"Normal Again" is the seventeenth episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show, and is the 117th episode in the series. Written by Diego Gutierrez and directed by Rick Rosenthal, it originally broadcast on March 12, 2002 on UPN.
Buffy searches newly rented houses for the Trio's hideout. The three discover her on their surveillance equipment, then she gets a bit too close. While they hide in the basement, Andrew calls on a demon that attacks Buffy and starts a fight. The demon grabs Buffy and stabs her with a needle-like part of its body. Suddenly in a mental hospital, Buffy cries out as she's held by two orderlies and stabbed with a needle. Buffy wakes up alone outside the Trio's lair, hurt and confused, and walks home.
Willow prepares herself for talking to Tara, but spots her greeting another woman with a quick kiss; Willow walks away, wounded. Tara notices her retreating, but it's too late to chase after her. Working at the Doublemeat Palace, Buffy flashes again to the mental hospital, where doctor Berris announces it's time for her drugs.
Willow and Buffy talk about Xander's disappearing act and Willow's attempt to talk to Tara. Xander surprises the girls by showing up at the house. He wonders about Anya and how to repair his relationship with her. The girls tell him Anya left a few days ago and try to reassure him that everything will work out in time.
Paroling at the cemetery, Buffy runs into Spike and they talk about the events of the wedding that didn't happen. A confrontation begins between Xander and Spike over Xander abandoning Anya on their wedding day. Willow tries to break it up while Buffy collapses. Xander manages one punch to Spike before his attention is drawn by Buffy. At the mental hospital, a doctor informs Buffy that she's been hallucinating in the hospital for the past six years and everything she knows in Sunnydale is a delusion. She's even more confused when both Joyce and Hank Summers appear, then Buffy falls back into the Sunnydale world.
Willow and Xander get Buffy home and she recounts what she saw and was told at the mental hospital. While Willow organizes a plan to research, Buffy falls back to the mental hospital. The doctor explains to her parents that she's been catatonic from schizophrenia for all of the past six years, except for the brief period of lucidity which Buffy dimly remembers as her time in "heaven", and that her life as the Slayer has been an elaborate improvised hallucination she has constructed for herself in her mind. He also explains what Buffy realizes is its extreme improbability and illogicality compared to the "mental patient" scenario.
In Sunnydale, Warren and Andrew return to their hideaway with boxes after leaving Jonathan alone. Leery, Jonathan questions the contents of the boxes and tries to leave the house himself. Warren doesn't agree with that idea and convinces Jonathan to stay in the basement.
Willow shows Buffy a picture of the demon that stung her, a Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik, and tries to comfort her friend. Buffy then makes a confession to Willow: in the beginning of her Slayer life, she told her parents about vampires and they "freaked out". As a result, she was put in a clinic for her supposed insanity. Buffy wonders if she's still there and Sunnydale really doesn't exist, but Willow assures her that isn't true. Xander and Spike patrol for the demon that hurt Buffy; between the two of them, they subdue the demon with force and tranquilizer darts.
Dawn comforts Buffy, who dazedly notes that Dawn has been misbehaving and the problems need to be dealt with. Back in the hospital, her mother reminds Buffy that Dawn doesn't exist. Dawn realizes this through Buffy's babbling and rushes from the room. Xander and Spike wrestle the demon into Buffy's basement then chain it, while Willow breaks off its stinger to make the antidote, which she must synthesize without using magic.
Later, Willow presents the antidote to Buffy in a mug and leaves her to drink it. Alone with her, Spike urges her to abandon the life that's grown so hellish for her and choose peace with him, also threatening Buffy to either tell her friends about their sexual relationship or he do it for her. He also leaves and Buffy pours the antidote in the trash. Back to the hospital, Buffy tells the doctor and her parents that she wants to be healthy and rid of thoughts about Sunnydale. The doctor tells her that she has to do what is necessary to destroy the elements that draw her back there, like her family and friends, to truly be healthy.
Willow and Buffy are talking in the kitchen. Xander arrives at the house and finds Buffy alone, so he talks to her about Spike and his obsession. This is interrupted when she knocks him out cold and drags him into the basement, where Willow is already bound and gagged. Buffy finds Dawn upstairs and chases her through the house, while Dawn pleads that she is real. She is bound and gagged in the basement with the others — and the chained demon. In the mental hospital, the doctors urge Buffy to make her task easy on herself, so Buffy unchains the Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik in the basement to kill her friends for her.
