Cultural Catchup Project – “The Body” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“The Body”

August 5th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

One of the qualities about the Cultural Catchup Project which many of you seem to enjoy is the ability to witness someone experience the show for the first time. However, you’ve likely all noticed to this point that, in my case, the emotional side of that is largely obscured by critical analysis: in fact, you need to read between the lines to find a true “personal reflection” in the majority of my reviews.

This isn’t a purposeful attempt to keep myself out of these reviews, nor is it a sign that I am a soulless automaton. Rather, it’s simply the way I approach television: Cultural Learnings tends to operate in a solely critical capacity, and the Cultural Catchup Project has been no exception.

However, I could tell from the response to my tweets about watching “The Body” that separating myself emotionally from the episode would be impossible, both because of how affecting the episode was and because of the admonishing I’d rightfully receive from the regular readers. I do intend to offer a few critical insights, and it is quite likely that those critical insights will end up being quite elaborate, but I also want to make sure that my experience watching “The Body” is collected as part of this project. While I think that this is a truly fantastic piece of work from Joss Whedon, even more important than the text itself is the text’s influence on its audience, and I hope to try to do both justice.

I had a guest lecturer in my undergraduate Shakespeare class one day – I don’t remember which play we were discussing (although my gut says As You Like It), but I remember him drilling home one point in particular. He said that we need to pay careful attention to silence: it’s not only about what is being said, but about who isn’t speaking, what isn’t being said. I think I remember it because it was a cogent point that no one in the class was paying attention to, everyone having tuned out (and wishing they hadn’t bothered to attend the class) the second they realized that our professor was still out with an eye infection.

Obviously, “Hush” already dealt with the notion of silence and its relationship to these characters, but there they had no choice: unable to communicate through voice, they had to resort to other means. The characters were trapped in silence, the aural equivalent of negative space, and so they had to use white boards, and overhead projections, and any other methods available to them. The episode is Whedon’s evidence that the show can work without its signature dialogue, and that in some ways certain character interactions are only possible without the awkwardness surrounding our normal modes of communication. While the inability to speak seemed at first to be a hindrance, it eventually formed the basis for Willow and Tara’s first interactions, and it also helped Riley and Buffy overcome the initial shock over learning the other’s identity in banding together to take out the Gentlemen. Silence was something that could be overcome, a problem that the Scooby Gang could band together and solve.

However, silence in “The Body” is less awkward and more unsettling: in silence lies the cold truth of Joyce Summers’ death from a brain aneurysm, and in silence lies the absence of what you’re supposed to be saying, how you’re supposed to be responding to a particular crisis. While The Gentlemen were meant to represent the terror of silence in “Hush,” and their actions did demonstrate how the inability to cry for help endangered the citizens of Sunnydale, there is no need for demonification of silence in the wake of this tragedy. When all is silent, each character starts to think about the gravity of what has happened, and each character begins to break down; for the audience, meanwhile, Whedon’s purposeful use of silence throughout the episode forces the same reflection, delivering a statement about the power of that which is unheard or unsaid.

Technically speaking, this is achieved through the complete lack of score as well as some really evocative sound design: acts open with complete silence until the moment when a single object breaks through, whether it’s the zipper on Joyce’s body bag, the scissors cutting off her blouse, or the doctor’s gloves snapping as he finishes his examination of the body. Note that Whedon also uses sound, rather than image, to capture the outside world as Buffy opens the back door almost to check to see that the world hasn’t stopped around her (or, more simply, to get some fresh air after throwing up in the hallway). It is as if Joyce’s body so captures our attention that our ability to use our senses properly is crippled in its presence, the initial shock of its image so arresting that it takes a few moments to adjust to the image on our screen before the complete experience, complete with sounds, comes into perspective.

Whedon transports the viewer into the negative space created by this involuntary response, emphasizing its existence within each of the setpieces. There’s the shot of Willow’s dorm room from above, the characters’ excruciating silence echoed by the seeming openness of a space that in the handheld camera shots is almost claustrophobic. In the final sequence, Dawn is so isolated in her desire to see her mother’s body that she tunes out the rest of the space, the vampire’s rise registering only as footsteps – the episode explicitly avoids referencing the series’ usual demonic dangers before that point (beyond Giles’ presumption Buffy’s call was about Glory), but the silence – as well as the visceral nature of Buffy’s struggle, hacking off the vampire’s head rather than staking it – perfectly integrates the scene into the story. However, this use of negative aural space is perhaps most prominent in the stunning sequence when Buffy goes to Dawn’s school, as of yet unseen (which means it was likely designed around this sequence), and we witness Dawn’s reaction as her class does: through the plate glass windows, they see a horrified teenager in a state of shock, and we see how the silence is even worse to witness. You see every bit of pain in their actions and movements, and your mind fills in the sound in such a way that you can’t help but feel her pain.

The silence also increases the power of the things which are said, or the things which we implicitly say within silences. This speaks to Willow’s anxiety over what she was wearing: so much of her clothing makes a statement, one often involving some form of cute animal crocheted into a sweater, and so she becomes anxious about what her outfit will say for her even before she opens her mouth. No one knows what to say, which is why Willow is so concerned about how she will present herself when she’s not speaking: she doesn’t want to cry, and she doesn’t want to appear like a funeral parlor employee, because she is hyper-aware of how sensitive this situation is. She doesn’t understand it, but she has enough of an understanding to know which intangibles could theoretically come into play.

However, Anya doesn’t: for her, the silence is terrifying because she doesn’t have the same cultural background as everyone else, and she doesn’t know whether she should be changing clothes or punching walls or anything in between. Anya is the moment where many people, myself included, break down in the episode because she puts into words, in a truly spectacular performance from Emma Caulfield, what everyone feels in those circumstances but doesn’t often say: she doesn’t understand what’s happening, both in terms of what she’s supposed to do and what anyone is supposed to do when someone is taken away too soon. Anya, despite only recently becoming human, best captures the human response to this situation because she is the most uncomfortable in the silence; while Willow first pushes away her inquisitiveness by suggesting it is inappropriate, how else are you supposed to learn how to feel in a crisis without actually expressing those feelings? Silence and inaction may be easier, and may involve less risk, but you will drown in your emotions without some form of a release.

It’s why Willow and Tara’s first kiss comes not in a moment of romantic bliss but in a moment of emotional turmoil: Whedon, undercutting any scandal narratives surrounding the kiss, delivers a moment which feels entirely “real,” free from the choreography which would have surrounded the kiss appearing in “Family” or another episode. The handheld cameras make scenes like that one more intimate than any of the series’ sexual encounters, and the weight of the episode makes their expression feel that much more grounded in how two people who love each other would react in that moment. Tara, perhaps the character who seems the most comfortable in the silences, is the stealth MVP of that sequence: not only is she there for Willow through every up and down, but Amber Benson’s face during the conversation says more than any words could, even when you know that not knowing exactly what to say to make everyone feel better haunts her just as much as it haunts everyone else (the audience included).

It seems strange to have talked about the episode for 1500 words and barely discussed Joyce or Buffy, the two figures who are central to the episode. However, the whole premise of the episode is that it focuses on the negative space, analyzing how the characters deal with the loss of Joyce, dehumanized into simply a body, as opposed to memorializing her. It’s why the episode never evolves to the point of a funeral: for these characters, the idea of a funeral is entirely abstract, just as the past and future seem to largely disappear (Buffy’s drama with Glory and Spike completely absent, Giles off handling the paperwork). The episode is about finding Joyce, recovering her image from the sense of loss which they have experienced. Dawn needs to see her mother because she wants to reconcile what has happened, to see for herself that the mother she remembers (regardless of why she remembers her, which faded away in this episode) has become a body on a table. Joyce’s memory will continue to resonate with the series, and looking back the season was a sort of long goodbye: Sutherland earned herself an “As Joyce Summers”  credit, Buffy spent more and more time at home, and her illness helped bring the Summers family together in order to reconcile the new, mystical sibling being added to the mix. In some ways her death is easy to understand from a narrative perspective, and yet it is so resonant for the characters that we’re instantly transplanted from a world where we could see it coming (especially when you know the general subject matter of “The Body”) to a world where it hits you like a ton of bricks.

