When I first saw this episode, I was 27 years old. I had both parents, I even had all my grandparents. I’d had some losses, but they hadn’t been earth-shattering to my life. I was rather lucky. I watched this episode in a sort of coma, unable to move or think or react throughout the hour (which, sadly, was broken up by commercial breaks… thank god now for DVD players). At the end of the hour, I looked at my husband, he looked at me, and he said, “Rewind. Let’s watch it again.” The second time through was a very different experience, where now the reality was sinking in.
Joyce was dead.
Those little visual tricks of Joss’s (Joyce taking a gasping breath, telling Buffy how glad she was that she made it on time, etc.) were nothing more than tricks now. Joyce was dead, and she wasn’t coming back. THIS time I had the visceral reaction, this time I was crying along with everyone else.
This second time – and every time since – that fruit punch speech has devastated me. I defy anyone to watch that one with a dry eye.
Now, during the rewatch, I have no grandparents left, I’ve seen friends lose their parents, I’ve watched friends get sick, some dying far, far too young, I’ve known the fear of being in a sudden dangerous situation and thinking, “oh my god, what will happen to my children?!” and so I watched this episode in an entirely different way all over again.
“The Body” is a play in four acts. There is absolutely no non-diegetic music whatsoever; instead Joss Whedon presents death, warts and all. With all of the horrible sounds – and silence – that are left when a person dies.
It really does feel like a play, too, with a single set in each act, covering off each aspect of death. In my book I analyze how the episode represents the various stages of grief, and I won’t run through that again here, but instead I’ll look at the episode itself.
The teaser is a repeat of the ending of the previous episode, with Buffy walking in and saying in her tiny little child-like voice, “Mommy?”
Act One takes place in the house, with all awful noises and moments and feelings and shock that take place. Gellar turns in a stunning performance as her confusion, shock, and horror all pass over her face without Buffy saying much of anything. There’s the moment where she first rushes over and shakes and shakes and SHAKES Joyce for a terribly long time, while we at home already feel our hearts breaking, knowing Joyce isn’t waking up no matter how much she shakes her. We watch her futilely attempting CPR, and we reel back with the horror of her cracking Joyce’s rib with her Slayer strength. Whedon employs several little tricks, where we think for a moment that Joyce may actually be alive when she gasps and begins talking, or when we see the paramedic’s mouth only, as if Buffy is too stunned to hear what he’s saying, just staring at his mouth without taking in the words. She throws the door open at one point and stares into the backyard, hearing the birds and children and a sun that dares to keep shining as if the world doesn’t understand that HER MOTHER IS DEAD for god’s sakes. It’s a moment anyone can relate to, either after suffering the death of a loved one or some catastrophic incident that has changed our lives. HOW could this world continue to go on as if nothing has just happened?? I love when Giles comes in like it’s any other episode, looking for Glory and rushing to Joyce’s side, but when he realizes this is not supernatural, and that Buffy just lost her mommy, he runs to shield Buffy from seeing everything… but he’s far too late.
Act Two is at Dawn’s school, with Dawn complaining that her life is horrible and NOTHING COULD BE WORSE THAN BEING CALLED A FREAK and she goes to art class and must paint the negative space around a body. It’s a brilliant metaphor, considering the space of negativity that surrounds Joyce’s dead body at this point and everyone’s inability to deal with it. Buffy comes in, tells Dawn, and Dawn falls apart, realizing there are worse things than being called a freak.
Act Three is at Willow’s dorm room, where Willow can’t find the right thing to wear, Tara remains a little detached from the others (knowing what Buffy is going through but not wanting to impose on a very close-knit situation of friends), Anya asks innocent questions as a four-year-old would. But where we could indulge the four-year-old and use the distraction to almost make ourselves feel better about things, coming from Anya these questions seem entirely inappropriate. Until she does the fruit punch speech. “Fruit punch mouth” made me laugh my head off at the end of season 1. Now fruit punch makes me cry. Every. Damn. Time. And then Xander puts his fist through a wall. He represents anger, Willow the heightened sensitivity of not wanting to make the situation worse, Tara represents calm, and Anya utter confusion and misunderstanding.
