Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 6


Double Meat Palace

Dead Things

Older and Far Away

As You Were

Hell's Bells

Normal Again

Double Meat Palace

The Metaphysics of "Double Meat Palace"

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 6 BtVS/season 1 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Halfrek is a vengeance demon much like Anyanka was. She wears a small pendant around her neck, a dark blue stone with red flecks. While Anyanka's raison d'être was to punish men who wronged women, Halfrek tends more towards bringing bad parents to justice. Anyanka and Halfrek were friends when Anya was a demon`and now Anya is maintaining that friendship in her human life.

The "birthday" present: Amy says simply, "Potestas" (Latin for "Power"). Willow's eyes go black and her fingers crackle with electricity. She has been imbued by Amy with a temporary magical power she cannot easily control since it did not come from her. The power makes a lamp disappear and a vase open like a flower. It also fills Willow with the enticing addictive sensation of the magical power she renounced.

The wig lady/lamprey monster: Is the wig lady a human with a monster in her head instead of a brain? Well, yes and no. It's probably more accurate to say that a monster is using a human body to camouflage itself as it seeks its prey out in the human world. When the lamprey monster springs free from wig lady's head, the woman's eyes disappear. She continues to talk, most likely under control of the monster. The lamprey monster emits a spray that paralyzes a human victim from the bottom up, then it eats them alive.

The double-meat burgers: Willow investigates the Double Meat burger with a chemical solution that reacts to the proteins in human blood. She puts a dab of "meat" in it. The reaction does not occur. It isn't human. But it isn't meat, either. It is made of texturized vegetable product. The "secret ingredient" is meat fat that gives it the flavor of beef.

Evil and Good in "Double Meat Palace"

The Lamprey Monster: Beware of little old ladies with bad wigs. The wig lady may seem innocuous, and even sad, hanging out at a fast-food joint every day where even the employees don't want to be. In truth, though, this predatory monster-in-disguise has found the perfect food source: witless humans on the job at a place where no one questions the high turn-over rate.

Buffy: The employees at Double-Meat Palace have a tendency to disappear, but no one questions it because, well, fast food, mindless work, high turnover rate, yada yada. But after Gary--one of the more lively employees--disappears, Buffy is on the case. She finds a human finger in the meat grinder and assumes that the employees are being turned into meat. She tries to stop the customers from eating their meals. The manager fires her. Buffy returns that night to investigate her theory, only to find herself at the mercy of the true culprit--the lamprey monster.

Willow arrives at the restaurant to tell Buffy about her discovery. The lamprey tries to hit Willow with its paralyzing spray, but she dodges it. Willow picks up the chicken-slicer blade and chops the lamprey in half. It's severed head lands on the floor and keeps biting. A semi-paralyzed Buffy stabs at it with a knife. Willow then picks it up and throws it in the meat grinder.

Moral Ambiguity in "Double Meat Palace"


"Repeat until insane."

Buffy gets a job at the local Double Meat Palace restaurant: low pay, long hours and mindless work. Spike tells Buffy she should quit, but she doesn't. Still, something isn't right in Buffy's life. When she joins Spike later for an alley-way rendezvous, she just isn't in the spirit of things. Even Dawn is worried that Buffy won't get anywhere in life with jobs like this one. But for Buffy, it's still a step forward. When she returns her uniform after getting fired, she tells the new manager she knows that the double-meat burger is made out of vegetables. The manager assumes she wants to blackmail the company, and indeed, Buffy could do this to get the money she needs. But she doesn't. She asks for her job back.

Willow: Amy visits Willow, ostensibly to get her rat cage back. In reality, she wants to lure Willow back into the magic life. She gives Willow a freebie "gift" of temporary magical power--a taste of temptation. Willow spends the rest of the day struggling to keep the magic at bay. When Amy returns the next day, Willow tells her that what she did was wrong. Amy violated Willow, and though Willow may have gotten a thrill out of the powers, they only made it harder to fight her addiction. Willow tells Amy to go and not come back.

Tara, she can use magic and she's okay. But Willow is finding out she's an addict, and what you do about that really defines who you are. If magic takes her to an evil, dark place, it's really of her own making. A lot of times, the bad stuff that happens to a character is really external, and this season most of the characters are making their own problems ([BtVS writer] Marti Noxon, 'Dreamwatch', March '02).

Anya is aware of Xander's discomfort with her habits and outlook left over from her demon days, but she doesn't judge him for it--she doesn't much care. But when her old friend Halfrek points out that Xander is judgmental, it gives Anya pause. Should Anya strive to be more human, like Xander wants her to be, or should Xander simply accept her demony outlook without finding fault with it?

Dead Things

The Metaphysics of "Dead Things"

Jaarvlen flesh-eaters aren't a good choice if you want to get rid of a dead body. These demons unpredictable and hard to control. They just might eat you, too.

