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Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 5, Episode 16
5x16 The Body
Air date February 27, 2001
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
Episode Guide
previous
"I Was Made to Love You"
next
"Forever"
Cast
Starring
Sarah Michelle Gellar Buffy
Nicholas Brendon Xander
Alyson Hannigan Willow
Emma Caulfield Anya
Michelle Trachtenberg Dawn
James Marsters Spike
Anthony Stewart Head Giles
Guest Starring
Randy Thompson Dr. Kriegel
Amber Benson Tara
Kristine Sutherland Joyce Summers
Co Starring
Kevin Cristaldi First Paramedic
Stefan Umstead Second Paramedic
Loanne Bishop 911 Operator
J. Evan Bonifant Kevin
Kelli Garner Kirstie
Rae'ven Larrymore Kelly Lisa
Tia Matza Teacher
John Michael Herndon Vampire

"The Body" is the sixteenth episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is the ninety-fourth episode altogether. It was directed and written by series creator Joss Whedon. It originally broadcast on February 27th, 2001.

Buffy is shocked to find her mother dead after returning home, and has to learn how to cope with her loved one's death.

Synopsis

The Body-001

Buffy finds her mother dead.

The Daughter

Buffy returns home to find that Joyce has been sent flowers from the man she recently had a date with, and calls upstairs to see if Dawn needs picking up. Receiving no answer, Buffy heads into the sitting room to see her mother sprawled across the couch, paled-skin, with opened eyes, and not breathing. Buffy soon realizes something is wrong...

We then flashback to Christmas 2000 to find Buffy, Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara, Dawn, Giles, and Joyce enjoying Christmas dinner as the gang discuss the horrifying truth about Santa Claus. Buffy and Joyce head into the kitchen to find the pie has burnt and just as Joyce curses the oven, we return to present day time.

Buffy starts to panic and after a failed attempt to wake her motionless mother quickly calls for the ambulance. The 911 operator sends the ambulance and talks Buffy through performing CPR, while awaiting the arrival of the medical team. However this fails, and Buffy accidentally cracks one of Joyce's ribs. The 911 operator assures her not to worry, but when Buffy tearfully claims "she's cold", the demeanor of the 911 operator changes and refers to Joyce as 'the body', which upsets Buffy. As the 911 operator starts to tell Buffy the medical team will soon be with her, she hangs up and calmly calls Giles, asking him to come to her home but doesn't tell him what's happened, only that 'she's at the house'. The paramedics soon arrive and begin to try and resuscitate Joyce while asking Buffy questions about what happened. Suddenly Joyce coughs into life much to everyone's relief. As the ambulance drives her to the hospital, the paramedics refer to it as a 'wonderful miracle' and Joyce later thanks Buffy for finding her in time...

It's then revealed this is happening in Buffy's head, as the paramedics continue to try and resuscitate Joyce but get no response. One of the men notes that Joyce is cold, meaning that it's too late to try and revive her. Buffy watches in shock as her mother then officially pronounced dead. One of the paramedics explains that Joyce may have died from a complication relating to her recent brain tumor and will be calling the coroner to come and collect the body. They then get a call to another address and have to leave, and Buffy numbly wishes them luck. She then walks into the kitchen trying to comprehend what has just happened, her entire life having been turned upside-down in the space of twenty minutes, before vomiting. Suddenly Giles arrives, thinking from Buffy's call that something has happened with Glory however then he sees Joyce and starts resuscitation attempts despite Buffy trying to stop him. Eventually she calls to him that they're not supposed to move 'the body', then realizes what she's said and breaks down, comforted by Giles

The Body-002

Dawn about to learn of Joyce's demise.

The Sisters

As Joyce's body is placed in a body bag, the story moves to Dawn at Sunnydale High, where she is sobbing in the girls' bathroom. It emerges that the tears are because a student named Kevin Berman had called her a freak, an outcome of the a girl named Kirstie spreading rumors that Dawn had been cutting herself. Her friend, Lisa, consoles her, although rather poorly so, before they leave the bathroom and head for art class during which Dawn and Kirstie give each other false greetings in the hallway. In class Dawn awkwardly takes a seat next to Kevin and the two begin to talk as her art teacher instructs them to draw the negative space around a statue. As it turns out, Kevin is actually interested in Dawn and the two begin a conversation about their mutual disdain of Kirstie. Outside the classroom Buffy arrives and explains to the teacher what's happened, unseen by Dawn until Buffy enters the classroom to remove her. Dawn doesn't understand what's happening, but Buffy explains that they need to go.

