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Normal Again... good or bad?

Dogs of Winter

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I have always really liked it. I love the concept and for most of the episode feel it was carried out very well, with the ending being the weakest part

But then the problem with these type of episodes is always how to end them. The writers often want to leave them open to interpretation which can leave people feeling cheated.

Didnt Joss say it was upto the viewer what to believe, whereas Marti said it wasnt real?

The second thing I don't really like about Normal Again is the way it sort of messes up the canon with the revelation that Buffy tried to tell her parents about being the Slayer before she ever came to Sunnydale.
I had forgotten about that bit! But then I just treat this ep as a one off episode which can be enjoyed almost as a separate entity to the rest of the show, without thinking too much about how it fits into the canon

At least she didn't "do a Bobby Ewing" and emerge from the shower to find the whole season - including his own death - had been Pam Ewing's dream.
Now that sounds interesting. If S6 is wiped out, then on the plus side Buffy and Spike in S6 never happened ;)
 

AnthonyCordova

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Sineya
Hmm. I guess I'm in the minority but I liked it. The fact that it recasts everything prior to it and provokes a rethinking of the events of the past in the light of the new is a strength of the episode to me, not a weakness. But I'll leave you guys to it.

@TriBel you mentioned something earlier about people believing in and speaking of the death of the author and then turning around and criticizing the writers of the show for things anyway. I've noticed that and similar things too. I wonder if people shifting opinions like that is something they do as a matter of convenience (not necessarily people here but just people in general). So for example someone will appeal to an argument that people are primarily products of their environment in one philosophical discussion, but then when it serves their purpose better they will say in another context that people are primarily nature as opposed to nurture etc. Now it is possible to have a complex view of the world in which, depending upon the situation, one may answer one or then the other given a changing context, but that's not what I suspect a lot of people are doing when they answer like this. People want it both ways and they will do so in service more to an ulterior agenda then for the sake of some more complicated and nuanced form of intellectual integrity. I encounter this especially in political discussions, where quasi-philosophy is brought to bear on the topic to provide authorial support. Anyway I don't want to take the thread too far afield and away from the topic itself but I've noticed what you mentioned.
 

Ethan Reigns

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One of my favourite screenwriters is William Goldman. He is best known for Marathon Man, The Princess Bride and his masterpiece, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. According to him, there is always some egomaniac in the movie business who likes to drop the idea into conversation that he was the one responsible for some part of a movie or other, so the writer is "strongly encouraged" to incorporate notes from this person because writers have little power in Hollywood. This is part of the reason that in an adapted work, the book is usually better than the movie. His advice is to incorporate what is asked for unless it breaks the spine of the story (his expression}.

Normal Again not only breaks the spine of the story (the story being the rest of the Buffy oeuvre), it renders some of the stuff that came before incomprehensible. Joyce forgetting she institutionalized Buffy? Absurd. If you back up through the story, Joyce accompanying Buffy at the beginning of Gingerbread without "the talk" about her mental condition is ridiculous. But the main thing is, I still feel cheated.
 
Stake fodder
Stake fodder
Like this, but I beg to differ on one point. Goldman's masterpiece was The Princess Bride!

Cohen

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Normal Again not only breaks the spine of the story (the story being the rest of the Buffy oeuvre), it renders some of the stuff that came before incomprehensible. Joyce forgetting she institutionalized Buffy? Absurd. If you back up through the story, Joyce accompanying Buffy at the beginning of Gingerbread without "the talk" about her mental condition is ridiculous. But the main thing is, I still feel cheated.
If you take that one line out of the episode, does it still break the spine? What if Buffy only says this happened because she's confused by the alternate reality? Could this be an interpretation that doesn't break the spine of the story?
 

Seven

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This goes in another direction, but my problem with the episode is not the way it sheds doubts on the reality of the show - I am fully okay with this level of ambiguity, and it doesn't impact my emersion in the show.

To me this episode just shines a spotlight on the misery sundae that is Season 6 for Buffy. I feel so sorry for her.

