Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body   Rewatch 
December 2, 2015 10:00 PM - Season 5, Episode 16 - Subscribe

Buffy arrives home to find her life changed forever. She and her friends experience the immediate processes and processings of death.
posted by yellowbinder (20 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I only ever watched this episode once, I sucked it up and watched it when I had a boyfriend to cry on. Probably a good thing I did that, but I wouldn't watch it again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:22 PM on December 2, 2015


I've watched this three times now, and it never stops being powerful. I remember the second time because just after starting a friend arrived, saw what was on, and sat in silence until the end. This is brilliant, brilliant television. I feel like this could be shown as an equal to any episode from any show. This episode get's what it's like, isn't too pushy or manipulative, it's just real. This is up there with the best of Six Feet Under for describing grief and loss.

Every character is pretty perfect here, and we even learn a little about some of them; we learn about Tara losing her mother, and her kindness and warmth towards Buffy is great here. [and hey, Willow and Tara kiss properly for the first time here!]. I love the way Dawn is crying about someone being mean to her at school, then we see Buffy approaching as Dawn flirts with a boy, and this sweet conversation Dawn has is about to be ruined.

I love the clothing search, I love the flights of fancy Buffy has. I love the dinner with the stark cut to Joyce, lying dead on the couch. I love how Buffy doesn't look at the paramedics eyes, but his chest instead.I love Giles rushing in, and Buffy saying.. well what she says because I'm not sure I can bring myself to type it without tearing up. Gellar, here, really displays how great she is in this role.

-That zoom in on the phone
-That fight is pretty brutal with no music undercutting it. It's dirty and horrid.
-Patriarchy in action as the doctor almost exclusively talks to Giles...
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:17 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


This episode. Man. It's intense, but also cathartic - I watched it after the death of a family member and it was a good chance for a good clean cry. Incredible writing and incredible production.
posted by olinerd at 12:50 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the big things that Whedon wanted to do with this episode was present an alternative to the fable of everyone coming together in their grief. He pointed out that very often death and grief works in the opposite direction -- it isolates people in very perverse and painful ways. Love ones are together but often unable to connect because such a loss is very personal and particular and it creates a kind of paralysis. People fall into private rituals or stand around in silence.

The death of a loved one is for many people almost violently unreal. We may talk frequently about death and think we've come to understand what it is, but when confronted with it once again, we're left with the kind of emotional confusion that Arya expresses: how can someone be there and then not be there? How does that make sense? And no one has any truly comforting answers, at least at the time.

So not only did Whedon write what are some of the most painfully realistic dialogue and emotional responses in the wake of death, he also expressed this theme in multiple forms in the episode. Notably, the lack of any music and the long periods of oppressive silence.

I've never been convinced that the inclusion of the fantastical at the end works tonally, but I think I understand and certainly respect what I think are his reasons for including it. For one thing, there's the irony of how the vampire feels absurd in this otherwise extraordinarily realistic episode -- except that in Buffy's world it's the death of her mother that is violently absurd and slaying vampires is mundane. But more than that, for the rest of us, there's a sense in which death is as alien and absurd as vampirism. It doesn't fit. It is itself the most profound discontinuity. And in another sense that scene underscores that while it feels as if all of the requirements of daily life pause when a loved one dies, what actually happens is that we quickly discover that it doesn't. And finally, the vampire rising from the dead almost mocks the permanence of Joyce's death, the rock-bottom truth that she is now absolutely unreachable, she's gone. So while I don't ever much like that part of the episode -- it always seems out of tune to me -- I respect its inclusion.

My own experience of familial death is that it's usually isolated individuals who are gathered in groups. Rather than coming together in mutual support, the cumulative tectonic stresses release across the usual fault lines at the worst possible moments. My father died only a few years after this episode aired, and while my sister and I had a few quiet and powerful moments of mutual support in our grief, most of that time I think we felt stranded and incommunicado on our individual and distinct islands of divergent relationships with our father.

