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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body

Buffy: "It's not her. It's not her. She's gone."
Dawn: "Where'd she go?"

This episode was written and directed by Joss Whedon. I cried through the whole thing and I don't want to watch it again. It is probably impossible for me to do an objective review of this episode since my sister and my mother both died suddenly and unexpectedly, my mom just last year, and it just hits too many of my personal buttons. But maybe that was what Whedon was going for.

I must give Whedon credit for capturing a lot of what people experience in a time like this (at least what I experienced) -- the numbness and confusion, because we don't know how to act when something like this happens; the sense of unreality (Buffy staring at the paramedic's shirt, the surreal buttons on the phone, the too bright sunlight and chirping birds); the obsessing about details (Willow and the clothes -- I can remember doing something similar when trying to figure out what to wear to my sister's funeral).

What really hit me about this episode was, the last time I saw my mother alive (we talked on the phone every week but we lived a few states apart), it was Thanksgiving. Like Buffy flashing back to Christmas, I kept thinking of that Thanksgiving after my mother died.

Of course, like we all do when someone dies and like Buffy did, I did a lot of that "if only" fantasizing. If only I had been there, I would have known it was going to happen and I would have gotten her to the hospital. And even -- if only I had been there, I could have said goodbye to her.

Death is depersonalizing. Buffy and the paramedics say that Joyce is cold. Joyce is referred to constantly as "the body." She has suddenly become an object; they're putting her in a bag and taking her away, cutting off her clothes with scissors so they can cut into her flesh. In art class, Dawn is drawing the space around the object, the body. That's what she and Buffy and the others are; you take the person out, and there's a space where that person was. No more fruit punch. No more eggs. We don't know why. Everyone hugs, because that's what you do; you see people do that.

Buffy says she's never done this before. She's right about that, because there are things you do when someone close dies, and once you've been through it, you know what to do the next time. I saw my mother take care of things when my sister died, and then I knew what to do when my mother died. Tara knows; she lost her mother at 17. As Tara says, it's always sudden. You're never ready. And you feel like everyone should know that you've lost someone very important, they should see it on your face, and of course, no one does unless you tell them.

I thought the way the gang reacted to Joyce's death was touching. Especially Anya. And Xander putting his fist through the wall.

Bits and pieces:

-- Willow and Tara kissed on-screen for the first time in this episode. It's about time.


-- In the Xmas sequence, Buffy reminded Joyce and Giles about their encounter in "Band Candy."

-- Also in the Xmas sequence, the pie was burned, and then it fell to the floor. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is big on symbolism.

-- In the middle of the doctor's gentle talk with Buffy about Joyce not suffering, he said, "I have to lie to make you feel better."

-- Gellar was wonderful. Trachtenberg was also very good.

-- John Michael Herndon played the vamp at the end. He resembled Jeff Kober, who was in "Helpless." In fact, at first that's who I thought it was.

-- No Spike in this episode.

Quotes:

Joyce: "I think we're just about ready for pie."
Xander: "Then I'll be pretty much ready for barf."
Buffy: "Xander!"
Xander: "No, no, barf from the eating. 'Cause all was good, and too much goodness..."
Joyce: "I'm taking it as a compliment."
Giles: "Yes, uh, everything was delicious."
Anya: "Yes, I'm going to barf too."
Joyce: "Everyone's so sweet."

Tara: "There's a Santa Claus?"
Anya: "Mm-hmm. Been around since, like, the 1500s. He wasn't always called Santa, but you know, Christmas night, flying reindeer, coming down the chimney, all true."
Dawn: "All true?"
Anya: "Well, he doesn't traditionally bring presents so much as, you know, disembowel children, but otherwise..."

Anya: "I don't understand! I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's, there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid. And Xander's crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why."

Four out of four stakes,

Billie
---
Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.

26 comments:

  1. When I started rewathcing Buffy, I was dreading the time when this episode would be next, despite being one of the best in the series, in my opinion. It's just too painful.

    This Sela Ward better be an incredible actress, because only an incredible performance could have taken away SMG's Golden Globe.

    Once I was in my bedroom and I heard an explosion coming from the kitchen. I rushed downstairs calling my mom many times but she didn't answer. I thought the worst. She turned out to be ok (she couldn't answer because she was in shock, the stove had exploded and she was near it), but those seconds during which I couldn't get an answer were among the worst moments in my life. I can't even begin to think what it's like to lose your mother, not to mention suddenly. I just can't.

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  2. Beautifully scripted, beautifully acted. The camera angles, the tone, the lack of background music...lovely and heartbreaking. I can't believe no awards were won for this episode (assuming from Gus's comment above).

