Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Warning: May contain spoilers for later episodes.
Season 5, Episode 16 “The Body”
“The Body” feels less like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more like a short film about grief. There are no gods in this one, no big battles, no Slayer quips, and aside from a quick, perfunctory vampire at the end, almost no supernatural elements at all. There’s just a body.
The first brutal ten minutes unfold almost in real time. Buffy shakes her mom desperately, trying to wake her up, then calls 911, her voice shaking as she tells them she doesn’t remember how to do CPR. Buffy has been at the top of her Slayer game this season, more confident than we’ve ever seen her, but here she doesn’t seem like a Slayer at all. “She’s cold,” she says in a small voice. “The body is cold?” the dispatcher asks. “No, my mom!” Buffy yells.
The paramedics arrive and continue performing CPR, and Joyce wakes up! We know it’s a fantasy pretty quickly, because it has quick, surreal cuts and obvious nods to TV conventions–Joyce holding Buffy’s hand in the ambulance, the no-bedside-manner doctor saying “it’s a miracle” at the hospital and Joyce saying “thank God you found me in time.” But then we cut right back to Joyce’s body and her open eyes, and the paramedics call it. The camera angles start to mirror Buffy’s dissociated state–we only see the paramedic’s mouth as he tells her it was probably an aneurysm, a complication from her brain surgery. Buffy just says “thank you,” and they tell her not to disturb the body before leaving her there.
Buffy waits for the coroner, and because of the lack of cuts, we’re forced to wait along with her. She walks through the house, dazed, quietly throws up on the floor, and places a paper towel over it so we see the liquid seeping through. She looks out the window, pale and sweaty, until Giles arrives and tries to wake Joyce. Buffy tells him to stop, but he doesn’t hear her until she screams, “We’re not supposed to move the body!” She covers her mouth, horrified at herself, and Giles hugs her.
When characters die in TV shows, you usually don’t see the body much, maybe once or twice. But in this episode, the camera cuts to it constantly, lingering on her face as the paramedics zip the body bag up, then again at the coroner’s office as they cut off her clothes and pull a sheet over her head after the autopsy.
The death is real to Buffy because she saw the body, but as the episode expands to Dawn and the Scoobies, the focus shifts to the empty space surrounding death. Right before Buffy tells Dawn about Joyce, Dawn is doing teenager things: crying in the bathroom over mean girls and making eyes at a boy with an aggressively 90s haircut in art class. She tries to sound deep by talking about how there’s “so much more going on” than just “clothes” or “who likes who,” and the sad thing is that there is actually so much more going on at that moment, she just doesn’t know it yet. Buffy interrupts her and asks her to come home early, and when Dawn realizes something is really wrong, she starts to panic and makes Buffy tell her right there in the hallway. But when Buffy tells her and Dawn collapses on the floor, we don’t get to hear it–we see it through the glass of her art classroom while the camera zooms in on Dawn’s sketching of the empty space around a body.
Meanwhile, the Scoobies are all grieving in their own way. Willow freaks out about which shirt to wear to the hospital–dark colors are too sad, bright colors are too cheery, she absolutely needs to find the blue shirt that Joyce said she liked one time. Xander gets mad at the doctors and punches a wall, because toxic masculinity. Anya keeps asking questions, like what they’re expected to do, whether they’ll see the body, whether the body will be cut open. When no one will answer her, she breaks down in tears: “I knew her, and then there’s just a body,” she says, and then talks about all of the things Joyce will never do again, like drink fruit punch or yawn or brush her hair, “and no one will explain to me why.” I’m not the biggest Anya fan, but this monologue is heartbreaking and really works, because none of them know what to do. No one is good at dealing with death.
When they arrive at the hospital, Buffy is numb and detached, while Dawn is still in denial and keeps asking to “see her.” The doctor, the same doctor who lacked a bedside manner after diagnosing Joyce’s tumor, tells Buffy there’s “probably” nothing she could have done and there was “probably” very little pain. His bedside manner is pretty good here, actually, but Buffy is of course tormented by those “probablys.” Dawn says she needs to go to the bathroom, but she actually sneaks off to see Joyce. She wanted to see the body, but then when she gets there, she can’t bring herself to lift the sheet, because she wants to stay in denial.
