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Discussion of 6.17 "Normal Again" - Aired 3/12/02 (UPN-US)

DeadlyDuo

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Only a dig because what I read seemed all about Spike, again.....when the real actor the one who made us believe she was in a mental institution is hardly mentioned
That's not JM's fault that people talk about the character a lot. Hate the character all you like, but don't hate the actor who was just doing his job. If anything, it's a testament to JM's acting that what was supposed to be a half season character turned into a main role for 5 Seasons (4 on Buffy, 1 on Angel).

Also SMG did not carry the show all by herself. She was the main character, sure, but her co-stars also helped make the show a success, hence why people talk about other characters rather than just Buffy herself. Hell, Willow tends to rate higher on most popular character lists, are you going to have a dig at AH as well?
 

thetopher

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Sineya
Also SMG did not carry the show all by herself.
She's really great in this episode though and sells the- rather generic- plot quite well. You really feel for Buffy's plight, her sense of despair and unreality. It's hard not to watch this episode and end up hating Joyce a little for doing this to her daughter.

And I do hate Spike this episode, more than a little.
 
Mr Trick
Mr Trick
Disagree with you about the episode but I agree that SMG knocks it out of the park again.

DeadlyDuo

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She's really great in this episode though and sells the- rather generic- plot quite well. You really feel for Buffy's plight, her sense of despair and unreality. It's hard not to watch this episode and end up hating Joyce a little for doing this to her daughter.

And I do hate Spike this episode, more than a little.
Absolutely SMG is great in this episode and other episodes as well, but the point is that the success of Buffy can't be attributed solely to her. Also the fact that the actors aren't to blame for what the characters do. Dora seems to have a thing against JM for playing Spike and yet the sun shines out of SMG's backside for playing Buffy.
 

thetopher

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Completely agree about all of that, the show was totally collaborative and its about actors doing a good job. Just commenting on the episode itself. :)
 

Taake

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It's hard not to watch this episode and end up hating Joyce a little for doing this to her daughter.
I read this and think, "huh… maybe I am dead inside."
 
thetopher
thetopher
Whereas I'm a big fluffy marshmallow inside.

Mr Trick

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This has been a favourite of mine for awhile. I don't have the problems with what it suggests about the show's history. I don't think the ending is cheap like others. To me you can read it either way. I like when TV leaves things open to the audience. Even if you choose to believe that what we have been watching up to that point is a false reality and that the real Buffy is dead it still doesn't change my investment in the series or character.

Horror fans might know that director Rick Rosenthal directed Halloween II in 1981. You can see his horror background here. I think he did a great job in building suspense and capturing the mood and style needed for such a episode.
 

Btvs fan

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The final reveal scene is what ruins this episode. If they had not done that people would like this episode more.
 
Puppet
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I disagree. The final scene is what elevates it, makes it better than it would be without it.

Cordy_Chase

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I posted the following in a different, season 6 neutral thread pertaining to this episode several years ago when I was first watching both series but something possessed me to give it a full revision and expansion and I've never been in here, the episode's official thread so I'd like to re-post it now:

This is easily the most disturbing episode in the series and not just to someone like me with a phobia of most things medical.
Not only did this one episode unravel the entire series and our investments in the characters and ships down to a question of one character's sanity but it was done in just that last minute with the choice to end it in the institution with Buffy permanent anchoring herself to what is considered in that reality to be a delusion which can be interpreted as a form of her dying.
It's startling and maddening and for this reason, I will never be watching this episode again but still found the concept quite brilliant.

Let's dissect both scenarios.

The following analysis is hypothetically saying that Sunnydale is the delusion.

There are actually several aspects of the show's past that could eerily fit the angle that Sunnydale has all been a delusion.

I was actually surprised that the doctor didn't bother to bring up Giles returning to England earlier in the season which could complement the logic he applied to the trio.
Just as the threat of average human beings instead of demons or apocalypses is a sign of her delusions deteriorating and her subconscious attempt to find her way back to "the real world", Giles as the foundation of the Slayer concept being "sent away" could have been seen as a subconscious attempt to get rid of the Slayer persona.
I find it interesting how when between the two realities, Sunnydale prevailed, Giles soon after returns and one of the Trio (Warren) ups his game from just messing around with gadgets to bloodshed.
Then, Faith, her counterpart, who represented the dark, unstable side of the Slayer a bit further down the line reforms.

