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Thread: BtVS rewatch: SEASON 6

  1. #541
    Slayer MikeB's Avatar
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    All said regarding writers, producers, actors, directors, viewers, readers, etc. are what I remember, my opinions, etc.

    * I’m slowly going through all the threads—that aren’t in Dead Threads—that I hadn’t read through and responded through. I had planned to do this earlier, but Donald Trump won the 2016 A.D. United States Presidential Election and has required a TON of time regarding reading the news and trying to limit his impact.

    So, I’ll eventually get through all the posts in the Re-watch threads for BtVS.

    * I’ll say here regarding “As You Were” (B 6.15) and the Buffy/Spike relationship that if Tara’s tombstone is accurate, “As You Were” happens around over 3 months after “Older and Faraway” (B 6.14). Sometime during that time, it’s likely Spike found out about Riley’s situation and that Riley was now married and so Spike developed and implemented a scheme to get Riley back in Sunnydale and see what Buffy’s reaction to Buffy/Spike vs. Buffy/Riley would be.

    We don’t exactly know how the Buffy/Spike relationship progressed after “Older and Faraway” to make Buffy prefer Buffy/Riley in “As You Were”, but it is always odd to me that once Buffy/Spike were official that Spike didn’t get a house in Sunnydale. “Tabula Rasa” (B 6.08) seems to imply that the demons of Sunnydale know Spike’s now ‘with’ the Slayer and Spike’s getting a crypt instead of a house always seems at least partly for security reasons (He couldn’t protect himself against humans). Even demons trying to use Spike’s vulnerability as leverage against Buffy doesn’t make sense given Spike would probably be safer getting a house in Buffy’s name and having Buffy invite him into the house.

    All I can think of is Buffy/Spike considering the Scoobies wouldn’t accept Buffy/Spike prevented Spike’s getting a house. But then we have BtVS S7. And even in BtVS S9 Spike seemingly does nothing to make money and money seems to be the only reason Buffy/Spike aren’t completely cemented in BtVS S9. Spike showered Drusilla with jewels and dresses, yet he doesn’t bother to get Buffy almost anything.

    - And the cost of new sets isn’t much of an excuse given the importance of Spike and Buffy/Spike to the Buffyverse.

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  3. #542
    Scooby Gang American Aurora's Avatar
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    Hey, Sosa!

    I really, really loved your review of Hell’s Bells – some fantastic background on Xander and Anya’s characters. So much detailed information that made connections I had no idea existed. Truly awesome work!

    S6E16: Hell’s Bells: Part 1
    I haven’t done a review for a while, but everybody knows my style is to discuss each character separately.
    I think that’s a wonderful way to organize thoughts, Sosa, especially in such a character driven show like this. And it also makes particular sense in Hell’s Bells because the episode is constructed so that the first half is primarily Xander and the second half is primarily Anya in terms of character arc – with Spuffy set directly in the middle of the two halves with twenty minutes on either side. The third couple, Willow and Tara, have equal time throughout the episode.

    I especially love your lists of questions that compare and contrast the characters – that’s a terrific way to breakdown specific elements of the script. I’ve kept to your text while still reading the episode chronologically – it’s too embedded in me as a script girl to not follow structure from A to B. But I’ve taken the small liberty of lifting your Spuffy section and placing it between the Xander and Anya sections to better separate the two narrative arcs that rise and fall in the episode.

    Hell’s Bells is one of those great Buffy episodes where the monster of the week is a fake-out – the real demon emerges from within. Much of Season Six focuses on growing up and one of the most important things about growth isn’t learning how to do something, but learning how to do something right. Trying to find a balance between two poles of not enough and too much, maturity lies in mastering proportion. Sexual, parental, professional – but there’s no greater force for reaching the heights of ecstasy or the lows of desolation than love – not only giving and receiving love in the hope of finding happiness, but withholding it on purpose out of fear that it will become a destructive force that eventually consumes the beloved.

    So there are a lot of barriers to ensure that such a thing never happens – there’s a shared sense of self in terms of finances, legal documents and home ownership as well as more ephemeral things like dreams and goals and aspirations. And it’s the tension between this idea of marrying two people together to fulfill each other’s desires and the need for freedom and independence that makes a wedding a merger of distinct personalities who ally with one another as they make their way through life.

    But there’s a counterweight to that – in various societies, anthropologists have found very different ideas of love that are extremely dependent on social norms and ideology. Hostile views based on religion or gender or sexuality or race or nationality limit the types of relationships allowed especially with – although rival cultural ideals of love are comparable (and sometimes superior) to the kind of romantic love Westerners take for granted. In the Buffyverse, demons and especially former humans-turned-demons seem to have the same impulse as humans to fall in love – but with predictably different (and cynical) expectations:

    SPIKE: It's a terrible thing, love is. I been there myself. (Pause) It ended badly.
    ANYA: Of course it did. It always does. Seen a thousand relationships. First there's the love, and sex, and then there's nothing left but the vengeance. That's how it works. (Where the Wild Things Are)
    But the differences in expectations (marriages of two lovers rather than pre-arranged marriages) show that love is more cerebral and culturally defined than we believe. Although the impulse towards love always exists across cultures, certain conditions have to be met before romantic love can direct itself towards this or that person. People can remain closeted in their desires for a lifetime, unable to admit to themselves their real sexual and/or romantic desires. Others resist love because the object is unworthy or unacceptable in some way.

    Buffy’s relationships with both Angel and Spike fit into this dynamic in various ways – her attraction to Angel was initially dependent on believing he was human whereas the souled Angel fell in love with Buffy from afar pretty instantaneously and only slowly revealed that he was a vampire. Buffy’s relationship with Spike was entirely different because it developed in a different way – each knew the other as Slayer and Vampire from the start and their fights were a sublimation of their attraction to one another – and it took the taming of his demon through the chip before Spike was able to admit to himself that he was in love with Buffy.

    It took Buffy much longer to accept Spike as her lover rather than her mortal enemy – years, really – because as a soulless vampire, he was everything she was supposed to hate. This was the opposite of Buffy and Riley, who seem much more appropriately matched at first – but as Riley lost his strength and sense of purpose, he started looking elsewhere for the attention he felt he wasn’t getting from Buffy – needlessly endangering his life and everyone around him in the search for love.

    But even taking the supernatural out of the equation, we see the same dynamic. Xander and Cordelia are at each other’s throats through their first year of high school even as best friend Willow pines after Xander – so naturally, Xander and Cordelia end up dating because their nasty quips were akin to Buffy and Spike – a subconscious reaction to their mutual attraction. Willow’s relationship with Oz was a much easier prospect – they shared the same views in many ways and despite Oz’s werewolf curse, they seemed socially well matched. It’s Tara who represents a major break with expectation – although we do learn that Willow’s mother initially approves of her daughter’s coming out as a political statement:

    WILLOW: Yeah. My mom was—was all proud like I was making some political statement. Then the statement mojo wore off and I was just gay. She hardly ever even met Tara. (The Killer in Me)
    Relatives and friends in the show often have positive or negative reactions to their family or friends dating certain people – the disapproval over Buffy’s choice to continue her relationship with Angel after his return in Season Three engenders an awful lot of condemnation. And the same goes for Spike both before and after he has his soul returned to him. Buffy herself knows how controversial her choices are – she hides her relationships with both vampires for a time until they’re revealed by someone else.

    And this is what makes love so difficult to cope with – we don’t always fall in love with the “right” person – but we often settle for less because of our fear that we’ll never find anyone like that again. Freud said that the finding of any love object is a kind of "re-finding" – a transference of childhood feelings onto a partner who reflects back at us our own psychological makeup. And that’s why the union of two people (or sometimes more) in the eyes of society is so cherished – and so dangerous.

    BUFFY: I don't get it. Why would anybody wanna make a girl?
    XANDER: You mean when there's so many pre-made ones just laying around? The things we do for love.
    BUFFY: Love has nothing to do with this.
    XANDER: Maybe not, but I'll tell you this: people don't fall in love with what's right in front of them.
    Willow gives Buffy a sad, knowing look.
    XANDER: People want the dream. What they can't have.
    Willow looks over at Xander longingly. Buffy understands only too well.
    XANDER: The more unattainable, the more attractive. (Some Assembly Required)
    The perfect lover idealized in story and song for Western Culture is exemplified by the Buffybot – a perfect, unnatural paramour who represents the mirror of love in its pure form. It is programmed to tell the lover what they want to hear and no more:

    BUFFYBOT: Oh, Spike, devour me!
    SPIKE: All right.
    BUFFYBOT: Spike, I can't help myself. I love you.
    SPIKE: You're mine, Buffy.
    BUFFYBOT: Should I start this program over?
    SPIKE: Shh! No programs. Don't use that word. Just be Buffy. (Intervention)
    The act of “falling in love” or “love at first sight” isn’t quite as spontaneous as we want to believe – studies have shown that we already have an ideal picture in our mind that our social and cultural environment has impressed on our psyche. It’s been said that many people would never have fallen in love if they hadn’t heard all about it beforehand and primed themselves in expectation. That sudden shock when the object of one’s affection appears isn’t as sudden as it seems – it’s been percolating for many years.

    Xander’s first glimpse of Buffy is from afar – he’s on his skateboard and is so intent on watching the new girl that he crashes on the school steps. And his vision of her is equally saturated in fantasy – the first words between them are a comic disaster of teen desire:

    BUFFY: Oh –
    XANDER: Can I have you? Duh – can I help you?
    BUFFY: Thanks.
    XANDER: I don't know you, do I?
    BUFFY: I'm Buffy. I'm new.
    XANDER: Xander. Is-is me. Hi.
    BUFFY: Um, thanks.
    XANDER: Well, uh, maybe I'll see you around – maybe at school – since – we – both – go there.
    BUFFY: Great! It was nice to meet you.
    XANDER: We both go to school. Very suave. Very not pathetic. (Welcome to the Hellmouth)
    Xander’s line “Can I have you?” is crass, but it reveals a very interesting thing about immediate infatuation – it requires a certain measure of possessiveness. Does Xander actually want Buffy – or does he just want what she represents? Willow is his best friend, loyal to a fault, loving in every way. And he does adore her – in fact, Xander finds Willow attractive enough to destroy his relationship with Cordelia in Season Three. But he’s not interested in a relationship with her in Season One most likely because – like everyone – he’s pressed on all sides by societal expectations of the concept of manliness and cultural ideals of attractive women and – unconscious or not – directed by childhood expectations instilled in him by his parents and extended family.

    So if the kind of women Xander falls for are expressions of his makeup, what does that mean for his character? As you say, Xander self-sabotages every relationship that he has because of his fears that were instilled in him from childhood. I’ve perused your fanfic list of Xander stories and I’m very excited to read some of the pieces – they look really interesting – and I love in-depth character studies.

    But when I think of the various women that Xander’s been with – Cordelia, Faith, Anya, Dawn – they’re all smart, sharp women with a fire in their belly to assert their independence. Only best friend Willow is different – but I think that despite sexual attraction, Xander loves her in a very different way than the other four. And that has a lot to do with his parents. I think that Xander chooses romantic partners who will engage in a lot of back-and-forth argumentation like his parents – no matter how hard he tries to avoid any women who reminds him too much of his own parents, inevitably they resemble the psychological problem that he’s continuously running away from.

    There’s a word for this in psychology – it’s called repetition compulsion – the Wikipedia page describes it thus:

    Repetition compulsion is a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again. This "re-living" can also take the form of dreams in which memories and feelings of what happened are repeated, and even hallucination.

    The term can also be used to cover the repetition of behavior or life patterns more broadly: a "key component in Freud's understanding of mental life, 'repetition compulsion' ... describes the pattern whereby people endlessly repeat patterns of behavior which were difficult or distressing in earlier life
    And I think that in Hell’s Bells, we get a literal manifestation of those “dreams” through supernatural means. The ‘re-living’ of Xander’s past is cleverly inverted by placing it in the future just as the presence of the humans and demons bring back the past on both sides – as Stoney says, time is a major element of the episode. And no one seems to have enough.

    To be honest, after watching Hell’s Bells and seeing how his family acts, it’s not a wonder that Xander’s a bit over-the-top with the sexual innuendos and the girl-watching – the remarkable thing is how genuinely compassionate and respectful he is in comparison. Despite his lashing tongue and tendency to over-react to situations with anger, Xander is the most clear-headed Scoobie when it comes to understanding himself. In almost every situation imaginable, he is able to process the past and either belatedly apologize for his actions – or morally stand by them.

    Even at the end of Hell’s Bells, he doesn’t try to justify his decision – which would have been easy by bringing up the behavior of her demon friends or her past as a Vengeance Demon – he takes it all on himself and knows that he’s made a terrible, awful mistake. Not that it mitigates what he does to Anya, but at least he’s not living in total denial like Buffy with regards to Spike or Willow with her magical addiction.

    But I think that unpacking the episode reveals the intense pressure that Xander was under to do the right thing – the expectations of everyone involved were twisting and distorting who he was to the point where I think he felt that he was losing himself at an age where most men are just starting to learn how to live. Trying to be a nice guy (a genuine one – not the fake “nice guy”), Xander got himself into too deep – without working through his psychological problems first, he was afraid of what could happen.

    Still, it’s a remarkably cowardly thing to do for the guy who came to Angel’s door in Prophecy Girl and convinced him to defy prophecy and save Buffy. But there are many kinds of terrors that we cannot face – and monsters don’t scare Xander half as much as facing Anya and his parents. There’s that long, awful walk Anya takes up the aisle that makes me want to shake Xander – the least he could have done is stay and explain to the guests that the wedding will be called off instead of leaving her there to deal with it alone.

    The phrase Hell’s Bells is an old one – it dates back at least to the last half of the 18th century. It’s a shortened version of the colorful exclamation, “Hell’s Bells and Buckets of Blood!” common with British sailors – but in its shortened form, it spread around the English speaking world. John Dos Passos used it in his masterpiece Manhattan Transfer in 1925. “But hell’s bells, what’s the use when this goddam war takes the whole front page?” It’s an interjection that’s mainly filler – a substitute for a much stronger expletive that expresses surprise or irritation. Originally a dirty phrase (because of the word “Hell”), it became pretty much old hat by the 1940s and was used to identity an old-timer.

    Of course, it’s used as the title of the Buffy episode because of those ubiquitous wedding bells that accompany every rom-com ever made. Bells are associated with weddings for two reasons – the first is religious and has to do with bells warding off evil spirits who might disrupt the marriage – and the second comes from the idea of the town square with bells conveying the news of a new marriage in town. To amplify this, small little bells would also be passed around the townsfolk to ring until the couple kissed in front of the church – the sound a reminder of their vows. The origins of the tiny bells seems to come from the Celts, who used them much like the smashing of wine glasses in a Jewish wedding.

    The opening is a parody of the whole concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Buffy’s line a mockery of the title – the first hint that the monster of the week isn’t going to be limited to just some bad guy running around in prosthetics – but a psychological monster of their own making.

    TIGHT on BUFFY and WILLOW as they stare in horror at some unseen menace. LIGHTNING FLASHES outside the window, illuminating their faces.
    WILLOW: Buffy – it's hideous. God, look at its arms!
    Buffy nods her head, screwing her courage.
    BUFFY: I know. But it's my duty – I'm Buffy the bridesmaid.
    The lightening booms behind Buffy and Willow as they look into a mirror together dressed in the ugliest bridesmaid dresses ever known.

    What’s odd is that they haven’t seen them until the day of the wedding – bridesmaid dresses generally have to be ordered months in advance and then fitted for alterations once delivered. Anya obviously didn’t observe proper etiquette and allow the maid of honor and other bridesmaids to help choose the style and color – she says as much in Wrecked – but it’s possible that the sickly colors of green chosen has a special meaning to demons. The script calls the dresses chartreuse, but they look more like a stunningly hideous combination of Kelly/Emerald Green and Malachite to me – shades that naturally clash.

    It’s funny to think that Anya spent so much time pouring over bridal magazines – and this was the best she could come up with. But there’s always the possibility that she ordered blindly with a color swatch and had no idea what the dresses would actually look like until they arrived.

    WILLOW: Duty-schmooty. I'm s'posed to be the best man. Shouldn't I be all Marlene Dietrichy in a dashing tuxedo number?
    Willow is thinking of the Josef von Sternberg’s film Morocco in which Marlene Dietrich wanders through her club in full tux and top hat, smoking as she kisses all the beautiful women. Very cool. Willow dressed as a giant asparagus with ruffles – not cool.

    BUFFY: No, that would be totally unfair. We all must participate equally in the cosmic joke that is bridesmaids-dom.
    WILLOW: Well, maybe if I ask Anya, I can still go with the traditional blood larva and burlap. I mean, she was a vengeance demon for like a thousand years, she would know all the most flattering – larvae. What was she thinking?
    This is a reference to Anya’s dialogue in Wrecked:

    ANYA: I can't decide whether to put my bridesmaids in cocktail dresses – or the traditional burlap with blood larva.
    XANDER: The traditional what?
    ANYA: Well, I was a demon for a thousand years, you don't expect me to turn my back on all the ways of my people.
    BUFFY: Uh, can I weigh in on this whole me wearing larva –
    ANYA: At least I'm not asking you to perform the groom's rite of self-flagellation. (Wrecked)
    I like how both Anya and Xander jump in for different reasons here – Anya doesn’t want Buffy to be involved in her choice of dresses – and Xander doesn’t want Buffy to say anything offensive to Anya.

    Blood larva would be the early stage of development of a mature bloodworm – about an inch long, they basically live on trash – waste and bacteria – and congregate in sewage plants and other watery areas with their tiny gills. They’re actually quite popular as bait in fishing – which is where I imagine the writers got the image from and paired it with burlap. Anya’s tradition couldn’t have lasted too long, though – burlap (cloth made from the jute plant) was used in India by the 17th century and only popularized in the 19th century.

    Of course, this brings up the idea of “traditions” in terms of the demon world – and we’ve heard of quite a few. Not just vampires who stay home on Halloween, but dances and sacrifices and distinct cultural beliefs that looked down on the half-human hybrids like Angel. Demons in the Buffyverse are as diverse as human beings with their own clans and tribal groups – and Vengeance Demons belong to a unique group (along with vampires) of former humans who believe they’re traded up on the food chain.

    The marriage between Xander and Anya in many ways becomes a cross-cultural event in which competing groups are vying for supremacy throughout – and in the end, no one is the winner.

