Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Once More, With Feeling

Summary

The episode starts with a changed credit sequence meant to evoke old time musicals. Then we have a silent sequence of Buffy, Willow, Tara, and Dawn getting up. Tara finds the flower Willow used to cast the forgetting spell in All the Way. The sequence extends to the shop where Anya and Xander are looking at a bridal magazine and Giles makes Buffy go train. Cut to Buffy patrolling in the cemetery. She bursts into song as she slays. She sings about going through the motions, not really having her heart in what she is doing. She finishes by saying she just wants to be alive.

The next morning she goes to the shop and asks Anya, Xander, Giles, Willow, and Tara if any of them burst into song the previous night. It turns out they all did. When asked, Buffy says she can't remember what she sang about. They start singing about their theories. Giles thinks it's a dancing demon. Willow thinks they are stuck in some kid's nightmare. Xander thinks it's witches, but recants when he sees the look on Willow's face. Anya thinks it is bunnies, this is met with total silence. Tara tries to sing, but Anya goes into a rock segment on bunnies. When she finishes, everyone stares, and she says it might be midgets. Willow and Giles start researching and Buffy sings that it doesn't matter. That together they have faced everything and can face anything. That she has died twice and still triumphed. Anya wonders if it is just them. Buffy opens the door and we see a man singing about his dry cleaning. It's not just them.

Dawn arrives, telling them at school they sang about math. Willow and Tara say they have a book at home they think may help and leave. While they talk, Dawn steals something. They actually are just goofing off together in the park. Some guys check out Tara who's surprised anyone would look at her. She starts singing about her love for Willow and how she's under Willow's spell. Cut to their bedroom where they make love and Tara floats off the bed. In the shop, Xander suspects what they are up to. He talks elliptically, but Dawn understands and thinks it's great. She says what can be wrong with songs and dancing. Cut to a man dancing madly and bursting into flames. A demon stands beside him saying "that's entertainment".

Xander and Anya are at home in bed. As they get up, they start singing. First about how happy they are but then about their fears. Xander fears his lack of success will drive Anya away. Anya fears Xander will not love her when she is old and wrinkly. Later, they are walking down the street with Giles, telling him about their song. Anya is particularly upset that it was a retro pastiche and not a breakaway hit. Giles tells them about the cases of spontaneous combustion. They pass a woman singing to a traffic cop asking not to get a ticket for illegal parking. Giles says Buffy is looking for leads.

Buffy enters Spike's crypt. He has no information for her. He sings about her inability to tell her friends the truth about being in heaven. About using him. He says to love him or leave him. But when Buffy walks off he follows her and calls after her. At the house, Tara is talking to Dawn. She says Willow has an idea of who the demon is. Dawn says she's glad Tara and Willow made up. Tara is confused, since she cannot remember them fighting. She tells Dawn she has to go to the shop. Dawn opens her jewelry box and we see she has all the items she stole there, many with price tags still on. She takes the object she took from the shop this episode, it's a necklace, and puts it on. She starts singing about whether anyone notices or cares and these weird demonoids with plastic looking heads grab her.

Dawn awakens in the Bronze. In a dance sequence, she tries to escape from the demonoids. Then a tap dancing, singing demon appears. He's in charge. In his song, he claims she invoked him. He explains about people combusting and says when he leaves she will go with him to hell to be his queen. She points out she's only 15, but this doesn't seem to bother him. She says her sister is the slayer and he sends his demonoids to bring her.

Buffy and Giles are training. He asks if she talked to Dawn about what happened in All the Way. She says she thought he took care of it. He sings of how Buffy has an uphill path that she cannot take because he is blocking her. Of how his presence stops her from hearing and seeing what is around her. Tara comes into the shop and looks up the flower she found in the bed which is used in spells of forgetting. She sings, reprising her love song but with the words "I'm under your spell" having a radically different meaning. Giles begins singing with her. Both say they want to stay, but both feel forced to leave by circumstances. Spike enters with one of the demonoids. The demonoid explains that the demon has Dawn, will take her as his queen, is at the Bronze, and wants Buffy. He flees. Giles says Buffy has to go alone, without them. Spike remonstrates and Giles shuts him up. Willow offers a confusion spell and Tara says no. Spike offers to go with her, but Buffy rebuffs him reminding him that he sang of wanting her to leave him alone. He says he hopes she and Dawn dance until they burn. Buffy, realizing Giles won't help, goes by herself.

Buffy sings of not having any feeling. She uses the metaphor of fire, saying it no longer burns her. Spike sings of the torch he bears for Buffy and how it is burning him. He says he wants her to burn, but then says he better help her. At the shop, Giles sings of having to go stand with Buffy and the others follow him out. Buffy sings of her friends turning from her. She sings of the secret she has to keep. The various songs start melding together. She arrives at th Bronze.

