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June 05 2009

6 Characters Who Escaped Virtual Prisons... Or Did They? Includes Buffy in Normal Again. "In the end, it doesn't really matter which world is real and which is an illusion. What really matters is that Buffy chose the world she wanted to be real, and so the answer can remain safely ambiguous."

Why do people have to complicate things? It was a great episode and Buffy stuck with the real world, the complicated world. She didn't choose the easy path, she chose the right one.
I never considered that the "Normal Again" universe could be the real one instead of the Buffyverse, because hallucinations do not have spin-offs.
I think they've got the right idea. The episode was kind of obviously ambiguous on the point of whether Buffy truly escaped. We can debate whether she did or not, but that last scene was definitely intended to provoke debate on the subject.

I like the theory that the insane asylum is "heaven," even though it's easy to poke holes in it. The doctor specifically mentions her being briefly lucid in the previous summer, which seems like a nod to Buffy being dead in the show's world at that time.
This fictional fake world is the real world compared to this faker fake fictional world. *vacillates between pride and shame at geekout convo* *chooses pride*
I agree wholeheartedly with jkalderash

In fact, I wrote my English Honours dissertation based on that very line of thought.
I read a post on LJ recently about if Normal Again was the proper Buffy reality then it would be a good way to start the Buffy reboot movie. I think the plot line was Buffy leaving the asylum and then the movie taking it on from there.

ETA.

here's the link
I enjoyed seeing that "Perchance to Dream" made this list, and was actually scared for a while that the Prisoner wasn't going to be there. I'm kind of surprised, though, that Benjamin Sisko's adventures at the happy farm didn't make the cut.
Yes, Beer_Good_Foamy is all kinds of brilliant. Well linked, Simon.
Other than the fact that if Buffy were really in a mental hospital it negates all of Angel which makes my brain hurt, I do agree completely that the episode itself was meant to be ambiguous. And I like the idea of the "other world" being basically heaven.

I'm also kind of tickled that BTAS is in that list and I got a fangirlish kick out of the "Batman doesn't loose" reasoning. :)

[ edited by ceo on 2009-06-06 00:57 ]
I love that episode and how it is all ambiguous and postmodern-y. I can dig it.
Plus, come on, who hadn't thought of killing Dawn at that point?
Can you imagine if Joss ended Buffy with the entire show being an hallucination!! We would never hear the end of it! Thank God that never happened!! lol
I think that's a very interesting list, and Buffy well belongs on it.

Personally, I think that Arnie was never really on Mars, and Keanu never really got out of his capsule in The Matrix.

As far as Buffy goes, I'm taking the reality with Spike in it. :)
The "heaven" theory is certainly appealing. I appreciated how well the hallucination tracked with the reality, whichever world was which. But the fact that the two different theories explain the other so well means that either is plausible. (Hey, jkalderash! *waves to his fellow Seattleite*)

As for the "who's explaining Buffy's catatonia to her parents?" I'll see that and raise you "Who the heck is Willow, and how on earth can she keep pertinent secrets from Buffy? Not to mention everyone else?"

In the end, though, Buffy chooses strength. Joyce even tells her to. And since she exists to help us by inspiring us -- it doesn't matter.
Anyone considering Joss just put that last scene in with the thought "I bet this is going to spark debates between fans!"?
I thought the interesting & compelling part of the episode was her *choice* - and that without the ambiguity of the ending, that choice is somehow dimished. Sorta like what ManEnoughToAdmitIt said above, though I'm not entirely certain I'd call her choice purely "strength" (not certain what exactly I *would* call it - so I might still end up on "strength").

[ edited by kalia on 2009-06-06 03:28 ]
While I don't believe the asylum was heaven (as Buffy describes heaven a little bit, and says she just knew everyone she loved was okay, and... it didn't sound anything like the asylum) I DO believe both worlds are real, seperate dimensions. Perhaps when Buffy was in heaven, she showed signs of lucidity in the asylum; they were closer to reaching her when she was in *that* dimension than when she was in the Sunnydale one.

I am firmly of the belief that both realities are... well, real.