Until this point, the two realities were in constant battle for dominance.

It started with another girl who served as her first conflict before Faith came into the picture, who represented the average teenager Buffy was and in reality, was supposed to still be; Cordelia.

We remember that Buffy didn't always accept her calling as the Slayer and Cordelia was a constant competitor in her social life, particularly with Angel and was almost always left in oblivion.
After Faith entered, both Cordelia and Faith struggled for Buffy's compliance, and when Cordelia was mistaken for Faith in Mr. Trick's SlayFest was Buffy's attempt to reconcile them both. Cordelia's supplementing a spatula for a stake was a weak spot that illustrated how the edges just wouldn't align.

Cordelia's rebar incident essentially would have represented the final death of Buffy's "normal" life, and Cordelia's deciding after this that she wanted an active, meaningful role in the Scoobies, to not just be someone whose presence was tolerated because she was dating one of them and who allowed herself to be used as bait was an aspect of acceptance that she couldn't have it both ways.
Hence the Slayer prevailed and the remanifestations of Faith. Cordelia even evolved into a fighter in her own right.

Faith could fit as the opposing rejection mechanism to the Trio, either a version of herself, namely the institution version that she wanted to destroy or someone more unstable than her to convince herself and perhaps the doctors that there was nothing wrong with her. The name Faith could actually be symbolic of this.
The idea that she'd defied her own delusions via creating more Slayers when there was only supposed to be one could be a statement of her sanity, a desperate attempt to convince herself and perhaps the doctors that the existence of the Slayer could not be argued if she were not the only one.

Now let's look at Angel. It was said that Buffy had sent him away but considering how not only was he banished almost twice and returned but even his final departure didn’t hold at first, I'm wondering if the doctor had just said that to her parents to cover up that he'd performed questionable procedures to forcibly eliminate Angel; manipulation of the delusion via brainwashing and medication. Both of which would have triggered a defensive reflex by her subconscious.

Angel had been the character Buffy had clung to the most so it would be rational for the intuition to believe that eliminating him would be the key to bringing her back to reality.

First and foremost the whole Angelus saga feels like it could have been the very warped result of the first attempt at erasing him using powerful medication. One that eventually succeeded but not indefinitely, probably because it was so violent and unnatural that Buffy instinctually rejected it to protect herself from another breakdown.

Then there was his attempted suicide in 'Amends' which was based on The First coaxing him to lose his soul to Buffy again. This would've been the result of a different, lighter medication that ended up being too light…or perhaps perfect considering Buffy's subconscious had to resort to an impossible snowfall to save him.

Lastly, we have Joyce's conversation with Angel in 'The Prom' about how his relationship with Buffy was holding her back. This could have been how the delusion processed the third and at last successful attempt, which was to manipulate the delusion into eliminating Angel at its own discretion. In reality, this was probably either the real Joyce or the doctor constantly telling Buffy that Angel was realizing how dangerous he was for her and was deciding to leave.

The fact that Buffy doesn’t know about Angel's first return until Xander lets it slip is an indication of a failed second round of medication meant to stifle her attempt to bring him back.
Hence the reason it had to be stepped up when she's made to forget her own visit to him, an action that in the delusion was taken by Angel, in which she'd tried to rebel against the treatment via changing him into something that's considered safer, human.

This is where Spike comes in, in her desperate attempt to hold on to Angel she could have turned Spike into as much of an equivalent as she could, he even gets a soul and a non-cursed one at that.

Later, another character manifests that becomes more significant a factor than Angel given that Angel was at last eliminated permanently but the delusion continued; Dawn.
Dawn I believe would have been a significant turning point in the delusions.

The memories of Dawn's non-existent childhood that were built into the minds of everyone around Buffy would technically have been a semi-sub delusion within a delusion somewhat like the dream within a dream concept in Inception causing the original delusion to destabilize. Hence the concept of this episode in which Buffy became more aware of reality and went back and forth between the two.

