"The Body" is the sixteenth episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is the ninety-fourth episode in the series. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, it originally broadcast on February 27, 2001 on The WB network.
Buffy returns home to find that Joyce has been sent flowers from the man she recently had a date with, and calls upstairs to see if Dawn needs picking up. Receiving no answer, Buffy heads into the sitting room to see her mother sprawled across the couch, paled-skin, with opened eyes, and not breathing. Buffy soon realizes something is wrong.
On Christmas 2000, Buffy, Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara, Dawn, Giles, and Joyce enjoy Christmas dinner together. In the table, the gang discuss the demonic truth about Santa Claus. Buffy and Joyce head into the kitchen to find the pie has burnt. The pie slippers from the table as Buffy tries to slice it, and two exclaim in surprise.
In the present, Buffy runs to her motionless mother and attempts to wake her without success, then calls 911. The operator sends the ambulance and talks Buffy through performing CPR, while awaiting the arrival of the medical team. Buffy accidentally cracks one of Joyce's ribs, and this attempt is also unsuccessful. The 911 operator assures her not to worry, but when Buffy claims "she's cold," the operator refers to Joyce as "the body." Buffy hangs up as the 911 operator starts to tell her the medical team will soon be with her. Buffy then calls Giles, asking him to come to her home, only telling him that "she's at the house."
The paramedics soon arrive and begin to try and resuscitate Joyce, while asking Buffy details about what happened. Suddenly, Joyce coughs into life much to everyone's relief. As the ambulance drives her to the hospital, the paramedics refer to it as a "wonderful miracle" and Joyce later thanks Buffy for finding her in time…
But this is all Buffy's imagination. The paramedics continue to try and resuscitate Joyce, but get no response. One of the men notes that Joyce is cold. Buffy watches as her mother is then officially pronounced dead. One of the paramedics explains that Joyce may have died from a complication relating to her recent brain tumor, and will be calling the coroner to come and collect the body. They then get a call to another address and have to leave, and Buffy wishes them luck. She then walks into the hallway and vomits. Suddenly Giles arrives thinking Glory has attacked, but he sees Joyce and checks on her. Buffy calls to him that they're not supposed to move the body, then realizes in shock what she's said. Giles rushes to hug her. The coroner eventually arrives and places Joyce's body in a body bag.
At Sunnydale Junior High, Dawn is sobbing in the girls' bathroom. A student named Kevin Berman had called her a freak, an outcome of Kirstie spreading rumors that Dawn had been cutting herself. Her friend, Lisa, consoles her, and they leave the bathroom. As they head for art class, Dawn and Kirstie greet each other in the hallway. In class, Dawn takes a seat next to Kevin and the two begin to talk, as her art teacher instructs them to draw the negative space around a statue. As it turns out, Kevin is actually interested in Dawn and the two begin a conversation about their mutual disdain for Kirstie. Outside the classroom, Buffy arrives and talks to the teacher. She enters the classroom and Dawn doesn't understand what's happening, but Buffy explains that they need to go.
Outside the classroom, Dawn wants to know what's happened, since Joyce was supposed to pick her up. Buffy attempts to take her sister somewhere private, but Dawn refuses and gets more upset. She demands to know where Joyce is, so Buffy is forced to tell her there and then. The others in the art class are unable to listen, watching the two through the window. As Buffy talks to her, Dawn collapses to the floor in tears.
In their dorm at UC Sunnydale, Willow and Tara wait for Xander. Willow starts to break down as she can't find a certain blue shirt that Joyce once liked, and feels that the others are either too somber or too childlike to wear in the hospital. Tara attempts to keep Willow calm, and reminds her that she has to be there for Buffy and Dawn. Thinking of Dawn causes Willow to start crying again. Tara eventually manages to help Willow stop the tears, kissing her and telling her she has to remain strong.
Xander and Anya soon arrive at the campus and he double-parks, not caring if he gets a ticket. Joining Willow and Tara, the four discuss their shock over what's happened. Anya starts to ask questions about what is going to happen, however no one answers. Xander suggests that Glory is responsible for Joyce's death, then tries to blame the doctors who operated on her, getting angrier that this is something that "just happened." Willow jokingly offers to take him on, helping Xander to calm down. Tara offers to look for Willow's blue shirt in the dorm's laundry room, and leaves.
