"Normal Again"
Written by Diego Gutierrez; directed by Rick Rosenthal

Buffy uses a list of recent rentals to find the Trio’s Headquarters, Version 2.0. The Trio doesn’t notice her arrival until it’s too late. Andrew sends a demon after her which stabs her in the shoulder with a stinger. Suddenly, she’s in an institution, being injected by an orderly. Buffy later regains consciousness back near the Trio’s Headquarters and sees that the demon is gone. At UC Sunnydale, Willow practices what she wants to say when she sees Tara. When Tara passes by, Willow sees her kiss another woman (it’s more of a friendly kiss than a romantic kiss) and she takes off before Tara can see her.

Buffy zones out at work, flashing to the institution, where a doctor tells her it’s time for her medication. At home, she and Willow wait to hear from Xander as Willow describes what happened earlier with Tara. Xander shows up and is welcomed warmly by Buffy and Willow. He is upset to know that Anya has gone out of town. He says that he still loves her and misses her; he criticizes himself for screwing things up. Buffy later runs into Spike in a cemetery and is later joined by Xander and Willow. Spike throws the failed wedding in Xander’s face and Xander reminds him that he can’t hurt anyone. As Xander and Spike begin to fight, Buffy flashes to the institution again. A doctor tells her that she’s been there for six years. In the cemetery, Xander and Willow notice that Buffy is acting strangely. Back in the institution, Buffy looks up to see Hank (last seen in “Becoming, Part 1”) and Joyce (last seen in “The Body”).

Joyce tells Buffy that she and Hank have missed her and begs her to stay with them. Back in the cemetery, Xander and Willow decide to take Buffy home, where she tells them and Dawn that she’s been having hallucinations. The Scoobies head off to research as Buffy has another flash. She’s with her parents in the doctor’s office, where Joyce is saying that, with treatment, Buffy could go back to normal. The doctor explains that Buffy thinks she’s a hero and has created an entire imaginary world in which she fights demons with her friends. Buffy grows frantic, announcing that Warren and Jonathan are to blame for her condition. She mentions Dawn, whom the doctor says necessitated a rewrite of Buffy’s life. (Yeah, no kidding.) The doctor tells her that her fantasies are coming apart and that her friends aren’t as comforting as they once were. He says that she used to fight super-villains but now battles nerds. (It’s like he’s reading our minds!)

At the Nerd Headquarters, Jonathan grows suspicious when Warren and Andrew go off without him and don’t tell him where they were. Warren brings up the blueprints to a vault on a computer and the Trio discusses their future plans, but Jonathan isn’t reassured that Warren and Andrew don’t have something up their sleeves. Willow’s research pays off and she finds the demon that stabbed Buffy. She reveals that the stinger carries an antidote in it. Buffy tells Willow that she feels lost and has before she got sick. She tells Willow that she was in an institution back in L.A., when she first saw a vampire. She claims that, after she was released, her parents forgot about it. (Uh-huh.) Buffy worries that she’s still in the institution but Willow assures her that they’ll get the antidote and that she’ll be fine.

Spike and Xander find the demon and knock it out. At home, Dawn is present when Buffy flashes back to the institution. Joyce gets Buffy to say that she doesn’t have a sister; Dawn hears and blasts her sister for not including her in her ideal reality. (Yes, Dawn, because everyone’s ideal reality is to be in an institution.) In the basement, Willow breaks off the demon’s stinger and sends Xander to the Magic Box for ingredients. Later, Willow brings the antidote to Buffy, then leaves Spike with her. Spike tells Buffy that she’s addicted to pain and won’t tell her friends about their “relationship” because they would help her out. He gives her an ultimatum - either she tells the Scoobies what went on between them, or he will. After he leaves, Buffy pours out the antidote. In another institution flash, Buffy tells the doctor and her parents that she wants to get well and asks what she has to do.

The doctor informs Buffy that she has to get rid of the delusions she’s been having. She has to get rid of the things that keep drawing her back in. He mentions that when she had a temporary breakthrough that summer (aka the time between “The Gift” and “Bargaining, Part 1,” when she was dead), her friends brought her back. Joyce tells her that her so-called friends are tricks and the doctor says that she needs to do whatever’s necessary to convince herself of that. Back in Sunnydale, Buffy lies to Willow that she took the antidote. Later, Xander arrives and Buffy lies to him as well. Without warning, she clocks him with a frying pan, hits him, and drags him into the basement, where Willow is already tied up. Confused, Xander passes out as Buffy looks over at the demon, who’s chained up.

Buffy heads back upstairs, calling for Dawn. She finds Dawn packing, about to head over to Janice’s house, since Buffy is selfish and doesn’t pay attention to her, even though Buffy’s having a psychological crisis. Buffy tries to grab Dawn, who runs and tries to hide from her. Buffy chases her, saying that it’s ridiculous for her to believe that she’s a superhero. Buffy finally catches Dawn and takes her to the basement, where she unchains the demon. Xander begs Buffy to free him so that he can fight the demon, but Buffy just watches. Tara arrives at the house as Xander tries to fight off the demon without the use of his hands. In the institution, Joyce tries to comfort Buffy, telling her that what’s happening in Sunnydale isn’t real.

Tara comes downstairs and magically frees Willow and Dawn from their binds. She tries to magically stall the demon but Buffy grabs her ankle as she comes farther into the basement. Buffy grows a little worried as the Scoobies continue to fight the demon, but in the institution, Joyce tries to get her to stop. She tells Buffy to believe in herself and find the strength in her heart. “Thank you,” says Buffy. “Goodbye.” Back in the basement, Buffy stands up and fights the demon herself. She quickly kills it and apologizes to the Scoobies. She tells Willow to make another batch of the antidote and Willow assures her that she’ll be okay. In the institution, the doctor examines Buffy and tells Joyce and Hank that she isn’t reacting - she’s gone back to the other reality.

MORAL, or CRAMMING COMPLEX ISSUES INTO A NUTSHELL: If your friend is acting crazy, stay out of the basement.

GRADE: B+ Clever, intriguing, and question-raising. You just have to ignore the very obvious continuity problems. Like the fact that, had Buffy actually been in an institution, Joyce’s reaction to find out she was a Slayer in “Becoming, Part 2” would have been much different. Um…yeah, just pretend Buffy never said she was in an institution.

MEMORABLE QUOTES - Buffy: “There were, um…doctors and…nurses and, and other patients. They, they told me that I was sick. I guess crazy. And that, um, Sunnydale and, and all of this, it…none of it…was real.”
Xander: “Oh, come on, that's ridiculous! What? You think this isn't real just because of all the vampires and demons and ex-vengeance demons and the sister that used to be a big ball of universe-destroying energy?”

Warren: “Ah, now, there's the vault.”
Andrew: “I still say we're gonna need eight other guys to pull this off.”
Warren: “I never should have let you see that movie.”

“I should be taller than you.” - Buffy to Dawn

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