Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 7: Once More, With Feeling
Written and Directed by Joss Whedon
This is the last great hoorah of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it’s strong and unique enough to give me reason to reconsider my desire to consign the final two seasons to the scrap heap. In this very special episode, a spell is cast that causes the inhabitants of Sunnydale to pour out their hearts in song, saying everything that they otherwise wouldn’t dare to say. As such, with its literalism and pushing of the subtext out into the open, it’s very much a Season 6 episode, but it’s handled with enough skill here for me to wonder if the season would have worked after all has Joss Whedon been in charge of it. (This was the only episode he wrote and/or directed during this season, with Marti Noxon handling day-to-day showrunning responsibilities, although Whedon undoubtedly signed off on everything that made it to the screen.)
Tacky as it sounds, it’s an undeniable hoot to see the cast members stretching their vocal muscles. Everyone provides their own voice for the musical numbers (Sarah Michelle Gellar was originally going to be dubbed, but she changed her mind when she read the lyrics and saw how integral they were to the characters), and some sing more than others depending on their relative talent. Gellar has the hardest time, since, as the lead, she obviously has to do a fair amount of singing. She’s not great, but she’s considerably better than I expected. In comparison, Alyson Hannigan and Michelle Trachtenberg are pretty bad, but thankfully only get a couple of lines here and there, while Nicholas Brendon and Emma Caulfield sing like troopers and generally do far better than one would expect. Unsurprisingly, it is the three cast members who have sung in a professional capacity - Anthony Head, Amber Benson and James Marsters - who impress most.
Bad points? Well, as unique as it is, it’s not a bona fide classic like Hush or Restless, and that’s because, despite how high it aims, it doesn’t always succeed. Giles’ sudden decision not to help Buffy, after Dawn has been kidnapped, lacks motivation (yes, we know he feels that, by always being there to prop her up, he’s “standing in the way”, but her sister has just been kidnapped by a demon from the depths of Hell, for god’s sake). Likewise, the revelation that Xander summoned the music demon (Xander casting a spell - pull the other one) and then didn’t say anything, despite it resulting in fatalities, is so out of character it’s laughable. Additionally, the inconsistent quality of the vocal performances does jar at times, while a sequence in which Marti Noxon actually appears on screen to sing about getting a parking ticket is the kind of self-indulgent crap that I highly doubt she would have submitted to had she known that, a few episodes down the line, jaded viewers would be baying for her blood. It’s ultimately the best episode of the final two seasons, though, and, although I said I never wanted to see these last two years of Buffy ever again, I would be willing to make an exception for this episode.
Overall rating: 9/10.
Next time: Tabula Rasa.