“I’m late! I’m late! for a very important date!”
I think it’s strange. I mean, I think I should worry, that we haven’t found her name yet.
Who? Miss Kitty?
Hands up, everyone who thinks that exchange is really about Miss Kitty Fantastico.
Willow, of course, would be first. (She was mentioned first in the spell in “Primeval,” after all.) Willow. Spiritus. The Witch; the Computer Nerd; the Geek with the Goofy Laugh; the Newly Hip Chick in the Unconventional Relationship. (As if a vampire or an ex-demon aren’t unconventional. Or a government-trained demon fighter, for that matter.) Red, as Spike calls her from time to time; redheaded, of course. Witches were once said to dye their hair red, in honor (I think) of Isis; then, a lot of scurrilous things are said about witches. Red is, of course, the color of blood, and love and hate (and most any strong emotion); in Buffy, it’s the color of sex (among other things). It’s the bride’s color in traditional Chinese weddings. And you know the willow’s a tree of grief, right? The grief of forsaken lovers, in particular.
I’ve mentioned before that Willow’s dream is my favorite, and my opinion hasn’t changed. (The Spouse rates Willow’s and Xander’s as a dead heat.) (Maybe we should do a poll?) Willow’s is the most conventional in structure—it has the shape and texture of a dream that’s been worn smooth by telling it to someone else, shorn of most of the strange fractal exfoliations and digressions, the annoying synchronicities and asynchronicities that make real dreams such ill-suited vessels for narrative. There’s a constant goal or center—the drama class, and its play; and all (or almost all) of the threats and anxieties loop and spiral about it. And those anxieties are ones near to my own heart: missed opportunities; failed assignments; betrayal; exposure as an utter fraud; ridicule.
But let’s start where she does, in her happy place. Tara’s room, dark and enclosed, swaddled in deep red curtains, where she’s absorbed in her homework: painting a Sapphic poem on Tara’s back. To get that out of the way: the first reference on The Bronze to this poem being Sappho’s was timestamped TUE MAY 23 20:12:29 2000 220.127.116.11, from someone named DSP; it’s repeated, a couple of hours later, from a “Sappho” with the same IP number thingie. As far as I know, no one else has stepped forward independently to identify the poem—certainly no one official. So I did some digging myself, and found a Romanized transliteration of the original Æolic Greek of the poem in question (Google being the best dam’ search engine on the web):
poikilo’ thron’ athanat’ Aphrodita
pai dios doloploka, lissomai se
me m’asaisi med’ oniaisi damna
and then, pausing the tape as Willow drew back the curtains and let the harsh desert light fall on it, I compared that with what (little) I know of the Greek alphabet. We have a match, folks; that is, indeed, the only complete Sapphic poem still extant that Willow’s calligraphing Pillow Book-style on her girlfriend’s back. (And yes—those are red sheets on the bed.)
Not that the poem’s all that important. It’s far from the key to the whole dream; it’s merely Sappho pleading with the goddess Aphrodite to intercede on her behalf with an almost certainly female lover who’s spurned Sappho’s advances. One imagines Joss and co. chose it merely because it’s Sappho (the famous Classic poet from the island of Lesbos), with all the connotations that implies. And because Greek is cool. (Of course, it is an invocation to a goddess, like almost every spell we’ve seen Willow cast. Spells, rather famously, have been a metaphor this season for Willow’s and Tara’s sexual relationship. And the fact she’s inscribing this invocation on Tara’s back could have something to do with Tara’s real name, which Willow’s unconscious seems to know, if the waking Willow does not. Yet. Dollars to donuts it’s not “Tara.”) (Not that I’m suggesting she’s “Many colored throned immortal Aphrodita,” either. Far from it.) If you want to check the poem out yourself, here’s a site that presents the whole shebang in Romanized Greek and English, and a brief explication thereof.
So. We hadn’t even gotten out of Tara’s room, yet. There’s a conversation about names—Miss Kitty hasn’t let them know what her real name is, though that’s okay; she’s not all grown, yet. (I don’t know about you, but I shivered at that.) Willow says she feels safe, here. “You don’t know everything about me,” says Tara. “Have you told me your real name?” asks Willow. “Oh,” says Tara. “You know that.” Willow grins.
The first appearance of names, and naming.
But the conversation shifts. “They will find out, you know. About you,” says Tara, and the central anxiety of Willow’s dream rears its ugly little head. Willow’s response? “I don’t have time to think about that.”
