"Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Normal Again (#6.17)"
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Reviews & Ratings for
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Normal Again (2002)

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31 out of 50 people found the following review useful:

An episode about different concepts of reality

Author: katierose295 from United States
3 September 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Normal Again" is about different concepts of reality. What if Buffy is imagining Sunnydale? What if she isn't the Slayer? What if her mother is still alive and with her father? What if Buffy is really in a mental hospital and she's been living in an alternate reality for the past six years? This isn't my favorite episode, it's sort of strange and doesn't contribute much to the overall story arc. But, it raises some really interesting questions and has some cool scenes. "Normal Again" is worth a look if you're watching the season.

The episode revolves around Buffy questioning her entire "world." While tracking the Trio, Buffy is attacked by a demon and stung by it. She begins to hallucinate. Popping between her "normal" life in Sunnydale and a vision of a mental hospital. Confused, she slowly realizes that she's seeing another whole reality. In it, she's not the Slayer, after all. Instead, she's a sick girl in a mental hospital. Her mother is still alive and everyone's telling her that her life in Sunnydale is imaginary. Back in Sunnydale, the Scoobies work on an antidote to the demon's sting. They tell Buffy that she's just drugged and not to believe the visions. Buffy admits that she was once in a mental hospital, after she saw her first vampire as a girl. Now she wonders if she ever really left it.

Meanwhile, Spike is unwilling to let Buffy go. He tells her that she's just addicted to misery and it's time for her to snap out of it. He'll tell the Scoobies about their relationship himself, if she won't. Dawn is angry that Buffy's vision doesn't include her. And Buffy's work at the Doublemeat Palace continues to depress her. She realizes that she'd rather be the crazy girl in LA than the Slayer. She asks the doctor how she can stay out of her Sunnyddale "delusions" and he explains that she can't break free because she loves her friends too much. In order to get well, she has to kill them. Buffy ties up Xander, Willow and Dawn and sets the demon loose on them. Tara arrives and tries to helps the Scoobies. Back in LA, Buffy finally realizes that she can't hurt the Scoobies. She says good-bye to her mother and slips back into Sunnydale. Then she saves her friends from the demons and finally takes the antidote. As the episode ends, we are left wondering which reality was "real": Sunnydale or the mental hospital.

There are some good parts to this episode. It's nice to see Joyce again, even if it is only for a few moments. And I like the doctor in the vision giving a run down of the show and the problems of the season. "You used to battle mythic demons and gods, not its just three ordinary boys you went to high school with." Pretty funny and also an interesting take on Buffy's present dissatisfaction. She has no real purpose or quest this season and it's playing into her feelings of alienation from the world. Then there's his explanation for her "death" last season. She came out of her catatonic state, but was pulled back in by her "friends." Which corresponds to the Scoobies preforming the resurrection spell back in "Bargaining." It all ties together well. Also, I love the last the three seconds of the episode. Instead of ending with "real" Sunnydale, "Normal Again" fades out during a scene in the LA mental hospital. Leaving us to wonder if Buffy really is imagining everything, after all. It's kind of cool.

On the down side, sorry, but I'm just not buying the Buffy was once in a mental institution thing. That was never mentioned before. Not when all the people Glory brained sucked were going so crazy, or when Joyce found out that Buffy really was a Vampire Slayer or in the flashbacks of Buffy killing her first vamp in LA. They're just making it up to fit this episode's story line. Also, is Dawn kidding about the vision being Buffy's "ideal" reality? Buffy's in a mental hospital, how is that ideal? Dawn just has to make everything about her. Finally, didn't Spike promise Willow to make Buffy drink that antidote? Instead, he just leaves and Buffy dumps it. Kind of irresponsible of him.

My favorite part of the episode: Spike giving Xander a hard time for leaving Anya at the alter. It's about time someone told him what a immature coward he'd been, abandoning his bride like that. Granted I'm usually on Anya's side anyway, but for the rest of the season I'm really voting for her to reek some vengeance on Xander and I appreciate Spike taking her side.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

"Let yourself live, already. Stop with the bloody hero trip for a second. We'd all be the better for it."

