Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
5.19 Tough Love
Follow along in Bite Me!, pp. 268-273.
This week’s Angel episodes are:
2.18 Dead End
Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 185-190.
I was just saying on my Facebook page the other day that from “The Body” onwards, every episode in season 5 makes me cry. This week my guest host will be covering “Intervention,” so I’ll talk more about “Forever” and “Tough Love.”
As I mention in Bite Me, “Forever” is a modern take a short story called “The Monkey’s Paw,” where a family is given a monkey’s paw and told it will grant them three wishes, but that the wishes will come with consequences. The father wishes for money, and the next day his son is killed and the factory compensates the family with money. The mother grabs the paw and wishes for her son to come back, and they hear this lumbering, dragging sound at the door and then a long, loud knock. The mother rushes to the door to embrace her son and the father, realizing that whatever has come back is NOT the son, grabs the paw and wishes for the son to go away, and when she throws the door open, he’s gone.
The end of this episode is very similar, but there’s a lot of other material leading up to it that take us nicely from “The Body” to the rest of the season. First, there’s the mention of why Hank Summers is absent. It wasn’t because the actor was unavailable (as you’ll soon see) but because they simply didn’t feel like he was needed in the story. For the entire season, we’ve seen the Summers women band together to take on the world, and now with the mother gone, Buffy has become the mother. But poor Buffy doesn’t know how to BE a mom. So she’s bossy on the one hand, dismissive on the other, and is so caught up in trying to do everything the proper, adult way, she forgets she has a little sister who’s going through her own pain, who stands at the funeral without any close friends by her side, who is suddenly feeling like she’s even younger because her sister isn’t acting like her sister, but a mother. I used to watch this episode and think, “Oh god, Dawn, GROW UP” but curiously, I didn’t feel like that this time. She doesn’t have a say. She used to be Buffy’s equal – they’re sisters, after all, even if Dawn acts 10 years younger than she is – and now she’s not allowed to have any say at all. They talk to her like she’s a little kid, and don’t help Dawn through her grief by talking to her the same way they all talk to Buffy.
I’d entirely forgotten that Angel showed up at the gravesite until he walked up to Buffy in this episode. What a surprise! (And a great surprise, even if it’s my tenth time watching this episode, because when I originally saw it, the WB had released a bunch of PR bumpf saying Boreanaz would be making an appearance, so while it didn’t come as a surprise then, it was nice for it to be one now!) I loved seeing them together again, and the quiet comfort he brings to her. It brought tears to my eyes.
This episode is the first sign that Willow’s about to go down a dark path, as we saw even more in “Tough Love” this week. Willow’s magic is getting out of control, and her misguided decision to “help” Dawn by showing her the book that will allow her to use a faulty spell to bring back some horrible creature that isn’t really her mom was disappointing, but Willow just saw a lost soul and tried to give her some comfort using the very thing that brings HER comfort. Spike does the same thing, helping out Dawnie because he thinks it’ll help the “little bit.”
And I hope no one missed that beautiful, quiet scene where we see Giles listening to Cream’s “Tale of Brave Ulysses.” I’ve always loved that moment immensely. This is the same song he and Joyce had listened to when she was in her Juice Newton clothes and he was dressed as Ripper in “Band Candy,” as they lay on his floor chomping on gum and smoking and acting like teenagers. Now Joyce is gone, and while Giles is stepping up as the parental figure for both Buffy and Dawn now that they’re orphaned in a way, we realize in this one painful moment that he’s missing Joyce terribly, too. They slept together – twice – and clearly connected on a level both physical and emotional. While “Band Candy” is something that was done under a spell, and never led to an actual relationship between the two of them, they helped raise Buffy together, and there must be a part of him that is hurting now that she’s gone.
But it’s Buffy’s speech at the very end that is the real beauty of this episode. Dawn pushes things too far, and despite my growing sympathy for her, when she told Buffy that she didn’t even care about Joyce being dead and Buffy slapped her I yelled, “Good for YOU, Buffy!!” I wanted to slap her. Dawn is, of course, speaking from a place of intense pain and frustration, but Buffy voices something very similar to what Suzanne Kingshott was talking about in her post last week about her father. Buffy HAD to be wrapped up in the funeral arrangements and dealing with Dawn and trying to put her life back together, because just as Sue pointed out is normal post-funeral, it’s only when you stop doing all the arranging that you realize that person is really gone, and the only way to go on with your life is without them. Buffy is broken, and has been trying to avoid the inevitable by keeping busy, something Buffy’s always done.
