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"It's exactly like a Greek tragedy" - Once More, With Feeling

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  • "It's exactly like a Greek tragedy" - Once More, With Feeling

    So, our beloved OMWF is not the typical musical comedy, although it has some of those elements. It always struck me as a tragedy from the ending - but not just that. It's got many characteristics of the ancient Greek ones.

    Some of the basic plot elements and general structure are comedic - each of the characters has his/her own issues, the bad guy is killed in the end, there are funny songs. The differences include the ending, and the fact that our heroes know they're in a musical - which becomes important later.

    The episode starts off with the prologue, a very important part of Greek tragedy that shows who our characters are. We Buffy fans don't need much catching up, but Buffy's back-to-life issues haven't been emphasized as much lately, and so we have ourselves Going Through the Motions. The overture at the beginning is pretty much filler (but fun filler!).

    Then, there's the first appearance of "the chorus." Unlike the ancient Greeks, our chorus is not a random bunch of people pressured into it like jury duty. Our characters sing by themselves, and pretty much set themselves up for destruction by stating that everything is going all right. Seriously, Scoobies. You already know how badly things can get jinxed. It's also the scene where everyone discovers they're in a happy, rainbows, animals-frolicking-in-the-meadows musical - which, of course, means that everything they sing about is going to be dark, and it's all the more twisted if they're forced to sing along to upbeat music while they do it.

    Did I mention the funny? Let me mention the funny. It's not exactly like a tragedy, of course, because Joss gives us the funny. Thank you, Joss.

    Which leads to Tara's song, which is a big weak point in this whole theory. It's a fine song, if not for the cheesy backup vocals and the unexplained change of set. But depending on how one looks at it, all the events following that song could be construed as rape. The "forget" spell, that whole thing? ...Well, it doesn't seem like it, and this is never addressed later, but it seemed like food for thought.

    And, of course, now comes the first visual hint that this isn't really "hugs and puppies." Excellent.

    Next is Xander and Anya's song about their marriage, which is hilarious but also kind of sad when they don't get married later. It all seems like good-natured teasing, but when the worries get more serious, the omens are stronger. Another sign that all is not right (not necessarily directly related to the musical issue, but it sets them up for failure anyway).

    In the next scene, we are introduced to the real tragic heroes of this work: Xander, Anya, Tara, and Willow, those who brought Buffy back. They don't all have a tragic flaw per se - that's pretty much covered by Willow's hubris in not only by resurrecting Buffy, but fixing everything to her liking. For the general Scooby group, it's not a character flaw - it's hamartia, the fatal mistake or misjudgment. They all got caught up about Buffy being in some sort of hell-dimension. They're really good guys, but are doomed because of their ignorance.

    Note: The writers were great about putting Buffy's big reveal in "After Life," because it is more fun, and more heartbreaking, when there's so much dramatic irony. I thought it was much easier to feel sorry for the Scoobs this way.

    Not much to say about the Spike scene, because it's another weak point. It's more of a comedy-type thing, with the unrequited love becoming, er, requited at the end. Spike was a regular, he needed a scene and a song. I don't see why he's all hostile in this one, though.

    Dawn's scene with Tara. Dawn plants the seeds of doubt in Tara's mind, and just now I'm thinking maybe Tara is supposed to represent the audience. You know, everything's fine, hugs and puppies, then... something is seriously screwed up, then... the world is rotten. Dawn "messes things up" in her blissfully ignorant way (which leads to the destruction of her "parents" later). Then Dawn gets her song about being all alone, and since not too many people want to hear about Dawn's issues, the song is cut short. Enough of these "issues" songs. PLOT!

    Next comes the bad guy, who's all about the be-careful-what-you-wish-for and the rotten stuff underneath the beautiful, which can be the theme of a tragedy. Not much to say about him.

    Buffy and Giles: Giles is all concerned, but he still doesn't know. Tara has figured out about the spell, but it's frustrating because Giles is still ignorant.

    Next, a big emotional point for the tragedy. Giles decides he won't go with Buffy. He still doesn't know. Cue tense sounds, like screeching brakes.

    Then comes the emotional climax of the comedy: our big everyone-goes-to-get-the-bad-guy song. It's a great song, and I think it's the best one in the whole thing, but Buffy hints at terrible things to come. Metaphorical firetrucks for the win!

