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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"That's a very interesting thing about trout you brought up."
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August 16 2006

"She was there... and, yet, not there." MSN TV names Joyce Summers' death one of television's most dramatic exits.

The last time I watched The Body, I was alone, on the couch, and blubbered like a big sap. But I wasn't responding to cheap, maudlin sentimentality (never!). I wept at that painfully awkward, tense scene in which the Scoobies are gathered in Willow's room and are struggling--and failing--to cope with their shock and grief at Joyce's death. Anya's emotional speech. Willow's dithering over what to wear. Xander's marvelous tension-breaking punch in the wall. That scene, and the scene in which Buffy imagines she saved her mother's life, perfectly nail what it feels like to experience true helplessness in the face of traumatic loss. I can't think of any dramatization, in TV or in film, that captured it better.
Well and perfectly said, 1starbuckstown.
I completly agree with you, 1starbuckstown

The last time I watched "The Body", my mom called right while I was sniffling at Anya's speech. Both my parents are Buffy fans though, so she understood. And her yelling across the house to my dad "Buffy's mom died again," didn't even ruin the moment.
Joyce DeWitt... Suzanne Somers... Joyce Summers... coincidence? Or is Joss a secret Three's Company fan?
I think the fact that Buffy, Willow and Xander get in all kinds of hijink give him away. Snyder... Mr. Furley?
There's a great whedonesque thread from 4/25/05 in which many members posted their (heartbreaking) reactions to "The Body" and Joss posts a response to their comments:

"I had the arc mapped out years before I made the ep, and I always knew it would be MY ep. But when it came around I was filled with ideas for expansion, movies, comics, and that "mom's death ep" was just my day job... One night we had friends over and I remember walking into a room by myself and suddenly realizing that the most important artistic challenge I might EVER face was the ep I was about to start writing. It was a little epiphany, how much this ep would mean to me and how much it would push me artistically. I've mentioned that it's based on some real experiences, talked about the aesthetics of the thing, the idea to not use music... but that one first moment of realization, the first terrible blush of the thing, that was extreme."

I've wanted to write about this amazing ep for some time, but gotta deadline right now, and I'd have to go deep to write about "The Body" -- deeper than I can get to at work in a short time -- maybe I'll catch you'all up later if this thread is still going. Suffice to say now that I think Joss went somewhere with "The Body" that no TV show has gone before or since...
The thing I don't like about this article is that it mixes character deaths with characters who just left the show through other means. They should just have done a story on TV deaths.
I watched it with an old college friend from nearly 3 decades ago...I'd given her Firefly for Christmas the first year the DVD set came out, which she loved...but she was (incomprehensibly) dubious about Buffy...but she finally came around...I had her come over for lunch and afterwards we watched, she for the first time, me maybe the 15h...and, yeah, I blubbed, just like 1starbuckstown, and I imagine I'll blub the next time I see it, and all the next times after that.

Kristina, agree totally...death is a lot more affecting than "he's in college"!
For me, the pain of Joyce's death starts in IWMTLY, when Buffy whispers "Mommy". Just typing this makes me feel sad.
Okay, here's my epic saga about "The Body" (if this goes the way I anticipate, I may be receiving the mantle of "Thread Killer" from gossi's shoulders, much in the same way as I recently nabbed "Stalker of the Week" -- a signal honor -- from him.)

I started watching Buffy at age 42 because a friend of a friend was cast in it -- it was her first series. I didn't watch much TV and assumed that a show called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" would have nothing to offer me. (I checked out Buffy on the web before it aired, and could find only one website -- -- and my friend's bio wasn't even up yet.) But you gotta support the work of friends, right?

I started to enjoy it, and my partner & I watched it together. We were surprised at how bright it was, how funny, and how the moments of fun were blended so deftly with the pain & tragedy. I was embarassed, though, and didn't tell many people that I was watching this "kid's show" -- until later, when I found out that some of my friends were secretly watching it, too. (What snobs we were then.)

Okay, flash forward to "The Body" and its airing in February, 2001. I hadn't lost many folks very close to me (yet) -- I'd lost grandparents and cats and distant great-aunts & uncles. These were upsetting and painful, but not of the magnitude of the loss of a parent.

