[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 02/27/2001]
There’s not much I can say that hasn’t been said already about “The Body.” It’s a brilliant masterpiece that is further proof that the Emmy Awards are meaningless. I will not lie–this is a tough episode to watch and, honestly, I am repulsed by the idea of dissecting and analyzing it. In light of this I decided not to take very many notes, not discuss many of the details, and not nitpick about specifics.
This episode is presented in a manner that parallels our actual lives. Even shows that are based on ‘reality,’ such as the endless slew of cop, law, and medical dramas, are in reality very little like our actual lives, or even the lives of people in those professions. I’ve lost a loved relative and was there during the following hours after her death. What I experienced was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before in my life–this odd numbness where I couldn’t feel, couldn’t think, and felt like I was hearing people speak through an audio fog. To think that an episode of television could capture that unique feeling, and then convey it to complete perfection, seems like nonsense. After all, when a beloved character on a television show dies, you’ve got to have the endless sobbing and swelling sad music.
Somehow, though, Joss Whedon has done it. It’s well known that he wrote this episode from his own experience of seeing death. That must be why what is on display here is unbelievably powerful–a work of ‘life,’ if you will. “The Body” isn’t about Joyce at all, but rather the “negative space” around her body–as in, how this death affects everyone close to her. And affect everyone close to her it does, in a major series-changing way. From this point on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not the same series. Some see this full-on dive into darkness as the wrong direction. I, on the other hand, see it as a welcome path. The characters have gotten older, so it’s time the series got older with it. What follows through the end of the series is dark, complex, compelling, and at times absolutely riveting.
How about Sarah Michelle Gellar? This girl puts out amazing performances on this show so often, I often forget just how talented she is. There’s not one moment in this entire episode where I don’t buy that she’s feeling exactly what I felt in my own experience. Whedon uses a whole variety of simple techniques to help us see through Buffy’s eyes and feel Buffy’s heart: quick cuts, hopeful dream flashes, odd framing, blurring, and brash physicality (among other things). Additionally, the complete lack of any music is a unique and gutsy move by Whedon, but it pays unparalleled dividends here. Instead of pointing each technique out let me just say they all work perfectly for me and wonderfully add to the realism that Whedon has achieved here.
The one specific thing I feel the need to discuss is the vampire in the final act. The first time I saw the episode I must admit that I was pulled out of the sense of realism that Whedon spent the entire episode holding onto. I even felt that it really hurt the episode. Since then, after hearing Whedon’s commentary and rewatching the episode several times, it just doesn’t bug me anymore. I accept Whedon’s reasoning at face value, and it makes well enough sense from a story perspective. It is meant to show us that even in the face of tremendous personal tragedy the world outside still goes on. This is shown in different ways throughout the episode which include Buffy staring blankly out her back porch and hearing the sound of children laughing, Xander getting a parking ticket, and then finally Buffy being forced into a very ugly fight with a vampire. For Buffy, this fight represents her day-to-day life forcing itself on her, not caring that she’s experiencing tremendous loss. I agree that the episode would have been just as potent without the vampire, but it being there doesn’t bother me anymore.
I want to apologize if you wanted a more detailed analysis from me. “The Body” is not complex nor is it meant to be. Simply watch the episode, listen to Whedon’s commentary, put yourself in Buffy’s shoes, and the episode will review itself. This is a piece of life that is rarely depicted outside of each of our lives. On display are emotions so naked and raw that we’re forced to see just how beautiful and magnificent human life can be. As Anya will soon say in “Forever” [5×17] , “I’m not ready to make life with you. But I could. We could. Life could come out of our love and our smooshing and that’s beautiful. It all makes me feel we’re a part of something bigger. Like I’m more awake somehow.” Anya, you nailed both the confusion of death and the miracle of life. Now, as Willow says, ” I wanna be there for Buffy.” As do I.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy simply tells Giles “she’s at the house,” which is a simple way to get Giles over asap thinking Glory is there.
+ Anya being a lot more concerned about Xander’s hand being in wall now than she would have been before.
+ Xander’s little smile after Tara says, “it hurts,” which offers him a brief break from the numbness–a feeling of life.
+ Tara offering Buffy any help she needs. I’m reminded of Tara being Buffy’s cry doll in “Triangle” [5×11] , which was one piece of their growing bond. Their scene together here is another piece. These building blocks add up to why Buffy chooses Tara for assistance in “Dead Things” [6×13] .