The Rwasundi are tall, skeletal demons who travel by gliding above the ground. They wear robes and hoods and have an odd effect on the linear flow of time.

The cerebral dampener is a metallic sphere half the size of a baseball. Like the invisibility ray, it is a Trio gadget powered by both technology and magic. The magical elements in this case are a fresh musk gland of a hombja'moleev demon and a yellow powder that together are enchanted by a spell. In Latin, Jonathan says:

Doma voluntatem, libera cupidinem.
Erunipe, ignem excita.


Tame the will, release desire.
Spring forth, fuel the fire.

The gland releases mystical energy that hits the cerebral dampener. The cerebral dampener is on-line.

Warren explains that this device will "make any woman we desire our willing sex slave." But this "willingness" is in behavior only. There is no true mental free will here. The woman's higher mental processes have been submerged. Her words and deeds are as programmed as a 'bot.

The Rwasundi's temporal disturbance: When Rwasundi demons appear in our dimension, it creates what Anya refers to as a localized "temporal disturbance"--it screws up the flow of time, making it jump back and then forward and back again. This creates vivid hallucinations in humans, whose perception requires a straightforward linear chronology (time that continually moves forward).

While out on patrol, Buffy hears a woman scream and rushes to help. She sees a Rwasundi demon chasing "Katrina". In actuality, it is Jonathan, who has used a glamor spell to disguise himself as Katrina. Suddenly, Buffy is caught up in the Rwasundi's temporal flux. Her fight with the demons becomes chaotic and confused as she jumps forward and backward in time. She accidentally hits Spike who is trying to help her. Then she accidentally hits "Katrina", who tumbles down an embankment. Buffy goes after her. When Spike finds Buffy, she is kneeling over the body of the real Katrina, believing that she has killed her.

What's "wrong" with Buffy: Buffy tells Tara that Spike can now hurt her without pain even though the chip still works. Tara consults The Brekenkrieg Grimore. She tells Buffy that there is nothing wrong with her--Buffy is still human and still herself. What does this mean?

When Willow's spell brought Buffy's "essence" back into her body, it effected her body on a molecular level. Exactly how her molecules were "altered" is left vague, but Tara assures her it's an insignificant physical alteration, the equivalent of a sunburn. The alteration is enough to confuse Spike's senses and therefore to confuse the chip that operates based on this information. But the spell didn't change Buffy's soul, spirit, species, or personal identity. She is herself.

Evil and Good in "Dead Things"

For the Trio, the cerebral dampener starts out as another cool toy for getting "chicks, chicks, chicks". Warren discovers his ex-girlfriend Katrina in a bar and decides to use her as their first test subject. Katrina makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with Warren. He uses the device on her anyway. His "anti-whammy" sunglasses protect him from the effect of the device. But Katrina's eyes go blank and she smiles mechanically. She serves the Trio drinks and spouts compliments and "I love you's". When Warren asks her to get down on her knees, however, the dampener starts to wear off. The Trio try to use the dampener on her again, but it is out of power.

Katrina is livid. She points out that what they are doing is rape--having sex with a person against her will. She tells them she is going to have them prosecuted and sent to prison. The Trio panic and try to stop her. Katrina fights them off. Then Warren smashes her in the back of the head with a champagne bottle. Attempted rape has become murder. Warren intended only to stop her until they could recharge the cerebral dampener again, but Andrew announces that Katrina is dead.

Andrew and Jonathan are in shock. Warren tries to stay calm. He realizes that there is no easy way to get rid of the body. But they have to do something--Katrina was his ex-girlfriend, and Warren can be linked to the crime. Then he hits on a way to kill two birds with one stone: if they frame the Slayer, he can get the blame off himself and get Buffy off their backs. The plan fails, but the Trio still gets away with murder. Warren hacks into the police department computer and reads the Coroner's report: Katrina's death has been ruled a suicide. Warren is pleased and the impressionable Andrew echoes his pleasure. Jonathan also echoes Warren, but he doesn't seem to believe it.

Andrew went from considering turning himself in to finding it cool that they weren't caught. Warren crossed that line a long time ago when he equated women with things there for him (Rufus, 2/05/02 22:05).

I wouldn't give up on Jonathan, I think we saw his awakening to the fact Warren is a nutcase and this isn't fun and games anymore. ...Jonathan was never "evil" to begin with (Dudley, 2/05/02 23:02).

Buffy's reaction when she believes she is guilty of killing Katrina is very different from Warren's. She is quite ready to turn herself in. Luckily, she overhears the desk sergeant getting a call about the woman's identity: Katrina Silber. She recognizes the name--Warren's ex-girlfriend--and decides this must be Warren's handiwork. She assembles the gang to find out what really happened. Xander, reading the newspaper, tells her that Katrina died almost a full day before Buffy saw her in the woods. Anya theorizes that the Trio raised the Rwasundi demons. Buffy decides she must go after Warren.

