When a non-musical show decides to have a stab at a musical episode, it can go one of two ways. It can be diabolical, feeling completely out of place and ruining the characters and story the fans have grown to love. Or it can be incredible, transforming those characters into a whole new version of themselves that we’ve never had the opportunity to see before. Luckily for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer mega fan like me, the musical episode from Season 6, “Once More With Feeling” was the latter. It is my favorite episode of Buffy for sure, but even more than that, it’s one of my all-time favorite TV show episodes, period. Everything about it just blew me away, the catchy songs overflowing with story-driven, heart breaking lyrics, the revelations revealed within those lyrics, seeing people we never expected to sing doing just that, and best of all there was a reason behind it. I bought the soundtrack on CD as soon as it was released and I still listen to one song regularly to this day.
So before I get into the details of why this episode is so important, let me get you up to speed with what’s happening in Sunnydale as the episode starts. Buffy has recently been brought back from the dead after she sacrificed herself to save Dawn at the end of Season 5. The gang used Willow’s witchcraft to bring her back from whatever level of hell they assumed she was suffering in. Dawn is feeling left out lately and craves some attention from her sister and the others. Willow and Tara are in love, sharing magic and intimacy in the teen gay romance we all wanted. Anya and Xander are also in love, newly engaged and looking forward to their wedding day. Giles is the same old reliable Giles and Spike is, well, Spike’s being Spike. So overall at this point in the season all is relatively good for the Scooby Gang, no major drama. Unless of course, everyone is secretly battling with their own inner demons and not happy at all. Enter stage left, Sweet, one of the coolest demons to ever enter Sunnydale.
The real genius behind “Once More With Feeling” is that each song is not only brilliantly written and catchy, but also filled with revelations that both the characters in the show and the audience had no idea were coming. Anya and Xander admit to each other how much they are worried about their future together in the upbeat “I’ll Never Tell”. Tara realises to her dismay that Willow has been using magic to manipulate her memories in “Under Your Spell”. But most importantly of all, we and the gang discover during Buffy’s “Give Me Something To Sing About” that she wasn’t in hell at all. She was in heaven. I couldn’t breathe for crying the first time I watched the episode, and I still can’t watch that song without getting glassy eyed. Willow thought she was saving Buffy by bringing her back to life, not sentencing her to a life in hell after being expelled from heaven. This would have been a devastating revelation in an ordinary episode, but to learn it via song in this one off episode seems to hit even harder. So let’s take a more in depth look at some of the standout songs and what the lyrics reveal to the viewer.
I’ve Got a Theory/Bunnies/If We’re Together
One of the earliest songs in the episode is this humorous number as the gang try to figure out why everyone in Sunnydale, them included, are singing and dancing. We hear everyone’s theories as the song unfolds, Willow suspects they are trapped in a child’s Broadway dream, Xander puts his foot in it and blames witches before remembering Willow and Tara are that way inclined, and then there’s Anya, everyone’s favourite vengeance demon. She has a theory, that it could be bunnies. When the gang fall silent at her suggestion, and then continue discussing their more likely theories, Anya bursts into a rock anthem solo. She bellows about how bunnies shouldn’t be trusted, how they’re not just cute like everyone supposes and she also questions why they eat so many carrots, and why they need such good eyesight. It MUST be bunnies! She ends her solo by also pointing the finger at midgets. It’s one of the funniest Anya moments of all time and perfectly sets the tone for the episode ahead.
As the gang continue to theorise on what is happening, Buffy interrupts, changing the song to her rendition of “If We’re Together”. She points out that it doesn’t matter what is causing the weird musical day they are having. As long as they are all together, what can’t they face? It’s a soothing song for fans of the show, highlighting the struggles they have already faced together and how she isn’t afraid of anything if she has them by her side. One lyric in particular gives us great perspective on how Buffy thinks as she sings; ‘We have to try, we’ll pay the price, it’s do or die, hey I’ve died twice!’. So far in the series Buffy has seemed distant, and unlike herself since her resurrection. So to hear her sing this song was for me confirmation that she was OK. A great relief that lasted around 30 minutes, as she later tells us she is really not OK.
