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Discussion of 5.16 "The Body" - Aired 2/27/01 (WB-US)

GraceK

Grr Arrg
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Is it possible that Anya has Asperger's or at least is somewhere at the edge of the bell curve on the autism scale? It would explain her love for money, her understanding of theoretical systems, her problems with empathy, the seeming inconsistency of her intelligence, as well as many of her other traits.

Anya's way of killing people is very depersonalised compared to Spike. Spike went toe to toe with slayers, knowing very well that it was either him or them. Anya flung some spells at people she did not know or care about. It is the Stanley Milgram version of killing.
I love everything about this post. :)
 
W
WillowFromBuffy
Wow! Thanks!

Mr Trick

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Did anyone else hear about the theory that was doing the rounds at the time that Dawn was going to use her power as the key to try and bring Joyce back? The rumour was partly based on the last shot with the finger pointing towards Joyce. Interesting theory anyway.

This episode should be taught in schools. The direction is perfect. Its one of the best in dealing with death and is very bold and unpredictable too.
 
thrasherpix
thrasherpix
This episode, even devoid of the context of the series, would be far superior than any other movie I've known schools to use to "teach about death."

jls

a big cat
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Oct 9, 2017
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Australia
Just watched this episode. It's hard to know how to talk about it. Every time I watch it, it affects me more.

The easiest things to talk about is that it's brilliant, and that there's an insight into Buffy and Tara's deepening friendship that I really love. I would've liked to have seen more of that friendship.

Everything else is just quite heart-hurting.
 
Okay, having read some posts in this thread and taken some time I feel normalised and able to talk about it. I think they depict really well the kind of alien, empty space that opens up around you in the aftermath of the death of a loved one. Buffy shows this the best. Normal desires are gone, there's no comfort even in regular, simple things.

I really feel for Dawn and Buffy when people are trying to cheer them up, take their minds off it, or try to figure out what they need. I know it all comes from a good place, but Dawn and Buffy have to, and can only, go through it. That horrible alienness has to be experienced. Everyone else's emotions are a burden, particularly their well-intentioned but unhelpful attempts to get them to respond to things in normal ways, or do normal things. I'm thinking particularly of Anya, Xander and Willow bringing all the food at the hospital, and Dawn, Willow and Tara when Dawn is staying over in their dorm room.

Perhaps I'm over-identifying, but all of those emotions read so clearly to me.

Dawn's empathetic teacher was a really lovely detail, whoever that woman was she was a really great actress. And I felt for Dawn and her denial so deeply.

I think the vampire at the end was a good element. It kind of harks back to when Buffy said something like 'kicking ass is my comfort food'. At first she can't fight the vampire, she is weakened from grief, and as soon as she dusts him (he's a particularly gross looking one!), she collapses in exhaustion, though she's withstood far greater exertion than that. Nonetheless, she does gather enough strength to kill him. It's a really good metaphor - the only way to keep living when you're grieving and depressed is by putting in that effort and energy to keep going, even though you're drained and exhausted and it's a monumental task.

I also think that Riley would've actually shone in this situation. Maybe that sounds a bit yuck, but he did need to be needed, and he really could've been a rock for her here (provided he wasn't overly ruled by his insecurities).

Now comes the part where I am outraged and incredulous and irritated by Buffy's lack of emotional and financial support from everyone - and I'm going to feel this way until S7. Gah!
 

SnyderRules

Townie
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Mar 29, 2017
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United Kingdom
PERFECT television, this episode. I was struggling with my recent rerun of Season 5 (I don't know why but I'm finding it a bit weak) but this episode brought it all home and reminded why I love this show.

I guess you kind of have to be in right mood to watch this one. I can't imagine just popping the dvd disc one random evening to watch 'The Body', out of context from the rest of season. The episode is just so very real, it's scary. I'm fortunate I've never experienced death in the family however my mother had a serious accident last year (she's alright, thank god) that made me realise one day I will lose her and others I hold dear.

Joss' writing and direction is just too good. I love the little moments he captures like when Buffy first says 'body' to Giles and she finally breaks down, Willow's freakout about her clothes (and Anya finding the blue sweater without even realising) and the amazing use of silence and colour. Everyone was good in this episode, even Dawn. Joss also seems to be the only director who figures Tara into the group (sadly a rare occurrence).

There's really not much else to say about this one and like others have said it's hard to write about this episode because it's such a tough episode to get through. I don't know if it's my favourite episode but it's certainly one of the best episodes of the show.
 

Sharky

Townie
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Oct 27, 2017
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26
The shots of Joyce's body are done so well in this episode. They focus long enough on her that it starts to unsettle you and make you uncomfortable. Really goes well with the theme of the episode and how we deal with death.

I think Dawn's scenes in this episode have the most emotionally powerful punches. Her denial, breakdown and reaching out to touch Joyce at the end "Is she cold?" always kill me. Poor Dawnie.

