The episode opens with a rollback to the end of "I Was Made to Love You". Buffy returns home after a talk with Xander, and finds her mother sprawled across the couch, paled-skin, with opened eyes, and not breathing. Buffy calls out for her and flashes back to Christmas 2000, where Buffy, Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara, Dawn, Giles, and Joyce are having Christmas dinner in the Summers' home. Joyce and Buffy finds the pie had burnt, and just as Joyce curses the oven, we return to present day time.
Buffy quickly calls for the ambulance. The 911 operator asks her to perform CPR, while awaiting the arrival of the medical team. Buffy tries to do so, to no success, and tearfully claims, "she's cold". Buffy then hangs up and calmly calls Giles, asking him to come to her home. The paramedics soon arrive and attempt to resuscitate Joyce, but fail to do so. Joyce is then officially pronounced dead. Giles soon arrives and finds the deceased Joyce on the floor. Just as he approaches her, Buffy cries out, "We're not supposed to move the body!", and breaks down in horror after realizing what she had just said.
As Joyce's body is placed in a body bag, the story moves to Dawn at Sunnydale High, where she is sobbing in the toilet because a student named Kevin Berman had called a freak, an outcome of the "misconceptions" spread by a girl named Kirstie. Her friend, Lisa, consoles her, rather poorly so, before they leave the toilet, headed for art class. Dawn awkwardly takes a seat next to Kevin. They talk, as her art teacher instructs them to draw the negative space around a statue.
Buffy soon arrives and leads Dawn outside the classroom, to tell her about Joyce's demise. Although the conversation remains muted, as we see the event from within the art room, it is clear that Dawn breaks down crying, in front of Buffy, in front of Kirstie, in front of Kevin.
The story now relocates to UC Sunnydale, where Willow and Tara stay sorrowfully in their dorm room, while waiting for Xander. Willow can't decide which clothes to wear to the hospital, while Tara tries staying calm and steady. Xander and Anya soon arrive, and Willow subsequently asks Tara to look for her blue shirt, which Joyce had really liked. When Tara leaves, a confused Anya asks the room if they're "going to cut the body open". Willow angrily tells her that it is not okay to ask such things, which prompts Anya to go to pieces, telling them that she doesn't understand the whole mortal coil.
The room goes silent, and Xander punches his fist through a wall, making a hole and getting his hand stuck. He is soon freed, and Tara arrives, failing to find the blue shirt (which was found earlier by Anya under the cushions of a chair and placed in the drawers). After tending to Xander's wounds, the group leaves for the hospital.
The Scooby gang meets up at the hospital, where Joyce's autopsy has just concluded. While waiting for Giles to sign the release forms, Xander, Anya and Willow go on a panicked food shopping spree. Dawn heads off to the ladies' room, leaving Buffy and Tara to sit in awkward silence in the waiting room. Tara then reveals that her own mother had died when she was seventeen, and shares some helpful words for Buffy.
Meanwhile, Dawn leaves the washroom, heading for the morgue. Ignoring the "authorized personnel only" signs, she enters, locking the door behind her. As she approaches Joyce's covered body, a vampire rises from one of the tables behind her, staring menacingly. Buffy senses something amiss and sets out for the morgue, where she sees Dawn struggling with the vampire. A fight ensues, and Buffy manages to decapitate him with a surgical saw. Yet, the cloth concealing Joyce's soulless body was pulled down in the violent mix-up, and the two remaining Summers women stare woefully at the body which once belonged to their mother. Just as Dawn reaches toward the body's cheek, the screen cuts to black, and the episode concludes.