Being a family member rather than a friend, or romantic interest Dawn would be what most sets the two realities apart.
Perhaps for this reason, in the institution 'The Key' Dawn could have been is the true key to Buffy's reality rather than Angel because she was a breaking point for Buffy.

Down the line, Dawn's entrance had led to hopelessness within Buffy which resulted in a mental shut down like the one she had at the end of this episode in which she had been trapped in a loop of repeatedly killing Dawn. Perhaps because her subconscious saw Dawn as something of a virus, a threat to the delusion much like but quite a bit stronger than the medicinal "attacks" on Angel. It's specifically Dawn whom Buffy calls "a trap for my mind" and physically attempts once again to kill her.

Think about it, the first sign of Joyce's brain tumor was a spell where she seemed to have had some kind of memory lapse and had peeked out from behind the curtain of fabricated Dawn memories; "Who are you?". She then later expressed to Buffy having this strange knowledge that Dawn was not hers.
This was shortly followed by Joyce's death. Coincidence, I think not.

We also have a strong overlap of the two realities when Buffy confides in Willow in this episode that as a child she was institutionalized for a few weeks after complaining of vampires to her parents and was released when she lied about the vampires being gone.
Interestingly, Joyce never mentions this in season 3 (or was it 2?) when she first finds out that the Slayer and vampires are in fact real suggesting that it was a glitch.

(I've been told of a comic called 'Slayer Interrupted' in which it's told as that the institution visit happened when Dawn found and showed Joyce Buffy's diary. This would explain Joyce never mentioning it in her revelation as Dawn's involvement could mean that it didn't actually happen but I have no idea if this is canon and it directly contradicts this episode as Buffy doesn't mention Dawn in her telling here).

Now how would Dawn have manifested, to begin with? Another intervention by the institution? Probably considering the unnaturalness of her and that she was interpreted as an imposition on Buffy by the monks. This sounds as though it would be the result of an electroshock approach.
Dawn's line: "It's your ideal reality and I'm not even a part of it" speaks to this.

Now let's look at some points that don't match up with Sunnydale being the delusion (which is why I am saying it's not).

The show has explored many storylines that are not relevant to institution Buffy or serve to represent or sooth her in any way shape or form.
This includes but is not limited to; Giles's ripper past, Willow's changing sexuality and magic addiction, the entire characters of Oz and Anya and Angel's distant past history as Liam and Angelus, some of which we don't even get until his own series, another point that I'm going to circle back to.

The strongest of which is the episode 'The Wish' which revolved around Cordelia creating an entire alternate reality in which Sunnydale had never received Buffy.
Cordelia represented her past normal life in which she was NOT the slayer but this AU did NOT revolve around Buffy's slayer-hood but around Cordelia, still fresh from Xander's betrayal and the rebar incident blaming her personal misfortunes on Buffy's arrival in Sunnydale.

While this does have a mild, past resenting the present feeling to it, it still ultimately doesn't reflect on Buffy.
The whole foundation, the Xander/Willow affair didn't even add meaning to the neutral plot. institution Buffy aside. It was just so out of character and heavily awkward. If the yellow crayon scene had happened in season 3 instead of 6 that would have been a more believable way to establish the possibility of Xillow. It was more or less just a device to facilitate Cordelia's transfer to Angel, not that I would change it for anything. I love AtS Cordelia and Cangel. But I digress.

Back to 'The Wish' we don't see Buffy's end of the alternate reality, her alternate life aside from that she'd ended up on the other Hellmouth in Cleveland instead and a vague gist that she had a less sympathizing watcher vs. Giles, most importantly she dies almost as soon as she enters the picture!
When Buffy died at the end of season 5, the doctor had established that it had completely broken through the delusion and restored her to reality. So then how did her death in Wish!verse not do the same?
For that matter, we also get no mention of her death in 'Prophecy Girl' having any effect on the delusion. Or do we? It's been a long time. Either way still sets her Wish!verse death apart.

Now back to Angel's spin-off series.
There is no rational explanation to Buffy giving Angel his own world and a new life with new events, developments to his character and people that she is not a part of. Particularly Connor and the second Angelus arc. Buffy would never give him another woman's child, least of all Darla's nor would she release Angelus again.
It's interesting how almost all characters who left her world ended up in Angel's (Cordelia, Wesley, Harmony, and Spike) but there is no relevance to that either.

