The first thing to keep in mind is that we’re dealing with dreams, here—which isn’t as easy to do as it might seem at first blush. I’ve seen interpretations of, say, Giles’s actions in Xander’s dream as being something Giles himself did, or as being indicative of Giles’s condition or state of mind in some way. Bzzt. These are dreams. The unconscious talking to itself. “A series of images, ideas, and emotions occurring involuntarily to the mind in certain stages of sleep,” as the dictionary says (Reader’s Digest Illustrated Encyclopedic, if you were curious; my OED is in the shop. Yeah, that’s it). Giles in Xander’s dream is nothing more than Xander’s idea of Giles, or a part of Xander trying to tell himself something and using Giles’s eidolon (“a dream-like image, a phantom, or an ideal,” and I expect all of you to be using this word fluently by the end of the summer) to do so. So keep that in mind.
(Yes. There are exceptions to this rule. There are always exceptions. We’ll get to them.)
Also, as we’re dealing with dreams—subjective, elusive, allusive, metaphorical, and downright nonsensical—then the old saw of “tale and not the teller” is vital. Doubly so. Most episodes have an objective layer—a plot, story-points, strategy and tactics with normal, real-world cause-and-effect—which gives us some sort of anchor to go by; some common ground we all, in the end, must agree to. Not so with dreams, where the plot goes right out the window and we’re left with symbols and allusions and metaphors. Tricksy wights, the lot of ’em, who shimmer and flow and change constantly and never sit still long enough for you to be entirely sure what you’re looking at. Especially since every word, image and gesture in this episode is, or can be, loaded (heck, freighted, weighted down, overstuffed) with two or more levels of meaning (quadruple entendre, anyone?), and draws on four solid and inventive years’ worth of storytelling and character development. Everything, as Umberto Eco teaches us, is connected; you can, with a little patience, draw seductively meaningful patterns out of thin air. Or a pendulum and a golden trumpet.
Now. I love to play with ideas, and run off in hare-brained directions just to see where it will take me (one of the reasons I love this episode); I never mean half of what I say (and since I never say half what I mean, we’re even). There are a lot of very strange places you can go with “Restless.” Do so! (I will.) Basic point: There is no right answer. There is no single proper interpretation. (Not even mine; not even yours. Not even theirs.) Everything’s connected; everything means something, anything else. Every reader’s response is as valid as any other’s. (Doesn’t mean I won’t argue with you if you’re wrong. I mean, if I think you’re wrong.)
For instance: the cheese. Joss has told us the cheese means nothing, it’s nonsense; the sort of thing that always happens in dreams for no reason whatsoever. But. As someone else has pointed out, in “The Initiative,” when Riley was pumping Willow for information on Buffy, she told him Buffy likes “cheese.”
Significant? A coincidence? The connection’s there to be made—there’s indisputably cheese in both places, after all—but did Joss and co. intend it? Does it have a deeper significance? Does it mean anything at all?
All depends on you. (Anybody up on the Freudian or Jungian interpretations of cheese? Growth from decay? Constipation, delivered by young men in greasy clothes—oh, never mind.)
I mean, we all know Joss told us that as a red herring; of course the cheese really means something. Of course, he probably knew we’d know that, so what he actually did was tell us that something that really was intended to be meaningless was meaningless, so we’d spin our wheels searching for meaning that he never intended and we’d completely miss the First Slayer standing, snarling, over our backs, stake poised—
Cut to opening theme?