In other shows I have seen using this trope, the character shifting between the two realities uses the setting of the "real world" to anchor them. It is their bond to their friends and their will to live that gives them the strength to fight. Even if they can't be completely sure of what is real, they make the decision based on the world they'd rather live in or where they are needed. On a meta level you can even see it as them choosing fiction over reality, I guess.

Buffy, however, is so miserable at this point that she actually chooses the reality which has her medicated and institutionalized over the one with her sister and friends. Sure, in the end her protective instincts kick in, but only after she actively chooses to knock down and tie up her closest friends and her sister. Her "staying" in Sunnydale is just accepting the inevitability of her miserable life.

Now, since this is a meta episode, I think it's also fair to point out that the fictional universe which Buffy it's forced to inhabit is created by writers. They heap trauma on her, they make her face the choice between Sunnydale and mental institution, and they take it away.

So basically I have no issue with putting this reality into question, but more so with the way it is constructed in the first place this Season and I just think this episode shines a light on this construction in an unfortunate way.

I might have preferred it if Buffy actually actively chose to stick to her friends and family even at the risk of them not being real. But she probably was not supposed to have the life affirming change of heart until later in the story.
 

DeepBlueJoy

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I hate it. I usually skip this, gingerbread and penis head lady when i do a watch through.
Learning Buffy was in a mental institution briefly was interesting and gave great insight into Buffy's head.

I truly hate how it disempowers Buffy. This makes her even more pathetic in context of season six.

I detest mind*%÷% episodes in any series, however. This is definitely one of those.
 

burrunjor

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So I was on another thread debating with katmobile about an aspect of the show when we started talking about 'Normal Again'. Despite disagreeing on original topic we both agreed that we didn't like 'Normal Again' as it felt sightly cheated with the idea that the whole Buffyverse is nothing more than someone else's delusion. So I was wondering what other people make of the episode?

Having a main character wake up and be told that everything they have experience isn't real or imply that it's all the delusion of some character or another is nothing new. It's been in a bunch of different books, TV shows, comics, and just about anything else. From Star Trek, Stargate, X-Files, Doctor Who and so on, so I guess this is Buffy's attempt at a tried and tested story. I for one wasn't a fan of Buffy's attempt at it especially with the episode's ending. Where it ends with us supposedly having Buffy secure in the belief that their reality really is real, and that all is well...Except for the last five seconds, where it's implied that maybe it was never real to begin with! Gasp! Shock! Horror!

An extreme arguement one could make is that when you make the reality of the show a delusion ala the end of 'Normal Again', you're basically telling the audience they're wasting their time in caring what happens to the characters. Things have to matter within the universe of the show. If it's just a delusion, then why do I care? I don't feel that strongly about it but more of an eye roll along with 'I bet the writers thought they were being cool and edgy with such an episode and an ending'. The Sci Fi show 'Farscape' did a similar episode 'Won't get fooled again' where the main character wakes up and is told that his adventures in space where all a delusion... but the big difference is that he does not believe it. We then sit and enjoy as he openly mocks, comments and laughs at world he is meant to be part of, frequently telling other characters that this isn't real. It is a different take on a familar story and one that works. We know that in the case 'Normal Again' we are not going to be watching the further adventures of Buffy the mental patient so why the ending?!

The second thing I don't really like about Normal Again is the way it sort of messes up the canon with the revelation that Buffy tried to tell her parents about being the Slayer before she ever came to Sunnydale. She was sent to a clinic for a few weeks before she wised up and decided to stop claiming she was a vampire killer. I feel that this makes Joyce utterly clueless. It's bad enough how clueless she was beforehand, but to realize that Buffy actually told her about vampires and that she FORGOT about having her daughter in intensive psychiatric care for several weeks is just mind blowing. You're telling me that throughout the entire first two seasons, all the wacky stuff that Joyce sees doesn't make anything click in her mind? Even if she wasn't going to realize that vampires were actually real, wouldn't she be severely worried that Buffy's behavior was a symptom of her mental problems? If your daughter had to be placed in a clinic for several weeks due to delusions, and then a year later she's coming home with blood in her clothes, burning down her high school gym, staying out all hours of the night, and constantly in trouble... wouldn't you maybe rethink that story about vampires she told you? Surely you would take her to see a therapist, at the very least? I feel it does kind of make Joyce out to be a terrible parent in that way.