There are also inconsistencies in the institution itself:
  • Buffy's parents are still together. Not that it would be surprising if it took something like his daughter mentally losing it for Hank to be able to give half a crap. Why would Buffy divorce them in the delusion?
  • There was no backstory to establish a traumatic experience that would give Buffy a reason to retreat into such a deep psychosis.
Either way though, the one thing that is a given is that Sunnydale had to prevail because it's the basis of the show. This could have been used as the series finale which would have had a certain brilliance to it. It might have actually been better than 'Chosen' and definitely better than the crap I've been told comes after it in the comics but a riot would have ensued. I can understand how it would have been upsetting.
 

Btvs fan

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I posted the following in a different, season 6 neutral thread pertaining to this episode several years ago when I was first watching both series but something possessed me to give it a full revision and expansion and I've never been in here, the episode's official thread so I'd like to re-post it now:

This is easily the most disturbing episode in the series and not just to someone like me with a phobia of most things medical.
Not only did this one episode unravel the entire series and our investments in the characters and ships down to a question of one character's sanity but it was done in just that last minute with the choice to end it in the institution with Buffy permanent anchoring herself to what is considered in that reality to be a delusion which can be interpreted as a form of her dying.
It's startling and maddening and for this reason, I will never be watching this episode again but still found the concept quite brilliant.

Let's dissect both scenarios.

The following analysis is hypothetically saying that Sunnydale is the delusion.

There are actually several aspects of the show's past that could eerily fit the angle that Sunnydale has all been a delusion.

I was actually surprised that the doctor didn't bother to bring up Giles returning to England earlier in the season which could complement the logic he applied to the trio.
Just as the threat of average human beings instead of demons or apocalypses is a sign of her delusions deteriorating and her subconscious attempt to find her way back to "the real world", Giles as the foundation of the Slayer concept being "sent away" could have been seen as a subconscious attempt to get rid of the Slayer persona.
I find it interesting how when between the two realities, Sunnydale prevailed, Giles soon after returns and one of the Trio (Warren) ups his game from just messing around with gadgets to bloodshed.
Then, Faith, her counterpart, who represented the dark, unstable side of the Slayer a bit further down the line reforms.

Until this point, the two realities were in constant battle for dominance.

It started with another girl who served as her first conflict before Faith came into the picture, who represented the average teenager Buffy was and in reality, was supposed to still be; Cordelia.

We remember that Buffy didn't always accept her calling as the Slayer and Cordelia was a constant competitor in her social life, particularly with Angel and was almost always left in oblivion.
After Faith entered, both Cordelia and Faith struggled for Buffy's compliance, and when Cordelia was mistaken for Faith in Mr. Trick's SlayFest was Buffy's attempt to reconcile them both. Cordelia's supplementing a spatula for a stake was a weak spot that illustrated how the edges just wouldn't align.

Cordelia's rebar incident essentially would have represented the final death of Buffy's "normal" life, and Cordelia's deciding after this that she wanted an active, meaningful role in the Scoobies, to not just be someone whose presence was tolerated because she was dating one of them and who allowed herself to be used as bait was an aspect of acceptance that she couldn't have it both ways.
Hence the Slayer prevailed and the remanifestations of Faith. Cordelia even evolved into a fighter in her own right.

Faith could fit as the opposing rejection mechanism to the Trio, either a version of herself, namely the institution version that she wanted to destroy or someone more unstable than her to convince herself and perhaps the doctors that there was nothing wrong with her. The name Faith could actually be symbolic of this.
The idea that she'd defied her own delusions via creating more Slayers when there was only supposed to be one could be a statement of her sanity, a desperate attempt to convince herself and perhaps the doctors that the existence of the Slayer could not be argued if she were not the only one.

Now let's look at Angel. It was said that Buffy had sent him away but considering how not only was he banished almost twice and returned but even his final departure didn’t hold at first, I'm wondering if the doctor had just said that to her parents to cover up that he'd performed questionable procedures to forcibly eliminate Angel; manipulation of the delusion via brainwashing and medication. Both of which would have triggered a defensive reflex by her subconscious.

Angel had been the character Buffy had clung to the most so it would be rational for the intuition to believe that eliminating him would be the key to bringing her back to reality.

