Buffy 6×17: Normal Again

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Writer: Diego Gutierrez | Director: Rick Rosenthal | Aired: 03/12/2002]

The plot in “Normal Again” is that which has been seen many times before in various shows from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Charmed to Smallville. I’m not really sure where this plot originated, and I don’t really care. What makes the Buffy adaptation of this premise so fresh? Well, the answer to that lies in the answer to the question of what makes Buffy as a series so fresh — it’s certainly not the fairly unoriginal plots. What makes it so fresh is how the plots affect and service the characters. It’s all about the characters. “Normal Again” takes this common genre plot and twists it into something incredibly unique. It also ends up being one of the most emotionally gripping episodes of televsion I’ve ever seen.

The Trio’s plan to summon a demon that makes you go completely inside yourself is not only brilliant for what it brings out of Buffy, but it’s also completely fitting with the Trio’s approach to keeping Buffy at a distance — throwing her off her game. The one thing in particular that gets me a bit worked up when discussing this episode with many other fans is how a lot of them feel it is so great (or bad) because of its implications about Buffy’s reality. They feel that the ending represents (or possibly represents) the fact that Sunnydale isn’t real, and that the entire series is in Buffy’s head. Let’s just say that I don’t see it this way at all. To me, as a viewer, there was never any question as to whether Sunnydale is real or not. If it wasn’t, then this would be a pretty pointless series. If you want to watch something about a schizophrenic, I kindly direct you to A Beautiful Mind. That’s not at all what this episode’s trying to do though.

The ending scene in the hospital, although played for a brief “what if” moment, is actually a triumph for Buffy. She is able to bravely choose to ignore the fantasy of the asylum, so I ask all of you to follow in her footsteps and not let the fantasy trick you! I’ll admit that the doctor, going on about Buffy’s alleged schizophrenia, makes a pretty convincing case at first. This is an example of the show looking itself in the eye, almost realizing how much of a “fantasy” all the stories that have been told really are. The doctor unknowingly slips up, though, when he tells Buffy that her delusions aren’t as comforting as they used to be. If Sunnydale is truly a fantasy completely constructed in her mind, wouldn’t that be a fantasy that painted a much more happier picture and history? Why would her parents break up in her fantasy if that’s what she ultimately desires? The fact her parents are here in the asylum prove that the fantasy is here.

In this fantasy, Buffy’s parents are alive, well, and together. Buffy doesn’t have the burden of taking care of a sister, or even of being the chosen one — the Slayer. Here life is simple — she’s just a sick little girl who wants to get better — and she is convinced that if she rids herself of Sunnydale, she can become normal again in this happier world. But that phrase, “normal again,” really can only be obtained by recognizing the asylum for the fantasy it really is and facing the pain of her real life. In order to do that, she has to really let go of her parents for the final time, and completely leave behind the memory of what she wanted her childhood to be in the process. It’s painful, and it’s sad, but it’s life.

With my point about Sunnydale being real out of the way, we can move forward with the analysis. In the asylum, Buffy doesn’t believe what’s going on at first — she’s dazed, confused, and very concerned. Then her parents show up — yes, that was plural: both her mom, alive and well, and her dad — the two of them still together, which is what Buffy always wanted. It’s at this point where Buffy wants to believe in this fantasy. This is the crux of the entire episode. Thanks to Gellar’s beautiful performance, you can identify so much of what is going on in Buffy’s mind: confusion, pain, sadness, hope, and pure undiluted sorrow. I can see the tug-o-war in her mind start firing off right here — a war between the pain of her real life, the memories of her parents, and the utter shock and hope of the fact that there may be a happy ending for her or, at the very least, an easier one.

I absolutely love the continued use of the Doublemeat Palace. Buffy’s still working there to support Dawn. The paralysis metaphor still works, but what I love about the fact that Buffy flashes out while working is how it immediately shows us that it’s time for her to be given the opportunity to finally break out of that paralysis. She took the first step by breaking off her relationship with Spike. These flashes are a painful blessing in disguise, as they force her to make a choice: either leave your life for the illusion of happiness, or deal with your actual life, work through the pain, and search for real happiness.

Later on, Buffy’s conversation to Willow highlights a vital point for her arc in the season. She says, “I feel so lost … Even before the demon. I’ve been so detached. Every day I try to snap out of it… figure out why I’m like that.” It’s wonderful to hear Buffy talk to Willow about this, and to verbalize it to herself. “Normal Again” represents the end of Buffy’s S6 ‘depression’ arc, which began in the sublime “After Life” [6×03] , and it’s of no surprise that it takes unbelievable internal strength to get through it.

Buffy continues talking to Willow about the fact that she was in an institution before Sunnydale. I feel this actually fits in just fine with continuity. From Joyce’s concerned “You need help” in “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] to what we know about the characters, it doesn’t at all feel like a cheap retcon for the sake of the plot. I feel this knowledge — something Buffy never told anyone before — works here well. Buffy’s worry that she never left that clinic is palpable, and actually somewhat plausible. I hurt for her here and completely feel the emotions she’s feeling. Gellar is absolutely stellar in this episode. I’m getting all watery-eyed writing this.

The hallucinations eventually start to get Buffy doubting her reality. The little comment about how she should be taller than Dawn is one of the first signs that show Buffy starting to think about what the doctor’s said. She’s adding up those “inconsistencies” and starting to think that maybe he has a point. When Spike shows up later and forces her into a corner about revealing their relationship, she makes the final decision to completely give up reality in favor of the much happier fantasy of the institution. Buffy’s comments to Dawn later are revealing, “Because what’s more real? A sick girl in an institution, or some kind of super girl, chosen to fight demons and save the world. That’s ridiclulous. A girl who sleeps with a vampire she hates… yeah, that makes sense.” Speaking of Spike, I really appreciated the little touch of having him walk in the beam of sunlight in the middle of this conversation. It is so symbolic of Spike’s love of her from the start — him either having to step through the light or pull her into the dark to get to her. The only place they can actually interact with without getting ‘burned’ is in the shadows — at least until S7.

Spike admits he had it wrong in “Dead Things” [6×13] . He says, “But I hope you don’t think this antidote… I hope you don’t think this antidote’s gonna rid you of that nasty martyrdom. See I figured it out, love. You can’t help yourself. You’re not drawn to the dark like I thought. You’re addicted to the misery. That’s why you won’t tell your pals about us. Might actually have to be happy if you did. They’d either understand and help you, God forbid, or drive you out where you could finally be at peace, in the dark, with me. Either way, you’d be better off for it, but you’re too twisted for that. Let yourself live, already. And stop with the bloody hero trip for a second, we’d all be the better for it. You either tell your friends about us, or I will.”

This is a brilliant piece of insight out of Spike, although he’s entirely too insensitive about it. Buffy’s in no condition to be dealing with their issues right now. Spike’s definitely right when he says telling her would likely make her happier, one way or another. But by saying this he shows his own critical gap in understanding the complexity of Buffy’s emotions, history, and duty. Although Spike certainly understands the darker aspects of the Slayer, he’s completely lost at understanding what Buffy demonstrated in “The Gift” [5×22] — undiluted selfless love for humanity. In essence, Buffy should be feeling bad about being with Spike. But, Spike’s not a purely evil creature either, and the parts of humanity he retains and chooses to let flourish deserve respect. So, Spike certainly has a point. They’re both right and they’re both wrong, at the same time. I love their relationship. It’s only going to get more amazing in S7 because it builds on all of this while giving Spike the key component he’s missing in completely understanding Buffy — his soul.

Joyce says earlier, “Mom and dad just want to take you home and take care of you.” Buffy’s missed that very feeling of comfort for so long now that she’ll do almost anything to get it back. This is exactly what she wants, which is why it’s not real. This is powerful stuff. Buffy choosing to dump that antidote in the garbage represents what I feel is the lowest point in Buffy’s entire life — she’d rather be a schizophrenic in a mental hospital than continue the life she’s living now. She tells the doctor, immediately following Spike’s ultimatum, “I don’t want to go back there. I want to be healthy again. What do I have to do?” Poor Buffy! I want to give her a comforting hug so badly right here.

Ignoring the antidode, Buffy goes down the awful road of killing her friends to release her from the burdens of her life. It’s consistent that the moment Xander starts talking about Spike, Buffy whacks him over the head and drags him down in the basement with Willow. I find it particularly interesting that even in this state she can’t bring herself to kill her friends with her own hands — she tries to get the demon to do it for her. It’s utterly shocking to see Buffy do this to her friends. The fact that this makes sense within the context of the season, and the fact we’re able to sympathize with her at the same time, is a product of great writing, a great character arc, and insanely awesome continuity. I love this series, and episodes like this remind me why.

Even with the “comfort” of her parents and the doctor, having her friends of 6 years and her sister killed proves to be incredibly difficult for her. She’s torn, moment to moment, with all the pain, confusion, anger, and depression of not only all that’s happened since her resurrection, but also with her entire calling as the Slayer, and that long forgotten but never too distant desire to be normal. This is gut-wrenching material. When Buffy grabs Tara’s ankle on the stairway, I was actually shocked — that could have killed her.

Joyce’s words of confidence in Buffy were exactly what she needed at that moment. This delusion provided one thing for her she normally could have never gotten: important final words from a mother to her daughter. Joyce isn’t around to actually say these things anymore, so this accurate memory of her in Buffy’s mind ends up doing the job admirably. Joyce’s words have the opposite effect of what was intended in the context of the fantasy. Buffy takes them to reflect what she needs to do in her real life: “Buffy, fight it. You’re too good to give in. You can beat this thing. Be strong, baby, okay? I know you’re afraid, I know the world feels like a hard place sometimes, but you’ve got people who love you. Your dad and I we have all the faith in the world in you. We’ll always be with you. You’ve got a world of strength in your heart, I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself.” This is a brilliantly written and acted sequence, and I say this with much enthusiasm! Absolutely moving, sad, and powerful. I’m crying for Buffy, having to say goodbye to her mom, who’s already dead, for the last time. But it’s in that act that she breaks free of depression and becomes, yes, normal again.

Buffy’s officially taken the step needed to have the potential to live happily again! It’s amazing how painful this process is. Buffy has now completely let go of any hope of the happy life she wanted growing up and has instead chosen to make the one she has right again — she chooses to be normal again. This moment represents the end of her S6 arc, and what an amazing ride it’s been. After going through all this pain and suffering, she’s reached a point where she’s a much stronger, and accepting, person for it. I feel this arc is near flawless and one of S6’s biggest strengths. I’ll go into this in much more detail in the Season 6 Review.

As is usual with most Buffy episodes, we happily get some great character moments for many of the other characters too. While Buffy’s dealing with her ordeal we still get a status update on how Willow’s doing, Xander’s growing tension with Spike, and what the Trio’s up to. I really enjoyed seeing Willow building up the confidence to ask Tara to go out and have coffee with her. Unfortunately she catches Tara chatting with another girl and makes assumptions, but at least Willow’s realistic enough with herself that she’s probably over-reacting.

When Xander shows up for the first time since he broke off the wedding with Anya, I adored Willow and Buffy’s complete kindness and support for him. This shows just how much they’ll come to support Buffy when they find out what she’s been up to. What Xander tells the two of them reflects a lot of what Buffy’s been through. He says, “I don’t know how things go so messed up.” Xander’s completely honest to himself here too: “I left and ever since I’ve had this painful hole inside. And I’m the idiot that dug it out. I screwed up real bad.”