Act Four takes place at the morgue, and we watch the everyday chit-chat of friends trying to talk around what’s really happening and not knowing what to say without sounding trite, Buffy cold to the world around her, Dawn angry, Tara finally admitting what happened to her, the others overcompensating for being clumsy and unsure around their best friend. And then Dawn heads to the room where her mother’s body lay. I said this in my book, but I remember when I first saw the episode I was a little put out that the vampire thing was thrown in there and thought it fell flat, but immediately on that second viewing I realized no, it was absolutely necessary. Life goes on, she’ll still be the Slayer, the world of the undead won’t stop to give Buffy mourning time. All Dawn wants is to touch her, to feel the cold skin, to know without a doubt that her mother really is dead. And she will touch her and make that discovery, and no doubt melt into her sisters arms in a wave of sobs… but that moment is private, not for our eyes, and Joss cuts away just as the hand is about to touch Joyce’s face.
It’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking in so many ways, and over the years has become immensely influential. The camera angles, the writing, the stark way the entire piece was presented has been used in The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and any other highly stylized television show. In case you were a little confused by that opening scene with the gang all together having Christmas dinner, it was put there because Joss didn’t want the opening producer/acting/writing credits to be placed over the scene of Buffy reacting to her mother’s body, so he added this little set piece and the credits fly rather quickly over it.
But she can’t. She’s gone. Joyce is gone and all that’s left is a body that’s being zipped into a body bag, that’s having a piece of lingerie cut off it, that’s being autopsied. These tiny little moments where we see Joyce – eyes constantly open, a conscious decision Joss made when filming – are what raise this episode even further.It’s probably been 7 or 8 years since I last watched this episode, and this is the first time I cried from beginning to end. I don’t think I stopped once – not even when Dawnie was being a bit of a turd. I choked out a little laugh when Willow threatened fisticuffs, but the tears didn’t stop flowing.
Still one of my favourite hours of television, if not my absolute favourite.
This Rewatch has featured some incredible minds in the world of pop culture studies, and my guest hosts have done an amazing job of analyzing the episodes and pulling out themes and ideas each week. But “The Body” is something that not only demands critical analysis (and I’ve got my favourite husband-and-wife academic team coming up shortly to do that for us) but it’s one of those episodes we feel. Each week I try to infuse the emotional side of the commentary into the write-ups, talking about my personal reaction to the episodes. But for “The Body,” I couldn’t do that from experience.
While, as mentioned, I’ve been lucky that I still have all my parents (knock on wood), some of my friends haven’t been so fortunate. My best friend Sue – who I talk about all the time on here, who is my sci-fi convention sidekick and the pal who accompanies me to every Slayage – lost her father to cancer 13 years ago, shortly after the two of us were out of university. Her dad was the coolest – he was from England, had shared pints with Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck, had rubbed shoulders with the Kray twins, and had so many stories I could listen to him talk all day. I’ll never forget the time that Sue and I were in her basement watching U2’s Rattle & Hum, and when Bono gives this REALLY long preachy speech (the one that ends, “Am I buggin’ ya? Don’t mean to bug ya…”) her dad was standing in one corner of the room doing something and he started shouting back at the television like he was a member of a Baptist congregation. “You tell ‘em! You got it, brother!” Sue and I were in stitches. It’s my favourite memory of him. He was awesome.
And then he got sick.
Sue and I had been best friends throughout high school and university, but drifted apart afterwards as our lives diverged and went in different directions. I found out through the grapevine that her dad had passed away, and I didn’t even know he’d been sick; I felt awful, to say the least. It was through this tragedy that we reconnected and are closer today than we’ve ever been before.
She’s been following the Rewatch from the beginning (and has the joy of rewatching the episodes with a first-time viewer!). I delicately asked her a few weeks ago if she might share with us what it’s like to watch this episode, having been through a similar loss, and she graciously accepted the challenge. So I’m pleased and proud to present Suzanne Kingshott this week, my best friend, my kindred spirit, and the one to bring the heart to the Rewatch (for the record, you made me cry, Suzie)…
Joss Whedon’s ‘The Body’ is the most honest episode of television I have ever watched. I can’t believe how he was able to write such a powerful episode and address everything that one feels upon the death of someone close to them. The emotions, the dialogue, the soundtrack and even the camera shots and editing of the episode as a whole, all strive to convey the fickleness of life, the ultimate finality of death and the very complex and emotional healing process one goes through after losing a loved one.