The writing in that speech is SO GOOD, though, because it speaks to something more general and something that most adults have experienced. People need people to take care of them. Even if you’re grown up and have kids, you have friends and family to lean on, but then THOSE friends and family also need to lean on you, and at some point there is often a blow-out where two people realize they’ve been so wrapped up in their own problems they simply didn’t have the energy left to deal with anyone else’s. This is the moment where Dawn learns a major lesson. Becoming an adult is discovering that maybe you need to deal with things on your own, that just because big sister Buffy isn’t there to hold your hand every step of the way doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you or the situation or doesn’t love you, it’s just that she’s so overwhelmed with her own problems that she needed to deal with them first. It’s like when that in-flight video tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before you affix your child’s. You’re not going to be much good to them if you can’t breathe, so take care of yourself first, and then take care of them. Buffy needs to heal a bit before she can be of any use to Dawn, but Dawn was simply too young to realize that. Only when Dawn realized that Buffy was feeling as much pain as she was does she dissolve into her sister’s arms, and they use EACH OTHER to lean on, falling to the floor. It’s a gorgeous moment, and immediately after Buffy has tried to tell Dawn that what she’s done is bring back something that’s not her mom, she hears the knock. And it’s not Dawn who rushes to the door, squeaking out “Mommy?” in a little girl voice . . . it’s Buffy. The roles are reversed, and Buffy becomes the little girl who needs her mommy so that she can stop being the parent and go back to being just a big sister again. Dawn steps up and becomes the caretaker, destroying the photo and taking care of her sister, so by the time Buffy gets to the door, her mother is gone and she won’t have to deal with whatever thing is standing on the other side of it. It’s an extraordinary moment. I still remember the terror with which I watched this episode the first time, certain that we’d have to see some version of Zombie Joyce and I remember partly covering my eyes because I just didn’t want to see it. Luckily, Joss didn’t either, and he finished this episode the only way it could be finished.
But, I will admit, this season is the only one where I constantly long for a second theme song… if only they had a backup theme song for sad, quiet openings, so we don’t see Buffy finding Joyce dead on the couch and then cutting to Nerf Herder. Or Buffy opening the door at the end of “Forever” and realizing her mom is gone – REALLY, TRULY gone – and then… cutting to Nerf Herder. (Speaking of music, though, I adore the music that plays during Joyce’s funeral.)
“Intervention” comes next, and I won’t say too much about it other than to say it’s a fantastic episode and Giles doing the hokey pokey is one of my all-time favourite things on the series. Anthony Stewart Head is hilarious as the exasperated Watcher, hopping into the circle, hopping back out, and then shaking his gourd, clearly aware of the fact that he looks like a Grade A Loser. Buffy snidely remarking, “And that’s what it’s all about” has always made me laugh out loud, and this viewing was no exception. Again to comment on the music, I like the reuse of the music from “Restless” when Buffy is out in the wilderness. Meanwhile, back at home, Willow’s magic is continuing to become troublesome, Dawn’s becoming a klepto, and Buffy’s friends are becoming boneheads. I guess Joyce’s death is having a huge effect on all of them. (I mean, come ON, how could they not have noticed the Buffy Bot was speaking like Anya?!)
I can’t go to the next episode without mentioning that the humans are not the only ones who change with Joyce’s death; Spike, too, becomes a much deeper and richer character, as if he realizes his little crush is nothing compared to the anguish Buffy is going through, and he steps back from mooning over to Buffy and begins to truly care about her. He’s always had a soft spot for Dawn, but the beating he takes in this episode shows that he didn’t need a gypsy curse to have a soul.
“Tough Love,” much like “Forever,” has some absolutely stellar writing in it, again because it can apply to our lives in so many ways. I found this episode especially difficult to watch simply because I’d gone through so much of what happens in it over the past few years. When you get to a certain age (in my case, 29… cough, cough), life can become overwhelming at times. Kids, a job, books to write, TV shows to watch, books to read, aging family members needing help, not-so-aging family members needing your time, friends going through difficult periods… it can all be a bit much. And just when you put out one fire, there’s another one. You try to put in some extra work, and your kids think you don’t give them enough time. So you focus on them, and family says you’re not calling or emailing them often enough. So you try doing that and your job needs you to be more focused. So you do that and try to give your kids enough time and make sure you’re not neglecting family or friends… and then suddenly the house looks like a hurricane has run through it and you’ve forgotten to fill out that permission form for the kids’ field trip and the cats have no water in their dish and there’s nothing but a jar of Cheez Whiz in the fridge. And you have no idea how that got there because you didn’t buy it.
But hey, that’s life. And we deal with it, and find the joys in it. But again, as with the end of “Forever,” people get so hung up on little things that are bothering them that they forget to step back and try to see it from another angle. Willow is upset with Tara being “knowledge girl,” while Tara is worried about Willow’s use of magic. Willow lashes out at her, when Tara didn’t quite mean what she said, and Willow didn’t mean what she said. Buffy is being told by Giles to put her foot down with Dawn, be unmoving, and keep that girl studying or she’ll lose her to foster care. Willow tries to convince Buffy to let Dawn be Dawn, not knowing what Buffy has just been told by Giles, and Buffy is caught in the middle of a friend whose feelings are hurt, a sister who’s starting to resent her, and a Watcher/father figure who is telling her to work harder.