Anya asks if they're "going to cut the body open." Willow gets irritated and tells her that it is not okay to ask such things. Anya goes on explaining that she doesn't understand the whole mortal coil and the concept of dying, and starts crying. Willow, now calmer, tells her that they don't know either. While Willow's back in turned, Anya finds the blue shirt under chair cushions but puts it in the open dresser drawer, not knowing it is being searched for. The room goes silent, and Xander punches his fist through a wall, getting his hand stuck in the hole. He is soon freed, and Tara arrives, failing to find the blue shirt, but Willow tells her it doesn't matter. After tending to Xander's wounds, the group leaves the room, while Xander's car gets a ticket.
The Scooby Gang meets up at the hospital, exchanging hugs and supporting words towards Buffy, Dawn, and each other. Doctor Kriegel tells Buffy that Joyce's autopsy has revealed that she died of an aneurysm resulting from her brain surgery, and assures her that Joyce died quickly, with almost no pain, and that even if she'd been by Joyce's side there would have been little she could have done. Buffy, however, imagines he confesses he's lying to make her feel better. Giles leaves to sign the release forms, and Dawn goes to the bathroom.
The remaining Scoobies discuss how Dawn is doing, and Buffy feels that Dawn is angry with her for being the one to break the news. Anya tells her she wishes Joyce didn't die, and Buffy thanks her. Willow, Xander and Anya then decide to go and buy food from the vending machines for the two sisters, leaving Buffy and Tara sitting in silence in the waiting room. Buffy explains that everyone is trying to help, while she still can't believe it's happening. Tara then reveals that her own mother had died when she was seventeen, and shares some helpful words for Buffy on the subject. When Buffy asks Tara if her mother's death was sudden like Joyce's, Tara tells her it wasn't and yet it was, because all death is unexpected.
Meanwhile, Dawn leaves the washroom and decides to head for the morgue to see Joyce's body. Ignoring the "authorized personnel only" signs, she enters, locking the door behind her. Dawn approaches Joyce's covered body, trying to reach out to remove the sheet, but can't. She doesn't notice a vampire rising from one of the tables behind her. He approaches, and Dawn hears him as he walks up behind her.
As her friends arrive back with armfuls of food and stating they panicked about what to buy, Buffy realizes that Dawn should have returned. Knowing where Dawn has gone, she sets out for the morgue and finds Dawn struggling with the vampire. Buffy kicks the door in and takes on the vampire, and in the scuffle the sheet covering Joyce is pulled down. Buffy finally beheads the vampire using a bone saw, and finds Dawn staring at Joyce's body. Dawn asks if their mother is cold, but Buffy tells her that the body isn't their mother anymore. Slowly, Dawn reaches with her fingertips toward the body's cheek.
- This episode picks up a few moments before "I Was Made to Love You" left off.
- The Christmas scene takes place sometime between "Into the Woods" and "Checkpoint."
- In the flashback, Buffy tells to Joyce and Giles: "As long as you two stay away from the band candy," in reference to the events from "Band Candy."
- Dawn's self-harm incident in "Blood Ties" has ignited a fuel of rumors that spread across the school.
- Xander says, "We do morgue time with the Scooby Gang," referring to their often visits to the morgue, as seen in the episodes "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," "Beauty and the Beasts," and "Help."
- When Xander accuses Glory for Joyce's death, he mentions the threat Glory had made about killing Buffy's family and friends in "Checkpoint."
- Dealing with Joyce's death, Xander punches a hole in the wall. Six years later, he will punch the wall again (Apart (of Me), Part One), to soon seek counseling for his anger issues (I Wish, Part Two).
- Willow and Tara's dorm room is number 213. Willow and Buffy's dorm in the previous year was identified as 214.
- Tara mentions her mother's death. We first found out that her mother was dead in "Family."
- The side-effects of the brain surgery which removed Joyce's tumor in "Shadow," "Listening to Fear," and "Into the Woods."
- Joyce Summers' and Cassie Newton's ("Help") are the only deaths in the series that are due to natural causes.
- When Buffy finds her mother dead, she says, "Mom? Mom? Mommy?" Dawn repeats this phrase in "Conversations with Dead People" when she thinks Joyce is trying to communicate with her.
- In "Conversations with Dead People" as well, when the First Evil appears to Willow at the library, it mentions that Willow is strong like an Amazon, referring to Tara and Willow's exchange in this episode.
