Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling   Rewatch 
January 20, 2016 9:34 PM - Season 6, Episode 7 - Subscribe

A dancing demon gets Sunnydale singing, and the Scoobies spill all their secrets.

Previously discussed here.
posted by yellowbinder (21 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest against watching this episode on Netflix, at least in Canada. It's the syndicated version, missing about 7 minutes! I turned it on tonight. I was puzzled by the lack of an overture, and when "I've Got a Feeling" ended abruptly with the rock opera bunnies part, excising completely the whole "What can't we face if we're together" part I shut it off in horror. I'd be curious to know the rest of the cuts, but I just can't sit through it in that state.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:37 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

excising completely the whole "What can't we face if we're together" part I shut it off in horror

Wow that's a serious cut!

There's no doubt that this is a really great episode. It's a bit of a triumph, in that it feels like a proper musical. It's dramatic, it's moving, it's very funny. The songs are actually quite catchy and while for the most part they're not terribly complex (the best is probably Amber Benson and Antony Head singing together, as they have the best voices of the cast) they are all not only likeable, but well suited to the cast.

We open with Going Through the Motions. Obviously Buffy needed to open the musical, she's the lead after all, but it's still a brave move as Gellar's voice simply isn't as strong (and was aware of it, she gamely soldiered on though, while Hannigan gets one line. Notice how much singing she does in How I met Your Mother). She carries it though with a fair supply of emotion. Musicals allow writers to cheat and let their characters say out loud things they usually wouldn't, and, to be fair while we knew a lot of what Buffy sings here just from her performance, this underlines it. The staging of the fighting is really funny, and I love the handsome man tied up for a ritual of some kind. I feel like, if I was a demon who was going to be dying by the Slayer's hand, I'd like to at least participate in a musical number with her first.

We then have "I've got a Theory" which is primarily there to deliver jokes, but again get's to portray character by having Buffy clearly uninterested in the whole matter. Her speech would be inspirational in other circumstances but here it's a sign of her impatience with the whole thing.

"I'm Under Your Spell" is an interesting one. It's a pretty song, and the obvious irony is nice and allows us to have the reprise in the magic shop. But I think it is indicative of how Tara thinks of herself. Both Tara and Willow sort of haven't grasped the fact that they've changed from the inward nerdy girls they once were. Tara thinks that her new personality is due to Willow, but while Willow absolutely helped Tara out of her shell, the change is permanent. In a way, Tara's separation from Willow is a good thing for her because it allows her to realise that she can be her own person. She can enter a relationship with Willow as an equal now.

"I'll Never Tell" is very funny and a really good number to give Xander and Anya. Harris' voice again isn't incredibly strong, but it's fine for this song. Of course it's tainted somewhat in this song is meant to be indicative of problems looming, but it doesn't really come across that way: most of the issues they describe are hardly relationship destroying. In fact, Xander doesn't seem to be super worried about his parental issues, which is the main thing that drives him away from Anya in Hells Bells.

I love the refrain "Whisper in a dead mans ear, doesn't make it real,". Rest In Peace is a very perceptive song about Buffy's motivations for hanging out with Spike, but also manages to communicate how confused he is; does he want Buffy around or not?

Poor Dawn doesn't get a full song, but she does get a terrific dance number and to be sung at by the villain, who is a lot of fun even if he doesn't make a great deal of sense (his reason for leaving is gay panic?)

Giles song is a good one, but again has to carry a burden of justifying a character decision that doesn't make sense. It's a good attempt at doing so, the idea that he's incapable of not trying to help Buffy, but it seems to make no distinction. As I mentioned before, in Season 5 he was fully capable of dispensing the tough love Buffy requires, but here he just engages in relationship mad libs. Why would sending Buffy alone to fight sweet make any sense? Buffy fights demons alone literally every night. It's not the real demons she's having trouble with, it's the metaphorical ones. And she needs support, and she goddamn needs therapy, and anyone who thinks that leaving is a good idea after someone confesses to being torn out of heaven is a goddamn sociopath. I know, I know, we just have to accept it but it really dominates this and the next episode.