It’s only when something truly tragic happens that all of these petty day-to-day things screech to a sudden halt and the Scoobs all come together again. We can all have our differences and think no one is paying attention to us and our brother just looked at us funny so we’ll stop talking to her and our best friend won’t answer phone calls so she must be angry about something… but when something big happens, all those things just fall away. Willow will do anything for Tara, and even through her madness Tara is completely attached to Willow and looks at her with loopy love. Dawn quiets down and is there for Willow as well, and Buffy holds Willow’s hand and reassures her it will be okay, and Willow looks at Buffy as the best friend who is her rock. It’s a wonderful moment when they all come together again, and again, that comes straight from real life. For no matter how much you can’t see eye to eye with your spouse/friend/sibling/parent/loved one, no matter how many times you argue or are angry at them (or they at you), when it comes down to the crunch, you’ll do anything for them and you don’t want to see them hurt.
In this episode we get the first glimpse of Dark Willow, and to avoid spoilers I’ll say nothing more, other than to mention that Willow is beginning her descent along a dark path, and it’ll take more than love and applesauce to find her way back.
Glory knows that Dawn is the Key now. And it’s up to the Scoobs to surround Dawn and make sure nothing can happen to her.
Okay, now it’s time for this week’s guest host!! And… what’s better than one Nikki? TWO Nikkis! That’s right, folks, it’s Nikki Fuller (who posts on Facebook as Nikki Faith; you may have seen her posting on my wall a couple of times). Nikki is a college English teacher in California, if my memory serves (correct me if I’m wrong, Nikki!) She’s currently working on her PhD in Mythological Studies with an emphasis on Depth Psychology (how awesome does that sound?!) and she wrote her Master’s thesis on Buffy and got THE MAN HIMSELF, Joss Whedon, to sign it when she met him at Comic Con in 2007 (squeeeeee!) She said when she met him he told her he was amazed by all the attention that scholars were giving him and his work. I think he would think this Rewatch is pretty awesome, don’t you? ;)
I loved chatting with Nikki online and when I heard she’d given a paper on “The Body” at PCA this past April, I sent her a note and asked if she would be interested in participating (she did her MASTER’S on Buffy! Have I mentioned that yet?) and she was very interested. Nikki blogs here, and she tweets here, so go and follow her! She’s written some fantastic stuff.
And one of those fantastic stuffs is this week’s Rewatch piece. Take it away, Nikki!
by Nikki Fuller
Throughout my academic career, I have focused on Buffy as a modern mythology. There will never be one simple definition for myth because it is so truly expansive, but a couple things are clear. Firstly, mythology, in the strictest sense, is not a synonym for a falsehood. Secondly, to paraphrase my great instructor Christine Downing, myths are stories about things that matter a lot. Truly, they are stories of the human condition. And this is why, fourteen years after its original debut, we are still discussing our favorite vampire slayer. Buffy beautifully depicts the human condition and grants viewers with an arena to discuss and evaluate the most meaningful events in their lives. Encountering death is certainly one of them.
Two critical, life-altering events take place for Buffy when Joyce dies: not only does Buffy lose her mother, but she simultaneously transforms from the role of sister to the role of mother. “Forever” begins to show the difficulty of this transformative time for Buffy. In her conversation with Angel, Buffy reveals what is really the most difficult task: the day after the funeral when normal life is supposed to restart. As I discussed in a paper I presented at the American Pop Culture conference earlier this year on Buffy ’s season five, our modern American funerary rituals do not grant us the time needed to effectively manage the loss of loved ones. The process of the funeral and the return to “normal” daily life is rushed. Buffy is clearly experiencing this. As “Forever” continues, we also see Buffy failing in her new mothering role: Dawn feels no support from Buffy, and she reacts by performing a very dangerous spell. When “Intervention” begins, it is understandable that Buffy would feel that she is emotionally cut off from those around her. Her proposal is to take time off from slaying, but Giles has a better solution: a quest.
“Intervention,” which is greatly about grief and death, includes key elements that are often present in mythology: quest, ritual, sacred space, and spirit guide. At the beginning of this episode, Buffy is in dire need of a ritual, which is partly what the spirit quest provides for slayers. Rituals aid us in moving forward, often into the unknown. As a motherless mother in grief, Buffy needs to both cope with her loss and move into her new role. By taking Buffy on this spirit quest, Giles is providing her with the ground work to do all of this. It will not, of course, happen instantaneously or be easy, but he is essentially initiating her into her new role. The initial ritual Giles performs, albeit similar to the Hokey Pokey, is also representative of Buffy’s new role. While he is temporarily releasing his guardianship of Buffy, she is assuming full guardianship of Dawn.
I will side-step from Buffy’s quest for a moment to emphasize that this entire episode focuses on the roles everyone plays. Even the programming of the Buffy Bot points to the roles The Scoobies have in Buffy’s life: best friend Willow, carpenter Xander, money-loving Anya. (Side-note: I love the pure glee on Anya’s face when the Buffy Bot asks how her money is). We even get a special look at the role Spike plays. Though Buffy’s gut reaction is to kill him before Glory can get a word out of him, he proves his role and dedication in protecting Dawn and Buffy, even if he was inclined to model a sex toy after the latter. (Who says love is perfect?)
