"I wear the cheese. It does not wear me." Most fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" will remember these words. Not because they're important, but rather because the Cheese Man (David Wells) has invited debate for decades. Creator Joss Whedon was once known for his careful planning, with many of the major decisions of "Buffy" famously being plotted years in advance. There are clues seeded in one season for major events that wouldn't take place until the next one or even later, so when it comes to dream sequences like the ones featured throughout the season 4 finale "Restless," fans could endlessly dissect every syllable.
After delivering the incredible one-two punch of "Becoming" and "Graduation Day" in seasons 2 and 3, respectively, "Restless" was an odd choice to wrap up the show's fourth season. There was no epic battle, no Big Bad to defeat, and no stakes of any kind really. That was all over and done with. Sure, the Scooby Gang had to confront their fears while the First Slayer was trying to kill them all in their dreams, but hey, that's just another Tuesday night in Sunnydale.
"Restless" takes us through the very different dreams of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Xander (Nicholas Brendon), and Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) after they fall asleep watching a movie. Aside from the First Slayer, their dreams all had one thing in common: the Cheese Man. He shows up, with cheese, says or does something confounding, and … that's it. There were vital messages to be found in everyone's subconscious this episode, particularly Buffy's, but — despite fans' theories to the contrary — the Cheese Man was not one of them.
These … Will Not Protect You
Whedon discusses the Cheese Man in the DVD commentary of "Restless." He explains:
"The Cheese Man: meaningless. Why? Because I needed something in the show that was meaningless, because there is always something in the dream that just doesn't make any sense at all. In this case, it was the Cheese Man. He confounds everybody because of that, and people ascribe him meaning. This, to me, means that we're being successful because this means they're not worried about everything else, which means they sort of did understand most other things."
Despite this, theories about the Cheese Man abound, even after all this time. Over the years, I've heard everything from "the cheese stands alone" as Buffy does, to the cheese is the connective tissue between this close-knit group of friends, to Whedon is simply a huge fan of cheese. "Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts" has an entire section written by Melanie Wilson arguing that not only is the Cheese Man not meaningless, but he is actually an integral aspect of "Restless."
As someone who once dreamt I gave birth to a litter of socks, I'm not going to argue whether or not the Cheese Man has some deeper significance, though, for me, he was always just a gag. Ultimately, dreams have whatever meaning you attribute to them. Whedon may have added the Cheese Man as a nonsensical comedic element, but it's pretty fascinating that there are so many varying beliefs about a character with practically no screen time.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is still my favorite show ever, even if its creator has made my love for it increasingly complicated. Just because the Cheese Man is meaningless to Whedon, doesn't mean fans can't find meaning wherever they choose.
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