Moral Ambiguity and Ethical Quandaries in"Dead Things"


"Don't think about the evil bloodsucking fiend."

Buffy is not spending much time with her sister or friends anymore. The gang can pass it off as a busy slaying and work schedule, but in truth, Buffy is too involved in her own troubled state of mind and her trysts with Spike to feel a part of her friend's lives. She is drawn to Spike, and doesn't want to analyze the reason why. Then Buffy is tricked into believing she killed Katrina. Buffy not only believes that the best thing to do is to turn herself in, she feels an overwhelming urge to do so.

Buffy's state of mind over Katrina's death is more complicated than simple guilt over one girl's life, however. In a dream, sex with Spike and "killing" Katrina become intermingled. One becomes the other. On a subconscious level, Buffy believes that she can resolve all the guilt and confusion she's been feeling about everything--ignoring Dawn and her friends and sleeping with Spike--by going to the police and confessing.

Spike finds her on the way to the police station and tries to stop her. There's no crime to confess--it was an accident and he has already dumped the body. Buffy is angry at his attempt to sweep the problem under the rug as if it didn't matter; she killed a girl. Spike responds with the same argument that Faith gave Buffy after the death of the Deputy Mayor--that one accidental death is outweighed by the number of lives she's saved. But Buffy has always held that every individual human life matters.

The ethical argument is incidental, though. It isn't going to make a difference in Buffy's behavior. When Spike tells her he loves her and won't let her take the fall for Katrina's death, she beats him to a pulp. She is angry at him refusing to understand her remorse. She is angry that she feels drawn to a soulless vampire.

When Tara tells Buffy she didn't come back "wrong", Buffy is devastated. She has clung to the idea that some mystical transformation has been affecting her behavior. She could "let Spike do things to her" because she wasn't really herself. But now she knows it has been the same old her all along choosing to be with Spike. Tara tells her that it's O.K. if she loves Spike and O.K. if she doesn't--Buffy has been going through a hard time and needs someone to turn to. But Buffy doesn't want Tara's solace on this, because she can't reconcile this behavior with herself.

...it does seem that Tara's being a guide in Buffy's dream and then being the light/guide helping to get Xander and Willow out of the woods in 'Bargaining' seems to have significance. The writers seem to be giving her some role in Buffy's movement. We see this in Tara's deconstruction of opposites: it's okay to love Spike; it's okay not to. She's presenting a more adult perspective (Age, 2/06/02 1:36).

Spike: The raging question remains--is Spike an evil demon doing good acts in a selfish attempt to impress the woman he loves, or a soulless "man" genuinely changing his ways? There is no easy resolution to this question based on Spike's behavior alone. One minute he is trying to help Buffy fight demons, the next he is seducing her in the Bronze in an attempt to distance Buffy from her friends.

Spike is an evolving character, and [the BtVS writers] obviously do.. not intend a quick evolution. ...My observation is that the writers have made, and are continuing to make this point deliberately ambiguous-- we don't know 100% for sure what is going on in Spike's head, so we end up with just this exact argument going on (OnM, 2/06/02 6:46).

Dawn: When Buffy declines an offer to go to the Bronze in favor of an evening with Dawn, Dawn tells her that she already has plans. She has concluded that Buffy wouldn't care what she did since Buffy is never around. Later, Buffy tells Dawn that she is going to turn herself into the police. Dawn rightly worries about what will happen to her after Buffy is gone. She is relieved but still angry when Buffy tells her she's not going away. Buffy seemed way too ready to give up responsibility for her sister.

When Willow runs into Tara outside the Magic Box, she tells her that she's doing better. No spells for thirty-two days. Both women miss the other and say so in an indirect way, but then they part company, not ready to deal with the emotions that arose with their break-up.

Older and Far Away

The Metaphysics of "Older and Far Away"

The sword demon has red skin and a spiny crest on its head. It has the ability to disappear and reappear in other places and to enter and occupy solid objects like floors and walls.

Releasing the sword demon: Tara mixes herbs together then sets the mixture on fire. Red smoke billows up out of the bowl and drifts into the living room where the sword rests. Tara says, "Release". But instead of opening the front door as Tara intends, the magic of her spell surrounds the sword, creating a silver puddle on the floor. The demon forms from the puddle, then picks up his sword.

Trapping the sword demon: The demon's weapon, a sword, appears to be its prison. When Buffy stabs the demon in the graveyard, it transforms into a bolt of silver light and blends into the material of the sword. Buffy takes the sword home. After the demon is released by Tara, it attacks the gang (including slashing Xander and red-shirt Richard), then tries to disappear into a wall. Buffy thrusts the sword into the wall and traps the demon again. She then breaks the sword in two. Bye-bye demon.

Halfrek's curse: When Dawn tells her "guidance counselor" that she wishes she could "make [people] stop... going away," she doesn't realize she is actually talking to the demon Halfrek. During Buffy's birthday party, Halfrek appears on the Summers' porch and says, "Wish granted". Now no one can leave the house.

