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Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 6, Episode 17
617 NormalAgain
Air date March 12, 2002
Written by Diego Gutierrez
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Episode Guide
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"Hell's Bells"
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"Entropy"
Cast
Starring
Sarah Michelle Gellar Buffy
Nicholas Brendon Xander
Emma Caulfield Anya
Michelle Trachtenberg Dawn
James Marsters Spike
Alyson Hannigan Willow
Guest Starring
Danny Strong Jonathan
Adam Busch Warren
Tom Lenk Andrew
Dean Butler Hank
Michael Warren Doctor
Kirsten Nelson Lorraine
Amber Benson Tara
Kristine Sutherland Joyce Summers
Co Starring
Sarah Scivier Nurse
Rodney Charles Orderly
April Dion Kissing Girl

"Normal Again" is the seventeenth episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is the one hundred seventeenth episode altogether. It was written by Diego Gutierrez and directed by Rick Rosenthal. It originally broadcast on March 12, 2002.

The Trio unleash a demon whose powers make Buffy believe that she is in a mental institution and that Sunnydale—and all her friends and adventures—have just been figments of her imagination. Eventually Buffy attacks her friends, locks them in her basement, and unleashes the same demon on them. Tara eventually finds them and Buffy recovers from the demon's poison by drinking the antidote.

Synopsis

617 NormalAgain1

The demon attacks Buffy.

Buffy searches newly rented houses for the Trio's hideout. The three discover her on their surveillance equipment, then she gets a bit too close. While they hide in the basement, Andrew calls on a demon that attacks Buffy and starts a fight. The demon grabs Buffy and stabs her with a needle-like part of its body. In a mental hospital, Buffy cries out as she's held by two orderlies and stabbed with a needle. Buffy wakes up alone outside the Trio's house, hurt and confused, and walks home.

Willow prepares herself for talking to Tara, but spots Tara greeting another woman with a quick kiss; Willow walks away, wounded. Tara notices her retreating, but it's too late to chase after her. At the Doublemeat Palace, Buffy works like a zombie, and flashes to the mental hospital where a doctor announces it's time for her drugs. Willow and Buffy talk about Xander's disappearing act and Willow's attempt to talk to Tara. Xander surprises the girls by showing up at the house. He wonders about Anya and how to repair his relationship with her. The girls tell him Anya left a few days ago and try to reassure him that everything will work out in time.

Buffy runs into Spike at the cemetery and they talk about the events of the wedding that didn't happen. A confrontation begins between Xander and Spike and as Willow tries to break it up, Buffy gets weak and collapses. Xander manages one punch to Spike before his attention is drawn by Buffy. At the mental hospital, a doctor informs Asylum Buffy that she's been hallucinating in the hospital for the past six years and everything she knows in Sunnydale is a delusion. She's shaken and confused, especially when both of her parents appear, and then Buffy falls back into the Sunnydale world.

617 NormalAgain2

Doctor: For the last six years, she's been in an undifferentiated type of schizophrenia.

Willow and Xander get Buffy home and she recounts what she saw and was told at the mental hospital. While Willow organizes a plan to research, Buffy falls back to the mental hospital, where her doctor explains to her parents that she's been catatonic from schizophrenia for all of the past six years (except for the brief period of lucidity which Buffy dimly remembers as her time in "heaven") and that that her life as the Slayer has been an elaborate improvised hallucination she has constructed for herself in her mind, explaining what Buffy realizes is its extreme improbability and illogicality compared to the "mental patient" scenario.

In Sunnydale, Warren and Andrew return to their hideaway with boxes after leaving Jonathan alone. Leery, Jonathan questions the contents of the boxes and tries to leave the house himself. Warren doesn't agree with that idea and convinces Jonathan to stay in the basement.

Willow shows Buffy a picture of the demon that stung her and tries to comfort her friend. Buffy then makes a confession to Willow: in the beginning of her Slayer life, she told her parents about vampires and they "freaked out". As a result, Buffy was put in a clinic for her supposed insanity. Buffy wonders if she's still there and Sunnydale really doesn't exist, but Willow assures her that isn't true. Xander and Spike patrol for the demon that hurt Buffy; between the two of them, they subdue the demon with force and tranquilizer darts.

Dawn comforts Buffy, who dazedly notes that Dawn has been misbehaving and the problems need to be dealt with before 'coming to' in the hospital, where her mother reminds Buffy that Dawn doesn't exist. Dawn realizes through Buffy's babbling that she's considering this, and rushes from the room. Xander and Spike wrestle the demon into Buffy's basement. They chain it while Willow breaks off its stinger to make the antidote, which she must synthesize without using magic.

Later, Willow presents the antidote to Buffy in a mug and leaves her to drink it as Spike delivers a selfish monologue urging her to abandon the life that's grown so hellish for her and choose peace with him. This misfires, convincing Buffy to reject the antidote (which she pours unnoticed in the trash) and with it, the delusion of being a vampire slayer. In the hospital, Buffy tells the doctor and her parents that she wants to be healthy and rid of thoughts about Sunnydale. The doctor tells her that she has to do what is necessary to destroy the elements that draw her back there, like her family and friends, to truly be healthy.

Willow and Buffy are talking in the kitchen. Xander arrives at the house and finds Buffy alone in the kitchen. He talks to her about Spike and his obsession. This is interrupted when she knocks him out cold and drags him into the basement where Willow is already bound and gagged. Buffy finds Dawn upstairs and chases her through the house while Dawn pleads that she is real. Dawn is bound and gagged in the basement with the others... and with the chained demon.

In the mental hospital, the doctors urge Buffy to make her task easy on herself, so Buffy unchains the demon in the basement to kill her friends for her.

