In the seventh episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can’t make me summarize something this monumental and brilliant in a sentence or two. That would be oppressive. If you’re intrigued by this, then it’s time for Mark to watch “Once More, with Feeling.”
Where the hell do I go from here?
I have such a ridiculous, lengthy, and absurd number of things to say about this episode that you’re going to get the longest list I have ever made because “Once More, with Feeling” deserves to be discussed FOREVER.
- Thank you to every in this community for NOT TELLING ME WHEN THIS EPISODE WAS IN THIS SEASON. As you’ll see at the end of this post, I didn’t know that this was the musical episode, and when it finally was undeniable, it was like being given a giant box full of puppies on your birthday. Thank you. THIS IS WHY SPOILING ME IS BAD. IT KILLS PUPPIES.
- Let me start off with some general praise before I get into specifics. The fact that a musical episode is explained and acknowledged by the fucking characters themselves will never not be one of the best writing choices that Joss Whedon has ever made in his career. I knew there was a musical episode somewhere in the series, but I sort of expected something kind of purposely cheesy and gimmicky. Which is okay!!! I would have been fine with that. But there was a reason the city of Sunnydale broke out into song and dance, it’s explained without breaking the series continuity, and it is done in a way that respects character development. I am so impressed that I could just melt right here in my seat.
- AMBER BENSON YOUR VOICE IS SO AMAZING.
- Oh my god, the sheer number of references to musical theater are going to end me. I know that every time I re-watch this episode, I’ll catch something new.
- I WAS HAROLD HILL IN THE MUSIC MAN MY SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL, SO SPIKE’S REFERENCE TO “76 TROMBONES” MADE ME WANT TO CURL UP IN A PUDDLE OF KITTENS.
- OH MY GOD BUNNIES.
- No, I seriously thought that this episode would be saccharine and happy and would be a complete one-off story. IT WASN’T. IT WAS FULLY SERIALIZED, ASSUMED THE VIEWER HAD BEEN WATCHING ALL PRIOR SEASONS OF THE SHOW, AND PICKED UP RIGHT WHERE “ALL THE WAY” LEFT OFF. This is genius, and I mean that in every literal, non-hyperbolic sense imaginable.
- Right, and it was fucking gut-wrenching. Let’s take an inherently joyous concept and fill it with unending sadness and uneasiness.
- The idea that a demon would force people to sing the secrets they’ve kept from one another for years is so perfect that it’s totally possible every episode after “Once More, with Feeling” is the worst episode of television ever made. This is it, this is the best thing in the universe, everyone go home.
- Okay, I’m being ridiculous. Let’s be more specific!
- My personal favorite on just one viewing is “Walk Through the Fire.” Gellar sounds best here, and the sheer technical feat of pulling of this scene is unreal to me, especially as all the Scoobies are walking together and singing and the fire truck goes by and I melt.
- I am so happy that the actors’ and actresses’ sang their own parts. Like, okay, some of it wasn’t technically perfect, but it’s really neat to me that it sort of fits the canon? You know, these characters were forced to sing against their will, and most of them don’t ever do it, and so it’s realistic that some of them weren’t that great at it. Sort of? It’s not that I’m desperate to defend the episode or anything, as I’m sure quite a few of you enjoyed it, too, but it was just this neat bit of continuity, intended or not.
- “Under Your Spell.” Oh. My. God. Frank and erotic talk of sex between two lesbians who are main cast members and not a secondary storyline, with the additional subtext of Tara being unaware that she’s literally under Willow’s forgetting spell? Definitely a close second to “Walk Through the Fire.” I can’t ignore the significance of this song, though. I mean, was there even a show on a mainstream network featuring this sort of relationship at all? They’re a sexual couple, they kiss, and they’re prominently featured in the narrative. WHERE WAS I WHEN I NEEDED THIS SHOW AS A BABY GAY.
- God, there’s such a depressing undertone to “Going Through the Motions,” despite that it sounds so whimsical. That clash is what makes half of this so fun.
- You know, the most stereotypical “musical” moment in the whole episode is probably the shortest. Songs about mustard… such a deep, fulfilling subject to sing about.
- Though, on that same note, a lot of “I’ll Never Tell” is very traditional in terms of composition and humor, but there’s a twist to the song that reminded me of “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent. Songs comparing the flaws of a couple aren’t new, but Anya and Xander become more and more brutal in their honesty in a way that’s impossible to ignore. There’s no way the next few episodes won’t address this! And I really liked that dark edge to the song.