Closet Buffyholic (and others, too, for all I know) made the point that a constant undercurrent of these dreams is the rational versus the animalistic, and she drew on the slow-mo images of Miss Kitty, disemboweling that ball of string and stalking towards the camera with a lot of menace for so little a kitten, to make her point. If so, though, that’s oddly enough the only overt appearance the animalistic makes in Willow’s dream. (Okay. There’s also Harmony vamping out, and the First—and we’ll get to just how animalistic a symbol she is later.) Willow seems to be all about the rational—words, speech, thinking—but here, she says “I don’t have time to think about that. I still have all this homework to finish.” Let’s not make too much of it, but did anyone else flash back to the morning-after scene in “Wild At Heart”? Oz, referring to Willow’s brain, says “Awfully busy up there.” “Actually,” says Willow, “there’s one thing that shuts it up completely.” (Quotes not vetted for accuracy.) Referring, of course, to, um, rompy-pompy. Thinking and sex are opposed for our Willow; another division of the rational and the animalistic.
But we weren’t making too much of that. (There’s not much there.) Willow has to go to class; she’s going to be late, but it doesn’t matter. She wants to finish her homework. In fact, she doesn’t want to leave Tara’s room at all. She gets up from the bed, walks to the red curtains, and opens them—revealing not the campus of UC Sunnydale, but the harsh, bright desert of the First Slayer. “There’s something out there,” she says. Flash cuts of something, indeed, Out There—the First; and Miss Kitty looking scarier than any kitten has a right to. And then, without warning, Willow’s on her way to class.
The college halls, though, have high school lockers, and a bell is ringing. And there’s Oz and Xander, Willow’s two exes (ex and a half?); the loves of her high school days. (The childish things she’s put away?) “Heard you’re taking drama,” says Oz. “That’s a tough course.” “You’ve taken it?” says Willow. “Oh, I’ve been here forever,” says Oz. Hate to admit it, but I have no easy or facile answers for that one, beyond the fact that it’s utterly Oz-like in the gnomic efficiency with which it dodges the question in question. Luckily, Xander’s there in the clench, to lob a really easy one (and thump the Diagnosis Murder fans in the head with a big, fat clue). “Whatcha been doin’?” he asks Willow. “You been doin’ spells?” Then, to Oz: “She does spells with Tara.” Oz: “I heard.” Then, Xander: “Sometimes, I think about two women doing a spell, and then I do a spell by myself.”
Thanks, Mister States-the-Obvious.
Let’s take apart that exchange, as an example of how loaded even a toss-away joke can be in dreams. It’s not just Joss reaching out with a 2×4 to whack those members of the audience who somehow missed the subtextual points of “peeling off the petals one by one” and “nether realms” and Willow’s disarmingly predatory grin as she says “I trust you. I trust you.” (And while I’m on the subject—anyone else wonder what’s up with Marti Noxon and waffles?) And it’s not just a cheap joke at Xander’s expense (though the look Oz shoots him is priceless). It’s also a way for Willow to express to herself her trepidation over what her relationship with Tara will do to her friendship with Xander—she’s scared he’s going to go all typical het boy on her, or something stupid and weird and goofy like that. And look how lightly she skims over what’s the most painful topic of all—how she treated Oz when he came back; how she couldn’t tell him what was happening. She still can’t really face this directly, not in dreams; she lets eidolons of Xander and Oz discuss it in the background. She’s got other things to think about. The bell’s ringing. She’s got to get to class.
Drama class, of course, in the manner of all those I-forgot-I-signed-up-for-this-class-and-now-it’s-finals nightmares, is in full opening-night swing for a play which Willow can’t remember rehearsing at all—much less what role she’s playing, or her lines. Harmony’s the first to greet her, in a milkmaid’s costume (!) with hugs and kisses and fake felicitations and a warning not to step on her cues. (Being so nervous you launch into your lines before the person cueing you is entirely finished with theirs, if my rusty theatrical training hasn’t betrayed me.) Then there’s Riley, who showed up on time, so he got to be Cowboy Guy. Gung-ho, goofy, a bit dim but basically a good guy, or so Willow’s unconscious assessment of him seems to be. And Buffy, almost completely unrecognizable in a black wig and a ‘20s flapper outfit—a vamp of a different color, really.
Vamp Buffy has two important bits of information: first, the house is full, and Willow’s family’s in the front row (and they look really angry); second, Willow’s already in costume. In fact, she’s already in character. Willow’s taken aback—she’s just being herself, and drama class should have drama class, after all. There are rules and expectations and one shouldn’t be thrown in media res with no warning whatsoever. (“Just like life,” as Closet Buffyholic said, and sorry to keep picking on her, but hers is the only complete ramble through “Restless” in any detail I’ve found so far.) Before she can get too far, Giles appears. Giles, voice of reason. Right?
Nope. Giles, director from Hell. Complete with ascot. A lot’s been made of how crucial his lines are in this scene. Shall we?