Author: elle-ss
25 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the past few episodes, my hatred for dawn has been developing nicely. Up until the middle of Season 6 I have a surprisingly high tolerance for her, but as soon as Buffy takes up that dead-end job and all her little sis can do is bitch and moan about how she's never there for her, I lost all patience for the little brat. And now in this episode poor Buffy is losing her mind, but dawn decides to make everything about her, AGAIN, by storming off when she realises she doesn't exist in Buffy's 'ideal' reality. Err, excuse me but how is institutionalisation Buffy's preferred reality? Yes, there is an amount of escapism in it because in that reality she'd have her parents to take care of her, dawn wouldn't exist and neither would the vampires, therefore all her responsibilities would be lifted. However she would also be a crazy person! The fact is that this isn't about dawn, but of course the little princess tries to make it seem that way. I swear, if she storms out of a room one more time I might lose it. She's fifteen years old! Buffy was fighting her first vampires at that age, but dawn can't even cope with getting herself to school on time! Then she decides she's going to run off to her friend's house because Buffy 'doesn't want her around anyway.' It's not like she's been really seriously ill or anything and could use your support right now, dawn. No, just be your usual selfish self, no big deal.

Phew, I feel a bit better now. As you can see, the less dawn in an episode, the better I feel these days.

As for the actual plot of the episode, it's an interesting, if albeit flawed one. I like being able to question a character's perception of their reality, but the holes in this story are just too much to ignore. For one thing, the premise that she has already been in an institution is far too contrived. How are we supposed to buy that when it hasn't been mentioned, by ANYONE, in six years? I know you could argue that the Trio, who are behind the attack in the Sunnydale reality, were created by Buffy to blame for her moments of lucidity in the asylum reality, but I'm just not buying it. The episode tries hard and is certainly unnerving: i.e Spike telling Buffy to stop with the 'bloody hero trip' can certainly be interpreted as her brain telling her to stop with the Slayer fantasy and return to the 'real' world, if Spike really is just a figment of her own mind. SMG's acting is also pretty good here. Convinced that she has to kill her friends to escape her fantasy, Buffy ties them up in the basement and leaves them to face the demon that attacked her and caused her hallucinations. Luckily Tara comes to the rescue and Buffy chooses Sunnydale over the institution.

I really can't decide where I stand on which reality is real, but then maybe that's the point - maybe it doesn't matter. Both are real for Buffy when she's in them, but the fact that she chooses her life in Sunnydale makes me think that she is ultimately choosing her Slayer lifestyle, despite its many draw-backs. However the last scene really sticks with you - Buffy's parents being told that she has returned to her catatonic state, and that they'd lost her again. I know it's thrown in there to keep us questioning, but that's exactly what it did to me. I'm not saying it all checks out, continuity wise, but the episode alone does a good job of making us question what is real and unreal, and how much it even matters.

Other stuff going on in the episode: Spike issues Buffy an ultimatum - either she tells her friends about them, or he will. Spike is also giving Xander a hard time for leaving Anya at the altar, and I'm completely in agreement! Xander's been such a coward lately, I'm having trouble sympathising with him at all. He hasn't even seen Anya yet since the day and already he's being defensive, refusing to own up to what he's done. Plus he's back to being vile to Spike for no reason at all, and that really grates on me. Spike might not be perfect, but he doesn't deserve the treatment he gets. Oh, and Willow sees Tara with another girl and fears she is moving on.

My favourite part of the episode? Probably Buffy hitting Xander in the face with a frying pan. I can't stand that guy at the moment! A close second would of course be Buffy putting tape over dawn's mouth. Thank the lord, sweet silence from her screechy little voice.

I'm sorry, this was more angry than I intended...but at least I feel better!

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Dawn is selfish, yet again!

Author: michelle-795-898460 from United States
22 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I know other people have made comments about this, but I want to vent about it as well. =)

Buffy is in a lot of trouble in this episode! She is literally freaking out and going back and forth between reality and fiction. Dawn obviously understands this because she makes comments about how those people in her mind aren't real and that they're going to make her better, or that she is feverish...then why in the world does she constantly have to talk about how Buffy doesn't want her around, how she isn't really her sister, etc? Dawn, you KNOW Buffy is going crazy, so obviously what is coming out of her mouth is also crazy. You can't blame it on her age, any 15 year old would understand that. I've never been a fan of Dawn's character, even when the show first aired. She is just an annoying, obnoxious little girl who thinks everything revolves around her! There are a ton of other characters in the show that also matter, not just her. What a little brat.

