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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a drama about a young girl who inherits the powers to fight the demons that threaten the Earth. She lives in Sunnydale, California which happens to be the Hellmouth and must learn to master her powers while also trying to have some semblance of a normal life. The WB 1997 - 2001. UPN 2002-03.

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Episode 7 - Once More With Feeling

13 September 2016

The Fire Trucks Shot

Synopsis: Buffy bursts into song about how numb she feels. The Scoobies agree to research the problem and theorise in chorus. The problem is spreading around Sunnydale with everyone spilling their guts in song. Tara sings of her love for Willow, Spike of his frustration with Buffy's interest in him and Anya and Xander of their relationship fears. Before Dawn can sing of her loneliness she is abducted by the demon responsible for all this. He explains that once people have expressed all their emotion in song they will spontaneously combust. Buffy has to come to her rescue before the Demon makes her his Queen.

The Good: I've been waiting so long to write this review and not that it's hear I don't know where to begin.  A cliché I know but the Rewatch has given me a different perspective on the show and although that doesn't change the praise I plan on heaping it does leave me confused as how best to express it.

I suppose the key point is that this episode just would not be the same if it didn't have six episodes and the conclusion of last season leading up to it. Clearly Joss Whedon has the talent to put together a musical episode without such epic back-story and I'm sure it would have been very good. But with all the seasons major story arcs coming to a head this turned into something far beyond normal television. Those plots added the emotion and sense of consequence which blew away any potential thoughts about characters singing and dancing being a dumb idea.

And that would be the necessary second point to make. Could anything seem less believable, less organic and less serious than actors lip synching to songs that they are being 'possessed' to perform? No. To overcome that and create something that feels not only like an important story within the Buffy narrative but one of the best episodes of television ever made is an astounding achievement.

Back to the arc stories though and they really pay off supremely well. Something that struck me for the first time on this rewatch was that for me this was the best use of Tara ever and one of the better uses of Anya. So long just an appendage to Willow, and her whole song underlines that, Tara bursts to life here. It helps that she has a great singing voice of course but her performance rose to the challenge. She was glowing in her princess outfit and communicated her devotion to Willow and then heartbreak at being betrayed really well. Even the jokey line about being "cured" and wanting to chase boys allowed her a rare moment of spontaneous humour. "I'm Under Your Spell" of course had a double meaning which captured perfectly her two major storylines. It was a terrific choice of song to show us the utter joy Willow's love brings her to drive home the darkness of the betrayal.

Anya meanwhile got to payoff two years of bizarre references to Bunny's by launching into a mad song rant about them. Her duet with Xander was really strong, again giving us the kind of insight into her personality that we rarely get. We already knew he was afraid but to hear them both lay out all the concerns they have about their future was very rewarding and captured something of what every couple must feel in a most unexpected way.

Spike is a character who is so cool and so flexible that it was hardly a stretch to see him mix anger and passion into a song aimed at Buffy. Their simmering affection is brought to the boil by first his understandable resentment of her getting his hopes up and then once again being there to help her in a way her friends can't (telling her to keep on living). The comfort she finds in him finally finds a sexual expression in a way that felt believable which is remarkable when you think back to "Crush" (514).

Meanwhile Giles fully expresses his fears about what's happening to Buffy. He believes he is "Standing in the Way" of her being the woman she needs to be and moving on from her resurrection. It was pretty moving stuff as he sings his desire to be her father and slay demons for her. This all leads to the revelation of course when Buffy tells them all that she was in heaven much to their chagrin and tears from Willow. Dawn whose own loneliness can't even find proper expression (as she is interrupted) reminds Buffy of her own comforting words before she died "The hardest thing in this life is to live in it." To connect that moment to this so directly but without feeling contrived shows a mastery of storytelling that is deeply impressive.

And that's just the overall story arc. The plot of the episode itself was handled with ease and a great deal of humour. Buffy's opening song was the ultimate send-up of the show as vampires and demons become the chorus as Buffy slashes them to pieces. It was a surreal sequence only to be topped by the residents of Sunnydale making brief cameos to croon about the laundry or a parking ticket. Naturally there is a demon to vanquish and he was superbly cast and presented to seem creepy, powerful and pleasing to the ear. He also seemed totally unafraid of Buffy and the gang which added a different dynamic. The concept of people singing their hearts out until they burst into flame is a typically creative and ingenious way to create a threat and justify the existence of a musical episode of the show.

Those are all the bare bones of why this was so good but they can't express all the joyous moments within it. I love that within "I've Got a Theory" the music and writing are so strong that we can tangent multiple times without losing the thread. I got goosebumps multiple times while watching and one of them was Buffy asking "what does it matter" in the middle of the song. There's something doubly affecting about it. Of course on the surface she is rallying them all and encouraging them to overcome yet another demon but the choice of words also makes me think of her resigned attitude to life. We got about as explicit a sexual scene as we've ever had when Willow begins making love to Tara (off screen) mid song which was daring. The Anya-Xander back and forth was terrifically scripted with so many little witty lines and a terrific conclusion where they both sing about how they'll "never tell" of all their doubts to conclude a song where they just revealed all. Spike was superb as you would expect seeming as lovelorn and intense as ever even when simply pulling the door open to get Buffy out. Has exposition ever been as fun as when "Sweet" does it? That's the name seemingly given to the demon though he doesn't seem to need one. His song was excellent including a lovely riff on the great fire of Rome when it was rumoured the Emperor Nero played the Fiddle while watching. The chorus effortlessly blending all the previous songs together always impresses me including a great shot of two fire trucks speeding off to more combusting victims.