[ edited by jfhlbuffy on 2009-06-06 03:55 ]
Loved Normal Again, but didn't like the retconning about Buffy having been locked up years before when she started talking about vampires.
Despite the "This has never been mentioned before" bit there is also the fact that we saw times where Buffy joked to her Mom about vampires and Joyce just looked confused or irritated. If Buffy had spent a couple of weeks in an institution then surely Joyce would have had a "Oh no, not this shit again!" look.
On a contrary note, this is hands-down my least favourite Buffy episode. Yes, I rate it even lower than any of the usual suspects.

It just really bugs me. It seemed so smarmy, mainly the way it picked apart nearly every aspect of the Buffy mythos... almost like we were being mocked for suspending our disbelief. The show's already post-modern and self-aware, this episode just went too far with it. And really, who didn't see the "ooh let's be EVEN CLEVERER and leave it ambiguous!" ending coming?

...Yeah, I'm not entirely sure why I wrote all that either.
zz9 said:

Despite the "This has never been mentioned

before" bit there is also the fact that we saw times where Buffy

joked to her Mom about vampires and Joyce just looked confused

or irritated. If Buffy had spent a couple of weeks in an

institution then surely Joyce would have had a "Oh no, not this

shit again!" look.


Good of you to bring up that point, I wondered about that after "Normal Again" aired. I've have to go back and watch Seasons 1 to 3, but yeah, I don't think it would track. We were focused on Joyce enough times that she would have given some sort of reaction to Buffy's late nights, the mishaps...she just would've been a more worried mom, overall, if Buffy really had a recent history of mental illness. But I love "Normal Again" so much, it's an acceptable flub.

The asylum was definitely a hallucination.
They used the American Life on Mars as an example???? I mean, I could see using the UK version which was SO MUCH BETTER!!!! Yay, Prisoner! Altho I hated that last ep. They writers must have taken all the good drugs before that one.

On Buffy, for me, it was always the most important for HER to choose the reality and commit.
On the S1-3 continuity, I may be wrong... but I think that with one exception Buffy's vampire comments are clearly intended to be humorous in a random sort of way in the vein of "we attack the mayor with hummus," not at all serious (with the irony being that it's actually deadly serious), so Joyce presumably takes them as exceptionally bad jokes.

The one exception is when Buffy's delirious from the disease in "Killed by Death," and therefore somewhat excusable.
Anyone considering Joss just put that last scene in with the thought "I bet this is going to spark debates between fans!"?

I think he does that with every other scene he writes. :)

As for the "this has never been happened before"-argument: There is a very cool, but non-canonical explanation for that that was done in the comics (...what was it... "Slayer, Interrupted"?) : Dawn. Dawn showed Joyce Buffy's diary where she described her first encounter with a vampire, which led to her stay at the asylum. In S1-3 there was no Dawn, so that never happened, hence Joyce had no memory to recall.

And yes, it is pretty convenient to have a complete retcon after 4 seasons, but tell that to Joss. ;-)

And count me in the "Normal Again" fan club. Definitely, without a doubt, and way ahead of anything else, my favorite Buffy ep ever.

I also wondered if "Normal Again" served as an inspiration for some other shows. Later that year, the second season finale of Six Feet Under went to a similar place, and House season finales of season 2, 4 and 5 also had a "Normal Again"-feel to them.

My favorite reading on "Normal Again" is that one. Opened my eyes on a lot of aspects, especially the "seeing"-observation.

And I still want to write down my thoughts about the connections between "Ted" and "Normal Again", but I procrastinate like a champ.

Re: article. I didn't know about that comic continuation of The Prisoner, I must check that out. I loved that show.
Great article. The "seeing" part is spot-on and this part made everything clear to me:

Willow, who always solved the tricky problems, is cast as Mom. Xander, who's not very powerful but is a comfortador, is cast as the absent, exit-king Dad. It makes a certain amount of sense: Willow and Xander have, in a sense, given birth to Buffy this season (along with Anya and Tara, who arent present in the cemetery or in the delusion). They raised her from her grave. In a way, Buffy is a vampire dead, buried, and magically alive again. Its another reason why shes so terrified of her attraction to Spike. She has become a variation of what he is, like him; shes a dead thing.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about that connection between "Ted" and "Normal Again", wiesengrund.