After some opening bits about how everyone Willow’s ever known is in the audience (including all of us), he gets to the point: “We have to be perfect. Stay in character, remember your lines, and energy, energy, energy, especially during the musical numbers.” Two things there: a shot of Vamp Buffy looking really excited at the idea of a musical number (and you musical Buffy supporters are free to read that as SMG’s endorsement of your cause), and the First approaches, crawling through the crowd of actors in their community theatre best. Willow says, “Did anyone see that?” which swallows Giles’s next line: “Acting is not about behaving, it’s about hiding.”
“The audience wants to find you, strip you naked and eat you alive, so hide.” Rather a blatant statement of why Willow seems to think she’s a fake or a fraud—so much safer to hide the true self away, to put on a character and a costume so they can’t find you. (But what happens when you forget it’s a costume? Is it now the real you? And the wolf is awfully close to the door…)
Then Giles gets weird(er). “Now. Costumes; sets; those things, you know, you hold them, touch them, you use them—”
Anyone want to take a crack at that? The Spouse chimed in with the idea that it might be Willow’s perception that Giles calls on and listens more to boys than girls—a common complaint about teachers these days. But then we both began to compare the girls and boys Giles usually deals with, and how he deals with them. And anyway, Giles is not terribly Giles-like in this scene. Is he an eidolon of more general feelings about teachers, and authority? Or just rather twee and fruity?
“It’s all about the subterfuge. Now. Go on out there, lie like dogs, and have a wonderful time. If we can stay in focus, keep our heads, and if Willow can stop stepping on everyone’s cues, I know this will be the best production of ‘Death of a Salesman’ we’ve ever done! Good luck everyone! Break a leg!”
Aside from the horrid faux pas of wishing everyone luck (excusable, since this is Willow’s dream, and she doesn’t know that custom of the theatre. That’s why you wish everyone broken legs, darn it), Giles refers to keeping heads (interesting, since he’s Sophos, and the head/mind is where the First will strike him) and repeats the idea that Willow’s stepping on people’s cues. Getting in their way. Annoying and inconveniencing them and generally getting things wrong. Speech over, the actors mill about in sudden and disturbing silence, as Willow, at a loss, wheels around—
And there’s the Cheese Guy. “I’ve made a little space for the cheese slices,” he says, and since Joss says it means nothing at all, I’m leaving it alone. Willow does, too; in fact, she tries to leave the whole thing, play, vamps, First, Giles, confusion, all of it, and pushes her way into a long, narrow corridor made by the two dark red theatrical curtains. She retreats from the world towards safety, silence, those dam’ red curtains—and finds Tara again—the one thing that’s, you know, hers. Coincidence?
(Kids, avert your eyes a moment. Much could be made, about six different ways from Sunday, of these red curtains, here, as a vaginal symbol. And no, not just that way. The womb. Safety. Mother. Goddess. Supplicant. Temple. Blood. Power. Etc. So on. Run with it, if you like.)
But Tara’s not her usual meek self. She’s trying to help Willow, yes, but she’s being downright unhelpful about it. “Things aren’t going very well, are they?” she says, and Willow agrees, pointing out (again) the (unseen) presence of her family and asking why there’s a cowboy in “Death of a Salesman,” anyway. There’s something wrong with this dream—Willow knows that—but she can’t break out of dream logic to figure out what it is. “It’s something I forgot to do, isn’t it,” she says, missing the point—her own anxieties getting in the way of seeing the very real and present danger. “You don’t understand yet, do you?” says Tara (for the first time). But she’s not terribly forthcoming with the answers herself. Tara, unsafe? (“You don’t know everything about me.”)
(And here’s where we hit our first potential exception. Is this, could this be, Tara herself, somehow projected into Willow’s dream, to warn her? Me, I don’t think so. She acts with dream logic, as an eidolon, and not as I hope Tara would act under those circumstances. This is the bit of Willow that knows what’s going on trying however she can to clue the rest of her in.)
Tara does try to get Willow to hush, listen, stop talking—stop thinking. (But we aren’t making too much of that.) Yet Willow’s distracted, by the play—which seems to be puffing along just fine without her.
Somehow, those cuts from Willow and Tara to the play and back again managed to suggest that eerie synchronicity in dreams, when you know with perfect clarity what’s going on elsewhere. Willow’s behind the curtain, but still knows what’s happening onstage—Cowboy Guy says hi to the Milkmaid, and tells her about how he’s lookin’ fer a man—a salesman. Cut back again, there’s a guy lying on the floor (the Salesman? dead?) and the Milkmaid’s crying and Vamp Buffy’s tearing Cowboy Guy a new one—his whole sex, in fact. “Three billion of ya passin’ around the same worn-out urge, men—with your sales.” Is there anything there, about Willow’s perception of Buffy and Riley’s relationship? And while I don’t believe for a New York minute that Willow took up with Tara because she thinks men are scum, it’s nonetheless edifying to compare Vamp Buffy’s speech with the scene in “Beer Bad” where Willow tears Parker a new one (“Id boy!”). Anyone want to tackle the archetypal significances of Cowboy, Milkmaid, Salesman and Vamp? (Another foursome!) Extra points if you manage to construct a credible theory without resorting to virgin/whore dichotomies.
