Mon
Sep 30 2013 1:00pm
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Delusions of Grandeur? Not!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again

“Normal Again,” by Diego Gutierrez

A week after the XandAnya wedding misfires so spectacularly, we find Buffy walking the streets of Sunnydale in a somewhat peculiar outfit, reading from a list of newly rented apartments. This is a search for the Trio—hurrah for being proactive!—and she’s about to hit paydirt.

Or maybe not. The Trio are just smart enough to put out a security camera and keep an eye peeled for the Slayer. Unfortunately, they’ve put Jonathan on watch and he has dozed off. Warren hits him with a squirt gun and he admits to having slept poorly since Katrina’s murder.

His partners in crime are not so sure he’s entitled to his feels.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Andrew Warren Jonathan the Trio

In fact, there’s a perceptible and growing rift among the three: Jonathan’s obvious feelings of guilt and his mistrust of Warren are a little too obvious. In the past, he and Andrew, united, could counter-balance Warren, at least enough to make him lie about what he was up to. But now Andrew has thrown in with Warren. It’s an unpleasant power shift: we can see they’ll be plotting, soon, to do Jonathan in.

Instead of busting out the violence, they’re arguing about boredom and cabin fever when they finally notice Buffy. Warren tells Andrew to “deploy his little friend.” This means to summon a demon who looks a little like an underfed Sontaran. In the ensuing fight, said Sontaran stabs Buffy with a single Wolverine-like claw, and suddenly she’s in a hospital, getting injected and fighting with orderlies.

Only for a second, though. Then she’s back in the here and now. There’s no sign of the demon or the Trio.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Tara

Over at UC Sunnydale, I’m faintly surprised (as I always am at this point) to see Willow still in university. Not that she’s in class. Instead, she’s rehearsing an attempt to ask Tara out on a date. This falls apart when she sees her beloved connecting with a friend and exchanging friendly cheek kisses. Willow gets the wrong idea and bolts; Tara sees her and looks hurt and/or concerned.

Buffy’s day, meanwhile, continues to alternate between surreal and depressing. Over at the Doublejob, Lorraine the manager transforms briefly into a doctor offering delicious, relaxing psych meds. Who wouldn’t say yes to that over flipping burgers?

After her shift, she finds Willow online looking for Xander e-mails. We learn that he is apparently AWOL, and Anya is, as far as they know, looking for him. Buffy asks why Willow isn’t up out with Tara, and gets brought up to speed on the inconclusive ‘other woman’ sighting. Buffy is supportive and reassuring.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Willow, Xander

Then Xander walks in, effectively eliminating one source of suspense. I’m glad he’s back, and so are they. Hugs abound.

Xander’s in bad shape. He’s incoherent about how badly he screwed up; he’s falling apart without Anya. Continuing the theme of supportiveness, Buffy says, “We all screw up. Sometimes we get what we need anyway.”

Which carries us, quite nicely, to Spike.

Because Spike missed the end of the wedding, he has to get filled in on the meltdown. Buffy tells him—in a rather warm and homey little scene—and even though Spike is the guy who usually sees clearly, he’s surprised. Nanoseconds later, Xander shows up. Everyone’s in a crappy state anyway so the men bristle and snark, about that and other things. They’re gliding toward actual violence when Buffy swoons... and then ends up back in the asylum.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Hank, Joyce

Buffy does not like the asylum. She tries to shut it all out and it looks like she might make a go of it. Then the doctor tells her she’s got guests, and it’s her parents.

It’s rather hard to say no to seeing Mom in the not-dead flesh again.  But she shakes it off, deswooning herself back to the graveyard, and reality.

XanDillow help her up, Xander tossing a final insult at Spike before they go. It’s a bit of a last straw—he starts to realize he’s had it with being treated like highly convenient dirt by Buffy’s friends.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Spike, Xander, Willow

Once everyone is home, to my surprise, Buffy tells the gang, including Dawn, everything. She even mentions about her parents being alive and together.

The next time she she switches back, the doctor is telling the Summers Senior how Buffy might recover and even lead a normal life, at home, with them... if she rejects her heroic delusions and everything she’s built around them.

The meta is lying pretty thick on the ground here, as the doctor describes the hero’s journey Buffy is embarking on. They talk about Dawn, and the way each season’s big bad villain has gotten bigger and badder... right up until the moment that Buffy’s subconscious came up with a pathetic Trio of nerds for her to fight.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Warren Jonathan

The doctor’s argument is that the Trio proves Buffy can no longer sustain the delusion of grand battles against huge monsters. Her whole imagined heroic world is coming apart.

But the Trio doesn’t know that. Warren and Andrew slipped out to fetch heist supplies while Jonathan was sleeping. They squabble—Jonathan wants to go out too—and Warren vetoes that.

Back in Sunnydale, Buffy is moping over a picture of Joyce, Hank, and her young self.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Hank Joyce

Willow tells her they’ve identified the Sontaran and it’ll all be okay, but Buffy is thinking about how detached she has been. “Every day I try to snap out of it,” she says. Willow assures her that she’s not in an institution and never has been, and Buffy confesses that the parents committed her when she first discovered vampirekind. Suddenly she’s afraid she’s been in the asylum the whole time.

With the fingernail demon properly identified, Xander and Spike go a-hunting. Xander gets to use Willow’s trank gun. This makes me miss Oz, a little.

As they’re hunting, Dawn makes soothing tea for her sister. Buffy tries to reassure her she’ll be okay, then abruptly breaks into stern parent mode, telling Dawn the grades have to come up. She accuses her of letting Willow do her chores. It seems a little peculiar and erratic; she’s trying to remind herself that this is her life and she needs to get on it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Willow, Xander

The scene switches to Joyce, in the hospital, trying to get Buffy to say “I don’t have a sister.”

When she does, Dawn hears it. And boy is she pissed off: “It’s your ideal reality and I’m not even a part of it.”

(I’d be mad, too.)

But a cure is on the way! Spike and Xander have captured the monster. They restrain it in the basement—Xander gets a few bonks for his leaving-Anya pains—and Willow breaks off the Wolverine nail and brews an antidote.

Buffy is, quietly, reluctant to drink it. And so Willow foolishly leaves Spike in charge of making sure it happens. I say foolishly because not only has the Bloody proven several times to be unreliable, but every now and then he does brag about how he’s evil and would love to see them all die.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again

Buffy tells him he’s not part of her life and he replies with a somewhat startling barrage of angry assertions. (A lot of the dialog in this seems ever so slightly off.) Buffy’s not drawn to the darkness, as he initially thought, but simply addicted to misery. He tells her she should get over her martyr complex and try to be happy, and that he’s going to tell the others about their affair.

With the charming prospect of being outed as a Spuff-loving pervert hanging over her head, she declines to drink the yummy fix-it brew.

(Ewww, it doesn’t look yummy.)

She pours it out, goes back to the asylum, and tells the doctor and the parents that she wants to be healthy and stay with them.