    BUFFY: I think she’s probably too stressed to be thinking right now, what with Xander's relatives and her – demons –
    WILLOW: Ohmigod, last night at the rehearsal dinner. It was like a zoo without the table manners. And I bet it got worse after we left.
    BUFFY: I just can't believe everyone bought that story about Anya's people being "circus folk." You see that guy with the tentacles, what's he s'posed to be, Inky the Squid Boy?
    Buffy and Willow are making fun of how Xander’s family can’t tell what’s right in front of their face even though they’ve lived in Sunnydale for how many years and no one’s noticed all the vampires rising out of their graves every night? Or the dimensional rift opening when Dawn is cut? Or the spells in which the town is unable to speak or has to sing of their problems until they burn? And they’re surprised that Tony and Jessica Harris aren’t more curious about the tentacles? I’d automatically assume that Xander’s family is under the same delusion that everyone else is in Sunnydale.

    WILLOW: And Xander's family, I haven't seen 'em that bad since my bat mitzvah. Did you see how much they drank?
    BUFFY: Kinda. Mr. Harris threw up in my purse.
    A bat mitzvah is held at about 12 or 13 – if Willow is 20-21, then she’s hasn’t seen them that drunk for almost a decade. It’s not said if their heavy drinking is due to slow progressive alcoholism or caused by Xander’s upcoming wedding – but either way, it’s not a good omen for the wedding.

    The door opens and ANYA enters, in her bathrobe. Seeing Buffy and Willow in the bridesmaid dresses, she freezes. Her eyes go wide. She clutches her hand to her mouth. Buffy and Willow share a nervous look; is Anya as horrified as they are?
    ANYA: Oh. Oh. You guys look so beautiful.
    She's beside herself with joy. Anya pulls them both into her arms hugging them close. We see Buffy and Willow's smiling faces over Anya's shoulders as:
    ANYA: This is the happiest day of my life.
    Whelp, I guess the bridesmaid dresses were exactly what Anya wanted!

    The first scene is Xander surrounded by his family and Krelvin, one of Anya’s demon friends. Xander can’t get anything done as he searches for his cuff-links. It’s notable how Xander’s family are depicted as messy and uncivilized throughout the episode while the demons are written as polite and helpful.
    Yes, Sosa, I totally agree that the Harris family relatives are depicted as a clan far, far worse than all of the invited demons put together. Drunk, crass, rude and insulting in comparison to Krelvin and Clem, to name two. Krelvin even offers to fix the coffee machine and Uncle Rory places it on the table in front of him as if Krelvin had a particularly bad case of super-infectious leprosy.

    To say it again, it’s a wonder that Xander turned out as well as he did considering how easy it would have been to get sucked down into the Harris DNA helix of callous, self-serving actions.

    Xander's COUSIN CAROL, 50-ish, aggressive, hot-pink lipstick, loads of jewelry, pats Xander on the hand. Xander is dressed in his tuxedo pants, dress shoes, and an unbuttoned dress shirt with undone French cuffs. His hair is still wet and there's missed shaving cream around his ears.
    There’s cut dialogue here that originally started the scene about the failed marriage of Cousin Carol who’s now divorced and left alone with a child. It not only starts the theme of Harris family failure, but shows the Harris genes extend much farther than Xander’s immediate family:

    XANDER: So it's all about, um, pain and loss?
    COUSIN CAROL: It can be.
    XANDER: Well, then, that's just fine and I gotta go be somewhere else –
    He tries to pull away, but she grips his hand harder.
    COUSIN CAROL: No, no, no. I'm saying it wrong. I'm not saying you kids shouldn't get hitched. I'm just saying don't build castles on the sand. Cuz that's when life hits you with the big sack of crap and your heart breaks like a china doll.
    XANDER: Mmm. Thanks, Carol.
    COUSIN CAROL: Next thing you know, you're trying to find a man'll date a divorcee with a kid. Guess what? No such animal. I hope you don't think you're wearing that.
    KAREN, an asthmatic 10-year-old in jeans and a pajama top crosses to Carol. Xander winces, realizing she was listening.
    XANDER: Oh! Karen. How're you? Let's get you breakfast, okay?
    God, one feels for that poor child growing up in this family – Xander’s immediate kindness to her makes one wish that he and Anya could adopt her and take her away from all that. The creepy look that Cousin Carol gives when Krevlin walks across the room makes me think that even more!

    And then we finally get to see Uncle Rory – the man we’ve heard about for so long! With his pot belly hanging out of his pants and his Catskills delivery of jokes, he reminds me of a vaudeville clown. It’s not a wonder that Xander used to admire him so – he would be a great companion to an eight year old – not so much as an adult.

    They enter the kitchen to find UNCLE RORY, in an open robe and tighty-whiteys, fiddling with the coffee maker (a whiskey bottle sits nearby). During what follows, Carol fixes Karen a bowl of cereal.
    XANDER: You seen my cufflinks, Uncle Rory? Little metal deals, hold my sleeves together?
    UNCLE RORY: Oh, you don't want those.
    Xander opens a drawer, looking for his cufflinks. Uncle Rory reaches past Xander into the drawer, pulls out a screwdriver. Xander doesn't really notice.
    UNCLE RORY: What you really want is velcro. I ever tell you how that was my idea?
    Since Velcro has been around since the 1940s, it’s doubtful that Uncle Rory was inventing it in his crib unless he’s a secret vampire. And the idea of Velcro for a wedding outfit is sheer balls-to-the-walls brazenly tacky.

    Uncle Rory is a character we’ve been hearing about for years and this is the first time we see him. I’ve always had the impression that Xander spent more time with Uncle Rory than his own parents. I also feel that Xander’s way of objectifying women and the slut-shaming of Cordelia in the early seasons were influenced by the way Uncle Rory treats women. The way 16 year old Xander talked about his uncle’s double life in the episode The Dark Age had a touch of awe and admiration, like he wanted to be like his cool uncle.
    Yes, I totally agree, Sosa, and I think that Xander’s emulation of Uncle Rory was most likely a way to deal with the pressure to be an Alpha Male by Xander’s father. Since Rory is Tony’s brother, I try to imagine what their father was like – and it’s not a pretty picture. There seem to be two kinds of Harris men – the kind that become bullies like their fathers – and the kind who use humor to deflect the very real fear that comes with being abused and bullied. Using that same logic, we can also discern that their mother was much like Mrs. Harris – weak and wavering and allowing her husband to brutally verbally abuse herself and her children.

    A WARTY DEMON enters the kitchen, edges past the others on his way to the fridge.
    KRELVIN: 'Scuse me, folks, coming through! Hey, how you doing?
    Rory and Carol give the Warty Demon a long suspicious look. Then Uncle Rory opens up the base of the coffee maker with the screwdriver.
    XANDER: Rory? Whatcha doin' there?
    UNCLE RORY: Trying to make myself an Irish coffee, stupid thing's on the fritz--
    XANDER: Watch out, it's plugged in –
    UNCLE RORY STIFFENS, SHAKES, EYES BUGGING OUT. Xander lunges for the cord, pulls it.
    XANDER: Good God!
    Uncle Rory laughs. Karen takes a hit off her inhaler.
    UNCLE RORY: Hah! Gotcha!
    There’s something really bizarre about this moment – the way in which Uncle Rory deliberately screws with Xander in such a morbid fashion makes me laugh but also squirm. And Rory going for an Irish coffee so early in the day and right before a wedding is an ominous sign. Irish coffee is black coffee mixed with whiskey and sugar and then cream floated on top with a spoon. The bottle of Whisky sits on the lip of the kitchen sink as Rory fiddles with the coffee machine – one imagines that the machine’s on the “fritz” because Rory couldn’t stop tinkering with it.

    One thing I’ve noticed is the gentle smile Xander casts Krelvin and how he treats him as a person. Most people believe that Xander has a demon xenophobia: unreasonable fear and hate for demons. The exchange between Xander and Krelvin is very friendly, and later Xander will be upset on Krelvin’s behalf when his father, the real bigot, insults Krelvin and his heritage.
    Yes, Sosa, I agree that Xander isn’t that prejudiced against demons in general – how else could he have fallen in love with Anya? I think that it’s vampires in particular that Xander has a particular hatred for – the first vampires Xander ever knew tried to kill Willow and himself and managed to kill Jesse – and the twin nightmares of Jesse’s horrible death and the disaster of Angel/Angelus have made Xander unwilling to give an inch in that direction.

    And then there’s this weird moment in Restless:

    Only a couple of lights are on. Xander shuts the door behind him, starts across the room. About halfway, he stops. Hears something.
    Looks around. Nothing.
    XANDER: (calling out) I didn't order any vampires –
    He moves to the stairs, starts up. Stops.
    Something moves behind it. Scratches at it. Xander stares, clearly frightened. The doorknob turns -- but the door is locked. The knobs rattles as the person behind it begins to get frustrated.
    XANDER: That's not the way out…
    The person BANGS on the door. Once. Twice.
    XANDER: That's not the way out…
    And very carefully, so his feet don't creak the stairs, Xander backs off the staircase. He heads back to the door he came in by, throws it open and splits. (Restless)
    I think this part of the dream is very interesting and I’d love to hear your theories on what you think it means.

    KRELVIN: Is it really broken? I could take a look –
    The warty Demon is reaching for the coffee maker. Rory won't hand it to him. Instead he sets it down and pushes it toward the demon -- no chance of touching him by mistake.
    UNCLE RORY: Knock yourself out, Kevin.
    KRELVIN: Krelvin.
    UNCLE RORY: Right, right. Krelvin.
    I love how Uncle Rory just foregoes the coffee (I expect he thinks the ‘freak’ can’t fix it) and just pours straight whisky into his mug and drinks! The total lack of concern as to whether he gets Krelvin’s name or not is telling.

    Krelvin does seem like a sweet sort of demon. Demons seem to be just as varied in terms of personality as human beings – some are naturally affable like Clem – others belligerent and hateful towards humans. Tony Harris has his counterpart in one of Anya’s demon family, no doubt. What makes Anya’s side of the family different, however, is that they aren’t related to her – it’s all a cultural attachment for her without the embarrassment of direct relatives whereas Xander is surrounded by throwbacks from the gene pool.

    The quotes about Uncle Rory from earlier seasons:
    1) "My Uncle Rory was the stodgiest taxidermist you ever met -- by day -- by night it was booze and whores and fur flying." (Season 2 The Dark Age.)
    2) “Uncle Roary stacked up the DUIs, let me rent this bad boy till he's mobile again.” (Season 3 The Zeppo.)
    3) Anya: “You’re uncle Rory let me in. Does he always smell like peppermint?”
    Xander: “The man likes his schnapps.” (Season 4 Fear, Itself.)
    4) ANYA: We'll never get to the airport in time to pick up your stupid uncle.
    XANDER: It just gives my uncle Rory more time at the bar. Trust me, he'll be happy.
    ANYA: (mouth full) Great. So he can sleep off his drunken stupor on our newly re-upholstered couch.
    XANDER: He can't afford a hotel.
    ANYA: Why are you defending him?
    XANDER: I'm not. I hate my uncle. (Season 6 As You Were)
    Fantastic quotes, Sosa! I remember Xander mentioning Uncle Rory before, but I hadn’t thought it was that many times! Love how the show keeps continuity fairly well.

    It’s interesting how in the first quote, Xander is referring to Rory being Clark Kent during the day and Lex Luthor at night – there’s an awareness there from the start that the Harris family men are great actors who play the straight and narrow during the day and do their real business at night. I’m not sure you can call it hypocrisy, but it certainly plays upon of the idea of daytime as a societal performance as opposed to night where Uncle Rory can let it all hang out. Same with the next few statements in which emphasize his drinking over and over – ending in a confession that Xander hates his uncle.

    I notice also that Xander says his Uncle Rory WAS a taxidermist – and he’s so hard up for money now that he can’t get a hotel room. So he didn’t exactly retire with a pension. I wonder if he was laid off or fired for drunkenness/sexual harassment on the job.

    Then Xander’s parents show up. I liked the actor playing Xander’s father in his Restless dream more. He was more intimidating. I’d say the man in Restless was what Xander’s father looked like when Xander was a kid and he always remembered him and dreamed about him like that, at his most terrifying.
    Oooh, Sosa, I really love that! I agree that his dad was frightening in Restless and this incarnation isn’t quite as bad. The idea that his memories are exaggerated as funneled through the dream is an excellent one.

    MR. ANTHONY HARRIS and MRS. JESSICA HARRIS enter, dressed in foul weather gear (matching ponchos anyone?). Mr. Harris is hungover and grouchy; Mrs. Harris is pinched and martyred.
    MR. HARRIS: Xander, you’re not ready yet?
    Gee – not a “It’s a special day, today!” or “I’m so happy for you, son!” but a nasty criticism from the start. His father says the line as if he’s said it many times before – the way that he repeatedly points at his watch and then shakes his head is so infuriating and disrespectful as if it’s HIS wedding and Xander is making him late. I notice he didn’t put up Uncle Rory – I wonder if the two brothers even get along. They don’t say a word to each other in this scene. In fact, Rory hands the father his mug of whiskey and seemingly leaves the room the second Xander’s father arrives.

    Mrs. Harris is checking out her reflection in her compact.
    MRS. HARRIS: Oh my, look at my hair. Of course I suppose it really doesn’t matter, because I won't actually be in any of the pictures.
    XANDER: You'll be in the pictures, Mom.
    Poor Xander – his mother seems to be immensely passive-aggressive here – although we’ve heard her scream and yell before in Family. The rain has slightly mussed her hair even though she’s worn a scarf – and she’s now trying to draw compliments. And she surprisingly does.

    KRELVIN: I think your hair looks lovely.
    It’s really sad to see how this brightens Mrs. Harris for a moment – we get a vague idea of the kind of women she might have been in a different life.

    In this scene, Tony Harris showed his ugly racist and bullying colors the second he walked in. When Krelvin payed Xander’s mother a compliment, Xander noticed how annoyed his father was by it and attempted to change the subject. Jessica Harris was such wreck of a mess. She was jittery, unconfident and super martyred. Her whining about not being in the pictures seemed to annoy Tony just as much as it annoyed Xander.
    Yes, Sosa, she is really aggravating here. And so is his father. As soon as Xander’s mother started to complain about her hair, Tony made a face and threw up his hands as if to say, “My wife never shuts up!” So when Krelvin compliments her, it completely screws up his whole misogynist silent diatribe and makes him look foolish. There’s nothing bullies hate more than someone undercutting their cruelty with kindness.

    And one can see from the look on Tony’s face that he’s trying to find a way to get back at what he most likely considers to be a Beta Male geek from Anya’s Family Circus.

    XANDER: Hey, how’s about some breakfast?
    MRS. HARRIS: Well, I guess if I’m a little plump, it doesn’t matter cause I won't really be –
    XANDER: You'll be in the pictures, Mom!
    Does Xander say this because he’s already noticed they’re imbibing a bit too much? And some food might water down the liquor? His mother says another self-pitying line as his father eyes Krelvin carefully.

    Mr. Harris takes a swig of whiskey while he stares at the Warty Demon, who is plugging the coffee maker back in.
    MR. HARRIS: That's one of hers, right? Hey! You're one of hers, right?
    XANDER: You met Krelvin already, Dad. Last night.
    KRELVIN: Yes. We met. You said I resembled your mother in law.
    MRS. HARRIS: Tony!
    MR. HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
    And like most bullies, Tony smiles at the memory of mocking Jessica’s mother.

    Which brings to mind Tara and her terrible family – and I wonder which was worse. In a way, Xander’s family is worse – despite being gaslighted as a demon, Tara still had her mother until she was 17. Xander doesn’t even seem to have a mother who protects him from his dad – she’s too preoccupied with using Xander as a proxy to fight with her husband.

    As Tony began insulting Krelvin and his demon family, Xander got exasperated and tried to leave the room…Interesting that Xander didn’t stand up to Tony here. He never shied away from giving his two scents when he thought something was wrong. Even in OMWF when Giles demanded that Buffy should go alone to face Sweet, it was Xander who questioned that decision later “What if Buffy can’t defeat it?” with a pointed glare directed at Giles. With his own father though, there will always be so much baggage. As a kid, Xander must have walked on egg shells trying to avoid his father’s wrath, and old habits never die. We’re talking 19 years living with his hateful, angry parents. It is not easy to move on from that just a mere two years later.
    Sosa, I think that’s a fantastic observation!

    I’m guessing that some of it is that Xander felt he didn’t want to rock the boat on this all-important day – so he’s letting a lot of things slide that he wouldn’t if he weren’t getting married that day. But he can’t have the parents leave in a huff – it would upset Anya and look like they didn’t approve of the marriage. So I think he feels he has to suck up and bear it – but I also agree with you that it’s probably how their family dynamic has always gone.

    There have been a lot of studies on the harmful effects of bullying and verbal abuse on the brain of children that lead into some really awful adult neuroses. Adult children are taught to be powerless – so they don’t know how to fight back. Panic disorders, anxiety, eating too much, drinking too much. And it stays with you permanently – it actually becomes hard-wired into the brain. Xander was told for years that he was a nobody, a nothing, a loser – and that was possibly reinforced by physical violence.

    I always think of how Xander immediately jumps to the conclusion that the boy was physically abused by his coach in Nightmares.

    BUFFY: I just can't believe a kiddie league coach would do something like that.
    XANDER: Well, you obviously haven't played kiddie league. I'm surprised
    it wasn't one of the parents. (Nightmares)
    It’s really profoundly sad.

    KRELVIN: And then you hit me with a cocktail wiener and then you insulted my heritage.
    MR. HARRIS: Heritage? Being "circus folk" is suddenly heritage now? I mean no disrespect, of course. Sure you come from a long, proud line of geeks. Kidding – kidding!
    I love how Krelvin is so jovial about the whole thing – it’s as if he’s determined not to let Harris remotely shake him. And this angers Harris even more – he’s obviously one of those kinds of guys who are always itching for a fight – insulting everyone around them because their egos are so tiny that they have to inflate themselves by attacking others.

    Tony Harris: His sharp tongue, sarcasm and cruelty. In the shooting script, Tony exclaims upon seeing Krelvin: “Aw, Sweet Baby Lord in his high heavenly throne.” That is such a Xander line.
    That’s actually a great line (meaning it’s an evil line) – it’s too bad that they cut it. Between his father and Uncle Rory, one can see where Xander got his wicked sense of humor.

