Buffy: Mom? Mommy?
It should be noted that apart from the opening and closing credits, there is no music in this episode whatsoever.
This is also the only episode that doesn't show James Marsters
(Spike) since becoming a regular cast member.
The first scene is the same as the last in the previous episode
. Buffy walks in the door, and calls for her mom. She goes into the living room, where Joyce's body is lying on the couch.
While the credits run, we get a flashback scene to the previous Christmas. The whole cast is there apart from Spike.
Back in the present, Buffy tries to wake her mom up. When this fails, she calls 911. The operator instructs her to perform CPR. This doesn't work either. The operator dispatches paramedics. After hanging up, Buffy calls Giles, telling him only, "She's at the house." The paramedics arrive, and start using equipment to try and revive Joyce. Joyce wakes up suddenly. In the ambulance, Buffy stands beside her mom as the paramedic pronounces it a miracle. In a hospital room, Joyce cradles Dawn as the doctor gives Joyce a clean bill of health...
Joyce still isn't moving. The paramedics pronounce her dead, and leave. After they leave, Buffy vomits on the carpet. Giles arrives, thinking that it's Glory
. When he sees Joyce's body, he tries to revive her. Buffy shouts at him "We're not supposed to move the body!" It hits them.
The coroner arrives, zipping Joyce's body into a black bag. At school, Dawn is crying her eyes out. A friend comforts her, saying that it isn't that bad. Dawn disagrees, saying that Kevin called her a freak in front of the whole class
. They eventually decide to blame Kirstie
, and head off to art class. Dawn is working next to Kevin, who is actually quite friendly. Dawn starts to tell an embarrasing story about Kirstie, only to see Buffy arrive. Buffy takes Dawn outside the classroom. The camera stays with the students, who watch through the window. We don't hear Buffy actually tell Dawn, but we see Dawn break down in tears, and we hear her sobs and screams.
Joyce is on a slab in the morgue, as the coroner starts cutting open her shirt for the autopsy. Willow and Tara are in their dorm room at UC Sunnydale. Willow is fixating on what shirt she should wear - she can't find the blue one that Joyce liked. She starts hyperventilating and crying, and Tara calms her with a "Shut Up" Kiss
- their first onscreen kiss. Xander and Anya double-park outside the dorm, and come inside. Xander and Willow hug. Anya asks what they are going to do. The plan is to go to the hospital, where Giles, Buffy, and Dawn are. Xander asks about what Giles said, trying to determine if the death was natural. He first blames Glory, then the doctors. He needs someone to blame. Willow holds up her fists, challenging Xander to a mock fight. Xander calms down a bit, and kisses Willow on the forehead.
Anya asks if they're going to see the body. The consensus is that they will support Buffy and Dawn, no matter what. Tara leaves to look for Willow's shirt. Anya asks if they're going to cut the body open. Willow yells at her to shut up. Anya breaks down: "I don't understand! I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's... there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid
. It's mortal and stupid
... And Xander's crying and not talking. And I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever
. And she'll never have eggs or yawn or brush her hair. Not ever
. And no one will explain to me why
Xander moves to comfort Anya, while Willow answers that "We don't know how it works. Why." Xander puts his hand through the wall. The girls come over, and find that he's stuck. Willow asks if it made him feel any better
. "For a second there." "A whole second?" Willow looks at him, envious of that second of comfort. Xander switches into construction-man mode, commenting on the crappy wallmanship. Tara returns as they manage to extract Xander's fist. It's bleeding. Anya gets bandaids. They leave. Outside, a meter maid tickets Xander's car.
The autopsy is done. The Scooby Gang assembles in the lobby. Hugs all around. The doctor shows up. Buffy, Giles, and Dawn go to talk to him. He confirms that she died from an aneurysm, probably a complication of the surgery. He says that there was probably very little pain, and even if someone had been there (shot of Joyce collapsing on the couch, Buffy rushing to her side, her safe in the ambulance), there was nothing they could have done. Buffy asks if he's sure that there wasn't any pain. "Absolutely." His lips move out of sync with the next words: "I have to lie to make you feel better." Giles volunteers to take care of the paperwork. Dawn goes to pee. Xander, Anya, and Willow go to get food. Buffy and Tara sit together. Tara reveals that her mother died when she was 17. She doesn't go out and say it, but the message is there: Tara is proof that Buffy can get through this.
Dawn walks to the morgue, finding her mother's body. Behind her, one of the bodies rises from the slab - a vampire. Dawn turns around.
In the lobby, Xander, Willow, and Anya return with a ton of food. They notice that Dawn's not there. Buffy goes looking for her, and arrives at the morgue just in time. She grapples with the (naked) vampire, decapitating him with a bonesaw. Dawn stares up at Joyce's body. "Is she cold?" she asks. "It's not her," Buffy says.
Dawn reaches her hand toward the body's face. "Where'd she go?"
The episode ends before her hand makes contact.
Tropes featured include:
- Absentee Actor: This is the only episode of the fifth season (and for that matter, of the final three seasons total) not to feature Spike.
- Alpha Bitch: Kirstie, though that might just be from Dawn's POV. She seems unnerved by Dawn's breakdown.
- Anywhere but Their Lips: Tara and later Xander kiss Willow on the forehead.
- A Shared Suffering: Tara tells Buffy of how her own mother died when she was young.
- Bad Santa: Anya reveals that Santa Claus is actually a demon who disembowels children in their sleep.