As for Buffy, “The Body” captures the inherent conflict of her life: yet again, after having that initial moment of terror, her life becomes consumed by responsibility. Even thought she’s told that there is nothing she could have done, she can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if she had only been there. Her first words upon entering the house, after all, were an offer to take over Joyce’s responsibility of picking Dawn up from school: in the wake of her mother’s illness, and perhaps some residual guilt over not being around enough the previous year, she has added her to her list of people she feels responsible for – she has become the mother, which makes Joyce’s death tragic but also possible. Buffy does not enjoy the responsibility of telling Dawn, but she never for one moment considers passing it off to Giles (who was right in front of her when she made the determination); throughout the season, she has matured to the point where her responsibility as Slayer has comfortably merged with her role in the Summers household, allowing “The Body” to serve as a tragic, and yet powerful, ascension to the position of matriarch, a position she’s held in the series as a whole for a long time.

However, let’s throw the critical analysis out the window for a moment. What really struck me about watching “The Body” was about how quickly it passed by, and yet how vividly it remains in my mind after the fact. Despite the fact that forty minutes feels like ten, I could tell you each individual moment in the episode, remembering individual shots as if they had just happened on the screen in front of me. When I posted on Twitter about how it was Anya that broke me, many others tweeted about how even the thought of Anya’s speech put them on the verge of tears, and I don’t even think you need to have watched the episode obsessively to have that sense of recall. Part of this comes from the fact that many of us have had experience with death and dying which allows us to relate to this material, but the other part simply comes from how much each performer threw themselves into the emotions of this piece: these characters have been emotional in the past, but Alyson Hannigan found a more powerful way to cry, and Sarah Michelle Gellar found an element of terror in the opening sequence which we’ve never seen before. The episode feels both singular and universal, intensely personal for these characters while easily transporting each viewer into that world and allowing us to be taken over by the emotion.

And we’re there for the ride, whether it’s the fakeout with Dawn crying in the bathroom or the horrifying moment when you see the sheet rise behind her in the morgue. The episode doesn’t rely too heavily on the element of surprise: the ending of “I Was Made To Love You” pretty clearly sets up the likelihood of Joyce’s death, and what uncertainty remained for viewers is thrown out within the first few minutes. Instead, surprise is there to disarm us, to remind us that grief does not run on a straight line: you don’t know what road you’re supposed to travel on, and you’re certainly not supposed to be able to see too far ahead of or behind you. It’s why the world around our characters stops while they grieve, and it’s why the episode works so hard to capture the negative space which highlights the moments of vulnerability which emerge after such a traumatizing event.

I think that’s why, as you might notice, I skipped over the entirety of Disc Four in order to write this piece. Somehow, after “The Body,” none of it seemed as important: yes, “Checkpoint” nicely captures the shift in power between Buffy and the Watcher’s Council, Trachtenberg does some fine work in “Blood Ties,” Drusilla’s return is fun in “Crush,” and “I Was Made To Love You” is a solid little standalone that maintains a light-hearted tone which is utterly shattered by its conclusion. It’s not that these episodes aren’t important, but rather that they feel so utterly insignificant after you watch “The Body.” You realize that the family unit threatened in “Blood Ties” has been devastated, and you realize that the confidence Buffy took from her confrontation with Quentin Travers has been tested in the most heartwrenching of ways. I actually think that it makes these storylines that much more potent, heightening Buffy’s sense of responsibility and adding further complexity to her relationship with her newfound sister, but those episodes leading up to Joyce’s death feel like an extended prologue when considered in the light of this hour of television – “The Body” becomes the body, and the season thus far becomes negative space which becomes uncomfortable until we as an audience are able to reconcile it in the weeks (or discs) ahead.

There was a comment on my Twitter feed from someone who was impressed that I was able to collect myself and keep watching other series after watching “The Body.” Admittedly, while Anya did break me, I was able to get through the rest of the episode just fine, and after jotting down some initial notes I went on with my evening. However, it stuck with me in ways I hadn’t expected: watching an episode of Louie about his relationship with his mother, in which some rather horrible words were exchanged, I thought about what would happen if she died before they got to speak on better terms, and when I sat down to watch HBO’s You Don’t Know Jack, their biopic on Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian, the discussion of death and dying immediately sent me back to that image of Joyce lying lifeless on the living room carpet. That it has become a point of reference in the short term is not a surprise, but I can already sense that it won’t stop being a point of reference anytime soon, both within Buffy as a series and within television as a whole.

And I can only hope that this piece reflects that.

Cultural Observations

  • In case you were wondering, I still prefer “Hush” – “The Body” is a more pure emotional statement, but I have a great deal of respect for how much “Hush” manages to accomplish within a potentially gimmicky presence. The television critic in me is too impressed by its use of structure and its simultaneous subversion/inclusion of series norms to switch over to “The Body,” even if it was a work of genius.
  • I know that there are numerous egregious Emmy snubs to complain about throughout the series, but that this wasn’t nominated for Sound Design honestly makes me the angriest.
  • I really like Tara’s scene with Buffy as everyone else is off raiding the vending machines, both as a bonding moment for the two characters and a neat reflection of Dawn’s important position within Buffy’s dream in “Restless” (I didn’t go back to see if there’s any direct foreshadowing to this moment, but I suppose it’s possible). However, shouldn’t Buffy have known about Tara’s mother’s death from “Family?” I know that episode was apparently quite rushed, but it seemed strange that Buffy wouldn’t put two and two together (although grief might be a good excuse).
  • Love the moment where Anya, still wary of how much should be said, finds Willow’s blue sweater and promptly puts it away where it’s supposed to be instead of announcing the discovery: she chooses order over chaos, and it’s just a beautiful little detail.
  • Random thought: perhaps it’s my inner dramaturge waiting to be released, but I had a sudden image while watching the episode of a staged version of this script wherein Joyce’s body remains onstage at all times. The early scenes are all very contained, which is what I believe brought me to this conclusion, as it seems like it would stage well in such a fashion.
  • It’s quite possible that Disc Four is often overshadowed by the sheer weight of “The Body,” and that one of those episodes is a favourite of yours which doesn’t often get enough analysis: as a result, if you’re looking for more, feel free to make a comment to that respect and I’ll be glad to expand in that comment thread.
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87 Comments

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87 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project – “The Body” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Tausif Khan

    I prefer the The Body to Hush because it is a personal piece. This speaks to the core of the shows message to use television to reflect on society and life through metaphor or the visual medium to connect viscerally to emotions that can not be expressed in any other way. The Body is something I will return to for the emotion. I prefer Restless to Hush and as both are intellectual pursuits I will return to Restless more often.

    Also has anyone noticed that Spike has a bit of Barney Fife in his performance. Also Myles according to Doug Petrie in the commentary in Fool for Love the taking of the slayers quote was a Sin City comic book reference.

  2. Tyler

    While reading through the Cultural Catchup Project, I’ve been fascinated by Myles’ approach to criticism in separating his “emotional response” from his “critical” one. It seems to me that much of art–television included–is designed to provoke emotional response. And so I’m not sure that one can fully critique art without a discussion of one’s own (personal though it may be) response to it, both intellectually and emotionally.

    When he says that he’s going to “throw the critical analysis out the window for a moment” in order to deal with how he reacted to the episode, it makes me wonder: What is “analysis” absent our reactions to begin with? And, if it was not for our reactions (including, and perhaps *most* importantly our emotional ones), why would we bother to analyze at all…?

    In short, when Myles says “…the emotional…is largely obscured by critical analysis: in fact, you need to read between the lines to find a true ‘personal reflection’ in the majority of my reviews,” I wonder if this is really a strength. Or whether a critique is inherently incomplete without such “personal reflection.”

    As regards this review, then, I’m glad to see more of the reviewer’s reactions incorporated. The Body is such powerful television that it would be unfair not to mention it (so long, of course, that the reviewer is genuinely moved). If a show makes a person laugh, or cry, or stand up and go “hell yes!” (and Buffy has done all of those things for me), then I think it’s fair that those things make it into the analysis; presumably, the artist was hoping for reactions such as those from the audience, and their success or failure in achieving those ends, it seems to me, is a worthy subject for critique.

    • Tausif Khan

      I think there is a difference between critical analysis and subjective response. Critical response one would identify a plot point and discuss whether the point worked given what had preceded it what is known about the characters and the important themes of the show. A purely emotional response would be more like stating that I don’t like this for…(insert emotional subjective response here based on completely visceral response to material).