    Jessica Harris: Her insecurity and desire for others’ attention. The way Xander felt threatened and upset about Willow dating Oz in Phases even though he didn’t want to date her comes to mind.
    I think that she shows all the classic symptoms of an abused spouse – her insecurity and attention-seeking probably come from years of being told that she’s responsible for her husband’s unhappiness. And Cousin Carol seems to have the same kind of issues – she’s so self-loathing and pathetic:

    COUSIN CAROL: Xander? Xander! You know that guy Kevin. If he can clear up the skin problem – do you think – you suppose he'd date a woman with a kid? I mean, I really can't afford to be picky –
    Xander looks at her, shocked, then notices.
    XANDER: Cousin Carol, your earrings are my cufflinks.
    COUSIN CAROL: They are? Oh my. Oops!
    As she hands them over:
    XANDER: Excellent. Cufflinks – check. We're rolling. Nothing on earth can stop this wedding now.
    The cufflinks becoming earrings are so apt for this episode – the idea of trying to make something – or someone – what it’s not. And speaking of which, fake Xander apparates on the streets of Sunnydale in the midst of a terrible storm. Which is an obvious metaphor for the misery Olympics coming in a Season Six Buffy episode near you.

    From that scene alone and the past quotes about Uncle Rory, I can safely say that Tony, Jessica and Rory embody exaggerated characteristics that are in Xander himself. Having lived with those people all his life, Xander clearly takes a lot after his family:
    That’s a brilliant observation, Sosa! I love the idea that each character we see in his family is an aspect of Xander himself, enlarged and underlined for maximum effect. Brought up in an outright abusive environment in which his alcoholic father and passive-aggressive mother trade barbs and blows with each other, Xander’s personality has to have been affected by their behavior.

    The social isolation Xander feels throughout the series – and the lashing out and neurotic behavior – all stem from the constant low expectations set by his family from his family. I think the constant public humiliation forced Xander into developing all sort of various internal psychological mechanisms to deal with his pain – the most obvious being a sharp sense of humor that undercuts all serious situations with a self-deprecating, lacerating wit that mimics his father and uncle – except that Xander has the compassion they lack. Which makes all the difference.

    We now have a series of scenes in which all the players are introduced to the wedding – the small little vignettes reminds me in some ways of the well-constructed play of the 19th century where every character would enter with their own little sobriquet and motivation for being at the party/dinner/game/meeting/festival and then slowly become entangled in each other’s business. First we have Buffy and Xander adjusting his clothes in the absence of Best Man Willow – who in the tradition of all Best Mans everywhere is off trying to make it with some girl.

    Buffy is helping Xander get dressed. She diligently tries to wrap a too small cummerbund around his waist.
    XANDER: Is it too small?
    BUFFY: Nah.
    XANDER: It fit when I picked up the tux. How can it not fit now?
    BUFFY: It'll fit.
    Buffy is determined to see that this wedding go well after the disaster that was Spike. She did a similar kind of thing when Riley left – displacing her romantic feelings on the Xander/Anya relationship:

    TARA: I guess we could. She might still be at the magic shop. I was there earlier, and she and Anya kinda got in this little squabble. Xander and I sort of cleared out, he was pretty upset.
    BUFFY: Anya and Xander are in trouble?
    TARA: Oh! No, I-I said that all wrong. It was nothing. Willow and Anya were sort of fighting, and then Xander kind of snapped at both of them and he left.
    BUFFY: He left? Xander left Anya?
    TARA: Ummm – no, not "left her" left her, he just left. It was only a little thing, it-
    BUFFY: Little thing? See, the thing is, the little things get bigger, you know, and, and, and, and, if you don't catch the little thing and then, boom! You have this, this, this whole huge thing!
    TARA: Oh dear.
    BUFFY: Not, not, not them with the little things! They can't break up!
    TARA: Oh, I think-
    BUFFY: They have a beautiful love.
    TARA: I think they'll be fine.
    Buffy bursts into tears and puts her face against Tara's shoulder, hugging her. Tara looks alarmed, pats Buffy on the back.
    BUFFY: They have a miraculous love!
    TARA: What?
    BUFFY: A miraculous love! (Triangle)
    And now Buffy’s going to make damn sure that Xander’s cummerbund fits if she has to suffocate Xander to do it!

    XANDER: Aw man. What if it doesn't? What if I can't wear my cummerbund and the whole world sees the place where my pants meet my shirt? Buffy, that cannot! I must wear das cummerbund!
    BUFFY: And – so – you – shall!
    XANDER: You got it?
    BUFFY: Slayer strength.
    XANDER: And I've been meaning to cut back on the habit-forming oxygen.
    Buffy starts to tie Xander's bow tie.
    BUFFY: You look really great, Mr. About- to-get-married. You're glowing. Omigod, maybe you're pregnant!
    XANDER: Maybe, I dunno – maybe I'm just happy.
    Buffy hears this. Tears well in her eyes.
    XANDER: Teary.
    BUFFY: Oh, good teary.
    XANDER: Happy teary? Not frustrated with bow tie teary?
    BUFFY: Yes. Happy. Happy for you.
    BUFFY: And it makes me happy for me. You and Anya give me hope – it's like you two are proof that there's light at the end of this very long, long nasty tunnel. And I cannot tie this tie! Where’s your best man? Isn’t she supposed to do this?
    XANDER: She said she had something important to do.
    This “long, long nasty tunnel” is a perfect encapsulation of Buffy’s feelings about coming back to live on earth – the anticipation of something better on the other side is new, though. It shows that Buffy is healing a bit – trying to look towards the future even though she’s in the grim present. I do want to poit out that the tunnel is a bit like time – a funnel that points towards both past and future with the present dark and unclear as to when it’s all ending. I do like how Buffy seems to finally be healing – we haven’t heard her truly laugh for a long time now and when she does after being unable to tie his bow tie, it’s a relief.

    Xander already had the thoughts and fears, but he still wanted to get married. He tells Buffy that he’s happy and even when his supposedly never-seen “uncle” tells him it’s a huge mistake to get married, Xander didn’t listen to him but began humoring him.
    Great point, Sosa! Until the visions are shown to Xander, he seems perfectly thrilled for the wedding to take place. But that’s not unusual – sometimes, we suppress what we really feel if it’s something we don’t want anyone to know. And there’s a whole lot of suppressing in the next scene as Willow and Tara play “Dress up the bride” together. Willow’s selfishly abdicated her responsibility as Best Man so that she could get nearer to Tara – and so far, it seems to be working.

    WILLOW: Want me to hold it shut for you?
    TARA: Okay.
    Tara moves to let Willow help. Their hands touch as they work. They are both keenly aware of their nearness and not hating it.
    ANYA: Are you guys even listening? I need feedback, people!
    Jolted back to reality, Tara and Willow both step away, go back to fussing on other, farther apart aspects of the dress.
    TARA: Sorry. Please continue with the vows.
    Wedding vows stem from ancient Rome where a father would deliver the new bride to her husband and pledge vows (and sign many papers) – this developed in medieval times as the modern wedding vow. Although it began in the Western Catholic Tradition, it became even more wide spread with the publication of The Book of Common Prayer in 1549, the Anglican vows reading, "To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part." In modern times, vows are often written by the bride and groom themselves to customize them to each individual couple.

    But most importantly, vows look forward to an unknown future – like all pledges, they are promises of good faith for what is to come. And I think this becomes vitally important as a counter-weight to Xander’s visions of the past.

    ANGLE ON ANYA. She has pink curlers in her hair and a gel-filled eye mask -- like a domino -- over her eyes. She clears her throat.
    ANYA: 'I, Anya, promise to love you, to cherish you, and to honor you, but not to obey you, of course, because that's anachronistic and misogynistic and who do you think you are like a sea captain or something? However, I do entrust you' – what?
    She looks at Willow who's smirking.
    ANYA: Is something funny?
    TARA: Nope, nothing, Sweetie. Now keep still.
    Willow and Tara are flirting madly with each other now – they’re barely listening to what Anya is saying because they’re so into each other. But when she comes up with the “sea captain” line, they can’t help but giggle. And Anya doesn’t get it – just as in Triangle, her demonic background makes her unable to fully understand certain levels of irony.

    ANYA: Okay. Blah, blah, blah misogynistic. Blah, blah, 'I will however entrust you with my heart –'
    ANGLE ON WILLOW AND TARA. Looking at each other now, for the first time, as they listen to Anya.
    ANYA: 'Take care of my heart, won't you please? Take care of it because it's all that I have. And if you let me, I'll take care of your heart too.
    Pure sweetness in the look between Willow and Tara.
    ANYA: I'll protect it and tend to it, like a little stray.' Wait, no. 'Like a little mangy stray that needs a home.' No, that's not it either.
    Willow and Tara suppress a giggle.
    Everything she’s saying applies to Willow and Tara, of course, and they’re definitely taking it that way. But Anya is so wrapped up in her own drama that she doesn’t notice the love story taking place right under the hem of her dress.

    TARA: Um, I think we're all set here. Let's take a look at you.
    Tara and Willow step back, and stand side by side, to get a FULL VIEW OF ANYA. She looks beautiful, even with weird mask and curlers. They admire her.
    TARA: Oh!
    WILLOW: Wow. You look lovely. Really lovely.
    ANYA: Thanks. It's probably the blush of imprudent spending.
    And it does look like most of the money for the wedding was spent on Anya’s spectacular dress. Which lets us know how much this actually means to her.

    ANYA: Do you think Xander will like it? Oh! I want to see Xander now!
    WILLOW: You can't. It's bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her dress, 'member?
    ANYA: Right! I can't keep all these ridiculous traditions straight. What if I'm not wearing my dress when I see him? Okay, no sex. Cuddling? It's just, I'm so excited and I want to share it all with my best friend. I get to be with my best friend forever!
    This is excruciatingly sad. Anya believes that she’s found her soulmate in Xander – a lover, a best friend, a companion – and yet she has no idea how he truly feels about himself. She doesn’t seem very concerned about his family or her demon friends. Just as in most of Season Six, we get the impression that Anya is so thrilled to be engaged that she doesn’t spend much time worrying about how Xander is coping with the situation. And if there are problems, they’ll deal with them together.

    And there’s another mention of “traditions” – surely a very important concept in Hell’s Bells – traditions aren’t just cute little customs passed down but also beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation – and that includes the traumas that never heal. And the cycle refreshes itself endlessly.

    I’m going to stop here, Sosa, but more tomorrow on your amazing review of Hell’s Bells!
    Last edited by American Aurora; 18-10-18 at 10:54 AM.

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    And just to start a little backwards/forwards, here is my first post in response to SoS's fab review of Normal Again, snuck in just before Entropy! We're nearly all back on the same ep.


    Hi SoS, thank you for an incredible review of Normal Again. This is the first time I've discussed a lot of these episodes thoroughly. As I was watched it in preparation of reading the review I realised that this is one I've actually never given a great deal of thought to the specifics of. Not beyond the asylum aligning to Buffy's inner turmoil and the need to reengage with her life again, so regularly represented by Dawn in this season. The emotional impact of all that has/is happening to the characters is really front and center. Relationships are key. This is very much the case in the sister episode Forgiving over in AtS too. The specific focus on time in both episodes as well, tied in AtS to prophecies and the demon Sahjan's manipulation of influencing factors through time, really places emphasis on the presence of the past in the current. But enough of my rambling before I've even begun to read...

    Quote Originally Posted by StateOfSiege97 View Post
    The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

    ———William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

    Pain – has an Element of Blank –
    It cannot recollect
    When it begun – or if there were
    A time when it was not –

    It has no Future – but itself –
    Its Infinite contain
    Its Past – enlightened to perceive
    New Periods – of Pain.

    ———Emily Dickinson, 650

    Part here, then, would ye then win release
    From ampler dearth, part, and in peace.

    ———Herman Melville, Clarel
    I genuinely adore the Faulkner quote. As we are always seeing how the experiences of the past informs and affects the present it has constancy in its presence. And this notion sits so interestingly alongside your other quotes, for the sense of being lost, static in pain or wanting release. Sometimes not being able to see beyond the current can make even the time before it, the time which often informed it, hard or impossible to recall. Let alone the ability to look past it and open to what is to come.

    Second, I should note that while holding in its embracing frame to the linear, this reading jumps back and forth, passes too quickly over some scenes that deserve more attention, dilates into the distance, and may verge upon the meandering…. This may be appropriate for an interpretation that takes temporality and the critique of the normative as its primary themes, but it also emerges from my understanding of the episode itself, my sense that it gathers in so much of the future and the past into its folds, opens them out to new understanding…
    Oh this sounds fantastic, you're setting my expectations very high here! I will try my best to follow the theoretical considerations, although I have a tendency to misunderstand and question tirelessly, but please do not doubt my genuine interest (just my intellect, ha).

    Apologies, further, for any lapses in my attributions of ideas from the works of others here: I have not quoted, as I know I should have, due to lack of space and time, but I have done my best to recall who said what…
    I often feel like this too. I think it's great though that we feed into each other's understanding to the point where sometimes you forget where an idea originated as it all builds into the picture of the whole we're all looking to develop.

    To begin, according to the above, at and before the beginning, with the “Previously On…,” the flashbacks that seek to shape our sense of the to-come:

    As the snippets below indicate, they circle around matters of space, of location—of presence, of absence, of their interplay and interpenetration:
    That's a great observation about the previously clips. Time, often emphasised as being felt to be static, or with characters feeling 'trapped', has been such a focus in the season so far and it ties so well thematically into these considerations for the episode. There has also been the repeated idea of the connection back to what was with a sense of distance or longing, often holding the characters in place as well.

    I really love your observation about Dawn's awareness of Buffy's presence as being more than just a physical one, her emotional disconnection being something that Dawn is deeply affected by. As we saw Dawn's response to the wild nights and indulgences of escapism Willow and Buffy engaged in earlier in the season she is again being used as a barometer for them both. Encouraging Willow's steady return towards Tara, with the emotional comfort that offers Dawn in the present too, speaks of both Willow's and Buffy's current states in her response.

    Xander being 'missing' and the hole that leaves for Anya is reflected of course in how he then feels when he returns to Anya's absence and this notion of part of who we are being taken with someone who we tied to our sense of self. (As Buffy experienced with Joyce, which we discussed then as the absence creating a gap, a role to be filled, and also as Dawn did/does with Buffy, heart-wrenchingly often emphasised by The Bot). I also love the reflection you noted in Buffy seeking to find herself whole again, to find herself again, that her use of Spike's name offers him. That Buffy is both here and still lost is fundamental to understanding her current struggle and is reflected in Dawn's anxieties.

    It's just brilliant how you've drawn all these 'previous' scenes, informative from the past, into outlining the interlocking themes of presence, absence, of space and time.

    Although I would add that that critique is complicated by the thread of normativity that runs through the season’s writing, one that works, at times, to mute its strongly speculative critical force, so that teasing out the differing threads becomes a delicate task…

    But to begin with the title, again, with that “Again”—

    Where and when does the original of which it would be a repetition—and the “Normal” it claims—lie? How can we grasp its duration? The force of its return? Or its cost? And know who pays them?
    That the term 'normal' in itself denotes an acceptance of some set/understood standard is interesting when considered against the idea of judging normal, what is right or wrong, good or bad. Buffy is looking to return to the 'her' that isn't dead/dying/'wrong', but if her very understanding of her reality can be questioned, what is she pinning her ideas of who she was and who she should be against? You're right that the sense of Buffy healing, or her becoming better and moving forwards is often looked at with the sense of linear time, progressive recuperation. But Buffy can't ever be who she was before because she's experienced so much since. So to build from where she is, is she needing to move both backwards and forwards and redefine herself 'now'?

    This episode shows how much more complex the matter—of temporality, normativity, and their imbrications—has become, and, I would suggest, it puts the notion of “health” itself into question, shows the normative force that shapes it.

    But disentangling that complexity calls for a disentanglement of the constellation of temporal modalities woven into through it
    This really is fascinating SoS, and I can only apologise for anything I drop as I try to juggle/examine the thoughts. Please don't feel bad about telling me if I've misunderstood, I'm very much used to that and I would definitely like to be steered back on course if a) I have indeed wandered, and b) if it is indeed possible to steer me back!

    Over S6 and across this episode, at least seven different temporalities are in play:
    That there is that repetitive need for comfort and security in what Buffy describes with both heaven and in how the Dr describes her 'constructed' Sunnydale reality is really interesting to me against what you noted about the temporalities of trauma and depression. Both are destablising and disruptive of the ability to see beyond the current. That this can be considered alongside the influence the loss of Joyce had in S5 and where the disruption to her heroic structure of time occurred too is great. The deep questioning of a meaningful 'self', one which currently feels somewhat lost and untethered, seems almost inevitable when considering the additional sense of life's natural flow having been disrupted too and, when it's returned, coming with a feeling of time/life draining away again. The expected structure/cycle of her chosen duty seems reliable against determining the uncertainties of 'living', the dissonance unsettling. If the fight is the easiest aspect, we can see how it presses her sense of feeling detached, how 'wrong' she may be herself alongside the wrongness in the human acts she's facing through the season. To come 'out' of this is to engage in life again and find a sense of self to believe in, despite the inevitable ties between her slaying, the constant sense of repetition, having that role to perform as part of who she is, all whilst moving again towards death.

    The time that moves in a linear fashion towards a definitive change, the time of improvement, progress, prognosis, getting better. In NA and, indeed, throughout S6, this temporality largely appears in the form of the regulative norms of health, of Buffy’s depression and trauma and Willow’s mistaken addiction, of failed sovereignty of self and weakness, of self-blame and guilt, of wrongness.
    I have to admit as someone who loves looking to a sense of progression for the characters through the verse, that belief in moving onwards and striving, I do tend to fall to thinking of it in linear terms with the passage of time. But when we are also always looking to the past to explain the present and how the characters are responding to what 'was' and 'is' simultaneously (and as the future is always a theoretical notion against the current 'now' being lived), I can see the idea of everything functioning in a truly linear can be questioned. So whilst a process and progress can occur that seeks and sees an improvement or realignment of issues faced, where you came from is always a fundamental part of where you are and where you will come to be.

    But what is deemed to mean improvement? What is sought and expected and how that is judged/measured obviously plays a really important part and comes back to the oft-repeated themes of roles with the internal and (understanding/perception of) external expectations.

    Power of course is so fundamental to the season and the information that you gave on Biopower and Biopolitics is really interesting. It did take me some time to absorb this and I (hopefully!) have come to a fair understanding of how it sees social structuring and individuality. With social structures which looked to format people en masse, an intrinsic part of accepting, allowing, people's individual power within and their right to self-govern, was the expectations of how they will choose to do so weighing upon them. That this actually negates true freedom, as regulations and norms keep the structure within which the individual is 'free' to roam. What is deemed to be the 'right' behaviour or wants affects your place in the wider structure, your acceptance, and so your perception of acceptable self and successful happiness leans to alignment.

