“Once More, With Feeling”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
It’s the musical episode, you guys! Buffy’s alarm wakes her up, and she’s rather annoyed at it. Up-beat instrumental music plays while everyone in the household gets ready for the day, but Buffy just continues to stare at the ringing alarm clock. Then, we cut to the Magic Box, still with music. Everyone’s pretty busy. Buffy and Giles train. Cut to that night in the cemetery, and Buffy sings a Disney princess style song while she patrols. Her song is about how she can’t seem to find a sense of meaning in her life anymore, and there are fun vampire/demon backup singers and slaying puns. I love this song so much.
The next day, Buffy comes into the Magic Box having sent Dawn to school already. Nothing’s going on, which is convenient, because Buffy wants to know what the deal is with all the singing. And it seems she’s the first one brave enough to mention it! Everyone else thought they were going crazy. Or stumbling into a musical flashmob Whatever. Ah, and apparently Giles is now staying in a hotel. Thanks! I was wondering about that.
They’re all talking about how weird this is, and then they suddenly start singing about it. Maybe it’s another astral nightmare world. Or a dancing demon (bah, that’s silly). Xander suggests witches, but pipes down off Willow and Tara’s looks. Or it could be bunnies! Yeah, that one’s Anya. Buffy sings a perky verse about how they can conquer anything if they work together, which rather doesn’t match her tone the previous night, but her seeming optimism gets everyone singing with her, all united.
Once the song ends, they decide they need to solve this problem quickly because as whimsical as it is, it will probably lead to badness. Buffy checks outside, and we are treated to the closing measures of a Broadway-style song and dance number about effective dry-cleaning, starring David Fury (now bearded). So it’s the whole town, then. In comes Dawn, who enjoyed her school lessons in musical form. Willow and Tara are being very weird and distracted by each other, and they hurriedly leave so they can have alone time on such a lovely musical day. Dawn steals a thing.
On Willow and Tara’s way home, some guys check her out, which apparently doesn’t happen very often. She jokes like she’s straight now, and then she sings a song about how much better her life has become since Willow has been part of it, using the prevailing metaphor of how she’s “under Willow’s spell.” Only, what she doesn’t realize is that it isn’t a metaphor. Ouch. There’s pretty Disney-esque sparkles and backup dancers and then they whirl around and they’re in their room at Buffy’s house, and then bedroom stuff happens. Next scene please? Except the song is so pretty...
Okay, next scene. Back at the Magic Box. Xander has a pretty good idea of what Willow and Tara are up to. Dawn thinks the singing and dancing is romantic, so she doesn’t blame Willow and Tara. How could this be a bad thing? Cut to an alley, where we find out why it’s a bad thing. A dude tapdances until he bursts into flames, and there’s a jazz demon in a zoot suit. (I’m not exactly sure what a zoot suit is, but I’m going to call that outfit one.)
Xander and Anya wake up the next morning. They start singing about how they’re both looking forward to and terrified of getting married. The song is both a duet and a pair of asides, because neither of them seems to hear the lines the other sings about the anxiety side of things, even when they’re harmonizing. Eventually, they start doing a fun ‘50s style dance, then sing some more, then waltz a bit, then finish the song. Guys! Talk about your problems!
Later, Xander and Anya relate this experience to Giles on the way to the Magic Box. They’re very freaked out now, and talking over one another. The three of them pass Marti Noxon singing about a parking ticket (hi, Marti Noxon!) Also apparently Anya has moved into Xander’s apartment now. Giles hasn’t found an answer yet, but he’s discovered that people have been dancing themselves to death. They start discussing Buffy’s lack of engagement with things going on while street cleaners dance in sync behind them.
Buffy walks into Spike’s crypt. He knows about the singing. He’s pretty sure he’s immune. She asks if he knows anything, and he’s disappointed that she’s just here for shop talk. She’s kind of surprised by his sudden attitude. He tries to pass it off as nothing, but then, to his irritation, he starts singing. His song is really cool, but it’s basically about how he doesn’t enjoy being in the friendzone, so she should either make a move or leave him alone. Except that he can’t stay away from her, so even if she left, he’d just wander around after her like a creepy stalker puppy. The central metaphor of his song is being free to rest in peace, like a self-respecting corpse. Also, why is there a funeral at night? In Sunnydale?
Tara checks on Dawn, who is bummed about doing homework now that the singing part is over. Tara also has news about the cause of the musical shenanigans. Willow thinks it’s a demon, and Tara is confident in her ability to find out who and how to kill it. Dawn is happy that Tara and Willow have apparently stopped fighting. Tara doesn’t know what she’s talking about because, of course, she remembers no fight. She realizes that the pretty little flower Willow left on her pillow might not be just a flower. She heads to the Magic Box to verify her heartbreaking suspicions.