Anyway I would be interested to hear other views on the episode about it.
It's funny because I was just about to post about how much I like it, but you ripped the arse out of it so badly I think you made me reconsider.

It is very flawed, and I too always hated the ending. Still overall I thought it was an effective story because of Sarah's harrowing performance and it is such a horrifying idea.

Sarah confessing to Willow that she was in a clinic and her worrying she is still in there is a terrifying moment and the way Sarah delivers it is perfect. She is so broken and genuinely scared.
 

darkspook

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It's funny because I was just about to post about how much I like it, but you ripped the arse out of it so badly I think you made me reconsider.

It is very flawed, and I too always hated the ending. Still overall I thought it was an effective story because of Sarah's harrowing performance and it is such a horrifying idea.

Sarah confessing to Willow that she was in a clinic and her worrying she is still in there is a terrifying moment and the way Sarah delivers it is perfect. She is so broken and genuinely scared.
I'm not faulting the performances just the way it changes canon that makes Joyce win worse parent award. Sarah is good in the show I agree but yeah... that ending.
 

WillowFromBuffy

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I like it. The scenes with Joyce and Hank are great, and there are a couple of real world scenes that are good, too. The scene where Dawn realizes that she is not a part of Buffy's fantasy is heartbreaking.

I think that the arc that starts with the divorce and goes through Buffy's alienation from her father, Joyce's death and taking responsibility for Dawn, is the biggest and most interesting aspect to Buffy's journey. That makes this an important episode, not just to this particular season, but to overall story of the show.

Still, it's not really a favorite and is better the first time around than on rewatches, as it gets a little boring.
 

Cheese Slices

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Funnily I enjoy it more on re-watches than I did the first time around. The discussions about the episode has made me like it more over time.
I think the first time around we're so focused on sussing out which reality is the right one that we don't really pay attention to the character work, so I agree that it's more interesting on re-watch when we're already over the whole mind f*** aspect.
 

WillowFromBuffy

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Funnily I enjoy it more on re-watches than I did the first time around. The discussions about the episode has made me like it more over time.
The reason it has diminishing returns for me is that it is kinda like a thriller and the way it resolves its interesting.

Bargaining, Hells Bells, Once More With Feeling and other episodes are so packed full of goodness that it doesn't matter how many times I see them. Normal Again is more middle of the road for me. It has some great highlights, but it's not an episode I'd pick to watch when I'm bored.
 
Mr Trick
Mr Trick
That's true I probably wouldn't throw it on if I was bored.

Mr Trick

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To me Normal Again lies in the 'not very good but better than the ones around it' category. The 'alternate reality/what's actually real?' trope is common in many fantasy/sci-fi shows- the X-Files being the best example of ithis- and Buffy does it....competently?

My main issue is the writers lazy retcon of Buffy's relationship with her mother ; the idea of Joyce sticking Buffy in an institute for claiming vampires are real is nonsense; what's more Willow- the person who Buffy confides this shocking secret to- would know that this is nonsense. She witnessed one of these 'vampire episodes' in S2 when Buffy was sick and Willow would've seen how untterly nonplussed Joyce was (not say, alarmed if this 'treatment was a reality). If this were true then it casts a lot of the S1-3 interactions in an entirely different light; the fact that this never came to light in 'Becoming? Or any of S3? What about Dead Man's Party? Why didn't this, lets call it what it is- cruel injustice- never get thrown in Joyce's face by her daughter.

It all smacks of the poor characterization that plagues many episodes this season. The writers have a story to tell and don't care enough about character consistency to let it get in the way of a throwaway, ultimately inconsequential episode.