The final song from Buffy once more brought me to worship at the altar of Sarah Michelle Gellar. It's hard to think of another show that has asked so much from their leading actor, at least in variety of performance. Once more Gellar is equal to it and manages to make dancing look natural and attractive without changing facial expression which is still communicating determination and depression. There is a flatness to her voice which far from marring the episode makes it seem more authentic and reflective of her state of being. To bring the character to a point where she can literally cry out "Give me something to sing about" and have it too reflect double meanings both literal and figurative is just tremendous. To work "Once more with feeling" into Sweet's farewell, still with double meaning, is the cherry on top.

The musical numbers are really impressive. I don't think there's a dud amongst them and the way they vary in style, blend together and match the personalities of the characters is amazing. Light and poppy for Tara, dark and rocky for Spike, a proper musical number for Anya\Xander, a ballad for Giles and an emotional outburst for Buffy. The majority of this written by Joss Whedon who has no music background!

I'm sure there are a dozen lines one could highlight but I picked out a few that struck me on this particular Rewatch. "I've been making shows of trading blows just hoping no one knows" - quite brilliant economy and rhyme. "The name I made I'll trade for his" - ditto. "Whisper in a dead man's ear, that doesn't make it real" - haunting. The rhyming of "possessed" with "breast" with "guessed" with "chest" and "unimpressed" is so simple that it makes you want to sing it over and over again (I may have done that). "Your stalwart, standing fast" - beautiful. "The torch I bear is scorching me" - evocative. Buffy's whole final song is a masterpiece summing up her whole story and bringing it up to the present.

The Bad: It's certainly odd that Xander would think summoning a demon of any kind was a good idea even if it would help him overcome his fears about commitment.

The Unknown: Do night time funerals in graveyards really happen? Giles suggesting that Buffy go alone to fight "Sweet" didn't make a lot of sense. Seeing how quickly the Scoobies then followed her it was obviously a contrivance to allow her to enter the Bronze alone.

Best Moment: Oh wow, hardest choice ever. You could pick any one of thirty and I'd be happy with it. But the first time I watched Buffy I was less enamoured of the Buffy character than I am now. On Rewatch her role as selfless hero has really embedded itself in me. So I will go for her begging Sweet to "Please give me something to sing about." It's the culmination of so many episodes of struggle to reduce our hero to asking for a reason to go on living. 

The Bottom Line: You could highlight the comedy, the drama, the emotion, the characterisation, the songs, the choreography or the storytelling and talk about what an astounding achievement this episode is. But I think it's a monument to writing. Months upon months of careful editing to craft something that at once feels like a huge effort and equally effortless. To make an organic piece of episodic television out of the highly contrived and surreal medium of musical theatre is hard. Really really hard. This stands as one of the greatest episodes of television ever made and a fitting tribute to Joss Whedon's awesome writing skills. It's easy to forget that it also just pivoted the whole season sending Giles and Tara away (we assume) and exposing Buffy and Willow's darkness.

 

Cordia's Second Look
Once More, With Feeling
Season 6, Episode 7

Original airing: 11/6/2001

My Rating: 96

The Good: With this being a rewatch, I think it’s safe to say this was the episode everyone was waiting for. And with good reason. This episode takes all of our eight main characters and addresses their current life status, to a greater or lesser degree. That’s a pretty impressive feat. It also takes an unusual genre for TV and makes it watchable, engaging, and emotional.

Making this pivotal episode a musical really helped to get through the rather intense glut of material. Allowing your characters to sing their feelings create a direct link from their brains to their mouths and gets their ideas across much more quickly.

The shallowest part of this episode dealt with Dawn. Her continued thieving gets her into YET ANOTHER threatening situation, which the episode plays with in Buffy’s dialogue. It hints that Dawn is feeling overlooked and ignored, which is a reasonable explanation for her acting out.

Xander and Anya are a bit more in-depth. Their portion is focused on their impending marriage, which is obviously a huge storyline. We’ve already seen in the last two episodes that Xander is having some concerns about the whole thing, but now it’s shown that Anya is worried as well. I also really liked that the song showcased Anya as still not really understanding what she was getting herself into. Her concerns are rather surface and focused on both her and Xander’s looks and her societal status as a wife. This fits with her character thus far and shows she really is still learning how to be human.

Tara and Willow’s story also focused on their relationship. It was wrought with double meaning as an oblivious Tara sings how she’s under Willow’s spell without knowing she’s literally under a forgetfulness spell. I really appreciated that she figured it out pretty quickly and came to a decision about what to do. Her duet with Giles lays out her new distrust in Willow and how much she loves her. But she knows she can’t stay because she’ll lose herself completely. It was disappointing to not have a Willow song in this episode, but it seems it was at the request of the actress. So it was nice to see the relationship from Tara’s side instead.