"Walk Through the Fire" is the mandatory cast sing along, and it's fun for that. The Fire Trucks appearing behind the cast on cue is really, really rad.

Finally we get to the song I really want to talk about, which is "Something to Sing About". Look at how angry Buffy looks when she sings. This song is her denouncing her friends, finally her largest secret is released and she can let them know how she feels. I love Gellar's performance here, and how this is an excellent expression of what depression means to some people. The thing is with depression, it doesn't matter what you have: "the million things or more", it matters what you don't have . And we have the message from Spike that sometimes in real life
"The pain that you feel
Only can heal,
By living."

Love it.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:19 AM on January 21, 2016 [16 favorites]

I'll just say that Once More With Feeling was the episode where I realized that I might also be going through a bit of a depression. Probably more than a bit, maybe a big thing.

And while that realization didn't make the whole depressed thing go away, it helped me realize what was going on and how to find a way around it.

I will never stop loving this episode.
posted by teleri025 at 9:58 AM on January 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

the villain, who is a lot of fun even if he doesn't make a great deal of sense (his reason for leaving is gay panic?)

I found it came across as a "ehhh, not my thing; pass" not a gay panic. Hard to imagine you could be a musical theater demon and have an issue with homosexuality.

I would not fight over it, but it's possible "she needs backup" is the best gag ever done in the show.
posted by phearlez at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Re: the "Xander summoning Sweet" bit that most people hate. I don't need a reason for a demon to show up in Sunnydale, but if someone had to summon Sweet, why not the amoral kid with a passion for all things pop culture and previously-demonstrated talent for summoning demons--Andrew?

She [Tara] can enter a relationship with Willow as an equal now.

But they don't interact as equals post-breakup. Willow gets demoted to Junior Partner. After Wrecked, she stops doing magic, so Tara is the more powerful witch by default (Willow's greater power was a source of insecurity for Tara in Season 5.) And then Tara defends Willow in Older and Farther Away because Willow is apparently too fragile to handle it herself. And then Tara gives Willow instructions on how to handle her magic sobriety, because Willow is apparently too dumb or messed up to figure it out on her own. And then Tara reassures Willow about the Girl-Who-Tara-Kissed-On-The-Cheek-Just-When-Willow-Happened-To-Be-Watching, because Willow can't self-soothe.

Meanwhile Willow contributes absolutely nothing to the relationship in their interactions. She doesn't apologize for the memory spell. She doesn't help or support Tara with anything. Her only role in the reconciled relationship is to supply kisses and sex (while Tara once again reassures Willow when Willow thinks she might be the only who didn't know about Buffy and Spike).

I think Tara's growth in confidence is great. But the show gives me no reason for her to want to be with Willow. If Tara were meant to be less saintly, there might be an interesting dynamic where Tara needs to be the one who calls all the shots in the relationship and she likes Willow to be insecure and constantly in need of Tara's help and reassurances. But I don't think that's where they meant to go.
posted by creepygirl at 12:22 PM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of the best Buffy episodes, and also one of the best musical episodes in any non-musical show, for making that (all too rare) choice of having the songs actually deepen the characterization and advance the plot of the entire season rather than just being a chance for the writers to do something different because they got bored.

creepygirl, that's an interesting point about the relationship between Tara and Willow in this season. I can't remember if that ever occurred to me when I was watching it through, but it makes a lot of sense.
posted by johnofjack at 4:21 PM on January 21, 2016

I love Anya's child bride comment. "that never works...maybe once."
posted by miss-lapin at 11:58 PM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

As revolutionary and format-busting as this episode feels, they weren't actually the first genre show to do a musical episode. Lexx did an absolutely ass-kicking operetta in 1999 and Xena did a musical in 1998. The Lexx one may lose a lot of its power if you don't know the rest of the series, but then again I suppose you could say the same for OMWF. I've never seen the Xena one.

