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Thread: BtVS rewatch: SEASON 6

  1. #221
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    A thing of evil I truly appreciate you continuing the discussion here on the thread I truly did enjoy reading your post about 'OMWF' even if we disagree, I truly honour your thoughts. In my past, I did read some critics that agree with you about the actors can't sing. This is when I differ. I do genuinely get want you are trying to state that the actors don't have some extent of singing abilities, within the specific professionalism like for example Barbra Streisand or even Elaine Paige, who are built within the musical scenery.

    For example, Leona Lewis version of Grizabella in Cats she got unsupportive reviews stating she couldn't act the role, but no one can deny the fact she has a sensational vocal range especially considering her head voice and falsetto (I even loved Leona's version of her representation of 'Memory' soft and yet compelling).

    So, IMO 'OMWF' wasn't about the vocal range or the technique or showing off their singing abilities, if there can sing or not hence why I connected within the classic country genre of the old recording sound because they tell their own powerful narration through compositions and song. It feels genuine and raw the emotion is the key to that specific own individual story, is to indeed express their own unique art it pushes character development further.

    Also, want I adore about this episode I said it previously in my other post there just didn't just randomly make a musical there made a concept to push characters along within the development from the beginning of season 6, for me it wasn't about the singing it was the realness of genuine emotion that held within these characters, and finally realising it by song and personally I'm glad they can't sing because IMO it does sound primary, I wouldn't like a voice over because then it wouldn’t feel right or original. To me, the sounding of their original sounds is even more spectacular and dynamic. The emotion and acting were profound IMO especially the scene when Buffy confessed she was in heaven, because you have to admit the emotion is there and the character development just got unleashed.





    And also this.






    Someone states on Tumblr "#s6 Buffy is still the best portrayal of depression that I’ve seen" which I totally agree, love this season, the darkness, the realism of society.

    My random rambling.

    Want I beloved about 'I touch the fire' is the mental representation of being cold straying that warmness and desire while still mention the word fire, maybe the negative of burning out is that Buffy wants to feel and keep the fire to clench the flames wanting a purpose to burn to crack and peel even the fire is not even phasing her she doesn't feel pain because she is already in pain numb to the feeling. Psychological state of mind she wants the fire back. Like a conclusion of the journey of depression maybe? She wants her fire back.







    Here is another representation of another song that I found that had the same theme embracing the flames but this time the representation was in a lighter formality a positive wish in Buffy current state of mind, for example, Johnny sings about an emotion that Buffy would love to feel.

    “I fell into a burning ring of fire,
    I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
    And it burns, burns, burns,
    The ring of fire, the ring of fire.”

    IMO Johnny Cash was singing a song, a creation about a natural progression of a feeling an emotion. Showcasing a realism.

    Because I thought Buffy was full of love and was blinded with the fire. She knows deep down that she lost something apart of her. “You are full of love. You love with all of your soul. It's brighter than the fire, blinding. That's why you pull away from it."


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  3. #222
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    Quote Originally Posted by buffylover View Post
    But Stoney you should already know that life can bite you hence why you should have made it into an open discussion thread. Like does anyone consider that I might have LP when I wrote my overview, but no one seemed to appreciate or continue the discussion? it feels that everyone didn't want my opinion their still waiting for AA making me feel unwelcome on this side of the forum and I shouldn't feel this way.

    Because no one responded to my post about 'OMWF' but concentrating on want shows to watch on AA recovery which was making this thread dysfunctional.

    This might come across rude or be sounding nasty but I'm sorry a whole entire forum shouldn't stop because of someone's LP.

    Because I did try continue the discussion but no one seemed to be intrested... Again still waiting for AA.
    These rewatch threads have always been run on the basis of a review first, followed by responses and open discussion. It doesn't stop you posting thoughts on the episode, but it is probably why the responses will be limited prior to the review. The thread isn't closed at the moment, it is just not actively moving forward and any thoughts on the episodes covered so far are still very welcome. This hardly stops the whole forum as new threads can be opened for discussions by anyone at any time. Sadly the board is just very quiet these days, but that isn't because this group/thread makes it so. We aren't looking to pressure Aurora but just be a community and compassionate. She honestly knows that skipping the review and returning to it later is an option. So unless Aurora feels unable to return to the review now, waiting a short time longer is where we are at.

    I'm sorry you didn't feel welcome because no one responded and if you have been having life problems yourself too. These boards are great places to come and focus on shows that we love and get the opportunity to escape those problems, even if it can only be brief. I have enjoyed reading your posts and I agree with your point of view about the actor's singing. The fact that they have differing abilities really helps it all feel more genuine and so it connects better emotionally. Do you have any thoughts on the episodes that have come before OMWF that you would like to share? How do you feel about the way the group have responded to Buffy on her return?
    Last edited by Stoney; 15-07-17 at 06:58 AM.

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  5. #223
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    Someone states on Tumblr "#s6 Buffy is still the best portrayal of depression that I’ve seen"
    I was never satisfied with how depression is portrayed in season six. The depiction of Buffy's depression just doesn't seem genuine to me, I think that, at best, it's a cheap glamorization. And I don't like how Buffy suddenly stops being depressed just because the season is coming to an end. It's a complete fantasy. Depression doesn't just go away. You have to overcome it or at least learn to manage it and that takes a lot of work, none of which the season portrays. The entire arc ends up being completely half-assed in my opinion.

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  7. #224
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    Quote Originally Posted by a thing of evil View Post
    I was never satisfied with how depression is portrayed in season six. The depiction of Buffy's depression just doesn't seem genuine to me, I think that, at best, it's a cheap glamorization. And I don't like how Buffy suddenly stops being depressed just because the season is coming to an end. It's a complete fantasy. Depression doesn't just go away. You have to overcome it or at least learn to manage it and that takes a lot of work, none of which the season portrays. The entire arc ends up being completely half-assed in my opinion.
    I truly respect that you weren't satisfied on how the depression got executed in season six however I disagree I have seen it a lot differently than you within my own personal circumstances. You do realise they are actually different depressions, right? Which depressions did Buffy have maybe "Clinical depression" she did lose herself within her trauma, of well digging herself out of her own grave? and losing that tranquillity in heaven. Or depression that her life is worrying her and pushing boundaries of pressure to re form a normal life? Which one? I personally think Well IMO maybe both.

    I absolutely adore the journey and development a theme and concept, a troubled youth finding her place within society. I find the depression and the darkness to be really compelling. I love the fact that we have a hero who actually has the most trouble normal life structure, IMO which is very inspirational, she is a super hero who has crap and well she lost herself. If you actually notice the progressions at the beginning for instances she was suicidal and in "gone" she did actually realise she did not want to die. Then this amazing empowerment by her own mother to make her have her flame back.

    "JOYCE (O.S.)
    We'll always be with you. There's
    a world of strength in your heart,
    honey. I know there is. You just have to find it again.
    A moment passes. Then Buffy's panic and fear wash away.

    JOYCE
    Believe in yourself."

    I thought that was the point of s6, to overcome her and change the negative and depressions to realise that the "earth is actually beautiful" I thought that was a very profound conclusion. And IMO very inspirational, because life is not a walk in the park. Hence why I adore this quote because it speaks volumes and connection to normality. "The Hardest Thing In This World Is To Live In It" It might sound cheesy but Buffy is my hero!

    This is why I adore that scene specifical in season 11 when she breaks down because her mental abstraction didn't go away. Sorry, a thing evil for the random rambling.
    Last edited by buffylover; 15-07-17 at 08:37 PM.

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    Which depressions did Buffy have
    In season eight Buffy describes herself as being "clinically depressed" in season six. It's one of the reasons I'm so miffed about it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by a thing of evil View Post
    In season eight Buffy describes herself as being "clinically depressed" in season six. It's one of the reasons I'm so miffed about it.
    It's okay to be miffed about it because everyone is different.

    Whilst I can see it within s6.

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    I think Buffy was deeply traumatised by her experiences from the resurrection and the depression is a direct symptom of the layered experiences she had which emotionally hurt her (in addition to the general pressures and difficulties she had/has with being the Slayer). I find it very believable, made the characters more relatable, and think they covered how many members of the group can have troubled/darker/weaker times for many reasons really well in S6. But the overall message in the end is about coming through these patches. It was followed up by how you can draw from these experiences to strengthen yourself in their stories of S7. As a pair I think the seasons are really good and fit to the show well for showing the characters experiencing growing up and progressive development from their experiences.

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    Hey Guys!

    I am really sorry that it's been so long and I really appreciate that you've waited for me. I had an unexpected delay of a week in which I had to attend to something work-related that couldn't be put off while recovering. Since another person was counting on me, I couldn't put it off.

    But it's all over for the mo and I'm furiously once again polishing the Once More With Feeling review and will start posting this week. Thank you so much for being so kind (especially Clavus, who has been so patient!) and I hope we can get the rewatch moving again very quickly and that I don't disappoint in my analysis!

    I will also try to respond to some really excellent posts you guys have made on Once More With Feeling - like it or hate it, it's still the most memorable of all very special musical episodes!

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  17. #229
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    Hi!

    I’ve been following this rewatch thread and I’ve been a longtime lurker on this forum. I made an account last year, but I’ve rarely ever posted (save for the season episode ranking threads), mostly because I feel like I get more out of this forum than I can actually contribute to it. But I was thinking about the show a bit today, and just decided, “What the hell?”

    I have sort of a love-hate relationship with Season 6. It’s a season with some fantastic ideas, but such lousy execution a great deal of the time. When Season 6 is great, it’s GREAT. “Dead Things” and “Normal Again” are Top 10 Episodes for me. But when Season 6 is bad, it’s BAD: “Wrecked”, “Gone” and “As You Were” are in my Bottom 10, for sure.

    It also feels like, throughout the season, the writers can’t decide if they want the show to be a dark, existential drama about life and depression, or a sitcom. For example: “Dead Things” took the season to a really dark place showing a much more dangerous side of the Trio and exploring just how far Buffy had fallen… only to be followed by “Older and Far Away”, a rather light-hearted episode about everyone being trapped in the Summers’ house that did little to address the events of the previous episode, and when it did, just made jokes about it (Tara’s cracks about Spuffy, Buffy’s jokes about beating up Spike). The show did a much better job combining comedy and drama in its earlier seasons.

    There’s not enough sparkly dialogue this season, either. And the overall quality of it takes a major downward spiral this season as well. ("It's like there's a meat party in my mouth" -- ???) Buffy is a show that’s notable for having great dialogue. So great that Whedon had to make a silent episode to convince people there was more to the show than its dialogue. So I’m *extremely* hard on episodes where the dialogue falls flat.

    I’m NOT talking about this forum, but in my general observations of fandom (Reddit, YouTube comments, IMDb boards, etc.), I have seen a lot of Season 6-lovers deflect criticisms against the season, saying that fans who disliked the season just “don’t get it” or don’t understand depression, darkness, moral complexity, etc. And I think that’s really unfair because I’m all for the concept of a Buffy season devoted to shoving the huge mystical elements of the series aside by just having human villains, and exploring the characters’ reactions to life’s suckiness and their personal flaws/bad decisions leading to their individual undoings.

    Willow’s control issues and insecurities about being “just some girl” leading to an over-reliance on magic and causing her to commit some morally ambiguous acts? Sounds like a great storyline to me. But instead, Willow was written as an idiot who was too much of an amoral junkie to handle power.

    Giles was written as a patronizing dick who abandoned the Scoobies at their lowest points and was never properly called out on it. And Dawn just threw temper tantrums every other episode.

    Again, I have a lot of respect for what the season was trying to accomplish, I just wish the writers could have executed it as well as they did Seasons 2-5.

    But I don’t want to turn this into an anti-Season 6 rant, because there are many things about the season that I do love.

    Buffy’s character arc, for instance, is hands down my favorite thing about Season 6 because I can relate to it deeply. This is actually one of my favorite seasons for her character. I loved the complexity of the Buffy/Spike relationship this season, and I thought the show’s portrayal of an abusive relationship was spot-on.

    While criminally neglected for a sizable portion of the season, I also enjoyed the material they gave Xander and Anya during the final third of the season.

    Overall, it’s just a season that gets a lot of things incredibly right, and a lot of things incredibly wrong. Hence my love-hate relationship with it.

    I’m actually in the middle of Buffy and Angel rewatch of my own. I’m not up to Season 6 yet though, but I hope to contribute more to this rewatch when I do. That is, if I feel I have something worthwhile to contribute. It kind of feels like cheating to be even paying attention to this thread. But here are some of my thoughts on the episodes that have been covered so far:

    "Bargaining, Part One" -- Great season opener. I liked its exploration of the Scoobies’ lives without Buffy. I’m also a sucker for non-Buffy and non-coupley Scooby interactions, which this episode has a great deal of. Willow-Xander; Spike-Dawn; Xander-Tara; Anya-Tara. I wish the show had focused a little more on the Scooby dynamic outside of everyone’s relationships with Buffy or their significant other in the later seasons.

    PuckRobin, I enjoyed your review a great deal, along with all of the background info you gave on the show’s ad campaign. I didn’t watch the show during its original airing, so it’s always interesting for me to hear stuff like that. Speaking as a Black male, while I’ve definitely noticed the lack of racial diversity on this show, I never really paid attention to the especially unflattering portrayal of the Black vampire in the teaser. It doesn’t really offend me in particular, but I’m probably just desensitized to it.

    "Bargaining, Part Two" -- Not as good as Part 1 and a lot of it feels like padding, but still pretty solid. WAAAYYY too much time with the biker demons, who were probably the worst MOTW in the entire series simply due to how much screen time they took up. Kudos to Michelle Trachtenberg for her acting, particularly in the scene where Dawn discovers the dying Buffybot and reacts to the possibility of Buffy being alive. And awesome review, KingofCretins.

    "After Life" -- I love this episode a greal deal, and think it’s really underrated. I like the dark, quiet and tense atmosphere throughout the whole episode. The way it focuses on all of the characters and their reactions to the resurrection, with the monster feeling like little more than an afterthought, seems to be a set-up to what the entire season was trying to do. I was surprised to see that Jane Espenson wrote this episode as she usually wrote the more comedic episodes of the series. But she really stepped outside her range here and did a great job. And I found SMG’s performance here to be really underrated. She does extremely nice subtle acting in this episode, especially in the scenes where she walks around the Summers house while Dawn explains everything that’s different. Stoney, you seem to be the one in charge of the rewatch, so kudos to you for that and your insightful contributions to the thread.

    "Flooded" -- Extremely mixed, most likely due to the fact that it was written by two separate writers. Certain scenes were enjoyable, while others were pretty awful.

    Dipstick, I sympathize with some of your problems with Season 6 (as I have plenty myself, see above), and props to you for trying your hardest to overcome those problems and writing a good review. Your critique of Giles in the episode was spot-on, and something that I never really noticed in previous watches. I was too focused on the bizarre, over-the-top writing of Willow in their confrontation scene. She goes from being caught off-guard and too timid to (rightfully, IMO) defend herself against Giles, to being cold and threatening, and then back to compliant again. My first time watching it, I thought she had a split-personality disorder, to be honest, because it was such her mood changes were so abrupt.

    "Life Serial" -- The Trio’s tricks on Buffy worked great as a metaphor for depression’s effect on your daily life, and I found her struggles on campus and at the Magic Box to be very relatable. The feeling of everything going too fast, yet at the same time, everything feeling repetitive and monotonous is something that I can relate to. But it still wasn’t all that great to me. This episode is the first example of how Buffy’s comedy episodes start to become a lot less funny, and more just really goofy. At least in my opinion. Tiny Tabby, great review, and great initiative as well for taking up the task when others weren't able to!

    "All the Way" -- All of my opinions on this one have pretty much been covered by other posters, especially in Guy’s insightful yet gif-tastic review. I also agree with vampmogs on how disappointing it is that Buffy never capitalized on its potential for kickass Halloween episodes every season.

    American Aurora, glad to hear you’re doing well, and I can’t wait for the official start of your OMWF review! From what I’ve seen of your contributions to the rewatch threads, I’m sure it will be great. I particularly enjoyed your “Fool for Love” review in the Season 5 thread. That’s a favorite episode of mine, and you really did it justice.
    Last edited by Andrew S.; 09-08-17 at 10:41 AM.

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  19. #230
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    Hey Andrew S. great to have you come and join in. I'm very much a self-appointed administrator so please do always feel free to make suggestions and get involved, its a group thing and perhaps you'll even do a S7 review.

    I love S6, it's my fave (very closely followed by S5) and I think it works for Willow personally. That she has been building up to these problems makes sense to me. I think the push to take a leadership role was something she was naturally inclined towards and was good at, we'd seen it before repeatedly. But I also think that she didn't always want it and still had lingering self-doubt and a sense of pressure to succeed and be able to always get things right. So I think there is possibly a bit of a swinging personality issue for her as her power/confidence grew and yet her insecurities continued. She doesn't want it but wants her abilities, intelligence and capability to be respected too.

    It would be great if you are able to come and join us through the season, as and when you're able. I'd be really interested to see/understand where you feel the issues flare in the season as we go along. I've never particularly considered the tonal mix through this season and when/where it works or doesn't so I'll look out for that. I've found I appreciate the show/characters so much more from our discussions here and getting mixed perspectives is always great. We could both have changed our points of view by the season end.

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    I caught up with the rewatch a few days ago, in terms of watching the episodes, but I'm still far from catching up with your posts - you guys are writing really detailed and in depth reviews, and it will take me some time to read all the previous pages. I'm on vacation, and not at home, so I did not have access to Internet on my laptop most of the time (and reading and posting from my phone is a drag), but now I'v got WiFi where I'm staying, so I should be able to read some/most of the thread and comment.

    I've always loved season 6, but the first time I watched it, I wasn't that taken with these early episodes, except for AfterLife, and felt that the season only took off with OMWF. This time I've enjoyed them much more - especially Bargaining. The first time, I was too put off by the demon bikers, but this time I found the episode much better, and now I consider it the best Buffy season opener, even though it has some things that never made sense (Spike being no more impressive as a fighter than any of the non superpowered Scoobies; Buffy's death being kept a secret while she also has a gravestone). AfterLife is one of the best episodes of the season, and I enjoyed Flooded and Life Serial much more this time. All the Way has always been one of the weak links - it's an OK episode, but doesn't bring anything new. And I've found that OMWF is even more enjoyable the more times you see it (and when you're used to some of the cast members' not so stellar vocal performances).

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew S. View Post
    Hi!

    I’ve been following this rewatch thread and I’ve been a longtime lurker on this forum. I made an account last year, but I’ve rarely ever posted (save for the season episode ranking threads), mostly because I feel like I get more out of this forum than I can actually contribute to it. But I was thinking about the show a bit today, and just decided, “What the hell?”

    I have sort of a love-hate relationship with Season 6. It’s a season with some fantastic ideas, but such lousy execution a great deal of the time. When Season 6 is great, it’s GREAT. “Dead Things” and “Normal Again” are Top 10 Episodes for me. But when Season 6 is bad, it’s BAD: “Wrecked”, “Gone” and “As You Were” are in my Bottom 10, for sure.

    It also feels like, throughout the season, the writers can’t decide if they want the show to be a dark, existential drama about life and depression, or a sitcom. For example: “Dead Things” took the season to a really dark place showing a much more dangerous side of the Trio and exploring just how far Buffy had fallen… only to be followed by “Older and Far Away”, a rather light-hearted episode about everyone being trapped in the Summers’ house that did little to address the events of the previous episode, and when it did, just made jokes about it (Tara’s cracks about Spuffy, Buffy’s jokes about beating up Spike). The show did a much better job combining comedy and drama in its earlier seasons.

    There’s not enough sparkly dialogue this season, either. And the overall quality of it takes a major downward spiral this season as well. ("It's like there's a meat party in my mouth" -- ???) Buffy is a show that’s notable for having great dialogue. So great that Whedon had to make a silent episode to convince people there was more to the show than its dialogue. So I’m *extremely* hard on episodes where the dialogue falls flat.

    I’m NOT talking about this forum, but in my general observations of fandom (Reddit, YouTube comments, IMDb boards, etc.), I have seen a lot of Season 6-lovers deflect criticisms against the season, saying that fans who disliked the season just “don’t get it” or don’t understand depression, darkness, moral complexity, etc. And I think that’s really unfair because I’m all for the concept of a Buffy season devoted to shoving the huge mystical elements of the series aside by just having human villains, and exploring the characters’ reactions to life’s suckiness and their personal flaws/bad decisions leading to their individual undoings.

    Willow’s control issues and insecurities about being “just some girl” leading to an over-reliance on magic and causing her to commit some morally ambiguous acts? Sounds like a great storyline to me. But instead, Willow was written as an idiot who was too much of an amoral junkie to handle power.

    Giles was written as a patronizing dick who abandoned the Scoobies at their lowest points and was never properly called out on it. And Dawn just threw temper tantrums every other episode.

    Again, I have a lot of respect for what the season was trying to accomplish, I just wish the writers could have executed it as well as they did Seasons 2-5.

    But I don’t want to turn this into an anti-Season 6 rant, because there are many things about the season that I do love.

    Buffy’s character arc, for instance, is hands down my favorite thing about Season 6 because I can relate to it deeply. This is actually one of my favorite seasons for her character. I loved the complexity of the Buffy/Spike relationship this season, and I thought the show’s portrayal of an abusive relationship was spot-on.

    While criminally neglected for a sizable portion of the season, I also enjoyed the material they gave Xander and Anya during the final third of the season.

    Overall, it’s just a season that gets a lot of things incredibly right, and a lot of things incredibly wrong. Hence my love-hate relationship with it.

    I’m actually in the middle of Buffy and Angel rewatch of my own. I’m not up to Season 6 yet though, but I hope to contribute more to this rewatch when I do. That is, if I feel I have something worthwhile to contribute. It kind of feels like cheating to be even paying attention to this thread. But here are some of my thoughts on the episodes that have been covered so far:

    "Bargaining, Part One" -- Great season opener. I liked its exploration of the Scoobies’ lives without Buffy. I’m also a sucker for non-Buffy and non-coupley Scooby interactions, which this episode has a great deal of. Willow-Xander; Spike-Dawn; Xander-Tara; Anya-Tara. I wish the show had focused a little more on the Scooby dynamic outside of everyone’s relationships with Buffy or their significant other in the later seasons.

    PuckRobin, I enjoyed your review a great deal, along with all of the background info you gave on the show’s ad campaign. I didn’t watch the show during its original airing, so it’s always interesting for me to hear stuff like that. Speaking as a Black male, while I’ve definitely noticed the lack of racial diversity on this show, I never really paid attention to the especially unflattering portrayal of the Black vampire in the teaser. It doesn’t really offend me in particular, but I’m probably just desensitized to it.

    "Bargaining, Part Two" -- Not as good as Part 1 and a lot of it feels like padding, but still pretty solid. WAAAYYY too much time with the biker demons, who were probably the worst MOTW in the entire series simply due to how much screen time they took up. Kudos to Michelle Trachtenberg for her acting, particularly in the scene where Dawn discovers the dying Buffybot and reacts to the possibility of Buffy being alive. And awesome review, KingofCretins.

    "After Life" -- I love this episode a greal deal, and think it’s really underrated. I like the dark, quiet and tense atmosphere throughout the whole episode. The way it focuses on all of the characters and their reactions to the resurrection, with the monster feeling like little more than an afterthought, seems to be a set-up to what the entire season was trying to do. I was surprised to see that Jane Espenson wrote this episode as she usually wrote the more comedic episodes of the series. But she really stepped outside her range here and did a great job. And I found SMG’s performance here to be really underrated. She does extremely nice subtle acting in this episode, especially in the scenes where she walks around the Summers house while Dawn explains everything that’s different. Stoney, you seem to be the one in charge of the rewatch, so kudos to you for that and your insightful contributions to the thread.

    "Flooded" -- Extremely mixed, most likely due to the fact that it was written by two separate writers. Certain scenes were enjoyable, while others were pretty awful.

    Dipstick, I sympathize with some of your problems with Season 6 (as I have plenty myself, see above), and props to you for trying your hardest to overcome those problems and writing a good review. Your critique of Giles in the episode was spot-on, and something that I never really noticed in previous watches. I was too focused on the bizarre, over-the-top writing of Willow in their confrontation scene. She goes from being caught off-guard and too timid to (rightfully, IMO) defend herself against Giles, to being cold and threatening, and then back to compliant again. My first time watching it, I thought she had a split-personality disorder, to be honest, because it was such her mood changes were so abrupt.

    "Life Serial" -- The Trio’s tricks on Buffy worked great as a metaphor for depression’s effect on your daily life, and I found her struggles on campus and at the Magic Box to be very relatable. The feeling of everything going too fast, yet at the same time, everything feeling repetitive and monotonous is something that I can relate to. But it still wasn’t all that great to me. This episode is the first example of how Buffy’s comedy episodes start to become a lot less funny, and more just really goofy. At least in my opinion. Tiny Tabby, great review, and great initiative as well for taking up the task when others weren't able to!
    Welcome, Andrew!

    I've always loved season 6. Sure, it has its flaws, but so does every season of Buffy - it's hard to avoid when you have 22 episodes a season. (Even season 5, which is as close to perfection as a Buffy season comes to, has some ridiculous inconsistencies in Buffy's and other superpowered characters' strength, and an episode I dislike for its OOC moments done for comedy - Triangle). I agree with some of your criticisms, but disagree with some others, and in some cases, I think you - and many other fans - are treating some flaws of season 6 a lot more harshly than the exact same flaws that existed in the previous seasons, but tend to be glossed over.

    What I agree with is that Giles's motivations and portrayal bug me and don't fully make sense. But not because he was patronizing, because Giles has always been patronizing, but because of his decision to leave. This is clearly a case of real life writing the plot, and the writers were obviously struggling to justify that plot point.

    On the other hand, I've never understood the bashing levelled at Willow's storyline by a portion of the fandom. You said: "Willow’s control issues and insecurities about being “just some girl” leading to an over-reliance on magic and causing her to commit some morally ambiguous acts? Sounds like a great storyline to me. But instead, Willow was written as an idiot who was too much of an amoral junkie to handle power." I think your first sentence is exactly how Willow was portrayed. She was the same old Willow whose insecurities and desire to fix things easily (which was seen before, even as far as Lovers Walk) made her overrely on magic and caused her to commit some morally ambiguous acts. I don't think she was portrayed as "an idiot who was too much of an amoral junkie to handle power", though I guess you could also term it that way - it's basically the same thing, it's just how someone who wanted to portray her storyline in bad light would choose to phrase it. (No, she's neither an idiot and an amoral, but I can imagine an over-critical, judgmental person equating those with "idiocy" and "amorality"). I've never understood the complaints about magic = drug storyline. Yes, it's portrayed as an addiction - so what? Of course it's an addiction, anything you start over-using as a way to instantly fix your problems (while actually making them worse) is. Gambling is an addiction, sex can be an addiction, work can be an addiction, an unhealthy relationship can be an addiction, etc. It doesn't remove the responsibility of the person who decides to use it, and it's always connected to someone's unresolved emotional issues. (Even with literal drug addiction - I've known heroin addicts, and it's those who had the biggest emotional issues and insecurities, stemming from their dysfunctional and unsupportive families, that got into it the deepest and were not able to escape the addiction.) Willow's storyline makes perfect sense to me, it's very interesting and consistent with her development over the previous seasons.

    And what is the problem with Dawn throwing tantrums each episode? She's a teenager, and a teenager who has been going through a lot of serious $hit. Of course she's throwing tantrums! What do you expect her to do? She threw even worse tantrums in early season 5 (before she found out about being the Key - after that, her tantrums were a lot more justified).

    I also can't agree that the comedy episodes are less funny in season 6, since Tabula Rasa is one of the funniest episodes of the entire show.

    I do agree that there are some great, but also some awful episodes (to me, those are Doublemeat Palace and As You Were) and that there are
    some jarring tonal shifts and dissonance in the middle of the season, especially between Dead Things and Older and Far Away. These are my biggest criticisms of the season. But it's not like that makes it any different from the earlier seasons. BtVS has always had moments when serious things were treated in an inappropriately flippant way, or not addressed or followed up on at all. There's a much worse tonal dissonance in 1.02 The Harvest and the rest of season 1 with the utter lack of feeling from Xander or Willow about Jesse's death. That episode ends on a lighthearted note. The Pack also ends on a lighthearted note, in spite of the fact that Xander must have been deeply traumatized by being possessed by the hyena and doing all he did, and Buffy didn't even seem at all traumatized by being sexually assaulted by hyena-possessed Xander. It's not just season 1, either. In season 2, nobody feels any trauma over the spell that made every woman chase Xander and engage in some violent acts, and Cordelia thinks that Xander trying to mind-control and rape her (he was not actually trying to do that, but she didn't know that) was cute and a wonderful expression of love (compare that to season 6, where Buffy is outraged by the idea that Spike would try to do a love spell on her, and Spike is outraged at the fact she thought he would do that). There's even worse treatment of sexual violence in Go Fish, where no one is at all concerned or sympathetic to Buffy for just being sexually assaulted by her date. Yes, she immediately stopped him before he got to do anything, and she was much stronger than him and never in danger, but that doesn't change the fact that she was assaulted. Now, when Snyder and the coach victim blame her and make light of it, that's narratively OK since they're the bad guys and we're supposed to see their behavior as sexist and gross. But then Giles and the other Scoobies are completely indifferent to Buffy telling them she was assaulted and then victim blamed and blamed for defending herself, looking at her like "why are you taking out time from the important matters?" That was really OOC and jarring. And don't get me into the lack of proper follow-up on Faith's attempted rape and attempted murder of Xander, or her rape of Riley, but those are due to the gender double standard regarding sexual violencr that the show is sadly consistently guilty of.

    Go Fish was also placed right after Passion and I Only Have Eyes for You and before the two-part finale. The worst placement of an episode on BtVS ever. It completely disrupts the otherwise great arc, which would have flown much better if it went from IOHEFY to Becoming. Also, in both Go Fish and Killed by Death, Angelus is really lame as a villain when he pops up, and doesn't feel threatening at all.

    Season 2 is generally the BtVS season that most reminds me of season 6 - both are in contention for my favorite season and both have strong and extremely emotional arcs (and heartbreaking deaths, main characters going to the dark side, and dysfunctional Buffy vampire relationships that go from bad to worse), and they both have very high highs, but also very low lows. Unlike season 3, which is very solid throughout, but lacks those strong emotional arcs (except for Faith, who steals the season right in front of Buffy's and everyone else's nose) and (apart from The Wish) episodes I'd put in my top 10, or season 5, which is also solid throughout but doesn't lack any of these things. O season 4, which has a weak central plot and isn't incredibly dramatic or emotional, but has a few amazing episodes that are top 10 material, and a lot of great comedy.

    So, to sum up, I think that the flaws or season 6 are greatly exaggerated and the flaws of the earlier seasons glossed over by fans who are arguing that season 6 was some sort of a negative departure from the earlier BtVS. But, to be fair, fans who argue in favor of season 6 also tend to overstate their case, as the earlier seasons didn't lack darkness, complexity or maturity - season 6 just took it to the logical next step.
    You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravellingBunny View Post
    On the other hand, I've never understood the bashing levelled at Willow's storyline by a portion of the fandom. You said: "Willow’s control issues and insecurities about being “just some girl” leading to an over-reliance on magic and causing her to commit some morally ambiguous acts? Sounds like a great storyline to me. But instead, Willow was written as an idiot who was too much of an amoral junkie to handle power." I think your first sentence is exactly how Willow was portrayed. She was the same old Willow whose insecurities and desire to fix things easily (which was seen before, even as far as Lovers Walk) made her overrely on magic and caused her to commit some morally ambiguous acts. I don't think she was portrayed as "an idiot who was too much of an amoral junkie to handle power", though I guess you could also term it that way - it's basically the same thing, it's just how someone who wanted to portray her storyline in bad light would choose to phrase it. (No, she's neither an idiot and an amoral, but I can imagine an over-critical, judgmental person equating those with "idiocy" and "amorality"). I've never understood the complaints about magic = drug storyline. Yes, it's portrayed as an addiction - so what? Of course it's an addiction, anything you start over-using as a way to instantly fix your problems (while actually making them worse) is. Gambling is an addiction, sex can be an addiction, work can be an addiction, an unhealthy relationship can be an addiction, etc. It doesn't remove the responsibility of the person who decides to use it, and it's always connected to someone's unresolved emotional issues. (Even with literal drug addiction - I've known heroin addicts, and it's those who had the biggest emotional issues and insecurities, stemming from their dysfunctional and unsupportive families, that got into it the deepest and were not able to escape the addiction.) Willow's storyline makes perfect sense to me, it's very interesting and consistent with her development over the previous seasons.
    To be honest, my complaints about Willow in terms of being an idiot and everything were mostly in regards to "Wrecked" (my most despised episode of the series). Willow acts like a major idiot in that episode. The writers completely drop the metaphor and just play magic as a straight addictive substance. It becomes less a story about Willow's control issues and character flaws and more about her just being an addict in a generic after-school special. She doesn't even feel like Willow to me in those episodes (save for the nice scene at the end between her and Buffy), so much as just a generic character in a over-the-top "This is what drug addiction looks like" story. I have more to say about that episode to explain my POV, but I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it on the rewatch.

    And also, the text itself feels a little anti-Willow at times. We got Giles completely cutting into her when she didn't deserve it in "Flooded", only for Willow to threaten him, automatically making his horrible treatment of her irrelevant. Tara got completely butt-hurt for no reason over some decorations in "All the Way", only for Willow to mind-rape her, with the badness of that action making Tara's unfairness toward Willow irrelevant.

    I don't have much of a problem with the Dark Willow storyline later on in this season though, besides some shitty dialogue. Surely a genius like Willow would be way wittier and have way better insults than the likes of "Get off me, superbitch!"

    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravellingBunny
    What I agree with is that Giles's motivations and portrayal bug me and don't fully make sense. But not because he was patronizing, because Giles has always been patronizing, but because of his decision to leave. This is clearly a case of real life writing the plot, and the writers were obviously struggling to justify that plot point.
    True, especially the bolded part

    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravellingBunny
    And what is the problem with Dawn throwing tantrums each episode? She's a teenager, and a teenager who has been going through a lot of serious $hit. Of course she's throwing tantrums! What do you expect her to do? She threw even worse tantrums in early season 5 (before she found out about being the Key - after that, her tantrums were a lot more justified).
    Let me set the record straight on my feelings about Dawn's character. She's one of the most hated characters in the fandom from what I've seen, but I LOVE Dawn. The introduction of her character was, in my opinion, the show's best plot twist ever. I love just about everything they did with the character in Season 5, and I love how her addition to the series let us see a more mature, nurturing side of Buffy and all of the other characters. Screw Angel and Spike, Dawn was the best love interest Buffy ever had.

    My criticism about her in my previous post sounded a little Dawn-bashing now that I think about it, and I should have made my feelings about her character clear. *I* know I love Dawn, but of course *you guys* don't, so I apologize on that front. But regarding her in Season 6, I still have a lot of affection for her character. While Buffy was the most relatable character for me in Season 6, Dawn was hands down the most sympathetic. You're right, she had every right to be angsty and bratty because she went through a lot. My problem isn't with her throwing temper tantrums so much as that's ALL she does during the season, at least the middle section. The writers do nothing with her character this season other than have her whine. It's not that this is unrealistic or OOC, it's just extremely repetitive and extremely uninteresting. Dawn was a brat and threw temper tantrums in Season 5, yes, but her character was also the emotional center of the season and the season did such a great job of exploring her relationships with the other Scoobies. She also got to be a badass and pretty heroic in her own right at times, particularly in the last few episodes of Season 5. I loved her braveness in her interactions with Ben and Glory, I loved everything about her interactions with Spike and I loved how in "The Gift", she was completely willing to kill herself to stop the portal. She was really well-wounded in Season 5. But we didn't get enough of that for the majority of Season 6.

    I don't dislike Dawn this season or anything, she just gets NOTHING to do other than be miserable. And I think that's quite a shame because based on Seasons 5 and 7, the character could have been a lot more and Michelle Trachtenberg certainly had the talent to do more. Connor also suffered from the same thing during Angel Season 4. There was a similar problem with Xander and Anya in the middle portion of the season as well. It feels like almost every episode during the middle portion of the season shows Buffy, Willow and Spike doing the heavy lifting in terms of the plot and heavy character focus, while we get obligatory angsty scenes of Dawn throwing a temper tantrum or comic relief scenes of Xander and Anya having wedding planning jitters, with the characters doing little else. We get it, Dawn is lonely and neglected. We get it, Xander and Anya have fears about their wedding. We didn't need to get variations of the same scenes with the characters every other episode. But the writers' treatment of Dawn, Xander and Anya gets a whole lot better in the final third of the season. In fact, the *whole season* gets better. "Hell's Bells" to "Villains" are the best stretch of episodes in the season, in my opinion. I'm not too fond of the last two episodes, though.

    Season 7 does a lot better by showing more to Dawn's personality than her teen angst, but it's no better than Season 6 for me because she's heavily underused that season. I love Dawn a lot, but I wouldn't call her a *great* character because the writers failed to make her as layered as the other ones. But I do like the way her whininess this season could be seen as a commentary on how people view teenagers as they grow up. When Buffy, Willow and Xander were Dawn's age, they were portrayed as much smarter and more mature. But now that they're adults, Dawn's teen angst comes off as being more annoying. I think it captures that disconnect that happens as young adults get older whereas teenagers seem a lot more bratty and irritating, despite the fact that they were JUST teenagers themselves a few years ago.

    And in a way, the characters ignoring Dawn because they have so much going on in their lives could be seen as a reflection of the writers not knowing what to do with her character because they have so much going on in writing the other characters. So I've found ways to rationalize Dawn's unsatisfying Season 6 portrayal, but I'm still disappointed with it. Dawnie deserved more.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravellingBunny
    I also can't agree that the comedy episodes are less funny in season 6, since Tabula Rasa is one of the funniest episodes of the entire show.
    "Tabula Rasa" is probably the most overrated episode of the entire series for me. I thought Angel's "Spin the Bottle" was much better. But "Tabula Rasa" wasn't bad though. The beginning and ends of the episode were fantastic, it was just the middle portion that I wasn't satisfied with or amused by.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravellingBunny
    I do agree that there are some great, but also some awful episodes (to me, those are Doublemeat Palace and As You Were) and that there are
    some jarring tonal shifts and dissonance in the middle of the season, especially between Dead Things and Older and Far Away. These are my biggest criticisms of the season. But it's not like that makes it any different from the earlier seasons. BtVS has always had moments when serious things were treated in an inappropriately flippant way, or not addressed or followed up on at all. There's a much worse tonal dissonance in 1.02 The Harvest and the rest of season 1 with the utter lack of feeling from Xander or Willow about Jesse's death. That episode ends on a lighthearted note. The Pack also ends on a lighthearted note, in spite of the fact that Xander must have been deeply traumatized by being possessed by the hyena and doing all he did, and Buffy didn't even seem at all traumatized by being sexually assaulted by hyena-possessed Xander. It's not just season 1, either. In season 2, nobody feels any trauma over the spell that made every woman chase Xander and engage in some violent acts, and Cordelia thinks that Xander trying to mind-control and rape her (he was not actually trying to do that, but she didn't know that) was cute and a wonderful expression of love (compare that to season 6, where Buffy is outraged by the idea that Spike would try to do a love spell on her, and Spike is outraged at the fact she thought he would do that). There's even worse treatment of sexual violence in Go Fish, where no one is at all concerned or sympathetic to Buffy for just being sexually assaulted by her date. Yes, she immediately stopped him before he got to do anything, and she was much stronger than him and never in danger, but that doesn't change the fact that she was assaulted. Now, when Snyder and the coach victim blame her and make light of it, that's narratively OK since they're the bad guys and we're supposed to see their behavior as sexist and gross. But then Giles and the other Scoobies are completely indifferent to Buffy telling them she was assaulted and then victim blamed and blamed for defending herself, looking at her like "why are you taking out time from the important matters?" That was really OOC and jarring. And don't get me into the lack of proper follow-up on Faith's attempted rape and attempted murder of Xander, or her rape of Riley, but those are due to the gender double standard regarding sexual violence that the show is sadly consistently guilty of.
    In all honesty, I can't bring myself to get too worked up about the lack of mention of Jesse after the pilot because I honestly forget his existence along with the characters. I'm always surprised to see him whenever I watch "Welcome to the Hellmouth", despite having seen it more times that I can count, because he's just completely out of mind in the remaining 142 episodes. I also kind of rationalize that as "Welcome to the Hellmouth"/"The Harvest" taking place MONTHS before the rest of Season 1. I have a personal canon that the two-part pilot took place sometime in the fall of 1996 with the rest of Season 1 taking place during the series' actual airing during the spring of 1997. It explains why Willow and Xander seem over Jesse's death (along with another head canon of mine that he was actually only a recent friend of theirs, not a lifelong one like they were with each other), and it explains why Buffy talks so much about how much she trusts and loves Xander in "Witch". I mean, she wouldn't have said that about him after only knowing him a week, would she? Plus, throughout the series, there are instances of the characters saying how long they've known each other that implies the start of the show was 1996, not 1997. In "Choices", Willow said Buffy had been in Sunnydale for three years. But if Season 1 started in 1997, it would have only been two years, right? In "Two to Go", Willow says she was the sideman for six years. But if Season 1 started in 1997, she would have only been the sideman for five years, right? I could bring up other examples, but you get my point.

    On "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered": I actually found it perfectly believable that Cordelia was touched by Xander's love spell. His spell *was* icky, no doubt about that, but things like love spells are often romanticized, especially toward young women. It made perfect sense to me that Cordelia, a 17-year-old girl who (as we saw in other episodes) wasn't the most "woke", feminist or socially aware individual, and was rather self-absorbed, would be beyond flattered at the (unfortunately mistaken) thought that Xander loved her so much that he cast a spell on her because he was so desperate to get her back. Not to mention, it took place in 1998, before the age of social justice warriors and people drawing attention to problematic implications of things like that on the Internet. And the look on Charisma Carpenter's face when Cordy discovers Xander cast the spell gets me every time, honestly. What bothered me more was the ending where Buffy essentially thanked Xander for not raping her.

    "There may be hope for you yet" -- ??? Was that line supposed to be Buffy implying there might have been hope for her considering Xander as a romantic prospect due to the fact that he didn't rape her? Or it was it supposed to be her implying that she thought he WAS the kind of guy who would have sex with her under the influence of a love spell, and she was glad to see he proved her wrong? Either interpretation doesn't really sit well with me.

    I do agree with you on "Go Fish" and "Consequences" though. Those episodes did kind of make light of sexual assault. I'm easier on "Go Fish" though because Buffy was never in actual danger and she didn't really seem bothered or traumatized by the sexual assault attempt, so much as the way Snyder, the coach and the nurse responded to it. "Consequences" is a bigger deal for me because you can tell Xander was actually in real danger with Faith and you can tell he was really affected her rejection/attack on him. It's even more of a shame that there's absolute no Faith-Xander interaction in Season 7, other than a snide comment by her about taking his virginity which makes her look really bad, considering the "Consequences" attack.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravellingBunny
    Go Fish was also placed right after Passion and I Only Have Eyes for You and before the two-part finale. The worst placement of an episode on BtVS ever. It completely disrupts the otherwise great arc, which would have flown much better if it went from IOHEFY to Becoming. Also, in both Go Fish and Killed by Death, Angelus is really lame as a villain when he pops up, and doesn't feel threatening at all.

    Season 2 is generally the BtVS season that most reminds me of season 6 - both are in contention for my favorite season and both have strong and extremely emotional arcs (and heartbreaking deaths, main characters going to the dark side, and dysfunctional Buffy vampire relationships that go from bad to worse), and they both have very high highs, but also very low lows. Unlike season 3, which is very solid throughout, but lacks those strong emotional arcs (except for Faith, who steals the season right in front of Buffy's and everyone else's nose) and (apart from The Wish) episodes I'd put in my top 10, or season 5, which is also solid throughout but doesn't lack any of these things. O season 4, which has a weak central plot and isn't incredibly dramatic or emotional, but has a few amazing episodes that are top 10 material, and a lot of great comedy.

    So, to sum up, I think that the flaws or season 6 are greatly exaggerated and the flaws of the earlier seasons glossed over by fans who are arguing that season 6 was some sort of a negative departure from the earlier BtVS. But, to be fair, fans who argue in favor of season 6 also tend to overstate their case, as the earlier seasons didn't lack darkness, complexity or maturity - season 6 just took it to the logical next step.
    Yeah, the earlier seasons definitely had their flaws, but a lot of those flaws I'm able to overlook because Seasons 1-5 are too focused on other things to deal with most of them properly and the things that they are most focused on, they succeed. Yeah, Season 1 did a lousy job dealing with fallout regarding Jesse and Hyena-Xander, but most of Season 1 were standalones. The writers had no intention of dealing with aftermaths and connecting the episodes more, because they were too focused on individual high school horror stories. Season 2 had some stinkers, but the character arcs and development that season were all excellent. I have little to no complaints about the way Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia, Angel, Oz, Spike and Dru were written for the majority of the season. All of them were well-written and used frequently. Whereas in Season 6, we get many instances of plot manipulating character or characters being underwritten or underutilized.

    I agree that Season 3 lacked emotional impact big-time, but it wasn't supposed to be a hugely emotional season. I think Season 5 underused Willow, Xander and Giles a bit, but the season wasn't about really them as much as it was about Buffy and her relationship with Dawn, and on that front it succeeded.

    Season 6, on the other hand, was supposed to be ALL ABOUT consequences, and aftermath, and exploring the characters' flaws and what made them tick. And it was very inconsistent in that regard. And quite frankly, I just have higher standards for Season 6 because of the bold things it sets out to do. When you make a season focusing on the main characters making bad decisions/killing people/attempting to kill each other, it has to be top-notch in a way that the other, less ambitious seasons don't have to be.

    I get your point about both Seasons 2 and 6 being seasons of high-highs and low-lows. I definitely agree, but when Season 2 had its bad episodes, they were still *fun*. No, "Reptile Boy" isn't among the best episodes of the series, but it still has awesome character moments: Buffy-Cordelia interaction was fun, Xander taking out 16 and a half years worth of frustration on douchey frat guys was awesome, Willow's telling off Giles and Angel was great too. This is a Season 1 example, but "The Puppet Show" wasn't a masterpiece yet it still had the hilarious first appearance of Snyder, Cordy's horrible singing along with Giles's deadpan reaction, and the Scoobies' talent show recital at the end. Same with episodes like "Bad Eggs" and "Killed by Death". Some of Season 2's MoTWs were pretty sucky, but I sometimes find myself popping them in when I'm bored or as background noise when I'm doing something else because they are rather fun and feature great character interaction. But you couldn't pay me to sit through "Gone" or "Older and Far Away" for the sole purpose of enjoying myself. Although, I do have a HUGE soft spot for "Doublemeat Palace" and "All the Way" definitely has some good character moments.

    And at the end of the day, I think Season 2 had more excellent episodes that it did lame ones, whereas Season 6's gems were few and farther between, and there were a lot of flat-out mediocre episodes in between the excellent and the awful.

    Not to mention, Season 2's clunkers were pretty inconsequential. I agree with you on "Go Fish" being the worst-placed episode of the series, but I could skip it (and I *do* skip it) without it affecting anything. Same with "Some Assembly Required" and "Inca Mummy Girl" and the other lame ones. They're bad, but not really a big deal because they don't majorly affect anything. Episodes like "Wrecked" and "As You Were", on the other hand, are supposed to be major deals for the characters and their developments in the season, and they're just badly-handled. Same with some Season 7 episodes.

    Oh no... going over this post, I sound like a total Season 6 hater. But I assure you all that there are a lot of things that I truly do LOVE about the season. At its best, Season 6 is just as great and emotionally affecting as Seasons 2 and 5. I'm just so MIXED on it, and I can see some of you are clearly big fans of it and consider it to be your favorite seasons. I'm just in the minority opinion and I have to explain why, which makes me sound like a hater. But TimeTravellingBunny and Stoney, I can assure you both that if you were the biggest Season 6 haters in the world and posting about how the season is utter crap, I would be defending the season heavily, and going on and on about its brilliant aspects.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stoney
    It would be great if you are able to come and join us through the season, as and when you're able. I'd be really interested to see/understand where you feel the issues flare in the season as we go along. I've never particularly considered the tonal mix through this season and when/where it works or doesn't so I'll look out for that. I've found I appreciate the show/characters so much more from our discussions here and getting mixed perspectives is always great. We could both have changed our points of view by the season end.
    And in all fairness, it's been a while since I last watched Season 6, so maybe I may be remembering things worse than they actually were. I'm only on Buffy Season 4 and Angel Season 1 in my current rewatch, and it honestly feels like cheating to be even reading/participating in this thread while I'm not caught up yet. But I can't wait to get to Season 6 and get a fresher viewing of the season. I share your appreciation for mixed perspectives. This honestly looks like the best place to talk about Buffy on the Internet (when it's active!) from what I've seen. A lot of the discussion/reviews in these rewatch threads are genuinely brilliant, and maybe you unabashed Season 6 lovers might get me to lighten up on the season's flaws as the rewatch moves along. But thanks to you and TimeTravellingBunny for the warm welcome and the thought-provoking responses!
    Last edited by Andrew S.; 11-08-17 at 04:51 AM.

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  25. #233
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew S. View Post
    I don't have much of a problem with the Dark Willow storyline later on in this season though, besides some shitty dialogue. Surely a genius like Willow would be way wittier and have way better insults than the likes of "Get off me, superbitch!"
    I've always cringed at that line. I mean, no matter who said it the line would have been lame and awful but it's also so uncharacteristic and bizarrely random as well. This was two best friends facing off against each other and one of the most important relationships on the show self-destructing before our very eyes. When you think of the amount of personal baggage between them and all that they know about each other and all that they've shared, it's astounding that the best the writers could come up with was "Get off me, super bitch!" Really?

    I've never been able to rationalise how awful that line is and how it ever made it to air. The writers have always excelled when it comes to these deeply personal fights and how the most compelling battles have always been between Buffy and someone whom she was close to. Think of the cutting way Angelus taunted her in Innocence mid-battle, or the fury between Buffy and Faith in Graduation Day or This Years Girl/Who Are You, or even the insults spat between Buffy and Spike as they fought in Smashed - and then we get Willow hurling comically bad dialogue at Buffy about being a "bitch" that has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with her as a person or their history together. Buffy VS Willow should have been the most brutal, dramatic, deeply personal fight of the show and instead we get shitty, lame dialogue like that. And after just rewatching those episodes, I'm dumbfounded at the writer's decisions to have the two characters come to conflict and of all things waste their time arguing about what it means to be a Slayer. What does that have to do with the Buffy/Willow relationship? 6 years worth of story to mine from and the two best friends are standing there discussing the nature of Slayerhood? What the ****?

    There's some really great things in those last two episodes but I have to agree that some of the dialogue is heinously bad and the way Willow is written gets worse as the episodes progress. In Villains her character worked because she was clearly running on blind, vengeful fury, but she gets progressively more cartoon-villain throughout the episodes and her dialogue is cringeworthy ("Fly my baby fly!" )

    I will say though that I absolutely love the discussion between Buffy and Willow at Rack's place and it's one of my favourite moments of the season. And why? Because it's actually relevant to their stories that season and their relationship and it's deeply personal and effective because it's Willow throwing back all of Buffy's pain in her face (and her own self-hatred about perceiving herself as the cause of that pain). That kind of dialogue should have been peppered throughout their fight.

    I agree with you about Tabula Rasa as well. Totally overrated.
    Last edited by vampmogs; 11-08-17 at 10:42 AM.
    "You've got ... a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself."

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    I could never take the magic/addiction idea seriously. Of course, it's a pretentious, cringe-worthy, drug mythologizing after school special but...it doesn't even work as such! It's like, the show never bothers to establish any sort of coherent philosophical backdrop to magic. Not even a rudimentary left/right hand path. Then suddenly, it's magic is bad, kids ( well, unless Saint Tara does it ) and apparently the best way of practicing it is to do it the Giles way, that is, not at all. Except, you know, that's not an option when you're the slayer's witch. And when magic is lesbian sex. And female empowerment. And Earth's life force. And religion. Yeah, they didn't think that lore thing through, did they?

    Another problem is the existence of Rack. In my opinion it completely destroys the whole narrative. The show keeps going on about magic bad and addiction awful and whatnot when Rack, the alpha junkie, is pretty much the coolest son of a bitch in Sunnydale's history. We suddenly learn that Hellmouth has it's own dark wizard, that he's been here for years, "abusing" magic, and guess what, he's fine. Yeah, he's a scum alright but he's fine. More than fine, he's untouchable. He oozes charisma. He's that ignorant rock star, basically. Same thing with Willow, by the way. The message is that supposedly Willow doesn't need magic to be amazing. OK. But then she gobbles up all that magic and she's more awesome than she's ever been. So what is it? What a mess.

    There's some really great things in those last two episodes but I have to agree that some of the dialogue is heinously bad and the way Willow is written gets worse as the episodes progress. In Villains her character worked because she was clearly running on blind, vengeful fury, but she gets progressively more cartoon-villain throughout the episodes and her dialogue is cringeworthy
    That's intentional. There's no dark Willow, it's just Willow finally letting loose. The dialog, the clothes, the theatrics - that's Willow's idea of what a big, bad witch is. She's playing a role and it's kinda adorable. It's like when William started calling himself Spike and changed his accent.

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  29. #235
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    Quote Originally Posted by vampmogs View Post
    I agree with you about Tabula Rasa as well. Totally overrated.
    Nah, wait for it. It'll be awesome. Promise!
    Smile, listen, agree - and then do whatever the f**k you wanted to do anyway... (Robert Downey jr.)

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  31. #236
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    Quote Originally Posted by a thing of evil View Post
    I could never take the magic/addiction idea seriously. Of course, it's a pretentious, cringe-worthy, drug mythologizing after school special but...it doesn't even work as such! It's like, the show never bothers to establish any sort of coherent philosophical backdrop to magic. Not even a rudimentary left/right hand path. Then suddenly, it's magic is bad, kids ( well, unless Saint Tara does it ) and apparently the best way of practicing it is to do it the Giles way, that is, not at all. Except, you know, that's not an option when you're the slayer's witch. And when magic is lesbian sex. And female empowerment. And Earth's life force. And religion. Yeah, they didn't think that lore thing through, did they?
    I don't think this is true because the addiction was really to the power and the issue is the abuse of it, not that all the original uses for magic and how it was portrayed were wrong. I'm not sure it works amazingly well against drug addiction for me, outside of the rush and kick that the physical response can supply, but that works alongside and within the draw for power with the magic that I don't think sits well against drug abuse which is more about escapism (to me). I suppose the similarity could be drawn from using the magic to avoid facing natural challenges and aspects of life (such as death/loss), to try and control and fix these to an individual ideal rather than dealing with working through issues with others and on a day-to-day basis. That abuse of power then makes that escapism feasible perhaps. Definitely something else I'll think about as we go through the season.

    Another problem is the existence of Rack. In my opinion it completely destroys the whole narrative. The show keeps going on about magic bad and addiction awful and whatnot when Rack, the alpha junkie, is pretty much the coolest son of a bitch in Sunnydale's history. We suddenly learn that Hellmouth has it's own dark wizard, that he's been here for years, "abusing" magic, and guess what, he's fine. Yeah, he's a scum alright but he's fine. More than fine, he's untouchable. He oozes charisma. He's that ignorant rock star, basically. Same thing with Willow, by the way. The message is that supposedly Willow doesn't need magic to be amazing. OK. But then she gobbles up all that magic and she's more awesome than she's ever been. So what is it? What a mess.
    Hmmm, not sure you can say he is fine when he's also scum. The guy is creepy and parasitic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Clavus View Post
    Nah, wait for it. It'll be awesome. Promise!
    I've no doubts, looking forward to it.
    Last edited by Stoney; 12-08-17 at 05:51 AM.

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    Vampmogs, no need to quote as I agreed with your entire post. I loved your comparison of the dialogue in the Buffy vs. Dark Willow fight to Buffy's other fights with Faith/Angelus/Spike as well, which sums up my problems with it as well. And I also share your love for the Buffy-Willow scene at Rack's in "Two to Go".

    Quote Originally Posted by a thing of evil
    Another problem is the existence of Rack. In my opinion it completely destroys the whole narrative. The show keeps going on about magic bad and addiction awful and whatnot when Rack, the alpha junkie, is pretty much the coolest son of a bitch in Sunnydale's history. We suddenly learn that Hellmouth has it's own dark wizard, that he's been here for years, "abusing" magic, and guess what, he's fine. Yeah, he's a scum alright but he's fine. More than fine, he's untouchable. He oozes charisma. He's that ignorant rock star, basically. Same thing with Willow, by the way. The message is that supposedly Willow doesn't need magic to be amazing. OK. But then she gobbles up all that magic and she's more awesome than she's ever been. So what is it? What a mess.
    Quote Originally Posted by Stoney View Post
    Hmmm, not sure you can say he is fine when he's also scum. The guy is creepy and parasitic.
    Yeah, I agree with Stoney. A thing of evil, *you* might think Rack is cool -- which is your subjective opinion, of course -- but with the way the narrative played it, he came off as creepy. Plus, the actor who played him, Jeff Kober, was the same guy who played the mad, creepy vampire Kralik in "Helpless" and he did a really good job there (Kralik was one of the best Monster-of-the-Week villains, in my opinion), which makes me think he was hired back for a reason.

    But I think I understand your general point, though, in regards to the messiness of the magic/addiction metaphor. Rack and Willow were supposed to be uber-magic junkies, yet they were both extremely powerful the more they used magic. But drugs *aren't* empowering substances, which is why it completely falls apart. Stoney, I liked your point about it perhaps being about escapism as well, as hinted at in the "just some girl" speech at the end of "Wrecked" (another Buffy-Willow moment I loved; wish we could have seen more like it), and I think that was also a factor in it, but the narrative seemed to play it as more of a power trip for Willow, which (again) is why it falls apart.

    Quote Originally Posted by Clavus
    Nah, wait for it. It'll be awesome. Promise!
    Quote Originally Posted by Stoney
    I've no doubts, looking forward to it.
    As am I!

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    I don't think this is true because the addiction was really to the power and the issue is the abuse of it, not that all the original uses for magic and how it was portrayed were wrong.
    As far as Willow's concerned, magic is power and personally, I don't think there's any real difference. And anyway, what constitutes an abuse of magic? Was cursing Angelus an abuse of magic? It's black magic, it's clearly left hand path but everybody seems to be fine with it, right? Then you have Buffy's resurrection. It's necromancy, black magic, left hand path, snakes etc, but it's still not that super clear cut. I mean, we're still debating it. Giles thinks it's wrong, Tara thinks it's wrong too but still believes that it has to be done. So what's the verdict? And then you have my favorite spell, the conjuration of balloons. Completely harmless magic trick, and apparently, it's an abuse? There's no rhyme or reason to this stuff. There's no moral framework to asses it. Or is there? Well, of course there is, just not in the TV series and by the way, I think it's completely ridiculous that we had to wait nine (!) seasons for it:


    Dark intent, dark action. That's it, straight from the source. As long as your intent's not dark you can do whatever you want pretty much. It's fine to conjure some balloons to make your friends happy, right? Maybe, it's even fine to alter your friend's memory to ease her pain, no? Yeah, I'm rambling but this isn't a simple black and white issue. And yet season 6 treats it as such. Magic is bad kids, okay? I can't deal with that.

    I suppose the similarity could be drawn from using the magic to avoid facing natural challenges and aspects of life (such as death/loss)
    Humanity has been doing that for tens of thousands of years, just with technology instead of magic. But what's the difference, really? In Buffyverse magic is technology.

    The guy is creepy and parasitic.
    Yeah, well, Spike is creepy and parasitic too - so what? Rack's powerful and charismatic, it's all that matters. And, I mean, he kinda banged Willow. Hey, I know, subtext only, Willow's gay etcetera but still. The guy's pretty baller.

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  37. #239
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    Hey, Guys!

    My deepest apologies for the enormous gap between postings – as you know, I had an immediate medical crisis to deal with that required quite a bit of prep and recovery. But I’ve been lucky enough to experience the best of all possible outcomes and I’m now playing catch-up with my life and work. I’ve now finally been able to deal with all outstanding work issues and I’m back to complete my Once More With Feeling review. Thank you so much for being so endlessly patient – especially Clavus, who has been waiting for months to post the review of Tabula Rasa. I will try to get the remaining parts out as quickly as I can.

    It’s been quite a while, so for anyone who wanted to read the first three parts (detailing the genesis of drama and musicals, Joss Whedon’s family history of involvement in Broadway and off-Broadway musicals, and the creation and production notes behind Once More With Feeling), here are the links:

    Part 1: Overture – A overview of the musical in pop culture

    Part 2: Opening Credits: The Roots of the Broadway Musical - the history of musical theater including musical shows created by Whedon’s grandfather and father

    Part 3: Going Through the Motions: The Paradox of the Movie Musical – the history of movie musicals and the making of Once More With Feeling

    A lot of the first four parts are a bit of set-up for later parts of this review – so please bear with me for the last long boring slog – all of these concepts will come into play eventually and will discussed in greater depth at the appropriate moment.

    Part Four – Strange Estrangement, Nothing Here is Real, Nothing Here is Right: Theater and the Performance of the Self

    To recap a little of the first three parts, American musical theater (and all Western theater for that matter) derives from a combination of religious ritual and epic poetry. Although there were other equally powerful dramatic traditions in other cultures – and there’s no doubt that the origins of the Western dance-drama probably began in sub-Saharan Africa and moved north to Egypt where we find the earliest recorded dramas with music – for Western Theater, it was all about the Greeks and their fascination with the sacred Theater of Dionysus with its twin faces of Tragedy and Comedy.



    Some of this had to do with the never-ending fascination with Greece and Rome by the Western scholars and some was due to Aristotle’s highly influential Poetics, which ushered in a new Golden age of Drama during the Renaissance as theater companies attempted to recreate Greek Drama. The idea of Tragedy and Comedy was viewed by the philosopher Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy as a dramatization of the dissonance between the Apollonian (dramatic actor) and Dionysian (chorus) sides of the human condition. Dionysus was the God who hovered between life and death – the androgynist youth who presided over the “cult of the souls” – his maenads fed the dead “life” through drinking blood obtained by sacrifice – and he was one of the few Greek/Roman gods able to raise the dead to life. The dramatic worship that honored him was also bound to his resurrection.

    Orpheus – the greatest of all musicians and the originator of Dionysian veneration – was worshipped right alongside the God of wine. Ecstatic imbibers could experience the same frenzy as their God in Bacchanalian orgies and mystery religions – their descendants were practitioners of modern Western Drama.

    The chthonic nature of the Festival (chthonic meaning underneath the earth) is based on the idea of sacrifice and reaches back to fertility rituals and mythologies of the underworld as personified by the myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone who was kidnapped by Hades, the Lord of the Greek and Roman underworld. The Greek word khthon literally means dust or earth – not the cover above, but a signifier for the actual interior of the underworld below. And the central meaning of the Dionysian Mysteries is that all must come to dust in the end as Orpheus finds when he uses his musical skill to lead his beloved Eurydice from the underworld - and fails miserably.



    But there was an upside – the festival concluded with a show that followed the precepts of tragedy with a difference – a comedy that celebrated the resurrection of Dionysus and human fertility. Tragedies almost always ended with death – whereas comedies almost always ended with a prelude to a wedding or rebirth – a tension that informs Once More With Feeling. Lawlessness meant freedom to create in this sense – the liberty given to celebrate Dionysus was connected with a happy ending in both sense of the phrase. To sing and dance was to embrace life – and to teach others to do so was an attempt to change an Apollonian black-and-white view of life to a Dionysian experience of pure ecstasy. In Technicolor. And Stereophonic Sound.

    And why is any of this important? For one, Buffy’s heroic journey fits in with Greek mythology – with a few gender alterations. Secondly, the Persephone/Dionysus/Orpheus myth of Death and Resurrection are central to Once More With Feeling and Season Six in general. And last, the very form of Once More With Feeling – a musical – actually determines the content of the episode. Whedon uses the idea of the musical – a genre generally associated either with high tragedy (as in Grand Opera) or low comedy (as in American musical comedy) – to explore the idea of performance as a representation of life itself – both comic and tragic. And this, in turn, reveals the hidden structure of Whedon’s musical – and why it works so well when many other movie and television musicals have failed.

    Like Jack Robin in The Jazz Singer, Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain, the Banks children in Mary Poppins and Sally Bowles in Cabaret – Buffy is yet another traveler from a distant land who encounters a whole new world.



    Like the heroes and heroines of past musical extravaganzas who are thrown into a different world of fantasy and wonder, Buffy is cast out from a seemingly perfect afterlife somewhere out there and tossed unwillingly back into life below – the earth as an under-heaven-world that she perceives as a nightmarish hell every bit as awful as the Weimar Germany of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. And her attempt to “perform” – to play her part – is killing her. It’s Buffy going Through the Looking Glass as she falls into a distorted world that dimly resembles the place she once knew as home. But there’s no clicking her heels three times to get out of there.

    Because it’s not just a trip from dreary and depressing Kansas and back; it’s life itself from which there is no escape except death. In Buffy’s mind, all of life is Hell – and so Show Business acts as mirror-image of the experience of life itself – a stage where people are forced against their will to act happy that they’re alive. And in that sense, the world is a stage and that stage is a kind of nightmarish Hell and the all the men and women are merely underworld players.



    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.



    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:



    XANDER: Basically, I got as far as Oxnard and the engine fell out of my car, and that was literally. So, I ended up washing dishes at 'The Fabulous Ladies Night Club' for about a month and a half while I tried to pay for the repairs. No one really bothered me or even spoke to me until one night when one of the male strippers called in sick and no power on this earth will make me tell you the rest of that story. Suffice to say I traded my car in for one that wasn't entirely made of rust, came trundling back home to the arms of my loving parents, where everything was exactly as it was except I sleep in the basement and I have to pay rent. How's college?
    BUFFY: Male strippers?
    XANDER: No power on this earth!
    BUFFY: Ok. College is good.
    XANDER: Ok, uh, once more with even less feeling.
    BUFFY: No, really! I-I mean, Willow's in heaven and Oz has this really cool house off campus with the band.
    XANDER: And you're sitting here alone at the Bronze looking like you just got diagnosed with cancer of the puppy. (The Freshman)
    And Once More With Feeling is in some ways a throwback to Xander’s astute line: “Ok, uh, once more with even less feeling.” Even though Xander has been almost embarrassingly honest with Buffy in The Freshman, Buffy responds with what she thinks she should say rather than tell Xander the truth. It’s a great line by Xander who discerns when Buffy is telling the truth and when she’s lying – a talent he uses throughout the series until the group breakdown in Season Six.

    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. And this is compounded by his engagement to Anya, which brings up anxieties of becoming his abusive father.

    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.

    But unlike Season Four where Buffy found that the answer to her problems could be found in honesty - trusting to the understanding and friendship of the Scoobies (despite or even because of Spike’s machinations to pull them apart), Buffy can't be honest with her friends in Season Six because she can't tell them a truth that indicts them. From her perspective, they inadvertently pulled her out of a Heavenly version of a hero’s final resting place under the belief that they were saving her. The traumatic aftermath after such a confession wouldn’t cause the gang to put on a happy face.

    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.



    So the transition from “Buffybot” to “Buffy the Buffybot” is a brilliant conceit – the robot dream girl of stalker Spike who was created by Warren to fulfill all of Spike’s fantasies is transformed into the robot dream girl who lives to fulfill all of the fantasies of Giles and her friends and family. Buffy tries to “perform” her duties as Slayer, Best Friend, Leader, pseudo-Mother to Dawn – but now that she’s been pulled from what she perceives as a final resting place where she was happy, life on earth has been thoroughly drained of all meaning. And the Scoobies are so wrapped up in their own problems that they accept Buffy’s fake performance for what it is.

    Only Spike – the original fly in the ointment throughout Season Four regarding her relationships with her friends and Riley and the originator of the fantasy-driven Buffybot character – is allowed to know the truth. But only because Buffy believes confessing the truth to a "dead thing" is meaningless - taking Spike into her confidence will have no real consequences. Buffy is wrong about both Spike and her friends, of course – her knowledge will eventually result in Spike’s eventual rebirth to the land of the living and the spiritual reawakening of her friends by the end of Season Six.



    But it’s a long slog until that final climax in Grave. We’ve talked before about the difficulties that many fans have had with Season Six – and Buffy’s depression is a big part of that. Lots of fans pointing fingers at various characters – especially Willow – trying to blame someone or something for Buffy’s almost catatonic afterlife state that eventually leads to her destructive affair with Spike. But it seems clear to me that Whedon and Noxon were not exaggerating or spouting clichés when they designated Life itself as the Big Bad of Season Six. 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.

    OZ: You ever have that dream where you're in a play and it's the middle of the play and you really don't know your lines? And you kinda don't know the plot?
    WILLOW: Well, we're alone, and, we're together. I-I just wanted it to be special.
    OZ: How special we talkin'? (Amends)
    How we present ourselves is one of the major themes of Buffy – like any dramatic performance, we guide impressions of who we are, concealing our real needs and motivations behind a socially acceptable façade. Buffy hides her fears about ever living the life of a “normal” woman underneath bravado and wisecracks as she dusts vampires and Xander, Willow and even Giles are constantly subsuming their self-loathing (through years of parental neglect and abuse) by creating roles for themselves in which they are indispensable fighters in Buffy’s army. Which is why any deviation from the norm is shocking. The reaction of the Scoobies when they see the normally stuffy Giles singing with a guitar is humorous and telling.



    Even demons and vampires in Buffy act out roles with each other – Spike’s swaggering, dramatic entrances from School Hard onward are an attempt to intimidate everyone he meets and Angel often modestly keeps his identity under wraps until an opportune moment when the antagonist suddenly realizes that he’s not facing a detective, but a super-powered vampire. Part of the ironic humor of Oz’s character is that he is fairly undemonstrative in person – and yet both a werewolf once a month AND a rock performer on stage.



    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:

    XANDER: I, I can't! I have my pride! Okay, I don't have a lot of my pride, but I have enough so that I can't do this!
    WILLOW: A dramatic scene is the easiest way to get through the talent show, because it doesn't require an actual talent.
    XANDER: But we have talent. We can do stuff. Buffy, uh...
    BUFFY: What am I gonna do? Slay vampires on stage?
    WILLOW: Maybe in a funny way! (The Puppet Show)


    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.



    This is why the idea of Lorne and his empathic ability to read others only while singing is such a perfect addition to the Buffyverse – the moral judgments that Lorne makes are predicated upon the performance style of the individual. The choices that a person makes in performing give an insight into who they are and what they will become. And they also define what someone is not – vampires and demons of the night stay indoors on Halloween - perhaps because the playacting of their true nature by humans is literally offensive to them. Everyone's a critic, it seems, when it comes to assessing their own performance.

    Our “character” mask represents the ideal we have designed for ourselves – the starring role we are always striving to achieve – the “self” we would like to be. The word “person” derives from the Latin word “persona” which comes from the original Greek – literally meaning a performer in a drama, an assumed character, a mask that was worn in Greek and Roman drama to cue the audience into who the actor is depicting. And we use less obvious cues today - language, signs and symbols - to enhance our performance and convince others that we are who we say we are - as when a split-in-two scruffy Xander tries to convince Willow that he’s the "real" Xander by literally performing his old childhood “Snoopy Dance” in The Replacement.



    And it doesn't seem to matter whether one is human or demon - it's the socialization that counts. Anya is very human in terms of her physical body - and yet her desire to be fully human in social interactions is what drives her. The humor comes from her seemingly futile attempts to mimic human behavior enough to pass herself off as Anya Jenkins, normal girl - and this is because her performance as a Vengeance Demon for a thousand years makes it almost impossible to retire from her former starring "role" in a long-running play.

    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.



    It’s not a coincidence that most of the characters in the Buffyverse have lasting trauma from past events. Trauma results from the inner conflict between who one believes they should be (either heroic or villainous, but powerful and strong-willed) and who one believe they are (weak, despised and unworthy of any real place in society.)

    In this sense, a person is both the protagonist and the antagonist of their own internal drama – both hero and villain. And so we get the juxtaposition of Buffy’s “Beautiful Miracle” fantasy against the reality of her inability to save her dead mother:



    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.



    After that point, Spike’s diminished "role" as Big Bad is shown through his uneasy romance with Harmony – his lack of respect for her opinion leaves him with no other audience than Buffy, his mortal enemy, who soon becomes his obsession. When he is chipped, Spike tries to maintain his “Big Bad” persona despite his complete inability to harm anyone – but in the end, he adapts to his situation and increasingly adjusts his ‘performance’ as Spike the Friendly Neighborhood Vampire to win Buffy’s approval. By the time Drusilla returns in Crush, a lovelorn Spike finds it almost impossible to become his old self again. And when Spike believes himself suddenly unchipped in Smashed, he faces a severe sense of estrangement as his old self battles the new for supremacy.

    This constant doubling of personality is everywhere in Buffy and especially important in Season Six where the conception of the self is constantly under siege. Willow’s turn to Dark Willow is not sudden as some fans claim, but a culmination of the slow and steady build of her character as a woman struggling against herself. From her first appearance as Cordelia’s chew toy in Welcome to the Hellmouth, we see that Willow as a young teen was deeply invested in staging a performance as a “good girl” who submits to authority. The child of strict parents, she is so lonely that she consents to her socially inferior position in both the Sunnydale High School cliques where she is mocked for her lack of style and in her immediate group of friends where she is overlooked as a potential girlfriend because of her intelligence and “Old Faithful” designation.



    Only with the arrival of Buffy does Willow begin to flourish and build up her role into something more positive that balances personal needs with her public "role" – and despite a few lapses, it’s only with the death of Buffy that Willow’s ability to maintain the tension between the two world really starts to falter. And much of this stems from the fact that a person like Willow who suffers from severe stage fright is cast in a starring role that she never wanted to begin with. In the case of depression, often the performer fails to believe his own role any longer and descends into cynicism. And sometimes, like Willow, we “act out” this way when under tremendous stress, presenting a version of one’s self that we know others would like to see – only to brutally admit to oneself that one is merely acting out a role.



    What makes Buffy so special and different from other similar shows that came before it is the acknowledgement that we are all living in a kind of postmodern drama, constantly stepping backwards to acknowledge the absurdity of any situation – and this mirrors the concerns of modern psychology and sociology that view the social personality as a kind of performance. Buffy characters are always self-referential, always aware that they are in a “drama” of sorts and always self-knowingly mocking their own situations and even citing horror movie tropes as they fight the supernatural – the same kind of blend of realism and fantasy that informs the musical. This performative aspect of Buffy – the audience accepting both the artificiality of the situation and the knowingness of the characters/performers – is the same dynamic that allows an audience to suspend belief when a character begins to sing.

    The Buffyverse is filled with song – not only the numerous numbers at the Bronze that reflect the themes of any given episode like but character numbers that don’t need to be sung by the characters in order to reflect inner depths – like the Saturday Night Fever theme that underscores Xander’s walk in Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. (a reference to the famous Rodgers and Hart song from the musical Pal Joey) – Angel’s numerous renditions of Barry Manilow songs like “Mandy” – “I Only Have Eyes For You” as a theme song of a long-dead couple that mirrors the Buffy-Angel relationship in the episode of the same name – or “O soave fanciulla” (Oh lovely girl) haunting the tragic romance in La Boheme that plays in the background as Giles anticipates an evening with Jenny Calendar only to experience a similar tragic ending.

    The same stage at the Bronze that features musical acts also features supernatural actors performing on their own kind of stage, creating an impression of danger and terror in their audience. In some ways, the setting of a show determines the kind of action that happens in it just as a stage does and Sunnydale as a city placed on the Hellmouth instantly creates an expressionist, absurd stage set in which anything can happen – and the viewer watches (and imagines this world) from the vantage point of the “normal” Sunnydale residents. This dynamic plays itself out in the very first two-part episode as Luke announces a kind of new performance from the stage of the Bronze in The Harvest, turning the musical stage into a killing field.



    As various acts play at the Bronze, we see how young people navigate their way through problems by connecting to musical performances that reflect their frustration with various aspects of their lives. Dancing becomes a form of liberation – the ability to dance with one’s partner or friends gives a sense of freedom from the rigid roles that the characters play outside of performance. Buffy’s dance with Angel in The Prom is a fantasy that keeps the truth of final separation at bay for a few hours. And we see through dreams that several of the characters – especially Willow – suffer from stage fright that mirrors their psychological fears. In Nightmares and Restless, we get several variations on the Life is Show Biz theme with characters unable to perform – the classic nightmare of “I dreamed I was on stage and forgot all my lines” that Oz mentioned – a cliché of psychoanalytic thought.

    So why is all this so important to Once More With Feeling – isn’t the idea of any special musical episode inherently about performance anyway? It’s not as if realistic characters in a film drama/comedy are generally expected to sing and dance. Real original television musicals have been around since the first years of television – among some of the most popular were Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on CBS in 1957 introducing an unknown Julie Andrews:



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YhY...lJQ2cHXUJlKUWj

    Another classic television event was Stephen Sondheim’s Evening Primrose on ABC in 1966 starring Anthony Perkins. A sinister story about a young man who joins a group of night people who roam department stores after hours, it soon became a cult classic:



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enFR2UVldhA

    For Neil Patrick Harris fans, Evening Primrose was recorded by Harris in 2010 and packaged with Sondheim’s musical The Frogs – starring Nathan Lane as Dionysus in a musical version of Aristophanes’ play about a voyage to the underworld:

    https://www.amazon.com/Frogs-Evening.../dp/B00005OM6W

    But as musicals were increasingly viewed as corny and dated in the public consciousness, the only successful original musicals – like Disney’s High School Musical – were targeted towards younger viewers. Normal people didn't just break out into song. And so the “very special episodes” of television shows that were musical before Buffy created excuses as to why the characters sang at all – a brain tumor, a hallucination brought on by drugs, a nervous breakdown, a magical spell – and the scores tended to be little more than old wine in new bottles - old popular songs rather than original scores. A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in the pants. But not much of an understanding or interest in how the musical worked as a whole.



    Known as “jukebox” musicals (using old songs within a narrative structure), shows such as Chicago Hope and Ally McBeal dressed up their characters in “Life is Show Biz” duds as they “performed” numbers that reflected the fantastical life of those imagining the musical songs. In Chicago Hope’s 1997 episode Brain Salad Surgery, Dr. Shutt views his life as a musical after he collapses from an aneurism – the hospital is a nightclub and his old colleague Mandy Patinkin is singing Al Jolson songs at a piano.



    Suffering from the same ennui as Buffy, Dr. Shutt decides to quit his job at the opening of the episode - until his almost-fatal collapse. The subsequent musical journey through song enables him to see his own life clearly and face his demons. A fight to resurrect him on the operating table is juxtaposed with his musical resolve to survive - in the end, Dr. Shutt comes back from the dead with a purpose in life - to save others.

    In the 2000 episode Ally McBeal: The Musical, Almost, a nervous Ally takes too much medication and suddenly imagines the world as a musical with characters in musical montages as in music videos and all dressed up singing in a night club, her fears about marriage and children manifested in the performances of everyone around her. But like Chicago Hope's musical episode, the songs are a compilation of older material.



    That wasn't the case with the next very special musical episode. No musical episode had as much impact as Xena: Warrior Princess’s 1998 episode The Bitter Suite (the title a clever confluence of the homonym sweet and suite – as in bittersweet and a set of concert pieces called a musical suite.) Nominated for two Emmy Awards, the episode had original music by composer/lyricist Joseph LoDuca and lyrics/book by Dennis Spiegel, Pamela Phillips Oland, Chris Manheim and Steven L. Sears.



    Co-executive producer Rob Tapert was a big opera fan and after seeing Lucy Lawless in a Broadway revival of Grease in 1997, the idea of a musical episode started to take hold. The director, Jeff Calhoun, was hired to stage the musical numbers that took place in a fantasy world called Illusia where Xena and her companion Gabrielle are compelled to continue their feud in the world of song.

    Composer LoDuca: "At the beginning of the musical, they're at each other's throats and they fall off a waterfall and wake up in the land of Illusia. And that's where they work out all their stuff, which they do in song. It's the idea of blame and forgiveness, all set to music…We brought in Jeff Calhoun, who's a big Broadway director and choreographer, and I collaborated with a couple of wonderful lyricists. It's got seven songs. I mean, it's a serious musical."



    And it was – a complex musical piece that functioned as a mini-operetta, The Bitter Suite was a call back to the musical extravaganzas of the turn-of-the-century, a marvelous fantasia where a character is literally pulled into a magical singing world where anything goes. This oldest of musical tropes relied upon the concept of Tarot cards to create the musical manifestations of Xena and Gabrielle’s emotional situations. And like Once More With Feeling, The Bitter Suite required an understanding of the storyline up to the point of the show – because like a classic musical, the songs forwarded the plot, revealed character and resolved storylines. Both Xena and Gabrielle have suffered the death of their children – and each blames the other for their child’s death.

    And like Once More With Feeling, the musical relies upon tropes that go back to Greek Drama – the drama of death and resurrection, the mystery of revealed Truth through song and cathartic release in the viewer as the protagonist is fundamentally changed by the knowledge. There is even a Greek Chorus as represented in the two antagonists of the series, Callisto and Ares, who goad Xena and Gabrielle to destroy one another. As the two heroines fall over a cliff during battle, they fall into a river that leads them to a place deep beneath the primordial waters that moves in that all-important musical time of a musical that runs along real time:



    CALLISTO:
    Illusia is music
    A world built on rhyme
    It’s carved out of space
    In the absence of time
    Echoes of the Persephone/Orpheus myth run through The Bitter Suite as Xena and Gabrielle create their own underworld realms, Xena a land of gated castles and warriors, Gabrielle a village of peace and domesticity.



    And the musical themes also parallel Once More With Feeling in terms of the stakes:

    CALLISTO:
    To live or die
    It’s a choice you’ve got to make!
    Can you undo what you create?
    And as in Greek drama, the theme is always the same:

    ANUBIS: Oh, Xena, with death there is always rebirth.


    The episode is a colorful, Technicolor dream world that echoes spectacles like Babes in Toyland and the The Wizard of Oz as acknowledged by Ares after Xena “murders” Gabrielle (who magically comes back to life to sing about her own demise):

    ARES:
    Nothing more need be said
    Ding, dong – the bitch is dead.


    But Xena manages to figure out how to escape this world that soon turns into a deadly nightmare – she must resolve her emotional trauma in song – and manages to escape after singing a song to her child, apologizing for her deficiencies as a mother and apologizing to Gabrielle for lying about a murder:

    XENA:
    Yes, I lied.
    Thought I could protect you from the truth.
    Deliver you from evil.
    Spare your innocence and youth.
    That I could simply will it
    Was the untruth.
    I was wrong.
    I wore a mask to cover my deceit.


    Which mirrors Buffy’s confession through song at the end of Once More With Feeling. Of course, if this were a grand opera, Buffy would also be singing an aria of despair that matched that of Xena.

    But Xena is a homage to operetta whereas Buffy is pure musical comedy – a genre steeped in irony-laden pop culture since the early 20th century – and so Buffy’s lyrics and delivery are closer to vaudeville and variety show than Verdi. And Whedon’s central theme is better served by a sampling of traditional show biz pizazz and musical parody than something more musically ambitious.

    This is why Xena’s musical episode The Bitter Suite is technically a more accomplished and complex piece of musical writing but doesn’t seem to have made the same impact on pop culture as Buffy’s musical episode – the satirical spark in Once More With Feeling that equates the bitch of living with classic musical theater memes makes it far more accessible to an audience drenched in postmodern irony. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that satirize genre while making fun of their own supposed self-importance place a special emphasis on the value of performance – the meaning of social roles – and how archetypical tropes of the teen drama and horror genre devolve into cliché and mind-numbing repetition. And even when dead, the characters don’t stop playing roles – as proved by psych major-turned vampire Holden Webster who tries to psychoanalyze Buffy even while attacking her.



    The self-referential snark comes from using the formalism of teen drama and horror movies to make larger points about life itself – and Whedon himself absorbed this kind of deconstruction of genre from his father’s early experiences off-Broadway when the same kind of experimentation was driving the new Broadway musical. In musicals from the late 1960s to the early 80s (from the film of The Sound of Music – one of the last old-fashioned musicals – to Cats – one of the first new corporate musicals), there was a growing interest in deconstructing the idea of the musical genre itself, which was considered to be on its last leg by 1970. The mini-Renaissance of “new” musicals that were created in the wake of this musical “wake” explored the very idea of “show business” itself from a sociological and psychological point of view – examining the way in which we present ourselves and perform for others – that marked a break from the traditions of the past.

    In our postmodern times, there are entire websites like TV Tropes – a website that evolved from Buffy fandom – that are devoted to deconstructing shows using the primary tools of literary criticism – social anthropology and psychology. This was nothing new – back in the 1950s, the young Turks at Cahiers du Cinema like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were already deconstructing classic Hollywood films, breaking them down into genres and archetypes, finding diamonds in the dross of studio factory films. Writers as early as Eugene O’Neill and Thornton Wilder were using theatrical performance itself as part of the meaning of the piece – as pioneered by Vsevolod Meyerhold, Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, musicals moved towards a similar critique of the musical form – through director/choreographers Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett, producer/directors like Harold Prince and Tom O’Horgan, and songwriters like Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot.



    Shows like Cabaret, Hair, Pippin, Company, Follies, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Evita and Dreamgirls used the formalism of the musical itself to inform the content – the very act of performance was examined and critiqued – and old operetta, vaudeville and minstrel clichés were mined to explore the dynamic between performer and audience as a metaphor for life itself.

    Joss Whedon grew up in Manhattan in the 1970s as a self-professed musical theater fan and the experimental musicals that continued to open (and close) on Broadway for over a decade had a major impact on his view of art as a self-referential revolving door of new spins on old tropes. The two musicals that seem to have had the greatest impact on him according to interviews were also, not coincidentally, the two musicals that seem to have influenced Once More With Feeling the most – 1971’s Follies by Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman, directed by Harold Prince, choreographed by Michael Bennett – and 1972’s Pippin by Stephen Schwartz, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse.



    Follies has a peculiar history – for a show that only lasted 522 performances and lost its entire financial investment, it has become a legendary cult phenomenon for musical theater fans. The score is considered one of the greatest ever written for the American musical theater and the production values some of the most lavish and expensive ever created. There are at least two books devoted to the creation of Follies with more on the way – and Whedon himself tellingly cites it as his favorite musical. A revival is currently happening at the Royal National Theater of Great Britain and it will be filmed live for showings in theaters on November 16, 2017 both in England and internationally. Anyone interested should check their local theaters for screenings.

    Photos from the current revival of Follies in London:
    https://www.broadwayworld.com/articl...eatre-20170904

    Rave reviews for Follies:
    http://www.playbill.com/article/what...melda-staunton

    The storyline is simple – two former showgirls and their husbands attend a reunion of performers who starred in a revue, the fictional Weismann Follies, in the early 20th century between the wars. The entire show takes place in one evening at the show’s condemned Broadway theater, soon to be renovated into a parking lot (a common fate for classic Broadway houses in the crime-ridden Times Square of the 1970s). The theater is a metaphor for the crumbling of American post-war optimism, of course, and the score is a cynical parade of musical pastiches that span the gamut of American popular music from A to Z to show the impossiblity of reworking the past.



    As middle-aged ladies meet and are coaxed to perform their old numbers (a series of tunes mimicking American popular song from the operetta of Sigmund Romberg to the jazz rhythms of George Gershwin), we see beautiful show girls walk slowly backstage – reflections of their youth – who mockingly display a funhouse mirror of their future selves as they wander the stage, silent ghosts of the past (the difference between the aging women and their younger selves accentuated by a supporting cast of seven-foot showgirls wearing impossibly tall headdresses). Halfway through the show, past and present begin to merge until the characters are unable to tell where the past leaves off and the present begins.

    As two showgirls, Sally and Phyllis, meet again after twenty years, we learn they are both unhappy in marriage. Sally had been engaged to Ben, the now husband of Phyllis – but he broke off with her and married her far more sophisticated best friend who better suited Ben’s political and social ambitions. In return, Sally spitefully married Ben’s friend, Buddy, who loves Sally but after a long decade of suffering neglect, is hiding an affair. The unhappy Ben, now a famous author and political kingmaker, regrets his decision and tries to renew his romance with Sally – who believes that she can atone for the mistakes of the past. As they reaffirm their bond in song, a delusional Ben hugs the young Sally tight to him – his unalterable vision of a perfect never-existent past Sally – as the older Sally stands by herself, ignored.



    The evening ends in a nightmarish phantasmagoria in which the ghosts of the past merge with the present older performers, forcing them to enact musical numbers that both satirize and lament the glories of musicals past – a metaphor for an American cultural innocence that can never be recaptured. The show ends with Ben literally stopping the show in the midst of a chaotic song to break down completely. As the characters step back into their familiar (and despairing) roles, they leave the party still wedded to the wrong person, still unhappy and still bound to the mistakes of the past.

    Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin premiered soon after Follies. Using the device of a travelling performing troupe led by a Leading Player (played by a Tony-winning Ben Vereen), the players tell the story of Pippin, the son of the medieval King Charlemagne, and his quest to find significance in a seemingly meaningless life. As the troupe breaks the fourth wall, steps in and out of character, dies and comes back to life and generally mocks the conventions of the musical (and theater itself) the Leading Player guides Pippin through a series of picaresque adventures: scholarly pursuits, war, hedonism, revolution, romance and finally, a magnificent ending in a grand finale – a suicide by setting himself on fire.



    At the last minute, Pippin decides that if he never attaches himself to anything, he’ll never truly find freedom and rejects the Leading Player and his troupe of sinister performers, taking his girlfriend and adopted son with him to find freedom outside of the parameters of stage performance despite the troupe cutting off his mike, dampening the orchestra and even turning off the stage lights.



    And this idea of performance as life – or life as performance – in both Follies and Pippin also obviously informs Once More With Feeling from the idea of characters forced to express their true feelings through musical pastiche of Follies numbers to the befuddled Pippin who is encouraged by the menacing Leading Player to perform a spectacular grand finale in which he literally goes out like a fiery torch. As a child of the 70s who saw the shows in their first run as a child and listened again and again to the cast albums, this idea of show biz as a signifier of an existential meaningless existence on earth must have completely captivated Whedon.

    For in Buffy’s mind, life in Season Six is a Platonic shadow play compared to where she believes she was – and as a Shakespeare buff, Whedon must have thought of Macbeth’s famous lines comparing a human life to a brief moment on stage in a pretty worthless play:

    To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
    Signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act Five, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
    And like Macbeth, Buffy finds no joy or meaning in life – the doings of her friends and family are no more than a dumb show to her after her experience of death. But Buffy is dimly aware that she used to feel more and it is the knowledge of this absence of feeling that is the genesis for the musical episode.

    Two centuries ago in more religious times, this was called a “lack” in the central character – the missing thing – the character flaw in the initial first minutes of a play that drove the protagonist to seek a spiritual unity. And this was often expressed through a chant, a song, a soliloquy that was a prelude to the inciting incident which is always the catalyst for action in any story. All stories begin with an inciting incident – the origin of the character’s motivation. Something has to happen – an event, an awakening, a meeting – that awakens that desire in order for the character to start the journey. The desire may already be evident – but there must be an IMPETUS in order to set the protagonist in motion. The weaker the inciting incident, the more unconvincing the story.



    The inciting incident in Once More With Feeling is not actually created by Buffy – it’s Xander who calls the musical demon Sweet to Sunnydale (with the help of kleptomaniac Dawn) – but the primary dramatic focus is Buffy’s journey – her depressive state, her desire to feel something and how the spell eventually forces her to reveal the truth about being pulled out of “heaven” by her friends. Of course, one could also say the inciting incident is Buffy’s return at the beginning of Season Six if you see the entire arc of the first six episodes as culminating in Once More With Feeling as Whedon did.



    But the decision to make Buffy’s unwilling confession a musical song isn’t bizarre – in fact, it’s one of the most common dramatic devices in Buffy to reveal hidden depths. When Xander listens to Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” in Prophecy Girl or Spike sings “My Way” at the end of Lovers Walk or Willow and Tara dance to “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in Family or even Jonathan’s Frank Sinatra turn singing “Serenade in Blue“ in Superstar – all choices that reveal more about character than in a dozen pages of dialogue.



    So musical performance has been used to delineate character in Buffy from the start – but Once More With Feeling uses the very idea of the musical song as a personal confessional to make a much larger statement like Follies and Pippin about how we use performance as a strategy to hide our inner selves. And so the episode begins with a highly entertaining and artificial presentation that immediately informs the audience that this “very special episode” will be using traditional musical theater tropes to tell the story – and the use of Widescreen only accentuates the aesthetic difference between Once More With Feeling and other episodes:

    WHEDON: I don’t usually do things, don't like to do black and white or any kind of tricks; because they're not really what the characters are going through, they're just filmic tricks. And I don’t like to be about the film, but – if it's going to be a musical then for me it has to be a giant widescreen color extravaganza, where you can tell we really pushed the color.
    And we get a first glimpse of that color as blood-red lettering spells out the title of the series in a charmingly curved font that resembles old musical movie titles:



    As a romanticized re-orchestration of the Buffy theme song plays, the names of the actors are highlighted over their faces, mimicking title sequences of 30s and 40s films in which each actor was featured in a spotlight shot. As each character head is hilariously superimposed on a version of the giant moon that opens every episode of Buffy, the episode literally parodies the idea of “performance” as they smile and turn towards the camera like actors eager to please the audience. This not only points out the genre shift from horror satire to musical satire, but also shows us each character “performing” themselves in various episodes:

    We see Buffy trying, as always, to appear as “normal” as she can as she greets the bank manager to ask for a loan in Flooded:



    Xander’s credit comes from Bargaining, Part One, in which he diffuses an argument with a joke – a common strategy of children raised in an unhappy home – and stops the fight between Giles and Anya by teasing Anya about her possible future as a video store clerk:



    And Anya’s credit is her immediate response to Xander’s joke in Bargaining, Part One– a sickening sweet smile as she tries to butter up an angry Giles to keep her job:



    In All The Way, we once again see Dawn with an accusatory face turned towards those who she trusted and who betrayed her – in this case, her hoped-for boyfriend who turned out to be a vampire.



    Spike is trying to impress his poker playing partners and his would-be girlfriend Buffy with his Big Badness as he cheats and slaps down a straight flush in Life Serial:



    And like Xander, we end with Willow’s attempt to calm everyone down after a spat between Anya and Xander over Buffy’s finances as she shoots an understanding smile at a flat-broke Buffy in Flooded:



    And this title sequence is important because Once More With Feeling uses the highly presentational form of the musical to explore the duality of private life and public performance. And the primary goal of any musical performer is to make the audience believe in their version of reality – singing, dancing and all – while acknowledging that they are watching a performance – applause, applause! We see BtVS do this in every episode when it comes to the supernatural – we both believe in the premise and enjoy the distancing effect of the constant asides, quips and parodies that wink at the audience, signaling them to take things metaphorically, not literally.

    And the central question of Once More With Feeling revolves around this disassociation from one’s own self. In the first opening moments of the episode, the viewer along with the Scoobies tries to determine if the woman who has returned from the dead is really the same old Buffy – or has she come back wrong? Is Buffy still the Slayer in a world where bright lights and loud noises are distressing rather than invigorating? Or is she now a creature of the night like the demons she slays?

    And it’s telling that the first moment of the episode after the opening credits is a shot of the sun peeking through half-closed blinds – Buffy dark and light as seen through slats that resemble bars – as the camera pans down, we see Buffy’s nightstand – complete with a small lamp, a chunky green candle, a framed picture of Buffy, Willow and Xander and a fire-engine red alarm clock (pre-figuring “Walk Through the Fire”) that amusingly rings twenty seconds before seven o’clock. (Even time is wonky here) The words “repeat” and “alarm” are printed on either side of the clock face – an ironic commentary on Buffy’s feelings about her day-to-day life. Not only does this tell us the obvious information that a new day is beginning but also that time is marching onward and yet nothing seems to be happening for Buffy. This is underlined by an initial fanfare that quotes from “Where Do We Go From Here?” before it turns into “Something to Sing About”



    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.



    The visual joke is that while Buffy lies comatose in bed, we see the carefully choreographed movement of Willow, Tara and Dawn as they deftly share a bathroom, negotiate hall space and ready themselves for another day without ever bumping into each other or getting in each other’s way in any serious sense – a morning routine that was created in the absence of Buffy and still hasn’t incorporated her in any meaningful way. No one even seems to notice that Buffy isn’t jumping out of bed – that she’s barely moving at all.



    All of this is underscored by the overture of Once More With Feeling – overtures are musical pieces that start a musical and generally – but not always – feature a medley of various songs from the show, orchestrated to achieve maximum anticipation in the audience that they are about to see a musical. The origins of the overture lie not in musical theater, but in opera where the first strains of music announce the power of the music over the drama – the orchestra, unlike dialogue or lyrics, controls everything – when numbers begin, when they end, when to give emphasis to the drama and when to stay silent.

    Oftentimes, the curtain remains closed while an orchestra (or musical accompaniment) plays – but in several classic musicals, the characters pantomime, gesture and move somewhat with the music without explicitly incorporating dance – the accompanying wordless energy of this opening advances the plot and shapes character without language. Most importantly, it creates a certain aesthetic kind of world-building, telling the audience what kind of a musical it will be from the nature of the music, the setting, the costumes and the attitude towards life (drama or comedy?) In this sense, the overture becomes an opening scene, able to convey meaning through the ironic juxtaposition of natural movement and music as one can see from the classic opening to Guys and Dolls in which an entire world is created in the first two minutes of the musical, preparing the audience for what is to come:



    Guys and Dolls Overture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC8EmLDDrUY

    Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, the follow-up to their first hit, Oklahoma!, begins with a masterful musical piece unconnected to the actual score, an orchestral prelude that tells us in a ballet/dumb show the initial meeting between an dissolute carnival barker and a naïve factory girl in a small New England Town that leads to both sexual ecstasy and tragedy:



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUVqEwsXnZ0

    In Once More With Feeling, we hear a full orchestra play variations on Buffy’s song “Something to Sing About” as the Summers household crackles with energy through movement and the contractual opening credits appear. But it is not so much the movement of the actors as the direction that creates a musical effect, the changes in musical tempo matching the camera movement. Unlike other songs, the characters seem unaware that an orchestra is playing – or are they? We haven’t yet been shown the parameters of the spell or how it works – but we can clearly see that various people are engaged in musical performance while others are left unaffected.



    As Willow grabs her jacket to enter the bathroom, we see Tara making the bed – their shared bed – and finding Lethe’s Bramble underneath her pillow. She looks perturbed for a second, then decides to accept it as some kind of romantic gesture by Willow. And here we come upon a new dynamic that separates Once More With Feeling from the classic musical in a large way – the sense that we are in the middle of a much larger story.



    An understanding of Lethe’s Bramble under the pillow depends upon prior knowledge of the audience of Tara and Willow’s relationship – and Whedon deftly combines the demands of an on-going serial show with a musical. Does Once More With Feeling stand on its own? Yes and No – from a musical standpoint, one can admire the way in which it plays with conventions. But as someone who watched this episode when it originally premiered, I can verify that it was confusing and sometimes inexplicable to a new viewer.

    But Whedon’s determination to write Once More With Feeling as musical theater rather than pop songs resulted in songs that not only commented on the characters, but forwarded the plot and themes. The very way in which musicals are constructed requires songs that can rarely be removed from the plot and work on their own as opposed to the “breakaway pop hit” that Anya pines for.

    Knowing the plot, are we to assume that Tara is still under Willow’s spell even now? Her actions are somewhat domestic and dreamy – the impression on the viewer is that Tara and Willow didn’t exactly sleep all night – and Tara’s romantic inclinations even now are still the lingering effect of Willow’s spell. But it could also the general sense of contentment that the musical spell casts – Dawn also seems particularly perky, knocking with a light touch on the bathroom door and almost swaying down the hallway in a little dance.



    The important take-away here is that clock-clutching Buffy does not fit into the time scheme of Willow, Tara or Dawn – or anyone else in Sunnydale for that matter. She has returned from a place in which she feels there was no passage of time, no sense of mortality or impending doom – just contentment and a feeling of completion. And now, time simply drags onward without a sense of release – and this is a very clever way of addressing the formalism of music and how it relates to time.

    Unlike dramatic time, musical time does not work in terms of cause and effect, but in terms of thematic patterns and lyrical repetition. This “break” in the drama is what causes most of the negative reaction to musical theater as certain audiences resent the time shift – but the move from speech to song lies at the heart of how American musical theater works as we shall see.



    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.

    And as we move from the Summers house to the Magic Box later that day, we find the gang doing research under Giles’ direction. The idea of research is ironic because the social roles the characters are expected to fill are already known in advance. Even the absence of Spike is expected since it’s still daytime – although it’s likely that in reality, Spike is too embarrassed to show because he might start singing. So everyone plays their expected parts – including Xander who typically skips out on homework to read Anya’s magazine.



    Preparing for his upcoming marriage – and trying to please Anya – Xander thumbs through a glossy magazine called Tomorrow’s Bride that could have come straight from a musical comedy of the 1950s – glamor, girls, glitter! And this fits into the idea of acting out a role – ceremonies like marriage and funerals are often highly controlled displays that are directed and choreographed down to the last flower petal. Like the mock newspaper that appears later in the episode, Once More With Feeling shows us a world in which people need constant guidance as to how to think and behave and act.

    As the refrain of “Under Your Spell” is played by the hidden orchestra, we close up on the retro cover to see a shot of a beautiful woman in bridal headdress flanked by Cosmopolitan-type stories promoted on the cover: “No Regrets – Chose the Gown You’ll Love Forever” and “How to Have a Champagne Wedding on a Beer and Nuts Budget,” “Personal Style – Special Touches for an Elegant Occasion” and “Planning Details – All You Need to Know” and “A Welcome Reception” and “Explore the Caribbean” on the back cover with two lovers kissing in front of a sunset that is obviously meant to represent the honeymoon to come the day after Tomorrow’s Bride.



    So we see that Xander is trying his hardest to help Anya to have her dream wedding – sublimating any fears that he may have deep within. As he reacts in a comically broad manner to something in the magazine that catches his eye – or perhaps something that he feels will catch Anya’s eye – Anya shakes her head in disapproval and he turns back to the magazine. Is this reaction part of the musical spell – telegraphing emotion to the back row – or is it merely Xander parodying his reaction? It doesn’t matter to Anya – she turns from Xander’s antics to greet a paying customer, her attention divided between her upcoming wedding and her profitable business.



    The music of “Under Your Spell” continues to play as the camera moves to another couple – Dawn and Giles. Dawn is standing and perusing a book that Giles obviously feels she is too young to read. Like Buffy, Giles and the Scoobies seem to believe that Dawn is too young and too foolish to be given any useful knowledge besides keeping well away from vampires. After the events of All the Way, Giles and Buffy seem even less willing to acknowledge that Buffy and her friends were already involved in life and death adventures at her age. As Buffy has now designated Dawn to Giles’ protection at the end of All the Way, he heavy-handedly tries to push her away from any mischief.



    This also shows that in a place like the Magic Box, Giles as parental figure is firmly in control until his departure – and it’s not only Dawn who is treated like a child because she cannot be trusted to make decisions for herself, but Buffy as well. Giles has been concerned about Buffy for some time now – he notices her withdrawal from the world that echoes her catatonic state in Spiral and The Weight of the World and fears that her depressive spiral will eventually make her incapable of standing on her own. As her Watcher, Giles is a specialist in teaching the Slayer how to perform – but as a father figure, he is all at sea.

    We then see Tara and Willow researching in a book – Willow is pointing at a book and Tara is writing something down in her notebook. They are blissfully happy as in the first scene – which is no wonder considering Willow has knowingly enchanted Tara. Unlike Xander and Anya, the Willow/Tara relationship is marked by smiles of approval and romantic glances – this contrast is a foreshadowing of the difference in their numbers. Anya and Xander share a duet whereas Willow and Tara’s love song is one-sided.



    The camera finally rests upon Buffy, who has an open book in front of her, but obviously is more interested in sketching in the notebook she holds open on her lap.



    In all four cases, we see information being imparted in various ways – Xander trying to interest Anya in his reading material, Giles depriving Dawn of her book, Willow eagerly showing a happy Tara her finding and finally, Buffy ignoring the information in her book in favor of her personal sketch that apparently only means something to her. And this is obviously noticed by Giles, who decides that what is needed is a reinforcement of Buffy’s Slayer identity – a bit of training, a bit of patrolling – anything to pull her out of her own personal identity crisis and back to her Slaying duties.



    And a disinterested Buffy heads to the training room, throwing off her jacket in expectation of more redundant training that simply wastes time until it’s time to patrol – and the original shooting script calls for another clock – this time on the wall measuring the passage of time – now 4:30 in the afternoon.



    And the episode finally begins in earnest as the Overture modulates into the key of F Major and we finally get the first song, “Going Through the Motions” – a moment the audience has been waiting for.

    But there’s one more thing to keep in mind when looking at the premise of Once More With Feeling that complicates the idea of performance.

    Outside of musical theater, songs are generally assumed to be more “honest” in terms of revealing a person’s character and belief system – the songs we hum and listen to as personal expressions of self are viewed as true windows to the soul of the character. 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.



    Since Whedon is well-versed in musical theater enough to understand this, we have to look at “Going Through the Motions” from two different perspectives – what Buffy believes she feels – and the truth that lies beneath the performance.
    Last edited by American Aurora; 08-09-17 at 04:11 PM.

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    Part Five – It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing: The 20th Century Success of the Integrated Musical

    The first five minutes of a musical (after an overture) are the most crucial moments of the show – they establish the parameters of what the audience should expect – the setting, the theme, the musical language, the style of performance – and most importantly, the tone. Whether a light, breezy comedy or a trenchant rock opera, if the audience does not grasp the tone from the start – the show will most likely flounder on a sea of audience indifference.

    And Whedon already had in mind what he wanted to do for the opening number of Once More With Feeling:

    WHEDON: Very much in the Disney tradition, what Jeffrey Katzenberg would call an 'I want' song. Ariel's “Part of Your World”, “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast: the song where the heroine tells you exactly what it is she's missing in her life. Which in Buffy's case is her life: she just doesn't feel connected.


    Whedon’s time at the Disney studios no doubt gave him a grounding in musical theater writing – but he is mistaken here regarding Katzenberg and Disney. The ‘I Am” or ‘I Want’ song is a long-standing convention in musical theater – since the days of operetta, really – but the actual term was coined by conductor/composer Lehman Engel, who came up with a set of informal “rules” for aspiring musical theater creatives in his famous BMI (Broadcast Music International) Musical Theater Workshops in NY, LA and Toronto in the 1960s – later emulated by the better funded ASCAP/Disney Workshop – also in NY and LA. For both training grounds, the guidelines served one purpose – to teach composers, lyricists and librettists how to fashion the integrated musical – a perfect unity of plot, character and theme.

    All of this was a natural outgrowth of the aesthetic desire by philosophers and theater practitioners to emulate the unity of Greek Drama – and it was Aristotle’s Poetics that dictated the idea of “rules” for drama that influenced most playwriting from the 16th century onward. Aristotle wrote of the six elements of drama – plot, theme, language, music and spectacle – ranking them in order of importance and dictating the precepts necessary to create a proper tragedy. In later centuries, these recommendations became ridiculously inflexible rules for the writing of plays that persists up to the present day. The Renaissance Florentines who believed that they were returning to the Greek tragic style with the new “opera” also instituted a series of dramatic rules called “The Neoclassical Ideals” that pretty much destroyed any entertaining theater for a few centuries.



    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.



    The move away from classicism in the early 18th century and towards romanticism resulted not only in an embrace of the once reviled Shakespeare (which turned into a cult that still persists today) but in tragedies that featured the emerging middle-class as protagonists. The “domestic tragedy” still relied on stock situations, but new forms such as the ballad opera, the circus, the variety show and the melodrama broke away from the classical rules of drama to embrace popular forms of entertainment like music hall and comic opera. Most importantly, the new dramatists from Germany embraced the Sturm und Drang movement which rejected all rules in favor of subjective, proto-psychological plays in which characters soliloquized and did decidedly immoral acts, exploding ideas of genre into the grotesque and the surreal.



    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. Goethe in Germany and David Garrick in England were the first to institute true rehearsals, hide stage lighting, expecting their companies to act as a unified ensemble. This eventually led in the 19th century to the “ideal” drama – the well-made play that retained the basic elements of Aristotle’s [I]Poetics[/} and neoclassical drama – in which all features of the play fit perfectly together. The goal of the playwright was to keep the audience interested in one dramatic peak after another – plots were often contrived, but contained true cause-and-effect development. Many of the playwrights of the time also became librettists of major operas – including Aida and Tosca.

    Most plots were centered on a “secret” only known to the audience but kept from the majority of the characters. The opening was exposition-laden to foreshadow the main action and generally started late in the action. Much like television shows today, each act built to a dramatic moment or reversal of fortune that would bring the audience back after the curtain. Most of the conflict lay in mistaken identity through the revelation of lost letters and hidden contracts concealed by various family members – even to the point of naming the plays after the instigator of the drama – A Glass of Water or A Scrap of Paper. All well-made plays ended with an “obligatory scene” in which characters meet in a major head-to-head battle and ended in the moral triumph of the hero – in addition to tying up all remaining loose ends of the plot.



    Masters of the well-made play like Eugene Scribe and Victorien Sardou were incredibly popular across Europe and in England – and influenced the first productions of the “realist” Ibsen – a Doll’s House also relies upon the dramatic device of a letter. Shaw mocked the clichés of the well-made play as Sardoodledom – but despite a greater emphasis on character and social problems, his own plays showed the same kind of structural methods as Sardou.

    Richard Wagner, one of Shaw’s favorites, also focused on the unities of Greek drama extensively in his His longest work, Der Ring des Nibelungen,, was an attempt to harmonize all elements of the theater, including the area outside of the proscenium arch. He forbade musicians to tune in the orchestra pit, allowed no applause or curtain calls, side boxes or center aisle. Wagner wanted total control over every single aspect of the show to achieve a "gesamtkunstwerk," or "master art work" in which integration was the primary goal – neither music or lyrics or libretto or staging should take precedence over one another, but work together in perfect balance.



    Wagner wrote: “History gave me a model also for that ideal relation of the theater to the public which I had in mind. I found it in the drama of Ancient Athens.”

    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.



    Even if conflicting elements were present, they should be woven into a tapestry of integration by the auteur artist – unity of structure was the defining criteria of “great” art. Musicals – like comics – were dismissed as popular entertainment with jokes, dismissive songs, flimsy books, one-dimensional characters and cheap sentiment. But through the new theory of integration, composers and lyricists hoped to elevate the musical by emulating their operatic betters. In later times, when musicals fell even further into disrepute and ridicule, quasi-operatic shows like Les Miserables tried for a sung-through approach – much like 19th century Opera – in order to avoid the absurdity of breaking into song.

    The history of musical theater is generally viewed as a progressive movement towards this goal starting with Kern, Bolton and Wodehouse’s Princess Theater musicals in the 1910s and 20s. Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat was another milestone in terms of book - unhappy and touching upon social issues. Songs were integrated into the book - dialogue scenes moved back and forth. The musical comedies of the first half of the 20th century were viewed as embarrassments with their creaky plots, cardboard characters and ridiculous plotting.

    Hammerstein fought against this preconceived notion of the musical as a bunch of disparate elements thrown together from different popular forms like vaudeville, minstrelsy and operetta – the songs in a musical should be used in a different way – a furtherance of the book rather than an aside. And the massive success of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in 1943 motivated other creators to imitate the new “integrated” musical – from Hollywood to Broadway, the idea of the well-made, integrated musical caught fire – with songs that forwarded the plot, examined character and explored theme.



    Lehman Engel – a composer/conductor who had scored avant-garde work for Martha Graham, Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Lee Strasberg and was a musical advisor for the Federal theater and Columbia Pictures, conducted a musical theater workshop under the aegis of music publisher/distributor Broadcast Music, Inc. This workshop expanded into a series of classes in which the “rules” of the well-made musical were promoted and taught to composers, lyricists, librettists and directors. Songs were grouped into various categories for easy reference – ballads, among the most influential were:

    The Opening/Establishing Number – A song that sets the tone for the rest of the show

    The “I Want” or “I Am” song – A character reveals an inner need that drives the plot

    The Narrative Song – A song that moves the plot along while relaying important information.

    The Comedy Song – A song that primarily exists to make the audience laugh – variants are the Short-Joke Song and the Long-Joke Song

    The Short-Joke Song – a Comedy Song that leads towards a single punchline.

    The Long-Joke Song – a Comedy Song featuring a number of jokes based around a central subject – tends to be a List Song.

    The List Song – a Comedy Song that uses long lists of various items to spin a central idea (and refrain).

    The Charm Song – A song that embodies a carefree and optimistic attitude towards life. In the Charm Song, lyrics and music are of equal importance, but not funny enough to be a genuine comedy song or romantic enough to be a love ballad.

    The Rhythm Song – A song reliant upon fast tempos and movement – carried by a regular beat – often dance or patter heavy.

    The Dream Ballet – A ballad that turns into an instrumental dance piece.

    The Love Ballad – A ballad, either slow or fast, solo or duet, that reveals romantic feelings.

    The Soliloquy – A solo number in which the character makes a dramatic choice or comes to a conclusion. It can often take place within or at the end of a Musical Scene.

    The Character Ballad – A comic or dramatic song in which the drama comes from exploration of character rather than plot – jokes are character-based rather than one-liners.

    The Prop Song – A song that is “performed” as a song within the context of the plot

    The Musical Scene – A musical set-piece in which the scene shifts back and forth between dialogue and lyric (sung) verse for one or more characters. It may include a major song within the scene – and is held together by a feeling of balance. Includes speech, recitative, song and incidental music.

    The Eleven O’Clock Number – A showstopping song that happens towards the end of a musical (when musicals started at 8:30, this number would occur around 11:00) – it can either feature the protagonist or a supporting character. If sung by the lead, it marks an important climax in the action – if sung by a supporting character, it serves to “wake” the audience up before the grand finale.

    The Closing Number – The finale of the show that often brings the audience to its feet as the curtain descends. Often a reprise of an earlier song or a musical scene that incorporates several melodies from the show.
    Looking at Once More With Feeling through the lens of the BMI Workshop, one could break down the major numbers thus:

    “Going Through the Motions” – Opening Number and “I Want” Song

    “I’ve Got a Theory/Bunnies/If We’re Together” – Comic Musical Scene

    “Under Your Spell” - Love Ballad

    “I’ll Never Tell” - Comedy Charm Song and Dance

    “Rest in Peace” - Rhythmic Character Ballad

    “Dawn’s Lament/Ballet” - Dream Ballet

    “What You Feel” - Rhythmic Charm Song and Dance

    “Standing” - Dramatic Ballad

    “Walk Through the Fire” - Production Number and Musical Scene

    “Something to Sing About” - Dramatic Soliloquy and Eleven O’Clock Number

    “Where Do We Go From Here” - Dramatic Choral Ballad

    “Coda” – Closing Number
    In thinking about a musical version of Buffy, Whedon favored the Rodgers and Hammerstein integrated musical approach to tell the story. This was not only from his long years of studying musicals but also from his experience in working for Disney – by the mid-90s, Disney was teaching the basics of musical theater structure based on the precepts of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken musicals – which for the most part stemmed from the teachings of Lehman Engel and the BMI musical theater workshop. And so Once More With Feeling doesn’t start with a huge ensemble number to impress the audience with mindless spectacle, but with one of the most successful structural devices of the integrated musical – the “I Want” song.



    In an “I Want” song, the character (generally the protagonist) reveals to an audience their professed motivation for taking action. The goal of the protagonist and what they desire (even if it’s to be left alone) – is the catalyst for the narrative - as is the antagonist (whether external or internal) that stops them from fulfilling that desire. Something has to happen – an event, an awakening, a meeting – that awakens that desire in order for the character to start the journey. The desire may already be evident – but there must be an impetus in order to set the protagonist in motion.

    And an ‘I Want’ song almost always expresses that need in the first ten or fifteen minutes of the musical. The ‘I Want” song also often takes place in a setting that literally represents the barrier that the protagonist sees between themselves and their desire.

    Dorothy Gale in Arlen and Harburg’s The Wizard of Oz sings “Over the Rainbow” – viewing the grey skies of Kansas as a kind of prison:



    “Over the Rainbow”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuzTnbSUGW0

    We see characters trapped by their social situation – poverty and intolerance leads them to dream of a better life where money is no object – Curly’s “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Eliza Doolittle’s “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?” in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady and Tevye’s “If I Were a Rich Man” in Bock and Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof all fantasize about an alter-ego who would lack for nothing.



    “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7obrjaPyS0
    “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5fW7sERw7I
    “If I Were a Rich Man”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBHZFYpQ6nc

    The ex-gang member Tony in West Side Story sings the classic Sondheim/Bernstein song “Something’s Coming” while flanked by New York City brick walls and fire escapes that construct a kind of prison about him:



    “Something’s Coming”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu7sRdRrm_w

    And one of Joss Whedon’s favorite musicals, Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin, features an heir to the throne who is aimless and uncertain about life, longing to find his “Corner of the Sky” as he walks around the stage, surrounded by the cast-as-boundary:



    “Corner of the Sky”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX6tBAyy6IU

    The tradition of the “I Want” song continues even into present day musicals. In Little Shop of Horrors, an early work from Ashman and Menken, creators of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, the protagonists find themselves trapped in “Skid Row” – which literally holds them behind bars and gates:



    “Skid Row”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0kSBiu1IGk

    And in the film Hairspray, written by Wittman and Shaiman and direction by Once More With Feeling’s choreographer Adam Shankman, the main protagonist dances through the streets of Baltimore, wishing she could be the winner of a televised dance competition despite her unconventional appearance in “Good Morning Baltimore”:



    “Good Morning Baltimore”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLaM1d383eg

    The ‘I Want’ song, overused in a number of Disney films, soon became such a parody of itself that it was parodied in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut when a closeted Satan dreams of a place where he can be himself as he tortures victims in Hell in “Up There”:



    “Up There”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jo4XXm8OUP4

    So the formalism of Buffy’s opening number was already somewhat of a cliché by the time Once More With Feeling premiered. But as with every cliché, there is truth – the dramatic structure of an “I want” song still works despite overuse. What’s distinctive is the decision to have a song open the musical episode – to watch a character sing before we even know about the spell cast on Sunnydale that forces people to break into song.

    Generally, a very special musical episode would either inform the audience from the very beginning that the spell had been cast, explaining the sudden shift to a musical style – or it would ruthlessly parody the very idea of singing a musical song to mock the entire idea of a musical. In fact, previous television musical episodes eased into the first “musical” song through expository dialogue and action, carefully explaining why this was happening as it was happening.

    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.



    The traditional cliché of a musical between the wars was to open with a huge production number, dancers and singers directly addressing the audience. This enabled late-comers to slink into the theater to take their seats without missing any of the plot, but also proclaimed (in the first few minutes) that this show was a MUSICAL! With singing and dancing! And if the song was any good, it was an ENTERTAINING MUSICAL! Movie musicals often began with a backstager – lots of chorus boys and girls auditioning for an upcoming show in the midst of The Great Depression.

    Of course, a grinning chorus seemingly desperate to give the audience a good time is also a cliché of the musical genre – and in later decades, was shunned as unbearably hackneyed and pedestrian. The lyrics and music to the opening song also tended to be undistinguished, to put it kindly, since it was assumed that half the audience were still settling into their seats and unable to follow any kind of exposition or plot twist.



    In the integrated musical, however, any opening number containing a chorus had to be something more elaborate – not a frivolous song to cover latecomers – but in the spirit of the “first five minutes” setting up the rest of the show, it had to convey the tone of the musical and its theme. Some musicals began with elaborate opening numbers like “New York, New York” From On The Town, “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof and “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line – musical scenes that involve the entire cast and set up the inciting incident for the plot to take flight.

    And then there was Rodgers and Hammerstein, who took a page from Grand Opera and started many shows with a solo number. Famously, Oklahoma! begins with a naturalistic tableaux – a woman churning butter in front of a farmhouse – except for a bit of underscoring, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” is the first thing we hear in Oklahoma! And the song is not sung by the woman on-stage, but off-stage by the male lead, Curly, who then enters the scene partway through the song. Their later shows also capitalized upon this idea of starting small – like The King and I, in which Anna sings a song to comfort her son; and The Sound of Music, in which Maria runs away from the convent to commune with nature and South Pacific, which started with two small children singing while at play.



    So Whedon had a choice – should he start with the Scoobies or Sunnydale residents singing a big, complicated musical scene? Or should he start small? Considering Whedon’s limited musical abilities, it’s not surprising that Whedon chose to begin Once More With Feeling with the later. But this actually turns out to be a great choice. Starting right away with an “I Want” song, he mitigates the shock of hearing various cast members of Buffy sing by slowly dragging out our introduction to their musical selves.

    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.

    In Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Snow White’s ‘I Want’ song “I’m Wishing” finds her looking into a deep well for a way out of her situation that resembles Buffy’s sketch – for ‘I Want’ songs often occur in places where the possibilities of another self are only seen in one’s reflection or through a space that reflects the interior prison of the person singing. Dreams of open spaces and large homes and other lives are common place – the worst thing that can happen is to be stagnant and trapped in one spot through social circumstance.



    “I’m Wishing”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpInkHToPBs

    And we see in the song that directly influenced Whedon – Ashman and Mencken’s “Part of That World” from The Little Mermaid – the same kind of circular prison in which the character finds themselves trapped, longing to get out.



    “Part of That World”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXKlJuO07eM

    If we look at the moment that leads directly into Buffy’s song, we see her creating a sketch of a small space within a large black area – this resembles the claustrophobic space in which she was resurrected (her own coffin) in addition to representing the small part of Buffy that is left – the small space in the eye of a hurricane.



    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?



    And this unique take on the “I Want” song is what gives the song an ironic lift – what saves it from total camp. And it sets the tone for the entire episode. No matter how ludicrous the action during the song, Buffy’s cynicism distances the audience from the lyric. Singing an “I Want” song isn’t much different from killing vampires– everything is absurd and wrong in this Hellish world – none of it matters anyway. Buffy’s already rolling her eyes at the futility of life – why would she care that she’s started singing musical theater songs?

    “Going Through the Motions”

    We first see a cemetery at night, establishing the setting – and the camera suddenly swings left to find Buffy walking through the graveyard, first looking left and then right for a vamp or two as a literal orchestral “vamp” plays – a few bars of repeated musical phrasing – a classic intro for a musical theater song. “Vamp till ready” was a typical sheet music phrase – a vamp gives the singer a moment to prepare before launching into the song.

    There’s no attempt at making the scene extraordinary in terms of costumes – Buffy is wearing typical Slayer garb – blue jeans, a lavender-grey blouse over a white undershirt, a black leather jacket, and a small clip in her pinned-up hair. The graveyard looks a bit more cleaned up – perhaps a bit more lighting – Buffy’s necklace has a larger, more sparkly cross than usual – but the difference is primarily in the direction. As Buffy moves towards the camera, the shadows of both trees and tombstones are cast on Buffy’s face as she starts her song – reminders of the living and the dead, death and rebirth.



    One of the standard directorial truths of any musical song is that the director must have something to stage – a character can’t just plant their feet and sing. So while Buffy warbles about her afterlife, she watches for anything amiss – and the disparity between the demons attacking her in the graveyard and Buffy’s musical musings is what gives the scene an entertaining kick.

    Whedon immediately shows that he understands how lyrics work – he doesn’t reach for overly-poetic effects or pack too much information in one line. The lyrics are breezy, witty and colloquial – they avoid flowery metaphors and overripe imagery. There are some major issues – uneven rhyme schemes, mis-stressed words, self-consciousness, musical emphasis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. But for the purposes of a special musical episode, the songs work very well. Unlike poetry, which supplies its own music and tempo, Whedon’s lyrics are plain, understated and work only in a musical setting – they NEED the music to mean something. And that’s the heart of lyric writing.

    BUFFY:
    EVERY SINGLE NIGHT
    THE SAME ARRANGEMENT
    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.



    BUFFY:
    I GO OUT AND
    FIGHT THE FIGHT
    The rhyme scheme starts to assert itself here – “night” and “fight”– as Buffy turns her head while walking towards the camera, looking for action. And we get a sense of where the stanza is going with its 5/4 pattern (five stresses in the first line, four stresses in the second line) in trochaic verse – stressed syllable, unstressed syllable – “Ev’ry sing-le night the same a-rrange-ment” – as opposed to the stately thoughtfulness of iambic verse (unstressed-stressed as in “To be or not to be” by Shakespeare.) Trochaic meter is traditionally associated with speed and dynamism. The clipped sixteenth notes of Buffy’s opening words also mirror her impatience – ironically, she’s itching for a fight in her song even as she expresses ennui.

    The biggest problem with the line is the mis-stressing of “out” – lyrics should match the natural cadence of speech and people rarely say “Get OUT” unless they’re referring to someone else – as Dawn often does. But if Buffy leaves the house to fight vampires, generally, she’s going to “GET out” of the house– although it’s possible that Whedon intentionally stressed “out” – making the line rather slangy and odd. In modern pop lyrics, this isn’t such a big deal – but in musical theater where lines act as dialogue with subtext, it can lead to slight confusion as to intention. A listener may even hear another word altogether that fits better with the stressed beat – this happens a lot in pop music where common phrases are twisted to fit the stress pattern.

    One assumes that “fight the fight” is a paraphrase of “fight the good fight” – shortened to fit the meter. The phrase originally comes from the New Testament and was wildly popular in the 19th century. There are at least two mentions:

    “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 6:12
    And the second from what was believed to be Paul’s last letter before his martyrdom:

    “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
    So the original meaning of the phrase was not about an actual fight, but a spiritual battle. And the parallel of Paul’s incipient martyrdom and Buffy’s sacrifice on the tower work well within the context of the lyric whether Whedon was aware of it or not. Buffy felt that her work was done – that she had kept the faith by saving Dawn and the world. And after her eternal reward, she has been pulled out of a place of eternal rest and back into the battle once again. So, one could point out that Buffy dropping “good” out of the phrase says a lot about her cynical moral state at the moment.



    BUFFY:
    STILL I ALWAYS FEEL
    THIS STRANGE ESTRANGEMENT
    Buffy’s sense of estrangement works on several levels. She emotionally distances herself from friends and family – she feels alienated from society as a whole – and Buffy doesn’t even recognize herself anymore. And what’s worse, she realizes it. Her internal rhyme “strange-estrangement” punches the unreal nature of her feelings of disassociation from herself. This bizarre sense of acting as an outside observer makes Buffy both performer and viewer – which is only emphasized by the “performance” of song. And the comic angle to the lyric comes when a vampire is finally spotted.

    “Still” is the typical filler loaded at the front end of a lyric – alongside “so,” “and,” “but,” “just,” “really,” “very,” “well,” “oh,” “I mean,” “finally,” “at last,” and “always” – which appears soon after. Adding “still” and “always” to the central point of Buffy’s line – I feel this strange estrangement – doesn’t add much except to keep the meter regular. Whedon could have written something smoother like “Why is it I feel this strange estrangement?” which is not only much easier to sing, but would also correctly place the emphasis on the last part of the phrase. “Still I always feel” is a tough phrase to grasp within the context of the fast-moving melody line.

    Filler words aren’t always a bad thing in lyrics – sometimes they’re used when the singer is reaching for words or at a loss to voice the next thought. And a case could be made for the two words – “Still” is used as a conjunctive adverb here to connect with the previous line – a colloquialism that sounds in character, an example of Buffy’s off-the-wall valley-girl speak. It also has a slight alliterative consonance with “strange” and “e-strange-ment – making it an initial rhyme of consonants. And the assonance of “same-arrange-always-strange” is continued here as well.



    BUFFY:
    NOTHING HERE IS REAL
    What’s funny is Buffy complaining that “nothing here is real” as a male vampire clad in black pants and Technicolor green plaid (!!!) suddenly darts out from behind a tombstone. And she’s not referring to the vampire.



    It’s another theatrical allusion where Buffy sees the whole world as a show – everyone is play-acting and everything feels like a fake performance. Which is only intensified by the fact that she’s singing. We get our next end rhyme scheme – “feel-real” with these quick sixteenth notes that end with a pressed eighth note alliteration of “real-right” – and finally complete the triple end rhyme of “night-fight-right”:

    BUFFY:
    NOTHING HERE IS RIGHT
    And with the word “right” – Buffy punches the vampire to punctuate the beat. The repeated phrase “Nothing here is – “also verbally punches the frustration that Buffy feels. Once again, the comic irony derives from Buffy’s lament that nothing here is right – as she sings a musical theater song while battling a vampire. And that’s NOT what she’s talking about.



    The vamp doesn’t say anything as Buffy continues to sing – he doesn’t even notice or care that she’s singing – he simply charges at her with fangs agape as new-born vampires generally do in BTVS, raising his hand in attack formation.

    BUFFY:
    I'VE BEEN MAKING SHOWS
    And yet another reference to theatrical performance. One assumes “making shows” is an abbreviated version of “make a show of” – doing something in a very obvious manner. It implies an audience watching – an ostentatious gesture that will be witnessed by everyone to convey a certain impression. Buffy has been conspicuously patrolling and fulfilling her Slayer duties so that no one will suspect anything is wrong.

    BUFFY:
    OF TRADING BLOWS
    Buffy grabs the vamp by the wrist and flips him around – the vamp bounces to his feet again only to have Buffy smack him across the face on the rhyming phrase “trading blows“.



    BUFFY:
    JUST HOPING NO ONE KNOWS
    Not a quitter, the vamp regains his balance only to be smacked again by the foot of a fast-spinning Buffy who comically continues to sing in lieu of her usual witty quips.



    Finally an annoyed Buffy (the vamp’s stealing her focus in more ways than one) grabs the back of the vamp’s nifty green plaid shirt and throws him behind her as she finally reaches the main refrain of the song:

    BUFFY:
    THAT I'VE BEEN
    GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS


    And we get a nice couple of slant rhymes to add to the dominant rhyme scheme: “shows-blows-hoping-no-knows-go-mo-tions” as a cascade of comic metaphors ensue. The first two refer once again to life as show biz – “going through the motions” – “walking through the part” – all signs that Buffy is suffering from severe disassociation disorder since returning from the dead and has become both performer and audience, detached from herself.

    And Whedon manages to convey to the audience exactly how that feels through musical performance – by the time the song has ended, the viewer is as detached from the show’s initial premise as Buffy. No doubt there was a bit of trepidation that Sarah Michelle Gellar was unable to pull off a musical theater number, but she acquits herself quite well (with a little sweetener here and there in the studio) and the lip-syncing works in tandem with the added sound effects of punches, falls and vampire dustings that fall regularly on the beat.



    WALKING THROUGH THE PART
    As Buffy moves forward, continuing to sing, the vamp gets up and slowly moves behind her. Buffy pulls her stake out of her coat in preparation.



    BUFFY:
    NOTHING SEEMS TO
    PENETRATE MY HEART




    Buffy comically stakes the vampire in the heart on the word “penetrate” and the sound effect of vamp dust falls on the final held note of the refrain. And this theme of death at the resolution of each refrain continues – a different vampire or demon is taken out by Buffy to mark the end of all three A sections.



    And as we swing into the next musical section, we realize that it’s a musical repeat of the first. We’re listening to an AABA song – the classic structure of most American popular songs:

    The first “A” section sets up the melody, rhyme structure and idea behind the song
    The second “A” section repeats the melody and rhythmic structure and advances the song
    The “B” section is a contrasting melody and rhyme scheme (also known as a “bridge,” “break” or “release”)
    The final “A” section repeats the first two “A” sections – but with a variant ending.
    The first two “A” sections build up tension and mood relieved by the “B” section’s release – this creates a dramatic turning point in the song that resolves in the final “A” section.

    So a breakdown of the metrical patter and rhyme scheme of “Going Through the Motions” would look something like this – the first two A sections placed side by side and the rhymes (true and slant) represented by colors:

    Going Through the Motions - AABA form

    A SECTION #1******************A SECTION #2
    EVERY SINGLE NIGHT************I WAS ALWAYS BRAVE
    THE SAME ARRANGEMENT********AND KIND OF RIGHTEOUS

    I GO OUT AND FIGHT THE FIGHT***NOW I FIND I’M WAVERING

    STILL I ALWAYS FEEL************CRAWL OUT OF YOUR GRAVE
    THIS STRANGE ESTRANGEMENT***YOU FIND THE FIGHT JUST

    NOTHING HERE IS REAL**********DOESN’T MEAN A THING
    NOTHING HERE IS RIGHT*********SHE AIN’T GOT THAT SWING
    ******************************(THANKS FOR NOTICING!)

    I'VE BEEN MAKING SHOWS********SHE DOES PRETTY WELL
    OF TRADING BLOWS*************WITH FIENDS FROM HELL
    JUST HOPING NO ONE KNOWS*****BUT LATELY WE CAN TELL
    THAT I'VE BEEN*****************THAT SHE’S JUST

    REFRAIN
    GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS**GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS
    WALKING THROUGH THE PART*****FAKING IT SOMEHOW
    NOTHING SEEMS TO**************SHE’S NOT EVEN
    PENETRATE MY HEART************HALF THE GIRL SHE - OW!

    B SECTION
    WILL I STAY THIS WAY FOREVER
    SLEEPWALK THROUGH MY LIFE'S ENDEAVOR
    HOW CAN I REPAY – ? WHATEVER!
    I DON'T WANT TO BE


    A SECTION #3 - CODA
    REFRAIN
    GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS
    LOSING ALL MY DRIVE
    I CAN'T EVEN

    CODA
    SEE
    IF THIS IS REALLY
    ME
    AND I JUST WANT TO
    BE
    ALIVE!

    And we can now discern the rhyme scheme of the song despite Whedon being a bit inconsistent – well, sloppy – in the second A. The rhymes don’t match in each section – they’re not in the same place. Again, not as important for a pop song but a bit of a letdown in a musical theater lyric where rhyme gives us insight as to the intelligence and tenacity of character – the problem with establishing lyric patterns only to break them is that the song loses coherence. Although we may not think we remember the rhyme scheme, our ears remember it and things can sound ever so slightly “off” or clumsy.

    As Buffy walks through the dust, she shakes her head at her inability to care about anything.

    BUFFY:
    I WAS ALWAYS BRAVE
    AND KIND OF RIGHTEOUS


    The words “always” and “kind” are filler – “always” being a slant rhyme with “brave-wavering-grave” and “kind” rhyming with “find” later on – but both fit Buffy’s neither-here-nor-there attitude – she’s both full of herself and self-effacing. It’s interesting to note that Buffy is able to see herself clearly now that she’s watching her own actions as an observer.

    And she’s vaguely surprised to see a bunch of vampires in front of her – not because they’re unexpected, but because they’re aiding a goat demon by tying a man to a tree for what seems to be a ritual slaughter considering the sword the one of them is holding.



    The “goat demon” created by Joel Harlow was one of Whedon’s all-time favorite demon designs – as Whedon perused a series of sketches for the needed cemetery demon, he immediately chose a demon that represented the sacrificial ritual that he wanted to evoke. Sacrificing a goat was a common theme in ancient literature from Greek and Roman to Hindu mythology – it was one sure way to find passage to the underworld. There’s an ironic, funny twist in the notion that a goat is sacrificing a human – one assumes to achieve the same kind of passage to another place that has Buffy all tied in knots.



    BUFFY:
    NOW I FIND I'M WAVERING
    And here we have the first real faux pas of “Going Through the Motions” – Whedon is trying to rhyme a gerund on a stressed beat. Wa-ver-ING instead of WA-ver-ing. No-ti-CING instead of NO-ti-cing. There really is no speech that accounts for this. It is very sloppy lyric writing – the two words are basically overwhelmed by the music in consequence.

    BUFFY:
    CRAWL OUT OF YOUR GRAVE
    And as the vampire with a sword (in Technicolor Yellow!) races up to impale Buffy, she easily dodges him.



    Buffy is not only talking about the vampire, but herself. After dying, her vocation as the Slayer doesn’t seem to have any meaning. The lyric is a bit cramped and difficult to sing – the words “crawl” and “out” aren’t easy to sing and the phrase isn’t natural enough to grasp except with difficulty. It might have been better to add a gerund here as in “Crawling from your grave” to make the lyric more understandable.

    BUFFY:
    YOU FIND THIS FIGHT JUST
    And we have a clever feminine near rhyme here – “righteous” and “fight just” – certainly not a true rhyme, but in the spirit of Yip Harburg’s The Wizard of Oz crazy rhymes.

    Buffy backhands the vampire in Technicolor Yellow with a sword to the ground, turning to face the last vampire who wears no vibrant colors at all, disappointingly, but instead a black leather vest over a grey shirt.



    BUFFY:
    DOESN'T MEAN A THING
    Buffy punches Technicolor Yellow vamp towards the camera – and it’s then that the dynamic of the song changes. Until this moment, we have been following Buffy’s inner thoughts. Whatever the reasons behind the sudden urge to sing, it seems to have only affected Buffy herself up to this point.



    VAMP 1:
    SHE AIN'T GOT THAT SWING
    But now for the first time, a random vampire begins to sing. And not only does the vampire “join” her number and sing her melody line – but he TURNS TO THE CAMERA (where we assume the goat demon is standing) and makes a play-on-words reference to one of the most famous popular songs of the 20th Century, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing)":

    It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
    Doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah
    It don't mean a thing, all you got to do is sing
    Doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah
    It makes no difference
    If it's sweet or hot
    Just give that rhythm
    Everything you've got
    It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
    Doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah


    The Duke Ellington song, recorded in 1932, marks the beginning of the Swing Era – popularizing the term “swing.” Ellington himself said that “swing” was simply a Harlem slang word for rhythm – some say it was coined to describe the unique trumpet style of Louis Armstrong. And the idea behind the song was clear – without Armstrong’s intense emotional connection to the music that allowed him to fiercely improvise and make the song his own, one might as well be going through the motions.



    So we suddenly have another singer performing Buffy’s song – a surprise to the viewer since Whedon had the first vampire in the scene remain fully outside of Buffy’s song. And not only does this new vampire take Buffy’s song from her, but he insults her by implying that she’s not as capable as she used to be and slugs her back, sending her flying to the ground.



    And again, we have another moment of many in the episode in which a character lies flat on their back in a simulation of death. Buffy, Tara, Spike – and even when lying as a metaphor for sex, it is equated with a little death, even a resurrection or rebirth.

    Instead of springing up, Buffy simply lays on the ground without moving. Is it an effect of the spell? Is she literally prevented from getting up because a backup chorus number is about to happen and she’s not allowed to upstage them?

    Of course, it could all be in Buffy’s mind – we’re only seeing the vamps from her point of view. And there’s a hint of that when Buffy voices her appreciation that SOMEONE has finally noticed that she’s out of sorts.

    BUFFY:
    THANKS FOR NOTICING
    But she’s never seen these vamps before – surely any information about Buffy has to come from the fact that they’re involved in HER number rather than their own – as chorus, they’re simply additions to her drama. And this makes the spell problematic – how does it actually work? What are the conditions necessary for a musical number to happen? Are the demons encased in their own number simultaneously that Buffy doesn’t hear? Or is it a function of the spell that anyone at any moment can become a chorus member in another person’s production number?



    The comic highlight of the number comes when the goat demon and his two vampire henchmen dance into the frame, singing Buffy’s melody.

    Whedon: Crazy silly dancing from the vampires. Just silly enough to have fun with, but not so over the top that you completely lose yourself. The trick was to bring people into a musical and have them accept that they were one. And one of the ways that I did that was just to say with the color and the widescreen.
    Whedon makes certain that Buffy stays in the frame as she lies on the ground, creating a proscenium framing effect. With the sword stuck into the ground above her head like Excalibur, she lies on the ground like a dead thing as the “dead” come to life and dance behind her, facing an imaginary viewer/camera.

    And the characters ignore the obvious chance to skewer Buffy with their sword, choosing instead to do a song and dance. The black leather vamp in the middle is particularly hilarious, swiveling his hips like a Vegas performer as the Yellow-clad vampire and the goat demon flank him. We see for the first time a formalized choreography that almost seems like a homage to 80s videos – complete with ridiculous monster moves and splayed hands as if to claw the audience.



    And as in traditional musicals, the number becomes a version of a “Great Lady” number where random chorus members tell the audience all about a female star. In this sense, the chorus here acts as an omniscient narrator who is privy to secrets even the main characters don’t know. One of the functions of the musical spell seems to give those involved the ability to see things they otherwise couldn’t possibly understand.

    DEMON AND VAMPS:
    SHE DOES PRETTY WELL
    WITH FIENDS FROM HELL
    BUT LATELY WE CAN TELL
    How would they know this? Is there a running scoreboard somewhere of the Slayer’s averages that demons follow? Or is it, again, part of the nature of the spell. And do they retain this knowledge afterwards? Can Buffy even hear everything they sing throughout the song? Opening up the number to other characters also puts a spin on the ubiquitous “I Want Song” and the illusion of individual independence. Are they singing about what Buffy wants? Are her thoughts guiding their lyrics? Are they able to discern subtext? Do they agree with what Buffy is saying?



    The comic turnaround – even the vamps she dusts notice that she’s going through the motions – makes it that much more noteworthy that her friends don’t discern it when they meet up with her later. Wouldn’t the spell encourage them to see things from Buffy’s point of view? Or does the spell take the easiest possible route to creating a number and build on emotional plotlines already inherent in the narrative?

    So whose story is central to Once More With Feeling? Who is telling it? The Demons who die at Buffy's hand in the musical number – do they actually die? Or are they seeing things from a different perspective? Later on, we do see that Buffy hasn't heard a word of Giles' song – so obviously the spell can tune others out.



    Whatever the effect on outside chorus members, their triple rhymed stanza of “well-hell-tell” that leads into the refrain does give her the time to flip upwards and grab the sword. Time for some slaying – that guy’s been tied up a little too long.

    DEMON AND VAMPS:
    THAT SHE'S JUST
    GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS


    And the vamps looks upwards as Buffy approaches them – are they playing to the balcony?

    She goes after the “swing” vamp first – since he’s the first to notice that she’s out of sorts, he’s the first that has to go because he might divulge her secrets. And there’s a wonderfully comic effect as the goat demon follows the two vamps with a delayed harmonization of his own – complete with a big smile and arms outstretched in a “looking to the mountains” stance.



    DEMON AND VAMPS:
    FAKING IT SOMEHOW
    And the demons pick up on the “performance” theme of the number – referring to Buffy “making shows” as she stated earlier. But their metaphor is a lot more concrete and direct. As Buffy dusts one vampire off-screen (we hear the sound effect) and throws another aside to concentrate on goat-boy, the vamps continue to look upwards at an imaginary audience. Which makes it easy for Buffy to one-two-three and take out all of them.

    As Buffy walks away determinedly to free their captive, there is a delay in which the goat demon continues to sing to Buffy and the audience/camera until collapsing before he can finish his lyric – the next demon to die at the end of one of Buffy’s “A” sections.

    DEMON:
    SHE'S NOT EVEN HALF THE GIRL SHE –


    He stops smiling to looks downward to acknowledge that Buffy has killed him and falls backwards in an exclamation of pain that rhymes perfectly with “somehow”:

    DEMON:
    OW!


    This kind of interrupted lyrical rhyme is a big favorite with Sondheim, who uses it often for comic effect. It’s futile to try and complete the lyric – although many no doubt have. But it also points out a very important component of lyric writing – no one can really be certain of the end of a line until it’s sung. Some of the strongest lyrics are those in which the rhyme or the sense is not what the audience expects.

    And Whedon capitalizes upon this in the “B” section of the song – a series of sincere questions by Buffy are interrupted by someone else – and then surprisingly dismissed. We hear the melody line change to something slightly more steady as Buffy becomes more contemplative:

    BUFFY:
    WILL I STAY THIS WAY
    FOREVER?
    Buffy walks with purpose towards the tied up victim – but there’s no feeling of joy at his rescue. Her mention of the word “forever” is odd – for Buffy, death’s always around the corner.



    BUFFY:
    SLEEPWALK THROUGH MY LIFE'S
    ENDEAVOR?
    The “forever-endeavor” rhyme is a bit clumsy – who has ever said “my life’s endeavor” in quite that way? Buffy cuts the rope that holds the victim in place on the word “life” – a telling cut – and she barely glances at him, choosing to look straight ahead into the distance as if she is seeing many more nights of repetitious tedium.



    We see the handsome young victim still in frame as Buffy looks forward.

    Whedon: This particular gag, with the male model man, to say right up front, "This is a musical comedy, or at least a musical, and accept it." And this is very much in the Ashman Mencken style, I think. There's nobody better than those two, they were wonderful.
    He turns to reveal an open shirt with a great body. Her internal rhyme “stay-way” of the B Section is tripled with the victim’s “How can I repay - ?”

    HANDSOME YOUNG VICTIM MAN:
    HOW CAN I REPAY – ?


    And Buffy turns away with a hilariously dismissive line:

    BUFFY:
    WHATEVER.


    Her dreams of a “normal” boyfriend seem to have been left behind with Buffy on the tower – the betrayal of Ben in Season Five have turned her away from romance. This is a marked change from Buffy when we first meet her - in so many early episodes like Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, Lie to Me and Go Fish, Buffy often saved potential boyfriends - even if they did turn out to be jerks.



    At the beginning of Beer Bad, Buffy even fantastizes about saving Parker despite his total rejection of her after their one-night stand:



    But at this point in Season Six, she doesn’t feel that any living man could ever understand what she’s been through, anyway – and even her reunion with Angel turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment from her reaction in Flooded. Buffy throws the sword off-screen as she turns away – we hear a sound of metal clanking and then a thud as if the sword was spun and then fell on the ground.

    And Buffy turns the “I Want” song on its head by ending with a negative – what she DOESN’T want:

    BUFFY:
    I DON'T WANT TO
    BE–


    And Buffy makes a “staircase” exit – a common theatrical action – by walking up the stops of a raised dais between two memorials. With each stressed beat, Buffy climbs up a step to stand at the top of the makeshift “stage” during her repeated A Section refrain:

    BUFFY:
    GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS
    LOSING ALL MY DRIVE
    This direction points out the idea of repetitious movement while staying in the same place – which is a metaphor for the song that Buffy has been singing. It’s ironic that Buffy singing about losing her drive as she walks upward, yearning for the “heaven” that she misses. The descending line in the music is also indicative that the more Buffy yearns to move upward, the more she inclines. And we see the handsome young man walking the other way.




    And Buffy ends her song standing on “stage” in the wind, looking upward as the camera swoops around the dais to shoot Buffy from below. And we see the song collapse from the vastness of the graveyard to a contained space that both resembles a stage and the tight constraints in which Buffy feels trapped.

    BUFFY:
    I CAN'T EVEN SEE
    IF THIS IS REALLY ME
    And Buffy’s lyric once again references the idea of performance – this time referring to depersonalization and identity confusion – is she even Buffy anymore or has she now become nothing more than the actress she plays? If Buffy has become nothing more than the Slayer, does she have any reason to live at all?

    Buffy’s depression informs “Going Through the Motions” and gives it a seriousness that balances the camp playfulness of the song. The jokes are ridiculously silly - but Buffy’s questions are real – and this is where we can ask whether or not Buffy really means what she says.



    As she sings the word “me”, the Technicolor Yellow Shirt vampire jumps up to share “center-stage” – but this time, he does not share in Buffy’s song. He is there to demonstrate to the audience the archetypical nature of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    BUFFY:
    AND I JUST WANT TO BE
    As the vamp reaches for Buffy, she stakes him in the heart.



    Whedon: These last little chords here are very much Stephen Schwartz. When I wrote them I thought "Ooh, that sounds just like 'Pippin' from when I was young. But hopefully not too much like 'Pippin' so I couldn't get sued. And then of course to reveal her from the dusting vampire and have the dust swirl away in the corner - that's two classic Disney moments. Reveal of the face, and the swirling leaves, as it were, as we pull back. Only to do it with the dusting of a vampire, was a trick particular to us which made me happy.


    His scowl as he turns to dust, looking at Buffy, as the camera switches to a two shot and she completes her last dusting, right on schedule, at the end of her final A section.

    The camera stays close on the vamp until he completely dusts, revealing Buffy’s close up surrounded by sparkly vamp dust – And we get the final rhyme of “drive-alive” – complete with Disney-esque magical ending – except that instead of fairy dust and glitter, Buffy is ironically covered in a dead thing as she finally voices her “I Want” – to be alive.



    BUFFY:
    ALIVE!
    The camera suddenly shoots from overhead, pulling back to see Buffy still standing on her “stage” from a God-like point of view.



    And we have to ask the question – is that what Buffy REALLY wants? Should we take Buffy at her word at the beginning of the musical?

    There’s an authorial fake-out in almost any “I want” song in a decent musical. What a protagonist says that they want is NOT necessarily what they actually desire. Superficial longing can actually be covering up a deeper desire that goes unspoken until a certain moment – and so the drama of the story actually lies in the conflict between external and internal desire. The subtext running beneath the text is can be contradictory – just as the person behind the mask is often an insignificant man behind a curtain working the machinery of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.



    Although Buffy may SAY that she just wants to feel alive, her actions in Once More With Feeling seem to be concealing much darker thoughts by the time we get to “Something to Sing About.” And that allows Whedon a wide range to explore the divide between what a character believes they should want and the unacceptable things they actually desire.
    Last edited by American Aurora; 10-09-17 at 09:48 AM.

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