Written & Directed by Joss Whedon
Let me first mention that I’m not a huge fan of musicals. Loving Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story does not make me love Ryan Murphy’s Glee. The biggest reason this episode retains such unlimited rewatchability is its pure commitment. Not forgetting Whedon or the rest of the cast, I have to say it’s Sarah Michelle Gellar that steals top honors in this standout episode. Her stunning job of portraying a numb and distant Slayer is this episode’s crown jewel. She sells her misery and discontentment in each number, revealing the secret of her short afterlife. Why would a grown ass man almost shed a tear over a show about a teenaged vampire killer? Seriously. How good does something have to be to make a grown man feel so strongly for its imaginary characters? In this case, it only takes one resonate chord. One resonate chord that reminds us all about living. Or in Buffy’s case – her lack of living.
Only Joss Whedon could make me want to sing along with a lady getting a parking ticket. An underworld demon named Sweet has been summoned to Sunnydale, and with him comes breakaway song and dance numbers from hell. Literally. So breakaway that the victim eventually dances themselves to ashes. Buffy and the Scoobies must face their inner demons along with a singing apocalypse in Once More with Feeling. If you’re familiar with season six, then you know Buffy died in the previous season in an act of complete sacrifice. Not content to lose their dear Buffy so unexpectedly, the Scoobies, amplified with Willow, who’s coming into her dark power rapidly, do the unthinkable and resurrect Buffy. Her appearance back on earth is nothing if not devastating. Being ripped from Heaven and unceremoniously dropped back into your rotting body has a heavy burden on your soul and psyche. Buffy kept her secret of Nirvana to herself, never sharing it with the gang – until now that is. This curse brings out your inner most secrets complete with sweeping choruses and dance moves.
Buffy begins her night on patrol when a mysterious song and dance breaks out. The song incorporates the vamps and demons she’s slaying into the big chorus, I love the song here, titled Going Through the Motions.
Every single night, the same arrangement,
I go out and fight the fight
Still I always feel this strange estrangement
Nothing here is real, nothing here is right.
I’ve been making shows of trading blows
Just hoping no one know
That I’ve been going through the motions,
Walking though the part
Nothing seems to penetrate my – heart.
I feel like a thirteen year old girl; just writing about this makes me giddy. What a treat to see these wonderfully written, acted, and directed characters spill their unspoken feelings and desires. Brilliant. These songs are legitimately good too. I mean, we’d all be concerned knowing that Joss has Widespread Panic stickers plastered all over Sunnydale. Willow and Dawn have sparse singing lines since they’re both so terrible at it. Their roles are required for the flow of this episode, singing or not.
Dawn gets one verse into her song and Sweet’s henchmen are there for her. What henchmen they are. Man-sized but with carved wood puppet heads – just creepy enough to punctuate this already mesmerizing episode. Dawn is taken back to Sweet where he sings a great song about how he knows what Dawn’s feeling, reveals a little more about his demonic dances, and tells her he plans to take her home below to the underworld to be his queen. Enter West Side Story sing and dance off.
Giles has his loose-lipped moment in the middle of a slow motion training montage with Buffy. Guilty that his presence is holding Buffy back, he touches on his eventual choice to leave Buffy on her own. Any fan of the show has to be honestly touched by Giles’ fatherly song to his beloved Slayer. The loving relationship between Giles and Buffy sells this show for me all over again every time I watch it.
I wish I could say the right words to lead you through this land,
Wish I could play the father, and take you by the hand.
Wish I could sta – y but now I understand I’m standing in the way.
In full song, Buffy makes her way to Dawn after Giles insists the Scoobies let her face Sweet on her own. The banter between Buffy and Sweet is classic Whedon. Buffy finishes her song and kicks in the back door of The Bronze. I don’t mean like a cop; I mean a like bad ass super hero. The door flies off, splinters and debris shower down. Now that’s a fucking entrance.
Sweet: I love a good entrance.
Buffy: (without missing a beat) How are you with death scenes?
Buffy’s confidence and impeccable delivery literally make me want to hug her. I don’t mean SMG, I mean Buffy herself. I’m gushing and I don’t care – it’s my site. Buffy is my favorite hero. This 16-year-old kid who should be waving pom poms is swinging an axe. The role of hero is so broken down and reevaluated in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Gone is the buff and brawny cigar-smoking male cliché hero, in his place, this fragile, endearing, and fierce young girl. Sold. The concept sold the shit out of me. There will never be another horror/geek genre series that carries the warmth and soul that Buffy the Vampire Slayer embodies.
Buffy finally admits to her friends the terrible truth about her afterlife.
There was no pain, no fear no doubt,
‘Til they pulled me out of Heaven.
So that’s my refrain.
I live in Hell, ’cause I’ve been expelled from Heaven.
I think I was in Heaven. So give me something to sing about!
Please, give me something!
One by one the camera pans across the gang, each showing shock and disgust. Willow shows a looks of pure devastation when she finds out what her growing power has done. The episode sets the tone for the rest of the season, each character knows things they shouldn’t know at this point. Oh, Mr. Whedon, nothing less than brilliant. The episode ends with a sweeping, grand song as Buffy and Spike finally embrace. This is the kind of episode that makes you revere the series. Anya with her crazy anti-bunny song, Tara floating in air singing Lost in ecstasy, beneath my Willow tree… while Willow goes down on her, Anya and Xander’s pre-wedding jitters song/prophecy, and the convincing, legitimate performance make this one for the ages. I implore you to watch, and watch often.