    What does this have to do with BtVS? On the first level, we can look at the actions of those with power: Willow’s resurrection of Buffy seeks “to force living not just to happen but”—in her forgetting spell and in other expectations—“to endure in particular ways.” One can read Giles’ desertion in these terms, as well, for much as he appears to be abdicating power, he is actually deploying it, trying to force Buffy to endure as the Slayer whose former being he so admired and loved, whom he deemed healthy. Even more, the temporality of S6 is that of slow death, which is in itself biopolitical, but the characters, especially Buffy herself, cast its crises as the “conditions of specific bodies and their competence at maintaining health or other conditions of social belonging”—especially her own; in this, they show their interiorization of the logic of biopolitics and wield it against themselves, judging their own failures in its terms, as their failures to achieve normative health “or other conditions of social belonging”: Buffy’s trauma and depression, her “wrongness”; Willow’s misuse of magic, her seeming addiction; Xander’s inability to announce or, in the end, go through with his marriage to Anya; even Spike’s inhabitation of the liminal space between monster and man, into which he is forced as much by his feelings as by the chip; and countless other individual difficulties and grave errors. And in this, the characters—except, until the end, Spike—blame themselves for failing to achieve, as well, the fulfillments of progressive time, of the turn to health or social belonging as “a side effect of successful normativity”—for failing to “line up with that pleasant condition.”
    So this is then a great way of considering the social pressures that both externally and internally shape how the characters perceive themselves, the roles they should fit and their judgment of their successes or failures. I think I'm with you, sorry if I'm not or if I'm making it painful, ha.

    Thus Buffy, as American Aurora has so perfectly explicated, sees herself as caught between the possibilities of the heroic, moral slayer and the amoral, essentially inhuman lover of Spike, the one who gives herself over not just to sex without love but to attendant ethical lapses—I would argue, however, that here Buffy is deploying (with help from the show’s own puritanical sexual norms) a set of regulative norms against herself, drawing from the dominant biopolitical discourse and shaping it to fit the standards according to which she perceives herself to have lived before her death. What she loses in this self-interpretation and -judgment is the fact that she now lives largely according to neither (anti-) norm, lives largely between them, in the domain of slow death, whose asymptotic relation to death, whose lack of eventfulness—unbearable for one whose life has been defined by events—she seeks to efface through her recourse to terms that call forth wrongness and, with it, the logic of “health” and rightness, of progressive time.
    The connection that Buffy feels to Spike of course does come in part from something that is within her that she has tried to suppress and turn from before too. In looking to return to a perception of herself prior to her death and against the definitions of acceptability she held before, she is denying a part of herself that she has come to somewhat face. By labeling all her behaviour outside of what she feels it was before as 'wrong' she isn't just looking to turn back to herself but simultaneously also away from herself too.

    But what she actually must needs do, then, must needs find a way to do, is not to become once again the heroic Slayer she thinks she was—we ought to remember that her life then was always striated with a longing for the normal, that even after normality’s explicit thematization ended, related formulations surfaced, such as her fear in S5 that slaying was making her unable to feel, to love, was making her less human—that she must needs find a way to live an otherwise than in adherence to the normative that haunts her as a loss, must needs find a way to live in another relation to it, in another relation to the complications of the differing temporalities of her life. This means, as well, that biopolitics takes up the thematics of the normal as they have run across the entire series, helps us put their stakes and meanings and temporalities into relief—and question.
    In accepting the 'her' which she is having to face within her choices now, a development/alteration of who she had been, had perceived herself to be, and who she still is, she can engage anew. Accepting loss and detachment are all part of her and was something she was already facing along with slaying, living, before the experience of death and the trauma of resurrection/unnatural life added in to who she is. I'm very interested to see through the review how you relate her hallucinations with the sense of past and current, the sense of her own absence and against her processing normativity and perceived expectations. How this can/will impact her notion of getting better.

    Buffy tells Tara, in DT, that the only time she feels anything is with Spike, but this is not quite accurate: as she confesses to the “dead man’s ear” in AL, she feels intensely upon her return to life—but does so aslant herself, as if out of sync with the time of her being:

    Everything here is hard and bright and violent: everything I feel—everything I touch…. This is hell: Buffy feels—feels the world pressing too closely upon her—it is, in that pressure, if anything, too present… And that presence, its pressure will but redouble with the entry of bills, with the call of obligations from family and friends, Dawn and Willow and Xander—a shaped and shaping pressure that forces Buffy herself to take shape again, to regain form, a form in which she can, perversely, no longer say that “I [am] still me, you know?” For caught in the density of the pressures of the world, the world’s thick, insistent presence, Buffy can, in her depression, but sink away from it, abscond through a downward spiral into absence—a literal de-pression, a new kind of dissolution—her response to finding herself unable to move through the world as she once did, move freely, or relatively freely, in relation to its regulative norms.
    This is a great observation SoS. Buffy's sense of detachment has come in part from her experiences before and since her death. But engaging in the life she now has isn't just about the new experiences fundamentally changing who she was before she died. It's also in great part her reaction to processing her emotional responses in addition to the expectations and pressures that are instantly upon her from multiple sources. There's the loss of the certainty of life's overarching path with death having finality and, as we've discussed before, an unavoidable shift in group/relationship dynamics. The forced return and expectations add now to the structure any sense of freedom is operating within, and it constrains how she feels able to re-engage as the inevitable changes that have happened to her feel unwelcome and not understood. The characters isolate themselves as their internal worries about individual choices hit against expectations and the normative demands of living they feel surround them.

    In contrast, Angel, as someone who feels fundamentally outside of society, more readily cuts himself off from questions of regulative norms when his personal focus clashes with them. He deliberately acts independently in Forgiving, cutting himself off from questions about his actions, whilst trying to first find a way to get to Connor (torturing Linwood) and then find Sahjan (using dark magicks), turning his back on queries being made of the ethical acceptability of his choices.

    There's an interesting correlation between Joyce/Hank and Angel in the two episodes. Both parents seeking, fighting for the return of their child. In this sense Wes, as the person who originally took Connor is to blame as much as those involved in his removal from this dimension to Angel and so is amongst those he includes in his attack, ready/willing to harm or kill those that have caused his separation from his child. Just as Joyce, Hank and the Doctor encourage Buffy to do what she must to sever her connections to Sunnydale, which of course includes herself.

    (EDIT: this next expansion I thought about after concluding your review and in particular in consideration to our agreed interpretation of the ending scene, but it is relevant to this contrast between the episodes so I have moved it here.)

    In that way (attacking self too) there is arguably a link between Angel and Buffy as well, if we consider Lorne's remark to Angel that he can start to forgive himself if he starts to forgive Wes. So Angel's later attack on Wes, is also in part about self-blame, just as Buffy's hallucinated self relates to her own internalising of being 'wrong' since her calling. Choosing to believe in herself and Sunnydale is a part of self-acceptance and healing that strengthens her against regulative norms and 'attacks' the self that had been completely asylum bound because of them. But as Angel's attack on Wes doesn't kill him, wouldn't have ever succeeded in killing his own self-blame, taking the antidote and leaving the internal torture of the asylum doesn't eradicate the pressures and internal worry that norms and fears of wrongness provide Buffy. So it is works that the representation of an asylum bound Buffy doesn't completely vanish after either, but instead is still somewhat 'there', still within.

    Norms, Normativity, and Normalization—
    Also, if the above lacks in clarity, particularly with regard to norms, normativity, and normalization, as I have been told it does, I offer the below—
    Well I didn't think I was struggling with this aspect, but I may be about to learn better!

    I think the way social norms function and can be considered within the topics of power and social conformity is interesting and obviously very relevant to what all the characters are addressing in this season. Establishing the normal and abnormal against any sense of individuality and freedom, that norms established become even seen to be the natural and 'right' state, not to be questioned and challenged but sought and adhered to can easily be related to how characters judge themselves. What becomes murky perhaps is when/where some norms are preventatively/protectively built around observed negative fallout from taking alternate choices and routes. There is that sense of success and acceptability to conforming as the counter to the guilt of not, but also the potential benefit of learning from others and benefiting from the security the widely accepted seems to offer, sometimes legitimately.

    Your description of 'affect' makes sense to me as an engaging phenomenon, in the sense when you describe it as relational. In visual communications we often talk of the positive/negative affective reactions between a piece, image etc and the viewer. I think this is looking to something similar. So (I think!) I can follow the idea the inherent connection of what is now to the past obviously exists, but that it is also to the potential future, the branching opportunities of the moment, of possibility too. So affect runs between and so to the potential of what could be as well.

    As Massumi, whose words will close this explication, says in an interview (collected in the book The Politics of Affect (2015)): “I use the concept of ‘affect’ as a way of talking about that margin of manoeuvrability, the ‘where we might be able to go and what we might be able to do’ in every present situation. I guess ‘affect’ is the word I use for ‘hope.’ One of the reasons it’s such an important concept for me is because it explains why focusing on the next experimental step rather than the big utopian picture isn’t really settling for less. It’s not exactly going for more, either. It’s more like being right where you are—more intensely.”
    I really like this description and how it speaks to that sense of engagement which resonated for me.

    D&G’s talk of betweenness, combined the connection my student made, indicate the imbrication of becoming and affect; indeed, affect does not simply enable becoming, open the body to its possibilities—D&G will write that “Affects are becoming.” Or, in more detail, to complete the passage from Jasbir K. Puar that I began in the section on depression, with which I will end this one: “Affect is precisely the body’s hopeful opening, a speculative opening not wedded to the dialectic of hope and hopelessness but rather a porous affirmation of what could or might be. It is thus not an opening toward or against or in relation to a teleological notion of time, prognosis time, or forces that simply resist or disrupt progressive time. Affect moves us away from terms such as ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future’ to reorient us around what Manuel DeLanda calls ‘non-metric time’: speed, pace, duration, timing, rhythms, frequency. Time becomes less an epistemological unit of organization and is instead thought of as ontologically irreducible, constitutive to becoming, a speculative opening—indeed, time in affective terms is becoming itself.”
    The idea of 'becoming' is less intuitive for me. As I said before, I find myself drawn so much to the idea of these as progressive stories and that desire to look at 'now' against what came before, to understand the characters and what underlies the behaviour, their choices. I think I can reconcile this with the acceptance I have always held that an incomplete story may go ways that you didn't expect and that can then radically change your previous understanding and interpretation of what had come before it. Also, a seemingly complete story is something that a totally different experience may have you look back on and reconsider, alter your perception on too. Both of these have happened, and I do!

    So I think I'm understanding 'becoming' as almost the continuous in-process nature of being. As so many factors, 'parts' of what was can change in the progress to what will be, it's impossible to plot, to identify the changing differences and pull apart something that is inherently happening. We can pause and examine and draw thoughts, but have to accept that when something is still in progress what we were looking at can change drastically down a different path than it appeared to be on. With affect allowing for openness to all that could be, the next step can always take you into a different direction and engage in what passes next in some other way than was supposed, in a linear sense from any previous points seen or as they were understood to have been. I'll see as I read on and you apply these whether this is compatible or not I suppose. I'm quite happy to accept I may have got myself totally wrapped around it all, ha.

    Quote Originally Posted by StateOfSiege97 View Post
    As Jonathan complains about their living conditions, the close quarters, the immurement, he tells them “I’m going Jack Torrence in here.” This reference to the protagonist of The Shining lightly threads him to Buffy, who, in one of her crueler and more desperate actions, had typed a version of the repeated proverb that made up mad Jack’s great American novel into her social worker’s folder as a sign of that woman’s seeming mental disturbance. Threading Jonathan to Buffy as well, over this episode and historically: the threat of madness, the experience of depression, and the sense of outsiderness, of wrongness, as we will soon find Jonathan excluded from the inner circle of the Trio, a nerd among nerds—an outsiderness that will stem, in part, from his discomfort with the ethical trending of their actions and prefigure his turn against Warren
    This is great. That a lot of Jonathan's poor choices have originated from his sense of exclusion and depression is a really interesting comparison to raise between the characters. As Jonathan's increasing discomfort with the actions of the group starts to separate him we have Buffy's determination to return to a more morally strong self too. Of course Warren's desire to get Jonathan to return to his previous more relaxed perspective on their actions could be seen against Spike's desire to get Buffy to reconsider what she has/had too. The actual difference of course come from Warren's clear determination/intention to use and set up Jonathan with his moral capacities such that he has making a specific and conscious choice to act against someone else's best interests in favour of his own. Spike's inability to understand why his relationship with Buffy has to end, his lack of boundaries of what is acceptable within a relationship driving him, but not self interest that comes with a deliberate desire or conscious disregard towards hurting her.

    And a pan outward, to the hallway of a hospital ward, to distance-faced patients and nurses, ghosts absent to each other and themselves….
    This is a beautiful description of the tone that they convey here and for how it will build in with this question over what is real and where Buffy is truly present.

    It reminded me of some of the things that Local Max raised within his review of Listening to Fear, that those that are elderly or mentally ill are often shielded from view to suffer alone. In the hallucination absence is both there and not, with the most difficult aspect for Buffy to deal with, the inclusion of her loving, supportive parents who just want her to return to them, to get 'better' and come home. But the cost of which is both judgement on what is acceptable for her to 'be' and the loss of those she cares for. In Sunnydale we can see that this also relates to the fears/feelings that Buffy is containing and hiding from those around her too.

    Following all the deep ties between Hell's Bells and Sleep Tight, this episode and Forgiving continue to thematically align in multiple ways, some of which I've already touched upon. Along with time, ethics, parent/child bonds, self-recrimination, guilt, betrayals, forgiveness, that sense of absence that weighs on the groups as they seek to 'recover' missing members, emphasises the emotional responses to relationships and their joint pasts which so heavily informs their actions. It is interesting that parental expectations (Angel's, Joyce and Hank's) run alongside security, care, protection, but also alongside wrongness and rejection. All the time Angel is fighting to try and retrieve his son, his own absence for Connor is allowing Holtz to manipulate and and generate different gulfs than are feared, ones established through formative years, heavily affecting/changing their dynamic in their absence from each other. Connor will grow up not knowing what he has lost other than what he is told. Perhaps Buffy's already established acceptance of the loss of her parents, the support and surety the memory of her mother she holds gives her, makes turning from the promise of them the hallucination offers easier than the price alongside that of losses that she hasn't yet experienced and accepted in her friends/Dawn.

    Buffy comes to, confused. Awakens, for a second unsure of what or where, of perhaps who she is. Awakens, unsure—an act that punctuates the season, forms part of its arc. Awakens, but incompletely, still haunted—as she has been all season, as she will be until she can fully awaken in Grave, find a way to live in the presence of her varying temporalities, including that of the past’s haunting, live them together, forming a different modality of time…

    The act the begins in Buffy’s distancing from both self and surroundings: much of its remainder comprises a series of nearings, some missed, mixed with further distancings and slippages—

    We begin with Willow at school, waiting for Tara, rehearsing opening phrases, all of which point toward progressive recovery, of love refounded and health re-established: a possible meeting for “coffee… gay love,” an announcement of the days (“insert number here”) that she has been free of magic. But as Tara nears Willow, she is also nearing, embracing another woman, kissing her cheek—Willow instinctively flees, leaving Tara to glimpse but her retreating back, to feel but worry of a chance, a nearing missed, of a possible misreading.

    Then the DoubleMeat—slow death in its most palpable form—where Buffy stares vacantly, infected by the demon’s juice, or the memory of its affects, or both…
    Yes, the episode does work incredibly well to literalise Buffy's internal struggle of the season and highlight the overall path for her and others. Seeing her return to conscience here as still haunted and not fully awakened, struggling in those varying senses of presence and time is just excellent. As you say, the almost/miss of Tara and Willow's meeting, of their progress to recovery of love is a great follow up and the sequence of scenes, with presence and time varying in different roles/settings. This sense of being there and yet a connection being missed, being there only briefly, being just too late, or not being present (as we have with Anya) is used repeatedly alongside time as we see Buffy dropping in and out of both realities, blending the two. It's another time the medley of the meats and their natural separation and original incompatibility feels relevant.

    Buffy can only mumble a deadened “Okay… good,” her stare still vacant, as if she were speaking to the nurse, and turn back to the deep-fryer, from which she pulls, yet more vacantly, a basket of fries as charred as her mind seems to be.
    Great call, they do work well as a visual depiction of Buffy's struggle and lack of connection to time and lack of a 'working' fully-functioning presence. I think you're right that the scene with Buffy at home after work does show some degree of reconnection building with her friends.

    I think there is a note of understanding from Buffy over Willow's pain/jealousy that calls back to her own response on seeing Spike with his date in Hell's Bells. But again it is something that she can't voice as the relationship's 'wrongness' puts her off still and now that it has passed she is attempting to put it behind her completely, trying to push away any ongoing presence for her that she acknowledged to him she feels and that we see at times like this. That it is only in the past is something that she tries to assert during Spike's appearances, despite some of her own responses, as much as he tries to challenge and refute it.

    What we have here is the Scooby core tentatively returning to itself, at least nearing itself: their life may still be that of slow death, with its precarities and wearing out, but that includes the comforts of friendship and its givings: “We all screw up.”
    The different dynamics between their response to Xander's appearance and Anya's is of course noted in her absence to see his return. Their friendships may not be broken through Xander's actions in Hell's Bells, but he's realising his relationship may be. Again we see these varying responses in AtS. Both Wes and Xander now have to face the fallout from the choices they made and their remorse, guilt. As Buffy and Willow rush to Xander's side, Fred is determined to understand Wes' actions and she and Gunn worry and look to find him. But those hurt most by the betrayal of trust, Anya and Angel, aren't offering forgiveness and the comfort of their presence as others do.

    And this comparison raises the series theme that lays heavy on the season alongside the abuse of power, as we consider and see consequences the possibility of forgiveness is connected. This gets increasing prominence as the season progresses and links over/across to S7, which very much follows on from the events of S6. Of course forgiveness isn't something that is always readily or easily offered. So in both shows we see turns to vengeance and retaliation can win over understanding and compassion, with many characters looking to act on fury in their grief.