Later in the episode Xander jokes about about the manner in which the demon “poked” Buffy. I think this is more than just a chuckle — it shows that there’s possibly some substance to the idea that he still does love Buffy, and that maybe that played a small part in his decision to break it off with Anya. The fact that Buffy played such a critical role in Xander’s nightmare vision in “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] lends even more credence to this idea. If his feelings for Buffy are starting to resurface (if they ever diminished), it would also explain why there’s so much tension between him and Spike — who he knows, at the very least, has affection for Buffy. When Xander makes fun of Spike, like he always does, Spike shoots right back using the info Buffy just gave him about the wedding as ammunition, just as Spike does. This is great character writing here, and it serves as an excellent build-up to their huge confrontation in “Entropy” [6×18] , which is about the same time Xander gets crushed by the news of Buffy’s recent actions with Spike.

I also like how Spike actually reveals those actions with Buffy while walking with Xander, but Xander thinks it’s so ridiculous he doesn’t give it a moment’s serious thought. Spike, on the other hand, calls Buffy “self centered.” Once again, we’re seeing both sides of Spike here. On one hand, you’ve got the kind suggestion of ice on her neck. On the other, you have Spike failing to understand the fact that Buffy is really in pain here and is being affected by an outside force. This, once again, reminds us of Spike’s inherent complexity. Something’s got to happen here, and it will in “Seeing Red” [6×19] .

The last thing I want to address is what the Trio’s up to. Seeing Warren and Andrew playing stupid games despite what has happened is very creepy. Not only that, they’re now picking on Jonathan. This group of “friends” is quickly turning on a scared and angry Jonathan. They’re beginning to treat him like people treated him in high school. Already the seeds for his separation from them in “Seeing Red” [6×19] are being planted. This is good stuff.

Alright, that’s about it. “Normal Again” is an exemplary example of the strengths of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It takes an overused genre plot and turns it into a masterpiece of character work. This just goes to show that great TV isn’t necessarily about originality in its base premise, but rather originality in its implementation. Everything about this episode screams to me ‘brilliant character episode’ for Buffy, which alters her path for the rest of the series. It’s also the episode that lets Whedon completely off the hook for resurrecting his main character from the dead, which is normally handled awfully in everything else I’ve seen.

S6’s follow-through for Buffy from S5 is now complete. From “After Life” [6×03] to “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] to “Dead Things” [6×13] to “Normal Again,” Buffy’s arc has been crafted with care and gradual near-flawless precision. “Normal Again” is also one of the most emotionally draining, painful, and powerful episodes I’ve ever seen, which was only made possible by the phenomenal foundation built by the episodes that preceded it. Kudos!

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ No Anya in this episode — I think this was a wise decision, although I’m really happy she gets a lot of attention and development in the next episode.
+ Buffy back on track, looking for the Trio — she’s been so occupied with personal issues that she hasn’t gotten around to them.
+ Buffy having a nice, calm chat with Spike about the failed wedding. Spike saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming” really says a lot, because we all know Spike has a keen insight on the people around him. I love all the follow-through from “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] .
+ Spike doing all he can do to help Buffy when in the presence of her friends. He tells them to “Put a little ice on the back of her neck… she likes that.”
+ I love the doctor’s accurate description of the Trio: “Just three pathetic little men, who like playing with toys.”




133 thoughts on “Buffy 6×17: Normal Again”

  1. [Note: Moz posted this comment on June 15, 2008.]

    Thanks for another excellent review, Mike! It’s great to see a new one so soon! πŸ™‚

    “it shows that there’s possibly some substance to the idea that he still does love Buffy, and that maybe that played a small part in his decision to break it off with Anya. The fact that Buffy played such a critical role in Xander’s nightmare vision in Hell’s Bells (6×16) lends even more credence to this idea.”

    That’s an interesting take on Xander’s decision in Hell’s Bell. I think it was implied in Restless that part of Xander would always be in love with Buffy. Remember the part where Xander was watching Buffy played in the sand pit and Buffy again referred to Xander as her big brother – the sequence showed Xander’s disappointment with that role, and then it showed him ‘moving on’. But it’s interesting how Xander “moved on” because instead of having Xander physically moving away from Buffy, a different Xander was shown on screen driving away with Anya. It’s significant that one Xander was always left behind with Buffy – it suggests that Xander never fell out of love with Buffy even though he won’t be stopping there forever and wait for her.

    That being said, I don’t think Xander consciously thought of Buffy as a possible love interest when he decided that he couldn’t marry Anya. Buffy had a significant role in the ‘visions’ but it’s more in the context that Xander felt he would always be there fighting alongside Buffy and he was aware that the potential friction it would create in his marriage with Anya.

    Good points about the foreshadowing tension between Xander and Spike – I agree with you there.


  2. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Moz, I wouldn’t classify that comment about Xander and Buffy as my “take” on it. A lot of time in my reviews I’m just writing down what I’m pondering during certain scenes. In actuality, I agree with you that he never conciously thought any of that, but I’m curious if on some level it did influence him a bit, albeit not primarily.


  3. [Note: Paula posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Good review! I never thought of the asylum as an actual reality candidate, either – for one thing, for that, it’s far too convenient for the Trio.

    A few things I might add… I always wondered how Dawn took this whole “sleeps with a vampire she hates” line or if she didn’t really pay attention, the situation being scary enough for her as it was. If it did register with her, did she just automatically think Buffy was talking about Angel (and that the hating thing referred to vampires in general)?

    Also, I see Spike’s and Buffy’s talk in her room as a turning point in a way you perhaps don’t. More specifically, her line: “You need to leave me alone. You’re not part of my life.” I think it’s mostly the “schizophrenic Buffy” talking here – the Buffy who’s starting to become convinced of that this Sunnydale reality and all these people are imaginary and that she needs to rid her head of them. Spike, however, takes it differently and is much offended. Up till now after their break-up, he’s been hurting but dealing, which Buffy’s relatively kind and respectful treatment of him has helped. Now he both throws Buffy that “stop with the bloody hero trip” line, which probably is a factor when she pours off her antidote a few moments later, and starts to insist on someone – preferably her – telling her friends about their relationship, which being such a secret is now starting to seriously annoy him. (Xander and his constant Spike-bashing is probably another factor there, of course.)

    Which reminds me: Buffy may as of this episode indeed be at least close to “normal again”, as you said, but she really should have told Willow and Xander about Spike on her own. She’s certainly not dealing with that part of S6 very well, and as far as I see, she doesn’t really tell anyone except Holden Webster anything much about it even in the course of S7. Her friends know that they slept together and then broke up, and that’s pretty much that.


  4. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Amazing review, mike. You analysed this episode in a brilliant way and while I was reading it, I remembered what I love about it. I also agree with you about the tension between Spike and Xander that gets worse next episode. This episode is brilliantly acted, SMG does a stellar job and I love how they take a overused plot and make it into something brilliant, especially the part where Joyce is the one who helps Buffy get out of the depression. I also have to say that Dawn annoys me a little here because as usual she takes Buffy´s words as a way to turn herself into a victim, again.
    But once again, awesome review and I totally agree with your score.
    And I cannot wait to see your approach to other episodes.


  5. [Note: wilpy1 posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    [quote]The one thing in particular that gets me a bit worked up when discussing this episode with many other fans is how a lot of them feel it is so great (or bad) because of its implications about Buffy’s reality. They feel that the ending represents (or possibly represents) the fact that Sunnydale isn’t real, and that the entire series is in Buffy’s head. Let’s just say that I don’t see it this way at all.[/quote]
    I completely agree, and it’s annoying to debate it as I doubt the intention of that final scene was supposed to indicate that the Buffyverse is indeed inside Buffy’s head. I mean, it raises a plethora of questions, the chief ones being: what about ATS, where there’s this whole other world virtually disconnected from Buffy? How can the Buffyverse continue post-‘Normal Again’ when alternate-reality-Buffy is as dead as a dodo? :S It would make zero sense.

    [quote]If Sunnydale is truly a fantasy completely constructed in her mind, wouldn’t that be a fantasy that painted a much more happier picture and history? [/quote]

    One thing I’d like to say in defence of the doctor in the alternate reality (though I still don’t admit to the logic gap), which you note as a weakness, is how Buffy creates in her mind a much harsher world than the real world and what this implies. If you read Eckhart Tolle’s books, he explores how our minds, which he thinks are nothing more than egoic thought forms, create conflict, illness and all sorts of evil in the physical world we perceive in order to further strengthen our egos, to test them and feed them. This sounds absurd in summary, but it makes a lot of sense in his own words, and I think it would explain why a schizophrenic girl would construct in her mind a world far from what she desires, full of fantastical evil and monsters (and dead friends/family), because her ego desperately craves to be a part of this ‘world’, and so continues to re-establish this world by creating new conflicts. I agree with what you say, though, about the doctor’s dialogue being untrue in that the pre-season 6 Buffyverse was hardly ‘comforting’. I can only assume this was meant relative to Buffy’s sense of purpose. I mean, it was fully established that the villains weren’t as strong and fighty anymore…

    Something not noted in detail here is Kristine Sutherland’s performance, which I think is absolutely flawless in this episode. I swear she’s the most under-rated actress from the series; I’m surprised she hasn’t gotten more jobs. The delivery of Joyce’s final speech is so believable. It *feels* like she *is* a mother desperately trying to rid her daughter of mental illness. The particular line “Believe in yourself” is one of the best line deliveries ever. Fact. Just wow.

    I’m not so sure NA signalled the end of Buffy’s arc for the season. I think it was more the crescendo to the climax, which was when she crawls out of her grave again in ‘Grave’, only to a nice, sunny day with flowers and trees and, let’s face it, Bambi and his animal friends might as well have made an appearance. (Although Willow killed Bambi, so that’s kinda foiled…) πŸ˜› Seriously, though, I’m uncertain as to why you’re not considering that part as the climax to Buffy’s process of reawakening. It would make it kind of redundant otherwise.

    Just want to add that the colour palette in this episode is amazing. The bright colours, like the vivid tones at the Doublemeat Palace and the rusty oranges and browns in Buffy’s house, symbolize the monsterific world ideally as they directly draw back to Buffy’s description of this “hell” as “hard and bright”. In contrast, the institution is mostly blues and greys, creating a cold atmosphere that helps a little to make Buffy’s ultimate decision to leave that world more understandable.


  6. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    wilpy, all good points. Agreed on Kristine Sutherland’s acting. I feel NA really does signal the end to Buffy’s depression arc, because in “Entropy” we can see just how “free” she is of her pain this season. Everything about her is like a weight has been lifted. She’s not worried about her secret with Spike coming out anymore. She’s not beating herself (or Spike) up anymore over it. She’s somewhat at peace with what she’s done and seems ready to move foreward.

    The bits and pieces in “Entropy” and “Grave” are really just follow-through, as those episodes are more heavily focused on Willow. I will agree, though, that Buffy reaching out of the grave in “Grave” is definitely the final bookend of the season for her, but the arc itself ends here in NA, imo.


