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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S01E10 “Nightmares”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will forget to change this opening comment before posting. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

Dreams in the Buffyverse are awesome. There, I said it. And with the exception of the season four finale, no episode of Buffy does dreams as awesomely as this one.

We open in The Master’s lair. Buffy is there and ready to slay, stake in hand. But when she faces The Master, it doesn’t go well:

Know what happens when a Slayer has a bad day?

Luckily, she’s just dreaming, and her mom wakes her up for school. Joyce knows something must be wrong with Buffy because she actually wants to go to school, but since she doesn’t know about her daughter’s after school job slaying vampires, she figures it’s Buffy’s anxiety over her father’s upcoming weekend visit. Buffy expresses concern that he might not come, and her mom reassures her that everything is still on.
At school, Buffy explains to Willow that she doesn’t see her dad much now that she lives in Sunnydale. Dad is still in Los Angeles, and he only comes down on the occasional weekend. Buffy’s parents were officially divorced until the year before, but they’d been separated before that. Which doesn’t really fit with what happened in the movie, but whatever. Buffy clearly blames herself for her parents’ divorce:

Willow: “My parents don’t even bicker. Sometimes they glare. Do you know why your folks split up?”

Buffy: “I didn’t ask. They just stopped getting along. I’m sure I was a really big help, though. With all the slaying and everything. I was in so much trouble. I was a big mess.”

Willow tells Buffy that she’s sure her dad didn’t leave because of that, but it’s clear that Buffy still feels differently. Wow, what a powerful conversation guys, really. This not only clears up questions the viewer has about Buffy’s home life, but it adds another layer to Buffy’s burden of being the Slayer. She has this destiny she has been chosen to fulfill, but she believes it destroyed her parents’ marriage. In this scene, Buffy not only becomes a more realistic character, but she becomes a sympathetic figure to children of divorced parents everywhere, because face it, everyone thinks that they are somehow personally to blame for their parents’ break ups.

In a classroom, Cordelia is admiring herself in a compact mirror when a “doofus” blocks her light. Xander sticks up for Wendell the doofus by taunting Cordelia (fairly, in this case) for her belief that the world revolves around her. The bell rings, and they sit down. Willow asks why Cordelia is so “Evita-like,” a slur I repeat here only because any time I mention Juan or Eva Peron on my blog in any context whatsoever, I’m handed my ass by angry Peron fans in the comments. So, let me state here that I think Willow has Eva Peron mixed up with Patti Lupone’s portrayal of her in the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and the comparison is unfair.

Xander asks if there was any homework, and Buffy and Willow remind him that it was on active listening, a skill the teacher demonstrated with him the day before. Xander wasn’t actively listening, though, because the teacher had on a tight blue sweater. Xander does remember the sweater, so he feels pretty confident that he was really listening. (5)

Buffy drops her pencil, and when she looks up, baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt is there!

You look a little young to be going to Sunnydale high, kid. Also, you’re going to get eaten.

Okay, so it’s not actually JGL. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look just like him. But seriously, it’s not him. As Buffy is distracted by the presence of the soulfully creepy kid staring at her, this happens:

What, do they go to school at my house?

While the rest of the class screams and runs and freaks out and does not help the kid covered in tarantulas despite his numerous pleas, Mini-JGL watches calmly and says, “Sorry about that.”
After the credits, we’re back with The Master and The Anointed One, which is pretty neat, since we haven’t seen them in a while. The Master is schooling The Anointed One in fear and its power. According to The Master, we are defined by our fears… so basically, I am a textbook full of spiders. Great, now I’ll never go back and finish my degree. Thanks, Joss.
The Master burns himself with a cross- which becomes something of a motif among the vampires as the series goes on. We’ve already seen Angel willingly burn himself to kiss Buffy (never mind the impossible angle), now The Master is all about controlling his fear and embracing Christianity literally. Then he tells the Anointed One that something is psychically different in Sunnydale.
Joyce is dropping Buffy off at school, and Buffy seems pretty worried that her dad might not show up at the end of the day to take her off for their weekend. Like, she’s so obviously worried about it that Joyce picks up on it. So you know her anxiety is pretty bad. Buffy insists that she doesn’t doubt her father, but Joyce still reassures her that there’s nothing to be worried about. Her dad loves her and he’ll be there.
Buffy is in the building all of two seconds when Xander and Willow find her. Willow is understandably freaked out by the spiders from the day before:

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. Ew! 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…

Did anybody else start singing, “What do they need all those legs for anywaaaaay? SPIDERS! SPIDERS IT MUST BE SPIDERRRRRRS!”

Just me? Okay.

Xander actually has a pretty good handle on the situation here, citing the Hellmouth as the reason he can’t get too shaken up about stuff like spiders coming out of books. He has utter faith that Buffy will slay anything that threatens them.

In the library, they find Giles acting kind of suspicious. He comes out of a back room and tells them he “got lost.” How big is the Sunnydale library? Not big. At this point in the episode, the storyline hasn’t become entirely clear to the viewer, and later we’ll be like, “Okay, so that’s what’s going on,” but in my head canon this scene has nothing to with the plot of the episode at all, and Giles was back there with Jenny Calendar losing her piercings all over the damn place. It would explain why he looks so guilty and confused when he comes out of there.

Giles tells the kids to go talk to Wendell who is at school for some reason. I am sorry, I send my kids to school with runny noses or if they’re just having a bad day. I’m like, “suck it up, you’ll have to go to work like this when you’re a grown up.” But if their textbook was full of fucking tarantulas? You know what? Take a few days off. Or like, maybe go to a different school altogether.

