Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Normal Again

Xander: "Oh, come on, that's ridiculous. What? You think this isn't real just because of the vampires and demons and ex-vengeance demons and the sister that used to be a big ball of universe-destroying energy?"

I really liked this episode. Except for the Dallas ending in the last scene (which had better not be how this series ends, you hear me, Joss Whedon?) and the fact that this basic plot device has been done many times before. And the way Buffy and Xander were treating Spike. Wait a minute...

So it was flawed, but very interesting just the same. Buffy being institutionalized was a marvelous metaphor for her current life situation, and the evidence that the hospital was real and her life as the Slayer was not, the "intricate latticework of her primary delusion," was compelling. After all, how logical is it, being the Chosen One? Saving the world from the forces of darkness? Having friends with superpowers, an imaginary sister, and a demon lover that she hates? And how about that revelation that Hank and Joyce had Buffy committed when she first started seeing vamps?

It all made perfect sense. Buffy's "undifferentiated type of schizophrenia" solved all of her problems. Suddenly, Buffy had her mother back, her parents were a couple again, and all of the problems she had with Dawn were gone. Who can blame her for not wanting to deal any more, for temporarily choosing another path? I noticed that Buffy dumped her antidote in the trash and left reality behind right after Spike gave her that ultimatum, which must have been the last straw. And isn't that interesting, that Spike has decided to tell all because he thinks the Scoobies will reject her, and then he'll then get her back? Spike still wants Buffy, in spite of everything.

Speaking of which, I'm totally fed up with how Buffy and Xander are treating Spike. Why won't Buffy let Spike just be kind to her? Even after everything she's done to him, he was still ready to take care of her ("put a little ice on the back of her neck, she likes that") and in that cemetery scene, she was ready to confide in him until Willow and Xander came along. At least the cat is pretty much out of the bag now, after Spike's "sodding sex slave" tirade to Xander and what Buffy said to Dawn ("a girl who sleeps with a vampire she hates? Yeah, that makes sense.") I think Xander is going to have some serious difficulty accepting Buffy's affair with Spike, since Buffy has always kept Xander at arm's length. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all hits the fan, hopefully in the next episode.

I found it touching that it was Joyce telling Buffy to believe in herself that made Buffy choose her life as the Slayer. And it was cool having Tara show up and save everyone, although I'll admit I was hoping it would be Spike.

Bits and pieces:

-- Sarah Michelle Gellar was wonderful, as always. She's so on top of her character that she makes it look easy.

-- No Anya in this episode. I’ll bet she took D'Hoffryn’s offer.

-- On the Nerds of Doom front, it looks like Jonathan is cracking; he's having trouble sleeping and going all Jack Torrance. Jonathan, it's time to go to the D.A. and cut a deal, sweetie.

-- Did you notice that the Doublemeat Palace french fries weren't yellow? They started out red and ended up black, which was probably intended to illustrate the unreality of Buffy's life or something metaphorical like that.

-- Note the little Buffy and Dawn philosophical exchange: Buffy: "I should be taller than you." Dawn: "Maybe you're not done growing."


Willow: "So, you left her at the altar, but you still want to..."
Buffy: "You still want to date?"

Warren: "Andrew's demon pet has done some number on the slayer. Got her tripping like a Ken Russell film festival."

Flawed, but intriguing, and extremely well written. Three out of four stakes,

Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.


Anonymous said...

i hated the exchange about the relative heights of the summers sisters. as an eldest sibling who is also the shortest of the lot, i could not imagine that any dawn would answer the way she did. not just because the answer is ridiculous - if buffy's still growing, the younger dawn has at least as much ahead of her - but because the answer was considered when it ought to have been dismissive. you don't seriously argue with someone about a fundamental fact that is central to your experience. dawn should take her height for granted the same way she takes spike's vampirism for granted. it just is and there's not a lot of point arguing about it.

it was at this point in the episode that i decided that the head doctor makes the more persuasive case and buffy probably really is locked up in a mental institution. the supernatural is one thing, but basic rules of human interaction are quite another. and it's unfortunate because human interaction is normally what the buffy team does so well.

magritte said...

I felt this was a very strong episode, my favorite since After Life. Yes, of course it's been done before, but what made it work was that Buffy's alternate reality really is more convincing than her decidedly strange "real world". Believing yourself instead to have superpowers and world-saving responsibility does sound more like wish-fulfillment than reality. And I liked how the doctor referenced the defining characteristics of season 6, the inter-scooby conflict and the lack of a seriously threatening "Big Bad". I do hope this isn't forshadowing the series end however.

I have a hard time believing Xander thought he could leave Anya at the altar and continue to date her. As somebody who once put a curse on a girlfriend for dumping him on Valentine's Day, you'd think he'd realize how much pain he caused. I almost hope she turns him into a troll.

Lamounier said...

I really like this episode and I think it's one of the strongest outings of season six. The directing is a bit off here and there on the asylum scenes, but overall Normal Again is very good.

I don't care that the plot isn't original, it's not like this hasn't happened before on Buffy, genre shows are bound to borrow ideas from one another. And the thing is, it's well done here.

My major beef with this episode is Buffy saying she was committed in an institution when she first talked about vampires with her parents. It's a retcon and it's totally unnecessary. Before coming out to Joyce as the slayer, Buffy quickly mentions vampires to her a couple of times. The first time is, if I'm not mistaken, on "The Witch", when Buffy is magically high; the second, I don't remember the episode, but I think they are at the mall, so it's in the middle section of season two. Joyce doesn't react like she is familiar with the subject at all. And most importantly, when Buffy comes out to Joyce in "Becoming", Joyce again does not react as if vampires had been brought up in the past and that is really important to how that scene plays out. So, to hell with you, retcon.

Another beef I have is with Willow not using magic to free herself and the others. They are about to freaking die and she just lies there. That's just bad writing, Willow MUST stay magic free and I can't say more because of spoilers. I like that Tara saves the day, though.

Rants over, I love how this episode digs into Buffy's broken mind. Buffy turning against Willow, Xander and Dawn is INSPIRED! Very creepy, and on a season that lacked on supernatural thrills, this episode certainly delivered.

Seeing Joyce again, even if it's not really her but only Buffy's delusions, was great, and I love their final moment. "You've got a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again." This line always gets to me. It's beautiful.

Spike taunting Buffy to tell her friends about them always gets on my nerves, but this time I understood that he wanted validation. For a creature of the dark ("you belong in the dark with me, blah-blah-blah"), he wants some light cast on him, how interesting, huh? He knows Buffy used him as a thing, he settled for that but it's clearly not enough for him. And... I think he is right when he says Buffy is addicted to the misery, post-resurrection Buffy at least. But I hate how he says it only to inflict more misery onto poor, confused Buffy. I love Spike throwing the wedding fail in Xander's face, though.

As for the final scene, I choose to interpret it as Buffy not having taken the antidote yet. I mean, what kind of doctor would tell a schizophrenic person to murder her imaginary friends in order to get healthy? In my opinion that really settles the issue of the Asylum world not being real.

When I was younger, I came up with this theory that the Asylum world was a world that mirrored Sunnydale's, except for being mostly like our world, supernatural and magic free. The slayer "counterpart" in the Asylum's dimension would have her mind connected to the slayer in Sunnydale's dimension as long as that slayer lived.

magritte, I also liked the meta references, as well as Buffy calling the entire premise of the series ridiculous.