|Written by:||Joss Whedon|
|Directed by:||Joss Whedon|
|Starring:||Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers|
Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris
Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg
Emma Caulfield as Anya
Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn Summers
James Marsters as Spike
Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles
|Guest Starring:||Randy Thompson as Dr. Kriegel|
Amber Benson as Tara Maclay
Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers
|Co-Starring:||Kevin Cristaldi as First Paramedic|
Stefan Umstead as Second Paramedic
Loanne Bishop as 911 Operator
J. Evan Bonifant as Kevin
Kelli Garner as Kirstie
Rae'ven Larrymore Kelly as Lisa
Tia Matza as Teacher
John Michael Herndon as Vampire
Joyce's death affected all the characters.
The episode opened with the final scene from "I Was Made to Love You." Buffy returned, found flowers from Joyce's date, went into the living room, and found her mother lying on the couch.
We flash back to the previous Christmas, when Xander, Anya, Willow, Tara, and Giles ate dinner at the Summers house and discussed Santa Claus. Tara asked if Dawn wrote him a letter, but Dawn thought that she was too old. Anya pointed out that Santa did exist, but he eviscerated children instead of bringing them presents.
With all the credits over, we see Joyce's lifeless face again. Buffy failed to wake her. She then went to the phone to call for the paramedics. The operator tried to guide Buffy through CPR. Buffy did the usual fake CPR that is done on television and movies to avoid hurting the actor playing the victim. After cracking a rib, Buffy went back to the phone and said that Joyce was cold. The operator advised her to wait for the paramedics to arrive. Buffy decided to call Giles.
The paramedics were very quick to arrive. Buffy explained about the brain tumor as they set up their equipment. After a bit more fake CPR, Joyce woke up. One of the paramedics said that it was a miracle, and Dr. Kriegel declared Joyce to be good as new.
Outside Buffy's fantasy, the paramedics realized that they were way too late. They guessed that Joyce died quickly from an aneurysm. They had to leave the body for the coroner because they needed to go to another case.
While waiting for Giles, Buffy wandered around and vomited a bit. She was cleaning up when Giles arrived. Buffy was not very specific about why she needed him, so he concluded that Glory was at the house. He saw Joyce on the floor and tried to help her, but Buffy said that they were not supposed to move the body. Giles hugged her.
Dawn was in tears at school. Apparently, Kevin, a classmate, described her as being "freaky." Another classmate, Cordelia (oops, I mean Kirstie), said that Dawn was into cutting herself. Dawn wanted to sic Buffy on Kirstie. Dawn went to art class and took an easel next to Kevin. He seemed more understanding about the cutting than Dawn believed. Dawn's friend, Lisa, thought that he liked Dawn.
Buffy came into class to get Dawn. They went out of the classroom, but others watched Buffy telling Dawn that Joyce died through windows, although they, and we, could not hear anything. Dawn collapsed in tears.
Xander and Anya drove to Willow's dorm room, where Willow and Tara were waiting. Willow was going through her entire wardrobe trying to find something to wear. She wanted to wear a blue sweater that Joyce once complimented but could not find it. Tara could tell that Willow was very tense, so she planted TV Guide's #1 same-sex kiss.
Xander and Anya arrived at Willow's dorm. After a tense moment, Anya asked what would happen. They did not know other than that they were to meet Buffy and Dawn at the morgue. Willow decided that she wanted to change while Xander decided that Glory was to blame. However, Glory would take credit if she killed Joyce, so Xander blamed doctors.
Willow decided that she needed to change clothes again and wanted the blue sweater. Tara went to see if Willow left the sweater in the laundry room. Anya asked if someone was going to cut Joyce open. Willow was very offended by the question. Anya then explained how she did not understand why people die. Even Willow was moved. Anya sat down and felt a lump under her. She pulled out a blue sweater and put it in a drawer.
Xander got frustrated and punched his left fist into the wall. Tara returned as Anya and Willow helped Xander pull out his fist. Willow mouthed "I love you" to Tara as Xander cleaned up. They decided that they needed to go, but Willow ran back into her room to grab a jacket.
The characters congregated in a waiting room. There were hugs all around (Xander / Buffy, Tara / Dawn, Willow / Buffy, Xander / Giles, Anya / Giles). Dr. Kriegel came out to tell Buffy that Joyce did die of an aneurysm. He said that Joyce knew that an aneurysm was possible, but that it was probably very sudden. Even if Buffy were there, it was very unlikely that she could have done anything.
Giles went to fill out whatever paperwork he could. Dawn wanted to go to the bathroom alone. Anya expressed sincere but slightly clumsy condolences. She then left with Xander and Willow to get snacks.
While they were away, Buffy tried to apologize to Tara for putting her through this, but Tara did not think that an apology was necessary. In fact, Tara lost her own mother about three years before. Everyone's experience was different, but Tara understood what people go through in such situations.
Dawn exited the restroom and went to look at her mother's body. Before she could pull the sheet off, another body rose as a vampire and stalked her. Meanwhile, Xander, Willow, and Anya returned with way too many snacks and beverages. They wondered why Dawn had not returned, so Buffy went looking for her.
Buffy guessed where Dawn went and found her struggling with the vampire. Buffy freed her and fought the vampire. She eventually beheaded it with a bone saw. Meanwhile, Dawn had pulled the sheet off of Joyce's face. Dawn reached out to touch her but the episode ended before she did so.
There are episodes for which I can describe what was good in two or three words. For this episode, I need 18: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg, Emma Caulfield, Amber Benson, Anthony Stewart Head, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, and Kristine Sutherland. If it were not for this group of actors, the episode would have been a failure.