Edit: I don't agree with the article that the last scene was a cheap trick, though. It was the perfect ending because it raised a lot of questions.

[ edited by J.I.G. on 2009-06-06 12:01 ]
yeah, I don't see anything cheap in that ending... what a great episode!
I've always seen the asylum in Normal Again as a metaphor for taking the easy way out, an alternate reality into which Buffy could escape if she chose, at a time when her life had become nearly unbearable.
I believe that the ep was in part, a meditation on the temptations of giving up vs. accepting and dealing with the the very harsh reality that her life had become.

This is one of my very favorite eps, and one I had to watch twice before the real impact hit me. Plus a third time to catch all the marvelous little subtleties and convoluted connections between the two worlds, much less formulate my own theory about how they all fit together.

wisengrund, thanks for the link. That was an absolutely brilliant reading of this ep, by far the best I've ever encountered.
I read a post on LJ recently about if Normal Again was the proper Buffy reality then it would be a good way to start the Buffy reboot movie.
Simon | June 05, 23:57 CET


Will. Not. Go. There. la la la la la. :)
That LJ link is very good.
So... many... layers...

Yeah. Gotta say this is one of the better eps, even if it's one I can't watch very often, like "The Wish."
One error, and I really, really don't think I'm nit-picking for once, I think it's glaring. Just before the final scene, Buffy asks for the antidote, but it still has to be prepared, cooled, and drunk. The final scene was still part of the hallucination.

And the Asylumverse could have spin-offs; I've read two fic-wrietrs who've done it, very differently, and I have my own idea for one. based on the diea that all the people in the halluicnation have to be (see Dennis Weaver's/PEter Coyote's Twilight Zone episode) based on someone she's seen once....

Just to be annoying, I ocne suggested on a couple posting boards that whenever a Slayer is called, it sucks the sanity out of the girl's counterpart in another dimension as a side-effect. Some fans were suitably discomforted by that, but eventually one pointed out that would be totally incompatible with the girl-power themes of the show.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about that connection between "Ted" and "Normal Again", wiesengrund.

Me too, unfortunately I can't seem to write them down clearly. :) I think it would go along lines like:

Seeing - As far as I know, this double meaning of "seeing" (visual and sexual) that was prominently featured in "Normal Again" was only used once more in the whole show, in "Ted". When Joyce gets questioned by the police she says: "We were, uh, seeing each other." (Probably total coincidence, I know, but still noticeable, I think.) Both Joyce abd Buffy were uncomfortable with sharing their relationship to Ted/Spike. After "Ted" Joyce will suggest that her and Buffy shall remain manless in the future (wait... wasn't Willow representing Joyce in the "Normal Again"-delusion? Neat.) and looking at the trouble Buffy goes through in "Normal Again", that might have actually been a good advice.

Family - In "Ted" we got to know the idea of a regular, new family for Buffy, and while "Normal Again" solidifies our understanding of Willow and Xander as Buffy's new family, both episodes go on to question the strength and loyalty of this new family via attributes of the slayer. Buffy being the slayer is what tests these families in both episodes, in "Ted" by accidentally unleashing her physical power, and in "Normal Again" by becoming and loving more and more the thing she fights (and loves) the most, a vampire. The pressure she feels from the families in those two episodes is related to the same thing: She thinks she cannot reveal to her new family that she's seeing and fighting and loving Spike (in "Normal Again"), and she thinks she cannot reveal to her family that she is seeing and fighting and loving vampires in "Ted". In both episodes the family is tested by Buffy's secrecy and by her (lack of) will to share with them her real identity.

