Buffy the Vampire Slayer S05 E16 – Negative Space.

Previously: We met the epic bag of dicks that is Warren. Once Spike saw his robot-girlfriend-manufacturing skillz, Spike decided he wanted some of that.

The Body

Sweeney: THIS EPISODE. Hush was a weird one to recap, but this is kind of on another level. This episode is also included with Hush on many best-of-the-series lists, with good reason. I’d also argue it’s the single hardest episode to recap because of a combination of feels and simply the way the episode is done. I mentioned in a Segue Magic video that there was another episode, aside from Hush, that made brilliant use of sound. Obviously all of you who have seen the series knew what I meant, but I’m going to acknowledge it now for the sake of our first-time watcher. It’s a brilliant device whose impact is greater on the whole of the episode than in any particular moment. Hush was the only Emmy nominee, but that seems a shame, because this episode certainly deserved one too.

The episode doesn’t have music which has an eerie quality on television, while also making it that much more real. Actual traumatic events don’t get a tinkly orchestra of feels to guide us through them and soothe us. Given how present music is on film — and how much we joke about that feels orchestra in the Buffyverse — it was one of many brilliant decisions made in the production of this episode. This episode manages to go for the feels in every way imaginable.


Now that I have done all the stalling I can do, get your tissues ready, Traumateers. This badge doesn’t even do it justice, because this shit is FEELS PLUS. I’m not sure how much commentary I can even have on this. Like, I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this. But I am. So.


Kidding. Maybe.

Having dispensed with all the stalling I can do, the episode skips the “previouslies” and begins with the final scene from the previous episode – Buffy comes home, calling out to her mother only to find her lifeless body on the couch. Roll credits and the episode’s only music.

Lorraine: I would never otherwise describe the credits of Buffy as cheery, but they were perhaps the most cheery portion of today’s episode. Womp.

Sweeney: After those “cheery” opening credits we jump to the whole gang sitting around the Summers table for Christmas dinner and the effect is jarring (probably intentional.) I hear very light Christmas music in the background of this scene and it’s got the faintest hint of a hazy glow to it that I might be imagining or maybe that’s my eyes tearing up already. IDK. The gang light-heartedly joke about being full and Dawn accidentally drinking eggnog with rum and LOL Anya tells them Santa’s totally real!

In the kitchen, Joyce laments a burnt pie to Buffy and Giles. Buffy references Band Candy to tease her. As Buffy proposes a pie-fix solution, she accidentally drops it and her crying out in reaction to that is cut short as we jump back to Buffy finding the body.

K: In all the times I’ve watched it, I’m still not sure if that’s meant to be a flashback to the Christmas that they would have just had or if it’s Buffy’s brain trying to establish a sense of normality…

Sweeney: I like that it really could be either.

She runs to Joyce, crying, “Mom, mommy,” over and over again and shaking her. She runs to the phone and places a frantic 911 call. The dispatcher gives her over the phone instructions on giving CPR. “I can do this,” she says and gets to it. After a few attempts we hear a cracking sound as she presumably cracks one of Joyce’s ribs. She explains this to the dispatcher and adds that Joyce is cold. “Should I make her warm?

K: The cracking sound is horrific in so many ways, even though broken ribs are a totally normal part of CPR. In part, it’s because it makes it real in a way that CPR so often isn’t on television, but also the lack of music means that every single sound is so much louder than it otherwise would be.  Also, the “Should I make her warm?” line is about the point where I start crying. 

Sweeney: Buffy calls Giles, and tells him that he has to come and then hangs up. She opens the door for the paramedics and makes a point of pulling Joyce’s skirt back down before they enter. They make with the life-saving attempts and suddenly Joyce is breathing. Quick clips of an ambulance and the hospital where Joyce says, “Buffy, thank god you found me in ti-” before we are back in the living room with Joyce still motionless.

I had forgotten about the little quick cuts but the effect is jarring in exactly the right way. The “present day” scenes have an eerie quiet to them and the volume changes for the fantasy cutaways brilliantly conveys how disorienting this is. It goes a long way to add to the over all feeling that something very difficult to process is happening.

We watch with Buffy as the paramedics declare Joyce dead. The shots of the paramedic talking to Buffy are alternately out of focus and then framed so that he’s only visible from mouth to chest. He dispenses a lot of information and asks if there is someone she can call. She says that someone is coming. With that, he apologizes for her loss and leaves.

K: The paramedics leaving her there is one of the most horrific parts of the whole episode to me. I mean, I get that they have another call and they don’t have a choice, and Giles is on his way. But YOU JUST LEFT A TEENAGER ALONE WITH HER MOTHER’S BODY. WTF.