But Willow can’t stop talking, thinking, worrying, and when she turns back from the play, Tara’s gone. She blew it. Missed her chance. And we all know what’s behind those red curtains; Willow showed us in the very first scene of her dream. Being too rational, overly analytical, has left her wide open to an assault from the animalistic, instinctual side.
We’ll return later to the image of the First Slayer thrusting through the red curtains with her knife. (“The penetrating wound.”) We’ll even gloss over the damage to Willow’s left hand. (Anya, in “Where The Wild Things Are.”) Point is, Buffy, of course, saves the day.
Or does she?
So Buffy (non-Vamp Buffy) saves Willow, dragging her from the curtains to a classroom back in Sunnydale High, and Willow tells her about the thing that’s following her and that just attacked her. “You must have done something,” says Buffy. “No,” says Willow, “I never do anything. I’m very seldom naughty.”
Willow. Darlin’. I love you. You’re my favorite character on the show most days. But God only knows how Buffy got the rep as this season’s self-absorbed bitca. You were.
The very first episode this season, she’s worried she’s so wrapped up in her own stuff that she missed Buffy’s “circumstances.” She’s so wrapped up in what she wants out of her relationship with Oz—and her insecurities about that relationship—that she misses some rather blatant danger signs. She nearly uses black magic to curse his name, and tries a spell to wreak her will on the world that screws up all her friends and nearly gets her headhunted as a vengeance demon. (Everybody remember the talisman? Good.) And then, of course, she falls for Tara—but in a weird, secretive, selfish way. She hides Tara, lies about her, tries to keep Tara compartmentalized from the rest of her life—one of the most touching things about “New Moon Rising,” in the scenes between the two of them, is how desperate Tara is for some conscious, verbal acknowledgement on Willow’s part of the depth and importance of what lies between them. But Willow can’t be honest—not to her friends, not to Tara, not to Oz, when he returns; she can barely be honest to herself, and nearly gets Oz killed and mucks the whole thing up. And hey—go back a season, and she’s cheating on Oz and seriously messing up her oldest, bestest friendship in all the world.
And in “Living Conditions,” Willow ate the last of Buffy’s sandwich.
I’m exaggerating, certainly. Oz and his trademark stoicism bear a lot of responsibility, and Xander and his hormones, and Buffy’s been rather self-absorbed herself, and Lord knows there were circumstances—the whole thing with Tara is so big and important and scary. But the point is that’s a lot to slough off with a simple “I’m very seldom naughty.”
We’ve tossed back and forth what the “lie” is in Willow’s dream. What she’s scared people will find out. What she has to hide. Her witchcraft; her sexuality; the fact that deep down she doesn’t feel nearly so hip or sophisticated as she’s become. It’s not any one of those things, it’s all of them, and it’s also something more basic and universal: like all of us, Willow thinks of herself as basically a good person; like all of us, she does bad things. How do you reconcile that? “They’re going to find out, you know.” “If they find out, they’ll punish you. I can’t help you with that.”
And they do. Buffy tells Willow the play’s long over (yet Willow never played her part) and it’s time to take off her costume. Willow first denies it’s a costume—then says, “No. I need it.” But Buffy reaches out and strips it away and there’s Willow, first season Willow, shy wallflower geeky computer nerd pre-Jenny pre-Giles pre-Buffy pre-Oz “Welcome to the Hellmouth” Willow, and the class is full of everyone she knows. The play may be over, but she’s performing (her book report); the audience has found her, and stripped her naked. “Is everybody very clear on this now?” says Harmony, cruelly. “I tried to warn you,” says Oz, flirting with Tara. Cordelia’s not there, but Anya is—”It’s like a tragedy. It’s exactly like a Greek tragedy. We should only be Greeks.” (Don’t read too much into that. Those particular connotations of Greek you’re thinking of are entirely male.) (Then, Sappho was Greek. Right?) (No, she was from Lesbos…)
“This summer,” says Willow, “I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe—”
“Oh, who cares?” bellows Xander, once her bestest bud.
Daunted but unbowed, Willow presses on. (What else can she do?) “This book,” she says, “has many themes—”
The First attacks. And of course everyone ignores her struggles as the First steals the breath—the spirit—right out of her. The audience has found her, stripped her naked, and now it’s eating her alive. (Or is it just a cheeky warning from Joss and co. not to do too much of exactly what I’m doing? Rational analysis, animal instinct—poke too much at the themes, and, well, here there be Slayers…)
Too late to worry about that now. On to Xander?