Halfrek's curse isn't on the house itself, but on the wills of the people in it. Although they can chose to do whatever they want inside the house, they cannot chose to leave the house and follow through with their plans. The party games go on for hours. No one is willing to make run to the store for beer. The next morning, Xander and Willow realize they need to go to work and to school, and yet they don't go.

Defeating the "justice" demon: There are only two ways to defeat a vengeance spell (that we've seen). Defeat the demon herself by destroying her pendant/power center (as happened in Anyanka's case), or have the demon end the spell herself. Halfrek is unwilling to break her own curse. But when she discovers that she has trapped herself in the house by appearing there at Anya's call, she realizes she has to. "The curse is lifted!" she says. She snaps her fingers and disappears. The door opens for Spike.

Killing vengeance demons: Anya summons Halfrek when she finds out about Dawn's wish. Halfrek appears, only to be skewered by the sword demon. But swords don't kill vengeance demons, as everyone trapped in the house realizes after Halfrek recovers, fresh as a daisy.

Moral Ambiguity and Ethical Quandaries in "Older and Far Away"

Willow is on the way to recovery with her Spellcasters Anonymous group, but recovery is a rocky road. When the gang realizes they are trapped in Buffy's house, Anya asks Willow why she hasn't attempted a spell to free them. She then tries to make Willow feel guilty about refusing. Willow has a genuine dilemma: should she break her abstinence to help them all?

Xander argues that it's just "one little spell", and that they will help Willow regain her control after it's done. But Willow knows better than they do that "one little spell" might be enough to draw her back into behavior that she can't stop.

Anya persists. Tara steps in and tells her to back off. Then Tara does the spell instead, using a few ingredients that Willow has stashed away. Willow explains that these herbs were her "safety net"--something to have around in case things "got too bad". Having those ingredients around and choosing not to use them allowed her to focus on getting better. Tara takes them away, telling Willow it's time for her to work "without the net".

After Anya fails to talk Willow into doing a spell, she decides to handle the problem herself. She enters Dawn's room and starts going through her things. But instead of finding clues to magics that have trapped them, Anya finds Dawn's secret stolen stash. She recognizes things from The Magic Box and turns on Dawn.

...The usually vibrant and deliberately cheerful young woman is sullen, distracted, and hovering on the edge of hyperventilating. Anya is very freaked out by the fact that they are trapped, reminders of mortality are looming, and the threat is intangible. ...It is notable that as soon as the danger materialized she was a spitfire once more.

...Some of cheery, sunny Anya is entirely natural, some of it a projection of an acceptable persona. She is trying very hard to be human, fit in, and secure Xander's approval. Under so much strain, she can't pull it off anymore. Last night's Anya was a woman who would believably curse her lover and take up a career as a vengeance demon (JM, 2/13/02 13:59).


"...people have a tendency to go away..."

Dawn doesn't seem to enjoy being on her own as much as most teenagers would. When Buffy heads out on patrol instead of spending time with her, Dawn heads to the mall for a little shoplifting. When everyone lingers at the party, Dawn is pleased. When they all express the desire to leave, Dawn runs upstairs in a huff. Buffy and the others follow, curious about why Dawn would take such offense to their wanting to go when they are obviously trapped.

Dawn didn't intentionally cause the spell to happen, but she enjoyed it while it lasted. Why does Dawn act like such a child?

...look at Dawn last season. She was several meters beyond the forefront of attention. EVERYONE's attention. Gods, demons - mortals, immortals, all in a desperate race to get to her first. What happened to her was going to affect the entire universe. All the Scoobies were looking out for her all the time. People were killing and being killed for her. Her sister died saving her. She was quite literally the center of attention.

And then - WHAM. All that - over. Gone. Done with. Just a regular teenage girl. Only she's not. And she knows that. That would be enough to shake anyone up. Not to mention, dealing with her mother's death, of course that would give anyone abandonment issues. And then dealing with her sister's death and rebirth. I would be thinking Dawn would be feeling very insecure right about now. ...she may be wrapped up in a young teenage skin, but in her incarnation as Dawn, she's not even two years old yet. I seriously think the [Mutant Enemy writing] team might be trying to remind us of that (Dedalus, 2/15/02 14:05).

Buffy: In the busy-ness of her new grown-up life, Buffy has relegated Dawn to just another chore, something to finish and tick off her list. She's stopped noticing her sister, and odd things like lock-tags on coats escape her attention. When it appears that Dawn might the source of their troubles, though, Buffy starts to pay attention.

Then Anya reveals Dawn's compulsive stealing. Buffy doesn't want to believe it. But she sees her gift from Dawn again--the tagged coat--and realizes it's true. Buffy tells Dawn that "the most important job" she has is looking out for her, and that's nice. But deeds are proof of that, not words: will distracted Buffy find more time for Dawn?