First and foremost the whole Angelus saga feels like it could have been the very warped result of the first attempt at erasing him using powerful medication. One that eventually succeeded but not indefinitely, probably because it was so violent and unnatural that Buffy instinctually rejected it to protect herself from another breakdown.

Then there was his attempted suicide in 'Amends' which was based on The First coaxing him to lose his soul to Buffy again. This would've been the result of a different, lighter medication that ended up being too light…or perhaps perfect considering Buffy's subconscious had to resort to an impossible snowfall to save him.

Lastly, we have Joyce's conversation with Angel in 'The Prom' about how his relationship with Buffy was holding her back. This could have been how the delusion processed the third and at last successful attempt, which was to manipulate the delusion into eliminating Angel at its own discretion. In reality, this was probably either the real Joyce or the doctor constantly telling Buffy that Angel was realizing how dangerous he was for her and was deciding to leave.

The fact that Buffy doesn’t know about Angel's first return until Xander lets it slip is an indication of a failed second round of medication meant to stifle her attempt to bring him back.
Hence the reason it had to be stepped up when she's made to forget her own visit to him, an action that in the delusion was taken by Angel, in which she'd tried to rebel against the treatment via changing him into something that's considered safer, human.

This is where Spike comes in, in her desperate attempt to hold on to Angel she could have turned Spike into as much of an equivalent as she could, he even gets a soul and a non-cursed one at that.

Later, another character manifests that becomes more significant a factor than Angel given that Angel was at last eliminated permanently but the delusion continued; Dawn.
Dawn I believe would have been a significant turning point in the delusions.

The memories of Dawn's non-existent childhood that were built into the minds of everyone around Buffy would technically have been a semi-sub delusion within a delusion somewhat like the dream within a dream concept in Inception causing the original delusion to destabilize. Hence the concept of this episode in which Buffy became more aware of reality and went back and forth between the two.

Being a family member rather than a friend, or romantic interest Dawn would be what most sets the two realities apart.
Perhaps for this reason, in the institution 'The Key' Dawn could have been is the true key to Buffy's reality rather than Angel because she was a breaking point for Buffy.

Down the line, Dawn's entrance had led to hopelessness within Buffy which resulted in a mental shut down like the one she had at the end of this episode in which she had been trapped in a loop of repeatedly killing Dawn. Perhaps because her subconscious saw Dawn as something of a virus, a threat to the delusion much like but quite a bit stronger than the medicinal "attacks" on Angel. It's specifically Dawn whom Buffy calls "a trap for my mind" and physically attempts once again to kill her.

Think about it, the first sign of Joyce's brain tumor was a spell where she seemed to have had some kind of memory lapse and had peeked out from behind the curtain of fabricated Dawn memories; "Who are you?". She then later expressed to Buffy having this strange knowledge that Dawn was not hers.
This was shortly followed by Joyce's death. Coincidence, I think not.

We also have a strong overlap of the two realities when Buffy confides in Willow in this episode that as a child she was institutionalized for a few weeks after complaining of vampires to her parents and was released when she lied about the vampires being gone.
Interestingly, Joyce never mentions this in season 3 (or was it 2?) when she first finds out that the Slayer and vampires are in fact real suggesting that it was a glitch.

(I've been told of a comic called 'Slayer Interrupted' in which it's told as that the institution visit happened when Dawn found and showed Joyce Buffy's diary. This would explain Joyce never mentioning it in her revelation as Dawn's involvement could mean that it didn't actually happen but I have no idea if this is canon and it directly contradicts this episode as Buffy doesn't mention Dawn in her telling here).

Now how would Dawn have manifested, to begin with? Another intervention by the institution? Probably considering the unnaturalness of her and that she was interpreted as an imposition on Buffy by the monks. This sounds as though it would be the result of an electroshock approach.
Dawn's line: "It's your ideal reality and I'm not even a part of it" speaks to this.

Now let's look at some points that don't match up with Sunnydale being the delusion (which is why I am saying it's not).