Insanity - Even if you don't believe in the non-canonical Dawn-explanation for Joyce's surprise, "Ted" clearly establishes that Buffy has a secret that Joyce doesn't know about. It is funny that when Ted discovers it via the diary (the physical manifestation of the secret, of Buffy's identity), he threatens Buffy with a monologue that imo completely foreshadows "Normal Again": "Or what? Youll slay me? Im real. Im not some goblin you made up in your little diary. Psychiatrists have a word for something like this: delusional. So, from now on, youll do what I say, when I say, or I show this (holds up her diary) to your mother, and youll spend your best dating years behind the wall of a mental institution. In both episodes insanity is presented as the final out, the thing that awaits when Buffy shares her secret and lets her family and friends in on her life. It may be complete coincidence that Buffy chose that delusional reality in "Normal Again", but it may be informed by both her stay at the Asylum pre-S1 and by Ted's threat (assuming that episode/story survived the Dawn-retcon). Both "Ted" and "Normal Again" present her being the slayer as a fictional delusion (and both therefore also question our own involvement with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Slayer - Since Buffy's true identity is the big secret in both "Ted" and the whole of S6, there are even more connections between these stories, some way beyond "Normal Again" (but they still kinda tie into it since "Normal Again" is for me the episode of S6 that ties the whole season together). For instance, Buffy realizing in "Ted" that her enemy is a thing, a dead thing, is not only resonating with "Dead Things" (there are also nice thematic connections like "programmable people" in both "Ted" and "Dead Things"), but with the whole of the Spike/Buffy arc in S6. The dead thing is actually infiltrating her secure home, her family, by posing to be living, just like Spike. But the key difference between the two stories is that "Ted" wants to get in her family via the threat of exposing her secret, while Spike wants to get her out of her family, to be with him, in the shadows (balcony scene in "Dead Things"). S6 is the flipside of "Ted" in another aspect too: While Buffy underestimated her physical power in "Ted" and damaged the dead thing without wanting it (a situation she would soon encounter again in "Becoming" where she had to kill a dead thing to save the world), she was the one getting really damaged by Spike in "Seeing Red". The times have changed. Buffy was dead, life is the Big Bad and Giles will know nothing else to say to that season than a terrible laugh. Going back to "Ted" and "Normal Again": This flipside-aspect is also symbolized by how Buffy goes on to actually prove that she is indeed the slayer, and that her world is not made up: In "Ted" she accidentally shows off her supernatural side, her heightened strength. In "Normal Again" she will (coincidently?) snap out of her delusion and choose to be the Chosen One in this awful world the exact same moment that her wish to share her secret with her friends steps into the house: Tara. She is the proof that everything between Spike and Buffy really happened, and this is what makes Buffy choice to snap out of it so important. So, while in both episodes Buffy's identity as the Slayer shows off in dark and dangerous ways, "Ted" circumvents the problem by nearly saying "Well, Ted was a bad robot, it's okay to kick him", while "Normal Again" is saying "You know the pain and the trouble that got you into this mess? Well, that's exactly the pain and the trouble you will have to go through to make it right." There is no catharsis after "Normal Again", she will get better, work through her secrecy, and then she will get nearly raped by her secret, and nearly shot by a nerd and nearly see her best friend destroy the world.

Or, you know... something along those lines.

Okay, you can wake up now.

Edit: typos

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-06-07 17:50 ]
Tara's arrival never struck me as coincidental... after the departure of Giles and Joyce's death, she's the closest thing to an parent that the Summers girls have left. She's the calm in the storm... which is why her departure in "Tabula Rasa" is just as disastrous as Giles', and her death in "Seeing Red" marks the point where everything goes to hell.
A while ago I read someone's blog who made the point that if the Normal universe was supposed to be the real one it would totally nulify the whole message of female empowerment in BtVS. It went something like, it would be saying that the only way a woman can seem to be that powerful is if she is crazy and hallucinating...except they said it better and with more words. It did ring a lot of familiar bells since many women were committed or given drugs when they dared to stand up for themselves in the bad old days. I don't dislike the episode but I can't say I really like it that much either.

oh, and why would Dawn have caused the retcon stay in the mental hospital to happen when in the true mental hospital, Dawn does not exist? There is a problem there somehow and my brain feels a little twisty because of it.
No no, newcj, wiesengrund was saying that Buffy, Joyce, Hank, and I guess a bunch of doctors and nurses in LA, as of 2 months before that fifth episode of Season 5 (The Key being turned into Dawn and people's memories being re-written took place during the summer break), simply think that Buffy was in a mental institution (Dawn was "programmed" with this memory as well). It's a nice fanwank actually, because it excuses the puzzling bits of having the stuff we hear about in "Normal Again" not really line up with what we saw in the relationship between Buffy and Joyce. If it's a monk-created memory due to The Key/Dawn, it works.

