Death becomes Buffy

By Michael Ausiello
From TV Guide Online

Emmy voters, take note — this could save you a lot of time and trouble. Last week’s haunting episode of the WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer — in which the Scooby gang mourned the sudden death of Buffy’s mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) — instantly earned a place alongside ER‘s “Love’s Labor Lost” and Jimmy Smits’s harrowing swan song on NYPD Blue as one of the finest hours of television ever produced. Written and directed with paralyzing intensity by series creator Joss Whedon, the bold installment chronicled the four hours following Joyce’s passing and featured wrenching performances from the show’s underrated cast, led by The Chosen One herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. Heightening the emotion was the fact that, unlike watershed episodes of other shows, this one was delivered without any good ol’ fashioned Hollywood hype, and thus caught practically everyone off guard. “There was a lot of integrity in this,” notes TV Guide critic Matt Roush, “not just in how it played, but in how it wasn’t oversold.”

Of course, true to Buffy tradition, the installment left viewers with a plethora of unanswered questions. And to help fill in the blanks, TV Guide Online called on the brainchild behind the one-hour masterpiece, Whedon himself. 

A never-before-seen flashback of Joyce hosting a holiday celebration for Buffy, Dawn and friends kicked off the episode. Shot from no one’s particular point of view, the joyous scene stood in stark contrast to the rest of the morbid hour. What was its purpose? 
Buffy diehards expecting some kind of profound explanation are in for a disappointment. “I wanted to get the credits over with,” says Whedon. “I knew that I had to have opening credits, and I knew that there was no way in God’s green Earth that I was going to put them over the 911 sequence, so I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to have a scene.'” Eyeing an opportunity to remind viewers how beloved Joyce was, the scribe decided to insert the Christmas-themed gathering. Plus, he adds, “It gave me a really great transition from happy to dead.”

Giving new meaning to the phrase silent but deadly, the episode contained nary a musical chord. Although we have a good idea what that was about, we figured we’d ask anyway.
“Music would have been too easy,” Whedon confesses. “It would let things out… it would [tell you] to feel sad. I wanted to not have that safety net. And where there is no safety net, there is nothing that is going to keep people [in the moment] unless they really care.” 

Why wasn’t Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara’s (Amber Benson) overdue smooch promoted ad nauseum like last season’s same-gender buss (or should we say bust?) on Dawson’s Creek? 
“They are basically living together so they’re probably already kissing. [Therefore,] to make a big deal of the kiss would have been totally wrong,” says Whedon, who adds that he waited for just the right moment to script the liplock. “It belongs somewhere where you least expect it, where it is completely organic and you breeze by it.” Well, WB execs did anything but. In fact, the suits asked Whedon to cut the kiss — a request he flatly refused. “The WB sort of balked, but they got over it really quickly,” he says. “I was like, ‘The kiss is in, or I’m walkin’.’ But not in the sense of, ‘Let’s get into a fight,’ [but] actually to avert one… Just to say there is no middle ground here. This belongs in the show… There was one discussion and there was only one.” A WB rep responds: “We had questions [about the kiss], but after reviewing the final cut, we chose to air it.”

The brutal realism of the episode was interrupted by a jarring vampire slaying in the final act. Why? 
“I stayed away from unnatural things as much as possible,” Whedon admits. “I didn’t have Glory (Clare Kramer) or even Spike (James Marsters) in the episode because I wanted everything to be very real. But because the show is Buffy, vampires are a part of that world. So I wanted to have the vampire fight, but put it in the context of this occasion, because life is still going on… things are intruding. [There’s a] feeling that this tragedy has occurred, and the world is supposed to stop.”

Is Joyce really dead? 
The Internet is abuzz with speculation that Buffy’s younger sis (Michelle Trachtenberg) will use her unique powers to resurrect her mother. As it is, at the end of the episode, Dawn was about to place her magical hands on Joyce’s cold corpse. “Dawn’s special energy will not bring Joyce back,” Whedon insists. “Some people thought that at the beginning of the next episode, she was going to touch her and heal her with her Dawn powers. I’m like, ‘People! Missing the point!'” So, Joyce’s never-seen boyfriend isn’t part of some big conspiracy? “There is no mystery to the date,” says Whedon, who points out that the idea to leave Buffy and Dawn motherless was conceived years ago, and adds that “if you brought her back, it would have to be extremely earned, and there would have to be a good reason for it.”