Wendell explains that he loves spiders, but they hate him. Before he can tell them more, Cordelia stops by to snarkily inform Buffy that she’s missing a history test she didn’t study for. Freaking out, Buffy takes off, and Wendell tells Willow and Xander about his prized spider collection that his incompetent douchebag of a brother killed while Wendell was away at camp. Ever since then, Wendell has had nightmares about spiders coming back for revenge. He thought he was having another spooky spider dream in class, and only realized it was real when everyone else started screaming.

Wait, why would spiders hold that against Wendell? It’s not his fault they died. He was at camp. Why didn’t his parents check on the collection? Surely some of their money was tied up in the care and maintenance of these animals.

Meanwhile, in a community theatre production of Grease staring Cordelia Chase as Rizzo:

Seriously, costume supervisor?

Cordelia berates Buffy for not knowing where history class is, and for skipping it all the time. You’re probably thinking, “Okay, since when does Cordelia care about Buffy’s academic issues?” and you’re right. Cordelia doesn’t care. Buffy goes into the class she’s never even been to, sits down to an amazingly long and brutal essay questions only test packet, and her pencil immediately breaks. She starts to sharpen it and loses time; class is almost over, and she hasn’t even started on her test.

Get used to this feeling, Buffy. As a US citizen, you’ll be feeling it every April 14th.
When the rest of the class hands in their tests and starts to leave, Buffy again spots Mini-JGL lurking by the doorway.
In the hall, a student tells her friend she’s going to go take a smoke break, and she heads into the school basement. Mini-JGL says, “You shouldn’t go in there,” and I’m like, “No shit, this is Sunnydale high, the fucking last place you want to be is a dark and scary basement.” But the girl goes down there, anyway, where the meth-head cousin of Sloth from Goonies beats the shit out of her while muttering about “Lucky 19.”

Hey you guys!

There’s also yet another heavy-handed anti-tobacco message:

Just in case no one has ever mentioned it before.
Look, I’m not a smoker. I tried it in my younger days and quit. My grandfather was anti-smoking campaigner who regularly met with state lawmakers in the hopes that his tracheostomy would make them super uncomfortable. I get that smoking is bad. I wouldn’t be so annoyed by the anti-smoking messages in this show, if not for the fact that there are so many other messages in this show that are far more damaging than a kid trying a cigarette. I mean, what’s worse, a kid smoking to look cool for a year or two in high school, or a kid watching a show that glorifies slut shaming and promotes a strongly tech and science phobic culture? Maybe my values are screwy, but mote, eye.
Also, doesn’t this kind of imply that since she was doing something forbidden, she should expect a negative consequence? In this case, physical assault? The fact that it’s a female character experiencing this only ups the ooky factor, but it would still be pretty obvious, even if it were a male character getting beaten up.
Giles and Buffy go to visit the girl, Laura, in the hospital. They question her about what happened in the basement, but a nurse kind of chases them out. All Buffy and Giles walk away knowing is that Laura got attacked by someone or something she can’t describe. Just as they’re about to leave, Laura stops them to tell them about the guy saying “Lucky 19” before he beat her.
In the hospital hallway, Giles asks Dr. Exposition Dump if Laura will be all right. Dr. Exposition Dump asks if Buffy and Giles are family, and when they say they’re just friends, the good doctor happily spills tons of Laura’s medical details:

Doctor Exposition Dump: “She’ll recover. She’s got a couple of shattered bones, a little internal bleeding. She got off pretty easy.”

Buffy: “Easy?”

Giles: “Have you looked up the word lately?”

Doctor Exposition Dump: “Well, the first one’s still in a coma.”

Buffy: “First what?”

Doctor Exposition Dump: “The first victim. They found him a week ago, exactly the same M.O. as the girl, only he’s in worse shape. If he doesn’t wake up soon… Somebody’s got to stop this guy.”

Okay, this is all pivotal plot information. And I get that this is before HIPPA, but come on. Even before HIPPA, a doctor wouldn’t just give all this information out to any random person. There had to be a better way for them to get this info. Maybe the could have overheard some nurses talking about how the cases were similar, or a detective could have come to speak to Laura. Instead, we get this doctor who watches too much CSI speculating on modus operandi of criminals in two cases that might be entirely unrelated, and it’s up the viewer to suspend disbelief. Look, we’re already out here accepting that there are vampires and witches and Hellmouths, so the real world details have to be right. If they’re not, we will fixate on them like an out-of-pattern tile.

Meanwhile, in the same community theatre production of Grease:

Tell me more, tell more, like did she have some fangs…

Willow and Xander are sort of idly talking about the strange goings on going on, when the mom of one of the T-Birds comes in and aggressively starts kissing on him and telling him how much she loves him. Xander observes that just because Wendell dreamed about spiders and spiders erupted out of his text book, that doesn’t mean the two incidents are related. Then he and Willow walk into a classroom and:

At least he was wearing decent looking underpants.
When Xander realizes he isn’t dreaming, he screams and runs away, leaving the entire class laughing behind him.
In the library, a newspaper has exploded:

Three students were killed in the blast, but no one will ever notice or care, because Sunnydale.

Buffy comes in and asks Giles if he’s found anything, and Giles, embarrassed, admits that he can’t read:

Buffy: “What do you mean? You can read like, three languages.”

Giles: “Five, actually, on a normal day. But the words here don’t make any sense. Gibberish!”

I’m going to state for the record that “gibberish” is an underutilized word.

Why does Giles have so many newspapers. I find it difficult to believe it took more than one or two tries to realize that the problem was with him and not the papers themselves. There are like, a minimum of two hundred thousand newspapers on that table.