I’ll Never Tell
This fun but touching song starts with Xander and Anya waking up in bed together. Xander asks if she wants waffles and she asks if he’ll still make her waffles once they’re married. As Xander jokes, Anya gets out of bed and breaks into song. This is another of my favorites as Anya has always been one of the best characters for me. As goofy as Xander is I was happy to see them get together and enjoyed the humour they share in the show. But this song shows the audience that it’s not all waffles and pancakes for this couple. As Anya opens the song, she tells us how Xander is the man for her, and that she’s ready to swap vengeance for love but there’s just one thing, that she’ll never tell. Then Xander sings about how Anya is the one, with her passion and grace, and how he loves being warm in the night when he’s right in her “tight embrace”. But he also has one thing that he’ll never tell. They agree that there’s nothing to tell before unleashing everything they are worried about.
At first it’s funny little issues like Xander snoring and Anya eating ‘skeezy cheeses’. It’s funny to hear those little annoyances that all couples have being sung in such a fun way. And the song is presented as though they are a 1950’s husband and wife in their suburban home which fits the song perfectly. But as the song progresses, the issues get more serious and we realise they may not be the happy couple we thought they were. Anya is worried that she will no longer be attractive to Xander as she ages, and that their happiness is a phase. She was a vengeance demon, so she knows a thing or two about how easily a man can break a woman’s heart. Xander is equally worried that she won’t love him if he isn’t successful, and if he can’t offer her riches. He is also still concerned that Anya is in fact a demon, is that the best type of woman to marry? The song ends with them agreeing that the issues don’t matter as they’ll never tell. But they did just tell. And now they and the audience have to deal with that.
Under Your Spell/Standing Reprise
Earlier in the episode, the wonderful Tara treated us to her love song to Willow, where she sings about how she had lived in the shadows, never noticed by anyone until she met her. Willow had someone made her visible and loved, and Tara deduces it must be magic. The song is really beautiful and shows how deep the two witches’ connection is. The song reaches a steamy crescendo as Willow’s bedroom skills make Tara float into the air. Turns out witches have better orgasms than us mere mortals. No wonder they’re so into each other! The lyrics also get steamier as Tara sings; ‘I’m under your spell. Surging like the sea. Drawn to you so helplessly. I break with every swell. Lost in ecstasy. Spread beneath my Willow tree. You make me complete!’. Tara’s not afraid to sing about the passion behind their love, and this songs sums it all up brilliantly. We were also treated to a song from Giles earlier in the episode, when he sings “Standing” as he helps Buffy train. His lament tells us about how he feels like he’s standing in the way of Buffy’s progression, and that he wishes he could be the father figure she needs. He believes that while he is there, Buffy will always depend on him and never become the self-sufficient warrior she is meant to be. These two songs were touching enough, but then we get the reprisal of both of these songs together after Tara discovers that Willow has used her magic to make her forget an argument they had. Tara is understandably hurt over this after she was tortured by Glory, a goddess who fed on her mind, resulting in Tara losing her identity and becoming a shadow of who she was.
Tara and Giles come together to sing how they wish they could stay, neither of them want to go. But after the revelations of the day they feel they have no choice. Giles can’t continue to stand in Buffy’s way. And Tara can’t trust Willow, whose magical power is growing every day. It’s a heart breaking song, both of these characters are loved a lot by the fans of the show and to hear them sing about leaving is gut wrenching. Tara’s feelings in particular are hard to listen to. She sings; ‘I’m under your spell, God how can this be? Playing with my memory. You know I’ve been through hell. Willow, don’t you see? There’ll be nothing left of me’. It makes me sad to even type the lyrics! Willow and Tara were such a great couple, hearing the disbelief in Tara’s voice that Willow would actually do that to her is really upsetting. And then we have Giles making the decision to leave too. It’s one of the most hard hitting songs in the episode, and beautifully written. We love you Tara.