- Bottle Episode: No soundtrack, mostly set indoors, and exactly one instance of special effects. A solid contender for "most depressing example of all time".
- Brick Joke:
- Anya finds Willow's blue shirt. Unaware that Willow's been desperately searching for it, she tucks it in a drawer.
- Anya tells Xander that he's double-parked when they visit Willow and Tara. Xander says "Let them give me a ticket." As the quartet leaves the dorm, we see a parking enforcer doing just that.
- Calling Your Bathroom Breaks: Dawn says she has to go pee (actually because she wants to see her mother in the morgue). Buffy offers to go with her, and she replies coldly, "No, I still remember how to pee."
- Comfort Food: The Scoobies come back with armloads of soda, chips, chocolate and sandwiches.
Willow: We panicked.
- CPR (Clean, Pretty, Reliable): Averted. Not only is Buffy's attempt far too late, but she breaks one of her mother's ribs.
- Buffy also tries to perform CPR on a soft surface, and the paramedic barely looks like he's trying.
- Crowning Moment of Heartwarming: A good portion of the scene in Willow and Tara's dorm, particularly Tara's "Shut Up" Kiss and Willow challenging Xander.
- Daydream Surprise: Buffy imagining her mom alive, both times.
- Daylight Horror: Joyce died on a bright sunny day. The scene of Buffy wandering around the kitchen after the EMT's leave is so bright that it's almost overexposed.
- Death Is Such an Odd Thing: The long pauses and fragmented dialogue give the whole episode this feeling, but Anya's bewildered reaction most clearly demonstrate this trope.
- Dies Wide Open: Buffy finds Joyce lying on a couch after her sudden death with wide-open eyes. The episode makes a point of NOT having anyone close Joyce's eyes for her; they remain open throughout the episode. The episode also opens each act with a shot of Joyce's corpse in which her eyes are staring right at the viewer
- Full-Frontal Assault: The vampire.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar
Dawn: Uh, this one time in history, she had this book called Annals of History, and she didn't know how to say the word "annals" so she kept saying—
- The Glomp: Seeing everyone else giving supporting hugs, Anya suddenly glomps Giles. He's surprised, but returns the hug.
- Instant Emergency Response: Averted.
- It's What I Do: Xander says "the Avengers have to get with the assembly" to support Buffy. "It's what we do."
- Killed Off for Real: Joyce.
- Life Will Kill You
- Manly Tears
Anya: (softly) Xander cried at the apartment. It was weird.
- Meaningful Background Event: Dawn goes into the morgue to look at her mother's dead body and a vampire silently rises from under a sheet in the background.
- Mood Dissonance: Seen with the Christmas flashback, and Dawn before she's informed of Joyce's death — where the episode uses several Buffy Running Gags (e.g. Getting Crap Past the Radar, Not So Dire, and Last-Second Word Swap) to heighten the tragedy that the audience already knows has occurred.
- My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: Dawn is upset about an Alpha Bitch at school and says, "You know, my big sister could really beat the crap out of her. I mean, really, really..."
- Not So Dire: Buffy says she'll have to tell Dawn about her mother's death. Dawn is then shown in tears...about something mean a classmate said about her. She rallies herself and returns to class, only for Buffy to enter with the news, whereupon Dawn breaks down completely.
- Oh, Crap: Again, played for drama.
Buffy: Mom? Whatcha doin'? (worried) Mom? (dawning horror) Mom? (terrified) Mommy?
- OOC Is Serious Business: Probably the only time we see Buffy panicking in the entire series is when she finds her mother dead.
- The Oner
- Previously On: Averted, at least involving clips from previous episodes. Instead the moment when Buffy walks in the door and finds her dead mother is reshown, with events proceeding directly from there.
- Punch a Wall: Xander puts his fist into the wall, gets it stuck and suffers bleeding knuckles when the Scoobies help him extract it.
- Reality Ensues: This is pretty much the realest episode of BtVS.
- Rule of Symbolism: The camera pans to Dawn's 'negative space' drawing in art class after she breaks down crying at the news of her mother's death.
- Negative space is also employed prominently in many shots. Most noticeable when Buffy cannot look the paramedic in the face, during the awkward silence before Tara tells Buffy of her mother's death, and in the last shot between Dawn and Joyce.
- Serious Business: Dawn freaking out because a boy she fancied said she was freaky.
- Shutting Up Now: Tara starts to talk at the dinner table about how Willow likes to have her belly rubbed, then quickly realises she's getting into lurid territory.
- "Shut Up" Kiss: Tara kisses a distraught Willow to calm her down.
- Smash Cut: Several of these are used for Mood Whiplash effect.
- Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss: Noticeably averted. The first onscreen Willow/Tara kiss was neither advertised in advance or played for fanservice.
- Tearjerker: All of it. The whole damn episode. But especially Anya's speech.
- Compare the scene of Buffy calling 911 and trying to revive Joyce to a similar scene in "Angel".
- That Came Out Wrong: Again played seriously, with Buffy blurting out to Giles' "You're not supposed to move the body!" then her horrified look when she realises what she just said.
- Vomit Discretion Shot / Stress Vomit: Buffy throws up after the paramedics leave.
- Waking Up at the Morgue: The vampire.
- Wham Episode
- Written-In Infirmity: You don't see much of Alyson Hannigan's face during the sequence of everyone helping Xander get his hand out of the wall, because the drywall dust caused her eyes to swell painfully.
- Zipping Up the Bodybag