    Comfort and giving bring us to Spike and Buffy in the graveyard, where tension—expectancy, its small dashing, admonishment, and Buffy’s flustered attempt to hide their closeness upon the appearance of Willow and Xander, Spike’s responding frustration—mixes with dense familiarity, their fall into easy conversation about the wedding, sitting together.
    The fall back to the tone of the earlier part of the season between them, the emphasis of a genuine connection is there again as they sit and talk. But it is still a dynamic that is undisclosed, present and yet hidden. Spike's awareness of Buffy's hurt about his date in Hell's Bells I feel presses him on in feeling that there is still something current. That it is something to be hidden in fact solidifies it still. Despite how the dismissal of their relationship, the connection and how he knows her in ways her friends don't, deeply frustrates him. And it is in his concern for her wellbeing there and later that he distances himself from Warren, and yet his inability to put his own interest and hurt aside is also what has him let her down in aiding her recovery later too.

    Then the rise of repetition, when the conflict between Spike and Xander, threatens to break into banal violence. As Willow attempts to calm the men down, Buffy first pleads for a stop, then turns to flight, ricocheting back to the asylum just as Xander’s fist extends itself toward Spike, just as that banal violence explodes—
    I really like the idea that it is in her wish to escape the situation, the difficulty of managing her mixed feelings and responses to those around her, that the alternate universe returns. She can't be the 'her' that she is with Spike around her friends, they don't blend. Of course she then looks to escape the alternate too, confused and horrified by the suggestion that her life isn't actually even real and the shunts between the two are a really great way to show how torn up Buffy still is about having active presence and any clear sense of self in her own life.

    Ill-Buffy’s face opens out a bit, but she never comes to full presence—and as the words flow, her expression indicates increasing distress, an unwillingness to trust, to believe—either what she sees or what it might mean. The Doctor tells her parents to talk to her, that their voices, in their sounding, “will ground her”—draw her forth into full being-there. But as Hank assures her how much they have missed her, his “Honey, can you hear me?” suggests her fading, a suggestion intensified by Joyce’s “Oh Baby, stay with us, please—“
    The fact that either scenario has a distressing element to it - return to a life fighting for your life every day where you feel distanced and detached, where you've lost your parents, or, return to a reality where you're struggling to understand what is real and where you're told you are lost in a world of your own creation, with no knowledge of why but where your parents are waiting for you. Neither is completely comforting and this really layers in to the jumps Buffy makes between the two and her increasing loss of certainty.

    And as he and Willow guide Buffy home, Spike can only say, with futility, “A little ice on the back of her neck… She likes that…” The last said to himself, a reminder of the secret intimacy now absent.
    Oh that's a lovely way to describe the moment that illustrates what Spike is missing and would like to find again, that beyond the frustration at being ignored, denied and rejected, he's keenly feeling the absence of the relationship too.

    Back at home, Buffy sits tensely in the comfy chair, Willow, Xander, and Dawn on the couch; while Willow and Xander listen attentively, showing concern and trouble, Dawn’s face is most often a mask, her stare focused less on her sister than on some distanced blank space, distancing. Buffy, for her part, attempts a nearing, a truth-telling, but it proves a struggle, as her face reveals, not just to tell but to remain in presence, there, for them….
    I love how you keep drawing attention to the emphasis on presence, space and time as you identified in your intro. They really are persistently threaded through the episode.

    I rewatched the scene where Buffy explained the hallucinations to Willow/Xander/Dawn to gauge Dawn's response and I can see the interpretation that Dawn is discomforted because she remembers Buffy's history in being institutionalised too. I do think though that she could be just generally responding simply from being unnerved at what Buffy is saying. Wanting to look to Xander and Willow to see how unsettling they are finding this too.

    Although I hadn't thought this before when watching the episode, I wondered this time when Buffy revealed the news she had been in a clinic to Willow if she might have been confusing the event that got her in the institution in the hallucinations, or some such other muddle of reality and hallucination. When she speaks to Dawn shortly afterwards and accuses her of getting Willow to do her tasks it seems as if Dawn is confused and alarmed at what she is saying, at her behaviour. It feels as if Buffy is getting somewhat more erratic and untethered. I'm not sure that she isn't almost hallucinating in the present too by this point, her mind throwing out facts that aren't based on her original reality. As you say, her suggestion Joyce and Hank were together before Sunnydale implied their relationship broke afterwards, although we know that isn't true. It all feels a little ambiguous. So, I'm intending to consider as I read your thoughts on the episode how, or indeed if, the accuracy and truth of this memory affects how it is used, or if it could have been a false/warped memory. Of course I may be forgetting a future reference back to this reveal which solidifies it as a truth. If so, I'm probably about to repeatedly ramble pointlessly, but I'm used to that, ha.

    Obviously for Dawn all of this is hugely distressing as it plays on her repeated struggle with feeling 'real' and part of the world that she was created into. Xander's reference of her as a formally big ball of universe destroying energy has just simply reminded her of those worries and all that she has felt in being ignored and pushed aside since Buffy's return. As the camera pulls back it looks like Dawn is trying to comfort Xander after he said that, but obviously it could also be her looking for contact and confirmation of her existence after the reminder, particularly amidst Buffy's talk of illusions of reality. It only seems later though that she directly questions her lack of presence in the hallucinations and then is yet again left feeling abandoned by Buffy.

    Willow takes charge, divvies up responsibilities, but this taking up of the task, of the finding of solutions, sends Buffy into flight—as it but recently has before. This time, however, she does more than go for a walk…
    Great point that Willow takes charge and it is the weight of action to fix the problem that seems to trigger Buffy's next exit. It's notable that Willow is again keeping pretty calm and managing the leadership role in Buffy's 'absence', and also noteworthy that there isn't the hint of her considering the magical ways she could look to sort it out.

    The Doctor is an unreliable interpreter—either that, or the version of Sunnydale he is getting is not a full and accurate one—or not the same one as that which our Buffy has been living. For did Dawn actually appear due to Buffy’s “need for a familial bond?” When she does, Buffy and Joyce are closely bonded. Moreover, Buffy did not “rewrite the entire history”—her memories were rewritten by the Monks, yes, but she became aware of this, as did the others, able to distinguish between what actually occurred and what she felt did.
    I very much agree that we have good reason to question what the Doctor is saying as the details about her delusion in the hallucination don't match the reality we've seen Buffy live. Although I think the rewriting of her history to allow for Dawn could be seen to include the monk's spell as part of what he's saying was Buffy's rewritten delusion. But there are inconsistencies between what the Dr is saying and the reality we've seen Buffy living. This is part of why I think Buffy's thoughts whilst so openly affected by the poison are also questionable in their reliability when recounting her past experience of being in a clinic which doesn't make sense against what we saw of her/Joyce in the early seasons. I'm happy to accept that isn't what they were going for in the writing perhaps, it could just be a poorly considered retcon that we were supposed to accept because they all 'forgot' about it. But because of the issues it brings to continuity I'm happy to see scope to draw it into part of the hallucinogenic poisoning, as long as its purpose in the narrative of this episode still works.

    Finally, the “inconsistencies” the Doctor names, the fact of her delusions becoming less comforting, his focus on Warren and the others as the Big Bad—this is his reading of the surfacing of the temporality of slow death into that of the heroic, their intertwining, something that he has to efface if he is to maintain the normative line of interpretation of ill-Buffy’s fall into illness and her prior life, the possibility of her return to health, if he is to not see that the battle Buffy faces in S6 is not so much against the Trio as it is with—in, about being part of—Life.
    With the escapism that plays such a key part of the choices that Willow and Buffy make to deal with their problems, it's interesting to see the Drs suggestion of the reduced comfort ill!Buffy is finding in the life around her and the suggestion her battles are becoming less grand/heroic. As you say, he focuses on the heroic battle/slow death rather than the challenge Buffy is really facing, what the escapism is about and which the hallucinations themselves now represent, engaging with life itself. In truth in the real world Buffy is starting to take steps towards engaging more, even if at this point it's somewhat unrealised, and take less comfort from escapism which she had mostly been using Spike for until so recently. The battle with The Trio as a human threat rather than supernatural in nature also represents facing 'life', rejoining her friends/family and engaging with the world rather than losing herself in the mere motions of battling the supernatural in the season. The hitchhiking demon of After Life is very representative of the positioning of the supernatural elements to the season as she focuses on life struggles/challenges. Redefining herself, combining the pressures/aspects of varying areas of her life and coming to terms with all that she has been through could draw Buffy to a new sense of wholeness, rather than avoidance which leaves her static and fails to make her 'better'.

    Of course, to speak of the Doctor not being aware of or effacing, suppressing, is to speak of Buffy herself doing so, following the workings of the demon juice. I will have more to say about this, about the Doctor, in particular, below. At this point, I must simply note, note and underline: it is not Buffy’s unconscious that is working here, creating the delusions, for the Doctor speaks too much in negations, in terms of what is not true or real, speaks to much in the language of norms. But in Jacques Lacan’s reading of Freud, the unconscious knows no negation: it knows contradiction for this reason, yet there is no word for “no” in the unconscious, which means that it does not know death, that it does not know norms of any kind—although it can know, through repression, the affects of those norms—including no normative sexuality or any form of sexual taboo. The significance is twofold: first, Buffy’s delusions are not a product of her unconscious but her preconscious, the part of her brain accessible to memory, to the conscious mind, even if only dimly or indirectly, the part susceptible to the workings of regulative norms, their interiorization; second, these delusions are not the expression of Buffy’s deepest desires, for such desires emerge from the unconscious alone. Thus in reading Buffy’s delusions, in reading all the Doctor says, the manifestations of Joyce and Hank, Buffy’s response, we must read them not as articulations of Buffy’s desire—they speak, instead, from a different part of her self, the part shaped by biopower and its regulative norms (and, as I will show below, by trauma). At the same time, this does not mean that Buffy’s responses to her delusions do not emerge from her unconscious, that her responses do not thus, to at least some extent, express dimensions of her desire, some of which she may recognize—and some of which may still, even at the episodes end, remain to her unknown, awaiting a later unfolding.
    I confess I find this a little confusing. So are you suggesting the hallucinations draw more from what Buffy can have as fleeting thoughts about her life, such thoughts as an outsider looking on her could think, influenced by and judging within social norms? Such as, seeing her life in the dark, slaying and fighting as unhealthy, that she is struggling with her responsibilities to Dawn along with trying to keep her safe/contained and that she's somewhat lost with no active adult role model in her life. So her hallucinations makes her identity as the slayer a literal illness, which as a consequence removes Dawn and so the responsibilities of her, and it brings back both parents that she 'needs' as representations of regulation and structure behind any sense of self-governance? Yet this doesn't mean Buffy's deepest wishes are for Dawn to disappear, for her mother to return and to go back to a time before Sunnydale. It just takes that she is unsettled in her roles and the expectations on her, consequently the desire to conform, the emotional benefits to feeling that 'healthy' affirmation places weight on that against her sense of wrongness and traumatic experiences? That she does miss her mum and wish for that affection and reassurance again is part of why the delusions are drawing her and are so confusing, some of it does align to deeper desires. But those desires don't only align with what the hallucinations offer. So her desire to also connect more with her slayer side for example is part of what also draws her back out of the hallucinations too.

    We find Jonathan inside, seeing Andrew and Warren return from a trip outside, something that intensifies his feeling of being an outsider within.
    Oh I love that! And your reflection on how Jonathan too is struggling to recover a greater sense of self as he sways under Warren's dominant and paternalistic manipulations. This comes in part from implied threat, but also through the use of promises to a progression and improvement that Jonathan wants. Changes which largely look to counter any sense of a slow wearing down of life. Not through any comforting/genuine friendship, but ones which represent success and achievement of goals.

    These fixations on set goals and regardless of any costs to reach them shuts down the world around them into tunnel vision paths, losing the potential that being affected by all that is around them could bring. When you refer to the 'ethical relation that affect brings', is this in the sense that to disregard the consequences of their actions, the questionable morality of some options is to close themselves off to some degree and they link to the negative/violent choices humans make?

    She seems to be staring at it without quite seeing it or knowing what it means, lost in a past that in its absence draws her from the present to no certain place or time, haunted by the promise of her hallucinations, of that past’s recovery, of health—and perhaps by the unspoken trauma lurking underneath all that has not been said in the asylum, what cannot appear there. This is the temporality of depression, haunted, as we will learn, by that of trauma—not the only ones of which we know but also another, one that has been silently exercising a shaping force.
    Seeing how Buffy is both drawn to and fearful of the hallucinations is fascinating. The possible recovery of Joyce is weighed against the loss of Dawn. Again there's that sense of Dawn being at the heart of the consequences of choice. As Joyce's death was greatly about Buffy facing an aspect of life that she can't control and couldn't fight, despite her sister once having been a ball of energy, her mum's presence is the true illusion.

    No doubt the ties between Buffy's depression and the traumas that she has experienced are inextricably linked. I'm still not convinced by the actual truth of the clinic reveal though. I'll examine it further when you look more at this.

    What follows: a conversation that at once brings the friends closer through Buffy’s revelation, her honesty—and furthers the distance that has bloomed between them since the resurrection.
    That's an interesting contrast and I can see your suggestion that Buffy opening up and Willow's care is positive to see as them sharing emotionally, but the ease with which Willow passes over Buffy's reference to her disconnection contradicts it. I'd agree this emphasises how the resurrection still has created a gulf between them they aren't bridging and part of that is about Willow's power to bring Buffy back, taking her out of someplace she was happy.

    But I wonder how much Willow fears that Buffy is just losing further connections to reality in her reveal about her past experience in a clinic? There's uncertainty I think in how much Buffy is truly with them, what blending is occurring. So the attempt to place the experience in a firm 'past', as if such a memory/experience/fear could be conveniently forgotten or dismissed, may be partly born out of uncertainty and worry about when/where these thoughts and connections originate. But even if Willow is accepting of this as a genuine part of Buffy's history she is clearly wanting to focus on solving the immediate threat of the hallucinations, focus on something that she can do in response, severing the threat which has served as a reminder and drawn it out (or created it as an expression of how deeply Buffy has felt isolated since being called, depending on whatever the real truth is).

    Life stones may not carry, but trauma—they are its witnesses….

    Willow, however, cannot think such temporal complexity, at least not now, must keep the periods of time’s passage radically separate. She thus jumps from her insistence upon the pastness of Buffy’s actual asylum experience to her curing of the present one: “…but it’s the past. You’ve gotta trust me. We’re gonna get you that antidote. Xander’s hunting the demon right now.”
    It does come across somewhat as Willow looking to brush quickly past Buffy's attempt to talk about what is weighing heavily on her when trauma is at the heart of so much that Buffy is struggling with, whether this aspect is literal or not. Willow's uncertainty and/or disquiet does probably couple with any residual guilt she feels about what Buffy has been through by her own hands when hearing of an issue from the past which someone else has subjected her to. Her turn to want to look at how to fix what she can is well established characterisation and reflects other responses in the season, yet here without the negative rush and short cuts using magic had offered. That the poison can be developing, deepening the periods into the hallucination does make it an issue that has immediacy to it, and I agree this drives Willow to try to hold to a sense of linear time.

    Buffy, on the other hand, remains haunted by the past, finding, perhaps, in it, the answer to her question of why she is “like this”—a possibility that presages her dreadful solution to come. A solution that is underlined by her parents’ earlier response: they “just… forgot”—they did not want to know, that is, want to know Buffy herself. Once they had their proper daughter returned to them, they suppressed all in her that did not fit their normative mold, impressing upon Buffy her previous and possible future wrongness to them—and its consequences—silently demanding that she oppress those dimensions of herself that could not shape themselves into their regulative norms. And while they comfortably forgot her time in the asylum, it could not but haunt Buffy, linger as a threatening knowledge of what her fate would be if they were to know, if she were to allow but a wisp of her actual self to float free…
    I very much agree about the depth to which this would oppress Buffy and deeply affect her. But it is why it is such a hard retcon to take on top of the idea that it wouldn't be recalled instantly by either/both of them as soon as Buffy was talking in terms of vampires again in S2. There was no longer a need to suppress and forget then. Yet instead Buffy says this in response to Joyce's denial in Becoming pt2, "Open your eyes, Mom. What do you think has been going on for the past two years? The fights, the weird occurrences. How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, and you still haven't figured it out?" She tells her mum how longely it is, how dangerous. Then when Joyce said it is insane, that Buffy needs help, Buffy simply tells her, "I'm *not* crazy! What I need is for you to chill. I *have* to go!" That there is not one mention of the clinic then or on her return is so hard to believe if it were literally true.

    I remember once someone suggested that the memory of the clinic was actually something that the monks had included in Buffy's history rewrite. This then works past the early season continuity issues. A theoretical purpose to that I could see being to encourage Buffy to look to protect the identity of her sister, to keep the truth secret from everyone. Buffy's memory and experience of it all, her emotional connections, would be as meaningful and real to her as those of her sister. Personally I prefer to think that the monk's changed very little and as vampmogs suggested once, that this is why Dawn feels like she is always ignored and Buffy is saying she seems more annoying recently. But I'm not this as one addition in fact would disrupt that and I prefer it for the benefit to continuity tbh.

    Whatever is the truth, it being part of the monk's spell, a blending/mix with the hallucination that's part of the poisoning, or a literal part of her past forgotten by her parents and deeply suppressed by herself, I think how it overlays her insecurities and fears represented by the AU world is what matters. In all cases, that the feelings of isolation, of wrongness and not meeting the ideals she should are felt so keenly and run deeply.

    This helps explain the asymmetry between Buffy’s history and her fearful interpretation of it: in the first, it was her parents who judged her crazy and committed her—until she stopped talking about vampires, until she returned herself to normative daughterhood; in the second, it is Buffy who fears that she is crazy, that her parents were correct, that blocking truthful self-expression was not the answer—or, at least, not something she was able to do—, that she has remained in the asylum, is there now. What lingers between these versions, born of the first and birthing the second: the trauma of her commitment, of her trusted parents’ regulative determination and betrayal, combined with the sense of wrongness it brought her—unintentional, well-meaning, and loving as Joyce and Hank’s decision may have been—, as it intersects the trauma of her resurrection and the sense of wrongness it has brought her, the sense of wrongness and the sense of betrayal, this time by those she now most deeply trusts, her chosen family, Willow and Xander—unintentional, well-meaning, and loving as their decision may have been.
    Real or not, there is a not only a duplication of the sense of expectations/pressures that affect(ed) her in her memories/hallucination around her parents, but also the definite connection to the other traumas that Buffy is dealing with and the sense of disconnection and betrayal with those who are closest to her too from the resurrection.