The opening scene with Buffy finding her mom is so heartbreaking, but even more heartbreaking still is seeing the look on her face when the fact that her mother really is dead is sinking in. I feel like that whole opening scene is like being in slow motion and I think that that adds to the feeling of how surreal this event in her life is. I remember feeling that way when my dad had passed. I actually was with him during his last moments. Time seemed to go on forever for the rest of the day. Nothing seemed real. You get this weird feeling of detachment from the rest of the world – it’s like you’re in a bubble or haze all by yourself. I kept thinking that he was going to turn up at home and call my name or say something funny and all would be right with the world. I couldn’t comprehend that he was really gone. The whole idea that I would never speak to him again about the book he was reading or drive to the store with him again or watch EastEnders with him or sit at the table in the morning and have a cup of tea with him (which is all so reminiscent of Anya’s fruit punch speech) was kind of absurd because he’d been in palliative care for quite a few weeks, so I really hadn’t done any of those normal everyday things with him for a while. Buffy’s thought of the alternative outcome where she reaches her mother and the paramedics get her breathing again and everything turns out fine is so real to me. I remember that I kept thinking that my father’s death was all a dream and that I’d wake up and everything would be okay and life would go on as usual.
Buffy’s realization about the difference between her mother and her mother’s body was also interesting. I remember after my dad passed, the nurses came in and said that we could spend as much time as we liked with him (with the underlying understand that eventually they would have to deal with his body) and I have a difficult time remembering how long I sat with him. I had to go through that process of distinguishing my father as I knew him in my heart and mind from the body left behind – to realize that my dad as I knew him was no longer there. I went about making a call to tell a close friend about my dad’s passing and I remember looking at this clock in the hospital ceiling with its red lights reading 8:11 – I don’t know why I remember the time but I remember staring at this every day object like it was something foreign to me just like Buffy does with the phone keypad. I’m sure that I also made little sense to the person on the other end of the phone even though I remember trying to keep a false sense of calm as Buffy does.
I found it really interesting in the episode that Buffy’s mind reverts quite quickly to her happy memory of a Christmas past with her mother because it took me quite a while to be able to look back on nice memories without breaking down in tears. Eventually there came a point in my grief where I felt comforted in remembering the good times I had with my dad and all the wonderful memories of him in my life. Once I was able to stop dwelling on the period of time when he was ill and passed away, I was able to reminisce with less pain.
But there lies a little difference between my situation and Buffy’s – her mother’s death was sudden, my dad’s was not. Which brings me to the scene with Buffy and Tara in the hospital when Tara tells Buffy about her mother’s death. Buffy asks Tara if her mother’s death was sudden and Tara says “no and yes, it’s always sudden”. After watching my father go through a prolonged illness and die, I thought to myself – “well you knew it was coming, why are you so surprised?” – and then it dawned on me that it doesn’t matter what you think is coming or even what you’re told is coming and should know is coming, you are not any more prepared for the final outcome – you cannot conceive that the person who has been there through your whole life will suddenly be gone one day. After my dad’s death, I had many minutes and hours of guilty feelings thinking that I could have done more, said more, been there more…after a while, I had to realize that it was what it was – I had never dealt with this before (as Buffy also remarks to Tara). The scene that Buffy has with Tara is my favourite in the episode because their conversation is so honest. Death is discussed openly and they admit that there are no easy answers when dealing with the death of a loved one. Tara says that you have thoughts and reactions that you can’t understand and that death is always different – no two people who have experienced the death of someone close to them handle it in the same way. She is able to give Buffy more comfort and insight than anyone else because she understands how lost one feels after losing someone you love. However, don’t get me wrong, all the other things that your friends do to try and help comfort you are just as valid – the most important thing is having those who care about you around and there when you need them most – even if you don’t speak to each other.
