“Fear is a wonderful thing. It is the most powerful force of the human world. Not love. Not hate. Fear.”
-The Master, Buffy the Vampire Slayer S1E10: “Nightmares”
Brief synopsis: When a young boy gets beaten into a coma, the nightmare world he’s become a part of starts crossing over
Title significance: In this episode, everyone’s nightmares are coming true. This ranges from Cordelia having a bad hair day to Buffy becoming a vampire and many in between. Many of them actually do have a dreamlike quality, like when Buffy takes her history test and we see the passage of time be altered, and they are all based on actual nightmares the subject has had.
While the majority of this episode is about nightmares becoming a reality, the cause of all this is Billy, whose waking life actually is a nightmare. Nightmares are more than just bad dreams, they are horrible occurrences in real life, such as a little league coach beating a child into a coma.
Girl Power: I don’t really feel like we got many specific moments of girl power. We see Willow terrified of singing, but Xander’s the one who confronted his fear by punching the clown in the face. Cordelia’s fears are incredibly superficial. Buffy’s fears are intense, but not really anything that speaks to being a girl or being powerful.
It is a testament to Buffy’s strength of will that she is able to look past being turned into a vampire and go save Billy. This is a huge fear of hers, and she powers right through after an initial desire to hide from Giles and her friends. She has a purpose, and this drives her through her fear.
Success of girl power: Not really there this week.
What “Nightmares” does right:
- Fears – Some of the fears portrayed in this episode I found to be absolutely fantastic: Buffy’s fear of becoming a vampire, of her father leaving because of her, Giles’ fear of Buffy dying. These both felt very real, and I think really gave us insight into both of the characters. Billy’s manifestation of the little league coach as an ugly monster with a bat for an arm was brilliant, and I think was a great way of showing a child dealing with fear and an abusive authority figure.
- Father figures – The talk Buffy has with her father is incredible. There’s so much great emotion in SMG’s performance, and you could tell that each sentence was designed to hit Buffy in her weak spots. It was very painful. Then we get to contract that with Giles, whose greatest fear is that he failed Buffy and she died. I think it’s a fantastic contrast, and it really shows the role Giles has in Buffy’s life.
- Fear theory – I really liked the beginning of the episode, where the Master is talking to the Anointed one about fear. It really rang true. At our most primal state, as humans, our largest motivator is fear. I think it really sets up the episode, and adds an extra layer that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
What “Nightmares” could have done better:
- Portal – So when Buffy and Billy walk through a hedge and turn up in a graveyard, it’s fine. Things like that happen in dreams. But then, when Giles, Willow, and Xander go looking for Buffy, they happen to see a gigantic portal to the graveyard right outside the school. It takes away from the eerie dream quality of suddenly changing locations, it’s too convenient, and it’s really cheesy. I did not like it.
- Stereotypical fears – The fear of not being prepared for a test. A fear of performing. A fear of clowns. Sigh. These nightmares were just bland to me, especially next to Buffy and Giles’ deeper fears. Cordelia fears a bad hair day. Why not give her something else to fear and add more to her character beyond the superficial? It really did fear like a missed opportunity for characterization.
- Xander – I know it must get boring to hear me complain about Xander. But this week, he followed a trail of candy bars until running into his nightmare clown. What? How stupid can you get to just follow a trail of candy? Is he a cartoon character? I found this hard to believe, and a character that’s hard to believe is even worse than a character that’s unlikeable. Xander is both.
Overall: I enjoyed the latter part of the episode a lot.