    Hence Buffy’s inability to believe in Willow’s optimism, her promised cure: not only does it address only her most present ailment, but Willow herself turns away each attempt Buffy makes to speak about that ailment’s connection to her continuing distress, her depression and trauma, involving, as they do, the recent past of her resurrection. Hence, too, the failure of Willow’s insistence, her “but it’s the past. You’ve gotta trust me,” to convince, inspire hope—even if the hallucinations end, Buffy knows, her time in the clinic will not. Hence, thus, the logic of the demon juice, the logic of the form taken by the delusions it has induced: on an affective level, Buffy has never left that clinic, for she remains haunted by its trauma; she has never worked through it, as her inability to ever speak of it shows. And on that affective level—on the level of her betrayal by those whom she has come to most trust, a betrayal that repeated the one her parents committed when they first sent her to the clinic and then… forgot, a betrayal, that is, by the family she made to replace the original family that betrayed her—the resurrection returned her to that clinic…. Only now, the trauma of the event, accompanied by its affective force, renders her case far more severe, so severe that nothing as simple as not talking (much as she tries this) will deliver her from its walls—
    I can see how the truth of Buffy's time in the clinic would add a layer to her traumas through her response to the hallucinations making something that she had truly hidden fail to be contained any longer. But it is just so problematic against the early seasons for continuity, I find it really difficult to believe in.

    (The Spike-Xander interactions doubtless deserve more attention than I can give them, presaging Entropy and SR as they do, going back to each man’s romantic troubles, linking them, but perhaps someone else… )
    I think there is certainly something to be said for Xander wilfully ignoring what he doesn't want to acknowledge when it comes to Spike and Buffy. He doesn't want to imagine that there is a mutual attraction there, even though we did see him try to be understanding when he thought Buffy was turning to Spike during a difficult time in Intervention. Yet the bickering/sniping between Xander/Spike is a pretty established dynamic. I think Xander sees Spike as a bully that he can stand up against and despite working with him through the summer of Buffy's absence and appreciating what Spike can bring in a practical sense to aid the group, he still holds a degree of distrust towards him. Not unwisely so in fact. As you say, the interactions are building up/into Entropy and SR and the additional factor of Anya and her history plays it's part too. The parallel between Spike's and Anya's stories was drawn way back in Where The Wild Things Are. Both depowered, having to adjust in the human world and as outsiders they have an element of understanding. I think Xander recognises that and it bothers him in the same way that Anya's nostalgia for her demon years can generally.

    The old theme of secrets/lies and revealing truths has surrounded Spike and Buffy, particularly around Xander. So even now when Spike is openly commenting on the relationship he is able to turn it into being an alternate reality for it to be as dismissed as unreal as Buffy's hallucinations, and Xander readily does so.

    Note that while Buffy has been able to near herself to Willow and Xander, this has not held for Dawn. Here, as Dawn nears to comfort her with tea, Buffy can barely look at her sister, turns away, cannot meet her eyes, merely tries, unconvincingly, to assure Dawn that she’s fine…. And as Dawn protests, Buffy falls into the language of health, the words of the Doctor bleeding into the series of non-sequitors she utters:
    I hadn't noticed the physical separation in comparison, it is a great way to emphasise the importance of Buffy's distance from Dawn. It seems to serve to emphasise the absence of Dawn in the hallucinations too and that Buffy's proper engagement in the world is inherently tied to a choice to engage with Dawn. The randomness of what Buffy says to Dawn here does seem potentially to be alike to feverish ramblings as Dawn suggests.

    Then as Dawn's deeply held fears of being insubstantial are corroborated by the person she is closest to, the sense of not being cared for by Buffy since she returned that you identify, feels confirmed. It's even worse than a sense of a slow death, of fading away and even than of not mattering at all perhaps. It could possibly even speak to a fear Dawn may have that, just like her creation, she can be blinked out of existence and disappear any moment. Something in fact that Willow will suggest can be done later in the season. Comic spoiler in case you are trying to avoid them...
    Although not rapid in fact, this is something which does indeed start to happen in S9 of course as a consequence of the loss of the seed of magic. This revealed that the spell which created Dawn must have somewhat required magic to sustain it, rather than a one off spell which is complete and stable. This really could have (should have) been examined more at the time as a deeply traumatising event for Dawn considering her history on this topic. is only in realizing, that is, the possible imbrications of the temporalities of the heroic time and slow death that Buffy will learn to live again in either, will learn, even more, how to create another modality of time, will through this learn to give Dawn the care she so desperately desires.
    Yes, Dawn is intrinsically tied to Buffy's connection to the world, what holds her here, what she has been trying to work and manage. So staying in the hallucination represents Buffy staying distanced, staying ill and, as such a representation it would have to cost her Dawn.

    This sets Spike, in his frustration, hurt, incapacity to comprehend, and exhaustion, spinning into a combination of tough love and spite, his words working towards, against, and athwart the truth:
    Spike is bouncing around, also seemingly untethered at the moment, uncertain what to do. He has felt at points that the relationship is shifting and then his perception isn't met and, as you say, he's full of frustration and hurt. What he says even contradicts itself as he declares Buffy isn't drawn to the dark but addicted to the misery. But he then says if their relationship was known Buffy could be at peace in the dark with him. He wants her to live but he can't visualise how he fits in to that. It is his nature of course which is creating the barrier, emphasised at first by his inability to move into the room to her because of the shaft of sunlight. But not yet understanding/feeling the need to change as he still believes he can walk the line and be what she needs. And yet what we see is the next example of his nature creating a barrier as his self focus here in this moment has him leave the room without ensuring she does what is needed to get better. It isn't intentional, he doesn't want to let her down or harm her, but it emphasises that as he is he can't be relied upon and be what she needs.

    And for the first time, she knowingly, consciously, allows herself to spin out of the present, to return to the asylum, to the promise it holds….
    As you wrote in your responses about OaFA, Buffy is fleeing still at this point. She may have made some changes which will play positive parts in her getting ready to make a more fundamental change to get better, to reengage with the world/her life and so Dawn, but she is still also feeling some static force on her and is still feeling detached. My tendency is continues to be to see these things in somewhat linear terms in that all the steps/changes she makes which are needed but don't result in great immediate change are still steps that are needed. It may not have been plausible that she would have responded to later events as she does without these earlier shifts. So I feel there is some degree of positive progression to it, even if it is later moments/choices that serve to make more decisive changes finally happen.

    If Buffy cannot near Dawn because she cannot fully live into the responsibilities of their relationship, the temporality it bears, the same can be said of her relation to Spike—

    And Spike is both right and wrong in his words—

    His soullessness prevents him from understanding depression, causes him to read it rather in rather biopolitical terms as an “addiction to misery,” a selfish taking of pleasure in one’s own suffering—

    But on a certain level, Buffy is “too twisted” by it to “let [her]self live”—

    That statement must, of course, be here understood outside of Spike’s moralizing tone, given that depression is, from one angle, precisely a temporal twisting that renders the self unable to let her self live, unable to give to herself in that way, to give to her self the affective learning, the becoming into time that would be life—

    Yet it must also be understood as emerging from the thick complexity of Spike’s love, from the extent to which that love stakes itself upon Buffy’s becoming, the fullness of her living into the world—

    And in relation to this—and to the above—Buffy’s understanding of Spike’s words must be understood, in turn, in terms of her sense of Spike’s own wrongness, the way it has called to her own, made possible their relationship, the one she here seeks, as she has so insistently sought, to excise from what she deems her life, to assign to what she deems the death still dwelling within her, her inhabitation of a space liminal to the human, as her wrongness has, primarily, settled there since her resurrection.

    Their relationship may have always already faced foreclosure, faced limitations, due to Spike’s lack of a soul—

    Yet it faced limitations, too, due to Buffy, due to her grounding it in her sense of their shared wrongness, grounding it in what she felt absolutely foreclosed love, even as she knew Spike deemed that same ground to be, rather, a shared darkness, a darkness destined to give birth to their love. Hence the further feeding of Buffy’s wrongness and the self-loathing it entails: her knowing use of Spike in her self-loss, her play at submission; her refusal to name their relation, much less tell her friends of it; her refusal to grant him even nonhuman status, her reduction of him to mere thingliness, inorganic, seemingly inert matter—all of which culminates, first, in the desperately cruel violence of DT and, then, in her final rupture of the sexual bond between them.

    At the same time, leaving Spike has provided Buffy no solutions, no ability to “snap out of it,” treating as it did the symptom but not the cause, failing to reveal “why [she] is like this”—
    I totally agree that both Spike's and Buffy's current states put limitations on their relationship and find your thoughts on it really interesting. Splitting from Spike was clearly inevitable and his soullessness does restrict his ability to understand the world Buffy lives in as well as what could be best for her. But Buffy too has put up walls and boundaries against him because of the ways in which she has labelled the relationship, and so the side to herself that she explores within it, as wrong. The negative circle this creates towards herself is corrosive and bleeds out into the relationship too. It doesn't lift her problems once they part because it was always about her processing her detachment from her life and the relationship was symptomatic of that, of her depression. What she gains about allowing a side of herself to come out she can only benefit from when she is herself whole and engaged in living again. So whilst necessary, I can see what you are saying about the break up not actually 'fixing' anything, but it is a needed step.

    Running counter to all those foreclosures, to the toxicity of their relationship, which American Aurora, Puck Robin, and Stoney, in particular, have so finely explored, it is exactly Spike’s soullessness that creates through their connection an unpredictable giving, a giving that subtends the self-punishment and self-loathing it intensifies within Buffy, the self-flight it enables, the sense of resurrectional wrongness it renders ever more palpable:
    I've always talked about how Buffy does come to know herself better through having come to understand and accept a part within herself that she would possibly never have let 'free' without the connection she allows herself to explore with Spike. What is born in a great deal of negativity isn't wholly negative, and I think that has been said consistently.

    This is why Spike’s words hit at something that so deeply unnerves Buffy, for it is not as much his threat to tell that drives her to pour out the drink, much as it may seem to be. Rather, it is the rest of what he says and what lies beneath what Buffy tries to say, the truth that lies in both: the fact that Spike is part of Buffy’s life and not just her deadness, that she does feel for him, that she cannot, much as she tries, relegate their relationship to the merely physical, cannot delimit her wrongness to merely their relation—or save whatever good she sometimes finds insinuating itself beneath the bare surface of her skin for those she counts as part of her life, segregating it away from him. The very fact that their relationship, their “this” as she will say in DT, was limited by Spike’s soulnessness gave her something she had not known: not just a new way to experience her power—in the direct sexual pleasure of giving and receiving pain—but a new experience of the powerlessness of orgasmic self-shattering, of the suspension and loss of self in pleasure that need not be bound back, in its passing, to a final meaning, to endless commitment to the other, to an end in the progressive time of normative love.
    This is really interesting. That there is perhaps a draw to the escapism of the hallucination not just because of the representation that comes with the lack of Dawn, possibly with the loss of vampires, demons, slaying and a 'darker' side within herself, but possibly also with the lack of Spike specifically, and the more complex truths of their connection.

    The show, of course, in the puritanical moralism about sex that American Aurora has so perfectly explicated, seeks to obscure this aspect of sex by boxing sexual submission, passivity, self-loss into the category of badness, of depressive S&M and the backdoor balcony encounter in DT, by focussing upon the immoral use of power, the commission of physical violence in the Buffy-Spike relationship. But at the same time, by emphasizing the release that Buffy finds in sex with Spike (again moralized), it also forces to the surface, as never before in Buffy’s sex life, the self-loss of orgasm, even if it does not show that moment. And in doing so, it cannot completely obscure the crucial giving of that momentary giving over to passivity that she there finds, its giving to her in this time of lost wandering in the realm of wrongness. And it is precisely because that self-loss occurs with soulless Spike, with Spike with whom she does “not have a thing… [has] this—that’s all,” with whom she has a connection that escapes all names, that deserves only the vaguest of pronouns; one that creates new temporal rhythms of speed and slowness, duration and release, which thus does not drive to an end beyond that of orgasm itself; one that in this way opens her purely to affecting and being affected; one that through these qualities evades all gathering into final sense despite—because of—the intensity of its sensations—it is precisely in this sexual submission, which, in all its dimensions, resists circumscription into normative love, that Buffy is able to touch, without yet knowing, to refind an essential part of herself and her power, part of the ethics of her becoming.
    I think the relationship's very aspect of escapism gave it an almost temporal displacement from being herself which allowed Buffy at moments when she wasn't hating herself for it to stop worrying about who she was and allow herself freedom to connect to part of herself that she very much has always felt should be closed down. As I raised in Smashed, we saw her denial to this side within her highlighted with Faith, but still then suppressed. (Which is interesting to consider alongside the colour meanings I just raised in response to Aurora's post on AYW where one connection to the purple Buffy wears when she breaks up with Spike, closes down the relationship, is that of suppression.) But here with Spike it doesn't have direction or boundaries but is allowed to just 'be' what it is and so expects no restrictions within it. I really do feel it is something that Buffy gains from. Very much alongside both Spike's and Willow's paths in this season she will come to the end with a greater knowledge of the sides within herself that she can balance and still be her whole self, can in fact be her whole self more completely.

    What exactly this is—that explication will have to wait until the next two acts. For now, I will only point out that this mode of connection is, of course, not what Buffy believes a relationship should be, hence her self-punishment for it, her sense of its immorality, its wrongness, of its confirmation of her wrongness, her sense that it is “killing” her, the imperative that she end it. And on one level, it is right that she do so, for she knows that it is not, either, what Spike seeks himself, which is why she feels that she is “using” him—nor is this connection something that Spike himself can understand, ethics being beyond him, hence his insistence that the feelings she denies, the feelings to which she will finally, if only partially, admit before the AR, must be love…Thus, for more complex reasons than I can here fully explore, the AR. I will now only suggest that he is not completely bound up in wrongness: what moves him towards Buffy is a kind of love—only not the kind of love that he seeks, for it is not a love strictly bound to him, for all that he called it forth, given that impersonality infibers its deepest core, directs the fullest gestures of its expression, the becoming it brings to Buffy—and that it will affectively bring to him, to one who, as a vampire, would seem to exist outside the possibilities of becoming.
    I love your thoughts here and it really just highlights the complexity of the relationship and what draws them to each other as well as what, at this point, pushes them apart.

    First, as I hinted above, Buffy is not, during her relationship with Spike, aware of this dimension of it: the paradoxical nature of what happens between them determines that she cannot be, given her depression, her embinding within her sense of wrongness, Spike’s own inability to understand her or, as he will later say, from what I understand (I am behind on the comics, hoping to catch up), to truly love her.
    Whilst soulless, yes, he described it as a selfish bastardisation of love.

    At the same time, despite Spike’s wrongness, the power of it pull, I would argue that that alone is not what draws Buffy to him: the affective intensity of her sexual experience would not be possible were it made simply of their wrongnesses speaking too each other (if they could, without another fact as a catalyst, even thus speak)—nor, I think, would Buffy find her attraction to Spike quite so disturbing, indeed disgusting, were it based merely upon his wrongness. She is drawn to something else in Spike, something in his yearning for humanity—the residue of humanity in him that yearns for surfacing fullness, the humanity that will surface, finally, after he does the unspeakable, after he crosses his own set boundary and hurts her through the AR, which sends him in search of his soul. That such residue holds a place within him—infinitely small though it may be—was confirmed by the Judge, who determined, with his own disgust, that Spike and Drusilla carried the “stink of humanity.” And that tiny spark of life in Spike also calls to the spark of life in Buffy, the spark that lies somewhere deep, thickly swathed in folds of depression and trauma and slow death. It is this combination, the possibility of love utterly shadowed by its impossibility that affects Buffy so fully, gives her the speculative opening to regain connection to herself—even as it prevents her from being open to its affective force, living into its becoming, as it occurs.
    That's a fantastic point. I do think that the draw to the side of herself she has always suppressed is a big factor in what turns her to Spike, the sense of freedom, but I do think their connection has never been just/only that and there are factors that we've drawn out at other points which plays a part too. There are likenesses between them that they understand in each other, in the way they prioritise those they care for, enjoy the fight and defy authority/expectations. And those factors are about living, or existing in Spike's case*. So in feeling dead and distanced from life Buffy can feel comfortable as an outsider to it with Spike, but I can see as you suggest that perhaps too the way he still connects to life, his humanity in his drives/motivations, is also something that she seeks and wants to connect to as well. Spike embraces aspects of his humanity, as warped and eventually limited as it may be by the demon, and this reflects how Buffy feels herself to be detached but buried within her depression and trauma. Her own demons to living that she needs to face again, and so creating an additional layer, or dimension as you say, to whatever 'this' is that they have.

    *I reason that it was the embracing of the aspects of humanity within them, human emotion, which The Judge was identifying. We see Angel's connection to his human self too, but he actively rejects the ties of emotional regard and I think that is the difference with The Judge.

    Before the becoming of which I above write can come into force for either Buffy or Spike, they must both endure the suffering and violence of NA—and its aftermaths: Spike must speak and Buffy must hear and pour out the antidote in response. Since Buffy does not yet understand this aspect of her relationship to Spike—or, frankly, of her slaying, although it has haunted her since its fullest manifestation in The Gift—at this point, rather, because the pleasure and self-loss has come to her through S&M, through, that is, a direct relation to her power, and because, as I will show below, Buffy unconsciously deems her power to be imbricated in her wrongness, this sexual “thisness” works as but a further confirmation of a darkness within her. If Buffy fears revelation of her “this” with Spike, it is less the thing itself, much as she very much fears that, too, than of the darkness that it holds—the very darkness whose reverse image she will reveal in this episode, in her effort to kill her friends. And it is this fear that drives her away from the antidote—ironically, as that drive will lead her into its mirrored enactment, a kind of loss of self in the seemingly endless ecstasy of normative daughterhood, of the curing of wrongness through a turn to health, to an idealized home.

    And it is that very fear of what she fears to be her inner darkness, of what she deems to be her wrongness, what it is bound to, that lies behind her words: “I don’t want to go back there. I want to be healthy. What do I have to do?”
    This is great SoS. I'm surprised I'd never considered before how directly what Spike says to Buffy and their relationship plays a part in her choice to pour away the antidote.

    Quote Originally Posted by StateOfSiege97 View Post
    ...but no answer meets his incomplete Shakespearean “Friends, Romans—“ greeting…. (That the line is spoken by Marc Antony in praise as burial of Caesar, following Caesar’s betrayal, given that Xander is about to be betrayed…)
    Neat. And I love your observations about Buffy's ethical/existential crisis in using the determination and strength of her slayer-self to kill what she is viewing as that which binds her to the delusion of such. Going with the clinic memory she reveals as a genuine memory (or in fact even if it's not), it's a great reenactment of 'that' Buffy shutting out a side of herself, conforming to the desired normative expectations, in order to get to go 'home'.

