There are great Buffy episodes: “Prophecy Girl,” “Surprise/Innocence,” “Passions,” “Bad Girls/Consequences,” “Fool for Love,” “Conversations with Dead People,” “Lies My Parents Told Me” … And I’m just going to leave those there, knowing full well some will be apoplectic I’ve left out other gems.
Then there’s the trifecta, the Holy Trinity: “Hush,” “The Body,” and “Once More with Feeling.”
The latter is the episode I’ve been dreading the entire re-watch. Not watching it, of course, because … brilliant! The problem is finding anything original to say about it. More ink has been spilled perhaps on this episode than any other. It’s devoted a cult following unto itself. As I mentioned previously, no Slayage Conference is complete without the sing-a-long dinner. Since I have a singing voice that causes neighborhood cats to run for shelter, I’m hesitant to ever belt out a tune in public. I’ve done it a grand total of three times. Once my now-wife and I performed a horrid karaoke rendition of Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock’s “Picture,” but that took a lot of liquid persuasion. The other two were joining with other fans and scholars to warble the soundtrack of this ep (with much less sauce to encourage me, though, admittedly, a little).
Another perk of Slayage is that I’m finally around folks who understand everything that comes from my pie-hole. I’d wager at least one-third of my quips are cribbed from Whedonverse lines. Sadly, no one ever gets those any more. When I tell my classes on the first day, “Just show up regularly, do the work, participate in class, and we’ll be five by five.” In the early days, I’d get a few nods, but now I can almost see the words wooshing over their collective coconuts.
When someone remarks on an event that occurs frequently (say, for example, the power going out in Florence, Alabama), I shrug and say “must be Tuesday.” When my wife sees me scouring the bookshelf and asks what I’m looking for, I say “the volumey text.” And, if some ever does burst in to song around me, I tell him/her “Get your kumbya-yas out.” At least once a semester, I write “I think this line’s mostly filler,” on a student essay. Something mysterious happen and I’m unsure who to blame? ”
So, clearly, I know these fifty-some-odd minutes well. I could probably quote the entirety from memory, not just songs but dialogue. (A friend once said he didn’t believe I could. I was almost at the bridge of “What Can’t We Face If We’re Together” when his pleas to stop moved me to mercy.)
I just can’t say much new. Originally, I was going to talk about the poetry within the lyrics. For years, when I attempt to train my survey lit students to read and interpret poems, I use a section of “What You Feel” because it’s so full of internal rhyme.
Then I read Nikki Stafford’s take back in 2011. Guess what she does?
Also, in keeping with my discussion of the animosity some (most?) fans feel towards Dawn, I love her analysis of “Dawn’s Lament.”
Dawn: Does anybody even notice?
Dawn: Does anybody even care?
Harsh, but succinct and effective.
What I can do is point the uninitiated towards some of the top-notch work that’s already been done.
For starters, the guest scholar on Stafford’s blog, Janet Halfyard, does a fantastic critique in her essay “‘Something to Sing About’: Music and Myth in ‘Once More with Feeling.'” She breaks down the blurring of the lines between diegetic and non-diegetic singing in the episode. (If you don’t know what that means, just let her explain.) Then she reads the climax as a reversal of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth.
Michael Adams reads “OMwF” as “the apotheosis of slayer style and an example of style out of control” (71). Immersed in stylized song and dance, the bitter truths that come out tear a rift in the Scoobies. Richard S. Albright discusses the uniqueness of this episode when compared to other musicals, particularly in the Scoobie’s keen awareness of breaking out in song and dance. Touching on the problematic issues of race in the Whedonverse, Ewan Kirkland observes that the black-coded demon is “the only African American performer to grace the Bronze stage” (par. 17).
Rambo’s piece, which I continue to lean heavily upon, remarks that “OMwF” is “considered by many thoughtful viewers to encapsulate the entire season’s story arc, reiterating the story so far and hinting at developments to come” (158). She also points out that, by kissing Buffy, Spike begins his degenerative spiral.
There are a few limited tidbits I might be able to add to the conversation.
The first is to note that, while humanity may not deserve the goodness that is “OMwF,” it did roll out a spate of ghastly imitators. In much the same way Whedon’s redeemable vampires of Angel and Spike influenced a hack writer to vomit out four putrescent books which were adapted into five putrescent films, showrunners from sitcoms to dramas attempted to follow in the footsteps of this musical.
It was hardly the first musical episode of a show. I’m told, though I’ve never seen it, that Xena: Warrior Princess had a similar theme once. Halfyard calls it “excruciating” and “cringeworthy,” though Stafford (who has published a companion guide to Xena) offers a rebuttal: : So melodramatic and maudlin and over-the-top crazy. It was everything Xena was about.”
I can’t comment on the forebears, but I can remark on the infernal progeny. Two shows that did it seemed natural, as they were already overly theatrical. Scrubs, since it exists in the mind of J.D. and his daydreams, could handle the suspension of disbelief, but the music, singing, and choreography were all lacking. (That said, my friend Geoff and I do sometimes burst out in a chorus of “Guy Love.”)
That 70’s Show sees Fez lapse into a J.D.-esque fantasy as he prepares for the school musical. The idea of resurrecting 70s pop hits sounded great. Thing is, your cast kind of needs to be able to carry a tune.
I’m not going to say anything about 7th Heaven‘s musical other than don’t watch it. Oh, and I’ll add don’t watch any episode. As for Grey’s Anatomy, well, as much as I enjoyed the earlier seasons, when Callie launched into a rendition of “Chasing Cars,” even though Sara Ramirez has a set of pipes, I decided that moment was when the show jumped the shark. (To be fair, it “un-jumped” over the past few seasons. It’s getting quite interesting again.)
Second, since I’ve touched on structuralist critique before, I love the way this episode plays out. From the get-go, even as Buffy is singing about her existential crisis, the humor is dialed high. (“She’s not even half the girl she … Ow!”) Even Giles’s number, “Standing,” though a serious ballad, is interspersed with Buffy’s gymnastics, off-speed. Every song, nearly every beat is meant to elicit laughter.
Until it isn’t.
“Give Me Something to Sing About” is not a happy song, though it seems that way. And that admission, “There was no pain/No fear, no doubt, till they pulled me out/of Heaven,” crashes us back to earth. The reasons the Whedonverse has attracted a rabid fan base and an army of scholars are numerous, but the seamless blending of comedy and drama certainly ranks. What other show can have you laughing one minute then sobbing the next.
Something to think about as the next episode approaches.
And, finally, though the Scoobies may declare that “the battle’s done/and we kinda’ won,” let’s face it, Sweet is the one who gets to chalk this one up in the victory column.
Adams, Mark. “Buffy and the Death of Style.”
Albright, Richard S. “‘Breakaway Pop Hit or … Book Number?’: ‘Once More with Feeling’ and Genre.” Slayage 17 (June 2005).
Halfyard, Janet. “‘Something to Sing About’: Music and Myth in ‘Once More with Feeling.'” “Buffy Rewatch Week 39: ‘Once More with Feeling.'” Edited by Nikki Stafford. Nik at Night. 27 September 2011.
Kirkland, Ewan. “The Caucasian Persuasion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Slayage 17 (June 2005).
Rambo, Elizabeth. “Yeats’s Entropic Gyre and Season Six.”
Stafford, Nikki. “Buffy Rewatch Week 39: ‘Once More with Feeling.'” Nik at Night. 27 September 2011. http://nikkistafford.blogspot.com/2011/09/buffy-rewatch-week-39-once-more-with.html
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