      • Tyler

        I don’t think I’d suggest eschewing discussion of character or theme. But… these programs and their creators, they’re trying to do more than that, a simple creation of character or of theme. They’re also trying to move people–to grab by the short hairs and manipulate us.

        Partly, that manipulation is *accomplished* through plot, character, theme, etc., and so an analysis of them can often speak to the things that determine whether these manipulations are successful.

        And yet… I also feel that these manipulations can be more than the sum of their parts, so to speak–that there’s often an emotional dimension that is perhaps not completely covered by a “plot point” analysis, and yet is at the heart of what the episode (in the case of TV) is *meant to accomplish*.

        Which is why I think (perhaps) Myles felt compelled to talk about how he reacted here, and give us more of his “subjective response,” even though he would otherwise try to “[separate himself] emotionally from the episode.” I guess that what I’m suggesting is that there ought not be anything about a critical approach that asks that the critic do so; that one’s emotional, subjective response is a vital part of one’s response to art, and therefore a fuller critique will capture that response along with all of the discussion of theme, etc.

        Along with other things, art paints in emotion, and we are the canvas. A discussion of art while ignoring its particular, personal effects on the observer, is… I don’t know, but not quite whole.

        • Tausif Khan

          I completely agree with your comments on subjective response. In my response to your post I was surmising what I think to be more objective and coldly critical as opposed to a completely emotional response.

          The Body I would argue is actually the least manipulative Buffy episode as it looks into matching sight for sight and sound for sound what it is like to lose someone. Hush and Restless both pulled in supernatural beings to create their respective intellectual excercises to present metaphors and counterfactuals to show the importance of conversation and friends.

        • fivexfive

          I think there’s a difference between critical analysis and emotional response because when I’m watching something (or listening to it or reading it) I usually have two different views and opinions at the same time, that I put into two different boxes. I can like something because I think it was well-made and I can like how something made me feel. I’m a very emotional person, so I usually choose things for how they make me feel regardless of how technically subpar they may be (i.e.: romantic comedies). When I watch something that makes me react in a way I appreciate and I find that it’s a quality piece of work, that’s the best. There are also times where I can agree that something was incredibly executed and should be considered great art, but does not move me at all. I’m not a student in critical analysis, so I don’t have the words for how something is technically good, but that is how I think about it.

          And as I’ve said many times, that’s what I like about reading Myles’ reviews. Most viewers react predominantly from their personal, emotional opinions. If, for the most part, you like something, you will forgive it its shortcomings without ever thinking about it. When Myles’ criticizes something, it always makes me go, “Yes. That was the sense I was trying to make!”

  3. Tausif Khan

    I was annoyed with the vampire sequence in the episode because it broke me from the strong emotion. However, on another level I can appreciate it because it connects to one of the major themes established in Restless and Buffy v. Dracula about Buffy’s slayers powers relation to killing and death. Dawns question of where did she go will haunt me forever. I loved the negative space sequence. Noel Murray’s piece for the AV club is a thing of beauty and he emphasizes the theme of negative space as well as a personal response that is very moving to The Body: http://www.avclub.com/articles/repriseepiphanyi-was-made-to-love-youthe-body,43598/

  4. Morda

    Incredible analysis of what a ton of critics hailed as the greatest hour of Television ever made. The Body is, generally speaking, the best episode of the show (It’s not my favourite, but it’s the best). It should have been nominated for every emmy under the sun (Writing, directing, lead actor, actress, supporting actress – both caulfield and Hannigan….And Trachtenberg, and yes, sound design.) The fact that the Body failed to even be nominated for these awards is one of the reasons that I don’t put much faith in said academy. If people have such prejudice against fantasy that they can’t open their eyes to something as truly marvellous as this then their say is meaningless.

    Emotionally speaking, you say you broke at Anya’s scene (Very much understandable) but did you cry at all throughout the rest of the piece. It’s one of those (Frequent, The Gift, Grave or A hole in the world anyone?) episodes where I cry from start to end (And yes, I am a heterosexual man).

    What did you think of Crush. I find that to be one of the funniest episodes of the series. Spike’s confrontation with “his three ladies” at the end is hilarious. I mean, any scene with Harmony is generally hilarious. But what did you think of it as the episode where Spike’s love for Buffy is brought to the forefront (And the much loved return of Drusilla)?

    • Tausif Khan

      “The Body is, generally speaking, the best episode of the show (It’s not my favourite, but it’s the best). ”

      This is an interesting response given that it seems that best seems to imply your technical/critical appreciation of the episode while favorite implies the subjective appreciation. Which episode touched you more viscerally or is your criteria for favorite different?

      • trefusius

        I can’t speak for Morda, of course, but I would probably describe The Body the same way. It was the episode that touched me the most viscerally, but I can’t say that it’s an enjoyable episode to watch.

        When I say favourite episode I’d probably mean one that I enjoy rewatching fairly often, like Hush or The Zeppo.

        • Gill

          I’m inclined to agree with you. I am in awe of what Whedon and his team achiev doed with The Body, but it cuts too deep and too close to be something I can bring myself to rewatch frequently. I’ve just watched OMWF again, for the umpteenth time, and can do that again and again, as the power and emotion in that episode do not confront my deepest responses so directly.

          • Morda

            Yep, thank you people for replying for me ;). That’s exactly why. I love The Body, I really do. I do think of it as the greatest episode of TV ever created (An incredible feat considering the tens of thousands of episodes that there are) but it’s not something I can watch over and over the way I can OMFW. That said, Restless is my favourite episode.

    • I think that “Crush” does a good job of not romanticizing Spike’s relationship: as comments below indicate, the episode is compelling in just how far they allow Spike’s ‘love’ to veer into some violent, sexist directions which keep it from seeming too neutered. Drusilla wakes up something inside of him, and I like the idea that this doesn’t change Spike’s feelings so much as it amplifies certain personality traits which makes Buffy’s recognition that much more complicated.

      And yet, despite this, the episode still succeeds in being quite funny, so it’s a nice balancing act.

      • Oh, and I was tear-free beyond Anya.

      • mothergunn

        I have a really extreme love for Spike, even when he’s being ultra-creepy. This episode is a good example of that, and there’s an even better one in s6. It always bothers me when Buffy’s mean to him (like at the end of this one when she locks him out of her house). It seems that he would be a better person if she would be nicer to him. Once we get into s7 we can finally have really amazing character study discussions about him, and I can finally let out all the Spike-worship I’ve been holding back.

        I’m not the only one that feels this way.

        Right?

        • mothergunn

          Ak, sorry. The ep I’m referring to is Crush, which isn’t terribly obvious from the way this posted.

        • fivexfive

          VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD

          I have some serious Spike love, too, so I full on DRATWATS empathized with his character even in this batch of episodes (or say, Seeing Red) but I was always really glad that Buffy treated him the way she did. That path of redemption (that some call spikeification and others call badass decay) is one of the things I find most interesting to watch in shows, and it wouldn’t have happened (or at least, not as interestingly) if Buffy didn’t show him how to be a better person by not letting him be a creep.

          • mothergunn

            True, true, especially because he really does shape up after that. I still hate her, tho. Here, and especially when she throws the money at him in FfL, I really want to kick her in her stupid face.

  5. Shambleau

    While I’ve usually been okay with the somewhat detached tone of your critical analysis, letting in more of your emotional response has powerfully strengthened this review. I don’t think the two approaches are antithetical, so I was glad to read how you were affected. Great review. And right with you on the sound design Emmy omission – one of many criminal oversights. And speaking of sounds, Joyce’s rib breaking always makes me flinch.

    Many of the people who dislike Season 6 for being too dark seem to miss that the tonal shift began roughly from the middle of this season, and we’re now fully into it.

    Speaking of the other episodes, Dawn standing in the Summers living room with her knife and bloody arm is one hell of an image, and I Was Made To Love You’s pirouette from light-hearted to darkly poignant would have impressed me even if Joyce’s death hadn’t ended the episode. The series’ ability to emotionally turn on a dime has always been one of its greatest strengths and few other series can match it there.

    By the way, Ben being Glory, a surprise or no?

    • diane

      Wait… you mean…. Ben is Glory?