Outside the classroom, Dawn wants to know what's happened as Joyce was supposed to pick her up. Buffy attempts to take her sister somewhere private, but Dawn refuses and starts to get upset as she demands to know where Joyce is. Buffy is forced to tell her the bad news there, however the conversation remains muted to the audience as we see it from the point-of-view of the others in the art class, who see everything through the window. As Buffy tells Dawn their mother has died, Dawn collapses to the floor in tears.

The Body-003

The Scoobies gather in sorrow.

The Family

The story now relocates to UC Sunnydale, where Willow and Tara wait sorrowfully in their dorm room, while waiting for Xander (Giles having contacted everyone by now). Willow, extremely emotional, is distracting herself by trying to find a shirt to wear to the hospital while Tara tries staying calm and steady. Willow starts to break down as she can't find a certain blue shirt that Joyce once liked, and feels that the others are either too somber or too cute. Tara attempts to keep Willow calm, and reminds her that she has to be there for Buffy and Dawn, however thinking of Dawn causes Willow to start and break down again. Tara eventually manages to help Willow stop the tears, telling her she has to remain strong.

Xander and Anya soon arrive and Xander double-parks, not caring if he gets a ticket. After joining Willow and Tara, everyone discusses their shock over what's happened as Anya starts to ask questions about what is going to happen, however no-one answers. Xander suggests that Glory is responsible for Joyce's death, reminding them that she swore to go after Buffy's family. The others dismiss this, knowing that Glory would have left no doubt it was her. Xander then tries to blame the doctors who operated on her and he can't accept that this is something that 'just happened' until Willow jokingly offers to take him on, helping Xander to calm down. Willow then asks Tara to look for her blue shirt in the dorm's laundry room. When Tara leaves, a confused Anya asks the room if they're "going to cut the body open". Willow starts to get angry and tells her that it is not okay to ask such things and asks why she would. Anya then starts to go to pieces, explaining that she doesn't understand the whole mortal coil and the concept of dying before breaking down. Willow, now understanding that Anya is having just as hard a time dealing with what's happened, honestly tells her that they don't know (also, while Willow's back in turned, Anya finds the blue shirt under chair cushions but puts it back out-of-sight not knowing it is being searched for).

The room goes silent, and Xander punches his fist through a wall, making a hole and getting his hand stuck. He is soon freed, and Tara arrives, failing to find the blue shirt but Willow tells her it doesn't matter. After tending to Xander's wounds, the group leaves for the hospital as Xander's car gets a ticket.

The Body-004

Dawn and Buffy look at the body.

The Body

The Scooby gang meets up at the hospital, and all exchange words of love and friendship towards Buffy, Dawn and each other. Doctor Kriegel tells Buffy that Joyce's autopsy has revealed that she died of an aneurysm resulting from her brain surgery and assures her that Joyce will have died quickly and with almost no pain and that even if she'd been by Joyce's side there would have been little she could have done. Buffy, however, thinks that he's lying to make her feel better, but doesn't say anything. Giles leaves to sign the release forms while Xander, Anya and Willow speak with Buffy while Dawn goes to the ladies' room. They discuss how Dawn is doing, and Buffy feels that Dawn is angry with her for being the one to break the news. Anya then blurts out that she wishes Joyce didn't die in her usual direct manner, but Buffy takes the comment as it was meant and thanks her. The three then decide to go and buy food from the vending machines for the two sisters, leaving Buffy and Tara to sit in awkward silence in the waiting room. Buffy explains that everyone is trying to help, while she still can't believe it's happening. Tara then reveals that her own mother had died when she was seventeen, and shares some helpful words for Buffy on the subject. When Buffy asks Tara if her mother's death was sudden like Joyce's, Tara tells her it wasn't and yet it was.

Meanwhile, Dawn leaves the washroom and decides to head for the morgue to see Joyce's body. Ignoring the "authorized personnel only" signs, she enters, locking the door behind her. Dawn approaches Joyce's covered body trying to reach out to remove the sheet but can't. However what she doesn't notice is a vampire rising from one of the tables behind her, staring menacingly. He approaches, and Dawn hears him as he walks up behind her...