  7. [Note: wilpy posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Okay, I’m going to be completely spineless and go back on what I said, because I see your point. (I do the spineless thing a lot. Before I visited this site, I was a stern critic of this very episode! U-turn wilpy they call me. πŸ˜‰ ) When I read that, a flood of dialogue poured into my mind from those final s6 episodes. I remembered Buffy being extremely chirpy with Dawn, Buffy telling Xander “what I do with my personal life is none of your business”, Buffy’s matter-of-fact approach to Warren’s required punishment, Buffy back to her punning self with “that’s gonna cost ya” and “goodnight, bitch”. Yeah, I can definitely see what you mean. However, from a writing POV, I think the grave moment was *designed* to be that final renewal of hope for the future and love for the world and her family.


  8. [Note: Paula posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Mikejer, I don’t think that the post-NA Buffy is at all unworried about her relationship with Spike coming out. True, she tells Spike in the beginning of the next episode that he can tell her friends himself if he likes, but the key point is that she refuses to tell them herself. And I don’t think she really expected Spike to tell any of them – so soon or under such circumstances, at any rate.

    Even in S7, she’s obviously unwilling to talk about the whole thing to any of her friends. Of course, the secret is out by then on a general level, but I gather from her words to Holden Webster in CWDP that she does not want them to know just how badly she treated Spike. So she’s ashamed of not only having gotten involved with him but also of her behavior in the relationship (and while Spike’s behavior wasn’t too great either, I can’t blame her for being ashamed). Hence her not talking about these things even to Willow.

    So she may be coping with it a bit better now, but not by all that much.


  9. [Note: jun posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    A few things I might add… I always wondered how Dawn took this whole “sleeps with a vampire she hates” line or if she didn’t really pay attention, the situation being scary enough for her as it was. If it did register with her, did she just automatically think Buffy was talking about Angel (and that the hating thing referred to vampires in general)?

    I think Dawn got it. ‘Cos in the next ep, when they all see Spike and Anya together in the Magic Box, isn’t it Dawn who realizes first why this upsets Buffy particularly, and talks to her about it?


  10. [Note: Paula posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Jun, Dawn obviously got it in Entropy at seeing Buffy so upset, but hardly before. Just wondering how much she wondered about it before.


  11. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Paula, while I agree that Buffy doesn’t particularly want that information to come out, she doesn’t seem too worried if it does — she’s accepted her actions and will deal with her friends finding out when that time comes (turns out sooner rather than later). Before, Buffy was actually threatening Spike if he told anyone about what they were doing. There’s a level of acceptance now. She is over her “depression,” although she definitely hasn’t forgotten anything that happened, and it has certainly changed her.


  12. [Note: Paula posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Mikejer, Buffy may have kind of accepted the possibility (or even probability) of her friends finding out that she and Spike had a relationship, but I maintain that she never in the course of the series lets or wants anyone to know exactly what kind of a relationship it was.

    (And she certainly isn’t entirely prepared for Xander’s reaction when it comes.)


  13. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Can I note my unabashed love for the final scene between Joyce and Buffy? Such a powerful scene with Buffy drawing the strength to actually live from her dead mother. Both actresses do such a wonderful job. Love it.

    Moving on, agree with the score. Such a critical episode for Buffy’s development in the season and executed perfectly. Buffy is again given an opportunity to escape (As in Gone or Dead Things) only this time it’s to a world where her parents are both alive and together and she’s not the Slayer. Her decision at the end to remain in the real world is an acceptance not only of her life as it is, but of herself as the Slayer (Which is something she had lost during the season). And, yes, I cry like a sissy. I do that way too much in season 6…and season 5…and season 7.

    And I never realized there was any debate about whether Sunnydale is the actual reality or whatnot until I went online to check out fandom’s reactions. The very idea that the institution is the true reality within the context of the show is ridiculous to me for a whole bunch of reasons that I’m not gonna bother going into because I’d be preaching to the choir. πŸ™‚

    “Even in S7, she’s obviously unwilling to talk about the whole thing to any of her friends. Of course, the secret is out by then on a general level, but I gather from her words to Holden Webster in CWDP that she does not want them to know just how badly she treated Spike. So she’s ashamed of not only having gotten involved with him but also of her behavior in the relationship (and while Spike’s behavior wasn’t too great either, I can’t blame her for being ashamed). Hence her not talking about these things even to Willow.”

    Actually, I partly agree with Paula here. But I think this ties more into Buffy’s inability to admit to past mistakes/actions (A trait she seems to have picked up from her mother. Notice Joyce’s reaction in Dead Man’s Party when Buffy points out that she was the one who kicked Buffy out in the previous season. Joyce shrugs it off, much like Buffy tends to do). There’s a prime difference between making a decision to get on with her life and actually owning up to everything she’s done while depressed. The former is a recovery from a temporary state of mind. The latter is a general character flaw that, while it would be nice to see Buffy overcome that before the end of the series, isn’t entirely necessary in her season 6 depression development.

    If that makes any sense…I just woke up.


  14. [Note: Paula posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    “I think this ties more into Buffy’s inability to admit to past mistakes/actions”

    This may well be true enough (and one certainly does pick such things up from one’s parents), although I’m not convinced it’s a character flaw she’s doomed to be stuck with it for all eternity. She’s still pretty damn young and, let’s face it, immature. Cookie dough, anyone? πŸ™‚


  15. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Understood and agreed. I would have liked to have seen her overcome this particular flaw in season 7 by fully fessing up to her part in the destructive Buffy/Spike relationship of season 6 (In fact, it’s on my “List of things I would have liked to have seen in season 7”). But my overall point is that her failure to do so isn’t entirely relevant to her development in this episode and is a separate issue altogether. In a sense, this episode puts her back to normal Buffyness including her stubbornness in this regard.


  16. [Note: Paula posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    “I would have liked to have seen her overcome this particular flaw in season 7 by fully fessing up to her part in the destructive Buffy/Spike relationship of season 6”

    Well, her telling all to Webster in CWDP probably counts as progress of sorts. At least she said it aloud to someone.


  17. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    “Well, her telling all to Webster in CWDP probably counts as progress of sorts. At least she said it aloud to someone.”

    Point. But then she dusted him. She still falls short of saying it to the people that matter. But oh well. Would’ve been nice to have in season 7, but I’ll live. πŸ™‚

    *Yes! Mike agrees with me again!*


  18. [Note: Andrew Kern posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    I very much agree with the appreciation of SMG’s performance. I once saw a video of dailies from this episode, and it was almost freakish how she could slip into and out of the final scene with Joyce so easily.

    As for the final shot back at the hospital, I never saw it as a suggestion that Sunnydale wasn’t real. Rather, on the literal level, it was just the final flash of hallucination before the antidote kicked in. And at the symbolic level, I saw it as representing the fact that in the real world nothing’s changed. All the things which made Buffy so desperate to escape are still there. The only difference is Buffy’s attitude, that as much as the real world sucks you have to live in it.

    Mikejer said: “If Sunnydale is truly a fantasy completely constructed in her mind, wouldn’t that be a fantasy that painted a much more happier picture and history? Why would her parents break up in her fantasy if that’s what she ultimately desires? The fact her parents are here in the asylum prove that the fantasy is here.”

    Not necessarily. I think the idea was that Sunnydale is the product of serious mental illness, not simply a fantasy world reflecting surface desires. There’s no necessary reason why a mental construct arising from mental illness would be free of bad things and contradiction. IOW, it was not a fantasy world she was consciously escaping into, it was something her illness was pushing her into.

    One of the things I really like about this episode is it’s yet another creative treatment of one of Buffy’s fundamental contradictions and a big theme of the show, between her duty as Chosen and her desire to be normal. It’s something which could have been run into the ground if handled less expertly, but BtVS kept coming up with new ways to present it.

    Mikejer said: “”Normal Again” is an exemplary example of the strengths of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It takes an overused genre plot and turns it into a masterpiece of character work. This just goes to show that great TV isn’t necessarily about originality in its base premise, but rather originality in its implementation.”

    A very concise summation of one of the things which makes BtVS so great.


  19. [Note: Rick posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Aboslutely horrible review. Not a single line of thought-provoking dialgoue. Instead, just a whole bunch of yammering about how short Buffy is and how plot is more important than character development. Mikejer can be so superficial sometimes. πŸ™‚


  20. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    I know, Rick. All that time I spent going to Buffy review school was wasted. I should ask for my money back. :p


  21. [Note: Marshal posted this comment on June 16, 2008.]

    Buffy dumping the antidote is for me a numb, profound moment, and literally the lowest point in Buffy’s entire existence, and I’m glad you made mention of it because it’s sometimes overlooked. Also Joyce’s inspiring words along with Buffy’s last goodbye is another contextually profound scene that is burned into my brain, and is the final push that gets Buffy out of her post-resurrection funk of misery that has plagued her all season. You also make a good case about why the asylum reality is a fantasy, which impressed me because I’ve always felt that it was an alternate reality as real as the Sunnydale one, but you almost had me convinced. As you’ve probably guessed, I loved your review, and most importantly it did justice to a vital and amazing episode. Kudos.

    PS – this is Sarah’s best performance since The Body.


  22. [Note: Jaden posted this comment on June 17, 2008.]

    the main reason this episode does convince some viewers that the series is a lie is because there too many plotholes about monsters, their continued exsistence, where they live, why people haven’t noticed them, why noone cares that someone they love is suddenly dead and why modern weapons can’t kill monsters. we’ve always beleived these up until now because theres no way that they could be false but with this…


  23. [Note: Jaden posted this comment on June 17, 2008.]

    oh yes one more important thing i heard was the doctor saying “you had a momentary awakening last summer but your friends pulled you back in”. was that buffy’s heaven? and if it was then why is it such a surprise when she appears here now. its possible that the doctors comment was a retconn though and may not even be true.


  24. [Note: Paula posted this comment on June 17, 2008.]

    Jaden: if some Buffy viewers find the idea of it all being just elaborate delusion in a schizophrenic girl’s head interesting, well fine, I believe Joss has said himself that it’s one possible way to look at it. Personally I’m uninterested in such a view – like MikeJer, I feel that would make it all rather pointless.

    One can of course take a leaf out of the book of Holmesians (those who “play the game”, i.e., pretend to believe that Sherlock Holmes and Watson were real people, all the stories are true and A.C. Doyle was just Watson’s literary agent, and go on from there), and think of Buffy as some sort of a documentary, but I doubt one can make either of the alternatively realities “fit the facts” in an entirely logical and flawless fashion. As far as I’m concerned, the plot holes, illogical stuff etc. in Buffy are part intentional, part carelessness and part due to the show, as most TV shows, being a work in process. I can live with that.


  25. [Note: WorldWithoutShrimp posted this comment on June 18, 2008.]

    Agree with the score 100%, mikejer. This is simply a great episode, for all of the reasons you pointed out.

    One structural bit which was interesting in this episode is how Buffy’s hallucination was presented. There is nothing in its presentation which makes it look less “real” than Sunnydale. While, as you point out, both in the logic of the episode and the logic of the series there is no question that Sunnydale is the “real” world, I do like how the episode still made the asylum look as plausible as possible. I think props have to go to the director on that one.


  26. [Note: wilpy posted this comment on June 20, 2008.]

    I agree, I love how the mental institution was done. One thing I would’ve liked, though, was perhaps if Buffy had been made to look crazier. Maybe Sarah could’ve adopted a subtle twitching or something like that, just for a more jarring effect. And I wish she’d had bedhead, and was paler or something. I think they could’ve gone a lot further with that side of things. It would’ve heightened the emotion immensely to see Buffy more withered and small in mind and body. But regardless, I think those scenes are just enthralling to watch. I’m glad they got Joyce and Hank back.