      Myles, great review. I do think you’ll want to come back to Blood Ties by the end of the season; it is a hugely important episode in ways that will continue to be revealed.

      Shambleau, excellent point about season 6 darkness having its origins here. Whatever Buffy has expected about her life, this wasn’t in the brochure.

      More later, probably. This is an extraordinary episode in so many ways. Time to go to work, though.

    • A surprise? Well, I guess so. It didn’t blow me away or anything, as it was a pretty gradual reveal (his comments in “Listening to Fear” established a relationship, “Blood Ties” established the psychic/physical connection, “I Was Made To Love You” confirmed that the body-switching went both ways) which doesn’t entirely surprise me considering that Ben seemed to be more prominent than a character unrelated to the “plot” would normally be.

  6. Shambleau

    Hadn’t checked the comments before posting my own, but now that I have – what Tyler said.

  7. James

    Definitely one of, if not your strongest review for Buffy yet.

    Regardless of objective tendencies, I think letting the emotional response being included really strengthens (for me at least) the overall critique of well, anything. I think it provides a connective basis for the reader and writer that allows for a better understanding of said feelings towards the work being reviewed and the reasoning behind so.

  8. Joao Santos

    A great review to a great episode.

    Thank you.

  9. Gill

    An outstanding piece of writing and analysis, Myles. I don’t think it’s possible to review this episode without considering the emotional punch it packs – even reading what you wrote has brought much of it back to me. This is one episode where it is well worth the effort of listening to Joss’s commentary, describing the technical details he brought to creating this masterpiece.

    The negative space thing is dealt with particularly well – as viewers we understand the deep ironies in what the teacher is saying long before Dawn does – and the use of sound in that sequence is, as you say, superb.

    I think the use of colour as well as space is often overlooked in this episode, though. Yes, the framing works wonders – Buffy’s POV of the paramedic, creating an almost tangible sense of discomfort and alienation, is another to add to those you have mentioned. But the saturated colours when Buffy looks out of the back door and sees and hears the world continuing without her simply emphasise how she seems to be locked in an unreal world unrelated to what she had thought of as “normal”. And the steady greying of Joyce’s skin, as she becomes an object, not a person, is a superb feat of makeup.

    The episode is all about how one does react to death, and how one feels one ought to react. Xander punches the wall because that is a permitted, “manly” way to show emotion; Dawn, as the only child, is permitted the luxury of tears, while stunned immobility characterises the young adults, suddenly forced to become the older generation.

    The vampire at the end is important because casual death of unnamed, identityless strangers is so much part of the show as a whole – and here, for the first time since Jenny Calender, we actually feel what such death can mean – only it’s worse, because Buffy, not Giles, is the one who is crushed. Buffy doesn’t casually stake this vampire because death is real for her, and a real, brutal response to the threat is necessary. It is also a reminder of her “real life”, which goes on, even though nothing feels right or will ever again feel the same.

    I am sad that you brushed swiftly over the other episodes, though I fully understand the power of The Body to make them feel unimportant. I would, however, particularly like to see more of what you felt about Crush – Spike as creepy stalker or unrequited lover? The comedy in that episode is wonderful, right up to Spike’s astonishment at being disinvited from Buffy’s home, but there are all sorts of other issues – the nature of love, the nature of evil, the victim’s responsibility (when Joyce asks Buffy if she has somehow led Spike along, the classic question asked of so many rape victims) – the sheer messiness of relationships. Checkpoint, too, is worth a little more time – Spike as Rock Star Vampire in the eyes of Lydia is hilarious but also brings up issues of the celebrity culture we all live in. Buffy takes power hitherto grudgingly granted to her – but Giles’s role in this is also interesting – the fact that he is now “back on the books”, with retrospective salary rights, will be relevant eventually.

    Have you noticed, BTW, how the process of maturing and “growing up” in S5 is also very much about the experience of loss? Lost love, lost parents, lost certainties – all work to create that negative space which is at the heart of the season as well as this episode.

    • diane

      Lost love, lost parents, lost certainties

      Yes, and yes. This is all the losses in “Becoming” writ large across a season. With more to come.

      • Gill

        Yes, and yes. This is all the losses in “Becoming” writ large across a season. With more to come.

        I see S5 as being in some ways primarily about the loss which is inevitable with adulthood (Wordsworth’s “trailing clouds of glory” giving way to the light of common day) – from the first episode in which Buffy loses her place as only child onwards, she loses and loses – sometimes trivial things, like the sweater Spike steals, sometimes crucial things, like her lover and her mother. And, as you say, more to come. The tone of S6 is thoroughly prepared-for.

    • skittledog

      It’s never really occurred to me to compare The Body (or season 5 as a whole) to Becoming (and s2.5 as a whole), but the comparison between Joyce and Jenny Calendar rings very very true for me suddenly. Those are the two deaths in Buffy that really, really hit home for me and leave me a trembling wreck. Season 5 is working with truths of the real world, of course, where season 2 is using an amplified vampire metaphor, but I’m not sure that makes much difference to me. (Digression: I’m inclined to prefer S2′s overall execution, but this may be because I have no siblings and Buffy’s attachment to Dawn leaves me colder than it should.) Hmm. Interesting parallels to think more about at some time…

  10. Rachel

    As soon as you started talking about Anya’s speech here I started welling up

    • Me too! The Body, The Gift, Grave, and A Hole in the World, along with Chosen, are the only episodes that can make me tear up just from reading about them. I’d hate Joss Whedon for making us love characters and then just killing them off , but he does it in such an emotional, powerful way that I just….can’t. Great review, Myles, if any episode needed a more subjective, personal review, this would be the one.

      • mothergunn

        A Hole in the World is the only ep of both seasons combined that actually makes me get a little glossy. It is not the only episode I dread watching, tho, as it shares that place with Seeing Red.

  11. lyvvie

    Great review Myles.

    There are some things I want to say about the episode of Angel that aired directly afterwards but I’ll keep that until you/everyone has seen it.

    This episode is impossibly hard to watch. I’ll agree with the people upthread that while is is definitely the best episode of Buffy, it is not my favourite as it is just too difficult to watch. Whenever I do it’s usually a different part of the episode that gets me. Every scene is capable of making me cry for some reason. Although the crying is the release, sometimes what’s worse is it being so hard-hitting that I can’t cry. Willow choosing her shirts is something so well observed and an experience I’ve definitely had that as soon as that scene comes back I’m directly back in that situation, obsessing over what to wear even when I know it doesn’t matter at all. Anya’s speech, though definitely a tear-jerker, on rewatches I’m ready for now, but the silence of other characters, the harrowing opening scene and the heartbreaking last scene are usually the things that stick with me. Six Feet Under has a similar general feel to it as this episode, but I don’t think any episode of that, despite it’s constant discussion on death, has even affected me as much as ‘The Body’.

    Ah, onto happier things.

    - Checkpoint, a nice uplifting episode for Buffy personally as everyone tells her how insignificant she is and she works out that the opposite is true. The Watchers Council has been absent for over a season now and the show really needed to bring them up again as there is plenty of potential there, much of which is demonstrated in this episode. I also think this is an important episode as regards to Spike, more on that later ;)

    - Blood Ties, important for Dawn and the gang to find out what she is. I’m always impressed by the ease with which the structure of this episode seems to fit together, because of the good work done in previous episodes. Of course Spike is hanging out outside Buffy’s house, of course Dawn would go to the hospital to speak to the crazy people, of course Ben is there, of course Buffy would go look at the hospital for Dawn. It all fits together so naturally. And the adoption metaphor really makes sense. Another episode with good stuff for Spike and also Willow.

    - Crush, probably my favourite from these episodes and contains some great discussion on love and obsession. Buffy and Spike’s argument in the warehouse manages to be both hilarious (“you’re like a serial killer in prison!”, “women marry them all the time”) and important dramatically. And then Dru’s return forcing Spike to make a choice but while trying to prove he’s changed he just ends up proving how much he’s not. While this could be watched as a heavily anti-Spike episode (well, that’s simplify it, we never get an anti-character episode but this one does remind us of Spike’s true nature/past(?) self under the pining and pouting. I particularly don’t like the rather sexist slant his rant ends up taking), it’s interesting that it ends on such a pro-Spike moment of his hurt and confusion at being cut out of Buffy’s life. And Tara’s discussion of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, um, useful.

