|Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode|
Buffy in the mental institution
|Episode no.||Season 6
|Directed by||Rick Rosenthal|
|Written by||Diego Gutierrez|
|Original air date||March 12, 2002|
"Normal Again" is the 17th episode of season 6 of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The Trio summon a demon whose hallucinogenic venom makes Buffy believe that her implausible and nightmarish life as vampire slayer has actually been her own elaborate hallucination as a mental patient, catatonic in a hospital for the past six years.
Buffy searches newly rented houses for the Trio's hideout and the three discover her on their surveillance equipment, when she gets a bit too close. While they hide in the basement, Andrew Wells calls on a demon that attacks Buffy and starts a fight. The demon grabs Buffy and stabs her with a needle-like skewer from his forearm (similar to the Polgara in season 4). Buffy flashes to a scene in a mental hospital where as a patient she cries out as she's held by two orderlies and stabbed with a needle. Buffy wakes up alone outside the Trio's house with no demon to be seen, hurt and confused she walks home.
Willow prepares herself for talking to Tara, but spots Tara greeting another woman with a quick kiss (on the cheek) and Willow walks away, wounded. Tara notices her retreating, but it is too late to chase after her. At the Doublemeat Palace, Buffy works like a zombie, and flashes back to the mental hospital where a doctor announces it is time for her drugs. Willow and Buffy talk about Xander's disappearing act after his aborted wedding and Willow's attempt to talk to Tara. Xander surprises the girls by showing up at the house, and 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. Back in the reality of the mental hospital, a doctor informs Buffy that she's been hallucinating in the hospital for the past six years and everything she knew to exist in Sunnydale isn't real. She's shaken and confused, especially when both of her parents appear together, Hank having abandoned his family years earlier and Joyce having subsequently died in the Sunnydale world. Buffy falls back into the Sunnydale world, finding herself surrounded by her concerned friends.
Willow and Xander get Buffy home and she recounts what she saw and was told at the mental hospital, Dawn hurt when told she doesn't exist in Buffy's 'ideal' alternate reality. While Willow organizes a plan to research, Buffy falls back to the 'reality' of the mental hospital, where her doctor explains to her parents that she has 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 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 Mears and Andrew Wells return to their hideaway with boxes after leaving Jonathan Levinson alone. Leery of their secretive behavior, Jonathan suspiciously questions the contents of the boxes before trying 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 confesses to Willow that in the beginning of her Slayer life, she told her parents about vampires and was put in a clinic for her supposed insanity (a period covered in the Buffy comic Slayer, Interrupted). Buffy wonders if she's still there and therefore Sunnydale really doesn't exist, but Willow assures her that isn't true. Xander and Spike patrol for the demon that hurt Buffy and 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 does not exist. Dawn realizes through Buffy's babbling that she's considering this, and rushes from the room. Xander and Spike manhandle the demon into Buffy's basement chaining 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 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, in order 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; then she knocks him out cold and drags him into the basement, where Willow is already bound and tape gagged. Buffy finds Dawn upstairs, after first opening a door and not finding her there, and chases her through the house as Dawn pleads that she is real. Dawn is bound and tape 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. 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, 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 mis-chosen words, takes her advice to "believe in" herself literally, thanking her mother and saying goodbye to her as she chooses a life of suffering in the nightmarish Sunnydale reality over the much less arduous world represented by the mental hospital.
Buffy wakes up in Sunnydale to save her friends. She dispatches the demon easily and then reconciles with her friends, urging them to quickly make her that antidote while she stays on guard against relapsing again, completely resolved. Back at the hospital, 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.
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, "Personally, I think it really happened."
Connections to culture
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!"
The Futon Critic named it the 35th best episode of 2002.
- "Far Beyond the Stars" (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), a television episode that takes the similar approach of an entire series being a mental construction by a science fiction author.
- Tommy Westphall (St. Elsewhere), another approach that the entire series (and linked ones) are imagined by an autistic boy.
- "Brain Drain" (Charmed), an episode of the TV show Charmed, where the evil Source tries to convince Piper through an hallucination that everything that has happenend on the show was not real.
- "Join The Club" (The Sopranos), an episode where mob boss Tony Soprano is in a coma, and he dreams of an alternate reality where he is just a salesman.
- "All My Children" In 2011 during the final episodes of the long running soap opera former star Sarah Michelle Gellar returned for a guest cameo as an unnamed character. She played a well dressed, coiffured and otherwise coherent young woman brought in for medication after claiming to see vampires.
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