There's no denying that Joss Whedon gets to indulge himself by directing all the cool and experimental episodes these days. Thankfully, unlike some other creator/producers, he's is more than up to the task of pushing back the boundaries of great TV.
The Body is effective in so many ways, mainly because we're all used to lazy US fantasy drama that just wouldn't have the guts go to the dark places Buffy does.
There's certainly been more dangerous, more realistic and stranger TV than The Body, but what gives this its extra punch is the emotional investment we've made in these characters and the impact that their distress and their grief can therefore have on us.
Not sure about the vampire at the end - it's distracting more than scary - but every other scene is a killer. When will this man get the industry recognition he so richly deserves?
The thing that got me about this episode was that the seams were on the outside.
When you've got over crying, watch this episode as a bunch of pictures rather than a heartbreaking story. Joss went all out for that Emmy he deserves, and you can learn everything you need to know about directing television from The Body.
Everything is done in long shots, held for abnormally long periods, and camera moves are slow and stately - it feels dislocated, and dreamlike. And look at those strange cutaways like the phone buttons - they draw you away from the action as if you were in shock yourself, and you can't quite see the things you ought to be concentrating on. None of the conversations come to any kind of conclusion - they all peter out in confusion.
Tricks are played with time, too. The camera stays on people as they do the most trivial of things, and the important stuff gets compacted into a few sparse shots. The flashback sequences disorient you as well - is Joyce dead? Is she alive?
The clever use of framing was what impressed me most - Xander pacing in and out of a still frame, the ambulanceman as a blurry bulk in the foreground, with Buffy an afterthought in the left corner. None of these things are conventionally 'good' cinematography, but they create an emotional atmosphere that is one of the most powerful I have ever seen in a TV show.
Bravo, Joss. You deserve more credit than you're given.
It’s a massive endorsement of the strength of the Sunnydale scenario, and the ability of Buffy’s crew and cast that an episode like The Body could even have been considered.
Imagine a serious and harrowing Friends, or a played-for-laughs ER. Neither could work, because however good those programmes are, they just don’t have the flexibility which lets Buffy take on comedy and tragedy in the same frame.
Gruelling and painful, The Body isn’t easy watching because it doesn’t try to play down or pass over the genuine, sheer horror of death. There are jokes in there, but they feel cruel and hurtful, like Anya finding the blue jumper Willow was looking for and just putting it away. Nothing is allowed to artificially lift the sorrow.
Most distressing of all for me were the daydream sequences. It was very hard to watch Buffy’s desperate imaginings, each serving only to take her away from her appalling anguish for only a moment before the whole, terrible reality came crashing back in. And the reason it was so hard was because it was so, so true.
Five minutes into watching this, I called my mum up.