So that’s all good, in its way, except that the pathway to health is, according to the doctor, a process of ridding her mind of those things that supported the hallucinations. Meaning: her friends.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Willow, Xander, Dawn

“Last summer when you had your awakening, it was them that pulled you back in,” he reminds her.

This is where this episode gets very sticky and contentious. It strongly implies that the heavenly dimension the four amigos pulled Buffy out of was this everyday world where she’s not superpowered and her parents are still together.

Textually this clashes with her description to Spike of Heaven, where time didn’t mean anything and nothing had form.

Anyway, if she wants to stay in the arguably new heaven of my parents are alive and undivorced, she has to do whatever it takes to get rid of the Scoobies and the siblings.

With that revelation, she’s back in the, um, real world. And she’s serious about this whole get healthy thing. In no time at all she’s got Willow and Xander tied up in the basement, and she’s hunting Dawn. That’s delightfully horror-movie in its sensibilities and direction, and I enjoy it.

Dawn is packing to run away to Janice’s as the hunt begins.

“What’s more real, a sick girl in an institution or a supergirl chosen to fight demons and save the world?” Buffy asks, as Dawn tries to convince her she’s behaving wrong-headedly.

It’s a short chase. She drags Dawn downstairs and lets the Sontaran out of its restraints.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again

The Scoobies, for all that they’re bound, gagged and Spikeless, do pretty well against him for awhile. Xander starts by manfully kicking at the demon, who kindly, though accidentally, releases his hands. Then Tara comes downstairs, no doubt in search of that date she didn’t get asked on earlier. Using magic, she releases the girls and smacks the demon with a shelf.

Tara is knocked out of the fight when Buffy trips her, sending her tumbling down the stairs. (Which is a cool possible point of divergence: if Buffy had killed Tara, rather than Warren, what might have happened with Dark Willow?)

Back in asylumland, Joyce is telling Buffy to be strong, kill her friends, and believe in herself. It’s a two-layered pep talk, much of its content as easily applicable to the depression Buffy’s been battling as the attempt to leave her friends dead on the basement floor.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Joyce

Then Joyce promises that she and Hank will always be there for her. This, I think, is the minute the delusion loses its power. She knows better.

“You’re right,” Buffy says. “Thank you. Goodbye.”

Then she goes and saves her friends.

Maybe it’s only because it’s preceded by “Hell’s Bells,” but I found “Normal Again” easier to watch and, in a sense, rather optimistic. Xander is given a preview of his personal disaster scenario for a marriage with Anya—he sees the worst in himself being brought to awful fruition, and he cuts and runs.  A week later, Buffy sees how badly damaged he’s been by his own failure to rise to the occasion... and she sees it just as she is being tempted by something pretty damned enticing.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Normal Again, Hank Joyce

I don’t think it’s an accident that Xander’s bad choice so closely follows her decision to stay with the fight.

What she draws from this hallucinatory experience is that she wants to get better. At first this means withdrawing to the world of imaginary Hank and Joyce, but before she sacrifices her friends on the altar of delusion, Buffy does what Xander didn’t—she recommits to the harder path.

It’s not fear of losing the Scoobies and Dawn that makes her go back and save them, it’s that she knows Joyce is right: she has to fight on, she does have strength enough, and she will, in time, find it.

Next time: Anya makes some choices.


A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

41 comments
Kit Case
1. wiredog
One of the best episodes of BtVS, and certainly the best of the season so far. Very SFnal "alternate reality/mirror universe" episode if you like.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
I never took that "you're friends pulled you out" to mean that Buffy's Heaven was the asylum. It was just the delusion, drawing on what's real, to give it more "backup" so to speak.

And I'm again irritated by Dawn, under what possible realms of possible does Buffy being committed equal her "ideal reality". GET OVER IT DAWN!

I love this episode. I love how, no matter how much it makes Buffy question her calling, at the end it affirms it.

I never understood how people could misinterpret that last scene. It's nothing more than an indicator, that mental desire to overcome her depression aside, it's still going to take an antitdote(i.e. medication) to successfully treat it. Which is an important message for people dealing with depression, either in themselves or a family member.
Samuel Walker
3. lambada
This is definitly in my top three episodes. The other two being Once More with Feeling, and the one with The Gentlemen.

And I don't care what anyone says, I'm firmly in the camp that the Asylum Buffy was actually the reality.
Dianthus
4. Dianthus
Alyx, you're not the only one who's surprised when Buffy actually tells the others what happened. I agree that some of the dialog seems off as well. It almost seems as if Buffy hadn't ended things btwn her and Spike.

"Last summer, when you had your awakening." is pretty d*mn suggestive, in my book. I still don't understand how some people can't seem to grasp the difference btwn what is subjective and what is objective.

Not to say that it doesn't raise some intriguing possibilities, but this ep is another one that brings out my inner cynic. I don't think Dawn is entirely wrong. Buffy's idea of "heaven" is a world where she's an only child with two loving parents who've made her the center of their universe and she doesn't have to fight 'real' demons. IMO this can also be traced directly back to Whedon's personal issues. It is, in a sense, going back to a simpler time (childhood). We cannot go back, tho'. We can only go forward.
We get some snark btwn Spike and Xander, it's true, but we also get another scene (the demon hunt) where they work well together. Funny that, for all the 'animosity' btwn them.
Here's Xander to Spike in Doomed:
"You earn your keep or you don't get kept."
These are terms Spike can understand. He botches the attempt (doing laundry), but he does make a legitimate effort.
We see them bonding in Triangle and Spiral. Buffy's Heart and her Inner Slayer make a pretty good team. We'll see them working together again in Him.

I was a little disappointed in Spike when it gets to the point of Buffy taking the potion, but it goes back to the difference btwn him and Angel. 'Big Daddy Angel' would've held the mug to Buffy's lips. Spike assumes she's a big girl, who will take her medicine.
Dianthus
5. Gardner Dozois
I know that everybody loves this episode, but I don't. I think it's a bad idea for a series that deals with the supernatural to call the "reality" of its base Secondary Universe into question, makes it all the harder to suspend disbelief in a world that has vampires and monsters and demons in it. If I'm remembering correctly, the last thing you see on the screen in this episode is the doctors clustered around her bed at the asylum and saying "We've lost her." Which to me means that the asylum reality is the real one, the base reality, and that everything else that happens in the series, or that has already happened, was a dream, or the illusions of a sick young woman having a psychotic breakdown--which means, why should we care about it? I remember being very disappointed when I saw this, and almost feeling betrayed by the show for invalidating all the emotion I'd invested in accepting the world of the show as "real."

CHARMED did a very similar episode at about the same time, although I don't know which one came first, in which a demon is trying to convince Piper that she's in an asylum and the whole business of being a witch is a delusion she's suffering, and trying to get her to swear an oath that would cause her to renounce her powers. I thought that this was a mistake too, although at least there the episode ended firmly back in the Secondary Universe of the show, and left you in no doubt about which had been the illusion, the asylum or the usual realityof the show.