Buffy isn't expecting Spike at her very human birthday party, but he shows up anyway and makes awkward, jealous passes at Buffy that threaten to pull back the sheets of their secret affair. Then the sword demon attacks. Now Spike is now more in his element. He tries to pull the demon off Xander and ends up on the floor. Later he distracts the demon until Buffy can do it in once and for all.

As You Were

The Metaphysics of "As You Were"

Suvolte demon are nearly extinct, but they are working hard to reverse that fact. Since they breed exponentially, they have a good chance of reviving their numbers. The vicious Suvolte demon bleeds yellow blood and lays large round eggs.

Evil and Good in "As You Were"

Suvolte demons are violent killers who tear apart the bodies of their victims. They start to kill the minute they're hatched and can be used by unscrupulous human military powers to "cleanse" entire areas of unwanted people.

The good guy's plan: Riley and his new wife Sam have tracked the Suvolte through Central America up to the Hellmouth, where the demon has come to lay its eggs. Their plan is to follow the Suvolte to its nest. They need to destroy the eggs before they can be sold on the black market by someone they know only as the "Doctor". Then Buffy kills the Suvolte. Now they need an alternate plan.

Destroying the eggs: Sam and Buffy head out to find the eggs while Riley searches the familiar haunts of Sunnydale trying to discover the identity of the Doctor. When Riley arrives at Spike's crypt to confront him, however, he discovers Buffy in Spike's bed and the eggs in Spike's "basement".

But Spike hasn't been keeping the eggs on ice in preparation for their journey to foreign lands. The eggs burst open and crab-like baby Suvoltes scramble out. Buffy and Riley climb up into the crypt. Buffy yanks off Riley's belt, which is full of grenades, pulls the pin on one, and drops the belt down into the hole. Fire bursts across the cavern and destroys the eggs. And some of Spike's crypt as well.

Moral Ambiguity in "As You Were"

Riley: I was terrified about seeing you again.
Buffy: Well, I'm sure my incredible patheticness softened the blow for you.

This is Buffy's life now: scraping grease at the Doublemeat Palace, lack-luster slaying, shagging with Spike, and being too tired to go out with her friends. She's trying to make things better, but when she reapplies to U.C. Sunnydale, her application is rejected for being late. Then Riley offers her chance to shine as the Slayer, and Buffy grabs it.

Hanging around with Riley and his new bride, though, reminds Buffy of the way her life used to be, and it hurts. Buffy goes to Spike for comfort, only to have Riley walk in on them. Riley is surprisingly non-judgmental. He reassures Buffy that no matter how her life is, he's still impressed by her. Seeing Riley again and discovering Spike's duplicity forces Buffy to take a hard look at her life as it is. She needs to regain some self-respect. She goes to Spike and tells him that it's over between them.

Buffy had to be strong enough to realize that even though he is a demon he also has feelings and she had been using those feelings to hide from getting on with her life. She wants him but realizes that at this point she can't love him (Rufus, 2/27 15:44).

Xander and Anya are a little nervous about their upcoming wedding. They eat their way through planning the reception and picking up guests. Then when the guests get too unruly, they hide out in the bathroom. Xander reassures Anya that his fears about the wedding aren't his fears for the marriage. But he has fears for both all the same.


"You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same."

When Riley reveals that Spike is "The Doctor", Buffy protests that he's too incompetent to pull off such a scheme. Riley replies that Spike is "Deadly ... amoral ... opportunistic. Or have you forgotten?" What does it mean to be "amoral"? Technically, "amoral" means "unrelated to morality," but it is also used sometimes to refer to people, like infants, who are unaware of morality. As an intelligent being, Spike knows what the human beings around him consider right and wrong, and he has chosen from time to time to act in ways that humans would consider "good". He also has a long history of acting in ways humans would consider "bad". So linguistically speaking, it is incorrect to refer to Spike as "amoral". What does that make him, then? Immoral? Willing to use evil or good as it suits his self-interest? Or is he struggling against his past and trying to be good? You decide.

Philosophies Represented in "As You Were"


At the Doublemeat Palace, Buffy's coworker tries to relate the politics of the job to the words of Machiavelli. But he doesn't get to tell us anything about this famous Italian statesman and political theorist of the sixteenth century. Machiavelli viewed human nature as corrupt, greedy, and self-serving. In his famous treatise, "The Prince", he argued based on this "reality" that governments should be cunningly self-serving as well. To maintain his rule, a monarch must be stingy rather than generous (or greedy), harsh rather than merciful, feared rather than loved (or hated). However, to prevent his overthrow, a monarch's subjects should perceive him as ethical, merciful, and humane. The word "Machiavellian" is now often used to mean self-serving and deceitful.

Was the reference to Machiavelli in this episode a throw-away comment? Or were there Machiavellian machinations afoot?