Sweeney: Buffy awkwardly wishes them good luck before walking through her house in a daze. She stops just short of the kitchen and pukes on the floor before continuing to the porch. She looks outside and we can see that she’s sweating as we hear wind chimes and the sound of playing children.

She’s back inside putting a paper towel over the vomit when Giles arrives. As he tries to figure out what is going on (he assumes it’s Glory) she calmly babbles about telling Dawn. Buffy gets anxious when she sees Giles notice and go to Joyce. Her voice rises in pitch as she explains that the coroner’s office are coming. “We’re not supposed to move the body!” she shouts, and at hearing herself say those words, she is taken aback. Giles immediately goes to her and hugs her.

After a Not Commercial Break, we see Joyce’s body bag being zipped up before cutting to Dawn crying. We quickly realize, though, that she’s actually crying in the girl’s bathroom because a boy thinks she’s a freak. (And some “primo biotch” named KIRSTI spread some gossip about her. Rude.) (Distraction sidebar: forget Harriet the Spy — Georgina Sparks is not someone you want to fuck with, KIRSTI.) She finally calms down enough to go into the hallway where that dumb whore KIRSTI glares at her and they have a stare down.

K: Excuse me. I’m like a thousand percent sure that the dumb whore’s name is spelled Kirsty or Kirstie. Also, that bitch needs to get the fuck out of my name. This episode is traumatic enough already.

Sweeney: I’m going to keep putting your name in all capslock anyway.

Dawn goes to art class where she is painting next to Kevin, the boy who she was crying over. They have a flirty teen conversation about the tragedies of being a teen and what a bitch KIRSTI is. Buffy arrives just as Dawn’s getting into a story. Again, perfect timing because they carried this Dawn moment out just long enough.

Buffy pulls Dawn out into the hall where bitch KIRSTI is inexplicably not in class and where all of Dawn’s art room can see them because it equally as inexplicably has all windows. Buffy isn’t sure how to get the words out, but we cut to a view from the windowed art room as we see Dawn sob and collapse. The entire class looks on and has all the feels.

Lor: This is where I officially started crying. Tears streaming down my face sort of crying.

Sweeney: This episode is impossible to get through without big ugly crying.

Another Body Break. She’s at the morgue, her clothes being cut open. We get feelsy shots of each of the other Scoobies. Xander and Anya arrive at Willow and Tara’s dorm building. Inside the room, Willow is freaking out to Tara about what she should wear. She analyzes what each outfit says and we see a pile of clothes on the bed. She really wants a blue top that Joyce always loved. She sobs about all of her shirts having stupid things on them and how not a grown-up that makes her. I feel a little bad about that badge thing now, Willow; that was utterly heart-breaking. A millionty points to Alyson Hannigan.

K: YES. I lost my shit all over again when I noticed that there’s a wet mark on her shirt from the tears. It’s one of the million little details that make this episode feel so real.

Lor: It’s a brilliant line because death often causes you to grow up.

Sweeney: Tara kisses Willow — the first time we’ve seen that happen. A+ forever to Whedon for inserting that moment in this episode, where it’s not even a thing we’d acknowledge. I mean, yes, I am now, here, because we devote around 4,000 words to each episode so this is absolutely a thing we’d mention. I only mean that I appreciate that it was just a totally appropriate in character moment that was overshadowed by something much bigger so that it isn’t something to make a big deal out of unless you’re a blogger digging yourself a big talky hole because you don’t want to push play again.


K: Not only that, but when the network read the script and tried to pull the kiss from the episode, Whedon threatened to quit, and they backed down.

Sweeney: Anya keeps asking Xander questions about what they’re going to do, but he doesn’t know what to tell her. He hugs Willow and kas;dflkja;slfd show. SHOW. I’ve missed their BFFles time and this is not how I wanted to see that hug. Y U WRECK ME LIKE THAT?

Anya awkwards some more about how the crying is weird. Tara asks about getting to the morgue, and Xander assures her that the Scoobies know the morgue. Willow changes again and Xander rants about how maybe it was secretly Glory or maybe it was that the doctors fucked up. Willow says she thinks it just happened. “Things don’t just happen. I mean…they don’t JUST happen. Somebody’s got —


This precious  moment is interrupted by Anya asking if they’re going to see the body. Willow recoils at Anya’s general Anya-ness and finally snaps at her while Tara is checking the laundry room for the blue sweater. Anya’s response is probably her greatest moment on the entire series, and the one I remember when I think of what I love about this character:



Lor: I swear to you just seeing that gif made me tear again. We’ve given a lot of crap to Anya for her whole “new human” schtick but here is a moment where it was perfectly used as a lens to view the grief and tragedy and loss. She wasn’t being insensitive. She wanted to know why. She wanted to understand.