    - I Was Made To Love You, a pretty fun episode with a few interesting things that will be picked up on later. I found April ‘dying’ to be quite sad and would have made for a satisfying ending to the episode. It continues on from the themes of Crush again with its discussion on love and I feel so sad for Buffy when Tara makes a comment on how lonely Warren must be to not be able to find someone and you can tell Buffy is relating. I really appreciate in this episode how Joyce gets a chance to shine as she goes out on a date and gets teased and teases Buffy and Dawn (Giles as babysitter for Dawn is also awesome). Ben as a love interest for Buffy was a good cover, on first watching it was easy to assume that is what he could be in the future but he doesn’t really make any move until we know that he’s Glory-related and so are willing Buffy not to go out with him.

    Oh, and ha to Dawn asking if the robot is Ted. And we get that great Band Candy reference in The Body.

  12. tjbw

    I must agree with what you said, Myles, about every image or event of this episode being emblazoned on the mind because I still remember my response to every scene from the first time I watched ‘The Body’, just over a year ago.

    I was highly annoyed by Anya’s speech the first time around and found myself wondering why the character had been designed to act that way. I actually rolled my eyes. But then I finished the series, and got to really “know” Anya, and when I watched ‘The Body’ a second time I got it, and now I am glad that the character’s response is what it is. Because you’re right, how to handle death is something that must be learned and it is not Anya’s fault that she is essentially a two year old (?) stuck in a 19/20 (or 1000+) year old’s body.

    It was and is Dawn’s reaction that really gets me. I think that it is a typically teenaged response, overly dramatic, but it gets me because, as you wrote, for the time being she is just a daughter who has lost her mother, and all other notions about Dawn’s true relation to Joyce and Buffy are put to the side. I cried the first time around.

    In regard to the other episodes that you mention briefly, ‘I Was Made to Love You’ is in no way a stand alone, and is, in fact, a very important part of Buffy’s story, especially, as someone has already mentioned, in light of the fact that the tone of season six has now been firmly established. In episodes to come, it will be really important to recall many various details of IWMtLY, and I highly encourage you, Myles, not to let the events of this episode to fall from your memory.

    One more quick thought on ‘The Body’: Why is it important that Buffy’s role as matriarch be formally defined? I.e. Why does Joyce *have* to die? My question is mostly rhetorical, but I found this observation interesting and just wanted to point out that I am glad that you made it.

    • Gill

      Why does Joyce *have* to die?

      SPOILER

      Because Buffy is losing everything in this season. All her resources are steadily stripped away from her, so that, as in Becoming, what’s left is “Me.”

      • diane

        SPOILER (although I assume that Myles has watched a couple of episodes beyond “The Body” by now)

        Not just her resources that are being stripped away. Her dreams, her illusions, everything. In place of these things, there is only the weight of the world.

      • Eldritch

        This is probably naive, but I’m not sure what else she’s lost this season. The message I’ve picked up on the season so far is that the weight she’s feeling is the cost of being a slayer. The constant killing. And the isolation it brings with it. That is, while she has support, she’s the one doing the killing.

        She’s becoming more adult this season. Old enough and experienced enough as a slayer to question how her role will play out in the future. After Dracula, she began this exploration by asking Giles to help her research her mystical roots. Then Spike’s tales of why he was able to kill two slayers leads her to wonder when the constant killing will reduce her to wanting to die.

        Losing Joyce isn’t quite on that path, but it contributes to the tone, and it’s part of becoming an adult. You lose loved ones. I always thought Whedon wrote “The Body’ in part to work out his own feelings after going through that himself.

        Going up against a god can can may you realize that you won’t always win. And losing includes losing some of the Scoobies. That responsibility is beginning to feel real to her.

        • Gill

          SPOILER

          So far she’s lost her boyfriend and her mother, her “only child” status, her sense of invincibility against vampires (FFL), her growing relationship allowing her to rely on Spike, her ability to rely on her friends and family for useful backup; even her sense of being desirable has taken a severe knock from Riley’s suck-job habit. And you know what else she will lose this season. Quite a lot.

          • mothergunn

            I think the point is that her entire support network is being ripped out from under her, more even than in s2, so she is being pushed faster and faster into being THE Slayer. Mom’s dead; Riley bounced; Willow and Xander both now have very steady, serious relationships and can’t devote as much time to her as they used to. SPOILERS: This is all in preparation for The Gift and everything that comes after. She’s being prepped for her extreme and final destiny.

          • diane

            She really loses more than all that. (Spoilers ahead, but I’m assuming Myles is at least a couple of episodes ahead.) She’s lost the dream of college education. She’s responsible for Dawn, which costs her a lot of independence and ability to focus on slaying. With Dawn, she gives far more than she gets back, and takes the additional hit of realizing that she’s not ready for that responsibility. In short, she’s heading for a breakdown that is as much about her internal issues as it is about her external losses.

          • Gill

            Response to replies to me – by the end of The Gift she has lost everything that makes life worth living – her choice is not so surprising, really. And her song to Sweet in OMWF sums that up, really.

  13. Eric

    Excellent review, Myles. It made me cry.

  14. Great review, great television. I would not be able to watch other shows immediately after this episode, but, well, it took me a full month to be able to watch anything after The Wire, so I guess I’m sensitive.

    Disc 4 is so chock full of goodness, but a lot of it has been beautifully analyzed elsewhere, and I understand the decision to focus on the generalizably excellent, rather than the hyper-specific. “Checkpoint” is my favorite episode of the series, apart from “Restless,” it’s just so…Buffy.

  15. Tom

    I can’t add anything to your review of “The Body.” Well, I could, but it would just be adjunct; you saw through to the core of it. Well done. I cast my vote with those for whom it’s the best episode of the series but not my favorite. Every detail is perfect. But it’s too real. Too overwhelmingly real.

    Here’s one thing I want to pull from it, though. Willow, amidst her clothing breakdown: “I have to be supportive, I, Buffy needs me to be supportive, I…” “Why can’t I just dress like a grownup? Can’t I be a grownup?”

    Xander, a few moments later: “We’ll go. We’ll deal. We’ll help. That’s what we do. We help Buffy.”

    Giles, at the hospital: “Uh, Buffy, why don’t you let me handle those as much as I can.”

    Then Buffy, alone with Tara: “Everybody wants to help.”

    The vampire killing that follows is so visceral, but as others mentioned, necessary. Because it’s what Buffy can do. She couldn’t save her mother, and without her friends helping right now she probably wouldn’t be getting through this day. But killing stuff? She can do that.

    Now fit this in with the episodes that have preceded it. Riley’s gone. Glory’s not just a super-powered antagonist, she’s now a God. Yes, she stared down the Council, but that victory (really a momentary re-assertion of control) was awfully fleeting, given what’s just happened with Joyce. Spike has moved from an irritant to an actual burden…both emotional and, at times, physical. She’s got those guys with the swords. Dawn is, if anything, getting harder to handle. One by one, her support mechanisms are not just eroding, they’re being kicked out from under her.

    Yes, her friends are all being supportive here. But note that, with the exception of Giles, they each have to positively declare that they’re going to be supportive. In seasons 1-3, they wouldn’t have needed to say so, it would have simply been understood. The “resolution” that seemed (to you and to many others) to be too easy in “Primeval” is here shown to be not really a resolution. They’re no longer drifting apart because they’re not sharing important things with each other, like they were in season 4, they’re drifting apart because that’s what people do as they move towards adulthood.

    Another thing that adults deal with is loss. She felt like she’d lost everything in “Becoming,” but the lesson of “Dead Man’s Party” was that there was a difference between feeling that way and the actuality of it; she’d lost Angel, yes, but the rest could have and would have been dealt with. It works then because at that age it does feel so incredibly desperate and overwhelming. Now, on the other hand, she’s dealing with real loss. And she has fewer and fewer external sources of support to get her through these losses.

    And then, yet another thing that people moving towards adulthood do is take on responsibilities. But Buffy’s are accumulating at a rather rapid pace. She has often commented that she feels like the weight of the world is on her shoulders, and in fact we’ve seen that in many instances, it has been: she’s quite literally tasked with the responsibility of saving everyone. In the past, what’s set her apart from other Slayers and sustained her was her support system, which the show has gone to the trouble of pointing out in explicit dialogue over and over again. How much support did Kendra have? Faith?

