Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episode Guide
Season 6, Episode 7
Once More, With Feeling
Original Airdate: November 6, 2001
Written and directed by Joss Whedon
Songs and music written by Joss Whedon
Shot and broadcast in letterbox
with a 1:85 to 1 aspect ratio
Every time Joss directs, the quality of this show leaps up above not just the other episodes, but almost everything else on television. (Certainly everything on the WB or UPN.) He had been promising a musical episode for years, and I don't think any of the fans expected it to be as artistically successful as this. I mean, sure, I'm a fan and I'm biased, but come on. These tunes are catchy as hell, and coming from a man who only started playing the piano three years ago, I think this is a stunning compositional achievement.
Allegedly, Joss held off on doing the musical for so long because he wanted it to be organic--the lyrical content of the songs grows out of issues the characters were preoccupied with in the previous episode. The songs are not simple expressions of emotions while the rest of the fictitious universe is held on pause; they actually move the plot along. Additionally, this might be the first postmodern musical, since the fact that the characters are aware that they are singing affects events differently than the same thoughts communicated through dialogue would.
The high concept gimmick for this episode is somewhat the reverse of that for Hush. A demon appears in Sunnydale and casts a spell forcing everyone to burst into song at random-- "They gooooooot the MUSTAAAAARD OUUUUUUUUT!!!" The unique way that this creates dramatic conflict is that the characters are forced to sing out their true feelings, whether or not this is a good idea. The best example is the way Spike's face falls when he realizes he's about to tell the woman he loves to piss off, against his will.
Disclaimer: I know very little about specific Broadway musicals (as I tend to loathe them), so any individual references (parody, homage, or otherwise) flew right over my head. Feel free to /msg me with allusions you spotted, or node your own list.
From the beginning:
The opening credits montage is replaced with a much shorter shot (even so, this ep ran 67 minutes with ads) of the moon in the night sky, over which the cast's faces are superimposed. Their names are splashed across the screen in a bright red typeface that went out of style in 1954. Underneath plays a gentle orchestral version of the punk theme song by Nerf Herder.
As Buffy awakes and the Summers household goes about their morning duties, we're treated to an overture that introduces the themes of Something to Sing About and Under Your Spell, which continues playing as we cut to the gang in the Magic Box and then Buffy patrolling. It then segues into Going Through the Motions as Buffy slays a couple vamps and one ram dude.
The next morning, at the Magic Box, the gang discovers they (and the whole town) have all been singing. They begin to discuss what could be causing the problem. Cue I've Got a Theory. Willow and Tara make up some nonsense about having a book at home that might contain answers, and they sneak off to get all googly moogly with each other. They stroll together in a beautiful park and boys check out Tara's body. She and Will begin to discuss how much they love each other, which causes Under Your Spell. Back at the Box, the rest of the gang is not fooled. Not even Dawn, who is happy about the musicality. Cut to a dark alley where an innocent bystander tap dances himself into spontaneous combustion. Sweet, the demon clearly responsible, steps out of the shadows and says, "That's entertainment!" So the songs are not benign.
Xander and Anya awake in bed and begin to discuss what breakfast will be like when they're married. Cue I'll Never Tell. Afterward, the two of them tell Giles he MUST find a way to stop the singing - the implication being that honesty is potentially damaging to their long-term relationship. This scene is all one long dolly shot which features dancing janitors and Marti Noxon as a woman who gets a very dramatic parking ticket. (David Fury played the triumphant dry cleaning client earlier.)
Buffy pays a visit to Spike's crypt to see if he knows from whence the tunes come. Irritated that she's all business, he busts out with Rest in Peace. During that, he dances on a coffin borne by pallbearers, which I think we can assume is that of the immolation victim. Buffy does in fact leave him (ironically, he makes her wait until he finishes the whole song), quite angry herself.
Dawn tells Tara that she's glad Tara and Willow made up. Tara, who doesn't remember the fight, heads off to the Box to find out what that mysterious sprig on her pillow was. Dawn puts on the pendant she stole earlier, sings two lines of a song, and is abducted by freaky wooden men. She wakes up on a pool table in the Bronze, and does an elaborate dance number (not quite ballet, but heavily inspired by it) against the menacing marionettes. This music becomes What You Feel, as the stylish demon (played terrifically by Hinton Battle) reveals himself and his plans to make Dawn, who he believes summoned him, his bride in the underworld.
Buffy and Giles train in the gym in back of the Box. Buffy, without realizing it, expresses her reluctance to take responsibility for Dawn, which prompts Standing. Meanwhile, Tara has arrived and found that the sprig is Lethe's Bramble: "Used for augmenting spells of forgetting and mind control". She and Giles simultaneously sing Under Your Spell / Standing - reprise to Willow and Buffy, respectively. Spike runs in with a wooden boy, who tells them that Dawn is in peril and that Sweet wants Buffy to come to her. (All demons want the slayer.) Buffy: "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday." (In America, the show airs on Tuesday.)
Giles insists that no one help Buffy. She's hurt and offended, and walks off alone, but as everyone sings Walk Through the Fire, they all decide to help her anyway. Buffy arrives at the Bronze and begins Something to Sing About, eventually revealing to the gang where she was when she was dead. She nearly dances herself to death, but Spike stops that. The truth comes out, which is that Xander (not Dawn) used the pendant to summon Sweet, so Sweet decides to leave them in (physical) peace after singing What You Feel - Reprise
Traumatized by all the secrets they didn't want to know, the group sings Where Do We Go From Here?. During the dance, Spike backs into a beam and decides this number isn't for him. He leaves and Buffy follows. They both understand what will happen. They kiss. These words appear:
A TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX TELEVISION PRODUCTION
And curtains literally drop across the frame.
Obviously, most of the content in this episode is in the songs, and important details concerning character arcs are covered in the node for each individual song, by the lyrics.
On September 24, 2002, almost a year after the program first aired, a soundtrack album was released by Rounder Records. Some of us may have already owned a bastardized mp3 version of this CD, because we NEEDED it, dammit, but the official one is well worth the purchase. It's nice to hear the songs with the sound effects from the scenes removed, or more simply, before the effects were added.
The CD contains a 30-page booklet with lots of photos, extensive liner notes by Joss, and every lyric. The album cover, in a welcome departure from the murky goth graphic design of the DVD box sets, emulates a 50's-era movie poster, with painterly illustrations of the actors' faces against a swimming blue sky, and a gold star proudly proclaiming "ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM!" as though the show has been on Broadway for years.
- Overture / Going Through the Motions
- I've Got a Theory / Bunnies / If We're Together
- The Mustard
- Under Your Spell
- I'll Never Tell
- The Parking Ticket
- Rest in Peace
- Dawn's Lament
- Dawn's Ballet
- What You Feel
- Under Your Spell / Standing - reprise
- Walk Through The Fire
- Something to Sing About
- What You Feel - Reprise
- Where Do We Go From Here?
- End Credits (Broom Dance / Grr Arrgh)
- Main Title
- Suite from Restless
Willow's Nightmare / First Rage / Chain of Ancients
- Suite from Hush
Silent Night / First Kiss / Enter the Gentlemen / Schism
- Sacrifice (from The Gift)
- Something to Sing About (demo, sung by Joss Whedon and Kai Cole, his wife)