  27. [Note: Nix posted this comment on June 20, 2008.]

    wilpy, actually I found that made things *more* realistic. I’ve known a number of people who’ve been institutionalized, and, y’know, other than looking rather drawn and quiet quite a lot of the time, they generally look just like you and me. I don’t see why someone who was locked inside her own head should be twitching when she emerges: she doesn’t have Tourette’s…


  28. [Note: wilpy1 posted this comment on June 21, 2008.]

    No, but the Buffy in that mental institution didn’t *look* absent or “locked inside her own head”. She seemed like the Buffy we know and love, and I just don’t buy that she’s a normal girl with a mental disease. I like that she was recoiled on her chair and in the corner of her room, but it wasn’t enough to convince me. Twitching, shifty eyes, 1000 yard stare, mumbling to herself, whatever. I know it’s stereotyping people who are institutionalised, but it would’ve been the perfect time for SMG to flex her acting abilities and show her range, and instead we get a solid performance that could’ve been miles better. This episode had many missed opportunities, in my opinion.

    (With that said, I think SMG’s wonderful in the ‘Buffy world’ scenes, and she’s phenomenal in the final scenes in the mental institution. I do recognise she was brilliant, but with ‘The Body’, ‘The Gift’ and ‘Afterlife’ as evidence, I just know she could’ve done better.)


  29. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on June 21, 2008.]

    Forgive me for entering into the discussion here, but if I recall (and I haven’t watched the episode lately so correct me if I’m mistaken) when we saw Buffy in the “Institution World” she WASN’T “locked in her head”. We saw her when she was lucid. She acted appropriately as someone who’s very confused about the reality she’s in (And yet is firmly ‘in’ that current reality). She’s withdrawn and fairly unresponsive as if she’s trying to figure things out. Why would she be mumbling or twitching? There’d be no reason for any of that given the specifics of her condition in that world. I’d much rather them sacrifice an unnecessary acting challenge than engage in a potentially offensive stereotype of mentally ill people. SMG hit it right on the ball, imo, and did an absolutely phenomenal job in this episode.


  30. [Note: tranquillity posted this comment on June 22, 2008.]

    Good episode, good review – though i disagree with one point;

    Mikejer said:
    I feel this actually fits in just fine with continuity. From Joyce’s concerned “You need help” in Becoming Pt. 2 (2×22) to what we know about the characters, it doesn’t at all feel like a cheap retcon for the sake of the plot.

    See, this doesn’t work for me at all. I always find the conversation with Willow detailing Buffy’s previous encounter with psychiatric care to be quite an indelicate example of retcon, cheap even, mainly because of Kristine’s beautiful portrayal of Joyce’s shock and disbelief at discovering that her daughter is a vampire slayer in Becoming (pt 2)- Joyce says ‘you need help’ not ‘I thought we already got this sorted’ or ‘not this again’. The news comes as a total surprise. So I can’t help but think that Buffy’s revelation that she’s been in an asylum before smacks of convenient dramatic detail never before thought of, never thought of again. It stops the episode from being perfect, in my opinion:)


  31. [Note: WorldWithoutShrimp posted this comment on June 22, 2008.]

    I must agree that the whole concept of Buffy being in an asylum before makes absolutely no sense given Buffy and Joyce’s conversation in Becoming Pt. 2, which does not read well if they had had such an argument before, not to mention an argument leading to Buffy’s institutionalization. I wouldn’t mark down the score because of it, but it is definitely a continuity error IMO.


  32. [Note: wilpy1 posted this comment on June 22, 2008.]

    “when we saw Buffy in the “Institution World” she WASN’T “locked in her head”.”

    > We see towards the end of the the episode the normal Buffy witnessing the events happening in the Buffyverse world. Her eyes are completely absent, she shouts “Willow!” and thrashes around. I would’ve liked to have seen more of that, as if we’re watching from Joyce and Hank’s perspectives.

    “She’s withdrawn and fairly unresponsive as if she’s trying to figure things out. Why would she be mumbling or twitching? There’d be no reason for any of that given the specifics of her condition in that world.”

    > In all fairness, we weren’t given many specifics about her condition. It was just dubbed an ‘undifferentiated’ type of schizophrenia. Numerous symptoms can be associated with these delusions, there’s no fixed personality.


  33. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on June 22, 2008.]

    “I would’ve liked to have seen more of that, as if we’re watching from Joyce and Hank’s perspectives. ”

    Okay, so you would have liked to have seen more like that particular scene? That’s an issue with the script, then, and not with the acting. I’m assuming your disappointment with the performance is in regards to the other scenes in the institution world when Buffy isn’t completely absent. Those are acted accordingly.

    “In all fairness, we weren’t given many specifics about her condition. It was just dubbed an ‘undifferentiated’ type of schizophrenia. Numerous symptoms can be associated with these delusions, there’s no fixed personality. ”

    My understanding of the episode is that in the world of the institution, her schizophrenia is specifically in regards to the fact that she escapes into the fantasy Buffyverse world. Why add unnecessary symptoms to complicate things when that alone is sufficient to carry the point of the episode? Less is more in this case, imo. It’s easy to go over-the-top with a schizophrenic performance just to show how “crazy” a person is. The fact that they didn’t and that SMG put in such a subtle yet powerful performance is one of the pluses for me.


  34. [Note: wilpy1 posted this comment on June 22, 2008.]

    “Okay, so you would have liked to have seen more like that particular scene?”

    > I see why you’d think that, but I do mean both when she was locked inside of her head and when she was lucid in the institution scenes. I would’ve liked to have seen more examples of the normal Buffy ‘seeing’ the other world simply because it would’ve been quite fascinating to see. You’re right, that is an issue to do with the script. But regarding the ‘lucid Buffy’…. Again, I just don’t think a schizophrenic girl *would* act like a normal person who’s simply confused when she ‘awakes’ from her hallucination. Being trapped in a whole other world would destablize the normal Buffy’s personality, which would affect her physically as well. I’ve personally never come across a schizophrenic before, but I feel the chances are slim that a girl would create an imaginary world in her mind and yet emerge from it 6 years later completely unscathed from what she’s seen, as if she was the same girl before the hallucinations began.

    “My understanding of the episode is that in the world of the institution, her schizophrenia is specifically in regards to the fact that she escapes into the fantasy Buffyverse world. Why add unnecessary symptoms to complicate things when that alone is sufficient to carry the point of the episode? Less is more in this case, imo. It’s easy to go over-the-top with a schizophrenic performance just to show how “crazy” a person is.”


  35. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on June 22, 2008.]

    I don’t think we’re gonna reach an agreement on this one, and we’re gonna just start repeating ourselves. Personally, I’ve only known one schizophrenic and she was of the paranoid variety so I can’t really draw any comparisons between her behavior and Buffy’s in this episode. I think Buffy acted fairly realistically given the situation, and I do think anything more would be gratuitous “Look! She’s crazy!” acting.

    Can we at least agree that the final scene between Buffy and Joyce was totally awesome? πŸ™‚


  36. [Note: Jeroen posted this comment on July 9, 2008.]

    Hey Mike,

    I just wanted to add a comment to say that I really, REALLY like your episode reviews. I hope you’ll find the time to continue reviewing the rest of the episodes.


  37. [Note: Verlaine posted this comment on July 13, 2008.]

    I’m always going to believe in the “Normal Again” world as the real world, or at least a possible world *as* real as the Buffyverse as we know and love it. Why? Because actual parallel dimensions are much more interesting than “but then I woke up and it was all a dream”.

    It’s funny that people choose to remark on how the alternative-reality of “Normal Again” represents a harsher place than the “real” Sunnydale. I haven’t watched Season 6 in an age, but as far as I can remember it was *all* about Buffy having to grow up, enter into the “real” world of grownups and paying bills… wherein she discovers that everything is pretty sh*t, watches her best friend turn into a drug addict, gets raped by her boyfriend and loses the last parent figure in her life, all the while knowing that she was dragged physically back out of heaven into this hellworld. I would have thought that pretty much any other parallel dimension would be like a relaxing holiday after all that unremitting misery.

    But then again, I pretty much don’t actually like Season 6, so I would say that πŸ˜€


  38. [Note: Verlaine posted this comment on July 13, 2008.]

    Ha ha, it was verrrrry late and I was skimming and I think I got the wrong end of the stick/made not very much sense in that comment above, if so, never mind πŸ˜€


  39. [Note: Verlaine posted this comment on July 15, 2008.]

    So I’ve been thinking about it my thoughts on reality in a little more depth. I think:

    (i) It’s axiomatic truth that the Buffyverse is a fiction and that our world is real. We know this from our privileged position as viewers of a TV show.
    (ii) Be this as it may, the Buffyverse is more fun to be in that the real world. That’s why we spend so much time watching and rewatching eps instead of going out and playing in the sun.
    (iii) Therefore, while the real world has some seductions (e.g. real, living parents and other family), Buffy should consider it a DIRE TRAP and stick to her world with all its overblown angst and drama.

    I’ve never believed that the property of being real made anything intrinsically better than its fictive counterparts (q.v. the debunked ontological “proof” of the existence of God). See also, Pan’s Labyrinth: to my mind, the fantasy world of the little girl is totally made up in her head in that movie, but God knows it needs to exist, because without it her world, and indeed ours, would be unremittingly cruel, bleak and unbearable.


  40. [Note: Badlan posted this comment on August 17, 2008.]

    In case you’re interested, there’s a graphic novel about Buffy’s time in the mental asylum. Its called ‘Slayer, Interrupted’ and is actually very good. It deals with Buffy’s first encounter with a non-vampire demonic creature and strangely reveals that her mother and father discover her Slayer-dom because Dawn read her diary. How this is the case when Dawn didn’t really exist at that point is unknown. It also features a parallel story concerning Giles’ final trial to become Buffy’s Watcher and cameos from Wesley, Angel, Cordelia, Willow and Whistler. I recommend…


  41. [Note: Paula posted this comment on August 19, 2008.]

    Badlan, that is interesting. I’ve wondered for a good while already just how much Dawn’s insertion in the Summers family changed the past as we know it. I suppose this might well be one of the things it did. So Joyce was totally surprised about the whole slayerdom thing in the past that we saw in S2, but things were probably at least somewhat different in the “new and improved reality”.

    (Hasn’t Dawn got all these memories about pretending to be a vampire and Buffy chasing her for fun? To me they sound like they happened a good long while ago, so did Dawn and Joyce both perhaps learn about vampires and Slayers earlier in the new version of reality than in the one we saw in S1-4? Although I doubt Hank Summers knew about any of it, beyond the little episode that put Buffy in a mental asylum, anyway.)

    Not really interested in reading Buffy comics, but it sounds like at least some of them have decent ideas behind them.


  42. [Note: Toby posted this comment on October 9, 2008.]

    It might not only be fantasy in the asylum.

    Is this Buffy’s Heaven? In a way it could be, Buffy said wherever she was she was happy and at peace and knew that everyone she cared about and everyone she knew was safe.

    And in this ep when the doctor said “You returned to us for a brief moment then your friends pulled you back in”, does that represent her being in Heaven for a short time.

    My take on this episode is pretty simple. They made the Demon make Buffy go inside herself so that she would lose herself – catatonic like the one in Weight of the World.