    So there’s this overwhelming, growing burden. She’s getting through it, but as we saw in “Into the Woods/Triangle,” “Blood Ties,” and here, she’s struggling. Oh, she’s struggling.

    Now, last thing: remember “Fool For Love.” Remember what Spike said about Slayers and their burden. Remember his narrative over the fight with the Slayer on the subway. Just as she scoffed at the First Slayer in “Restless,” she scoffed at Spike then. But she’s finding out that the First Slayer may have been right.

    And Spike? Was he right?

    • mothergunn

      Yes and no. He’s definitely correct regarding his thoughts on slayers in general but I think he hasn’t (yet) figured out Buffy completely. It’s been said before and will be reinforced much more strongly later: Buffy is special, even (especially?) among slayers. This gives her options that other slayers never had access to. *But* she’s still a slayer. The burden of death and destruction, absolute will eventually get to her. It’s just what she chooses to do about it that will make her different.

  16. Susan

    Terrific review, Myles. And yes, tears were streaming as I read. I don’t think I have much to say that hasn’t been said here, except for a few little tidbits and personal insights.

    –I agree with many others that I think this is the best episode of the series but not my favorite–but I am apparently in the minority in that I can watch it over and over again. Maybe it’s because I have experienced a truly inhuman amount of loss in my own life, but I find that I am comfortable engaging that raw emotion (sad is happy for deep people, after all).

    –I think that vamp fight in the morgue is critically important because it jars us as we’ve settled into an emotional groove we’ve. Not for any sense of relief, but *because* it’s such an awful intrusion. Even in this intensely personal moment, when by rights Buffy and Dawn should be allowed grieve, the reality of life as the Slayer won’t step aside. It’s why the vamp is naked, why she hacks his head off instead of the relatively mundane and clean staking. This vamp fight is a personal violation.

    –No one yet has said anything about the Christmas scene. I really like it, though that’s perhaps because of the commentary. It exists solely because Whedon needed to run credits and didn’t want them running over that first long shot of Buffy and Joyce, but it works so well to contrapose the complete, happy family in a rare moment of ease against the crashing, crushing end of that family.

    –that first long shot. More than two minutes of SMG at her rawest and best. It’s just breathtaking, and it captures that kind of moment perfectly.

    I can’t even write about a review of the ep without crying. Geez.

    • diane

      Maybe it’s because I have experienced a truly inhuman amount of loss in my own life, but I find that I am comfortable engaging that raw emotion (sad is happy for deep people, after all)

      Oh, yes. I need that raw and dark emotional engagement on a fairly regular basis. Usually music, although – unlike Darla – I’m very fond of the Russians. It’s not so much that “sad is happy” as much as letting the inner demons get their exercise in more harmless ways.

      So I’m able to watch The Body and feel the pain without getting ripped apart by it. For now. After the next heartbreak, it may well be different.

    • I’m actually always a little disappointed by how little attention that opening long shot of Buffy gets. Everything about the scene is perfection, including the acting. Personally, this scene gets to me more than the rest of the episode. I know Anya’s speech is the thing that gets the most attention and affects the most people, but while it certainly affects me too it doesn’t tear me up like other parts of the episode do (again, particularly that full opening scene).

      I plan on posting a comment addressing the other 4 episodes soon, which are all actually excellent episodes and are vitally important, but this was a great analysis of “The Body” Myles. Thanks!

      • diane

        opening long shot of Buffy

        Yes. The whole first act is the hardest part for me. Superbly done by cast and crew.

        • mothergunn

          Yes, Whedon really does love his long shots. They’re always brilliant, too. I’m especially fond of the opening credits of Serenity (the film).

  17. Marie

    Great review, even just reading about this episode caused me to cry a little.

    Also, am I the only one who’s noticed that episode 1 of season 4 while Buffy is first getting her school books she comments on her mother getting the bill and says “I hope it’s a funny aneurysm”? I noticed that a few weeks ago while rewatching and thought it was interesting.

  18. Christopher

    This is a great review, Myles.

    I have seen “The Body” only a couple of times (I’m with others in that I think it’s brilliant but I’m not inclined to rewatch it) and I think your analysis adds a great angle (your specifics about the use of sound) that I don’t think I’ve read before. I’ve certainly seen comments in reviews about the absence of a musical score, but your observations about the silences is, to me, original and insightful.

    This review also pinpoints an aspect of your Buffy reviews that had been bothering me without my being aware of it: the avoidance of discussing your emotional reactions to the show. Indeed, as you acknowledge, part of what is so fun about introducing someone to Buffy is to watch their emotional reactions to the often brilliantly structured stories.

    I started watching the show as a lark in 2004 or 05, not expecting much, with prejudices about it being a silly teen show (though one I had heard good things about). But I was pulled in emotionally right from the start and then deeper and deeper until Becoming 1&2 when I was fully emotionally invested and felt for the characters (esp. Buffy) so deeply I was an emotional wreck for weeks afterward.

    So there is great satisfaction for me to hear of others sharing similar experiences—both anguish and joy. Not because I’m a sadist and want others to feel the same pain :-) but because I think these emotional experiences are what connect us to each other. We can analyze intellectually and connect on that level as well, of course, but emotions are more primal, more fundamental, in my view. Shared pain or laughter is more powerful to me than shared analytical perspective.

    That said, I fully respect and understand your critical approach, Myles, (not that you need my approval :-) ) and it is very helpful for me to recognize clearly that you are not discussing your emotional reactions to the show (with infrequent exceptions).

    I do enjoy engaging in the analysis very much as well, and I have really enjoyed your take on many favorite, often analyzed episodes.

    And I think I will be less frustrated by your reviews moving forward. I have often felt “Wow, this is a great analysis of the story but what did he feel about it?” and I will now be satisfied to look elsewhere for shared emotional experiences and simply appreciate your reviews for what they are: brilliant observations about story, structure and character.

  19. Cameron

    I think the other commentators have covered all I want to know about “The Body”, but I am interested in what you thought of “Checkpoint” – it stands as one of my favorites from the season for its ability to place the series’ on-going message of feminism in a microcosm. From the classroom to Spike’s “chivalry” (the most sexist system in history) to, of course, the Watchers Council, Buffy is faced with the patriarchy at every turn, but she is able to face it down – notably, without using violence (sword-throwing notwithstanding).

  20. Mimi

    I am 100% with you on Anya. I can hear her whole speech in my head anytime I think about it, even if I haven’t actually watched that episode in years.

  21. diane

    Apropros of nothing, I work in software development on medical information systems. I just found a fun diagnosis code: ABN REACT – BLOOD SAMPLING (ICD9 code E879.7). Vampirism! And yes, William T. Bloody is one of my test patients. OK, that was inappropriate.

    Anyway, tying that back to discussions, I can fully connect with all the inappropriate responses, Anya’s answerless questions, Willow’s clothes freak-out, Xander’s wall-punch. Feelings can take our thoughts in such odd directions sometimes.

    What we learn as we grow up is how to understand those feelings, and not be controlled by them. The characters who have had deep experience with death know how to cope, a little: Giles does the paperwork. Tara comforts Buffy, although she’s not yet comfortable talking about it. That shared confession does seem to establish a bond between them…. re: 6×13

  22. Serena

    I strongly suggest listening to the commentary on this ep. Every time I watch it I watch them them both because it is such an interesting insight to what is for me Whedon’s best episode. Other readers correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember any spoilers. When you’re done with the project I suggest listening to all of Whedon’s commentaries but this one is truly special.

    (and as a first time commenter, may I say- I’ve enjoyed your insight and enjoy. You have SO much more coming in both series.)

  23. devilscrayon

    I am in the middle of a S5 rewatch and have stalled out at The Body. Like a lot of posters above, I think it is BRILLIANT television, but hard to watch.

    Myles, would love to hear your thoughts on Checkpoint and Crush.