Buffy offers the demon a deal. If she cannot kill him, he takes her instead of Dawn. She starts singing. The demonoids attack and she defeats them. The gang arrive and Anya and Tara become her backup singers. Buffy sings of life and reveals her secret. The gang, especially Willow, are taken aback. She sings "give me something to sing about". She starts dancing wildly and is about to combust, but Spike stops her. He says that life isn't a song, it isn't bliss. It's living. That her pain can only be healed by living. Dawn repeats Buffy's final words before she leapt to her death, "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it."

The demon admits defeat, but he still intends to take Dawn. He says she summoned him and she denies it. He points out she wears his talisman. She says she found it in the shop. Giles realizes it must belong to one of the others. Xander admits it is his. He invoked the demon, thinking it would be a harmless spell which would reveal his and Anya's true feelings. The demon decides he won't take Xander. He leaves, but says they have revealed all their secrets and this is not a happy ending for them.

They all start singing "where do we go from here". Spike breaks off and walks out. Buffy follows him. He tries to send her back and she starts singing about the fire. She sings it isn't real but she wants to feel and kisses him.

Analysis

The version I saw, here in Toronto, had 50 minutes of content and ran 1:04 in total time. I think this is the complete version and the total time was short because previews and maybe some commercial time was cut. If I did miss something, I'd appreciate readers letting me know.

I came at this episode the wrong way. I expected it to completely blow me away, the way Hush and The Body did. I was setting it up to fail. I should have been expecting something more like Superstar. This was a really good but not great episode. It was an episode which attempted really tough things in an often unforgiving medium. It didn't always succeed. It was restricted by the talents of its stars - most of them really can't sing. And the music wasn't all that great either. But it still worked and it worked well. It functioned as a true musical - using music to reveal the emotions of the characters. It advanced the plot and, most importantly, it helped character development. It has moved the Spike/Buffy relationship into new territory. It has created two great problems for Willow - the realization of what she did to Buffy and the realization of how her use of magic is hurting those closest to her including Tara. It has pushed Giles into open recognition of what has been obvious to him since Life Serial, that he has to step aside so Buffy can grow. And it did all this while being a lot of fun to watch and listen to.

One thing it didn't do was alter the Xander/Anya relationship. Yes, they both revealed their fears about marriage and their relationship. But these are just normal fears. And if they've ever read a book or seen a movie, they are familiar with them. Xander's fear that his possible lack of success will turn off the very materialistic Anya is a natural one and one which the events of last week should have reassured him about. In All the Way, when he announces his engagement Anya throws money away. No statement of her love for him being the biggest love in her life could be greater. Anya's fear that age and the fading of beauty will cause Xander's love for her to fade is equally natural and one which was addressed way back in Into the Woods when Xander first proclaims the depth of his passion for her saying she makes him feel like a man. It is the emotions she evokes in him and not her physical appearance he focuses. So their prewedding jitters just don't seem that serious and don't look likely to derail things.

Buffy and Spike, however, can never be the same again. In her opening number, Buffy says she just wants to be alive. Since being pulled from heaven by Willow, she has been dead inside. The walking dead or undead you might say. No wonder she finds herself attracted to Spike. Her emotions have been stunted. She doesn't have any strong feelings any more. She doesn't strive to control her life. We've seen her hand over responsibility to Giles and turn to drink when faced with real problems. Her inner drive has vanished. And feelings, strong feelings, have always been Buffy's trademark as a slayer. They are what the council don't like and what have made her the most successful of slayers. She defeated the Master, Spike, and Angelus (all of whom were capable of destroying slayers). And those were her easiest opponents. She always did this in a strongly emotional state. Her love of her friends, of Angel, of her family, have always made the difference for her. That strong feeling drove her to success. And now it's gone.

When Buffy sings that together they can face any enemy, it sounds positive. But actually, it's a fatalistic approach. While she is saying that they will triumph, she's basically ignoring the urgency of the situation. She talks about dying as if it is nothing. She is speaking not as someone who is brave but as someone who doesn't care. Later, Giles says she has gone to investigate leads, but in the next scene we see her at Spike's crypt. Spike talks about being immune to the singing, yet as Buffy stirs his emotions he sings. While Buffy has been singing about being without emotion, just going through the motions, Spike sings the reverse. He's overwhelmed with emotion and it is just as devastating for him as the reverse is for Buffy.