Xander pleads with Buffy to free his hands, but she retreats under the stairs. Meanwhile, Tara shows up at the house and finds everyone in the basement. She uses magic to free Willow and Dawn and attack the demon, but the Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik is too strong for them. Buffy grabs Tara's leg, making her fall down the stairs and knocking her unconscious. At the hospital, Joyce encourages Buffy to fight against the Sunnydale reality, telling her that she has the strength to fight against the harshness of the world and must fight it because she has people who love her. Buffy thanks her mother for helping her make her choice, then says goodbye to her.
Buffy wakes up in Sunnydale to save her friends. She dispatches the demon easily and reconciles with her friends, urging them to quickly make her that antidote while she stays on guard against relapsing again.
In the hospital, Buffy is still sitting in her corner of the room, now completely unresponsive as the doctor shines light into her pupils. He tells Buffy's parents that she's gone.
- Buffy tells Willow about her parent's reaction when she first attempted to tell them about vampires; Joyce only learns and believes about her status as a vampire Slayer in "Becoming, Part Two".
- Alike what she reveals that had happened to her, Ted also threatened to put Buffy in a mental institution based on the contents in her diary about being a Slayer ("Ted").
- Details of Buffy's time at a mental institution mentioned in this episode are revealed in the non-canon comic prequel Slayer, Interrupted.
- This episode is the final appearance of the Doublemeat Palace, although she continues working there until "Lessons".
- After Willow sees Tara kiss another woman, she tells Buffy she left so she didn't magic her fist through a wall. The threat of using magic again because of something that happened with Tara comes to pass in "Seeing Red".
- The psychiatrist in the hospital provides mental health rationales for many of the incidents that have occurred in recent seasons, such as Dawn's sudden appearance ('Buffy vs. Dracula"), Buffy's increasing infamy among Sunnydale's human residents ("Flooded"), and especially her death ("The Gift") and resurrection ("Bargaining, Part One").
- Warren and Andrew arrive with packages with their contents hidden from Jonathan, this culminates on Jonathan secretly helping Buffy against them in "Entropy" and not having his own jet pack to escape her.
- Willow will go out with Tara in "Entropy" as she planned to ask in this episode, when Tara clarifies the girl she greeted with a kiss was just a friend.
- Buffy will tell Giles about the events from this episode during their cathartic laughing session in "Grave".
- Raymond Berris (Only in visions)
- Anya Jenkins (Only mentioned)
- Alexander Harris
- Jonathan Levinson
- Tara Maclay
- Warren Mears
- Janice Penshaw (Only mentioned)
- Willow Rosenberg
- Lorraine Ross
- Buffy Summers
- Buffy Summers (Normal Again)
- Dawn Summers
- Hank Summers (Only in visions)
- Joyce Summers (Only in visions)
- Andrew Wells
- Unidentified girl
- Unidentified nurse
Organizations and titles
- Magical construct (Only in visions)
Weapons and objects
- Behavior-Modification Circuitry (Only mentioned)
Rituals and spells
- One Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik demon, punched through the chest by Buffy.
Behind the scenes
- Despite credited, Emma Caulfield (Anya) does not appear in this episode.
- In his DVD commentaries for this episode, director Rick Rosenthal commented that the ending is intentionally ambiguous, leaving it to the viewer to decide whether it was real or not.
- On the theory that this episode revealed Buffy's actual world, Joss Whedon commented: "How important it is in the scheme of the Buffy narrative is really up to the person watching. If they decide that the entire thing is all playing out in some crazy person's head, well, the joke of the thing to us was it is, and that crazy person is me. It was kind of the ultimate postmodern look at the concept of a writer writing a show, which is not the sort of thing we usually do on the show. The show had merit in itself because it did raise the question, 'How can you live in this world and be sane?'. But at the same time the idea amused me very much and we played on it a little bit, 'How come her little sister is taller than her?', 'What was Adam's plan?'. We played on the crazy things we came up with time and time again, to make this fantasy show work and called them into question the way any normal person would. But ultimately the entire series takes place in the mind of a lunatic locked up somewhere in Los Angeles, if that's what the viewer wants. Personally, I think it really happened."