This episode is such a stylistic departure that it’s a little weird when Dawn encounters a vampire when trying to see her mother’s body. There’s no score, which makes it feel different from any other vampire fight on the show–even when Buffy arrives to save her, it doesn’t feel triumphant like other battles, it just feels like another brush with death. Even the way Buffy kills him is more realistic and gruesome than usual–she uses an autopsy knife to behead him, and you hear the bones break in his neck, which I don’t remember ever happening before.
Anyway, this “battle” really only functions to push Dawn to the ground so she can accidentally pull the sheet off. After Buffy dusts the vampire, Dawn asks quietly if she’s cold, just like Buffy did at the beginning of the episode. “It’s not her,” Buffy says, “she’s gone,” and the final shot is Dawn reaching towards Joyce but never touching her.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Buffy references the candy that made Mrs. Buffy and Giles bang! Right in front of them! What a demon child, haha.
- Oof, tough doing CPR when you have superstrength–no wonder Mrs. Buffy’s ribs cracked!
- It’s so sad when Buffy moans, “She’s cold,” to the 911 dispatcher, and doesn’t even seem to get what that means.
- I got very confused with the imaginary scenes and thought Mrs. Buffy really wasn’t dead.
- The paramedic’s eyes are cut out by the top of the frame. I can’t tell if it’s, like, some kind of cinematic choice being made or if it’s just that the transition from 4:3 to 16:9 was done sloppily.
- Dawn is having a flirtation with a kid who looks just like every Disney channel movie hero and they love to talk about how intense feelings are and how deep life is. It’s very inane and yet they’re both very convinced it’s deep. Amusing.
- Willow can’t find anything appropriate to wear to a morgue because all of her shirts have, like, kittens appliqued on them. It’s a real conundrum.
- Anya shares, “Xander cried at the apartment. It was weird.” Hee.
- Xander punches a hole in Willow’s wall. I get that he’s upset, but RUDE.
- Xander makes fun of Anya for saying, “I wish Joyce didn’t die, because she was nice,” but I think Anya did about as good a job as anyone else TBH!
- BTW, I totally think I knew somehow from fandom that Mrs. Buffy was going to die. That’s why every time she had an extra-sweet conversation with Buffy, I thought it was the end for her. So this wasn’t shocking to me. But it’s still really sad!
Notes from a True Stan:
- Seriously, how did SMG never get an Emmy for this?
- I love this episode, but I hardly ever rewatch it. I often stop “I Was Made to Love You” before the last five minutes and then skip to “Intervention” because the next two episodes are too sad.
- I kind of wish they hadn’t had the theme song for this episode? The 90s drums sort of take you out of the moment.
- Willow, during her clothes freakout: “Why do all of my shirts have to have stupid things on them?” Not to pile on, but yeah, we’ve noticed that too.
- After all this time, we finally get to see Willow and Tara kiss, one of the first lesbian kisses on mainstream television. It feels a little strange that it comes two years after they started dating, and in the context of a character death, but the writers have said that framing it as grief was the only way to get it past the network.
- Tara and Buffy have a nice moment where Tara validates Buffy’s grief. She says that when she lost her own mother, she “had thoughts that I couldn’t tell anyone, thoughts that made me think I was losing it, or that I was a horrible person.” I love this friendship, especially in season 6.
- Every time I see this episode, I look up whether aneurysms are painful, and I always forget the answer. It looks like the doctor was lying that Joyce wouldn’t have been in much pain, but since she didn’t even call 911, it was probably very quick. So it’s a white lie.
Season 5, Episode 17 “Forever”
So, as you know, Mrs. Buffy is dead. Buffy throws her mom a reception-less funeral, and Dawn stays with Willow and Tara afterwards, so Buffy’s left alone. Except, psych! Angel shows up and they cuddle and chat the night away at the graveyard. Update: Angel is still boring.
Meanwhile, over at Willow and Tara’s, the women try to help a rather surly and hormonal Dawn. But she’s just interested in one thing: using magic to bring Mrs. Buffy back. Tara says that magic can’t be used to mess with life and death, but the more sympathetic Willow gives Dawn a little hint by leaving the relevant book tipped out on the bookshelf. Dawn promptly sneaks one of the more “potent” books from the second floor of the Magic Box.
