Buffy is alone choosing a coffin. Giles, Dawn, and the salesman enter. She tells them her choice. Dawn isn't sure but Buffy overrides her objections. Dawn and Buffy are joined by Giles, Willow, and Xander for dinner. They discuss the flowers and how to let people know there will not be a wake - one of Joyce's wishes. Dawn discovers Joyce told this to Buffy and is upset she never told her. Neither Dawn nor Buffy is eating. Buffy has still not been able to get in touch with her father, but has left messages everywhere. She and Xander try to decide how to include the notice about there not being a wake. Dawn asks Willow if she can stay with her and Tara after the funeral, she doesn't want to come home. Buffy and Willow agree.
As Xander and Willow leave, she tells him she's stopping by her mom's. Spike shows up with flowers. Xander thinks this is an attempt to curry favour with Buffy, but Spike says he liked Joyce, she was always nice to him and didn't treat him like a freak. Xander doesn't believe him and Spike leaves the flowers and goes. Willow points out there was no card with the flowers. In the house, Dawn and Buffy sit alone in their rooms.
The next day, we see the grave side service. Eventually everyone leaves, the last ones being Tara, Willow, and Dawn. Buffy remains standing at the grave. The camera focuses on her and she seems to age as night falls. Someone walks up to her. It's Angel. They hold hands.
Willow and Tara are trying to comfort Dawn. Dawn says she wants to perform a spell to bring Joyce back. Xander and Anya have just had sex, better and more intense sex than ever. Anya says it is because of Joyce. She has realized sex is about life: that since you have death you have to create life. It makes sex more important to her now. Xander gets a little nervous, suggesting they are too poor and stupid to have babies. Anya says she isn't ready to make life with him, but she could - they could. And that makes her feel part of something bigger. Xander agrees. Back with Willow and Tara, they are trying to explain to Dawn they cannot bring Joyce back, they cannot tamper with the natural order of things. Dawn doesn't believe them and is angry.
Buffy is talking to Angel about the funeral. They are still at the cemetery. Buffy says she doesn't know how to get on with life. She says she still thinks if she had arrived home earlier she could have saved Joyce. It's nearing dawn. Angel says he can stay in town if she wants. She asks if he can stay forever, but quickly says that's a bad idea. They kiss, passionately. Buffy tells him to go. He apologizes, but she says he helped her through a night she thought she would never survive. He has a few minutes left and he holds her.
Ben is confronted by one of Glory's minions. The minion says he knows Ben is seeing Buffy and says Glory wants him to get close to her and try to find out about the key. Ben refuses, but lets slip the key is a person. He stabs the minion to stop him from telling Glory.
Willow and Tara are going to breakfast, but Dawn wants to stay saying she'll sleep. She says Giles will pick her up. Willow says she'll return at lunch, but Dawn says she'll probably be gone. As Willow leaves she uses magic to move a book on the book shelf. Dawn gets the book, it has information about resurrection. At the shop, Dawn is working - to the slight consternation of Anya who worries about someone else doing her job. Dawn says it takes her mind off things. She pumps Giles for information about dangerous spells and things. While he and Anya are busy, she gets some books and things from the section Giles told her was off limits. That night, we see her at Joyce's grave, attempting to cast a spell. Spike walks up. He says he'll help. We cut to a scene of Giles listening to a record. Then Spike and Dawn walking somewhere, he says he's taking her to an expert on resurrection. Dawn thinks he's doing this to get in Buffy's good graces. He says she must never tell Buffy what he is doing.
We cut to Glory. Jinx the stabbed minion arrives. He tells her Ben stabbed him and she starts pulling out her hair. But she's delirious with joy when she discovers he learnt the key is a person. She tells them to get Jinx fixed so she can hear the story again without the moaning.
Dawn and Spike arrive at the home of a strange old man (the credits call him Doc). Doc says she really shouldn't try a resurrection and offers her a tonic to make the grieving fly by. She refuses. He pulls out one of her hairs and says her mother is a good candidate, strong DNA. As he searches for something, Dawn notices he has a tail. He tells her they need to steal an egg from a Ghora demon. She needs a picture of her mother along with the egg and the other ingredients. He gives her an incantation to recite when she has these. He says she can reverse the spell by destroying the picture. He warns sometimes these things get a little off and her mother may not come back exactly as she was. He tells them where to find the demon. He refuses her money, but asks her to keep in touch and tell him how it goes. They shake hands and his eyes go all black. Dawn pulls away.