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  3. My mom died a little over a year ago. For the first several minutes of the show (which I'm watching for the first time), I thought I could handle it. Then Buffy falls to her knees and vomits, and I started crying, and pretty much sobbed throughout the rest of the episode. It was one of the best portrayals of grief and shock I've ever seen or read. You expect in a TV show that she'll call 911, and then they'll cut to the paramedics entering. Instead, there's a long phone conversation, and a horrifying attempt at CPR. Then she has to wait. And we have to wait with her. So much of the show felt like it was in real time, and it was agonizing. Dawn's in art class, and we see Buffy in the hall, but Dawn keeps talking to the cute boy. Buffy's in the room, and Dawn is still talking to the cute boy. It takes FOREVER for Buffy (and her bad news) to finally arrive at Dawn's side. There were a few "this is why I love this show" moments (Xander's hand stuck in the wall, the vampire in the hospital morgue), but most of the episode was something very different.
    And while I'm going on a great length about a show that aired a decade or more ago, I'll take up a little more space to say thank you, Billie, for your great reviews. I didn't own a TV until I got married, and I discovered Alias and your site around the same time. I only watch shows on DVD, and only if they're reviewed on your site, both because I enjoy the reviews, and I trust your judgement.

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  4. Even though in my initial review, I said I'd never watch "The Body" again and I meant it, I have indeed watched it a couple of times when I've rewatched the series. And I cry through the whole thing.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Wendy. It also made me cry.

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  5. I think I have a way to make Anya's speech even more depressing: She's been killing people for 1100 years, and apparently forgot what that meant, that all of her victims had families and loved ones like Joyce did, even if the people themselves were assholes. And now she remembers.

    Remember when Liam woke up in 1898 and started remembering that Angelus had been killing people (starting with Liam's own family) for 120 years in his body? Anya had been killing for almost 10 times as long before this, and she didn't have the "I was possessed" excuse, that really was her inflicting thousands of times as much damage as she was seeing now for basically the first time.

    Joss Whedon, you Bastard

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  6. I think one of the reasons why this episode is so painful and heartbreaking is that Joyce was so mum-like and I know that I could see my mum in her, and lots of other people's mums. When she dies, its like we imagine what it would be like to lose our own mother, and thats what I did. My mum came into my room after I watched this episode for the first time and I was crying my eyes out the whole way through and I jumped up and gave her a huge hug and told her (sobbingly) to never ever die. It was one of the most real things I have ever watched.

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  7. Just watched this again on the season 5 DVD. Damn Joss Whedon & Co for portraying the surreality of this situation so accurately. Billie, I can't imagine what you felt watching this episode. I should really skip this episode when I watch season 5. Too damn real.

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  8. This episode was amazing, and heartbreaking. I'm going to go hug my mom now.

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  9. I've always known how amazing this episode is, but this time around it really struck me how well made it is. When Buffy discovers her Mom and gets on the phone and does CPR, it's all one long, lingering hand-held shot that goes on for nearly a minute. Only one example of the great filmmaking, alongside the wonderful acting by Gellar and Co., that contribute to such a heart breaking, realistic episode.

    Anya's speech about not understanding death always makes me cry.

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  10. BUFFY RE-WATCH comments begin here! Remember, no spoilers for future episodes. Want to talk spoilers and foreshadowing? Season five spoilers are posted here.

    Just reposting this review made me cry.

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  11. This episode is one that simply wrecks me every time I watch it. It captures so perfectly those first few hours after someone you love so much dies that I can't help but be reminded of those hours. All the grief and all the fright come rushing back.

    Anya's speech that you quote just makes me sob. And, Tara saying that it is always sudden does as well. All kudos to Joss Whedon for perfectly capturing these moments.

    On a lighter note, I caught an interesting reference this time through, one that wouldn’t have meant anything to me even a year ago. Xander says, “You’re right. The Avengers got to get with the assembling.”

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  12. I think I'm pretty much alone in hating this episode, but not because I disagree with anything anyone has said. It's a brilliant, horribly real depiction of shock and grief, brilliantly well made. it's just not what I want from BtVS. I don't mean that I want BtVS in a SF pigeon hole where it can't do serious, because I don't mean it in a derogatory way like that, but just that... if I want to see a study in death by cancer, I'll watch ER (and I do!). If BtVS is going to do a study in grief, I'd prefer there was something supernatural involved (I like the next episode much more). I'm just fussy that way.

    I love Tara's line though - "No. And yes. it's always sudden."