- Kevin Berman
- Rupert Giles
- Glorificus (Only mentioned)
- Alexander Harris
- Anya Jenkins
- Aaron Kriegel
- Mrs. Maclay (Only mentioned)
- Tara Maclay
- Willow Rosenberg
- Santa Claus (Only mentioned)
- Buffy Summers
- Dawn Summers
- Joyce Summers
- Unidentified 911 operator (Only voice)
- Unidentified paramedic
- Unidentified teacher
- Unidentified vampire
Organizations and titles
- One vampire, beheaded by Buffy with a surgical saw.
Behind the scenes
- There was no "Previously on Buffy" recap at the beginning of this episode.
- James Marsters (Spike) does not appear in this episode, marking his only non-appearance in the series since becoming a regular in season four.
- This is what Buffy and Dawn say in the scene, where Buffy tells Dawn Joyce is dead:
- Buffy: "Mom died this morning. While we were both at school, she–"
- Dawn: "No…"
- Buffy: "I don't know exactly what happened, but, she's dead…"
- Dawn: "No. No, no, no, no, you're lying, you're lying, she's fine, she's fine and you're lying, oh, no, no, please, please, no, you're lying, she's fine, she's fine…"
- Buffy: "Dawnie…"
- Dawn: "It's not true, it's not real, it's not real, oh, no… no…"
- Throughout the scene after Xander punches through a wall, only the left side of Willow's face can be seen, because Alyson Hannigan had an allergic reaction to the plaster dust, causing her right eye to swell.When Tara returns from the laundry room and informs Willow that she couldn't find her shirt, Willow's entire face is shown and the area around her right eye is pale and puffy.
- Sarah Michelle Gellar fought against the decision to kill off Joyce.
- Kristine Sutherland has said in interviews that Joss Whedon told her at the end of season three that her character would die in season five.
- This episode features only diegetic sound; Whedon explained that music comforts the audience, and he wanted this episode to be touching and horrifying at the same time. It is also explained in the DVD commentary that Whedon stated that, in real life death does not have a soundtrack, so he felt that adding music would take away from the reality of the situation.
- Whedon has said that throughout her time as Joyce's body during the filming of this episode, Kristine Sutherland only blinked on-camera once, which was taken out using CGI.
- According to Whedon's DVD commentary, he wishes that he had included Joyce in the scene at the table, and not had her separated from the Scoobies in the kitchen.
- Willow is portrayed as obsessing over what to wear to meet Buffy in the hospital; according to Whedon, this was based on his friend's funeral, where he was frantically obsessed with finding a proper tie.
- According to Whedon's DVD commentary, the episode begins with the flashback of the gang's Christmas dinner because he didn't want the cast and crew credits to appear over the main scene of Buffy finding her mom.
- Whedon wanted Willow and Tara's kiss to be natural, and not to be the main focus of the episode so he included it in this episode. This said kiss also brings an end to the WB's apparent policy about contact between same-sex partners.
- Emma Caulfield was asked what emotions she was feeling when she filmed her monologue on why she doesn't understand death in Willow's dorm room, and admitted that they had been filming all day without a break and the only thing she was thinking was that she really had to go to the bathroom.
Pop culture references
- Willow's line "Strong like an Amazon?" refers to the song "Amazons" by Phranc, the "all-American Jewish lesbian folksinger" and record-holding Tupperware Lady. Willow is quoting the line of the chorus. Whedon reveals this in the DVD commentary, but insists he didn't choose this song because of Willow's, Tara's, and Phranc's sexual orientation.
- Xander says "The Avengers gotta get with the assembling," in reference to the group of superheroes, whose catch-phrase is "Avengers Assemble!" Whedon would later write and direct The Avengers and its sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron.
- Anya holds a toy in Willow's dorm room of Japanese character Kogepan.
- The image on Dawn's canvas when she leaves the room is completely different than the image when the camera does the close up of it at the end of the scene.
- Despite the apparent illusion of the vampire in the morgue being nude, the blue rim of his pants can be seen briefly when he and Buffy are fighting.
- Paramedics in the state of California are not allowed to pronounce death without consulting with a telemetry physician which we don't hear them do. Contrary to popular belief, paramedics can determine that CPR is no longer indicated and may stop.