Hell's Bells

The Metaphysics of "Hell's Bells"

Stewart Burns, monster: On a Sunnydale street, the outline of a human appears. An elderly man emerges from the outline and heads off to Xander and Anya's wedding. This is a manifestation of a monster--a creature who used to be the human man Stewart Burns until Anyanka transformed him and sent him to a hell dimension to suffer torture. It is not clear how Burns is able to appear in human form in Sunnydale. In monster form, Burns has gray skin, yellow eyes, and short spikes on his head.

The orb: Burns approaches Xander at the wedding claiming to be a future version of Xander. He tells Xander not to marry Anya. Then he leads Xander into another room and pulls a small purple orb out of his pocket. He claims that Xander will be able experience the man's past--Xander's future--through it. The old man holds the glowing orb in both hands. Xander stares at it. A beam shoots from the orb into Xander's forehead.

Xander experiences visions of a home life with Anya from ten, twenty, and thirty years in the "future". But this future is phony. Did Burns make it up, or did the orb somehow tap into Xander's actual fears? Since the visions include details of Xander's life (e.g., that Buffy is the Slayer), it is likely the orb has psychic properties that make the visions psychologically compelling to the person undergoing the visions. Hence, the visions most probably are Xander's "nightmare vision of his future."

Moral Ambiguity and Ethical Quandaries in "Hell's Bells"

The Harris Family: We've been waiting a long time to meet Xander's family. The infamous alcoholic taxidermist, Uncle Rory. The brawling Mr. and Mrs. Harris. All indications have been that Xander's family is the source of his insecurity. And rightly so. Anthony Harris is a self-pitying drunk who verbally abuses his wife. Jessica Harris is a woman who wears her insecurities on her sleeve. Neither is happy, and yet they've stayed together for decades. This could not have provided Xander with the best role models on marriage.


"I, Anya, want to marry you, Xander, because... I love you and I'll always love you. And before I knew you, I was like a completely different person. Not even a person, really... And I had seen what love could do to people, and it was ... hurt and sadness. Alone was better. And then, suddenly there was you, and... you knew me. You saw me, and it was this... thing. You make me feel safe and warm. So, I get it now. I finally get love, Xander. I really do."

It should have been Anya's perfect day, the day she fully embraced the joys of humanity. But her inhuman past has caught up with her. A man she cursed ninety years ago has come back to get his revenge. Are Stewart Burns' actions justified? He paid a rather heavy price for a little philandering. And Anya has never really suffered any repercussions from her thousand years of death and mayhem (other than being made human). On the other hand, her work with the Scooby gang over the past three years has changed her.

But has it changed her enough? After Xander leaves her at the alter, Anya goes to the dimension of Arashmaharr with her old mentor D'Hoffryn, who comforts her by telling her she used to crush men like Xander. He tells her it's time for her to resume her vengeance demon ways. Is the love and the life that Anya's experienced over the past three years enough to keep her from making this choice? The answer

Xander was the one who proposed to Anya, but since popping the question, he's had his doubts (Bargaining, Flooded, All the Way, OMWF, DMP, As You Were) . His experience with the orb only exacerbates his fears. The life he sees himself living with Anya is not so different than the life his parents lead now. Decade after decade, Xander drinks too much, while Anya blames him for her lack-luster life. When it finally becomes too much for him, he goes after Anya with a frying pan. End of vision.

But his wedding still looms. Xander paces the Bison Lodge kitchen, conflicted. When Willow comes to get him to start the wedding, he's disappeared. When he returns, he's made his choice. He tells Anya he's not ready for marriage.

...Xander ignored his heart and listened to his fears about his capacity to become his father. Now we will get to see if in this year of growing up, if both Xander and Anya can overcome their fears and reunite. ...[Xander] has had many cards stacked against him. He lived in a home where he found he had to spend Christmas outdoors to get away from the constant fighting. He has been looking to escape a life situation that he feels has made him a victim unable to get away from the family legacy of abuse. We didn't get to see much of Xanders home life but got enough to know that it wasn't a home that could have been a happy place to be. When the "future Xander" showed him that image of attacking Anya with a frypan, he was horrified because he honestly believed himself capable of that type of violence.

Just because Xander seems visibly unscarred, doesn't mean that he doesn't carry plenty of anger and helplessness around with him wherever he goes. It was what he faced in The Replacement, his two selves, the one he can be and wants to be, and the results of years of emotional battering, a Xander afraid to trust himself. ...[In Restless,] Xander spends the time in his dream trying to get out of his parents basement only to find himself in a dead end, with his heart torn out of his chest by his father. ...To grow up, Xander is going to have to face that fear of returning to his roots and reject the worst of his upbringing, to become the type of person he already is but is too insecure to let emerge from the basement of his childhood (Rufus, 3/06/02 00:52).

