Once More With Feeling is an episode that a lot of fans consider to be their favorite and it definitely tops my list because I’m a sucker for a good musical. In fact, I got introduced to Joss Whedon through Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. I know most of the songs in this episode by heart and honestly wouldn’t change a single thing about this episode. For the most part.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS ENSUE! Don’t read if you haven’t started Season 6!
The episode starts with a short recap of everything that’s been going on up to this point. Spike is in love with Buffy, who only sees his feelings as obsession. Willow resurrected Buffy and Dawn has kleptomania. Xander and Anya finally announce their engagement while Willow and Tara are having problems due to Willow becoming too dependent on magic. The short recap ends with Willow deciding to use a spell to make Tara forget a fight.
The opening is a unique one compared to every other episode. The theme song is played in an orchestral style instead of the usual rock and roll theme. The cast’s faces are shown on the moon with old Hollywood style font. I so wish Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head got a part in this opening but oh well.
The episode starts with the episode title being shown on screen as the overture begins to play. Buffy wakes up as her alarm clock rings. Willow, Tara, and Dawn are seen getting ready, but Buffy stays in bed. Cut to the Magic Box later that day, where Xander and Anya are looking at a bridal magazine, Giles reminds Dawn to go do her homework, Willow and Tara are studying, and Buffy is drawing a white light surrounded by darkness in her notebook.
The overture then leads into the opening song that Buffy sings as she goes on patrol, “Going Through the Motions.” This song is majorly clever with the words syncing with Buffy’s fighting and slaying. She saves some random guy and laments that she wants to be alive. (Reminds me of Matthew West’s “The Motions.”)
The next morning, Buffy goes to the Magic Box after dropping off Dawn at school. Xander makes a funny doughnut joke that Anya apparently heard before. Then Buffy asks everyone if anyone burst into song last night and everyone starts realizing that they did sing in some shape or form last night. This leads into the next song “I’ve Got a Theory.”
This is a funny song because the song is so self-aware. I mean, how many musicals sing about why they’re singing? Scrubs kind of did that with their musical episode, but this song, to quote Commentary the Musical, basically “breaks the ninth wall.” Willow thinks some kid is dreaming and everyone is “stuck inside his wacky Broadway nighmare.”
Xander thinks it could be witches, but gets shot down by Willow and Tara. Anya thinks it could be bunnies, which is met with the sound of crickets. Then she gets this hilarious solo about why she’s afraid of bunnies. It’s hard rock bordering on metal and Anya even plays air guitar. It is awesome.
Then when Giles and Willow sing about how they should get to work, Buffy sings that it doesn’t matter.
It sounds motivating at first, but then you realize that Buffy is completely disconnected from this latest danger. And yet I love it because the motivation is still there. Buffy even jokes about how she died twice. The song ends with the Scoobies saying “There’s nothing we can’t face” with Anya singing “except for bunnies.” Then she wonders if they’re the only ones singing, but Buffy looks outside to a crowd singing about how the dry cleaners got the mustard out.
Later on, Dawn comes in, excited about everyone singing. Willow and Tara decide to get out of the Magic Box to get some kind of volume or text in Buffy’s house while Dawn steals a necklace she spies lying on the counter. You can pretty much tell from the way that Willow and Tara are talking that they actually just want to be alone together.
The two of them are seen walking in a park, where a couple of boys are checking Tara out. Tara jokes about suddenly wanting the boys, but Willow hopes that she doesn’t have to fight to keep Tara. Keep in mind, by the way, that Tara is under the influence of Willow’s spell on her. This leads to Tara singing her beautiful ballad “Under Your Spell.” I know that Tara’s outfit kind of looks like a Renaissance Faire number, but it looks good on her. The song is a sweet number and it would be a genuine one if you forget about the fact that Tara is actually under Willow’s spell. The two of them go back home to…well…you know.
This is where the song loses me because the two of them are basically having sex under false pretenses. Joss Whedon even says in the commentary that this scene was basically porn. Back in the Magic Box, Xander takes note at Willow and Tara’s “get a roominess” while Dawn thinks that the whole musical extravaganza is kind of romantic and doesn’t think that anything can go wrong. Cut to a guy tap dancing so hard he spontaneously combusts.
