Greatest TV Episodes: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Body

There are so many brilliant episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that it's hard to pick one - chances are we'll be revisiting the Slayer more than a few times over the course of this series. However, the episode I remember the most from the entire seven year run is The Body.

The closing moments of the comparatively weak I Was Made to Love You delivered a massive shock - Buffy returns home to find her mother's lifeless body on the sofa. In a series that deals with the dead, undead and demons there was something really unsettling about seeing the body of a recurring character who had died from natural causes. Suddenly the visceral threat of vampires seemed insignficant against what can happen in real life. And that's what makes The Body so unforgettable.
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Picking up immediately following Buffy's grim discovery, it's a text-book recreation of the emotions and devastating affect of finding someone you love has died and to date is probably Sarah Michelle Gellar's best work as an actress. Her face, mannerisms and total feeling of detachment hits the viewer bringing with them the whole gamut of emotions. The moment we see Buffy tell her sister, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) is both beautiful and tragic and as each of the characters discover what has happened we experience it with them and learn, more than ever before, just how much of a family these characters have become.

Joss Whedon often said during the series run, that he wasn't interested in reset-button plotlines. In a universe where death is rarely the end, Joyce's death is one of the few moments where anything less than to let that moment resonate through the rest of the show would be an insult and it's surprisingly reassuring to see Whedon doesn't bow to the temptation of returning to the status quo at the end. There are more moments like this during the remaining few episodes of the season and for many the final episode of season five could have been the show's perfect finale.
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For a series where the supernatural is the norm, it might be a surprise to find one of the most memorable episodes is one that is driven by realistic and completely human drama. Suddenly the almost indestructible Buffy becomes so vulnerable. It would have been brave to have an episode that was entirely unencumbered by the supernatural and it's almost a shame that the driver for the last few beats of the episode is a fight with a vampire but that doesn't detract from what is one of the finest and best written episodes in the entire seven year run.