Buffy, “Normal Again”

Insane in the membrane. Insane in the brain!

By Sarah Kuhn
March 13, 2002

Hey, it’s the Twilight Zone episode. Or the Outer Limits episode. Or the every single incarnation of Star Trek obligatory mind-fuck episode. The episode that twists everything and goes, [booming, Klingon voice] “Is this reality? Well, is it???” However you slice it, it’s a premise that’s been dragged out time and again by every sci-fi/fantasy show ever, and try as it might, Buffy doesn’t quite manage to make it seem all fresh and new.

Basically, our heroine is stabbed by the uber-claw of some demon called forth by the Big Pimpin’ Redshirts and experiences hallucinations. In these visions, Buff is a patient in a mental institution and the last six years of her life are a mere product of her imagination. Oh, and Ma and Pa Summers are there (Hi, Kristine Sutherland!). So blah blah blah, poor Buffy, blah blah blah, decides she wants to stay in her insane vision, blah, nearly gets all of her friends killed, blah. Oh, also, Xander returns and the Redshirts plot some more. Blah.

On the one hand, Buffy does attempt a fresh twist on this hoary old premise by making it the turning point for her frail mental state this season. It’s intriguing to wonder just how far The Buffster would go in order to delude herself, considering all she’s been through. The moment wherein she decides to dump Willow’s cure is potent, as are her cold, Bizarro Buffy reactions to her friends afterward.

But overall, a lot of this ep feels like a mishmash of TV movie-of-the-week emotions wrapped up in a tidy genre cliché. So Buffy was in a mental institution…? Jigga-what? Her moment of revelation and Willow’s hushed “Oh, God, Buffy!” feel like an overwrought scene from Girl, Interrupted, or possibly Murder of Innocence, starring Valerie Bertinelli. Did we need that? Is it even plausible, considering that Ma Summers was always so clueless about her daughter’s activities back in the day? And when stone-faced Buff actually starts stalking her friends, chasing after a tearful Dawn while menacing music plays in the background…I mean, c’mon, I could see that on Lifetime.

I also couldn’t help but really notice SMG’s acting here. I mean, usually I find her very natural, I completely believe her to be Buffy. She’s been pretty fantastic every time she’s had to break down this season, be it for an effect comedic (as in “Life Serial”) or dramatic (as in “Dead Things”). But here, I felt like I was merely watching SMG act, and there’s this weird falseness to it, as if she’s really gunning for that Emmy.

As for the scenes in the hospital, they ain’t bad, and it’s always nice to see Joyce. And Buffy’s hair somehow magically has the same cute cut that it does today, despite an attempt to scruff it up a little with some Bed Head. There’s also a bit of deconstruction of the actual show, Buffy, when the doc describes Buffy’s hallucinations as an elaborate fantasy wherein she is the center of the universe. It’s a bit too meta and self-congratulatory (as opposed to the light-touch “Grr! Argh!” ref earlier this season), but it works, especially if you’re over Buff’s self-involvement.

The best part of the ep is undoubtedly Spike’s excellent speech to Buffy, echoing what many of us have been screaming at our TVs all season. In essence: Get over yourself, Slayer. Cut the martyr routine, cut the “Poor me, I died!” routine, just cut it. Go on, Spikeums.

Unfortunately, the other Scoobies don’t fare as well. Dawn is whiny and annoying. Xander has a moving scene where he almost breaks down in tears when he learns Anya’s gone, but then he seems to snap right back to his wiseacre self, and his witticisms aren’t even that great – what was with the uh, “poking” reference? Even Xand is less obvious than that, and again…it feels false. I know that humor is intrinsic to Xand’s defense mechanisms, but still.

I appreciate the attempt to do something different with this good ol’ sci-fi scenario, but this just doesn’t grab me, not even with the big twist ending. Ah, well – at least Spike gets some decent, less puppified scenes. But let’s please not have Sarah Michelle Gellar become the next Meredith Baxter-Birney or Yasmine Bleeth or something, OK?