Saturday, April 20, 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Normal Again.

episode 117.
airdate: 12 Mar 2002.

This episode freaks me out. I enjoy the idea that maybe this is ALL in Buffy's head, in the narrative sense, but in the sense that I am EMOTIONALLY involved with this series, I HATE it. I don't like the idea that B could be making all of this up. So, essentially the premise is that this whole time (the 6 years of the series) Buffy has been in a mental hospital in a catatonic state. She's made up being a Slayer, the Hellmouth, everything. They still live in L.A., her parents are still together, Joyce is alive, she doesn't have a sister, etc. Buffy is beginning to "wake up" and see glimpses of her hospital life and in the end of the ep she has to choose between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and being a normal, albeit crazy, girl. It is presented as if either could be real, though the explanation for her visions of the hospital Buffy is a demon who scratched her and something about the scratch infected her with hallucinations or something. I don't know why I'm explaining the whole ep before I watch it...

Pressing play: Buffy is looking for the troika's lair. She's going through a list of new rentals in the area. As she finds the house they're in, they deploy a demon. Ok, the demon didn't scratch her (maybe that was "Earshot"), it stabs her in the arm with a skewer/needle-like thing that comes out from between its knuckles. The very first time it stabs her she's transported to the hospital where the stab is a hypodermic needle trying to calm her down.

Willow is rehearsing asking Tara out for a date when she sees her talking to another woman. They kiss on the cheek. Willow suspects they're dating and leaves without talking to her. Buffy comforts Willow back at home. Xander shows up. He's looking for Anya, but she left town a few days earlier. Xander didn't want to break up, he still wants to date her, etc. He's super sad.

Buffy runs into Spike in the cemetery and she updates him on the Xander/Anya situation. Xander and Willow show up and Xander and Spike start getting testosteroney in each other's direction, then Buffy starts having headaches, being transported to the hospital. This is when the doc tells her she's in a mental institution and she's been there for 6 years. She's flashing in and out of both "realities". She sees her mom in HR (hospital reality) while Xander and Willow get her home to rest in SR (Sunnydale Reality). Spike is upset he can't help (they shut him out when he offers his crypt for her to rest in). Buffy updates Willow, Dawn and Xander on what's going on. The research hath begun. She's in a "multilayered delusion", an "undifferentiated type of schizophrenia", according to HR docs. "Buffy inserted Dawn into her delusion, actually rewriting her entire history of it to accomodate a need for a familial bond." The doc tells her the "delusion" is falling apart. She doesn't have a fanciful monster to face now, just a couple of kids she went to high school with...he really makes it sound like she's made this whole world up.

Warren and Andrew (in SR) are possibly plotting against Jonathan, who is not on board with the evil that Warren wants to amass. Buffy confides in Willow that she feels lost, detached. Tells Willow she has been to an institution before, back when she was first called as the Slayer. She told her parents about the vampires and they put her in a hospital. She hadn't ever told Willow this. She was there a couple of weeks. "What if I'm still there?" Willow tells her Xander and Spike are out hunting the demon right now, because it carries an antidote to its own poison. B tells Dawn she's ok. "The thousand yard stare really helps sell that." In HR her mom is making her say out loud that she doesn't have a sister. When she slips back into SR, Dawn gets upset that she's not in HR. Xander and Spike tie the demon up in the basement to get the antidote. Willow brings B the antidote. Spike is supposed to watch her to make sure she drinks the antidote, but she tells him to go away and he tells her she's not "drawn to the dark" like he thought, but "addicted to the misery". He thinks she could be at peace if she admitted she wants him and they could, what, have a relationship? He tells her he's going to tell her friends about them if she doesn't. Then he leaves. She pours the antidote in the trash.

In HR she tells the doc and her family that she wants to be healthy again and asks what she has to do. They need her to kill her "fake" friends. Spike has left, so this leaves killing Willow, Dawn, and Xander. Xander gets back to the house after leaving to shower and B hits him with a pan and drags him to the basement where she already has Willow tied up. Then she gets Dawn, who fights back and evades her better than the other two. Xander is the only one without duct tape over his mouth. Why is that? Buffy unchains the demon. Tara shows up as B is hiding under the stairs of the basement watching her friends get attacked. She's flashing back and forth between HR and SR. She thinks she has to just wait it out, but it's really hard for her not to help her friends and sister. Xander is being targeted by the demon and getting his ass kicked. Tara discovers them in the basement and uses magic to untie Dawn and Willow and throw a shelf up against the demon. Buffy grabs her ankle as she comes down the stairs and she falls. They're all up and fighting the demon. Sarah Michelle is doing great. God, she is a phenomenal actress!

In HR, Joyce is telling Buffy she's strong and to believe in herself, etc. She's staring off, banging her head against the wall, screaming out for her friends, when suddenly she stops, looks into her mother's eyes and tells her "You're right. Thank you....goodbye." Then she goes catatonic in HR and fights the demon in SR. She has chosen. This whole series has, in some way, been about how she's just a regular girl with a supernatural gig and a lot of the time, she would rather just be a regular girl, but given the choice, when she truly does not know which reality is real, she chooses the complicated reality. The one with flaws and demons and pain and heartbreak. She chooses to be a superhero, yes, but it's not at ALL a comfortable life. She has now essentially CHOSEN to be the Slayer, instead of it happening to her. That's very powerful. Luckily, she's not too late to save her friends. She tells them she's sorry. They forgive her instantly.

The episode ends in HR with the doc shining a light in B's eyes, telling her parents they've lost her. So freaking powerful. God, that one really pulls at the emotions. Because Joss will never answer the question of if THAT was the really real world. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because we'd all rather be in the superhero Buffy world. So, we have to choose too. We don't get to know which is real, but wouldn't we all make the same choice? Don't I make the choice every day to live in fantasy worlds in my mind with all the entertainment I consume? Aren't we all a bit catatonic to our boring realities of weird government, work, and social politics? Dude, I choose Buffy, totally.

Commentary notes (by Rick Rosenthal and Diego Gutierrez) added 5.4.13:

Rick and Diego are lamenting that this episode isn't the last of the season. I'm really glad it's not. It makes more sense as a nugget of possibility. It has a lot of weight by itself and would have TOO much weight as a last episode. It would mock you as a finale. It would sway your own personal decision of which reality you choose. So to sum up, glad these two (who I've never heard of before this commentary) didn't get to choose where this episode went in the season arc. Watching these commentaries backwards (backwards episode order) is my way of drawing upside down. Seeing the show regress (I'm hoping) will teach me more about the show. More about fantasy fiction maybe.

In the scene where Spike tries to get close (figuratively and in reality) to Buffy as she's holding the antidote, he recoils from the light in her bedroom as he's advancing, telling her how he feels. Can't go into the light, can't get close. It's telling about his character, not being able to be a monster or a man.

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