How “The Body” Teaches Us to Deal With Grief
“The Body” is one of the most shocking, depressing, and exhausting episodes in BTVS history. It plunges us into an emotional freefall as we experience grief alongside Buffy, Dawn, and their friends. Every time I watch this episode, I feel like I’m reliving the death of a loved one. Which, props to Joss et al. for making it believable, but man, it’s heavy.
How could Joyce, of all people, be dead? She dealt with a tumor and had a tough run for a while, but you always thought she was going to pull through because she was JOYCE. Clueless sometimes, sure, but an intelligent, loving, and supportive mother who would do anything for her daughters – even though one of them appeared out of thin air one day. She never had a bad word to say about anyone unless they threatened her kids, in which case you knew an angry mama bear was about to come out.
With Joyce’s death, we see Buffy in a true state of panic. She’s always worried that a vampire or demon might kill one of her friends or family members, but she doesn’t know what to do when someone dies of natural causes. Buffy is overwhelmed – beyond tears the entire episode. The hardest part is when she has to pick up her sister from school.
By the look on Buffy’s face, Dawn knows something’s wrong. Buffy barely gets her out of the classroom before, in typical Dawn fashion, she insists that Buffy tell her –right then and there – what’s going on. I always find the cinematography of this scene brilliant because I feel like I’m just another student eavesdropping through the window of Dawn’s art class. I might not be able to hear Buffy, but as Dawn screams and collapses to the floor, I know exactly what she said.
Dawn, for good reason, takes it the hardest, but it’s also tough on the Scoobies. Willow tries her best to calm everyone down even though she’s barely holding it together. She just wants to be there for Buffy, but when she’s alone with Tara, her anxiety really comes out. She displaces her own emotions on picking out a shirt that isn’t too silly, too happy, or too depressing.
And poor Xander. He doesn’t know how to funnel his rage, so he sends his fist through a wall because he thinks it’ll make him feel better. But that moment passes, as moments tend to do, and all his anger comes flooding back. This has a profound effect on Anya, who seems hyper-aware of Xander’s mortality as she stares at his bloody knuckles.
It’s Anya who shows us that sometimes it’s completely okay to not understand death. Yeah, I know, she’s slaughtered thousands of men for committing varying degrees of adultery, but she’s never dealt with death as a human before. By the way Buffy’s other friends react, it’s pretty easy to guess they’ve lost people in the past. Grandparents, great-grandparents – someone, at least. But Anya’s stuck on the little things – how Joyce will never brush her hair again, or drink punch, or yawn. How she’s just suddenly vanished from their lives.
Tara’s the only one who remains calm. She lost her mother at seventeen, and when she’s alone with Buffy, she uses the moment to share that with her. Tara seems to say, “This isn’t about me. I’m not trying to make it about me. But empathy, you know?” She understands what it’s like when your mom becomes a body.
That’s the thing about death. It transforms the essence of that person was into this… object, and we’re supposed to act like that’s normal. But in the moment, it’s not normal. It’s devastating. It’s weird. It’s awkward. And no one really knows how to deal with it. So they just bring you a million snacks, or punch a wall, or put way too much thought into picking out a sweater that won’t insult you.
There’s no easy way to deal with the death of a loved one. It’s a constant push-and-pull of shock, anger, and sadness, and it isn’t something we ever really get over. Ultimately, “The Body” shows how we all grieve and support each other in different ways. And that’s okay.