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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a drama about a young girl who inherits the powers to fight the demons that threaten the Earth. She lives in Sunnydale, California which happens to be the Hellmouth and must learn to master her powers while also trying to have some semblance of a normal life. The WB 1997 - 2001. UPN 2002-03.

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Episode 16 - The Body

19 February 2013

Synopsis: Buffy can’t revive Joyce and Paramedics soon arrive to confirm that she has died. Buffy goes to school to tell Dawn while Willow and Xander fret over how to deal with it all. Everyone meets at the hospital (where the morgue is) and Dawn slips away to try and see the body.Buffy is left alone

The Good: The first twelve minutes of this were brutal and unforgiving. It was a peerless exploration of grief as Buffy experienced it. The change in directorial style, the absence of music and the use of objects and sound effects to distort reality were all very effective. Buffy was as good as you’d expect as the writing took her through a personal but also universal journey. The desperate cries as she shook Joyce and the strange choice to tell Giles simply “She’s at the house” were both quite effecting. Personally the two tear jerking sequences were the fantasy that Joyce would recover once the paramedics arrived and then the speech one of them gives to her. It’s one of the most important moments of her life but to them it’s just another day. They have to leave immediately, only logical in Sunnydale and it gave us a sense of perspective on Joyce’s passing while also leaving poor Buffy alone again. She then throws up and takes a minute to get her thoughts straight before Giles arrive.

The movement of Joyce from person to body was entirely un-glamorised. We returned to her three times in dead silence as she was zipped up into a bag, undressed at the morgue and then later given an autopsy. The decision to have no music at any point in the episode was inspired as it drew attention to moments of drama and made them seem more serious. The focus on other objects throughout was another interesting choice. It allowed certain moments to exist in the background so that we could just drink in the atmosphere rather than focus on the actors as they tackled this most difficult task.

There was no way the episode could really match its own first half. The action was done and now the mourning was all that was left. Some of the character moments were very good. Tara stood out as being wise and mature as she allowed Willow to fret over her clothes choice rather than try to interfere. Later she sensitively shared her own past with Buffy when no one else knew what to say. We also got an on screen Willow-Tara kiss which seemed like consciously clever timing. In an episode which did such a tremendous job of portraying human mortality it really did seem silly that anyone would be upset about a kiss.

Anya was able to be supportive simply through expressing her literal thoughts to Buffy and Willow and Xander’s sadness was believable. Dawn’s reactions were solidly portrayed. The decision to show her dealing with high school “cool” arguments contrasted well with the reality that was about to hit her. Her subsequent collapse was sad to see and her desire to see the body made sense as she had “missed out” on saying goodbye.

The Bad: Nothing.

The Unknown: I felt like the Willow-Xander-Tara-Anya scene should have been shorter. Her fretting and his anger were fine on their own but both seemed so manufactured compared to the unyielding reality that Buffy had just been exposed to. Anya’s venting about mortality made total sense for her character. But again it was hard to empathise with a fictional emotion in the midst of this.

The slow pace of the second half of the episode may have influenced the writers in deciding to have a vampire pop up behind Dawn in the morgue. He appeared too quickly for any tension to build and it wasn’t really the best idea anyway. After Joyce had died for real there was just no way anything bad could happen to her daughters. It also felt a bit flat to end the episode on Dawn about to touch the body. Again I think that desire made total sense for the character but it was abrupt.

Best Moment: The conversation between Buffy and the Paramedic was very moving. We never saw his eyes as Buffy tried to absorb all the information he was giving her. Then he had to leave. It was so sad to realise that she would be left all alone to deal with this and she instinctively calls out “Good luck” as they head off to deal with another tragedy.

The Bottom Line: Understandably this is one of the most memorable episodes of Buffy. It’s certainly one of the most effective episodes of television I’ve ever seen at getting you to empathise with a character’s situation.

However my personal taste is not to elevate this above others just because Joyce’s death feels so much more real than anything involving the science fiction elements on the show. To judge it purely on the quality of the forty five minutes I would say it was excellent but far from the best the show has produced, mainly because it is dealing with a singular event and can’t take you on a journey that many of the great episodes do. That is not a criticism, it is merely a ranking.

 

Cordia’s Second Look
The Body
Season 5, Episode 16
Original airing: 2/27/2001

My Rating: 74

The Good: This is a powerfully done episode. It’s an incredibly unique and painful depiction of death and loss.

Sarah Michelle Gellar really outdoes herself in most of this episode. Her sense of confusion is palpable. She does so much with so little in this episode. The dialogue is limited and it’s really about the facial expressions and body language.

The long scene of Buffy discovering the body, panicking, calling 911, calling Giles, meeting the EMTs, wandering the downstairs, and finishing with her first transition to viewing Joyce as a body is stellar. This is the first real hit we have from the lack of music in the episode. All of this happens without any sound beside Buffy’s panic and the muffled voice of the 911 operator. It makes everything come across very starkly and does nothing to lessen the pain of viewing this intensely emotional and private part of Buffy’s life.

Joyce’s false sudden recovery in the middle of all of this is cruel to the audience, but true to the show. In that never-ending moment where Buffy is watching the EMTs work on her mother, she can’t help but hope it will result in Joyce breathing. It feels true and correct to television narrative styles that this was all a scare and Joyce, a long-standing character on the show, is going to be fine. But what it really does is emphasize the gut punch when it snaps back to reality and Joyce is pronounced dead.

But my favorite part of this entire sequence is at the end, when Giles arrives and runs to examine Joyce’s body. Buffy’s panicked scream to not move “the body” and her immediate realization of what she’s called her mother is truly heartbreaking. It’s the first indication that Buffy is beginning to process that Joyce is gone.