OK, I feel better! =) Sorry for the rant.

I do not believe that Buffy is really in a mental institution. The viewers saw Buffy get hit by that demon and the geeks talk about her freaking out over the hallucinations. It's all a big mind game - for Buffy and the viewers. Everyone has made great points that if Buffy was in an institution, it would be really hard to explain how everything else that takes place in the Buffy and Angelverse happened. This was a very well written episode, but could have been better without Dawn's selfishness.

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9 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

What IS "normal", anyway?

Author: s k from United States
4 August 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Clearly one of the best, most creative shows of season 6. Funny...how some people think it's not that great because it doesn't fit the "story arc". The "story arc"? What exactly IS the "story arc" of season 6, anyway? The season meanders all over the place like Lost In Space. If anything, Buffy, while looking for The Trio (presumably the key to the story arc in season 6) gets stung by a demon released by said Trio. So how far does this episode deviate from the holy grail story arc?

Anyway...the overlapping Sunnydale/mental hospital scenes are dynamic and poignant, moving this episode right along -- unlike a number of Season 6 snoozers. For what it's worth this episode actually makes more sense than a number of preceding episodes. (The whole thing with Dawn having been "created" by the monks never did -- and never will -- make sense.) And even though I tend to resent series that make everything turn on a dream or a fantasy (i.e. The St. Elsewhere's series finale intimated that the entire series had been nothing but the wonderings of an autistic child looking into one of those snowy globes.) for some reason I find this episode to be quite entertaining. If this had been the series finale, with Buffy getting better in the mental hospital, or even staying locked in some catatonic state, it would have allowed the series to go out with its head held high. Unfortunately...that turns out not to be the case.

Oh...and as far as the little Xander-Anya storyline goes -- meh -- I have no sympathy for Xander. He's one of the worst, most boring characters in the series. Maybe of all time. And personally -- I can't wait for Anyaka to seek her vengeance on him.

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What's real?

Author: Realrockerhalloween from United States
5 October 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A favorite of mine as Buffy is attacked by a demon shooting a chemical into her and making her see another world where she's in a mental institution. Her boss calls her she sees a doctor telling her its time to take her meds of fighting demons turns into orderlies trying to restrain her. She sees her parents are still together and happily married begging her to get better. I find it compelling as you wonder which world is real or fake as both have good cases for being the true world and the ending does nothing to clear it up as the last shot is of her shutting down in the normal world.

I just wish it went further with the concept by having Xander as one of the orderlies or Spike as a fellow inmate with a violent streak to make sense of who these people are and why she pictures them the way they are. Also Spike doesn't help Buffy decide as he drives her crazy with his needs yet she hates him and wants him almost destroying her in the process. Once again it shows their relationship is going to get one of them killed or a mental break down.

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To Be The Slayer Or Not To Be The Slayer...

Author: erickd201 from United States
14 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm a sucker for What If? stories but this one felt very different. This episode toyed with the notion that the reality that Buffy was infected with by the demon in the beginning of the episode might actually be the real one. I know when this first aired it rubbed people the wrong way but I find it to be an interesting concept which led to an intriguing question for Buffy. Which reality did she want to be a part of? In one reality she is a bona fide superhero with friends who are beloved to her, but as of late she has been going through some crises of life. Another being institutionalized with the opportunity of getting better and being with her still living mother and even her father. At the end of the day she chose the former and saved her friends and all is well but that final scene kept you guessing...

Pros: Great What If? concept

Buffy choosing her friends

Joyce returns

Xander still wants to be with Anya

Cons: Dawn making it all about her

Overall Score: 9.0/10

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"Life is the Big Bad"

Author: El Diablo
24 October 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

According to the DVD extras, this season is all about LIFE being the "big bad", and in that context, this story makes absolute sense as a story arch episode. For Buffy, it sums it up perfectly!

Every single one of our main characters have faced a major upset in their life, not least of which ends up being Willow (but that is a story for another day). Obviously Xander and Anja's relationship has imploded, and it's taken Anja back to her former occupation. Dawn is a kleptomaniac with major problems keeping her grades up, and poor Buffy is barely holding things together as a person, let alone as a slayer.

Oh...and Buffy is being messed with by the Trio! The icing on the cake!