    Directly after the comedic climax is the tragic climax, which starts out just fine. Major-key song, Buffy getting ready to kick this guy's ass - but wait! Buffy's pointing out the superficial quality to this whole thing. What's the point of having these upbeat songs when there's nothing to sing about? Why should Buffy sing when the world is rotten to her? The songs are a cheap cover for all the ills of the world... and then she does it. She exposes the Scoobies' complacency, and right afterwards, the discovery of where she was. (This is also the "Peripety" - or reversal of fortunes. Buffy doesn't act all happy again anytime soon.) It's incredibly twisted, how she sings about these dark things in what could have been the Happy Ending Life Lesson Song. The Scoobies look destroyed. It seems Xander is ready to gouge his eyes out. Buffy tries to kill herself, which is the proper ending for a tragedy like this one, but she can't die because it's her show, so... ? Have Spike of the Conflicting Feelings and/or Mood Calendar show up. The moment is kind of touching, but I had to mock something...

    Oh! Right! There's a bad guy, and a plot, and stuff! Quick, we need to get rid of the bad guy somehow... Joss, using a deus ex machina may be a minor thing because the bad guy isn't important, but Aristotle still hates you. Seriously.

    Sweet leaves, and makes the important point that none of this was about him. It was about all the things they said, primarily Buffy, while they sang - all the darkness they need to sort out without him in the mix.

    And so we start the exodus, which can be tragic or comedic. The modern curtain call, though, is generally a comedy thing, and to subvert that was great, showing that our heroes have most definitely not recovered and that this is not a happy ending whatsoever.


    Any thoughts on this? Do you think OMWF really (is)/(was intended to be) a tragedy or a subverted sort of comedy?
    redrevo
    Hellmouth Tourist
    Last edited by redrevo; 16-02-08, 02:25 AM.
    Buffy: It sounds like it's difficult for you. Maybe your sister makes it hard for you to establish your own identity. You said she's controlling, she doesn't let you make your own decisions -
    Dawn: Yeah, and she borrows my clothes without asking.

  • #2
    Great essay.

    I think that it's a tragedy with a little bit of comedy. But the biggest plotpoints are; Buffy telling her friends that she was in heaven, Buffy runs to Spike to feel, Tara finds out about the windwipe, Anya and Xander aren't ready to marry and Giles will leave. The facy that they sing funny songs about it made it darker.

    No, I think that OM,WF is a tragedy.

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    • #3
      Very interesting indeed. I'm definitely on the side of tragedy though.

      OMWF seems to have a far more pronounced emphasis on the tragedy rather than the comedy. In fact, the presence of the comedic elements seem to serve as ways to present the tragic elements in a far more striking manner.

      From the overture to the finale we are presented with a whole range of scenes that cover everything from happy to sad to angry to just plain old everyday stuff. With the 'normal' and even the 'happy' scenes there is always some portion of the scene or song which is either off-beat, discordant (in one case) or sorrowful. The whole concept should be humorous, considering what the Scoobies have had to face before, but there is an element of defeat and a lack of triumph that permeates the entire story.

      The overture leading into the first song is a 'normal' scene with such situations. Viewers who had seen the previous episode know as soon as Tara picks up the flower from under her pillow that what was done was wrong. Tara's ignorance, the fact that her partner made her forget is the first real set up for tragedy. Buffy's inability to do more than hold her ringing alarm clock is the next interruption to what would otherwise be a standard morning in the Summer's house. Another point of interest is the fact that not one person checks in on Buffy to see what is happening with her alarm.* Tara's ignorance could be seen as further exploitation of a victim, Buffy's reluctance to switch off her alarm obviously her unwillingness to face another day in life.

      While very amusing 'Going Through the Motions' sets up Buffy's story completely. The depth of her secret, exactly how her desolation is affecting her. And even how much notice her friends are giving to her actions and reactions in and around her life routines. The villians she is fighting are indicated as having more awareness of her lack of conviction. As is pointed out later, the Scoobies have put it down to having some difficulty settling back in to life rythms. Rather than a deep and debilitating Depression and Trauma. In abosolutes we clearly see that Buffy is only just doing what she has to, to get by.

      Tara's victim/person-in-the-background status is touched upon in the next song 'I've Got a Theory/Bunnies/If We're Together' when Anya sings over the top of Tara's line. Xander's faux pas could be interpreted as a prewarning that he acts on impulse with his ideas which sets up his part in Sunnydale's current musical problem. Anya's solo requires a whole other essay alone#. The lead into the end of the song is a clear indication that Buffy is trying to rely too heavily on the group to solve her problems. She will face it, but gives the impression that the struggle will find the group one way or another and they will face it together so why bother acting quickly to stop the threat. Giles is the only one to come up with the answer, but discredits himself immediately. Something he has probably been doing since the very moment he learned about Buffy's ressurection. The viewer again finds out later that his sudden realisation that he has been second guessing himself leads to rash action.

