Saturday, 25 August 2012
BUFFY 5.16 THE BODY
The first 12 minutes of the episode
WRITER: Joss Whedon
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon
WHAT’S THE SITCH?
Buffy comes home to find her mom apparently lifeless on the couch. Shocked she calls 911 who tell her to do CPR while they send the paramendics. Buffy does, desperately trying to revive Joyce. But she gets no reaction. Buffy also calls Giles, telling him he needs to come right away. Soon the paramedics arrive. They do their best...but to no avail. The lead paramedic gives Buffy the terrible news – her mom has died. He offers his condolences and says that someone will be there soon to take the body away for a proper investigation in to the cause of death. The paramedics go, leaving Buffy all alone in the house, all alone with the Body. She wanders the house in silence, in shock. She is sick on the floor. She opens the back door and listens to the sounds of everyday life outside. Giles quickly arrives, fearful that Glory has launched another attack. He sees Joyce’s prone body. Buffy manages to tell him what happened and Giles comforts his young slayer. We go on to see the rest of the Scoobies dealing with the news. They are all clearly shocked, grieving, angry, with poor Anya not seeming to understand any of it. She doesn’t understand how this can be the absolute end of someone. But the worst comes as Buffy goes to the school to tell Dawn. Buffy pulls her little sister out of art class, the teenager’s friends watching silently through a window as the news is broken, watching as poor Dawn collapses in grief. Later, at the hospital, the doctor confirms to Buffy that Joyce died from an aneurysm – a complication from her surgery. He says it would have been quick and painless. While Buffy and the doctor have been talking, Dawn has snuck off to find her mother’s body. She is confused and curious about death, about what happens next. In the morgue she sees Joyce’s body lying on the table…but another body suddenly gets up from a neighbouring table: a vampire. The newly risen vamp goes to attack Dawn. Luckily Buffy arrives just in time and saves her sister, quickly finishing off the monster. The episode ends with Dawn and Buffy, sat together on the cold mortuary floor, looking at Joyce’s body. Buffy tells her sister that their mom is not there, that she has gone. But Dawn wants to know where Joyce has gone, her hand slowly moving forward, looking to touch her mother one last time.
WHAT’S THE SITCH BENEATH THE SITCH?
For once there isn’t one. It is all up there on the screen. It’s about how we deal when death comes a calling. It’s about the banality, the weirdness of those first few minutes and hours, about how shock and disbelief plays with our minds, with our perceptions of place and time. There are no life lessons learned in The Body, no big truths uncovered. Simply, it is all about "the black ashes in your mouth numbness of death" as Joss described it.
WHO’S GIVING US THE WIGGINS THIS WEEK?
Real life. Real death.
WHY IT ROCKS
If you’ve seen it then you will know why.
Quite simply The Body is one of the greatest pieces of television ever produced. It is a stripped down and painfully honest piece of drama that shows us the reality (or un-reality) of a traumatic and terrible event the likes of which we will all unfortunately experience at some point or another. I have experienced it in a very similar circumstance to Buffy.
The power of Joss’s episode is that it is absolutely accurate, devastatingly so, drawing on his own personal experience. That is why it resonates, why it works, why it hurts. Everything shown is honest and true in the worst of ways such as how in the immediate aftermath the world becomes a strange otherworldly place where flashes of wish fulfilment fantasy try to push back the tide of awful reality. How the tiniest details suddenly become huge. How we question, how we struggle to understand, to comprehend, to make sense of things.
There is no music in The Body. No score. There is only dialogue and ambient sounds often cranked up in places – wind chimmes, children playing, birdsong, traffic etc. The worst being the loud snap when Buffy accidentally breaks her mother’s rib while doing CPR. But most of all there is silence. Long stretches of deafening silence. People standing or sitting around, not knowing what to say or do, struggling for words, to know what to say, how to behave. An odd situation for a show famed for its continual witty wordsmithery.
And then there are the performances.
