In the sixteenth episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, how the fuck am I supposed to write a non-spoilery teaser here? It’s fucking absurd.
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.
This is not the first time I’ve had to write about death, and I am still, to this day, really happy with what I wrote during Mark Reads Harry Potter concerning the death of my father. I just read it again, and I’m crying once more. As I said in Tuesday’s review, I am terrified of the reality I’m going to have to deal with. My mother will soon become a body. She will stop breathing. She will stop sending me email forwards. She will stop calling me to tell about some new recipe she’s completed. And despite that I have lost my father, that I know what a horrific experience it is for me to deal with losing someone, I know that it won’t help me at all. It won’t be easier to accept, and it won’t be easier to cope with.
I’m closer with my mother now than I ever was with my father, and the thought kills me. I purposely avoided my father the last week of his life, and as guilty as the thought makes me, I did it because I wanted to preserve the memory of his body. I did not want to see him wither away. I did not want to see him laying in a gurney or shrinking away into the recliner my mother threw away after he passed. I did not want to see him forget who I was ever again, and I did it for an entirely selfish reason. I didn’t want to suffer anymore. How arrogant is that? The man had three different types of cancer, and he’d been dealing with the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s for almost a year. His own daughter had rejected him, and he was losing his grip on reality. And I wanted to avoid the inconvenience of it all.
But I didn’t want my memory to disassociate from his life. And I use the word to refer to the fact that I couldn’t deal with the idea that I’d have a memory of my father where he wasn’t in the body I’d known him to be in. I didn’t want what I saw here in “The Body,” and I think that’s ultimately what was my undoing while watching this. I sat in horror at the quietness of it all, as if this was some fucked up sequel to “Hush.” I even fell for Buffy’s moment of imagining an alternate version of the future. I fell for it because I did the same thing.
I hadn’t been at Buzznet long when I got the call from my brother. He’d called three times in a row, and despite that I was in an informal brainstorming meeting with my coworkers, I decided it was important to answer the call. My brother just sobbed, and then said, “Dad died.” I remember collapsing, just like Dawn does here, and yelling at him, telling him that he was a liar and that it wasn’t funny to play jokes on me.
The jokes came later. I discovered that my mother and my brother liked to use humor to heal, and I was happy to see it appear in “The Body,” too. Well, I wasn’t happy with this episode. It’s not a fun thing to watch, and I don’t even know if I could ever watch it again. I just mean that… well, it was satisfying, but not in that way that the end of “Checkpoint” was satisfying. It was satisfying because it was so real. The silence was real. The confusion with physical space, the obsession with tiny details in the aftermath of learning that you’ve lost someone, the detachments that happen in your heart as a way to protect yourself, the desire for pain because any momentary distraction is welcomed, the utterly horrific, endless awkwardness that comes with the territory… it’s all so painfully real. And then I saw Joyce’s body on a metal slab as the episode begins to reveal the reactions of the Scoobies, and I have to accept that Joyce Summers is gone, and I lost it. I had to pause the episode while I cried because it was very easy to imagine my mother in the same place, and I was crying over losing a fictional character just as much as I was crying about the thought of what’s to come in my own life. I cried so hard that I choked, and then I fell on the floor and cried on to the rug under the table because I didn’t want a single second of this. I cried for nearly fifteen minutes, heavy, guttural sobs of pain and rage and fear, and I knew that when my mother passed, it would be a billion times worse than this.
This just might be the best written episode of Buffy, and I can’t imagine that it was easy for Joss to write. It’s brutally honest about death, realistic in ways that only those of us who have lost a loved one can understand, and brilliantly acted by the entire cast. But my mind wanders back to Anya’s monologue, and I’m just so struck by the fact that the character who has spent the least amount of time being human so fully understands the futility and absurdity of death. Death will never make sense, and no matter how much I’ve dealt with it in my life, I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand it. I don’t know that I want to. For now, though, it’s time for me to admit that this is the last time I’ll see Joyce Summers. And I fucking hate it.
I want Joyce Summers back right now. I want to hear her voice. I want to see her joking with Spike. I want to see her give that look to Buffy, the one where she cocks her head and frowns at her, the one that says, “Are you serious?” I want to see her cuddle with Dawn on the couch. I want to see her stare longingly at Giles. I want anything with her, just one more second and I would be fine with that.
Instead, I get this. I don’t know if I could ever divorce the memory I have of Joyce Summers from what happens in “The Body.” I don’t know that I could ever forget Buffy breaking her mother’s ribs while trying to revive her. I found myself thinking far too much about so many tiny details in this episode that I’ll now forever associate with this character. I can’t stop the image of Buffy soaking up her vomit with a couple paper towels from replaying in my mind. Buffy looks dead in that scene, covered in sweat and pale, and I don’t understand how Sarah Michelle Gellar went through this.
I can’t forget that Dawn was trying to find her identity in school, despite knowing who she really is. That speaks volumes to me, that she has friends and continues to live her own life. And that’s why it destroys me that Buffy has to be the bearer of news that ruins her. All I can think about is Joyce’s body being zipped into a bag, or of Giles’s face when he discovers what happened, or of Willow’s near-breakdown over a sweater, or of Xander punching a wall to feel anything, or Tara looking upon Dawn with so much empathy because she knows exactly what this feels like. Death isn’t sudden, she explains, and then it is. And that’s how it was with my father. He died over a long period of time, but when it happened, it was an instant, and it was surprising.
And I will be unable to forget that final instant as Buffy saves Dawn from a vampire, but Dawn must then see her mother’s body, bereft of soul and life, laying on a table. That last image, of a numb daughter reaching for one final bit of comfort from a dead mother, is going to haunt me forever. Joyce Summers is gone.
Fuck, y’all. I don’t want this.
PS: Willow and Tara kissed for real and it was goddamn beautiful.
PPS: That “Avengers assemble” line was… holy shit, HE KNEW.
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