Spike shows up while Dawn’s hanging out at her mom’s grave and offers to help even though he knows her spell is bad news. He brings her to a slightly doddering old man, who helps her understand the spell in the book. He tells her if anything goes wrong, she needs to destroy the photo of her mother that she used to cast the spell. “I can’t say your mother will come back exactly like she was. Sometimes these things… get a little off.” I got chills!
The doddering old man tells them that they have to go steal an egg from a thing called the Gora demon. They go down into the sewers and, after a little excitement (during which Spike gets himself bitten protecting Dawn), retrieve the egg. Dawn casts the spell in her room that night, and the spooky music indicates it succeeded. But before Mrs. Buffy can shows up, Tara realizes the special book is missing and warns Buffy, who arrives home just as Dawn is finishing the spell. She begs Dawn not to do this, just as we see two feet walking slowly across their front lawn.
Dawn says she needs to bring their mom back because Buffy doesn’t care about her, just about funeral logistics. Poor Buffy says she’s trying to take care of things, like their mom always did. Aww! But just as they reach this epiphany, the shadow of Mrs. Buffy glides slowly across the curtains of their living room window and it’s sooo spooky. Just at the last moment, they switch (metaphorical) places–Buffy suddenly grows eager to see her mother and throws the door open, while Dawn suddenly grows afraid of what she’s done and destroys the photo. Mrs. Buffy never comes, and the two girls hold each other and cry on the floor.
Meanwhile, Ben, that big dummy, lets slip to Jinx that the key is “innocent” and stabs Jinx in order to prevent him from telling Glory the Key is human. Unfortunately, he does a bad job of that too. Jinx makes it home and tells Glory the Key is a person now. Bad news for Dawn!
Notes from a New Fan:
- Buffy says that there’s not going to be a “wake” after the burial and that Mrs. Buffy thought potlucks were depressing. OK… I think she’s confused about what a wake is. Isn’t a wake the thing that happens before the burial, where you all stare at the body and there’s no potluck involved whatsoever? I think Buffy is talking about a funeral reception, or according to Google, a “repast.”
- Spike leaves flowers, claiming they’re for Mrs. Buffy–who he did actually have a cute little bond with. Remember when she invited him in and listened to him complain about Dru? Classic.
- It’s so in character for Tara that she is giving all this wise advice (which Dawn totally scorns) but she never reveals again that she lost her mom. She’s like the opposite of Joey Potter–not mentioning her dead mom even when it’s very relevant!
- In C-plot-land, Xander and Anya have awesome sex because Anya is turned on by the idea of sex creating life as the opposite of death. Xander promptly freaks out thinking she’s trying to make a baby right now. Shut up, Xander! She’s not trying to entrap you! She’s being existential!
- Angel does seem to be a good listener and it seems to help Buffy to be able to talk out her feelings with him. But damn, it really just highlights their lack of chemistry to have him pop up for a chaste bummer of a night right in the middle of her whole saga with Spike.
- Giles keeps all the fun, dangerous magic stuff on the second floor, which is just a loft above the first floor, not locked at all. Bold strategy, Giles. Let’s see if it pays off.
- We see Giles drinking alone with his music blaring. I wonder if he’s really sad about Joyce. They did have a bit of a flirtation.
- Dawn says she knows Spike is helping her because he’s “like, stalking my sister.” What a teenager way to put it!
- Spike tries to go get the egg without Dawn. Awww! But she insists on getting the egg while he distracts the Gora demon. She’s definitely Buffy’s sister.
- Willow starts keeping a journal because life is fast and she doesn’t want it to pass her by… but she’s just writing about what she had for breakfast! That’s hilarious. She’s had this big epiphany about life due to Mrs. Buffy’s death and it all boils down to writing “I had a bagel at 8am” in a notebook.
- Buffy looks completely bereft when she opens the door and her mom’s not there. Great acting!
