Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
We start with the same scene from the end of “I Was Made to Love You,” where Buffy comes home and finds Joyce dead on the couch. It takes her a painfully long moment to realize something’s wrong, and the way the scene is shot, the viewers are aware of it much earlier. There’s no background music.
After the credits, we get a glittery flashback to Christmas dinner at the Summers home, with the whole gang around the table. Anya gives them the inside scoop on Santa Claus, who is apparently real, but less about the present-leaving and more about the child-disemboweling. Fun! Also, Buffy teases Giles and Joyce about “Band Candy.” It’s quite an idyllic moment. Joyce burned one of the pies, and Buffy is about to cut the burned part out when the pie plate crashes to the floor, and then we’re suddenly back in the present with Joyce dead on the couch.
Buffy runs over to her, shakes her and yells desperately. She doesn’t respond. Buffy staggers through the house to call 911. The operator patiently talks an extremely distraught Buffy through the process of administering CPR, and an ambulance is on its way. While doing CPR, Buffy uses so much strength that something cracks—loudly—in Joyce’s ribcage. It freaks Buffy out, but that’s what’s supposed to happen if you’re doing CPR correctly. Buffy tells the operator that Joyce is cold, and you can tell from the pause and the way she says “The body is cold?” that the operator no longer believes Joyce can be resuscitated. She advises Buffy to wait for the paramedics. Buffy listens for them, then, dazedly, hangs up and stares at the handset. She calls Giles and tells him to come to her house.
The ambulance arrives. Buffy goes outside, then leaves the door open for them and walks back in. She’s slammed again with the sight of Joyce lying there, and she notices that in the CPR process, Joyce’s skirt rode up. Buffy hastily pulls it back down so that she’s presentable for the paramedics. They move Joyce to the floor and start doing CPR with their equipment, asking Buffy about her medical history. Joyce wakes up! We get a lot of rapid cuts to Buffy with Joyce in the ambulance, then in the hospital with Joyce and Dawn, everything happy and wonderful. But that was all in Buffy’s head. The CPR isn’t working. There’s no pulse on the monitor, and the paramedics know there’s no chance because Joyce is cold already. One of them gets up and tells Buffy that Joyce is dead, and probably has been for a while. The framing of the shots is really interesting, making Buffy seem very small and helpless, and the paramedic seem like a faceless dispenser of this horrible news. He guesses Joyce died of an aneurysm that developed after her surgery. He and the other guy leave to deal with another call; the guys from the coroner’s office will be coming to collect the body.
Buffy stands there in the doorway holding the phone as they leave. She’s completely dazed, and there’s a sheen of sweat on her now. She heads slowly to the back of the house, this little reading area we rarely see. She vomits on the carpet, then opens the back door to get some air. The shot is a bit overexposed, enhancing the sense of unreality of the situation. She gets some paper towels to clean up the vomit.
Giles arrives, cutting across the growing rushing noise in Buffy’s ears. It takes him a moment to understand what’s happening, because all Buffy told him was “she’s at the house.” He sees Joyce lying on the living room floor and starts to run to her, but Buffy tries to tell him it’s too late. He’s already checking to see if she’s okay, and then Buffy says “we’re not supposed to move the body!” and then crumbles, because it’s the first moment she said something out loud that acknowledges Joyce’s death. Giles dashes to her and hugs her. Later, Joyce is being zipped into a body bag.
Dawn is at school, crying. Her friend is assuring her it’s no big deal. Apparently Dawn isn’t crying about Joyce. She’s crying about the middle school drama that has resulted from that one time she cut herself. She and her friend head to class. There’s a bratty popular girl she and her friend have issues with, and there’s a cute boy she likes. It’s time for art class. They’re working on negative space. She and the cute boy do some awkward flirting, with her friend cheering her on. The cute boy doesn’t think Dawn’s a freak for cutting herself, and he thinks the popular girl needs to get over herself.
We see Buffy arrive through the windows of the classroom. Dawn’s conversation with the cute boy is still going well when Buffy comes up to her at her easel. Everyone seems to sense that Buffy comes with very bad news. Dawn reluctantly goes with Buffy into the hall, then demands to know what’s up. The popular girl and her two ladies-in-waiting are still in the hall. The whole class and the popular girls are watching too. Buffy builds towards the reveal that Joyce is dead as gently as she can. We don’t hear her say the actual words. We’re watching from the classroom for that. Dawn yells something we can’t hear—a denial, probably—then collapses to the ground, sobbing. Her teacher, the cute boy, and her friend all watch sadly.