As always, Spike sees to the core of the matter. He realizes that Buffy talks to him because she cannot talk to her friends. That she has told him the truth because she believes it is safe. As a dead man, she treats him as an object. But in The Gift, Spike said she treated him like a man, no adjective. This change angers him and legitimately so. She has no consideration for his feelings, falsely believing he has none. But the fact that he is moved to sing proves otherwise. He gives her the lover's ultimatum - return my love or leave me alone (see Richard III for the best version of this). But he doesn't mean it. He's genuinely in love with her. He can't imagine life (or undeath) without her. So when she leaves, he follows. When she walks off, he calls after her. He claims to seek the peace of the grave, but Spike already knows there is no peace there. He wants the fulfillment of a relationship.

Buffy realizes exactly how to hurt Spike and that is an indication of his depth of feeling for her. He offers his aid and she rebuffs him. She reminds him of his song, wanting to be left alone, and uses his love as a weapon. Angry he runs off wishing her dead. But Spike is incapable of really meaning that. And Buffy, somewhere deep inside, knows it.

Buffy uses the metaphor of fire in her song. She talks of being immune to the fire, of wanting it back. She's talking about the joy of life which has left her. The thing Willow was not able to resurrect. Spike sings of how his love for Buffy has engendered the spark within him. The fire of life is burning in him for the first time in a very long time. Giles and the others try to bank the flames, but find they cannot. They have to give in to the fire which demands they follow Buffy. The demon demonstrates the two fold nature of fire. It is both destructive and generative. Even as real fire both makes life possible (providing warmth and protection) and takes life, so the metaphorical fire of emotion both motivates and enlivens but, unleashed and uncontrolled, leads to the spontaneous combustion of its victims.

Buffy, longing for the positive effects of fire, almost combusts. She's saved by Spike. He stops the fire from burning her up, just as she created the spark in him giving him life. In the final scene, Buffy realizes that Spike is capable not only of stopping her from burning, but of reinvigorated the emotional spark she needs. Kissing him is her way of reaching for the flame. Her song, about seeking the fire, now has another meaning. Originally, it was a song about marching into danger and accepting her fate. A song about desiring the passion of the warrior. Now we see it is also about more conventional passions. With the loss of Riley, Buffy has been without an external focus for her love. She has vested all her passion in her friends and family, but Dawn is turning into an adult who will not need her and her friends have moved on. We saw this in All the Way, where Dawn demonstrated she was maturing and developing an independent life and where Xander and Anya announced their engagement. This week, we see Giles making clear his intention to leave. The natural process of life is removing these people from Buffy's immediate circle. And since the loss of Riley, there has been no one else. Spike may now take on that role.

Spike, true to his undead nature, combines both the destructive and generative elements of fire. He sings of wanting Buffy to die, but he also goes to her aid. He is torn between saving and killing her. And it is his nature which allows him to deliver the needed message to Buffy. He tells her that life is about living, not bliss. That the only way to overcome her pain is to live. He knows this because he chose to overcome his pain through death and his unlife. But it didn't work. We know Spike was unhappy in love from Fool For Love. But in unlife he ended up in a similar relationship with Dru and now has the same problem with Buffy. Death, or a simulation, never solved his problems. But there is another meaning to his statement. Not only must Buffy literally live to overcome her problems, but she must metaphorically live. She needs to get back into the world, to enjoy herself, and to take the risks which life presents us. Dawn drives this point home when she repeats Buffy's dying words from The Gift, "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it."

Buffy, realizing she needs to feel, to embrace life again, kisses Spike. But she prefaces this with the remark that it isn't real. It is real for Spike. Buffy says as much in Intervention, when she tells Spike "What you did for me and Dawn -- that was real. I won't forget it." She wouldn't be kissing him now if she didn't realize his passion, his yearning for life, was as real as hers.

Tara, in her love song, talks about how what others see in her is Willow. She is the moon to Willow's sun. Her beauty a reflection of Willow's love. She talks about being under Willow's spell, an ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan by the magic of love. Only she discovers Willow has used a real spell. She has used magic to make Tara forget their argument. And now Tara doesn't know what else she has been made to forget or how else she has been altered by Willow. The magic of love is now the magic of ancient texts and blood sacrifices. Willow's sun goes into eclipse and Tara no longer knows what she is. Her sense of self, the happiness she has found with Willow, the inner strength she has developed, all are threatened by this revelation. It isn't a matter of a convenient little spell. It's a matter of the central relationship of her life being based on a foundation of lies. The use of the metaphor of the love song (being under a spell) in both of Tara's Willow songs shows the thin line dividing happiness from sorrow, good from evil. Without even seeing it, Willow crossed the line. The same thoughts which brought so much joy to her lover now bring unthinkable pain. Tara said Willow made her complete and her betrayal unmakes her. It leaves a hole in Tara which Willow may never be able to repair.

