The most powerful Buffy episode I’ve seen so far is The Body, where Buffy’s mother dies of a brain aneurism. The episode is eerily stripped of all music, and it is filmed in such a way that it conveys the stark physicality of death. Buffy has to move her mother’s body in order to administer CPR, but in doing so, she cracks her mother’s ribs. This is a very realistic, gruesome moment where the sheer physicality of the characters hits the viewer for the first time. A repulsive scene follows it where Buffy notices that her mother’s skirt is bunched up and revealing her underwear, which she quickly fixes. That uncomfortable moment is obscene without being overdone. The close-ups of Buffy’s waxy, sweaty face are also indicative of the physicality of the situation. The viewer can almost feel her claustrophobia. The pivotal moment when Buffy refers to her mother as “the body” to Giles is the first time she truly acknowledges the physicality of death.
This theme continues throughout the episode. Xander punches a wall as his way of coping with grief, and his fist is covered with blood. The Scooby Gang is not indestructible—they bleed just like everybody else. Dawn’s art assignment is to draw the negative space around a female figure. In a way, the viewer can think about Joyce’s death as causing a negative space in the form of a vortex of grief and unease. The one fight between Buffy and a vampire is unusually physical hand-to-hand combat, culminating in Buffy slicing off the vampire’s head with a surgical saw. Even more unusual is the fact that the vampire is a naked, dead male corpse. Its very presence is intrusive. It inspires far greater levels of disgust and horror than the usual demon.
The Body is all about the corporeal. When Buffy sees her mother’s corpse on the living room couch, she is confronted with her own death made palpably real. This is an instance of death infecting life, which is undoubtedly a traumatic experience for her. Dawn reaches out to touch her mother’s corpse in the harrowing final scene, but she never makes contact with her face. She realizes that her mother’s body is a shell, and there is simply nothing there. By walking into the morgue in the first place, she is seeking some sort of resolution, but she never finds it.