Loving “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” has become complicated of late, but there’s no taking away from the emotional impact of some episodes. Originally airing back in 2001, season 5 episode 16 “The Body” remains one of the most emotionally affecting 45 minutes of TV ever aired — and the one “Buffy” episode star Sarah Michelle Gellar still can’t bring herself to watch. The entire season had hinted at Buffy’s mom, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), potentially being killed off, with her being diagnosed with a brain tumor in episode 8, before seemingly recovering. But when episode 16 rolled around, audiences were in for a shock.
Joss Whedon, who wrote the episode, wasted no time hitting viewers in the gut as Buffy arrives home to find her mother’s body on the couch, having suffered an aneurysm. There was no eldritch beast for Buffy and the Scoobies to contend with in this episode — aside from a run-of-the-mill vampire appearance towards the end — just the horror of abject grief.
And according to Whedon, the whole thing was personal. Speaking to Metro, he said, “My mother died when I was 27 in a car crash. But I didn’t really think about mining [the experience] until around season 3. This is the moment [Buffy] says ‘I don’t know,’ she hasn’t [dealt with this] before. There is a good kind of pain created from her situation that was particularly personal.”
Exploring grief from a personal place arguably resulted in one of the most memorable episodes of “Buffy” ever made. But for Whedon, it goes beyond the show itself. He added: “I think [‘The Body’] is probably the best thing I’ve done and the best thing I will ever do. And I’m okay with that. You know, there are worse epitaphs.”