Normal Again

Written by Diego Gutierrez
Directed by Rick Rosenthal

Mike's Synopsis | Perri's Review | SunSpeak

Mike's Synopsis

Previously on Buffy: Buffy died, Buffy is risen, and Buffy will come again, at least if Spike has anything to say about it. Xander and Anya's love boat hit a small glacier. Willow believes in magic a little too much, and Tara must be travelin' on now.

Buffy, in her WWI Aviator disguise, is walking down a moonlit Sunnydale avenue with paper in hand. Love the scarf. The sheets turn out to be a list of recently rented real estate; Buffy's hoping to paper-trail her way to the nerds' hideout. Inside said hideout, a haggard-looking Jonathan has zonked out next to the monitor bank, and a grey cylindrical barrel appears next to his head. A burst of water erupts from it; Warren is exercising his own unique take on the concept of fun. Jonathan is doing his wet-hen imitation, and Warren proceeds to chide him for sleeping on duty. Jonathan protests, and the name Katrina almost comes up, but he covers, pleading cabin fever: "I'm going Jack Torrance in here!" Turns out the boys are in hiding, and Warren and Andrew are firmly against any change in status. The dispute is interrupted, however, when Andrew spots Buffy on one of the monitors. Before panic can set in, Warren calmly orders Andrew to "deploy your little friend." Is that anything like Jonathan's magic bone?

Buffy is scouting the nerds' house with a demon leaps into the foreground. She inquires about the nerds, but he's not in talking mode. The punchy-punch begins, cars and garbage cans are used for things other than their original purposes, but nothing out of the ordinary happens until the demon gets close enough to skewer her with a claw--and she flashes to a featureless room where she's being held down by two orderlies. They and her are both garbed in white, and one of them jabs her with a hypodermic. As she struggles, we pull away, revealing a bed with restraints, a locked, reinforced door, and patients being herded down the hall outside. In the time it takes for the viewer to say "--the hell?" the credits begin.

Buffy comes to back in front of the nerds' house. and her face is a blueprint of confusion. But before she can even begin to process, we're whisked away to the almost nostalgic sight of UC Sunnydale campus. I keep looking for Riley. Willow is waiting outside class, rehearsing a hello speech to greet Tara with, but she's having trouble keeping it clean. Finally, she sees her once and future girlfriend and starts to rush up, but another girl beats her there, giving Tara comfy shoulder-pat and cheek-peck. Willow's face falls flatter than unleavened bread, and she heads for the place that is elsewhere. Tara catches a glimpse of hurriedly departing red hair, and looks rather stricken herself.

At the Doublegrease, Buffy finds herself even more hazy than your average fast-food worker. As her manager calls to her, we again flash away to the mental hospital. where a benign version of Nurse Ratchet tells Buffy that it's time for her drugs. As half the audience perks up ("Drugs? Where? They have drugs in this show?") Buffy returns to the Palace, and a rather bemused manager. Back home, she's having kitchen time with Willow, who's trying to track a still AWOL Xander online. Buffy inquires about the Tara rendezvous, and Willow gives about the other-girl kissing. Buffy offers words of reassurance; it's almost as if Willow never ripped Buffy away from eternal happiness. The doorbell rings, and a sheepish Xander makes his entrance. And a brief editorial comment; is it wrong to seriously consider the merits of leaving your bride at the altar if it means getting hugged by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan simultaneously? Wait, wherever did I put my omniscient-narrator objectivity?

Xander apologizes for the D. B. Cooper impersonation, and asks about Anya; "Her suitcase is gone, and some of her stuff. And there's a 'Closed' sign on the Magic Box, which, like, chills me to the bone." Willow tells him that she left a couple of days ago; Buffy adds that she was "kinda broken." Xander accepts the gentle reproach in both their voices, and expresses bewilderment at how things went so astray so fast. He says he doesn't want to be without her, and the girls can't hide mild incredulity at the fact that he left Anya at the altar but still wants to go steady. Xander spills, a torrent of anxieties and fears pouring out: "I know that I'm a better person with her in my life. But things got so complicated, what with the wedding, and my family, and her demons, and what if it all goes to hell, and forever. But then I left, and ever since, I've had this painful hole inside. And I'm the idiot that dug it out." Willow and Buffy visibly soften.