Buffy picks up a paper and notices Mini-JGL on the front page, wearing a Little League uniform. Well, actually she says “kiddie league” but Little League is trademarked and they can get right on your ass for that. She reads about how he was found beaten after a game. She and Giles put two and two together, that she can’t have seen this kid at school if he’s in a coma. Giles suggests that it might be an astral projection, and Buffy notices the nineteen on Mini-JGL’s uniform. Just then, a wild ALMONZO appears:

You can hear the theme song right now, can’t you?
Buffy introduces Giles to her father in a scene that is begging for awkward Giffy fanfic, and then she goes off with dear old dad, who has something important to discuss with her about her parents’ divorce:

Hank Summers: “It was you.”

Buffy: “Me?”

Hank: “Having you. Raising you, seeing you every day. I mean, do you have any idea what that’s like?”

Buffy: “What?”

Hank: “Gosh, you don’t even see what’s right in front of your face, do you? Oh well, big surprise there, all you ever think about is yourself. You get in trouble. You embarrass us with all the crazy stunts you pull. Do I have to go on?”

Buffy: “No. Please don’t.”

Hank: “You’re sullen and rude, and you’re not nearly as bright as I thought you were going to be. I mean, Buffy, let’s be honest. Could you stand to live in the same house with a daughter like that?”

Buffy: “Why are you saying all of these things?”

Hank: “Because they’re true. I think that’s the least we owe one another. You know, I don’t think it’s very mature getting all blubbery when I’m just trying to be honest. Speaking of which, I don’t really get anything out of these weekends with you. So what do you say we just don’t do them anymore?”

And Buffy looks like this:

Oh hi there, visual approximation of what Jenny feels whenever fathers in general are brought up. 

Jesus, Almonzo, why are you such a dick?

This is actually a super hard episode for me, because I was, in fact, brutally rejected by my own father. Not quite so eloquently as old Hank here, but still. It’s rough, and I suspect there is more than one person out there who identified strongly with Buffy’s horror in this moment, because they had been there. I know I said some really awful shit about David Greenwalt’s writing before, and it was all deserved, but this scene is like bottled reality, and it’s the bottled reality moments in Buffy that make it so special. You can throw vampires at an audience all day long, but the things that really scare them are torn from real life.

Buffy’s dad leaves, and Buffy catches a glimpse of Mini-JGL, but she looks away; she doesn’t want to believe that the things her father said to her aren’t true, or are a figment of her imagination. Kudos to Sarah Michelle Gellar for her acting in this scene, because you get literally everything on Buffy’s side from her facial expressions.

Willow and Xander find Giles in the library and explain Xander’s bought of sudden public nudity. While recounting the details, Willow muses aloud that the attention would be the worst part. Xander calls the experience “a total nightmare,” and Willow has a lightbulb moment.

Willow just understood the plot of Akira and now she can see through time.

Willow reminds them that Wendell had nightmares about spiders, just like Xander had recurring nightmares about being naked at school. Giles had a nightmare about being lost in the stacks and not being able to read. So yeah, no fun lost piercing times with Ms. Calendar. Whatever, I’m still writing that fic.

Xander: “Um. Our dreams are coming true.”

Giles: “Dreams? That would be a musical comedy version of this. Nightmares. Our nightmares are coming true.”

HA! Careful what seeds of bad ideas you plant in Xander’s head in season one, Giles, because they will bite you in the ass when you find yourself providing lead vocals for a training montage in season six.

Giles realizes that it’s Mini-JGL who’s causing all of this, by astrally projecting out of his own nightmares and bringing everyone else’s nightmares with him.

Remember the nice thing I said about David Greenwalt’s writing? When Willow asks how Mini-JGL managed to bring everyone’s nightmares to life, this is the only response the script offers:

Giles: “Things like that are easier when you live on a Hellmouth.”

Deus Ex Hellmouth much?

This is going to be the official Deus Ex Hellmouth image from now on, wrong season be damned

Giles says that unless they get Mini-JGL on lockdown, everyone will be experiencing their worst nightmares.
Meanwhile, Cordelia sees her reflection in her mirror in her locker (because of course she has a mirror in her locker) and finds she has Roseanne Roseannadanna hair. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, am I right, Cordy?

“I thought I was gonna die!”

Buffy sees Mini-JGL going into the gym, where she gently questions him. He tells her that he plays baseball and that his number is “lucky nineteen,” and that the “ugly man” calls him that. The ugly man wanted to kill him, and also hurt Laura in the basement. Before he can tell her any more, the ugly man appears and attacks Buffy. She fights him, but ultimately she has to flee because she’s outmatched.
At the library, the gang is setting out to find Buffy, since she doesn’t know what’s going on with the whole monster thing. They decide to split up to make things faster, but Willow points out that faster isn’t necessarily safer.
Buffy asks Mini-JGL who the ugly man is, but that’s kind of all the kid knows. He tells her they have to hide, because if they hide, the ugly man will come and find them, and that’s “how it happens.” Buffy knows the ugly man is too strong to fight, and she tells him they have to find her friends.
As Willow looks for Buffy, she sees Cordelia dragged screaming, in full nerd attire, to a chess club match. But then Willow hears Buffy calling her name from the creepy basement where Laura was brutalized, and Willow goes down there on her own because she doesn’t realize this is her nightmare. A hand comes out and grabs her, and she screams before we cut to Xander, who enters a broken down and empty Sunnydale hallway absolutely covered with swastika graffiti. So, we as an audience are aware now that we’re in Xander’s nightmare; we know from an earlier conversation that he’s afraid of Nazis. Xander finds a candy bar on the dirty floor, picks it up, and immediately starts to eat it. Then, he finds another one, and does the same thing.