The rest of the plot is very close to the hunt-down-the-demon-that-infected-Buffy-and-derive-a-cure-from-it plotline that they used in the episode where Buffy becomes telepathic, and I thought the thing about Buffy killing her friends was silly.

So, heretical as this may be, I was not impressed.
Dianthus
6. Capper
I've always thought this was the most frightening episode of Buffy. I believe that the final scene is ambiguous enough to turn the show into St. Elsewhere finale territory. It just seems so plausible. The complete and utter disappearance of Hank Summers from Buffy's life has always bothered me. It is a loose end that should have been addressed somewhere along the way. Having his disappearance be part of Buffy's delusion is very convenient.
Dianthus
7. Dianthus
@5. I wouldn't say I necessarily liked this ep. I don't remember the bit with the doctors you mention, but it's been a while since I've seen it. I remember it ending with Buffy's "good-bye." This suggests to me that the asylum universe is the alternate one.
However, we can't really know for sure. We'll never know for sure, and it's kinda cool. While I agree keeping this sort of world grounded in the mundane is very necessary, I feel it lends itself to the possibility of multiple time-streams or alternate universes. I have no problem with the monsters and the magic. So long as the internal logic holds, I'm good. When it doesn't, it throws me right out of the necessary mind-set and makes me very cranky.
Star Trek (TOS) was my very first fandom (when I was just a li'l bitty Geekling) and Spock was my favorite character. That might have something to do with it. Matter of fact, Spock is still a favorite of mine and he'll always have a place in my heart.
Dianthus
8. GarrettC
I think there's a mistake in being too concerned with the "is it real or isn't it?" question, and it's bothered me since I saw Inception. I just don't know if there's very much to be gained from emphasizing the ambiguity. It's either one or the other, and the implications of either is pretty clear as compared to the other. There's just not a lot of room for intellectual exercise in it. Either it's real, or it's not, and either the writers give a clear indication of the answer or we're free to choose the one we prefer. Because what's meaningful is the significance of the thing to the story, and the Psych Ward Buffy interpretation doesn't add any import to the rest of the series's story.

You can see this with Inception (and in both of these cases, it's kind of a "last shot" problem). Inception ends on that maddening shot of the top spinning. And because it ends on the top spinning, the only thing most people are interested in talking about is whether he's in a dream or not. But you never hear them talk about why it's important whether or not he's in the dream.

Because, ultimately, that's not important to the story. He either is or he isn't. The writers don't give you a clue about their choice, so you choose on your own. But it doesn't really matter what you choose, because it's the wrong question.

In Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio's character makes a decision at the end of the movie that the rest of the film has been asking him to make. It's a meaningful decision, and his ability to make it provides a greater depth of meaning to the rest of the story. His decision has nothing to do with the question of where he is, so where he is doesn't matter. What matters is what he does.

This episode, to me, is similar. Ultimately, whether or not Buffy is actually in a psych ward is little more than a novelty question (and the writer's decision to emphasize that novelty question by forcing our attention to it in the final shot is problematic for this reason, and a mistake, I think).

It just doesn't change the story either way. If she's the Slayer, then she's the Slayer. If she's in a psych ward, then everything that happened to her as a Slayer, which is the only thing we get to see 99% of the time as the audience, remains exactly the same. The Slayer story is unchanged.

What's important is her decision. Buffy has been, all through season 6, been struggling with the desire to check out. She's never really, to this point, made an indication about whether or not her experiences during the season are pushing her to check out, or keeping her checked in. Her decision tells us. Because Buffy decides to stay checked in, ultimately, we can look at everything that happens to this point as contributing to that decision. Her decision adds import to the story. That's what's important.

Her psychic location isn't particularly important.
Dianthus
9. RobL
I'm with Gardner. The doctors were making way too much sense pointing out the absurdities of Buffy's delusions/the series (she is chosen to slay vampires and demons, she added a kid sister!).

Star Trek DS9 did it to0 in Far Beyond the Stars. Avery Brooks played a science fiction author in the fifties struggling to sell a story about a space station with a black commander. I liked many things about that episode, but it's too much of a reminder that the whole series comes out of a writers' room. Supposedly there was talk of showing Benny Russel with a script of DS9 as the final scene of the series. That would have sucked, IMHO.
Dianthus
10. Dianthus
@8. I think you're on to something there. As Alyx points out, Buffy chooses to continue the fight, to take the harder path, and that's one of the main themes of the series.
Dianthus
11. GarrettC
RobL:

Actually, the DS9 example seems useful to me (and Benny does end up in a psych ward, for what it's worth). But all the "psych ward/real life" question really asks is "is this world invented?" And we already know the answer to that. Yes, of course it is.

In Deep Space 9, they were more literal about the idea that this world is invented by writers, which is kind of nice, but they also take care with the idea. The last thing that Benny says in the episode is, "This future: I created it, and it's REAL." And that point, to me, seems very powerful. Yes, this is invented, but it is also real. It's real for the characters living it, and it's real for many of the people watching it.

That's one of the wonderful things about fiction.

I believe that Benny's words also reflect significantly on Gene Roddenberry's vision, that this is the future that needs to be real and not the future that is the most entertaining, but they speak even more fundamentally to the very function of fiction. To paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin, fiction writers tell you the truth by lying to you. They describe what is real by inventing it. It is, of course, still the truth. And it is, of course, still real.

Perhaps in that way it's possible to say that even if Buffy's Slayage is a delusion, it's still real. In a sense, Psych Ward Buffy is only standing in for the writers in that episode, anyway. Somebody who invents a story that uses monsters to metaphorize developmental crises? That sounds like the writers to me.

So, that world? Maybe she created it. But it's REAL.

And because it's real, what's truly important is not how real it is, but what she does with it.
Dianthus
12. Alex C.
Count me firmly in the camp of those who think that this was an outstanding episode. It easily makes it into my Top Ten list, along with at least two other episodes from this season.

It's been noted again and again in the previous comment threads that S.6 contains a lot of flaws, including a number of very weak or depressing episodes, and some problematic or heavy-handed metaphors employed in some of the character arcs (particularly Willow). I've made those complaints myself, but nonetheless, Normal Again lies at the heart of why I still love this season, and can happily re-watch many of the episodes and still get plenty of entertainment out of them.

I disagree with the comments that the dialogue seemed off. I would say it is quite the contrary - especially compared with the disappointing writing that dogged the last three episodes before this one, in this episode the writing is back to the high quality that always marked the series at its best, and everything that the characters did rang true to me, considering the highly unusual (even by their standards) circumstances.

I didn't find it surprising that Buffy told her friends about the asylum. She may tend to be secretive about a lot of things when it comes to her emotional life (a crucial element of her series-long character arc, IMO, but that's another topic), but having full-blown rounds of hallucinations is another kettle of fish altogether, and I see no reason why she wouldn't have told them about it.