Sweeney: There’s a long pause. Willow says she doesn’t know. Anya sits down and discovers what is probably the blue top Willow was looking for, though Willow doesn’t notice. We hear a loud crashing noise and the girls realize that Xander punched the wall in his rage. Tara returns as the girls are trying to help him get his hand unstuck.

We can all sob into our shots because Xander says that the Avengers have to get with the assembling.


K: Bonus points for using a gif featuring someone who starred in The Avengers for this moment.

Sweeney: Body Break. She’s now got an incision on her head from the autopsy. This time we linger, though, and follow the doctor who performed the autopsy as he walks out to the waiting room where we see the gang hugging. He explains to Buffy that it was an aneurysm and that it happened rather quickly, probably without much pain. We get another fantasy cut as he tells her that it was unlikely that she could have been saved even if someone had been there. Buffy asks him if he’s sure there wasn’t pain. “Absolutely. I have to lie to make you feel better.”

Giles thanks the doctor and steps in to be the full-fledged paternal figure SUBSTITUTE NOTHING. He offers to handle all the paperwork for Buffy, who goes back to sit with the gang. Dawn excuses herself to the bathroom, somewhat coldly. Buffy says she thinks Dawn is mad at her, in part because she still doesn’t quite believe it.

Willow offers to get Buffy a snack and takes Xander and Anya with her, leaving Buffy and Tara on the couch. Buffy apologizes to Tara, and then proceeds to unload some of her trickier feels — how hard it is when everyone wants to help and she doesn’t know she’s there. Tara confides that her mother died when she was 17. She explains that there were all these thoughts and feelings that she didn’t understand and that confused her. “I know it’s different for you, because it’s always different for everyone,” but offers to be someone to talk to if Buffy needs.

Buffy asks if it was sudden. “No. Yes – it’s always sudden.” There are so many “YES, THAT LINE” moments in this episode, but this certainly ranks among them for me.

K: I love that this Tara moment was included, because there are so many little “Tara’s a Scooby, but not really” moments – much like there are with Anya. They’re part of the gang because they’re in relationships with people in the gang. So for Tara to be the one Buffy can talk to is fabulous.

Lor: And it’s an amazing next step from that (granted terrible) cry on Tara’s shoulder moment Buffy had post-Riley break-up.

Sweeney: We see Dawn walking unlit hallways in the hospital. She goes into the morgue and stops at her mother’s body. Hesitating over whether or not to lift the sheet. We see a body rise behind her. A vampire.

As it approaches her, we cut to the Scoobies returning to Buffy with snacks. Buffy suddenly gets a bad feeling and walks down the hallway eventually happening upon Dawn about to be killed by the naked vampire. She pushes Dawn aside and Dawn pulls Joyce’s sheet down as she falls. When Buffy finally defeats the vampire she looks to see Dawn gradually getting up to see Joyce’s body.

Dawn: Is she cold?
Buffy: It’s not her. She’s gone.
Dawn: Where’d she go?

As Dawn reaches to touch Joyce’s face, we roll end credits.

Watching that episode sucks so much out of me emotionally that I’m not sure what else there is to say. Recapping it is weird because of all the pausing and starting again. It felt a little like I was doing something disrespectful, and I’m not sure if that makes sense. Maybe it just sounds creepy and weird. It’s definitely in my list of best episodes of the series, though I’m not sure it’s one I’ll make a habit of watching, unless I randomly feel like getting emotionally destroyed. (Actually, yes, that is a thing that happens now and again.)

K: I hear you. It’s the same reason I periodically decide to watch Doctor Who’s Doomsday and then cry for an hour.

Sweeney: I think I mentioned most of the major production elements throughout the post. I love the way this episode was filmed. I also appreciated the introduction of the vampire at the end. The episode was nearly devoid of the supernatural, but I think it was a nice touch to remind us that some of the real! big! life! shit! can vastly outweigh the supernatural. The vampire (aside from nearly killing her sister) seemed almost innocuous set against Joyce’s death.

Lor: Props to you, Sweeney, because this episode seems less like the kind you can pick apart moment by moment, and more the kind that asks to be discussed in a larger scheme. Firstly, YES to everything you said about the excellent use of sound (or lack there of) in this episode, as well as all of the framing and blocking.

I think most of us can think to some moment of tragedy that we can relate to this. Here are some things that really stood out to me:

1.) In the middle of tragedy, no matter how devastating, life goes on. The paramedics receive another call. Children are still playing and laughing. If you are double parked, you’ll get a ticket. Vampires are still being made an born. Not the last one for us, but yes for Buffy. Her mother is dead, but she is still the Slayer and life goes on and on.