I can’t imagine how my friends felt about the situation me and my family were going through. I’m sure that it’s difficult for everyone in trying to figure out how to interact with and comfort someone who’s just suffered a great loss. Sadly I’ve been to several funerals since my father’s and I feel a fool at times because I find myself saying the same trite, conventional comments that everyone says quoting variations of “it’s for the best” (if they were suffering from an illness) and “time heals all wounds” and how sorry I am and how sad it all is. I barely even remember my father’s funeral. It was all a blur. I couldn’t tell you who was there outside of a handful of people but I felt comforted and supported because of the people that were there. I was able to feel the love and good wishes surrounding me and my family during that horrible time. The scene with Xander and Anya going up to get Tara and Willow to go to the hospital underlines that idea. Nothing seems appropriate and there’s a general awkwardness to everything. You know as friends it is your duty to be there and support the person who has suffered the loss more greatly than you even if in the moment you feel useless or you overcompensate - you have to find the strength to hold in your own grief in order to help your friend overcome theirs.
In my experience, I find that the hardest period of time in dealing with a recent death of a loved one is not necessarily the event itself or the funeral or the days between the two (because ultimately you are numb and basically a walking zombie), but the days and weeks and months after the funeral. This is the time when you need people around the most because this is when you need to accept what has happened, make peace with it and move on. You need to get back into reality and the regular routine of life and living. And that’s what is really hard to get over – life going on without someone who was such a big part of your life. I remember going back to my job after my father’s death. I was a part-time cashier in a grocery store. It was very difficult to get back into every day routines. I remember one day in particular, it was my first week back and I greeted a customer as usual “good morning how are you?” and then had to listen to them complain about the weather and the price of milk and the whole time I’m screaming in my head “at least your father hasn’t just died of cancer”. Everything else in life, all the little annoyances and petty gripes we all have each and every day just seemed so incredibly insignificant to me. You also look back on things that used to make you angry or upset you and realize how trivial those things were in comparison to this awful life-changing event you’ve just gone through (such as Dawn being upset about kids spreading rumours about her at school – in her mind at that point in time prior to finding out about her mother’s death that was the most awful thing that had happened to her). It is so hard after the funeral to watch everyone around you go back to their daily lives and move on and essentially seem to forget about you and your pain – but life must go on. And that’s where the advice of “take things one day at a time” kicks in – it’s the only way you can survive for quite a while after the death of a loved one. It’s so hard to believe at the time, but one day I found myself suddenly getting through a whole day without crying, without thinking “why me?”, without getting angry. Eventually you reach a day where you realize you didn’t even think of that horrible period in your life for one moment and you feel the guilt swell up in your heart and soul but you realize that that doesn’t mean you don’t miss them, it just means you’re coping with the loss. In your heart I knew that this is what my dad would want – all parents want their kids to be happy and to never be in any pain. It’s at this stage in your grief when you are ready for the wonderful memories to flood back and you feel able to reminisce with family and friends all your “remember whens” and “as my dad would have saids” – and that is a tribute to the loved one you’ve lost all in itself.
Another coping mechanism that is so evident in this episode is Buffy’s need to be strong and go on in order to care and protect her younger sister. I found that I did much the same thing by focusing my energies on my younger brother and sister and making sure that they were all right and trying to make things “normal” again for them. In this way, I was able to delay my own grief for a short while, however, your personal grief does eventually catch up with you – you can’t avoid it – you have to deal with it in one way or another. You need to find your own sense of closure, your own peace of mind and it’s your family and friends who are the key to your survival, just as they are for Buffy.
Watching this episode again, for the first time since it originally aired, I feel comforted in a strange sort of way. Yes, there are very sad and upsetting moments and times when I cried, but as someone who has gone through losing a person very dear to their heart, there is a comfort in seeing the stages of grief laid out in such a frank and honest way. I can totally relate to everything each one of the characters goes through. There are no fake or contrived moments in this episode and there is no need to overdramatize the events or the actions of the characters. There is comfort in knowing that everything I went through after my dad’s death was normal, that all my feelings and actions and thoughts were valid and that I am not alone in dealing with my grief in these ways. In the end, I didn’t handle the situation any better or any worse than anyone else. I remember bracing myself emotionally the first time I watched the episode when it aired. I knew what was coming and I purposely kept myself emotionally detached when I watched the episode. I was unable to think or talk about the episode for fear of breaking down emotionally since it had only been a few years after my dad’s death. At the end of the day the loss of a loved one, especially a parent when you are at such a young age, is very devastating and changes the course of your life forever. It’s being able to find the strength to deal with your grief and continue with your life that pays tribute to the memory of one gone. I believe that my dad is very proud of me and my siblings and the way with which we have dealt with his death and how we have continued to achieve our goals in life and carry on despite feeling the loss of his physical presence every day.