But that pain is nothing compared to Buffy's suffering. Tara suffers as a human lover, something many others share. But Buffy saw heaven. She was at peace. And Willow took that from her. And Buffy, whose heart was closed, could not tell her. Buffy was fatalistic and already saw herself as dead, as in hell. She goes to face the demon expecting to die. The demon spell revives her emotions and she bursts out with the truth she can no longer keep hidden. A truth she previously could only whisper in the dead man's ear. But now she has told her friends and her pain is lessened through the sharing. But Willow's pain is immeasurably increased.

Dawn sings about no one noticing her or caring about her. So I guess her theft is meant to be part of the natural teen desire to get attention. It's interesting that she leaves the stolen objects in an unlocked jewelry box and even leaves the price tags on them. Anyone who looked would find them and realize they were stolen. It's also interesting that when Dawn does become the centre of attention (when the demon wants to make her his queen) she's eager to get out of the spotlight. She's teenage angst personified. She wants the externals of adulthood but is only emotionally prepared for the realities of childhood. In this way, she somewhat parallels Buffy in her relationship to Giles. Buffy is dealing with the realities of adulthood, but is attempting to create a childlike situation for herself through her reliance on the father figure of Giles.

Giles has been realizing this for a while and realizes it once again during the training session. He sings of how he would like to slay her demons, to take her by the hand and be her father. He did this once before, in The Gift when he killed Ben realizing Buffy could not do it and she would suffer if Ben lived. That was a pivotal moment for Giles. He killed a human who was, for the most part, innocent. He did it not because of an immediate threat, but because of a perceived future danger. He stepped over the line from watcher to doer. He may have assured his own damnation. But even as Willow was willing to risk that to bring Buffy back from the dead, he was ready to risk that to protect Buffy. But the demons which beset Buffy now aren't so easily dealt with. She's not a child and a father can't help her. She needs to help herself. This song is the saddest moment of the episode. It deals with his heartbreak at having to leave the daughter he loves because it is the best thing he can do for her. And it also demonstrates why he has to take such drastic action - she doesn't hear him. Nothing he can say can change the situation. He has to act.

The pain Giles feels at having to leave Buffy for her own good, of realizing that as her father he is hurting and not helping her, is paralleled with the pain Tara feels at Willow's betrayal of her trust. And Willow, like Buffy, does not hear that song. Both of them are trapped in an illusion. That illusion shatters when Giles refuses to help Buffy and when Buffy finally reveals her deepest secret.

Some quick final thoughts. It's interesting that Giles' initial theory about the dancing demon was right. I loved the Willow/Tara bedroom scene in which Willow is clearly making love to Tara and she floats off the bed. And, of course, there was the nice bit of repeating 'you make me complete' and cutting that scene before the last word making you think of the first syllable. I love Anya's anger at having the retro number and not the breakaway hit. As wonderful was Anya patting Giles on the shoulder after he talks about his inability to help Buffy. And equally interesting was the initial shot of Spike's crypt when Buffy goes there. An unusual and really interesting angle. Those weird demonoids who help the demon are the creepiest things I've seen on Buffy since Hush. It's nice that just as the gang all start moving to the Bronze to help Buffy, she starts singing of how they have all turned away from her. The string of cliches Buffy sings as she fights the demonoids is great. It reveals how life has become meaningless to her. I liked the way Spike says Buffy has to live so one of them is alive.

Lines of the week:

"I just wanna be alive." - Buffy's one wish.

"What's with all the carrots?" - Anya asking a really good question about bunnies.

"Oh my god, I'm cured. I want the boys." - Tara and Whedon having some fun with the audience.

"Spread beneath my willow tree." - Tara getting as graphic as prime tv is likely to get.

"What else would I want to pump you for?" - Buffy saying exactly the wrong thing to Spike.

"There's a traitor here beneath my breast." - Spike realizing that his unbeating heart still has a metaphorical function.

"I thought you took care of that." - Buffy hammering home the point that she'll never do anything if Giles remains.

"I'm just standing in the way." - Giles accepting his fate.

"Dawn's in trouble. It must be Tuesday." - Buffy understanding how tv programming works.

"I'll never want your opinion." - Giles shutting down Spike.

"First I'll kill her, then I'll save. No I'll save her, then I'll kill her." - Spike unable to make up his mind in a Buffyverse in which both are actually valid options.

"What if I kill you?"
"Trust me. Won't help." - Buffy with a gloomy outlook on death.

"I live in hell because I've been expelled, from heaven." - Buffy revealing her secret.

"The hardest thing in this world is to live in it." - Dawn remembering the lesson her sister taught her.

"The day you suss out what you do want, there'll probably be a parade." - Spike losing patience with Buffy.

"This isn't real." - Buffy about to kiss Spike.

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