“Restless” was the season finale of the fourth season of “Buffy,” airing in May 2000. The season had been an unusual one since it was the first that deviated from the high school setting of the show. Following the “Graduation Day” episodes of the previous season, Buffy and Willow went on to attend classes at U.C. Sunnydale, Giles was at loose ends before, in the following season, opening an occult shop and Xander kind of hung out, trying to find himself.
The season also featured a dramatic departure from past seasons by opening up the world of the Slayer to include “real world” supernatural elements, including what was in many ways the show’s most complex addition to its mythology, the Initiative, an underground (literally) government organization that captured and experimented on demons. It was the first absolute confirmation of Buffy’s “underground” status as the Slayer in a world in which the authorities – all the way to Washington D.C. – knew about vampires and demons.
The Initiative storyline had actually wrapped up in the previous episode, as the Scooby Gang defeated Adam, a Frankenstein-like monster created as an unauthorized offshoot of the program.
“Restless” took the form of a series of dreams sequences for Willow, Xander, Giles and Buffy in which each was stalked by the First Slayer, a savage female proto-Buffy.
The dream sequences were perfect and spot-on, teasing viewers with suggestions of events that might come in the series. Who wasn’t intrigued by Spike’s declaration that Giles was teaching him to become a Watcher?
The episode also featured some faces from the past, including Seth Green as Oz, Phina Oruche as Giles’ girlfriend Olivia, Mercedes McNab as Harmony and Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder.
Ultimately, “Restless” marked something of a departure for “Buffy” and for Buffy. Especially when the Slayer declared herself different from the slayers of old, demonstrating that the First Slayer and the conventions of the Watchers Council and past Slayers didn’t mean anything to her.
“Restless” was written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon a dozen years before he became a Hollywood sensation with “The Avengers.” Whedon imbued the episode with his trademark mix of thrills and humor.
The First Slayer isn’t the only thing primordial about this episode: Just before they fall asleep, the gang settles in to watch a movie on VHS!
Throughout the episode, a guy shows up and says something about cheese. Of all the odd moments in the episode that fans took as clues to the future, this one we felt we could laugh off.
The episode featured references to ongoing series developments, including Willow’s coming out. During her dream, Willow’s anxiety reached its peak when former flame Oz and current flame Tara snickered and smirked at her even as she succumbed to the First Slayer.
I love all the dream sequences, but Xander’s journey into an “Apocalypse Now”-style heart of darkness is hilarious.
The episode is peppered with references to characters and episodes past and future, including Faith the vampire slayer and Dawn, Buffy’s “little sister” introduced in the next season. You could even argue that Joyce’s appearance in a wall during Buffy’s dream sequence was a reference to her eventual death.
“Restless” is one of the great episodes of a great series.