Dawn and Spike reach the place in the sewer where the demon resides. Spike wants to go in alone, but Dawn insists on coming. The demon is pretty ugly and Spike needs to draw its attention as Dawn goes for an egg. This works, although with some surprises. The demon has three heads and is pretty tough. Spike has a hard time against it and leaves his axe imbedded in the creature. He runs to Dawn who stumbles and breaks her egg. She rushes back to get another, although Spike has no weapon now. Nevertheless, Spike rushes in and fights the demon - getting hurt himself - and they manage to escape with another egg.
Dawn is reciting the incantation. Willow is writing what she and Tara had for breakfast in her journal. She's decided to keep one since life goes by so quickly. She wants to record every moment of her life with Tara. Tara notices the book is missing. Willow panics and doesn't confess that she guided Dawn to the book. Tara says the book could lead to something dangerous and says they have to call Buffy immediately. Cut to Buffy just coming in to a ringing phone. Buffy rushes in as Dawn completes the spell. She tells her it is wrong and she has to reverse it, but Dawn refuses. She says she needs her mother. We see something walking toward the house. Buffy says Dawn has her, but Dawn disagrees. She says Buffy is distancing herself from her. Infuriated, Buffy slaps her. Then she starts crying. She says she keeps doing things because as long as she is busy, her mother isn't quite gone. She says she doesn't know how to take over being mom but somebody has to take care of them. Crying, she admits she is scared. There is a knock at the door. Buffy says mommy and runs to open it. Dawn destroys the photo and the door opens to nothing. The sisters cry and hold one another.
If death isn't forever, then it doesn't mean anything. There once was a show (let's just say its initials were ST:TNG) where death was a very transient thing. Every major character on the show died, some more than once, and they all came back from death. You always knew death meant nothing and a favourite character could always be resurrected. And so any tension or drama death could have evoked was inevitably undermined and watered down. Buffy hasn't fallen into this error. And we have to thank the best writing team on tv for that.
In The Body, we got one of the most emotionally intense episodes ever. This week that emotion was ratcheted down a level, as it pretty well had to be. But it wasn't diminished. As in real life, pain subsides. The sharp agony turns into the dull ache and people get on with their lives. They live with the past, but they don't forget it. That's what we saw happening here. It was real and sad and there was enough horror in the reality that we didn't need any vampires or demons to spice it up. It's probably the only episode of Buffy in which none of the main characters is involved in a fight. The closest we get to violence from them is Xander talking harshly to Spike. The only real violence comes from Ben and is totally divorced from the main story line. This isn't an episode about slaying, it's an episode about coping. As Buffy points out, she can do the superhero stuff but being strong in life is a lot tougher.
Spike, Buffy, Xander, Anya, and Dawn really grew in this episode. They matured and they learnt to deal with emotions far deeper than any they had experienced before.
We got the first hint of this with Spike and the flowers. Leaving flowers without a card could not possibly be a way to gain favour with Buffy. Spike really did care about Joyce. This is surely the greatest example of a selfless act we've ever seen from Spike - some would argue the only example. And there is plenty of reason to believe his feeling for her is genuine. Joyce always did treat him nicely, it was as if she never really understood that he was a vampire. She would make him hot chocolate or tea and listen to his sad stories about Dru or discuss Passions with him. She may have been the only person in his life or unlife who was just nice to him. Later, Buffy will say she knew how to make things better and it is that attribute (the mom factor) which Spike mourns the loss of.
This same point is made again when Spike helps Dawn. She thinks the same thoughts Xander has and Spike says pretty much the same thing. He doesn't want Buffy to know about this. He cared for Joyce and cares for Dawn. But his recognition that Buffy would slay him for what he is doing shows he knows it is wrong. And this is a backward step. But he takes a big step forward when they go to get the demon egg. Defenseless, he rushes to save Dawn. He risks himself for a human - and there is no benefit to this. If she survives, the story never reaches Buffy. If she dies, Buffy will likely slay him. It's another selfless act. I don't count the battle between Spike and the Ghora as real violence, since it's simply the kind of violence that Spike has made his hobby. It's far more significant that he abandons the fight when Dawn summons him and that he is more interested in her success than his pain.