    She is that way not a threat to their world. I think the way it works is it focuses on what exactly Buffy wants and then creates and alternate reality based on this.

    I’m not sure if the episode was left open-ended.

    If the Asylum lost her at the end, wouldn’t that mean she is turning her back on the fantasy and therefore it is conclusive that she the world they think she has created IS the real world in the Buffyverse.

    Argh, it’s all too confusing to be honest. Thank God the actual TV show IS fantasy or this would open a whole Pandora’s box.

    What it comes down to though is I doubt Buffy will “wake up” in the Asylum. She has truly left that world behind… in my opinion anyway.

    Another sensational review Mike. Hope to see some more soon. been a few months now…


  43. [Note: Sam posted this comment on November 16, 2008.]

    While I love that someone else would devote an entire website to reviewing Buffy episodes, I must take offense at the Perfect review of this episode. Joss Whedon’s mission statement in creating this show was to take the notion of a beautiful, helpless blonde cornered in an alley by a hideous beast… and then subvert that notion by having her beat the crap out of him. The final shot of this episode, which suggests that the entire series may actually just be the fantasies of a weak, pathetic little girl in a mental institution, is a sadistic violation of the show’s M.O. and is the equivalent of emotionally rape on the show’s loyal fans. I treasured the first five seasons, and I have them on DVD, but this is the WORST EPISODE IN THE ENTIRE SERIES. It caused me to stop watching the show altogether, and I have never once regretted this decision.


  44. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on November 16, 2008.]

    While I respect your opinion Sam, I have also made my case in the review for that not being the suggestion of the final shot of the episode. There are too many hints and signs throughout this episode that solidify the case for Buffy’s world being the real world.

    It’s too bad you stopped watching after this, because there’s a lot of great episodes you’re missing out on.


  45. [Note: Sam posted this comment on November 16, 2008.]

    I want apologize about my first overly aggressive post here. I got really carried away. That’s how much the show once meant to me [and still could one day], and I’m thrilled that you have taken the time to do such in-depth reviews of what really is a very complex and resonant series.

    Having said that, your main reason for suggesting that Sunnydale is reality–because someone retreating into a fantasy would create a brighter picture, not a darker one–makes sense logically, but it’s not always true. Someone very close to me has taken it upon himself to live in a fantasy of his own making where the world is aligned against him, that bad things keep happening to him despite his best efforts and that nothing he does makes the slightest bit of difference. Despite the fact that everyone controls his/her own destiny, he refuses to let anyone help him or try to show him that all is not lost, and he wastes away in his apartment drinking himself to sleep and blaming everyone else for his situation. There really are people out there who find it so difficult to be happy–because being happy sometimes means adapting to new situations–that they would rather stay unhappy and believe that no one understands them and that that’s why they’re unhappy/insane. The fact that the final shot suggests that the world she chooses to leave behind COULD be the real one, and that she has chosen to give up on it [when, in fact, it would be a lot easier to happy in that world if she wanted to than in Sunnydale, which jettisoned the previous five seasons’ view of “life can be tough but it’s worth fighting for” and replaced it with “life is suffering and painful and pointless and then you die”] was simply–I felt–too hideous a betrayal of my emotional investment in the show.

    I feel bad for making this only the second episode I commented on, when there are so many others that I’ve loved, but I had to get this out. My next course of action visiting here will be to echo my sentiment on some of the many episodes we both love. Take care. πŸ™‚


  46. [Note: Zillex posted this comment on February 28, 2009.]

    I just read the Buffy comic where shes in the institution before going to Sunnydale. Heres a brief summary:

    -Buffy’s in the institution more or less by choice. Her doctor asks her if she has super powers, why hasn’t she escaped yet? And Buffy answered she just didn’t want to- its better to be there, than fighting demons. Later on, its shown she could rip off her straight jacket easily.

    -There is a subplot where girls are declared sane and ‘released’ but in fact, they are being used as some demon bride for some demon in the asylum. Yea, the plot is pretty dumb

    -Buffy snaps out of it when a girl begs for her help because shes about to be a demon bride…Buffy denies her help. The girl ends up killing herself. Buffy finds the demon and kills it. Buffy’s doctor/psychologist turns out to be a former watcher, who knew all along that Buffy was sane, but never said anything because she felt it was important for Buffy to realize the truth on her own.


  47. [Note: The Watcher posted this comment on March 23, 2009.]


    I really think you’re taking this episode way too seriously. It sounds like that friend of yours suffering from emotional/mental issues bares heavily upon your reaction to this episode. I personally cannot praise this episode more and the mere suggestion to our minds that the asylum world might be real is utterly magnificent in my mind and makes me love the Buffy/Angel-verse all the more! The collaboration of such inspired writing and acting that propelled this series to a zenith I’ve never seen in another TV show before is a hallmark and testament to it’s timeless greatness.


  48. [Note: tjbw posted this comment on April 30, 2009.]

    does anyone else find it interesting that no matter which world she chose, she would still be the slayer? i never read the comic book, which apparently confirms this notion to be true, but after watching this episode a couple of times, i realized that there was no need for me to be offended by the potential wishy washiness of it all because whether in LA or in sunnydale, buffy would be the slayer.

    to me, this adds a whole other layer to her conflict. i mean, there really is no escape!

    why isn’t there any thing this great on television anymore! errgh! arrgh!


  49. [Note: Stilicho posted this comment on May 23, 2009.]

    I have the impression that the final shot of the episode was included to bring the story of the Asylum to an end of its own, and was not to mean that it was actually reality. But unfortunatly it is at least possible to interpret it like this, as Buffy is in this scene already mentally detached from the doctor and her parents. All other scenes of the Asylum involve Buffy when she’s actually “there”. Here she is not, already gone. So the scene might actually imply that it shows a reality, THE reality, that is not centered on Buffy but still existing even after she is again lost in her “fantasy”. I take it that the writer didn’t want to create this impression seriously, but wanted to end the story and perhaps didn’t mind to play a bit with the viewer’s imagination. I think the Asylum plot doesn’t need to be ended in a special way. It would have been more clear, and also more convincing, had there been no cnclusion to that part of the story at all. When Buffy backs out of it, she’s gone, so there should have been no more scenes taking place there.

    To sum up, I think this final shot is some toying of the writers with the possibilities of the plot that got kind of overrated by the viewers. The writers perhaps should have better abstained from it. But for me it’s no great deal. It remains one of the strongest episode of the entire series, and I would rate it into my personal Top Five.


  50. [Note: llinnae posted this comment on July 24, 2009.]

    Sam, I dont understand why both the Asylum and Sunnydale cant be ‘reality’. BtVS has never before shied away from the idea that there can be more than one reality existing at once and that their overlapping (caused by magic) can cause disorder (episodes like ‘Superhero’ come to mind). To me it wasnt really a case of ‘which reality is real?’ it was more a case of both realities existing (usually) independently in order to show us that Buffy chose, despite all the pain shes suffered this season, to stick to the world she knows and to protect her friends instead of taking the easier option and living with her parents. Basically, I dont see this episode undoing the strenght of Buffy’s character as the blonde in the alley who defends herself rather I see it strengthening her character as she chooses the harder option in order to help others. Having Buffy heroically stay in Sunnydale when these two realities converge causes the Buffy in the Asylum reality to drift away/blackout only because the magic forced Buffy to be in control of the Buffy in both realities when usually they would exist independently.So, to me this episode only confirms the show’s ‘life can be tough but its worth fighting for’ MO. I hope that made some sense. Its hard to explain but I thought itd give it a shot because it pains me to hear that you gave up on the whole show only because of this (IMO brilliant) episode.


  51. [Note: Chris posted this comment on August 21, 2009.]

    This is one of the few episodes i have only watched twice and as such i may be being unfair to it. However I think that this is one of the worst epidodes of buffy rather than one of the best I prefer where the wild things are!. The asylum plot device has been done many times before and whilst the episode had some intrinsic buffiness that made it better it is still and bad plot device. I am shocked that so many people liked it, whilst theier are interesting conotations with buffy’s psyche the complete disregard for continuity with joyce’s knowledge of this and buffy never mentioning it(even when tara was mentally ill) shows a disregard for the viewer in my opinion and just seems to be a vehicle for buffy to attack the gang. Despite this I would probably rate it higher if there has not been the end scene possibly suggesting that the assylum was real.

    I bought season 6 last ( due to availability) and consequently have only seen it all the way through twice ( though many more for favourites!) I am currently rewatching the whole series ( currently early season 5) and perhaps in retrospect this episode may seem better. I like the suggestion that dawn changed when joyce found out but that should have been mentioned again or more explicit if the case.

    I except that many folk like the episode but giving it a perfect over,Earshot,the yoko factor,Storyteller etc is beyond me.


  52. [Note: jarppu posted this comment on August 21, 2009.]

    Yay Chris! We seem to be agreeing on a lot of things today.

    It seems that every scifi/fantasy show has to have an episode like this where they point out all the stuff that is unrealistic about the show and use it to convince us that it’s all an illusion. I’ve been watching Stargate Atlantis recently and they had an episode exactly like this where a character gets poisoned(by nanites as this is scifi), wakes up in the ‘real’ world, winds up in a mental institution, people around her point out how crazy all her stories sound like (traveling through wormholes across galaxies? That’s nuts!) and then finally she snaps out of it when they destroy all the nanites from her.
    Pointing out how unrealistic a show about vampires or wormholes isn’t very clever or original.

    The saving grace of Normal Again is the fact that the episode isn’t just about whether or not the world is real but it’s also about Buffy’s own depression and how she dislikes the life she has right now. But then they go and say stuff like “Oh yeah, Buffy was in a mental institution before Sunnydale. Didn’t we mention that?”.Did anybody accept that as a part of canon? And then they end the episode with that stupid and clicheic scene that is just a slap in the face of the viewer.


  53. [Note: Sam posted this comment on September 27, 2009.]

    Jarppu, the last sentence of your post is an exact summation of my response to this episode; when I saw that final shot for the first time, I literally felt as if I’d been slapped in the face.

    Illinae, I’m sorry to hear that you were upset that I gave up on BtVS because of this episode. If it makes you feel any better, the discussions that I had here with Mike and other people who frequent here-like you-caused me to give it another shot, and I’ve now completed the series and happy that I’ve done so. πŸ™‚
    You raise an interesting point about this episode upholding the message that I so admired about the first five seasons. My opinion on this episode remains unchanged, but rather than state why here, I’m going to make my case for it in the boards, probably some time this week. I hope to see you there.


  54. [Note: Lucy posted this comment on October 14, 2009.]

    I mostly love this episode, but I HATE certain parts of it:

    That last scene in the asylum

    The whole “Buffy’s been in an asylum before” crap. It really cheapens becoming part 2, which is one of my favourites.

    Why is Spike trying to get Buffy to tell her friends about them? She’d broken up with him by this time so what would be the point? What could she possibly gain from telling them? (I hate season 6 Spike by the way)


  55. [Note: Chris posted this comment on November 6, 2009.]

    Have now rewatched this again, and it was better than i remembered, the sunnydale stuff was well done and there was nice development on all the storylines. however despite the interesting ramifications for buffy’s psyche. I still raise the following points that in my opinion should lower its score.