Something To Sing About
Now onto the best song in my opinion, Buffy’s confessional “Something To Sing About”. By this point in the episode we have discovered many truths, Anya and Xander, Willow and Tara, even Spike has his problems revealed through song. And we also know why everyone is singing and dancing as though Sunnydale is a musical. The dancing demon Sweet believes he was summoned to Sunnydale by the troubled Dawn. It was actually Xander who summoned him, but Dawn’s recent spate of shoplifting made the demon think it was her. His magic causes the town to sing and dance, revealing their deepest secrets and feelings to one another. Eventually you dance until you literally drop. Dead. So as Buffy and the gang reach his hideout to take him down, he insists that Buffy sing for him. “Something To Sing About” tells us how Buffy literally has nothing to sing about, she is numb. The song starts relatively upbeat, as she sings how it’s ok to mess up in life, you just sing a happy song and it’s all made better. The song slowly gets darker, as Buffy sings about how you don’t get to rehearse life, and it can get worse every day. She goes on to explain that her friends don’t understand why she isn’t singing about all of the good things in her life. As Willow watches, looking more and more upset, Buffy drops the bombshell none of us were expecting.
“There was no pain. No fear no doubt, ‘Till 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”. I still get a lump in my throat now just thinking of the scene, and Willow’s face as she realises what she has done. The song ends as Buffy demands the demon gives her something to sing about, before dancing faster and faster as smoke rises from her feet. Before she can die, Spike steps in and stops her. He finishes her song by singing about how the pain that she feels can only be healed by living. She has to go on living. So that one of them is living. Dawn wraps up the song by saying one sentence that is relevant to every character in the show, and probably every person in the audience. She says; ‘The hardest thing in this world is to live in It’. It’s a powerful sentence to end the song that stays with the viewer after the episode ends.
Where Do We Go From Here
The final song of the episode summarises what we as the viewer is left feeling perfectly. “Where Do We Go From Here” is a solemn swan song for the show’s finale and it has the gang questioning how they move on after these revelations. Buffy episodes always had a knack for finishing brilliantly, (remember that last line in “Hush”?) and this is the perfect ending to this episode of secrets being revealed. Where will they go from here? Will Tara forgive Willow? Will Anya and Xander break up? Is Giles really going to leave? And the elephant in the room, what do we do about Buffy? How do we approach the fact that we pulled her out of heaven? The whole episode leaves your head spinning with the aftershock of catchy songs combined with gut wrenching home truths, and it genuinely leaves you thinking there’s no way back from this. A concerning thought for the die hard fans but captivating all the same.
For me, “Once More With Feeling” is the ultimate episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It has the comedy and demon fighting we’ve come to love from the show, it has the added fun of the singing and dancing, and it has those ground-breaking revelations. A musical episode could have been a dreadful choice, and there are nay-sayers out there that claim the vocals are a bit shaky in places, but for me the overall energy that the episode feeds us overwrites any concerns. As a fan of musicals, I was overjoyed at the idea of a musical Buffy episode. But what the show produced was so much more than I expected. The songs are well written, the performances are brilliant, and the way the story is built into the lyrics is just genius. I feel like the episode was tailored specifically for me which I know is ridiculous but it’s just overwhelming how much it affected me. The soundtrack is still one of my favorites to listen to of all musicals and I’ll never stop getting a lump in my throat when I think of the lyrics to “Give Me Something To Sing About”.
Many of the episodes from this ground-breaking show have stuck with me over the years. “Hush”, for its terrifying Gentlemen and killer last line. “The Body”, when Buffy and viewers were left heart broken after the shock death of long time character Joyce, Buffy’s mother. And who can forget “Villains”, where Willow goes full dark after Tara dies in her arms. I get shivers thinking of them all. But when I think of Buffy, my first thought is “Once More With Feeling”. More to the point, I think “They got…the mustard…out” which is ridiculous and hilarious. And testament to how excellently the episode was written. “Once More With Feeling” will never get old for me, and I’ll never stop loving the lyrics to some of the songs. The whole episode works perfectly and I for one will never forget the way it made me feel the first time I watched it. I’ll forever be under its spell, and it certainly gave me something to sing about.