Notes from a True Stan:
- It’s so sad to see Buffy dealing with all of the little practical things after Joyce’s death–answering phone calls, picking the flowers, choosing the wording of a sign outside the funeral. I feel like TV doesn’t explore that enough, how the bereaved are asked to make a thousand little decisions when they’re least equipped to do so.
- “The number he left for us in Spain is no good,” Buffy says of her dad, who hasn’t called since Joyce got sick. Yikes.
- “He didn’t leave a card.” Aw! Joyce/Spike is such an underrated friendship.
- Why did all of Buffy’s friends just leave her alone in the cemetery? Willow and Tara were taking Dawn home, but what about Giles and Xander?
- But I do love this scene with Angel. With everyone else, she puts on a brave face, but with him, she admits that she doesn’t know how to go on without her mom. “I can stick wood in vampires, but mom was the strong one in real life.”
- It’s interesting that the writers chose Angel for Buffy to confide in, of all people. Not to validate anything Riley said ever, but I do think she can let herself get more vulnerable with Angel just because he knew her when she was younger and more vulnerable in general. (Or, you know, maybe they just wanted to get those crossover ratings.)
- Willow totally wants to help Dawn with the resurrection spell. Foreshadowing!
- SMG’s acting in this last scene with Dawn is heartbreaking. How did she never get an Emmy??
- “The Body” is my favorite Buffy episode of all time, but “Forever” is really underrated! Top ten for sure.
Season 5, Episode 18 “Intervention”
After Joyce’s death, Buffy is going through a period of introspection. Giles wants her to get back to slaying (really??) but she asks for a well-deserved break. She’s worried that all of their extra training was making her a better Slayer, but not necessarily a better person. She’s struggling with her previous goals of getting stronger: “strength, resilience, those are all words for hardness,” she says. She feels emotionally numb, like she can hardly say the word love, let alone feel it. “Riley left because I was shut down,” she says, more than once. UGH. Can’t we leave him out of this? Can’t it just be about her relationship with Dawn??
Giles suggests that Buffy go on a “spirit quest,” where she goes to the desert to shake a gourd and connect with a “spirit guide” of some sort. Which sounds like it should be a satire of California culture, but somehow it’s not. She follows a cougar to a patch of the desert that she recognizes from her boring-ass dreams in “Restless,” which can only mean one thing–a reappearance of the super racist depiction of the First Slayer. She’s wearing long dreads and “primal” face makeup, and she moves like a Neanderthal, and she speaks to Buffy without actually moving her mouth–ugh it’s painful okay let’s move on. Buffy tells her that she’s worried she’s lost the ability to love, but the First Slayer contradicts her: “You are full of love… it’s brighter than the fire, blinding.” She says to embrace the pain that comes with love, because “Love will bring you to your gift.” When Buffy asks what her gift is, she says, “Death is your gift.”
While Buffy’s gone, some sitcommy hijinks are going on in Sunnydale. Spike commissioned resident creepy boy Warren to build a sex bot that looks exactly like Buffy. Warren customized her with profiles of Buffy’s friends and family, combat knowledge, and some “special skills” (ew), but she acts exactly like April from “I Was Made to Love You,” with a Slayer twist. We get some hilarious scenes of Spike and the BuffyBot acting out his Slayer/vampire kink that he used to playact with Harmony: the bot says things like “I’m helpless against your cold and muscular body” and pretends to stake him after ripping off his shirt. I feel like I’m watching Buffay the Vampire Layer.
Just like Warren before him, Spike isn’t completely satisfied with his new toy. He enjoys the sex games, but then he gets all upset when the bot says things like “Should I start this program over?” I guess it does ruin the mood, but like, come on. “Don’t say things like that,” he says. “Be Buffy.” Um, would Buffy say things like “Darn your sinister attraction”??
The bot sneaks out in the middle of the night to patrol (“Vampires of the world, beware,” she chirps), and before Spike catches up to her, she runs into Xander and Anya. She’s very bouncy and literal, but at first they just attribute it to a weird reaction to her spirit quest. But then as they walk away, they realize she never asked about Dawn, and they double back, only to find “Buffy” straddling Spike in the middle of the cemetery. As my partner likes to say loudly every time one of our shows has a sitcommy subplot: “MISUNDERSTANDING!”