    The way the poison worked was not explained. Would it case anyone to be in an assylum, bring out your worse fears? Relive bad experiences? (-5)

    The complete disregard for early season continuity, even if joyce “forgot” when she was told again surely she’d remember. (-5)

    The dreadfull ending (-5)

    The fact that buffy wouldn’t have mentioned it in the mental health storylines in season 5 (-5)

    Thus in my opinion whilst good in many ways it should only get about 80.

    Though i have changed my mind about it being the worse episode.


  56. [Note: Lillibet posted this comment on December 4, 2009.]

    Honestly… I really don’t mind the “ooh, what if” ending here… While I don’t believe that the asylum is reality, I think, structurally wise, it’s an interesting, sly, cheeky way to end an episode that questions reality, and aims to make the viewer and the characters wonder whether everything they had previously believed could be turned on it’s head.

    I simply see it as a final “Twilight Zone” – esque twist that causes the viewer to do a mental freak out and go “what the…!?” and then calm down, chuckle and believe in the reality of Sunnydale again…


  57. [Note: After the Fall posted this comment on January 13, 2010.]

    The reason I think that the ending isn’t real is because Buffy never drank the antidote, so that means that it would take some time after she became ‘normal again’ for the full effects to wear off. This means that the ending still happened in her mind, but that it isn’t real. Sunnydale’s is the “real” universe.


  58. [Note: sj posted this comment on March 30, 2010.]

    Guys, seriously.

    The ending scene offers TWO possibilities:

    1. The asylum reality is only in Buffy’s mind, and the final scene is her last glimpse of it as the antidote works through her system. Mind-Buffy is aware that the doctor and her parents are looking upon her, in some capacity. She doesn’t have to be entirely lucid in the asylum/hallucination to have a vague idea of what is happening around her there. Perhaps it is indicative of her “dying” there; she is drifting away from the room and this is what she sees before she goes. Just because the doctor (fake doctor!) says (something like) “There’s nothing there” when he examines her eyes doesn’t mean Buffy is actually *completely* removed from the scene.

    2. The asylum reality is an actual, alternate reality or dimension that runs parallel to this one, and Buffy’s consciousness was switching bodies (similar to the way Desmond’s consciousness skipped time in LOST). Her consciousness had to choose which body to inhabit, and the final scene shows a catatonic Buffy because her consciousness is in Sunnydale-Buffy’s body.

    There is NO indication in the episode, at all, that the asylum is the *only* actual reality (and that, consequently, Sunnydale and its characters are all a schizophrenic hallucination in Buffy’s head). Why? Because we frequently see characters interacting without Buffy! We see Willow find Tara at school independent of Buffy. We see Spike and Xander hunt the demon independent of Buffy. We see the Trio interacting independent of Buffy. We see Tara walk in the front door while Buffy is downstairs, unaware of her presence. Not to mention all the other instances in the series in which Buffy is not present and other characters are! And many moments where the audience sees *secret* enemy dealings before the Scoobies even know something is afoot. This is very simple, folks. I don’t even know why there are arguments about it, and I can’t believe no one has mentioned it in all these comments. If all of Sunnydale is a hallucination, then Buffy’s point of view is the *only* one possible.

    For the record, I choose the first option: this is in Buffy’s mind and the final scene represents the moment before she finally and fully detaches.


  59. [Note: Different Chris posted this comment on April 19, 2010.]

    I don’t think there’s any need to argue over which interpretation is the “right” one, as we have to remember that this is a television series, and unless Joss suddenly decides to confirm it one way or the other then there isn’t a correct interpretation.

    As I see it this is a stupendous episode, both because of it’s context in the series, and the way it dealt with this plot device in comparison to other series. I feel others have expounded on it’s position in this story arc, so I’m not going to add anything there. As has been mentioned by others, several other series have done essentially the same thing, just with a different execution, and that’s where I find they fall down in comparison.

    All of the other versions I have seen had a simple thing in common, the whole episode was structured to make it apparent which one was the “real” reality. The use of dramatic music, sinister behaviour, and inconsistencies all make it apparent to the viewer which one is real, and more importantly, they make it clear to the victim. The doubt in their mind is nowhere near as well portrayed as I found it in this episode. Buffy appeared to have valid reasons for doubting her reality, there was none of the “Oh come on” factor I found when watching similar episodes. I found it particularly poignant when after releasing the demon she backed away and curled back under the stairs, which seemed to capture her mood at that moment very well. Essentially what I am saying is that where other episodes fell down was the consistency of the illusion, and here that didn’t happen at all. Either world had just as much claim to reality as the other. I know some of you have pointed out what you perceived to be flaws in the dream, in the lack of happiness she had in what the psychiatrist said was an imaginary world. What I think you’re missing here is that he didn’t say that the delusions were to make her happy, they were to make her secure, all of it was to make her an important person, someone who had power and was important. The recent sadness is mentioned by the psychiatrist as a temporary moment of lucidity. With reference to the other characters having their own scenes without buffy, you have to make concessions for the fact it is a television programme, and the series would not have been as successful as it was with only one character as the focus at all times, plus the entire series was not planned out in advance, there will inevitably be problems with this type of episode. As I see it each reality is as consistent as the other, which is part of why it was such a powerful episode. I personally favour the asylum interpretation, not because of any objective reason, but merely because I personally find it interesting.


  60. [Note: Shiny posted this comment on May 23, 2010.]

    Aloha! I love about forty minutes of this episode, but like others, I really wasn’t keen on the open ending. I hate having to twist my brain in circles to rationalise contradictions in TV shows, which is what the whole “alternative reality” concept requires as it was simply given as an either/or version of reality, not a concurrent one.

    Anyway, I thought it might be worth sharing that Joss has stated that the ending was there to give viewers options, to avoid negating the explored view of Sunnydale from a ‘normal’ perspective, but that he personally considers Sunnydale to be the actual reality. Hearing it from the horse’s mouth really helped me not to hate that final scene ;] He also says that if a viewer prefers to think of Sunny-D as a mental patient’s fantasy, they should think of HIM as the mental patient XD

    DifferentChris, I would object to the theory that the ‘asylum truth’ is as consistent as the Sunnydale truth, simply because of AtS. While in the context of BtvS, I do think the non-Buffy scenes can be easily explained as part of the overarching delusions, AtS is really stretching the limits of believability. She’s dreaming all of that as well as all of BtvS? I wish I had a fraction of her multi-tasking skills πŸ˜›

    Like Sam said, I personally hate the idea that it’s all a sick girl’s fantasy. I began watching Buffy because I adore strong heroines, and after nearly six years of watching her persist in her struggles, and sacrifice everything she has, it would feel very cheap for it all to have been a victim’s delusion. The televised equivalent of yelling “PSYCHE!” — a cheat.

    I really love the fear and horror it evokes in Buffy, and the way the plot displays her true unhappiness and then her hope for recovery with the help of her loved ones. I can mostly forgive the retcon of Buffy having spent time in an institution, though I again have the urge to rationalise it (as, for example, part of the Dawn-based altered history) and, thanks to Wikipedia’s comments from Joss, the final scene doesn’t bug me so much anymore.


  61. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on May 28, 2010.]

    Like Illinae and sj, I tend to interpret the end as indicating that both realities exist. We know we have a *true* reality in which Xander and Willow are vampires (until Buffy and Oz dust them). After all, if there’s an infinite number of universes (a big if, even in Buffy), then every universe with a non-zero probability *must* exist.

    I would definitely reject the claim that the universe we see in every other episode is a product of mentally-ill Buffy’s imagination. I would not reject MikeJer’s interpretation, which I think is well-reasoned. But I like the multi-verse interpretation best.


  62. [Note: DifferentChris posted this comment on May 30, 2010.]

    With your complaints regarding AtS, and how you can fit all of that into the fantasy of a mental patient, you’re forgetting, it’s a television series.

    Building two entire series to make a single interpretation of one episode completely consistent is something that just isn’t going to happen, particularly when you consider it’s in the sixth series, I highly doubt that the concept for this episode was something they had floating around from episode 1.

    In short, of course there are problems with it, BtVS is not a vehicle only for this one episode, but if you allow for this, you can certainly see why Buffy had real trouble in deciding what she thought was real.


  63. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on June 9, 2010.]

    I disagree that the fantasy world is clearly the asylum. To me, what made this episode so great is the fact that we never find out which world is real.


  64. [Note: Shiny posted this comment on June 9, 2010.]

    DC: I never claimed to have trouble believing in Buffy’s difficulty deciphering which world is real. The writing and the acting is pitch-perfect in portraying her utter confusion, and then stirring up the confusion amongst the viewers (hence all the disparate comments on that short, final scene). I actually really enjoy this episode, like you I think it’s astoundingly original even within the confines of what appears to be a bog-standard sci-fi/fantasy plot. As BtVS does so well, it takes what could be a boring, semi-reset-button genre staple and twists it in on itself with utter glee.

    That said, claiming that the asylum reality to be as equally valid as the SunnyD reality will naturally draw analysis of said claim. Yes, it’s a TV show, but if it’s presenting us with two worlds and leaving it up to us to decide which is real, it’s only natural that all the evidence of series’ canon is to be taken into consideration. I think AtS is a prime example of why the asylum reality simply isn’t ‘the’ reality. I was simply addressing the part of your comment which outlined both premises as similarly valid. The lack of consistency that inevitably arises out of presenting a one-shot episode as the ‘true world’ is something that is highly critical to considering the proposition. Brushing it off, again, as “it’s a TV show” misses the point, I think. See, they presented us with a dilemma of sorts; is Sunnydale real, or is Buffy a sick girl in an asylum?

    The only evidence we have is that of six seasons of Buffy and… however-many seasons of AtS there are at this point (strangely, not a big fan of it). To dismiss all points made as a result of these seasons is to dismiss all the evidence there is, even if it’s simply circumstantial evidence based on the inconsistency between the seasons and this proposed reality. Claiming the inconsistencies exist solely because it’s a TV show is not very useful in the debate as to which reality is real; we’re dealing with the options given inside the show, where belief is supposedly suspended. We’re working with the storyline, debating within the framework of the episode and the show itself. Throwing away all evidence that contradicts an in-show aspect because “it’s a TV show” is something of a cop-out. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, it turns out this is harder to articulate than I thought it’d be.

    But back to your original comment; Joss has confirmed that the SunnyD reality is the real one (check Normal Again’s wikipedia entry). He left it open so that those who want to view the series from a “normal”, unsuspended-disbelief perspective, still can. I thought mentioning that might help others who found it a rather cheap audience-shocking tactic. After watching the entire series, and most of AtS, I’m gonna have to side with Joss on this.*

    *Something I never thought I’d get to say πŸ˜€


  65. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 9, 2010.]

    Excellent post Shiny. I couldn’t agree more. In addition to the evidence I point out in my review, what you say is even more evidence of the legitimacy of the Buffyverse.

    I’m still somewhat surprised by how many people take the end not as Buffy simply waiting to get the antidote after severing emotional ties to the asylum, but rather some statement about how the entire Buffyverse is all in her head. There are a lot of people that seem to either love or HATE this episode based on that ending scene alone, when in reality it’s a triumph for Buffy as she decides to face her demons and live in the much more painful real world that is the Buffyverse.