2.) When someone dies, it is always sudden. Their life is snuffed out, and what’s left is the body. The memories that come uninvited. The negative space around the body. What’s left is how everyone from near to far, from the daughters, to the best friend, to the girl who also lost her mother, to the girl who’s never encountered death– are all affected. What’s left is the sometimes strange ways you see life, you filter sound, you interpret language because grief is so all consuming.

3.) Xander’s moment of needing to blame someone and punch something. Because who do you blame? Especially when you live a life so marked by research and finding someone to blame.

4.) I remember thinking the moment of Dawn seeking out her mother’s body felt so in character to me. She found out she wasn’t real, and she cut herself to make sure. She hears her mother is dead, and she feels compelled to see the body.

It truly was a brilliant episode and I feel like if nothing else, all of my Buffy watching was worth getting to experience this episode.

Sweeney: Yes, to everything you just said, but particularly the last thing. I’d like to think that this episode would carry an emotional punch even if it were the only thing you watched in the series, but it’s all the more powerful when we have 4.5 seasons worth of attachment to these characters.


Next time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dawn tries to bring Joyce back to life in S05 E17 – Forever.

Sweeney (all posts)

I collect elaborate false eyelashes, panda gifs, and passport stamps. I spend too much time on YouTube. Reconciling my aversion to leaving the house/wearing pants with my deep desire to explore everything is my life's great struggle.

Marines (all posts)

I'm a 20-something south Floridan who loves the beach but cannot swim. Such is my life, full of small contradictions and little trivialities. My main life goals are never to take life too seriously, but to do everything I attempt seriously well. After that, my life goals devolve into things like not wearing pants and eating all of the Zebra Cakes in the world. THE WORLD.

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  • Idriss Boukhanef

    Just reading this recap made me cry again. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again because it’s so horrible – it doesn’t give me feels like a casual feels-y episode, it’s more than that. These 45 minutes of cold, hard and heartbreaking reality just sucked the life out of me and I couldn’t do anything productive except lying in my bed in foetal position for the rest of the day.

    I never thought a TV show would do this to me. I mean, I cry now and then, I have FEELS for some characters I follow, but nothing compared to that. This is when I started to see Buffy as one of the best things to ever happen on television.
    Anyway, I also wanted to give you ALL THE PROPS for recapping this episode, because I don’t know if I could have done the same (mostly because snark skills, I don’t have any, but still.)

    • Clément Polge

      I know what you mean about rewatching this episode, when I rewatched Buffy for the first time I honestly hesitated to watch this episode again, and I decided to watch it, but I had to take a break both before and after, because it really is soul-shattering.

      • lev36

        As hard as it is, I never skip this on a rewatch, just like I’d never want to NOT remember my own mom’s death. The only thing I skip is a particular scene in Season 6 (no spoilers!), which is a different kind of painful.

  • Clément Polge

    That opening scene with the christmas dinner was apparently added to avoid having the credits during the other parts.

    And I honestly can’t emphasize how much I love this episode, but I’ll try anyway: I think it’s the best hour of television or movie I have ever seen, it’s ballsy, masterfully done, perfect on every aspect, and utterly flawless. I actually had to stop reading your recap halfway for a minute because I was tearing up just thinking about it.

    I love stories, I often go to the movies, I watch a lot of TV, I read books, comics, mangas. I really love stories. But in all of my reading or watching, there are only 2 occurences where I was so emotionally stunned and destroyed that I had to stop watching/reading to take a breath, because it was just too much for me. This episode was one of the two. (for those curious, the other one was a manga, called Berserk, which is just amazing)

    And I love that Willow and Tara’s first on-screen kiss was in this episode, because anyone arguing that this kiss was there for the ratings or the sexyness must have a sick and twisted mind, because the context takes all of the sexyness away.

    • XXm0rt

      Also a huge fan of berserk here and I wanted to make sure you knew about the new berserk anime releases.. if you didn’t know, they’re in the process or animating the entire series again in individual movie arcs. Volumes 1-13 are already complete in a trilogy called The Golden Age Arc (Trailer for the last movie, so spoilers if you haven’t read up to vol 13 http://youtu.be/VsBw6PznrFo)

      Just figured you might want to know if you didn’t already. The movies are really well done and absolutely gorgeous…

      • Clément Polge

        I know there’s an anime, but I saw a few screenshot, and I’m not really interested in watching it. One of the features of Berserk is its amazing art, and I really want to leave it in manga.

        (edit: plus a few other reasons actually, I find everything being so close to perfection and so well defined in my head that I don’t think an anime could had anything, it could only sort of “corrupt” my current vision, no matter how good it is. Yes, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but still 🙂 )

  • Wilhelmina Upton

    I read somewhere that Whedon had always intended to kill Joyce because his own mother died (maybe even of an aneurysm, not sure about that) which is probably why this episode is so special, so raw and true and honest because it comes from such a personal space.

