I've tried so hard to reconcile what I find to be a fairly blatant flaw in my favorite show...

In the episode "Normal Again" Buffy claims to have been sent to an institution when she first told her parents she was a slayer (before the beginning of the series). However, if this is true, it's hard to imagine Joyce reacting in the way she did when Buffy 'came out' in "Becoming, Part 2". One would imagine she would have more of a "Not this again" reaction as opposed to the utter shock and denial she showed.

I'd love some hard facts on this, but I'll gladly accept some good fanwanking theories!

  • 2
    What if the "I was in an institution before" was part of the hallucinations Buffy was having? Jul 22, 2014 at 18:14
  • @starsplusplus One of the best things about "Normal Again" is its attempt to leave open the question of which version of Buffy's reality is accurate. Your interpretation would remove this doubt. Apr 9, 2017 at 16:31

7 Answers 7


My theory is that, since the inclusion of Dawn retconned the timeline, we don't know how the actual events of Buffy pre-S1 or even S1-S4 really played out.

The inclusion of Dawn must have had an effect, thus maybe changing the fact that Buffy went to an institution in the "Dawn" timeline and not in S1-S4 timeline. That's my only reasoning really.

  • That's my only thought as well. I don't love it but it's the only thing that works. Feb 11, 2016 at 15:22
  • Dawn didn't retcon what "really played out"; I believe the monks just changed the memories of everyone who would have met her to incorporate her. Apr 9, 2017 at 16:33
  • So Buffy could have a false memory of being in an institution when she was younger. I understand the actual reality didn't change. Apr 9, 2017 at 19:22
  • 1
    @thumbtackthief That's fair, although Buffy's institution-life specifically doesn't include Dawn. Also, my comment was primarily in response to this answer's claim that we don't know how the actual events of S1-S4 played out; we do, because we see them pre-Dawn. Apr 10, 2017 at 16:50
  • Note that there's a decent explanation of why the retconned history includes a stay at an institution- two parents might manage to keep a violent and mentally ill teen at home safely, but if there's a younger child at risk as well, an institutional stay becomes an more likely option for the parents to use.
    – Andrew
    Jun 23, 2022 at 2:01


Buffy says it herself. Her mom should have seen the signs. She should have known all along that she was still doing this, that she had washed blood out of her clothes enough times to know this was all going on.

Joyce was in complete denial, up to and including that her daughter had ever been to a mental institution.

  • That seems like a reach. It's one thing to brush off some odd behavior; it's another to forget institutionalizing your daughter. Joyce may have been a little unobservant, but she wasn't crazy or stupid. Feb 7, 2014 at 18:27
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    There's a difference between "forgetting" and "denying".
    – Roger
    Feb 7, 2014 at 18:29
  • 1
    @thumbtackthief What Roger said. Remember that Joyce has actually participated in some of the insanity that is Buffy's Universe. It's not forgetting, it's willful denial of the facts.
    – Zibbobz
    Feb 7, 2014 at 18:33
  • 1
    @Roger Joyce did both. IIRC, some of the episodes in the early seasons has her directly interacting with something supernatural, that should have given it away - but it didn't. Later, Willow describes her mother doing the same "selective memory thing".
    – Izkata
    Feb 8, 2014 at 0:13
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    Agree with "Denial" strongly. Buffy actually comments ""I was only there a couple of weeks. I stopped talking about it, and they let me go. Eventually... my parents just... forgot." Denial can be very powerful (and useful) for stressful matters. Feb 8, 2014 at 4:53

Yes, well... sort of. Maybe.

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This was addressed in the 4 issue comic arc Slayer, Interrupted, which takes place during the summer of 1996 before she moves to Sunnydale.

Per the wiki,

After running off to Vegas, Buffy has written in her diary tales of vampires and demons. Her parents have her put into a mental institution. Whilst there Buffy realizes she enjoys the freedom, and the loss of her role as Slayer.

Many fans do not consider these stories canonical as they were not written by Joss Whedon or any of the show writers (hence the "maybe"), but Joss and crew signed off on the stories before being published.

  • How does that mesh with Joyce's reaction, though? Feb 7, 2014 at 18:26
  • Largely speaking, it doesn't. It's a retcon, similar to those of the Star Wars EU. Issues like these are why many fans don't treat some of the comics as canon. The issue was written a year after the episode aired. It's the comic writers' job to make it mesh with the show, not the other way around.
    – phantom42
    Feb 7, 2014 at 18:29
  • I don't know the comics--I'm just talking about the inconsistency between the two eps I referenced in my question (although canon comics will happily be accepted as evidence). Feb 7, 2014 at 18:30
  • 1
    Presumably, (and this is just me spitballing as I haven't read these issues) after Buffy is released, Joyce likely chalks Buffy's diaries to being temporarily insane and believes that none of it is real. Living in denial, as Buffy points out, she self-reinforces that everything before was a figment of Buffy's imagination/psyche and needs to come to grips with the reality of Buffy's role as the Slayer. I'll see if I can get more info about these issues and see if it sheds any more insight.
    – phantom42
    Feb 7, 2014 at 19:02

Because she never left the institution.

Remember, at the end of Normal Again, Buffy is shown in the institution after all the poison and such has worn off and the Sunnydale story has moved on. Real-world Buffy is in an institution and creating a fantasy world in her mind where she is a superhero. Joyce's reaction is fully explained because fantasy-world Joyce does not remember doing what real-world Joyce did.


I mean the theory as it works is that everything in the "Slayer" world is a convient lie. Joyce reacting that way (the fact that the writters never exactly planned this much in advance aside...) isn't exactly relevant in IRL/institution Buffy's MIND. It's all convient enough to keep her there in that world, crafting Joyce's response isn't relevant because she didn't need it to be that realistic to her specifically. Not to mention she could just easily chalk it up to her mom being in denial because that was actually believable for her and it worked well enough to prevent her from getting too hung up on minor details that were irrelevant to her.

The basic idea here is that the "Slayer" world is all something Buffy is crafting in her head. The inconsistencies don't matter to her so that's how they are portrayed because the world isn't, supposedly, real.

Also I support the Buffy Multiverse idea, especially because they added the bit at the end where the doctor is trying to reach Buffy and she is gone. Theoretically speaking, the demon had the power to connect the mind of both Buffys and force her to flit back and forth between the two. Not that that is relevant to the question, but it's more interesting :P


Personally, I don't see anything too problematic with Joyce's response, for several reasons. For one, when we first see Joyce and Hank Summers in the institution, they are standing a bit further back, as though hesitant, which might suggest that they are cautious about getting too connected again after Buffy first 'momentary awakening'. But secondly, this momentary awakening that occurred when Buffy died, as the term suggests, was momentary, and might only have been minimal in terms of communication. So to actually see that Buffy is talking and becoming more 'lucid', as the doctor observes, provides Buffy's parents with hope that this time it is for real. Thirdly, I think it's hard to rationally judge the reaction of a parent whose child is in an institution.

But honestly it might be a danger to overthink and over-analyse these things, especially since the writers probably weren't thinking too much about the circumstances around Buffy's first awakening. In any case, I have come to believe that Buffy's slayer/Sunnydale world is, in fact, a delusion. As much as I wanted to believe otherwise, the evidence is pretty darn clear.

Hope this helps!


Buffy takes place in a multiverse, so therefore there's both a universe where it was real and one where it wasn't. It explains perfectly why you see stuff out of Buffy's perception in both worlds.

  • 1
    That... doesn't answer the question. Even if what you say is true, it doesn't address why Joyce wouldn't have remembered that her daughter had been briefly institutionalized at age 15. Jan 29, 2015 at 21:16

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