After Giles performs his ritual, Buffy must continue alone, as is often the case with a quest. Giles cannot go with her; indeed, he does not even know the specific location of the sacred site. A guide must lead Buffy, for “men are not free to choose the sacred site . . . they only seek for it and find it by the help of mysterious signs” (Eliade 28). Buffy’s guide appears to her in the form of a mountain lion. According to the philosopher Macrobius, “lions are emblematic of the earth” (qtd. in Cooper 98). Since the Earth “is the universal archetype of . . . sustenance,” (Cooper 59) the lion symbolizes that this spiritual quest is going to provide Buffy with the nourishment she needs to move forward with her life and cope with her loss. (Whedon and his team of writers masterfully utilize symbols throughout the series. One does not have to consciously identify symbols to feel their impact for they resonate in the collective unconscious, to use the term of psychologist Carl Jung.) Furthermore, Buffy is now in the very desert she encountered in her dream with the First Slayer in season four, the season where the Scoobies emotionally detached from each other as they all sought their post-high school identities. Since this is ultimately a coming of age show, it is important to see Buffy progressing, continuously re-defining herself and adapting her roles as daughter, sister, lover, Slayer, student, and friend.
Though Buffy has always slain vampires and other monsters, season five has made death a new reality for her. We started to see this in “Fool for Love” when Buffy is stabbed with her own stake and asks Spike to tell her what it takes to kill a slayer. Although she herself died in the season one finale, she did move past that experience rather quickly. Because she was still a young teenage girl, I think it was easy for her to revert to the typical feeling of invincibility that teenagers often maintain, despite her dangerous calling. In season five, however, as a grown woman with more responsibilities and a more mature outlook, the reality of her own mortality is unsettling. Buffy’s injury, her mother’s death, and Glory’s threat against Dawn’s life all force Buffy to face death in a new way. She needs to reconcile herself with this harsh aspect of life.
Ultimately, Buffy encounters the spirit guide in the significant form of the First Slayer, reminding Buffy who she is and what her ultimate role is. Buffy originally receives some comfort about one of her concerns: she’s not hardened; she’s full of love. And love will lead her to her gift! This sounds so beautiful . . . but, wait, death is her gift?? This message is certainly unclear and unsettling to our grief stricken Slayer.
To avoid spoilers, I can say no more, so I will leave you with a quote to contemplate: “Death is a paradox – it can be understood as both a changeless state and transforming process, as a definitive end or harbinger of new beginnings and rebirth” (Grillo 20).
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion . Florida: Harcourt, 1967.
Cooper, J.C. “Earth.” An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols . London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.
Cooper, J.C. “Lion.” An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols . London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.
Grillo, Laura S. “‘Rambu Solo’: the Toradja Cult of the Dead and Embodied Imagination.” Varieties of Mythic Experience: Essays on Religion, Psyche and Culture . Einsiedeln: Daimon-Verlag, 2008. Print.
Thank you, Nikki!
Next week: We come to the end of this marvelous season with an incredible triptych of episodes, along with co-hosts Robert Wiersema and Tanya Cochran:
5.21 The Weight of the World
5.22 The Gift
On Angel, we come to the end of season 2 in a WONDERFUL trio of Wizard of Oz-named eps, and all I can say is, prepare yourself for season 3, the best Angel season to this point. (And for all of you new viewers who wonder why Whedon fans always say, “Numfar, do the dance of joy!” you’re about to find out.)
2.20 Over the Rainbow
2.21 Through the Looking Glass (hey, wasn’t there another TV show that recently used that title?)
2.22 There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb
Friday, August 26, 2011
Here's an interesting interview I found with Michael Emerson and the LA Times, where he talks about the spectre of Ben Linus that always hangs over him. I was interested in his reaction to people who are demanding answers:
"Sometimes I wanted to pat people on the head and say, 'You know the thing you want me to give you is actually the thing you don't want me to give you, right? If I could explicate the entire mystery of the show, what would be the use of that?' " he said. "I was surprised so many people were willing to trade the joy of the present for some intangible answer."
You tell em, Benry.
When Person of Interest begins in the fall, I'm pleased to say I'll be blogging on it with Chris Doran, aka "humanebean," one of my favourite commentators during our long Lost years together on here. He's always had great insight, and I'm looking forward to sharing this little blogging stage with him. The show is slated to begin September 22, so watch this space for our reactions to it! In the meantime, here's a teaser trailer that CBS has put out on the show. Try to pick out all of the Lost moments from it. ;)
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Remember when retro was the music your parents listened to? When it was poodle skirts and 60s surf music on the radio. "And now, on today's best retro hits, it's Jan and Dean!"
And do you remember that first time when you walked into a "Retro Mondays" night at your favourite club... and it was the music that was playing when you were in university? Wait... Blur? The Smiths? U2? Sonic Youth??? THIS is RETRO?!