    And yes it's going against who she is to behave as such, to deny and kill the others that have been narratively stated through the series to tie her to her life. Of course, meaningfully to the season, this includes Dawn, the sister whom she died to save. The depth of this internal rejection shows in how much she struggles with the notion of what must be done and her inability to take the final action herself when she makes it easier by releasing the demon.

    As the Doctor speaks this last line, the camera turns to ill-Buffy—she is looking down, and it struck me here, as it has throughout these scenes in the asylum, how much younger ill-Buffy looks, how much more innocent, unknowing… This Buffy has not yet, save in her hallucinatory state, killed…
    It is interesting to think about SMG deliberately playing ill!Buffy differently. It isn't of course the first time we've seen an AU version of her. Wishverse!Buffy was harder and more closed off emotionally from the experiences she'd had. Now we have ill!Buffy who's been withdrawn and 'hidden' within an imaginary world, not truly engaging and experiencing life, so your suggestion of her seeming more unknowing makes sense. Buffy imagining herself as 'softer' and more innocent in a world where she wasn't really the slayer, considering how she feared in S5 that being such was making her hard and unable to love, and now being followed with her current struggles to reengage with life it works well.

    Buffy’s turn from the slightest recognition of those pleading with her, those whom she loves, and throes of grasping at resolve, at the determination to follow the instructions she has been given, instructions uttered by the Doctor and Joyce, instructions that articulate the regulative norms of biopower:
    It is the weight of their certainty of what would count as her being 'better' which is tearing her up. And I completely agree that Joyce here appears as she could often in the early seasons, before Buffy's absence to LA and her growing acceptance and understanding of the duty Buffy was living which put an incredible weight of responsibility on her. Then Joyce was worried about her daughter and also about parenting well and so compared and looked for a daughter that fitted to the norms and expectations she had and saw around her.

    That Buffy hallucinates the story that the her time in heaven was actually a time of asylum-bound lucidity—presumably spent with her parents, under observation—, was a segment of progressive time, not timelessness, shows her deep interiorization of the disciplinary norms that Joyce and Hank sought to impose upon her, despite how far she has, since L.A., gone beyond them in her life as a Slayer (and how far, as well, has Joyce herself)—shows how much of her early trauma she has not been able to work through. (We might also think, here, of Nightmares as further evidence of her persistent haunting).

    Hence, as I will elaborate fully below, Buffy’s chosenness, her being as the Slayer, has always been tinged with wrongness.
    That Buffy's time in heaven was tied to a moment of assumed lucidity is really great as an emphasis on what should be sought, what could give her most reward and make her truly better.

    I'm still resistant to accepting the clinic reveal as truth. I do see that it adds a depth to Buffy's sense of being wrong as the Slayer, her fixation of what her life could be without her duty in the early seasons. But I think this exists anyway regardless of her parents having sent her to a clinic in actuality, through needing to hide it from them and still face the challenges and threats that she did. Possibly hinting or considering sharing her newly found duty only to be put off, fearing further rejection if the truth came out. The clinic experience adds a layer from duplication of trauma definitely, but as I've said before it's just so hard to believe against what was seen and said in S1 & 2 and Joyce's reactions as the truth was revealed then.

    Was there anything in Nightmares you were thinking of as specifically supportive to the idea of her having been in the clinic before, or just that it was again showing that deep rooted fear of not being 'wrong'?

    We see her struggle until-- Until the climax of her explanation to Dawn: there, the language ill-Buffy has been given, its regulative norms of health, bleeds again into Buffy’s own, melds with the words that she has been applying to herself, with her desire and its lack over the course of S6, melds with, above all, her desire—and her unutterable feelings—for Spike, deemed the most thickly intractable and incomprehensible manifestation of her returned wrongness, the thing that drew her yet further into a cycle of self-punishment, emotional abuse, submission as a means of self-flight—all of which run utterly against the “pleasant condition” of a proper daughter’s health:
    I can see how her own internal struggle with what she does feel and what she can't feel for Spike can drive her to seek a further escape towards an alternate truth, a 'healthier' self that wouldn't have that internal struggle. It ties brilliantly with his challenge to her and presence being what caused her to pour away the antidote as you noted.

    Great point that Buffy's choices to attack and bind those that she loves then stand back and release a demon on them is a reversal of her duty, a literal rejection of the supposed fantasy of being the Slayer. That it reflects the act that The Trio took on her is a brilliant observation. And yes, there is certainly a good dose of expectations or normative views of masculinity that plays a part in why all three of The Trio are walking the path they are on.

    Buffy has of course had other occasions in the season when her choices have been placed against that of The Trio or Spike, there to show her loss of moral certainty and sense of separation from who she was, who part of her wishes she could be again, there to validate her fears of wrongness and the desire to be some other self. There is within that this sense of expectation and normalising, but it sits alongside her greater exploration of self, the freedom and also escapism. Somewhere within it all is who Buffy wants to be for herself, not just to please others and meet accepted norms.

    Below, the fight, one-sided, all power resting in the demon, gains force, while Buffy shrinks away, her face contorted with ambivalence, into the shadows beneath the stairs—
    And this is reminiscent of course of Spike's words to Buffy, her turning to him and the separation she has been feeling from her friends and family. But we saw in Dead Things that Buffy wasn't in truth submissive and it was still an active choice to withdraw from responsibility, and one that can be reversed.

    Buffy is in an impossible situation here. As you say she is trying to turn both from the possibility of losing Joyce and the return to an acceptance/home and allowing her friends and family to be killed. But one of these actually requires her to turn away from who she is, from her own sense of ethics. As Helpless showed, Buffy is the slayer even without her strength and it is this denial even when not acting which eventually can't be sustained. She does reach out and trip Tara on the stairs, stopping her (although she doesn't know it) as Katrina was stopped. Yet she is still at this point trying to keep back and allow events to unfold. And that also reminds me of her finding that sense of inner slayer-self, of her 'helpless' race away from Kralik when he grabbed and tripped her on the stairs too, and her eventual victory. Again Buffy's choices are reflecting against those she has fought as the slayer in the past and this adds to the sense of her fighting herself now, her inner turmoil increasing.

    Willow, her first friend in Sunnydale, the first person for whom Buffy was moved to again take up her calling, through whom she was able to begin to embody another way of being the Slayer—
    Yes this is excellent and it of course was not only Willow being in danger at the start of the season but Willow's distress at the deaths in the dorm in Prophecy Girl which again for the second time had Buffy turn back to her duty, that time after she had specifically stated that she had quit because of the weight of her duty.

    Joyce—but not Joyce….

    Or, not the Joyce we have thus far been given, the one some part of Buffy had given herself to find, to find comfort and direction in, in the asylum—

    No, this is another Joyce, the Joyce who died—

    The Joyce whom Buffy feels only as lost—
    Yes Buffy's sense of having lost and grieved for her mother (and accepted her father's absence to some degree too), does then give the words that Joyce speaks to her, of always being with her and her encouragement to believe in herself take a different angle, one which finally gives Buffy resolution. That she takes the opportunity to do one thing that she hadn't been able to before in saying goodbye to her mother is touching.

    But then comes that final, that, from what I understand, ever-so-controversial shot:

    The Doctor shining a light into the blankness of ill-Buffy’s eyes, then turning to Joyce and Hank, giving his diagnosis, his final biopolitical pronouncement:
    Doctor: I’m sorry: there’s no reaction at all. I’m afraid we lost her.
    Yes I think that many disliked what was seen as an implication that the hallucination was in fact the real world and that we would be simply returning to the world ill!Buffy had created that resulted in her life in the asylum. Personally I can see it as Buffy's final thought/imagining back on how she left the hallucination rather than a reveal of the truth.


    Final post to follow once it lets me!
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    Wow, the posts here are incredible.

    Stoney, those are really some of the best responses to a review I have read here yet! But I'm just overwhelmed by how brilliant StateofSiege's original review of "Normal Again" was. I want to respond, but I'm not even sure I can talk about it with the same depth that you guys do. I will try to get some thoughts together this weekend.

    Again, you guys are just amazing!

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    The review was incredible, and I know I didn't do it service at a few points. I really appreciate how much I gain from everyone here raising my understanding and analyses time and again! I'd love to read more of your thoughts on the episodes too Tiny Tabby, you've always given fabulous contributions yourself.

    And now here is the second and final part of my responses to Normal Again...

    Buffy’s response to the help offered is murder—murder of those she loves and of, indirectly, crucial aspects of herself.

    On one level, this turn to murder may appear as a simple regression to her sense of self and slayerness in tWotW and her lowest moment in The Gift, her sense that to be a Slayer is to be but a killer, an indiscriminant murderer of humans as well as demons. This would suggest a fairly simple ambivalence or outright fear of her power, largely grounded in her sex.

    But something more complex is, I would suggest, at play, something that refracts back on these scenes, complicates in turn their meaning (which is not to dismiss the matter of sex, just to position it differently):

    Within that complexity, on the medical—and biopolitical—level, murder makes sense: it performs a cleansing of the self, the mind, a ridding it of the “tricks” that block any movement toward health… But that does not mean that it is not still murder—a violent destruction of some part of Buffy’s mind. It does not give a movement toward self-knowledge, the process that psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy—which is constitutively anti-normative, which has been proven to create permanent new neural pathways (psychoactive drugs open but temporary ones)—would, for example, give, a process that would loosen the hold of that which binds or kills the self without the application of murderous force. The Doctor’s methods rather engage in a violent destruction of troublesome dimensions of the self, so as to assure its conformity to regulative norms. This manifests with frightening clarity the violence of biopolitical force, the damage it does in the name of “health.”
    Yes the definition of what would be healthy within the hallucination is presented with clear boundaries and expectations of what it would mean and the presentation of Buffy as 'ill' in a way understood by specific terms. Labelled within the hallucination her diagnosis of 'undifferentiated schizophrenia' means she was displaying behaviours from more than one type of schizophrenia, likely alluding to her catatonia as well as her delusions, hallucinations and other physical symptoms. Interestingly one of which 'inappropriate affect', seems to be referring to a lack of connection to surrounding reality (poor eye contact, lack of facial expressions) that works well in consideration of engaging in life against the terms of affect and becoming as you talked of them. And of course this mental fragmentation that separates the slayer side of Buffy as something unnatural/wrong from the girl reflects something that has been raised during the series in how Buffy considers the separations in herself and the different daily pressures she has to manage against perceived norms. But like both Willow and Spike in this season and the next, this relates to a sense of an inner balance that can be reached and in knowing both sides of herself better and accepting them she can look to have a stronger sense of self which balances a whole rather than seeing herself split by regulative judgements.

    In reality what will make Buffy 'better' isn't eradication of parts of who she is, but understanding of the layered traumatic experiences that have fundamentally changed her. She needs time to adjust, to find a newly defined sense of self after all her experiences over the years that now includes her death and resurrection too. That the hallucination creating this more defined reality where a definite illness could be applied really just highlights the pressures and expectations surrounding her that she feels, the biopolitical ones you name and how much the problems she has connect to the processing of self against social norms. We have talked in the past about Buffy's protection of Dawn as being bound to wanting to offer her a life away from the duty that weighs on her. But as you've said, Dawn wants to feel a connection to her sister and this doesn't come from being shut out, shut off from aspects of her life. So this leads into the notion of integration and of sharing the world with Dawn instead. All aspects of her life coming together.

    This begs, in response, the question: How healthy is it to be a Slayer? How normative?
    This definitely leans on what lies behind Buffy's struggles through the series to feel comfort with herself. The issue is affected by the integration of internal and external factors and how bound they are to each other. We see her lose her powers and miss the loss of something that feels very much part of who she is on more than one occasion within the series as a whole. And if being the Slayer, having the powers that have been supernaturally passed on to her, are part of who she is then how does she fit against the supernatural and non supernatural worlds she operates in?

    As you explore, the calling itself is one which originated in an act forced on the first slayer and the subsequent ones the power passed to were groomed to fight and follow the wishes of the council. So an aspect of who she is has additional context beyond standard societal expectations, but also not without those. The choice to use a girl played its part in setting up the dynamics used to form the patriarchal structure the slayer was directed to operate within, one which greatly reflects wider social structures. As you say, the power given to her comes with instant, automatic pressure of how it will be nurtured and used.

    Before, however, Buffy can realize for herself what non-normative Slayerness could be, she must suffer the trauma of her calling, the subjection and subjectification of chosenness: it inflicts upon her an inhabitation—sinew to nerve to bone, conscious awareness to unconsciousness-born dreams—by a palpable, a pressing otherness, an otherness of legacy, of body, of power. An otherness that alters, second to second, her experience of time—from being, as she assures Merrick, her first Watcher, “destiny-free,” her future open to choice, to being chosen, bound forever to obligation beyond herself; from being part of the world of the living to being consigned to a realm in which the ever-threatening presence of the living dead confuses the boundaries of life and death; where she must kill but not murder, conserve her power to do good even as she endlessly expends it; where the norms of space and time and morality and being have suddenly been washed away—even as a certain morality, a certain set of demands, norms of being, new ones, cruel in their affectless turn, seek to hold her.
    Yes you're totally right that Buffy's calling came with a point of adjustment where she was led by those that introduced her to the change in her life. To the sudden step to the side where the social norms she has been living within weren't erased but were joined by a different set. Along with that a denial of whatever future path she had perceived possible for herself with a new reality.

    We see it cross her face later that night, as she stares into the mirror, facing herself, perhaps seeking to efface herself, after her first slaying experience: in the background Buffy can hear her parents fighting, fighting over her, her misbehavior, over the question of who is the one to blame, who is to be the one to discipline her, bring her back to proper, normative shape… Two implications color the discussion: first, this is not the first time it has happened, that it forms an argument habitual; second, that it is not about Buffy at all, that she has but become the battleground for the their true, long-displaced subject, the unspeakable conflicts between them, the actual reasons that will lead to their divorce. But Buffy, as their endless subject—and object—cannot but feel herself the true source of divisiveness, and as the cause of their marital conflict, she stands condemned and convicted, not a proper daughter but one who endlessly fails to fit the normative expectations of an upper-middle class, white nuclear family. Wrong. And when she faces herself, improper daughter, newly chosen Slayer, girl displaced from the self she knew, rendered strange to herself, her chosenness serves as nothing save a confirmation of the densely felt wrongness she has already interiorized from her parents.
    I love this and must admit it isn't really an aspect that I've ever put much thought into, how Buffy's calling melded with the problems in the Summers home. The point you raise about the existing strain in the family unit that Buffy is operating within, which her sudden change is thrown into, that then goes along with that sense of being pushed out of what she knows and understands into more uncertainty, seems very pertinent to understanding her fixation on normative expectations.

    This means that despite all her chosenness will give Buffy later in her life, it has been imbued, at its inception, with wrongness—a wrongness she may not be able to admit or recall, yet a wrongness that ever haunts. A wrongness that she finds redoubled when she risks a seeking from her parents, despite their judgmental arguments, their condemnations, risks a seeking of comfort, reassurance, unconditional love in the wake of her first vampire experience, in the wake of the shattering fear it instills. For their response takes the form of betrayal, gives only redoubled condemnation, intensified judgment—harsher determinations of wrongness, this time as illness, insanity, commitment to a clinic for the mentally impaired, to a separation from what she has known as home, to exile. An exile she was able to repair only through an outward suppression of what had become an inextricable dimension of herself, flesh of her flesh, through a reformation of that enfleshed self into the outward form of the proper daughter they desired. And while Buffy did continue to fulfill, secretly, her Slayer obligations, refused complete adherence to her parents’ disciplinary norms, those norms and her failure to meet them—in both her original calling and in her being, before and after it, the source of conflict between them—melded together with the norms of Slayerness, clouding into a doubt that infibered both her sense of her fundamental self and her grasp of that slayerness—fundamental as that had become—with an originary wrongness.
    So yes, this is where the reveal of that additional trauma, that the rejection of who she has become and the desire to erase that change by her parents is so significant. But I just don't think the Buffy we see in S1 comes over as that deeply hurt and nervous about the risk of being caught and rejected again. There isn't a sense of tension and fear there when she addresses it again, finally and very directly with Joyce in S2 either. The hurt from the breaking down of the family unit and the ties that were likely made to the additional strain her calling brought I think are evidenced and work with the early season dynamic between her and Joyce very well. But the layers brought in from the clinic being true, I just don't think are there. If it were then Buffy also 'forgot' until the hallucinations stirred the memory back, suppressed the memory to the extent that it was hidden from her too and that isn't how she presents it to Willow, it is that 'they' forgot, not her. I just think seeing it as part of the hallucinations or as an aspect of the monk's spell works better for continuity. The general pressure to keep her identity as the slayer a secret alongside fears of rejection/disbelief if she tried to raise what she is going through to seek the comfort she wishes she could when first called resulting in a sense of isolation and being 'wrong' work well anyway I think. There is still trauma there between being called and the ties she makes to the family falling apart as she fails to be what they want/need, can't tell them what is happening and, as Buffy indicates in her conversation to Joyce in Becoming pt2, starts to possibly feel some resentment/hurt that they don't notice what is happening to her too.

    If I am forgetting a later reference and confirmation of her time in a clinic or if taking that we never see her retract what was said to Willow as the unspoken confirmation, then I do agree the ways in which you are tying it to an even deeper sense of wrongness would be true. But how it functions in the episode I don't think needs it to be true, she just needs to feel it, and I don't think it establishes a new facet to Buffy's character that she didn't already feel and already have exposed in her relationship to social expectations, her sense of otherness and her inability to turn to her parents. And it creates those problems in continuity that are hard to brush aside.

    And here, too, gender comes into play, both that born of the Council’s patriarchal norms and those of her parents, whose expectations and judgments of her were specifically shaped around her being as their daughter—not their son.
    Do you mean in the sense of a daughter being expected to conform more than show independence and signs of striking out and gaining more autonomy, something that might be more accepted/encouraged for a male child?