Spike, the bachelor homebody, is carrying a sack of groceries home, and who should he run into. After a bit of brief banter, Spike askes, in his own diffident way, about the wedding, and Buffy relates the outcome. Even Spike's shocked. Well, as shocked as Spike could ever get over Xander's life. They sit down, and Buffy begins to commiserate despite herself; Spike immediately steers the conversation down more predictable avenues, and she gives him the look. Xander and Willow show up, and Buffy hastily improvises a cover story, which she's so good at. A wearily resigned Spike decides to retreat, but Xander can't resist hurling jibes at the vampire's back. Spike whirls around and, in true form, hits Xander the weakest point he can find; specifically, his ring finger. Before Xander can get past glower, Willow's there, trying to intervene, but before long the groceries go flying, along with Xander's fist--and Buffy collapses to the ground. She's in the home again; a gentle-looking doctor talks to her, telling her that Sunnydale isn't real and that the mental institution is where she's spent the past six years. Then she's back in the cemetery, flying rear-over-teakettle from the force of the vision. The caveman dance between Xander and Spike is forgotten over the supine Slayer. Back in the nuthouse, the doctor points something out to Buffy; she has visitors. Specifically, Hank and Joyce Summers, the latter looking very much alive. As she gapes, they express wonderment that she recognizes them, and entreats her to "stay with us." As she curls into the fetal position, it all goes away, and Willow et al. are gathered nervously around her. Spike offers to help, but is barked away by Xander. As Buffy is carried home, Spike calls, "Put a little ice on the back of her neck," then mutters dispiritedly, "She likes that."

As Willow brings her water, Buffy explains haltingly about the visions, and about their insistence re: Sunnydale's unreality. Xander can't understand how anyone could believe their lives would be a hallucination, at least not until he finishes describing said lives. Buffy mentions that Joyce and Hank were there, and Dawn's heart hiccups. Willow does the voice of reason thing again, encouraging research, but Buffy's back in the crazy place. Joyce and Hank are discussing her case with the daughter. They're hopeful that she'll return to them full-time, and the doctor lays it out for them; she's created this world and her friends, and given them adventures to fight. As the doctor talks about the "imaginary" enemies she faces, something clicks over in Buffy's brain; she connects her current predicament to Warren and the Trekkie Troika. She starts to get up, but the doctor restrains her, and she cries for Dawn. The doctor expounds on the concept of Dawn, saying that Buffy rewrote her own delusion to "create a familial bond," but it ended up having the opposite effect. Now Sunnydale's no longer such a pleasant place to escape to (yeah, because it was so much fun with the drowning and the boyfriends leaving and the people trying to kill her all the time) and the villains she faces nowhere near as impressive; indeed, they're rather pathetic ghosts of her earlier mighty contests. And aren't we just _so_ metatextual. Somebody got Borges' _Collected Fictions_ for Christmas.

The pathetic excuses for villains themselves are gloating over Buffy's discombobulation. Except for Jonathan, who's wondering just what the hell the other two are up to. Warren waves away his suspicions, and begins diving into their latest plan, but is quickly diverted as Jonathan decides to go for a stroll. Warren eases him back, with a sympathetic pep talk that would surely strain his weasel soul if it weren't for the undercurrent of menace it carried.

Buffy is looking at a picture of the Summers family that pointedly does not include Dawn. Willow comes over; she's discovered the demon's genus, and if they can capture it, they can formulate an antidote. "I feel so lost," Buffy barely whispers, as if Willow hadn't spoken. This dampens Willow's perky. She tries to put it off on demon dose, but Buffy continues: "I've been so detached...Every day I try to snap out of it--figure out why I'm like that." Willow is now in full-on crisis mode: "Buffy. Look at me. You're not in an institution. You've never been in an institution." But instead of looking reassured, Buffy's face appears about to cave in. She says, barely audible, "Yes I have."

Willow is now floundering. Buffy explains: when she first became the Slayer, she tried to tell her parents about vampires, and they had her placed in a hospital for observation. Buffy quickly figured out that no vampire talk means no daily Thorazine; she was released in a couple of weeks, and Joyce and Hank eagerly forgot the whole thing. Willow is beyond floored. She might even be basemented. "What if I'm still there?" Buffy cries, completely in the grip of fear. "What if I never left that clinic?" Willow offers forceful yet empathic objection, but how reassured can you be by a potential delusion? She does inform Buffy that Xander's hunting the demon, and Buffy immediately switches gears to worry about him, but Willow insists he's taken the necessary precautions.

Xander and Spike should get their own sitcom. Spike is more peeved than concerned about Buffy's current condition; having her consider him as something less than a real person fits right in with the way she's been treating him, as far as he's concerned. On the other hand, it does comfort him to think that his own predicament is mere fancy. As he's ruminating, he lets slip mumblings about his and Buffy's sexcapades, which causes Xander to give a livewire jerk. Spike hastily assembles a half-hearted cover story, and, probably out of amusement as much as the need for distraction, starts with Xander about Anya again. Xander rounds on him, but the demon interrupts the 95th face-off between the two. Xander gets jumped, Spike gets down and dirty, but it's Xander at the buzzer with the trank gun.