- The first really heavy song, though, belongs to Spike, whose “Rest in Peace” is a scathing and bitter message to Buffy about how much pain their friendship is causing him. I feel like it’s not just an important moment for Spike’s character. It does feel like the turning point for the whole episode, as everything becomes hopelessly complex, frustrating, and depressing after this song. For Spike, though, the song is a way for him to express his own frustration with loving someone who won’t love him back. I do understand what it’s like to love without reciprocation, and it sucks. But part of me wishes Spike could understand that Buffy isn’t obligated to love him back just because he loves her. It has to be real and genuine, and he doesn’t seem to want to let her develop that emotion. Well, okay, he does, but he’s impatient about it. We know because of his interactions with the Buffybot (OMG EW I ALMOST FORGOT ABOUT THAT) that he feels there’s no replacement for Buffy and that he needs genuine affection from her, but I think he has to also remember that she just got ripped out of heaven. Give her a chance!
- “Dawn’s Lament” is like two lines long L O L I LOVE IT.
- So there was no better choice of casting in the known universe for the unnamed demon than Hinton Battle. I was first introduced to him through The Wiz and MY GOD HE IS PERFECTION. I actually didn’t recognize him at all in his makeup during this episode. Ugh, ALL HIS SONGS WERE FANTASTIC.
- Like I said, I didn’t expect anything terribly emotional, and I certainly didn’t anticipate any SHIT JUST GOT REAL moments. There are a few unbelievably huge plots twists in this episode, and the one I appreciated the most was Giles’s song (“Standing”) going right into Tara’s (“Under Your Spell / Standing – Reprise”) as a way to communicate to the audience that both Giles and Tara had privately made the decision to leave their partners. It’s so fucking heartbreaking. I honestly wasn’t that surprised by Giles’s admission, but Tara splitting with Willow? NO, THEY ARE MY BABIES, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS.
- I know that in multiple re-watches, my thoughts are going to change on what song I like the most. After writing everything I just wrote, I’m suddenly thinking “Something to Sing About” might actually be the best song here. It’s gorgeous, heartfelt, and Gellar delivers it perfectly. But I’m also drawn to it because it might be the most honest of every song in the episode. I expected that Buffy would hold on to the truth about where she was while she was dead for the remainder of the series. She had resolved to never tell the Scoobies, and I know it’s because she knew it would destroy them. And yet I somehow forgot that the whole point of the demon’s power was to get people to sing the truths they kept secret. I think that conveying something that disturbing and upsetting in a song is just brilliant, and I refuse to stop calling things in this episode “brilliant” because it’s just the best word. It is!
At the heart of this, “Once More, with Feeling” is about deception, whether justified or not. It seems fitting that it is a demon that ultimately causes them all to stop lying to each other. This is Buffy we’re talking about here. But the final full song, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” is a necessary question these characters need to ask each other. Giles and Tara want to leave; Xander is terrified of his future with Anya; Buffy feels she has nothing to live for after being brought back to life; and there are so many problems with the Scoobies that it would take days to list them all. Now, all their secrets are out in the open. What’s the next step? What should they do?
Most of the story lines are left hanging, and I’m glad that “Once More, with Feeling” doesn’t try to give us quick answers. Giles and Tara are still around by the episode’s end, and Anya and Xander haven’t called off their wedding. I’m not sure if the Scoobies have figured out that Dawn is stealing, but I imagine it won’t be long before they do find out. Buffy, though, has the most immediate need for an answer. She lived a full, complete life, and then was stolen from eternal peace to end up back on Earth in her own living Hell. How can she keep going? I don’t know if this is considered canon, but I felt her final dance was meant to be a way to suggest that she wanted to die in that moment, that admitting where she’d been did not give her any relief.
It’s why I appreciate Spike and what he does for Buffy here. He doesn’t tell her to live for him. That wouldn’t work, and his painful and frustrated admissions later prove that he had no hope at the time for Buffy to fall for him. He merely tells her in his own way that life sort of is a living Hell, but that the pain caused by this is only healed by moving on. It’s a powerful statement because it posits that living itself is the only way to combat the existential absurdity we all face. (Joss’s existentialism, I SEE YOU AGAIN, AND I LOVE YOU.) Ugh, and then Dawn echoes Buffy’s final line before death back at her, and I crumple into a flood of feelings.
And at the end of this, Spike and Buffy kiss. Buffy’s existential angst hasn’t gone away, and she doesn’t have all the answers she needs. But at the very least, she knows what she can do after the events of this episode, and she seeks out the physical comfort of Spike. Oh god, it’s real now.
This is just… god, it’s so fucking good. I missed about 30 million subtexts and references and character turns and details, and I know it. This is a dense, glorious, and entertaining episode of the show, easily in the top three with “The Body” and “Hush,” and I just can’t deal with it existing. We’ll do a community liveblog party of this once I’m done with Ascendio this weekend, and I’m gonna need to see this at least forty times more to fully appreciate it. OH, AND LEARN ALL THE SONGS.
And, as a gift from Stephanie, who purchased this, here’s the full video of me watching “Once More, with Feeling” live for the very first time. I nearly fall out of my chair twice. Enjoy!
The video commission for this episode is now archived on MarkDoesStuff.com for $0.99!
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