Monday, January 21, 2008

Buffy Wednesday Part Two

16 January 2008

I'm actually writing this first, before I've written the first half of my Buffy Wednesday recap. While it is fresh in my mind, I'd like to say a little bit about "The Body," the hardest episode I've ever had to watch of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

I knew it was coming. As I told tyranist afterward, I was working at a Los Angeles video store when this episode aired, and people were talking about it, enough that I still remember the talk. Joss Whedon himself used to come into the store from time to time, and although we talked about BTVS the movie, we never spoke about the show, which I'd never watched. I wish I had been a fan, as I often do seeing these (and writing about them) . . . maybe we'd have had something to talk about other than ALIEN:RESURRECTION.

So, "The Body" was written and directed by Joss Whedon, and it didn't pick up where the last episode left off, it actually played the ending of that episode again. Then the damn credits rolled.

Buffy comes home and finds flowers sent from her mom's recent date apparently, things went very well indeed). Buffy goes into the living room to ask her mother about it. But Joyce is lying on the couch, stiff, her eyes open in a completely dead-looking expression. "Mommy?" Buffy says, looking very young, very small.

Suddenly, it's last Christmas. Joyce is giving everyone dinner and Anya is explaining to Dawn how Santa Claus is real and he often disembowels children. Buffy, Giles, and Joyce are together, laughing, reminiscing, cutting a pie.

And then Joyce is on the couch again, staring up at nothing, her face as pale as rice paper.

Buffy dials 911 and the operator tells her to perform CPR on Joyce while she waits for paramedics. Buffy does so, and breaks at least one rib, but gets no response. Joyce's body is cold.

Buffy hangs up and calls Giles. She simply tells him "She's at the house," which I have to think he interpreted as Glory, and hangs up when she hears the ambulance.

A pair of EMTs come in and find no pulse. Buffy doesn't know how long her mother's been like that, but they go to work giving Joyce CPR . . . and suddenly, she starts to cough. Joyce is alive!

We flash to her in the ambulance, and telling her daughter, "Thank God you got to me in time."

And then we flash back. The paramedics stop working on Joyce, who has not recovered, and they call the time of death. The miraculous save was just in Buffy's mind.

She is told that the cause of death was likely a brain aneurysm and there's probably nothing she could have done. The paramedics get another call and have to go, but Buffy is told to wait for the coroner to come pick up the body. Buffy is left alone . . . or alone with her mother, I don't know which is worse.

She is in shock and a moment later, she vomits on the floor. While she cleans it up, you can hear kids playing outside, birds singing, windchimes, all the elements of regular life.

Buffy looks awful when Giles arrives. He is confused, then sees Joyce's body. He puts his arms around the Slayer and tries to comfort her, but she is still in shock, thinking about how to tell her sister.

Dawn is crying in the bathroom at school. We find out, a moment later, it was because a girl is spreading rumours about her and boy she likes thinks she's weird. Late for class, she pulls herself together and goes to art class, where she shows a great deal of drawing talent. She sits next to the boy she likes and he seems impressed that she's weird. Maybe life isn't so bad after--

Buffy comes into the class and asks if she can speak to Dawn. They go into the hall, within sight of everyone in the art class, and Dawn doesn't want to go someplace private with her to find out what she's there for. So, Buffy tells her there's been an accident, and we don't get to hear the rest. We (and everyone at school) see Dawn's reaction, and the poor child drops to the floor in anguish.

Willow and Tara are in their dorm room, preparing to go to the hospital. Xander and Anya are on their way to pick them up, but Willow can't decide what is appropriate to wear. She keeps changing her mind, becoming frantic over such an unimportant thing. Tara comforts Willow, kissing her and trying to calm her down.

Xander parks in the middle of the street and they go up to Willow's place. They hug. Anya mentions that Xander cried and it weirded her out. Xander wants to blame someone. He thinks it might have been Glory, and is angry to the point of punching his hand through Willow's wall.

Anya is asking typically insensitive questions about death and Joyce's body, and finally Willow snaps at her, telling her to shut up and ____ (this is where I would add an unfunny pop culture reference, which would be inappropriate for this episode). But Anya just doesn't understand how death is permanent, and Joyce is gone, and how she feels, and no one will explain it to her. The four of them exchange a moment of shared pain. Willow changes her blouse again, while Xander's car is being ticketed outside.

An autopsy has been done and the whole gang (minus Spike) is in the hospital waiting room. Dawn wants to see the body, but now isn't the appropriate time. Joyce died of an aneurysm as a complication of the surgery. The doctor tells Buffy that Joyce probably felt tired and died with no pain (but Buffy hears things differently).

Giles is filling out forms for her. Anya tries to express her condolences, and Buffy accepts them in the spirit in which they were given. Tara tells Buffy how she lost her own mother a couple of years back and they have a nice moment.

Dawn says she needs to go to the bathroom and reacts negatively when the gang asks if she wants someone to go with her.

