13) The Body (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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And whatever Adam was.

There are terrible things in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and they can make you tear your eyes out. Cry, scream, beg, they’re coming for you. Demons, dark gods, mummies, werewolves, the Gentlemen, and, of course, vampires. Running background gags and cold opens both involve random massacres. The world that it takes place in is a nightmare, to the extent that a sequence during Buffy’s senior prom has her receiving the “class protector award,” because they had the lowest mortality rate of any high school class in Sunnydale history. That’s perhaps why this episode is so impacting and so horrifying: Because it has basically none of that.

Quick Recap: Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a teenager/twenty-something who has been tasked by fate as “The Slayer.” It gives her some superpowers, but it also makes most of her life revolve around demons, vampires, and worse. She knows the plural of apocalypse, because she’s had to deal with enough. With her as the “Scooby Gang” are: BuffyCastGiles (Anthony Stewart Head), her watcher and mentor; Willow (Alyson Hannigan), her witch best friend; Xander (Nicholas Brendon), who is the normal guy; Tara (Amber Benson), a witch and Willow’s girlfriend; Anya (Emma Caulfield), a former demon-turned-human who has difficulty coping with humanity; and Spike (James Marsters), a vampire and Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode. Buffy lives with her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) and her younger sister, and mystical creation, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg).

SUMMARY

This episode starts exactly where the last episode ended. Buffy arrives home, sees flowers from the guy dating her mom, and calls out asking if Dawn needs to be picked up. All routine. Then, she sees her mother on the couch, eyes wide, not breathing.

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No one deserves to find this.

The next 10 minutes are difficult to describe. They’re intercut with flashbacks, fantasy sequences of potential happy miracles, odd exaggerations of distance and size, and they’re all intentionally jumbled with reality.

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SMG was perfect in this episode

 When a tragedy strikes suddenly, the mind can be overwhelmed, and few episodes of television have ever played it as straightforwardly as this episode. This is a character who has punched world-eaters in the face, struck dumb at the thought that she’s lost her mom to a stroke. When the EMTs arrive, and determine that Joyce is dead, they do so with professional detachment, while Buffy is left in the corner to struggle to grasp reality. They leave, telling Buffy not to move her mother before someone collects her. When Giles arrives, Buffy herself calls her mother “the body,” which causes her to break down again at the realization that the thing in her house is no longer her mother.

At Dawn’s school, she’s pulled out of class to be told by Buffy. We don’t hear the conversation, only the reaction as she breaks down. We are shown Willow panicking over trying to find the right outfit for seeing Buffy and Dawn, before pointing out that she can’t stop thinking about clothing and how that’s stupid and childish, before she starts crying and is comforted by Tara.

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First onscreen kiss

Xander just keeps finding things to be angry at, from the doctors, to the walls, to the Dark God they’re supposed to be fighting this season. Giles mourns privately. Anya, meanwhile, is scared because she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. Demons don’t really care when other demons die, and she was previously immortal.

At the hospital, the Doctor tells Buffy that Joyce died painlessly. Tara then tells Buffy of losing her own mother, but it isn’t of great comfort. Dawn then visits the morgue, and is attacked by a vampire. Buffy arrives and quickly and unceremoniously kills the vampire, but in the process, the sheet falls off Joyce’s face. Dawn can only cry and touch her mother’s face, asking where she went as the episode ends.BuffyFreezer

END SUMMARY

Okay, the summary isn’t going to do much for why this episode is amazing, because it’s mostly the audio-visuals and the acting. Everything in the episode is disorienting. Sounds are exaggerated, camera angles are abnormal, silences are more pronounced, and there is absolutely no music within the episode. Perhaps most disorienting is that many parts of the episode just drift away from the main characters and feature normal sounds and activities. Children are heard playing outside as Buffy vomits when they take the body.

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One of the most brilliant shots in TV

Wind chimes are gently ringing as the paramedics come. Xander is shown getting a parking ticket through the window. Life goes on, despite everything that is happening at that moment. When the doctor tells Buffy that her mother died painlessly, the line “I have to lie to you to make you feel better” is spoken at the same time. The camera was often hand-held during the episode to encourage the drifting feeling around the characters.

The characters, too, are shown at their most out-of-character. Buffy, who is typically the hero, repeatedly appears to be constructing her own narrative that this is all her own fault for not being there when it happened. Every time someone appears to say that there was nothing she could have done, she clearly doubts it. Again, she’s a superhero. She isn’t used to a problem she can’t out-punch. At points during the episode, she even starts to imagine alternate realities where this isn’t happening, but they are all destroyed by reality. It’s also noticeable that, contrary to how TV usually is forced to work, Buffy isn’t wearing her usual make-up and hair during the episode. She looks weary, tired, and like she’s been crying.