    I kept my shit together until Tara opens up to Buffy in the morgue and tells her that she lost her mother when she was 17. GODDAMMIT Tara! I love how she is the one person around Buffy that is not trying to make her feel better, she just mentions this to make Buffy aware but she is not pushing any food or drinks or advice on her because in this instance she is the only Scooby that understands from personal experience.

    • Melbourne on my Mind

      I’ve read the same thing about Whedon’s mother, and I think you’re right about the aneurysm.

  • Democracy Diva

    1430 for the intro analysis on the use of sound in this episode, which is truly brilliant. I start crying around the sound of Joyce’s ribs breaking and don’t stop for the rest of the episode. Even if ribs break during CPR even when the rescuer doesn’t have Slayer Strength, that sound still broke my fucking heart, powerful Buffy unable to save her mom.
    The scene where the paramedics show up – it makes me recall Giles, right after Ms. Calendar’s death, with the camera focused on him in shock while the police and everything happens around him. The camerawork was different here, but it made me feel the same way – the total shock and utter helplessness when you’re surrounded by paramedic mayhem.
    Everyone’s reaction to this tragedy are brilliant from conception to writing to acting. The Willow picking what to wear scene – I don’t have adequate words to express what this scene means to me and how much I love it. Everything about it, from Alyson Hannigan’s exquisite, heartbreaking acting to the fact that Joss fought so hard to keep the Tara kiss in – I have no words. Only feelings. And THEN they go and rip out what little remains of my fucking heart with the Anya reaction, which I think is one of the most beautiful, memorable, incredible monologues in television history. ALL OF THE EMMYS FOR ALL OF YOU, CAST.
    “It’s always sudden.” The truest words ever spoken on this show. Doesn’t matter if they’re 97 years old, it’ll still be sudden for the people who love them, no matter how unreasonable or illogical that is.

  • Danna

    You did a wonderful job of recapping a difficult episode. There were so many moments, so many nuances that made this episode memorable. One of the biggest for me was the shot of Buffy opening the back door and looking outside. You could see by her face that she was in a state of shock. And in the background you could hear the sounds of children playing. Many of us have had to come to the realization at one time or another that the rest of the world continues on as normal, even though our own life might be in crisis. It’s very strange to be in that place. Another great moment for me was Buffy’s talk with Tara. I experience Tara as someone with a lot of depth and a very nurturing spirit, but often overlooked because she is quiet and shy. This episode will never be dated. The emotions are universal and timeless.

  • Brenna Murphy

    I have so much to say about this episode. I get what Sweeney said about feeling disrespectful, almost like you’re judging the pain of these characters.

    I’m really not a big cryer, and this episode was the first and last time I cried throughout the entire series. It’s my favourite show, but only one moment truly made tears run down my face and the my fists clench. The scene with the scoobies, everything about it is perfect. All the different reactions. Willow doesn’t take the time to pause because she’s trying to support Buffy and she doesn’t know how, and Tara looking heartbroken because she’s trying to support Willow and she doesn’t know how either. When Xander talks about being double parked, and then Anya’s soul crushing monologue. Then Xander just put his fist through the wall because he couldn’t deal, which is a reaction rarely shown on TV. We get tears but hardly ever rage. But the moment, the heart stopping moment, was when the camera pans to show them getting a ticket after all. Because thats just how it goes.

    Finally I have to say one more thing that everybody else has said, but its just so beautiful. The kiss. The kiss wasn’t hot, or raunchy, or any type of sexual. It was comforting. That’s it, just comforting. I think its genius how it was done. Whedon made it very clear that Willow and Tara are NOT together for ratings. They’re together because they’re in a relationship and they love each other. Their first kiss was an embodiment of that

    People make fun of me for watching a show that’s the same age as I am about a vampire slaying teenage girl. What they don’t realize is that sometimes this show is more real than any stupid reality program ever will be. Okay, I’m done ranting now. I have to go eat ice cream and be morbidly depressed. Thank you for the beautiful recap.

  • darkalter2000

    This episode is made of pain. I never skip it though. Not in any rewatch can you skip this episode. You need to watch it and feel the pain again. If you don’t there is almost no point in watching the series. The bad needs to be there with the good. That is just how it is.

  • lev36

    Okay, I just read this on my lunch break at work, and I’m glad I have a window cube so no one could see me failing to fight back tears. Silly me, I tried to read it while eating, but my throat kept closing up, so I had to finish my food first.

    This episode so perfectly captures the strangeness-in-the-middle-of-the-mundane that the death of a loved one brings about. I’ve been through this four times, and it never gets easier, or less strange.

    Endless, endless props to Whedon for putting “the kiss” in there and insisting it stay there. That, in itself, was a historic tv event, and so totally the opposite of gratuitous.