Buffy's completely zoned, and Dawn brings her tea. Older sister tries to reassure Dawn's unvoiced concern, but Buffy's not going to be winning any Golden Globes anytime soon (what else is new?). Dawn is unimpressed by Buffy's declaration of okayness: "The thousand-yard stare really helps sell that." While she feels her sister's forehead, Buffy muses, "I should be taller than you." Dawn brushes that aside, but Buffy's got more concerns; "Coming apart--" she thinks aloud. Then as if to shake it off, starts in on Dawn. "We have to try harder. Make things better." She begins to rattle off the problems of the Summers household, i.e. Dawn: grades, stealing, and Buffy's hip to the fact that Willow's been doing her chores. In the true spirit of a 15-year-old, Dawn tries to pass that last off as the fever talking. Buffy suddenly lunges forward. "We have to deal with these things, Dawn. We--"

"You don't have a sister, Buffy." The voice is her mother's, calm, patient, fighting down a fierce undercurrent of fear and frustration. Buffy, on the bed in her cell, repeats her mother's statement as if by rote. As Hank looks on, Joyce encourages Buffy to say it again, and Buffy does so. It seems to come easier than one would expect. Joyce nods approvingly, but then Buffy begins to qualify, explaining about the monks. Joyce turns it over to Hank, who insists that the memories are ephemeral. Joyce entreats Buffy to stay with them, that they'll take care of her. Buffy, wanting to believe with every fibre of her being, reaches toward her mother--

--and pulls her hand away in shock as she sees a crushed-looking Dawn, who's heard every word of Buffy's side of the conversation, and is barely able to take in air. As Buffy tries to regain her bearings. Dawn doesn't so much speak as let the words leak out of her: "I'm not even there, am I?" Buffy tries to stall, but Dawn repeats her own words back to her, low and tight. "It's your ideal reality, and I'm not even a part of it." And she's gone.

Down in the basement, the abduction is going swimmingly, or as much as things ever do with this lot. Willow's readying for forensics, Spike's subduing the recalcitrant demon, and Xander's getting knocked to the concrete. Willow sends Xander for non-magical supplies from the magic shop, and Spike offers to keep an eye on the demon in their absence. Xander admonishes him to keep his eyes on the prize, so to speak.

A little later, Willow comes in Buffy's bedroom, all cheery and antidote-bearing. Buffy gingerly takes the cup, and looks at it dubiously. Willow advises her to just drink the whole thing and the hallucinations of normality will be a memory. Buffy looks at Willow measurely; "You will never stop coming through," she says. Willow's beam of pride has a slightly quizzical tint. Spike comes in, making no effort to hide his concern; Willow instructs him to ensure Buffy drinks all the mystical Ensure, then goes to check on Dawn. Spike gently inquires if Buffy's okay, and she says, as if to the world at large, "You need to leave me alone. You're not a part of my life."

Spike is hurt and pissed, but far from surprised. In fact, he's got his answer all ready, although the intruding sunbeam throws him off and he has to start again. But once he does, his words are stiletto-like: "I hope you don't think this antidote's going to rid you of that nasty martyrdom. See, I've 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. It's why you won't tell your pals about us. Might actually have to be happy if you did...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." Okay, when the straight-guy synopsizer wants to hug Spike, you know he's saying something right. But being Spike, he doesn't quit while he's ahead: "You either tell your friends about us, or I will." He then stalks off.

Buffy closes her eyes, still holding the cup. She raises it to her lips, then gets resolute face. She takes the cup and slowly pours it into the bedside wastebasket.

In a flash, the doctor's standing before her.

"I don't want to go back there," Buffy whimpers, then turns to her parents. "I want to be healthy again. What do I have to do?"

Joyce and Hank are thrilled, but they can't let her come home until she's healthy. The doctor explains that she has to break the grip the illusions have over her, and the best way to do that is to destroy the things that are holding her there, the things that can give the illusion appeal. "My friends," Buffy said, getting it. The doctor states that they were the ones who pulled her back last time she became sane. Uh huh. He goes on to basically endorse extreme prejudice against them.

The hospital dissipates, and Buffy runs into Willow. She plays good patient, and Willow mentions the demon's chained up downstairs in case more antidote is needed. "It'll be nice to see you all better," Willow says, a little too eagerly, and offers to make food.