Seriously? I know it’s wrapped, but come on. Look how filthy!
Buffy and Mini-JGL are trying to get to the library, but they end up outside, watching a baseball game. Mini-JGL says that when you lose at baseball, it’s bad. He missed catching a ball the week before, and “he” said it was all Mini-JGL’s fault. 
Notice how in all these scenarios, no one realized they were living their worst nightmare? Xander doesn’t immediately go, “Hey, this part of the hallway wasn’t graffitied and full of candy bars a moment ago.” Willow doesn’t think, “Maybe going into the basement and therefore closer to the Hellmouth is a bad idea.” And Giles… Jesus, he probably thought he was having a stroke all morning or something. So, when Buffy is confused and distressed at not being able to find the library, we know that one of her nightmares is not being able to find the friends she has only just recently come to rely upon.
The ugly man appears again, and Buffy pulls Mini-JGL through a hedge. It’s night on the other side, and also it is a graveyard. So, things are basically not looking up.
So, what was Willow’s worst nightmare? In the library, she said she couldn’t stand the thought of everyone paying attention to her, so she finds herself costumed as Cio-Cio San and being introduced on stage as the world’s most acclaimed soprano. The music begins, the tenor on stage sings, and Willow can’t make a sound. Remember when they had to come up with a talent for the talentless show last episode? Willow can play piano, just not in front of other people, because she’s too shy. Now, she’s paralyzed on stage in her worst nightmare.

Character consistency for the win!

Back in Xander’s nightmare, aka the “Ooh, piece of candy” portion of the first James Woods Family Guy episode, Xander finds a candy bar he hasn’t had since his sixth birthday party. As his dread increases, we hear maniacal giggling, and:

This is literally the only time in my life that I’ve thought, “I would have preferred a Nazi.”
In the graveyard, Mini-JGL finds an open grave and a waiting coffin. When he wonders aloud who died, The Master appears and tells them it’s no fun to bury dead people. The Master tells Buffy he’s free because she fears him, and… wait… does that mean The Master’s worst nightmare is finally meeting the Slayer in the flesh? Because at this point, they’ve never met before.
Hey, you know what else the Slayer is afraid of? BEING BURIED A GODDAMNED LIVE. The Master pushes her into the grave and starts burying her.

Hey, have you guys watched season six?

Willow and Xander find each other in nightmare land, and Xander reminds her of the scary clown from his sixth birthday party. Which she has a really funny memory of, until said clown comes lumbering after them with a knife. Giles finds them and asks if they’ve seen any sign of Buffy, and then they’re ALL running from the killer clown, until Xander has had enough and decides to punch him out. Then, he delivers a scathing review, something that would probably be filed as a one-star on a site called GoodClowns or whatever the clown equivalent of GoodReads would be, because there is no such thing as a good clown:

Xander: “You were a lousy clown. Your balloon animals were pathetic. Everyone can make a giraffe!”

Go Xander!

The scoobies run outside, where they find general chaos:

Giles: “Things are getting worse. In a few hours, reality will fold completely into the realm of nightmares.”

How do we know this, Giles? Baby, you know I love you. But you gotta be more specific, because you always are. I know it’s not your fault. It’s the writing. In every other episode so far, the audience  has been given detailed backstory about why things are happening, and when. To ask us, in episode ten of a twelve episode season, to just blindly accept that because Giles says stuff is bad, it is, isn’t going to fly. Especially when Giles a) can’t read the books that would lend him expertise on this crisis and b) has admitted to not really understanding what’s going on. If the story takes away his power in the mentor/exposition role, then the script can’t ask us to trust that he has the answers.

Giles thinks if they wake Mini-JGL from his coma, everything should be fine, but they can’t leave Nightmare High without looking for Buffy. They notice that across the street, things are looking a little odd…

Don’t you hate when this happens?

Willow: “Excuse me. When did they put a cemetery in across the street?”

Xander: “And when did they make it night over there?”

The gang rightly assumes that Buffy should be in that cemetery. As they walk, Xander wonders aloud about whose nightmare they could be in. And then Giles spots a headstone with Buffy’s name on it.

Giles: “It’s mine. I failed… in my duty to protect you. I should have been more… cautious. Taken more time to train you. But you were so gifted. And the evil was so great. I’m sorry.”

 No worries, Giles!

See! This should make you feel instantly better, pal!
Buffy rises from her grave, startling the scoobies, but generally happy to be alive, until she realizes she’s a vampire. She doesn’t handle this news well. So Giles really has to step up his Watcher game:

Giles: “You never told me you dreamt of becoming a vampire.”

Buffy: “This isn’t a dream.”

Giles: “No. No, it’s not. But there’s a chance we can make it go away. This all comes from Billy. Now, if we can only wake him up, I believe that the nightmares will stop and reality will shift back into place, but we must do it now. I need you to hold together long enough to help us. Can you do that?”

This is enough to help Buffy regain her confidence in her skills, but she warns them that she’s getting hungry. In other words, she’s got to keep from eating her friends before getting unvamped.

This is one of my favorite Buffy/Giles scenes, because it shows how much he cares about her, and how highly he regards her, even after just a few months. He is truly in awe of her skill and her strength, and he wants her to succeed. Which for a slayer basically means not dying, but also, not giving up even when some dire shit like being turned into a vampire goes down.