The stories we tend to tell about death usually tidy everything up. It's a coming together in support or a violent anger and outpouring of grief, or it's a chore. But what it really is, is an emotionally stunning jumble of all these things and more ... it's just a huge mess that we can't really get our heads around and about which no one has any effective words of comfort, just platitudes at best and thoughtlessly wounding outbursts at worst. This episode is in some respects the most honest depiction of this experience I've ever seen. It's quite an achievement.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:14 AM on December 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


I lose it every time at Anya's monologue.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I can't even think about this episode without getting emotional. When I watched BtVS with Mr. Curls this was the one episode he spoiled for me - it was days from an anniversary of my mom's death and I was already having feels. He suggested postponing this but I wanted to watch, not really knowing how or why Joyce's death would unfold.

To be honest, I expected a death tied to the supernatural and fantastic world Buffy lives in. I was ready for some big bad to take Joyce out and watch revenge happen. Her mundane and natural death was so much more difficult to cope with than I imagined. This episode remains the most powerful 45-ish minutes of TV I've seen. It's brutal and abrupt with her death and the fallout each character goes through.

I've always thought that the death and grief cycle puts people back into the group monologue stage of communication. People wait to speak but they're really just saying what they need to say (instead of saying something to the person they're with).
posted by toomanycurls at 5:43 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I remember watching this when it aired, and sitting in stunned silence throughout. Every scene is brilliant.
posted by tracicle at 9:54 PM on December 3, 2015


Another part that stuck with me: when Xander punches a post and says something about how the pain distracted him "for a second"...and Dawn says, quietly "A whole second". Not sarcastically -- wistfully -- like she can't go that long without thinking about her mother's death but she'd like to.
posted by Mogur at 4:37 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a really striking, unique hour of television. Some seriously great writing, direction and acting here.

And yet... it always seemed weird to me that everybody was so grief-stricken over Joyce's death, when Joyce was never a very central character. Now, the Summers girls, sure, of course they would be devastated. Maybe Willow, being Buffy's best girlfriend, spent more time at the Summers house than we knew and had a closer relationship to Joyce than we ever saw. Maybe.

But Xander? Anya? Giles? Tara? Joyce seemed like a very nice lady and I'm sure they would all feel terrible for Buffy and Dawn, but they react as if they are dealing with their own, direct loss, and that seemed weird and out of nowhere to me.

Their reactions seemed to come from a genuine place and the episode is a really wrenching depiction of grief. But for it to work at all, I kind of had to say, "OK, I guess Joyce had close friendships with all these people, sometime when we weren't looking." If Buffy or Dawn died, I could totally see Xander punching that wall. But Joyce? Really? It seemed more like the kind of situation where he would have no idea what to say, and maybe he'd make a terrible joke and then apologize for making a terrible joke because he was so desperate for everybody to feel better just for a moment. He would be very upset, for the sake of his friends. But I can't see him (or most of these characters) grieving Joyce herself so intensely. I just don't feel like they knew her that well.

But again, the actual depiction of grief here is unique and rather profoundly upsetting and sad. The moments when Buffy finds her mother's terrifyingly lifeless body, then Buffy makes the phone call and she's fumbling and stuttering like a lost little girl, then she vomits on the floor and then she just sits there staring at nothing and listening to the wind chimes, that stuff is all way too goddamned true. If a show can bring us episodes like this and Hush and Once More with Feeling, and it all makes sense and somehow fits together, that is one hell of a special show.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:48 AM on December 6, 2015


But Xander? Anya? Giles? Tara? Joyce seemed like a very nice lady and I'm sure they would all feel terrible for Buffy and Dawn, but they react as if they are dealing with their own, direct loss, and that seemed weird and out of nowhere to me.

It's a fair piece of criticism. If I felt like it, I could also point out that Anya really should be more used to grief, and she's almost deliberately alien in this episode to get to that speech.

To be fair, I do think Giles and Joyce were shown as spending a reasonable amount of time together (as well as, you know, sleeping together), I also don't think the episode treats Tara or Anya as sad so much that Joyce has died, but sad because their partner is. Which is an absolutely valid feeling that I have absolutely had during these times before.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:27 AM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"If Buffy or Dawn died, I could totally see Xander punching that wall. But Joyce?"

We don't see Xander and Joyce interacting much, but we can assume that Xander spent as much or more time at the Summers house as Willow did. Maybe more, because of Xander's troubled home. That, especially, is why I find it believable that he'd react that way -- it's not uncommon for kids in abusive families to spend a lot of time at a friend's more safe and loving home and to see their friend's parents as sort of surrogate parents.

"I could also point out that Anya really should be more used to grief..."