    Although I can appreciate some of the fun meta-analysis that can be done on this episode, it saddens me how little conversation is had about what Buffy’s going through emotionally, how it effects her character arc, and how the episode relates thematically with the Trio’s easy-way-out/choose-the-less-painful-road approach to life, let alone the season as a whole. It’s great because of the character work and its thematic relevance! The plot, like most Buffy plots, is ultimately only there to service the characters. When you boil it down, this aspect is one of Buffy‘s most unique assets.


  66. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on June 9, 2010.]

    Shiny, you’re right that the fact that “Angel: The Series” exists kind of weakens the argument that Buffy’s world might not be the real one. Nonetheless, it’s still entirely possible that everything that happens to Angel could just be another fantasy inside Buffy’s head.

    And I do love the character development in “Normal Again” as well. It’s a depressing episode to watch, but it’s riveting. It’s also very scary to watch Buffy nearly kill her friends.

    I still find the idea that Buffy’s world could just be a fantasy an intriguing one, though, and I think it’s a serious possibility. It’s something I wish the show had explored in a bit more detail. Come to think of it, they could have done something like that in season 7. Now that would have been awesome. Instead we got the Potentials, who were… just okay.


  67. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on June 13, 2010.]

    This episode is still breathtaking, and this time around (my fourth rewatch of the entire series) this ep hit me even harder and I ended up sobbing during JoyceΒ΄s speech. Her speech is really what gives her the strenght to abandon the fantasy.

    btw, mike, have you noticed that this speech and RileyΒ΄s one, who have Buffy strenght to overcome her depression, are from people who are no longer actively in her life? That is one more thing to show us that the Scoobies are drifting apart more and more.


  68. [Note: Karen posted this comment on August 13, 2010.]

    This is one of my favorite episodes and your review nails it perfectly. Especially this, “What makes it so fresh is how the plots affect and service the characters. It’s all about the characters.”

    While I understand your take on the “which is real” dilemma, and understand why some hate it, I do like that it’s a bit of a gray area. I come down on the side of ‘Sunnydale is real’ as you do, but respect that there is just enough ambiguity to force serious reflection. I do disagree that the asylum represents the “better” world. Instead it’s a temptation, an “easier” world to deal with. The illusion isn’t one of happiness but peace, maybe? It reminds me of a superb passage in CS Lewis’ Silver Chair, with Puddleglum defending faith against the Green Witch, who has bewitched Puddleglum and his three companions:

    “Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

    This is, imo, exactly Buffy’s position – there is no true way to distinguish the two versions of reality, and so one must take a leap of faith…towards that which isn’t easy, but somehow richer, with more depth.


  69. [Note: Enea posted this comment on August 22, 2010.]

    This is a very fascinating episode, in both good and bad ways. It’s creepy and threatens Buffy’s reality in a way that is torturing to watch for me, I need her world to be “real”. It’s great, obviously because of the superb execution and writing.

    Even so, I do wonder about one thing when Buffy decides she wants to be/believes she’s the sick, institutionalized girl. If I were Buffy, I’d think that the best and simplest way to leave the Sunnydale-reality permanently would be to die in Sunnydale. She wouldn’t be at risk of killing herself in the institution from it, as she’s restrained there.

    The doctor did say that when Buffy died in Sunnydale-reality, she mentally came back to the institution, and that her friends were traps because they brought her back. Why doesn’t the doctor suggest that she dies there again? If she makes sure she dies of non-mystical reasons, she’ll know that Sunnydale is the false reality, should she end up being brought back again. Also, I’d think that solution would be easier for her to do than to kill her friends (most things are, I presume).

    Am I making any sense, or am I grasping? πŸ™‚


  70. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on August 27, 2010.]

    I know what you mean, however dying wasn’t sufficient the first time. Those imaginary friends brought her back. I find it logical that the next step would be to get rid of those friends. Even if killing them is quite extreme, even in the situation. I doubt any doctor would take that direction in our reality.


  71. [Note: Corey posted this comment on September 13, 2010.]

    I love this episode as well, but I have one HUGE complaint with this review.

    “If Sunnydale is truly a fantasy completely constructed in her mind, wouldn’t that be a fantasy that painted a much more happier picture and history?”

    The whole point you make here is astoundingly WRONG. Not only can schizophrenics NOT choose what kind of delusions they have, schizophrenic delusions are NOT always happy. Usually, their delusions involve a great deal of paranoia; they believed somebody (or everybody) is out to get them, many hear voices telling them to kill themselves, etc.

    Buffy’s role as the Slayer is actually perfectly fitting for a schizophrenic or even someone who is bipolar going through psychosis. She believes herself to be a superhero, and delusions of grandeur happen to the majority of psychotics.


  72. [Note: Flo posted this comment on October 16, 2010.]

    Great review again – although I do disagree with the notion that the “clinic world” must be less real than the “Sunnydale world”. Whenever people write this (usually right at the beginning of their discussion of it), I get the feeling that they mostly do so in order to validate the Sunnydale world and their own emotional investment in the show. But maybe I just disagree in order to spite the apparent fan consensus.

    As I see it, both realities are equally real, and more or less internally consistent. None of the arguments towards Sunnydale being more real than the Clinic really convince me.

    That Sunnydale isn’t a particularly confortable reality for Buffy is even used in the Clinic reality as reason why she is coming back to the real world. And I can certainly see how being a fearsome vampire killer was a more comfortable reality earlier in Buffy’s life (when she could actually physically fight all those traumas of growing up in high school – a defining characteristic of the early Buffy seasons).

    And within the context of the Clinic world Angel’s reality in LA may be either part of Buffy’s imagination, someone else’s dream, or not real at all (note how in BtVS Angel’s reality only plays a role when it concerns Buffy directly). Also note how almost all paranormal activity seems to be centered around either Angel or Buffy; how the rest of the world gets by without either a slayer or a powerful ensouled vampire is never even discussed.

    But in any event, I don’t think the greater reality of either world is really the point of this episode, nor is it essential. Buffy choses the world where she has matured to a grown woman, rather than the one where she regressed to a helpless child. It’s the reality which is – to reference Life of Pie – the more interesting one for both Buffy and the viewers. In the end both worlds are merely the imagination of Joss Whedon and the other writers (and arguably the viewers), but we can still be entertained, touched and even taught by it.


  73. [Note: Tohr posted this comment on November 20, 2010.]

    Really interesting episode! I think that even people who don’t like BTVS and find it ridiculous should love that episode and its well-handled psychological journey!

    Sure, this episode gives the possibility to choose between the Buffyverse and the schizo-reality (Buffy in the institution) and that’s great! It is always interesting when a medium (cinema, literature…) implies the spectator (or reader…) and its imagination in the process.

    Despite this, I find the schizo-reality “richer” and darker than the alternate fantasy reality, giving a real depth to the series. Of course, the schizo-verse was not in the very first writters/producers/directors’s general vision of the series. But I think it is slightly more consistent than the fantasy-verse if we isolate this episode:

    1/ “I was only there for a couple of weeks. I stop talking about it, then they let me go. Really strange, stopping talking about it shouldn’t be enough avoid a heavy follow-up therapy for months or even years; it doesn’t seem there was any in the fantasy-verse, first crack?

    “Eventually, my parents just forgot”. That’s really weird, if your unique child was interned in an institution not sure you could just forget about it. It would probably change the relationship between the parents and the child.

    2/ “Goodbye !” scene: in which she decides to go back to fantasy-reality. Let’s have a closer look. In the fantasy-reality she doesn’t control the effects of the venom and the entering/leaving the schizo-reality, so she shouldn’t be able to say goodbye to her mother and just get back. But in the schizo-reality theory, this is more plausible, the psychiatrist previously said that her friends pulled her back in and that she has to convince herself that they are tricks, implying she has a slight decisional control that might either “save” her or pull her back in.

    3/ “I’m afraid we lost her” scene: in this scene Buffy is totally unconscious and disconnected from the schizo-reality, this is inconsistent with the fantasy-reality theory since it is not a subjective view anymore but an objective one, she hasn’t either heard the psychiatrist comments or seen their reactions. The existence of this scene is outside Buffyverse and has only a meaning in the schizo-reality theory. In other words, no character of the fantasy-reality is connected to this scene (Buffy is unconscious), so if the fantasy-reality is the truth, this scene shouldn’t exist, but it is there…


  74. [Note: Garland posted this comment on November 30, 2010.]

    I really don’t see what are you arguing about. Either is it a fiction, made by Joss Whedon, or it is a fiction, made by some mentally ill girl, made by Joss Whedon. You can even have the girl create another girl, and have that girl create another girl and so on and let HER create Buffy. It’s not like it would make the story any more or less real than it is now.

    Also, there’s no way anyone but Joss could dream a show this perfect


  75. [Note: Jermzy posted this comment on December 2, 2010.]

    I very much liked how it used the asylum as a catalyst to comment on some inconsistencies in the series, and simulaneously strengthen the viewers belief in the asylum world. It commented on how Dawn was pretty much a major retcon with a twist, The Trio aren’t on par with the villains of other seasons and how Buffy’s friends always pull her back in.

    On that note I’d like to praise the ambiguity behind the doctor saying she “resurfaced” last summer before her friends pulled her back. If you believe in the demon world being real then her “heaven” was somewhere else. But if you think the asylum world is real then you get to wonder if the amazing place she was in was that world, living with her parents as a normal girl.

    The idea that the asylum world WAS her heaven ties this episode rather well to the season and kind of gives it a whole new dimension.


  76. [Note: Jonny posted this comment on December 20, 2010.]

    I love this episode and SMG is just awesome in it. It had a huge impact on me the first time I saw BtVS. Completely agree with the score.

    Also agree that Kristine Sutherland’s acting is superb here but I always liked her and think she makes the most of the role however small Joyce’s part is in a particular episode.


  77. [Note: CoyoteBuffyFan posted this comment on December 28, 2010.]

    @Garland — You wrote almost exactly what I was going to write. We all know that BtVS is a work of fiction created by writers. It doesn’t make the story and characters and show any less interesting or fantastic to me if it turned out that it was all in crazy Buffy’s head. That being said, I am not going to argue about which “reality” is “real”, I’m just going to talk about a few other things about this episode.

    I like this episode a lot because of the fact that in it Buffy is forced to choose whether to live in the world that she knows or not. It really is a big turning point. Buffy was given an out which, if this happened in any other episode in S6 prior to this one, she would have taken. You can even tell at the very beginning of the episode that she is more like herself — worrying about Xander, sympathizing and comforting Willow, conversating with Spike, hunting down the Trio. I almost forgot all her angst from the previous episodes and the hallucinations actually REMINDED me of them. This was just the perfect timing and set up for her to have to face the choice. I loved that when push came to shove, she chose the hardest thing in this world, to live in it.

    I would give this episode high marks indeed but three things keep it from being perfect IMO:

    1. The plot is so stale that it has mold on it. I do think that BtVS probalby did this plot better than most shows but it still is a tired plot.

    2. I usually tolerate, even sympathize, with Dawn but in this episode I really wanted to smack her silly. The whole “I don’t even exist your perfect fantasy world” (not verbatim) line makes me want to kick her, HARD! I know that teens have an “It’s all about me” complex but that was really just too much. I suppose it was done to further frustrate Buffy and push her towards the asylum world, but man it still pissed me off.

    3. Sorry MikeJer, but I wholeheartedly disagree with you regarding the revelation that Buffy was once in an asylum. It seemed forced into the plot and not realistic at all. It did not jive with anything else from the whole series. As people brought up, it was not consistent with Bargaining. You’d think that when Willow or Xander or any of the other regular people found out that vampires or monsters were real she would have given some inclination that people in her past didn’t believe her. Even if she never told anyone about the institution she would have probably let on that she was doubted in the past.