As they head to the hospital, Willow asks Giles how he knows things will go back to normal, and what will happen if they don’t, and Giles tells her, as politely as possible, to shut up. It’s going to be rare in the series for Giles to be curt with Willow. In fact, it seems to only happen when he’s worried about Buffy. Because of this, I’m going to use any time Giles snaps at Willow as proof of #2 throughout the entire series.

You know what’s a shitty place to be when reality is turning to nightmares? The hospital. The place is in chaos, there appear to be zombies, and Dr. Exposition Dump’s hands have turned to deformed claws. They find Mini-JGL, still comatose, and Giles’s expert solution is to shout in the kid’s face. Luckily Mini-JGL is like, bi-locating? He’s standing beside his own comatose body when he says that it won’t work. And you know, Mini-JGL is right, without ever having to go to medical school. Shouting at people in comas rarely wakes them up. Reeeeeeally dropping the ball here, Giles. You’d think a dude with his history of head injuries would understand that.

Willow discovers that outside the window, a near Biblical invasion of wasps is plaguing Sunnydale. The ugly man appears, and that’s good, because Buffy the Vampire Vampire Slayer is spoiling for a fight to reduce her stress. She beats the ugly man unconscious, then tells Mini-JGL he has to do “the rest.” Wait, what? Is she going to make a twelve-year-old commit murder?

Nah, he just lifts the ugly man’s face off like a rubber mask on a Scooby-Doo villain. Light pours out, and everything goes back to normal. Mini-JGL wakes from his coma and reenacts the end of The Wizard of Oz, and Giles is about to go get a doctor when Mini-JGL’s kiddie league coach comes in. When the man fondly refers to Mini-JGL as “lucky 19,” Buffy reveals that Mini-JGL is awake and tells the coach that they’re on to him. They know he beat Billy in revenge for missing a catch in the game. Mini-JGL tells the coach that it wasn’t his fault they lost the game, there are eight other players on the team. When the coach tries to run, Xander and Giles stop him. Buffy congratulates Mini-JGL on his victory, but maybe she could also drop in a, “Please don’t solve all your problems by turning reality into a living hell wherein all our darkest fears come true next time, okay?”

At school, where everything is back to normal, Buffy expresses disbelief that an adult could go so psycho over baseball. She tells Xander it was heroic to grab the coach, and they’re all glad he’s in jail where he belongs. And oh, look!

Yay, momentary reprieve from inevitable parental abandonment!

Willow asks Xander if he was still attracted to Buffy when she was a vampire, and he admits that he was, and they both agree that he’s gross and the episode is over.
This wasn’t the worst episode of the series, but some glaring problems keep it from being one of the best. And it easily could have been. Just the addition of a line about Giles hearing or reading about this happening before would have solved the “The Hellmouth Did It” plot device. And some wrap up about how Sunnydale was dealing with the after effects of the terror would have been nice. We know that the residents of Sunnydale can ignore a lot of supernatural shit, but it seems like “our nightmares are now reality” is the sort of thing they couldn’t let slide. It’s a little too much to ask of the audience, as well. Even in light of #8. And the entire episode is an example of #11. The kid is being abused by his coach, and as a result, all reality begins to collapse. Not a real strong endorsement of team sports.

I mean, come on. Everyone knows reality isn’t going to collapse as a result of baseball. Unless the Tigers win the World Series.

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  1. I'm only up to the Eva Peron reference, but I'm pretty darned familiar with that couple and Argentine history far beyond the musical and she was kind of sympathetic in the musical while she was a pretty freaking terrible person in reality.

    People defend the Perons? Seriously?

    May 16, 2013
    • Nana

      A lot of people in this country idolizes them. The main political faction is Peronism, after all. It’s… complicated. I mean, I don’t have a particular fondness for them, but there are a lot of factors involved and I kinda can see how people would become so fanatical over them. It might seem pretty obvious from the outside, but from the inside it looks different. They’re national heroes for some reason, and speaking ill of Eva in particular would piss a lot of people off.

      June 2, 2014
  2. Your opening comments fucking kill me every single time.

    I disliked this episode mostly because of the spiders. D: But it's a good one. I'm just an arachnophobe. I can't handly daddy long-legs, let alone those huge, hairy THINGS.

    The exploding newspaper also begs the question of why Giles hates technology. Sure, a demon came out of a computer a few episodes ago, but the computers haven't exploded yet! He'll learn. Maybe. I forgot.

    Whether I really need the laughs today or you're at the top of your game today, this was the funniest recap you've posted yet! I lost count of how many times I busted out laughing after five.

    May 17, 2013
  3. I have to say, I don't have as much problem with 'the hellmouth did it' as you did- I didn't question it while I was watching it, because I actually think it's one of the better catch-all plot devices in sci-fi/fantasy; it's just defined enough that the audience have some idea of what's going on, but vague enough that it allows for some of the more inventive ideas like this episode. I kinda wish Billy had come back later in the series- there were more possibilities to his abilities, I feel.

    Anyway, loving the recaps- I can't wait til you get to Restless- SO. MUCH. SYMBOLISM.

    May 17, 2013
  4. Jo

    Hi, Argentinian passing through. Yes, they defend the Perons. Seriously. I'ts partially the reason we're so fucked up as a country.

    May 17, 2013
  5. Jo

    I don't know, Jen, I think we should give Team Sunnydale for not realizing the supernatural shit going on.

    You know how in a nightmare you don't know it's a nightmare? That's sort of what was going on here: Xander and Wendell explictly say they didn't realize they were awake, and Buffy does truly believe her father is telling her all those awful things.

    So I think everyone on Sunnydale must have thought they overslept and were having a particularly crappy dream.