Why do you think so? She was an adult when she became a vengeance demon and so you're right as far as that goes, but she spent such a long time as a demon that her whole thing is that she forgot how to be human or understand human concerns. I don't think that she experienced the loss of friends when she was a vengeance demon -- she didn't seem to make close relationships except that one friend and I don't think those vengeance demons were killed very often. And she was inured to death, as someone who killed people. Her whole character arc is about becoming human again and how it took a lot of time for her to learn to see things as a human does and have human feelings. And I think that being effectively immortal meant that she had internalized the idea that the people she cared about -- not humans -- didn't die and didn't just suddenly disappear that way. Even if she had known this many centuries ago when she was human.

The show gives us some reasons to believe that Xander and Willow spent a lot of time at Buffy's house and were close to Joyce. We almost never see it, but we do see occasional things like dinners together and references to other time spent together. And it makes sense for what we know of both characters that they'd be close to Joyce.

It's really Tara who doesn't have a strong connection but Tara is a very sensitive person who is also working hard at being part of this family. She's not the sort of person for whom a death like this would be no big deal.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:07 AM on December 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think the show made a particularly strong case prior to this episode that Joyce was close to Willow or Xander.

Although she is quite concerned about Buffy (who has superpowers) fighting demons, Joyce never expresses the slightest concerns that Willow (who isn't doing much, magically at the beginning) or Xander (no superpowers at all) are fighting demons with stakes and holy water. She gives off a very strong "Not My Kid, So Not My Problem" kind of vibe to me. (When Faith comes along, Joyce is friendly to her, but I think it's telling that Faith's existence triggers a "Yay, now MY KID can go to college and get her middle-class birthright while this lower-class kid does the fighting" thought process in Joyce.)

She also doesn't know that Willow and Tara are an item at the beginning of Season Five, which seems like something that someone close to Willow would know.

None of this is a huge deal for me--the episode is well-written and well-acted and deserves the praise it gets--but it does feel to me like they fudged a few things to get the Five Stages structure they wanted to.
posted by creepygirl at 12:57 PM on December 6, 2015


We don't see Xander and Joyce interacting much, but we can assume that Xander spent as much or more time at the Summers house as Willow did.

I'm at a disadvantage in these threads, because I'm not taking part in the rewatch and it's been some time since I saw the show. But I had the feeling that Willow and Buffy were closer than Xander and Buffy, and that Willow and Buffy mighty study alone together at the Summers house and stuff like that but Xander probably wouldn't do that. This is not to say Buffy and Xander weren't close, they obviously were. But the "best pal" position seemed to be held by Willow, IIRC. I don't remember Xander visiting the Summers house without the other Scoobs, but I can easily picture Willow doing that.

Your idea that Xander might have a strong connection to Joyce because his own family was such a horror show would make sense, but I don't know that we see evidence of that happening in the show. After she died, if he had said he felt like that, it would have worked.

Was Anya an adult when she became a demon? I remember when she first got un-demon-fied she crabbed about how much she disliked being suddenly stuck as a teenage girl, and she was going to school with Buffy's gang. So was she an adult, she became a demon, then she became a kid? I do think it makes sense that after however many decades of hanging out with demons and regarding mortals as lesser beings, becoming mortal and losing a human she did care about could really mess with her head.

Creepygirl, the kinds of problems you describe fit what I was saying about Joyce not being a very central character. If she had been on the show more, I think we would have seen her talk about how slaying vampires wasn't safe for Xander or Willow either, and she probably would have asked questions about where their parents were, and raised a lot of practical, real world issues that this show was always very squirmy about. I think the writers used Joyce sparingly because if they gave her too much attention we might realize it was weird that she wasn't much more involved in the stories. So they brought her in just often enough to say, "See, here's Buffy's mom, she's busy doing other things, everything's fine, nothing to see here! Now, back to the fun stuff!"
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:15 AM on December 7, 2015


"I'm at a disadvantage in these threads, because I'm not taking part in the rewatch and it's been some time since I saw the show. But I had the feeling that Willow and Buffy were closer than Xander and Buffy, and that Willow and Buffy mighty study alone together at the Summers house and stuff like that but Xander probably wouldn't do that."

Yeah, I'm not doing the re-watch, either, but I've watched the whole series at least three times and some seasons five or more and some episodes even more than that. I do middling in Buffy trivia.