I also don't have any problem with the docter's assertion that Buffy's time in "heaven" was actually a period when she had an "awakening" from her delusions. You can interpret it in different ways - depending on how you want to look at it, it can be read as one of several of pieces of dialogue that 'proves' the asylum world really is just a hallucination that was induced by the venom of the demon Andrew summoned, or it can be read as one of the elements that make the docter's explanation of how the entire Buffyverse is simply the product of her fevered imagination scarily convincing, precisely because of how plausibly he manages to string together all the discordant and even contradictory elements of the show's story into a coherent and sensical whole - even managing to get in a metatextual jab at how Buffy's 'fictional' universe and her friends in it just haven't been as satisfying to be with lately as they used to be.

Her back-and-forth with Spike in her bedroom is also a scene that worked really well for me. It demonstrates quite perfectly the duality of Spike's ability to relate to Buffy that has been subject to extensive discussion in the previous comment threads: he is simultaneously capable of brilliant pieces of insight into Buffy's frame of mind (his accusation that she has a martyr complex rings true), and yet at the sime time he is completely clueless about other, crucially important aspects of who she is, despite having obsessed over her for more than a year by this point. I defer to another viewer's thoughts:
Spike admits he had it wrong in "Dead Things" (6x13). He says, "But I hope you don't think this antidote... I hope you don't think this antidote's gonna rid you of that nasty martyrdom. See I figured it out, love. You can't help yourself. You're not drawn to the dark like I thought. You're addicted to the misery. That's why you won't tell your pals about us. Might actually have to be happy if you did. They'd either understand and help you, God forbid, or drive you out where you could finally be at peace, in the dark, with me. Either way, you'd be better off for it, but you're too twisted for that. Let yourself live, already. And stop with the bloody hero trip for a second, we'd all be the better for it. You either tell your friends about us, or I will."

This is a brilliant piece of insight out of Spike, although he's entirely too insensitive about it. Buffy's in no condition to be dealing with their issues right now. Spike's definitely right when he says telling her would likely make her happier, one way or another. But by saying this he shows his own critical gap in understanding the complexity of Buffy's emotions, history, and duty. Although Spike certainly understands the darker aspects of the Slayer, he's completely lost at understanding what Buffy demonstrated in "The Gift" (5x22) -- undiluted selfless love for humanity. In essence, Buffy should be feeling bad about being with Spike. But, Spike's not a purely evil creature either, and the parts of humanity he retains and chooses to let flourish deserve respect. So, Spike certainly has a point. They're both right and they're both wrong, at the same time. I love their relationship. It's only going to get more amazing in S7 because it builds on all of this while giving Spike the key component he's missing in completely understanding Buffy -- his soul.
Dianthus
13. Alex C.
@ 8. & 11. GarrettC -

Brilliant comments.
Dianthus
14. Dianthus
@12. You like this ep, and that's great. Please just understand that not all of us share your enthusiasm. This ep is nowhere near the top of my Favorites list, and that's ok, too.

Spike doesn't have a perfect understanding of Buffy, it's true. He never can, he never will, and neither will any of her friends or her sister. However, he will tell her "I've seen the best and the worst of you." If her best is (arguably) her sacrifice in The Gift, and her worst is (arguably) the beat-down she gave him in Dead Things, both of those events occured during his unsouled state.
Ironically, the one thing he tells her he understands about her post-soul is "the violence inside." To which she not surprisingly makes a snarky, brush-off sort of response. His insight seems to rankle. What he understands is the self-loathing that drove her in s6, once he's gotten a taste of it himself. This allows him to forgive her.
I disagree that she should've felt bad about being with him. She needed him. She wanted the fire back, and he's carrying a torch for her. She could've warmed herself by that fire. Instead, she ends up getting burned.
Dianthus
15. Alex C.
@14. Agreeing to disagree is fine.
I disagree that she should've felt bad about being with him. She needed him. She wanted the fire back, and he's carrying a torch for her. She could've warmed herself by that fire. Instead, she ends up getting burned.
What is it then that Buffy needs that Spike is capable of providing her with?

You've made some varient of this assertion several times in the comment threads, but you've never specified exactly how it is that Spike helps her (apart from his half-assed attempt to get money for her that she never would have accepted in As You Were), or how that help is greater than the emotional agony that being in a relationship with him at this time visibly causes to Buffy.

The fact of the matter with regard to the Buffy/Spike relationship in S.6 is that even if Spike's intentions are pure (and I don't think that they entirely are - there is a lot of selfishness mixed up in Spike's motives as well as compassion), that doesn't mean that his actions don't end up hurting her, even before what happens in Seeing Red.

Buffy has every right to feel bad about being with him in the way that she has. Even setting aside the fact that he's a soulless killer with zero regard for the sanctity of human life (kind of a big thing for her), she doesn't love him (and she won't begin to do so until an indeterminate point in S.7), and has been taking advantage of the fact that he does love her to indulge in a lot of her own worst instincts. In many ways, what Spike offers her in this season is not dissimilar to what the delusion about the asylum offers in this episode: a temptation to give up on the hard work of rebuilding her life, and sink back into the comforts of an alternate form of Death. She flirts with and even begins to embrace both forms of the temptation, but ultimately turns away from them, and becomes stronger for it.
Dianthus
16. Alex C.
To make further remark on what it is that makes this episode (IMO) so phenomenal - as a number of comments above have picked up, the basic gist of the premise for Normal Again is not a very original one, but it's one that works beautifully in terms of moving Buffy's character arc significantly towards resolution of the central conflict around which her seasonal character arc resolves. To once again defer to an excerpt from an excellent review of this episode:
The plot in "Normal Again" is that which has been seen many times before in various shows from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Charmed to Smallville. I'm not really sure where this plot originated, and I don't really care. What makes the Buffy adaptation of this premise so fresh? Well, the answer to that lies in the answer to the question of what makes Buffy as a series so fresh -- it's certainly not the fairly unoriginal plots. What makes it so fresh is how the plots affect and service the characters. It's all about the characters. "Normal Again" takes this common genre plot and twists it into something incredibly unique. It also ends up being one of the most emotionally gripping episodes of televsion I've ever seen.

The Trio's plan to summon a demon that makes you go completely inside yourself is not only brilliant for what it brings out of Buffy, but it's also completely fitting with the Trio's approach to keeping Buffy at a distance -- throwing her off her game. The one thing in particular that gets me a bit worked up when discussing this episode with many other fans is how a lot of them feel it is so great (or bad) because of its implications about Buffy's reality. They feel that the ending represents (or possibly represents) the fact that Sunnydale isn't real, and that the entire series is in Buffy's head. Let's just say that I don't see it this way at all. To me, as a viewer, there was never any question as to whether Sunnydale is real or not. If it wasn't, then this would be a pretty pointless series. If you want to watch something about a schizophrenic, I kindly direct you to A Beautiful Mind. That's not at all what this episode's trying to do though.