    Now, who the hell put that abusive asshole as coach for the kiddie league?!

    May 17, 2013
  6. Jo

    *We should give them a pass. Damn my freezing fingers and my half-sleep brain.

    May 17, 2013
  7. I'm going to be one of those assholes: his name is actually spelled Almanzo. And I don't have that type of father issue, but Jesus that scene was hard to watch.

    This episode seemed kind of flimsy to me, too, and thank you for articulating why. I love these recaps because for every time I think “hmm, that's kind of off, but I can't quite say why” you are always spot on.

    May 17, 2013
  8. For the record, Joseph Gordon Levitt was actually in a movie where his character had suffered childhood abuse by his baseball coach. Kind of adds a whole new angle to Mini-JGL, really.
    In spite of that beautiful little tidbit, I always found Mini-JGL's Baseball Coach a little over-the-top and unbelievable. Like it was abuse written by someone who has never experienced it and only understands it in an exaggerated format. Also, where were this kid's parents?

    May 17, 2013
    • Tony Thompson
      Tony Thompson

      “In spite of that beautiful little tidbit, I always found Mini-JGL’s Baseball Coach a little over-the-top and unbelievable. ”

      A few episodes ago, we had a mother so desperate to relive her cheerleading heyday that she was willing to take over her own daughter’s body to achieve that goal. That such a violation would come from a mother toward her daughter is an extreme reflection of how some parents act in the real world. Given those actions, I completely see how the the coach in this episode is an extreme reflection of how some coaches act in the real world. The Hellmouth amplifies problems to the Nth degree, but the core of those problems is often something very, very real.

      July 1, 2014
  9. Anonymous

    Yes! When I watched Xander's candy scene, all I could think was, “ooh, a piece of candy! Ooh, a piece of candy!”

    May 17, 2013
  10. This was a surprisingly difficult recap to get through. Nothing wrong with your writing, Jen. It's more to do with my own problems. Have you heard of hypnagogic or hypnopompic states? They're basically waking nightmares – where you start off having a nightmare while asleep, then wake up and they continue, with sleep paralysis and hallucinations thrown in for funsies – and I suffer from them rather frequently. After a while, you realise they're not real, even as it's happening, but that doesn't stop them being scary. Great recap, though.

    You also hit the nail on the head with the explanation. Almost literally anything would have been better than 'the hellmouth did it'. I would have been okay with it being a mystery, and having a follow up episode as an explanation, where the kid is a 900 year old wizard, or something.

    May 17, 2013
  11. Wow …

    I mean, they freaking harbored NAZIS. And not the warm, fuzzy, Oscar Schindler type Nazis.

    I usually feel pretty guilty for just loving the musical.

    May 17, 2013
  12. Daisy

    Minor nitpick: it's HIPAA (two As), not HIPPA (two Ps, almost like Hungry Hungry Hippos). I have to deal with it at work so unfortunately, I'm more familiar with that acronym than I would like to be.

    Although my dad didn't abandon me, that scene with Manly is hard for me to watch too. Even though everyone experienced one of their nightmare scenarios and they were all legitimately scary in their own way, most of them were rooted in more unrealistic scenarios while Buffy's was something from her daily/family life. Even if you remove the divorce/dad part, I think most people can relate to believing they were to blame for at least one failed relationship in life which is a terrible feeling. A separate but related terrible feeling is hearing your faults listed by someone you love. That was just a double sucker punch of a nightmare. And then poor Buffy got bombarded with even more nightmare material: being buried alive AND turning into a vampire. Way harsh.

    May 17, 2013
  13. Yeah, I've had a few really angry Argentinians take me to task for mentioning Peron, Mussolini, and Franco in the same breath, because he wasn't a fascist and blah blah blah. It's like, okay… he wasn't a fascist, but he did imprison and torture the opposition, silence the press, provide fake passports to Nazis and obstruct international justice to protect war criminals… I'm not sure the comparison is necessarily unfair.

    May 17, 2013
  14. Anonymous

    I have never re-watched this episode, for two reasons: spiders, and clowns.

    And you put pictures of both in this re-cap.

    I don't think I'll sleep tonight.

    All your other points were good, just… *shudders* Clowns. AND spiders.

    May 17, 2013
  15. Jo

    Well, to be fair, Juan Perón did some good things. He gave the workpeople a lot of rights they didn't have before. That's kind of like saying that Hitler was a big time sponsor of architecture, but yeah… that's the reason Peron remains so popular.

    But he was Mussolini's fanboy, and everyone knows that.

    May 17, 2013
  16. nyx

    As I recall, Xander was also the only one to properly, and single-handedly, defeat his nightmare. So, just saying, the author-avatar was the only one 'man enough' to pull himself together. Yeah.

    May 17, 2013
  17. “Did anybody else start singing, “What do they need all those legs for anywaaaaay? SPIDERS! SPIDERS IT MUST BE SPIDERRRRRRS!””

    Well, I actually just started singing about bunnies and their suspiciously good eyesight, but eh… same diff. You're not alone!

    May 17, 2013
  18. I don't know, the whole “The Hellmouth Did It” thing doesn't really bother me. Because there are later episodes where the Hellouth causes things like this. Marcie in Out of Mind, Out of Sight comes to mind. And the students going all crazy en masse in season 7. It might be a lame reason, but it is something that gets continued.

    May 17, 2013
  19. Anonymous

    I thought it was sort of sweet that Xander was still attracted to Vampire!Buffy, it shows he isn't just trying to get with the hot girl but he has genuine feelings for her. You don't always remark on things that go against your list of points, and I think this is one of his anti-Nice Guy moments.