Joyce is at the morgue now, and they’re cutting off her clothes to do an autopsy. Cut to Tara and Willow in their dorm. Cut to Anya and Xander in Xander’s car. The shots of the four of them are very isolating. Xander double-parks, but doesn’t care. Willow is turning her entire closet upside-down, trying to find the right outfit to wear to go to the morgue with Buffy and Dawn. She can’t find the one blue top that Joyce liked. And based on the dialogue, apparently they aren’t sharing a dorm? That’s the only way it makes sense for Tara to have a “room” that isn’t the room they’re in. I’m very confused now. Willow is going to pieces, so Tara kisses her and helps her get grounded. She can do this. She can be strong like an Amazon. But she’d feel better with that blue top.
Xander and Anya are on their way to the room. Anya keeps asking questions Xander doesn’t want to answer right now. Xander hugs Willow. Willow gets annoyed by Anya’s seeming insensitivity. They all stand there, seeming small and awkward. Anya still wants answers. Willow wants to change her outfit again. Xander wonders if maybe Glory killed Joyce and covered her tracks. Nobody else thinks that’s likely. Glory likes credit for her work. Then Xander starts ranting about the doctors not doing their job right. He doesn’t want to accept that this could have just happened. Willow gets him to calm down by raising her fists to box him.
Anya asks if they’ll be in the room with Joyce’s body at some point. Willow wants to change her outfit again. Tara goes to check the laundry room to see if Willow left the blue shirt there. Anya asks if Joyce’s body is going to get cut open, and Willow snaps at her. Anya finally bursts out that she doesn’t understand how grief works and how this woman she knew and liked can be just dead and how she’ll never do the things she did again. She ends up crying. It’s one of her most human moments. Xander goes to hug her, but she backs away and sits on Willow’s papasan chair instead. She finds the blue sweater under a pillow and tucks it into an open dresser drawer. Willow doesn’t see.
Xander punches the wall, and now his fist is stuck in it. Anya and Willow help him get it back out. Tara comes back while they’re in this process. His knuckles are very bloody, but he feels the tiniest bit better. Willow doesn’t mind that Tara couldn’t find the sweater. They head out to go be with Buffy. Then Willow comes rushing back in to change again. Also, Xander got a ticket for double-parking.
Joyce’s autopsy appears to be finished. Why is the same surgeon who removed her tumor the one doing the autopsy? I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works. He heads out of the morgue to tell Buffy his findings. The whole gang is in the waiting room, giving Buffy and Dawn hugs. Anya hugs Giles very tightly. Aww. Dawn wants to see Joyce’s body. The doctor tells them that Joyce did indeed die of an aneurysm. Those aren’t always detectable, apparently. Joyce knew it was a risk, but she didn’t get on the phone, so it probably happened very suddenly. Buffy has another little fantasy of being at home when Joyce first started having trouble, and of being able to get help in time to save her. But the doctor really doesn’t think there would’ve been a chance of catching it in time. Buffy thinks he’s lying to make her feel better. Giles takes over with the paperwork and stuff so Buffy doesn’t have to worry about it.
Dawn leaves to go to the bathroom. Buffy thinks she’s mad at her, and she tells the others how Dawn took it when she told her. Anya offers her awkward (but heartfelt) sympathy. Willow, Xander, and Anya leave to get food for Buffy and Dawn. Buffy and Tara are left by themselves. Buffy feels bad for Tara getting dragged into this, but it turns out that Tara is the best person to talk to. She lost her mother when she was a teenager. She tells her how it was, which reassures Buffy a little that she’s not doing everything wrong. It’s the most bonding Buffy and Tara have ever done, and I really wish they were better friends.
Dawn is done in the bathroom, and she sneaks into the morgue and locks the door behind her. It’s eerie and dark, with lots of bodies covered in sheets. She seems to know which one is the right one instinctively. While she’s working up the nerve to pull the sheet back, another body sits up behind her. New vampire! He looks really gross and bruised, and oh hey look, a tasty fourteen-year-old!