The show has explored many storylines that are not relevant to institution Buffy or serve to represent or sooth her in any way shape or form.
This includes but is not limited to; Giles's ripper past, Willow's changing sexuality and magic addiction, the entire characters of Oz and Anya and Angel's distant past history as Liam and Angelus, some of which we don't even get until his own series, another point that I'm going to circle back to.

The strongest of which is the episode 'The Wish' which revolved around Cordelia creating an entire alternate reality in which Sunnydale had never received Buffy.
Cordelia represented her past normal life in which she was NOT the slayer but this AU did NOT revolve around Buffy's slayer-hood but around Cordelia, still fresh from Xander's betrayal and the rebar incident blaming her personal misfortunes on Buffy's arrival in Sunnydale.

While this does have a mild, past resenting the present feeling to it, it still ultimately doesn't reflect on Buffy.
The whole foundation, the Xander/Willow affair didn't even add meaning to the neutral plot. institution Buffy aside. It was just so out of character and heavily awkward. If the yellow crayon scene had happened in season 3 instead of 6 that would have been a more believable way to establish the possibility of Xillow. It was more or less just a device to facilitate Cordelia's transfer to Angel, not that I would change it for anything. I love AtS Cordelia and Cangel. But I digress.

Back to 'The Wish' we don't see Buffy's end of the alternate reality, her alternate life aside from that she'd ended up on the other Hellmouth in Cleveland instead and a vague gist that she had a less sympathizing watcher vs. Giles, most importantly she dies almost as soon as she enters the picture!
When Buffy died at the end of season 5, the doctor had established that it had completely broken through the delusion and restored her to reality. So then how did her death in Wish!verse not do the same?
For that matter, we also get no mention of her death in 'Prophecy Girl' having any effect on the delusion. Or do we? It's been a long time. Either way still sets her Wish!verse death apart.

Now back to Angel's spin-off series.
There is no rational explanation to Buffy giving Angel his own world and a new life with new events, developments to his character and people that she is not a part of. Particularly Connor and the second Angelus arc. Buffy would never give him another woman's child, least of all Darla's nor would she release Angelus again.
It's interesting how almost all characters who left her world ended up in Angel's (Cordelia, Wesley, Harmony, and Spike) but there is no relevance to that either.

There are also inconsistencies in the institution itself:
  • Buffy's parents are still together. Not that it would be surprising if it took something like his daughter mentally losing it for Hank to be able to give half a crap. Why would Buffy divorce them in the delusion?
  • There was no backstory to establish a traumatic experience that would give Buffy a reason to retreat into such a deep psychosis.
Either way though, the one thing that is a given is that Sunnydale had to prevail because it's the basis of the show. This could have been used as the series finale which would have had a certain brilliance to it. It might have actually been better than 'Chosen' and definitely better than the crap I've been told comes after it in the comics but a riot would have ensued. I can understand how it would have been upsetting.

Great review. I should say as someone who was on the Buffy boards at the time. I remember there being huge uproar with the writers hurriedly popping up and assuring fans that no Buffy's universe is real and not a delusion. Why they did it then l don't know but I know Marti Noxon regretted and wasn't to keen on it.
 

Cordy_Chase

Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass.
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Sineya
Great review. I should say as someone who was on the Buffy boards at the time. I remember there being huge uproar with the writers hurriedly popping up and assuring fans that no Buffy's universe is real and not a delusion. Why they did it then l don't know but I know Marti Noxon regretted and wasn't to keen on it.
That's a shame that he regretted it just because of the fan uproar, I thought it was a smart concept even if it's far too unsettling for me to ever watch again.
 

katmobile

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That's a shame that he regretted it just because of the fan uproar, I thought it was a smart concept even if it's far too unsettling for me to ever watch again.
No it sucks it's ok to go I don't know what my reality is like Life on Mars and say it's a delusion later works.

By if it is why does Buffy create a separate reality for Angel? Why do people in verse know things she doesn't including Xander's lie and Faith defection to the mayor before enemies and Ben is Glory and Giles's murder of him.

It's not just a betrayal of your investment in the show that it's Buffy's delusion it makes no effing sense. So the asylum's last scenes are the lingering effects of the drug end of as far as I'm concerned. I'm sorry consistent use of the fourth wall is a hill I die on. Changing that and treating the show as a show is one of the many things that led to the decline of The Simpsons IMO.
 
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