Love the Tillow kiss here. It's brilliant of Joss to place their first kiss in a moment of grief so they are just two normal loving partners comforting each other. Couldn't have done it better.
 

PaulParmar1

Spuffy Forever
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Sineya
This episode always makes me tear up.
No matter how many times I know what's coming . It presents death so well especially Anya's speech and how everyone is trying to process it. We all process death in different ways and handle it differently. I loved the Buffy and Tara conversation and now I feel like they're friends in this episode rather then Tara just being "Willows girlfriend"
This episode is real!
RIP Joyce Summers <3
 

Mr Trick

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Still one of the most beautiful and devastating episodes of TV to deal with death. I would probably extend that to film too. Joss's direction is really on point.
 

katmobile

Scooby
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I am unmoved my Anya's speech. I'm probably the only one, but it annoyed me more than anything else. It's a beautiful speech, and it gets to the heart of grief very well. But Anya???really???? This woman has a body count higher than anyone else....she has reveled and LOVED her killing of men...she still talks about it with joy. Am I supposed to believe she doesn't understand Death ??? That's laughable.

"I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's- 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. 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."

How does she not know why??? She has murdered thousands of people and she doesn't "get" death? I feel this speech is supposed to make her seem humane or something, but she comes off as almost mentally challenged. Wow Anya, it took a woman you barely spoke to to die of natural causes for you to feel confused. Goody for you!!
She doesn't understand because the deaths she caused didn't weigh on her. She never saw or felt connected to their consequences. Thinking about this it maybe why her attitude changes later on she sees Xander's pain at him losing someone he knew and the effect it had on his friends and she's confronted with mortality and more importantly it's impact.
 

spikenbuffy

"Why can't I stay"
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I've always felt emotional seeing Dawn's breakdown, it has always been one of the most painful scene in this episode rather than Anya's speech. The way, Dawn, the second Buffy arrived to talk to her has doubts that it happened something to Joyce and in the corridor of the school, starts to move her eyes/has tears in her eyes when she asked about the safety of Joyce. And then is devastated and breakdown in the ground... WHOA!!!! Heartwrenching!!!

Unpopular opinion : I also find Xander 's anger scene to the hospital that Joyce was "healed" more emotional than Anya IMO.
 

Tank1978

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Firstly I have to say I love this episode purely because of how well put together it is. It showcases not just the actors abilities but the whole teams abilities to put together something as real and moving at this. No matter how many times I watch it I still cry my heart out for them all.

Many posts have talked about Anya's speech, however, I just wanted to touch on something else Anya says in this episode.

Her first words to Buffy in the hospital are "I wish Joyce didn't die". I don't think it's just a case of her blurting out whatever comes into her head, but her own unique way of trying to show sympathy to Buffy in the best way she knows how. By saying "I wish".

We saw how she kept trying to get people to say "I wish ...." so she could wreak vengeance and I think here she's trying to say to Buffy if she still had her powers she'd bring Joyce back by a wish.
 

Oromous

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Sineya

Wikipedia said:
"The episode "The Body" was particularly highly acclaimed by critics. David Bianculli in the New York Daily News commends the acting abilities of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg, Alyson Hannigan, and Amber Benson. "The Body", according to Bianculli is "Emmy-worthy. It also will haunt you—but not in the normal way associated with this still-evolving, still-achieving series." Television critic Alesia Redding and editor Joe Vince of the South Bend Tribune write, "I was riveted by this show. This isn't just one of the best Buffy episodes of all time. It's one of the best episodes of TV of all time." Redding adds, "If you watch this incredible episode and don't recognize it as great TV, you're hopeless. A 'fantasy' show delivers the most stark and realistic take on death I've ever seen, deftly depicting how a loved one who dies suddenly becomes 'the body'."

Gareth McLean in The Guardian rejected the notion that Buffy is similar to other "schmaltzy American teen show(s)" like Dawson's Creek: "This episode was a brave, honest and wrenching portrayal of death and loss. The way this was handled by Joss Whedon. was ingenious. Time slowed down and the feeling of numbness was palpable as Buffy and her gang tried to come to terms with Joyce's death." McLean especially appreciated the small details of Buffy protecting Joyce's dignity and the confusion shown by the characters.

At Salon.com, Joyce Millman wrote, "there hasn't been a finer hour of drama on TV this year than 'The Body' You have to hand it to the writers; Joyce's demise came as a complete surprise. In that instant, Buffy's childhood officially ends. Even if Buffy gets stiffed in every other Emmy category this year, 'The Body' should convince the nominating committee that Gellar is for real. I can't remember the last time I saw a more wrenching portrayal of the shock of loss." Andrew Gilstrap at PopMatters declares it "possibly the finest hour of television I've seen, bar none. It is an incredibly moving episode, one that finally admits that you don't walk away from death unscathed. It also shows that, for all the group's slaying experience, they really weren't prepared for death when it stole a loved one."
After season 1 of BtVS, there's always one or two outstanding episodes that would be talked about by long time Buffy fans and general TV critics for decades to come. Season 2 had Passion and Becoming; season 3 had consistently quality episodes like Helpless and Graduation Day; while season 4 had Hush. Season 5 would have two episodes that would receive critical acclaim, one is The Gift and the other one is this.