Joss Whedon intentionally discarded any of the normal cues that tell the audience how to feel such as a musical score. Instead, we feel sad in part because of our affection for Joyce, but mostly because we identified with the characters who were sad over Joyce's death. The performances made this happen. Furthermore, Whedon tried to convey what he called the "boredom" involved in mourning. With a lesser cast, we would have been bored ourselves.
Joss Whedon deserves a lot of credit for giving his actors such great material to work with. It was clear that he trusted the actors and knew what they were capable of doing even better than we did. For example, what might be the most dramatic line of the entire seven seasons of the show was given to an actress who usually was there to provide comic relief. Whedon knew that Emma Caulfield was capable of more than just comedy and gave her the opportunity to show us that.
This is not a fun episode to watch.
I understand that Joss Whedon included the vampire at the end to show how real life intrudes on mourning. However, for everyone who is not Buffy, vampires are not part of real life. The vampire served as the one factor in this episode that is not from real life.
Xander punched a wall.
Buffy beheaded a vampire.
There were a couple of amusing moments in the Christmas dinner flashback.
Anya found the sweater that Willow was looking for.
The whole episode was about everyone's reaction to Joyce's death.
Willow apparently likes to have her belly rubbed and would prefer it if Tara did not tell everyone else.
Willow and Tara had their first on-screen kiss.
Buffy was the one who found her mother's body. She is still quite numb and feels that she could have saved her mother somehow.
Dawn was in denial about her mother's death and wanted to see the body.
Willow wanted to be strong for Buffy even though she was devastated herself. She still feels lingering tensions toward Anya.
Tara was the only character that we know of who experienced something like what Buffy and Dawn are going through. She was calmer than most of the other characters and played a supportive role.
Xander is quite angry and needed someone to blame. Glory or doctors will do as far as he was concerned.
Anya does not understand mortality and finds it very distressing. She did not understand what was expected of her or what she was supposed to do.
Giles played the fatherly role and was probably the only character as calm as Tara.
Joyce is dead.
The actors once again showed what they were capable of doing.
Buffy gets the MVP for rescuing Dawn from the vampire. This may not be much, but it was either this or give Nobody a third MVP in a row.
The paramedic figured out that Joyce died of an aneurysm.
This seems like a very unfair Goat, but the aneurysm appeared to be a complication from his surgery. I am a doctor, but the real kind with a Ph.D—not the kind with a medical degree—so I do not know what he could have done better.
I do not know to what extent it was brave of Amber Benson or sadistic of Joss Whedon to put the normal sized Benson next to the very thin Sarah Michelle Gellar in the waiting room during the fourth act.
I like Nikki Stafford's analysis of the different characters representing Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's stages of grieving. In this episode, Dawn would represent Denial. Xander (and Dawn, sort of) would represent Anger. Buffy, with her fantasies about saving Joyce, would represent Bargaining. Anya and Willow would represent Depression. Finally, Tara and Giles represented Acceptance.
I understand that paramedics never declare a person dead unless it is very obvious—such as the body being decapitated or in rigor mortis—and that they would never start CPR only to leave the person and go to another case. However, this being Sunnydale—the land of the mega-high death rate—I can imagine the paramedics being very busy and not spending time on cases in which it was clear that the person is dead despite a lack of a specific criterion used to declare death.
There seems to be some debate on whether a doctor would perform an autopsy. My understanding from several sources is that it happens occasionally in California, but it would be a conflict of interest if the doctor treating the patient performed the autopsy. I do not know if it is accepted to the doctor treating the patient to observe an autopsy performed by someone else who never appears on camera in order to save a few bucks from the episode's budget.
The biggest imponderable is why people would care about the above points. This was a great episode and should be appreciated for what it was.
Joyce Summers is a character that could be overlooked easily. She has no MVPs, Sherlock Holmeses, or Goats. She has no kills. Instead, she was a source of stability for Buffy. In lesser hands, she could have simply been the clueless parent, like Buffy's mother in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Instead, even from the beginning, she was a much more complex character. She was a good mother who tried to do what was best for her daughter despite the handicap of having a very independent daughter who did not tell her about being a slayer.
Admittedly, she did not take learning about her daughter's slayerhood all that well. However, once she had time to process that information, she supported Buffy, although the less said about "Gingerbread," the better. She even intervened when she realized that Buffy would be better off without Angel. She had earned the right to have an episode devoted entirely to her. Joyce leaves the show with zero MVPs, zero Sherlock Holmes, and zero Goats. She is by far the most important character not to receive any awards.
Commentary by Writer/Director Joss Whedon discussed what he called the "boredom" that occurs immediately after a loss. The gimmicks of the episode (single scene acts and no music) were included to capture that feeling. Whedon spent a lot of time discussing the mechanics of shooting the episode. The focus on this episode meant that there are no spoilers beyond this episode, except for the very beginning of the following episode. Insights include:
"Oh, baby, want me to rub your tummy? She likes it when I... stop explaining things." Tara
"There's a Santa Claus?" Tara
"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." Anya
"All true?" Dawn
"Well, he doesn't traditionally bring presents so much as, you know, disembowel children." Anya
"We're not supposed to move the body!" Buffy
"We can be strong." Tara
"Strong like an Amazon?" Willow
"Strong like an Amazon, right." Tara
"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 just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid, and Xander's crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, '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!" Anya
"Did it make you feel better?" Willow
"For a second there." Xander
"A whole second?" Willow
"I wish that Joyce didn't die, because she was nice, and now we all hurt." Anya
"Never done this. That's just an amazingly dumb thing to say. Obviously, I've never done this before." Buffy
"I have." Tara
"Was it sudden?" Buffy
"Your mother." Buffy
"No, and yes, it's always sudden." Tara
Highlight the space after each question to find the answer. It is strongly recommended that you do not do so if you have not seen episodes through the episode indicated.