Slaying the Burns-monster: When the Burns-monster attacks Anya, it's the Slayer to the rescue. But Burns gets a hold of Anya and tells Buffy he will kill her if she tries anything. Suddenly, Xander returns from his walk-about, distracting the monster. Buffy kicks Burns and he lets go of Anya. Buffy and the Burns-monster start to brawl. Soon Buffy has the monster on the floor. She grabs a veil off the mounted bison head and starts to choke him. Out of the blue, a white ornamental pedestal hits the monster in the face. Xander hauls back and hits him again. The monster is dead.

Buffy hasn't had much luck with romance. Her experiences with Angel, Scott, Parker, and Riley have left her cynical about love. But she saw hope for herself in Xander and Anya's relationship. Now that her "light at the end of the tunnel" has turned out to be a speeding train, will Buffy ever have the courage to try love again?

Normal Again

The Metaphysics of and Good and Evil in "Normal Again"

The Glarghk Guhl Kashma'nik: When Buffy is close to finding the Trio's new lair, Andrew the demon summoner blows through an alphorn. It makes a low, airy sound. Suddenly, Buffy is jumped by a bald waxy demon in a black cape. He stabs her with a giant stinger. The stinger alters Buffy's perceptions, making her alternate between two very different sets of experiences.

The asylum: In one set of experiences, Buffy continues her life in Sunnydale. In the other set of experiences, she finds herself in a mental hospital. Her mother and father are there, alive and together. There is no Dawn to deal with, and Buffy's mother never moved to Sunnydale. A doctor tells Buffy she's been institutionalized for six years. Everything Buffy thinks she's experienced in Sunnydale are really symptoms of an undifferentiated form of schizophrenia.

Reversing the hallucinations: Willow's research uncovers the demon the Trio sicced on Buffy. The Glarghk G... uh, GGK demon's stinger contains an ingredient that is an antidote to its own poison (no doubt to protect the demon). Willow takes the stinger, some alkanet root and a handful of nettle leaf to the campus chemistry lab to brew up the antidote.

Buffy doesn't drink the antidote the first time it is offered to her. Instead, she begins to accept the reality of the asylum experiences and puts her friends at the mercy of the GGK demon. It only after Buffy decides to accept the reality of her Sunnydale existence and saves her friends from the demon that she takes the antidote and the hallucinations end.

Fighting the demon: When Buffy traps her friends in the basement with the GGK demon, they try to fight it off without the use of their hands. Then Tara arrives at Buffy's house and hears a noise in the basement. She runs down and sees what is happening:

Translation: Release!!!

The ropes on her friends untie themselves. The demon turns on Tara.

Vis Zenobiae! Solvere!
Translation: Might of Zenobia! Unleash!

Shelves fly and knock the demon over. Buffy trips Tara on the stairs. Xander and Willow struggle against the demon, but they are losing. Only Buffy can save them now.

Moral Ambiguity in "Normal Again"


"Your sister. Your friends. All the people you created in Sunnydale. They're not as comforting as they were, are they? They're coming apart."

Buffy's transitions into the asylum may appear random, but they aren't. They typically correspond with moments of crisis in her Sunnydale experience. She transitions into the asylum after Xander and Spike start fighting with each other. The next time she flips, she is telling her friends about her asylum experiences. They are sensitive at first, but when Buffy gets into the details of the asylum and how real the experiences felt, her friends become uneasy. Willow cuts Buffy off with a suggestion that they go do research.

Buffy's hallucinations of a life where she isn't the Slayer and doesn't live in Sunnydale are an important turning point for her. For months--since her return to life, in fact--she has been detached, going through the motions of life (Flooded, OMWF, Gone, DMP, AYW), and even she isn't sure why. She's tried to snap out of it, but she feels unable to do so. Her life and the lives of those around her have been falling apart. So easy to believe none of it ever existed in the first place, that there is another life for her out there where she can be strong and healthy and normal. But it is an illusion, a last-ditch effort to escape the reality of her existence in Sunnydale.

Spike, fed up with Buffy pushing him away, tells her to stop with the "martyrdom" and the "hero trip" and "live a little." His words resonate with Buffy in a way he did not intend. She decides to take the advice of the asylum doctor and overcome her Sunnydale "hallucinations". She throws Willow's antidote away and goes after the truly appealing elements of her "life" in Sunnydale--her friends. The idea is not to get rid of the hallucinations once and for all (which would be impossible to do by the will alone in schizophrenia), but to help Buffy finally believe and accept that these things she sees are hallucinations, not real. Then she can learn to ignore them and start coping with real life.

Buffy drags her friends and Dawn down to the basement and ties them up. Then she lets the GGK demon loose on them. In the asylum, Joyce tells Buffy, "I know the world feels like a hard place sometimes, but you've got people that love you.... There's a world of strength in your heart, honey. I know there is. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself." Joyce wants her to continue what she is doing, but Buffy hears the words differently.