And it's easy to see why from the very beginning of the episode: the lack of music, the many continuous shots, and most importantly, SMG's realistic performance showing the confusion and disconnection a person immediately feels witnessing the death of a loved one. Unlike many television drama even today, The Body takes its time fixating on the palpable numbness Buffy feels from such a shocking moment, offering the audience to feel that kind of detachment, even going so far as to letting both Buffy and the audience pretend that Joyce was resuscitated for just a moment, pretending that everything's going to be okay again... when it really is not. As Whedon put it, "there is no glorious payoff."

As Joyce is slowly processed from "Buffy's mum" to "the body" on the coroner's table, the episode would continue on to how others deal with the concept of death, with Dawn's breakdown being a more immediate response as all her emotions bubble to the surface. The others, the outsiders (in art class) looking out at Dawn's reaction could only feel so much of what Dawn and Buffy are going through, not just because of the muffled audio, but because they are not her or close to Joyce; they could only try and imagine what Dawn must've been feeling looking out through that window as observers, as outsiders usually do reacting to the grieving.

When we turn to Xander and Willow, they try to come to terms with the randomness of reality. "Things don't happen! I mean... they don't just happen!" Xander even tries to blame Glory or the doctors, trying to find some meaning, some reason that Joyce should be deprived from their lives. As said by Stanley Kubrick, “The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent." Even though the Scoobies are grieving... life goes on and parking tickets are given, uncaring as things just... happen. Anya's pain surfaces. She's been a wish-granting demon for so long and has always been able to magic away people's problems with a simple deus ex machina. But this time, she couldn't do it, and she doesn't understand why this is so, why there's no easy solution to this problem. It's her way of processing Joyce's death as she comes to terms that this time, she can't just wish it away. In spite of fulfilling the desires of countless mortals, there's no changing this fate no matter how much she desires it.

I think very few shows that aren't medical drama deal with the meaning of death so profoundly. The only other show I recall was the procedural medical drama, "House M.D.", where in an episode titled "Simple Explanation", a recurring character dies, and the main characters too tried to figure out the cause of his death as they usually do for other patients. There must be an explanation for it, as it's hard to accept that death simply just happens.

Joyce is fully processed. She is now the eponymous body. The doctor covers her up, checks the forms, and makes his way to the grieving family. It's just another day in the office, but you could tell from the doctor's face, it never gets easier. But he has a job to do, so walk on he must. He did the best he could, but he might have felt responsible, feeling guilt as he relays the information to Buffy, but not being able to gaze at her for long as he speaks what he considers to be the truth, turning his eyes to Giles instead. Buffy senses that and imagines that the doctor's only trying to make her feel better, telling her what she wants to hear.

Tara seems to be the most subdued of the Scoobies when it comes to responses. But then it's revealed: her mother has died too. She has been through this before, having her own trauma before that she felt no one else could understand the way she does, and so she doesn't try to pretend she understands Buffy's pain. "Everybody wants to help," but no one could feel what she feels.

Somewhere in the hospital, Dawn still couldn't process the idea that Joyce is dead. She enters the morgue, hoping to look at whom she remembers as her mother for 14 years. While Buffy is forced to return to her usual routine of vampire-staking, gradually accepting that her mum is as dead as the vamp, her sister still hopes. Dawn hopes to provide some warmth to the dead, but the episode cuts off that touch of warmth. Like death itself, the ending is abrupt; it doesn't have the patience or care to give people more time.

"The Body" is arguably one of the finest moments of not just Buffy, but primetime television. It showed us the kind of cinematic quality storytelling that auteurs like Whedon could bring to the small-screen, foreshadowing the kind of equally innovative storytelling that's to come in modern series. It was regrettably snubbed from even being nominated for an Emmy when it's undoubtedly a far more ambitious episode than Hush, but it was nominated for the Nebula Awards in science fiction/fantasy writing.

On a personal level... I love this episode. And much like "Reprise" in AtS S2, it's hard to express the kind of "love" I feel towards such an episode. While its theme of grief isn't as personal to me, it's writing like this that makes me appreciate the power of storytelling, how a show about vampires and Frankenstein cyborgs could have a mature conversation about death and all the different ways we deal with it.

Usually, BtVS is the more cheerful counterpart in the relationship between BtVS and AtS. Angel, however, gets the more optimistic role this time. While it also deals with similar issues of nihilism, we would be given (in "Epiphany") a more solemn answer to what we should do in the face of meaningless horrors in life.
 
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