So, I don't know. You guys are right that the show doesn't show Xander at the house much or interacting with Joyce almost at all, as far as I can remember. And you're right that Willow was closer to Buffy than Xander. But it was really WIllow and Xander that were best friends -- Buffy just moved to Sunnydale when she was in high school. It seems to me, though, that given that WIllow and Xander were best friends and that they became friends with Buffy, even if Buffy and Willow were closer, I don't see how Xander wouldn't have been around almost as often as Willow was. And, again, although we don't see Xander at Buffy's house that much when they were in high school, we know that Xander does everything he can to avoid being at home ... so surely that would end up with him spending a lot of time at the Summers home.

"Was Anya an adult when she became a demon? I remember when she first got un-demon-fied she crabbed about how much she disliked being suddenly stuck as a teenage girl, and she was going to school with Buffy's gang. So was she an adult, she became a demon, then she became a kid?"

She didn't actually become a teen -- she was a teen in the sense that these tv actors are supposedly "teens". As for her age when she became a demon, she was married ... but it was at least as early as the middle-ages somewhere in northern Europe and who knows how old she actually was at the time. In real-life, adolescent girls didn't usually marry back then the way that people today commonly suppose but, on the other hand, in-show they very well may have thought of Anya being quite young when she was married and then it's unclear to me (either because they don't say, or I don't remember) how long she'd been married to whatshisname-who-she-cursed-to-be-a-troll before she became a demon. So she could have been only seventeen, or so. Or she could have been twenty-five. But although her biological age was whatever it was arrested at, she'd been a demon for many hundreds of years. The show is kind of unclear on how being immortal affects how people mentally age -- like a lot of things in this genre, they usually want to have it both ways: someone looks young, but they are a thousand years old, they're somehow both young and old at the same time. And maybe that was sort of true about Anya.

I think it's most plausible and consistent with the show to think that Anya was a reasonably young wife -- maybe 22 -- when she became a demon but then as a demon her existence was pretty altered and abnormal. She didn't mentally and emotionally grow the way that she otherwise would have, and she also became very alienated from what it means to even be human. So by the time that Giles broke the pendant and she became human again, I think she was a very, very strange person. Not very human at all, a little childish in some respects as a combination of both being relatively young when she became a demon and because she lacks much life experience as an actual person, but also weird accumulated wisdom and experience.

With that said, I do feel like what I wrote above about her and death makes a lot of sense. I think that her experience and relationship with death as a recently-remade-into-human person is especially that it makes no sense to her. As a demon, she understood it as something she did to others but had no real worry about herself -- it was familiar in one sense, foreign in another. As a human, her experience with it was very long ago and she was young then. So now being human, and having formed human attachments, she's seeing death in someone (somewhat) close to her in a way that is very new to her and very disturbing. I think in this way she's very much like an older child -- a child who previously had understood death as something that happened in movies or with their imaginary games with action figures, but who now suddenly has a glimpse of it in a way that makes it personal.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:25 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think one thing that makes Willow's and Xander's reactions feel odd to me is that they had lost someone close to them earlier--Jesse, who was supposed to be Willow and Xander's close friend, died (at Xander's hand, no less), and Xander wasn't punching walls, and Willow wasn't having panic attacks about clothing. They had just learned about the Hellmouth and weren't jaded by death at that point.

So when they have these extreme reactions to Joyce's death, and the show didn't do a great job of indicating that Joyce was anything other than distantly pleasant to them, it feels less than completely earned.

The Doylist explanation is that Joss wanted to get real about death and grief in Season Five, in a way he wasn't willing to in the first episode of Season One. But on a Watsonian level, it feels a bit unsatisfactory to me.
posted by creepygirl at 12:05 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


They had just learned about the Hellmouth and weren't jaded by death at that point.

It was stated (and shown) multiple times over the course of the series that everyone in Sunnydale was pretty jaded and/or willfully ignorant about death.

Also, the sheerly random nature of Joyce's death was different from what they were used to. You can blame someone/thing for most of the other deaths, but this was Joyce's body killing her, without any spell or germ or artifact responsible. "Mundane" deaths were always more tragic (see also Tara).
posted by Etrigan at 12:20 PM on December 7, 2015


I watched this episode once and couldn't again.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2015


So when they have these extreme reactions to Joyce's death, and the show didn't do a great job of indicating that Joyce was anything other than distantly pleasant to them, it feels less than completely earned.