As her friends arrive back with armfuls of food, Buffy realises that Dawn should have returned. Then, knowing where Dawn has gone, she sets out for the morgue. When she arrives she finds Dawn struggling with the vampire. Buffy kicks the door in and takes on the vampire, and in the scuffle the sheet covering Joyce is pulled down. Buffy finally decapitates the vampire using a bone saw, and finds Dawn staring at Joyce's soulless body. Dawn asks if their mother is cold, but Buffy tells her that the body isn't their mother anymore. Just as Dawn reaches toward the body's cheek, the screen cuts to black, and the episode concludes.

Continuity

  • "As long as you two stay away from the band candy." Buffy is obviously referring to events in the episode "Band Candy", in which enchanted candies caused Sunnydale adults to act like teenagers.
  • Tara mentions her mother's death. We first found out that her mother was dead in "Family".
  • Joyce Summers' and Cassie Newton's ("Help") are the only deaths in the show's huge body-count that are due to natural causes.
  • There was no "Previously on Buffy" recap at the beginning of this episode. However, the entire teaser is lifted from the final scene of the previous episode.
  • Willow's dorm room is number 213. She shared a dorm with Buffy last year which was number 214, so this is probably next door or across the hall or in another dorm.
  • It is said that if you have a dream of an open grave while it is raining, someone you know will die within a year. Faith awoke from a dream such as this almost exactly in "This Year's Girl".
  • The Christmas flashback scene shown right after the opening credits would logically take place sometime between "Into the Woods" and "Checkpoint".
  • When Xander blindly accuses Glory for Joyce's death, he mentions the threat Glory had made about killing Buffy's family and friends in "Checkpoint".
  • Dawn has a hard time at school; her supposedly attempted suicide in "Blood Ties" has ignited a fuel of rumors that spread across the school.
  • This episode picks up a few moments before "I Was Made to Love You" left off.
  • When Buffy finds her mother dead, she says, "Mom? Mom? Mommy?" Dawn repeats this phrase in "Conversations with Dead People" when she thinks Joyce is trying to communicate with her. In the same episode, when Cassie's ghost appears to Willow at the library, she mentions that Willow is strong like an Amazon, referring to Tara and Willow's exchange in this episode.
  • In the course of the episode Buffy never hugs or holds Dawn, we have to wait until the final scene of the following episode before they are in each others arms

Body Count

  • Joyce, died of natural causes
  • One vampire, decapitated by Buffy with a surgical saw

Behind the Scenes

Production

  • This is what Buffy and Dawn say in the scene, where Buffy tells Dawn Joyce is dead:
Buffy: "Mom died this morning. While we were both at school, she-"
Dawn: "No..."
Buffy: "I don't know exactly what happened, but, she's dead..."
Dawn: "No. NO, NO, no, no, you're lying, you're lying, she's fine, she's FINE and you're lying, oh, no, no, please, please, no, you're lying, she's fine, she's fine..."
Buffy: "Dawnie..."
Dawn: "It's not true, it's not real, it's not real, ohhhhh, noooooo...no..."
  • Although Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson are heterosexual, they apparently filmed Willow and Tara's first on-screen kiss a few more takes than was strictly necessary. Benson recalls: "We must have kissed a hundred times. It was very nice."
  • Throughout the scene after Xander punches through a wall, only the left side of Willow's face can be seen, because Alyson Hannigan had an allergic reaction to the plaster dust, causing her right eye to swell. When Tara returns from the laundry room and informs Willow that she couldn't find her shirt, Willow's entire face is shown and, if you look closely, you can see that the area around her right eye is pale and puffy.
  • Kristine Sutherland has said in interviews that Joss Whedon told her at the end of season three that her character would die in season five.
  • This episode features only diegetic sound (sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film—doors closing, footsteps, etc.). That makes it somewhat the opposite of the season four episode "Hush" in which there are few spoken words and more music. Whedon explained that music comforts the audience, and he wanted this episode to be touching and horrifying at the same time.
  • Whedon has said that throughout her time as Joyce's body during the filming of this episode, Kristine Sutherland only blinked on-camera once, which was taken out using CGI.
  • According to Whedon's DVD commentary, he wishes that he had included Joyce in the scene at the table, and not had her separated from the Scoobies in the kitchen.
  • Willow is portrayed as obsessing over what to wear to meet Buffy in the hospital; according to Whedon, this was based on his friend's funeral, where he was frantically obsessed with finding a proper tie.
  • According to Whedon's DVD commentary, the episode begins with the flashback of the gang's Christmas dinner because he didn't want the cast and crew credits to appear over the main scene of Buffy finding her mom.
  • Whedon wanted Willow and Tara's kiss to be natural, and not to be the main focus of the episode so he included it in this episode. This said kiss also brings an end to the WB's apparent policy about contact between same-sex partners.
  • Emma Caulfield was asked what emotions she was feeling when she filmed her monologue on why she doesn't understand death in Willow's dorm room, and admitted that they had been filming all day without a break and the only thing she was thinking was that she really had to go to the bathroom.
  • Whedon took out a series of ads in Hollywood trade papers to promote this landmark episode.