The ending scene in the hospital, although played for a brief "what if" moment, is actually a triumph for Buffy. She is able to bravely choose to ignore the fantasy of the asylum, so I ask all of you to follow in her footsteps and not let the fantasy trick you! I'll admit that the doctor, going on about Buffy's alleged schizophrenia, makes a pretty convincing case at first. This is an example of the show looking itself in the eye, almost realizing how much of a "fantasy" all the stories that have been told really are. The doctor unknowingly slips up, though, when he tells Buffy that her delusions aren't as comforting as they used to be. If Sunnydale is truly a fantasy completely constructed in her mind, wouldn't that be a fantasy that painted a much more happier picture and history? Why would her parents break up in her fantasy if that's what she ultimately desires? The fact her parents are here in the asylum prove that the fantasy is here.

In this fantasy, Buffy's parents are alive, well, and together. Buffy doesn't have the burden of taking care of a sister, or even of being the chosen one -- the Slayer. Here life is simple -- she's just a sick little girl who wants to get better -- and she is convinced that if she rids herself of Sunnydale, she can become normal again in this happier world. But that phrase, "normal again," really can only be obtained by recognizing the asylum for the fantasy it really is and facing the pain of her real life. In order to do that, she has to really let go of her parents for the final time, and completely leave behind the memory of what she wanted her childhood to be in the process. It's painful, and it's sad, but it's life.
The writing and the direction are both top-notch, but what really sells the NA for me on top of those is SMG's acting. She succeeds beautifully at conveying for the audience Buffy's emotional state and frame of mind at each stage of the episode. This was, IMO, one of her best performances over the course of the show.

It's also great to have the Trio back in the game, after being AWOL since the end of Dead Things. Their absence was, I continue to think, a large part of what made OaFA, AYW, and Hell's Bells inferior episodes compared to much of the rest of the season.

An additional note - it is interesting that although the asylum doctor covers most aspects of Buffy's life at the moment in his explanation of why they demonstrate that her fantasy-world is falling apart, he makes no mention of her relationship with Spike.
Alyx Dellamonica
17. AMDellamonica
Although the asylum doctor covers most aspects of Buffy's life at the moment in his explanation of why they demonstrate that her fantasy-world is falling apart, he makes no mention of her relationship with Spike.

Even Buffy's subconscious can't bear for her hallucinations to hash through that one!
Chris Nelly
18. Aeryl
Yes, that final scene is an indication that Buffy is back in the delusion, because she has still not taken her antidote, but even though she is experiencing the delusion, she is refusing to let it have a hold on her.

It's an affirmation of Buffy's reality on Sunnydale, not a denial of it.
Dianthus
19. Gardner Dozois
Some clever arguments here, but I didn't like this episode when I first watched it, and I still don't like it in retrospect. I didn't like the CHARMED episode or the ending of ST. ELSEWHERE either. It's an easy, too-facile way to claim Postmodern Significance--is everything a dream? Pfui.
Dianthus
20. Alex C.
@19.

That's fine. As said a couple of times above - agree to disagree, everybody's opinion is equally legit, etc, etc.

That being said, to reduce the basic gist of the episode down to "claiming postmodern significance" by waving the "is everything a dream?" card, is in my opinion to miss entirely the 'point' of the episode WRT its significance for the larger arc of the season and the show - irrespective of whether one likes these, or thinks that they 'worked'.

If there was one thing that the writers of BtVS really excelled at over the show's seven season run, it was taking established tropes and not just playing around with and subverting them, but finding ways to make them work towards the development of the characters, who were always the true strength of the show's appeal (did anybody become a fan of Buffy because of the quality and consistency of the show's plotting and world-building? I'm guessing there aren't too many hands being raised). And this episode is as good an example of that as any.

My reading of what this episode is 'about' is that it has nothing to do with making the audience question whether or not Sunnydale and the Buffyverse are 'real' - although that is played, to add to the dramatic entertainment value - and everything to do with bringing the seasonal character arc of the protagonist to a climax.

Buffy choosing whether or not to believe in Sunnydale and her friends has far less to do with a postmodernist deconstruction of notions of reality than it has to do with her confronting squarely the impulse that she brushed against or flirted with previously in Bargaining, Once More With Feeling, Gone, and Dead Things (to name the most blatent examples) - and rejecting it decisively, completely, and most importantly by herself for the first time.

In each of her previous contemplations of suicide (because that's basically what this is, underneath all the metaphorical window-dressing), Buffy was always saved at last partly by the intervention of someone close to her - Dawn stopped her from jumping off the tower again in Bargaining, Willow made her visible again in Gone, and Spike pulled her out of her fiery spin-dance in OMWF and stopped her from turning herself over to the police in Dead Things. This time, it is Buffy alone who makes the decision that she wants to and is going to live.

By doing so, she essentially completes the arc that functions as a follow-through from the end of S.5 and the challenge that she posed to Dawn in The Gift - which she now finally succeeds in facing. The remaining episodes of S.6 continue to give treatment to the issue, but mostly as a coda to a plotline that has been essentially resolved. For the rest of the season, the main focus is on her relationships with Dawn and Spike, the rise and fall of Dark Willow, and laying the groundwork for the events to come in Season 7.
Dianthus
21. Gardner Dozois
Of course, Seasons Six and Seven are by far my least favorite seasons of Buffy in general, and in my opinion overall the weakest, pound by pound (although there were good episodes scattered here and there throughout), so we'll have to agree to disagree. If it wasn't for the loyalty generated by watching the earlier seasons, I'd have certainly stopped watching the show in Season Seven, and quite possibly in the middle of Season Six.
Dianthus
22. Alex C.
Let's talk some more about the use of metaphor.

In previous comment threads I've brought up the writers' use of the basement in the Summers' house as a representative for Buffy's subconscious (with the cavern beneath Spike's crypt sometimes fulfilling the same function), and we see that again in this episode.

It is certainly not coincidental that the demon which is the source of Buffy's hallucinations gets chained up down there, and I also don't think it's an accident that it is here that she comes perilously close to killing her friends and her sister (right before she saves them). Ever since her friends resurrected her, Buffy has been, in my interpretation, forcibly repressing a lot of anger/resentment against them for that action, which has only been compounded by their actions and behaviour later in the season.

That anger was given a physical manifestation in "After Life" as the wrathful demon that attacked her - and when Buffy killed it, she also metaphorically killed any immediate prospects of catharsis for her pent-up resentment over being dragged out of heaven, something that was matched with her lie to the SG at the end of the episode about having been in hell, so that they wouldn't know what they had done to her.

In large part this episode can then be seen as revolving around the ugly chickens coming home to roost on Buffy's persistent attempts throughout the season to conceal the extent of her personal problems from her friends, and their equally persistent obliviousness to the extent of her troubles, even though the signs should have been fairly apparent, if they had only looked to see them. Up to an extent, in this episode both sides try to rectify this: Buffy finally confides in the SG about the extent of her problems, and they in turn make a genuine and positive attempt to help her cope with them for the first time in the season. There's still plenty of problems and bitterness on all sides that still needs to be worked out (much of which veritably explodes over the next few episodes) - but Normal Again does mark the point where the group as a whole take a big collective step in the right direction.

