Sunday, July 12, 2009
Nightmares revolves around the concept of fear. In episode ten of Season One the students of Sunnydale High find their worst nightmares becoming reality. The cause of this nightmare-reality is revealed to be a young boy, Billy, who has been beaten into a coma and has astral-projected himself into the waking world – bringing the realm of nightmares along with him. Buffy and Co. must wake Billy up and help him face his attacker before reality and the realm of nightmares merge into one.
The idea of nightmares becoming reality is a concept which has been used in television before, however; as is the case in most Buffy episodes, it was developed in a slightly different way here, giving the concept a new dimension and making it more interesting. Nightmares is a multi-faceted episode that gives audiences a glimpse of the diversity Buffy offers. It features the supernatural thrills that Buffy viewers have come to expect; but it also gives an emotional insight into some characters, demonstrating that Buffy is a show that focuses on humans and their tumultuous relationships as well as focusing on vampires and demons.
This episode had a lot of potential for some really great character development, but unfortunately it fell a little short. Instead of focusing on some of the characters’ most emotionally damaging nightmares, the writers seemed to opt for the ones that would get a laugh out of the audience. Xander finding himself at school in his underwear and Willow having to sing in front of a room full of people are two such examples. However, that being said, the writers did develop the characters of Buffy and Giles through the representations of their nightmares, her nightmare being that she was the reason her parents divorced and discovering that her father no longer wants to see her, and his being that Buffy dies and becomes a vampire. Through this, the writers were able to humanize the characters of Buffy and Giles, something which had been done a little bit in previous episodes, but was looked at in greater detail here. We realize that Buffy may be the Slayer, but she is still a vulnerable teenager with the same doubts and fears as most teenagers, and we understand that Giles has developed a relationship with Buffy which extends beyond the Watcher/Slayer parameters, and is utterly terrified at the prospect of her dying as a result of her destiny. Nightmares would have been a more effective episode if the characters of Xander and Willow were developed in this way.
Nightmares worked very well as a standalone episode, but I think it also tied into Season One as a whole, albeit in a subtle way. The idea of facing personal fears and demons in order to live a fulfilling life was central in this episode, and was also explored in the Season finale, Prophecy Girl, where Buffy has to face her ultimate fear. The opening scene of Nightmares - which features The Master killing Buffy in one of her dreams, was a hint of what the Season finale would hold.
Overall, I thought that Nightmares was one of the best episodes of Season One. It is evident that Buffy is improving from its lousy Teacher’s Pet days, and although it misses the mark at some points, Nightmares remains one of the more original, intriguing episodes of Season One.