Buffy made her WB debut on March 10, 1997, with no particular ambitions.
Slowly the series grows together with the characters: the plot becomes captivating, the quality becomes very high and today we can say that part of the credit for today’s TV series goes to Joss Whedon at the crew of screenwriters who have alternated over the years.
And it is precisely an episode written and directed by Whedon that has remained in my memory more than any other: “The Body”– the 5×16 – defined by critics as one of the greatest episodes of television ever broadcast.
Have you ever wanted to share something you were enraptured but couldn’t find anyone who was as enthused as you are? The first time I was faced with this episode, many years ago, I was amazed. I was not only overwhelmed by the emotions, but admired for it masterpiece which I had just witnessed. It aired on Italia uno, so I couldn’t see it again, but for days I didn’t get it out of my head.
In “The body” Buffy comes face to face with the loss of her mother Joyce, due to an aneurysm. Death is the hunter’s daily bread, she faces it with strength, she always has the situation under control. But on this occasion we will see for the first time an unprepared, fragile, confused girl in the face of something she cannot defeat with a wooden stake.
“The body” is divided into four acts. Each of which begins in total silence and with the shot of Joyce’s pale face and wide eyes.
Whedon chooses to tell this story with extreme delicacy. It will be the only episode of the series without a “previously on Buffy” lead-in. Furthermore, the choice to start the bet through the use of a flashback during a Christmas dinner where all the “Scoobies” are present not only serves as a contrast to the harsh reality we witness a few moments later, but also serves to avoid the appearance of the opening credits in the scene which picks up exactly where it ended the previous episode “I was made to love you”: that is Buffy who finds the mother’s body on the sofa:
“Mom, Mom, Mom?”
From this moment we are with Buffy and together with her we cannot realize what is happening. We don’t know how to behave, we don’t understand whether to call an ambulance, we are in shock. We are Buffy.
Whedon directed the episode making the viewer completely immersed in the scene. Everything feels real and touches us deeply. We have the impression that time slows down. We are not external spectators, we do not look, but we live.
These extraordinary sensations are the consequence of a terrific work of the director.
Buffy tries to wake up her mother and an uncut three minute agonizing scene begins.
Il sequence plan it makes real time and cinematic time coincide, therefore it has the ability to stage the everyday life of the characters with a strong realistic impact, allowing the audience to feel inside the action and the environment. Joss Whedon said he was inspired by the long shots of Paul Thomas Anderson.
None of this would have been possible without an Emmy-winning performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Buffy manages to convey her emotions with very few words thanks to a masterful expressiveness. The opening scene has been filmed seven times and, every time the actress found herself at her emotional peak, she had to resume from the moment she entered the house serene, looking down the stairs to call her mother.
The 911 call is slow, real. The buttons on the phone are deliberately large. Whedon’s choice to recall the feeling experienced by him when his mother died of a brain aneurysm. The 911 operator asks Buffy if she’s alone in the house, then she asks if she’s capable of CPR. Buffy throws the phone receiver on the floor and tries to revive her mother, we feel a rib crack. She cannot understand what is happening. Between her and the operator there is an exchange of jokes from thrill:
“Is the body cold?”
“No! My mum!”
He fails to accomplish. When the rescuers arrive we are shown a daydream of Buffy in which she imagines that she has arrived in time to save her. These dreams represent the fantasies that pass through the head of anyone who has lost a loved one and the pain of returning to reality. In fact, the rescuers will tell you that there is nothing more to be done. Only the lower part of the paramedic’s face is shown, and in particular her lips, to underline that Buffy doesn’t understand what they are communicating to her. Let’s feel that together with her feeling of loss in which we don’t understand if we are in a dramatic reality or in a nightmare from which we will wake up.
Buffy is dumped alone with Joyce’s body. She wanders through the house, we hear her footsteps, her breathing, her solitude. The small details are significant: to protect her mother’s dignity Buffy pulls down the hem of her skirt, her camera focuses on the breeze across the wind noise while the protagonist collapses on the carpet in the grip of nausea. She stops in the back door to listen the life that goes on: children playing, birds singing to underline the bewilderment and anger of having lost a person when everything else goes on.
Another touch from Whedon’s master is in fact the choice to shoot the episode completely stripped of melody. There is no music, we just hear the surrounding sounds of everything going on in the environment.
“Without the acoustic balm of music, all our empathic focus is on the characters and their lost state”
The moment in which the protagonist realizes what has happened is heartbreaking: Giles arrives, who, seeing Joyce on the ground, runs towards her. And it is at this moment that Buffy yells at her watcher not to move her body, realizing what she said: “the body”. Her eyes widen, his hand goes to her mouth and Giles runs to hug her as she stares at her mother’s corpse. Five seconds that they take your breath away.
Buffy from this moment finds herself having to take matters into her own hands. She must be the adult. She must be the one to warn her little sister. The scene set in Dawn’s school continues in the work of absolute sensation of realism. We hear them tell her sister that her mother has been in an accident, and then we see the scene through the eyes of the classmates on the other side of the glass. The conversation is muffled, distant. We see Dawn cry and throw herself on the ground. We are witnessing a reversal compared to the previous scenes. here silence, distant voiceswhile before the microphones were very close to the actors to perceive every vibration of the voice.
During the episode we find the various reactions to Joyce’s death: Anya who, as a former demon, is frightened by the transience of life; Xander angry with the doctors he breaks through a wall with his fists; Willow, in panic because she doesn’t know which shirt to wear on such a difficult occasion, she will be reassured with a kiss from Tara. Two curiosities in this regard: the first is that for this scene Whedon was inspired by his personal experience of him – he didn’t know which tie to wear at a friend’s funeral – and he said that shooting it was a strong emotional impact; the second is that the network did not want to approve a kiss between two womenbut the director said it was not negotiable and that if it was not approved, he would leave the show.
“We made Willow’s love for Tara feel like the most natural thing in the world”
An episode worthy of the big screen which I would also recommend to those who have never seen this TV series, just as I could recommend a masterpiece film.
The answer to such a perfect work can be found in the life of director Joss Whedon who wanted to include his sensations. Because it’s when talent is combined with real life experiences that jewels worthy of the big screen are born.