The focus on body language and facial expressions instead of sound is carried through the entire episode. The kiss between Tara and Willow is an excellent example of displaying true human emotion when words fail. I also love the hug between Willow and Xander and how Anya pulls away from Xander after her monologue. Everyone has different needs and each character expresses them uniquely.

Anya’s dialogue was very interesting to me. It starts off with her typical blunt questioning and then degenerates into her true feelings of loss, confusion, and questions about morality. She’s been a demon for a long time and one can easily imagine this is the first time someone has died that she cared about. The difference between that and all the deaths she caused and experienced in her past would be quite profound. And I really liked how her personality was used at the hospital when she says exactly what needs to be said about Joyce to Buffy.

Finally, I thought the setup with Dawn was very well done. I think misdirection is best achieved when the moment could truly fit either story being told. The opening of Dawn crying in the bathroom could be about Joyce, but it turns out it’s about a boy. The foreshadowing of her friend saying it’s not a big deal and life could be worse makes me want to reach into the screen and hug Dawn, to protect her. Her later irritation with Buffy in the classroom and her breakdown in the hallway are all really well performed. I liked that she began to suspect something was wrong with Joyce, but translated that fear into anger.

Overall, I really enjoyed the pacing and style of this episode. I was crying throughout as I took this journey with Buffy and Dawn.

The Bad: However, I do have some things I did not enjoy. There were artistic moments that I found jolting and distracting. They kept me from being fully immersed in the episode. Most likely, this is a personal preference to me. Some people may not have noticed these things, or may have found them enhancing to the episode.

I was not a fan of the long cuts of the phone and paper towel. I just didn’t think they added to Buffy’s sense of confusion. I’d rather see Buffy’s face expressing it than inanimate objects. I also noticed that the shot of Dawn’s drawing before she goes into the hallway and the shot the camera zooms in on after Dawn collapses are two very different drawings. None of these things are overly bad, but I found them distracting and they took me out of the moment.

I also really disliked the reactions of the teacher and students in Dawn’s art class. Having them all stare at Dawn through the window and actually walk over to get a better look felt completely wrong to me. Of course, they would be interested in what is going on, but I can’t imagine the entire classroom would lose their sense of decency like that. If nothing else, the teacher should have been trying to distract them.

But the two things I found really annoying were both at the end. I’m just not a fan of how this episode concludes with the scene in the morgue. First, there were several points of logic I found annoying. Why was the morgue door not locked to begin with? How did Dawn know what slab Joyce was on? Why were Joyce’s eyes still open? How did Buffy know where Dawn was? Why did she begin running down the hall before she knew about the vampire?

The real annoyance, though, is the vampire himself. I felt like he was completely unnecessary. It seemed like perhaps he was there just because someone with a bit of power said, “Hey! I thought this show was about vampires! We need a vampire!” His quick rise and fall felt anti-climactic and had no depth to it. It was a rather disappointing way to end.

Favorite Moment: I thought the scene between Buffy and Tara in the hospital lobby was incredibly well designed. It really allowed Tara to be gentle and sympathetic. I finally really enjoyed a scene with her.

The Bottom Line: This episode does some things in a way I’ve never seen. It’s incredibly well-acted and written, overall. But there were moments I found incredibly distracting that caused me to step back from the episode over and over again. If it can’t keep me engaged, I can’t call it amazing. But the structure was definitely there and the first part of the show was absolutely phenomenal.

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Comments

  • Dear Cordia and Robin,

    I am one of the Buffy fans that heard well after it started and have just gotten caught up. I really appreciate how much effort you two have put into this podcast and look forward to watching the rest of the series along with you.

    I discovered Buffy during Season 4, FX was showing 2 episodes daily at 6am and I had a job as a night auditor so I arrived home at just the right time to find it. Buffy quickly became a part of my routine watching it as I wound down from the long nights, then falling asleep with the tales from Whedon dancing through my head.

    Season 5 was never my favorite, I really never liked Glory or the Knights, but when I watched "The Body" for the first time, live when it aired it just wrecked me emotionally. I know that my score seems a bit over the top, but a couple of years before I was living with my Grandfather and came home one night to find his body. I know that many people have different reactions to death, but watching Buffy go through what I had flooded my senses, the silence, stillness and feeling of panic were all very palpable and to this day it still brings me right back to that moment.

    There are so many moments in Buffy that I was able to relate to, but I made such a strong connection to this show and Buffy because of this episode.

    Sorry that I didn't catch up soon enough to have this feed back when you had two episodes but I felt almost compelled to share how impactful "The Body" was for me. This showed me that TV could be so much more than a frivolous way to pass time, but that you could use it to truly explore emotions and situations that you may never have otherwise.

    Thanks for reading my rambling and for putting out such an amazing podcast.

    Best,
    Kate

    Viewer score: 99 / 100

    Posted by Kate, 19/02/2013 10:56pm (6 years ago)

  • Kelly here (more often to be found on Breaking Bad recaps)

    I'm only a casual Buffy fan, but this episode was something else; an episode of TV that still haunts me today. I don't think I've ever experienced such a raw tangible portrayal of grief in a show or film, before or since. Not only is it my favourite episode of Buffy; it's one of my favourite episodes of anything. It's honest, it's human, it's frightening. Anya's speech, Willow's cardigan, Buffy staring into her garden, Dawn's breakdown outside her art class and the final line "Where'd she go?" - all these elements I found to be chilling, devastating and unforgettable.

    I loved this episode. I'm in awe of it. Bravo Joss Whedon.

    Viewer score: 98 / 100

    Posted by Kelly, 06/01/2013 6:30pm (6 years ago)

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