Xander, Willow, and Anya bought basically the entire vending machine. Buffy isn’t hungry, though. They ask about Dawn, and Buffy realizes it’s kind of weird she’s not back yet, so she goes looking. She notices the morgue door right next to the bathroom, and she heads down there. She moves faster and faster, and then we hear Dawn’s scream. Buffy breaks in and fights the vampire. In the struggle, the sheet comes off Joyce. The fight involves more grappling than most of them, which is especially awkward given that he’s naked. Buffy manages to behead him with a bone saw.
She and Dawn notice that Joyce’s face is exposed. Buffy says it’s not Joyce anymore; she’s gone. Where, Dawn wants to know. She reaches out to touch Joyce’s face, but it cuts to credits before she can get there.
“The Body” is one of the most famous episodes of the show, and that status is well-deserved. Joss, with the lack of background music and the isolating camera angles, did a very good job of capturing with stark realism the surreality, confusion, and suddenness of death, and that even if we go through it with friends and family, we still go through it alone. When my uncle died not long after I graduated from high school, it was very surreal. I hadn’t spent a ton of time with him growing up, so while my mom was completely distraught over losing her brother, I felt like the whole thing wasn’t real. It was different when my grandpa died. I was working a shift at a pizza place that day. I got a call halfway through my shift about how Grandpa was in the hospital because of a heart attack. Dad was going to pick me up after work to go there. Then I got another call two hours later saying Grandpa had died. I was the one rolling the pizza dough that shift, so I was covered in flour. I remember feeling like a jerk because I wanted to delay Dad’s arrival at the hospital long enough for me to wash up and change into nice clothes. At the hospital, I watched my aunts and uncles arrive, each with different reactions. I sat with some of my cousins. Grandma kept fretting about the way Grandpa’s mouth wouldn’t stay closed. “The Body” definitely captures the strangeness of those first few hours after death.
Buffy spends pretty much the whole episode feeling numb and in shock. She doesn’t seem to have processed much, yet; she’s just going from one thing she needs to do to the next—telling Dawn, getting the report from the doctor. I think the most crushing moments are when she imagines that everything will be all right somehow, that Joyce will be okay—or that Joyce would have been okay if she'd just been home when it happened. Buffy does have a tendency to blame herself, and she saves the day so often that the days she can't save are especially brutal and difficult to process.
Xander wants to find something or someone to blame for Joyce’s death so that some kind of justice can be had. If she just died, then it feels pointless and empty. He’s also the one who gets violent, punching the wall, and it’s an oddly comforting moment.
Willow is the one I relate to most. Her panic over wearing the right clothes is a lot like how I felt about being covered in flour from work. I felt really guilty for taking up some of Dad’s time, but I very badly wanted to show Grandpa respect by being clean and nicely dressed when we got to the hospital.
Tara isn’t in the opening credits, but she’s very significant in this episode, and since Spike’s not in it, I’ll give her his character analysis section this time. Tara really is wonderful. She’s so good at being quietly supportive without her presence being a nuisance. I think her support is the most comforting to Buffy of the entire gang. She’s just a quiet pillar of strength and wisdom while everyone else is spazzing out.
Anya has had to deal with her own mortality already this season, and now she has to deal with the mortality of people in her own social circle. She’s so used to asking blunt questions and getting answers for them that when everyone goes quiet and sad at the moment when she has the most questions ever, it becomes much more painful and confusing than it might otherwise have been.
I like the look into Dawn’s daily life at middle school. This is the first we’ve seen of the rather complex social life she has of her own; she’s not just Buffy’s satellite. She has friends, enemies, crushes. The news of Joyce’s death intrudes on all of that. When I was in high school, this guy I could not stand (because his favorite thing to do every day was attack me about my politics and religion) was kind of in Dawn’s situation. His father died very unexpectedly. All normal social routines get suspended when something like that happens. Rivalries don’t matter anymore, and this person you loathe turns into just a fellow human being who’s grieving.
Giles, like Tara, is supportive and wonderful the whole time. Okay I don’t think I have anymore analysis in me. This episode is hard to deal with.
“I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's [sniffling], there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid. [still teary] And, and Xander's crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair—not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.