I have always been kind of surprised that many fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are put off by the show’s sixth season. A common criticism of the season is that the stories were just too dark. Oddly enough, that is precisely why season six is actually one of my favorite seasons of the entire series. That isn’t to say that there weren’t any oddball episodes that the fans loved during season six. In fact, tonight on The Witching Hour we look at one of the strangest episodes of the entire series – Once More with Feeling. Expect spoilers.
This episode is similar to earlier stories like season four’s Hush in that the entire city of Sunnydale as been affected by magic. While Hush saw the citizens of Sunnydale unable to speak or make any sort of noise with their mouths, Once More with Feeling sees the entire populace break out into dance and song.
Before we get into the details of this episode, we ought to take a moment to remember where the storyline was at this point in its run. If you have watched the series then you may remember that Buffy had sacrificed her life to save the Earth after her fight with the goddess Glory at the end of season five. This would have been the end of the series but the network formerly known as UPN picked up the show for the sixth and seven seasons. In order to bring Buffy back, Willow uses dark magic to resurrect her but there seems to be something wrong with the Slayer. Over time we learn that Buffy was in a peaceful realm, possibly Heaven, as a reward for her sacrifice. When Willow resurrected her, Buffy’s soul was ripped from the afterlife and brought back to her body and she now perceives the Earth as Hell.
While Buffy slowly adjusts to being alive again, her family and friends are going through their own struggles. Little sister Dawn has become a kleptomaniac. Willow has become addicted to magic and has even resorted to discreetly using it in order to make her girlfriend Tara forget about a recent argument. Xander and Anya are preparing for their upcoming wedding even if Xander is showing signs of apprehension. The vampire Spike struggles with his feelings for Buffy while former mentor Giles feels it is best for the Slayer if he leaves so she would not be so dependent on him.
What I love about Once More with Feeling is that the episode does not waste time with any exposition. It begins immediately with a musical number in which Buffy laments that her feelings about life are mostly dead and how she is acting the way her friends expect without any real passion for being alive again. All of the main characters have at least one song that applies to their individual story. Tara sings to Willow about being under her spell – which she literally is given the forget spell that Willow had cast on her in the previous episode. Anya and Xander have fun little number about the secrets they are carrying into their relationship while Spike has a rock song expressing his frustration that Buffy is tormenting his heart.
Of all the affected people of Sunnydale though, my favorites are not any of the main cast. I like this trio of sidewalk sweepers who perform their little number in the background while Giles, Anya and Xander talk. It just cracks me up and they are damn good dancers too.
It’s not all fun and games though. The force behind these musical hijinks is a tap-dancing demon named Sweet who can belt out a little number himself. He believes that Buffy’s younger sister, Dawn, summoned him and he plans to take the girl as his queen. Upon learning that Buffy is the Slayer, he lures her to the Bronze After singing a power ballad, the rest of the Scoobies go to assist her.
Buffy’s final song comes with the revelation that her soul was ripped from Heaven – much to the shock of her friends. She nearly dies from her dance but is stopped oddly enough by Spike. It is this undead creature who reminds Buffy that regardless of how she came back, she is alive and the only way she will be able to move on is by actually living her life. This is echoed by Dawn repeating Buffy’s final advice to her before she died back in season five – The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.
The episode ends with all of the characters pondering (singing) about where they go from here now that all of their secrets have been laid out in the open. Except for Buffy who seems to have decided exactly where she will go from here…
Although Once More with Feeling is not a scary episode, it is one of the landmark stories from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and easily worth a rewatch this month.