    And I have to say, one of my favorite moments comes in Checkpoint:
    SPIKE: (surprised) So, what’s with the family outing?
    BUFFY: (quietly, walking up close to him) I need your help.
    SPIKE: Great. I need your cash.
    BUFFY: I’m serious. (even more quietly) You have to look after them.
    SPIKE: Well, that’s a boatload of manly responsibility to come flying out of nowhere. What’s the matter, Slayer? You’re not feeling a hundred percent?
    BUFFY: (frowns) No.
    SPIKE: (frowns) They didn’t put a chip in your head, did they?
    BUFFY: No!
    SPIKE: Be funny if they did.

  24. skittledog

    I don’t have much to say about The Body itself; most of what there is to say has already been said well and eloquently by everyone above me. It’s a tour de force of an episode, but one I have only ever watched once (I’m not sure I’ve even watched it with commentary). Because I am someone who has not yet experienced that degree of loss, and knowing that it inevitably lurks somewhere up ahead of me in my future paralyses me and steals away today’s joys by making me fear tomorrow. (Am I paraphrasing something there? I feel I am, but have no idea what…) Unless I die before all my friends/family, of course, which would solve that problem but makes me terrified on a whole different level…

    Anyway. It’s a great episode, but something I have to admire from afar rather than getting too close and letting it control me.

    The comment I do want to make, though, is in regard to the critical/emotional or objective/subjective barriers discussed by other people above. As commenters are people who have watched and (clearly) loved the show/s, there is some vindication to be found in a new watcher declaring your favourite series (or episode/scene/funny line) to be the most amazing thing ever. And there’s a shared enjoyment to be had from spending internet time in the company of people who love things as much as you yourself do – it’s why we gravitate to fandoms in the first place. So it’s tempting to want more emotional response in a critical analysis because a) it makes us feel good when you like the same stuff we do and b) it gives some context for the critical analysis – being as you are human, if you dislike something you are probably more likely to pick holes in its execution.

    But I’m one who thinks there is a definite value in critical analysis independent of emotional response (or as independent as possible – as stated above, you are human… or at least we assume, the internet does make it difficult…). Mostly because it results in worthwhile thinking points and discussion even on the weaker/less popular episodes, because it stops discussion from descending into an argument about who loves/hates certain things. There is always something of value, something worth discussing in every episode, and it’s nice to get a clear view at that without too much emotional response getting in the way.

    I’d also say that to anyone who’s paying attention, it’s clear which episodes you like/dislike anyway. It’s just tougher to tell which episodes/seasons/series you like most – or whether you like Buffy/Angel as much as other favourite series you have watched, but I think that’s as it should be for now. Maybe when you finally finish it all, a personal roundup of feelings on the whole project would be fun?

  25. Karen

    Because so many have expressed my thoughts so well, I’m mostly here to provide chorus support for the “best episode/not favorite episode” opinion. And support for the bitching about the Emmys.

    I just deleted a whole bunch of stuff about the critic’s choices regarding objectivity and subjectivity, because I couldn’t make myself clear. But I’ll say this, tangentially, perhaps. The best professor I ever had in college said this in his Intro to Shakespeare class. “Yes I will teach you about Shakespeare. But it is far more essential for me to make sure you leave this class loving Shakespeare.” (I graduated with 15 credits in Shakespearean lit classes, so he achieved that with me.) The point is, Art should not remain an intellectual exercise, and if it does it is dead.

  26. Mel

    I was hoping to see your response to I Was Made to Love You, mainly because I find it really annoying to watch while saying a lot of stuff I agree with.

  27. AO

    “The Body” was the very first Episode of Buffy that I ever watched, the only one that I didn’t watch in order, and the only one that I watched as it was originally run.

    So for me it will always be quite separate and unique from the rest of the series. Though I do enjoy seeing the reaction of regular/normal viewers, who watched it in the order that they were intended to (which I am sure makes for a much better experience).

    I didn’t set out to make an Episode like this my first exposure to Buffy, it was just my luck that, after having been suggested the show by several people over the years, this was the one that came on when I finally made the decision to sample the Series. I had been repeatedly told that the show was fun, had some good characters and enjoyable dialogue, and was overall very entertaining.

    It was with those expectations that I tuned in and was absolutely shocked. The Episode was extremely intense and visceral, and I was completely bewildered. ‘Where was the explanation?’ ‘The context?’ ‘How long would the director spend with this highly untraditional approach?’ After but a few minutes I was almost counting the seconds until something explained itself. I initially assumed that this was an extremely dramatic dream/nightmare sequence, but as the first commercial break came and went then it increasingly penetrated that this would be the approach to the entire Episode.

    I found the entire experience quite unsettling, both in the content of the Episode and in all my unanswered questions (I didn’t have immediate access to the Internet after watching this in early 2001). ‘Was this really the sort of show that BtVS was?’ ‘Did BtVS really “enjoy” watching this sort of thing on a weekly basis?’ Despite my confusion and shock at the time, the Episode was a very memorable one, and still stands out over 9 years later.

    I’m glad to read everyone else’s thoughts on this Episode, and just wish that I might have been able to add mine earlier (I was away for much of the weekend, and assumed that the rest of Disc 4 would be posted prior and separately to this analysis of “The Body” [my fault for assuming]).

    But thanks again to Myles for an analysis very much worth reading, and to the other commenters for the interesting posts and insights that they have provided.

    Btw, I think that this could make an excellent general discussion at a later point, “What happens when new viewers pick a very bad place to jump into a highly serialized show”.

  28. I’ve already mentioned above how great Myles’ take on “The Body” is, so I’ll just move right to some comments on the (sadly) skipped episodes:

    “Checkpoint” – This episode is really quite fantastic, and represents not just a nice short-term win against the Watcher’s Council but a much, much larger thematic victory and stepping stone in Buffy’s series-wide development as leader and a subverter. Both of these things become vital in S7 where power, leadership, and the role of the Slayer are tackled head on. “Checkpoint,” in many ways, is a direct thematic preview of S7. This one turns out to be pretty important in the grand scheme of things. Plus, it’s really entertaining to boot.

    “Blood Ties” – A few others have talked about this one a bit, but even beyond the very well-acted/rendered adoption metaphor, the episode is also an important piece thematically in regard to this season. It resonates quite well with a lot of other episodes in the season, but particularly “Buffy vs. Dracula,” the episodes following and including “The Body,” and of course the season finale.

    “Crush” – Several other have pointed out pieces of why this episode is pretty important too. It strongly reminds us that, while we’ve really come to love having Spike around, he’s still quite dangerous. “Crush” does a good job in letting us in on the turmoil that Spike is going through, the duality of emotion that turmoil often brings out in him, and it gives us the first big reminder of the limits of his ability to become a truly good person. This episode resonates quite well with the rest of S5 and all of S6.

    “I Was Made to Love You” – I always feel this is one of the most under-appreciated episodes in the entire series. Again, it’s not just a light-weight jaunt with a robot, but a really probing outing that has Buffy doing some soul searching in regard to her relationships. With the nature of Riley’s departure and the complaints he expressed in “Into the Woods,” she feels like maybe there’s something wrong with her — that she’s perhaps too self-involved, for example. Through the use of the AprilBot as an excellent metaphor, Buffy comes to an understanding that (1) losing herself in order to become a guy’s perfect girl will turn her *into* a robot who will become boring and be rejected by the guy eventually anyway and (2) she might have more successful relationships (if she even so desires it) in the future if she spends more time getting to know herself as a person. It’s important to note that not everything she will learn about herself will be pretty, as S6 dives into to explore, but that she’ll be the stronger, smarter, and more self-aware individual because of it. This episode represents a very wise and important realization for Buffy.

    In summary, all of these episode are actually insanely important to not just the season at hand, but for things to come in the final two seasons. They’ll be resonating for a while.

    Although I understand the pressure and desire to focus on “The Body,” I’m still quite sad to not get your analysis on these fantastic four episodes. Where other seasons of Buffy (and most TV shows) tend to sag in the middle of the season, S5 is a rare one that holds itself up strong.

    As for the debate on emotional analysis versus a detached critical analysis, I think my opinion on the matter is summarized by the name of my website, “Critically Touched.” The reason why I created the site is because I felt I had something to offer on Buffy (and hopefully other reviewers will have on other shows in time) that no one else I could find at the time was offering: comprehensive and blended emotional *and* intellectual analysis of an entire series with comprehensive season reviews. So while this is obviously my ideal form of critical analysis, I love Buffy enough to still take something away from the more dry academic style Myles tends to use. But if I wasn’t so in love with the show on my own, I have to admit that a detached analysis is really tough for me to read through in of itself as I usually find that style boring and ignorant to the strengths of certain types of shows.

