It occurs to me, that no one really asks Buffy if she’s okay. They’re glad to have her back, but not in an over joyed, yay for Buffy way. It’s more of a ‘good things can go back to normal way.’ Of course things can’t go back to normal. Buffy killed her evil ex-boyfriend just as he got his soul back. She was accused of murder. She was kicked out of her home. All because she was trying to be everything to everyone- she’s trying to be a good daughter, a model student and save the world all wrapped into one.
When Buffy finally plucks up the courage to come home, after a pretty hair-raising adventure, no one has the time for her. They think it will all just go straight back to normal, but in reality Buffy is suffering. She’s depressed and guilt-ridden, and haunted by Angel. But, because she’s the slayer everyone seems to think that she was just having a childish tantrum and that she should be able to slide right back into the Buffy-space in her old life. Her friends managed to continue without her. The Buffy shaped hole has shrunk. She went from being present to past and yes she has to own up to that, but come on people give her a break for once! She actually needs you, and you’re all too busy with your own lives to ask her a simple question: ‘are you okay?’
At least Joyce articulates it. She just doesn’t know what to say, and I think it’s something we can relate to. Maybe it’s just me, but I see parallels here with depression particularly, but also other mental health issues. When you haven’t suffered from depression yourself it’s very hard to know what to say, and even though it’s sometimes the simplest things that are the most effective people don’t realise it. Instead everyone tiptoes around her, afraid to say anything. Both sides getting angry that the other side isn’t asking if they’re okay.
Willow is the first to snap when she spots Buffy packing again, and she’s furious that Buffy hasn’t asked her about her love life, and her witchcraft. I’m sorry Willow, I think you’re great, but Buffy had to send her ex-boyfriend to Hell, excuse me if I’m not hugely empathetic about the fact you’re having sexy times with a warewolf. Let’s face it, you just want to gush about boyfriends, and your cool magic. And when Joyce comes in, does Willow do the decent friend thing and cover for Buffy? No, she’s sells her out and before you know it everyone is weighing-in on how bad Buffy was.
Sure Buffy argues back, and she says some dumb things, and she could be more understanding and have been the grown up. But when it counts, when zombies start coming through the window, Buffy forgets all the anger and steps up. She saves the day, again. I think seeing that despite all the anger they will still do anything to protect each other patches up some of the pain. It isn’t all better yet, but you can tell that it will be.
This is another episode that we really enjoy. And one we often pick out to watch in isolation, but it loses points for Big Bad because ‘the mask’ doesn’t actually do much, and when it possesses Pat, Buffy strikes it down within a few minutes. To be fair, Pat totally deserved it. We gave high marks for plot and script, but this is one of those episodes where the main plot is about the characters and the supernatural peril is really just there as a metaphor for what’s going on between them. In this case: ‘You can’t just bury stuff. It’ll come right back up to get you…’
“Do you like my mask? Isn’t it pretty? It raises the dead!” Americans…”- Giles