As for the other characters, they all have different reactions. Willow, who is literally capable of moving large vehicles with her mind, feels so powerless that she’s stuck trying to focus on the one thing that she can control at that moment: Her clothing. Xander wants to hurt everything and everyone, even punching a wall, which, contrary to most tv shows, both hurts him a lot, but also makes him feel better. It let him hurt something, BuffyXandereven if it’s him. Anya, despite being the oldest character, responds much the way that a child does. She doesn’t really get “natural death.” Demons don’t have to deal with that. Children don’t have to deal with that (please, just let me have this one. I know it’s a lie, but I hate how much I’ve seen the truth). It’s so hard to explain to people why such a thing even happens, because it doesn’t have a real “reason” for something so devastating. Dawn just wants her mother back. It’s important to note that Joyce had been a parental figure not just for Buffy and Dawn, but also for Xander, whose homelife was shown to be alcoholic and abusive, Willow, whose parents are strict but often absent, and Anya, who hadn’t really had a mother figure before. To Giles, who is shown reacting more reasonably and calmly throughout the episode, but still shown to be deeply saddened by her passing, Joyce was a close friend and someone he’d once had sex with on the hood of a police car. Twice. Tara, however, is the outsider, as she didn’t really know Joyce. She just knows that she was very important to her friends and the woman she loves, and she tries to help however she can. Having all of these different levels of grief shown throughout the episode allows the audience to see all of the emotions, direct and indirect, that can come from dealing with the void.

Life is loss. You can’t have one without the other. But, no one deals with loss in the same way. This episode covers a huge range of those responses and, by filming it in an uncomfortable manner, makes sure the audience is as vulnerable to them as possible. Ultimately, this is less a viewing, and more an experience. Joss Whedon noted that a number of people wrote in telling him that this episode helped them cope with losing someone, and I fully believe this episode might help the grieving. It requires almost no knowledge of the show, so, even if you aren’t familiar with it, you should check it out.

PREVIOUS – 14: Breaking Bad

NEXT – 12: Seinfeld

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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23) Right Place, Right Time (How I Met Your Mother)

When I was compiling this list, most of the entries were on some other lists of top episodes, which is how I narrowed down the candidates from “everything on television ever” to “stuff I can reasonably watch within 4 months of hospitalization.” Gonna be honest, I still overshot and ended up with a ludicrous amount of TV to watch. But, this episode probably is the least critically acclaimed on the list. Not only is this not usually a highly rated show, this episode isn’t even particularly high within rankings of How I Met Your Mother episodes. The critical reviews of this episode average about a B+. Why then do I think this episode is worthy of this spot on the list? Because it’s telling us something that everyone desperately needs to hear.

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No, not the Bro Code
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Pictured: So. Much. Talent.

How I Met Your Mother had some weaknesses as a show, and it definitely dragged at a few points. If the cast hadn’t been amazing, it probably would have died earlier. However, because of the premise of the show, that it’s a dad telling his children a story, they were also able to experiment sometimes with narrative structure in interesting ways. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn’t. This one did, but I honestly don’t know if the show even knew how much it did when they made it.

The overarching theme of the show of How I Met Your Mother is usually secondary to the humor, but it’s still there: You cannot control most of what happens to you in your life, even your own choices, but you can control who you are when things happen to you. And nowhere in the show is this more brilliantly shown than in this episode.

SUMMARY

Right_place_right_timeThe episode starts by showing the main character, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor, future voice Bob Saget), leaving his apartment with a yellow umbrella (which the audience knows is a big part of the story of him meeting his wife), stopping at a newsstand, giving cash to a homeless man, and then stopping to wait at a crosswalk before an unseen person touches him on the shoulder. At this point, the narrator, future Ted, takes us back to explain why exactly he did everything the way he did on that walk.

First, he explains that he left the apartment because his roommate and on-again-off-again romantic interest Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) tells him that he needs to HowIMetYourMotherPukeclear his head after having difficulties with his solo architect work. He decides to get a bagel. She also tells him to take an umbrella.

Once Ted goes outside, he turns right for a moment, then instead goes left. This is explained as being because his favorite bagel place had given Robin food poisoning, so he goes left to his second-favorite bagel place.

Next, Ted stops at a newsstand to look at a magazine. This magazine is revealed to be a copy of “Muscle Sexxy” which he feels compelled to read because his friend Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) slept with the cover girl due to a misunderstanding. The audience sees that this delays Ted for a minute.

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This still makes me laugh, though.

Next, he crosses the street to give money to a homeless person. This is revealed to be because, a few weeks prior, his friend Marshall (Jason Segel) had become addicted to making graphs at his new job, to the point that his wife Lilly (Alyson Hannigan) asked the gang to hold an intervention. After Marshall proved hesitant to change, Ted threw all of Marshall’s graphs out, including the ones he needed for a huge presentation. Ultimately, Ted had to offer to pay a homeless person who had taken the graphs $1 million at a rate of $1 per day.

And that’s what brings Ted to that particular street corner at that exact time. Future Ted then tells his kids that if he hadn’t been there at that time, then they wouldn’t have been born. He says that, if he had known then what all of those circumstances would have led HowIMetYourMotherStella2to, there’s something he would have done differently.

The show then breaks into a montage of Ted hugging every person involved in his life, from the homeless man, to his friends, to the bagel place that poisoned his friend, all set perfectly to the song “Glad Girls” by Guided by Voices. It’s then revealed that the hand touching him belongs to the woman who just left him at the altar 4 months prior, Stella (Sarah Chalke).