A little later, Xander enters Chez Summers, but can't seem to locate any inhabitants. He finally finds Buffy in the kitchen. While Buffy continues playing possum, Xander begins to chat about Spike and his weird sex chat. Buffy doesn't appear to like this topic of conversation; I'm just guessing because of the hitting Xander with a frying pan and attempted strangling. She drags him down to the basement and leaves him there, dazed, to glimps a hog-tied and duct-tape-gagged Willow before he passes out. Buffy looks from her "friends" to the demon, curiously blank, then goes upstairs and locks the cellar. She heads slowly upstairs, calling her sister's name. She finds Dawn in her room, stuffing things into a knapsack. Both of them notice something off about the other. Dawn denies running away, saying she's going to Janice's, not without some venom. Buffy corrects her, saying she's "going downstairs with the others. It's the only way I can get healthy." Dawn has some trouble processing this, and as Buffy remains motionless. starts to get rather scared, which is why she's able to jump out of the way when Buffy grabs at her.

She darts down the hall, screaming, then gets behind a door, and begins to plead with Buffy to see through the hallucination. Trouble is, that's what Buffy thinks she's doing. She breaks into the room, but takes a minute to spot Dawn, who's run around to the outside of the hall. She pleads for her sister to recognize her existence, insisting that she needs her and loves her. Buffy strides toward her, reeling off a list of improbabilities: the very existence of vampires and demons, the absurdity of the whole concept of the Slayer, and--oops--the unlikelihood of said Slayer sleeping with one such vampire. Dawn would react, but she's got this whole struggling-for-her-life thing going, as Buffy tussels with her, and eventually overpowers her and takes her down to the basement. Dawn's reduced to begging and promising good behavior as Buffy gags her.

Buffy stares at her friends, the people she's lived and loved and fought alongside with for six-odd years now, and feels herself wavering, Then she's back in the clinic, and the doctor is telling her to "make it as easy on yourself as possible." She slowly strides over to the demon, as a bleary Xander tries to reach her. She breaks the demon's chains, and he lumbers toward a now awake Xander. As she watches, her eyes are those of a concentration camp commandant; empty of compassion, or even recognition.

Xander pleads for help, and Buffy's impassiveness softens slightly. Meanwhile, upstairs, Tara's come by, but can't find anyone. As the scene in the basement deteriorates, Buffy retreats, first to the mental hospital, then to the corner of the room in the hospital, having something that looks very like a seizure. Joyce is there, calmly reassuring her that whatever's frightening her is not real. Buffy sinks to the floor of both the hospital room and the basement, barely able to watch the demon pummel Xander, but not able to stop it. Tara appears on the landing, immediately sizes up the situation, and zaps Willow free of her binds. She also sends a shelf of paint cans (Hank's, I'm guessing) across the room. It hits the demon full-on, but Buffy takes the opportunity to pull Tara's leg out from under her and send her tumbling down the stairs. Willow cries and runs to her, and Buffy, freaked beyond words, goes back to her happy place. Joyce crouches next to her daughter, pouring all the faith and devotion she can into her voice: "I believe in you. You're a survivor. You can do this."

Xander scraps with the demon, and is thrown off. It then tosses Dawn across the room rag-doll-style, and Willow takes a baseball bat to it, but it uses the blunt instrument as a lever and takes her down. In the institution, Buffy, half-hysterical, screams Willow's name and pounds the floor. Joyce: "You're too good to give in. You can beat this thing. Be strong, baby." Buffy, still gasping, begins to stop and listen as her mother continues. "I know you're afraid. I know the world feels like a hard place sometimes...we have all the faith in the world in you. We will always be with you. You've got a world of strength left in you; you just have to find it again. Believe in yourself."

Buffy is suddenly very still. She looks up at her mother, a smile of gratitude on her face. "You're right," she says quietly. "Thank you."

Then her expression changes. "Goodbye," she whispers.

Joyce's expression changes to concern, then panic--

Buffy rises, takes a step forward, then begins kicking the ever-loving shucks out of the demon, finally finishing it off with the old Bruce Lee move. Then she turns to her friends, completely bereft, and whispers what feel like thoroughly inadequate words of apology. Xander hastens to assure no harm done, and as Buffy staggers, Willow urges for her to sit down. but Buffy demands more antidote. Her friend agrees, expressing token assurances.

Meanwhile, in a room that shouldn't exist, the doctor holds a flashlight to Buffy's completely unreactive pupils. "I'm afraid we lost her," he says, sadly. Her parents collapse into each other.

Perri's Review

Cool episodes. More erudite comments coming eventually.


Nobody said nothing. < shrug > Beats me.

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