Dawn starts to have an ansty teen song while she plays with some of the stuff she’s stolen, including the amulet from the shop. Fortunately, before she can get more than two lines in, creepy goons with wooden heads capture her and haul her off. To the Bronze. She wakes up alone and tries to get away, while dancing ballet style! This is so much better than her having a whole song of her own. The goons are there, and they menace her ballet style too. She fails to escape, but it’s very pretty. She ends up at the foot of the stage, where the zoot suit demon tap dances down a set of stairs that is suddenly there. He changes his suit’s color from red to blue and it’s the coolest moment in the whole episode.
He sings about how he’s the one behind the musical shenanigans. And about how those shenanigans lead to people dancing to death. Also, he’s pretty sure that Dawn’s the one who summoned him. She’s very confused, because she has no memory of summoning any musical demons. He’s looking forward to heading back to his demonic kingdom with Dawn as his queen. He ignores her protestations until she mentions her sister is the Slayer. He sends his goons out to go inform Buffy of where he is, because he wants her to come running so that he can personally watch her spontaneously combust.
Giles and Buffy are training. She breaks a board with a kick. Buffy wants to end early, before the magic has a chance to turn this into Karate Kid: The Musical. He asks her if she’s talked to Dawn about her recklessness at Halloween. She has not, because she thought he would do that. And instead of talking to her about taking responsibility, he starts singing about how he thinks he’s holding her back, and the only way for her to follow her path is if he’s not there anymore. His regretful (but very lovely) singing is cut against her training in slow motion.
Then we cut to Tara, arriving at the Magic Box, close to tears. His song ends, and Buffy didn’t hear a word of it. Cut back to Tara, who has just found that flower in a book. She knows Willow did a memory spell on her, and she feels particularly horrified by it because of what Glory did to her. She and Giles finish their songs in a really wonderful duet. They have the best voices of the cast. Giles has to leave Buffy (ostensibly for her own good, but actually because Tony Head wanted to spend more time in England), and Tara has to break up with Willow if her behavior and attitude don’t change in a major way.
Spike shows up, dragging one of the wooden-headed goons. Willow spots Tara and greets her cheerfully, only to receive frosty silence in return. This confuses and saddens her. The unseen orchestra winds up for a big number as the goon spills all his info about his boss’s plans with Dawn, but instead he just tells them. Bahaha. Spike tries to beat more information about him (specifically, what the boss wants with Buffy), but he evades and bolts. Buffy asks the gang what the plan is, and Giles decides the plan is for her to go face this demon by herself.
Wait, what? That’s a terrible idea. The rest of the characters think so too. Willow offers to do a spell, but Tara stamps on that plan. (Really? Willow can’t even do a spell to help with a Plot A situation? I thought she established last episode that Plot A is the only situation in which spells are okay.) Spike offers to help, but Buffy reminds him he sang about wanting her to stay away from him, so he storms out.
Buffy leaves by herself, and she sings another song. This one is about how she can’t seem to feel anything, and she desperately wishes she could. This is cut with shots of Dawn in trouble at the Bronze. Then we cut to Spike, also singing. He still can’t seem to decide whether he wants her to leave him alone or if he wants to be close to her. The demon sings too, and they harmonize. Giles realizes his idea was a horrible one, and the Scoobies all come together, determined to go help Buffy.
Buffy is still on the way to the Bronze, feeling very deserted by her friends. Everyone gets lines, and Willow is annoyed that hers is just a filler line. I love this song. I’m on a bus right now, and it’s very hard not to belt it out anyway. I’ll probably be listening to the soundtrack of the episode while I do the character analysis.
It’s time for Buffy’s confrontation with the demon. Dawn insists that she didn’t summon the demon. Buffy volunteers to go with the demon instead of Dawn. She starts her third song. It’s full of optimistic platitudes and an eerie fourth wall break. It’s pretty much her bitterness about how she can’t get her life to work. She wants an actual reason to be happy and to keep going on, instead of just more challenges to overcome. The Scoobies arrive. Anya and Tara join in as her backup singers/dancers. Her song includes calling her friends out for bringing her back from the dead...because she was in heaven. Now they know. They’re horrified by what they did, particularly Willow.