    Like an above commenter I'm happy with the Deus Ex Hellmouth, I don't usually pay much attention to the exposition for stand-alone episodes anyway…

    May 17, 2013
  20. That's true, it does go against his anti-nice guy thing. I guess I didn't point it out because he made it clear that he thought it was fucked up, LOL. And later in the series, it becomes clear that Xander is down with the demon, he doesn't discriminate.

    May 17, 2013
  21. I think the reason it becomes a device and not a plot point in this episode is because that's all the explanation there is. In Out of Mind, Out of Sight, the Hellmouth affected the girl because she really felt invisible. There was a reason it was happening, and at the end you get evidence that it had happened before. We don't get a reason why Billy was able to affect the entire town the way he did, other than “he was abused” or “he was in a coma.” Just “that's the Hellmouth for you!” What made this kid special? What was it about him that made him able to do this? Otherwise, this could happen any time a kid went into a coma. That's what's missing from the episode, and I think it's obvious because the writing on the rest of the series is usually so good, we as viewers get spoiled. I'm judging the episode by unfairly high standards set by the rest of the show being so damned amazing, LOL.

    May 17, 2013
  22. Almanzo? Well, that just doesn't look right, LOL.

    May 17, 2013
  23. That's what I thought too. I was like somebody better mention it somewhere.

    May 17, 2013
  24. Anonymous

    “Which doesn't really fit with what happened in the movie, but whatever”
    But the show isn't a continuation of the movie, so it doesn't matter

    May 17, 2013
  25. PSA, y'all- if you ever wake up not being able to read, please go to your nearest hospital.
    Especially if you get knocked out every episode.

    May 17, 2013
  26. In my mind, heart, and soul, it always will be. *cries one manful tear as a majestic bald eagle soars against a purple-hued sunset*

    May 17, 2013
  27. Xander is often quietly a hero. I wonder how much of that is creator avatar and how much is just coincidence. But now that I'm thinking about it, Willow doesn't get to save the day in a big way very often…

    May 17, 2013
  28. Those are the WORST.

    I fortunately only have them very infrequently, but they scare the hell out of me when they happen. I couldn't imagine having them any more often than a couple of times a year.

    May 17, 2013
  29. No you weren't the only one who started singing and now I have it stuck in my head.

    May 17, 2013
  30. I definitely started singing the bunny song after I read that.

    May 17, 2013
  31. Every evil dictator did “some good things.” Oy.

    Oh well. I guess everyone has their fans. And a lot of people hate the Jews, so maybe they don't care about the harboring Nazis thing.

    May 17, 2013
  32. Nim

    Am I the only one still looking at that picture of Xander? I didn't remember him looking that nice the last time I watched this series. Then again I was in elementary school (and only had eyes for Angel).

    May 18, 2013
  33. Anonymous

    This episode does raise the question of what would happen if a slayer was vamped. Would she retain any of her slayer abilities plus her new vampire ones? I don't think this is ever addressed in the series.

    Is this the only time we ever see Papa Summers? If so then he basically abandons her like in her nightmare.

    May 18, 2013
  34. We see him a couple more times, but not many.

    I'm curious about the Slayer-becomes-vampire thing, too. I mean, you know there has to be a Slayer who has been turned at some point in history. I would think vampires would be chomping at the bit to be the one to turn a Slayer. But I don't think it's ever mentioned. Maybe Watchers have to kill their Slayers if they're turned?

    May 18, 2013
  35. That would explain why the Watcher are able to fight/handle vampires.

    May 18, 2013
  36. That's one thing I love about the show – it's not as male-gazey as most of its contemporaries (at least, it wasn't during the first three seasons – IMHO the show slowly went to hell after that so I'm not nearly familiar with the later stuff), but we got some awesome female-gaze moments. Most notably the sloooow pan over Xander in a Speedo in that episode with the swim team. And of course Xander-in-his-underwear in this episode.

    May 18, 2013
  37. Neurite

    Yeah, Nicholas Brendon is really rather easy on the eyes. I actually found it impressive how well the viewer gets distracted from that fact and instead is led to see Xander as the goofy, often slightly pathetic “average shmoe” who is (at least at first) mostly the comic relief*. It's really a credit to Nicholas Brendon's acting skills and/or the writers and directors.

    I know I am not the only one who at first bought the “Xander is just some goofy shlub” characterization hook, line and sinker (and at a decidedly older age than Nim). I watched scenes in which the Cool Mean Girls made sneering comments about that dork Xander and how embarrassing it would be to be associated with him without a hint of cognitive dissonance.

    …and then that swim team episode that Meredith mentions happened, and Xander walks in wearing only a speedo, and I went “holy shnikes, Xander is hot! How have I missed that this whole time?”

    And even then, I can't even take much credit for finally seeing the obvious. The show pretty noticeably switches from its usual portrayal of Xander to that very explicitly female-gaze slow pan over his body that Meredith points out – and to top it off, one of the female characters (was it Cordelia? that would actually be pretty nifty foreshadowing) says something along the lines of “wait a minute, since when has Xander been hot?” So I really missed Nicholas Brendon's pretty darn blatant hotness until the show hand-held me towards this realization with explicit cues. ::hangs head in shame::

    This was actually one of the first times I noticed how much a media work can manage what the audience perceives, up to and including hiding/denying some pretty obvious things, through writing cues, good acting, clothes, angles, etc. I'm actually still quite impressed with that, if done well.