Meanwhile, now that Glory knows the key is a person, she sends her minions to find out who it is. They should really just start torturing people already, but instead they’re just sort of lurking. For once, the Scoobies aren’t loudly talking about Dawn being the Key in public places, so the minions base their conclusion on the fact that the Buffybot protects Spike “as if he were precious.” Another misunderstanding!!
The minions kidnap Spike and take him to Glory, who immediately knows he’s not the Key because he’s, you know, a vampire. But when her minions tell her about the whole “precious” thing, she realizes she can torture him for information. Finally!
The Scoobies rush to prevent Spike from spilling, but the BuffyBot thinks they’re launching a “rescue” mission. They agree to stage an intervention, but just as they tell the bot to go change into fighting clothes to strategize, the real Buffy comes home. She’s understandably confused when they tell her they’re deeply worried that she’s having sex with Spike, and then BuffyBot bounces back into the room (still wearing the same floofy skirt), and Xander goes, “They’re BOTH Buffy!” Real Buffy gives him the death glare and says, “No, that’s a robot.” She’s mad that they couldn’t tell her apart from a robot, and I can’t blame her? Between this and the whole Faith thing, they’re really bad at this!
She’s horrified that Spike has been having public sex with her likeness, until she finds out that Glory has Spike. They arrive at Glory’s fancy hideout just in time to rescue a bloody and broken Spike, with no casualties except for the BuffyBot, whose wires get fried while she’s fighting the minions. Buffy wants to kill Spike, except they have to find out whether he told Glory (there’s always some excuse). Also, Willow figures out how to fix the bot, and Xander actually suggests giving it back to Spike, because he’s unfailingly gross. “Poor guy,” he says. “He gets beaten up and his best toy gets taken away?” Yuck.
Next thing we know, the BuffyBot bounces into Spike’s crypt, asking where he got his “sexy wounds.” He explains that he wouldn’t tell Glory who the Key is, and BuffyBot is all, “I’ll tell her!” and he says she can never tell, because if anything happened to Dawn, that would destroy Buffy, and he “couldn’t live with her being in that much pain. I’d let Glory kill me first.” She’s surprised, and she kisses him softly. He immediately pulls away, stares at her, and realizes that she’s actually the real Buffy! It was all a ruse to find out whether he told Glory about Dawn. She tells him off about the robot a little: “That–thing–it wasn’t even real.” But then she pauses by the door and says, “What you did for me and Dawn, that was real. I won’t forget it.” And whether you’re a Spuffy shipper or not, if that look between them doesn’t melt you, you might not have a soul.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Giles has come over to cook dinner and do dishes for the motherless girls. You go, Giles!
- Buffy says, “I can beat up the demons till the cows come home. And then I can beat up the cows.” Hee!
- Buffy now wants to quit being the Slayer because she “was never there for Riley.” Oh, my God, Buffy. Riley sucked! Good riddance! Don’t quit your once-in-a-generation CALLING over it!
- Buffy’s going to the desert with no food or water to have a revelation, so basically she’s Jesus now.
- Warren giggles when he says that BuffyBot has the “scenario responses” and “special skills” Spike requested. Ugh, they’re both so gross.
- Cut to later, and Spike is enacting fight-to-sex scenes with his brand-new Buffy bot. Yucky!!! We know a little too much about his fantasies now. Although I’m sure all the Spike/Buffy fanfiction on the internet hits about the same narrative beats.
- BuffyBot politely asks Anya, “How is your money?” because her internal files say that Anya likes money. Heh.
- During a fight in the graveyard between the clueless Xander and Anya, Spike and Buffybot, and three redshirt vampires, a lot is happening–Jinx watching from the sidelines, Spike trying to hide the fact that BuffyBot is in fact a sex bot, BuffyBot trying to protect Spike–and it’s easy to miss that Anya saves Xander once again after he’s knocked flat by a vampire.
- Xander and Anya overhear Buffybot yelling, “You’re the big bad!” while doing Spike, which is… really gross!
- Is that the First Slayer coming back?!