Still, it was impossible not to relate to this situation, drawn so clearly and movingly. The show was superb -- painful and sparse and uncomfortable and eerie, and we both cried. (Buffy’s “Mommy, Mommy?” got me, but it was Willow that broke me and Anya that sent me over the edge.) We cried a lot. My partner had lost a much-loved uncle unexpectedly to a murder, and he found it particularly affecting. I was also freaked out at the sight of Kristine lying dead on the couch, and hoped that her daughter was not watching.

Tara was right -- it's always sudden. I lost my Dad that September. Some months later, I was watching re-runs of Buffy, and "The Body" came on. I thought, "Oh, that's interesting. Let's see how this episode holds up, now that I've lost a parent." That was the last moment of distance I had until the credits rolled.

This January, I lost my Mom. It was sudden -- it's too true all deaths of the beloved are sudden. As I stood in the ICU room with my sisters, watching my Mom take her last breaths after we all agreed that her Living Will decreed that life supports be withdrawn, it came into my mind that this was unfair, that she was too young, that I shouldn’t have to make this decision, that I was too young to have lost both parents, that this was way too sudden, every painful cliche of bereavement -- Tara's face came wafting up in my head, saying, "It's always different... It's always sudden."

How strange for a TV show to have that much power.

When I came back to California after spending weeks with my family (and after losing my brother-in-law as well, for real), I was pretty spent. I felt wrung out and disconnected and anti-social. I took my DVDs of Buffy, bought the Angel set and hunkered down for some "comfort TV." (Working, of course, and seeing close friends, but needing something beloved and familiar after the pain & grief & loss & being away from home for so long.)

I watched them in order, as I do, and watched all of them, not skipping episodes that I don't favour, determined to enjoy my least favourite along with my top choices. When I hit "The Body" I hesitated a bit, but plunged ahead anyway.

What a bloody miracle that episode is -- to feel so true to life, to have achieved by art the actual experience of losing someone close, to evoke empathy and compassion in people that haven't suffered such losses, and yet to feel authentic in a way that provides catharsis and comfort and support to those that have.

I cried throughout the show, and afterwards, I felt better. How grateful I am to Joss for this creation.

"DAWN: Is she cold?
BUFFY: It's not her ... it's not her ... she's gone.
DAWN: Where'd she go?"

(I hope I haven’t thoroughly crushed the last signs of life out of this thread with my looooong post, but I so needed to testify about this...)

Re: the thread,"just mostly dead." An 'Amen' to you and everyone else's testimony. Nothing else has, for me, so captured the pure bewilderment and surreal panic/weird calm of loss. For just "The Body" alone, Joss is a master.

As for your personal Buffy story: for me it's like a checklist--like hearing someone "tell their story" at a twelve-step meeting and thinking, "Yup, me too. Yup, did that, Yup, thought that," etc.

1. Mock the name and think it's a kids show, despite what others say 2. Final see an episode for some offbeat reason (my then boyfriend threatened silent treatment if I didn't watch OMWF with him) 3. Fall in love with the show but it's a love that dare not speak it's name, until finally coming out of the closet. 4. Watch "The Body" with a loved one, cry, identify, cry, be in awe, cry. 4. Suffer the loss of loved ones. 5. Curl up with the Whedonverse, almost always in order (except Firefly which is short enough to skip around after having seen them in order the first dozen times). Hesitate at "The Body." Experience it on a new level. Every. Single. Time. 'Cause Joss really does like to "kill all your darlings"--just like Chekov (Anton, not Pavel!); just like life.
narnia: “...just like Chekov (Anton, not Pavel!); just like life.”


Hey, narnia, thanks so much for sharing your story and incidentally preventing me from killing this thead (ooops! but I might do it now in answering you, so now there's that. Ah, well, that way lies madness, so I'll just take my chances...)

Did you read that earlier whedonesque thread about "The Body?" I tell ya, we snark and snap and chide and quip on this site (blah, blah, blah "Serenity DVD cover" blah, blah, "that reviewer obviously doesn't recall that a Vengeance Demon can teleport," etc., etc.) but read that thread and you'll know for certain sure what it is that keeps people coming back to this site, and just why we all patiently await more from the mind & heart of Joss Whedon. As painful as it is to read (and the show was to watch) it was and is inspiring.