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  13. The first tim I saw this episode was several months after losing someone very dear to me, and I was still grieving pretty deeply. I wept through almost the entire episode. It was the most realistic portrayal of those first breathless, unreal hours following a death that I've ever seen.

    That long tracking shot scene of Sarah after discovering Joyce is masterfully done. The most familiar things not making sense (the long shot of the phone keypad), the sounds of life going on outside the back door, Buffy throwing up. It's all so real, and so painful.

    Willow's breaking down and Xander's anger.

    Anya's speech does make me cry (esp. when her voice breaks at the end of it), but it's actually one of the more conventionally theatrical moments of the hour.

    Dawn breaking down.

    Buffy being unable to eat. The last major loss I went through, I couldn't eat for days. When I finally did, I had to force myself. There was a physical aversion to consuming anything. Wasn't able to sleep the first few days either.

    Tara's "It's always different." and "It's always sudden." Yes, it is. Even when it's expected, the moment it becomes real, it's just as shocking, just as sudden.

    Joss Whedon was drawing on his memories of his own mother's death, and he wanted to portray the airlessness of those first hours, the way that things seem hyper-real and unreal/surreal at the same time. He wanted it to be unrelenting, so removed the emotional crutch of a score. First time I re-watched this episode, I could only do so with the commentary on, to get some distance, and it was also worth listening to.

    Whedon and Sarah Michelle knocked this one out of the park. Painful, but brilliant. One of the finest hours of television I've ever seen.

    RIP Joyce. I loved Joyce. Was so sad that her character left the show.

    -d

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  14. For me, this is one of the finest episodes of television ever made. I've made it through two viewings, but I really don't ever want to see it again. That's how good it is.

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  15. Not a re-watcher, just a Buffy-fan from way back when. I have re-watched Buffy a couple of years ago and didn't feel like doing it again so soon. But I still like to read the new comments :-)

    Anyway, even though I haven't seen this episodes for years, I still wanted to chime in for two reasons.

    One: as hard to watch as it is, this is my absolute favourite hour of Buffy. The way it tackles something so real, so harsh, all while retaining it's usual distinguishing features (which usually lead to silly funness, but add to the trauma in this one)... It's amazing!

    Two: I wanted to react to Juliette. There absolutely is a supernatural element to this episode: Buffy herself. This episode (to me) is about Buffy being a supernatural superhero - able to handle the worst demons thrown her way - and how all that supernatural strength does not help her one bit when something like this happens. The story of Joyce's death makes Buffy, as a supernatural character, more real, more human. I agree that the episode feels different, but it fits seamlessly in the entirety of the show.

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  16. Jonathan - I know what you mean, and I know that one of Whedon's reasons for having Joyce die of cancer was because he wanted to explore the fact Buffy can't fight everything. But this episode just isn't what I want from BtVS. it's just a personal preference thing.

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  17. There's nothing much I can add that hasn't been said already. This is a very powerful episode. It evokes emotions in ways that are so real that it is uncomfortable watch. It's brilliant, but I'm glad it is now in the past of this re-watch, I had been dreading it a bit.

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  18. I watched Buffy for the first time ever last year when the re-watch was going on. I remember it so well that I can't even bring myself to re-watch this episode now, and maybe never. I bawled during the entire episode and even had to pause it a few times cuz I couldn't see the screen or take any more trauma.

    This episode hit me harder than anything else I have ever seen or experienced. I have never lost anyone close to me and don't even want to imagine it. Joyce's death and Buffy's reaction felt all too real, like I had actually lost someone in that moment. Powerful storytelling, Whedon. I felt like we were intruding upon someone's real-life loss, it was so raw.

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  19. Juliette: Of course! And I can totally see/understand why this isn't everyones favourite. I only meant to say that in my eyes the supernatural is involved in the episode. But I can totally see why someone would say 'This is not what I want from an episode of BtVS'.

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  20. How very Joss Whedon, to have given us the standard TV plot illness with Joyce earlier this season. She was sick, others were worried, big goodbye scene, miraculous recovery, and disaster averted - yay. Now, several episodes later, out of the blue she's just dead. No warning, no final goodbye, just dead. Not something we usually see on TV. And even though I'd been spoiled and knew it was going to happen, I still cried. Good job and curses on you, Whedon!

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  21. What I liked best about this episode was how it showed the development of Anya's character. I'm really enjoying her character arc. Tara talking about her own mother's death with Buffy was also very strong.

    The one thing I thought didn't work was the vampire attack on Dawn at the end. It just felt pointless and out of keeping with the tone of the episode.