Just a couple of nights ago, I was standing in a hotel elevator in Niagara Falls and these three girls got on the elevator, all in skanky clothes and heavily perfumed, going out clubbin'. They looked like they had maybe just come of drinking age (or would be carrying really good IDs that night) and they were reading aloud the acts that were coming to the casino from a poster inside the door. And then they said, "Dana Carvey? Who's Dana Carvey? Should it be Dana Harvey? I think it's Harvey. Wait... is that a man? Why is he called Dana?" And I felt my heart sink. Most every North American who is my age knows who Dana Carvey is... but I'm that other generation now. Now there's a generation of kids going to clubs that hasn't got a clue who he is. Was he terribly important to me? Of course not. The Church Lady was funny once and then it was stupid, and he tended to be too over the top and never made it outside of SNL, really. (But man, his Garth was inspired, wasn't it?) It was just a little sad to me that I now have references that are lost on other adults.
Whatever. I'm embracing the fact that my music is now retro, and I'm gonna damn well celebrate it. So every Thursday we're going to listen to the songs that, well, didn't make the whole world sing, but they made me sing and shaped who I am. And I"ll include a little anecdote as to why.
Let's start big: The Mission. Just a couple of weeks ago I was doing the final editorial flip through a book that will soon be out from my publisher, called Encyclopedia Gothica, the A-Z of all things Goth. And I marvelled that so much of my life has been shaped by Goth. The music I listen to has been inspired by it, the movies and TV and books I love the most are closer to Goth than really anything else, and even the colours of my clothes lean to black, although I never went for the all-out Goth uniform. I wanted to, but never jumped in. Instead i just hung out with a bunch of other Goths who did and lived vicariously through their black fingernails, red lips and very white skin.
The Mission were one of my favourite bands. Wayne Hussey and his hat and sunglasses, their giant orchestral songs. I wanted to have Hussey's children. I loved Sisters of Mercy, too (Hey now, hey now now... sing this corrosion to me...) but they simply weren't The Mission. I finally saw The Mission at Massey Hall in 1990 and had seats way up in the nosebleeds, but it was still an awe-inspiring show. The opening act? The Wonder Stuff. I didn't know them before then, but they became gods to me. Don't worry, they'll show up in a couple of weeks. But first, "Tower of Strength," horse and all. (I always thought this video was a bit bonkers.) Oh, the hearing loss I've endured because of this song on terribly high volume in headphones. (Don't be fooled by the shortened single version; the extended one is the only one that matters...)
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
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!
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
5.15 I Was Made to Love You
Follow along in Bite Me!, pp. 262-266.
This week’s Angel episodes:
2.13 Happy Anniversary
2.14 The Thin Dead Line
Most hardcore fans of long-running television shows can rattle off their favourite seasons, in order, from best to worst. And whenever I’m asked to do that, I always begin, “Season 2, followed by season 5…” And yet, season 5 is the only season of the entire series where I can’t distinguish one episode title from the next. Sure, certain ones stand out, and I could tell you exactly what the plot was in that episode, but much of this season feels like one very long story told in 22 parts, with a few little diversions along the way (and those diversions, the standalone episodes, are the ones that usually stick out). So for me, watching the show each week in season 5 has been an “Ah! It’s THAT episode” kind of experience for me.
“Blood Ties” is where Dawn finds out she’s the key, and she goes through hell. This episode is the one that changes her from annoying childish sister into annoying depressive sister, and yet, the poor kid’s got good reason to be a wee bit miffed. (But I have to admit, a former work colleague and I would use the phrase, “Get out Get Out GET OUT!!” all the time. She was particularly brilliant at it, and the two of us would dissolve into peals of laughter every time. Our boss thought we were high.)
Using Dawn’s non-humanness as a metaphor for adoption, the writers play with a child’s re-evaluation of everything they know, and the standard process of beginning to question everything they thought was true. What I find really interesting in season 5 – something I didn’t really notice until this rewatch – is how Buffy doesn’t play the role of the older daughter, but the role of the father. Joyce frets the way any mother would, while Buffy holds her back and tells her to give Dawn space, normally the father’s role.
And wait… Ben is Glory? Glory is Ben? Yep, somehow Joss found a guy and girl who aren’t related but look EXACTLY alike (like seriously, their eyes are really far apart and they have the same nose and lips… how did he do that?) and now we get the intrigue of figuring out why they’re one and the same, what they have to do with each other, and why no one can remember that Ben is Glory and vice versa.
“Crush” is a showpiece for Spike once again, after the brilliance of “Fool for Love.” I love this episode, for the most part, although I’ve always been annoyed with Spike at the end for the way he treats all the women (which is the point, I get that, but… yeah). He lusts after Buffy, threatens to stake someone he’s spent a century with, and tosses poor Harmony away like she’s garbage. But Spike has always reacted to situations without always thinking, and that’s what he’s doing here.