- Marti Noxon, in turn, was more direct in denying this theory: "It was a fake out; we were having some fun with the audience. I don't want to denigrate what the whole show has meant. If Buffy's not empowered then what are we saying? If Buffy's crazy, then there is no girl power; it's all fantasy. And really the whole show stands for the opposite of that, which is that it isn't just a fantasy. There should be girls that can kick ass. So I'd be really sad if we made that statement at the end. That's why it's just somewhere in the middle saying 'Wouldn't it be funny if...?' or 'Wouldn't this be sad or tragic if...?' In my feeling, and I believe in Joss' as well that's not the reality of the show. It was just a tease and a trick."
- At ComicCon 2013, while speaking about this episode, Whedon mentioned that, during his time writing Astonishing X-Men, he envisioned Cyclops, whose real name is Scott Summers, making a reference to a female cousin of his who had been sent to a mental institution for believing she was a demon hunter. However, he could not find an appropriate place in the storyline to fit it in, and therefore it was never featured.
Pop culture references
- Jonathan comments that, because of being cooped up in their new lair and his lack of sleep, he was "going Jack Torrance," a reference to the main character in The Shining.
- Commenting on the Slayer's mental state, Warren states that Buffy was "tripping like a Ken Russell film festival," referring to the director of the film Altered States, in which the protagonist was under the influence of psychoactive drugs.
- While Andrew and Warren enter the basement and load the computer file of a set of plans involving bank vaults, Andrew says: "I still think we need eight more guys for this mission." A frustrated Warren replies: "I never should have let you see that movie," implying the film Ocean's Eleven.
- Thomas Wanker — original score
- Armenian: "Եվ կրկին ամեն ինչ կարգին է" (And Again Everything Is Fine)
- Czech: "Zase normální" (Normal Again)
- Finnish: "Poikkeustilassa" (Exceptional Mode)
- French: "A la dérive" (Adrift)
- German: "Zwei Welten" (Two Worlds)
- Hungarian: "Újra normális" (Normal Again)
- Italian: "Di nuovo normale" (Normal Again)
- Japanese: "2つの現実" (Two Realities)
- Polish: "Powrót do normalności" (Return to Normality)
- Portuguese (Brazil): "Normal de Novo" (Normal Again)
- Romanian: "Normal Din Nou" (Normal Again)
- Russian: "И снова всё в порядке" (And Again Everything Is Alright)
- Spanish (Latin America): "Normal otra vez" (Normal Again)
- Spanish (Spain): "Otra vez normal" (Normal Again)
- Rick Rosenthal and Diego Gutierrez provided the DVD commentaries for this episode.
- This episode's premise of the reality of the series being put in question is similar to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars" (1998), the Charmed episode "Brain Drain" (2001), the Stargate: Atlantis episode "The Real World" (2006), the Smallville episode "Labyrinth" (2007), and the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be" (2007).
- Marti Noxon also refers to the famous ending to the series St. Elsewhere (which implies the entire show occurred within the mind of an autistic child): "We made a lot of jokes about the snow globe and St Elsewhere. But it's not the truth."
- Similarly to this episode, Gellar guest starred on her former soap opera All My Children in 2011 as a well dressed, coiffurred and otherwise coherent young woman who had been brought in for psychiatric evaluation for claiming to see vampires.
Behind the scenes
|Willow - "Buffy, look at me. You are not in an institution. You have never been in an institution."|
|Buffy - "Yes, I have."|
|Willow - "What?"|
|Buffy - "Back when I saw my first vampires... I got so scared. I told my parents... and they completely freaked out. They thought there was something seriously wrong with me. So they sent me to a clinic."|
|Willow - "You never said anything."|
|Buffy - "I was only there a couple of weeks. I stopped talking about it, and they let me go. Eventually... my parents just... forgot."|
|Willow - "God, that's horrible."|
|Buffy - (crying) "What if I'm still there? What if I never left that clinic?"|
|Willow - "Buffy... Buffy, you're not. I'm... so sorry you had to go through that. But, it's the past. You've got to trust me. We're gonna get you that antidote."|
|Jonathan - (about being stuck in the basement) "I mean, I'm going Jack Torrance in here, ya know? Stuck in this basement for weeks. We rented the whole house. Can't we at least sleep upstairs?"|
|Andrew - "We're on the lam. We have to lay low. Underground."|
|Jonathan - "That's figurative, doofus."|
|Spike - "Oh, balls! You didn't say it was a Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik."|
|Xander - "'Cause I can't say Glarba..."|
|Joyce - "I know you're afraid. I know the world feels like a hard place, sometimes. But you've got people who love you. Your dad and I, we have all the faith in the world in you. We'll always be with you. You have got a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself."|