    Anyway, I’d probably give the show a 90 but that’s still a great score!


  78. [Note: Sam L posted this comment on December 28, 2010.]


    Your #3 point is precisely what irritates me. The “I was in a mental asylum” bit is completely inconsistent with what came before, and is made even more so by the fact that the events in this episode are NEVER. MENTIONED. AGAIN. Not once. By anybody. Considering what a huge stepping stone in Buffy’s recovery this is supposed to be, and what a major impact it had on the people around her, you’d think her friends would have brought it up again. They often mentioned things like the hyena people and other incidents from the past, but no. Xander never made one cheesy joke like “remember when Buffy tried to kill us last year because she thought we weren’t real”, and he totally would have. Nothing. It would have made perfect sense for someone to bring it up in “Empty Places”, too, when they were all questioning her judgment at the end. In fact, if you skip this episode and go straight to the episode and go to straight to “Entropy”, with the exception of Buffy’s one throwaway line about almost killing her friends during the pre-credits sequence, it’s as if “Normal Again” never happened and we pick straight up from where “Hell’s Bells” left off with Xander dumping Anya & her becoming a vengeance demon again.

    The events of this episode were conveniently ignored by all the characters for the rest of the series, and that more than anything else suggests, to me, that this episode is really just a “what if” mindgame more than anything else. THAT’s what made me so angry–that, and since I have actual experience dealing with mental illness, I know just how fraudulent the whole scenario is.


  79. [Note: CoyoteBuffyFan posted this comment on December 29, 2010.]

    Sam L — I never really noticed that this episode isn’t mentioned again after Entropy. It is a good point that no one ever brings up her past stay in a mental institution again afterwards. I was focused on it never having been discussed or alluded to in any way in the past but it is never really mentioned again in the future either.

    I actually like this episode as far as it is the point where we are clearly told that Buffy wants to live in this life and it kind of documents her final struggle with this and brings it to a conclusion.


  80. [Note: John posted this comment on January 4, 2011.]

    Sam L-If I recall correctly, there is one reference to it later on, where Xander throws it in Buffy’s face that she’d rather live in a fantasy where she’s clinically insane than face her problems in the real world. However, I tend to agree overall that for such a seemingly disturbing episode it never comes up again.

    However, I’m pretty glad of that, to be honest. I can’t pretend that this is anything but an amazing episode in terms of writing, characters and acting, but that doesn’t change the fact that I strongly dislike it. I’m inclined to believe that’s simply a gut reaction; I’ve grown to love this show so much that to have even the suggestion that none of the events we’ve seen mattered for anything was, quite frankly, incredibly upsetting.

    And I know that’s what the episode was going for, and it did it BRILLIANTLY, but that won’t stop me from really hating it. Unreasonable and irrational, I know, but that’s just how it is. Shows this episode did its job really well, I suppose. πŸ˜›


  81. [Note: Joe posted this comment on January 7, 2011.]

    Is the fact that the events of this episode are never mentioned again something that should be held against the episode itself, or against the rest of the season/series? To me, there’s a parallel to the events of “Becoming, Part 2” and what follows–the fallout from the events of that episode don’t really get great payoff at the outset of season three. But does that weaken “Becoming” or what comes after? In looking at the season (and season seven) in retrospect, sure, one can say that the arc for Buffy following “Normal Again” is weakened because it gets very little mention (except in a short quip to Spike from Buffy in “Entropy”), but I’m not sure one can knock the episode itself for that. Just a thought.


  82. [Note: John posted this comment on January 8, 2011.]

    It is mentioned again, and in a powerful context; as I mentioned, Xander throws the events of Normal Again directly in Buffy’s face at some later point which I don’t quite recall. Something along the lines of “This coming from the girl who’d rather be in an insane asylum then with her friends”. So it is used pretty powerfully.

    I can understand it not being used in S7 because, quite frankly, I imagine by that point that the characters would want to put the events of S6 behind them as much as possible and understandably so.


  83. [Note: John posted this comment on January 9, 2011.]

    Actually, it was Dark Willow who said that, not Xander. But yeah, she threw it directly back in Buffy’s face to pretty considerable effect.


  84. [Note: J posted this comment on March 26, 2011.]

    I have to strongly disagree on the perfection of this episode – the writing simply doesn’t support such a grade. While you may feel that the world of the clinic cannot possibly be real, due to Buffy’s parents being together, I cannot imagine a universe in which Dawn’s line “Maybe you’re still growing” could actually come from anyone who ever had an older sister who was shorter than they were.

    I also think the absence of Dawn is a strong indicator that Sunnydale is, in fact, a delusion. It harkens back to Buffy as we saw her when the show began, and bares no resemblance to the Buffy we have now or the past as she remembers it. Dawn was with her in LA, and she still cares about her more than anyone else still alive. It simply makes no sense for Buffy to fantasize about a world where Dawn didn’t exist.

    Finally, Buffy’s parents being together is entirely consistent with the idea of the Slayer as a fantasy, since Buffy’s issues with becoming the Slayer ultimately was part of the reason her parents split. Buffy herself indicates that her parents, plural, put her in that institution back in LA. It’s perfectly reasonable that she’s still there, and the Sunnydale part of the episode just wasn’t as convincing.

    I can see based on all your other comments how I’d feel much more for this epsiode if I could buy off on the idea that Sunnydale was the real world, but it just didn’t come together for me.


  85. [Note: Myke posted this comment on April 10, 2011.]

    To be honest, this episode makes watching the show pointless and lowers the stakes regarding anything that may happen. If this is a fantasy, why should I care about willow, xander, tara, etc.. I feel as if it fits that this is all in her head, but it would if that toxin she was poisoned with worked perfectly (which it magically could). I mean, ideally, its going to use real experiences to create a more convincing reality. So in a sense, the viewer is who is experiencing the toxin. From a literary theory standpoint, brilliant…but I got to say, I love the show and where I don’t say this was the worst episode–because it was brilliant. I find this episode to be useless and ultimately damaging to the series. The episode cues us to step in buffy’s shoes and undergo the same dilemma she does. Brillant, but unnecessary. 😦


  86. [Note: Leo posted this comment on May 2, 2011.]

    “To be honest, this episode makes watching the show pointless and lowers the stakes regarding anything that may happen. If this is a fantasy, why should I care about willow, xander, tara, etc..”

    what about Angel? Is everything that happens in that series something tha buffy imagined?. No way.

    there is no doubt. The hospital thing IS THE FANTASY


  87. [Note: Mash posted this comment on May 27, 2011.]

    I recall Buffy mentioning these events to Giles when we comes back to fight Willow, but since its the same episode as when Willow said “This coming from the girl who’d rather be in an insane asylum then with her friends” it doesnt matter much.

    Ugh. Dawn. How I hate her.

    Besides the fact that it makes perfect sense why Dawn was not in the asylum world [if Buffy was never the slayer, Dawn would never have been sent to her thus Dawn’s existence is another example of Buffy’s delusions] this girl is soooo self-involved. Your sister is going through mental torture and the only thing you think of bitching about how you are not in that world [where none of her other friends are in either]?

    To me, personally, I dont need to decide which world is the real one – it makes no difference. Even if the asylum world was real and we were watching the fantasy – its still a really good fantasy. That said, I am putting my vote on the simultaneously existing dimensions.

    Ps. Someone here mentioned the comic Slayer, Interrupted – I didnt read it but looked it up just now to see what the plot was and I have to say, I’m annoyed that Dawn is in it. On the one hand, everyone now remembers Dawn existing but on the other, if we wanted to put things in a chronological order, before season 5, I think Dawn should not be there.


  88. [Note: Mash posted this comment on July 24, 2011.]

    Also, let me throw this into the continuity mix – in the episode “Bad Eggs” [S3, ep 12] there is a moment in the mall where Joyce asks, “Is there anything going on in your head except for boys and clothes?” and Buffy “jokes” by saying “Saving the world from vampires..?”

    I bring this up to add to the argument that “Normal Again” seems really off and goes against previous interactions with Joyce [also remember the episode “The Witch”]


  89. [Note: nk posted this comment on July 24, 2011.]


    I think Joyce was just good at repressing/ignoring the obvious around her – that, or maybe she still had low-level concerns that Buffy might be unbalanced but didn’t want to confront them. We know from ”Becoming” that Buffy’s father felt Joyce was too soft and unwilling to discipline Buffy, so I tend to imagine that he was the main one responsible for putting her in the institute.


  90. [Note: Guest posted this comment on August 10, 2011.]

    Myke: If this is a fantasy, why should I care about willow, xander, tara, etc…

    For the same reason you cared about them before. The show is a fantasy whether it’s all happening in Buffy’s head or not. Sunnydale is either a fantasy world happening in the mind of Joss Whedon, or it’s a fantasy world happening in the mind of Buffy, who exists in the mind of Joss Whedon. Personally, I think Sunnydale exists apart from any delusions Buffy may have, but but it doesn’t matter either way. The enjoyment we have in it is real and that’s all that matters.


  91. [Note: hermantheowl posted this comment on October 18, 2011.]

    Yes, this episode has elements that set it apart (from other ‘mental hospital illusion’ episodes), namely Buffy confronting her inner demons. But while watching it I felt like I was watching “The Real World” from Stargate Atlantis with the addition of Buffy’s journey out of depression. (Set in present, They found Atlantis in another galaxy using alien technology, and have to defend that galaxy from the Wraith -who are sort of like vampries- hmmmmm, funny coincidnece)) And this episode focuses on a strong female charater who is the “female protagonist” of the episode, another amusing coinince.

    This one starts with Elizabeth Weir (leader of the Atlantis expidition) in a mental hospital being told by a doctor that her adventures in Atlantis are a delusion. She is really unconscious because nanites–microscopic robots– (“poison”) are trying to take over her body. Her friends/members of her team are trying to save her. Her conflict with the dream world doctor and an evil halluciantion of one of her friends is sort of like Buffy struggining aganist the hallucinations. Its like “Normal Again” without the confronting of inner demons or character devopment (journey out of depression). Elizabeth accepts a “normal” life on Earth and “recovers” from her “delusions” until finally escaping. “The Real World” has a more menacing dream world in the way that the world itself turns against Elizabeth every time she tries to resist. (except Buffy “spending the past 6 years being schizophrenic” was plenty grim). But “Normal Again” has better character development.


  92. [Note: hermantheowl posted this comment on October 18, 2011.]

    From previous post:

    Elizabeth accepting a “normal life” in the “real world” replaces Buffy truning on her friends.


  93. [Note: serenissima posted this comment on October 30, 2011.]

    am i the only one feeling like Dawn has split personalities? she alternates between being perfectly nice to Buffy then being a complete and utter asshole to her, with this ‘you dont want me around’ crap. especially considering the fact that she knows buffy is ‘sick’ right now, even for a teenager dawn seems especially callous and cruel to her older sister. joss whedon expresses bewilderment at how poorly received she was by the fans but this writing is AWFUL. she is a completely unsympathetic character.


  94. [Note: Rob posted this comment on November 8, 2011.]

    I noticed that Buffy seems to react to Joyce saying “We’ll always be with you.” She knows this can’t be true.


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