Along with "Angel" and "Prophecy Girl", I think "Nightmares" is one of the little gems of the first season, at the least showing what the show can (and will) be. Definitely the best S1 episode in which Angel doesn't make an appearance, no?
I'm sure there are larger themes at work with a plot like this, but I don't really concern myself with those. Lol no actually I'm just saying that my favorite part is just the dreams themselves. They're chosen well and portrayed well, and a couple of them did make me think.
They made Noel Murray think too, and I'm going to quote him on that because I didn't come up with this nifty analysis: "In one of the scenarios, The Master riffs on Disney by chirping 'a dream is a wish your heart makes,' and that line isn't just a joke. It's possible that Willow craves attention as much as she fears it, and that Xander really likes looking exposed and vulnerable in front of the whole school, and that Buffy would rather her parents and friends see her as a bad seed instead of a troubled savior." Oh man! That's totally true! And moreover, you can follow it into an early expression of Buffy's death wish - I don't put a whole lot of stock into that, but given the insurmountable impossibility of Buffy's mission and the way it was forced onto her, it's not a stretch to see that she might sometimes have an inkling that she'd be better off dead.
Probably not an inkling (at this point) that she'd be better off a vampire, but who knows? Also, I read a fic once that filled in some gaps by inserting Angel into the episode - just as Giles' fear of his Slayer's death segued into her own fear of being turned, it was Angel's nightmare that kicked off the sequence by being the one to sire her. Isn't that great? It's canon in my head.
Every time the Scoobies have a nice casual chat with another high school kid, I kind of wish the kid would stick around and chat with them in some other episodes. I liked Wendell. Well, until the spider talk. Nobody should like him after that. But notice he also got the wish his heart made - he got his spiders back! I mean, he didn't really think they were punishing him for their deaths, did he? All they did was crawl playfully about him. Was he seeing accusation in their beady little eyes? That must have been it. Whoa, and spiders have four times as many eyes as humans; that's four hundred percent accusation.
Buffy's nightmare about her father, while well played, only really affected me in one way: it eventually comes true. I feel like the show could have fit in a little more drama about the deadbeat dad story, and I assume that it was the availability of the actor that prevented it, but mostly, thinking about Hank Summers just makes me angry at Hank Summers. I'm sure he didn't deliberately step out of his daughters' life because of Buffy's misbehavior, but his absence, barring some kind of crisis we never heard about, indicates something much worse: apathy. During the hardest times in their lives, Buffy and Dawn had to deal with knowing that their father just didn't care enough to come help them out when they needed him. If only Season 6 could have been revealed as a nightmare.
Speaking of fathers! That little slice of trauma incidentally provides a nice backdrop for Buffy's developing relationship with Giles. Before my rewatch I had more or less forgotten about his discovery of Buffy's grave and reaction to it:
I failed in my duty to protect you...I should have been more cautious, taken more time with your training...but you were so gifted and the evil was so great.
It's suddenly become my favorite line of S1. (Okay, it's still in battle with "I wanted to kill you today", but never mind that.) There's so much going on here - not just Giles' paternal affection for his Slayer and his grief at losing her, but the fundamental conflict of his job. He needs to protect her but can't do it by keeping her away from the fight; the fight is inherently part of her. He can train her to protect herself, but he can't rush it even knowing that she needs to be trained already.
The worst part is that he has such good reasons for throwing her into mortal peril. One is that she's so gifted: to hold her back from her full potential would be to demean her. She wants to be saving the world now, and she's capable, and she knows it. How could he possibly tell her to take it easy?
And the evil is so great. The Slayer isn't a Slayer for the sake of the Slayer. She's here because the world needs her. Giles, in turn, is needed to wield her as a weapon, knowing how wrong that is, knowing he has to do it anyway for the lives at stake.
He'll spend the rest of the series struggling with the internal division, and the shame, of being Buffy's Watcher. This may be the only time we hear him put it into words. Yeah, this episode belongs to Giles.
I think that's mostly what I wanted to say, but here's a bit of fun, and then some random notes:
Xander can't remember the lesson yesterday; Buffy reminds him that the (hot) teacher was wearing a tight sweater, to which he responds, "The midnight blue Angora!" Later, the stage directions give us this: He looks from his naked self to the class (including Ms. Tishler in Angora if she works that day.)
~The kid playing Billy is such a cute little muffin. Or maybe I just always think that about TV kids who aren't playing deliberately cute roles. Anyway, do I recognize that actor?
~I used to know a Bill Palmer. I should have asked him if he was ever in a coma during his childhood.
~Actually, I never really found the Anointed One cute, so scratch what I said in the first note.
~Astral projection is mentioned for the first time. Isn't it kind of odd that Willow didn't master it until she was permanently off the screen? Seems like it would be a much cheaper effect than flying.
~I always felt like they shot too low when they gave Giles a definite number for the languages he knows. I know, language isn't his specialty, but given the use of certain languages in spells, not to mention the Watcher's access to demon languages, it just seems like a big brain like his would have picked up more than five. Also someone should count how many he actually testifies to speaking throughout the series. Wait, Taaroko already did that. Ask her.
~One thing I don't like about the resolution in this episode is the Little League coach as the villain. It just doesn't sound legit to me that an otherwise normal person would beat up a child for failing to perform in a game. If he's as psychotic as he'd have to be for this scenario, it would have shown up in other ways. It kind of sounds like they wanted an abusive parent to fill this role in the plot, but didn't have the guts to incorporate a real-world tragic issue like that yet.
~Spotted another one of those conversations where one character/extra is talking and the other is conspicuously silent. It's just funny to me now; I can't help it.
~Why were there chocolate bars in Xander's clown dream, anyway?
~Oh yeah, and I do have a clown fear - I think most of us probably do to some degree - but that one didn't really do much for me. In fact, I can't recall anything particularly scary about this issue. Too bad!
~Did Buffy have a soul as a nightmare vamp? PONDER.
~Never noticed this - Xander knows what it's like to be attracted to a vampire. Hey hypocrite! Rant about Buffy's taste in men a little more, why don't you!