Now, people have been complaining a lot about Dawn's reaction in this episode, but I want to take a moment to call out Spike.

I want to preface this by saying that I'm a huge Spike fan. He's possibly one of the best characters on this show in terms of complexity and character development (and just being plain hilarious)...but being a good character does not mean that one is immune from faults...and oh boy, his faults sure come out to play here!

He knows that Buffy is tripping balls, and is tasked with making sure she drinks the antidote, but instead decides to take the opportunity to go on a diatribe about her little "hero trip", and how if she told her friends about them she might actually have to be happy.

Hmm...Newsflash! There is no THEM. Buffy broke off their meaningless sex-fest (quite amicably, all things considered) during "As You Were", which was two episodes earlier. This is Spike being selfish and wanting things to go back to how they were before. He's attempting a convoluted form of blackmail to see if she'll sleep with him again to shut him up.

Then he leaves the room with absolutely no regard as to whether she'll drinks the antidote, or what effect his words might have had on her fragile mind.

Yep! Spike gets the gold medal for being a jerk to Buffy in this episode.

Now that that's out the way, I want to say that while I don't think that Buffy is actually in an asylum, that the fact that it's left open for interpretation is an awesome ending.

Heck...If you drew the storyline out a little further and didn't rely on the back-story of an entire series, you could cut-and-paste the outline of this episode, flesh it out with new characters, and have yourself a neat little screen play in the "psychological thriller" genre.

If this happens, don't blame me if the unoriginal cyborgs in Hollywood create a "Normal Again"-esque abomination.

Just sayin'.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Buffy and Jonathan - a new angle?

Author: buffyslayerofvampyres from Ireland
23 June 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is probably my favourite of all the Buffy episodes and the one that made we watch the entire season back to back. When you watch the previous episodes, the idea that it might all be Buffy's hallucination really does sit nicely.

Take for instance the episode Superstar from Season 4. Jonathan casts a augmentation spell that bends reality (a hallucinogenic reality if you like). He reveals that he learned the spell while he was receiving counseling, following his suicide bid.

In Normal Again we learn that Buffy was sent to a clinic when she first started 'seeing things'. On the relatively few occasions that Buffy and Jonathan are together, they share a certain level of empathy that isn't fully explained. So what if Buffy and Jonathan are both inmates of the same 'funny farm'? They are feeding each others fantasies while pursuing their own. Occasionally the paths of their fantasies cross.

In Normal Again, Buffy's hallucinations are triggered by an encounter with a monster while she is investigating a house occupied by The Trio. Jonathan is inside having some form of nervous breakdown. Jonathan's augmentation spell also summons some kind of monster. I think Jonathan may be a more significant character that is generally let on.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Is all we see and seem?

Author: Joxerlives from United Kingdom
2 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Good; Some great acting from SMG, lovely to see Kristine/Joyce again. Also I really like the idea of Tara to the rescue, so lovely that she get's to play the hero for once.

The Bad; Nothing bad, just a depressing ep

Best line; Spike; "You didn't say it was a Glarg gul cashmanik demon!" Xander; "Because I can't pronounce Glarg gul..."

Captain Subtext; Will sees Tara smooching with another girl but it might be just platonic. Spike uses the term poof of Xander. Also see Missing Scenes. Buffy says that once you fall for Willow you stay fallen.

Guantanamo Bay; Rather ruthless that Xander just wants to go down to the basement and execute the demon

Missing scenes; (reputedly) BUFFY: "I could wrestle naked in oil for a living and still be cleaner than after a shift at the Doublemeat". WILLOW: "Plus I'd come to visit you every single day".

Dawn in peril; 9 yes but in fairness the same as everyone else. She seems pretty resourceful both against evil-Buffy and the demon in the basement.

What the fanficcers thought; Obviously a lot of fic in this regard but I have 3 favourites. In one Buffy wakes up as an old woman in the asylum and promptly chucks herself out the window. The paramedics wonder why this dead old lady has such a smile on her face whilst back in the Buffyverse Dawn wakes Buffy up to join her friends for breakfast. Number 2 also has the same premise but in this one old Buffy turns her delusion into a series of bestselling novels/TV series and uses the money to start an orphanage called Sunnydale, naming all the kids after the Scoobies and her parents. Best of all though is 'No Place Like Home' which has Buffy awakening from her delusion just after the end of Chosen, still only 23 in the real world. She returns to her normal life with her old friends from Hemery High (who are all still alive as the deaths in the movie/Lie to Me never happened) but convinces a pregnant Joyce to call her new daughter Dawn.