    Gotta stop now or I’ll be too much of a mess to get back to work.

  • Natalie Meyer

    The scene that always gets me with this one is Alyson Hannigan talking about the shirt and how she can’t wear purple because it’s royal and she doesn’t want to say she’s royal. I read somewhere that she made the crew cry on every take.

  • SnazzyO

    This brilliant episode should be required viewing by all TV show runners. It is SO REAL IT HURTS. And it deserved Emmys up the wazoo.

    As someone who lost a parent at age 12, all I could think of was how right Joss got every single moment.

    I need chocolate and alcohol and tissues….

  • Anagnorisis

    Ugg, here we go.
    All you said about the sound it’s perfect, I think this episode it’s a piece of art for the way it’s filmed, framed, directed and edited.
    Those first moments are really great in a horrific traumatic way, it just feels so fucking real.
    And then, Buffy (who has been referring to Joyce as still a person) says “the body” and she realizes her mom is dead. She is not there anymore, in the place of a person, now there’s an object. A think with bones, and flesh and skin, but not a person anymore.
    And I know it. I’ve seen my mom, and I’ve seen my mom’s body and it was the most horrible thing in my life.
    Because she is dead, and it’s just an empty body. And it’s the title of the episode and they are fucking brilliant.
    And the little fantasies she has where everything is ok, ugg, it’s so true.
    And I love how it’s filmed, because it feels disjointed and weird and at the same time so real. I remember walking down the street coming home from the hospital, and everything I saw felt so weird, the cars, the lights, the street, I was watching things I’d watched a lot of times but for some reason it all felt wrong.
    ‘It’s stupid, it’s mortal and stupid’ It is, Anya. Death it’s the most stupid thing in the world.
    Tara sitting next to Buffy is a moment that represents that life goes on. Buffy is still probably between not fully believing it and not knowing how to go on in a world where her mother is dead. How can you wake up if she is not there? How can you continue with your life? How can you do anything? It doesn’t help that people say it gets better, because at that point you can’t believe it, the pain it’s too much. It’s impossible to go on.
    But Tara is there. Tara was in the same place she was and now she is there. She moved on, she wakes up and lives.
    How do you continue with your life? You just do.

    Life goes on.

    Yes to every single one of your final points, Lor.
    Also, most people dislike the addition of the vampire in this episode but I think it fits, I can’t put it into words but it works.

  • I’ve been re-watching these episodes in order of how they’re posted here on SS and last week, I was watching the episode when Dawn found out what she was and when I realized that this episode would be covered soon, I felt so much dread for the person that was going to recap it.

    This episode breaks my heart into a million pieces and yet, I have not cried ever watching it. I shut down emotionally and think of all the fun facts I know about this episode so I don’t have to feel the feelings.

    Fun fact #1: Joss Whedon purposely left the music out of this episode because he said that music is a comfort and in this moment, when someone fairly pivotal to the show and Buffy’s life, dies, he wanted it to feel as jarring and realistic as death is in real life.

    Fun fact #2: Willow and Tara’s kiss was the first ever lesbian kiss to air on network television.

    Fun fact #3: The flashback at the beginning of the show was shown to make sure the credits didn’t run through Buffy trying to revive her mother but it also adds an extra sadness to see Joyce so happy only weeks before (since this is supposed to be about two to three weeks after Buffy’s 20th birthday).

    Fun fact #4: Joss also filmed the conversation between Dawn and Buffy like that on purpose, but there are places on the internet where you can find out what Dawn had said.

    I think that this episode showed the most realistic example of death ever. The wondering of what could have been, feeling numb and drowning out what you hear, all of it is real. I didn’t understand that until I was 21, over five years after this episode aired.

  • Melodye

    I can’t even read the recap without getting teary-eyed. I should probably have waited to read this until going home. Obviously, a large amount of my feels and sads go to Buffy and Dawn, but Anya definitely gets some feels from me, too. I love Anya’s moment so much and how she expresses the pain and confusion that we all feel when a loved one leaves us forever.

    Kirsti – YES. Brand new Whovian here and I just watched Doomsday for the first time ever last week. Crying. All. The. Cries. So many sads. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who cried for an hour after that episode. Large quantities of cookie dough were required for recovering from Doomsday and the cries.

    • Melbourne on my Mind

      Seriously, Doomsday is just the worst ever. I mean, BEST. But WORST OMG. I made the mistake of watching it a week after my grandmother died, and NOPE. DEAD.