Finally, I think Buffy and Spike’s songs were intrinsically related. The last several episodes have given examples of Buffy emotionally reaching out to Spike as a safe place to hide when she’s completely lost. He’s the only person she’s told about her after-life experiences. But Spike is getting sick of it and really has to let his heart show in his song. I think it was an eye opener for Buffy to see his emotions bared in that manner and to realize he’s right about her developing dependence on him as an emotional crutch.

This worked really well when she shuts him down in the Magic Box, but he comes to help at the Bronze anyway. He’s always said since his crush began that he’d do anything for her. Nothing else matters and he continues to display that. I really liked that he was the one to stop Buffy from combusting as well. It made sense that he’d essentially be the one capable of breaking through her stony exterior when she was at her worst. He makes her feel again. Which, of course, leads to the kiss outside.

Buffy may be confused as to her actual feelings for Spike, but there’s definitely an attraction. And for someone who’s been feeling nothing in the throes of depression, feeling anything at all is pretty intoxicating.

The Bad: Giles’ song was extremely emotional, but it didn’t work quite as well for me. His decision to leave certainly affected me more than Tara’s. I’ve never been a Tara fan, but I’ve always adored the father/daughter relationship between Giles and Buffy. To see him deciding to leave while Buffy is struggling so much made me angry. His reasons are sound enough – Buffy needs to stand on her own two feet again – but I didn’t really believe that he would thinking abandoning her to do it alone would be the best course of action. Giles has always stood by Buffy and supported her when she’s needed it. I felt the fingerprints of reality here and the influence of the actor, Anthony Stuart Head, wanting to be home in England, instead of filming the show in California.

The idea of Xander wanting to know his future with Anya is secure makes perfect sense. Having him summon a demon with the belief that nothing bad will happen is complete idiocy. That line of thinking might have suited the character in season one or two. At this point, it’s just lazy writing.

The only other part of the episode I found a bit confusing was the idea of making Dawn the demon’s bride. He never expresses why or what his motivation for that would be. And he quickly gives up on the idea when Xander admits he was the summoner. It’s very convenient.

Favorite Moment: The moment when Buffy admits she was in heaven is poignant for several reasons. Her determination to not reveal that secret followed by the discordant nature of the music makes it obvious it’s a painful revelation and against her will. The reactions on the
Scoobies’ faces are almost as painful to see. It makes for almost a minute of completely uncomfortable and powerful television.

The Bottom Line: This is an exceptional episode. Not only does it examine and tear open the relationships of our main characters, it leaves them in disrepair to be picked up and sorted out in the future. The end of the episode has everyone literally throwing each other away and wandering in different directions. That’s a pretty heavy note and definitely has opened a lot of doors for the show’s storylines. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

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Comments

  • Hi Robin,

    you wrote "not that it's hear". This should be "now that it's here".

    Posted by Faheem Mitha, 14/09/2016 10:48am (8 months ago)

  • This is soooo overrated!!!

    Viewer score: 20 / 100

    Posted by Hugh Mungus, 12/09/2016 9:48pm (8 months ago)

  • Finally caught up to the podcast about this. One of my favorite (hidden) jokes in this, which I didn't hear/see anyone else mention, is the end of the song by Marti Noxon when she's getting a parking ticket (and btw, it is awesome that they included writers Noxon and Fury singing in the episode).

    The ending dialogue, if you tune out Xander, Anya, and Giles and listen closely is:
    Why can't you let it go?
    I think I've paid more than my share
    I'm just a poor girl, don't you care?
    Hey, I'm not wearing underwear...

    When I first noticed that, probably on around my third rewatch of this episode, I went back over it again and again because I could not believe those were the real lyrics, but indeed they are :)

    Posted by Ross, 21/02/2014 1:26am (3 years ago)

  • Hello Robin,
    This is one of my favorite episodes of television. Its an episode of television that continues to stay on my dvr despite three dvr changes.

    One of the advantages of this musical episode was that it was set in the already well established world of Buffy. This episode rewarded fans of the show with all the inside jokes...I mean Giles saying "She needs back up" was fantastic.
    Despite the obvious singing limitations (I am looking at you Sarah) it still managed to look effortless.

    I loved all the elements of the old hollywood musicals that was included. The hyper intense color, the opening credits, the random musical number to open scenes, the dancing going on in the background. Most importantly was how all the songs gelled with the emotions of the acting. I felt it was seamless.

    My favorite song was Tara and Willow and the Tara and Giles combo at the end. I end up humming those songs anytime I watch that episode.

    My heart breaks every time Buffy lets them know what they had done to her by bringing her back. This may be my second on my list of heart breaks from this show. Not quite Buffy killing Angel, but it was quite affecting.

    There is soo much more I'd like to say but I am looking forward to hearing from you guys.

    As always thanks for the forum

    Viewer score: 95 / 100

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 11/05/2013 12:58am (4 years ago)

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