The next morning sees Xander and Anya enjoying a morning off of work. Anya starts singing “I’ll Never Tell” which turns into a duet with her and Xander. Their duet is sweet, but the cracks in their relationship also show. It’s also delves into their insecurities about the future. The song itself is reminiscent of Singing in the Rain’s numbers, especially when Xander and Anya collapse onto a couch laughing. Anya even tells Giles in the next scene that their song “is a retro-pastiche that’s never going to be a breakaway pop hit.”
As Anya, Xander, and Giles talk about what’s going on with the spontaneous combustions, executive producer Marti Noxon gets a short solo in which her character tries to talk her way out of getting a parking ticket. Giles says that Buffy is looking for information from local demon haunts. Guess where she actually goes.
Buffy asks Spike if there’s anything going on and Spike hates that she’s not coming to see him for, um, other things. At this point the two of them have a very strange friendship going on, with Spike being the only one that Buffy can talk to about being dead and hating her life because she longs for Heaven. Spike tells her to leave, knowing that he could break out into song at any minute. This, of course, leads into his awesome solo “Rest in Peace.”
Now as you know, I have a Texas-sized crush on Spike and the actor that plays him, so even though Buffy is disgusted at the fact that she’s being serenaded, I’m slowly realizing what “Killing Me Softly (With His Song)” actually means. James Marsters, incidentally, actually has a band and some solo albums out, so he gets to show off his skills in this song. You may also realize that he’s not singing in a British accent. But who cares?!
The only thing wrong with this song is that it’s the complete opposite of what Spike actually wants from Buffy. Yes, he’s sick of getting mixed messages from her, but you’re not helping things by singing a mixed message of your own, Spike. And come on, Buffy, he’s serenading you! Enjoy it!
“So, you’re not staying then?”
Not after what you sang to her, you moron!
Back in Buffy’s house, Dawn preps to do math homework. Tara tells Dawn about a lead Willow got about some musical demon that got summoned. Dawn reminds Tara about the fight that she and Willow had the previous night and Tara genuinely forgets and decides to go to the Magic Box to look into the flower that she pinned on her shirt.
Dawn takes the necklace she stole out of the jewelry box and wears it. She starts singing when some demons with puppet heads kidnap her. The next scene shows Michelle Tratchenberg in the Bronze, showing off her ballet skills as her attempt to escape her kidnappers is shown as a really well-choreographed ballet. Dawn slides over to the stage, where she meets the musical demon Sweet, who goes into a nice bluesy villain song, “What You Feel.”
Hilton Battle, who plays Sweet, is a Tony Award winning actor who tap-dances through this song with a devilish charm. Only problem with this song? Sweet assumes that Dawn summoned him and wants to make her his queen. Keep in mind that Dawn is 16 years old at this point. Sweet sends his minions to get Buffy cuz he wants to see her burn.
Over in the Magic Box, Buffy’s training with Giles. Something to note, by the way. Anthony Stewart Head has his own music albums out so this number, “Standing” is his chance to show off his singing. He did it twice in Season 4 and I love this song. But I hate that Giles had to leave because Anthony Stewart Head wanted to leave the show. I get that Giles thinks that Buffy is becoming too dependent on him, but on the other hand, Buffy needs Giles because she’s majorly depressed and can’t lose her father figure when she already lost her mother the previous year. If Anthony Stewart Head wanted to leave, they could’ve killed Giles off. It would’ve made more sense than having Giles destroy Buffy psychologically.
Tara makes her way up to the loft in the Magic Box and finds a book that shows that the flower she wore is Lethe’s Bramble, which is used for spells for erasing memories and mind control. Tara has handled abuse from her family before, so she hates that Willow is starting to abuse her. This leads into a duet between her and Giles in which the two of them sing about leaving the ones they love in spite of how much they want to stay. It really breaks my heart but I side more with Tara wanting to leave Willow.
Spike comes in with one of Sweet’s minions who tells Buffy about how her sister is at the Bronze and how Sweet wants to take Dawn to the underworld to be his queen and then makes a run for it. Buffy expects everyone to back her up, but Giles tells her to go alone. Spike offers to help Buffy, but Buffy refuses it.
This leads into my personal favorite song in this episode “Walk Through the Fire.” It’s an ensemble number that I love singing along to. I relate to Buffy wanting the fire in her heart to come back. The idea of walking through the fire is reminiscent of the idea of “If you’re going through hell, keep on moving.”
Spike broods in an alley over his love for Buffy. He hopes that Buffy dies, but decides to go help her in spite of that desire. Yeah, his love is complicated and messed up. Just go with it.
