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dark Dean

Normal Again

Posted on 2007.05.06 at 18:50
Tags: ,
Still mulling over the ending of Life on Mars, and my feelings about it.  

In the interests of research (and because I haven't dragged out my Buffy vids for a while) I rewatched 'Normal Again'.  The parallels are endless.  The difference, I suppose, is that Buffy had no recollection of her 'real' existence, and was therefore definitely more tied in to her 'fantasy' life.

For anyone who hasn't seen it, it turns up late in Season 2 (I think, feel free to correct).  Among the usual at danger from nasty demon stuff, Buffy wakes up to find herself in a psychiatric hospital, her mother and father in attendance, and she is told that her whole Sunnydale existence is a fantasy that her mind has created.  She has really existed in a fugue-like state, unresponsive to stimulus from the outside world. [as per Sam in coma] 

As the ep progresses, she is pulled further towards this reality, and told by doctors  [as per Frank Morgan ] that in order to free herself from the fantasy world that has such a hold over her, she must destroy the characters that have become her friends, as they are essentially a malevolent presence in her mind.  [as per Gene Hunt = cancer]  Finally, becoming convinced, she traps her friends in a cellar with a big bad demon who is going to kill them.  At the point where their death appears certain (unless she herself takes action to save them) [as per railway scenes] she wakes up in the hospital, to the utter delight of her parents.  However, she can't fully accept that the world she has created is a figment of her imagination, and ultimately rejects her awakening, falling back into her fugue state just in time to rescue her somewhat miffed friends. [as per 'leap of faith']

I remember being absolutely knocked sideways by this ep when I first saw it.  I never felt that the ending was unsatisfactory, though, even though she makes exactly the same choice as Sam does.  Thinking about it now, I can see that I, having invested heavily in the characters Buffy had 'created' (Xander, Willow etc), would have been upset by the fact of their death, and I did want her to go back and save them.

The other key difference was the treatment of the parents.  In Life on Mars, Ruth is sidelined, we see very little of her after Sam's return, as if the writers were wary of focussing our attention on her too closely.  Patronising, really - we were never likely to forget the impact this would have on her just because our attention is diverted.  In Buffy, we are painfully confronted by the devastation of her parents - as Buffy deliberately leaves to return to her fantasy, her mother is holding her hand and begging her to stay.  It is, in fact, part of what makes this ep so strong - there is no attempt to shy away from cause and effect, or to leave the viewer thinking that either decision would constitute a happy ending.

Incidentally, I know not everyone sees it this way, but after much thought I do believe that Buffy really did imagine all the fantasy, that the premise for Normal Again was essentially right.


ex_emeriin213 at 2007-05-06 18:11 (UTC) (Link)
Season 6 (or season sux) ;)

And I remember hating that episode because of the last scene and the suggestion that Sunnydale isn't real. But looking back at it, and all the similar episodes on other shows, it makes me dislike the LOM finale even more. I figured Sam to be as strong as anyone of those characters who chose the 'harder' reality and it turned out that he wasn't. Such a disappointment for a girl.
I, being poor, have only my dreams.
bistokids at 2007-05-06 18:58 (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, it reflects badly on the LoM ending. At least in Buffy, we got a good hard look at her parents' trauma, and her friends gave her something of an emotional pasting for putting them in such danger too. The writers obviously though harder about the consequences.
ex_emeriin213 at 2007-05-06 19:18 (UTC) (Link)
I don't think the LOM writers thought much of it through anyway. Not just the ending, but the whole show. (And I feel kinda quilty for doing this, Sam is a lot more fun to punish than the writers) I remember thinking in the back of my mind 'I'm giving them too much credit here, they must be in the mindset of thinking 'We're so clever.' and now that I see all the things unexplained and the inaccurate coma and everything else, I realise I was right.

I wonder if MG is ever going to turn around in a few years and say that he meant it to be a bleak, depressing tragedy like we saw it. But as the reaction is so overwhelmingly positive, I guess not.
hmpf at 2007-05-10 17:12 (UTC) (Link)

I think the thing that makes Normal Again work...

is simply that it acknowledges the bitterness of the choice - as you say, it shows us the anguish of her parents, and Buffy's own anguish, too - she's not simply detached from reality, like Sam, but rather she's extremely conflicted.

And if LoM had shown us a conflicted Sam, too, I would have been perfectly fine with the ending, really.
I, being poor, have only my dreams.
bistokids at 2007-05-10 18:10 (UTC) (Link)

Re: I think the thing that makes Normal Again work...

Agree absolutely - well, you know I do. Trying to imagine Normal Again without that angst and conflict - well, the whole ep would have been basically pointless. Not that I'm saying LoM is basically pointless - or am I? ;)
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