Buffy enters her own fantasy world
I’m of two minds about the March 12 episode of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — and neither of them is good.
Part of me wants to chalk up this episode (titled ”Normal Again”) as flat and disappointing, and just leave it at that. In ”Normal,” the geeky Trio of Doom summons a Nosferatu-looking demon with a stiletto-like stinger filled with some sort of toxin that affects the brain and sends victims reeling into their own private Idaho, a fantasy world from which they can never escape. Alas, Buffy gets jabbed and finds herself toggling between her ”real life” — marked this season by her angst over being reluctantly resurrected and an addictive sexual relationship with the vampire Spike — and an alternate fantasy life, in which Buffy has spent the last six years in the loony bin babbling on and on about being a vampire slayer.
In her ”fake life,” Buffy is ”normal again.” That means sister Dawn never existed (in Buffy’s ”real life,” Dawn is actually a ”fake sister,” but anyway…), her parents never divorced, and her mom never died (as awful as this episode was, it was nice to see Kristine Sutherland back in the fold). Just as Buffy’s ”real life” friends concoct an antidote, she decides that her ”fake life” is a lot easier to take than her ”real life” and resolves to slip permanently into the fantasy. The twist upon this twist is that her ”fake life” psychotherapist convinces her that in order to break with her ”real life,” she must first kill all her make-believe (i.e. ”real life”) friends. Buffy nearly accomplishes said task — though in the end, she comes to her senses, abandons the ”fake life,” good triumphs over evil, the end.
Alas, it all sounds better than it played. The acting was either forced or flat (I’m really beginning to wonder if Sarah Michelle Gellar is as bored with this lethargic, misguided year as we are), the directing was uninspired, the fight scenes edited with over-caffeinated jumpiness. ”Normal” comes in the wake of last week’s equally disappointing wedding episode, where Xander calls the whole thing off with his fiancee Anya. The follow-up was handled poorly: Xander returns looking distressed, expresses some remorse over the situation — and then promptly segues back into the goofy sidekick Scooby role.
As for the other side of me…well, that side is just pissed off. Remember that scene when the ”fake life” doctor is recapping Buffy’s ”real life” delusion, mocking her habit of concocting big bad super-villains (think Adam, or The Master), and then he deconstructs her current obsession with more mundane enemies (like the Trio of Doom, or sexual addiction, or — eeek! — credit card debt) as some sort of subconscious disassembling of those big bad villains, and — oh, excuse me, my brain just exploded. Anyway, did anybody else find that bit of self-consciousness as annoying and unwelcome as I did? Did anyone else catch a whiff of condescension, as if the show were trying to explain itself to all us morons who have failed to pick up on this season’s radical recalculation of the winning ”Buffy” formula? And was anyone just absolutely infuriated by the ending, which wanted to suggest that all of ”Buffy” is indeed the sad delusion of a mentally ill and now irrecoverably catatonic young woman? [Can you say ”St. Elsewhere” rip-off”?]
Honestly, folks. Episodes like this one make me want to turn in my ”Buffy” fandom badge. I’ll give ”Normal” some credit for taking some storytelling chances. But on the whole, I would have rather have been tuned into ”Buffy”’s old network to watch that repeat of ”Gilmore Girls.”
What did you think of this week’s show?