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  22. Watching this today, thinking about how generally everybody experiences their own "The Body" moment in their lives, my mind went to Parker Abrams. You know, that shithead in season four who used his father's death as a pickup line. I'm now imagining him experiencing this and I'm actually feeling compassion. Not much, mind you, but still. There is a whole world of grief hiding behind his shitty behavior.

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  23. I was thinking over this episode and suddenly had a realization. WE'VE NEVER SEEN ANYA AND JOYCE TOGETHER. And yet, Anya's speech is so powerful that it convinces us that a loving relationship was there.

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  24. When I first watched Buffy, I was 14 during season 5 and had a big crush on Dawn. When I rewatch Buffy now, I can see why people find her annoying (I honestly didn't see it back then) but the character still has a special place for me. The scene where Dawn hears about her mum's death is the only thing on tv that makes me cry this much.

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  25. Man look at all these people admitting they cried, crying like little babies. It's a TV show you eggheads, Joyce isn't real. None of it's real, it's just fiction. It's just make-believe. It's just... I.. *brushes away at eyes angrily* You know what I'm with Juliette, this is NOT what I need from BtVS! This crap's getting too real for me, and I ain't tryin't'a hear about that hyper-realism, see? I'm GLAD it wasn't nominated for any awards (actually even if the Emmys ignored it, apparent it got a nomination for the Nebula Award, whatever that is, which is something at least).
    Phenomenal episode, I think even if it comes out of left field they totally earned a trigger-worthy episode.. I mean 4 seasons of greatness under their belt beforehand. And honestly it's just good TV on its own merit too beyond the "so relatable" aspect that it doesn't justify a skip for any reason besides being too sad. I loved the entire beginning bit up until the other Scoobies are finally checked in on where I lose a little bit of interest. But it was re-sparked with the inspired decision to just linger on Dawn's school drama before she gets the news, it's even kind of amusing once you realize what they're doing.. well, until Buffy finally arrives like a phantom and my amusement is gone again.
    Anya's speech is as good as I remember it, and I know some viewers say that kind of innocence is at odds with her age, but for me it made perfect sense and even kind of helps me reconcile with what she used to do for a living - it looked like she truly couldn't grasp the death and void she was spreading with her revenge-fulfillment until now (even if I doubt this leads to self-reflection beyond just being a moment where she genuinely grasps Joyce's death and what it means).
    SMG having so many different expressions to convey Buffy's headstate... just masterful, almost distracting in its range. I kinda wanted to take screencaps because I swear she must've covered every subtle difference possible, but what a depressing task that would make lol, no thanks. Either SMG or her director, well obviously both, deserve a lot of credit for that. I really appreciate that stuff, the faces, I just wanted to hug her in every scene where she has to get news from the authorities.
    I still kinda wish they mirrored the previous episode's ending and had Buffy telling Warren she wants, nay, NEEDs a Joycebot. But bots are for boys

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  26. I'm going through the series for the first time and just got to this tonight. It is terrific ...... and horribly painful. I actually think that when this kind of material is done in episodic TV, it can be be much more effective in a series like this than in something like a hospital show where you start out with your guard up against really letting yourself attach to characters in the same way.

    I've had a couple movie conversations about the difference between "best" and "favorite" movies ("greatest" being different than either, but not important for this conversation). To me, a very important part of "favorite" for these kinds of things is frequency of re-watchability. Call it the Sophie's Choice / Schindler's List rule: The very best of certain kinds of emotional-gut-punch movies are wringers that I will not want to put myself through very often. So, even though I recognize how fantastic they are and always will remember them as among the best things I've ever seen, they will never get neat any list of "favorites". BtVS : The Body now joins those ranks; among the very best episode of series TV, but will never come up when asked for "favorites". (Footnote: The rule title makes allowances for the American tendency toward an aversion to subtitles. I've seen Holocaust movies from Central Europe in the '60s, when a lot of the creative team / cast / crew were camp survivors, that make Schindler's List look like the glossy, relatively upbeat, Hollywood-ified version of that.)

    About 40 minutes into the hour, it occurred to me that it looked like they would go the entire episode without any (overt, explicitly shown) supernatural depictions. When the vampire first got up, at first I was a little disappointed. Then I saw the way that Buffy killed it. Several episodes ago when Buffy killed the snake-demon-thing, I was struck by how uncharacteristic brutal it was - sitting on it punching repeatedly with her bare fist until she crushed its skull / rib cage / whatever - and how it mirrored Buffy's raw emotional state at the time. This one beat that all to hell on the scale raw brutality - both emotionally and violence of the act. I mean, laying on top of a naked vampire to pin him and taking a bone saw to his neck, and not with any kind of swift swing or stroke.

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