*******

On the other side of heroes/antagonists divide, the ongoing characterizations of the Trio continue to be a major plus for the season, in my view. The growth of Jonathan's disenchantment with his friends and his sense of moral dissonance with them, Andrew's enthrallment to Warren, and the exent of Warren's depravity are all handled convincingly, particularly in the ways that they work off each other in their ongoing development.
Janice boyd
23. scaredicat
Overall the concept of "the show is a dream/hallucination" is not my favorite. I absolutely detested the end of St. Elsewhere. And Bobby Ewing's shower...

Howver, I enjoy watching this episode, because -- Joyce! (I love seeing her - alive.) Buffy's life has been so crap-tastic this season, and she's been struggling so hard to be the grown-up, and here is childhood offered up on a mommy-and-daddy-together-forever plate.

It's telling that Buffy as a mental patient is the 'easy' option. Yeah, she's hallucinating (and probably on strong meds) but there's lots of people taking care of her, and she's not responsible for averting the end of the world. In fact, she's not responsible for anything.

If you consider that 'easy' option more carefully, it's obviously not as appealing. Buffy has (apparently) been institutionalized since early high school. She would come out of her fugue state a biological adult, but still need to go to high school or get a GED. She would be completely dependent on her parents, who would probably have a great deal of trouble accepting her as an adult. She's not going to have a fun, happy, California-girl life; there will be therapy and medicine and worries about how she will manage the rest of her life. She's not a superhero and she's essentially friendless.

This person is not Buffy. Accepting the mental patient reality means not only erasing her friends - it also means erasing her self. Rejecting that reality means being Buffy - and it means being an adult.
Constance Sublette
24. Zorra
I'm with @5 Gardner on this one. Very much dislike this ep for all the reasons he gives, as well as more.
Dianthus
25. Alex C.
@21. In fairness, I don't entirely disagree with you about S.6 being a weaker season overall than its predecessors for a variety of reasons, although it is obvious that I have a much higher opinion of its merits than you do. We definitely part company in our views of S.7 - my view continues to be that the last season of BtVS is by far the most underrated, even if it is not without its particular flaws.

Still, as you say - agree to disagree.

*******

@23. Brilliant post.

Amidst the various ur-metaphors that have been applied to the show, I generally think that the strongest one is that it is largely a story about adulthood.

From that perspective, the events of this episode (which, as noted above, is effectively the climax of Buffy's S.6 character arc) might be seen as the 'final temptation' for the hero, before she embarks in the next season on the final crucial stage of her journey to become an adult.
Constance Sublette
26. Zorra
This episode reminds us of Seasoin 5's "The Weight of the World." (Is that the correct episode in which Buffy checks out because "I can't do this," i.e. defeat Glory?) Buffy's check-out loop is the implanted memory of Hank and Joyce bringing home baby Dawn. This one was affecting and pertinent, which this one left me hackling and impatient, partly because we've already gone into an alternate timeline / story to escape Buffy's Destiny: hero-redeemer-sacrifice.

Love, C.
Dianthus
27. Alex C.
@26. I have a very different take on it, needless to say.

My basic interpretation of The Weight of the World is that it is about Buffy rejecting Spike's claim that she has a death-wish, and thus serves as an important part of the set-up to what happens in The Gift. (For a more lengthy explanation that more or less lines up with my own opinion, see here). It is the penultimate stage in the arc the culminates in Buffy's sacrifice at the end of S.5

Normal Again by contrast is the concluding stage in the arc that results from the challenge that she outlined to Dawn before she sacrificed herself, and which Dawn repeats to her in Bargaining. The entire point of Buffy's S.6 plotline is the reawakening of her desire to live in the world, and to that end, she must reject the temptation of an alternative to it.
Jason Parker
28. tarbis
Personally I like the ambiguity of the ending. It lets me interface with the show as if its reality was valid when I'm enjoying the show. When the sloppy world-building, inconsistent geography, protagonist centered morality, staggering plot contrivances, occasionally cartoonish characters, and wish fulfillment (attractive older men throwing themselves at her feet, unexplained sources of money, "I'm more special than the other special chosen ones," etc.) get me down I can write the episode(s) off as the dream of someone in a hospital and still be interfacing with the show on its own terms.

That said this episode did repeat some of season fives beats with Buffy breaking out of her own mind and Dawn being terrorized by a loved one who is suffering a form of mental illness. (Although I could have enjoyed a longer slasher movie type sequence of Buffy stalking her sister through the house.)
Dianthus
29. Alex C.
A couple more points -

- The fact that this episode builds heavily on some themes that have been brought up previously in the show (eg. The Weight of the World) strengthens the effect of it for me. One can see bits and pieces of foreshadowing for this moment going back all the way to the beginning of the season - one of my favourites being the class discussion that Buffy attended (but significantly failed to understand) in Life Serial, which was all about the social construction of reality, and the role that personal choice plays in constructing our own lives:
“MIKE: Social Construction of Reality. Who can tell me what that is? (many students raise their hands including Willow) Rachel.

RACHEL: A concept involving a couple of opposing theories, one stressing the externality and independence of social reality from individuals. (Buffy looks confused)

MIKE: And the flip side? (many hands raised) Steve?

STEVE: That each individual participates fully in the construction of his or her own life….

WILLOW: (lowers hand, speaks to Mike) Because social phenomena don't have unproblematic objective existences. They have to be interpreted and given meanings by those who encounter them.”
Therein, buried under all the jargon, lies Buffy's Normal Again dilemma and her solution to it in a nutshell. Whatever the "problematic objective existence" of Sunnydale and the Scooby Gang, Buffy gives meaning to them when she chooses to interpret them as real, and important to her.

*******

Funnily enough, it is the moment that Xander starts talking about Spike that Buffy knocks him out and drags him into the basement.

One might also choose to see the joke that he makes about the demon 'poking' Buffy as a bit of evidence supporting the notion that to some extent he's still in love with her, something that would also jive with her especial prominence in his nightmare vision from Hell's Bells, to say nothing of all the tension between him and Spike.
Dianthus
30. Dianthus
@15. So I mentioned Star Trek (TOS) in an earlier post. Despite being an ensemble show, the main characters were Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Spock represents reason, McCoy emotion, and Kirk filters their input to decide on a course of action.
We can think of Buffy, Angel and Spike in a similar way. For Buffy, Angel represents idealism and Spike represents pragmatism.
Most of the other regular characters represent some 'free-range' aspect of Buffy. It's made overt in Primeval, when they do the joining spell. Willow is Buffy's Spirit, Xander is Buffy's Heart, and Giles is her Intellect. By saving the Scoobies from a lesser threat while Buffy's otherwise occupied, Spike also takes on an aspect of the Slayer (IMO).
A burning torch suggests light and warmth. Spike carries a torch for a Buffy. Another common phrase involving torches is "passing the torch." Spike is lending Buffy his strength, and she will repay this debt in s7, when he needs it most.