So yeah, bad.
If your presenting a different reality then your basically saying that not everything would have happened as we saw during that time on the show. So in this timeline maybe Joyce didn't have those experiences. I don't find it that far fetched that Joyce would see Buffy believing in vampires as a mental illness. Don't forget also in the alternative timeline Hank is still in the picture so its possible he had a influence in Joyce's decision.

Whedon has always sacrificed narrative sense on BtVS if he wants his moment.
Chosen is pretty much a whole episode example of that. Its why Anya has a car in Graduation Day but by Triangle has never driven before.
Angel tells Buffy he never fed on anyone while souled yet in Ats episode Darla it turns out he did feed on people while souled.
To be fair what Whedon has said is that he believes in emotional truth and the truth of the characters and the world of the show. And in the genre show which is so much about the characters I don't have a problem with that. More often than not the writing gets the right balance on that front IMO. A genre based show works to different rules than a ever day drama. That's always been the case. To be fair I didn't even notice that continuity error with Anya. My guess is that most people didn't either. Does it spoil my enjoyment of the show or her character now that you have pointed it out? No.

Like @Athene I love the episode too and would have it at least in my top 20 of the show. The reason I don't have a problem with the ending or the idea of alternative timeline is because the writers lets you make the decision yourself. I don't think it is saying black and white that the events of the atlernative timeline happened. The viewer is free to read it either way. Also you could just read it as two different realities (something the show had explored before in The Wish). Its possible that both are true. You could also see it as Sliding Doors type plot (although not as clean) where it is just presenting a What If? type story. If one thing different happens in the timeline it can change everything.

I enjoy the episode as a high concept one off which adds to the characters and the world. One thing I like about Buffy as a show is there are a ton of plotholes or
inconsistencies you can pick out. But for pretty much all of them there is enough of a grey area where you can come up with a reasonable answer. Its not only fun to discuss such things, but it only adds to the depth of the discussion.
 

thetopher

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If your presenting a different reality then your basically saying that not everything would have happened as we saw during that time on the show.
I'm referring to what Buffy tells Willow in the 'sane' timeline, that's he had briefly been institutionalized before the show began. The writers can (obviously) do whatever they want in an alternate hallucination-fueled 'verse but Buffy's confession to Willow screws with 'our' show, and to not very effective dramatic effect.
It does, however, cast much of Buffy and Joyce's previous interactions in a different light. In 'The Witch' or 'Bad Eggs' or 'Killed By Death' when Buffy slips up Joyce shouldn't be bemused/puzzled but very alarmed and fearful about her daughter's sanity. Buffy's confession also casts Joyce's ignorance of slaying not as Sunnydale denial syndrome or ignorance but almost malicious neglect towards her daughter's sanity.
 

Spanky

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Joyce shouldn't be bemused/puzzled but very alarmed and fearful about her daughter's sanity. Buffy's confession also casts Joyce's ignorance of slaying not as Sunnydale denial syndrome or ignorance but almost malicious neglect towards her daughter's sanity.
And that's why I say that she is a horrible mother.
 
thetopher
thetopher
If that works for you then that's great.

WillowFromBuffy

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The writers can (obviously) do whatever they want in an alternate hallucination-fueled 'verse but Buffy's confession to Willow screws with 'our' show, and to not very effective dramatic effect.
Does that matter, though? It's the same Buffy in both realities, and she is equally unsure about what is real and what is not.
 
Mr Trick
Mr Trick
Good point.

Mr Trick

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I'm referring to what Buffy tells Willow in the 'sane' timeline, that's he had briefly been institutionalized before the show began. The writers can (obviously) do whatever they want in an alternate hallucination-fueled 'verse but Buffy's confession to Willow screws with 'our' show, and to not very effective dramatic effect.
It does, however, cast much of Buffy and Joyce's previous interactions in a different light. In 'The Witch' or 'Bad Eggs' or 'Killed By Death' when Buffy slips up Joyce shouldn't be bemused/puzzled but very alarmed and fearful about her daughter's sanity. Buffy's confession also casts Joyce's ignorance of slaying not as Sunnydale denial syndrome or ignorance but almost malicious neglect towards her daughter's sanity.
I can see your point. But again its possible that some of those events didn't happen if you believe that things played out in a alterantive timeline are true. I can see your point more with Killed by Death not the other two. I guess it mostly comes down to if them messing with the timeline bothers you or impacts your feelings about the whole overall. It doesn't for me. I just see Normal Again as a high concept one off. On that level it works for me.
 