What might be difficult to grasp now, especially with all the Spike love in this Rewatch (my pro-Spike comments being a big part of that) is that when the series first aired, there was a lot of Spike hate. You’ve probably heard of the Bangels versus the Spuffies, and that was a debate that raged like wildfire at the time. The Bangels – pronounced like Angel with a B on it, not Bangle like a bracelet, which is how many Spuffies purposely mispronounce it – were the ones who thought Buffy was better off with Angel. The Spuffies were the ones who wanted Spike and Buffy to get together. I’ll never forget going to a sci-fi con and attending a panel of Spuffies versus Bangels… I wasn’t on the panel (I wanted to leave the convention with all my teeth, after all), but I knew it would be fun to watch. And it was VICIOUS. The insults being thrown from one side of the room to the other were beyond rude, and it was like all politeness and camaraderie went out the window. I’ve been rather afraid of shippers ever since. When one person on the panel finally pointed to the back of the room and said, “Nikki Stafford is here… which side are YOU on, Nikki?” I thought I was going to pee my pants. I coughed and mumbled something in another language – it may have been elvish – and refused to answer the question.
The BtVS writers KNEW this debate was raging in the Buffyverse, and so they stoked it. They gave us pro-Angel episodes, and pro-Spike ones. They made Spike an evil bastard at times, and charming as hell the rest of the time. I had the pleasure of interviewing David Fury, the man responsible for creating Spike and the one who was brought in to write many of his lines, and I asked him exactly what he thought of the debate. Fury is known for not mincing words, and he told me flat out (I only published part of what he said in my book, because I feared what might happen to him if I published the whole thing!) Unfortunately I can’t say exactly what he said here (there are season 6 spoilers in his response) but the short version is, he saw Spike as a killer, and couldn’t figure out why people loved him as a romantic lead. Um… was he watching the show?
But anyway… regardless of how disgusting Spike is at the end of Crush, he’s still brilliant in the rest of the episode, and VERY funny. If you’re not watching Angel, this episode was a carryover from an episode that started over on Angel. See (spoilers for earlier season 2 Angel episodes ahead!), there’s this evil law firm, and they used a spell to bring Darla back from the dead, but she’s no longer a vampire. But then Drusilla shows up and takes care of that, siring Darla. Darla had originally sired Angel, who sired Drusilla, and therefore Darla has been Drusilla’s Grandma Vampy for over a century, but now Drusilla is Darla’s sire… this family tree is getting really confusing. Meanwhile Angel’s becoming dark, like Harry Potter in the fifth book dark, and he no longer has any sympathy for anyone who came before him. He lures Dru and Darla down to an abandoned warehouse that he covers in gasoline, and when they’re standing near it, he flicks a cigarette at them and they go up in flames. Darla manages to whack a hydrant with a sledgehammer and the two women are able to douse the flames, but they’re burned and scarred, and they realize that Angel may be even more soulless than they are. (All good stuff.. you should really be watching Angel!) So that’s where Dru’s at when she comes to town, with just a few scars left over from the attack.
And finally we have “I Was Made to Love You.” With all of the amazing Glory stuff going on, taking a breather to focus on the sexbot storyline seemed a bit off when it first aired, but April is intriguing, and it plays into Buffy’s sense of loss post-Riley and helps unburden her of the idea that maybe, if she’d just been a better girlfriend, she could have kept both Riley and Angel around. And it introduces us to... well, I'll save that for another post.
For me, though, this episode has become almost excruciating to watch ever since the first time I watched the season through. Because I know what’s coming. I know that Joyce is going to spin around in that dress, that Buffy and Dawn will rib her, that she will get out there and find happiness again, that I will absolutely adore her throughout the episode… and then that ending is going to happen. This time, it was worse than before. Just seeing Buffy in the now-infamous red shirt as Xander was fixing the window was enough to make the lump begin to form. And when she walked in the door and you could see Joyce in the background, the sobs just leapt from my chest. I didn’t even feel them coming, I just choked and made this weird noise.
I don’t think it’s much of a secret for the first-timers what is coming next. There’s a reason I put next week’s episode on its own and not ganged with any others. And the title – “The Body” – is a bit of a giveaway. I cannot wait to watch it with you and hear your reactions to it.
But until then, let’s focus on this week’s episodes. First up, returning just a couple of weeks after she last told us about her sister meeting Marc Blucas, is Tanya Cochran!
Some form of the word know is spoken over sixty times in “Blood Ties,” so it’s clearly important. It stands out. In fact, I heard it so often during my rewatch (which led me to count) that I began to wonder if writer Steven DeKnight deliberately repeated the word to send us a message. Early on in the episode, Dawn voices what she’s been feeling for a while now. She’s often out of rather in the know: “Oh. Right. Of course. Can’t let Dawn hear anything. Fine. I’m just gonna go to bed. That way I won’t accidentally get exposed to, like, words.” She knows that there’s something Buffy and the others know that she’s not supposed to know.
Later, unbeknownst to Buffy and Joyce, she climbs out of her bedroom window to pursue answers. And where does she discover what she knows she doesn’t know? In a book. Giles notebook, filled with handwritten language. And what does the notebook say? The scene unfolds with layered significance as Dawn begins to read aloud and Spike takes over. The words on the page, words brought to life by their voices, themselves bring knowledge to light as the sentences and paragraphs narrate the transformation of energy into flesh. Now Dawn knows, understands what she is: a key. But what does that mean? Soon the whole gang also knows that she knows.