"But I hate it when Joss kills my favourite characters."
"I want to be entertained by TV, not bummed out by it."

I know, I know, I was sorry when Joss killed [insert name of your favourite dead Whedon'verse character here]. I was sorry when my 20-year-old cat died, and I was extremely sorry when my parents died.

The entertainment world is awash in entertainment where nobody dies, where nothing's at stake, with happy endings for all and a tidy wrap-up and take-home doggie-bag-style homily (neatly parodied by South Park's "See, I learned something today" speeches). And there are definitely days when all you want is the comfort of these familiar devices.

But for me, generally, the best entertainment -- that which lifts me out of my cares & concerns -- tends to be that which addresses those concerns in some meaningful way, helps me perceive it differently, makes me both laugh & cry, and gives me heart to continue on the journey.

I just don't get any of that that from most TV & movies, which is why books are my first love. And this is why the Whedon'verse has been so startling & delightful to me -- finding rare viewpoints & meaningful worlds where I never expected to find them. And the vast distance between Joss's work and most other stuff is like the difference between talking to a passing acquaintance and a trusted friend -- with "The Body" I felt heard and seen and shared with on a profound level, instead of the passing-the-time-of-day and/or forced sentimentality of regular TV.

I'm sorry that you lost loved ones, narnia -- for something that everybody goes through inevitably, we sure don't like to talk about it. I also loved your last line.

“People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” -- Joseph Campbell, THE POWER OF MYTH
Thanks Quotergirl, for the compliment and the metaphorical tea and sympathy. I'm sorry for your losses as well. My latest is my Dad, who is in probably the tail end of a very slow decline and when it hits the worst it helps to remember that paradoxically enough--it's perfectly normal for this to be happening, as you said, it's inevitable, and at the same time it's perfectly normal for it to feel horrible and unnatural and alienating and depressing and "mortal and stupid."

I'd bet money Joss has devoured Campbell, especially THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, and probably Jung as well. A man who claims he created Buffy with the express intent of launching a devoted cult like following knows a bit or two about archetypes and the collective unconscious. Didn't Campbell also write about Primitive Religions. That would fit too.

What's weird about Buffy is that I have searched for and found "must see TV" in the past but it was usually much more serious--drama, not drama-dy and, for want of a better word, "male-oriented." I adored HOMICIDE:LIFE ON THE STREETS and was a fan of HIll STREET BLUES and early NYPD BLUE. I think that must have started with, as a little girl, watching ADAM 12 with my Dad. Currently, I'm obsessed with DEADWOOD--which rightly deserves its reputation for Shakespearean language and Dickensian characterization and intense violence and vulgarity(which I've so come to love!). The Joss world is just as rich and was so...unexpected. Plus, I think it's led to a real upswing in the quality of "genre" tv (and tv writing in general) and now there's great stuff out there that I refuse to be embarrassed about crushing on, like the new "Doctor Who," and new "Battlestar Galactica" which sucked me in with an episode, "fragged," that reminded me of nothing so much as Tim O'Brien's amazing THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. And, there's a sweet new import on BBC America, "Life on Mars" in which a Manchester police detective gets hit by a car and winds up in 1973. It's half gritty cop drama and half time-travel fish out of water story. I guess what I'm saying is books rule but in a way this is the real golden age of tv with amazingly written shows reminescent of the great serialized novels (Dickens and others)in the past (I once read that the docks of New York were crowded with obsessed readers calling out to those unloading the latest installment of Wharton's THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, "Does Lily Bart live?!"

And your absolutely right, DVD cover blah, blah is the equivalent of a silly name like Buffy. But as we all know at Whedonesque, Buffy fans, especially Whedonesquers are some of the most educated, well read and smart and downright funny folk out there.

Ha, now I'm the thread killer. Or it could be that, as it's after two in the morning here, it's dying a peaceful death. Good night now.
Hey, nobody is taking that Thread Killer title from me. Not without a fight. A fight with as few words as humanly possible.
No, really, thank you, gossi -- I didn't want the blinkin' title.


gossi, okay, what are you doing here, in five words or less?

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