There was also an ep of ST:TOS called The Enemy Within. Kirk is split in two by a transporter malfunction. One is Good but weak. The other is Bad but strong. Good Kirk needs to embrace his Evil Twin to be a whole person again. In BtVS, it's known as The Replacement (tho' it's mostly just a fun ep). It's the same for Buffy. She needs to embrace her Slayer/Darkness (embodied by Spike) to be a whole person.

I made out a Top 10 list last night, just 'cuz. There are 2 eps each from s2 - s6. Band Candy and The Zeppo are the only non-Spike eps on there. At least I've got a couple.
Dianthus
31. Alex C.
@30. That's a very good comment, and I agree with most of it.

However, I still don't see any instances of Spike lending strength to Buffy in S.6 He does that in the seventh season, and it is beautiful to watch. And I continue to think that gaining a soul was a crucial part of the difference.

I don't disagree that Spike has a lot to offer Buffy. But the thing is, what he has to offer isn't what she needs in this particular season. Her S.6 plotline is all about her coming back to life, and reconciling herself to that (remember, "Life is the Big Bad"). Spike, who is a 'dead man' before he regains his soul, is ill-suited to helping her with that - being with him just makes it easier for her to cut herself off from the people (particularly Dawn) that she needs to re-connect with. That's not entirely Spike's fault (although he isn't blameless either). But it does get at the heart of why I don't think that things could ever have 'worked out' between them as long as Spike remained soulless - something that Spike himself comes to realize by the end of the season, which is the entire reason that he goes to get it back.

*******

My Top Ten list doesn't have a particular order, but it would include three of the finales ("Becoming 1&2", "The Gift", and "Chosen"), the three episodes that I consider to be the best stand-alones in the show ("Once More With Feeling", "The Body", and "Hush"), and four others that would probably be "Passion", "Restless", "Normal Again", and "Dead Things", the last one possibly being interchangable with "Surprise"/"Innocence".
Dianthus
32. Dianthus
@31. Maybe I'm just too close to it. Maybe I'm not the best person to be making the case. It seems obvious, if subtextual, to me. Not only does he take responsibilty for the Scoobies in Primeval, he takes responsibilty for Joyce and Dawn in Checkpoint - again, when Buffy is otherwise occupied. He is sharing her burden. All the Scoobies (as aspects of her) contribute to the whole (Buffy).
In Doomed, Buffy says of herself:
"I'm the Slayer. Chosen One. She who hangs out a lot in cemeteries."
Who else do we know who hangs out a lot in cemeteries?
Riley to Buffy:
"I think you want to stay down in the dark place."
We also see Riley attach a 'lifeline' to Buffy to pull her out of the Hellmouth. He's wearing it on his belt, so it's at waist level. A bit of a stretch for the symbolism? Maybe. Maybe not. Sex btwn them powered the "battery in the boo factory" after all.
However, we also see Willow take power from Tara and, later, Kennedy thru physical contact. At the end of Same Time, Same Place Buffy says "I've got so much strength, I'm giving it away." Spike is the only one who's got enuf physical strength that he can give some to Buffy.
Subtext becomes text in s7, yes. Especially when Spike gives her the strength to face Caleb again. However, I believe it's what Spike has been doing for some time.
Buffy (understandably) has a box in her head labeled 'vampire.' Spike doesn't do boxes. Or labels. It's possible part of her agita comes from trying to reconcile who Spike is with what he is. He was "so much easier to talk to when he justed wanted to kill [her]."
Also, too:
When Angel goes bad, Buffy takes all the blame on herself. We know it's not her fault. She had no idea what would happen. In Dead Things, Spike tells her "Put it all on me." He 'selfishly' bears the brunt of her inner turmoil.
Finally (it's getting late here) and for what it's worth, Whedon has mentioned that Buffy sees Spike as her "dark place." Like the dark place he goes to when he writes.
Jack Flynn
33. JackofMidworld
Because I only started watching Buffy after her death and rebirth (the more recent one), I didn't have a lot of history with SMG. That said, even if I didn't like the storyline (which I did - the idea of her possibly rejecting 'reality' because her 'imaginary' friends needed her had tragic implications that hit a chord in my broody little heart), but I loved seeing her playing the alt-Buffy, torn between the choices of diving headfirst into possible insanity or getting her parents back. It could've come across as cheesy or melodramatic, but it hit me as heartfelt and emotional, instead.
Jack Flynn
34. JackofMidworld
and hit "quick reply" by accident and left a blank spot. Nature abhors a vacuum and I abhor a blank spot, so filling it with senseless blathering.
Dianthus
35. Alex C.
@33. Great comment.

*******

@32. Some good arguments, but I still don't buy it. It's fairly well established throughout the show that Buffy primarily draws her strength from her emotional rather than her physical state of being, and it is more or less indisputable that the primary effect of her relationship with Spike in S.6 is to cause her emotional agony (which is a huge part of what makes it such a problematic relationship: she keeps going back to him for so long precisely because he enables her to feel something at the times when her depression was strongest).

Spike's actions in Dead Things are yet another perfect illustration of the dual-sided nature of his ability to relate to Buffy before he got his soul back. His intentions are good, but he remains clueless about the central thing that motivates her: namely her concern for her fellow humanity. He is incapable of understanding it because he lacks a soul (the essence of humanity) of his own, and so cannot make the connection. Spike is however, capable of recognizing his own incapability, and taking action to correct it - that realization being the central element of his own character arc in this season, IMO.
Buffy (understandably) has a box in her head labeled 'vampire.' Spike doesn't do boxes. Or labels. It's possible part of her agita comes from trying to reconcile who Spike is with what he is. He was "so much easier to talk to when he justed wanted to kill ."
I would disagree with this emphatically. Buffy's problem with Spike has nothing to do with his being a vampire (see: Angel) except insofar as what being a vampire centrally entails: the lack of a soul. This is the tripping point for her, and it is only after he removes that divide between them that she really begins to reciprocate the feelings of love that he's had for her ever since S.5 (or perhaps even earlier, depending on how you want to interpret it).

Spike by contrast is very much into labels/boxes, going all the way back to his first appearance in School Hard, when he reacted to Angel's remark that "people change" by furiously exclaiming "Not us! Not demons!" He's still got that going in S.6, and it is a crucial component of the character conflict that ultimately leads to his decision to seek the return of his soul. He sees himself as a "monster", and is perfectly happy to be such, but is rendered incapable of acting on any of his monstrous impulses, at first by the chip in his head, and later by falling in love with Buffy. He is equally incapable of being a "man" however, restrained in this case by his own nature as a soulless vampire. It is his desperation to escape from this dilemma that leads him to reject his own previous assertion and decide that he can change - if he fights for it.