    I suppose it should also make me a bit less judgmental of other people who ignore obvious things about fictional characters because the story tells them something else – like, say, FSoG readers I've mocked here before. Though I do think that BtVS works harder, and does a better job, at making us think of Xander as a goofy shlub despite evidence to the contrary than FSoG does of convincing us that Ana is a strong woman despite evidence to the contrary.

    *Even though, as Jenny points out very well in these recaps, he actually gets to do some serious saving and feats of heroics/strength right from the start… but still, these never end up recasting the character as the Big Damn Hero. Instead, they come across as “average guy makes good” (giving the [male] viewer some wish fulfillment through a viewer avatar), but Xander stays in character enough – and everyone keeps treating him accordingly – that we still keep seeing him as “just a goofy average-good-guy shmoe”.

    May 18, 2013
  38. You know, dude's all tattoed up now.

    And he plays a nerd on Criminal Minds 😛

    May 18, 2013
  39. I kind of agree with the theory that people were just thinking they were dreaming. I woke up this morning crying because of a dream, so XD

    May 18, 2013
  40. Neurite

    Even better.

    And as a special treat for us Nicholas Brendon admirers:

    (SPOILER ALERT) You know the episode where Xander gets duplicated/split? Ever wonder how they filmed some of those scenes? I thought it was some sort of special effects magic, but no, they simply invited Nicholas Brendon's identical twin onto the set. That's right, there are two of them. Sometimes Mother Nature just has a generous day.

    May 19, 2013
  41. Anonymous

    Ha, I actually had rather a thing for Xander in my teenage days, but I didn't want to admit it to my friends at the time (we were and are obsessed with this show) because we were /supposed/ to be fawning over Angel.

    May 19, 2013
  42. I remember really liking this episode when I first saw it. Mostly for Buffy's realistic and heartbreaking nightmare with her father. When I first saw that scene, it actually made me cry. The way he said all that stuff and the way her face just froze was so effective.

    “The Hellmouth did it” is a very bad excuse to explain what's going on. Such a blanket statement is just annoying. The kid could have been possessed by a demon, or something, and that wouldn't have been as far-fetched.

    I had not thought about Buffy's fear of being buried alive when season six came around. I can't believe I forgot about that. Well, maybe I can. I was so angry at Willow when that season happened. It all turned into something I didn't like from then on

    I am terrified of clowns after an experience at the circus when I was very little. I wish it was as easy (and awesome) to overcome that fear as getting frustrated and rattling off a Yelp review. Though, Xander did make me very proud during this episode by being the only one to “fight back” against his nightmare.

    May 20, 2013
  43. “Did anybody else start singing, “What do they need all those legs for anywaaaaay? “

    Yes. Yes I did.

    The scene with her dad and the look on her face breaks my heart every time.

    May 21, 2013
  44. “And I don't have that type of father issue, but Jesus that scene was hard to watch.”

    Amen! I don't have that type of father issue either, and that scene just makes me cringe. It's every child's worst nightmare, idyllic childhood or no. OUCH.

    May 23, 2013
  45. I didn't know they had a name! That's happened to me a few times.

    Huh. The more you know! *shooting rainbow star*

    May 23, 2013
  46. “At school, where everything is back to normal, Buffy expresses disbelief that an adult could go so psycho over baseball.”

    Hmpf. Buffy clearly never went to any of my nephew's soccer games. The kids at these things are usually fine; some of the adults scare the daylights out of me.

    I liked this episode, if only because the nightmares actually seem realistic. At the ripe old age of 44, I STILL have the one where I'm in class and about to take an exam for something I never studied. And it still disturbs the crap out of me.

    May 23, 2013
  47. Anonymous

    I would have gone with “Vampire Buffy the Vampire Sayer”, but awesome review! I'm loving them. Thank you.

    June 11, 2013
  48. maybe the whole “the hellmouth did it” was part of the nightmare… it was the audiences nightmare about not knowing what was the cause of everything in a Buffy episode…

    July 8, 2013
  49. crumblycube

    Not sure if any other comments mentioned it, but regarding your lovely paradox question about the Buffy being the Master’s nightmare since the haven’t yet met… I think we still have a “logical” explanation:

    Buffy has been dreaming about the Master throughout the season and right at the beginning of this episode. Reality and subconsciousness cross over a bit, so in theory, she has “met” him, even if while asleep.

    I think it’s in a later episode too (season finale?) that Giles(?) says something about Buffy having the prophetic “dreams,” so there is enough reality to her dreams.

    PS I always get a happy when when future episodes are foreshadowed by a random comment (e.g. “once more with feeling” in this one, and xander referencing “railroad spikes”in a previous episode, etc)- and smile when you pick up on it in the recaps.

    PSS thanks for always calling out Xander’s “nice guy-ness.” He was always such a jerk (and often the most cruel character to Buffy) in so many ways that it drove me crazy watching the show when it was originally on. Now seeing the recaps he gets even sleazier in his stewardship of Buffy’s sexuality. But hey, I have nothing against ogling Nicholas Brendan in a Speedo later on…double standards be damned!

    However, to play devil’s advocate on this- sometimes I wonder if those aspects of his character (and other troubling themes) were dropped in intentionally by the writers. I always felt that part of it was the writers directly pointing and waving: “here is this example that is completely anti-feminist/slut-shaming/ (or insert another theme that is bothersome), and we are being ironic and intentionally placing it here.”
    Not that they wanted to portray that as an ideal in their world-building, but they wanted to drop it in as a real world issue that exists, and show that their characters are representations of things that are faulty in the real-world. I don’t usually take it at face value because I assume that most of the show is using irony to display real world issues. This makes me feel better : )

    July 22, 2015

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