Thank you, Sue. I believe with all my heart your dad is crazy proud of you, just like he always was. Love you.
And now, Dale and Ensley Guffey. Ensley’s been on here before, talking about The Zeppo, Bad Girls, and Consequences. His wife, Dale, I first encountered at the 2008 Slayage conference. I talked about her on here and her wonderful southern accent that I enjoyed listening to as she gave one of the papers. She is the author of Faith and Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon (as K. Dale Koontz), and one of the funniest people at the conference every year. On top of teaching film studies, Dale has two blogs: Mockingbird's Nest and Unfettered Brilliance. Ensley blogs at Solomon Mao's, and check out his recent Watcher Junior article here. These two are fabulous together (at their recent wedding, the cake topper was Buffy in the prom dress and jacket and Captain John Sheridan), and I asked if they might consider a week to tackle as a team. They chose “The Body,” and have decided to present their commentary in a very new and exciting way for the Rewatch. Take it away, Dale and Ensley!
“The Body” is not the easiest episode to write about and as such it’s been written about a lot. For those who might be interested, we recommend Whedon’s own commentary on the episode, and the relevant sections in Rhonda Wilcox’s Why Buffy Matters; Matthew Pateman’s The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Lavery and Wilcox’s Fighting the Forces; and Edwards, Rambo, and South’s Buffy Goes Dark FOR STARTERS!! Those are tough acts to follow, so we decided to do something different. Since this series is all about (re)watching BtVS, we thought we’d invite you into our livingroom to watch it with us. We set up our camera, hit “play” and then kept hitting “pause” to talk about what we were watching, and to make the kitten dance for the camera. The results (edited to make us seem smarter and more polished of speech than we actually are) follow. We hope you enjoy.
Dale: So – the big reveal has already been made. One of the things I’m always looking for is color, and here we see Joyce in this kind of beige and grey. The last time we saw her, she was in this vibrant long dress, she’s going out on this date, she’s so excited and she’s bantering with Buffy, and it’s a wonderful thing to see.
Ensley: Things are finally starting to work out for her.
D: And then . . . we go here.
(Buffy comes in, wearing red. Sees vibrant bouquet from Joyce’s date.)
D: Buffy calls Joyce “flower-getting lady” at the very start of the episode; it’s a painful reminder that the only flowers Joyce is ever going to get again are funeral bouquets.
E: Buffy’s voice is so small when she says “Mommy?” The way her voice breaks there.
D: That always gets me.
(Credits roll. Holiday dinner memory.)
D: Look at all the color, the candlelight.
(Anya reveals that Santa exists and he disembowels children)
D: Even in an alternative reality – that’s Anya. This is one of my very favorite Anya episodes and in that holiday memory scene, Anya is telling the truth, that Santa – that it’s a myth it’s a myth – and she sounds very self-possessed and very confident and very blunt. And she’s gonna have the bluntness later on that we all want, but it’s a different side of Anya.
(Happy memories of joking in the kitchen with parent figures Joyce/Giles – tease about band candy – then pie slips and we’re looking at Joyce’s too-still face.)
E: Ohh – nice. Nice hand-held camera work.
D: See how jerky it is?
E: And cool, calm, collected Buffy is just - -
E: And we just have 8 year old Buffy.
(Buffy on phone with 911.)
D: Something that’s been pointed out again and again is – there is no music.
(Zoom in on body, reverse to Buffy’s face.)
D: Pulling her skirt back down?
E: Right. There’s something – a dead body, it’s somehow already so exposed. It’s just so – empty. And the added insult of something like a skirt that’s scrunched up too high; it’s just so much more indecent somehow than if somebody had just fallen asleep on the couch and the skirt was hiked up in their sleep.
D: Well, this is one of those episodes that I both love and I hate. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have really strong emotions about this episode and it’s because – this is not an episode that’s about vampires. This is about—there’s nothing here that we can read as metaphor or symbol. It makes so many people so very, very uncomfortable.