- Widescreen version only: When Buffy is in the living room with Joyce's body in the zoom up, the boom mike up in visible in the right hand corner.
- Buffy moves Joyce's body fully onto the couch to perform CPR, but later it is in the same position it was in when she got there.
- Widescreen version only: When everyone is in the waiting room at the morgue, the camera is visible moving off to the left side. Mainly at the point where Dawn is asked if she wants to sit down and when Dawn is walking away to the bathroom.
- Widescreen version only: When we cut to Anya being driven to Willow's dorm, the camera assembly is visible around the edge of the screen.
- Armenian: "Մարմին" (Body)
- Czech: "Tělo" (Body)
- Finnish: "Ruumis" (Corpse)
- French: "Orphelines" (Orphans)
- German: "Tod einer Mutter" (Death of a Mother)
- Hungarian: "A Test" (The Body)
- Italian: "Un Corpo Freddo" (A Cold Body)
- Japanese: "別れ" (Goodbye)
- Polish: "Ciało" (Body)
- Portuguese (Brazil): "Este Corpo" (This Body)
- Romanian: "Trupul" (Body)
- Russian: "Тело" (Body)
- Spanish (Latin America): "Desolada" (Desolate)
- Spanish (Spain): "El Cuerpo" (The Body)
- The 911 operator asks Buffy if she is "alone in the house." Sarah Michelle Gellar appeared in Scream 2, in which her character was asked the exact same question by the killer on the phone.
- Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, and Tom Lenk cite this episode as their favorite, or at least one of their favorites. Whedon lists this episode as his fourth favorite episode in the featurette The Last Sundown, which is included in the Season 7 DVD. Likewise, in a The Chosen Collection DVD featurette, many stars and makers of the TV show lists this is as one of their favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.
|Dawn: "Um, guys, hello, puberty? Sort of figured out the whole no-Santa thing."|
|Anya: "That's a myth."|
|Anya: "No, I mean, it's a myth that it's a myth. There is a Santa Claus."|
|Xander: "The advantage of having a thousand-year-old girlfriend. Inside scoop."|
|Tara: "There's a Santa Claus?"|
|Anya: "Mm-hmm. Been around since, like, the 1500s. He wasn't always called Santa... but you know, Christmas night, flying reindeer, coming down the chimney, all true."|
|Dawn: "All true?"|
|Anya: "Well he doesn't traditionally bring presents so much as you know, disembowel children, but otherwise..."|
|Tara: "The reindeer part was nice."|
|Xander: "I'll tell you what it is. It's the frickin' doctors. I mean, they just let her out, you know? Clean bill of health. Dig a hole in your skull. Here's a band-aid. Next!"|
|Xander: "They should have checked her over, they should have had her in. Well, don't we have enough monsters in this town, the doctors gotta help 'em out?"|
|Willow: "Xander, I-I don't think it was... any... it just happened."|
|Xander: "Things don't happen! I mean... they don't just happen. Somebody... I mean, somebody's got..."|
|Willow: "Okay. (puts up her fists) Let's go. Come on, you and me. Come on."|
|Xander: "You know I can't take you."|
|Willow: "Damn straight."|
|Anya: "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."|
|Buffy: "Was it sudden?"|
|Buffy: "Your mother."|
|Tara: "No. Yes. It's always sudden."|
|Dawn: "Is she cold?"|
|Buffy: "It's not her... it's not her... she's gone."|
|Dawn: "Where'd she go?"|
- "The Mortuary". Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Archived from the original on June 9, 2001.
- Whedon, Joss (2008). Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season; DVD commentary for the episode "The Body". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Entertainment Weekly, "How Sarah Michelle Gellar Tried To Keep Buffy's Mom From Being Killed". YouTube, April 28, 2017.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season; "Season Overview" Featurette. (2008) [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Attinello, Paul; Halfyard, Janet; Knights, Vanessa (eds.) (2010). Music, Sound, and Silence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
- Kaveney, Roz (ed.) (2004). Reading the Vampire Slayer: The New, Updated, Unofficial Guide to Buffy and Angel, Tauris Parke Paperbacks.
- Tropiano, Stephen (2002). Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV, Applause Theater and Cinema Books.
- Amy Ryan, "Alyson Hannigan's favorite 'Buffy' episodes". EW.com, October 19, 2005.