Monday, April 25, 2011

Buffy: Nightmares (1.10)

Nightmares is another example of the series taking on a tried-and-tested, cut-and-dry fantasy idea and running with it. Nightmares are becoming a reality in Sunnydale, and the Scoobies have to overcome their own fears to save the day -- that's pretty much it. What separates the episode from similarly themed but altogether less successful attempts on other TV series is that each nightmare actually reflects true, deep-seated fears within each character. Some, like the characters living through said nightmares, are silly and ridiculous, while others give a shocking amount of insight into the vulnerability of a person growing up in the world, and the results are sometimes undeniably affecting.

I'm talking of course about that heartbreaking moment where Buffy's nightmare of paternal wrath becomes a reality, with Hank telling her that she is responsible for her parents' separation, that she has does nothing but bring disappointment and anguish into her parents' lives, and that she's an all-round failure as a daughter. It's devastating, played with a sense of complete self-destruction by Sarah Michelle Gellar, and in general it's a feeling that can resonate with anybody who has ever gone through a similar event. You blame yourself, you don't know where to turn to, and it really, really hurts.

Elsewhere the nightmares are played mostly for laughs. There's Willow's terror at being made to perform in front of an audience while completely unprepared, Xander's fear of his childhood birthday party clown, Cordelia's fear of becoming unpopular. Only Giles' blindness treads similar ground to the gravity of Buffy's fear, but it's not played long enough to create much of an effect. But in general the scenes are all intriguing and just as scary, funny and bizarre as your own nightmares.

Where the episode fails is in the strangely un-Buffy monster story, with the abusive little league coach, the comatose boy, and that ridiculous "I'm just glad he's locked away where he belongs" ending. Ugh. It's the kind of thing where you just know the writers were still testing the waters and working out which directions to go in, and what elements needed to be pulled back.

Nightmares is probably one of the weaker episodes in season one, if only because the idea isn't totally original and some of the elements at work just don't succeed the way they presumably intended -- but it's still an absorbing character piece, especially in that aforementioned Hank scene. C

Guest stars Mark Metcalf (The Master); Kristine Sutherland (Joyce Summers); Jeremy Foley (Billy Palmer); Andrew J. Ferchland (Colin)
Teleplay David Greenwalt Story Joss Whedon Director Bruce Seth Green


  1. keep up the posting, i cant work out how to search for your specific reveiws on certain shows on, this makes it easy :)

  2. I thought this ep rated much better than a C. As you said, Buffy’s nightmare about her parents was almost heartbreaking to watch. I also loved the nightmare about Buffy being dead, and Xander’s empowerment when standing up to the clown. As a kid, I spent some time around violent grownups, and I found this monster of the week entirely believable. In my opinion, with the beautiful blend of horror and comedy, this ep has to be worth at least a B. Maybe an A-

  3. I think a "C+" would probably be nicer, I'll give you that, but I still think the majority of it is pretty generic and un-Buffy, particularly the ending with the little league coach. It's not one of my favorites of the season or anything.

    Thanks, Chantarelle.