Interestingly, this new knowledge does not comfort Dawn—or anyone else. Rather, it threatens to destroy her reality. Is she flesh and blood? Is her family real? Can she even trust what feel like her own memories? No reason to get an education (another form of knowledge); blobs of energy don’t need one, she spits at Joyce. She destroys her journals, the Dawnmeister Chronicles, symbols of what she now perceives to be fantasies and lies. But as Buffy says later, Dawn deserves to know who she is, where she came from, and why she exists. These are the “big” questions we all ask at some point, and not knowing is often worse than whatever reality we discover by asking: “She needs to know. Or it’s just gonna eat away at her,” says Buffy. Eat away at her in more ways than one! On the run, Dawn finds Ben who soon morphs into Glory who asks, “Don’t I know you?” As long as Glory can’t answer that question, the key remains safely tucked away in ignorance.
In many ways, “Blood Ties” (even its title) reminds me of “Family” because Buffy has been wrestling with the questions of Dawn’s origins, her placement in the Summers family, and the nature of the connection between the “sisters.” Buffy, too, has questioned her memories, debated their authenticity. Are false memories really false? Can a very real mystical key also be a very real, annoying baby sister? Apparently so. Just as in “Family” when Tara’s father threatens to take her away, Buffy (and the others) must make a decision and put that decision into words. Clearly, there is power in articulation; words can create reality. When Buffy finds Dawn, knowing what Buffy knows about Glory, she growls, “Get away from my sister.” This declaration of Buffy’s reality, of what she is now certain about in her heart is exactly what Dawn needs to hear. To be sure Dawn and we get the message, after a brief brawl with the “hell-bitch” Buffy takes blood from her own wound and blends it with that of Dawn’s, from the cut Dawn self-inflicted earlier. “It’s Summers blood.” Finally, Dawn believes her when Buffy says that she loves Dawn, that Dawn is her sister. Not unlike two little girls performing a ritual on a grade school playground with straight-pin pricked fingers, Buffy and Dawn declare their sibling relationship, a bond created through blood.
I had the pleasure of watching this week’s trio of episodes with my best friend Wendy while visiting her in San Francisco. After “Blood Ties,” we talked a little bit before moving on to “Crush” and “I Was Made to Love You.” Wendy said something I found worthy of pondering, and I hope you find it worthy also. She said that the relationships among ideas, experiences, and people will always tell us more about reality than considering them separately. In other words, reality manifests in connectedness. I know, maybe that’s not a novel concept. For me, though, Wendy pinpointed anew what any Buffy enthusiast knows: Whedon and his team really, really, really believe in chosen family and investing in deep, meaningful relationships because family is the “real stuff” of life—even if family can be lost or taken away. In “Blood Ties,” I think Buffy finally realizes that she doesn’t have to fear what she doesn’t know or understand about Dawn; they can find out the answers to the big questions together. What’s important is that the energy became flesh, the flesh is Dawn, Dawn is her sister, and they are family. By the end of “I Was Made to Love You” (a title we might read to refer to April and Dawn as the Is, Warren and Buffy as the Yous), I think we all realize that more than ever before Buffy needs all of the family she has—blood and chosen.
And that’s the long shortishness of it.
Thank you, Tanya! Our second guest is Kristen Romanelli! Kristen, who is engaged to another Buffy Rewatcher, David Kociemba, last joined us to discuss “Choices” and “The Prom,” and is the editor of Watcher Junior. This week, she’s here to talk about Robot Sex. ;)
There’s so much awesome spoilage in here that I can’t write this without huge swaths of text getting hidden. Like, many paragraphs worth. I’m just going to not mention any of it, because those of you who know… you know. Those of you who don’t: You’ll see.
Season 5 tends to get a bum rap. I know that it’s probably because of the Dawn-ness of the season, but I’ve always been quite fond of it (Dawn-ness included). Perhaps it’s because of the increased role of Spike (Boo-boo!). The perpetual argument that occurs in the Romanelli-Kociemba household revolves around “Angel or Spike?” You think I’m kidding. Digression aside, I like to think that I enjoy this season because the mature turn it takes. Joyce is facing health problems! The Big Bad is a god! Riley gets all weird and leaves! Robot sex!
Robot sex? Buffy always featured love and loneliness (and being alone) as themes, and it had even touched on the concept of robot sex (and killer robots) in the past (remember “Ted” in Week Eight of the Rewatch?), but the three finally converged in “I Was Made to Love You.”
The two episodes preceding “I Was Made to Love You” — “Blood Ties” and “Crush” — prepare us with the emotional complexities of both love and loneliness (romantic and familial). Dawn, already feeling alienated due to being a “fourteen-year old hormone bomb,” accidentally learns that she is the Key — that “blob of energy” sought by both the Scoobies and Glory. Who is with her during this moment of discovery?
Love’s Bitch, himself. Spike is wrapped in his loneliness, created by his fixation with Buffy. He did this as William with Cecily, and also in his relationship with Drusilla. Spike fiercely romanticizes and idealizes the women he loves. He puts them so far up on a pedestal that he isolates himself.
