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I Am Slowly Going Crazy (1-2-3-4-5-6-Switch!)

Buffy Episode 6.17 Normal Again
AirDate: 20th Aug 02

Boy howdy, I was officially creeped out by 'Normal Again.' They should've had a digitally resurrected Rod Serling introduce the episode, because it had a real Twilight Zone vibe. Chrissy dangled a spoiler in front of me last week, then elected not to let the cat out of the bag. Thanks, C, because this is the first episode all season where I managed to avoid reading a fairly detailed synopsis before seeing it, and the effect was quite pleasurable. Maybe those of you who prefer to avoid spoilers are actually onto something. I knew about the mental hospital and the presence of Hank & Joyce, and the whole "You've been here for six years" thing, but all of that was shown in last week's preview. Outside of the widely known, I went in pure.

I'm always pleased and reassured whenever the writers pick up a previously abandoned thread, so it was great to see Buffy on the trail of Warren & The Nerd Herd. Fair enough, she let it go in favour of last minute wedding prep and, with that out of the way (disastrously), it was time to kick some runty ass.

I thought there was just the right amount of screen time devoted to the Troika. I think if I was a writer for the show (which, as I'm constantly reminding myself, I am not), I'd find it all too easy to just keep featuring those three flinging little sci-fi fanboy darts at each other. The pop culture references are so satisfying! The most memorable last night being Jonathon's, "I'm going Jack Torrence down here", and the Ocean's 11 joke ("I still think we need 8 more guys for this job").

I was pretty sure Anya(nka) would be behind the nuthouse delusion, and not only was I surprised she wasn't, I agreed with the decision to leave her out of the spotlight for a bit. It builds up tension as we all wonder where she is and what she's up to.

What's the name of the guy that used to be on St. Elsewhere, and he played the cop who Bjork rented her place from in Dancer in the Dark? David something? Help me here, Smets. When Xander first came through Buffy's front door last night, I couldn't shake the idea that, one episode at a time, he's morphing into that guy. Only bigger. As he swept Buffy & Willow into his arms, he officially became Xander "Big Poppa" Harris. "Come over here, babies, and help Big Poppa get his coat off. Dawnie! Run to the Stop n' Shop and git Big Poppa a quart o' Dr Pepper and some onion rings. Big Poppa can't get over a woman 'til he gets his snack on."

Tara, you tramp! How could you? If you only knew how cute Willow looked rehearsing what she wanted to say to you, you wouldn't be kissing strange (but agreeably hot) women in the halls.

I've never done time as a fast food employee, but I'm pretty sure that if I had skipped out in the middle of my shift with some meatball in a Kevlar bodysuit, they PROBABLY wouldn't be welcoming me back the next week. But then again, this is the same company that kept Buffy and Allergy Girl on the payroll after they both missed shifts due to Hallfrek's lockdown spell. Cripes, I get threatened with dismissal just for being a few minutes late too often!

Okay, on to the heart of the matter. SMG kicked ass last night, and she gets this week's imaginary Emmy for having to juggle some pretty complex emotional grenades. I assumed the episode would mainly deal with Buffy in the hospital learning that the previous 6 years had been a delusion, but I loved the way they seamlessly intertwined two different stories: Hank & Joyce trying desperately to help their daughter regain her sanity and forget about Sunnydale, and real world (or is it?) Buffy in her ongoing struggle to stop 'going through the motions.' I loved the psych ward scenes, and they worked beautifully because it was hard not to cheer for that side in the tug-of-war over Buffy's mind. With everything she's been through since the show started, who can blame her for wanting to wake up and discover there's no such thing as a Slayer and her parents are still alive and in love?

It's an alternative so appealing that it didn't seem illogical or out of character for her to want to kill her friends to make the nightmare finally end.

When fans of this show play the 'wouldn't-it-be-cool-if' game, one of the things that often comes up is the idea of Buffy as the Big Bad, and the Scoobs have to take her down. We got a glimpse of it last night, and it was cool! It was like a slasher movie where the most trusted member of the good guys finally cranks her head around with a maniacal grin on her face and you know it's time to get the hell out of the house, because all bets are off. Except this time, we're seeing it from the perspective of the killer, and we can sympathize with her as she bashes her unsuspecting buddy between the eyes with a pot and drags him down to the basement with the other "victims".

And then it's Tara to the rescue with some timely abra cadabra! This was the big "Oh shit!" moment for me, because with Joss' confirmation that someone's going to die (and stay dead) this season and the widespread opinion that it's going to be Tara, I suddenly thought the moment had come. Willow was going to watch a wildly delusional Buffy kill Tara, either with her bare hands or by allowing the Galooshnickal Goombah demon (or whatever Spike called it) to tear her apart. Then BLAMMO! Buffy regains her sanity, but it's too late. A grief-stricken Willow pops the black contact lenses in and goes supernova and Buffy, Dawn & Xander have to run for their lives. I could feel it coming. I wanted to cover my eyes...

But true to form, Whedon knew exactly what we saw coming and zigged when we thought he'd zag. Tara was fine, and Buffy made a very tough decision, allowing herself to say goodbye to the reality she's spent years pining for. It was a really powerful moment as we saw one Buffy resolve the internal struggle she's felt since being dragged out of Heaven, and we saw the other Buffy (who, in the span of a single episode, had become very real) give up and surrender to mental illness. I don't care if it was just a fantasy brought on by demonic poison - I felt for Hank & Joyce as they lost their daughter. And just like Buffy, hands up everyone who was questioning which life was the real one after a while. Especially once she revealed to Willow that she really DID do time in a psych ward. It became even more plausible that it wasn't just the demon acid talking.

It almost felt like a series finale, following in the tradition of St. Elsewhere (again with the St. Elsewhere), Newhart, and Roseanne (FYI, all three shows concluded with variations on the "it was all a dream" concept). Or it was The Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy discovering that the way back to Kansas was to murder her beloved traveling companions. It could have been a very predictable episode, falling back on overused clichés, but instead I was nervous and creeped out and constantly guessing about where it would go next. In my opinion, this one goes down as another Very Important Episode in a season cursed with an unbearably high fluff content.


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