617 NormalAgain4

Buffy says good-bye.

Xander pleads with Buffy to free his hands, but she retreats under the stairs. Meanwhile, Tara shows up at the house and finds everyone in the basement. She uses magic to free Willow and Dawn and attack the demon, but the demon is too strong for them. Buffy grabs Tara's leg, making her fall down the stairs and knocking her unconscious. At the hospital, Joyce encourages Buffy to fight against the Sunnydale reality, telling her that she has the strength to fight against the harshness of the world and must fight it because she has people who love her. Buffy, inspired by her mother's words, takes her advice to "believe in" herself literally, and embraces her life of duty and danger in the Sunnydale reality. Buffy thanks her mother and says goodbye to her forever.

Buffy wakes up in Sunnydale to save her friends. She dispatches the demon easily and reconciles with her friends, urging them to quickly make her that antidote while she stays on guard against relapsing again.

In the hospital, Asylum Buffy is still sitting in her corner of the room, now completely unresponsive as the doctor shines light into her pupils. He tells Buffy's heartbroken parents that she's "gone" as the camera pulls away out of the room; Buffy has succumbed to her illness.

Continuity

  • It's revealed in this episode that Buffy stayed at a mental institution for a couple of weeks before she moved to Sunnydale. Details of Buffy's time there are revealed in the comic prequel Slayer, Interrupted.
  • This episode marks the fifth and final appearance of Hank Summers (albeit as a hallucination).
  • This episode takes advantage of the characters' myriad problems this season: Buffy struggles with reconnecting to her life after being torn out of heaven, Willow loses Tara because of her increasingly inappropriate use of magic, and Xander destroys Anya and their relationship when he leaves her on their wedding day. With their lives not going well, the idea of Sunnydale being a hallucination is quite appealing.
  • The psychiatrist in the hospital provides mental-health rationales for many of the incidents that have occurred in recent seasons, such as Dawn's sudden appearance, Buffy's increasing infamy among Sunnydale's human residents, and especially her death and resurrection. Under his interpretation, Buffy's season-long doubts and depression result from her remembering the brief period of "sanity" and struggling to get back there.
  • This episode is the final appearance of the Doublemeat Palace where Buffy is working even though in As You Were she left her workshift without explanation

Body Count

  • One Glarghk Guhl Kashmas’nik demon, punched through the chest by Buffy.

Behind the Scenes

Production

  • According to Joss Whedon, this episode was the "ultimate postmodern look at the concept of a writer writing a show," as it questioned fantastical or inconsistent elements of the show "the way any normal person would." Whedon added that the episode is intentionally left open to interpretation; the actual cause of the delusions, either the poison or Buffy's return to "reality", is not made explicitly clear. "If the viewer wants," Whedon says, "the entire series takes place in the mind of a lunatic locked up somewhere in Los Angeles... and that crazy person is me." Although, "[p]ersonally, I think it really happened." Fan theories concerning Asylum Buffy and his statement are referred to as the Normal Again alternative, exploring the possibilty that Buffy being the Slayer is simply a 7 year long delusion beginning when she hallucinates first meeting Merrick and ending when she regains her sanity again with the final scene in Chosen.[1]
  • In his DVD commentary, director Rick Rosenthal says that he was a little intimidated working with Sarah Michelle Gellar at first because she has the habit of jokingly saying to directors "You're not the boss of me!" or "Don't tell me what to do!".
  • At ComicCon 2013, while speaking about this episode, series creator Joss Whedon mentioned that during his time writing Astonishing X-Men, he almost had Cyclops, a Marvel Comics mutant character whose real name is Scott Summers, reference a female cousin of his who was in a mental institution and believed she was a demon hunter.

Pop Culture References

  • Jonathan commented that because of being cooped up in their new lair and his lack of sleep, he was "going Jack Torrance," a reference to the main character in The Shining.
  • While Andrew and Warren entered the basement and loaded the computer file of a set of plans involving bank vaults, Andrew said, "I still think we need eight more guys for this mission." A frustrated Warren replied, "I never should have let you see that movie," implying the film Ocean's Eleven.
  • Commenting on the Slayer's mental state, Warren stated that Buffy was "tripping like a Ken Russell film festival," referring to the director of the film Altered States, in which the protagonist was under the influence of psychoactive drugs.

Music

Other

  • This episode is similar to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars", the Charmed episode "Brain Drain", the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Real World", the Smallville episode "Labyrinth", and the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be".

Quotes

Willow - "Buffy, look at me. You are not in an institution. You have never been in an institution."
Buffy - "Yes, I have."
Willow - "What?"
Buffy - "Back when I saw my first vampires... I got so scared. I told my parents... and they completely freaked out. They thought there was something seriously wrong with me. So they sent me to a clinic."
Willow - "You never said anything."
Buffy - "I was only there a couple of weeks. I stopped talking about it, and they let me go. Eventually... my parents just... forgot."
Willow - "God, that's horrible."
Buffy - (crying) "What if I'm still there? What if I never left that clinic?"
Willow - "Buffy... Buffy, you're not. I'm... so sorry you had to go through that. But, i-it's the past. You've got to trust me. We're gonna get you that antidote."
Jonathan - (about being stuck in the basement) "I mean, I'm going Jack Torrance in here, ya know? Stuck in this basement for weeks. We rented the whole house. Can't we at least sleep upstairs?"
Andrew - "We're on the lam. We have to lay low. Underground."
Jonathan - "That's figurative, doofus."
Spike - "Oh, balls! You didn't say it was a Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik."
Xander - "'Cause I can't say Glarba..."
Joyce - "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 have got a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself."

References

  1. New York Times, [1]

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