Once More With Feeling – Great Television?

by Tom Ingram

The general opinion among Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom is that the sixth season is the worst. Beloved characters were twisted and (literally in one case) raped. The show had been very antagonist-driven up to that point, and season six was the only one that didn’t have a “Big Bad”. However, one episode that is usually given as an exception is the musical, Once More With Feeling. It’s true that the episode is a lot of fun, but the song-and-dance format really takes your mind off of the plot and characters. You get so caught up in the music, which is for the most part excellent, that one plain fact gets lost: Once More is not any better than the other season six episodes, and much worse than some of them.

Once More marks the beginning of several much-hated character developments. The previous episode is when Willow first abuses her powers, and this is the one where she gets caught. This is the beginning of the “Evil Willow” arc. Although it’s foreshadowed in the previous two seasons, this is the episode where Giles first verbalises his desire to go back to England. And the first time it’s even suggested that Xander and Anya are having relationship problems is in this episode, in their otherwise hilarious number, I’ll Never Tell. By Hell’s Bells, only nine episodes later, they’ve broken up. Best of all, this episode ends with Buffy and Spike making out, signalling the beginning of one of the most annoying romantic plots of all time. These character problems were a big reason the show fell apart. There’s more to it than just this episode, but this is the one that kicks most of them off.

When you think about it, the plot of this episode is bizarrely convoluted. The ending, where it’s revealed that Xander summoned the murderous demon for a laugh, comes completely out of nowhere. It seems like they got to that point and, lost for a satisfying conclusion, threw in the first thing that popped into their heads and called it Miller Time. At the beginning, when the characters realize that something is making them spontaneously burst into song, they immediately assume that it’s not only something bad, but apocalyptically bad, something that will require all their best efforts to beat. They launch into a musical number about teamwork and friendship and kittens before anyone has died or even been hurt. Even as I watched this episode, that moment left me scratching my head.

Speaking of which, Something to Sing About. That is all. Seriously, what the hell? Pardon my French, but that song is the shittiest ass-spew I have ever listened to. You know what’s the worst part? It’s supposed to be an action sequence. Insofar as there’s any good time to have a twee pseudo-philosophical rambling musical number, the epic final battle is so not it.

There was some good stuff, don’t get me wrong. While it’s clear that certain members of the cast can’t sing worth a damn (and it’s so bad that even I noticed), in general the songs are well-written and well-sung. It’s a lot of fun to watch and listen to (barring Something to Sing About). The climactic ensemble number, Walk Through The Fire, gives me goosebumps. And the best part, Hinton Battle as Sweet. His woefully short moments are the best parts of the episode.

Unfortunately, it had to fit into the larger framework of seasons six and seven. This episode is very entertaining, but it’s not one of the series’ best episodes. It’s not even the best of season six. It is very well put together, but it introduced pretty much everything we hate about season six. And it has Something To Sing About.