Does anybody know if there were earlier shows with musical episodes? I think Buffy introduced a lot of people to this trope, and adventurous or self-indulgent showrunners have run with it ever since.

Xander summoning Sweet is perhaps his low point, it's just pitiful. I have a feeling they intended to give the job to Dawn, but felt like it was just too childish and stupid so they gave it to Xander and tried to make it a joke. But it's really a TERRIBLE, DUMB mistake. What the F were you thinking, Harris?!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:17 AM on January 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

(I have a feeling DS9 would have done one, if the show had gone on. There were some great singers on that show, and they could do some thing where the Prophets put Sisko in a coma and try to send him a message via a big weird musical version of his life. That show was really bold and took crazy risks like that, and they could explain pretty much anything with, Prophets did it!)

Come to think of it, I'm glad we never got the BSG musical episode. "Six, are you real, or just a figment in my head?" "Gaius, listen close now, or you will soon be dead..."
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:32 AM on January 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I honestly dislike Xander and so him summoning sweet makes sense to me in that he's just in full on panic mode about the wedding.I think we're meant to suspect Dawn because that's the type of bonehead thing she would do.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:37 PM on January 23, 2016

I mean I could sit here and list all the things that delighted me beyond measure about this episode, but instead I will focus on one thing:

I was 13 when this aired (in 2001), and when Buffy and Spike kissed at the end, it blew my fucking mind, way more than anything on TV ever had before. And I watched a LOT of TV. But nobody I knew watched the show except my parents,* and I was like burning with the need to talk about this incredible development on my most favoritist of shows.

So I thought to myself - man! I wonder if there's someplace on the internet where I can go and talk about Buffy with other people!

I'd used the internet plenty before, but I'd never used it to converse with people I didn't already know. It was all browsing Angelfire sites and AIM chats with classmates. This was the first time it had ever occurred to me to seek out an 'online community' of any kind.

I found myself a Buffy message board, a small cozy one with only a couple hundred active users. I started posting there, and made my very first internet friends, and then I discovered that they - they, who were mostly full-grown adults - thought I was in my late teens because of the way I wrote. It was incredibly validating for me, an awkward nerd kid who was perpetually unsure of herself. I went on to become a moderator of that message board, and posted there for several years; and, well, now I'm here, and on Tumblr, and in general online interaction with strangers who share my niche interests has become a major part of my life.

And it is a DIRECT result of Once More With Feeling.

*this became extremely awkward later in the season, when Buffy and Spike started having violent hatesex
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:58 AM on January 24, 2016 [11 favorites]

(However, I can't avoid saying that I both love and slightly resent this episode, because I always sort of suspected that it was the last time Whedon really cared about the show. He clearly poured an enormous amount of effort into the musical - but this season was concurrent with Firefly, and at the time I really got the vibe that OMWF was his last hurrah and he had very much moved on from Buffy, and that the show wound up suffering as a result of that.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:59 AM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Xander has obviously been terrified of the wedding all season. You don't wait 6 months to announce an engagement you're on board with. It's funny then that I'll Never Tell isn't that harsh, it very much does come across as minor wedding jitters, and we can already tell in previous episodes that it's worse than that. See also the look of horror on Willow's face when he announces it in All the Way. Only slightly less horrified than she is here at Buffy's revelation.

But yeah... Xander casting the spell still rings so hollow. He's already often such a problematic character that I can't say this ruined him, but it really doesn't help. I try to ignore it.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:37 AM on January 24, 2016

Re: the "Xander summoning Sweet" bit that most people hate. I don't need a reason for a demon to show up in Sunnydale, but if someone had to summon Sweet, why not the amoral kid with a passion for all things pop culture and previously-demonstrated talent for summoning demons--Andrew?

I read that as a cough and a handwave 'oh, we need a reason for the story to happen, ok there it is, right MOVING ON'
posted by Sebmojo at 4:05 PM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I love Anya's child bride comment. "that never works...maybe once."