In the Magic Box, the Scoobies wonder if staying behind was the right choice. They decide to go to Bronze to rescue Dawn and help Buffy however they can. Buffy, however, thinks that she’s alone and she doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth about what actually happened to her.
This leads into my favorite part of the song. Everyone gets a line that builds up to the final chorus.
Buffy kicks down the door to the Bronze, where she confronts Sweet. She makes an offer: “I can’t kill you, you take me to Hellsville in her place.” Sweet tells her to sing and Buffy starts her 11 o’clock number “Something to Sing About.”
This song is another favorite of mine because Buffy is singing about how much she wants to live, but she has nothing to live for. In the midst of this song, Buffy finally reveals to everyone that she wasn’t in a hell dimension like she thought, but in Heaven. (Being Catholic, I of course refuse to believe that Buffy was in Heaven because Heaven is a one-way trip. The show didn’t exactly handle Buffy’s resurrection all that well, but since the show’s canon implies that Buffy was in Heaven, let’s just go with it for now.)
Buffy starts dancing frantically in the hopes of burning up, only for Spike to save her from spontaneous combustion. He tells her that she just needs to keep on living, in spite of how hard life is. Dawn tells her sister “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it” and the number comes to an end.
Sweet decides to take Dawn and leave because she summoned him, pointing out that she’s wearing his talisman. Xander reveals that he actually summoned Sweet and the demon decides to leave because he doesn’t swing that way. Now personally, I think that Dawn actually summoned Sweet and that Xander decided to cover for her, but that’s just my headcanon. Sweet leaves with one last parting shot and then everyone goes into the closing number “Where Do We Go From Here?”
This song is a bittersweet one because they saved the day but the problems they have are still lingering in the air. In the midst of the song, Spike and Buffy leave as the rest of the Scoobies sing of how “the curtains close on a kiss not known…”
Spike and Buffy meet outside of the Bronze. Spike makes a shout out to the Music Man and Buffy starts singing. The two of them go into their final duet in which Buffy pleads about how she wants to feel and Spike wants Buffy to make him feel, leading into the kiss that closes out the episode, curtain closing on them and all. (If I had it my way, Buffy would’ve sang “This can’t be real, I don’t know how I feel,” but I digress.)
What can I say about this episode that hasn’t already been said? You can tell that the cast and crew worked really hard on this episode and in the wrong hands, it could’ve been disastrous. According to what James Marsters said, Joss Whedon has many talents, but he can’t play the piano so the cast was majorly scared of creating this episode. Miraculously, though, the music and choreography and cinematography all came together beautifully. It’s a great episode to sing along to, but not one I can show to casual fans.
I tried watching this episode back in my college days after becoming a fan of Joss through Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. But when I watched this episode for the first time, I didn’t know anything about any of the characters and I honestly wasn’t ready to get emotionally invested in them. Yet. In spite of that, Buffy lingered under my radar. I knew of the show and the characters, but I never dived into the Buffyverse until I felt like I needed it.
My friend Charles shared something on his Facebook that I feel relates to this episode and Season 6 as a whole:
Life is anything but certain and there are a few things that are. God often times reveal our true purposes in life along the way, only giving us hints here and there, but never really revealing the whole thing to us all at once. There is an important reason for this, for it is not through intellectual intuition that one can learn the answers to life’s greatest mysteries…but it is through experience.
Sometimes, God hides the answers to our greatest questions, because in His Infinite Wisdom, He knows we will not recognize the answers even if it were presented to us at face-value. It is only through experience, by living-out our daily lives, that we learn the “hidden clues” that bring us to the answers that we seek. This is the true nature of wisdom, learning something new from something old – of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. You do not need to know all the answers, just have faith that one day you will, and more importantly, that you will finally recognize them when they appear.
Season 6 of Buffy is an emotional rollercoaster. “Once More With Feeling” and “Tabula Rasa” were the calm before the storm. Buffy wasn’t going to get any answers to why she got ripped out of Heaven from Sweet or any Powers that Be. Her reasons to live were right in front of her but she didn’t recognize it because she was lost in her depression. It took her a whole season for Buffy to finally regain the will to live and Spike, being her mirror image, also seeks reason to live which culminates in him regaining his soul.
This episode encompasses Season 6 in a nutshell. The Big Bad wasn’t some demon who wanted to take over the world, but just life itself. And the answer to facing life? Just keep on living.