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August 23 2010

"The Body" - an example of how to write a crying scene. The Bitter Script Reader takes a look back at one of the most cited and acclaimed episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as a good example of how to craft a scene that may involve some waterworks.

Part II of his examination of the episode can be found here:

[ edited by J Linc on 2010-08-25 11:42 ]

Man, oh, man. How freakin' powerful is this single hour of TV that, even after all these years, even just reading a simple description of one scene, I get chills? Good grief.

As an actor, they say that the best way to perform a crying scene or a screaming/yelling scene is to not cry or scream and yell until you can't possibly not cry or scream and yell anymore. In real life, the thought goes, people tend not to really embrace crying. Instead, they're always trying to suppress that emotion, so it makes performing it that way more real and interesting. I love -- LOVE -- the idea that this suggestion applies to writing as well.
Nice article. Basically, deny the audience the release it expects/wants/needs from the characters, to build a reaction in the audience. Kinda like building 'suspense' in the audience through character emotion, or lack thereof.

Always wondered how someones viewing of The Body would go if they had no prior history or context of the show to draw upon.
Agree that SMG deserved an Emmy for that one.
I have to say, the child-like way Sarah delivers the "We're not supposed to move the body!" line just kills me. Every. Frakking. Time.
The only time I cried in this show was when Anya could not understand what happened. That was just so sad.
Me, too. The whole show was gut-wrenching, but it was Anya's speech that caused me to cry uncontrollably.
I have to say I disagree with the following from the article...

"Then, despite a truly evil tease showing a fantasy where Joyce Summers is miraculously revived (Screw you, Joss), the paramedics can't do anything for her. "I'm sorry," the paramedic says, "But I have to tell you that your mother's dead." (Yes, I know this is completely not the way it would go in real life. Paramedics don't stop until an MD takes over for them.)"

First of all, an MD isn't there at the scene where the body is... so, that notion kind of falls by the wayside here. Secondly, even if that is the typical protocol, couldn't the paramedics just in this situation be making a professional mistake or no-no in telling her that her mom's indeed passed away? Protocol or rules aren't always followed in real life so why should fiction always do it?

... Just sayin'.
Having Vulcan like emotions during sad scenes on TV & Movies pre-The Body. The fact it is so real (personal experience), my brain can not dismiss it as acting. Plus the sucker punch of Anyas' speech, just after you feel you made it out of the wood...OG
J Linc, it's even worse than that.

Yes, in many jurisdictions paramedics CAN discontinue CPR on their own initiative. In technical terms, if the patient meets one of a predefined set of criteria, there's essentially no hope. In the episode, IIRC one paramedic says to the other, "She's cold, man"--implying that Joyce has by that time assumed room temperature. I, personally, have never seen any CPR discontinuation criteria based on temperature, but others like dependent lividity, rigor mortis, or initial presenting cardiac rhythm being asystole might apply.

The more unrealistic thing about the scene is that the paramedics are called away and leave an unattended death outside of the immediate control of EMS or law enforcement. Every place I've been, if EMS is called to an unwitnessed, unexpected death, the scene is to be secured by EMS until law enforcement or the coroner's office arrives. EMS aren't trained to ascertain whether a death was a murder or not, nor are they trained to collect evidence.

However, I fully understand the narrative reason the paramedics are "called away" and leave Buffy alone with Joyce's body. It's a forgivable gloss, just like the fact that we don't see Joyce's body intubated or with chest bared for a 12-lead ECG.
For the sake of fanwank, you could argue that the emergency services were always overstretched in Sunnydale given the amount of unnatural deaths.
I took the writer's suggestion, and watched this episode over streaming Netflix on my lunch hour. I've watched other episodes of BtVS many times, but this was only my second viewing of "The Body." Now I remember why: It's almost viscerally painful, to watch beloved characters in such anguish. Too real, too convincing. A masterpiece, without a doubt, but not exactly a barrel of laughs.
I find the episode difficult to watch as well, and often skip it when I'm watching the episodes in order. I'm always tempted to watch, but rarely give in. It's one of the most painful episodes of television ever created. Wonderful, beautiful and heartbreaking.
I've watched it many times, and familiarity has diluted its power enough that it's not excruciating anymore, so I can just be enthralled by the acting and directing.

[ edited by shambleau on 2010-08-25 02:18 ]
Really shambleau? I've also watched it many times and am still in tears pretty much start to finish.

I will agree that this is (one of) the episode(s) I would show anyone questioning SMG's acting. A.Maz.Ing. Just powerful, powerful stuff. Everyone else is excellent as well, but her acting is occasionally called into question, and I just don't get it.
I watched the episode maybe a year before my own mother died. And then again a few months after. Though the deaths were vastly different, I found the episode very cathartic with the viewing after my mother passed. Yes we all anticipate our parents passing, but everyones experience is so different that even friends who have been through it can not fully understand what you are going through. I felt watching, that someone fully understood and in fact, was able to help me understand the emotions I went through. Powerful stuff.
Just re. the paramedic thing, the fantasy scene is Buffy's fantasy, I can happily fanwank that she doesn't know what really happens in the back of an ambulance, she does usually deal in corpses after all.
Thanks for that info and/or clarification on the matter of normal paramedic procedure, jclemens. I still maintain, though that perhaps in that one particular moment the paramedics (or at least one of them) just got lost in the moment and had a lapse in judgement and did something they weren't supposed to.

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