The comforting world, the easy world, the world anyone would prefer is the world of the hospital. The [Sunnydale] delusion is not a sweet dream, it's a nightmare. Not because of vampires and demons and thieving sisters. It's a nightmare because that's the world in which her parents divorced. That's the world where her mother died. That's the world where she has a soul destroying job at a fast food restaurant. That's the world where she was forced to drop out of university. Who, in or out of her right mind, would choose that world over the hospital? When Joyce tells Buffy to be strong, to reject the illusion, Buffy realizes that it requires strength to live in the Buffyverse because that's where she's hurting. And pain is one of the signs of reality. So she says goodbye to the dream (Jenoff, 03/16/02).

In Sunnydale, she slays the demon who is attacking her friends and takes the antidote.

...the last scene [in the asylum] doesn't have to mean the Asylumverse is real. Remember, Buffy asked Willow to get her the antidote. We see that last scene before she gets the antidote, however. That could have been the final remnants of her hallucination (Rob, 3/13/02 8:55).

Xander returns from his post-no-wedding walk-about to find Anya gone. After he left Anya at the alter, he realized he still wanted her in his life, just not as a wife--yet. But right now he has neither. He picks fights with Spike, who baits him in return. It is easier for Spike to take out his unhappiness on someone who dumped his own lover than on the woman who dumped him.

Jonathan has not forgotten what happened with Katrina. His guilt over her death has increased his ambivalence about being part of the Trio. This ambivalence grows when Warren and Andrew begin putting together a new plan to defeat the Slayer without letting the wary Jonathan in on it.

Philosophies Represented in "Normal Again"

"And then I was like. No, it wasn't 'like'. I was in an institution."

Skepticism: In my analysis above, I assume that the Sunnydale experiences are Buffy's reality and the asylum experiences are hallucinations. But we are given no logically compelling reason to chose one or the other in the episode. We only have our firm conviction that the show wouldn't be nearly as satisfying if Buffy has been delusional the whole time. Buffy has no such luxury. She is faced with a compelling question: Which set of experiences is real, and which is the hallucination?

Buffy reveals to Willow that she had been institutionalized when she first told her parents about vampires. She stayed in the hospital for two weeks. Or did she? Now she wonders. Was she ever really released? Is she still in the institution? How can she know what is real? To make it worse, it is possible that neither place--Sunnydale or the asylum--is real. Buffy can't be certain. But what is certain is that all the twists and turns of logic and argument that she (or we) can muster will not prove any of these conclusions. Ultimately, it is an act of faith.

The struggle to prove that our experiences actually correspond to an external reality is a question in philosophy called "The problem of the external world". This problem has been around at least since the time of René Descartes in the 17th century. If you start your philosophical contemplation from inside your own mind--the sensations and thoughts that you experience--it is impossible to prove without a doubt that these experiences are being caused by a world external to your mind. For all you know, they could be a dream you're having, or a vivid hallucination. Perhaps you are a highly imaginative disembodied mind existing in a void of nothingness. Or a disembodied brain in a scientific lab somewhere being electronically stimulated by a neuroscientist. You don't know. Every experience feels as if it's actually happening. If we stay stuck at this point, we are in a position known as solipsism: I must go on as if it's just me, myself, and I, and I have no way of proving otherwise. But this conclusion could be wrong as well. And it's not very satisfying.

Descartes attempted to assure himself of the existence of his own body and a world beyond by first proving the existence of a good, all-powerful God who would not allow him to be fooled about these things. Skeptical philosophers subsequent to Descartes found this a bit over-ambitious and unworkable. David Hume, who did a thorough study of the things we come to believe based on experience, showed that ultimately, our belief in things beyond mere subjective experience cannot be proved sound by deductive arguments. We believe them, he said, out of "custom" or "habit". In other words, our minds are simply inclined to jump to the conclusion that the things we experience have real external causes. But there are always ways of casting doubt on these conclusions.

The English skeptic Bishop Berkeley was once challenged by his colleague Samuel Johnson in a way that might tempt us all at this point. Johnson kicked a rock (or was it Berkeley's ass?) and said, "I refute you, thus!" This of course, proves nothing beyond Hume's conclusions--that we have a stubborn tendency to believe in the reality of our experiences. It is still possible that we are hallucinating kicking something or getting kicked. And we can even feel the ouchies in our hallucinatory asses and toes. But we can grant Johnson a point--real or not, we cannot help but respond to our experiences as if they reflect some reality beyond our minds. And regardless of whether we can have any absolute certainty about them.

How does this help Buffy? Well, in her case, she has a choice of which set of experiences to accept as real. From the perspective of skepticism, neither choice is more "correct" than the other. So Buffy must make the choice based on how she wants to perceive herself--her self-esteem and self-identity. And she does.

Pictures are copyright © 2002 The UPNTelevision Network
Screen shot credits
This page last modified 11/17/02

Do you have comments that you want to post on this page?