Questions and observations; Actually for once it's Dawn who strokes Buffy's hair (and Joyce does the same thing to asylum Buffy). Buffy acknowledges for the first time that Dawn is taller. No Anya at all for the first time in 2 seasons. If you want to know how Buffy fared during her time in the asylum you can find it in the original Buffy comics (the fifty or so published whilst the show was still on air rather than the current post-Chosen/season 8 series). Although perhaps more fun is the story of Dawn and Hoopy Bear that occurred whilst Buffy was away.

There are probably about a thousand reasons why the premise of Normal Again (that Sunnydale is the delusion of Buffy who's a mad girl in an asylum) can't be true but here are just a few that occur to me off the top of my head;

1. How does stuff happen in the Buffyverse that Buffy never knows about? Giles' questions about her killing Angel, Xander's 'Kick his ass' comment in Becoming pt2, all of Angel;TS but especially 'I will remember you'? And notice we only ever see the asylum from Buffy's point of view, she's in every scene.

2. How can Hank, Joyce and Ford exist in both Buffy's delusion and the 'real world'?

3. Why is Buffy's delusion in Sunnydale not happier than real life? Surely her delusion is supposed to be an escape?

4. The asylum can't be Buffy's ideal if it doesn't have Dawn in it

5. How can Buffy be aware of current events (Tom and Nicole, Gatorade's new flavour, Star Trek; Enterprise) if she's a mad girl in the asylum?

6. If Buffy had a momentary awakening when she was dead why doesn't she remember it? The asylum is far from heaven.

7. What about when Buffy runs away from her calling after the end of season 2? She's a normal girl in the real world and also in her delusion?

8. How can Buffy be in a fugue state in Weight of the World within her delusion? And how exactly can she be inside Faith's dreams in 'This Year's Girl'?

On the other hand...?

The final scene on Buffy has Sunnydale destroyed, the Hellmouth sealed forever, literally and figuratively defeating her demons and HERSELF in the shape of the First Evil, the Slayer's work done. Faith tells Buffy that from now on she's going to have to live as a normal person. Dawn wonders what Buffy is going to do now? Buffy smiles her enigmatic little smile...and wakes up in the asylum, her sanity restored. She resumes her normal life, still only 23, all her friends who died in the film still alive as indeed is Joyce who is still together with Hank. She becomes a successful author of supernatural stories based on her delusion which are turned into movies and a TV series. And calls her children (and Joyce and Hanks beloved grandchildren) Dawn, Willow, Rupert, Faith and Alexander.

Third explanation of course, both are true, asylum Buffy and Sunnydale Buffy are both real in their alternate realities and have some sort of subconscious link. Post-Chosen asylum Buffy regains her sanity after 7 years, still only 23 and enjoys her normal life once more (because with thousands of Slayers to share the burden Sunnydale Buffy can also now lead a fairly ordinary life) but the season 8 comics are her dreams/successful literary creations which are the reality for Sunnydale Buffy.

Marks out of 10; 6/10 clever but not much fun

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2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Man season 6 is just about all the fun...right?

Author: Boromir28 from Denmark
7 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It seems inevitable in every show that if it is on air long enough, the writers start to disrespect the characters. It happened on "The West Wing" when Toby turned whistle-blower, "Doctor Who" when Amy and Rory lost their child and also here on "Buffy".

Let's cut to the last scene in this episode "Normal Again". The episode ends with a look through the glass in the door to Buffy's room at the mental institution, indicating that none of the show so far has been real. I can not express how much I hate that ending. With everything that has happened from season five and onward, Buffy deserves to get a moment of victory. This episode has such a scene when she's able to get out of her hallucination and save her friends. She was able to beat the poison on her own showing her former strength. However the writers cheat her and us for a chance to finally move on, with such a bad ending.

After the frustrating ending to the previous episode with Xander's run-away groom, I hoped that things would somehow get better, but the writers seem to want to find out how much they can put the characters through before the viewers switch off. I'm nearly done with my Buffy marathon, so I am sticking by it, but had I been following the show when this season aired I would probably have tuned out.

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