    This wrongness subtends Buffy’s sense of self over the first five seasons, despite her increasingly dense embodiment of all the dimensions of her being, from her relationship to her mother to her slaying, subtends athwart her self knowledge, the way she comes to live, in grace and giving, in the world. Thus the affective implacability when the trauma of resurrection leaves Buffy locked into a sense of having come back wrong: that return to life, which comes out of her singularity as the Slayer, not only carries its own trauma—it also repeats the trauma of her original calling, that of her commitment to the clinic in its wake, and, even more, her originary trauma, that which preceded her calling, her sense of having been always already wrong as a daughter. Buffy had arrived in Sunnydale haunted, in ways that she could not admit to herself or even, perhaps, recognize, by a sense of wrongness to her being as the Slayer—and by a sense of wrongness to her very being, wrongnesses that would continue to shape her until they implode in S6….
    See I love this and, as I understand your description, of how despite Buffy's increasing command of her life and calling that the sense of wrongness is there ahead of her, connected and around her, so that the unnaturalness of her resurrection denies any attempt to soothe that. The undeniable link to her duty as the slayer with all this pulls back all the trauma of first being called, even if I'm resistant to the inclusion of the truth of the clinic.

    There is no denying that the pressure of normative behaviour is a major part of Buffy's story and can be drawn back to the very first episodes as you suggest and on through the seasons. It is one of the clearest themes and ties to what we all feel when growing up in the uncertainty of our place in the world. That you have drawn it together with her finding her friendship with Willow amidst feeling out the new setting she is in is great. That Willow draws her in fact twice in the season to embrace her duty as the slayer and it is her that draws Buffy back again now is really excellent and I had never noticed that link in this episode.

    Buffy, rather, surrenders to her power, gives herself over to it, becomes passive in facing the obligation to the other that it carries. In this, she experiences a certain dissolution of her boundaries, of her body, of her identity, becomes fully herself only in her opening out to those whom she loves and those whom she seeks to save. Her very life, in its becoming, turns to be shaped neither in its self-subjection to the norms of the Council, in its instrumentalization, in the patriarchal Council’s imposition of isolation and affectlessness; nor in her wresting of an autonomous agency, with its bounded identity and mastery of unlimited power; but precisely through her openness to affect—to affecting and being affected by the movements of the world and the others whose lives are ever at stake within it, though her fleeting connectedness to them and the indeterminacy it visits upon her, the absolute futurity it brings—the Possibility – !. Here resides the core of the ethics of Slaying—and the broader ethics it teaches—an ethics moved by an impersonal love, by Buffy’s surrender to its demand.
    I really like this summation of how Buffy's connection to her family/friends and her openness to caring about those in the wider world is integral to her ethics. And yes even though she has moments of questionable moral certainty at points in the season and fears how she may have come back wrong, this still comes forth to draw a line between her and Warren, between her and Spike. Whilst one lacks the capacity to understand the morality Buffy is operating within, the other actively chooses to ignore them. The distinction of the soul feels smaller when looking at Warren except when we consider that he understands his choices and Spike can't see what the problems are, his ethical grasp as you say, lacks.

    This is why Spike, who lacks all capacity for ethical grasp, for becoming as change into futurity—the vampiric body being constitutively incapable of accepting the new, for the grasping by obligation—
    Do you mean here that when Spike seeks change because it is to further something specific, that he is reaching for something to attain a specific goal rather than an openness to change by being capable of connection to all around him, to be affected by it? I can see then how the temporal displacement Buffy experiences in her post-resurrection depression distances her for a while from being touched by the world around. She's aware of the similarity of course to how Spike is disconnected from change into futurity, his lack of connection to time, which Aurora talked about way back in FFL. And even if it isn't an openness to affect with the wider world, it is through his relationship and desire to 'live' by a mortal's side that a connection to time and his desire for change is tied. Even though it's to a certain goal rather than to overall affect and becoming.

    So if I'm following you, when Buffy is going through the motions of her life, shut down from having that connection to affect, her submission and release in her sexual relationship with Spike opens her to be affected again. This relates, as you say, to the connection she has to the wider world when she submits to her power and saves whoever is at risk, offering them the gift to continue in becoming. In fighting for an overall possibility of living, even with the potential of her own death there is a strange connection to time and the future that doesn't feel linear but a moment which serves openness to affect and becoming for everyone. Without restriction or any attempt to determine and regularise what life saved should be used for and so circles back into Buffy's connection and affective openness.

    What further enables Buffy’s openness, her learning to be affected in her affecting, her submission, are, as I have indicated above, her friendships: unlike her obligation to the nameless others whom she saves, unlike her unbound sexual relation to Spike, her friendships do extend beyond single affective encounters—but unlike romantic relationships, at least as Buffy conceives them and the show displays them, friendships are not bound to progressive time, do not drive to an end, lack meaning in this sense. They are shaped, rather, by the non-metric temporalities of duration, rhythm, and speed and slowness.
    So do you see distinction between Buffy and other slayers in the performance of their duty, with others being controlled and directed by the council and restricted in their own individual connections to enduring relationships, friendships, combine to actually serve to restrict their connection to their power? And in particular friendships, which are a dynamic which weave together but have no sense of sought trajectory so are almost representative of being open and affected.

    As the Slayer, given ever to life between the realms of the living and the dead, Buffy will always move outside human norms, but those norms do not define life, and friendship weaves Buffy more strongly into the Possibility that life, in a line of flight from biopolitical normalization, gives—

    (This does not mean that all romantic relationships are excluded from becoming, simply that Buffy, even at the end of S7, cannot yet envision their possibility, nor does the show give it form—or more than glimpses of its possibility, perhaps… )
    Yes, Buffy is always whirring around the ideas of normality and what she can do, who she can be and how she interacts with the world. But at the end of the day there needs to be some semblance of acceptance that part of who she fundamentally is does move outside human norms. That is just a part of her but that this doesn't and shouldn't stop her connection to possibilities around her.

    Regarding the difference in how romantic relationships are presented, another comic spoiler...
    at the end of the series in S12 we could perhaps argue that Buffy has found a relationship with Spike that has stepped away from strict definition and perhaps incorporates more of a scaffolding of friendship to it. They are not currently dating anymore but specific emphasis is expressed of the desire to continue to weave into each other's lives no matter the specific dynamic they are currently operating within, that they are better when they are around each other. But this is without closing the possibility to shifts and changes within what endures between them and they are very physically close/affectionate in a way that feels 'more' than just friendship. It's certainly implied/left open, if you are inclined to like to see it, that the dynamic may shift again in the future.

    Yet to speak of self-dissolution and submission, of passivity rather than mastery, may seem to run against Buffy’s self-presentation, even her sense of self, over much of the first five seasons.
    I think Buffy does feel a sense of isolation because of her otherness and duty and we see flashes of it when there is a considered sense of specific connection felt to Kendra and Faith. But her kick back against authority and always ultimately seeing herself as where the buck stops presents her strength throughout, even if performing her duty is putting herself on the line and has that aspect of submission. The relationships that Buffy chooses for herself personally, as well as the choice to fight for the wider world, are still ultimately her own. Buffy's choice to embrace her life through relationships and in how to employ her power, to give, always rests with her. So that sense of 'me' being that which lies underneath and firmly structures what she is doesn't feel incompatible to the person that needs the connections to belong more actively in the world around her for me. As you go on to explore, even after her stated 'me' she sacrifices for the greater good, she feels those deep connections to those she loves but leaves, she steps away from expectations of norms and temporarily leaves these things behind. But in doing so they are still part of her and present in her choices, aspects of her affect and becoming.

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with depression. I think Buffy's experiences with trauma and its relationship across her life, which doesn't remove it with time but through which it eventually comes to be viewed or understood differently, has many facets. It's a fantastic strength of the series, when experiences are explored steadily like this, often over multiple seasons, as it can be relatable in varying ways for people.

    Buffy, depression, a slim dense book on trauma, the reverberations of affect—all the entities, but still something lacking for their full effectuation, my articulation by their differences: “An inarticulate subject is someone who, whatever the other says or acts, always feels, acts and says the same thing (for instance, repeating ego cogito [I think] to everything that affects the subject is a clear proof of inarticulate dumbness!). In contrast, an articulate subject is someone who learns to be affected by others—not by itself. There is nothing especially interesting, deep, profound, worthwhile in a subject ‘by itself,’ this is the limit of the common definition—a subject only becomes interesting, deep, profound, worthwhile when it resonates with others, is affected, moved, put into motion by new entities whose differences are registered in new and unexpected ways. Articulation does not mean the ability to talk with authority… but being affected by differences” (Bruno Latour).
    I love this and how it speaks to the interaction with the world that you have been threading through the review and its relevancy to the season. For Buffy to return to herself inherently had to be bound by a return to her family/friends and their connection to her life. True of NA as it will be true to the season end too, also reflected with Willow's connection to Xander breaking through her blind focus and Spike's needed connection to morality to be able to be affected by the world around him.

    Using literature and poetry as a way to interact and consider the world is great. As I sit in a house with innumerable books on the shelves that I have yet to read and programmes to watch and an outside world with more, plus artwork and sculpture to explore, it's certainly something that I haven't done as much of as I should and would like. Your experience of returning to what you've known but combining with experiences since and how this worked into being able to conclude on the review is fabulous. I love that you have brought the impact of Buffy's story, of BtVS as a whole into how it affects you, affects us all and so our affect on each other.

    Trauma is born implacable in its returning, as NA so graphically shows, and learning to live with it elsewise, amidst non-metric time, able to take the experimental step, to move—to sustain such moving—with grace and intensity through the world… This itself takes time, time and learning submission to one’s own power, its gifts, learning acceptance of and submission to the absolute obligation to the other power weaves within the self, the others whom it weaves there as well, turning the autonomous self into a world—
    Well I hope my continued querying of the clinic reveal hasn't been frustrating to you. I'm sure my concern/focus on continuity as someone that by default tends to view things in linear terms is probably not too much of a surprise! I do definitely see the importance/relevance of the ties back to Buffy's time of calling, the trouble within the family unit and the isolation, patriarchal control, fears of rejection and internalising of the pressures and expectations of normalisation. Of course the whole experience that the episode shows then forms yet another possible trigger to the traumas raised, and which raised again fears and memories of the past. Tying the distant and recent past into the current, into openness to affect and becoming, and it sends my mind back to your initial Faulkner quote again, "The past is never dead. It’s not even past." I just love that.

    As you say, the stories of the other characters too show us how all around us threads itself into becoming and with that of those around us. Effects of abuse and neglect rise to the surface in current responses and choices for most at differing points and S6 really focuses on the impacts this can have.

    ...the determining forces wrought by years of abuse and neglect are not so easily loosened, and we see their affects surface in specific episodes throughout the series—see them surface more violently and tragically in S6, which makes such surfacing part of its arc... We see this, too, in their reversions to a certain kind of normativity from the commencement of S6, in their expectations that Buffy be the one they knew, the one on whom they could rely to secure their being after her death threw them into such uncertainty, in Xander’s violent Spike-obsession and inability to see the affair unfolding right before him, in Willow’s forgetting spell, which seeks, not unlike the asylum doctor’s method, to create a healthy, happy Buffy and Tara by erasing a fundamental part of their selves, killing parts of their minds. Nor are Willow and Xander alone in these regressions from becoming: Buffy, too, throughout high school, in her obsession with a lost “normal life,” likewise exhibits the insistent stirring of that originary part of herself that suffered the trauma of failed normativity, failed health, as a daughter—and to which she anneals, then, her destiny as a Slayer, which the failed daughter in her can only experience as a source of further blame, especially as it endows her with a power that proper girls should never have nor wield. That she misplaces her desire to be Normal Again even in high school tells us how intractably that originary trauma clenches, how much slaying has been forced to cover over it, even as it has become, as a consequence, imbued with its wrongness. And in this context, we can read her demon-induced hallucinations of the asylum as both a repeated punishment for her failures—now as a friend and sister—and as a more intense and detailed version of her high school longings for a return to a normativity she never actually lived: in order to efface its lack, she puts the blame upon herself, upon her failed health—health which, as Berlant tells us, is a measure of successful normativity—rather than upon her parents, whom she hallucinates as still together, as not engaged in bitter nightly arguments that name Buffy as their object, thus displacing all that they cannot bring themselves to speak, a naming Buffy took to speak the truth….
    This is just a great view of how all these things twist and interweave, inform each other. Your summary of the ties to Dawn which S5 established, Buffy's interlocking of her with her own openness to the world is great and plays forwards of course as we've been discussing in what she represents in engaging again in S6, in Buffy overcoming her sense of wrongness within the world enough to reconnect again. But, as you say, on her return those same people that connect her to the world are pressing expectations around her and playing a part in her locking herself from becoming as she feels her loss of self 'as was' and measures herself against that rather than looking at who she is now in light of all that has happened.

    Indeed her experience of trauma, most importantly raises even more from the the past and connects it back to her calling. All tie to experienced normativity where she felt she failed to fit that which was desired of her. That the hallucinations look to predate her calling, whilst showing her belief in it as her illness, firmly identifies it as a pivotal point in her past. Despite all that she has progressed in her calling and in how she defines herself as the slayer, it still separates her as 'other' and so your suggestion that Buffy's hallucination features an almost ideal Joyce/Hank who carry no fault for the break of the family but places it on her wrongness is great. Equally so the contrast that you identify of Joyce's lines before Buffy decides to fight as not pressing norms on her, that they actually press to self belief over the notion of 'health' and don't retract love because of 'otherness'. The combination of this with the threat to Willow finally succeeding in drawing Buffy back, slayer and friend/daughter/sister is terrific.

    And the sadness but tinges the full flow of affect, of Buffy’s being affected, of her opening out to affecting: she rests here at the bifurcation point, for much as she knows what she must return to do, she knows not what its result will be, can but step experimentally—and more intensely than she has done all season—through hope unto the possibilities the next moment will give.
    It is a great moment that definitely has a note of sadness as well as release/relief. I still feel a sense of some linear progression towards this stage from earlier episodes in the season. But I do see them as stages on the path to a more significant change to her ongoing sense of detachment. Now she is actually facing trauma from her past, that which has stayed present, threaded through her development and then been called forth again in her most recent traumas and the sense of herself as wrong after the unnatural truth of her return through resurrection. So previous stages whilst necessary, such as ending the relationship with Spike, didn't result in her engaging instead of escaping still, it is her active interaction and owned choice to be where she is that is needed and she has just taken a movement towards that.

    More remains, more in terms of temporality, in terms of opening, more that will not come to a full interweaving until the final episode. But we have here the birth of a new temporality, one into which Buffy will fully move, with Dawn, in Grave. Before giving to that temporality the words for which it calls, I should note that much of S7 does not sustain it, returns rather to the episodic time of the heroic.
    Buffy certainly moves to greater engagement with life/Dawn, culminating in her choice this season to step out of the ground and into the world together. The move, as in NA, to not withhold or abuse power, but to openness of possibilities, to share, I think moves well into the next season's focus on power and empowering others. Just thinking to the first few episodes it does seem to have a sense perhaps of temporalities realigning, overlaying. Buffy's change in job brings her back to school. It's in a new building and she's in a new role, but still over the hellmouth and regularly also the setting of the supernatural threats they face. There are also potential slayers who are being hunted/killed before they are called, targeted for a power they are yet to realise but which will be released within them before it would have been at the season end. Spike returns with his once lost soul and Willow manages to occupy the same time/place without being seen. I look forward to dwelling on all this further and whether this and more relates in any bound and meaningful way (or if it's just disassociated/irrelevant gatherings! ). As you say, we'll get to it in due course.

    I thus would argue for something more complex, argue for something imbricated with one of the aphorisms with which I began, Faulkner’s admittedly abused and oft-misquoted “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”—something that calls up, as well, Nick Cave’s “The past is the past—and it’s here to stay”: If Normal Again has given us anything to think, it must, in part, be this persistence, this non-linear duration and rhythm of the past. And following Faulkner’s logic, Buffy is, within the temporality of trauma, still in the asylum, will always be there, as she is still in the clinic to which her parents committed her—and on the front steps of Hemmry high, being called; still in her bathroom, facing and effacing herself, listening to her parents subject and objectify her; still facing the resouled Angel, then killing him; still about to make the leap that joined the temporalities and obligations of her life to save Dawn and the world—; and still awakening in her coffin, terrified, clawing her way out… Trauma never heals, not if we take healing, as its etymology implies we should, as a return to a past form, a normalization: its wounds remain, ever refuse erasure.
    I quite like Sophist's idea that Buffy having not yet taken the antidote relates to why we get the final hallucination. But as ill!Buffy is in full catatonia now I don't think it works for her to be able to have another literal slip back. I tend to look on it the same as yourself really I think and tied to what we've been saying from the season start, that Buffy can't ever be who she was again because she has experienced more since, and significant life changing traumatic experiences.

    So I can see the final scene as I said before, as Buffy's thoughts/imaginings on how she left the hallucination, perhaps even as remaining somewhat representative of her own sense of otherness now, even if not consciously so. As something that she has just experienced, it will always be part of who she will be going forward too, an experience within her, informing her. As much as it solidified fears, represented experiences through parts of her hallucination, or brought up repressed memories, it is also something which has helped to press her forward to engage more in the world around her. She still isn't there fully as you observe, there are more steps to go, to stop shielding Dawn and assist/welcome her into her own path and freedom to engage in the world around her.

    What comes is the experimental step enabled, most of all, by Joyce: a step out of the time of trauma, out of its determinations, a step into a living elsewise: the past is here to stay, but it need not stay as a past bound in a line to the present and then the future, as cause of a determined effect in the future, foreclosing possibility. Trauma can be lived as hereness, as affective betweenness, amongst the self’s multiplicities, interacting with each other and the entities that fill the world, that weave through the self in the speeds and slownesses, the rhythms and durations of non-metric time that carry the self into becoming—
    In accepting and understanding where she has come from Buffy can be what she is, a complex combination of experiences, roles, ambitions, weaknesses and strengths. She can engage and connect with all that is around her and the potential in living. I love your point that in doing this both the 'Normal' and the 'Again' are gone as becoming undoes both.

    Huge thanks SoS for providing such a thought provoking review amidst dealing with such personal difficulties (there really was no need to apologise for the delay). You've raised ideas that I haven't considered before and enabled me to consider this episode far more deeply. One last apology for any misunderstandings I managed along the way, please do feel free to point them out to me! I look forward to seeing if there are future applications and related moments that you bring forth.

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    Dear Stoney

    Thanks upon thanks for your brilliant responses—

    I am currently working on a response to American
    's wonderful analysis of AYW, should
    get it done by tonight or early tomorrow—

    Once that is over, I shall turn to your work, should
    have it up sometime over the next few days...

    And to Tiny Tabby

    Be not anxious:

    All you have written has finely given so much to think—

    I much welcome all you would have to say about NA...

    Thanks, too, for your kind words about my writing...

    And last, I can but repeat what you both say about
    this board, what a gift it is, how much it has
    deepened and complexified my understanding of
    BtVS in so many unforetellable ways...

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