I've never got that - is there a joke I'm missing?
posted by Sebmojo at 4:07 PM on January 25, 2016

I read that as a cough and a handwave 'oh, we need a reason for the story to happen, ok there it is, right MOVING ON'

It totally is, but I think most people expect more from one of this series' crowning achievements.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:40 AM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I love Anya's child bride comment. "that never works...maybe once."

I've never got that - is there a joke I'm missing?

From the Buffy Wikia:
When Anya says that underworld child bride deals never end well, 'Well, maybe once,' it is presumably a reference to Persephone, stolen bride of Hades and Greek goddess of springtime. Anya's doubt probably comes from that in some myths Persephone is held captive against her will, while in other ones they are a merry couple.
I think it was either that or just a throwaway joke.
posted by Etrigan at 7:45 AM on January 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Why would sending Buffy alone to fight sweet make any sense? Buffy fights demons alone literally every night.

The idea there isn't that he's sending Buffy alone to fight Sweet; he's sending Buffy alone to take care of Dawn. That there's a demon involved is more or less irrelevant.

Recall the key exchange from earlier in the episode:
Have you, uh, spoken to Dawn at all about the incident at Halloween?

I thought you took care of that.

This one really registers. He stops, turns to look at her. She doesn't get it.


What would I do without you.
So later, when informed that Dawn summoned the demon and now is dealing with the fallout thereof, he sees this as a parenting issue that Buffy needs to deal with herself, rather than falling back on Giles to take care of it again. He has confidence that Buffy can take care of the demon; it's dealing with Dawn that he thinks needs to be forced.

...and then he's reminded that, true as that may be, Buffy might actually need backup on the demon thing, plus he's Giles; the only way he's able to keep himself from helping ultimately involves a plane ticket. (And even then he keeps working on it, just he's able to confine himself to the big picture.)

I agree that the welp-Sweet's-not-gay-for-Xander ending doesn't make a lick of sense, but I figure that something had to give. If the point where Joss pooped out was in devising a better ending, that seems preferable to having lost any of the many, many things this episode does brilliantly.

As you may gather from the above, I own the script book, and I love this episode. A lot.
posted by Shmuel510 at 7:08 PM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just popping into this thread very late to wish OMWF a very happy 15th birthday. (Fifteen. YEARS.)
posted by ilana at 4:09 PM on November 6, 2016

It's been over 19 years now! And the thing that weirdly nobody seems to ever mention about this episode is that Buffy shows up to Sweet's lounge having already given up. She walks in, he says his line about liking a dramatic entrance, she responds, "How about death scenes?" which f3eels pretty on-brand for her but then... she just tries to make a deal with him to take Dawn's place, literally saying that she can't beat him. Like, we've been making the point about how checked-out Buffy is all episode but this is another level. And then - and here's the big thing that seriously nobody ever mentions - she tries to kill herself.

And nobody, save for Spike, tries to stop it.

That's some rough chuckles to end the episode on.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:09 PM on November 17, 2020

So I am coming to this rewatch very late, but also after the revelations have come out about Joss Whedon’s behavior on the set, and his dislike for the character of Spike and assault of James Marsters over it, and I think it actually helps make sense of the kind of weird way we have Spike acting in the 6th season - because Whedon was writing him as more of an asshole, but Marsters was transforming the lines through solid acting and probably his own headcanon of what the character was doing.

So you see truly awful lines like “I’m free if that bitch dies” being put in Spike’s mouth, written by Whedon, and you see Marsters doing this incredible acting and managing to convey this sense of self loathing and “I don’t even believe this as I’m saying it.”

I’m wondering now if the death of Spike later was a very Kevin-Sorbo-Tyr-Anasazi thing, where Whedon didn’t like that this good looking guy was the focus of the fandom, and wanted to Do Something About It. I’m also seeing Xander more and more as the Whedon insert character, and wonder if Xander’s problems with commitment mirror Whedon’s issues with commitment.
posted by corb at 8:45 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

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