      • Raluca

        Actually, what gets to me is a combination of the “This is the day I died” speech at the beginning and the goodbye Rose and Ten share at the end. 🙁

  • Jojo

    Lost too many people in my life. There was one awful period of time when I actually had a funeral dress. So I love the details – the large phone buttons, the way Buffy goes back to being a child with the small voice and the bewildered attempts to deal. Dawn crying in the hallway, and wanting to see her mother. Giles putting on the album and having a drink – god, that scene just cuts my heart out. The strangeness that you feel when you realize other people are just having a normal day. And I like the vampire because it so shows that the real horror is not the monsters.

    For what it’s worth, Kristine Sutherland wanted to back to France and just spend more time with her family. Whedon asked her if she wanted to stay alive for a possible visit home, or die and she chose to make her exit final.

    You guys did a wonderful job with a episode that is impossible to snark.

    • Petra47

      The scene of Giles dealing with his grief in private is pitch-perfect! It’s easy to forget the character history those two have together. Both the only adults involved in protecting and caring for all these children, and Giles is alone, again. Giles loses Jenny and lost Olivia (albeit not to death), and he’s faced every day with the reality that the Watcher eventually loses his Slayer. Tony Head really just did so much with so little in that scene. The only thing I wish we had seen was Spike’s grief (mostly because I think Marsters does amazing things with emotion), but I understand his exclusion and we see his reaction in future episodes.

      • Jojo

        I would have loved to see Spike’s grief but I’m glad they didn’t show him interacting with the rest of the cast. It just wouldn’t fit.

        I love the Giles scene because it shows how much a death effects even people who are supporting everyone . I know how much all the business just keeps you from that horrible moment when everyone goes home and you’re suddenly alone. Then it’s time for a drink in memory of the person you lost.

        • Alex

          Guys, this is a little spoiler-y given that you’re talking about a scene that hasn’t happened yet. I mean, it’s not like a major plot point or anything, but you might want to be a little careful.

          • Petra47

            I apologize. I’m not rewatching along with the recaps, and I mistakenly thought it was in this ep. I’ll be more mindful in the future.

    • JEL

      “For what it’s worth, Kristine Sutherland wanted to back to France and
      just spend more time with her family. Whedon asked her if she wanted to
      stay alive for a possible visit home, or die and she chose to make her
      exit final.”

      That is a little different than what I remember from the DVD interview with her but it is possible both are true. (I put what I remember was said in the interview as a reply to another post.)

      • Jojo

        Just looked it up, and it was Italy. That was where she was – and why she was gone most of season 4. She said she knew she was going to die before she left for Italy because Joss told her he wanted her to come back so he could kill her. Her own daughter used to come to the set but wasn’t allowed to watch Buffy because she was too young.

        • JEL

          Hmmph, my other post disappeared. You covered most of what I said/recalled from the DVD anyway. The one thing I added was the observation that this conversation between Kristine & Josh happened at the end of season 3, so he was planning her death all the way back then. (As well as the introduction of Dawn.)

          • Jojo

            That is actually reassuring because I kept looking for it – I am not insane or blind! Well…blind….jury still out on the other.

            I read that too – and the fact that they wanted a 6 or 7 year old. It was going to be an adoption, or a daughter living with Dad – then it became a teenaged ball of green energy and hormones.

    • Melbourne on my Mind

      The Giles scene is actually the next episode…

      • Jojo

        Ooops…. 🙁

  • kellyasummers

    you guys are freaking amazing. i mostly read for Fifty Shades (because all the rage packed into such a small space is funny to me and brings me giggles) and PLL (which is cute and lighthearted, even with suspicious murdery things going on), but occasionally i’ll read a Buffy recap, and i’m just blown away by the difference in tone for each show. i know different shows call for it, but the way you guys recap it is special. and you’re not just funny, sarcastic girls. you’re intelligent women putting out quality content, and i just love this blog so much.

    • Jojo


  • Angi Black

    Your recap made me cry and my kids are looking at me like I’m a freak. So there’s that. I think It really speaks to how well the episode was done that even with seasons of Joyce hate, it made you realize that Joyce was still Buffy’s mom and we see the show from her perspective.

    Some of the things we Joyce-hated on are things strictly from an oppressed teenager’s vision. And now, our love and understanding of Joyce has grown with Buffy’s understanding of her as Buffy turns into a young woman. And now we see how even with all that growth and all the responsibility Buffy holds on her shoulders, that she’s still just a child who lost her mom.
    The gang’s reactions is such perfection as is this episode.

    ugh, I’ll just be over here ugly-crying.

  • Alyssa Genna

    You guys, this episode, you guys. If for some reason I wanted to collect my own tears I would watch this episode. Its amazing how this episode manages to take Joyce’s death to such a real and heart wrenching place when you consider how cheep death is usually in this show. We have funny extra deaths and deaths that move the plot forward but this is the first time we got time out to really feel it. Not even Buffy’s own death in season one was brief and mostly yo build suspense. I have seen this episode 4 or 5 times and it has not stopped being jarring. Great job ladies, its much appreciated FYI Kirsti I found a transcript of this episode that spelled the mean girls name Kirsty, if that makes you feel any better.