Buffy starts dancing faster and faster, and smoke starts coming from her. Before she can combust, Spike catches her. He sings about how life doesn’t have to be blissful to be worth living. She has to live her life. Dawn reprises Buffy’s last words to her. Willow is silently crying. The demon decides it’s time for him to leave with Dawn. We finally address the matter of whether she summoned him or not. She manages not to admit to stealing, but she does convince the demon that she didn’t summon him. Xander sheepishly steps forward. He’s the one who did it. Does he have to go be the demon’s queen? The demon decides to forget about that clause. He sings his exit song, then disappears in a red sparkly cloud. Sucks to be the Scoobies, now that they’ve exposed their secrets in song.
The spell isn’t quite over, though. They sing about what the heck they’re supposed to do next. Maybe they should celebrate because the villain is gone. All the songs brought them together, but also drove them apart. Spike breaks free of the spell first, and walks out. Buffy follows him out. He’d very much like her to figure out what she wants now. They sing lines from their songs again, walking closer. Buffy’s last line is “This isn’t real, but I just want to feel” and Spike’s is “You can make me feel,” and then they kiss.
“Once More, With Feeling” is fantastic. I think I actually forgot how much I love it. I love that the actors do their own singing even if they aren’t super good (none of them are awful, though). I love that there’s an actual in-story explanation that this is suddenly a musical, because pretty much every other show that has a musical episode doesn’t bother with that. (Also, was BtVS the first show to do a musical episode?) I love how each character has a different style of song. I love the metaphors in all the songs. I love the cameos from two of the writers who happen to have great singing voices. On the whole, it’s pretty much the most enjoyable way to spend a whole episode focusing on all the characters’ extreme insecurities and other problems. Everything is terrible for basically everyone, but since they’re singing about it, it’s not quite so depressing.
Buffy has gotten to the point where she’s so frustrated with her inability to connect to her own life or feel a sense of purpose or even just strong emotions on a regular basis that she’s beginning to resort to self-destructive measures. That never goes well. Also, she officially feels not only like her friends expect her to be cheerful and normal but that they’ll abandon her to handle her issues all by herself. She’s getting more and more alienated from everyone. This is the beginning of a very bad spiral.
So there are basically two options for Xander in this episode. The first is that he knowingly summoned Sweet, and then kept his mouth shut about it even as it became clear that people were dying. The second is that he lied about summoning Sweet so that Dawn would be off the hook. I’m going to go with option two. Xander has been mostly likeable for the last couple of seasons or so, so I’m not looking for reasons to dislike him. However, he definitely needs to actually talk to Anya about his crushing anxiety about getting married.
I love that Anya’s bit about bunnies is hard rock. It perfectly matches the intensity and frankness of her personality. But it just occurred to me that her frankness is mostly about her observations about other people; she rarely talks about her own fears. She’ll talk about being impatient or confused or happy, but not being afraid. She needs to talk to Xander about how scared she is that Xander won’t still love her when she’s old.
Ohhh, so Dawn is knowingly stealing things in hopes that someone will notice and get upset with her. That’s stupid. Why not do something awesome and get noticed for that? Why is she so desperate to get noticed anyway? All the noticing people did of her in S5 almost got her killed.
Spike is starting to get fed up with waiting for Buffy to come to him. Makes sense. He’s never been terribly patient. I find it kind of amusing (and not in a scornful way) that he wants Buffy to leave him alone, but he can’t leave her alone. It just fits right in with my image of him as someone completely lacking in self-awareness. He can’t see the ways in which he’s contributing to his own problems.
At last there are consequences for Willow’s narcissism! I’m pretty sure this episode is the turning point where things stop going her way. Which, finally. Willow was one of my favorite characters in the early season, but the unchecked selfishness since season four has made her incredibly unlikable. Hopefully this arc will fix those problems and help her grow as a person until she’s sympathetic again. (I vaguely remember that I liked her better in S7, so I’m going to remain hopeful.)
Giles continues to create a false dilemma for himself, and it’s really frustrating, because it just supports my argument that the story as a whole would have improved if they’d actually killed him off in S5. That way, he wouldn’t have to actively contribute to Buffy’s suffering, but she’d suffer just as much. Instead, he wants to leave for her own good, which makes his departure a less logical and even worse timed version of Angel’s departure. Great!
“That would explain the huge backing orchestra I couldn’t see and the synchronized dancing from the room service chaps.”
“It was like we were being watched. Like there was a wall missing from our apartment. Like there were only three walls but not a fourth wall.”
“I was able to examine the body while the police were taking witness arias.”
“I’m just worried this whole session is going to turn into some training montage from an ‘80s movie.”
“Well, if we hear any inspirational power chords, we’ll just lie down until they go away.”
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.