I mean they did even more than just create memories and a girl, the monks created clothing, possessions, an extra decorated bedroom (the one Joyce was using for junk and art supplies from her gallery job, apparently), and not just in the Summers' home--there would be records at hospitals, maybe Dawn has a memory of carving her name into a bench--it would be there ! Certain bits of reality were altered to make Dawn exist with a full-fledged history of 14 years (and then everything from summer of Season 5 onwards is created and effected for real, not just manipulated by monk-magic).

wiesengrund said:
As for the "this has never been happened before"-argument: There is a very cool, but non-canonical explanation for that that was done in the comics (...what was it... "Slayer, Interrupted"?) : Dawn. Dawn showed Joyce Buffy's diary where she described her first encounter with a vampire, which led to her stay at the asylum. In S1-3 there was no Dawn, so that never happened, hence Joyce had no memory to recall.

I like it, it works. It's not canon, but it's entirely plausible given all the other things that would've had to change as a result of Dawn's existence and the false memories that were created for her (like how the pre-Season 8 comics explored it in a pretty interesting fashion with Season 2 Angelus threatening Dawn at one point and other stuff like that). We were left to assume so many other things about what had changed (in the characters' minds only) about Seasons 1 through 4, so why not go with that to make "Normal Again" work better ?

[ edited by Kris on 2009-06-08 01:56 ]
"Ted" remained canon; both Joyce in S-5 and Dawn mentioned him.

As to "Ted" being a miniature of S-5, nice idea. Joss does use miniaturization; For example Harmony's m.o. in S-5 beign so simialr to Glory's or Gwendolyn Post's Mrs.'s decision to sacrifice ehr normal appearance for power to that of the Mayor to do the same..

Altho, while I agree that Tara was the last adult in the group (and is really needed now in S-8 as much as then, osrry, reflex,) but I don't see why she'd be "the reason Buffy has for staying in Sunnydale-reality."

I have to balk at making the entire asylum stay a false memory for 2 reasons:

Imprimis- The inconsistencies cited strike me as minor. So Buffy never mentioned it to the gang before; would you? As for Joyce's reactions to things like Buffy's odd hours or her fever-driven mention of it in "The witch," well, I don't think the difference between a "What's happening?" facial expression and a "Not again!" facial expression can be quantified *grin.

Secundus It is a serious aesthetic problem if the false memories are used to explain anything not both essentially tied in to Dawn's own backstory (like the items cited above by) and also mainly inexplicable without it. Otherwise the first 4 seasons can just be waved away, really.
Buffy could have been institutionalized in the non-Dawn 'verse Los Angeles (perhaps Joyce found the diary) and as for not being re-committed in Sunnydale, well mayeb Joyce got suspicious ocasionally and waited to see if things got worse and they didn't immediately so she relaxed.

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-06-08 17:44 ]

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-06-09 01:30 ]
DLR: SW Linda Taras/AP pd ck# 6205 mld 6/4

Umm... maybe? :)

Altho, while I agree that Tara was the last adult in the group (and is really needed now in S-8 as much as then, osrry, reflex,) but I don't see why she'd be "the reason Buffy has for staying in Sunnydale-reality."

I never said she was the reason. I said the timing of her entrance reminds us of the trouble (and the solution) Buffy's facing now, and thus gives her choice of staying in Sunnydale a bigger impact, at least for me that is.

As for the false memory thing:The inconsistencies didn't bother me either. Although I agree that it would have made more sense for Joyce to have a "I'm sorry we put you through this, you were right all along!" dialog (which, to be honest, would be crucial thematic moment for the whole show of these early seasons - hence my belief that Joss himself didn't consider such an Asylum stay between the movie and S1 as part of the storyline and retconned it into S6), it didn't take me out of anything. It was something I was happy to overlook considering the awesomeness of the episode. The "Slayer, Interrupted"-idea just stroke me as a nice, interesting way of explaining it. Doesn't mean I was looking vigorously for an explanation.

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