      'Under Your Spell' is perhaps one of the more poignant musical numbers as it displays just how deeply Tara has been betrayed by Willows actions. The song reveal Tara's level of trust in and love for her partner. The audience knows that Tara is truly under a spell and there truly is nothing she can do about it since, as a victim, Tara is unaware of the betrayal of her pure feelings. Which Willow unashamedly proceeds to take advantage of. In many ways, it is the ultimate coercion, the ultimate disrespect to a partner.

      Weddings are typically perceived as completely happy events. Society teaches us that once you find the one you love everything else falls into place. 'I'll Never Tell' not only shatters that illusion but displays the somewhat uncomfortable honesty and true level of unsurity of an apparantly devoted couple. The level of devotion demonstrated by the comfortable and caring conversation before Anya and Xander start their day. Both are more than willing to get lost in each other and the wedding, and yet both turn a blind and somewhat selfish eye to their relationship.

      Despite the very serious conversation Anya and Xander try to have with Giles in the next scene, the audience doesn't get to witness it as if it is a key element of the scene. The constant distraction of the dancing and singing downplays something that really should be given undivided attention. The static nature of the walking while filming rather than having a typical Scooby 'stop and talk about something serious' approach also adds to the fact that there is something very serious lurking underneath the great show that is playing all around the three characters.

      Get away from me/Don't leave me is the simultaneous attitude of Spike's musical contribution. While at a mere glance, quite amusing, it really does bring to light the truly troubling aspects of Buffy's initial pattern of using Spike. Spike himself showing that he knows he's being used, but craves Buffy's company and wishes for her affection. Even though he knows he's beating his head against the metaphorical wall, and is tearing himself apart inside. The nature of the song is needed to demonstrate that Spike is playing his own game with his own best interests at heart.

      'Dawn's Lament' as well as 'What You Feel' could possibly indicate that Dawn is playing the part of a character crying out for help with silent and somewhat invisible actions. The audience get's to hear a lot of Dawn's plight, but Dawn hides it from the Scoobies, the one chance she has to sing it out, she is alone and then cut off. Thus becoming a convenient victim as a result of the behavior of those around her. The Scoobies and Buffy are quite literally bound by their own personal dramas, while Dawn is desperately needing the guidence of an available parent.

      Somewhat painful understanding leading to confrontation is generated by the next two songs. Both the singers confronting their personal concerns as well as the objects of their concern. The obvious conclusion being the contrasting jumble of emotions that is 'Walk Through The Fire'. Buffy's heartfelt belief that she has been turned out without redemption, automatically contradicted by support that is being given too late and where she can't hear it. Leading to the only plan she was willing to devise to save Dawn, one that also removes herself from her current life.

      The violence of Buffy's fight with Sweet's minions while singing such an upbeat happy sounding song is a confronting contrast. The musical composition is at odds with the lyrics and most of the actions, which creates a feeling of unease. Things are not as they appear, while harmonising with the tune, the words are all negative. The song and the illusion break with the refrain. Buffy admitting her greatest secret for the most part unwillingly, doesn't stop the nature of her secret from burning her away. Again the perception that revealing something that pains us results in relief is completely broken. The full load of Buffy's suffering is still untold, she has shared the crux of the problem but what is left of her secret, her belief that she is alone is still enough to cause her to burn.

      The knowledge and reassurance that Spike shares with Buffy is enough to stop her, but again sets up Buffy's emotional dependence on him. It was he who told her to go away that pulls her back from the brink, the one who, at least fundamentally, Buffy hates. Not the ones who are 'supposed' to, friends, family, the people she loves.

      The conclusion of the musical from the reprise of 'What You Feel' to 'Where Do We Go From Here' has a distinct lack of closure. Nothing was defeated, the element (Sweet) that caused the exposure of a primary dramatic story device (Buffy's Secret) was dismissed by it's own self. The nature by which Sweet was summoned, Dawn's rather pathetic and unexplored excuses about the pendant and Sweet's decision to just leave were all anticlimatic. There is a sense of bewilderment and tragic circumstance throughout the last musical number, while Spike and Buffy's interaction paints the future scenes and get a glimpse of the true nature of what Buffy is choosing to do to herself. She will do anything to feel, spell or no spell. Nothing was finished, nothing was resolved and nothing was defeated.

      Throughout the episode, comedy plays a very important tool, but there is not one song that does not use or is not used to paint some sort of contrast that indicates tragedy.

      *Which could again be interpreted as the Scoobies inability to recognise that there is something terribly wrong with their friend. So lost in their happiness to have her back.

      #The involvement of bunnies can be linked to the deception of appearances (Buffy's true plight for one), Anya's fears about her relationship with Xander and so on and so forth.
      Naia
      Hellmouth Tourist
      Last edited by Naia; 16-02-08, 02:57 PM.
      "And remember, we keep our supraesophageal ganglion to ourselves. That means you Jimmy!"

      Mr Ray, 'Finding Nemo'

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