Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | January 14, 2013

Cordia’s Review: S5, E16 – The Body

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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Responses

  1. I think you guys pretty much covered everything about The Body. I remember the first time I watched it and it hit me pretty hard. I had no idea that Joyce was going to die. Everything about the episode (lack of music, etc.) made it less like an experience of watching tv to be entertained and more like actually witnessing somebody go through the worst day in their life. I think the episode is meant to make you feel uncomfortable like you would if you were actually present when one of your friends lost somebody as close as their mother.
    As far as Willow and Tara’s first kiss, I remember being surprised they had been allowed to finally show it on tv. I watched it when it first aired and didn’t know it was coming so I was pleasantly surprised. I remember, at that time, a lot of people were not happy (at least where I lived in Colorado) with Buffy because it kept pushing the boundaries- but that’s why this show is awesome.


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