Sunday, 29 September 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body

“I don't understand. I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean I knew her, and then she's, there's just a body, and I don't understand why she can't just get back in it and not be dead any more. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid, and, and Xander's crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever. And she'll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever and no one will explain to me why."

Ok, deep breath. I can do this. Even though this episode hurts so much. DAMN YOU, WHEDON!

Joss himself write and directs, and sets such a sombre and unsettling mood, in large part through the extended use of silences to convey not only grief but also the awkwardness of not knowing what to do, what is socially acceptable, and to what extent we should broadcast our feelings when we lose a loved one. The scoobies are all young and just feeling their way through all this, and the episode consists, McLuhan-like, in characters not communicating and being incapable of reconciling their feelings, their feeling about how they should be feeling, and whatever the rules are supposed to be when the sky falls in. One theme of this episode is the silliness, and simultaneously the necessity of social conventions at times of extreme emotion. Anya may provide the comic relief in breaking these rules, but at least she’s being herself. This contrasts with Xander’s lack of eloquence as he punches the wall and Willow’s displaced distress over what to wear.

Another deep breath. New paragraph. And hopefully a shorter one.

The opening scenes are brutal, presenting Buffy and the viewer with a body, an object, that is not Joyce. We feel for Buffy in the eternity before the paramedics arrive and both we and her are punched in the face with the brutality of the language they use: ”Try not to disturb the body”. Even more brutal is Buffy having to break the news to Dawn. We know what’s coming as we see Dawn in her art class, adrift in the everyday concerns of a teenage girl, and as we hear her teacher speak of “The negative space around the object”. That’s a fair description of what this episode is about if ever I saw one.

We cut to scenes of the scoobies’ silent reactions to the news. We are not used to seeing them so helpless and distressed, but this is nothing so manageable as a monster. Death by natural causes is the most harrowing thing that has ever happened in Buffy, and it hits everything like a train. No one reacts well. No one really knows how to. Except Tara, who has experience bereavement before, and who seems less awkward with Buffy than before.  No one can cope with the lack of a simple linear cause or, in the case of Buffy, with not being able to know for certain that there is nothing she could have done.

Her mother “probably” didn’t suffer. Probably. Such a cruel word.

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