    • Melbourne on my Mind

      IT DOES. Thank you. (Also, it doesn’t surprise me. Because Kirsti is rarely if ever spelled the way I spell it. I only spell it this way because it’s an abbreviation of my full name, which the internet doesn’t know about)

  • Alex

    I don’t usually re-watch episodes in preparation for your recaps, but I decided to do so for this one. And I’m so glad I did. It must be my fourth or fifth time watching it, and I think because I was so familiar with what was coming, I started noticing lots of other details that I hadn’t really appreciated before.

    One thing that really took me by surprise on this rewatch was how much humour there actually is in this episode. I’m not even sure ‘humour’ is the right word for it, because of course nobody would ever laugh out loud at any point in this episode, but there are definitely some funny little moments, particularly in the scenes with the other Scoobies. I suppose ‘bittersweet’ would be a better word for it. Things like them coming back from the vending machines with armfuls of snacks, for example, and the eager little looks on their faces when they do so. I found this so, so well done, because it’s very much in keeping with the tone of the series as a whole and underscores that whole idea that even when something terrible happens, other things DO continue as normal and people DO continue to be themselves. It would have been so easy for them to make the whole episode so sombre, devoid of any quips or jokes or happiness whatsoever, but instead they did something that feels so much more real. Even when he’s really, really, hurt, it feels totally in character for Xander to say silly things like ‘the avengers gotta get with the assembling’, but I think so many other shows would have completely removed any light-hearted lines like that to try and keep the ‘sad’ tone to the episode.

    I think that I expressed that really, really badly, but I hope that someone sort of gets what I mean.

    I also really, really loved the scene between Tara and Buffy on this watch. They completely nailed the tone of that situation… the awkwardness of the two of them being left alone together when they really don’t know each other that well, with Buffy trying to be polite even while completely grief-stricken and Tara looking like she’s not quite sure what she should say at first, given that she’s not all that close to Buffy. And then Tara gets it so, so right, because she’s amazing.

    Finally, I just have to say how much I LOVE Anya’s ‘I wish that Joyce didn’t die, because she was nice’ as a means of expressing her condolences. It’s just so perfect, because on the one hand it’s such an odd, inappropriate thing to say, but on the other hand it’s a million times more heartfelt that the paramedic’s ‘I’m sorry for your loss’, which is supposedly the appropriate thing to say. It’s exactly what everyone is thinking, it’s just not wrapped up in the ‘right’ phrasing, which actually makes it all the more sincere. I love the way that Buffy only looks taken aback for a second before looking genuinely grateful and appreciative of the sentiment.

  • I am actually a secret member of Team Heartless Cow, but yep, this episode. As you and others have pointed out, the absence of a soundtrack gives the episode a real sense of emotional immediacy, though in contrast to others I found the vampire in the morgue sort of…tokenistic. Like one of the producers suddenly thought, ‘We can’t have an episode of BtVS without a vampire – quick, get one in there somehow!’ That’s just how it felt to me.

    I have watched this episode twice – once on first watching the series (courtesy of Kirsti!), and the second time after you ladies started blogging it. That was also a couple of months after my dad passed away, and yeah, it is just so spot on. Lots of extra tears that time! Even reading the recap today made me tear up!

  • Strawberry_Pocky_Moose

    When I first watched this episode, I was so busy being distracted by feels that I didn’t even notice the ‘negative space around the body’ lecture that Dawn is receiving in art class. I had to have it pointed out to me by someone online. Yes, even if the middle of the most soul-shattering episode, Whedon’s got his postmodernism Chekhov’s Lecture trope on. I’d be more impressed if I wasn’t weeping copiously.

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  • Goddammit, this episode. I very rarely cry at TV shows or books or movies, but this got me right in the feels. The scene that really did it for me was when the group is in the hospital waiting room. Something about their interactions, and the waiting, and the bringing of too many snacks. My boyfriend was in the hospital for a couple days last month, and even though it wasn’t life-or-death (and he’s now fine), I’d never had to deal that closely with hospital before and it was a profound experience for me. I remember so vividly, the waiting, the frustration, the stockpiling of snacks because I didn’t know when I’d be hungry… so yeah, that realism smacked me right in the gut.

    (It also didn’t help that today I was particularly hormonal.)

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  • SonicRulez

    Ugly crying. The opening makes me cry. Then I get to recover. Then Anya makes me UGLY cry all over again. This episode truly should’ve won all of the awards. I remember Anya’s line in the hospital is something like “We all wish Joyce did not die.” That’s the character. Straight forward, but she is being genuinely sweet.