Pop Culture References

  • Willow's line "Strong like an Amazon?" refers to the song "Amazons" by Phranc, the "all-American Jewish lesbian folksinger" and record-holding Tupperware Lady. Willow is quoting the line of the chorus. Whedon reveals this in the DVD commentary, but insists he didn't choose this song because of Willow's, Tara's, and Phranc's sexual orientation. This is odd, since Phranc's success has mostly been with her gay audience. It makes sense that Willow and Tara would know this song, but it would make sense mostly because they're lesbians.
  • Xander says "The Avengers gotta get with the assembling". The Avengers are a Marvel Comics group of superheroes, whose catch-phrase is "Avengers Assemble!" Coincidentally, Whedon directed The Avengers.
  • The name of the odd-looking toy that Anya holds as she sits down at Willow's dorm room is Kogepan, a Japanese character of whom Whedon and his wife, Kai Cole, are big fans.

Goofs, Bloopers & Continuity Errors

  • Dr. Kriegel performs Joyce's autopsy despite the fact that he was actually a neurosurgeon as opposed to a pathologist. (Note- Sometimes doctors who treat patients for specific diseases like cancer or are conducting clinical trials will perform the autopsy. If Joyce received experimental treatment for her tumor, Dr. Kriegel may have wanted to determine if the medication caused her death in any way or see the effects of her condition for research purposes. A pathologist would only be required to perform the autopsy if foul play was suspected.)
  • The image we see on Dawn's canvas when she leaves the room is completely different than the image we see when the camera does the close up of it at the end of the scene.
  • Despite the apparent illusion of the vampire in the morgue being nude, the blue rim of his pants can be seen briefly when he and Buffy are fighting.
  • After decapitating the vampire in the morgue, Buffy sits up and looks at Dawn and there are no ashes from the vampire.
  • When Dawn enters the morgue to look at Joyce's body, she is wearing canvas tennis shoes, yet the sound effect of footsteps is dubbed in, making it sound like she's wearing hard-soled shoes. Her tennis shoes wouldn't make any noise except maybe a squeak.
  • Paramedics in the state of California are not allowed to pronounce death. Joyce would have been taken to the hospital where it is likely she would have been pronounced DOA. Also, once paramedics begin CPR, it is usually not allowed to be stopped until someone with a higher degree of medical training takes over.
  • When Buffy is in the living room with Joyce's body in the zoom up, you can see the boom mike up in the right hand corner

International titles

  • French: Orphelines (Orphans)
  • Portuguese: Este Corpo (This Body)

Other

  • The 911 Operator asks Buffy if she is "alone in the house". Sarah Michelle Gellar appeared in Scream 2, in which her character was asked the exact same question by the killer on the phone.
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, and Tom Lenk cite this episode as their favorite, or at least one of their favorites. In a Season 7 featurette, series creator Whedon lists this episode as his fourth favorite episode in the featurette The Last Sundown, which is included in the Season 7 DVD. Likewise, in a featurette in the Chosen DVD Collection bonus disc, many stars and makers of the TV show lists this is as one of their favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.
  • This is the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which Spike does not appear.

Quotes

Anya - "I don't understand. I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean I knew her, and then she's, there's just a body, and I don't understand why she can't just get back in it and not be dead any more. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid, and, and Xander's crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever. And she'll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever and no one will explain to me why."
Buffy - "We're not supposed to move the body!"
Dawn - "Um, guys, hello, puberty? Sort of figured out the whole no-Santa thing."
Anya - "That's a myth."
Dawn - "Yeah."
Anya - "No, I mean, it's a myth that it's a myth. There is a Santa Claus."
Xander - "The advantage of having a thousand-year-old girlfriend. Inside scoop."
Tara - "There's a Santa Claus?"
Anya - "Mm-hmm. Been around since, like, the 1500s. He wasn't always called Santa... but you know, Christmas night, flying, coming down the chimney, all true."
Dawn - "All true?"
Anya - "Well he doesn't traditionally bring presents so much as you know, disembowel children, but otherwise..."
Tara - "The reindeer part was nice.
Dawn - "Where'd she go?"


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