E: This really is just a child dealing with the death of a parent. I’m really noticing the camerawork this time around and the different techniques used, like the long shot of the phone’s number pad.
(EMTs work – go into “miracle daydream,” then cut to living room with dead Joyce)
D: I hate Whedon.
E: But that’s how it is. I mean . . . yeah, you kind of hate Whedon for it, but this is actually one of the reasons I love this episode: because this is how it is. I remember when Dad got sick; it was that kind of thing. There were these flash daydreams, kind of, with everything going on, that everything would be fine. Doctors would be able to fix him and life would go back to what it was.
(Talk with EMT – Buffy’s so small)
E: The camerawork deliberately makes her look small. You forget how small Gellar actually is and the camera angles and positioning is designed to emphasize and even overemphasize that because you’re not dealing with the Slayer here. You’re dealing with the very young woman who’s just facing this horrible and utterly normal thing. The way they shot over the EMT’s shoulder makes her seem smaller and therefore more vulnerable.
(Buffy – “Good luck” to the departing EMTs.)
E: ‘Cause you feel like you ought to say something, that you have to say something.
(Buffy throws up, wind chimes)
E: I like that. The wind chimes.
D: I love this part. It shows how ordinary life is going on.
E: Because when you’re in that situation, it really feels like the world should be stopped, because your world has. I mean, it’s just – you’re psychically shattering and that things are going on normally is just incomprehensible.
D: I think the wind chimes are good for that because it’s rhythmic but it’s also kind of a broken sound. (Paper towel) And Buffy has to clean up, because now there’s no one else to do it.
(Buffy “We’re not supposed to move the body!”)
E: Oh, God.
D: She feels so disloyal and the shock of realizing she said “the body” instead of “mom” or “her.”
E: That first realization.
D: And no one closes her eyes.
E: I don’t think you actually can.
D: But it’s a trope from TV and from movies. Whedon’s shattering quite a few of those with this episode. The transition to Dawn in the bathroom is classic Whedon misdirection. It seems like she already knows about her mother’s death, but actually she’s angsting over high school crap.
(Dawn to cute boy in art class: “And there’s just way more important stuff going on.”)
D: And that’s just a perfect line. I always thought the “negative space” idea was just inspired. In this case, it’s what happens to these two when Joyce isn’t there.
E: I always kind of read that as liminal space – because you do divide it into life when Joyce was alive, and life after. I think for most humans, and I know for me, it’s life while your parents are still alive and life after.
D: Buffy’s always been really good about taking those big moments. I remember when I first discovered Buffy, so much is made about when she and Angel first sleep together, moment of perfect contentment, he loses his soul, and it’s a lovely metaphor for something that most girls have felt, which is – the guy changes. But that’s what makes this episode so powerful – there isn’t any symbolism, there isn’t any metaphor – it’s stripped down. It’s raw.
E: It’s so rarely done in television that you have such an honest look at loss. It really is. On a side note, Sunnydale High School is a really nice school! I understand for what’s coming up, why we need the windows, but still – that’s a really nice school.
D: Not to mention – you try having them draw from a nude in a North Cackalacky school, and...
E: Well, it is California. Before California went broke.
(Dawn to Buffy: “Something’s going on. Tell me what’s going on.”)
D: Careful what you wish for.
(Joyce on slab in morgue. Open eyes, clothes being cut off for the autopsy. The sound of shears.)
E: More hand held camera work. Utter silence.
(Willow’s indecision about what to wear.)
D: She (Hannigan) does this so well.
(Willow: “Why can’t I just dress like a grown-up? Can’t I be a grown-up?”)
E: That’s a nice line.
D: This is actually the first Willow/Tara kiss. Whedon says he wanted it to not be a big deal. It seems logical here, as if it just grew organically out of Tara’s need to offer comfort to Willow, and I like that Tara says “we” can do this.
E: I think for a lot of these characters – for everybody – this is a transition between childhood and adulthood.
D: College traditionally is that bridge – of time, if not necessarily of experience.
E: Yeah, it is, but I think there’s something more here. The death of a parent brings with it this sudden realization that you have to be a grown-up. That the grown-ups are gone and they’re not going to be there. I love Willow’s line here: “Can’t I be a grown-up?” It just encapsulates all of that.