- Ewwwww, when Xander comes to confront Spike, we see BuffyBot standing up quickly from what was presumably a casual little blowjob, and Spike hastily zipping his pants. Yuck. [And they’re both fully clothed! She’s still wearing her jacket! That disturbed me for some reason. –Janes]
- I love that Xander is even knocked out during a fight between Spike and a bunch of demons. Every time, Xander! Every time!
- The Guide, in the form of the First Slayer, reassures Buffy that she’s full of love and it burns brighter than the fire. Then she goes, “Love, give, forgive. Risk the pain! It is your nature!” She sounds like a Youtube yoga instructor at the end of a hard session.
- It is kind of hilarious that all of Buffy’s friends fail to recognize that BuffyBot is a bot.
- “Angel’s lame… and he’s bloody stupid,” BuffyBot announces. AND WILLOW STILL DOESN’T REALIZE.
- The Guide tells Buffy that “death is your gift.” Uh-oh. Foreshadowing.
- I can’t believe Anya suggests BuffyBot change her clothes to something more “fighty.” At least that weird giant pleated skirt allows for movement! Sometimes Buffy fights in, like, mini-skirts.
- “Hey, I know this! They’re both Buffy!” Xander yells proudly when he sees Buffy next to BuffyBot. I giggled. And I giggled more when Buffy duhs, “No, she’s a robot.” I love how it only takes her two seconds and everyone else is miles behind.
- BuffyBot pronounces it “Guiles,” with a hard G. Hee!
- Spike spread-eagled on the elevator as he puts his body through hell to prevent Buffy from losing her sister: two Jesus stand-ins in one episode?
- Xander makes it through (part of) the fight this time. Boo.
- Tara tells Dawn that Spike built BuffyBot to “play checkers” with. Nice try, Tara.
- Xander feels bad for Spike that his “best toy” got taken away. Am I allowed to feel bad for Spike but also judge Xander for feeling bad for Spike? No? Well, too bad, it’s my blog.
- The look Spike gives Buffy when he realizes it’s not the bot kissing him… I AM MELTING.
Notes from a True Stan:
- I feel like SMG must have studied April’s performance in “I Was Made to Love You.” She uses her eyebrows in same strangely uniform way.
- There are some really funny lines in this episode. I especially love when BuffyBot earnestly asks Anya, “How is your money?” and Anya replies just as earnestly, “Fine! Thank you for asking.”
- I also laughed when Tara does her usual thing of lecturing them all not to judge Buffy for whatever she’s doing because her mom just died, and then Xander announces she’s “boinking” Spike and Tara just goes, “Are you kidding? She’s nuts.”
- Of course Xander inappropriately confronts Spike about having sex with Buffy rather than just, I don’t know, talking directly to her? I get that he’s worried about her grief, but she’s a grown-ass woman who can choose her own sex partners! (Yes, I know, they’re not having sex yet, so it’s a moot point, but still.)
- I’ve seen a lot of chatter on the Buffy subreddit about how being upset about the BuffyBot is tantamount to “kinkshaming” Spike, but I disagree. Maybe you could make that argument if he never let her out of the crypt and literally just used her as a sex toy, but having sex with the bot in public where anyone could see is definitely a violation of Buffy’s privacy. It’s less like a private kink and more akin to photoshopping nude photos of someone and plastering them all over the internet. Okay this is a ridiculous debate, I’ll stop now. [I started to respond with an argument, but all I could come up with is “I don’t think someone is irredeemably evil to create a sexbot, but nor do I think it’s kink-shaming to think Spike is gross, and I think Buffy has every right to feel violated,” then Janes and I talked about this for another fifteen minutes and still basically agreed, so I guess I have nothing substantive to add to Janes’s comments! Surprise, surprise—Nerdy Spice]
- In a nice callback to April, BuffyBot also disobeys Spike’s directive to “stay put no matter what” because she “missed him.”
- Willow’s explanation for Buffy sleeping with Spike is that, in her grief and trauma, everyone was “being all sympathetic” and “making her feel weak,” except for Spike. She’ll be totally right in about a season!
- Why couldn’t Bob Barker be the key? Couldn’t he have fake memories like Dawn?
- “Do you want to ravage me now?” Buffy-as-BuffyBot asks Spike. That’s a dangerous game she was playing!!
- “You’re my best friend. And you’re recently gay!”