Well, you all know by now that I think highly of SMG. She is the powerful centre of the show. And in this episode, she is quite brilliant. She has to display such deep and believable levels of shock, grief, anger, comfort. And she does it achingly well. This is the most stripped down, vulnerable, and utterly human the character of Buffy Summers has ever been, or will ever be. Seeing her paled face and big haunted eyes in extreme close up as she stands on the doorstep, in the sun, listening to passing sounds of life, is deeply unsettling. Following behind her small, fragile looking figure as she staggers through the silent house then collapses and vomits on the floor is distressing. I mean, she’s the hero. Strong, Clever. Witty. Ready to handle anything… except this. All of the performances are great but deserving of extra praise is Emma Caulfield. Anya’s genuinely confused and upset reaction to realising Joyce will never again get to enjoy all the simple little things in life that people enjoy is heartbreaking. In that one short monologue she captures the episode perfectly. If you aren’t fighting to hold back tears by that point then you have a heart of stone.
If there were any justice in the world The Body would have won a whole heap of Emmy awards, including for writing, direction and performance by SMG. As it turned out it wasn’t nominated for a single one, much to the amazement of television critics right across the US who’d been openly calling for awards recognition for the episode. But Joss always said he never made this show to get awards. He made it so that he could play around with genre conventions and explore themes and ideas that interested him as well as to create characters that people could identify with and possibly gain something from. And he certainly succeeded.
The Body is my personal favourite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is possibly my favourite piece of television ever, possibly even my favourite piece of drama from any medium. But I find it hard to watch. The first time I saw it I’d already had a similar experience to Buffy. Now I’ve had two. The second one being almost identical to what happens in the episode. Now it is very hard to watch. Almost too hard. But I continue to watch it from time to time because it is a great piece of drama that transcends its medium, its genre. It deserves to be watched. The Body was made by someone working from their own personal experience, someone showing us that the weird reactions, the strange things that we think and do in those first few hours are perfectly normal. And that despite how isolated we feel in that darkest time, we are not alone.
Thank you Joss.
WHY IT SUCKS
DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR
Buffy: Mom? Whadya doin'? Mom? ... Mom? ... Mommy?
Buffy (shouts to Giles): We're not supposed to move the body! (She puts her hand over her mouth, in shock.)
Tara: We can be strong.
Willow: Strong like an Amazon?
Anya: But I don't understand! 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. (She puts her hand over her face, crying.)
Xander: We'll go, we'll deal, we'll help. That's what we do. We help Buffy.
Anya (loudly): I wish that Joyce didn't die...
Everyone looks at her.
Anya (more softly):...because she was nice. And now we all hurt.
Xander: Anya, ever the wordsmith.
Buffy (to Anya, meaning it): Thank you.
Buffy: Everybody wants to help. I don't even know if I'm... here. I don't know what's going on. Never done this. (pauses) That's just an amazingly dumb thing to say. Obviously I've never done this before.
Tara (softly): I have. My mother died when I was seventeen.
Dawn (looking at Joyce's body): Is she cold?
Buffy: It's not her... it's not her... she's gone.
Dawn (softly): Where'd she go?
AND ANOTHER THING
There is no "Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer" at the beginning of this episode. And there is no music of any kind.
The episode starts with a flashback scene feat. Joyce, Buffy and the gang having Christmas dinner as Joss didn’t want the credits playing over the story proper.
This episode features Willow and Tara’s first on-screen kiss. It is a throwaway moment of quick comfort and not played as a big deal. Originally the WB balked at having them kiss but Joss insisted, saying it was the natural thing for them to do in the scene. It was the one and only time he threatened the network that he’d leave the show if he didn’t get his way. Thankfully they quickly relented.
Joss lost his own mother in a similar way to Buffy. The episode stems primarily from his personal experience.
Some have criticised the inclusion of the vampire in the final sequence at the morgue. I also always felt it was kind of an odd and jarring inclusion. But Joss has explained that it is there to signify that despite this awful tragedy, life goes on. And for Buffy, life in Sunnydale means vampires and demons. There is no escape from it. I also think that the vampire is another expression of death, of a dead body. And that when Buffy slays it she is slaying death itself in a way she couldn’t for her mom.
HOW MANY STAKES?
5+ (out of 5)