Instead of that bathroom, she walks to the back of the hospital, where the morgue is dark and unattended. She approaches the sheet-covered bodies, and a reanimated corpse rises up from behind her and attacks.

Back in the waiting area, Buffy realises Dawn didn't come back. Immediately, she knows where she went.

In the morgue, Dawn is struggling with the monster as Buffy bursts in. Buffy grabs a bone saw and cuts the creature's head off. It turns to dust, so I guess it was a vampire.

On the slab, Joyce is lying, staring into nothingness. Dawn reaches for her, perhaps to shut her eyes, perhaps to feel that she is real, perhaps to say goodbye. Just before she touches her, the episode ends.

As I said before, this was the hardest episode to watch of them all. It was also really hard to recap. I found a couple of websites where people had summed up the episode, and they stressed different things and interpreted things differently than I did. Also, there was one I found that was ridiculously detailed, like reading a transcript, and it both encouraged me to go into more depth and made me feel foolish for doing so.

I've talked to a couple other people about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" since getting into the show less than a year ago. My friend Merrill has decided to watch the DVDs (hopefully with his wife) due to my constant rants about it, and my cousin and I will sit down one of these days soon and talk about his feelings about the show.

I went to message boards, which I try not to do as a rule ("Best Willow Girlfriend," really?), and found out how much this episode touched, resonated, and scarred die-hard viewers (among whom I hope I can consider myself), and read a little bit about what Joss had to say.

In light of all that, I probably should have kept my recap short and just focused on my feelings about the episode. That's ultimately more important. I probably should've asked tyranist for his feelings too, and maybe I will next time I see him (or just send him an email).

I was quiet for a few seconds after the show ended. I wanted to say something, but at the same time, I wanted tyranist to speak first, since I had nothing worthy of saying. I did end up speaking first, but it was a hollow, "That was a hard show to watch." He agreed, possibly even more affected than I had been.

When the paramedics managed to bring her back, I felt such a relief that the tears that had been threatening to come just started moving. And then, when that is revealed to be in Buffy's mind, dude, I cannot express the awfulness of that. But that's how the brain works.

I told tyr that I could've done without the Romero zombie in the morgue, but I'm sure it was there for a reason (and yeah, I'm aware that it was supposed to be a vampire, though it wasn't). He didn't seem to have a problem with it, so maybe it's just me disliking the mundanacity of it all (and the fact that it was something out of RE-ANIMATOR rather than BTVS).

Tara struck me as particularly wonderful in this episode. I'd never really thought of her that way, but I believe I now love the character, and I hope she continues to develop. More than the witchcraft or the lesbianism or her somewhat unusual look, I like the sweet, stuttery outsider aspect to Tara. She's just a vulnerable person, and 21st Century entertainment tends to shy away from, or give the finger to, vulnerable people.

I didn't realise until the end credits that there was no music in this episode. I can't honestly say the show would've been more emotional with a score behind it, and it's actually possible it would've been less emotional. But I don't know for sure, I'm not the artist that Joss is.

My parents are both still alive, but death is something that nips at the back of your neck from childhood on. Despite my mockery of her, I'm a big fan of my mother, and I'm one of those sick kids who lives vicariously through television and movies, relating to certain characters as though they actually exist in our lives.* Though, chances are, the world will be rid of me long before my mother dies, she's gotten to the age where she starts talking about her legacy and what's to be done when she dies. It freaks me out, but it's there, somewhere on the horizon, as it is for pretty much any of us.

I caught it that this was the first time we'd seen Willow and Tara kiss (since the last "season ender" cut away from it so laughably), and nearly asked tyranist if that was so. We didn't talk much during the episode, though. I wondered if they had some problems with the censors or were absolutely forbidden to go there, and this was their way around it. Regardless, it was just nice, the kissing, and significant in that it was not a sexy, romantic, or notable moment for it.

One more thing: I don't know other "Buffy" fans (except my cousin who used to watch it while monitoring campus cable feeds for naughty bits), but it's possible that people don't like the addition of Dawn to the cast (knowing human nature, I'd say it's a certainty**). But without a doubt, this episode is all the stronger for Dawn's presence on the show and in the family. Had "The Body" aired in Season Four, I'm sure it would've been great, but not this great.

I've said a lot, and yet don't think I've said much at all. Maybe the best thing I can say is that after seeing this episode, I went out and picked up the BTVS "Chosen Collection" boxed set so I can have all the episodes. Even if it's all downhill from here, the ride has been well worth the price of the DVDs.

Rish Outfield

*I once asked Alley Mills if I could call her "Mom," and she surprised me by saying that guys around my age are always asking her that. Isn't that one of the sicker things you've ever heard?

**In the days between starting this post and finishing it, I have discovered, at least on the internet, that there are a great many folks who dislike Dawn and were unhappy with her introduction in the show. That's too bad.

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