This is why I don't like the idea of Spike as a "special snowflake", who somehow could have defied the laws of Buffyverse mythology and achieved the character growth that takes place through S.7 without first being re-ensouled. It would cheapen his wonderful character growth, by robbing his most courageous action of a great part of its significance.
Constance Sublette
36. Zorra
Re Xander's feelings for Buffy: this is why for me the Xander - Anya arc of getting married felt wrong, from the moment he proposed. From the moment Buffy appeared at Sunnydale High Xander yearned for her. There were no hint that he ever stopped wishing to be number one for Buffy.

Like Cordelia, Anya was second best -- though he does demonstrate much kindness and generosity to them both. But neither of them can be for him what Willow or Buffy are.

Instead, we see repeatedly Xander's jealousy of the men Buffy chooses to have in her life in the romantic - sexual way. Even when he manages to work them, as he does with Riley, even though Riley's a good guy and human, unlike Buffy's other lovers, not even though Riley feels enough trust in Xander to confide that he knows he's not enough for Buffy.

The most content we ever see Xander is at the start of season 7, when he's clearly acting in loco-paternal-head-of-the-Summers'-household. All is literally sunny, as he and Buffy get Dawn ready for the new school year in the new Sunnydale High. He's not missing Anya one bit. He's got what he really wants -- Buffy to himself. Giles is in England, so is Willow. Spike's gone. Angel's in LA, having moved way way way on (I CANNOT accept Angel-Cordelia paired, I just CANNOT).

It's happy days for Xander -- not even any apocalypses had bloomed.

Love, C.
Chris Nelly
37. Aeryl
@36, I hear you on CordAngel. It felt SO forced, so they could have drama with Connor in S4.
Dianthus
38. Dianthus
@35. This is how I view Spuffy. Whether I can persuade you to my view or not really doesn't change that. Am I saying that people who hold other views are wrong? No. I understand the difference between a fact and an opinion.
I'm not the one who said Spike's a Special Snowflake. What do you think words like 'unique' and 'anomaly' mean? It's the height of Irony to me that it's Spike who says demons can't change. He does. He has to want the soul before he goes to get it. From The Initiative to Seeing Red, he's been conditioned by the chip and socialized by the Scoobies.
The chip teaches Spike two important lessons:
A) by hurting others, he's really hurting himself
B) it's only in fighting evil that he can find personal satisfaction

Giles tells Spike in s4 that there may be a higher purpose to him being chipped. Wes says the same thing over on AtS (s5). Also on AtS, Harmony will refer to him as "a Slayer-loving freak." I'm hoping they'll get to that in the comix.
What higher purpose are we discussing? The shan-shu would've made him plain vanilla human again. Then they kinda trashed the whole Higher Being thing with Cordy's story line.
They even brought in an OC: Billy the Vampire Slayer. He's not really a Slayer, but he's been inspired by Buffy. Maybe they're leading up to William the (Bloody) Vampire Slayer. That would be my choice. Maybe it's something else. Only time will tell.

Spike is different to begin with, and once chipped he will face unusual circumstances. He has to change to survive. He has to change to get what he wants. If that means winning back his soul, then that's what he'll do.

Even more basic to Spike's character as an individual is the following exchange from School Hard:
Shiela: Who are you?
Spike: Who do you want me to be?
It's Spike's M.O. with women.

He followed Dru down a very dark path (Crush).

In Lovers Walk, there's this:
Spike: "I haven't had a woman in weeks."
Willow: "...and there will be no having of any kind with me. Ok?"
Spike, who's drunk and miserable and not coincidentally wants something from her (a love spell), backs down.

We'll see this even in his relationship with Harmony. In The Harsh Light of Day:
Spike: "I've got an extra set of chains."
Harmony: "Ewww. Just because Dorkus went in for that -"
Spike: "Drusilla. Say her name."
Harmony: "Dorkus."
Spike: "Bite your tongue."
Harmony: "Do it for me."
Then they're snogging. Harmony gets the attention she seeks, without conceeding to any of Spike's requests. She makes it clear to him that she isn't like Dru, and he can accept that. He takes her out, even tho' he's given her perfectly logical reasons for lying low 'til he finds the Gem of Amara.

In Triangle, Spike knows Buffy wouldn't approve of him acting like the vampire he is, so he doesn't. How does he act? Like a good man. He performs a small act of kindness for a woman he (presumably) doesn't know. It costs him nothing, and, yeah, Buffy's there. Does he get the credit he wants? No.
In Intervention (at or near the top of my favorites list) he will again act as a good man would, to thwart Glory's plans and spare others pain. This time, he knows and cares about the people who would suffer and he pays a high price for his actions. He's willing to pay the ultimate price. Is Buffy there? No. Does she give him credit for it when she finds out later? Yes.
Doing the right thing while expecting credit for it vs. doing the right thing because you can. That's another important lesson.
I also see Spike's progress in his closeness to Buffy. He starts with a mannequin (fake) - moves on to the Buffybot (close but not really) - then 'graduates' to actual Buffy.

This is where I'm at and why. You're somewhere else and you have your own reasons for being there. It's starting to sound like we won't be meeting in the middle any time soon, if ever. That's too bad, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Unfortunately, it often seems the 'Spike is special' talk is mostly CYA on the part of ME. If vampires can change then it's wrong to stake them. IMO, it's the weakness in the vampire as addict metaphor. You can be a recovering addict. You can't be a recovering vampire. Still, Spike has been uniquely prepped to do what no other vampire could.
Dianthus
39. Alex C.
@36. Zorra - Great points.

When I first watched S.5 and S.6, I remember having the distinct impression at the time that marrying Anya was something that Xander felt like he was somehow obligated to do for her. She obviously made him happy in a lot of ways, but my feeling was, and remains, that deep down it wasn't something that he really wanted for himself.

That's why what happened in Hell's Bells didn't feel forced at all to me, even if it was painful to watch. One can see Xander's reluctance right from the beginning of the season, starting with his dilatoriness in telling the rest of SG about the engagement, continuing on through his song in Once More With Feeling (and his admission that he was the one who summoned Sweet), and culminating in his distinct lack of enthusiasm for the wedding itself. All that he was really waiting for was some sort of excuse to get out of it - and the demon that showed up gave him that excuse.

It carries through into the state that he's in in this episode, and the next: his guilt is so visibly mixed with relief that he didn't have to go through with it that he can't even muster the right sort of contrition that he should be showing for what he did to Anya (to say nothing of his parents, who paid for the wedding, and everyone who showed up and had to sit through it). It becomes particularly glaring in Entropy, when he sees Anya for the first time since the wedding - and manages to screw things up even more than he already had, if that's possible.

All told, this season was fairly devastating in terms of the audience's sympathy for Xander, right up until he has his big redemptive moment at the end of Grave.
Dianthus
40. Dianthus
Xander should feel bad for being with Anya anyway, since she has yet to repent.
Dianthus
41. Alex C.
@40. And therein lies Buffy's dilemma with Spike, in a nutshell.

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