The Doylist explanation is that Joss wanted to get real about death and grief in Season Five, in a way he wasn't willing to in the first episode of Season One. But on a Watsonian level, it feels a bit unsatisfactory to me.


While, obviously, the correct explanation is that everyone writing the show forgot Jesse ever existed (it would've been great to have the First to appear as him, for instance), I can absolutely explain it.

Let's suppose that Jesse is really Xander's friend, and Willow doesn't know him as well. Maybe through Primary school Willow and Xander had been best friends, then coming into High School Xander made boy friends while Willow just felt excluded. Xander, who still felt something for Willow, included her, but Jesse remained distant from her. So this gives us why Willow isn't super affected by Jesse's death. What about Xander?

Well in a very real way Xander has always had a contempt for vampires that the other's don't feel. I mean sure, nobody wants them around, but Xander loathes them. He doesn't like any of Buffy's lovers that much, for sure, but he loatthes Angel, and does his best to get Angel killed. Why? Well his best friend was turned, and Xander was forced to kill him. He remembers that every day, maybe he can't speak about it because it's too hard, but it's there, weighing in his mind all the time. He never stops hating vampires, even those who fight with him, and he never truly forgets Jesse.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 8:04 AM on December 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


But Xander? Anya? Giles? Tara? Joyce seemed like a very nice lady and I'm sure they would all feel terrible for Buffy and Dawn, but they react as if they are dealing with their own, direct loss, and that seemed weird and out of nowhere to me.

A dear friend of mine went through a very combative divorce a couple years back, shortly after losing his mother. I only met his mom a couple times, likewise with the (ex)wife, but I was just as broken up and angry as he was. I still tell him that I reserve the right to kick his ex in the kneecaps if I ever see her.

Xander, Giles, and Anya may not be as close to Joyce, but they're close to Buffy, though, and Buffy hurts, so they hurt.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:31 AM on December 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's an interesting thing to me with Season 5 (which is to me an even weirder season, tonally and structurally, than S4, which had most of the series' worst storylines but probably its most consistently top-notch writing within those storylines.)

Namely, each season has its primary locations. For 1-3, aside from the Summers Home, it's Sunnydale High (the Library in particular.) In 4, it's UC Sunnydale*, The Initiative, and to a lesser extent Giles' home (and notably NOT the Summers' house, the only season for which this is the case.)

In Season 6 it will be the Summers' House and the Magic Box, and in 7 we'll add the High School back in again. But in 5 it's The Summers' House, the Magic Box, and... the Hospital. And the reason that the Hospital is so central to the season, why Ben is an intern there, etc., is because the season is built around this episode, which more than any other episode in this era of the show, does nothing to advance any particular plot in the story at large (except for Joyce dying, which even that takes place at the end of "I Was Made to Love You."

I think that's not just because of the tonal importance of this essentially perfect episode. It's because the episode manages what it does - an unrelenting feeling of cruel unreality - by making everything about it more real than other episodes. No music, obviously, but also honest POV shots, lingering shots on the mundane, and just feeling stuck in spaces that we know well by this point, namely the Summers home at the beginning and the Hospital at the end. If the Hospital were a new, or at least newish, space to us, it wouldn't have worked as well, but because we've spent so much time there this season already, it feels mundane. And mundane is the heart of the devastation in this episode.

As for whether the others would feel the same closeness to Joyce, I buy it completely, if for no other reason than we've seen everybody taking Dawn-Duty all season, and the implication is that they all remember having done this for a while before then even though those memories are false. This season is about a lot of things, but central to it (and perhaps spelled out too literally in the episode of the same name) is that of "Family." With the introduction of someone who needs to be taken care of, all of the Scoobies have stepped up and become a sort of tight-knit family together (even as Buffy herself has become more disassociated.) Hell, we see just in flashback in this episode that the Summers home is where all of them spend Christmas. They are close. They are family. Buffy and Dawn are hurt most of all, but all of them care for Joyce.

Jesus this episode hits.


*Weird side note, while watching through S4 this past week, I started getting targeted ads for UC San Diego, or UCSD. I am long out of college and live in NY. I choose to assume this show is where those particular cookies are coming from.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:35 AM on September 25, 2018


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