(Xander and Anya arrive in room – Anya is asking for direction – “What will we be expected to do?” No answer.)
E: I like that in the end Willow dresses like Willow.
D: I never paid attention to that.
(Xander’s rant looking for something to blame)
E: Desperate need to find somebody to blame.
D: To have something to do.
(Willow to Xander – “It just happened.”)
E: And that’s what’s so hard.
(Willow: Because it’s not okay for you to be asking these things! Anya: But I don’t understand!)
D: And I love Anya a little for that speech.
E: Oh yeah! I love Anya a lot for that speech!
D: One of the things Whedon does so well here – and that Anya really wants to know: What am I supposed to do? What rituals do I observe? Am I supposed to be changing my clothes a lot? Is that the “helpful thing to do?” Literally, they all deal with it in different ways.
E: I really like Anya’s bit because – if a child could articulate all of its confusion and bewilderment at such a time – that would be it.
(Xander punches wall, business of getting his hand out, which is cut and bloody. Tara says, “It hurts,” and she and Xander share a moment.)
D: You know, that’s something he said at the beginning of the last episode when he’s “Puffy Xander” and he’s saying it as a joke in that one. After Buffy’s been beating him up for practice, he says something about, “No, no, I can tell I’m alive because of the pain.”
E: Oh, yeah. That moment between Xander and Tara. That was nice. There for a couple of years, there was a dent in the emergency room at Cleveland Memorial Hospital. I did the same thing.
D: In a wall??
E: Yeah. Only time I’ve ever done anything like that in my life. I’m not sure how much of it was genuine frustration and how much of it was, well, this is what you do if you’re a man. You punch things. On a side note – Xander is very “70s Xander” in this one. He’s got the shaggy 70s hair, he’s got the suede jacket going on, and these weird greenish-yellow pants. Check him out – he’s very 70s Xander.
D: Yeah. He’s all earth tones. And you know, my dorm room was never that nice.
(Canted angles – everything’s off-kilter. Pans out of room to see Xander’s car getting ticketed.)
E: Life goes on.
(Come up on Joyce’s face as doctor concludes autopsy.)
D: The autopsy doc: busiest man in Sunnydale.
E: Isn’t that the truth?
(Waiting room – hugs, small talk.)
D: Just cliché and cliché. But you have to say something.
(Anya: “I wish that Joyce didn’t die. Because she was nice. And now we all hurt.” She’s trying SO HARD. Buffy seems to get it, even though the rest are uncomfortable with her bluntness.)
E: Another moment of honesty from Anya.
(Gang goes off to the vending machines.)
D: Another way you can tell it was made in California. Southerners would have had casseroles and hard-boiled eggs by now. There would’ve been a devilled-egg plate in that lounge by now.
(Tara & Buffy on couch, side by side)
E: This is a good bit.
D: Yes. When they’re side by side, that’s really amazing. All though this, we see Buffy as being filmed as being very small. She has her shoulders bowed in and see – Tara is always the one who’s ducking her head and not wanting to talk, and here – Tara’s the one who’s looking like the stronger woman. She’s not looking at Buffy, but – Tara has gone through it and she’s about to help. I never noticed that before.
(Tara “It’s always sudden.”)
E: That’s how it was with Dad.
(Dawn sneaks into morgue.)
D: You know, as often as Dawn annoys me –
E: Which is often.
D: Which is often, this I get. As weird as that is, this I actually get.
E: For her, it’s not real until she sees the body.
D: Here Buffy’s in that red and Dawn’s in this ice-blue.
E: And I noticed that Tara’s in a sort of soothing blue.
(New vamp rises from morgue slab.)
E: (sigh) Sunnydale. Ew. Naked vampire.
D: What’s the cliché here – Unlife goes on?
(Buffy goes in search of Dawn.)
D: Dawn’s in trouble. Must be Tuesday.
E: Buffy’s spider-sense is tingling.
D: How truly weird is it that normalcy means she’s fighting vampires? No quipping here either.
E: And no fight music. And Buffy’s not fighting too well – this is a new vamp, she should be done by now.
D: How does she kill this one? I forget.
E: I don’t – bone saw! Slow, but it’ll do.