END SUMMARY

howimetyourmotherquote.jpgPart of the human experience is understanding that control is, for the most part, an illusion (this is not to be confused with the Ellen Langer “Illusion of Control“). People will say that choice is an illusion (mostly the Matrix), but that’s never going to be my take on it. You have choice, but you only have choice within a larger series of events that are dependent not only upon random chance, but also upon the choices of others. Sure, you can say “I’m choosing to order pizza,” or “I’m choosing to watch Netflix,” but you had almost nothing to do with those options even being available to you. You’re just pretending that the small control you get over some things compensates for the fact that the majority of the universe will just move indifferent to you. That can be scary sometimes. But, it can be freeing, too.

You only get one life, as far as you know. You may believe there’s more, but you can only be certain of this one. And anything you get out of it, good or bad, contributes to the unique experience of living. When you manage to get something good, take a second to realize that even the bad things in your life contributed to you being in the place to get something good now. They may have hurt, they may have even crippled you in ways that keep you from ever being the person you once were, but they haven’t kept you from ever feeling good again. I’m not saying go hug the homeless guy who mugged you, I’m saying that maybe you can let go of all of those bad things. They can’t be changed, they can’t be undone, but they can be learned from and appreciated as part of existence, for your own sake. It doesn’t change that bad things happened, but you don’t have to let them change you for the worse. And, hopefully, you can learn this lesson in montage form.

PREVIOUS – 24: House

NEXT – 22: Breaking Bad

Here’s the Montage:

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Here’s the Episode:

52) Once More, with Feeling/ Hush (Buffy, The Vampire Slayer)

This is the latter of the two combined episodes. The truth is, these two episodes each deserve to be on this list, and very well could have been, but I consider them to be two halves of the same coin. They’re both episodes about honesty and communication, and they both have devastating results on the characters in the series.

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And how could you devastate such a beautiful crowd? You monsters.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer  worked because it presented everyday problems, but represented them with supernatural villains and demons. This created a show where everyone could simultaneously relate to the cast, while being entertained by the alien natures of their problems.

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Though, sometimes it missed the mark. “Beer Bad” ironically requires a lot of alcohol to watch.

SUMMARY

“Hush” was the result of writer and creator Joss Whedon hearing that the key to the success of Buffy was its dialogue. In response, he wrote the story of a group of demons, called “The Gentlemen,” who steal the voices of the townspeople in order to carve the hearts out of their victims without anyone hearing them.

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Usually this is metaphorical. Oh, wait…

The Gentlemen are among the creepiest things ever allowed on television. I recommend finding a picture of them if you haven’t seen them, because the fact that they are perfectly silent and elegantly dressed only makes them that much more unnerving. Also, they surgically remove your heart while you’re alive, which probably is the most horrifying way to die that an episode could directly imply, if not outright depict. They seem to be a metaphor for Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) own hesitance to engage in physical intimacy with her new paramour Reilly, after her last two encounters resulted in A) her boyfriend losing his soul (literally) and B) a boy using her as a conquest. They’re male figures who carve out hearts and are only shown to be killed by a woman’s scream. Nobody said the analogy was subtle.

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Congratulations, you’re going to die enlightened.

The entire episode has only 17 minutes of dialogue, and it features the cast communicating solely through their actions, which, surprisingly both to the characters and the audience, is much more effective than their attempts to talk to one another. Three different couples finally connect because they stop talking their way into bad places and instead act on their hearts. In this episode, honesty brings people together.

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See? They found out they share hobbies.

“Once More, with Feeling,” on the other hand, is all about honesty driving people apart. Best of all, it’s about honesty driving people apart in song. Yes, “Once More, with Feeling” was one of the first musical episodes by a non-musical show, and it is still the best, in my opinion (though, following the original writing of this, the episode “Duet” of the Flash is damned good, including a song sung by Jesse L. Martin, Victor Garber, and John “I’m so amazing” Barrowman, and if it weren’t for all the great original songs in this episode, that one would be better).

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Best thing on UPN.

The plot is that there is a demon named Sweet (Hinton Battle), who, when summoned, makes people sing and dance until they combust, and then leaves with a bride. In the meantime, all of the songs people sing will expose their innermost secrets, often to the very people from whom they’re hiding them. It’s because of this modus operandi, that Sweet is the only villain who ever really beats the Slayer and the Scooby Gang (her friends), even though he chooses to waive the bridal clause of his summoning (upon finding out that it would be a guy). He ruins their relationships, then leaves, having killed at least 3 people in the process. Nothing happens to him at all, except for the loss of his dancing minions.

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Literally ends with a chorus line asking “where do we go from here?”

“Once More, with Feeling” and “Hush” tell the story that honesty can be a force for great good or for great evil, it just depends on how it is conveyed.

PREVIOUS – 53: The Honeymooners

NEXT – 51: Mystery Science Theater 3000

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Here’s my favorite part of Once More With Feeling:

And here’s an incipient nightmare: