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Thread: BtVS rewatch: SEASON 6

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    Well Spiked Stoney's Avatar
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    I was torn again as to whether to post the responses that I've made so far when you are still posting your review Aurora, I hope you don't mind the early/partial reply. As with my previous responses, the vast majority of this relates to the background parts of the review you've posted and I'll try to collect on the actual episode itself rather than continuously post in between throughout. Apologies to anyone who finds the break-up irritating. As a quick reminder, the first post on the thread has links under the spoilered section for the reviews and each part of this review can be jumped to directly there.

    Quote Originally Posted by American Aurora View Post
    So Once More With Feeling isn’t just the “musical” episode of Buffy with a little song here and a little dance there to amuse viewers – performing musical theater is a metaphor for what Freud called “a stage and we are simply actors in the drama of our own minds, pushed by desire, pulled by coincidence.” Underneath the surface, our personalities represent the power struggle going on deep within us. Musical performance gives us insight into Buffy’s point of view. Life’s a show and we all play our parts.

    The popularity of Greek Theatre (always sung) found new forms in Christian Mystery Plays, Renaissance masques and Restoration pantomime ballads – and so did the ancient dramatization of the cycle of Life and Death in modern narrative drama, especially musical drama. In fact, life itself began to be viewed as a kind of performance. From Shakespearean tragedy to Wagnerian operas to modern absurdist theatre, the modern idea of the psychology of “Self” became wedded to this idea of Life as Show Biz.

    Whether gangster drama or superhero epic, the emphasis on the “role” that the hero plays in public as opposed to his/her private life has become even more relevant thanks to the 21st century internet public “persona” – the public face we present to others becomes a theatrical mask to act out various dramas tailored to very specific audiences. People we follow on the internet – people we develop relationships with – have often been revealed to be actors in a very shady drama. Without a face-to-face meeting, it’s hard to say if a tweet or email is really an interested guy or an insane demon known as Moloch the Corruptor.
    I really do love this. And it doesn't have to be in a totally disingenuous way. The lack of visual reference may sometimes present a freedom that allows people to explore a genuine part of themselves which they normally avoid or have trouble presenting to the world, perhaps even feeling they shouldn't. Anonymity can provide a mask to hide the truth but it can also allow the exposure of what normally hides.

    And of course there is also the consideration that the visual reference can in fact create false surety and assumptions which aids the masking of truth (although I'd generally hold that a lack of visual cues and the opportunity to 'read' meaning is by far the greater disadvantage).

    Human nature has a habit of suspecting there is a bigger drama happening backstage – and we all suspect that the drama enacted online by various people is a false “performance” designed to cover up another less agreeable reality. Accusations concerning public figures (both left and right) too often devolve into conspiracy theories with accusers creating their own theatrical narrative who are then accused by others of “performing” and so on and so on.

    The belief in something behind the mask is probably an evolutionary response that protects us from danger – but it’s also based on common sense that everyone in society is playing a part. And that idea is built into the very title of the Buffy episode, Once More With Feeling. It’s not a coy reference to music or lyrics or a pun about musicals – but about the need to perform – to play one’s role in life – with conviction. “Once more with feeling” is a cliché that goes back as far as Elizabethan theater – a warning to a musician or performer that their delivery has become detached and lifeless. Deadly theater happens when a production is continuously performed for years without any change – Les Miserables is a notorious example – actors and musicians go on auto-pilot, their work drained of the original excitement or meaning that gave the piece life. And like the robots in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World, Buffy is just going through the motions that she’s been directed to do.

    We saw Buffy’s unease about a new role before in Season Four’s The Freshman – as high school is left behind, dorm rooms become home and a new world of adulthood and responsibilities open up, college student Buffy temporarily loses her confidence as the Slayer. This fear of having to make a new start in life is underlined by a dejected Xander – the drama he’d mapped out for himself to discover America ends up a bust as he runs out of money a few miles from home. Like Buffy, Xander is struggling to find a new part to play in life even as he ends up back at home in his parent’s basement:
    And the roles we play, the different sides to ourselves that are brought forth by different people and different scenarios are a huge struggle for Buffy at the moment as she doesn't want to engage with others and respond to their interest in her and what she is doing, or at least she doesn't feel able to respond.

    The roles that we play against the roles that we want comes up so often in our discussions of the series and those 'wanted' roles we glean somewhat from what we feel is under the mask. Sometimes these are things that are more apparent and sometimes can even be truths that are hidden from the person themselves. A very real part of what drives Buffy in her relationship with Spike this season is about acting out in ways she wouldn't have considered before. In great part it is about self-punishment but also in releasing/realising aspects of herself that she has always turned from before.

    The question as to why Xander loses his ability to see through Buffy’s cheery exterior in Season Six most likely has to do with his loyalty to Willow – if he questions Buffy’s state-of-mind, then he might have to question Willow’s judgment. It’s clear that Buffy’s death seems to have really shaken Xander and made him far less willing to step outside of a certain comfort zone to push Buffy for more information.
    It could well be a sense of responsibility too as he was involved in bringing her back with Willow and guilt, if we consider the horror filled reaction he has to realising she had to escape her grave. With Buffy disengaged and not playing her part in the group as she had before, it just makes the result of the resurrection generally unsettling and perhaps the idea of answers and finding out 'whys' could just be an unwelcome source of anxiety.

    It’s not surprising that it’s Xander who is the catalyst for Once More With Feeling – he felt, no doubt, that a temporary escape into a technicolor world of musicals that promise a happy ending was a great idea to ease the tension in all of the Scoobies that has been building ever since Buffy’s return. Maybe it would even bring Buffy happiness.
    This is a great explanation for Xander's motivation. It also works somewhat towards why it didn't get the follow up that could be argued it should have done. Again to pry under the surface and press on what motivated the choice to trigger this would expose feelings more and there is plenty of sore spots after the episode that are raw and want less air to them, not more.

    The irony that those who loved her the most were responsible for her unwanted resurrection weighs heavily on Buffy. She can’t even impart the lessons she's learned while journeying the underworld - the central motif of any classic heroic text - because they’re the ones who deleted her original chapter in Hero With a Thousand Faces. Buffy feels intense guilt and angst (which is really a reflection of Buffy’s deeply felt guilt about her parents' divorce and her failure to save her own mother despite her heroic abilities) which Buffy hides under a mask of gratitude to act like the reprogrammed Buffybot at the start of Season Six. She mimics the performance of the bot who has been programmed to mimic Buffy in every detail – even if the programming goes a little haywire now and then.
    I loved the point in After Life when Buffy takes Dawn's lunch to her and her demeanour and clothing have changed into the light summary, more carefree look. It is such a forced on appearance to contradict what she is feeling inside and really did visually match more of the Buffybot's 'look' (and sandwich preparation) for the parent/teacher day.

    Brilliant point about Buffy's inability to communicate as per the normal heroic text, I love it. And I really like the idea of BtVS breaking from a norm here. It suits the show. As always we're still looking at a progressive journey and so it becomes just a stage in the path and plays its part within the transformative journey of the season for many of the characters.

    Whedon has carefully set up each and every character (including the Trio) as a victim of their own success in trying to play an ideal version of who they think they should be. Everyone is desperate to maintain that image – good or bad – even to the point of destroying everything and everyone around them, including themselves and that is what causes the various catastrophes in Season Six to happen.

    Once More With Feeling the musical is a comic literalization of this idea – we’ve got an entire cast of characters who are endlessly self-loathing. Because of this, they have a manic desire to be acknowledged which feeds into the fabricated images of themselves. They’ve all created a social mask to win the approval of others – to make sure that they fit in.

    And this is a perfect corollary to the emotional neediness of performers in Show Biz who NEED applause and recognition to do their work successfully. We’ve seen this over and over in BTVS – performance as a metaphor for acting out social roles, constantly changing motivations and actions like actors, scoping out exits stage right or stage left, trying to steal the spotlight, upstaging other people, using language as a weapon of persuation, signaling our boundaries as we test each other’s limits and hiding our “real” selves under this mask.
    This is interesting. So do you think that the season for each character has them reaching for a sense of success, meeting expectations or feeling pressure to prove themselves in a role and even try to exceed their perceived potential? I tend to think of the season as showing how power can be corrupted and can corrupt, to be followed by S7 looking at using power effectively and sharing it positively. Do you think consideration of power in S6 can work with this focus on roles? Perhaps in acting in line with expectations, to fit a role, being done for acceptance and/or to mask their true feelings of inadequacy/resentment etc but, importantly, regardless of the effect on themselves/others???

    The dynamic of seeing oneself as both person and performer is essential to growing up – a staple of teenage drama. This is emphasized when Snyder tells Buffy, Willow and Xander that they must perform in the talent show. They have the typical terrified reaction of any teen literally forced to perform for others:

    One of the main lessons of growing up is to become more comfortable with social presentation, to learn how to gain self-confidence and master the ability to “act” like an adult in a number of different situations. Of course, what constitutes an adult is always changing with the audience watching.

    A designation changes a person - as we see by watching Buffy, Willow and Xander grow into the roles chosen for them. Just as a President becomes “Presidential” through the office, so a Slayer and her group become “Heroes” through trying to enact their designated titles. And often, the person is conflicted – the soldier who is motivated through patriotism to kill the enemy can also be personally horrified by the act of taking life. Social codes can be wildly different from private codes – the Watcher’s Council can mouth pieties about the horrors of killing humans while setting up Buffy and Faith for the kill.
    I love all of this. Even though I came to the show in my thirties, points like this really help me to see how it could have been very supportive during adolescence.

    At times, carefully crafted social personas can slip – when the mask drops, the person is exposed for what they really are. Sometimes, in extreme cases, a person starts to believe that they are the character that they portray. An actor taken in by their own act becomes their own audience – this is labeled repression or disassociation by sociologists. A person inhabits their own social role to such an extent that they can feel literally estranged from their true self. When this happens, they can end up doing things their true self would never do, but they do them anyway because they must keep up the façade. So people who start well, but then turn on a bad path continue to move farther and farther away from their original moral beliefs – like Faith in Season Three, they begin to believe in their wickedness – that they are fated by nature to do terrible things.

    And deep psychological trauma can also result in a disassociation from oneself. This is demonstrated by another precursor to Season Six – Buffy’s reaction to her first death and resurrection. When Buffy dances with Xander in When She Was Bad, she cruelly mocks his unrequited love for her and torments Angel – the two people who saved her life and brought her back.
    Oh, this is excellent. I have never thought about Buffy's behavioural responses to the traumas of Prophecy Girl in comparison to S6. Brilliant. And your point about the inner conflict traumas can create when the person you feel you should be pulls up short against the person you feel you are is great.

    Even with a Buffyworld vampire, one sees the same effect of estrangement from one’s self because of the nature of a demon inhabiting a human body. The confusing mythology (are vampires just shells of their former human selves as the Watcher’s Council claims or are they a complex mix of human memories and demonic urges?) is compounded by the addition of a chip or a soul into the mix with regards to Angel and Spike. But whether soul or chip, it’s interesting to note that both vampires initially attempt to retain their social identities – in Fool for Love/Darla, Angel comes back to his vampire family even after gaining his soul in the hopes of rejoining them, even going to elaborate lengths to conceal his humane actions. It’s only when Darla tests him by daring him to murder a baby that Angel drops the mask of Angelus and bolts through the window, never to return.

    And this shows how important an audience is to one’s sense of self – Angel needs the approval of Darla in order to know himself. When he was sired, her approval or disapproval drove Angelus to commit even more heinous acts of depravity, even against each other. But once she rejects him, Angel wanders aimlessly through the world for a century, unable to make sense of what has happened to him until Whistler visits him and guides him to Buffy. It is Buffy the Slayer who replaces Darla the Sire as an audience of one that enables Angel to create a new “role” for himself – one that allows him to forgive himself for his past transgressions and view new possibilities as a heroic figure.

    Spike’s journey is equally revealing – even as a newly-born vampire, we see that his hyper-masculine bluster hides massive insecurity because of his need to create a role pleasing to the woman he loves. For Spike, only the opinion of his Sire Drusilla matters – the woman who seemingly saved him from mediocrity. We see him become monstrous under her encouragement, mimicking Darla’s relationship with Angelus. When Drusilla reunites with Angelus in Season Two, Spike's selfish desire to win her back in Becoming leads him to make an alliance with his enemy, ironically betraying the "role" as Big Bad that he created to please his Sire. And like Darla, Drusilla realizes that Spike has “changed” roles and rejects him as a possible partner/lover.
    Yes, the presence of others is often a key part of how a character processes what has happened to them, considers changes they experience, ones they may enact, and defines who they can be, want to be or feel they should be. I'd argue 'Spike' was formed in response to the mockery William suffered from the audience of his peers as well as from the rejection he received from the woman that he loved. That he still fears those rejections is shown in his drive to eradicate perceived weaknesses and be 'seen' differently and meet both Dru's and Angel's expectations of him. Even if it is shaded in great part by jealousy and competitiveness over Dru's responses to the other vamp. All of it is still very much audience aimed though, and we see how the audience shifts when Spike returns in S4 (including the dismissal of Harmony as one that doesn't matter, as you say). Spike seeking Buffy in The Harsh Light of Day is greatly about image, who he feels he is and wants to be seen to be, and we see this repeated at numerous points as he presents himself, effectively looking for confirmation and/or approval. His behaviour in Smashed always calls this back to mind too and no doubt will be something we discuss again then as well. Brilliant comparison between Darla's and Dru's rejections when their lover's changes no longer meet their approval, that's great. Neither Angel nor Spike are being who their sires created them to be any longer.

    I completely agree that Willow's development through the series is very coherent and it is really rich for considering the effect of roles/masks and responses to social expectations.

    I loved seeing the pics from The Bitter Suite and was really interested to understand the difference between the two musical episodes. It has been so long since I watched Xena, it's made me yearn to get around to that rewatch a bit more again. When I finally do I may well press you for more of your thoughts on that too! The connections and meaning that you draw for using the genre, its appropriateness to the exploration of self and roles for the characters in S6 is just excellent. It really is strengthening my appreciation of what Joss was looking to do and why the episode works so damned well. I can't wait to rewatch it having read all of this. Your general knowledge is always a step beyond but your extensive knowledge of this area shines through in the depth of detail and breadth of examples you provide. It really is proving a pleasure to read and I very much appreciate you coming back to continue it.

    As the clock continues to ring in time with the music, Buffy turns over in bed, picks up the clock and allows it to ring on and on and on as she silently lies on her back, looking at the hands of the clock move. This is one of many instances in Once More With Feeling where characters intentionally lie flat on their back in a pose of rest and/or death. We see Buffy do this once again in “Going Through the Motions,” Tara (who actually levitates while lying in bed) in “Under Your Spell,” Xander and Anya in their bed before “I’ll Never Tell,” Spike on a crypt during “Rest in Peace” and at the end of the song and Dawn following her ballet before she wakes up at the Bronze. In all cases, there is an intentional juxtaposition between desire and apathy, comedy and tragedy, life and death.
    What an interesting directing choice, such a simple idea for visual repetition that really conveys meaning, great stuff.

    The comic emphasis on time is also about Buffy’s feelings on her return – trapped in a world of performance where time feels measured and life is a series of repetitious actions and emotions like music. We’ve talked a bit in the past about the immortal vampire and the dilemma of living outside of time – which can only be measured in the short term by those who are mortal and live within its limits. At this point in Buffy’s journey, she feels more akin to Angel and Spike than to the living, breathing creatures around her – time means nothing to her and so a spell that forces everyone to sing in musical notation simply amplifies and confirms what she already feels about the people surrounding her. Life’s a show and we all play a part.
    I love how this links again to her disconnection from those she is living around that we've seen since her resurrection and are seeing again here as you say. Her disconnection from life and her retreat towards those that also live outside of time/life being reflected in her greater turn towards Spike ties so well. It's interesting then that after Spike pushes her to live at the end of the episode that she in fact takes a step to reach more for him in response, particularly as he is himself walking away. I'm really looking forward to reading your thoughts throughout.

    And the entire premise of the demon spell in Once More With Feeling is that people are forced to sing the “truth” about how they feel. So many dramas reveal the true motivations of a character through a seemingly innocent song – songs that can reveal a crush, a broken heart, a religious belief, a philosophy of life - even insanity in the case of Ophelia in Hamlet or American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman.

    But in musical theater, songs don’t work that way. Because a song is a dramatic text rather than non-diegetic material, what a character sings in a musical is not necessarily the truth at all – but merely a reflection of what they BELIEVE is the truth. Like dialogue in a play or movie, musical theater songs are immediate expressions of how a person wants to present themselves rather than true confessions of interior life – and people lie to themselves in song just as much as in dialogue. So it is important to note that musical theater songs have subtext as complex and contradictory of character as any lines in a dramatic text.
    It is this side of the character explorations that I love so much in BtVS. Considering the truth, the accuracy in what a character presents about themselves, what it reveals of the turmoil churning within. So often the perceptions of self are framed alongside their beliefs of how they are perceived by others and what is expected of them as you were saying earlier. Where there are inconsistencies or not is often revealing, especially when the context is so emotionally laden.

    Quote Originally Posted by American Aurora View Post
    The overriding idea was that drama be “true to life” – meaning only what could happen on the streets of a town – and centering on the unities of time, place and action. Plays should always take place in one day – or even the exact running time of the play – and each play should be five acts. Of course, unity of place meant that it should never, ever change the locale – and unity of action meant that only one story could be told. The French word “genre” (meaning category) developed from the rigid formula of playwriting that developed – tragedies told the stories of royal personages; comedies the common people; tragedies always ended with a death; comedies always with a wedding. And never could the two genres be crossed – and above all, the right morals had to be taught for the function of all drama was to be didactic and moralizing, rather than entertaining.

    Soon, the neoclassicists were turning on Greek Drama itself for not being true to their absurd definition of Greek Drama as they churned out stock situations and plots with a neoclassical bent. The chorus (being inherently unrealistic), the deus ex machina (obviously these don’t happen in real life!), the soliloquy (not realistic – who talks to themselves?) were banned as immoral and degrading – and the center of neoclassicism, the same infamous Académie Française that rejected French Impressionist painting in the 1890s (great historical track record there) sneered at the loose morality and poor structure of inferior dramatists like Shakespeare, Corneille and Lope de Vega.
    This is really interesting, it's like Thomas Gradgrind was allowed to join in and influence the rules!

    With the emphasis on individual subjectivity, stage craft became more grandiose and abstract – the psychological states of the characters reflected in the costumes and sets. This led to the emergence of the director and the idea of “integration” of all the elements...

    But there was a problem – Greek drama had effortlessly merged song and speech – but the renewed interest in “realism” made the artificial conventions of opera seem absurd – even ridiculous. Rousseau vented about the stupidity of opera: “It is the height of absurdity that at the instant of passion we should change voices to speak a song.” Librettists tried to solve this problem by rendering spoken passages into song – recitative – which avoided the break between music and speech and this was pushed even further by Wagner in both The Ring Cycle and Tristan und Isolde.

    The fantasy of an integrated drama in which all elements of a production – music, lyrics, book, dance, direction, orchestration, set design, lighting, costumes – would unite into a perfect whole was carried down to the early 20th century where it not only became the goal for silent film and high-brow theater, but low-brow popular entertainments as well. The idea of integration was embraced by early 20th century art from poetry to film to theater to radio – a work of art should be an ‘organic’ process.
    I was involved in an interesting discussion recently about the pictures on the stairway in Buffy's house and was surprised some people were quite dismissive of them and any possibility that the symbolic meaning would have been deliberate. Every decision on set is a choice, and a choice of one thing over other options. Some choices are more considered than others for sure, but they aren't made with an absence of thought. It is interesting to consider the development of musicals and how the unrealistic inclusion of people bursting into song created such varying responses and the different integrations in the complete production choices in and around the drama, music and song that were seen.

    The use of the songs to carry meaning for the work, moving the plot/characters/themes forward really does raise the musical to a different level and makes sense as to why BtVS and Xena stand out in their use of musical episodes. The list of the categories of songs and the application to those in OMWF you gave was really interesting and I'll definitely look through this again when I rewatch the episode.

    I reminds me of hearing about Vladímir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale for the first time. At first I was naively surprised that so many aspects can be identifiably seen across a genre of writing. But it makes total sense that this categorisation is possible. It follows I suppose that the pieces of work that we enjoy the most are those that use these more organically, more skillfully. Where it doesn't feel formulaic and forced despite some use of standard structuring. Even using a format which has become clichéd, as you say, can still work effectively if done well.

    But Whedon does something very different here – despite the obvious parodic intent of certain moments of Once More With Feeling, the genre of the musical itself is taken seriously. Seriously enough that the main dramatic arc for the season is not only advanced, but rapidly reaches a turning point through song. Yes, there’s a great deal of affectionate tweaking of the musical form that satirizes the genre – but Once More With Feeling also maintains a dark undercurrent of foreboding that foreshadows future events.
    Yes. It is the successful use of the opportunity the musical opens to develop the characters and plot which raises the bar.

    And he correctly pinpoints the true theme of the episode (and the season) in the first five minutes – Buffy’s death and resurrection trauma – an emotional wallop that reverberates through the actions of every other character in Season Six. And Whedon cleverly realized that Buffy singing an “I Want” song would be drenched in dramatic irony because of her state of mind.
    Ha, I love that.

    And it’s hard to say as to whether Buffy is making the space smaller and smaller until it’s completely filled with darkness – and this is exemplified by her natural setting – the graveyard – which is a signifier for the Hellmouth. Buffy is trapped in this dark place because of her identity as the Slayer, unable to see a way out. She wanders around the graveyard without ever getting anywhere, confronting death at every turn. Not exactly a Disney Princess – but she shares the same desire to escape. And there lies the ironic twist that Whedon adds to Buffy’s “I Want” song that makes it both a homage and a satire of the musical convention.

    If Once More With Feeling were an actual Broadway musical, Buffy’s opening song would be somewhat of a disaster – you can’t really start a show with one of Macbeth’s final soliloquies. And yet, that’s exactly what “Going Through the Motions” does – it’s not the opening salvo of a story, but a cascade of emotions that generally come after a tale is done. We’ve seen five + quarter seasons of Buffy battling demons – not only the ones that go bump in the night, but internal demons as well. But never have we seen Buffy quite like this. She’s not worried about saving others or even saving herself.

    For it is not a fervent wish or desire that motivates her song, but Buffy’s LACK of desire that drives her to sing. In other words, Buffy is singing an “I Want” song about wishing she could sing an “I Want” song – future wishes and dreams and desires being the hallmark of the living. Xander and Anya are reading TOMORROW’S BRIDE – not Yesterday’s Bride or Today’s Bride – believing in a future of progress rather than stagnation. Buffy has no illusions that life has any meaning – who could want anything after being pulled out of “heaven” where there was no need or desire at all?
    This is such a great breakdown of Buffy's mental and emotional state of being at the start of the episode. As you said earlier, our knowledge of what is happening for the characters, how this fits into a wider context, is used. I can see how the tone of this as an opening number in a standalone piece wouldn't work in the way an 'I want' song typically does, where there is aspiration and longing. But we have seen what Buffy has gone through and why she is feeling that confinement and this gives weight to the emotions that are lacking in her outlook.

    There’s a redundancy in the opening line – “every” and “single” are both quantifiers meaning the same thing within the context of the sentence. Generally, this would be problematic in a poem because every word counts. But in a lyric, especially a lyric about repetition, the syncopated thump-thump-thump of redundancy actually intensifies Buffy’s depressive state. EV-‘ry SING-le NIGHT.

    The second line contains a type of homonym – a polyseme – to be technical about it. The word “arrangement” refers to Buffy’s pre-arranged plan to patrol the same graveyards night after night – but it also refers to an instrumental and vocal “arrangement” of a musical composition. To complain that a song has the same arrangement night after night is to say that it never varies musically from performance to performance. There is no spontaneity or development as in free-form jazz – she’s singing the same tune night after night. And this clever interplay between theatrical/musical imagery and Buffy’s life is threaded throughout her lyrics by Whedon.

    “Same” and “ar-range” aren’t rhymes, but the same vowel sound is stressed on the beat, so there’s a nice internal slant rhyme there – or assonance – when vowels repeat.
    This breakdown of the start of Going Through the Motions is just excellent. I love the points of different meanings in the lyrics and considering the rhymes and repetitions is great. There are so many similarities to breaking down visual meaning in this that it, probably very unsurprisingly, really appeals to me. And in fact, seeing your screen grabs alongside, I think there is some visual repetition to add in. The lighting on the graves all around behind Buffy looks to have been very deliberately matched across the graveyard. It also then is a visual repetition to the colour of her top too and with the cross hanging over, it almost presents her as another gravestone, emphasising her link to feeling disconnected and 'dead' inside.

    I haven't rewatched the episode yet but from just starting to see more through the pictures alongside reading your breakdown I want to have watched it again before I continue to respond to your excellent review. So I'll be back(!) and am very much looking forward to hearing everything you have to say on this incredible piece of work.
    Last edited by Stoney; 12-09-17 at 12:36 AM.

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    Part Six – I’ve Got a Theory: Doubling Down and the Transformative Power of Difference

    Traditionally, after an “I Want” song, a book musical gets down to dramatic business – What, Why, When, Where and Who Sings Next? We now have an idea of what the protagonist (or sometimes antagonist) wants – or at least believes that they want – and the transition between song and speech takes us out of a suspended moment of musical time to re-engage with the world.

    And such a transition often uses a realistic musical sound to ease the audience back into a simulacrum of reality – like an old fashioned shopkeeper’s bell that announces visitors at the Magic Box.

    Settings are crucial in musicals – deciding where a musical number takes place in many ways dictates the form of the song – whether private confession or public spectacle. Direction and choreography in musical theater depends upon a unique use of space that matches the rhythmic conception of the music – a heavily-choreographed scene needs a certain amount of space – or at least an acknowledgement that the space is “too small” for the number – especially in the more realistic film musical. Spike’s physical choreography in his small crypt – smashing bottles, dropping to his knees – is of a different scale than the full-scale mayhem that he creates in a more open setting when he attacks a funeral.

    Because a musical theater song needs to reveal character and forward plot, the various spaces determine the type of song, the singers involved and the way in which the song is delivered. We get a range of different places in Once More With Feeling – private places like the bedrooms in Buffy’s house, Xander and Anya’s apartment, Spike’s crypt, the training room behind the Magic Box – public places like the streets of Sunnydale, a beautiful park, several graveyards – and a blend of the public and the private with the Bronze, hidden alleyways behind the Bronze and the Magic Box and the front area of the Magic Box – which functions as a kind of headquarters for the Scoobies.

    It’s significant that the center of operations for Buffy and her friends kept changing in terms of public vs private during the run of the show. The high school library was a public space secretly operating as a training/research area that was hidden from the principle and most classmates – a great deal of humor came from random students blundering into hush-hush meetings. After graduation, the HQ shifted to Giles’ apartment – a private area with a convenient natural barrier for keeping out unwanted vamps – leaving clandestine capers in a public place to UC Sunnydale and its underground Initiative base. In Season Five, Giles’ purchase of The Magic Box moved the group to a semi-public space – a shop that encouraged the public to enter at designated times, but also gave the Scoobies access to an openly magical array of spell books and enchanted items without fear of exposure.

    In all three locations, Rupert Giles was the designated caretaker of the space – and each subsequent move was due to a change in his circumstances. Moving from official Watcher and school librarian to unemployed, unpaid Watcher, his lack of separating public from private became a major concern in Season Four from vampires chained in his bathtub to Initiative soldiers trying to enter his private home. The Magic Box was a perfect solution – as owner, Giles finally had complete control over Scoob surroundings without sacrificing his privacy.

    All three spaces were regularly invaded by enemies – attacking the central location of Buffy’s network became a major theme throughout the series. Returning to their meeting place, the gang often found scattered books, overturned chairs and a kidnapping or two. In Season Five alone, the Magic Box suffered intrusions by vampires, demons, a giant snake, a troll, Harmony, Dawn and Spike, Glory’s minions, and even the Watcher’s Council.

    And at the beginning of Season Six, Giles decides after Buffy’s death to return to England and leave the Scoobie headquarters to Anya’s care.

    But actually it had not been Scoobie Central since Buffy’s death. From the moment Willow was designated leader-in-charge by Xander, the need to plan in secrecy – away from Giles, Spike and Dawn – made both the Magic Box and Buffy’s house unsuitable for meetings. So the only space left was Xander’s apartment – another private space protected from sarcastic vampires, skeptical Watchers and snooping teens – where Xander, Anya and Tara researched, stored items and prepared to resurrect Buffy under Willow’s careful direction. This change in location marked a change in the dynamic of how the gang operated – now in a series of spaces no longer under the direct control of Giles. And with that division of areas of influence came a diffusion of power.

    The power center of the group was no longer controlled and concentrated – after Buffy’s death up to Once More With Feeling, the energy was dispersed between several different groups in more private settings. Buffy’s confession to Spike centered their secret relationship in Spike’s crypt whereas Willow and Tara took the place of Joyce as Dawn’s guardian when Buffy died, even to the point of redecorating Joyce’s bedroom as their own. Unintentionally, this had the effect of making Buffy feel like a stranger in her own home when she returned. Dawn’s sense of having no place that she can truly call her own drives her kleptomania – not surprising considering her loss of family and confusion over what she is as the Key. One of the main psychological ideas behind kleptomania is control and by stealing various things from every space she enters, Dawn creates an illusion of control that eludes her in real life.

    Only Xander and Anya seem comfortable switching back and forth from their private apartment to the Magic Box – but only because Anya and Giles share control of the space. The major book research is still centered there – primarily because of Giles – but outside of acting as a mini-library, the Magic Box becomes more and more a symbol of the fragmentation of the group as the Season goes on until Willow finally destroys it wholesale in battles – first with Buffy, then with Giles and finally, with herself.

    And now that Giles is preparing to return to England and leave the shop in Anya’s hands, the Magic Box’s use as a central HQ is up in the air. There’s a feeling of division between the characters that is only enlarged by their group musical numbers in the main area of the shop – both “I’ve Got a Theory” and the first half of “Walk Through the Fire” are production numbers in which everyone present sings in one way or another – but not necessary together as we see in the final group number “Where Do We Go From Here?”

    The artistic choices that the librettist, the composer and the lyricist make in deciding the elements of each scene – in this case they are all one person who also happens to be the director – and the songs, the setting and the levels of participation of various characters create the intricate structure that unifies a musical. Songs tell us about character alignments – the more isolated the individual, the less likely they are to join in group numbers. Sometimes, a character joins a number only to project an image of solidarity or even convince others that they are part of a special group – echoing many real-life performance situations like Gunn, Cordelia, and Wesley singing “We are the Champions” at Lorne’s nightclub when they are all fired from Angel Investigations.

    When two or more characters sing the same melody line, they inevitably bond – if only temporarily. A character can break off from the main melody during the song to create their own independent piece of music, either solo or in tandem with another group. Some characters don’t even sing during a song – a choice that also makes a statement. Because the very idea of performance is wrapped up in how a musical is presented – the willingness (or not) to perform in a certain number tells the audience a lot. When book writers and composer/lyricists sit down and ask themselves what is the What (story/plot), Why (theme), When (song vs dialogue), Where (setting/production) and Who Sings Next (character), the answer to How (performance) rests in the decision-making process of the first five questions.

    A realistic play or movie narrows its focus on a subject like holding up a mirror to truth – but a fantastical form such as a musical or wonder tale (Buffy, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) expands the focus to embrace the symbolic, forcing the subject to become less literal and more ‘real’ in a larger mythic sense. Music intensifies this even more – whether musical drama or underscoring, music can raise the dramatic levels to such a heightened state that audience members experience a kind of cathartic ecstasy from Grand Opera and certain movie soundtracks. In this sense, musical theater suits Hamlet’s “action to the word, the word to the action” despite o’erstepping the modesty of nature because of the power of music.

    In a musical, songs replace dialogue and action to create dramatic peaks in the narrative – this really pisses off a lot of writers-turned-librettists who are surprised to see how their material is poached by the lyricist and composer. Songs pack a huge punch in a very short amount of time even as they expand the action through a careful repetition of melody. This sense of speeding up and slowing down at the same time is intrinsic to a musical theater song – leaving an audience breathless as they experience both measures of time at once. The more extreme the emotion and action, the more the audience responds to the drama.

    This is why certain storylines or scenarios resist musicalization – the emotions and actions are far too tepid and non-specific to justify any suspension of dramatic time or heightening of the storyline. The inherent joke of “The Mustard” and “The Parking Ticket” is the absurdity of dramatizing mundane events – without specifics, songs have no meaning outside of the immediate situation.

    If one knew that the stained shirt had once been a gift from a long-passed family member or the parking ticket might throw someone into bankruptcy or jail, then that dramatic subtext would have driven the songs – as they are, the audience doesn’t have enough information to determine if the songs are justifiably emotional or just overwrought.

    Once More With Feeling begins with Buffy singing a solo “I Want” song while patrolling through a graveyard. It’s everything an audience expects of a musical as it slowly expands into a group number with a demonic chorus line, easing the audience into the formalism of a musical. It’s a wonderful directorial choice – the dramatic action in Buffy’s vamp-chasing in a normal episode is successfully transformed into the kinetic pace of a musical theater song – opening up Buffy’s nighttime exploits into a heightened state of theatrical event.

    But when Buffy enters the Magic Box, bright sunlight streaming about her, everyone seems more concerned with eating donuts and selling items than fighting the forces of evil. Willow and Tara seem to be inspecting a set of large candles – not exactly exciting. Anya and Giles are rifling through a series of sales slips and Xander does the same with a box of donuts. Like the opening sequence in Buffy’s house, Buffy is far removed from the humdrum rhythm of life that we see in the shop.

    So where are the huge emotions? The heightened drama? The potential for dynamic action? Why include this scene at all? The very mundane nature of the scene screams “Don’t musicalize me!” And yet that’s exactly why Whedon sets the next scene in the Magic Box. Of course, we anticipate Buffy telling them about her weird musical night and their reaction. So the contrast between the end of the last scene and the beginning of this scene is obviously meant to be comic. But there’s also a very good reason to delay the next musical number.

    In order to adequately set up a musical version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon relies upon the long-running subtext of previous episodes (and seasons) to provide the necessary drama for the musical scene “I’ve Got a Theory/Bunnies/If We’re Together” Although the little scene before the three musical songs may seem to be expository and comic in nature, it actually creates tension for faithful viewers through hints of subtle shifts between the characters that informs the number to come. And bookending the big number with realistic dialogue scenes creates another kind of dramatic tension that makes the musical one of the most unsettling and provocative of art forms.

    So it’s important to review previous events in order to understand the drama happening below the surface. We have to look at the characters and their journeys in All the Way, especially the Willow/Tara and Xander/Anya relationships.

    Once More With Feeling seems to happen very quickly after the events of All the Way – the overture shows us a morning close after Willow’s Lethe spell – even assuming that a few days have passed before Tara makes the bed and Tara finds the branch underneath Willow’s pillow (to hide it from Tara). If we take Buffy’s patrol as happening that evening, it has only been a day since Dawn’s encounter with vampires on Halloween – so we can assume that the episode takes place in the first three or four days of November.

    It would be amusing to think that Sweet was summoned soon after Halloween – perhaps even on November 2, All Souls Day – or Dia de Los Muertos – the Day of the Dead in Mexican culture. The first week of November has a number of days to honor the dead – and since Halloween on October 31, 2001 fell on a Wednesday, Once More With Feeling takes place in the time period from Thursday, November 1, 2001 to Tuesday, November 6, 2001 according to Buffy’s line in the Magic Box.

    If we assume that a few days have passed, there are clues that tell us when the episode begins. Willow casts her spell and Xander announces his engagement in All The Way on Wednesday.

    Spike tells Buffy that people have been singing for two days. Looking at the script, Once More With Feeling seems to take place on three consecutive days. The opening of the episode begins on Sunday morning, November 4 and Buffy’s song “Going Through the Motions” happens on the evening of Sunday, November 4 – which would also take place the same evening as Anya’s song in Selfless. “I’ve Got a Theory” takes place on the Monday (Dawn is in school) morning, Under Your Spell is Monday afternoon and Sweet’s first murder happens Monday evening.

    Xander and Anya perform “I’ll Never Tell” the morning of Tuesday, November 6, Giles walks with the couple through the streets of Sunnydale past “The Parking Ticket” Tuesday afternoon and Buffy visits Spike for “Rest in Peace” early evening on Tuesday. The rest of the episode – Dawn’s kidnapping, Buffy’s training, Tara’s discovery, Buffy’s long walk to the Bronze and the finale take place late Tuesday evening and it’s possible that Spike and Buffy kiss in the alleyway behind the Bronze in the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 7th once Dawn has been rescued.

    This would mean that Xander’s summoning of the demon happened in the time period of Thursday, November 1 through Saturday, November 3. Which means that Xander’s fears about his upcoming wedding were so great that within a three-day time frame after the announcement, Sweet was called to Sunnydale.

    The rapid speed in which Dawn once again finds herself in danger after All The Way makes Giles’ decision to stand back and left Buffy take care of Dawn at least a bit more understandable. It also means that it is at least six days until Tara finds out that Willow has cast a spell on her.

    So by Once More With Feeling, dramatic tension is rising. We know that Xander and Anya both have strong misgivings about their engagement and Willow and Tara have been constantly arguing over magic. But in All The Way and Once More With Feeling, both Willow and Xander have secretly chosen to “manage” their relationships by casting spells that they hope will create a happily-ever-after ending. Keeping such dark secrets – not helped by feelings of profound worthlessness – are incompatible with the “image” that Willow and Xander try to maintain with their partners and are at the heart of Once More With Feeling and Season Six. Even after Buffy confesses one secret about Heaven, she immediately jumps into keeping another secret a few episodes later – her relationship with Spike – and all of these secrets eventually end up spiraling out-of-control to destroy everything around them by the end of Season Six.

    But in this first Music Box scene, the characters keep their masks carefully in place, acting out expected roles even as they are forced to sing about themselves. When Buffy enters the Magic Box, she’s not just entering a shop but a space controlled by Giles – for a short while anyway – and this makes her very cautious. Buffy knows that Giles is trying to find her out – and her desire to hide informs the musical number to come - it’s not surprising that it begins with Giles and ends with Buffy singing a very different number.

    GILES: Good morning, Buffy.
    At Buffy’s entrance, Giles is almost too enthusiastic as he greets her, trying to normalize what he perceives as an abnormal situation. And the startled look on Buffy’s face – still reacting as in After Life to any sudden, loud sound – shows us that any small talk that forces her to interact with the group elicits a pained response.

    And the other members of the group turn to look at Buffy, unsure how to address the distracted Slayer. Willow and Tara smile at Buffy as they stand close – Tara is acting incredibly romantic towards Willow during most of the scene – and it’s likely the romantic closeness is part of Willow’s spell. There’s a question as to whether Tara is unable to remember just the fight – or anything negative about Willow – but Tara seems particularly enchanted with Willow and stands close to her as they check the inventory. Willow attempts to engage Buffy with talk of Dawn and fails miserably:

    WILLOW: Oh, hey, did Dawn get off to school all right?
    BUFFY: What? Oh. Yeah, I think so.
    There’s a cut bit here where Willow and Tara valiantly try to engage Buffy with mention of Dawn’s lunch and bus ride – but it essentially shows the same thing. Buffy barely knows or cares what’s happening with Dawn - which is a surprise considering her determination to save her sister at all costs in Season Five.

    As Buffy walks listlessly to the table, Willow and Tara drop their cheery expressions. There is an uncomfortable pause for a second until Xander breaks the gloomy mood to invigorate things by “performing” a few lines from the film Magnolia to make a dirty joke.

    XANDER: "Respect the cruller. And tame the donut!"

    As he holds up a twist donut and a powered donut, he mocks Tom Cruise’s Academy-Award nominated turn as the hilariously misogynistic motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey, who teaches male nerds how to pick-up women with outrageous lines such as "Respect the c*ck. And tame the c*nt. Tame it."

    Towards the end of Magnolia, it’s revealed that Mackey’s overt misogyny is really an emotional cover for massive insecurity. Xander’s usage of a twist donut to represent the former and the round donut to represent the latter is indicative of his fears about his relationship with Anya.

    BUFFY: You're getting married. You.
    XANDER: Me. Choking.
    BUFFY: Seems like just yesterday you couldn't pay a girl to date you. (All the Way)
    And Anya seems to know this – she walks by Xander and compliments him with a line of dialogue that’s delivered almost as perfunctory as the programmed Buffybot:

    ANYA: That's still funny, sweetie.
    And Xander pauses in his “performance” and puts the donuts down. Is it a signal from Anya telling Xander “You’re telling that joke again?” to stop him from boring everyone? Or does Xander feel Anya is humoring him and drops the whole thing because her remark touches upon deeper issues in their relationship that haven’t been addressed? Anya is enacting the role of the dutiful girlfriend/wife who praises her man – but there’s a touch of sarcasm in her delivery that makes Xander look at her for a long moment before putting the donuts down.

    In the last episode, All the Way, we saw Xander and Anya finally announce their engagement to the consternation of the Scoobies, who perpetually see Anya as an outsider. And her words at their engagement party bother him so much that he leaves the house for some outside air:

    ANYA: I'm the luckiest ex-demon in the world. To be able to find the one person in all dimensions that I was meant to be with and have everything work out just the way I dreamed. How often does the universe allow that to happen?

    Xander and Buffy slip out onto the front stoop. Xander sucks in a huge lungful of air.

    XANDER: Air! Sweet mother oxygen!
    BUFFY: You okay?
    XANDER: Yeah, I just – I just didn't think it'd be so – much. (All the Way)

    Her words have created a sense of trepidation in a man who fears that he can never live up to the fantasy that Anya has created in her imagination. As we see later in the season, Xander’s parents have made him duly cynical about the marriage bond and Anya’s past as a vengeance demon who savagely punished men must make Xander just a bit nervous about his bona fides as a new husband.

    So in the Magic Box, we see Xander turn around and look at Anya after her comment. Is she just being nice to him? Is she actually humoring him – not just about the joke, but about their whole relationship? And there’s a little consternation that his joke isn’t landing. He’s a guy surrounded constantly by females – and they may not get the humor the way another guy – like Oz - might. A film and television buff like Xander needs an audience who can appreciate what he’s quoting – but the non-reaction from everyone in the Magic Box is another indication that no one’s listening to anyone. Not even enough to be offended.

    There’s also a reversal here where it’s Anya shutting down Xander instead of the opposite. And her line is said so dismissively that it makes Xander sound like an old married man telling the same hoary joke over and over – which might also give Xander pause – because it might remind him of his own father.

    Buffy seems totally uninterested in all the drama possibly brewing under the surface even though she was with Xander that evening when he panicked. She’s primarily concerned with the musical song that happened the other night. Why? Is it because a spell that forces you to sing musical songs might also force you to reveal secrets you’d otherwise like to keep quiet? Buffy questions the group for any sign that they, too, have been suffering from the same malady.

    BUFFY: So, uh, no research? Nothing going on? Monsters, or what not?
    There is barely a visible reaction from the Scoobies – Giles grabs a donut from the box to take a bite as Anya busily counts sales slips.

    In any other situation, the Scoobies are right on top of it. Excepting the Glory/Ben and Jonathan Superstar spells which seem to literally erase the memory of the past within seconds, the group rarely fails to mention if anything is unusual – and who can blame them, living on top of a Hellmouth? So a unique aspect of the spell corresponds with the dictates of musical theater. It doesn’t feel odd to burst into song – it’s as natural as breathing. Which fits the dynamic of the integrated musical quite nicely – it’s not that characters are unaware that they are singing – they just don’t see it as a major problem. Until it’s pointed out to them.

    BUFFY: Good. Good. That's uh... so, did anybody, um... last night, did anybody, oh... burst into song?
    And everybody suddenly pauses in what they’re doing – even to the point of Giles stopping mid-chew:

    And Xander finally speaks for everyone as they all take a breath:

    XANDER: Merciful Zeus!
    Which is quite funny considering the relationship of musical theater to Greek Drama.

    Xander’s outburst releases them from staying silent about the effects of the spell – the first hidden “secret” of the episode resides in actually hiding the fact that they’ve all been singing in what feels like a musical. Chaotic overlapping of dialogue ensues as everyone speaks at once – a contrast to the harmonized group singing to come:

    WILLOW: We thought it was just us! It was bizarre!
    GILES: Well, I sang, but I have my guitar at the hotel and I often –
    TARA: We were talking, and then – it was like –
    BUFFY: Like you were in a musical?
    GILES: Of course, that would explain the huge backing orchestra I couldn't see and the synchronized dancing from the room service chaps
    WILLOW: And then we did a whole duet about dishwashing.
    ANYA: And we were arguing and then everything rhymed
    TARA: And then there was this entire verse about the cous-cous –
    It’s an indication of how the spell works that Giles thought it completely normal that his song was fully orchestrated and backed by dancers. As in an integrated musical, the characters don’t really acknowledge a difference between speech and song. Tara and Willow knew that they had sung a duet about dishwashing – but didn’t consider it important enough to mention to anyone else until this moment.

    ANYA: And there were harmonies and a dance with coconuts –
    XANDER: It was very disturbing.
    Everyone claims that their “song” wasn’t really about anything in particular – or at least that’s what they tell each other. It’s hard to say what they actually sang about because they aren’t being as openly truthful here as they could be – especially Buffy. In Selfless, there is a flashback in which Anya sings about Xander – and it’s not exactly an empty song about coconuts. We know it took place at least the night before because we hear a character freak out about a mustard spill – long before the cleaners is able to fix the shirt.

    There’s a cut moment here in which Xander and Anya talk about seeing Monkey Trouble for the ninth time – which explains the coconut line. Sadly, 2001 was a little too early to see a real number about coconuts from the Disney animated musical, Moana, by the creator of Broadway’s hit musical Hamilton.

    After everyone else talks about their “song,” Giles turns to Buffy – who has remained silent about her own little ditty. The fact that Giles is intrigued by the content of her song gives the audience a clue that Giles’ own song must have been more revealing than he’s letting on.

    GILES: What did you sing about?

    And Buffy freezes – she didn’t ask the question to actually reveal her hidden thoughts and desires. Buffy probably doesn’t even want to think about the ramifications of the song herself – singing that she wants to feel alive is one thing. But examining anything beyond that is far too disquieting.

    And so she looks straight at Giles and lies.

    BUFFY: I don't remember. But it – it seemed perfectly normal.

    And there’s that word that preoccupies Buffy so much all through the series and is especially important here because she fears that she’s come back wrong. Normal.

    Her line is also ironic because bursting into song is anything but “normal” outside of a musical. Whedon’s purpose here is clear – he wants the characters to feel comfortable and “normal” singing a song so that the audience can get over their feeling that the setup of a musical itself is inherently ridiculous and abnormal. People just don’t burst into song in real life.

    WHEDON: This whole sequence was there very simply to say, "Hey, we're in a musical, and we don't like it either!" Because people have trouble accepting musicals. And I got around that because in Sunnydale anything can happen; because 'Buffy' is so sophomoric it's practically a musical anyway; and because when people suddenly start singing, and whipping off their glasses, I've already said "Well, we don’t feel comfortable doing that and we hope it doesn't happen again." So already they're in the same boat as the audience. Despite jazz hands. And that gets you past the biggest problem with musicals that people have, that they just don't buy it. Which is of course ridiculous because almost none of the things that happen in movies actually happen, but people don't have trouble buying them because they're of their era. Musicals are just of a different era - except that they really aren't. People love them, and they won't admit it but they do.
    And Xander becomes representative of that audience when he says that living in a musical is not natural:

    XANDER: But disturbing and not the natural order of things and do you think it'll happen again?

    Xander’s line is so naturally musical and syncopated that Xander most likely fears he will burst into song here. Or at least that’s what Whedon wants the audience to think – the viewer is waiting to see if/when any of the Scoobies will burst into song. This line is a slight fake-out – it almost sounds as if it’s going to turn into a lyric because of the run-on sentence and instead ends in a humorous twist.

    GILES: We should look into it.
    WILLOW: With the books!
    TARA: Do we have any books about this?
    There’s an odd moment here where Tara questions whether they have any books that cover this particular spell – and Willow gets a very sad look on her face. It could just be disappointment that Tara is pointing out to Willow that any research might fail to shed light on this – or it could be something else.

    Tara seems very focused on books in this scene and the next – mentioning twice that the Summers home may not have any books at all that would help them with the spell. This is odd considering we see a wall of books in Tabula Rasa that Willow hides her magical items behind. Of course, it is likely that these are non-magical books, but it seems odd that Whedon has Tara bring up this point again and again. Of course, it’s used as an excuse in order to get some quality nookie, but is there anything more to it?

    Have magic books been banned from the Summers home because of Dawn’s behavior in Forever – trying to resurrect her mother using a book that Willow gave to her? Are books in the Summers home but Tara is unaware of this because Willow is hiding them? Or has the spell that Willow cast over Tara to forget their fight a few nights before in All The Way also erased her memory regarding the magical books that are in the house so that she can’t chance upon the spell? Willow’s odd look at the floor could mean anything – but it’s telling that she uses the excuse of books at their house to leave the research table and spend romantic time with Tara.

    What’s amusing is that it’s not Giles who continues to extol the virtues of research – it’s Xander who tries to be very logical and rational about the ridiculous of breaking into song:

    XANDER: Well, we've just gotta break it down, look at the factors, before it happens again, ‘cause I for one –
    And then the focus shifts as Giles leans forward as if to answer Xander – and opens his mouth to sing.

    Created by many different artists, the aim of the integrated musical is to appear as if it were created by one person – every part conveying the same meaning, the same message, the same musical themes to create a seamless whole. Every song is itself a self-contained play with a beginning, a middle and an end that forwards the plot and reveals character. Authors, actors and audiences remain invisible as does the actual theater itself – inherited from the new “realism” of the 19th and early 20th century – not only the well-made play of Sardou and Scribe, but the new naturalism of Ibsen, Synge, Shaw and Chekhov. And a new acting system based on naturalism was invented and promoted by the director Stanislavski at the Moscow Art Theater before spreading across Europe and America.

    But not everyone is a believer in the “integrated” musical theory – in fact, some are opposed to it.

    At the same time that realism began to dominate Western European Theater, there was a backlash by writers who rejected the idea of a “slice of life” depicted on stage. Gathering under the Symbolist movement, they embraced a dream world of images and signs rather than dramatic action as the means of communicating with an audience. This anti-realist crusade influenced playwrights throughout the world, calling for minimalism in sets and costumes to create a poetic theater that rejected social norms and middle-class values in favor of radicalism.

    Alfred Jarry’s 1896 Ubu Roi (Ubu the King) was a Shakespearean history play as viewed through a distorted fun-house mirror of burlesque sketches, boulevard comedy and bawdy, sacrilegious gags. From the opening word, “merde”, the audience rioted as the characters wore cardboard heads, dragged puppets across the floor and bowed before a monstrous, piggish, greedy anti-hero of a King. Ubu Roi is now considered a major precursor of 20th century modernism, its influence vast on artists from Yeats to Gide to the Beatles to Tim Burton.

    August Strindberg’s A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata read as disconnected actions, a dream-logic replacing dramatic arc and narrative with characters titled by their thematic meaning such as Officer, Attorney, Poet, He, She and the Death of Philosophy. As anti-realism caught on, many playwrights wedded to naturalist drama such as Ibsen began to write Symbolist plays in his later years that confused and bewildered critics – John Gabriel Borkman, When We Dead Awaken. The German directors Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator also experimented with “living newspapers” – dramatic recounting of current events with anti-realist means.

    But it was Vsevolud Meyerhold in Russia who made the greatest impact on anti-realist theater. A former actor with the Moscow Art Theater who played the lead in Chekhov’s The Seagull under Stanislavski’s direction, Meyerhold experimented with what he called “theatricalism.” All the mechanics of theater – the sets, the props, the lighting – should be exposed, allowing viewers to be aware that they are watching a performance. Like American musical theater, Theatricalism used the low-brow elements of vaudeville, music halls, circuses and spectacles to achieve its effects.

    During the early days of the Russian Revolution, Meyerhold was both director/writer of his productions, revising classics, performing in “found” spaces to break down the fourth wall, leaving the lights on full, directing the actors to perform “in” the audience. His actors moved in non-naturalistic routines to great effect, titling his new movement “Constructivism” and his actors as “biomechanics” in the spirit of the new industrial revolution. Of course, it didn’t end well – Stalin was more interested in bourgeois Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals than experimental theater and soon all anti-realist movements were labeled “decadent” and “obscure.” Meyerhold refused to change – arrested for his radical experiments, his wife was murdered in their apartment while Meyerhold died in a Soviet labor camp in 1940.

    This put a bit of a crimp in the anti-realist movement, which for the most part had pinned its hopes on the new glorious revolution. Ironically, many of the most radical artists fled to the most Capitalist place on earth to practice their art – America – where anti-realism was in full swing, led by the radical Eugene O’Neill at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village, New York. Members of the Moscow Art Theater emigrated to New York and began teaching “the method” to young actors and writers. Non-naturalist plays proliferated in New York, inspired by the experimentation in France, Germany and Russia – Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty and Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine.

    Futurism (politically right), Dadaism (politically left), Surrealism (politically neutral) were all post-war European reactions against modern life and the senseless mass destruction of World War I. All rejected mainstream art in favor of anti-aesthetic movements that tried to shake the complacency of audiences. Luigi Pirandello in Italy, Andre Breton in France, Sean O’Casey in Ireland were all advocates of the new drama – and most importantly for musical theater, Bertolt Brecht in Germany.

    Brecht developed the idea of “epic” theater as a reaction against popular Wagnerian ideas of integration and conventional morality – the kind of unthinking orthodoxy that he felt led Europe to embrace the pro-war of World War I, where he served as an orderly. Between the wars, in Europe as well as America, there was a passion for spectacle through which the audience could escape from the troubles of the financial Depressions or social problems. Politically radicalized by the rise of Hitler, Brecht developed his theories under severe threat by the Nazis – several of his actors were persecuted, the conductor of one show was shot and killed and he and his Jewish wife and children were forced to move from country to country until they ended up in the United States for the duration of World War II.

    But in Germany in the 20s, Brecht was an anarchist-turned-communist who believed that theater should not be a place of escape that mesmerized its audience, but a catalyst for social change. A “radical separation of the elements” was necessary for the audience to take action themselves – and this would be achieved through an estrangement or distancing from the drama. Satire, parody, vaudeville, skits – all were tools to subvert naturalism and complacency in the audience.

    This “alienation” effect forced the viewer to be directly involved in the action rather than observe passively. And instead of a straightforward play in which “culinary” art took place that assured the viewer of their vision of reality, Brecht preferred the musical – a work of contrasts. From The Threepenny Opera to Mother Courage and Her Children, Brecht’s plays until his death in 1956 were overflowing with songs. Not songs that revealed character or forwarded plot like the integrated musical – but songs that capitalized on the highly theatrical nature of musical theater by pushing a social or political message.

    Brecht’s theories had a tremendous impact on 20th century Theater, influencing almost every art form in one way or another. And as musicals during the time of Rodgers and Hammerstein moved to imitate the naturalist dramas of the new century, anti-realist playwrights were moving towards making their plays more musical with songs and dances that gave their shows a Brechtian sheen – actors presenting their roles and singing songs on their own thematic importance directly to the audience and the use of burlesque, minstrel and vaudeville conventions such as placards announcing each scene to break the fourth wall nonstop.

    As post-war theater absorbed the theories of the anti-realists, new forms appeared that combined the musical drama and the avant-garde play. The Theater of the Absurd rose in France with Ionesco and Genet and moved to England and America with Beckett, Pinter and Albee – filled with songs, dances, comedy sketches, direct appeals to the audience, plots were neither integrated nor realistic. The 1952 play Waiting for Godot by Beckett used the formalism of musicals and vaudeville to convey an existentialist allegory about the meaninglessness of life – theatrical performance that reveals the emptiness underneath the “act.”

    Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” called for a sensory experience that displaced classic texts in favor of shocking productions that would purge the audience of their aggression and violence, almost assaulting the audience by music, language, performers, film and lights. The British director Peter Brook’s famous 1964 production of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade depicted the assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corday as performed by members of a lunatic asylum under the direction of the Marquis de Sade – complete with songs and dance.

    Anti-realism also became a watch cry for the new off-Broadway avant-garde in the 1970s, with Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theater Company questioning sexual and gender roles through appropriation of musical camp and Susan-Lori Parks’ surrealistic essays on black history in which language is like musical repetition – her “rep & rev” dialogue of repetition examines the ways in which black culture derives not from sanctioned histories but from oral literature that mimics the musical form.

    And as the anti-realists adopted musical formulas, the musical itself lost cultural value in the 1960s with the advent of baby boomer pop culture, its practioners began to adopt the techniques of the anti-realists – the directors Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins incorporated Brechtian technique into West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret. Harold Prince was an adherent of Meyerhold – his works with Stephen Sondheim like Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd all reject conventional forms of musical integration in favor of an anti-realist approach that emphasized a Brechtian distancing through the very nature of the musical as an epic art form.

    In musical theater, there are two separate dramatic forms that work in tandem – but on different tracks. The first is dramatic time in which dialogue and staging is a simulation of real life – this includes naturalistic staging and sets. The second is musical time in which music, lyrics and dance convey a different kind of reality. Songs are poetic recreations of speech – metered and held in a rigid order of time. The casual, irregular pattern of everyday speech is in direct conflict with musical notation, which holds to a steady pattern. When a character moves from one to the other in a musical, a suspension of real-life time begins and we enter a kind of mythic time frame.

    When dramatic time is alternated with musical time, the characters also change. When Buffy speaks directly after “Going Through the Motions,” she is inherently a different character than the Buffy who sang in the previous scene. The way in which she expresses and carries herself are in a different order of time from that of speaking Buffy. The vampires that she stakes are different as well – as they are swept into performing her number, their identities also change from that of growling demons to singing demons. It is absurd to think that unrealistic characters like vampires are even “more” unreal when singing – but that is the nature of how music works in different time. Singing and dancing does not further characterization, but displays different aspects of it – the social aspects of how we present ourselves to the world.

    When this action happens – when characters move from speaking to singing and to speaking again, the audience is thrown outside of the drama and thrown back in again in a perpetual motion. There is no pretense of realism – instead, a kind of Brechtian distancing happens that causes the “naturalistic” parts of the drama to stand out in relief. The same kind of effect happens with any kind of story based in anti-realistic effects – and the more that Harry and Ron and Hermione engage in magical moments, the more pointed their everyday realism becomes in response.

    And this happens because our minds still read the difference in character as the same – but doubled. The characters in Buffy become musical versions of themselves just as Willow becomes Dark Willow through the use of magic and Liam and William become Angel and Spike through their siring. They are the same person – but different at the same time – and this “difference” leaves us with a multiple sense of identity much like the “doubling” of superheroes. The clash of styles – mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne – with their superhero counterparts becomes a metaphor for the social act of performance.

    In this sense, the primary understanding of plot, characters, and themes in a musical are not actually attained through an integrated synthesis of music, lyrics and book, but through the psychological projection of the character as social self. This suspension of reality when moving from song to speech to song suspends a moment of time indefinitely. The repetition of a moment before a direct action becomes just as revealing as the direct action itself as a character shifts back and forth between delay and acceleration.

    Sometimes, this can be used to great dramatic advantage. A character in the midst of a strong action (like murder) will pause for a moment to savor their upcoming kill – or contemplate the consequences of adultery directly before engaging – in this sense, real time literally stops in order to musicalize a suspended moment in time. Thus, a murderer and her victim can sing at the same time, a pair of seemingly devoted lovers can sing about intended sexual conquests elsewhere and a hero can reexamine their motivation seconds before embarking on heroic action – or failing to do so. Or it can create comic moments like Anya’s fear of bunnies that literally intrudes upon “I’ve Got a Theory”

    And this Brechtian shift is what bothers most people who hate musicals – it breaks the rules of naturalism – people don’t sing in real life. In contemporary postmodern culture, a great emphasis is placed on footage and social media that give the appearance of real people living real lives instead of a scripted text – we have reality shows, You Tube videos, Twitter pages, Snapchat, Facebook – all designed to give the impression of a candid, truthful depiction of life. The advent of “fake news” and ads masking themselves as real content in magazines and online publications are just another aspect of the desire to embrace the “real” – sadly, making it even easier to fool people.

    In a world in which social performance is even more crucial than ever in the face of virtual reality, the anti-realism of the musical has the power to bring the audience to a greater understanding of the performing self. The shattering of reality pushes the viewer to consider the nature of their own presentation of image. And this is intensified by the introduction of music into the dramatic equation as Lorne the empath well knows.

    When the lighting changes, the angle of the camera changes and a new set magically appears at the beginning of a song, the transformative power of difference gives the musical a dramatic charge of making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. Or as Abe Burrows, book writer of Guys and Dolls put it: “Now begins unreality!”

    Which makes long musical scenes like “I’ve Got a Theory” very difficult to write – whether integrated dramatic scene or postmodern presentation, it’s harder than it looks to switch between dialogue and song convincingly while keeping the audience’s interest.

    Compare two very different musical scenes – both masterpieces of their kind. The first is the “Bench Scene” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, considered one of the greatest achievements of the integrated musical. The masterful interweaving of dialogue and song is all we need to understand the violent, tragic relationship between Julie Jordan, a poor millworker, and Billy Bigelow, a travelling carnival barker on the Maine coast in 1873.

    The scene can be read under the spoiler tag.
    The “Bench Scene” from Carousel
    by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

    Two mill women, Julie Jordan and her friend Carrie are waiting after hours to meet Billy Bigelow, a carousel barker. They are confronted by the owner of the carnival, Mrs. Mullin, who accuses Julie of stealing away Billy from her and bans her. When Billy arrives, they get into a confrontation and Billy is fired.












    JULIE: No. Never loved one - I told you that!
    BILLY: Say, you 're a funny kid. Want to go in to town and dance maybe? Or -
    JULIE: No. I have to be keerful
    BILLY: Of what?
    JULIE: My character. Y'see I'm never goin'to marry.

    BILLY: Suppose I was to say to you that I'd marry you?
    JULIE: You?
    BILLY: That scares you, don't it? You're thinkin what that cop said.
    JULIE: No, I ain't. I never paid no mind to what he said.
    BILLY: But you wouldn't marry anyone like me, would you?
    JULIE: Yes, I would, if I loved you. It wouldn't make no difference what you - even if I died fer it.
    BILLY: How do you know what you'd do if you loved me? Or how you'd feel ... or anythin'?
    JULIE: I dunno how I know.
    BILLY: Ah.
    JULIE: Jest the same I know how I - how it'd be - if I loved you.

    BILLY: But you don't.
    JULIE: No, I don't





    BILLY: Well, anyway ... You don't love me. That's what you said.
    JULIE: Yes ... I can smell them, can you? The blossoms.
    JULIE: The wind brings them down.
    BILLY: Ain't much wind tonight. Hardly any.

    BlLLY: I don't need you or anyone else to help me. I got it figgered out for myself. We ain't important. What are we? A couple of specks of nothin', look up there.

    You're a funny kid. Don't remember ever meetin' a girl like you.
    BILLY: Hey – are you tryin' t'get me to marry you?
    JULIE: No.
    BILLY: Then what's puttin' it into my head? You're different all right. Don't know what it is. You look up at me with that little kid face like - like you trusted me.
    BILLY: I wonder what it'd be like.
    JULIE: What?
    BILLY: Nothin'. I know what it'd be like. It'd be awful.

    JULIE: But you don't.
    BILLY: No I don't.





    BILLY: I'm not the kinda feller to marry anybody – even if a girl was foolish enough to want me to. I wouldn't.
    JULIE: Don't worry about it. Billy.
    BILLY: Who's worried?
    JULIE: You're right about there bein' no wind. The blossoms are jest comin' down by theirselves. Jest their time to, I reckon.
    (The music rises as he crosses nearer to her. He takes her face in his hands, leans down and kisses her.)

    The second musical scene is the antithesis of the realistic musical – “The Day Off” from Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George. We slowly see the genesis of the world-famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande by following the artist George Seurat through several Sunday afternoons as he studies the people who will eventually inhabit his painting. From dogs to children to servants to boatmen, George inhabits each one as he creates harmony from the chaos of life.

    The scene can be read under the spoiler tag.
    “The Day Off” from Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.
    We enter into the minds of two dogs, Spot and Fifi, George’s mother and her nurse, two servants Franz and Frieda, two girls named Celeste looking for a good time, two soldiers looking for girls and a cantankerous old boatman with an eyepatch as George sketches each of them as an observer, often singing along with them as he creates the various images that underlie his great painting.

    (George sketches a dog.)


    The grass needs to be thicker. Perhaps a few weeds
    And some ants, if you would. I love fresh ants


    (George notices another dog.)

    YAP! YAP! YAP!














    (George sketches his mother and her nurse)





    (George starts to sketch the servants)

    FRIEDA: You know, Franz, I believe that artist is drawing us

    FRANZ: Who?

    FRIEDA: Monsieur's friend

    FRANZ: Monsieur would never think to draw us! We are only people he looks down upon.

    (“The Day Off” from Sunday in the Park with George)

    And Once More With Feeling is a deft blend of both – the psychological complexity of the integrated musical as pioneered by Rodgers and Hammerstein – and the sociological examination of the self in the anti-realist musical as pioneered by Sondheim.

    What makes Once More With Feeling so liberating for the musical fan (and so much fun for the non-musical fan) is that the characters are self-aware that they are performing in a musical – even as they are forced to sing about their innermost feelings as in an integrated musical. It would have been easy to write a parodic episode in which they sing about mundane things and there is a teasing of that in “They Got The Mustard Out” and “The Parking Ticket” – and yet the parameters of the spell force them to enact not only the trappings and formalism of the musical – but the dramatic meaning as well.

    And this informs “I’ve Got a Theory.” For the first day of the spell, they’ve all been participating in an “integrated” musical where the idea of performance is hidden. But this viewpoint changes the moment that the crew admits that they’ve actually been singing – from this point onward, they acknowledge that they are in fact “IN” a musical. Which ends up changing the type of musical they’re actually “IN.” And that makes “I’ve Got a Theory” Brechtian in the greater sense. The moment they learn they’re in a musical – they start singing about it in a Brechtian manner – but within the format of an integrated musical. Whedon can have his cake and eat it too.

    “I’ve Got a Theory”

    In “Going Through the Motions”, Buffy’s song adheres to the standard idea of a repeated refrain – the hook, the chorus, the catchphrase, often the title appears towards the end of the A section. A traditional 32-bar song often positions the refrain after a long verse which has a sense of leading up to the song’s theme.

    But in a musical scene like “I’ve Got a Theory/Bunnies/If We’re Together,” which involves highly individualized characters already familiar to a viewing audience, Whedon decided on an open-ended cycle of verses. This stems from oral traditions like folk song, which often starts with a statement for mnemonic purposes – a repeated statement of theme makes it easy to remember.

    A song frontloaded with the refrain allows a series of developmental riffs on the theme – the “fixed” line can be alternated with accompanying lines/couplets/verses that vary with each repetition. An example of this kind of song is Cole Porter’s comic “You’re the Top”:


    YOU’RE MICKEY MOUSE! (“You’re the Top” from Anything Goes by Cole Porter)
    Or a more contemporary song like Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”:



    NO ONE COULD LOOK AS GOOD AS YOU (“Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison

    Giles’ first line begins a series of stanzas containing a refrain/response that could be spun ad infinitum – this kind of song is ideal for sharing between groups of characters in a musical drama – equal verses give equal time - each character is allowed their own moment in the sun. In larger production numbers, this can become a never-ending chain that could have included characters NOT in the room as the action expands outward.


    The song is in A Major – a bright, cheery key – and like Buffy’s opening song in D Major, it’s a smart choice for untrained voices because it generally stays within a vocal middle range – and “I’ve Got a Theory” barely spans an octave.

    It makes perfect sense that Giles leads the song as Watcher, father-figure and owner of the Magic Box – the scene starts with him firmly in control and setting the parameters of the song. The look on Xander’s face as he turns to eye the other Scoobies reflects the incredulous stance of the audience as we hear our first character sing apart from Buffy. And Head is quite an accomplished singer – which only adds to the shock of the unreal for the audience – he’s so polished as a singer that this has to be a spell.

    Right away, Giles guesses correctly at what’s behind all this musical madness. There’s a nice alliteration here with demon-dancing-demon, reflecting the turning of Giles’ thoughts and assonance with the refrain – theo-RY/DE-mon. The epistrophic word “demon” emphasizes Giles’ hunch that this is has to be a non-human phenomenon – which fits well with his anti-demon beliefs.

    And then Giles makes a pained face as he reconsiders. There’s a nice consonance at the end line in “theory-there” and a very good set-up for Willow’s compound rhyme in the next stanza.

    It’s strange that Giles is suddenly convinced that he’s wrong when he was spot on from the start. Is there something about the spell that forces the person to discount the theory that it might be the particular demon who cast the spell?

    There’s a slight run up and down and up the scales here in the patter of eighth notes – creating a humorous wave-like effect in the melody line that evokes thoughts running around in circles – which pays off when it’s Xander’s turn.

    And here we intuit the structure of the song – a repeated stanza that’s sung by more than one person. Everyone’s going to get a chance to sing. Now it’s Willow’s turn – the researcher extraordinaire and lover of books – only surpassed by Giles, the first singer who starts the ball rolling.

    There’s a humorous demon-dreamin’ rhyme and a nice inner slant rhyme of strong K sounds – “stuck-wack-y” – both set on high notes to give Willow’s line a sharp vibrant punch with the kicker of a feminine rhyme “right-there/nightmare.” The original script had “crazy” in place of “wacky” – Whedon wisely changed the word. The callback is to the first season episode Nightmares, in which a young boy in a coma creates nightmares that come to life through astral projection.

    It’s not a surprise that Willow would immediately think of the events of Nightmares (also written by Whedon) considering that her performance anxiety was literally manifested on a stage in The Puppet Show, Nightmares and in Restless – the thought that she might once again be forced to perform brings up similar memories.

    WILLOW: Everybody staring – I would hate to have everybody paying attention to me like that. (Nightmares)
    There’s a subtle link between the four Whedon episodes that evoke an anti-realist dream-like state – Nightmares, Hush, Restless and Once More With Feeling – they share the same Brechtian estrangement that pervades the musical. There’s a sense of alternate realities working in tandem as reality and the symbolic, archetypical world merge. And the key to this is the way in which the characters view themselves as performers – hyper-aware of their existence in an ongoing drama once all naturalist trappings have been removed.

    There’s even a joke about musicals in Nightmares:

    GILES: I-I dreamt that I got lost in the stacks and I... I couldn't read... Of course!
    XANDER: Uh, our dreams are coming true?
    GILES: Dreams? That would be a musical comedy version of this. Nightmares, our, our nightmares are coming true. (Nightmares)
    Since we are in musical comedy land at this point in Once More With Feeling,, Willow’s fears recess into the background – she points at Tara who punctuates the Broadway lyric with “jazz hands” – a clichéd hand movement used in musicals and other high performance arts.

    Hand stretched out and splayed, they indicate to the audience that an act is happening – a favorite of Bob Fosse, who adored the idea of performance as a metaphor for corruption of self – performers manipulating the audience with empty razzle-dazzle. And the characters smile feebly as they are pulled into the musical number even as they raise eyebrows and look helplessly at each other – only Buffy is able to walk away from the group.

    And a seemingly shocked Xander is next to take over the lyric as Buffy moves slowly away from the group – but instead of the “theory” melody line of Giles, he sings a variant melody that invites the group to join him not only in solving the problem, but to sing a slower, more elongated passage ending in a melisma – singing the single word “out” over a series of different notes.


    And as Buffy turns away, Willow, Tara and Anya move forward to complete Xander’s melody line, going for the triple rhyme that Whedon loves – theory-eerie-cheery – and completing Xander’s out-about end rhyme as they grimace with the odd feeling of knowing that they’re unwillingly performing in a musical number.

    So we’ve now completed a full A section – if this song follows in the footsteps of “Going Through the Motions”, then we should hear a second repetition of the first A section that compounds the theme. And that’s exactly what we get as Xander now gets his own “theory” in the next A section:

    As in many second A sections, the refrain is temporarily dropped in favor of thematic development. Xander’s already said, “I’ve got a theory” at the end of the first A section – but never informed the audience (and the gang) as to what that theory actually was. Now we know – witches.

    And this brings up an interesting puzzle in the script that is never fully explained. In hindsight, we know that Xander summoned the demon – and this begs the question of why he stays silent throughout the entire events of the episode. He may be embarrassed at his own stupidity in believing good things would come of it, but it doesn’t explain why he’s silent even when it’s clear that people are dying. Xander may not have understood the ways and means and consequences of the spell, but he’s aware of secret information the Scoobies would need to figure it out. So why stay silent until he has no choice but to reveal the truth to save Dawn?

    Why doesn’t the spell force Xander to tell the Scoobies what happened in the first place? If the spell works on a simplistic level – if it forces people to sing what’s in their hearts as is said several times in the text – then shouldn’t Xander be confessing just about now how he summoned the dancing demon? He tells the group that “we” should work it out – is he hoping that they will solve the problem that he’s created?

    This is a clue that the songs in Once More With Feeling are not true confessions of how the characters feel, but “performances” that represent how they THINK they should feel in various situations. Their self-awareness of performing complicates the simplistic idea of revealing innermost thoughts – a good musical rarely works on a surface level, but works with the subtext beneath the words. As we saw with Buffy’s song and will see throughout the episode, what a character says isn’t necessarily what they truly believe – but reflective of the lies and prevarications we tell ourselves. And show business performance becomes a metaphor for the way we lie to others - and ourselves.

    Not only does Xander keep silent about his summoning - but he outright lies here in a lyric. He knows exactly what happened to cause this, but he races up to Willow and Tara and fingers witches as the culprits instead of himself. We have another epistrophic use of the word “witches” to match Giles’ “demon” as a possible cause of the spell. Blaming the usual Sunnydale Hellmouth inhabitants for causes that are partially human is integral to Season Six – although Spike and Anya as demons cause havoc and Amy and Willow as witches create chaos, the thoroughly human Xander as well as Warren, Jonathan and Andrew are the instigators of much that goes wrong.

    Xander’s immediate rush to blame witches is reminiscent of Gingerbread where Willow and Amy were almost burned at the stake – the reason, in fact, for Amy’s reality as a rat in Willow’s room. And although Xander seems cheerful enough at his own suggestion, the moment that he sees the icy looks of Tara and Willow, he realizes his terrible mistake and the orchestra momentarily pauses as he backs down in comic patter that repeats feminist clichés over the same four notes of the melody line:


    As Xander sits down, chastised, the backing orchestra starts again – Xander has caused the first disruption in the song by silencing the orchestra through his politically incorrect accusation. Xander slumps in his seat as Anya steps forward to perform her verse:


    And if Xander’s stanza caused musical consternation, then Anya’s first line completely demolishes the song – not only the sense but the sound is wrong. There’s no corresponding rhyme to “witches” in “bunnies” – nor is there any correlation between demons, witches, telekinetic children – and bunnies except in Anya’s mind. Of course, the long-standing joke about Anya’s terror of bunnies stems from Fear, Itself – when Anya dressed up as the scariest monster she could think of.

    Later in the series, we get crucial background information of a pre-demonic Anya that explains her fears – but in Once More With Feeling, it simply marks her as an outsider from the group, her contribution viewed as acutely embarrassing. Which makes Anya even more desperate to belong.

    The Scoobie gang look at each other, stunned into silence as the song comes to a sudden halt – surely they heard her lyric wrong. The added sound effect of crickets adds a vaudeville touch to the proceedings as it parodies the theatrical cliché of a silent audience sitting on their hands after a terrible performance – so quiet, one can actually hear crickets chirping.

    And to cover the silence, Tara tries to restart the song with her stanza:

    I'VE GOT A –
    But poor Tara never gets to finish her refrain – Anya suddenly wrests the song from her with a powerhouse performance of her bunny-phobia.

    It’s interesting to note that out of everyone present, it’s Tara whose stanza is cut short – and she never does finish. Of the three people in the Scoobie Gang who are non-core four – Tara, Anya and Spike – two are present in this number and both are unable to participate in the group number without disruption. In Tara’s case, the reluctance to complete her verse at all reflects her past as a neglected child, ordered to keep her opinion to herself. And in keeping with Anya’s background, the former vengeance demon literally hears crickets after her initial refrain – and in response, gives herself a featured solo in the midst of a group number. Whedon does a wonderful job here in delineating character by how they perform within the constraints of the ensemble.

    WHEDON: This little bit here came from Emma herself. She was always screaming heavy metal at me as a joke on set, for no reason. "Joss Whedon! He has a show! He's a producer!" Just because she's incredibly silly. And so I had to throw something in there for her, because everything is tailored to my actors. And I thought, what better thing to write about than bunnies, in that instance?
    The intrusion of a different song into a group number is a staple of musical scenes – one of the most famous being the meeting of Tony and Maria in West Side Story during the school dance. As the other characters dance within a naturalistic approximation of time, Tony and Maria seem to enter a musical world where the lighting, the setting and even the timeframe changes to accommodate their meeting.

    And like Tony and Maria, Anya separates herself from the group as the lighting dims and a spotlight dances over her as the orchestration switches from a Disney-esque arrangement to heavy metal:


    The discrepancy between the formalism of the music – hard rock – and the lyrics – describing bunnies as hidden monsters – is what makes the song so hilarious and enjoyable. Anya’s lyrics are ridiculously over-wrought – almost surrealist – as she details the attributes that makes bunnies so incredibly dangerous. This “star turn” by Anya parodies the monster-of-the-week theorizing that Giles takes so seriously and pulls total focus from his song to her own personal issues – a foreshadowing of the disastrous events to come when the Magic Box is handed from a stable Giles to an erratic Anya.


    Emma Caulfield’s indicating in the number (literally acting out the imagery of the lyrics) by hopping around and twitching her nose while rubbing her “paws” in front of her face as if she herself was a bunny singing acid rock transforms the song into a “star turn” for Anya, who desperately wants to be a part of the group and yet maintain a separate identity.

    The half-hearted attempt to rhyme in the first section of the song has now devolved into a free style lyric where anything goes – heavy metal songs tending to ignore rhyme as too “developed” for an anarchistic performance. There’s a slight assonance with “legs-anyway” – but the interrogative sentences create a sense of building tension in the lyric as the melody rises and Anya prepares for the big finish.

    And Anya raises her arms and swings her hips for the big finish.


    And Anya brings us back to the original impetus for “I’ve Got a Theory” as she repeats her original line with a word change – “could” has now become “must” in Anya’s mind. She raises her hands in the air at the end of the song as smoke surrounds her – an open gesture that signifies the performer has given it their all.


    And the response is the same – crickets chirping – as the Scoobies look at her, speechless.

    Anya readjusts her shirt in slight embarrassment as she throws out an alternative theory:


    And it’s back to Giles’ song and the A section – with alliances now shifted. Willow sits down next to Giles and gives him a look (“she’s crazy”) as she opens a book.

    And once again we hear Xander’s variant melody – another call to unity – and even the lyric is similar to Xander’s with the substitution of “fast” for “out”, bending the syntax a bit – but the unity this time is between two former opponents, Giles and Willow.

    Ever since Willow brought Buffy back, the relationship between Willow and Giles has been fraught with tension:

    WILLOW: I wasn't lucky. I was amazing. And how would you know? You weren't even there.
    GILES: If I had been, I'd have bloody well stopped you. The magicks you channeled are more ferocious and primal than anything you can hope to understand, (even more angry) and you are lucky to be alive, you rank, arrogant amateur!
    WILLOW: You're right. The magicks I used are very powerful. I'm very powerful. And maybe it's not such a good idea for you to piss me off. (Flooded)

    But in Once More With Feeling, we see a meeting of minds as they bond over their mutual love for research and exasperation over Anya.


    “Theory-Clearly-Seri” is a set of clever internal near rhyme – except for the improper stress on the third syllable of “Ser-i-ous” – another wince-inducing drag on the music. It’s possible that Willow could be fudging the English language in that way – but not Giles. There’s also a problematic homophone in the “fast-passed” rhyme – “passed” could also be “past” within the context of the awkwardly worded lyric. Not one of Whedon’s better moments – it almost sounds like a dummy lyric that was never rewritten – of which Whedon himself admits there are many in the episode.

    As Giles turns to walk up the ladder for books in the upper level, we hear a voice off-screen.


    And we realize that we’ve forgotten about Buffy – who has been standing over in the corner, ignored by the singing group. It’s telling that none of the four characters who brought Buffy back sing about Buffy in their lyrics until “Walk Through the Fire” – whereas Buffy is the primary focus of songs by Spike and Giles. There’s a consensus of silence when it comes to addressing Buffy’s resurrection – even during the spell, it’s only mentioned after a crisis occurs – and only by Anya and Tara.

    And we have the end of Giles’ Theory song as Buffy sings a musical transition that brings us into a different song altogether. Whedon has exhausted the possibilities of the song – and that’s common. List songs that begin with a refrain and answer often turn monotonous once the song has gone through several variations of the same thing and he smartly changes the song to up the dramatic stakes.


    Whedon has not only one, but two characters disrupt the song. Anya’s interruption is temporary – but Buffy successfully ends Giles’ song by drawing the characters to sing her new melody that also starts with an opening refrain.

    WHEDON: But then Buffy comes in with this, and for me musically this is more a signature of what the sound is going to be like for the rest of the show. It's kind of mixing the pop and the musical sensibilities. I like what's going on here because she's basically wooing Giles. And you can see him as he starts to sing with them, falling under her spell as she says what appears to be a rousing chorus of "We can handle this, we're a great team", but what she's actually saying is "I'm bored, it means nothing to me, they've got nothing new." And she kind of fools everyone, and Giles is the last one to fall into it because he's the one who suspects what's going on with her.
    Buffy’s state of mind – how she hides what she feels – is akin to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in the Simpsons Episode Homer and Apu in the Emmy-nominated song, “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?” by Alf Clausen and Greg Daniels. Apu ends up living with the Simpson family when he is fired from the Kwik-E-Mart. He expresses his appreciation for their hospitality by singing a musical song to convince them that he’d rather be living with them than anywhere else on earth – including the Kwik-E-Mart.

    “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?”

    APU: You see –




    HOMER: Heh, heh, that's OK.






    NOT ME!


    NOT ME!

    As Apu exits, the family feels self-satisfied that everything is fine.

    HOMER: Everything really wrapped up nicely. Much quicker than usual.
    MARGE: I guess we learned that happiness is wherever you find it.
    HOMER: And we’ve all found happiness – every one of us. Hey, what’s that sound?

    The Simpsons walk out of the house to find Apu secretly crying on top of the roof.

    I DO!

    As Apu continues to cry, Homer is visibly upset.

    HOMER: Hey, he’s not happy at all! He lied to us through song! I hate when people do that!

    And like Apu, Buffy is lying to the Scoobies through song. Ironically for an episode where characters are forced to present themselves, Buffy’s song is her performance for her Watcher and friends and the musical spell only enables her to fool them even more soundly than before.

    In the past, it was Buffy as the Slayer who was the boss – who made final decisions for the team – with the approval of her Watcher. But now Giles fears that Buffy is just going through the motions as leader of the group, designating important tasks to other members and leaning heavily on Giles as an answer to both her financial and personal problems. Only the viewer (and Spike) is aware of Buffy’s inner trauma and the true strain of keeping her secret from the group. The uncomfortable conversations in the Magic Box with Giles, Willow, Tara, Xander and Anya show us that Buffy is failing to maintain her role as group leader since her resurrection, but the others can’t understand why and Buffy refuses to tell them.

    But Giles suspects – and when Buffy sings, “It doesn’t matter,” he wonders what she’s about to reveal as he turns to look at her. And Buffy sings her song – strictly AABA.

    And Buffy sees this – and like Anya, turns the group song into an interrogative lyric that has a double-meaning depending on the singer.

    The questions that Buffy asks are not necessarily answered in the song. Although the gang believes that she’s talking about the spell, what Buffy is referring to is that they can’t face their own problems – and for Buffy, one of the problems that they’ve all been avoiding is Buffy’s resurrection. The rhymes of “face-place” and “together-weather” are simple and clean – like Buffy’s act. Easy to digest and simple to sing. But every line has an alternate reading – the group assumes that by “place” Buffy means Sunnydale – but it’s obvious that Buffy actually means “this world” as another form of hell after her experience of “heaven.” And then Buffy swings into a different melody for the bridge:


    This is not only a reference to the numerous apocalypses that the Scoobies have been through – but there’s a sarcasm that goes over the heads of her friends as Buffy almost mocks the pointlessness of their actions after the events of Season Five and her death. Buffy lies and her friends want to hear the lie - and this brings up a question about the spell. How can Buffy lie if she’s singing her innermost feelings? As shown earlier with Xander, musicals don’t show character telling the truth through song. They show characters as performers – the image they want to present to the world. And Buffy looks at them lovingly even as her eyes say the opposite with arms crossed in a defensive pose.

    The short four note phrases give an indication of Buffy’s mindset – she’s mouthing platitudes without much thought. The end rhymes “Apocalypse-trips” and “there-care” are not clever or interesting – they’re uninspired placeholders for what Buffy’s really thinking. What does it matter? Why should we care? Within the context of the song, they read differently without the knowledge the viewer has of Buffy’s internal despair.

    But the Scoobies take Buffy at her word – except for Giles, who continues to watch Buffy suspiciously. Buffy notices this and tries even harder to pull Giles into her performance by encouraging everyone else to sing a paean to togetherness as she moves towards the table – a series of uninspired lyrics that Whedon himself admits weren’t exactly inspired despite the clever “in it-minute” rhyme:


    WHEDON: The verse "What can't we do if we get in it / We'll work it through within a minute", I thought "Ugh! What a placeholder! That I'll rewrite, don't worry." And then months later I was sort of getting used to it, and decided that it was just fine. Because I am lazy. And it sounded pretty when they sang it.
    The lyrics “what can’t we do?” and “we’ll work through it in a minute” underline the unrealistic view each member of the Scoobie gang has of their current effectiveness as a team – ever since Buffy’s resurrection, there’s been an attempt to make things “normal” again. And from the group’s perspective, they’ve accomplished their greatest achievement – they’ve saved Buffy from Hell and brought her back to life. But from Buffy’s perspective, the only person who’s really sacrificed anything this time is her – and even the rest she earned was taken away from her.


    For Six Seasons of BtVS, growing emotional problems within the group have been pushed aside and swept under the rug because of imminent threat – and this song is almost a cynical repudiation of the group’s past glories in episodes like Primeval where their separate strengths created an unbeatable team. But the team is so divided at this point that Xander can’t even tell them that he’s summoned the demon – or Buffy her story about being in “heaven.”

    And in the midst of this, Giles is planning to leave. Buffy’s acting out a part that she can barely play without breaking character – and he’s expecting her to carry out her duties without him. So Buffy tries to fake her way through the song, looking at Giles as she manages his reactions.

    The song continues with a bit of alliteration – “pay-price” and “do-die” – with simple rhyme schemes that have a nice assonance “try-price-die-I’ve-died-twice.” Buffy eyes Giles, wondering if the lyric will make Giles think about her resurrection. And then she goes for a very morbid joke.

    The “do or die” line is the centerpiece of all the lines about togetherness – not only does it set up Buffy’s joke, but since it is only Buffy who has died at this point – twice in fact – it feels hollow in a way that the rest of the song never reaches – since only Buffy has made that sacrifice and no one seems to care about the aftermath. We’ve seen this kind of reaction before – after her first death, after Angel’s death – and each time, Buffy is expected to pick herself up, brush herself off and start all over again.


    Whedon injects a corrosive element into the song through having Buffy openly turn her angst over her death into a throw-away gag. She throws a wry smile to Giles, who is finally won over and joins in, singing in harmonious accord with the group. Making a joke of her own death is a sure way to make Giles believe that she’s over her trauma because papering over emotional distress with humor is the hallmark of the Scoobie Gang.


    And Giles sings an overlapping melody line that repeats Buffy’s opening refrain.


    Is Giles’ last line a continuation of the line before or does it stand alone? The meaning of the question shifts – but looms large because of Giles’ impending departure. IF we’re together – the repetition of the line emphasizes the fact that it’s the solidarity of the group that makes them strong. The group turns toward an imaginary audience as they look to the door – where anything or anyone can enter.


    And Anya once again tries to pull focus to herself – much like the girl who steps in when the lead breaks her leg, Anya finishes the song – wresting it again from the control of the group.

    Anya looks wistful as she realizes the song is over – but pleased that she was allowed to finish the song.

    Of course, this means that the final line is never really completed by the group – “if we’re together” – because they aren’t really together at all and will soon pull apart through Buffy’s impending revelation. “There’s nothing we can’t face” – except for everything that happens in Season Six. And so the song trails off without a true ending – Buffy’s song (and Anya’s interjections) have managed to cut off Giles’ “I’ve Got a Theory” at the knees – there’s still no solution to their problem except a harmonized “togetherness” that’s all a shadow play to Buffy. Because “It doesn’t matter.” Especially after Giles leaves Sunnydale.

    And it’s not until his return that the true ending to the song happens – not in Once More With Feeling, but in the two-hour Season Finale – later separated into two episodes – and are the very last words spoken in Two to Go.

    WILLOW: And there's no one in the world with the power to stop me now.
    Willow is hit by a blast of energy which sends her flying back across the room. She looks up to see Giles standing in the doorway – leather jacket, no glasses, pure Ripper.

    GILES: I’d like to test that theory. (Two to Go)
    Last edited by American Aurora; 20-09-17 at 07:43 PM.

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    Part Seven – Under Your Spell: The Enchantment of Music: Exclusion and Ecstasy

    Traditionally, the end of a group musical theater number marks the end of a scene – the lights dim, the sets change, the music swells to cover the transition – except we’re not in a traditional musical.

    In many ways, Once More With Feeling is a Brechtian musical where the characters are self-aware that they’re performing musical numbers. So as the last strains of the orchestra die away, each singer is acutely aware of the shift back to dialogue – and the shock of reality elicits two very different reactions to the song:

    XANDER: See, okay, that was disturbing.
    WILLOW: I thought it was neat.

    Two diametrically opposed views that are both true when it comes to the anti-realism of the musical.

    This moment is probably intended as a fake-out by Whedon – we’re meant to think that Willow the witch is the one causing all the problems. The surprise at the end of Once More With Feeling is the reveal that Xander summoned the demon – or at least wanted life to be a song and dance.

    Since one of the aspects of the spell seems to be a numbing effect to the dissonance between song and speech, it’s possible that Xander’s feeling of a disturbance in the force has less to do with the actual singing and more to do with the fact that he’s responsible for it – and it’s not going in a good direction. In addition, Xander’s contributions are often more subtle and muted than the rest as a non-supernatural person. Like Dawn, the balance between independence and group solidarity is very important to Xander in order to avoid being subsumed by the group and it probably also brings back unpleasant memories of being “used” by Dracula.

    Why Willow found the song fun most likely has to do with the group aspect of “I’ve Got a Theory” – after all the antagonism in the Scoobie Gang since Buffy’s death and resurrection, it must have felt nice to participate in a song where the virtues of community are emphasized. Willow’s fears of solo performance are avoided here – musically, she’s not the star, but just one of many in the ensemble. The sense of community created by the song – especially after her separate fights with Giles and Tara and awkward relations with Buffy – most likely reassures Willow that beneath all the recent angst lies an unbreakable bond of friendship and love.

    Neither Willow nor Xander seem to suspect that Buffy’s contribution to “I’ve Got a Theory” was less than honest – as with all show business clichés, appearance is more important than reality. And Buffy’s “performance” has won them over – well – not all of them.

    BUFFY: So what is it? What's causing it?
    GILES: I thought it didn't matter.

    Once the musical harmony is over, the other, not-so-pleasant reality asserts itself as Giles takes one of Buffy’s own lyrics and throws it back in her face – and Buffy realizes that Giles is still suspicious that she’s not telling the whole truth. And that’s Show Biz – you can give ‘em the old Razzle Dazzle – and some audience members are still unconvinced.

    And for Buffy – who believes that the life she’s living now is nothing more than a poor player fretting and strutting his hour on the stage to no avail – it’s exhausting to pretend to be happy that she’s alive. And it’s terrifying to think that she might be called out as a fraud – the “character” mask that Buffy has so carefully crafted to play her part could slip and crack apart.

    And so Buffy quickly rummages through her bag of character guises and reaches all the way back to materialistic valley girl Buffy of pre-Season One who was rarely flustered by anything other than wearing last year’s fashions:

    BUFFY: Well I'm not exactly quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots but there's definitely something unnatural going on here. And that doesn't usually lead to hugs and puppies.
    And this seems to make Giles back off a bit – especially when Anya says the obvious – as always.

    ANYA: Well, is it just us? Is it only happening to us? That would probably mean a spell.

    Despite Buffy’s inner trauma, her Slayer instinct kicks in at the thought that other people might be affected outside of the group – adopting a “hero to the rescue” look, she heads towards the door to see if there’s any suspicious activity outside. Which is odd because Buffy already knows that vampires and demons she’s slain the night before were part of the spell - but she’s possibly attributed that to a spell that directly targeted her and those nearby.

    Buffy opens the door to peer outside – and is greeted by a surprising sight – or site – with musicals, it’s the same thing.

    From The Black Crook onward, one of the hallmarks of the musical is the transformation of the expected to the extraordinary – the move from a representational world to a dream-like landscape in which anything can happen. A field turns into a fairytale kingdom and the door of a black-and-white Kansas farmhouse reveals itself to be the portal to another alternate reality.

    As the Greeks and Shakespeare knew, spectacle supported by dramatic music more easily breaches the boundaries between this reality and the next. It’s not a surprise that Charles Dodgson was an enthusiastic admirer of spectacles, pantomimes and puppet shows as Alice in Wonderland is full of astonishing transformations that emulate the elaborate set changes of Victorian musical theater.

    So when Buffy opens the door to the Magic Box to peek outside, it’s not a wonder that Whedon transports us to a magical new land that sort of resembles Sunnydale – if it were in the Land of Oz. A bright light shines into the shop as the camera shifts from the audience’s point to view to that of Buffy peering into another world.

    “The Mustard”

    For the next musical number, the viewer’s POV shifts from a controlled inside space to a chaotic outside space – well, it would be a chaotic outside space if this were a realistic drama. But instead, we hear the trill of instruments and a close up of a man smiling directly at the “audience.”

    As the camera pulls back, we realizes that we’re at the tail end of what was apparently a massive production number going on in the street directly in front of the shop.

    WHEDON: This was a way of saying, "Everybody's in a musical!" And to do the biggest, most old-fashioned, brightly colored, silliest piece about absolutely nothing. Kind of get the big production number out of the way since I couldn't really afford to do them, and that's not really what I feel like writing. This is a more personal piece. And so it involves a lot more solo numbers and stuff like that.
    Whedon’s instinct to avoid Hollywood production numbers in favor of a more intimate approach pays off here – the obvious distinction between the over-produced ensemble piece – which is what the average person envisions when thinking of a musical – and the more individualized songs of the Buffy characters is necessary to take the later songs seriously. Even in movie musicals, this is often the case where large production numbers are fantasies and dream sequences or even actual “on” numbers where a performance is literally imagined to be happening on stage/screen like “Broadway Melody” from Singing in the Rain.

    Whedon’s ability to film a large production number wasn’t necessarily dependent on budget (although it was certainly dependent upon the comedic ability of David Fury, the man at the center of the song and one of Buffy’s main producer/writers.) Certain classic movie musicals, like the 1954 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, were considered “B” movies by Hollywood with smaller budgets and even cheaper film stock to match – the director, Stanley Donen, was determined to film in widescreen and shot the film twice in both standard and Cinemascope.

    To cut corners, he was forced to create cheap sets and simple costumes to distinguish the characters – red hair for all the brothers and color-coding their shirts in garish colors due to the use of Ansco color film, a much cheaper process than Technicolor. Intent on making their big budget Gene Kelly musical Brigadoon the “A” picture, MGM undercut and red-lined Donen at every turn until he left without funds – but the director got the last laugh when Seven Brides for Seven Brothers turned out to be a box office smash and Oscar magnet including a nomination for Best Picture – the barn-raising dance in which the brothers compete with other men for the attention of women is still one of the greatest dance scenes in film history, aided by the brilliance of Cinemascope in which every inch of the wide screen is used.

    The acrobatic flips and vigorous dancing in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers transform a typical Western trope – the raising of a barn – into a marvel of technical skill. And this ability of the musical to make the most crushing labor – singing and dancing– seem effortless is part and parcel of the musical dream world where thought becomes corporeal and anything is possible.

    And in Once More With Feeling the world of Sunnydale is transformed from a city on a Hellmouth to a musical city on a Hellmouth – complete with singing vampires, slayers, demons and inhabitants. Whedon’s clever notion here is to take a commonplace mishap – an irremovable stain from a favorite piece of clothing – and allow the magic of the musical to happen. Whedon’s script originally had Buffy herself in the frame as a tiny figure in the background – one imagines that he tried numerous angles to accommodate this (or realized that the actress would be unavailable that day) and decided that it was best to leave Buffy inside the shop for maximum Impact.

    And both Buffy and the viewer see that it’s a very particular kind of number – an enthusiastic group of customers who have all apparently witnessed something truly special – the deliberate delay of each word keeps the viewer guessing as to this action until the camera pulls back to show the man is holding a hanger with dry cleaning still wrapped in plastic, seemingly caught in the last moments of a musical number.


    And the camera pulls back even further to show several other customers behind the man – all holding their own cleaning in front of them in appropriate technicolor shades as proof that a miracle has happened – a miracle that can only be expressed in song and dance.


    The bright colors of the shirts are reminiscent of many widescreen musicals of the 1950s – a vibrant contrast that stands in sharp relief with the neutral shades of grim neo-realism, also in cinematic fashion at the time.

    And as the camera pans out even more (obviously no longer from Buffy’s pov), the chorus completes their “dance” – although the viewer is only privy to the final moments.

    And to the booming thunder of a bass drum, the number reaches the finale – often known on Broadway as the “big finish” with the orchestra switching sounds to become impossibly dense, dancers going wild, set pieces revolving, streamers often coming from the ceiling and actors singing at the top of their range while raising their arms in a presentational style (here covering their faces with the brightly colored shirts) and marching in place.

    This format actually dates back to the Roman theater (in which the stage directions specifically call for spectacle to get audiences “clapping”) and religious presentations in medieval times where performers of mystery plays were vigorously applauded for their incredible productions – complete with choruses of singing monks as actors dressed as the Devil with various instruments during peasant festivals.

    As opera developed, the choruses grew larger and dancers were added – popular entertainments added massive set changes and theatrical gimmicks like projection to heighten the finale. In America, minstrelsy added the gestural accompaniment of arms stretched outwards while marching or kicking legs in rhythm as each performer gets a turn, mixing both African and European traditions. Which worked wonderfully well in a show without a book – without any dramatic concerns, each number was a stand-alone piece, able to justify a magic show or a line of bathing beauties without worrying about placement.

    But after the new kind of musical began to take over Broadway in the 1920s, the large production number became a much more problematic matter. As book musicals replaced minstrelsy, vaudeville, revues and spectacles, there was a half-hearted attempt to wedge the same large production numbers into existing plots – which suddenly became ludicrous in context. Shows tried to come up with valid reasons for a big piece to happen – and the large production number began to break down into three separate kinds of ensemble pieces.

    The easiest were characters who worked in the arts – they were naturally wedded to large performances in backstagers, fashion shows, art exhibits and musical concerts like all of the songs in the film Cabaret. The second were dream sequences or delusions thought up by characters while sleeping or under the influence like the famous dream ballet in Oklahoma!

    The third – and the most influential – were numbers that were fully integrated into the storyline – often giving us the storyline like “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.

    At their best, the integrated production number could be thrilling and cathartic. At their worst – they became the defining moment of a bad musical as characters sang about trivial things – or even worse, very important things – while singing and dancing and juggling plates and performing circus acts and whatnot. In fact, they’re what people think of when they are reminded of how much they hate musicals. Whedon satirizes this convention with “The Mustard” as a man sings a massive production number backed by a huge ensemble – about a mustard stain.

    This kind of number was originally parodied by Mel Brooks in The Producers as producers looking to make illegal money from a flop decide to create an all-singing, all-dancing musical about the Nazis in the hilarious “Springtime for Hitler” – ironically, the show is perceived as a parody of musicals and become a huge hit, landing them in jail.

    And after the final bombastic note of “The Mustard,” Buffy turns away and shuts the door.

    BUFFY: It's not just us.

    Whedon’s choice of an almost inane subject to stage the largest and most expensive production number in Once More With Feeling has a certain sense to it. Musicals are always poised between the transcendent and the tacky, one musical note or dance step away from becoming absurd. As with any truly difficult art form, the higher the aim, the greater the fall – musicals that play it safe tend to be bland and flavorless. Only a musical that takes risks – with music, lyrics, dance, direction, sets – will expand to take the audience to a very different place.

    And this takes us to the heart of a musical – the melodies, the harmonies, the rhythmic structure that beats within – that elevates it above conventional drama. We’ve seen from the anti-realists that an audience that identifies with the lead character while distancing themselves from the action – due to the unnatural addition of music, lyrics and dance – allows a certain kind of projective identification. In Poetics, Aristotle felt that musical drama lent a “cathartic” psychological healing of both the individual and society. And how music dictates the nature of each situation and character is a large part of that.

    Singing in a musical pre-sets line readings – no matter how the actor or director tries to take over the song, the composer is the director in the sense that they have created a score that boxes the actor into presenting the character in a certain way. A lot of actors are frightened of singing – and directors of taking on musicals – because music reduces choices. Accents, rhythms, ascending and descending scales, short patter phrases, long drawn-out vocals – not much is left to chance. And the lyrics can never be accepted at face value – the music may flatly contradict them and force different interpretations on an actor whether they like it or not. Music can play leitmotifs from previous songs that make connections between characters when there are none in the script or provide an impetus for movement and dance even if the actor wants to stand still.

    So what happens in the score is what ends up happening on stage or screen – a half step up or down the scale can create intense excitement in the audience. Rhythm can divide or bring together characters – a sedate love song contrasts with a quick patter number. Arpeggios can reflect waves of feeling despite negativity whereas dissonance can tell an audience quickly that something is terribly wrong even if the lyric has a light and happy feel. A change in character not implied in the lyric can be made by the music.

    Even underlying musical accompaniment to dialogue can suggest an alternate reading of character motivation (dissonant chords in a bright melody) or prepare the audience for a change in plot or ironic reversal to come. What makes song and dance so enjoyable (or laughable, depending upon one’s attitude towards this time shift) is this constant distancing from the text – the awareness of the art form working on two different levels.

    (to be continued after the interlude)
    Last edited by American Aurora; 05-10-17 at 08:52 AM.

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    And we'll return to the rewatch after this important message.

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    Part Seven – Under Your Spell: The Enchantment of Music: Exclusion and Ecstasy, Part 2

    (cont. from "The Mustard" above)

    In most musicals, the score suggests the time and place of a story – the premise of Once More With Feeling – a spell that forces all the characters to sing musical songs – allows Whedon the artistic freedom to choose a different kind of song for every character. He doesn’t have to worry about a musical consistency of tone because every character is creating a musical theater song out of their own psyche. The idea of the spell conveniently integrates the various songs into a unified score. So the question that has to be asked – does each character “choose” the kind of song they sing – or at the very least, does the song choose them?

    We know that Buffy’s first song “Going Through the Motions” is a Disney-esque “I Want” song that she sings like a Disney Princess – if she were a Slayer. We know Buffy has watched Disney films – she implies in Crush that she’s seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical with a dancing Quasimodo and singing gargoyles performing “Out There”:

    And it’s possible that Buffy sees herself as the trapped Quasimodo, desperately longing to leave her prison. Or it’s possible that Buffy believes that she should be singing like a Disney Princess and the songs are actually reflections of what the characters BELIEVE they should be singing – IF they were singing in a musical – rather than who they really are.

    Tellingly, Buffy never sings songs that are similar to music at the Bronze. In “If We’re Together,” "Walk Through the Fire" and “Something to Sing About,” she sings songs that are from a different time than her own – reminiscent of progressive rock from the 60s and 70s (rock with a classical bent - or in this case - songs Joss Whedon grew up with) – something she might have heard her mother or Giles play on one of their albums but unlikely to be on any albums that she owns.

    Tara’s “Under Your Spell” is the most predictable style from any character – she’s already shown an affinity for folk songs throughout the series by quoting the lyric “Strong like an Amazon” the refrain from a 1990 song by lesbian folksinger Phranc called Amazons.

    Giles’ “Standing (in the Way)” certainly reflects his taste in music from everything we’ve seen – but Xander and Anya’s “I’ll Never Tell” harkens back to the classic boy-girl duets of classic American popular song by Cole Porter or Rodgers and Hart that are graceful of melody and heavy on sarcasm. Is this because of Anya (which seems likely considering she’s the one who starts the song and her other song from Selfless also harkens back to this era) or Xander? There’s no real reason why their song had to be a 1930s retro-pastiche – the sentiment could as easily have been expressed in a modern, pop guise.

    Are the songs designed for the listener of the song rather than themselves? Spike’s “Rest in Peace” not only fails to reflect the punk music he generally listens to, but he also sings without an accent for the majority of the song. Yes, yes – outside of the episode, we know why – but what is the textual explanation for Spike’s spoken words, “That’s great,” in an accent that sounds like a guy from Modesto, California? The only answer I can give is that Spike is imitating other singers that he’s heard – and for some reason, his inner psyche believes that singing this particular song in this particular way will appeal to Buffy enough that she will listen. Or it’s a musical side of Spike that he generally hides – like Angel with his Barry Manilow fetish.

    We have to ask once again what are the particulars of this spell that the musical demon has cast? How are certain melodies chosen? Why does Buffy sing to herself in Disney-fashion, but lie to others openly in soft rock? Does the person who starts the song set the rhythm, melody and tempo? Does this make “Walk Through the Fire” Buffy’s song that Spike, the Scoobie and Sweet all join – a song driven by her desires and reprised at the end of the episode alongside Spike’s reprise of “Rest in Peace”? Or is it an amalgamation of what’s currently in the air – the musical resolution of a dramatic situation?

    In that sense, Sweet is a stand-in for Whedon himself – he’s picking and choosing what kind of song will fit a certain actor’s voice or show off their dancing ability. So Buffy gets soft rock and Disney and Xander and Anya get retro-pastiche – genres that work well with untrained voices. Spike, Tara and Giles are given ballads with a wider musical range to show off their particular talents. So it seems likely that the characters are given the choice to some extent to choose their own melodies, rhythms, tone and style – songs that fit them like a glove – in keys that fit their voices and dance routines that match their varying levels of abilities.

    We already know that the spell doesn’t necessarily prevent the characters from lying about themselves and their motives – as early as “I’ve Got a Theory,” lies are flying fast and furious in the gang as Xander blames witches for his own spell and Buffy makes a pretense of all-for-one and one-for-all when she’s utterly detached from the group dynamic. In Once More with Feelingthe surface meaning of the songs are often utterly divorced from the subtext like any good musical – lively melodies and humorous phrases covering up tremendous angst and unhappiness by acting as a smokescreen to fool the listener. Music is the great communicator, reaching across language and culture – but it is also the great deceiver, making a pretense of connection when there is none. And this aspect of the spell touches upon more than just the musical – it touches upon the very nature of music itself.

    In a fundamental sense, sound is nothing more than vibration. Hearing was the last of the senses to develop – long after sight, taste, smell and touch. Crickets and birds listen to each other through variation of frequency – repetitive tones that are analyzed and processed as a kind of language. But music itself is absent – despite the trills of bird cry, their sounds are linguistic rather than musical. The human brain is able to discern patterns within patterns that are far more complex than almost all animals – fragments become melodies which become a pattern of music with a beginning, middle and end. Accents and intensities become rhythm and crescendos. Where a human brain pieces together meaning from random notes, the average animal just hears noise.

    It’s the human reaction to sound that transforms noise into music – our inner ear transforms sounds into high-frequency pitches that sound “sweet” to our ears. The malleus – the same annoying part of the middle ear that causes earaches as it clicks and pops under pressure – is a hammer-shaped ligament that transmits vibrations against two other bones to create a wave of air that hits the nerve cells in the inner ear. These tiny bones can transmit a range of frequencies that is astonishing as the middle ear transmits air waves to the fluid-filled inner ear. And the middle ear can also cut off sounds that are damaging to the ear – closing the canal when faced with a dangerously loud noise. Deafness occurs when the muscles finally collapse under extended strain, unable to protect the inner ear any longer.

    The inner ear itself controls both hearing and balance as a major receptor of the nervous system – as a sound wave move through fluid, it reaches the organ of Corti within the cochlea – little hair cells measuring 1/250th of an inch, but able to group into various levels of frequency – treble and bass – that bend and wave in response. Frequencies of 10,000 cycles per second can be processed, neurons firing in response and sending information to the brain as they filter out unnecessary sounds like our own heartbeats and subtle body functions. Vampires obviously have an enhanced cochlea whereas the Gentlemen seemingly lack any middle ear defenses at all!

    Inner ear hair cells tend to wear out after a while and can damage easily through loud noise – causing ringing in the ears and partial deafness as one ages. One the sound reaches the brain, we use the idea of “localization” to determine where the sound is coming from. Almost every part of the brain functions when processing sound – from the neurons in the brain stem to the colliculi that collects sensory information and lays down a map of the world around us in every direction. But it’s the cerebral cortex that makes sense of the sounds and transforms them into tones that become music – either through the voice or instruments that vibrate like a guitar string that sounds at 100 cycles a second when plucked and twice that when held at midpoint – holding the string at three different points causes 300 cycles a second and so on. Each instrument has a fundamental frequency and overtones that wrap themselves around it – a trumpet sounds different from a piano because of the difference in overtones caused by the instrument.

    It’s highly mathematical – all notes played in “A” sound a frequency of 110 cycles per second – this doubles or halves depending upon the octave which is why all multiples of a base frequency have the same “aura.” The sequence of overtones create “chords” that can range above or below a note’s frequency. Resonance also adds another layer that differentiates a violin from a harp – the body of the instrument gives a sound the frequency it resonates at due to shape and timbre of wood, metal, skin or bone. Some are struck – some are blown into – some are beaten. Whether strings, reeds, membranes, brass, bells or wires, the idea of resonance remains the same. Acoustics – whether concert hall or auditorium – also control the amplification of sound, soft and loud.

    As children, we have problems discerning melody – our recognition of music is slight and sounds are scattered in the mind. By the age of 3 or 4, we have discovered the relationship between tones and music – and start to create melodies of our own. We listen to music based on the categorizations we have made from past hearings – and that gels into a “scale” of notes that we recognize without understanding it. We hear tone similarity of notes octaves apart in every culture – the C below and above Middle C sound the same to us despite the doubling of frequency as does the halfway point between octaves. The vibrating frequencies that take us from one octave to another create the twelve distinct tones used in the Chromatic Scale – some consonant and some dissonant.

    This caused a lot of problems – ignoring the other tones made it difficult to create melodic complexity – until a determination was made to fix all instruments so that all notes were equally spaced by 5.9 percent. This scale was considered “tempered” and the out-of-tune, abbreviated scale of seven tones used in Western music became the Diatonic Scale that allowed for several modes – mainly the Ionian (Major) and the Aeolian (Minor) – Dia meaning “through” and tonic referring to the tonal center – or the scale’s first note. A tonal center is created by which all notes, chords, progressions and intervals are measured. An uninspired composer makes a rapid return to the tonal center or strays too far – a balance is needed for a really memorable song. A song may modulate to a different key for a time but almost always comes back to the tonal center of the original key – this movement is called a cadence.

    Melody occurs when our brains read repeating patterns – a series of chords are played in succession with memorable transitions across time. Our short-term memory recognizes the progression of overtones and continues to hear the changes. We don’t register individual notes so much as the tonal center of the song that contrasts with the melody line ordered into a rhythmic pattern. This is why melodies that move outside the seven-note scale are not as memorable – nor do they jump past a certain number of notes (and never on the five chromatic notes) except on rare occasions. This is why Chant feels so monotonous after a while – whereas several different phrases sung simultaneously – polyphony – allows tones to stack on top of each other, creating a harmonic effect. A triad – consisting of the first, third and fifth notes of the scale – is especially harmonious.

    The third component of music after Melody and Harmony is Rhythm – or Meter. In modern music, meters (or Time Signatures) basically stick to small units of notes – the brain unable to understand much more at a time – this is why most music is in 2/4, 4/4 or variations of 3/4. Numbers indivisible by another whole number – prime numbers – are rarely used as a base number. Polyrhythmic music from non-Western cultures have been adapted into Western Music through syncopation – where beats are accented outside of the regular metrical pattern like ragtime music. Tempo determines the speed of the meter – the faster the music, ironically, the easier the recognition patterns.

    This all leads to musical phrasing – where the body of the song comes together. And this in turn leads to musical form – as in the classic AABA popular song formula. And this form is perceived through the workings of short-term memory – we can hum a tune soon after hearing it because we are capable of both semantic memory and its sister, episodic memory – one of the brain’s greatest achievements. Semantic thought relates to the memory of how a song sounds in general – whereas episodic thought is the memory of how ONE particular song goes. When we listen to a song, our brains anticipate where the melody, the rhythm, the harmonic structure is going to go. Depending upon the cultural relationship to different songs, everyone anticipates something a little bit different – you don’t look for the same musical movement in a jazz song as in a country western song. Some people want a nice melody, some a strong rhythmic meter, others a harmonic component – most professional musicians value above all a large-scale sound that constantly surprises in terms of phrasing, form and variation.

    So why are most people truly fascinated by music so narrow in their musical tastes? Those who love rock rarely venture over to country or classical or jazz – often they look down on anyone who is unable to see that THEIR music is clearly superior over all others because of composition or purpose or originality or social significance. Music is a very personal choice for most people because of the way in which it functions in our nervous systems – it is a mood enhancer for many people – and it plays a subtle role in how we relate to society.

    Art pieces and orchestral music can serve as a means of social pretension – to become part of an elite. Rock relates to a rebellious instinct because it rejects the idea of polish in favor of a spontaneity (which may be faked) that claims authenticity. There’s a lot of social conformity involved in one’s choice of music – and a lot of denigration of other music that doesn’t fit the “norm” for one’s social circle. Sadly, musical preferences made as a young teen to please others remains throughout one’s life, most people rarely moving on from their first initial nudge into a musical world. The whole “generational” gap between big band of the 30s, rock of the 50s and hip-hop of the 90s gives a sense that older music is passé – that newer forms are somehow more authentic than past forms – and this carries on to the next generation.

    But despite differences in taste, we all share the idea of music as having meaning – we understand the idea of performance and applause and singing along with family and friends and the huge orchestral surge that occurs at Luke Skywalker’s destruction of the Death Star. Music isn’t really a language – it’s more concentrated and less tangible in the mind – and instead of the left-brain center of language, it seems to reside in the mysterious part of the right brain that somehow directs the musicality of words. Stroke victims who lose the ability to speak can often sing words or speak sentences in a musical cadence – this extends to the idea of rhythm (left) and melody (right) – both are needed to speak and create musicals sounds. This is most likely because the left brain is temporal in natural and the right more interested in simultaneous events. But the real point is that music reaches every part of the brain – when it plays, all of the brain lights up in general response.

    Patients who suffer from severe Parkinson’s disease are beset by a brain that will no longer follow intention – frozen in place, unable to control movements, in a body that often does not feel like their own – and medicine sometimes exacerbates the situation. But musical therapy often allows them to regain ease of movement, even dancing in rhythm to the beat – even humming a tune in their head helped to reduce symptoms. The remarkable thing is that the music only worked when suited to the tastes of the person – some only responded to classical – others rock. Music seems to transport them to another system that temporarily overrides the disease – its kinetic movement within the mind spreads out to the body, rendering limbs a grace they would otherwise lack.

    Music works in the same way on everyone – it lifts us out of our normal mental process and elevates our autonomic nervous system – heart rate, breathing, blood flow – even as it activates parts of our brain to render us smart enough to comprehend it. Patients with severe retardation see massive improvement when exposed to music constantly – and in many ways, it has the same effect on the average person because it creates a harmony in the mind that transcends the chaotic sensations assailing us.

    This causes great pleasure – an almost out-of-body experience when beloved music is heard that is akin to being in love – and it reaches to spiritual significance when one realizes that the prehistoric caves so famous through their sketches of bulls and various animals are also the chambers that are most resonant when music is played. This suggests that some kind of musical sound – either singing Neolithic men and women or instruments – were most likely performed during religious ceremonies. Incantations and chants are very old – as are the bone pipes and primitive drums found in burial chambers.

    So how did music evolve and why? Was it because some young caveman decided to woo a nearby woman in a cave? Darwin posited this – but the idea of courtship is deemed too neat and tidy by contemporary anthropologists. The more likely answer is that it was developed as a way to create a communal bond – a tie to one’s family and the group as a whole. Music is an emotional process and by codifying and formalizing the expression of emotion – through singing or playing of an instrument – social bonds were strengthened and the idea of the “Other” was placed in the background. After all, if everyone can enjoy music, then we must have lots of other things in common, right?

    And there’s also the idea that emotion itself is a pathway to reason – those who have lost functioning of the right frontal lobe – the nexus of emotion – are not only emotionless, but unable to discern when things have gone wrong, replacing intuition with a short attention span that can only encompass the now – not so much the past or future. In other words, they lose an inability to grasp time – the defining element of music. Emotion – which is essentially a reaction to anticipation of the future – either gratifying or denying our desires.

    So why does music elicit such emotion? It has the ability to meet our needs by setting up anticipation and then ending in gratification as the energy level reaches maximum effect, the song returns to the dominant key, the rhythm resolves, the harmonies converge – a mass of deviations that result in a perfect composition rarely found in real life. And our brains have to anticipate every single note since music works in Time – regardless of how many times the same melody is heard, we get a shiver of pleasure at the repetition of the sound because our brains anticipate it. But it is also different enough that tiny differences shake our nervous system, which is always stimulated by change. Variation is welcomed by the body as repetition is welcomed by the brain – in tandem, this combination is irresistible.

    Endorphins – a narcotic that the brain itself creates – are released to calm bouncing neurons, creating a euphoria. Anxiety of anticipation is produced – and then when expectations are met, more endorphins come barreling down. The more variation and uncertainty in the music, the greater the pleasure – which explains the weeping, hysterical fans at operas – rock concerts – religious choirs – and the give and take of pain (anticipation) and pleasure (gratification) is exactly the same neurological process that guides sexual pleasure. And since anticipation rests upon prior knowledge of a thing, then this explains why people are resistant to various musical genres – the more unfamiliar, the less pleasure. And the opposite occurs – the greater the knowledge, the greater the euphoria.

    When such pleasure becomes extreme – whether sex or music – then we reach the limits of our sensible world and attain a kind of “ecstasy” which seems to merge ourselves with the world. It is an immediate reaction – almost a possession – in which we lose control of ourselves and stop worrying about social meaning, personal problems, outside influences – and simply rock to the beat. This tends to be stronger than any visual stimulus because music and sexual activity work in time to excite the nervous system to a frenzy – they “move” with us and through us.

    This deep level of emotional understanding is why music is present in every single culture, no matter how small or how remote – for a period of time, it enlarges us and makes desires concrete, possesses us by making us feel like we’re much more powerful than we really are and convinces us that the world is a mysterious place where anything can happen if we make it so. In other words, it’s magic.

    And words are at the root of magic. The root morpheme *Kan- is so old, it’s Proto-Indo-European – languages from Celtic to Hindi to German to Farsi were all once a single language spoken approximately 4,500 BCE to 2,500 BCE in the Neolithic Era. *Kan- meant “to sing” and exists in English in words such as chant, accent, cant, incantation, enchant, charm, fascination, incentive, recant,and even the bird who sings, the “****” rooster.

    The power of incantations and spells are only heightened by music – their force intensified by song and instruments. Many magical spell books advised against becoming too musical - unleashing powerful forces that might overwhelm the caster. From the origins of witchcraft in ancient Egypt where Heka created the movement of the earth through song to the Sirens who sing to bewitch Odysseus and his crew, a women’s song was both a sign of creation and death.

    Magicians, shamans, witches and even doctors throughout the Ancient world and the Middle Ages were accused of “carrying their writings in their mouths” as they sang cures over their patients, crooned love spells, warbled curses against their enemies and danced in a communal circle to strengthen their magic. Sung spells were imagined to fly into the air, latching onto a larger magic that pulsed around the caster.

    Some of the earliest musical songs on stage in early medieval Europe were incantations by the Devil and his minions as they danced around the stage. Fears of singing witches led to silencing women who dared to speak out against others – tongues were lopped off to prevent the ability to curse their nemeses. But as the terror of witches subsided, their presence in the arts grew – especially the musical arts.

    Plays and operas from Shakespeare onward are chock-full of singing witches – whether the show is set in ancient Greece, or 18th-century America, everyone threw in a spell caster alongside the kitchen sink to liven up the action. Purcell's Dido and Aeneas has a group of singing witches as does Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

    One of the greatest female operatic roles, the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, enchants the young hero with a dazzling aria. Wagner's operas are full of witches like the manipulative Ortrud in Wagner's Lohengrin. There’s even a would-be witch in Verdi’s Un Ballow in Maschera who tries to convince everyone that she’s the real deal in an aria summoning a “demon lover.”

    In modern times, as children's literature grew in popularity, so did an emphasis on “good” singing witches – both in the 1939 The Wizard of Oz and the 1950 Disney animated Cinderella, where one particular chant, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!” by Al Hoffman, Mack David and Jerry Livingston became a big pop hit with the deathless words:

    Sala-gadoola-menchicka-boo-la bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!
    It'll do magic, believe it or not!

    The incantation is sung as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother performs magic that allows Cinderella to go to the royal ball and meet the Prince for her happy-ever-after ending.

    On Broadway, witches remain popular from Morgan Le Fey in Rodgers and Hart’s A Connecticut Yankee to Sondheim’s Witch-next-door in Into the Woods, The musical Wicked and its obvious film counterpart, Frozen have capitalized on the modern view of witches as a metaphor for outlawed female activity – "good" Cinderella figures who become their own magical Fairy Godmothers.

    In both musicals, witches Elphaba and Elsa initially hide their powers to appear docile and submissive. But to stay silent is to erase one’s own image – to step away from performance is another kind of death.

    Which makes it peculiar that outside of a few lines in group numbers, Willow doesn’t get her own song in Once More With Feeling, Why? We know that AH begged Whedon to give her as few lines as possible – but one assumes that if Whedon felt that Willow should sing, then he would have had her dubbed or “sweetened” alongside many others in the cast. But instead, he chose to have Willow remain silent through most of the action – and it’s possible that his choice reveals far more about Willow than any song.

    There are many characters in musicals who don’t sing – or at least don’t get their own song. And this is due to the idea of music as an ecstatic, emotional experience – Dionysian in the mind of the ancient Greeks. It’s not so much that a song reveals the actual truth about a person – but more that it reflects what we BELIEVE is the truth about ourselves – it reveals the maps that we draw of our own character and social personality.

    If there is a reason behind each character’s choice of song in Once More With Feeling, then it’s possible that a strong-willed, driven personality like Willow can choose not to sing at all except in the context of group performance. But it’s more likely that Whedon felt Willow already had a song – even though she doesn’t literally perform it.

    Characters in musicals who are obsessed with displaying the right “image” rarely sing – but let others sing for them. Willow would know this feeling better than most – from her first appearance, she stands apart from the more gregarious Scoobies – a shadowy figure. In Welcome to the Hellmouth, Willow stays silent when Buffy and Cordelia approach her – soundlessly moving away after daring to use the water fountain.

    WILLOW: I-I-I don't actually date a whole lot – lately.
    BUFFY: Why not?
    WILLOW: Well, when I'm with a boy I like, it's hard for me to say anything cool, or, or witty, or at all. I-I can usually make a few vowel sounds, and then I have to go away.
    BUFFY: It's not *that* bad!
    WILLOW: No, i-it is. I think boys are more interested in a girl who can talk.
    (Welcome to the Hellmouth)
    And this characterization of Willow as outwardly timid of voice and terrified of performing carries through six seasons of monsters, vampires, demons, robots, goddesses, witches and werewolves – despite her brilliance and tremendous ability with both computer science and magic (two sides of the same coin), Willow remained content to be an adjunct to Buffy, the Chosen One, mirroring her Slayer superpowers with powers of her own, both intellectual and magical.

    Willow’s strict – yet ironically neglectful – upbringing seems to have had a great impact on her – dampening her confidence, repressing her sexuality and most importantly, destroying her belief in her own worth. Her terror of being exposed as a fraud “on stage” and fear of social performance are seen from the start in The Puppet Show and Nightmares. And years later in Restless, Willow reverts right back to this timid self as her greatest fears once again become manifest.

    And yet there are times when Willow seems confident, self-assured, prepared to go on stage, know her lines and face the world. We know this because Willow chooses to “perform” in a giddy, happy sort of way despite the danger. And almost every time, it has to do with Oz or Tara. Not surprisingly, both are introverted characters who are quiet and yet vocal - musical - in expression. And this allows them to take Willow from a state of exclusion to a state of ecstasy.

    Oz is gifted with a mathematical mind that tends to chaos – a musician and a computer wizard in addition to being a werewolf once a month. Willow’s relationship with Oz enables her to feel comfortable not only with her own duplicative skills but with Oz’s inner werewolf – which mirrors her own inner turmoil and the darkness within.

    Like Willow, Oz’s taciturn nature is in direct opposition to his werewolf nature – an animalistic identification with the loyal yet dangerous dog that Dipstick and Local Max have pinpointed as an animal near and dear to young Willow’s heart. From Oz’s first glimpse of Willow without her “ghost” costume to his last encounter with her in his van, Oz seems to understand the "true" Willow that she’s long hidden beneath a cheery façade to hide from the world. And Willow managed to overcome her secret image of herself as a failure, a disappointment, a person without worth through the love that Oz has for her – which is why she feels so confident in facing danger and even college until Oz leaves her.

    And then the old Willow returns. In many ways, "young timid Willow" is a performer trapped inside an "Older confident Willow" polished performance – and this only widens the gap between Willow's self-image and her life. At least until Willow meets Tara.

    When we first see Tara in Hush, introverted and almost comically unable to speak, there’s a flash of recognition by both Willow and the viewer that the timid wiccan is not that far removed from pre-series Willow. Just as Buffy sees elements (reluctantly) of Angel and Spike in herself because of their shared demonic nature, so Willow sees in both Oz and Tara certain mirror images of herself – with Tara, there’s a indistinct shadow of the pre-series Willow. Tara’s muteness is notable in a group of self-professed wiccans who are more talk than action:

    WILLOW: Talk! All talk: blah blah Gaia blah blah moon, menstrual life force power. I thought after a few sessions we'd get into something real –
    Of course, this is in many ways the classic silent recognition by one gay person of another – and magic as a metaphor standing in for “the love that dare not speak its name” (a phrase from a poem by Oscar Wilde’s litigious lover, Lord Alfred Douglas) at a time where Whedon had to carefully construct the Willow/Tara relationship under the censorious eye of the network. It can also be seen as an allusion to the famous “Silence=Death” poster designed by gay activists in 1986 in New York City that became a cultural touchstone for gay rights organizations at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

    And we start to see the significance of a witch who can't speak or perform or sing – not only in terms of self-worth and gender issues, but sexuality as well. The brief glances shared between the two women in a group of people are enough to suggest they both share a secret bond. Tara scrutinizes the magic book Spells of Speech and Silence while writing down Willow’s room number – a sign that silence actually can signify a world of emotion. Tara leaving her room to look for Willow is significant – she looks behind her wistfully as she ventures fearfully into the unknown - a metaphor for making the first step out of the closet.

    And this is proven as soon as they meet with the Gentlemen in pursuit – Willow cannot move the soda machine by herself to block the door, but once Tara makes the first move and holds her hand, their combined power manages to do the impossible.

    At this point, Willow and Tara seem to be at the same level of magical power. Tara admits that she’s always known she was different – and she can see the same in Willow. And there’s a bit of hero-worship of Willow here – something that Willow has rarely felt and it touches her deeply:

    WILLOW: So how long have you been practicing?
    TARA: Always. I mean, since I was little. My mom used to – she had a lot of power. Like you.
    WILLOW: I don't have much in the way of power, really, I mean most of my potions come out soup. Besides spells going awry, friends in danger -- I'm definitely nothing special.
    TARA: No, you are. (Hush)
    As they begin to perform spells together, it’s hard to say when their magical meetings turned into romantic trysts due to network skittishness. But such understated development makes sense – the discrete signals and quiet whispers with Tara are a marked contrast to the outspoken Willow who grows more confident in her powers with each passing day.

    Willow's growing division within is only intensified by the deliberate separation of her quiet world with Tara from that of her chatty friends. When Willow visits Tara for “spell” time – a euphemism for both Willow’s growing skill with magic and romantic interest – we see how Willow explores her inner turmoil without telling Buffy or Xander. She feels she can help the gang by sharpening her skills and also find emotional solace with Tara – it’s a double bonus – even as Tara fears that Willow is more interested in spell-casting than her:

    WILLOW: We conjure the Goddess Thespia to help us locate the demonic energy in the area. Shouldn't be too tricky.
    TARA: The Goddess Thespia? Are you sure we're ready for that?
    WILLOW: You and me? This is beneath us. (The “I” in Team)
    WILLOW: I hope you don't think I just come over for the spells and everything. I mean, I really like just talking and hanging out with you and stuff.
    TARA: I know that. But you want to do a spell. (Goodbye, Iowa)
    The quiet, stuttering Tara is keeping her own secret, of course – the women in her family are demons. When Tara sabotages a spell, we eventually learn that her muteness is a cover for worse fears than magical powers – ironically, this sabotage occurs just as Willow and Tara consummate their relationship. In Who Are You?, Willow lies on Tara’s bed while Tara raises uncomfortable questions about Willow’s refusal to tell her friends about them:

    WILLOW: It's not like I don't want my friends to know you, it's just Buffy's like my best friend, and she's really special, plus, you know, Slayer, that's a deal, and there's the whole bunch of us, and we have this group thing that kind of revolves around the slaying and I really want you to meet them and meet Buffy but I just sort of like having something that's just, you know, mine. I don't usually use that many words to say stuff that little. But do you get it at all?
    TARA: I do.
    WILLOW: I should check in with Giles, get a situation update.
    TARA: I am, you know.
    WILLOW: What.
    TARA: Yours. (Who Are You?
    Is Willow afraid of offending Tara by telling her that she’s not sure – that she’s not quite ready to come out yet?

    The irony is that Tara doesn’t have to wait too long before someone figures it out:

    BUFFY (FAITH): You guys have been hanging out a lot, huh?
    TARA: Yeah. She's really cool.
    BUFFY(FAITH): So Willow not driving stick anymore. Who woulda thought? Guess you never know a person till you've been inside their skin.
    BUFFY(FAITH): And Oz is out of the picture? I never did see two people so much in love. She just couldn't get enough of old Oz.
    TARA: She, uh, said he w-w-w –
    BUFFY(FAITH): He w-w-w – ? You gonna get that sentence out sometime tonight? (Who Are You?)
    Faith’s mockery of Tara regresses her back to her inarticulate state in the wicca group. We only see her speak up when Willow questions her afterwards and finally introduces her to the gang. Ironically, Willow labels Tara a “friend” when talking to Faith/Buffy – another illusory facade.

    Willow doesn’t come out to her friends until Oz returns and forces the issue – and the theme of dogs vs. cats comes into play again. Willow wanted a puppy when young, she compares herself to a loyal dog numerous times in the show In Doppelgangland, she mopes that she’s like Old Faithful and Old Yeller combined: “Yeah, that's me. Reliable-Dog-Geyser Person.” She has a giant stuffed dog on her bed. And of course, there’s Oz.

    But when Tara mentions sneaking a cat (a typical familiar for a witch) into her dorm room as a pet, Willow slowly accepts the idea. And with a burgeoning sexuality that dare not speak its name to the Scoobies yet, it’s a mirror of Willow being the “sneaky” cat illegally living in Tara’s dorm room.

    TARA: So – you're not allergic or anything?
    WILLOW: Nope.
    TARA: Good. 'Cause I want my room to be Willow-friendly.
    WILLOW: Me too. (New Moon Rising)

    When Willow comes out to Buffy, she clutches the stuffed dog as she agonizes over what to tell Oz.

    In the end, Willow turns from the light of Oz’s full moon which exposes things to go back to the dark silence of Tara’s room with painted black walls and dim light cast by “extra-flamey” candles - now a sanctuary for Willow where she feels she can be herself.

    WILLOW: Tara, I have to tell you that –
    TARA: I understand. You have to be with the person you l-love.
    WILLOW: I am. (New Moon Rising)
    And there’s a sense that Willow has saved Tara from a world of silence – bringing her out of her shell and making her feel secure. Willow and Tara become inseparable – and yet Tara still feels separate from the rest of the gang:

    TARA: It's just hard. The outsider feeling.
    WILLOW: Tara. You're not an outsider.
    TARA: Well, yah. Kinda am.
    WILLOW: No. No, you're not. (Real Me)
    And there’s another problem – Tara realizes that Willow’s magical powers are quickly outstripping her own. It’s now Tara who becomes the junior magic partner as Willow’s power and confidence in magic grows. This noticeably affects Tara’s feelings of self-worth despite Willow’s reassurances that she’d be nothing without her lover:

    TARA: How'd you do that? With the light?
    WILLOW: You know. You taught me.
    TARA: I taught you teeny Tinkerbell light.
    WILLOW: Oh yeah, I tinkered with the Tinkerbell. It was easy. (Out of My Mind)
    WILLOW: You've been spell gal night and day lately.
    TARA: Well, I just wanna keep up with you. And I'm – I'd like to be useful. You know, to the gang. I just never feel – useful.
    WILLOW: You are. You're essential. (Family)
    Tara’s deferment to Willow as one of a group of heroes while denigrating herself is upsetting to Willow – she appreciates Tara’s admiration, but she doesn’t want a partner who remains immobile as she progresses. When Tara’s family shows up, revealing Tara’s ongoing deception, Willow realizes Tara hasn't been as honest with her as Willow was in coming out to her friends.

    Terrified of being exposed as a demon, Tara casts a “see or hear no demon” spell that nearly costs them their lives. And we hear of Tara’s childhood that sounds like Willow’s - but without the support of best friend Xander:

    DONNY: Tara wasn't too social back when. I don't think she spoke till she was eight. (Family)

    And Tara's silence suddenly makes sense. She is a neglected child who was raised with rigid rules in place to keep her powers dormant for fear of exposure. This is not only about repressed homosexuality but basic human rights – a lack of freedom to choose one's own life. Tara’s spell was wrong, but like Willow’s previous magical mistakes, it stemmed from deep psychological problems rather than malicious intentions. Tara can’t help but be wary of her own magical powers - especially when told her entire life that they stem from wicked impulses.

    MR. MACLAY: Tara, you can't control what's going to happen. You have evil inside you and it will come out. And letting yourself work all this magic is only gonna make it worse. Where do you think that power comes from?
    TARA: It doesn't feel evil. Sir.
    MR. MACLAY: Evil never does.
    BETH: Don't you see how out of control you are? You've been lying to those people for a year, now you put a spell on them? Is that right? Is that a human thing to do? (Family)
    Tara has been raised with the idea that casting spells on others is not a human thing to do – it’s demonic like her – and evil.

    WILLOW: She just did a spell that went wrong! It was just a mistake!
    MR. MACLAY: It's not the point and it's not your concern. She belongs with us. We know how to control her – problem.
    WILLOW: Tara, look at me. I trusted you more than anyone in my life. Was all that just a lie?
    TARA: No.
    WILLOW: Do you want to leave?
    MR. MACLAY: It’s not your decision, young lady.
    WILLOW: I know that! (to Tara) Do you want to leave?
    Willow immediately forgives Tara her disastrous spell that almost killed them all because she sees her own mistakes reflected back. She understands the agony of repression and the need for Tara to decide for herself what to do. Defying Tara’s family to make a space for Tara to decide her own life is one of Willow’s great heroic moments – the Scoobies recognize this and step up to defend Willow and her lover.

    What’s odd about this scene is that Spike (already in love with Buffy and obviously seeing a reflection of his own choice to save the Slayer) steps up and determines whether Tara is part demon by punching her. Is Spike faking it or does he truly believe she’s not a demon? Hard to say. But if the Scoobies had thought it out, they would have realized that the fact they saw Tara enter the Magic Box during her spell already proved that she’s not a demon.

    TARA: I was just afraid if you saw the kind of people I came from – you wouldn't wanna be anywhere near me.
    WILLOW: See? That's where you're a dummy. I think about what you grew up with and then look at what you are. It makes me proud. It makes me love you more.
    TARA: Every time I – even when I’m at my worst, you always make me feel special. How do you do that?
    WILLOW: Magic. (Family)
    Willow has already encountered the double before – Vampire Willow, the beginnings of Dark Willow in her fight with Glory – but Tara represents the Willowesque Super-Ego in a sense, trying to stop Willow from going too far. And after Family, Tara’s belief in Willow seems to unleash something in Willow that moves past freedom into a little bit of straight-out rebellion – an attitude that bothers the uptight Anya and unnerves the more repressed Tara.

    WILLOW: You’re the fish.
    ANYA: What?
    WILLOW: The fish in the bowl in The Cat in the Hat. He was always saying that the cat shouldn’t be there while the mother is out.
    ANYA: What are you talking about?
    TARA: It’s a book – this cat does all this mischief. (Triangle)
    Willow’s identification with cats has now extended to assuming the same insouciant attitude of independence of The Cat in the Hat. Willow’s happiness in feeling free for the first time extends to the idea that a little bit of mischief never hurts anyone even as she accuses Anya of being a cold fish – a repressive force that limits the freedom to explore one’s own self. Even when Willow casts spells that disappear cash registers and create trolls, there’s a sense of real excitement and exploration at encountering an unknown frontier.

    It’s notable that once Anya’s real issues are dealt with – her relationship with Xander finalized at last in All the Way – she suddenly embraces the idea of Willow’s magic. It’s Tara who is troubled by Willow’s need to make people love her through magic – because she's done the same.

    But despite Willow’s independence, Joyce’s death brings out the repressed pre-series Willow who wallows in self-loathing, fearing she’ll never grow up and face reality. We see the depth of what Tara’s support and love mean to Willow – Tara's quote of “Amazons” by the lesbian folk singer Phranc tells Willow that she’s loved and worthy of being loved. The physicality of their kiss matches the physicality of the quoted lyric – a longing to be physically powerful – and it’s appropriately quoted right after the VERY physical kiss that apparently shocked the network enough to protest until Whedon put his foot down and made a few potent threats:

    TARA: We can be strong.
    WILLOW: Strong like an Amazon?
    TARA: Strong like an Amazon, right.
    WILLOW: Okay. (The Body)

    Which contrasts with their fight in Tough Love. Willow’s independence and power makes Tara afraid of Willow leaving her behind. And Willow regresses back into the frightened girl who silently slinks from the water fountain:

    WILLOW: This isn't about the witch thing -- this is about the other changes in my life.
    TARA: I trust you. I just – I don't know where I'm gonna fit in. In your life, when –
    WILLOW: When I 'change back'? Yeah, this is a college thing, just a little experimentation before I get over the thrill and head back to boys' town. You think that?
    TARA: Should I?
    WILLOW: I'm really sorry that I didn't establish my lesbo street cred before I got into this relationship. You're the only woman I've ever fallen in love with, so how on earth could you ever take me seriously? (Tough Love)
    It’s likely Tara’s never had sexual relations with a member of the opposite sex – or anyone else for that matter – whereas Willow is the classic “had a lot of sex but now I think I’m bi or gay” coming out story that a lot of gay men/lesbians are afraid of because they don’t want to be part of someone’s temporary sexual confusion. It’s understandable that Tara has fears regarding Willow’s constancy – not in terms of emotional attachment, but in terms of sexual orientation - even if Willow were gay, she could still choose to live her life in the closet and reject Tara.

    Willow is confused by her feelings – very common in any coming out. She’s always been the good little girl who’s done whatever her family and friends expected of her. Dating Oz – despite the fact that he was a werewolf – was still considered an “appropriate” thing because they loved each other and he was a very good boyfriend to her. Oz got along with everyone – all of Willow’s friends (and her family, no doubt) – a great deal of Willow’s self-esteem was wound up in Oz. And then she meets Tara and she can’t share her feelings for a long time because of the fear that they won’t understand. Or worse – they might see her as a “bad” girl. Which Willow wants on one level as a liberating freedom from the constant need to twist herself into a pretzel for others – but on another level, Willow wants to be what others think she should be. And now that the issue has been resolved from her point of view – her friends accept Tara and she no longer has to stay silent – she’s angry that Tara accuses her of inconstancy.

    This all changes when Tara is mind-raped by Glory. Willow’s stammering as she desperately tries to hex Glory before it’s too late – mucking up the spell – is a callback to Tara’s first desperate cry for help in the Wicca group. But this time, Willow is unable to save her - and foolishly attacks Glory in a rage, almost getting herself killed. In many ways, Tara is Willow’s double who is lost in a world of prior painful experience and needs love and care in order to speak out, to be open, to be free:

    TARA: Willow, I got so lost.
    WILLOW: I found you. I'll always find you. (The Gift)
    After Buffy’s death, Willow takes on her responsibilities with the help of Tara and the rest of the gang – moving into the Summers household, taking care of Dawn, leading patrols, continuing with school, programming the Buffybot, experimenting with magic, trying to deal with the emotional outbursts of her friends – it’s an enormous amount of work for everyone, let alone one person – and the pressure on Willow was no doubt intense. Yet, we never hear her complain – on the contrary, Willow is vocal in assurances that her plans will work. It’s almost as if Willow has to put on the front of Bad-Ass Witch in order to silence the tiny voice within that constantly casts doubt on her actions. Her absolute belief that they will be able to bring Buffy back isn’t arrogance – it’s psychological necessity to avoid falling apart.

    Plus there’s the added guilt of worrying about Buffy and where she might be that probably played upon Willow’s fears of her own irrational culpability for Buffy’s death. If she had been more powerful, if she had defeated Glory, would Buffy have lived? If she hadn’t fought with Tara and spent so much time bringing her back, could she have done more to save Buffy? And if Tara hadn’t been mind-raped in the first place by Glory because Willow allowed her to go to the fair alone – then Tara wouldn’t have been able to finger Dawn as the Key and Buffy wouldn't have died.

    The fact that Willow fears Buffy is suffering in some Hell dimension to save her friends tells us a lot about Willow’s own internal struggles – she can easily imagine this because Willow herself has psychologically been in Hell many times in her life. It was Xander and Buffy who saved her from total isolation – followed by Oz and Tara – and Willow manages to keep her balance between powerful witch and terrified child by standing in the shadow of those she loves rather than take the lead. Deep down, her attempt to bring Buffy back from the dead isn’t consolidation of her power – it’s preparation for an abdication.

    The dramatic irony lies in the fact that Willow has to be authoritarian in order to relinquish power – she’s got to push the Scoobies to bring Buffy back so that she can step down as leader. It’s a contradiction that pulls her in many different directions – and it doesn’t help that magic has become so easy for her that she feels putting the brakes on is akin to stifling her freedom.

    Spike accuses Willow of keeping his plans from the vampire because she feared she would fail and Spike wouldn’t allow her to sacrifice “Buffy” – despite it being a self-serving tale, there’s some truth to the idea that Willow is terrified that she will be stopped by the others because they “might not understand.” It’s not that they wouldn’t get Buffy might be suffering, but that they wouldn’t understand the ethical meaning of rescuing Buffy – an innocent suffering for them – even if things go terribly wrong. In this sense, Willow is emulating Buffy herself in Season Five in Buffy’s desire to protect Dawn – for if the innocent Buffy is forced to suffer an eternity of torment with no recourse, then life and death becomes an existential joke and what is the point of anything at all? Willow feels, no doubt, that Spike is too soulless, Giles too rigid, and Dawn too young to judge an action with such enormous philosophical implications. And she’s willing to bet anything – even her own life – on the outcome. And so a sphere of silence is set around them – no one else can know.

    One could point out that this makes Willow a massive cynic – the idea of eternal peace never occurs to her as a possible result of Buffy’s action. Not a Christian theological reward, but something more ephemeral and unknowable. But Willow’s own experience tells her that there isn’t much proof that there’s anything out there that seems to care what happens – the direct experience of Angel’s torment in Hell proves this as Willow herself points out – and only the actions of a few heroes like Buffy seem to make any difference.

    There’s an interesting discussion in Bargaining, Part One in which PuckRobin astutely noted Xander and Willow as the two major polarizing figures behind Buffy’s resurrection. Both want Buffy’s return – but we mark Willow’s silence regarding the stark morality of what she is doing through Xander’s growing ethical concerns:

    XANDER: It’s just – it feels wrong.
    TARA: It is wrong. It's against all the laws of nature and practically impossible to do but it's what we agreed to.
    WILLOW: Nobody's changing their minds. Period. (Bargaining, Part One)

    Tara steps in to answer Xander instead of Willow – and it’s a bizarre passive-aggressive explanation that boils it down to “The ends justify the means” while seemingly agreeing/disagreeing with both. This double speak shows us what Tara is constantly grappling with after Buffy’s death – trying to justify Willow’s attempted resurrection to an increasingly skeptical Xander. Which differs from Tara’s initial views when explaining mortality to Dawn:

    TARA: Magic can't be used to alter the natural order of things….witches can't be allowed to alter the fabric of life for selfish reasons. Wiccans took an oath, a long time ago, to honor that. (Forever)
    And this discussion is continued after Buffy’s return when Xander addresses Tara INSTEAD of his best friend Willow – a sign that the secret circle around Willow that excludes Dawn, Spike and Giles has widened to the point where even her best friend is afraid to question her:

    XANDER: Hey, Tara. This is probably crazy, but Spike got me thinking. The spell we did. It's having consequences, isn't it? I mean, it sure seems like it. And I was wondering – did you know this might happen?
    TARA: No!
    XANDER: Do you think – could someone have known?
    TARA: Willow's a talented witch and she would never do anything to hurt anyone. (After Life)

    Willow never sees Tara defend her – instead, she projects a lot of her own self-criticism on Tara, parsing every word Tara says as a criticism. And there’s justification for this – Tara’s “Maybe-yes-no” attitude no longer represents an inability to speak - but comes off as subtle criticism of Willow with its wishy-washy “take no sides” attitude that aggravates an already uneasy Willow.

    So why does Tara fail to question Willow before the resurrection – at least, not directly? So much of this has to do with their interdependent relationship – not only as lovers, but as mirror images of each other in terms of silence. Tara knows Willow is not as confident and self-assured as she appears. Willow confides in her what she can’t tell anyone else – that she’s terrified of failure:

    TARA: You doing okay?
    WILLOW: Besides terror about today and a general feeling of impending doom? Swell. (Bargaining, Part One)
    And Tara does her best to comfort Willow – she’s aware of Willow's tremendous stress and reassures her that she can drop the mask and confess her inner fears:

    TARA: Hey, Will. This is me. It doesn't all have to be "good" and "fine." This is the room where you don't have to be brave and I still love you. If you're worried you can be worried. (After Life)
    But there are subtle signs that Tara has her own doubts about Willow. After the seeming failure of Buffy’s resurrection, Tara comforts Willow with the old “Maybe it was meant to be,” speech – but Willow remembers Tara’s prior admonitions against breaking the laws of nature and perceives her lecture as another passive-aggressive way of criticizing Willow without directly confronting her:

    TARA: I mean, those demons showing up at the exact wrong time – maybe we really were in over our heads. Invoking forces that we have no right to – maybe the fates sent all that destruction down on us to stop us. I mean –
    WILLOW: You mean maybe it's my fault. (Bargaining, Part Two)
    And so the reticence of Tara that once beguiled Willow now seems like a wall of silence that hides Tara’s true feelings because Willow is certain that no one could truly love her deep down if they honestly knew her. And the quiet whispers are now loud arguments that pit Tara’s childhood fears of overstepping the bounds of authority against Willow’s childhood need for self-determination.

    Willow’s terrible fight with Giles in Flooded is merely the culmination of a relationship in which Giles mirrored her worst fears about herself – his doubt in her abilities, his dismissal of her interests – all leading to her eventual secrecy in bringing back Buffy. When Tara accuses Willow of using too much magic, bringing Giles into the argument makes Willow feel like it's Cordelia all over again – and she’s not going back.

    TARA: But w-what would Giles say?
    WILLOW: (Arabic) Sukut! (English translation = Quiet!) Are you taking his side now?
    TARA: This isn't about sides.
    WILLOW: You two have been talking about me behind my back.
    TARA: No, God –
    WILLOW: You know how that makes me feel?
    TARA: Willow, you're using too much magic. What do you want me to do? Just – just sit back and keep my mouth shut?
    WILLOW: That'd be a good start.
    TARA: If I didn't love you so damn much, I would. (All the Way)
    There’s a major irony in Willow casting a spell of silence while accusing Tara and the others of talking about her behind her back. Buffy hasn’t come back quite right, Xander and Anya are getting married, Giles is leaving – and the silence that she once treasured with Tara has been weaponized against her. Paranoia that Tara is saying terrible things about her – even her lover is trying to put Willow back in her place by taking away her power and her autonomy – makes Willow snap at Tara and try to remind her where SHE began before she met Willow – in silence. And Tara tells Willow that if she wasn’t in love with her, she would stay mute.

    Later that evening, Willow tries to make amends – but Tara is still too angry to reconcile:

    WILLOW: Well, what do you want me to do? Reverse time and take it back? 'Cause I could probably – joke. I don't think I could really –
    TARA: Look, can – can we not do this now? I'm tired.
    WILLOW: Okay.
    But the idea of reversing time IS something that Willow has already done by resurrecting Buffy – and Willow realizes that even though she lacks the power to literally turn back time, she can adjust Tara’s mind so that it rewinds itself to a point before the terrible fight.

    TARA: Let’s just forget it ever happened.
    WILLOW: (casts a spell) Forget. (All the Way)
    Many fans see this moment as akin to Spike’s attempted rape in Seeing Red – a terrible moment in which Willow figuratively mind-rapes Tara by taking away her memories – and therefore, her self-determination. The thing Willow fears the most is exactly what she does to Tara – the act of remembrance is what gives us the necessary tools for personal discovery and growth:

    WILLOW: Yeah, I figured, you know, life goes by fast. If you don't write it down, a lot of it just gets – lost. And I want to remember. (Forever)

    There’s a disquieting sense that by manipulating her memories of Willow, Tara loses agency to the extent that she becomes as programmed as the Buffybot is after Buffy’s death – to Willow’s specifications:

    WILLOW: (to Bot)I'm going to make you good as new. I promise I am. (Bargaining, Part One)
    In this sense, Tara under the “Forget” spell is another Buffybot, created by Willow to give her the emotional support she desperately needs.

    Humans have their minds wiped all the time in fantasy and science fiction – by the Ministry of Magic, the Men in Black, the Doctor on the Tardis, the Dollhouse and most memorably, in Star Trek’s Requiem for Methuselah where Spock uses the Vulcan mind meld to help a despairing Kirk forget his dead lover.

    Like the inhabitants of Sunnydale, this process is primarily related to the Lovecraftian idea that man cannot handle “the truth” without going mad. As in real-life situations where the brain chooses to forget events and emotions that are too painful to handle, the idea behind a memory wipe is a safeguard to preserve the person’s sense of reality.

    Of course, BtVS and Angel both address the ethical implications of mucking around with memory –Xander pretends not to remember his days as a hyena to avoid trauma after attempting to rape Buffy; Angel wipes Buffy’s mind of his human day; Xander retains memories of being a one-night soldier; Spike represses the memory of siring and killing his mother until he regains his soul; the monks implant false memories of Dawn in the Scoobies to protect the Key; Joyce loses her memories on and off due to her brain tumor; Angel has Wolfram and Hart wipe his crew’s memories of Connor (and Connor himself) to give his son a chance at a new life. And the mythos of the vampire involves the retention of human memories in a new demonically possessed body without the accompanying emotional and moral attitudes of the original host.

    It’s especially difficult to watch Willow wipe Tara’s memories of their fight because it’s done for seemingly selfish reasons as Willow takes advantage of Tara’s new, improved attitude to reignite their romance. But in many ways, it stems from the same kind of fear that drove Tara to cast her see-no-demon spell – the deep-rooted certainty that one is essentially useless and unlovable that seems to underlie so many of the character arcs in Buffy. Willow fears she is so worthless that the only way to be loved is to convince others to believe what she knows to be a lie – that she deserves to be loved. And the only way to accept this is to be like a vampire and lose any emotional attachment to one's memories - what Willow does to Tara is exactly what she's done to herself.

    We see this throughout Season Six – a self-loathing Spike makes Buffy believe she’s come back wrong so she’s “low” enough to be with him. Xander leads Anya all the way to the altar without voicing his fears of becoming a terrible husband and father. Buffy puts on a “happy face" and lies to her friends until it’s too late. One could also see the trio's attempt to manipulate Katrina and Buffy as a way to compensate for their own feelings of worthlessness. This doesn’t excuse their behavior – but it makes it explicable.

    Willow telling Tara that she should “forget” is a literalization of what Willow does to herself every day – forget the humiliation, forget the terror, forget the fears that she’s grown too strong. Willow indoctrinates herself – so it doesn’t seem strange when she extends that to Tara.

    We talked about performance and the need to maintain a certain “image” in front of the crowds – and Willow’s performance extends from her own self-image to that of Tara. It’s not enough that Willow project an image of wholeness – but her lack of control and fear of being exposed is so great that she “manages” Tara’s performance as well.

    And we see this after “The Mustard” where we wipe to the next scene, beginning again with an inanimate object making a sound – from the bell on Buffy’s alarm clock to the bell of the Magic Box. As Willow and Tara uncharacteristically ignore their books to flirt, Dawn rushes in with a bright smile – a typical entrance in a movie musical.

    DAWN: Oh my god! You will never believe what happened at school today.
    BUFFY: Everybody started singing and dancing?

    And Dawn is once again shut down by a monotone Buffy, who never even looks up from her book to acknowledge her existence. Dawn tries to trade barbs – but is defeated by the literal Anya – who isn’t remotely aware that Dawn is joking.

    DAWN: I gave birth to a pterodactyl.
    ANYA: Oh my god! Did it sing?
    DAWN: So, you guys too, huh?
    XANDER: So, what'd you sing about?
    DAWN: Math.
    It’s notable that the gang has gone from worrying about singing anything at all to curious about what everyone’s songs are – or it could be that Xander is covering quickly for Anya’s awkward comment? Did Dawn really sing about math – or is this just another sarcastic comment that implies the adults in the room have little interest in anything she says? Dawn sits and looks around as Willow and Tara continue to flirt – until her eye falls upon a stray necklace on the counter.

    Willow giggles, whispering something into Tara’s ear in a very seductive manner. One assumes it was about Tara getting them out of the Magic Box and somewhere more private because Tara immediately pretends that they need a very important book that can only be found anywhere else but the Magic Box. The ridiculous conversation that ensues completely fails to convince anyone:

    TARA: That's right! The – the volume! The text!
    GILES: What text?
    WILLOW: The volumey – text.
    TARA: You know.
    WILLOW: The – murnenfurm report.
    XANDER: The “what” now?
    TARA: There’s just a few volumes back at the house that deal with mystical chants, bacchanals... might be relevant.
    WILLOW: Yeah, we could –
    GILES: Well, I'm a hair's breadth from investigating bunnies at the moment, so I'm open to anything.
    WILLOW: We'll check it out, and we'll give you a call.
    TARA: Yeah, this could blow the whole thing wide open
    The response tells us a great deal about each character. Giles takes them seriously and quizzes them on the book; Xander immediately guesses the truth and bemusedly plays along; Buffy evinces no interest whatsoever; and Dawn uses their ploy as a diversion to steal the necklace.

    As Tara and Willow rise to leave, we jump cut to the two women wandering through a large park with people sunning themselves and picnicking at tables. And Willow looks ecstatic.

    WHEDON: We found this beautiful location, which in LA is not that easy. Although we had to cue the water ourselves, because it's usually dry going down to that pond. But having that bridge and the sun, and just – we pumped up the light and everything to make it feel as magical as possible. And then pretty much let Amber do the work, because she carried it.

    TARA: Do we have any books at all at home?
    WILLOW: Well, who wants to be cooped up on a day like this? The sun is shining, there's songs going on, those guys are checking you out –
    TARA: What? What are they looking at?
    WILLOW: The hotness of you, doofus.
    TARA: Those boys really thought I was hot?
    WILLOW: Entirely.
    TARA: Oh my god. I'm cured! I want the boys!
    WILLOW: Do I have to fight to keep you? 'Cause I'm not large with the butch.

    This humorous exchange is a terrific set-up for the song. We not only see Willow appreciating that she’s with someone that others would want and Tara is shocked by the attention. But there’s a subtle tension that harkens back to the fight in Tough Love and fears of abandonment.

    TARA: I'm just not used to that. They were really looking at me?
    WILLOW: And you can't imagine what they see in you.

    Seeing herself through Tara’s eyes has become addictive for Willow – the reassurance that she is loved. In this sense, Tara is a mirror of everything that Willow wants desperately to believe about herself – and Tara’s glorious song is a shattering of the silence that has often darkened both of their lives.

    TARA: I know exactly what they see in me.

    TARA: You.
    So the answer to why Willow doesn’t need a major song in Once More With Feeling is because Tara is both Tara AND Willow while underneath Willow’s spell – and therefore does it for her.

    “Under Your Spell”

    WHEDON: This was probably the first thing I wrote. This - and the beginning of James' song. "I'm Under Your Spell" were probably the first words I wrote. I knew Amber was going to get what I referred to as the 'breakaway pop hit' – even though, obviously, nothing broke away. I wanted her to have the ballad because of her extraordinary voice. And it was very hard to write, and very fun because it is such an unabashed love song.
    In its form, "Under Your Spell" is a typical example of a popular song – it’s in 4/4 time – as are almost all of the songs in Once More With Feeling – and a classic AABA pattern with an emotional intensity increasing near the end. The song is in D Major – a popular key for strings, especially the guitar. In Baroque music, it was known as “the key of glory” and often associated with themes of worship – like the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

    Whedon probably began with a lead sheet for "Under Your Spell" – a skeletal version of the song with lyric and melody lines and chords and tempo markings. Whether he turned it over to his two arrangers/orchestrators to write a harmonic structure or actually wrote out a piano-vocal arrangement is anyone’s guess. The song has a basic chordal accompaniment rather than contrapuntal – there’s no countermelody as might be the case with a more sophisticated composer like Sondheim. But although the song may be musically unassuming, “Under Your Spell” is thematically rich.

    The idea is simple – a character sings of their love for another in a ballad – but the catch lies in the subtext – the audience knows something the singer doesn’t know. And the irony twists its meaning into something dramatic - the difference between a “breakaway pop hit” and an integrated musical number.

    In “If I were a Bell” from Guys and Dolls, we see the innocent Sarah Brown falling in love with gambler Sky Masterson, who has made a bet that he can take the uptight Salvation Army Sergeant to Havana. As she loses her inhibitions through a series of spiked drinks, we are ambivalent as we enjoy her giddy dance and still feel squeamish at Sky’s plans for her.

    In “Just in Time” from Bells are Ringing, Jeff Moss serenades his new-found muse Ella Peterson who seems to know everything about him and enables him to start writing again. Little does he know that she’s really a woman from “Susanswerphone” – his answering service – who has slowly fallen in love with him while taking his phone messages and decides to masquerade as someone else. The audience is caught between the charm of the song and the outrageousness of Ella’s lies – as with Guys and Dolls, the singer is unaware they've been conned.

    In “Till There Was You” from The Music Man, spinster Marian the Librarian meets con-artist Harold Hill on the bridge for a quick romantic moment before he skips town on a train. But instead of being conned, Marian admits she knows that he’s a liar and using her – but he's given her so much happiness that she’s willing to go along with the illusion that he cares and sings her ballad despite knowing it’s all fake.

    In more modern musicals, we see direct manipulation of lovers as characters create scenarios in which others can act out their deepest desires – in Nine,the film director Guido Contini writes his life into his work by literally directing the various women in his life to confess how they adore him.

    And sometimes, it’s simply the setting and the music itself that encourages a character to express themselves musically even as they realize they are being used – in “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Janet Weiss sings of her sexual frustration to Rocky after being used by Dr. Frank N Furter for sex -and ends up getting revenge in more ways than one by seducing the Doctor's perfect creation:

    Like Janet, Tara is eager to express her attraction to Willow through song.

    This works brilliantly for "Under Your Spell" because music itself works on our nervous system through an alternation of anticipation and gratification that mimics sex – both conveying tremendous pleasure. This is why music can often be a literal stand-in for the sex act. Flirtatious crooning leads to musical foreplay until a song ends in a series of unending climaxes - in this case, the camera cuts away as if almost embarrassed to continue.

    And "Under Your Spell" is set to rising and falling lines both in bass and inner parts that mimic sexual excitement. Unlike “Golden Age” songs, the rock-influenced bass line varies long and short notes. This mimics the rise and fall of Tara’s jumbled thoughts – later representing the rise and fall of her sexual ecstasy.

    And like Buffy’s song, there’s a double-meaning in the lyric. Tara believes she is singing metaphorically about Willow’s spell over her – but the audience knows better. Even as we enjoy watching their love in song, we also realize that Willow is manipulating the entire scenario.

    In All the Way, Tara refused Willow’s attempt to apologize for their fight in the Bronze – she even holds out her hand as a physical manifestation of her rejection.

    TARA: Can we not do this right now?
    But after the spell, Tara seems erotically and romantically consumed with Willow. Which begs the question as to whether a loss of memory creates the reverse effect of the siring of a vampire. If vampires lose their ability to emotionally connect with memories when they lose their soul, does a loved one become “perfect” when certain memories are taken away from them? When Willow says, “Forget” – what is it exactly that she’s taking from Tara? Just their recent fight? Or every time that Tara has an unkind thought about Willow? Has she implanted memories in Tara that don’t exist? We’ve never given the exact meaning of Willow’s spell – but it seems to have made Tara idolize Willow – or at least focus intensely on the good things that Willow has done for her.

    And so “Under Your Spell” becomes a manifestation of everything that Willow would ever want someone to say about her – she’s powerful, she’s sexually free, she’s brought happiness and light and love into Tara’s life, she’s saved her from exclusion and silence and a dark room, she brings her sexual ecstacy, she makes her feel complete.

    In saving Tara, Willow feels that she’s also saved that terrified, despairing girl within herself. The lyrics apply to both women – through her spell, Willow is able to split herself in two in a sense and be both saved and savior at the same time.

    And Tara acknowledges this in the lead-in to her song – they see you in me. And she’s right – in this case, the audience does.

    In the verse, there’s not a lot of melodic range, mirroring Tara’s sheltered existence. Most of the notes stay within a five note range – a low D to B – with repeating quarter notes on G. The lyric has a smooth feel – the alliteration of “lived-life” and “shadow-sun-seem-sad” and “face-figured” – the assonance of “lived-didn’t-figured” and “shadow-sad.” There’s a little nudge with the false rhyme “shadow/sad though” that nevertheless keeps to the informal “folk” feel of the song.

    Of course, Tara is talking about her life before Willow – not only in her black-walled dorm room, but her childhood living in family disgrace. The theme of hiding also fits the idea of being closeted and sexually repressed – and we see how Tara’s internalized her family’s shame by accepting her place in the dark. This also fits in with her fears of magic as something unnatural – and it reminds us that the same head trips that her family pulled on her are happening again under Willow’s spell.

    What’s interesting is to watch Willow’s reactions – her face a mask of sadness and concern as Tara speaks of her sad life before their meeting. And this no doubt makes her feel even more justified in casting the spell on Tara – if Tara feels this strongly about their relationship, then its loss would be devastating for her. Of course, when Tara ultimately leaves Willow and stands on her own, she manages to cope with the loss – Willow’s betrayal of her trust is what actually breaks the spell and allows Tara to assert herself.

    Tara’s final line of the verse is still a subtle putdown of magic here as Tara characterizes being under Willow’s spell as not “right” – a negative read instead of a positive one that Whedon intends to make the viewer feel uneasy.

    The word “bathed” is a contrast with the dark, cold and lonely existence that Tara spoke of in the first few lyrics. It's vaguely sexual as Tara looks up at the sun wistfully on “face” and then walks forward into the sunlight as she closes her eyes at the warmth of the sun's caress.

    There’s also a slight joke here - the light could also refer to a spotlight on a performer – under Willow’s spell, Tara is literally performing what Willow wants to see. And it doesn’t feel quite right to Tara. But when she looks up at Willow, shaking her head so her long hair frames her face, turning it in an animalistic come-hither gaze, the love that dare not speak its name has now become wildly vocal.


    When we move to the refrain, we suddenly expand the range of notes. “Under” leaps up an octave to span the D Major scale – starting with the tonic note D on "I'm" This jump adds to the feeling of soaring above the music - ironic since Tara’s lyric speaks of being “under” Willow rather than over.

    It's a great contrast that exposes the contradiction between the rising emotion in the music and Tara’s actual role in their relationship after being enchanted. Willow’s huge smile becomes ominous in this context – and heart-breaking as we see her happy that she has helped Tara out of the dark.

    In the published sheet music, there’s a bizarre lyric change that has the refrain as “Am I Under Your Spell?” - which changes the entire meaning of the lyric and makes it far too obvious. The extra pick-up note of "Am-I" also destroys the psychological meaning of the sudden leap of octaves. If this was the original lyric, Whedon wisely altered it during shooting – but it still exists in the official sheet music.

    The descending line on “How else could it be” reflects Tara’s self-loathing. She can’t believe that anyone could notice her without Willow’s love and guidance. Willow’s spell is also both figuratively and literally animating Tara by compelling her to sing, making her perform in the park so that people not only notice her, but join in her dance.

    There’s a nice internal rhyme of “could-would” and simple end rhymes of “be-me” that reflect Tara’s humble paean to Willow’s impact on her life. Despite a few clumsy rhymes, the lyric is nicely set on the music – clean, concise and understandable.


    The camera cuts to a rushing brook below Willow and Tara as they stand on the bridge and moves to a long shot of the two women shadowed by a grove of trees as Willow walks towards Tara to take her hand. The bridge can be taken in many different ways – as a passage from one place to another or a crossroads in which two people meet to merge. The shot of the river suggests that Tara believes she sees the very movement of life from a new vantage point – the flowing river below is either troubled water surmounted or the ebb and flow of life that she rises above because of her love for Willow. There’s also a sexual component to the chaotic waters below – Tara’s inner life bubbling over in ecstatic communion with Willow as she speaks of being set free and brought “out” so easily.

    We return to the verse with its small range and tentative musical movement, stuffed full of magical themes with simple "enchanted-granted" and "air-there" rhymes. As they walk through the park, hand-in-hand, Tara lifts her left hand (the heart) to make a magical trail of “fairy-dust” (as Whedon calls it) that recalls Glinda the Good Witch and her silvery-white colors that resemble the dark moon. It also calls back to some of their first spells.

    Willow then makes a much larger range of motion, using her right hand to create a golden-red trail that ends in a starburst. This signifies a different kind of magic – not only fire and sunlight – but blood.


    The second verse has a folksy quality – “a world enchanted” “spirits and charms” – a magical Tara could only approach in solitude until Willow came along. There's a lovely consonance with “world-always-one-power-known” and a simplicity that reads "honest" since clever rhymes signal duplicity. Tara constantly contrasts "I was" and "I am" - she's singing of two different Taras in the past and the present which may be a result of Willow's memory spell in which there is a clear delineation between before and after.

    As Tara excitedly races past Willow to pose in front of the lake and start dancing – Willow remains alone, watching without participating.

    WHEDON: Although I have to say that Aly, who was not a singer, and begged me on her knees to have her sing as little as possible, probably had the harder job in this number. Which is to hold the behaviour entirely in reaction shots, and not actually get the singing and dancing, but just to stand there and look like you're having a good time. Which is usually harder than actually having a good time.

    And AH does a fantastic job of balancing Willow’s need to be loved by Tara – seeing in her performance confirmation that she’s deserving of love – and a vague fear that she’ll be found out.

    Tara's dance in its free-flowing movement – and the outfits of both Willow and Tara – bring to mind the connection between sexual freedom and modern dance. The development of modern dance in the late 19th century was led by women who rejected the puritanical view of femininity as something to be covered up and hidden.

    Modern dancers refused to wear corsets, allowed their hair to flow freely and styled themselves after ancient and medieval depictions of courageous women. The emancipation of women and modern dress were directly related to sexuality:

    In the male-choreographer-dominated ballet, women were portrayed as delicate waifs who were sexually passive and chaste. Modern dance changed that image to cultivate mythic heroines of the past by using the natural movement of the body rather than rigid abstraction that lionized the feminine ideal over the real woman. For pioneering dancers like Isadora Duncan, physical dance was an aspect of women's emancipation from Victorian doctrine.

    And many of these pioneering women were lesbians: Germany's Mary Wigham, who created the famous Witch Dance, Canada's Maud Allen, who performed Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, America's Loie Fuller whose “serpentine dance” scandalized Europe. These women were accused of being part of the “cult of the clitoris” – homosexual witches and suffragettes who would destroy the family through their loose morals and unacceptable way of life.

    Tara’s poses are reminiscent of this legacy with the leaps and twirls and hand gestures as is her anachronistic outfit. And the two women who suddenly leap up and join the song are also a callback to a feminist movement that encouraged all women to join in and dance in natural settings. It's Dionysian and ecstatic - the visibility of female passion with dancing as a metaphor for sexual freedom.


    And as Tara and her backup dancers perform for Willow, we hear the lyric turn from freedom to lack of agency. Tara says she's been set free - but there's nothing she can do to set herself free from the spell itself. The repetition of the word “took” – Tara took it for granted that she was alone – Willow took her soul – is meaningful in this case. There’s irony in the “freedom” of the music and the narrowing of freedom in the lyric.


    Again, the dramatic irony of Willow's spell making Tara "believe" everything she dreamed was true. There's a nice assonance on "dreamed" and "believe" that links the two words - both signifying Tara's dreams of someone who would pull her into the light and Willow's mind control over her.

    The final word "believe" leaps even higher in the music than before as Willow races up and grabs Tara. The massive jump tells the listener that Tara is more emotional and serious than the playful opening. Despite being under a spell, her expression of love is more than just play-acting.

    And as the characters spin, the camera does as well – as in West Side Story, the spin is a transition as the scene turns from the most public area to the most private room of all – the bedroom, where Willow's stuffed dog lies on her pillow. Telling.

    And Tara and Willow settle on the bed with backup singers harmonizing over the music as it leads into the final section – whether they’re outside the window or in their minds, the unseen women set up the idea of female togetherness.


    Tara uses the metaphor of the moon affecting the tides through gravitational pull to describe her relationship with Willow as she gives her girlfriend a bedroom look and Willow smiles back knowingly. There’s a nice “tide-inside” rhyme – and an identity rhyme throughout the lyric of “surging-sea-helplessly-ecstacy-beneath-tree-me-complete.” The sexual component of feeling Willow inside is obvious - yet it's also another reference to the spell that's inside Tara's mind, pulling Tara's will to Willow.

    As Tara lies on the bed with Willow over her, there's a parallel to Spike's sex with the Buffybot. Both Willow and Spike are obsessive in love – craving approval and requited love – but when their fantasies fail to happen in reality, they resort to bots and mind control in order to have a “happy ending.”

    It’s notable that their sexual fantasies revolve around pleasuring their partner first – both Willow and William judge themselves primarily by what others think of them. Staying on top while giving oral pleasure both maintains control and submission - and gives them needed feedback by making the other person lose sexual and emotional control under their spell.


    WHEDON: This is pornography. And there's nothing I can say to change your mind about that fact. It's probably the dirtiest lyric I've ever written. But it's also very, very beautiful. I was a little disappointed that "Spread beneath my willow tree" kind of destroys the 'sea' imagery that I was working with. Not the first guy in the world to work with sea imagery but I thought I had some nice lines in it. But then I pretty much went to the place with the 'willow' and the 'spread' and – what are you going to say?
    Whedon is actually selling himself short here – the imagery fits the earlier bridge shot with the flowing river shadowed by giant trees. As the music swells and the camera discretely remains above Tara’s waist, Tara stiffens and literally rises off the bed. And we are reminded of one of the first spells done by Tara and Willow – but it was Willow who was knocked flat by their burgeoning love.

    And we get to the heart of Willow's "forget" spell - it makes Tara feel complete, reconciling the two divided parts of herself - both past and present - through eradication of her memory.

    But it's all a tease - there's no real healing, no real introspection - only a spell that encourages a "performance" that mimics a true contentment of self that every character in Once More With Feeling has been desperately seeking ever since Buffy's return.

    During the “climax” of the melodic progression, Tara rises to a high once again on the word “complete” - the highest sustained note of the song. Whedon ducks the television censor by splitting the word “Com--plete” in half to make a dirty joke. The music jumps from B to D Sharp as the series of climaxes repeat until Whedon interrupts with a jump cut. Unlike most songs which end with a “button" we never hear the finish - although it is preserved on the soundtrack.

    So the music rises to a climax but we never hear it resolve – leaving Tara in a perpetual state of anticipation. Like the music that not only lifts Tara’s body off the bed but fills her entire being with ecstasy, there’s no magical resolution that can fully satisfy the unending need for enchantment.
    Last edited by American Aurora; 06-10-17 at 12:32 AM.

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    Part Eight – I’ll Never Tell: The Art of Lyrics – Once More With Tension

    We leave Tara spread beneath her Willow tree in the throes of sexual ecstasy – cutting off the final climax to an interior shot of the Magic Box to find our Scoobie heroes at the table still in the same places when Willow and Tara ran off to get the “book” from the Summers home.

    WHEDON: Leading up to this cut is one of my favorite things in the entire show. Because it's such a good way to get out of that musical number and to completely destroy that mood.
    The jump cut to the Magic Box brings us out of the private world of Willow and Tara to a more public space – but Xander is imagining exactly what’s happening behind closed doors. As Giles dutifully runs through his library of possible spells and a bored Buffy flips through a volume, Xander’s mind is racing with the implications of the missing “book” as he shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

    XANDER: I bet they're not even working.
    BUFFY: Who now?
    XANDER: Willow and Tara. You see the way they were with each other? The get-a-roominess of them? I'll bet they're –

    As Dawn raises an eyebrow, Xander makes a quick save.

    XANDER: Singing. They're probably singing right now.
    Xander’s euphemism isn’t too far from the mark – in musicals, singing or dancing is usually a stand-in for sex. And we did see Tara warbling her head off in bed as she floated in the air. But it’s strange to realize that the fifteen year old Dawn – a girl who was once the Key, who ran from a Goddess, who fought off vampires, who watched her sister die and be resurrected – is still considered too young to hear about a mature, committed couple having sex with each other. Especially considering that Buffy at her age was designated the Chosen One and had already watched her Watcher and classmates die.

    If the intention was originally to make Dawn eleven or twelve, the over-protectiveness that was a remnant of the original idea made sense. But by Season Six, it almost has an uneasy whiff of Victorian prudery – one would think a fifteen year old would need to KNOW the facts of life rather than be endlessly sheltered – especially in a town like Sunnydale.

    GILES: I'm sure Willow and Tara are making every effort –
    XANDER: Oh yeah.
    BUFFY: Xander –
    DAWN: Buffy, it's okay. I do know about this stuff. Besides, it’s all kind of romantic.

    XANDER/BUFFY: No it's not.
    There’s something vaguely ridiculous about Buffy’s and Xander’s insistence that Willow and Tara are not having a romantic time – one has to assume that the very recent events of All the Way are causing them to be overly-cautious about encouraging Dawn. Still, in Season Six, there’s an almost puritanical obsession with “bad” sex and drug use that pushes towards parody – a kind of ABC Afterschool Special “this could happen to you” moralizing targeted at teens that BtVS shrewdly avoided in its first five seasons.

    Of course, Dawn’s innocence is also punched here because Whedon wants the casual viewer to know that she’s still a virgin for reasons still to unfold – as Dawn herself hints in the scene’s final line:

    DAWN: Come on, songs, dancing around – what's gonna be wrong with that?
    And we cut to the sound of tapping feet as the camera closes in on the street and the shadow of a dancing man twirling around. As we get a full-on shot, we see a sweaty man in a suit dancing uncontrollably in an alleyway – he’s not singing, but grunting out non-musical noises that sound almost like terrified gasps – to not a note of musical accompaniment.

    As his tapping becomes more and more furious and he spins towards the camera, his face takes on a look of terror as he almost seems to will his feet to stop moving. And yet, there’s still the dancer’s grace and hand gestures of a stage performer as he continues to “sell it” – until, suddenly, ominous music starts to play as smoke slowly starts to billow around his dancing body.

    As flames shoot up his back, the gasps finally turn into screams of agony – the man continues to dance as his entire body is swallowed in a fiery blaze and finally falls to the ground, a hairless corpse.

    WHEDON: This fellow came on to do this bit. An extraordinary tap-dancer. One take, two cameras. He did it once. We didn’t have to dub in the sound of his feet, we didn’t have to do anything – except set the stunt guy on fire – because he just blew us all away on the first take.
    And the body lands in front of a figure in a vibrant red suit and wing tip black/white tuxedo shoes – the camera pans up the body until we get a glimpse of his face with red, mottled skin and pointed chin. As he looks down at the corpse with amusement, the viewer realizes that we are looking at the bad guy – and he’s not human. And the songs and dances aren’t as innocent as they appear.

    SWEET: Now that's entertainment.
    This is a reference to the song “That’s Entertainment” written by Broadway writers Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz for the 1953 movie The Band Wagon starring Fred Astaire. The simple lyrics are emblematic of 1950s American entertainment with a list of standard musical tropes like clowns, dancers, villains, lovers and, of course, patriotic flag-waving. It’s a call back to the earliest forms of American stage entertainment where basic archetypes of the dramatic stage dominated the musical form.



    (“That’s Entertainment” from The Bandwagon by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz)
    The song later became the unofficial anthem of the That’s Entertainment films in the 1970s –compilations of MGM movie musical highlights with aging stars like Gene Kelly (64) and Fred Astaire (77) croaking and hobbling their way through new musical numbers while reliving the glories of the technicolor past.

    And like Sondheim’s Follies which mocks and scorns the innocence of musicals past, Whedon’s evocation of those film compilation throwbacks to the glory days of movie musicals is meant to contrast ironically with the burnt corpse lying at the demon’s feet.

    WHEDON: This is the introduction of what might be wrong with musicals, and that's Hinton Battle. Not that he's wrong with musicals, but that he is our resident Evil. Since you've got to have something like peril even in a musical.
    This is an odd quote – as musicals have villains ranging from child molesters to abusive husbands to demon barbers who chop up their victims and sell them as meat pies. But Whedon is referring to the common conception of a musical as a MGM spectacle where the worst that happens is a failed romance – or musical show.

    And we have this interesting note in the script:

    WHEDON: No one knows his name, but we will call him SWEET.
    Why name the musical demon in the script – but not in the show itself? When Buffy meets “Sweet” in the big finale, Whedon pointedly underlines the ambiguity of meaning that this musical demon represents – one who claims hundreds of names for himself.

    And the deadly nature of his musical attack underlines one of the oldest adages in musical theater – when a character can no longer talk about their feelings, they sing; when they can no longer sing about their feelings, they dance – and when they can’t dance – well, that’s when they either make love or die – it’s either comedy or tragedy in the end. Or a little bit of both.

    And dancing as fast as you can until the body gives out and is overcome by spontaneous combustion (or more likely, heart failure) is a metaphor for the release of pent-up emotional stress and strain that lies beneath all social performance. The secret self that we rarely show to others eventually makes its way outward as inhibitions are dropped and pretenses pushed aside – leading to the breakdown of social norms.

    Throughout history, “dancing mania” has occurred in various times and places from Ancient Athens during the great Plague to 13th century France to 19th century Japan – an example of mass psychogenic illness in which no physical cause can be found. Large groups of people would wildly dance in various schools, nunneries, marketplaces, city streets – sometimes up to ten thousand people would start skipping and twirling for days without stopping until the weakest dropped dead of heart conditions and exhaustion.

    Authorities were perplexed – there seemed to be no reason behind the madness – contemporaries blamed possession or insect bites (the Tarantella dance is based on the reaction to a supposed tarantula bite) but modern explanations range from ergot poisoning to mass cultural hysteria – no one seems really sure of who or what caused the spontaneous and deadly dancing. But the impetus must have been the age old idea of death as a dance from which no one can escape – rich and poor, exalted and lowly – all must take part in the Danse Macabre. One’s dying moment was a last dance with life as death

    The idea of dancing until you burn stems from the modern fascination with human spontaneous combustion. Outside of myth, it was not a common belief in ancient times. One such story was the death of Semele, the mother of Dionysus. Tricked by a jealous Hera into begging her lover Zeus to show himself in all his glory, she is instantly incinerated at the sight of his true nature.

    But the theory that the body could become so overwhelmed by internal strife – physical and emotional – that it would eventually end up a bonfire first surfaced in the Victorian era as scientists discovered the secrets of the circulatory system. Since the lungs took in oxygen and expelled carbon dioxide, it was the blood that delivered oxygen to the rest of our system – and since oxygen was a flammable substance, it was thought that a slow burn occurred continuously within. So illness, alcoholism or even anger could set off a chain reaction that caused the body to burst into flames without any external source of ignition.

    Authors immediately latched onto the gruesome notion – Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Charlotte Bronte – but the most notorious was in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House where the alcoholic landlord Krook is visited by two gentlemen looking for answers. Waiting at the Sol’s Arms, they notice “a queer kind of flavor” in the air that smells like “greasy” meat. “Soot” falls on their clothing that “smears like black fat” and a “thick, yellow liquor” drips on their hands. As they enter Krook’s room, there is a “dark, greasy coating on the walls” and a “smouldering, suffocating vapour.” As a cat hisses at a dark pile on the floor, the two men tiptoe forward to find that it is not “the cinder of a small charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes” but a man’s leg sticking from a pile of ashes.

    The Gothic horror in Dickens has come down to us in drama where self-combusting is commonplace for a vampire or demon – there’s even a major character in BtVS who suffers this willingly in order to save the world.

    And then there’s the demise of poor Halfrek, Anya’s bosom companion in vengeance dealings, who suffers a fiery ending to punish Anya for her repentance over the deaths of a room of college boys in Selfless.

    We’ve already seen that D’Hoffryn has a sadistic sense of humor – and it’s possible that Halfrek’s death isn’t merely to punish Anya, but to ultimately fulfill her final purpose as a vengeance demon. Unlike Anya’s assignment to avenge women who are wronged by men, Halfrek’s gig was to avenge children who had been wronged by their parents or guardians.

    In the Buffyverse, we’ve seen a plethora of terrible parents – especially fathers – who put their children through hell. Buffy, Angel, Tara and Wesley in particular are shown to have neglectful or even abusive fathers who destroy their self-esteem and create self-destructive patterns through mean-spirited personal attacks and recriminations. As adults, their perceptions of proper behavior – the ways in which to behave and “perform” in society – are distorted by the manipulation that they suffered as children. Some may search for the approval of others their entire lives – making them prime candidates for relationships with abusive partners.

    But no character in the Buffyverse is as thoroughly shaped by their parents – and their abusive childhood – as Alexander Lavelle Harris. And it’s possible that in saving Anya by immolating her friend, D’Hoffryn is giving Halfrek a final chance to balance the scales in favor of abused child Xander – who still loves Anya and needs her forgiveness and support to survive the final days of Sunnydale before the end.

    From the beginning of the show, Xander often makes jokes about his parents – Anthony and Jessica Harris argue, they drink, they fight, they make cutting remarks– and Xander pretends that he’s amused by their poor parenting skills:

    XANDER: Why don’t you have dinner at our place? Mom’s making her famous
    phone call to the Chinese place. (The Puppet Show)

    BUFFY: Have you ever done an exchange program?
    XANDER: My dad tried to sell me to some Armenians once, does that count? (Inca Mummy Girl)
    But behind the quips, there’s an attempt to cover up the real misery that Xander feels:

    XANDER: I like to look at the stars, feel the whole nature vibe.
    CORDELIA: I thought you slept outside to avoid your family's drunken Christmas fights. (Amends)

    BUFFY: Hard to believe a Kiddie League Coach would do something like that.
    XANDER: Not if you played Kiddie League. I'm surprised it wasn't one of the Parents. (Nightmares)
    We never see Xander’s parents become physically abusive towards Xander himself. We do see Mr. Harris attacking various people and demons during the wedding in Hell’s Bells – there’s a real sense of menace in various episodes that suggest all is not as humorous as it seems. Xander’s experience with Kiddie League is inconclusive – we don’t know how his own father reacted - but Mr. Harris’ intimidating presence in episodes like Restless give the viewer a glimpse into Xander’s true feelings about his father as exemplified by cruel father-figure Principal Snyder play-acting an insane Colonel Kurtz:

    SNYDER: Where you from, Harris?
    XANDER: Well, the basement, mostly.
    SNYDER: Were you born there?
    XANDER: Possibly.
    SNYDER: Are you a soldier?
    XANDER: I'm a comfortador.
    SNYDER: You're neither. You're a whipping boy, raised by mongrels, and set on a sacrificial stone.
    It’s very telling that the spirit of the First Slayer uses the image of his father as an aspect of Xander’s greatest fears.

    A man bursts through the door in shadow.
    MAN: What the hell is wrong with you? You won't come upstairs?
    XANDER: I'm sorry –
    MAN: What are you, ashamed of us? Your mother's crying her guts out!
    XANDER: You don't understand –
    The figure stomps down the stairs toward him.
    MAN: No, YOU don't understand! Life ends here, with us! You're not gonna change that. You haven't got the HEART.
    A hand plunges into Xander’s chest. (Restless)
    We learn that Xander’s mother barely recognizes her son’s voice over the phone; his parents grudgingly acknowledge his existence by allowing him to pay for renting their basement and dining at home; Xander’s father tries to have sex with Buffy the moment he meets her in Hell’s Bells (and it’s a shocking sign of Xander’s total separation of his parents from his social life that Mr. Harris has never met her before); and their total self-absorption and disinterest in their son’s happiness bleeds into Xander’s conception of himself to the point where he deliberately puts himself down before anyone else can do so:

    WILLOW: I'm kind of curious to find out what sort of career I could have.
    XANDER: And suck all the spontaneity out of being young and stupid? I'd rather live in the dark.
    WILLOW: We won't be young forever.
    XANDER: I'll always be stupid. Okay, let's not all rush to disagree. (What’s My Line, Part One)
    And any expectations of future happiness in life seem to be limited to a bleak existence in low-paying jobs – the soft bigotry of low expectations as instilled in him by his parents:

    XANDER: I feel your pain, Will. Like, right now? I'm torn between the fast-growing industries of appliance repair and motel management. Of course, I'm still waiting to hear from The Corndog Emporium, so – (Bad Girls)
    As with all truly inspired humor, Xander finds comedy in the darkest of places – his own depressing upbringing, his crazy Uncle Rory, his unforgiving parents. But it’s the small spaces within larger episodes – the truism between the quips – that gives us unique insights into Xander’s psyche. Like many abused children, his anger is turned inward – his deepest fears not only centered on the behavior of his parents, but himself. Xander can be a jerk sometimes, his jabs going a little too deep, his quips a little too stinging – but his resentment and bitterness stems from genuine pain.

    His extreme hatred of demons and monsters is actually driven by his conception of himself as an aspect of his father. There’s a deep dread underlying his upbeat disposition that he might become a monster of the human variety and there’s an accompanying desire to disappear – running away from the Harris clan, the Scoobies, and Sunnydale itself. Only his car breaking down outside Los Angeles keeps him in town.

    XANDER: I’d give anything to be able to turn invisible. (The Puppet Show)
    As a child, Xander reached out to another student who seemed in even more desperate straits than himself – Willow – who cried at her first day of kindergarten after breaking a yellow crayon. Their mutual bond not only fulfilled Xander’s need for affection, but also showed his compassionate nature – an aspect of his personality NOT shared by his parents. Sneaking Willow over to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or sharing dreams of becoming a fireman, Xander failed to notice that Willow’s feelings were more than friendly as they entered high school together – perhaps because it felt like a violation of their special friendship that centered him as a child.

    When Buffy Summers shows up in Sunnydale, Xander was instantly smitten despite fears she would become yet another “friend” in a long history of rejection.

    Critics who see Xander as an example of the “Nice Guy” syndrome fault him for his obvious crush on Buffy – and subsequent attempts to impress her. But unlike the proverbial “Nice Guy”, Xander doesn’t fake his feelings or feel entitled to a relationship with Buffy because of their friendship – his anger seems directed inward with the self-deprecating remarks and general acceptance that he and Buffy are not to be. In Season Eight, when Buffy finally makes a play for Xander, he realizes that their moment has passed and Dawn is the woman that he wants to be with.

    Dealing with romantic feelings are hard at any age – as a still-virginal-teen in high school, Xander’s need to forge a deep emotional connection with ANYONE other than his unforgiving family was naturally tied into burgeoning sexual desire. And his numerous crushes on different women were mostly unrequited – some due to a fear of rejection that stemmed from his own childhood experiences. Joking about his romantic disasters, Xander’s self-deprecating jests reflect his belief that finding a girlfriend is as seemingly hopeless as his career ambitions:

    XANDER: I'm sorry. I don't handle rejection well. Funny, considering how much practice I've had. (Prophecy Girl)

    XANDER: Love sucks. Ever since I was in grammar school it's the same old dance – you dig someone, they dig someone else. (Angel)
    Throughout the series, Xander falls hard for many women – many turning out to be Slayers, Demonic Insects, Mummy Girls, and other supernatural creatures. Finding love is not easy in the best of times – finding love on a Hellmouth is nearly impossible.

    XANDER: I have the worst taste in women. Of anyone. In the world. Ever. (Inca Mummy Girl)

    And never mind being choked, imprisoned and almost eaten – the humiliation of Buffy’s rejection in Prophecy Girl in favor of an undead vampire dashes the last crumbs of hope that Buffy might someday be his. There’s no competing with someone tougher, stronger and over 200 years old –Xander’s gloomy view of himself as essentially unlovable is confirmed by the dreaded, “I just don’t see you that way.”

    AMPATA: You are strange.
    XANDER: Girls always tell me that. Right before they run away.
    XANDER: Well, because you never know if the girl is going to say yes, or if she's going to laugh in your face, pull out your still-beating heart, and crush it into the ground with her heel. (Inca Mummy Girl)
    And yet, it’s not Angel the undead vampire who rescues Buffy – it’s Xander AFTER he is rejected by Buffy who forces his way into Angel’s apartment and shames him to find Buffy. And it’s Xander who resuscitates the Slayer so she can live another day to defeat the Master and save Sunnydale. Xander proves that magical abilities aren't needed to be a hero – just a sense of decency and the bravery to face down not one but two angry vampires.

    It’s no wonder that Xander is the “heart” of the gang – his willingness to help others and even face death without any reward except friendship makes him the most compassionate member. It’s not just that Xander is “human” in comparison to his friends – it’s that he’s the true believer in people despite having personal experience with some of the worst of humanity.

    And that includes uber-mean Cordelia Chase – who torments Xander over his inadequacies, insults flying, until the tension builds to a climax:

    CORDELIA: Coward!
    XANDER: Moron!
    CORDELIA: I hate you!
    XANDER: I hate you!
    They kiss. (What’s My Line, Part Two)

    It’s a truism that sworn enemies are often attracted to each other, squabbling a stand-in for romantic attraction. The relationship between Xander and Cordelia lasts much longer than any women he’s dated so far – his attachment is so strong that when Cordelia breaks up with Xander over social pressure, he enlists Amy to get his revenge:

    XANDER: I want – for once – to come out ahead. I want the hellmouth working for me. You and me, Amy. We're gonna cast a little spell. (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered)
    The spell to make Cordelia desire him backfires, of course, causing every other women of Sunnydale to pursue Xander in a frenzy, leading to a reconciliation with Cordelia. Their final breakup isn’t caused by magic, but Xander’s impulsive smooching with best friend Willow. Oz forgives her, but not a badly wounded Cordelia.

    Xander is alone once again, still looking for love – until he hooks up with someone who seems at first glance to be another strong woman like Buffy and Cordelia except that she’s not quite as physically restrained:

    FAITH: Relax. And take off your pants.
    XANDER: Those two concepts are antithetical.(The Zeppo)
    Xander finally loses his virginity with a woman who promptly dumps him outside her door once the fun is done. There’s an interesting confluence here between Xander’s parents and Faith that one imagines impressed itself on Xander’s psyche after losing his virginity to a psychopath – the idea that a person can turn in an instant from an affectionate parent or partner into something monstrous – and deadly. When Xander returns to reason with Faith, he finds that their temporary sexual bond was more about Faith’s display of power than Xander’s sex appeal.

    FAITH: I could do anything to you right now. And you want me to. I could make you scream. I could make you die. (Consequences)
    This parallels the power that Xander’s parents held over him as a child – they could do anything to him – make him scream – make him die – at least emotionally. Psychologically, like many abused children and spouses, Xander may unconsciously fear that any abuse IS his fault – that he somehow wanted the abuse because he’s a monster too. Internalized self-hatred is the hallmark of a neglected child – the fact that Xander is reminded constantly that he’s lacking any superpowers that distinguish him from the average person.

    CORDELIA: It must be hard when all your friends have, like, superpowers. Slayers and werewolves and witches and vampires and you're like this little nothing. (The Zeppo)
    For the most part, Xander embraces his “nothingness” as a virtue – it allows him to fully complement his friends by reminding them of their humanity. Which primes him for his most important relationship in the series – Anya, the former Vengeance Demon who desperately wants to understand what it is to be human.

    HARMONY: You have to meet Anya. She just moved here. Her dad bought - what
    was it? A utility or something.
    ANYA: Nice bag. Prada?
    CORDELIA: Good call. Most people around here can't tell Prada from Payless.
    ANYA: What can I say? I have an eye for the good stuff. (The Wish)

    We learn in Selfless that Anya was once Aud – a long suffering woman who enacted a vengeance spell on her philandering partner and was recruited by D’Hoffryn to join his stable of Vengeance Demons. As all monsters do, Anya makes her way to Sunnydale’s Hellmouth to enact Cordelia’s revenge on Xander for cheating on her. But when her spell backfires in The Wish, her amulet is destroyed along with her demon powers – making her fully human after a millennium of torment.

    ANYA: For a thousand years I wielded the power of the wish. I brought ruin upon the heads of unfaithful men, I offered destruction and chaos for the pleasure of the lowers beings. I was feared and worshipped across the mortal globe and now I'm stuck at Sunnydale High! A mortal! A child! And I'm flunking math. (Doppelgangland)
    Trapped in a mortal body without friends and family, Anya “Jenkins” reaches out to the only person she can think of who seems decent and kind and help her deal with her new human life.

    ANYA: You can laugh, but I have witnessed a millennium of treachery and oppression from the males of the species. I have nothing but contempt for the whole libidinous lot of them.
    XANDER: Then why are you talking to me?
    ANYA: I don't have a date for the prom. (The Prom)
    Dateless, Xander agrees to bring Anya to the Prom – and regrets it immediately as she details all the men that she’s revenged over the centuries. But once the slow dance begins, Anya finds that human men aren’t as terrible as she once thought:

    ANYA: This isn't so bad. (The Prom)
    And Vengeance Demon Anya – scourge of men everywhere – now finds herself attracted to the kind, gentle, funny Xander despite herself. From the beginning, Xander is put in the difficult position of having to convince Anya of the variability of humans – especially men – since Anya relies on facile stereotypes to guide her through the new world of humanity:

    ANYA: We could watch sports of some kind.
    XANDER: I don't know –
    ANYA: Men like sports. I'm sure of it.
    XANDER: Yes, men like sports. Men watch the action movie. They eat of the beef and enjoy to look at the bosoms. A thousand years of avenging our wrongs and that's all you learned? (Graduation Day, Part One)
    When Anya begs Xander to run before the Mayor’s ascension, she can’t understand why he refuses to leave – like Spike, her confusion over the essential selflessness of the Scoobie gang at first infuriates her – and then leaves her puzzled as to why she’s been left behind:

    ANYA: Come with me.
    XANDER: I can't.
    ANYA: Why not?
    XANDER: I got friends on the line.
    ANYA: So?
    XANDER: That humanity thing's still a work in progress, isn't it?
    ANYA: Are you really gonna be that much help to them? You'll probably just get in the way.
    XANDER: Your stock's plummeting here, sweetheart.
    ANYA: Fine. You know what? I hope you die! (pause) Aren't we gonna kiss? (Graduation Day, Part One)

    Once the battle’s over, Xander is surprised to see Anya turn up at Giles’ apartment – and even more surprised to hear that she now considers them an item:

    ANYA: Where is our relationship going?
    XANDER: Our what? Our who?
    ANYA: Relationship. What kind do we have and what is it progressing toward?
    XANDER: I – I – we have a relationship?
    ANYA: We went to the prom.
    XANDER: Yes. On our one and only date. Second date called on account of snake, remember? And, there's the whole you-used-to-be-a-man-killing-demon thing, which, to be fair, is as much my issue as it is yours –
    ANYA: I can't stop thinking about you. In my dreams sometimes you're all naked.
    XANDER: Really? You know, if I'm in the check-out line at Wal-Mart I've had that same one. (Harsh Light of Day)
    One assumes that Anya heard about the death of the Mayor and the triumph of Buffy and her friends through the demon pipeline – but why she returns to Sunnydale is hard to say. Despite Anya’s claims that she’s returning only to have sex and get Xander out of her system, their dance at the Prom must have awakened something in her – whether emotions from long ago or newly awakened, she can’t let him go. And so she ignores Xander’s brush-off, showing up in his new basement apartment to celebrate the opening day of “Casa del Xander” by stripping off her clothes to entice him.

    XANDER: (turns) You know, it's customary to call before you show up, not that –

    Her dress is pooled around her feet as she stands naked. Xander’s hand convulses and Cranapple juice shoots out his straw.
    XANDER: So – So – So – the crux of this plan is –
    ANYA: Sexual intercourse. I've said it like a dozen times.
    XANDER: Uh-huh. Just working through a little hysterical deafness here.
    ANYA: I think it's the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me, figuratively. I'm thinking face-to-face for the event itself.
    XANDER: Ah, right. It’s just we hardly know each other. I mean, I like you. And you have a certain – directness that I admire – but sexual inter – what you're talking about, well – and I am actually turning into a woman as I say this – but it's about expressing something, and accepting consequences –
    ANYA: Oh, I have condoms. Some are black.
    XANDER: That's—that's very considerate.
    ANYA: I like you. You're funny and you're nicely shaped. And, frankly, it's ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not interlock. Please remove your clothing now.
    XANDER: And the amazing thing? Still more romantic than Faith. (Harsh Light of Day)

    Anya’s scheme for getting over Xander doesn’t work out quite as planned – it’s evident that she’s even more infatuated with him after sex as Xander confusedly tries to accept her dismissive attitude:

    ANYA: So, I'm over you now.
    XANDER: Um, Ok.
    ANYA: Okay?
    XANDER: Yeah. (The Harsh Light of Day)
    Anya is disappointed by Xander’s apparent acceptance – shouldn’t he be begging for her to stay? Of course, if Xander had become demanding and controlling, Anya would have become angry. Either way, it seems that Xander can’t win when Anya returns to demand why he ignored her rejection:

    XANDER: What are you doing here?
    ANYA: You haven’t called. Not once.
    XANDER: You said you were over me.
    ANYA: And you just accepted that? I only said that because I thought that’s what you wanted to hear.
    XANDER: That’s the funny thing about me, I tend to hear the actual words people say and accept them at face value. (Fear, Itself)
    Despite Anya’s blunt manner, Xander hears the emotion in her voice and seems genuinely touched that Anya wants to see him again – not the actions of a phony “Nice Guy” – but the romantic feelings of a young man. Some have faulted Xander for becoming too exasperated and/or flippant with Anya when she fails to grasp certain customs and etiquette without acknowledging how often Anya places Xander in either/or scenarios – damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

    XANDER: I can’t say seeing you falls into the realm of a bad thing. (Fear, Itself)
    When Anya asks if his invitation to a Halloween party is a date, Xander slyly tells her, “There are definitely date-like qualities at work here.” And he shows an inordinate amount of concern for her when he’s stuck down with several diseases suffered by the Chumash – even confirming their relationship as something more than friends with benefits:

    ANYA: I inflicted a lot of putrefying diseases on men when I was an avenging demon, and you look like you're getting all of them.
    XANDER: Okay, I'll stay. But you should go. You could catch it.
    ANYA: Then we'll die together! It's romantic. Help me get your trousers off.
    XANDER: You're a strange girlfriend.
    ANYA: I'm a girlfriend?
    XANDER: Um – there's a chance I'm delirious. (Pangs)
    The relationship of Xander and Anya falls into the trope of “human falls for magical being” that has been wildly popular ever since Psyche pulled back the bedcovers to discover her newly married husband Cupid was a God. Stories of men and women falling in love with devils, spirits, ghosts, wizards, witches, aliens, monsters, demons, angels, genies, fairy folk and even animals transfigured into human form are driven by the exciting presence of the “Other.” The tension that develops between one partner from “normal” society and the other from a previously unknown world of supernatural and mythical beings can be either tragic or comic depending upon the tale – but all are essentially wish-fulfillment fantasies.

    This pairing is common throughout all cultures, in religion and mythology, in literature and folk tales – and it most likely has something to do with the idea of difference made flesh. For the human being, their abnormal lover passes the borders of the possible, the mundane world – challenging the human being to either step outside the boundaries themselves – to break social codes and taboos – or reject their new lover. Cultural values and romantic/sexual mores are satirized and questioned as this kind of escapist fantasy – fear of the unknown – fear of becoming non-human ourselves – challenges perceptions of what constitutes human society.

    Gender seems to play a large part in whether the story is a tragedy or comedy – if the non-human is male and the human female, there’s a sense of danger and brutality as the woman is literally pulled from her place of safety into a threatening world. If the non-human is female and the human male, the tale generally becomes a comedy of manners in which the woman is unable to understand the foibles of the human world – but is soon integrated into the male’s world with only a smattering of independence.

    In more modern times, this notion has been popularized in a series of “magical girlfriends” who throw the protagonist’s life in a tizzy. In a twist on the romantic tale, Rodgers and Hart’s 1937 musical, I Married an Angel portrays a disillusioned man who wishes he could find a women who was faithful and honest – an angel – and suddenly finds an actual angel before him. Wackiness ensues as he finds her total honesty to be a major drawback in the world of finance – all is saved when the Angel realizes that to succeed in the human world, one must learn to lie and practice deceit.

    In Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus, the goddess Aphrodite herself comes to earth to fall in love with a human male – and creates havoc as her uninhibited ways and sexual voraciousness embarrass him. In both musicals, the man is portrayed as a harmless, befuddled soft touch – at the mercy of the supernatural woman’s superior knowledge and power. And yet, both eventually acquiesce – they hide their powers and relinquish control in order to fit into a narrow definition of what is societally appropriate.

    This kind of comedic reassurance that a woman has the freedom to go beyond the norm, but CHOOSES not to is the basis of most 20th century reiterations of this myth – from Bewitched to I Dream of Jeannie, there’s an inherent paranoia about being “found out” by the real world. Darrin and Tony Nelson seem consumed with the idea of conformity, fearful that their otherworldly partners will somehow destroy their chances of being an advertising executive or an astronaut – despite the fact that the powers of the women they adore could make them King of the World. Of course, the shows play both ends – we also get the reactions of the friends and families of the two women – who are aghast that their female relative/friend would lower themselves to be with a mere mortal.

    This plays out in Xander and Anya’s relationship to some extent. Anya’s confusion about human customs forces Xander to reassess everything he knows – but also perpetuates certain stereotypes under the guise of instruction. There’s a troubling attitude by the rest of the Scoobies that Anya is lacking in empathy because of her blunt manner – which makes her reaction to Joyce’s death so moving when she breaks down, unable to understand the true human cost of death.

    We get a glimpse of the internal struggle of Anya to cope with her feelings for Xander after avenging women for hundreds of years – she’s still convinced that the relationship is doomed to failure from long experience:

    ANYA: A year and half ago I could've eviscerated him with my thoughts. Now I can barely hurt his feelings. Things used to be so much simpler. I've seen a thousand relationships. First there's the love and sex. Then there's nothing left but the vengeance. That's how it works. (Where the Wild Things Are)
    But we also see that Anya is changing – in the tradition of the magical girlfriend who slowly adopts human ways, she starts to genuinely fall in love with Xander and value the simple qualities of his humanity over her former power:

    ANYA: You're a good person and a good boyfriend and you do amazing things with your tongue and I'm in love with you. Whatever they think of you, it shouldn't matter. (Primeval)
    But there’s a twist – Xander’s not just a lovelorn doofus, but a product of an abusive household. His dreadful embarrassment whenever his parents are involved is palpable – the horror within the Harris household is most likely far more disturbing to him than anything Buffy meets on patrol:

    XANDER: Huh, guess the folks are back.
    From upstairs there is a muffled sound of a fierce husband-wife argument, punctuated by the sound of a plate hitting the wall.
    XANDER: No, No. I was wrong. Just incompetent burglars
    Another door slams and we hear a shouted fragment.
    DAD: Like I'm gonna listen to your friends sober –
    XANDER: Maybe it's time to start looking for a new place. Something a little nicer. Buffy, you've been to Hell. They had one-bedrooms, right? (The Replacement)
    When Xander is split in two, we see the “Other” within the human being – the suave Xander that might have been had he been raised in a different environment – the scruffy Xander that might have been had Xander been without his loving friends and his ability to see humor in the worst of situations. There’s an interesting dialogue between Anya and Suave-Xander about her fears of mortality after being gravely hurt by Harmony:

    ANYA: I'm dying. I may have as few as fifty years left.
    XANDER-DOUBLE: Fifty-years – what is this – oh, wait a minute. This is about this.
    ANYA: What? About the sling?
    XANDER-DOUBLE: You haven't been hurt like this since you became human. Maybe it's finally hitting
    you what being human means.
    ANYA: That's not it.
    XANDER-DOUBLE: Yes, I think it is. You were going to live for thousands more years. Now you're going to age and – die. It must be terrifying.
    ANYA: You don't understand what it's like.
    XANDER-DOUBLE: Being suddenly human? I think I can get what that would be like. (The Replacement)
    Xander’s comment about becoming human is interesting coming from the part of Xander that’s assured and self-confident. Xander has never really felt fully human until the moment he’s able to turn away the self-propagating insults and abuses of his childhood because they’re mainly present in the more scruffy Xander. Yet when scruffy Xander makes the realization that the one thing he truly cares about – Anya – is going to be taken away from him, he screws up the courage to confront his double and “save” Anya – not realizing that the suave and confident double is a “magical boyfriend” version of himself.

    Xander has finally moved out of his parent’s basement thanks to his inner double self that he never knew existed – which gives him the confidence he needs to move up in construction. But throughout Season Five, Xander and Anya still apparently maintain separate apartments. And when Anya gets a job at the Magic Box, she gains a bit of independence – along with a dollop of instruction:

    ANYA: Please go.
    XANDER: Anya, the Shopkeepers Union of America called? They want me to tell you "please go" just got replaced with "have a nice day."
    ANYA: I have their money. Who cares what kind of day they have?
    XANDER: No one. It's a long cultural tradition of raging insincerity. Embrace it.
    ANYA: Hey! You! Have a nice day.
    XANDER: There's my girl. (No Place Like Home)
    And this job emboldens Anya to start planning her life as a human being – but as her feelings towards Xander become stronger, he pulls away, unsure of himself. When Riley breaks up with Buffy, Xander seems to realize that he’s taken Anya’s love for granted – or that their relationship has moved yet another step closer to total commitment:

    XANDER: I've gotta say something – 'cause I don't think I've made it clear. I'm in love with you.
    Powerfully, painfully in love. The things you do – the way you think – the way you move. I get excited every time I'm about to see you. You make me feel like I've never felt before in my life. Like a man. I just thought you might wanna know. (Into the Woods)

    Soon after, Anya tells Xander that their love-making has become something more than just sex – it’s a symbol of creation – the opposite of her destructive past as a demon:

    ANYA: I'm not ready to make life with you. But I could, we could. Life could come out of love and our smooshing and that's beautiful… It all makes me feel like we're part of something bigger. Like I'm more awake somehow, you know? (Forever)
    Anya’s independence – her sense of working within the community at the Magic Box – has dulled her fears of being human and mortal. And as the time nears and Buffy and her friends plan one last crazy plan to save Dawn and stop Glory, Xander shocks Anya with a surprise:

    ANYA: No, you see, usually, when there's an apocalypse, I skedaddle. But now I love you so much that instead I have inappropriately timed sex and try to think of ways to fight a god and worry terribly that something might happen to you, and also worry that something'll happen to me and then I have guilt that I'm not more worried about everyone else but I just don't have enough, I'm
    just on total overload and I honestly don't think anything could make me more nervous than I am right now.
    He holds a tiny open box with a small diamond ring in it in front of her.
    XANDER: Care to wager on that? Anya, you wanna marry me? (The Gift)

    But surprisingly, Anya doesn’t leap into Xander’s arms – she slaps him because of the awkwardness of the timing:

    XANDER: Can I take that as a "maybe"?
    ANYA: You're proposing to me!
    XANDER: Yes –
    ANYA: You're proposing to me 'cause we're gonna die! And you think it's romantic and sexy and you know you're not gonna have to go through with it 'cause the world's gonna end!
    XANDER: I'm proposing to you, Anya, because it's not.
    ANYA: You can't know that.
    XANDER: I believe it. I think we're gonna get through this. I think I'm gonna live a long and silly life, and I'm not interested in doing that without you around.
    ANYA: Oh. Okay.
    XANDER: Okay?
    ANYA: Yes. I mean, yes. No.
    XANDER: No?
    ANYA: After. Give it to me when the world doesn't end. (The Gift)
    But Xander’s reassurances are harder to believe as the months drag on after Buffy’s death and Xander delays the announcement of their engagement.

    ANYA: I mean, I miss Buffy, I do. But life shouldn't just stop because she's gone. I'm sick of waiting to take over here and I'm sick of waiting to tell everyone about us.
    XANDER: We've talked about this. We can't announce our engagement while things are so up in the air.
    ANYA: Why not? It's happy news. Happy news in hard times is a good thing.
    XANDER: It is, but – if things go as planned – everything could be different. Let's just hold on. (Bargaining, Part One)
    Why does Xander delay the marriage? Does he fear that if they move on emotionally and make new lives – then they will never have the strength of purpose to bring Buffy back? His unease with Willow’s resurrection plan manifests in his reluctance to commit to Anya – if Buffy can die, then anything can happen. Their marriage could be a disaster – he could turn out like his father.

    But when Buffy is successfully resurrected (from the Scoobie point of view), Xander finally screws up the courage to publically announce their engagement after Anya does an enchanting dance of capitalist superiority with the Magic Box profits – her goofy actions with Dawn clinch Xander’s feelings that she is the woman for him:

    ANYA: After I close out the register. The dance of capitalist superiority!
    XANDER: I'm gonna marry that girl.
    BUFFY: Xander! She's fifteen! And my sister, so don't even – Oh.
    XANDER: Hey, everybody! Can I, uh, there's something Anya and I want to tell you.
    ANYA: Now?
    XANDER: Now. We're getting married. (All the Way)

    And the reactions of the Scoobie gang are typical of the “magical girlfriend” trope – they are worried and frightened that Xander and Anya are rushing into things. There’s also a sense of fear that they’re finally growing up and creating relationships that will eventually pull them apart from one another. And there’s the fear that Anya really doesn’t understand Xander at all – especially Buffy, who knows how badly her relationship with Angel worked out.

    Of course, Xander himself is full of fear as he starts to realize the tremendous responsibility he’s taken on:

    XANDER: I just – it's just, I didn't think it would be so much.
    BUFFY: But this is good. I mean, this is love and celebration and moving forward. Anya's right. This is the way life's supposed to work out.
    XANDER: Right. Deep pools of ooey delight. I'm wallowing, not drowning.
    BUFFY: Definite wallow action.
    XANDER: Okay. So, once more into the breach? (All the Way)
    Xander’s clever metaphors for the engagement party and the emotional stickiness of his new circumstances include a quotation of Shakespeare’s Henry V and a modification of a turn-of-the-century slang term, “ooey-gooey” that describes thick treacly food – especially dessert fillings. Erudition plus clever verbiage is a hallmark of Joss Whedon’s style in BtVS. And of all the Scoobies, no one exemplifies this better than Xander Harris:

    XANDER: This was no wimpy chain rattler. This was 'I'm dead as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore.'
    Giles: Well, despite the Xander-speak, that's a fairly accurate definition of a poltergeist. (I Only Have Eyes for You)
    Much of the Xander-speak in Buffy often comes from unexpected punchlines, incongruities, or circumlocutions that turn clichéd phrases on their head:

    BUFFY: Buffy: I just don't like putting you guys in danger.
    XANDER: Oh, I laugh in the face of danger! Then I hide until it goes away. (The Witch)

    XANDER: Man, Buffy! My whole life just flashed before my eyes. I gotta' get me a life! (Killed by Death)
    But there’s also a postmodern self-consciousness in the snarkiness – Xander is just as aware of his own comic framing and set-up for a joke as the viewer is:

    GILES: You traumatized and and abused these children – children who, who have no doubt become extremely disturbed adults! You have ruined lives, Mrs. Holt. Furthermore, what you did has now manifested itself as a, a malevolent presence which threatens still more lives! You have a great deal to answer for.
    MRS. HOLT: I refuse to listen to this when I can smell the sin on each and every one of you.
    XANDER: Yeah? You smell sin? Well let me tell you something, lady, she who smelt it dealt it!
    Giles looks at Xander.
    XANDER: It's like what you said, but faster. (Where the Wild Things Are)
    Some of this is pop culture Generation X – who grew up with advertising and hyper-self-awareness of their own. They have no problem with viewing themselves as characters in their own drama – and play with the ideas of identity and cultural expectations:

    XANDER: I hate to break it to you, Oh Impotent One, but you're not 'The Big Bad' anymore. You're not even the 'Kind of Naughty.’ (Doomed)
    But it’s not only Xander who mystifies Baby Boomer Englishman Rupert Giles – when Wesley looks over his Watcher Diaries, he’s amused to read that Giles is mystified by his own Slayer:

    WESLEY: Here's your first entry. 'Slayer is willful and insolent.' That would be our girl, wouldn't it?
    GILES: Well, you have to get to know her.
    WESLEY: 'Her abuse of the English language is such that I understand only every other sentence.' Oh, this is going to make fascinating reading. (Bad Girls)

    English relies heavily on word order for meaning – we dismiss subordinate or relative clauses, irregularities, redundancies and even irrationalities to grasp the heart of a sentence. It makes perfect sense that the non-supernatural Xander is the wittiest Scoobie – despite all our great “inventions," it is language that makes us human with its expressiveness, economy and metaphoric equivalence.

    TV Tropes and other websites cite “Buffy-speak” – a special language in which characters express complex thoughts in slangy argot – supposedly because of their lack of education or intelligence. In actuality, Whedon’s mix of disjointed syntax and compound-y word inventions is just an extreme example of how language works. We use the same contorted grammatical structures and variable words in everyday speech – the only difference is familiarity. The changing of words by creating new compounds, generating nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, adjectives into adverbs is part of ever-evolving language. “Buffy-speak” is just an exaggerated example of what language does at every moment – constructing new metaphors and meanings from endless combinations of words.

    Lyrics and poetry are all about metaphor – the movement of a concept from the familiar to the strange. As words carry us from one linguistic concept to another, it’s almost impossible to say a sentence without dealing in metaphor because it is the only way we can express abstract thought. We all think and speak in metaphor and simile – it’s only custom and usage that makes them so familiar that we don’t think of them as such:

    Buffy was shocked to discover that Spike was a vampire and suggested that his rival Angel dispose of him.
    Looking at the sentence, one finds a mountain of metaphors: ‘shocked’ is Old French for ‘strike against or by violent enemies’; ‘dis-cover’ is Latin meaning ‘remove the cover from’; ‘Spike’ is Indo-European meaning ‘sharp point’; ‘suggested’ is Latin meaning to ‘carry under’; ‘rival’ is Latin for ‘sharing the same stream’; ‘Angel’ is Indo-European meaning ‘messenger’; ‘dispose’ is Latin meaning ‘put apart’.

    So the literal sentence without the metaphors behind the words would read something like this:

    Buffy was struck by violent enemies to remove the cover from a sharp point and carried under to a messenger to put him apart.
    Of course, this makes no sense without the metaphoric meaning of the words as carried down through the ages – but that’s how language works. The imagery of the words has been normalized to the extent that the metaphors are no longer active in the imagination – but they are there, dormant in the sentence, ready to awaken at any moment.

    Lyrics and poetry are language at its most complex – to understand how lyrics work, it’s important to know the rules of versification – otherwise known as the dreaded word prosody.

    English is composed of vowels and consonants. A vowel is a perfect sound when voiced alone and a consonant cannot be perfectly expressed without an accompanying vowel. Vowels are a, e, i, o, u. All other letters are consonants except for w and y, which act as both vowels – newly, dewy, eyebrow – and consonants when preceding a vowel in the same syllable – wine, twine, whine. Consonants are then divided into two groups – semivowels and mutes.

    A semivowel is a consonant that is imperfectly voiced without a vowel and at the end of a syllable its sound may be protracted, as l, n, z, in al, an, az. Semivowels are f, h, j, l, m, n, r, s, v, w, x, y, z, c soft, g soft. A w or y at the end of a syllable is a vowel.

    The fifteen semivowels are either liquids, aspirates or in-betweens. Liquidsl, m, n, r – have natural fluidity of sound. Aspiratesc, f, g, h, j, s, x – need strong breath to become protracted. In-betweensv, w, y, z – are less slippery than liquids and more vocal than aspirates.

    The Eight mutesb, d, k, p, q, t, c hard, g hard – are consonants that cannot be sounded at all without a vowel and stop the breath at the end of a syllable. K, g, c hard sound the same and b, d, g hard are held longer than the rest.

    A mute softens the sound before a vowel or a liquid – but when placed after, they intensify the sound. The name “Spike” has a mute at the front and the end of the one-syllable word – beginning softly with a sudden, violent stop at the end that makes it a wonderful word to roll off the tongue when Buffy wants to voice her utter contempt for the vampire.

    The Metrical Line:

    All verse forms are based on meter (outside of the US, it’s metre) – the rhythmic structure of a line. In English, lines are accentual-syllabic – broken down into units called a foot that are composed of a certain number of repeated stresses on syllables to reveal a rhythmic pattern – very much like notes in a bar of music. Scansion is used to determine the pattern of stresses, the length of each line and the rhyme scheme.

    | Ev’-ry | Sin-gle | Night the | Same ar- | Range-ment
    This line is in trochaic pentameter – a two syllable stress/unstress foot (trochaic) repeated five times (pentameter) – which can be written out as:



    | \ - | \ - | \ - | \ - | \ - |

    Scansion – metrical feet – the four major patterns of stresses:

    1.iamb: a light stress followed by a heavy stress ( - \ )
    2.trochee: a heavy stress followed by a light stress ( \ - )
    3.dactyl: a heavy stress followed by two light stresses ( \ - - )
    4.anapest: two light stresses followed by a heavy stress ( - - \ )

    The iamb – two syllables of nonstress/stress – is the most popular metrical pattern in the English language because it most closely approximates speech.

    I’ve Got | a Theo | ry
    Some Kid | is Dream |in’
    And We’re | all Stuck | inSide | his Wac | -ky Broad | way Night | mare

    A trochee is more standard in lyrics than in poetry – two syllables of stress/nonstress foot – a very forceful way to begin a line:

    First I’ll | Kill her | Then I’ll | Save her
    No, I’ll | Save her | Then I’ll | Kill her

    Dactyls – three syllables of stress/nonstress/nonstress – are very formal and sonorous in feel, the basis of Greek and Roman elegiac poetry and often used for comedic effect when the elevated tone is broken:

    Warm in the | Night when I’m | Right in her | Tight – em | brace Tight embrace!

    The anapest – three syllables of nonstress/nonstress/stress – is more uncommon, giving a circular, long-winded feel to the verse:

    No that’s Great | but I’m Late |and I’d Hate | to de-Lay | her
    She’ll get Pissed | if I’m Missed | see, my Sis- | ter’s the Slay-er

    There are other patterns – spondees (two stresses), pyrrhic (two nonstresses), amphibrach (nonstress/stress/nonunstress) – but most metrical verse falls into the first four patterns. In verse, meter is never entirely regular – when there is a sudden shift from one meter to another, substitution or inversion occurs. Often, this is preceded by a Caesura – a structural pause within the line, indicating an important or revelatory moment:

    Life’s not a | Song
    Life is-n’t | Bliss
    Life is just | This:
    | | It’s Liv-ing

    When an overabundance of syllables occurs at the very beginning of the line, it is anacrusis – a pickup note in music.

    [I] I | wish I | could Say | the Right \ Words

    An incomplete foot is a Catalexis; – a line with an incomplete foot at the end is a catalectic line – very common in music as the singer holds a note.

    Scansion – metrical feet – line length

    Line lengths are determined by the number of feet just as feet are determined by the number of stresses:

    A one-foot line is monometer; A two-foot line is dimeter; A three-foot line is trimeter: A four-foot line is tetrameter; A five-foot line is pentameter; A six-foot line is hexameter and in iambic form, it is an alexandrine; A seven-foot line is heptameter; and an eight-foot line is octameter

    Iambic Pentameter is the “English heroic line” – the five feet of nonstess/stress feet match the breath capacity of the lungs:

    And Still | have Time | to Get | a Soft | Shoe in

    Trochaic Pentameter – five feet of stress/nonstress – is a forceful declaration:

    You’re not | Read-y | For the |World out | Side

    In Tetrameter there are four stressed feet, giving a sense of swiftness and excitement. Most lines shorter than five feet create agitation because of the lack of breath:

    This| is the Man |that I Plan| to en-Tan|gle

    And Trimeter with three stresses is even more blunt and agitated:

    If my | Heart could |Beat
    It would |Break my |Chest

    Dimeter with its two stark stresses jumps back and forth like a heartbeat:

    There Was| no Pain
    No Fear | no Doubt

    Monometer is barely a poem – with its one little stress and repetition, it implies difficulty in sounding the verse:

    You Work
    So Hard
    All Day

    The most popular long line is the Hexameter – the six stresses elongate ordinary lung capacity and give a sense of endurance. It is often a grandiose statement that is full of power in expressing anguish or joy:

    These End |less Days |are Fin’| ly End |ing In | a Blaze

    Lines of good poetry are apt to be a little irregular. Variation wakes us up with its touch of difference. A musical contrapuntal accent, flourish, silence. There are differing degrees of heavy and light stresses, under the rules of simple sense.

    Bunn-ies |Aren’t just |Cute like |Ev’-ry | Bo-dy |sup-Po-ses
    They Got them Hop-py Legs and Twitch-y Lit-tle Nos-es
    And What’s with All the Car-rots?
    What Do they Need such Good Eye-Sight for An-y Way?

    A spondee replaces the iambic foot in “eyesight” in order to take care of the compound word at any time that logic or design calls for it.

    Scansion – metrical feet – rhyme scheme

    Masculine rhyme – words rhyme on a single stressed syllable.

    Willow, don’t you see
    There’ll be nothing left of me

    Masculine rhymes with words ending in mutes are the most emphatic rhymes of all.

    I touch the fire and it freezes me
    I look into it and it’s black
    Why can’t I feel?
    My skin should crack and peel
    I want the fire back

    Feminine rhyme uses words of more than one syllable that end with a light stress, as in buckle and knuckle. Feminine endings tend to blur the end rhyme and set up an expectation of a triple rhyme:

    You’re the cutest of the Scoobies
    With your lips as red as rubies
    And your firm yet supple – tight embrace!

    When the words are not true rhyming words but almost rhyme, it is called off-rhyme or slant rhyme. And it can be very effective in a comic rhyme.

    All those hearts laid out – that must sting
    Plus some customers just start combusting

    Enjambment turns the line so that a logical phrase is interrupted – it speeds the line for two reasons: curiosity about the missing part of the phrase impels one to listen intently – they will leap more vigorously.

    When things get rough, he
    Just hides behind his Buffy

    Use of words:

    Alliteration a repetition of the initial sound of words in a line:

    Don’t give me songs
    Give me something to sing about

    Consonance is the repetition of initial sounds and interior sounds of words:

    It could be witches
    Some evil witches
    Which is ridiculous ‘cause witches
    They were persecuted wicca good and
    Love the earth and woman power

    Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within words (a near rhyme):

    Lost in ecstacy
    Spread beneath my Willow Tree

    Onomatopoeia is the use of a word that represents through its sound what it defines:

    Grr! Argh!

    The rules of poetry apply to lyrics but the fundamental difference is that lyrics are set to a rhythmic beat whereas poetry creates its own kind of music. Some lyrics become secondary adjuncts to the melody – others have the same verbal shocks as poetry, overwhelming the melody with verbal dexterity like the work of Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim.


    I WISH I WERE IN LOVE AGAIN (“I Wish I Were in Love Again” from Babes in Arms by Lorenz Hart)
    Lyrics often rely on “found phrases” – “Going Through the Motions,” “Standing in the Way,” “Rest in Peace,” – fragmentation and juxtaposition creating an ironic spin on the original. Tiny line fragments make up a mosaic of surprising versatility.

    Good lyricists try not to over-rhyme – great lyrics spring from character and situation. Clarity, concision and particularization are necessary to lyric dramatization, telling us about the character’s vocabulary, grammar, elisions and state of mind. A lyric must be understandable at first listen and balance dialogue with poetic license – too conversational and they don’t sing – too poetic and they sound stilted.

    THAT KEEP MARRIAGE INTACT. (“The Little Things You Do Together” from Company by Stephen Sondheim)
    It’s not the punch-line that makes a lyric – but how you get there. The more a lyric can surprise the listener – an unexpected swerve – an ironic turnabout – the more memorable and effective a lyric can be. Revelations of character must be mixed with linguistic discoveries – in some ways, they act as a mini one-act play. We’ll talk about the development of character through lyrics in the next section, but for now, we’ll concentrate on the formalistic elements of the musical lyric:

    AND "THANK-YOU-FOR-THE-PRESENT-BUT-WHAT'S-WRONG-WITH-IT?" STUFF (“Buddy’s Blues” from Follies by Stephen Sondheim)
    Like any Sondheim song, “I’ll Never Tell” is an example of a song that both contains verbal wit and a dramatic framework for understanding the characters of Xander and Anya – comedy songs that are also character songs require a tremendous amount of work:

    WHEDON: Hard, hard song to write, obviously, because a ton of rhyme, a ton of trying to actually be funny, a ton of – and I lied. This whole sequence, I remember being at the Cape, out on the river, just going over and over and over and over and over it and never quite getting it.
    A notable difference between “I’ll Never Tell” and previous numbers is the presentation – Xander and Anya sing directly to the camera (viewer) rather than each other. “I’ll Never Tell” was the first number to be filmed and it’s possible that Whedon intended more songs to be self-aware of a hidden proscenium and audience – but in the end, there are only a few isolated moments in which characters ever directly address the camera again.

    And certainly, for a long-joke song like “I’ll Never Tell” which is structured as a “challenge” duet between competing performers, the direct address works amazingly well as both characters attempt to woo the “audience” over. A successor to vaudeville acts in which two entertainers tried to top one another, the challenge duet presents dual points of view that contrast and compare different perspectives – mainly in comic ways. The inventiveness of the lyricist generally drives these numbers – Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)" from Annie Get Your Gun is a notable example – as each character tries to top the other in insults, boasts and deeds.

    As a reveal of unspoken doubts and fears before an impending marriage, “I’ll Never Tell” is a musical prizefight between bride and groom, a comedic universal lamentation of all the miseries in store when two become one. And the irony is that as each sings their hidden grievances and complaints, the other is listening – and the competition to top each other becomes a running gag.

    And Whedon sets up the song by giving it a 40s shine to match the verbally dexterous lyrics of the era between the wars – Xander’s apartment is given a rather retro look. Even their pajamas are right out of a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie:

    XANDER: You want some breakfast, baby?
    ANYA: You don't have to go to work?
    XANDER: Nah, I shut the crew down for the day. My guys start dancing around me – I don't know if I could deal. It's a flab thing.
    XANDER: So. Waffles?
    ANYA: Will you still make me waffles when we're married?
    XANDER: No I'll only make them for myself, but by California law you will own half of them.

    And as Xander continues to nervously joke about their impending marriage, the song begins.

    XANDER: Hey, how about omelets! I can do an omelet!
    “I’ll Never Tell”

    WHEDON: This number was definitely the most fun to shoot. But this number was very much figured out storyboard-wise before it was shot. It even contained some dancing; the only thing I knew were certain shots until I'd seen the dancing, but because it was storyboarded we would shoot one piece and then shoot another. I love the lighting here, I love the set, I love their outfits, I love the two of them… it led me to say "This is going to be my big comedy Astaire-Rogers kind of number." And the opportunity to do that was a lot of fun. To be really silly and yet hit on something that is very true about relationships, which is the fear you have, the things you can't say.
    And “I’ll Never Tell” proves the old adage: dying is easy – it’s comedy that’s hard. The song is really about Xander and Anya’s deepest fears – and Whedon makes certain to keep it both general so that the listener can identify – and particular in order to reveal character.


    There’s a repeated line in the anapestic verse – “is the man-that I plan-to entan-” – that creates a patter-like effect, setting up the comedic feel of the song. The alliteration of the “t” sound in “this-that-to” and the quadruple near-consonant rhymes that end in “–n” – “man-plan-en-tangle-fine” gives the verse an immediate comic feel – over-rhyming an indicator of humor. There are some neat rhymes with the next verse – “tangle-mangle” and “fine-mine.”

    XANDER: I've almost got that pan flipping thing down, there was just that one incident, and the Fire Marshall was much less –
    Xander’s continuous dialogue about making omelets, blissfully unaware of Anya’s “aside” to the audience, telegraphs that this song is going to be funny.

    Whedon’s comedic devices in “I’ll Never Tell” are varied and ingenious – after a conventional musical opening in which Anya speaks of her man, she suddenly shifts to her inglorious past as a savage demon who tortured and murdered numerous men with little indication that she’s changed moods. This is also characteristic of Anya in her usual dialogue – and it’s impressive that Whedon manages to shift from dialogue to musical numbers without betraying the characters. It make look easy from the outside, but it’s a particular (and essential) skill that defeats most established writers who attempt musicals – characterization almost always suffers in transference from speech to song.

    And once again, there’s some inspired comic writing here – the near rhymes of both consonants and vowels in the “claim-fame-maim-mangle-vengeance-mine” patter is pure fun – especially Anya’s innovation of Deuteronomy 32:35: ”Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand and their doom comes swiftly.” And its counterpart in Romans 12:19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

    Anya shifts to a traditional “showbiz” lingo common in 30s and 40s numbers with an even more traditional shift to the idea of a woman in marriage “trading her name for his” – the humor coming from the incongruity that Anya isn’t trading a last name, but her infamy. This lets us know that the song will be aping old-fashioned songs about the trials and tribulations of marriage – with a supernatural twist.

    The music shifts from anapestic to iambic as it becomes more conversational – giving the end of the verse a more contemplative feel. There’s a continuation of the consonant “m-n” sounds here with “name-made” and assonance continued from the original “maim-fame-mangle” near rhymes and perfect rhymes in “claim-fame-maim-name,” “biz-his-is” and “made-trade” that gives the whole verse a matching coherence.

    And Anya cuts off the verse to tell the audience that despite her professions of happiness, there’s something not quite right that she’s not ready to admit – and this subtext swiftly draws the audience into the song to hear what’s she’s not willing to tell Xander.

    And as she turns away, Xander suddenly turns over in bed and addresses the camera with his own verse that matches Anya’s in tenderness and profession of love:

    Unlike Anya, Xander doesn’t dwell upon the change Anya has made in his life – instead he concentrates on her very “present” qualities that have added so much to his life. Again, there’s a lot of word-play with the homonym “one-won” internal rhyme with “fun” and the assonance/consonance of “such-passion-grace” in the anapestic (unstress-unstress-stress) musical lines.

    And realizing that he’s about to reveal way too much information (for the television censor), Xander swiftly breaks the rhyme scheme for a save:


    What was it that Xander was about to say? Following the rhyme scheme from the first verse section, it was either a rhyme with “such” (following Anya’s duplicate rhyming structure) – which would have been the innocent “clutch” – or more likely, a word that would have been a near-rhyme with “fun.”

    And Xander abandons that rhyme scheme of “night-fight-tight” and “grace-embrace” for a plethora of “o” sounds – “go-known-only-grow-no.” There’s also another subtle sex joke in “the love we’ve known can only grow” which comically tells us that Xander has sex on the brain – as he admits himself in previous episodes.



    The jump from “there’s” to “no-thing” gives the sense that the two characters are hiding something – which is intensified by the descending line down to the discordant harmony of Anya and Xander singing C and A flat together on the word “tell.” As Xander and Anya sit silently on the bed, there is an uncomfortable pause in the song.

    As the music to the main song begins, both move from the bedroom into the living room without looking at one another – and we see Xander’s living room/kitchen area with dirty dishes from the night before – a sign of domestic togetherness – or messiness, depending how you look at it. As Anya moves to the table, Xander moves to the refrigerator and the main melody begins in earnest.



    And the viewer realizes that this will be a back-and-forth verbal battle of the sexes – each lobbying complaints about the other. Whedon begins with conventional attacks – men snore, women wheeze, men don’t do housework, women eat extravagant food:


    And we have a wonderfully inventive shot of Xander speaking to the audience INSIDE the refrigerator as he points out the cheeses – a homage to such musicals as “Little Shop of Horrors” where we get a birds-eye view of the sadistic dentist:

    And the rhymes are appropriately over-the-top “wheezes-freezes-skeezy-cheeses-describe” are a combination of perfect and near-rhymes that Whedon manages to top in the next A section with a virtuoso “breezes-please is-penis-diseases” series of consonance and assonance rhymes.

    I TALK

    Whedon keeps it conventional with complaints that men don’t pay attention to women’s speech and women are entitled – but then:


    Xander is rendered speechless by Anya’s verbal dexterity in referring to his syphilis outbreak in Pangs and Nicolas Brendon does a brilliant dead-pan double take as he looks first at the camera and then back at Anya in response as he moves from the refrigerator to the living room area. Score one for Anya.

    And we move to the elongated B section where both sing in apparent harmonic agreement:




    Whedon allows Xander this round by letting him complete the triple rhyme of “ordinary-temporary-hairy” with an unexpected physical insult that surprises the viewer. There’s a nice alliterative quality to “thinks-temporary-toes” that connects the three lines and a cute inner rhyme of “toes-knows” with the refrain and it’s neat “well-tell” rhyme.


    And we get a visual joke here with Xander opening the newspaper to reveal hilarious headlines typical of Sunnydale amnesia. Whedon suddenly switches from back-and-forth lines to full sections for each character as Xander chooses to read the paper rather than participate any longer in the challenge – only provoked to return when Anya repeatedly insults him:

    Anya’s cute slant rhyme of “rough he-Buffy” and “he-hides-his-huffy” is playful – but there’s an edge to her words as she crosses in front of Xander and addresses the camera:

    Anya’s reference to Buffy is not only literally speaking of Xander fighting Big Bads and letting Buffy do most of the work, but also the subtextual idea of Xander using his responsibilities as a Scoobie as a diversionary tactic to avoid dealing with Anya and his relationship issues.


    And this compels Xander to lower his paper and sing his own verse, lobbying insults at Anya in quick succession:
    And this is too much for Anya – who finishes Xander’s rhyme of “needy-really-greedy” with “beady” – once again interrupting a song to interject her own two cents, disrupting the metrical pattern as in “Bunnies”:

    Comparing Xander to a bunny would be the worst insult that Anya can think of and the “beady eyes” line could also be a reference to her “what do they need good eyesight for anyway?”

    Xander is comically frustrated by Anya’s attempt to top him by deliberately interrupting his A section:

    SHE –
    But Anya has already taken the song to a different place as she starts to dance, despite Xander’s completion of the “know-hello” rhyme. This attempt to draw attention to herself so that Xander can’t continue to criticize her is successful.

    WHEDON: And you can also see, if you watch Emma particularly, that she is very musical comedy in her movements. Like trained musical comedy –whereas others, like Nicky, is just behaving it so comfortably and naturally in it that it works perfectly even though their styles are actually pretty different.
    Actually, Whedon is incorrect in this assessment – most musicals tend to pair a non-dancer role with a dancer to add variety and difference to a couple. In Oklahoma!, a comic female part with little dancing ability (Ado Annie) performs duets with her boyfriend, a dancer (Will Parker) – a convention commonplace in musical theater.

    It’s not unusual to find a comedian or “straight” actor cast in a musical with little singing ability who gets by on charisma and excellent comic timing – Nicholas Brendon and Emma Caulfield bring such enormous charm and energy to “I’ll Never Tell” that for many it is the highlight of Once More With Feeling, the number most people recall when they think of the episode.

    ANYA: Look at me! I'm dancin' crazy!

    This is a direct quote from Les Girls, an MGM musical starring Gene Kelly and British comedienne Kay Kendall (who seems to have been a great favorite of Whedon – her last film before dying young of leukemia was Once More With Feeling with Yul Brynner) – and in that sense, some of the Buffy episode – especially “I’ll Never Tell” can be seen as a direct homage.

    As the music changes, Xander is drawn into the dance himself. And as the dance break becomes more frenetic, Xander and Anya try to match each other’s steps by marching and doing kicks in the air:

    WHEDON: Emma's really got a huge amount of training; Nicky none at all, and just dives right in. And the two of them together are kind of spectacular.
    As the characters slowly turn from “performing” for the audience to each other, the music slows down to represent the softening of their sharp barbs – a reminder that behind the insults lies real love for one another.

    As the music to the next section begins, they return to praising one another with a clever “quite the charmer-Knight in armor” rhyme:



    And as in many musicals, the "knight in armor" wears pajamas.

    SUPPLE –
    And once again, Whedon declines to finish a repetitious patter – the clever perfect and near rhymes of “cutest-Scoobies-rubies-boobies” is bowdlerized with the same lyric save as before:


    WHEDON: And yet another of my patented dirty jokes. Followed by more dancing. But having this kind of romanticism in the show, and being able to do something as old-fashioned in a show that has more of a pop sensibility, was such a treat.
    And like an Astaire/Rogers film, the challenge duet turns into dance as a metaphor for sex. We’ve already seen that Xander fell hard for Anya – decided to announce their engagement – when he saw her dancing.

    Xander and Anya dancing close shows us that despite their fears, their romantic compatibility is also self-evident.

    And we have the characters sitting at opposite ends of the table, ready for another go. And the lyric starts with attempts to top each other in terms of flattery:


    And there’s a sudden shift as Xander once again confesses his fears to the audience, completing the “swell-sweller-feller-tell her” rhyme:


    And now we get Anya’s perspective – her own past colors her view of marriage and relationships:

    I KNOW
    There’s a nice internal rhyme scheme of “read-wed” next to the dominant “tale-betrayal-day’ll” end rhyme – and she continues the “petrified-hide” rhyme with Xander in “lied-tried”:

    I LIED

    And we see the truth – both are beset by fears that stem from their past experience with romance and their backgrounds. Both are carrying major baggage in their relationship that threatens to destroy their marriage – but instead of dealing with their issues, they choose to carry on and “perform” for each other and the audience in a cheerful, carefree manner.


    WHEDON: The "Will I look good if I've gotten old?" from her: just one thing about that. What she's talking about is looking good – will he like her when she looks old. But I tweaked the lyrics so that the internal rhyme was stronger, instead of hitting the meaning more clearly. "Will I look good when I've gotten old" going with "pot of gold". What I originally had was "Will he look at me when I look old?" And I went for the rhyme, and I think probably I should have gone for the meaning there, so that people understand that she's not being vain.

    Nice set of couplets as the song shifts to specific fears that cover up the subtext – the sources of real pain – Xander’s abusive parents and Anya’s terror of straying lovers – for more conventional gendered fears:




    There's a great "dreamin'-demon-beam-in" rhyme here amongst the angst.

    The irony of the song is pointed here – we have a song in which Xander and Anya are confessing their deepest fears while assuring the audience that they’ll never tell each other. The joke lies in the fact that they’re both listening to each other’s confessions – to the point that they’re trying to sabotage each other’s performances.

    And yet – are we really hearing the truth? We get more insight into Anya’s true fears in her lyrics from Selfless and there’s nothing about Xander’s parents at all. Even within the context of a presentational song, neither is actually speaking of the deep angst they carry within – instead, they voice conventional fears within the lyric that actually covers their real emotional distress.



    And Whedon has a nice development of the title here – with reiterations of the theme “I’ll Never Tell.”

    And like any good MGM musical number, the ending results in total collapse, the fall on the couch acting as a button that magically wipes away any bad feelings the song may have caused.

    Lyrics reveal character – and comedy lyrics often mimic psychology by utilizing humor as a defense mechanism against anxiety and pain. The verbal fireworks between Xander and Anya – tricky rhymes and clever jokes – work in song as they do in the show itself – as a mask to cover for serious issues. The foreshadowing here of Xander’s eventual breakdown and Anya’s return to Vengeance Demonhood is all laid out in the lyric’s very structure – its syntactical evasions, its verbal circumventions, its light and breezy quality all presentational aspects of performance that cover up the real drama underneath – will Xander and Anya eventually turn out to be another Tony and Jessica Harris?

    Hence, the spell that summons Sweet.

    XANDER: Okay, once more, with tension. (Lie to Me)
    Last edited by American Aurora; 16-10-17 at 07:51 AM.

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    Hey, Guys!

    Sorry for the awful delay – I had a series of major projects to take care of plus a book and it all kinda got away from me. I hope to get the rest of this review up pretty quickly.

    Part Nine: “Emotions are Running High”: The Swerve from Story to Song

    In response to a fan at the Q & A at the Tribeca Film Festival, Joss Whedon tried to explain what the basic structure of a musical meant to him in terms of constructing a non-musical drama:

    Whedon: You mentioned theatricality as a part of my film work. There is a heightened state particularly – in a song – in a musical. If the musical is being done right – this is the moment – this is where it all comes out. This is where – everything is building to this and you have this perfect state where not only is somebody articulating who they are and what they need, but it rhymes, like it was absolutely this pristine and very structured thing.
    Whedon is pointing to the moment in a musical when everything comes together perfectly in a blend of lyric, music, dance, direction, set design, performance – the drama is taken to a height that surpasses anything spoken dialogue could express. It can be arresting because it’s collaborative – so many elements working at the same time to achieve one defining goal. Sadly, this moment is as rare in musicals as it is in any other narrative form. When it happens, though, it’s so memorable that people talk about seeing this or that performance years later.

    Of course the cliché is that anyone who loves musicals must be some kind of emotional loser or geek akin to Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons – they’re not a proper drama, but some kind of weird lightweight fantasy that says more about the audience than the performers. The shift from dialogue to song is embarrassing and uncomfortable for a lot of people who have grown up with a popular idea of music as something anarchistic and isolated – a collection of pop songs from various genres that certain groups identify with and believe to be more authentic than classical music or opera/musicals – and a musical narrative outside of a concept album is the provenance of gay men and teenage girls and Bollywood fans.

    Some of this is rejection of the pre-modern ideal of a work of art as balanced and proportionate – this was perceived as part and parcel of a repressive society designed for aristocratic elites and romantics were determined to tear down this artificial construct of ideal perfection, leading to modernism. Ironically, at the same time that art forms were being ruthlessly deconstructed, scholars began to note the thematic consistency of thousands of religious texts, folk tales and songs from around the world – the morphology of the folktale began its ascendancy in which formulas of narrative structure were recognized and catalogued.

    This led to the codification of the “Quest” narrative that has been the ground zero of storytelling structure for geeks like Andrew – Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces – and numerous books that broke down the various tropes of storytelling inherent in every culture. The ideas of mimesis (imitation/show) and diegesis (narrative/tell) became prevalent with artists coming down on either side – should art simply show as in mimesis or tell as in diegesis? In a dramatic text where there is no narrator and characters mimic a slice of “life”, mimesis is involved – we become engrossed in a story that seemingly has no narrator. In an epic poem or pop song, diegesis is involved – someone is telling us their story.

    Of course, there is never an artwork that is purely either – actors and directors “tell” us the story – even a video of a real-life event is framed by who filmed it. Various elements of a film can be diegetic or non-diegetic depending upon the framing – a shot or sound or underscoring is often non-diegetic (not in the world of the film.) In musical theater, a musical number is contextualized by how it works within the narrative. When a character is unaware that they are singing, the song is non-diegetic – when they are a performer on stage, the song is diegetic. In Once More With Feeling, Joss Whedon is able to have his cake and eat it too – the characters are aware that they are singing non-diegetic songs – which makes them actually diegetic since they are acutely aware of their own performance.

    Any story – even a non-linear tale in someone’s head – is primarily motivated by some kind of dramatic action that reveals intention and character. Stories reach back to the beginnings of human culture – they help us to solve problems, to learn, to understand our community and each other, to explore and expand our boundaries and most importantly, to understand ourselves. A tale about a great warrior or a young girl who finds that she is the Chosen One become metaphors for our own experiences – the closer to our own experience, the more moving and meaningful.

    And the most important element of storytelling – encompassing themes, characters, dialogue – even the basic plot – is STRUCTURE. The three simple movements of the story – desire, decision and dénouement – creates the structure that guides the story (not the plot). This parallels the ways in which we learn things – we want something, we learn something while trying to attain that goal and we change accordingly.

    Whedon: Everything I do sort of is about that structure and about that moment of somebody going, 'This is the best version of me that I can explain. You're always trying to hit that feeling, whether it's sad, happy, or scary, whatever that feeling you get that a musical number is in that moment. You're trying to hit those peaks all the time in conversation. I know that the stuff I write is occasionally less than naturalistic.

    This referent to the way in which drama can build like a musical number. And it begs the question - how do musicals work as opposed to straight plays? The way in which music works on the mind is substantially different from language – but both share the same basic structure and emotional effects.

    There are an awful lot of books on how to structure a story to sell a Hollywood script or a best-selling novel – and just as many books on how all storytelling “rules” are worthless. Audiences are also far more aware of structure – there are numerous books and websites – and a huge fan-boy/girl base that has a wide-ranging familiarity with the various tropes and elements of storytelling. Of course, this kind simplistic breakdown can easily devolve into clichés and mechanical writing – the majority of work that comes out of Hollywood and Broadway these days is proof of that. Without really understanding the basics or possessing an innate ability to tell a story with inspired plot twists and unusual themes, a writer might as well just write out a list of story elements from TV Tropes, plop them into their script at regular intervals and have done with it.

    But when writing the libretto of a musical, the writer has to adhere to the same rules as any playwright, novelist or scriptwriter – except it’s doubly difficult because of the need to deal with the Brechtian alienation effect of moving from dialogue to song to dialogue. This suspension of disbelief is what makes writing a musical one of the toughest things to do – and this is why so many excellent novelists and screenwriters fail miserably – but the most rewarding (in more ways than one) if it comes together in that perfect moment of heightened dramatic bliss.

    I’ve been involved in professional theater (Broadway) for a long time and I’ve watched and worked on shows as they developed through the long and complex process of rewriting. I’ve seen a lot of million dollar shows flop and bare bones tuners succeed beyond the writer’s wildest dreams. And no matter what the subject matter or the actors involved or even the quality of the score, a failure or a success is almost always dependent upon finding the right structure. That’s why it’s so important to understand the basics of narrative storytelling – not every show will succeed, but a writer who can think in terms of structure (rather than plot or theme) is already on third base.

    No matter what the art form, the basics of narrative storytelling are the same. The goal of the protagonist – or multiple leads if you will – is based on desire. The antagonist (outward enemy or even inner roadblocks) tries to stop them from achieving that desire. The way in which this is managed is what separates a great story from a mediocre one – the Bigger the Bad, the better the story. And often the protagonist is not necessarily aware of their true desire – they may lack self-awareness as they pursue a superficial need but the audience can see what they really want. A great deal of narrative drama is created through the discrepancy between external and internal desire.

    The “inciting incident” is generally the origin of the character’s desire – their motivation to start a narrative journey. A meeting, an event, a new thought awakens a “want” in the character – but there is always some impetus that sets the story in motion. The weaker the original incident, the more unbelievable the story. And there’s no assurance the character’s want is morally righteous – the anti-hero moves from light to darkness as they are slowly corrupted by their true desires and become monsters. We don’t have to “like” our protagonists – we just have to like their story.

    The structure of a story relies on rising action – fake-outs, cliff-hangers, plot-twists, mini-climaxes – to lead the reader through the protagonist’s journey as they face antagonistic forces. The more that such structural devices are directly connected to the main desire of the lead, the more we believe in the narrative. Sometimes, we’re led to believe that the journey is over and the desire has been met – only to find that it’s all a fake-out and another narrative journey begins.

    Structure creates the peaks and valleys of the narrative until it reaches a crisis – a moment in which the protagonist makes a decision that clarifies the initial inciting incident and the subsequent journey. Often the antagonist reveals the central meaning of the text here – what does the character truly desire and what does this say about them? Stories with two or more main characters may often swerve here and change positions – the actions of one main character prompting the journey of another, leading to another crisis.

    A crisis is followed by a “climax” – the moment where a protagonist fights the Big Bad – and either wins or loses. Sometimes, the character dies – other times, it’s just a simple decision that has ramifications. No matter what, the climax ends in falling action and a denouement that brings the story to a close. Endings can be either final in tying up loose ends and creating a sense of completion – or they can be open and chaotic, allowing uncertainty to envelop the characters. This entire structure – inciting incident, rising action, crisis, climax, falling action, ending – is the basis for most linear narratives. And a non-naturalistic art form like a musical intensifies this dramatic structure through songs and dances that create their own mini-narrative structures within a larger narrative.

    In terms of structure, an episode like Once More With Feeling acts as both a special event (Special Musical Episode!) and a dramatic crisis/climax that informs the complex structure of the entirety of Season Six. Despite the Monster-of-the-Week framework inherent in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, all the episodes and seasons are integrated into one long-running narrative that connect through a tangled web of thematic development. Once More With Feeling is not a typical musical because it is a specialized piece contained within a larger non-musical entity – like The Bitter Suite, it has neither beginning or end in terms of a dramatic arc because it is not self-contained. Without foreknowledge of the events of Season Five and the first five episodes of Season Six, the revelations of the musical episode can read as dramatically inert.

    I can personally attest to this – Once More With Feeling was my first introduction to Buffy when it originally aired. Although I thought it an interesting experiment, I couldn’t honestly say that it held a lot of dramatic interest for me at the time. My experience was vastly different once I saw it in the context of the entire series – it was obvious that Whedon had saved most of the important reveals for the musical episode and everything was designed to lead up to that big moment.

    There’s a reason that so little seems to happen in after Buffy’s return until we reach the musical – because Buffy is a serialized television comedy-drama, Whedon had to shuffle the episodes in such a way that the emotional pay-off only arrives after six hours of drama. The dramatic delay of so many character revelations required a slow burn of drama from Bargaining to Once More With Feeling that was perturbing for a lot of fans. We know the cast had already read the script long before filming many of the earlier episodes – apparently, the norm was a to be only a few scripts ahead of filming – so they had a unique foreknowledge of what was to come and where their characters would end up by the first third of the season and their performances throughout the first six episodes are informed by that awareness.

    WHEDON: “I love musicals. I love finding a different way to express what I want to say. And I think, ultimately, it works best for me – because otherwise, it would be boring and didactic and I wouldn’t know what the hell I was doing. Genre helps me with structure and structure helps me get through the day.”
    Whedon’s admiration for genre and structure informs Once More With Feeling – he doesn’t try to push the art form of the musical into a format that it’s not suited for. On the contrary, Whedon reshapes the parameters of Buffy to fit the basic structure of a musical. And here’s where the difference between a musical and a non-musical work is important.

    When trying to musicalize a story – any story – it’s imperative to revolve all the action around one central concept to unify the musical elements because the imperative forward movement of time inherent in music creates a narrative that rarely stops. Whether divided between various subplots or simply focusing on a main action, an opera, ballet or musical must focus on a common theme from which the need to sing and dance derives. If a song or dance can be removed from of a musical without damaging the plot or obscuring character motivation, then they are extraneous and should be either seen as a divertissement between major moments or cut.

    Crafting a musical is different than a straight play (one without music) – it requires a different set of skills. The knowledge of where to spot songs and dances – placing them within a storyline to enhance plot and heighten development – is paramount. Deciding who will sing what kind of a song at any given moment in the dramatic action without slowing down the story; not becoming repetitive or redundant; keeping a measure of variety in motion as the pace of the story picks up to the crisis and climax. An exciting story, colorful characters and arresting theme are not enough – everything comes down to structure.

    And a lot of structure is based on the idea of semiotics – or the study of signs. The more an audience is familiar with certain structural signifiers – the language of musicals for example – the greater the pleasure when the audience is gratified at the recognition of certain tropes in the staging, score and performance. Songs that mimic popular forms like rock and rap reference formulas that the audience already knows and can anticipate where they’re likely to end up – a pastiche is more likely to move an audience than a wholly original twelve-tone work that sends many audience members screaming out of the theater. Associations of certain rhythms and accompaniment become signifiers to meaning that lifts the song outside of the confines of the show. Drums and piccolo evoke a military air; a banjo a country sound; an orchestral waltz an aristocratic aura. We hear certain melodies over and over again associated with a certain character (like Scooby-Doo) until the creators are able to simply evoke a feeling through a shorthand repeat of the original theme.

    Even the vocal ranges of the characters evoke certain feelings – in the musical Les Miserables, Jean Val Jean would sound strange singing the lyrics of “Bring Him Home” to the melody of “Master of the House” – the characters have distinctive voices that match their “type” and place in the drama. Javert is a low baritone; young Colette is a high soprano and her beau Marius is a high tenor – all based on centuries old traditions of the Opera House.

    There’s also the idea of reception theory – Brecht and the idea of distancing as the audience distinguishes between an attempt to create “life” on stage and their own attitudes towards the work of art. The meaning of symbols changes and shifts depending upon audience perspective – a show that seemed incredibly brilliant forty years ago can seem appallingly dated now. The ideas that are standard fare in movie studios and Broadway houses – the basic rules of structuring a narrative in a certain way with certain elements – can be viewed as absurdly reductionist and wedded to clichés that appeal only to current audiences. A future society that functions on a different set of beliefs might want something very different – not necessarily better, but different. Something viewed as escapist entertainment in one era or culture may be serious drama in another.

    Of course, there are many artists who throw up their hands and believe standing back and mocking all aesthetic formulas means that they themselves are “free” of bias – on the contrary, such works generally date the fastest because the idea of what constitutes distancing itself changes from year to year. Something like South Park with its constant postmodernist self-referencing and shattering of taboos can seem even more formulaic and culturally conservative than the most corporate sitcom when viewed from a distance of many years.

    Artworks aren’t stagnant, timeless pieces. They spring from the culture where they were created and rarely live past their time. Our modern obsession with quoting/sampling past material from other cultures, mashing up genres and narrative forms and most importantly, playing with the idea of “truth” as a construct of the real and the imaginary has created an interesting emphasis on style over meaning, the signifier over the signified. There’s an idea that the real world is hidden under a “mask” — much like the performances of self-image that dominate the musical. Identity is performance that influences those around us – and how we see ourselves. There’s an emphasis on individual identity that ironically has swept across the world even as people have less control over their own lives.

    And BtVS is invested in the idea of identity – both because of its emphasis on teenagers trying to find their place in the world and because of its supernatural background – a woman who runs around kicking vampire ass is hardly going to live a normal lifestyle. But in a musical, identity isn’t signified through dialogue and character traits – the type of song and level of performance also tells the audience a great deal about how the character sees themselves.

    In a musical where time is magnified into moments of intense emotional release, songs act as a dramatic device that create a three-dimensional view of the character. How ideas are presented in certain orders creates tension and understanding – whether “prolepsis” (flash-forward) or “analepsis” (flash-back), musicals pause in the middle of this process to create an ellipsis of stopped time. Characters from the past can sing at the same time as a character in the present to create an overlapping moment of time through a visual and audial representation of memory – reprises of certain lines or melodies create a doubling effect of past and present.

    The disjunction of dialogue and song creates a moment of space within the narration – which unsettles the narrative and allows the audience a distanced effect to understand and take in what they are witnessing. It is a unique combination of mimesis and diegesis together – both showing and telling - both acting and narrating.

    “Growing up on show tunes,” Whedon explained to TSR, “you become attuned to the rhythms of human speech. My writing isn’t metric, but it is musical.”

    Musicals can be real – but never realistic – there is a telescoping of the action within a tiny fraction of the time a musical takes. Songs take the place of drama – subtext becomes deeper subtext within a more compressed time frame. They can cover ground much more quickly and many a writer becomes frantic and upset when they realize that most of the drama is contained within the music. The biggest danger in a musical is too much background information – endless exposition halts the flow of musical movement and creates a deadly space in the middle of a swift-moving show.

    Whedon’s decision to place certain characters front and center in Act One – Buffy and the Scoobies – is a choice that informs the entire episode as does his purposeful delay of any songs and dances by Dawn, Spike and Sweet until Act Two and Act Three. Dramatic tension is often caused by fulfilling or frustrating expectations of the audience – when a character sings in a show is often as important as what they sing. In a musical, structure is heavily intertwined with setting, character and choice of song – and the structure of Once More With Feeling follows suit in a series of four acts:


    SCENE 1: Summers House, Morning
    SCENE 2: The Magic Box, Afternoon
    “Overture (cont.)”
    SCENE 3: A Sunnydale Graveyard, That Evening
    “Going Through the Motions”............Buffy, Demons, Victim
    SCENE 4: The Magic Box, The Next Morning
    “I’ve Got a Theory…………………………….Giles, Xander, Willow, Tara, Anya
    “If We’re Together”………………………….Buffy, Xander, Willow, Tara, Anya, Giles
    SCENE 5: Street Outside the Magic Box, Soon After
    “The Mustard Song”…………………………Customer, Ensemble
    SCENE 5. A Park, That Afternoon
    “Under Your Spell”……………………………Tara
    SCENE 6: The Summers House, Soon After
    “Under Your Spell (cont.)”…..……………Tara
    SCENE 7: The Magic Box
    SCENE 8: A Sunnydale Alleyway, Evening
    “Tap Dance”………………………………………Burning Man


    SCENE 1: Xander’s Apartment, Morning
    “I’ll Never Tell”……………………………………Anya, Xander
    SCENE 2: A Street in Sunnydale, Afternoon
    “The Parking Ticket”……………………………Woman with Car
    SCENE 3: Spike’s Crypt, Early Evening
    “Rest in Peace”……………………………………Spike
    SCENE 4: Sunnydale Graveyard, Soon After
    “Rest in Peace (cont.)”…………………………Spike
    SCENE 5: The Summers House, Evening
    “Does Anybody Notice?”……………………..Dawn

    SCENE 1: The Bronze, Evening
    “Ballet”…………………………………………………Dawn, Minions
    “What You Feel”……………………………………Sweet, Dawn
    SCENE 2: The Magic Box, Evening
    “Standing (in the Way)”…………………………Giles
    “Under Your Spell/Standing (Reprise)……Tara, Giles
    SCENE 3: The Streets of Sunnydale, Late Evening
    “Walk Through the Fire”…………………………Buffy, Spike, Giles, Xander, Willow, Tara, Anya, Sweet

    SCENE 1: The Bronze, Late Evening
    “Something to Sing About”………………………Buffy, Tara, Anya, Spike
    “What You Feel (Reprise)“………………………..Sweet
    “Where Do We Go From Here? ..................Dawn, Buffy, Spike, Giles, Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara
    SCENE 2: Alleyway Behind the Bronze, Soon After
    “Finale”……………………………………………………..Buffy, Spike, Giles, Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara

    Note how the action collapses the settings as the episode progresses and the drama tightens towards its finale. Act One has eight scenes, Act Two has five scenes, Act Three has three scenes and Act Four has only two scenes – the dramatic climax and the finale. Notice that this does not affect the number of musical moments – if one considers “I’ve Got a Theory-Bunnies-If We’re Together” as a long, extended song in three parts, then each act interestingly has about the same number of songs and dances – four to five per act.

    As the plot progresses, the songs become less expository and more pointed towards the finale – the first three acts are careful in introducing new characters that sing – first Buffy, then the Scoobies, then Spike and Dawn and finally Sweet. This then leads up to the big production number “Walk Through the Fire” which includes almost every character except for Dawn, the impetus for the song.

    In each act, Whedon begins with a comedic number that leads to something more serious by the commercial break. This constant pattern of comedy followed by a dramatic song in Once More With Feeling is constructed like any episode of Buffy with four dramatically-rising acts – but the specific placement (called “spotting”)of the songs within the script is cleverly done – revealing character and forwarding the dramatic momentum more than Chicago Hope or Ally McBeal or other musical episodes that throw songs haphazardly into the mix. There’s a carefully planned structure to the episode that creates musical fluidity.

    Musical fluidity is something that is extremely important to the musical – think of music as something that can either flow through a dramatic scenario – or be damned up as the characters tread water. The very best musicals have a structure that allows the musical flow to continuously run through various containers of character and action – a short pause in movement, a brief moment of suspension is okay – but then the music has to continue to flow or the audience will become restless and aggravated. There is a similar structure in a kinetic action film where dialogue must constantly take a backseat to action – even when characters are standing still, the camera swoops and leaps around them to keep a certain momentum going. Failure in a musical generally comes from a cut-off of this musical flow – and to fix a script, one has to find where the action dissipates and grinds to a halt.

    Most writers of musicals (and screen/teleplays) tend to overwrite, failing the most basic “show, not tell” rule of playwriting – not only dialogue, but lyrics. Cramming songs full of repetitive lyrics that restate the same thing over and over again (or even worse, telegraph the obvious punchline) are death for the dramatic flow of a musical. Once More With Feeling avoids this common fault by carefully positioning each song to maintain the flow of drama, whether comic or tragic.

    Badly constructed musicals are careless of characterization and style – songs tend to be spotted without a dramatic sense of how the placement of musical songs create tension with one another – and they are interchangeable. Any character could switch songs with another and it wouldn’t make much difference. What makes Once More With Feeling closer to a “real” musical than a pastiche is its insistence on particulars – on the songs reflecting the voice of the character rather than the writer. It’s hard to imagine Tara and Spike switching ballads – or Xander dancing Dawn’s ballet with the minions. Each song and dance is specifically designed to work for that specific character and moment within the episode.

    And most importantly, the songs not only reveal character – but they reveal character in action. They forward the plot and create dramatic leaps in the narrative that move the drama towards various climaxes. Emotions must “open up” the action rather than condense it – a constant swerve between characters and locations creates a mosaic of musical moments that cohere into a whole rather than remaining in separate parts. A mix of public and private places is important – characters must not only reveal inner feelings or you end up with a dreary show of anthems and ballads – Subtext requires an audience and characters who must make an outward show of indifference, contradicting their private feelings, are far more dramatically interesting than stick figures who directly inform the audience what they believe.

    Musicals have an inner music that drives them – despite a varied sorting of songs, there must be a consistent, cohesive style that links all of the songs together, a rhythmic heartbeat that continues in the background as the scenes shift and characters coalesce in song. The point-of-view taken in the show must be consistent – who is telling the story? Who is it really about? What is it really about?

    In Buffy’s musical episode, the attitude is always ironic mixed with an absurd sense of the tragic. The characters are self-aware that they are performing in a musical. This is mixed with a real sense of tragic revelation as each song slowly tears away the social mask the character wears for protection. Whedon manages to keep these two strains consistently balanced – ironic and tragic – until the finale of the show.

    The “Previously On” gives us glimpses into past episodes with a recap of Spike telling Buffy he loves her in Crush, Willow’s resurrection of Buffy in Bargaining, Buffy’s confession of being in Heaven in After Life, Dawn stealing the charm, Giles lecturing Buffy about Dawn’s behavior and Xander and Anya announcing their engagement in All the Way, Willow’s spell in After Life and the aftermath of Willow’s “forget” spell in All the Way.

    And that situates the episode within the context of the entire season – letting the audience know that this is not a “stand-alone” episode – but connected to the totality of the world that BtVS has built so far. Unlike a normal musical, Once More With Feeling uses the “musical” world to connote that for Buffy, life has become a performance, Hell on Earth is signified by the cynical clichés of Show Business, and the false fronts and lies that envelop all the characters in Season Six are personified by the type of musical theater songs that they are forced to sing. And this reaches back to the very meaning of drama and why people are compelled to tell stories in various forms, from religious ritual to Greek Drama to television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    After the first commercial break following “Previously On” and the credits, the episode launches into a cheerful overture of credits and aftermath which compares the busy morning of Willow, Tara and Dawn with Buffy’s lethargy and contrasts the various reading material of each Scoobie in the Magic Box is quickly followed by the first number, Buffy’s comedic “I Want” Ballad complete with dancing vampires and demons. As in many musicals, the “I Want” song sets up the character’s desire – or at least her avowed desire – to feel alive.

    Cleverly, the inciting incident of the episode IS the “I Want” song – why is Buffy singing? The actual structure of the episode is the plot – the procedural aspect of discovering the monster of the week is parodied in the very next song, “I’ve Got a Theory” in which Giles, Xander, Anya, Tara and Willow perform a comic musical scene while trying to figure out why they’re performing a comic musical scene. We’re given many musical hints of character like Anya’s comic attempt at hijacking the song with “Bunnies” and Buffy’s tragic attempt to fool the Scoobies with “If We’re Together” that signal things aren’t so copasetic between the characters.

    This tone of serious meets parody continues through the first act as Tara sings a song to Willow stating that she’s “Under Your Spell” even as the audience knows that Tara is literally under Willow’s spell – one possibly motivating her song. The end of Tara’s song – an overtly sexualized moment between two lesbians – is also ground-breaking in a political sense – as with Kirk and Uhura sharing an inter-racial kiss in the 1968 Star Trek episode Plato’s Stepchildren, Willow performing oral sex on Tara is allowable because of the nature of the spell compelling them to “perform.” Of course, we assume that their lovemaking is a common occurrence – but the dramatization is justified by the double-nature of the spells cast – both Willow’s spell and the musical spell send Tara into ecstasy.

    The first act ends with the introduction at last of the Big Bad of the episode – wisely, Whedon decides to forego a song in favor of the most important aspect of his character – his ability to enchant people to sing and dance themselves to death. When we watch the poor schmuck burn up in a musical bonfire (interestingly without music until the very end), we learn that the innocuous structure of musical theater is actually the catalyst for the Big Bad to murder as many Sunnydale residents as possible, creating anticipation in the audience to see how they’ll defeat this Big Bad.

    The second act opens with Xander and Anya singing “I’ll Never Tell”– a classic long-joke comedy duet with undertones of seriousness – not only the unease that Xander and Anya both feel about their upcoming marriage – but the idea that at any minute, their emotions could overtake them and lead to the same kind of death that ended the first act.

    This kind of balance of comedy and potential tragedy grows stronger as the episode moves onward – the short-joke comedy song of “The Parking Ticket” juxtaposed with Spike’s more serious ballad “Rest in Peace” and ending in a spoof of “serious” songs with the abrupt cut-off of Dawn’s lament. The same with Act Three’s opening ballet of Dawn and the minions followed by “What You Feel” – a comedy song introducing the antagonist. With Dawn in danger, cut to a serious ballad by Giles – “Standing” – followed by an even more serious dual reprise by Tara and Giles.

    Act Three ends with the different strains of dramatic ties coming together in “Walk Through the Fire,” a huge production number that leads directly into the final act where Buffy’s dramatic solo “Something to Sing About” expands into a dance number with Anya and Tara, a scattered monologue, a spiraling dance into death and a final reprise by Spike. The show ends with a more hopeful group ballad, “Where Do We Go From Here?” ending with a dramatic duet between Buffy and Spike backed by the ensemble until the final romantic coda.

    Throughout every song, Whedon ironically comments on the nature of musicals by juxtaposing them with the absurdity of the supernatural – Giles crooning his ballad while throwing knives at Buffy during practice, Spike singing of his love for Buffy while vamped out and chasing mourners at a funeral, Tara belting in ecstasy under Willow’s lovemaking while levitating four feet off the bed. This constant element of parody undercuts the musical elements, freeing the audience from having to take things too seriously. Yet, this also subtly draws an unwilling audience – sometimes even more unwilling than the characters – into a musical theater panorama of sight and sound, drawn into the ridiculous drama despite their own reservations until the episode ends with a burst of energy and emotional release when Buffy reveals her secret.

    In terms of musical flow, the structure keeps it flush by beginning and ending with Buffy-group number and then comparing and contrasting five couples. And Whedon deliberately parallels them from the most harmonious to the most divided. Keeping a few small bits and reprises out of it, the broad structure of the piece reads something like this:

    Opening – Buffy in a different world than her companions
    Buffy – solo with chorus
    Group number
    Willow and Tara
    Xander and Anya
    Spike and Buffy
    Sweet and Dawn
    Giles and Buffy
    Group number
    Buffy – solo with chorus
    Closing – Buffy in a different world than her companions

    Who sings and who stays silent is important – in the Willow/Tara, Spike/Buffy, Giles/Buffy duets, only one character sings – although there is an important difference. Willow guides the direction of Tara’s song through her spell and willingly stays silent; Spike desperately wants Buffy to respond in their “duet” and Buffy fails to reciprocate; Giles sings in the presence of Buffy without her knowledge that she is participating in a duet in order to preserve his secret thoughts.

    In the duets between Xander and Anya and Dawn and Sweet, there is much more commensurate back-and-forth as the two couples “battle” one another in song and dance – Xander and Anya in a playful, romantic way and Sweet and Dawn in a much more menacing and disturbing clash.

    The first four couples also work at different levels of sexual tension – Willow/Tara and Xander/Anya are already sexually involved – whereas Buffy/Spike and Sweet/Dawn are not. The progressive decline of frayed relations in the couples ranges from Willow and Tara being ecstatically in love to the reservations of Xander and Anya to the out-and-out sexual fission mixed with hostility between Buffy and Spike to the menacing sexual dance of Sweet and Dawn with its overtones of forcible marriage and rape.

    It’s only when returning to the two-person scene of father-figure Giles and Buffy that the drama embraces a “good” relationship – only to reveal through song that Giles is contemplating abandoning Buffy in her greatest moment of need because of a misplaced sense of duty.

    And the group number that follows shows even more disintegration within the group until Buffy’s first solo becomes the catalyst for her friends learning the truth that she successfully hid throughout the first third of Season Six. And the music continues to flow throughout this dramatic sense of upheaval until the very end when the drama – like music – must resolve and return to the original key with a difference that determines whether a work is a comedy or a tragedy.

    And we return to the song “I’ll Never Tell” to look at it from a different point of view – not in terms of lyrics or musical style – but how it fits into the narrative as a whole and how it structurally functions within the plot. And why it works.

    Outside of Buffy’s single line aimed at the audience in “Something to Sing About” (“And you can sing along!”) ‘I’ll Never Tell” is the only song in Once More With Feeling where the singers are hyper-aware of an audience. Despite waking in the privacy of their bedroom, Anya and Xander directly address the camera, bringing the viewer into their private confidence in order to give the sense that they are confessing their “true” feelings. Whedon chose the structure of a typical romantic “challenge” number that was popular between 1917 and 1960 in American popular song for Xander and Anya because he wanted to have that sense of “performance” as they confide in the audience to punch the idea of little white lies that divide the Scoobies.

    The ways in which the characters struggle with what they want, what they believe they should want and what that means in terms of identity is developed to a fever pitch in Season Six – it makes sense that the nominal “Big Bad” is a group of social misfits on a power trip to get revenge and the true Big Bad – Willow – is motivated by the same sense of loneliness, rejection and vengeance. This net spreads wide from Xander to Anya to Spike to Buffy herself – the lies keep compounding as the characters hide their doubts and fears under false front of self-sufficiency.

    And “I’ll Never Tell” underlines this sense of secrecy while still keeping a hopeful, playful tone. As the only couple who fail to have a dramatic arc that peaks in the episode, Xander and Anya’s relationship has to slowly move forward without actually hitting a dramatic curve which will eventually happen very late in the Season with Hell’s Bells. In Once More With Feeling, Tara learns of Willow’s spell and resolves to leave; Spike saves Buffy’s life and Buffy reaches out romantically in return; Giles determines to leave Sunnydale and his foster-daughter Buffy behind and Dawn manages to evade Sweet’s clutches as he returns to the underworld. The relationship of Xander and Anya is far less dramatic – yet the foreshadowing of their catastrophic breakup is intrinsic to their song while remaining under the guise of the typical wedding jitters that all couples have.

    Every song in Buffy has a different “in” to move smoothly from dialogue to song – “Going Through the Motions” has no dialogue to interfere with the musical movement; “I’ve Got a Theory” has Giles comically bursting into song just as the characters seem to be moving into research mode; “Under Your Spell” moves from an assertion “I know what they see in me. You.” to a lyric that expounds on the declaration.

    “I’ll Never Tell” mimics various musical films by literally turning off the volume of ongoing dialogue so that the singer’s opening lines drowns out the speaker. This enhances the idea of “secrets” that are spilled to the viewer – Xander isn’t “hearing” what Anya is singing as she confides in the audience like a character out of a Shakespeare or Moliere play. A common technique in early opera, it works well in conveying the idea of spoken subtext – a character revealing their true innermost feelings to a receptive audience.

    Xander’s opening monologue about making Anya waffles or omelets works well to define the normal space directly before the song starts – his offer lets the audience know that his complaints are not based on selfishness or dislike – but on a true undercurrent of fear that their relationship won’t work because they’re too different – not only is Anya a demon, but she’s greedy and controlling and seemingly wants someone more successful and special. And this plays into fears that Xander has about his own past experience – whereas Anya’s fears are center more around her transition from vengeance demon to normal human. Do they address every fear? No, some are unspoken in order to avoid tipping off the audience of what is to come later in their relationship. And this gives the song more psychological realism – people don’t always know what they want.

    As a Sondheim fan, Whedon is probably also aware that in modern musicals, people delude themselves on a pretty consistent basis – what a character sings to an audience isn’t always the truth because they’re repressing their own feelings and fears. In modern musicals, there is subtext and then there is “subtext” – Anya and Xander are singing their innermost fears that they BELIEVE are true. A character may truly believe something in the moment – but as the drama continues, we realize (as does he) that his feelings are actually conflicted or even diametrically opposed.

    Since Whedon writes in the voice of the character rather than the author – mimicking the traditional integrated musical of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim – the song is filled with psychological subtext that ironically leaves the audience more enlightened than the characters. And what’s even worse is that the “secrets” that Anya and Xander confide to the audience are also overheard by each other out of structural necessity since the song develops into a duet in which the two singers try to outdo the other.

    The trappings of 1930s art deco add to the artificiality of the number. Xander’s apartment has been decorated to vaguely suggest a “between-the-wars” aesthetic. The furniture, the lamps, even their clothing all match the old-fashioned vaudeville feel of the number - and one has to ask if the spell has actually changed the apartment and rearranged everything to convey this feel. Or does it simply feel like a retro-pastiche to Xander and Anya – and the apartment rearrangement and clothing aren’t actually “real” – but in their minds.

    The newspaper that Xander opens is another sign that the spell is most likely creating even more ridiculous headlines than normal – the headline blaring under Sunnydale Press is “Mayhem caused – monsters certainly not involved, officials say”; - and yet the headlines underneath are interesting in thinking about the season – “Investigation turns down heat as teen vandals are suspected target,” “New technologies being integrated to police tracking facilities against criminals,”; “Mayor approves fingerprint computers” – the references more likely about the Trio than any pack of demons – and so it’s possible that the inside joke of Sunnydale denying the existence of monsters is actually a plot point as well considering the exploration in Season Six of what supposedly distinguishes a human from a “monster.”

    Up to this point, Whedon hasn’t really shown a classic musical number – Buffy’s opening is a modern Disney song with a mild rock beat; the production number in the Magic Box is also a cross between 70s pop and 80s bombast. Coming back to the opening of Act Two, Whedon feels comfortable enough at this point to introduce a pastiche that mimics corny duets of a century ago – it also works as an ironic juxtaposition to the death that ended Act One. No matter how silly or eye-rolling the song, the knowledge that any song may eventually lead to death gives them an ironic subtext that fights against the cheery quality of the presentational number.

    We’ve already watched Xander and Anya sing in the Magic Box – so the surprise of the two characters singing has already dissipated enough that we can appreciate the song without reacting to the fact that they’re singing at all. Instead, the audience can listen to the tricky, wordy lyrics and get the gist of what they’re saying about their relationship. After a while, it stops being about the fact that it’s a musical – and more about what the song says about their relationship – and a great deal of this has to do with the direction.

    The lack of movement outside of the apartment and the containment of the dance within a small space matches the complaints of Anya and Xander that they were literally performing a great deal of the number within a proscenium space – a number with the fourth wall missing – a common conception in early musical films where the goal was to make the audience believe that they were watching a stage show. The stagey-ness, the direct address to the camera, the constant “turning-out” to the audience and double-takes and mugging and pulling focus make “I’ll Never Tell” the most nakedly theatrical of all the numbers in Once More With Feeling.

    Whedon obviously wanted a very artificial feel for the song – and the tricky lyrics match this theatrical performance style. The daffy triple rhymes, the puncturing of jokes, the double-takes after a particularly telling line, the dance break that literally interrupts the lyric – are from music hall/vaudeville/minstrelsy – a metaphor for the carefully staged relationships between the Scoobies – for Xander and Anya, it’s a metaphor for how both are fearful of confiding their true reservations about their engagement.

    The idea of being forced to sing traditional songs to comment on modern problems is right out of Whedon’s favorite musical, Sondheim’s Follies, where the characters sing vaudeville songs to represent the breakdown of their outward success – dwelling on infidelity, deceit and life regrets that eventually lead to an almost suicidal crackup.

    The idea of Show Biz as a metaphor for deception – and attempts to remain harmonious with others – informs “I’ll Never Tell” – from the opening verse in which both Anya and Xander are saying wonderful things about each other while almost revealing a caveat or two to the body of the song in which they tear each other apart with insults and complaints. And like their active sex life, the hurtful words are constantly papered over with physical pleasure – dance is always a metaphor for sex in musicals – as the two find happiness in their obvious physical passion for each other. Whedon creates a sense of coming together and then separation by having the actors face each other at one moment and then walk away in the next.

    The opening verse is performed in their bedroom as they snuggle in bed with each other and then sit next to each other, his arms wrapped around her until the end of the verse. To match this, the lines are musically elongated and soft, separated into two distinct sections by each performer as they tell the audience how they feel. And when the verse ends, both sit silently on the edge of the bed, looking forward, as they go into separate modes.

    Once the main body of the song starts, they enter the main room – the performance space – separately and address the camera individually while walking past each other. The music becomes staccato, jumpy, with short lines in which the characters complete each other’s rhymes – a formalism of togetherness that shows they are simpatico regardless of whether they’re complaining or complimenting each other. The deliberate lack of eye contact in particular is telling – although they’re singing about their fears, they are unable to look each other in the eye and Whedon directs both to focus away from each other or the camera when they make a particularly egregious statement.

    Xander’s recourse to both sticking his head in the refrigerator and later hiding his face behind a newspaper conveys his unwillingness to show Anya what he’s feeling – Anya has less tact and wanders around doing chores while looking at the floor. It’s only when Anya mentions “his penis got diseases from a Chumash tribe” that Xander turns to do a double-take and make eye-contact – even within the confines of the song, it was a low blow.

    Whedon does a nice job of matching the lyric to the action without being too indicating – Anya mentions Xander’s aversion to housework as she picks up the dishes, Xander mentions the cheeses as he looks for something to eat (we’ve already established that he is the cook), Anya mentions Xander hiding behind Buffy just as he hides behind his open newspaper – all normal morning activity that is visually connected and suggested by the lyrics. Creating this sense of naturalness makes the lyrics seemed newly formed, provoked by the sight of dishes or cheese or the paper, rather than so artificial that they are unconnected to the action.

    As the song progresses, both Xander and Anya become frustrated with the repetitive quality of the song itself – they begin to change its form by making direct appeals to the audience and disrupting the song to the extent of literally blocking the camera view. Yet every time there is a long, held note, the two come together physically for a moment as well as musically – their overlap of independence mixed with togetherness signified by the brief harmony of their voices and their direct stare.

    Whedon mixes close-ups with shots of the camera pulled far back to show Xander and Anya singing and dancing and crawling on the table in unison while on opposite sides, a metaphor for their attempt to maintain a careful mirroring of the other to keep the relationship equal and balanced. But whereas Xander stays carefully within the confines of the song – Anya disrupts it with her asides that don’t fit the metrical line, showing the disunity of the couple. Xander is the cautious one, Anya the wild card – they are matched and mismatched through their participation in the lyric. When the dance begins, we have an equally mismatched series of movements in which Xander tries to keep up with her until they hit a common measure together.

    We previously saw Anya pull a similar act of disruption in “I’ve Got a Theory” with her “Bunnies” aside – and in that sense, she represents the uncontrollable vaudeville/minstrel trickster from the 1800s onward who often entered a scene to disrupt order and puncture holes in forced societal solidarity. Like Chaplin’s Little Tramp and Bugs Bunny, the “clown” role in a musical is often played by an outsider who doesn’t fit into the group – Whedon’s choice of Anya as this crucial musical figure is not only because of the comedic talent of Emma Caulfield but because of his need to set-up Anya’s “difference” within the group that causes Xander so much angst and prefigures her return to vengeance demon once Xander’s “normality” is torn away from her.

    In Selfless, we see a scene that supposedly took place soon after Xander’s conjuration of the spell in which Anya is still struggling with her humanity. This small scene is another confirmation that Xander was the instigator of the Once More With Feeling spell. Although it’s possible that Xander made the admission to protect Dawn, his words here repeat his reasons for calling forth Sweet at the end of Once More With Feeling.

    XANDER: Well, I didn't know what was gonna happen! I just thought there were gonna be dances and songs. I just wanted to make sure we'd – we'd work out. Get a happy ending. (Once More With Feeling)

    XANDER: Just want – happy – ending – (Selfless)
    We also get a throwback to “The Mustard” with a neighbor singing of his grief over staining his favorite shirt.

    Comparing the lyrics of “I’ll Never Tell” with Anya’s song in Selfless, we see a completely different Anya in the later – one who feels empty without an identity that is centered in becoming Xander’s wife.


    JENKENS HARRIS (Selfless)
    This retconning of a character’s motivation a season after a dramatic event like Hell’s Bells is similar to Fool for Love’s flashbacks with Drusilla in which Spike retroactively grapples with his feelings for Buffy despite showing little sign of this in Season Three and the first half of Season Four.

    Unlike the Anya who seemingly dwells upon betrayal and fears of mortality in “I’ll Never Tell”, Selfless shows us another side of her that is rarely seen in Season Six – a woman who has never felt like she had a place or a stable identity anywhere, whether human or demon, until she met Xander. The song has a much more tragic, existential feel that makes sense with her numerous murders after returning to life as a vengeance demon and her subsequent impalement on Buffy’s sword.

    Anya as the comic “outsider” in the group carries a very different psychological temperament in Season Seven along with Spike and Willow because the theme of that season is preoccupied with darker issues of death and atonement. But in “I’ll Never Tell”, Anya is still the trickster figure who enjoys disruption and chaos because the stability of her bond with Xander allows her to act out in ways that never threaten their relationship. And Xander allows her that space at the same time that it annoys him because despite her literalism and selfish nature, he recognizes a person who deep down wants the same kind of recognition and place in the sun that he longs for.

    The last moments of the song in which they gaze into each other’s eyes shows their back-and-forth – they address the camera, and then turn away from both each other and the camera as their fears overwhelm them once again and then turn and twist off the table without looking at each other or the audience. It’s only when they return again and again to the idea that they’ll keep their secrets that they face each other and the camera – walking backwards and turning out to the camera with a reassurance to the audience that all is well and there’s nothing to see here.

    The final fall into the couch, complete with forced laughter, places a final button on the song as tension dissolves into a loose, giddy feel of completion. One assumes that the Buffy situation – Xander feeling unsure about the ethical rightness of how they managed her return – is also bleeding into his fears about Anya as much as his inability to hurt her feelings by revealing his doubts.

    “I’ll Never Tell” was the first song that was filmed – and it’s possible that Whedon had originally intended for more than one song to be played directly to the camera. But in the end, Xander and Anya’s song stands-in for the idea that social roles are all about performance and keeping up the correct “image” is more important than telling the truth.

    And yet – of all the relationships, Xander and Anya’s is the healthiest at this point – it’s normal to have fears about any kind of relationship vow. The very structure of the song – the characters forced to say mean things about each other while hearing every single word the other is saying – begs the question as to whether the song was a reflection of their subconscious desire to actually tell each other their hidden thoughts.

    The wish to be truly honest and intimate with one another – even if it hurts – bleeds through the song – and yet, both react in a negative way when they later look back on “I’ll Never Tell” as a total nightmare in which things are said that should never be spoken.

    XANDER: It's a nightmare. It's a plague!
    ANYA: It has to be stopped, Rupert –
    XANDER: It's like a nightmare about a plague –

    And the viewer gets the first real idea of what it feels like to sing one of these musical theater songs. It’s bad enough to sing as a group or in isolation like Buffy – but it’s apparently pretty awful to be so exposed and laid bare to each other. This is almost diametrically opposed to Tara and Willow’s attitude towards “Under Your Spell” – which can be somewhat explained by the “forget” spell that Willow has cast. Neither Tara nor Willow feel the loss of control that plagues Anya and Xander in “I’ll Never Tell,” Spike in “Rest in Peace,” and Dawn in “What You Feel.”

    Some of this is the lopsided character of the power relations in their respective songs – Sweet controls Dawn in “What You Feel” and Willow controls Tara in “Under Your Spell” – as does Giles in “Standing” by excluding Buffy from the song. But Anya, Xander, Dawn and Spike are not the primary drivers of their songs – they are unwillingly exposing themselves to ridicule and forced revelation that foreshadows Buffy’s shocking reveal in her big number “Something to Sing About.” The embarrassment of exposing the ways in which they “perform” with each other creates division that both attempt to arbitrate through Giles:

    XANDER: It was just like, I didn't wanna be saying things but they just kept pouring out of me and they rhymed and they were mean and –
    ANYA: I felt like we were being watched, like a wall was missing from our apartment, like there only three walls, no fourth wall and –
    Yet even as Anya and Xander complain to Giles that they were literally prisoners of the spell, forced to perform for an imaginary audience and say awful things that they didn’t really mean – they continue their lyrical battle in overlapping dialogue that parodies the idea of simultaneous singing by using the spoken word as a kind of rhythmic music:

    XANDER: My eyes are not beady!
    ANYA: My toes are not hairy!
    In a demonstration of the superiority of song, Giles frowns as he tries to distinguish the various spoken dialogue lines barraging him from either side as Xander and Anya try to draw his attention as in “I’ll Never Tell.” The harmonious sound of their lyric duet is now an ugly, impossible-to-follow wave of sound, signifying nothing as the couple deliberately walk on either side of Giles as a wall of separation after their upsetting number.

    XANDER: Giles, you gotta stop it.
    GILES: Well, I am looking into some leads, and –
    ANYA: Clearly our number was a retro pastiche that's never gonna be a breakaway pop hit.

    As shown earlier in the episode, Anya’s relationship to performance relates to her recent transformation to becoming human – as someone who dwells unnecessarily on the intricacies of social interaction, Anya comically takes offense at the fact that their song would never become a hit pop song in an actual musical. The pastiche element immediately disqualifies it for radio play – and the specific details of characterization that make it such a revealing number for both of them would probably prevent it from being a showstopper.

    Xander, on the other hand, is preoccupied with stopping the show in a different sense. Like Buffy, he’s not interested in the fine points of commercialism and dramaturgy – show him a weapon and where to use it:

    XANDER: Work with me, British man. Give me an axe and show me where to point it.
    GILES: As ever, it's not quite that simple. But I have learned about some disturbing things –

    And par for the course, Whedon manages to pull a Hitchcock and do without boring expository information by masking the information with a loud noise or a major distraction. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, it’s a plane taking off; in Once More With Feeling, it’s a musical theater number that temporarily takes center stage as Giles relates the numerous deaths by spontaneous musical combustion off-camera. As we watch the trio walk down the street, the first strains of a song are suddenly heard off-camera:

    ”The Parking Ticket”

    Following Giles, Xander and Anya down the street in a long shot, viewer attention shifts as the camera reveals a woman who is arguing with a traffic cop in the foreground:

    And once again, we get a musical number that absurdly dramatizes the dramatically inert – without any proper context to lend the song subtext, there’s nothing for the audience to feel or care about beyond the surface level. So like “The Mustard,” “The Parking Ticket” exists to demonstrate how a musical theater song does not work – the deft parodies of dialogue as rendered in song are a stark relief to the more structured dramatic songs of Buffy and her friends that reveal character through subtext and positioning.


    The song’s lyric – with its simple triple rhyme detailing a series of lame excuses – functions as a quick short-form joke. The audience has a moment of recognition as they watch the traffic violator (played by producer Marti Noxon) plead with the traffic cop to give her a break. It’s a momentary divertissement – a cameo intended to pause the action for a moment to enjoy the idea of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a musical – and gives the audience a much needed pause in the action before returning to the main plot, exposition finished:

    XANDER: As in, burnt up? Somebody set people on fire? That's nuts!
    ANYA: I don't know. One more verse of our little ditty and I woulda been lookin' for the gas can –
    Up to “The Parking Ticket”, the jump cut from Xander and Anya merrily laughing on a couch to an outside scene in which Xander, Anya and Giles walk through downtown Sunnydale creates a strong contrast between the artificiality of the indoor song in a seemingly enchanted apartment/theatrical stage and the mundane normality of the outside world where residents are going about their business in an unremarkable way. This shift from song back to dialogue – musical time to normal time – is underlined to separate one kind of dramatic “truth” from another.

    GILES: Yes, well, clearly emotions are running high, but as far as I could tell these people burnt up from the inside. Spontaneously combusted. I’ve only seen the one -- I managed to examine the body while the police were taking witness arias.

    Witness arias, not statements. The humor in the scene comes from the slow realization that just as some Sunnydale residents are walking by the group and acting perfectly normal, others are “trapped” in their own musical theater numbers that are ignored by a distracted Giles, Xander and Anya. This normalization of the “abnormal” – we hear snatches of different music as background characters perform – pulls the audience deeper into accepting the musical form – we see the twirling lovers and dancing sanitation guys in the background and smirk at the ludicrousness of the form at the same time that we accept the tongue-in-cheek nature of the scene.

    As three custodians do a soft shoe with synchronized brooms behind Giles, Xander and Anya, we hear the strains of “Where Do We Go From Here?” in a jazzed-up arrangement. We see the same three dancers as the vampire/demons in Buffy’s opening song and later as Sweet’s minions as the permanent dance chorus of Once More With Feeling – their broom dance here is a tribute to various prop-laden musical numbers in films like Mary Poppins, It’s Always Fair Weather and Royal Wedding. And Xander is struck by the incongruity of musicals and human bonfires:

    XANDER: Okay. But we're sure that the things are related? Singing and dancing and burning and dying?
    GILES: We're not sure of much.
    Once again, this realization that there is a connection between the spell and people dying is a shock to Xander. As the instigator of the whole mess, it’s possible that he’s nervous his simple spell to bring a bit of happiness to Sunnydale is a huge mistake. Especially where Buffy is concerned.

    GILES: Buffy's looking for leads in the local demon haunts – at least, in theory she is. But she doesn't seem to –

    And Giles stops there, unable to finish the sentence. Xander immediately understands his apprehension at Buffy’s strange behavior and tries to reassure Giles that Buffy’s simply trying to recover from her experience. Whedon seeds the real kernel of exposition here – Buffy’s friends still believe that she was in a Hell dimension and all she needs is some time to recover:

    XANDER: She's easing back into it. We pulled her out of an untold hell dimension. Ergo, the weirdness. The important thing is to be there for her.

    GILES: I'm helping as much as I can, but –
    Xander’s reassurance doesn’t seem to comfort Giles, who seems to blame himself for Buffy’s apathy – this makes explicable his final decision to leave Sunnydale permanently. Well, at least for most of Season Six.

    And Anya pats his shoulder in a show of sympathy – an odd gesture that feels a bit uncharacteristic but interesting in light of her relationship with Giles in Tabula Rasa and the end of Season Six. But there’s most likely also a feeling of unease from both Xander and Anya about Buffy – despite her song of solidarity in the Magic Box, she’s obviously still distancing herself from her friends. And her duty.

    The task of Buffy to patrol the Hellmouth and rid the world of the demons and monsters who lurk within (and sometimes come out to play) becomes a kind of existential absurdity because Buffy herself is now one of the creatures who rose from the dead to walk the earth. Peering into the Hellmouth, Buffy sees a reflection of herself that makes her afterlife a Hell on Earth.

    The musical spell that feels so forced to Xander and Anya is not much different from everyday real life to Buffy – since it’s all a performance that covers up the general pointlessness of life. And since Buffy feels more dead than alive these days, she’s drawn to a certain place that fascinates her because of its unusual makeup – a place of eternal death where Buffy’s “search for leads in local demon joints” is actually a journey to a vampire’s crypt where another dead thing struggles to come to life.

    And this begs the question in an episode that revels in the idea of life as drama: How is a Hellmouth like a Theater?

    Which eventually leads to the answer to Xander’s question of how such seemingly incompatible things are related – especially singing, dancing, burning – and dying.

    Last edited by American Aurora; 15-11-17 at 06:17 AM.

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