(Dawn and Buffy both on floor, Dawn rises to stare at her mother’s uncovered body.)
E: That’s nice camera work.
(Dawn doesn’t actually touch Joyce – cut to credits before contact is made.)
D: It’s an amazing episode.
E: Oh, yeah. It really is.
D: I think it’s also a standout – I can name some other episodes that break my heart, but I think one of the reasons that this is such a standout is there is no quipping in here.
E: And again, it really is an unusual episode of television for being such an honest, unvarnished look at loss.
D: Joyce is, in a way, the mom to all the Scoobies. We know with the possible exception of Cordelia, who’s left the show at this point, none of them come from happy families, so they spend an awful lot of time at Buffy’s house.
E: One of the things that make this episode so powerful is that we don’t see Joyce die. We’re with Buffy. We come in and we find her. That’s unusual in television for a character we know. One of the things that speculative fiction does very, very well is – oddly enough – realism. There’s one vampire in this, granted, but that’s it. It’s very much an essay into realism – even Buffy’s flashbacks are realism. Like Tara says, it’s the crazy thoughts.
D: You feel like you’re losing it.
D: In the formula that we’re used to, especially if it’s a beloved character, there are a few standard things that happen. Either they go out in a blaze of glory, or you at least see some kind of look of shock on their face as they reach for the phone, but then after the body is discovered… if they go out in a blaze of glory, okay, that’s the impetus to swear revenge. Here, there’s nothing to swear revenge on – that’s one of the things that gets Xander so frustrated.
E: That there’s no one to blame. Because honestly, despite what Xander says, stuff does just happen.
D: Yeah. And that’s a part of life that just sucks. If they don’t go out in a blaze of glory, then usually, the next scene is the funeral. You don’t see all of this. You don’t see the indecision and the confusion, the desperation you see especially in Willow and Anya – you want to do things right, but you don’t know what right is. Willow, who we haven’t seen dither this much since Season One, can’t even decide what shirt to wear.
E: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Willow dither that much.
D: Certainly not like that – not over clothes.
E: It strikes home to me because I know all this. I know the crazy thoughts, the things that make you think you’re losing it, those flash fantasies and the lips that move and make no sense, the urge to punch something – I know all of that. There’s such an urge to self-flagellate. It’s a brilliant episode and I admire Whedon for this, I always have. I can’t think of any other episode of a television show that ever looked at this quite so directly. Again, I think what Whedon does with sound and the absence thereof – at some points, it’s not even “no music,” it’s the complete absence of sound.
D: That’s an echo – ha, residual sound – of what’s going on inside. Because you’re in your own head; you’re not hearing anything anyway. It would be completely silent. Something else you said – this episode is one of those events that’s a clear dividing line.
E: You got before and you’ve got after. With Joyce and without Joyce. And I like that Whedon excluded Spike and Angel from this episode. I like that this is about ordinary people dealing with an ordinary thing.
D: Yeah. This is not the time for me to learn how vampires deal with death.
E: And it’s not about how a Slayer deals with death, either. It’s about how Buffy deals with death. It’s a very, very human episode.
D: Anya’s speech gets me every time, and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen this episode.
E: There are several points in this one that get me.
D: What else? Because there are a couple that get me. Hearing Buffy say, “Mommy?” and hearing that crack when she performs CPR.
E: That exchange between Willow and Tara when Willow’s just blithering and you have those few seconds of silence when Xander and Anya pull up. That whole scene in the beginning where Buffy is just completely at a loss for what to do – that always gets me, because it’s so real. You don’t know what to do; you’re an 8-year-old kid again who doesn’t know what to do and all the CPR classes fly right out of your head.
D: Yeah, Buffy can do a flying spin kick but doesn’t remember how to do CPR.
E: Because it doesn’t matter at that point if you’re a superhero or not – you’re just another human being in a world of pain that you can’t even begin to process. And I like that Buffy is very small at that point; that even her voice is so very small.
D: Nobody’s big in that moment, not even the Slayer.
Thank you, Dale and Ensley!
Next week: You will be entertained by the two Nikkis -- myself and Nikki Fuller! Episodes are:
5.19 Tough Love
Angel episodes are:
2.18 Dead End
See you then!