Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 17: Normal Again
Written by Diego Gutierrez; Directed by Rick Rosenthal
This is another of those super-dark episodes, but it’s also handled with considerably more skill than most. The basic premise is that, after being stung by a demon, Buffy begins to hallucinate, going back and forth between the world of the show as we know it and an alternate reality where she is locked in a mental institution, and has imagined the last six years. Many people consider this episode to be a travesty that destroys their suspension of disbelief and renders the entire series a joke. I, as it happens, think it’s pretty good. And it’s nice to see Kristine Sutherland again. There’s another gaping hole in the show that was never properly filled.
Joss Whedon stated that his intention was to make the institution/Sunnydale split 50/50, so neither one seemed more real than the other. However, a lot of people can’t get around the fact that the episode’s final scene shows Buffy back in the institution. “If it ends like that,” they claim, “then it’s obvious that the institution must be real and the rest of the show must be a figment of her imagination.” I think these people are, frankly, missing the point, and are probably the same people who ask why Naomi Watts and Laura Harring’s characters’ names change half-way through Mulholland Dr. My interpretation of this scene, which features institution Buffy lapsing back into a coma (“I’m afraid we lost her,” says a doctor), is that this is her relinquishing the institution reality and returning to Sunnydale reality. Is that really so difficult to understand?
What I don’t like, though, is the insinuation that, regardless of which world is real, Buffy did in fact spend time in an institution before coming to Sunnydale, because she told her parents about vampires. No, that doesn’t wash, I’m afraid. When Joyce learned that Buffy was the Slayer at the end of Season 2, it was clear that the subject of vampires had never before been raised. It’s this sort of internal inconsistency - a willingness to sacrifice the very foundations of the show and characters in order to reach a certain plot point - that came to mar Season 7, and I happen to be one of those crazy individuals who believe in staying true to the rules of the universe you’ve created. And Jesus Christ, Dawn, stop your whining for one second! No-one cares.
On a side note, this episode was directed by a guy called Rick Rosenthal. Back in 1981, he directed the first sequel to Halloween. Now he directs episodes of TV shows like Smallville and Veronica Mars. I guess someone’s career took a down turn.
Overall rating: 7/10.
Next time: Entropy.