thetopher

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Does that matter, though? It's the same Buffy in both realities, and she is equally unsure about what is real and what is not.
Buffy is very sure of what she is telling Willow because she contradicts her assertions that Buffy has never been in an institution. And in turn Willow readily believes and sympathizes with Buffy. There is no evidence that we are meant to disbelieve Buffy's memory- that's not a side effect of the poison- only her sense of what is real and what is not.
Also Willow witnessed Joyce's reaction to Buffy babbling about vampires in 'Killed By Death' and also her complete non-reaction to said outburst.

But again its possible that some of those events didn't happen if you believe that things played out in a alterantive timeline are true
I'm confused; we're talking about Buffy stating things that happened 'off-screen' in this timeline, the other reality is not an issue. In the narrative we are led to believe that what Buffy is saying to Willow is true, its just that we didn't see it happen.

I can see your point more with Killed by Death not the other two.
I don't see the distinction; in one she is acting drunk-happy, in another she is making a lame joke about forgetting to do a chore and in the third she has a fever due to illness. Why would one alarm Joyce and not the others?

I guess it mostly comes down to if them messing with the timeline bothers you
Not the timeline no, just one of the foundational relationships of Buffy's early seasons. In my view its not worth it for the episodes particular efforts.
 

WillowFromBuffy

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Buffy is very sure of what she is telling Willow because she contradicts her assertions that Buffy has never been in an institution. And in turn Willow readily believes and sympathizes with Buffy. There is no evidence that we are meant to disbelieve Buffy's memory- that's not a side effect of the poison- only her sense of what is real and what is not.
Buffy also tells Willow that she is starting to think she never left. And then she ties up all her friends to feed them to a demon.

To me, it seems obvious that both realities feel equally real to Buffy and that Willow is trying to reassure her as best as she can, but she knows she has to thread carefully. And if Willow really thought deeply about it, she might reach the conclusion that Buffy was never locked up in an institution, but saying that to Buffy would not help convince her that Sunnydale is real. It would probably push Buffy further towards believing the psychiatrist, who claims her imaginary friends are going to adapt to keep her trapped in the illusion.
 

Mr Trick

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Buffy is very sure of what she is telling Willow because she contradicts her assertions that Buffy has never been in an institution. And in turn Willow readily believes and sympathizes with Buffy. There is no evidence that we are meant to disbelieve Buffy's memory- that's not a side effect of the poison- only her sense of what is real and what is not.
Also Willow witnessed Joyce's reaction to Buffy babbling about vampires in 'Killed By Death' and also her complete non-reaction to said outburst.



I'm confused; we're talking about Buffy stating things that happened 'off-screen' in this timeline, the other reality is not an issue. In the narrative we are led to believe that what Buffy is saying to Willow is true, its just that we didn't see it happen.



I don't see the distinction; in one she is acting drunk-happy, in another she is making a lame joke about forgetting to do a chore and in the third she has a fever due to illness. Why would one alarm Joyce and not the others?



Not the timeline no, just one of the foundational relationships of Buffy's early seasons. In my view its not worth it for the episodes particular efforts.
But again there's enough of a grey area where you could read it another way. Plus if the timeline is different, then she might not have said that to Willow.

Because with a joke about why she didn't do her chores its much easier for Joyce to read it as Buffy just being a sacastic teenager. The Killed by Death scene stands out more because its a bit random for her to mention Vampires in the middle of a illness.

I can't agrue with your last point, only with what I've already said, except to say that again I tend to judge the show on if the drama involving the characters or the story and the world itself works. For me as a standalone episode Normal Again works very well.
 
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