
- “Willow, do shut up.”
- Poor Cordy! Bad hair and chess club?! Fuck that noise.