‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: The Gut-Wrenching Episode Joss Whedon Calls ‘The Best Thing I Will Ever Do’

Critically-acclaimed television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer had several outstanding episodes over its seven seasons. For show creator Joss Whedon, director and writer of hits like The Avengers, The Justice League, and Cabin in the Woods, there is one episode of the cult-classic show he considers to be “the best thing he’ll ever do.”

The supernatural drama series, that starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as a girl chosen to protect the world from vampires and other dark forces, ran from 1997 until 2003. Buffy and her friends, the Scooby Gang, battled new monsters each week and a “big bad” each of the seven seasons the show ran. 

Tom Lenk, Emma Caulfield, Alexis Denisof, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Joss Whedon, Michelle Trachtenberg, James Marsters smiling, facing different directions
Tom Lenk, Emma Caulfield, Alexis Denisof, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Joss Whedon, Michelle Trachtenberg, James Marsters | Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

One of the best episodes of the series

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show that addressed many teen issues against the backdrop of supernatural characters and story arcs. The show dealt with the deaths of supernatural beings most weeks, sometimes in really horrific ways. But in the fifth season episode “The Body,” Buffy and her crew face the devastating personal loss of a beloved character to natural causes. 

Joyce Summers (played by Kristine Sutherland) was mother to Buffy and Dawn. A secondary character throughout the show, Joyce supported her daughters and their group of friends as a kind and loving parent. Joyce began experiencing headaches earlier in the fifth season and had dealt with a brain tumor. The foreshadowing of Joyce’s unexpected demise in “The Body” was effective.  

When Buffy, Dawn, and their friends confront the shocking, unexpected loss that they were powerless to prevent, they struggle. Buffy must accept a future without the parental support and comfort she counted on. Fans of the show were just as grief-stricken with the human loss of Joyce, watching each character deal with grief in their own way in the emotional episode.

One of the best episodes on television

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The episode received an impressive amount of praise from critics who still consider it one of the best episodes to air on television.

New York Daily News writer David Bianculli had nothing but praise for the acting chops of Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Amber Benson, and Michelle Trachtenberg. Bianculli called the episode “Emmy-worthy” and haunting. South Bend Tribune staffers Alesia Redding and Joe Vince were impressed with the episode and said it wasn’t just one of the best all-time Buffy episodes. They considered it to be one of the best episodes of television ever.

Joyce Millman at Salon said there wasn’t a finer episode of television that year. She went on to say that she couldn’t remember the last time she  saw such a “more wrenching portrayal of the shock of loss” than “The Body.”  

A story about grief  

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According to Screen Rant, Whedon wanted to craft an episode about grief and it’s “dull eccentricities.” Whedon’s television resume is just as impressive as the one he has in film. He’s helmed hit shows like Firefly, Dollhouse, The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Buffy spinoff series Angel. Whedon has experience in creating unforgettable television experiences.

The episode was unique in many ways. Devoid of the show’s usual parade of paranormal threats, the episode brought Buffy and her friends to a screeching halt to deal with the one thing they couldn’t overcome: death. Grounded solidly in reality, the episode’s direction, writing, and sublime acting all blended to deliver a powerful tour-de-force installment in the cult-classic series.

Whedon explained the episode is the best thing he’ll ever do, reports Screen Rant. The personal message and the impact the episode had on the development of Buffy’s character make it memorable for fans of the show. “The Body” focused on the show’s characters and how they individually dealt with grief.  

Whedon lost his own mother when he was 27. The episode reflected his own grief and personal journey with grief. On the DVD commentary of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fifth season, Whedon explained that he didn’t think death brought people together but rather tore them apart. He wanted to highlight the “isolation and boredom” one experiences at a time of such personal loss. 

In a show where a constant barrage of supernatural threats kept the story moving forward, an episode about an all-too-human experience was jarring and unexpected. It was not only cathartic for Whedon, it was a memorable sojourn that fans of the show and quality television will long remember.