Outsider and outsider. Spike, who had already found himself, oddly, in a big brother position with Dawn, now has a commonality with the little bit. He now has sympathy for her. When Buffy storms into his crypt and demands why Spike “let [Dawn] find out like that,” he tells her, “You didn't think you could keep the truth from her forever, did you? Maybe if you had been more honest with her in the first place, you wouldn't be trying to make yourself feel better with a round of Kick The Spike.”
He’s not wrong.
Buffy redeems herself and repairs her relationship with Dawn, however, when she shows up just in time to save her sister from getting her brain sucked by Glory. At the end of the battle, Buffy reminds Dawn that she’s still her sister and she loves her regardless of her mystical origin. She tells her that she has “Summers blood.” “It's just like mine. It doesn't matter where you came from, or, or how you got here. You are my sister. There's no way you could annoy me so much if you weren't.”
Spike doesn’t get so touching a resolution. Not even in Buffy’s Valentine’s Day episode. He tries. He really does. He tries pleasantly chatting with Buffy at the Grand Re-Opening of the Bronze; he buddies up with Dawn and Joyce; he even takes Buffy on a slay-date! Okay, sure, she didn’t know it at the time…
BUFFY: What ... is this? The late-night stakeout, the bogus suspects, the flask? Is this a date?
SPIKE: A d- Please! A date? You are completely off your bird! I mean— Do you want it to be?
BUFFY: Oh, my god.
As Buffy wigs, Spike spills his guts to her (as he may have some trouble baring his soul). The honesty he, himself, had recommended in the prior episode backfires terribly and he finds himself alone again. Until Drusilla emerges from the shadows, still showing the burns from her encounter with Angel in L.A.
The series of events that follow are so misguided and desperate of Spike, that I can barely write about it without stopping to headdesk. In fact, his ruse to cajole Buffy into admitting love for him by sacrificing Dru for her backfires even more tremendously than the slay-date. Buffy rejects him (and has his “invitation” blocked from her home), Harmony grows a spine and beats him up (“I gave you the best ... bunch of months of my life!” ::crossbow slam!::), and even Drusilla leaves, telling him, “Even I can't help you now.”
What’s a guy this lonely to do?
Meet April! April is perky, and happy, and programmed to be a perfect girlfriend. Or at least Warren Mears’s idea of the perfect girlfriend, which seems to be a blank slate, devoid of agency, that he can fill with phone numbers, 13 sex-related programs, and the desire to please and praise him. When she first appeared, I turned to David and said, “This poor girl was obviously dressed by a guy.”
In very little time, April’s single-minded, persistent mission to find her boyfriend Warren, combined with her incredible display of strength when she throws a naughty-mouthed Spike through a window, causes the Scooby gang to come to a conclusion:
BUFFY: So, what do you guys think she is? I mean, this may sound nuts, but I kinda got the impression that she was a—
XANDER: Oh yeah, robot.
BUFFY: Yeah, I was gonna say robot.
In all fairness, they’ve had robot (and cyborg) experience in the past. However, Katrina, Warren’s human girlfriend, doesn’t hesitate to jump to the “that’s a robot” conclusion after as she watches April take on Buffy. She immediately rejects Warren and runs away in disgust.
I think this exchange summarizes it nicely:
ANYA: Why would anyone do that if they could have a real live person?
WILLOW: Maybe he couldn't. Find a real person.
BUFFY: Oh, come on. The guy's just a big wedge of sleaze, don't make excuses for him.
WILLOW: I'm not, I'm just saying, people get lonely, and maybe having someone around, even someone you made up ... maybe it's easier.
TARA: But it's so weird. I mean, everyone wants a nice normal person to share with, but this guy, if he couldn't find that, I guess it's ... kinda sad.
Of course Spike places an order. He’s the epitome of lovesick, depraved, and lonely.
I can’t leave this without mentioning Joyce. Poor Joyce. In these episodes, she was recovering from her health scare and being the supportive mom, even after finding out that her youngest daughter is a “glowy key thing.” In “I Was Made to Love You,” Joyce, long past her own robotic experience, has a date with the unseen Brian. Joyce fusses about preparing for the date, and when she comes home, she’s practically giddy — to the point where she teases Buffy about leaving her bra in Brian’s car (no, in the restaurant… on the desert cart!). It seems like everything is finally coming up Joyce.
I told David that I wasn’t planning on quoting him, but I think that, after all, I’ll have to mention something he wrote in his chapter of Buffy Goes Dark (“Understanding the Espensode”): “Buffy helplessly watches April the robot girlfriend ‘die’ just moments before she walks in on her mother’s own dead body. … Buffy promises to stay by April’s side as she dies, while Buffy’s mother dies alone.”
Even after an episode of zany sexbot antics, it’s all about being alone.
Whew… thank you, Kristen! (I can feel that lump growing some more now!)
Next week: Joss Whedon’s masterpiece, “The Body.” I will be talking about the episode along with husband-and-wife academic team Dale and Ensley Guffey, and a featured appearance from my best friend, who will bring a personal story to the episode. Prepare yourself… we only have one episode next week, so that will allow you to watch it three times. ;)
And if you’re watching Angel, next week’s episode is “Epiphany.” See you then!