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One of the most iconic episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, without a doubt, season 5’s “The Body.” The hour, written and directed by creator Joss Whedon, begins with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) arriving home and finding her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), dead on the couch.
What follows is an unbroken single shot of Buffy frantically trying to revive Joyce and calling 911. “It was a dance,” says Gellar of shooting. “It’s not just hard on me emotionally, but the camera guy had to hold the camera the whole time, the sound man had to hold the mic and not be in the shot. We did it maybe three or four times. I always say that performance was all of us together.”
Eventually, Buffy has to go to her sister Dawn’s school and tell her the terrible news. The audience watches the scene silently as Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) crumbles upon hearing of her mother’s death. “Joss wrote complete dialogue for when Buffy came to tell me,” remembers Trachtenburg. “The whole scene was scripted. And then, at the very end, he did the shot that was the one used, which was silent and just her telling me and my reaction.”
Whedon had warned Gellar that he was considering killing off Joyce, and the actress says she tried to change his mind. “I tried so hard to talk him out of it,” she admits. “I was not happy about it.”
Sutherland says it’s the thing that most Buffy viewers ask her about. “Most fans end up talking to me about ‘The Body,'” she says. “There’s so many people all over the world who lost a parent and weren’t able to process, and it helped them. And that’s amazing.”
For Whedon, the episode had a very personal goal. Explains Whedon, “I lost my mother when I was 27 in a car accident, and the intent was to capture just that first day, the sort of trapped-in-amber, almost boring essence of grief.”
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The hour registers very personally for Gellar, too, but in a different way. She explains, “‘The Body’ was exhausting, and I’m so proud of it, but I can’t watch it. It’s too hard for me. I’m an only child. It’s just me and my mom. That was just a hard concept to grasp.”
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