    It’s almost as if there’s an implication that Buffy’s unique comedy, playfulness with language, and intensely personal emotion is all ‘not counted’ for anything at the end of the day in the evaluation of the show’s worth. Not any show can pierce through my cynical nature and get me to laugh and/or cry (sometimes at the same time). In an academic analysis I can’t help but feel that these qualities are nearly always ignored (or, at minimum, rarely mentioned), which is truly a shame. This is not just something unique to Myles, but one I feel is intrinsic to the academic style. That style works wonders for an objective piece about opposing viewpoints (for example), but when it comes to evaluating art from one’s perspective, I really feel emotion of all forms really shouldn’t be left off the table. All imo, as always. :)

  29. Bob Kat

    One book described “IWMTLY” as the first “truly awful” episode in teh show’s hsitory b/c 1- it “served no purpose” except to advance seasonal arc 2-April shouldn’t be a symapthetic character because she’s “less human” than many of buffy’s earlier foes. Some folks get very hung up, don’t you think? I wish Shonda Farr would get more work!

    One quibble on “Crush,” that toehrs have noted; Buffy is unchained but still elt’s Dru, a dnagerous killer, walk away at the end. I agree, dereliction on Buffy’s part. Harmony cna be justified; as long as she’s around, the ecological balance might keep a more danegrous vamp from taking her place.

    Also, Anya had no way of knowing Willow was lookign for the blue top.

    Good take that these more mature Scoobs need reasons why they still help each other.

    At least one cyberfriend of mine, a well-known fanwriter I beleive, hated 2 big thigns baotu “The Body.”
    The dinner scene at the beginning, he said there was no reason, based on previous episodes, that Joyce was a substitute mother for the non-related gang members. He also felt there was no reason for her to want to act in that role. I partly agreed with him on the first part but not on the second, I felt it was defintiely in Joyce’s character to become a Den Mother to these at-loose-ends young folks. Just as it was in Giles’s to act as Headmaster. (and my choice of two terms from two different systems; Giles and Joyce could be surrogate parents but never full partners with a single goal.

    He also disliked the ending; he felt that if Joss did an epsiode without supernatural elements he should have been consistent; he was aware of the “life on the Hellmouth goes on” reasoning but I never raised the “Buffy can still do this” or the “continuity with emotions as already shown” themes.

    Kristine has been justly praised for her performance, simply for beign willing to, as Joss said, have her actor’s dignity stripped away. And Topping is right that it’s Emma’s “finest hour.”

    I’m hoping you’ll do “Forever” and “Intervention” separate from the Final Four, altho soem writers see them as a Final Three.

    • diane

      Well, everything from “Tough Love” onward is a multi-part season finale. I’ll suggest to Myles that he treat them that way.

      Also, the final four episodes of this season of Angel stand apart, as a group. These should also probably be grouped for a single review.

    • Gill

      The dinner scene at the beginning, he said there was no reason, based on previous episodes, that Joyce was a substitute mother for the non-related gang members.

      I disagree. We’ve seen that both Xander and Willow have (differently) inadequate parents. Giles is far from home. Joyce has already been seen to invite a “waif or stray”, Faith, to join her for Christmas, so a family party makes complete sense to me. I find myself hosting ad hoc gatherings of my daughters’ friends more frequently as they move out of their teens and into their early twenties – I seem either to have no-one at home or half a dozen! I can certainly see Joyce cheerfully collecting a batch of Buffy’s friends together for Christmas – and, after all, Pangs established that ritual sacrifice with pie is a communal activity without the families of the others. In structural terms, of course, I think it works brilliantly, both providing a suitable background for the credits and emphasising exactly what has been lost.

      • Bob Kat

        I disagreed with him, too; it seemed absolutely like Joyce. Sort of parallel with Buffy’s not just considerign but *calling* her friends “a family.” Mother and daughter not that different except Joyce is a natural blonde.

        I mean, for plot reasons we generally were shown Joyce as the interfering, clueless parent but the general atmosphere indicates a good mother/daughter dyad .

        There’s a parallell with Vamp Harmony. Superficially, it should be mystery and a paradox that she seems nicer as a soulless monster than as a human. But consider that durign the high school years she was shown almost only in the role of an adversary.
        As a vampire, again for plot reasons she’s been shown in situations where she is naturally affectionate, lustful, jocose, supportive, or vulnerable. So it creates that odd effect. (I know I did a series of fics about Harmony as a vampire with a soul who was still evil anyway because it appealed to me but there’s no need to imagine that.)

        • Bob Kat

          Another thought. Joss’s goal was to depict a purely natural death amongst his TV family and he did that superbly.

          But there were also plot considerations beyond this. Removing part of Buffy’s support system was one. But another is that, given Glory’s target is Dawn, it would be impossible to keep Joyce from being part of the fight against the Big Bad.

          Bit of irony in “Blood Ties.” Glory tried to kill Dawn first. If Buffy hadn’t intercepted, the Big Bad would have been beaten before she really got going .

        • Gill

          I mean, for plot reasons we generally were shown Joyce as the interfering, clueless parent but the general atmosphere indicates a good mother/daughter dyad .

          Indeed – and the importance of the bond is reiterated – Joyce at the end of Surprise, for example. They love and need each other – it is very much a two-way relationship, while all we are able to see of the Dawn/Joyce relationship is the former being nurtured by the latter.

          Harmony with a soul? Sound fun. It’s not as if living Harmony appeared to have much of one. Linky?

          • Bob Kat

            Gill: Can’t really link (I post from work and the library and http:archive.shriftweb.org – the arhcive of the BTVS writers’ Guild- is lsietd as pornographic!) but go to that site 0-if that addy doesnt’ worka searche ngien will- use their internal Search under author’s name katiesdaddykat .Titles are The Not-So-Final LEss-Than-Juddgemnt, The Rising, Relativity Parts 1 & 2, and Because I Can. “Two Pairs of High Heels, or When the Sun Goes Down” has been hacked so it’s just a fragment.

      • mothergunn

        I disagree also. Joyce is certainly a surrogate mom to all these kids who have crappy or absent parents (I’m counting Anya and Tara in there, too). Plus, they always hang out at her house. Of course she’s going to feed them and take care of them. And she does pull in the strays; remember Spike and the cocoa, too.

  30. Jack-Kay

    Strange But True FACT:

    I was just about to write a comment saying “Thank **** Sarah Michelle Gellar at least got a Golden Globe nom this year for her performances over this season (which, in Season 5, imo are the best and most personal of hers collectively over a season-long amount of episodes), most particularly incorporating No Place Like Home, Fool For Love, Listening to Fear, Into The Woods (despite not being one of your faves Myles), and then basically the entirety of the latter half of the season – Checkpoint through to the finale, The Gift, all showcasing amazing aspects of her acting abilities.”

    And then I realized that she was only nominated in the awards that took place at the very beginning of 2001, so it was based on her performances in 2000.
    It’s still nice for the recognition, and there are a good number of eps aired in 2000 that represent award-worthy talent (the aforementioned selection of the first half of season 5 eps + a few late Season 4 – mainly Who Are You?, The Yoko Factor and Restless (albeit surreal acting – and partly just for the rather hilariously amazing feat she pulls while non-stop ranting in a single take about “men… and their… sales” during Willow’s dream)), but I was a little surprised that this one ‘respectable’ not-quite-an-Emmy nom was not in regards to her performances during the end of Season 5 and beginning of Season 6!

    Now. Enough of my SMG-luvvin’.

    And a very good review/critical analysis Myles, I convinced my boyfriend to read it, and he is completely averse to most types of reviews as he likes to believe solely his own reasons for enjoying something (that is unless he really dislikes something and he will read around to try to reassure himself that other people disliked it too), but he really appreciated it and said it didn’t necessarily shift/change his own opinion of The Body (which he’s only seen once too – when I initiated him into the verses of Buffy & Angel last summer), which is not what he would have wanted, but that it did make him re-evaluate it and he keeps mentioning that he’s been thinking about The Body and Buffy in general a lot more since reading – just a little bit of pep for you there Myles :)

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