At the grave side (and how often have we seen Buffy standing at a grave side waiting for resurrection and slaying), as night falls, the camera focuses on Buffy. And she seems to grow old and wrinkled in a wonderful scene which uses changes in light to produce a brilliant effect. The burden of the past few days, of the need to appear strong (she confesses her emotional weakness to Angel), has weighed on her. She doesn't know how to be strong in real life, how to make things better. These were the things Joyce knew and did. She confesses her feeling of failing Joyce, that she could have saved her if she had arrived a little earlier. She talks about needing to be strong for Dawn. Angel tells her she is strong, she will figure things out, and she has friends to help her. It's interesting that he doesn't try to solve her problems or take them on himself - instead he tries to help her build the confidence she needs to tackle them herself. And Buffy begins to recover here. She wants Angel there, but she sends him away realizing that his staying will only make things harder. When their passionate kiss reveals all too clearly that Angel staying will only lead to the old problem rearising, he apologizes. And Buffy consoles him. This is another sign of her recovery. She is being the strong one. She is sending him away and comforting him, letting him know that he succeeded in his quest - he made her feel better.
Anya tells Xander that she understands sex - that it is about making life and being part of the circle of being. It makes it possible for her to accept death and it makes her feel better about herself and Xander and their love for each other. She realizes that out of their love (both physical and emotional) can come new life. And that's something really terrific. And she realizes they aren't ready to make that new life yet. But they could. It is something they could do together and Xander understands that too. This is a huge step in their relationship and their maturation. They've explicitly recognized where they are heading in life - their ultimate goal. And they have explicitly stated that they want to create life together. Sex is something you might have with anyone you find reasonably attractive. But having babies is something most of us are considerably more selective about. When Anya tells Xander she would have a baby with him and he agrees it is something they can do, they are expressing an even deeper and more profound love for one another.
Near the beginning of the episode, we see Buffy and Dawn in opposition. They are at opposite ends of the dining room table. Later they sit isolated in their rooms, completely separate in their mutual grief. At the funeral, Dawn leans on Buffy, crying, but Buffy doesn't turn toward her. At the end of the funeral, Dawn walks away from Buffy, looking backward but getting no response from her sister. They are separated for the rest of the episode, coming together only when Buffy discovers the spell Dawn has cast. And then Buffy cries. She shows Dawn the controlled emotions, the emotions she has been hiding because she needs to be strong for her sister. Only the emotions are what Dawn needs. She needs to know she isn't alone in her feelings. This display gives her the strength to destroy the picture - her moment of emotional growth. She has always known that resurrecting Joyce was a bad idea. Willow and Tara told her so. Doc said as much and he was pretty scary, suggesting she was tampering with some dark magic. But it wasn't until Buffy opened up to her that she was able to open up to herself, to accept her grief for what it was and abandon the childish dream of bringing her mother back and recreating a family forever gone. Dawn accepts death and her sister and begins feeling better. And, as Angel predicted, she is there as a friend to Buffy to help her be strong when she needs to be.
While I don't think Tara has a maturing moment in this episode, I think the character is developing in a way analogous to Anya. Both have developed real strength of character. It's Anya who takes the lead in her relationship with Xander. And it's Tara who takes the lead in comforting Dawn. Both demonstrate a deeper understanding of things than their partner. Xander is smart enough to understand what Anya is saying and to accept it. But Willow doesn't listen carefully enough to Tara. She branches out on her own and makes a near fatal mistake. Willow seems to be getting worse and worse at dealing with people while Tara and Anya are getting better and better. They were also the two who said the most comforting things to Buffy in The Body. From the little we saw of Willow in this episode, we might conclude she is the worst affected by Joyce's death. She's visiting her mother out of fear and guilt, keeping a journal to record a life she now sees rapidly passing away, and she's making terrible errors in judgement and then covering them up. This sounds a lot like pre Family Tara or pre The Body Anya.
Some quick final thoughts. When Angel first showed up I thought it was Riley. Even though I had seen spoilers about Angel and saw his name in the opening credits. The fact that I was surprised just shows how good a show this can be. Ben is really bad at killing. For a medical man, that's terribly sloppy. Is the song Giles is listening to one of the ones he and Joyce listened too in Band Candy. I hope Doc shows up again. I also hope Joyce had a lot of insurance or how are Buffy and Dawn going to support themselves.
Lines of the week:
"It's a fine choice. It speaks of your deep feeling for the deceased." - A coffin salesman displaying zero sensitivity.
"Joyce was the only one of the lot of you that I could stand." - Spike saying something any fan had to have noticed.
"And she never treated me like a freak." - Spike with even more reasons as to why he liked and misses Joyce.
"It's not just about 2 bodies smooshing together. It's about life."
"Mom was the strong one in real life." - Buffy on the importance of her mother.
"Bitty Buffy." - Spike summing up the relationship of Dawn to Buffy.
"Don't be sorry then." - Spike assuring Dawn that her success means more than his pain.
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