“Once More, with Feeling” is another one of those episodes that leaves me at a loss for what to say. This time it’s not really because it’s already been analyzed to death; there are plenty of critiques out there, but I’ve only read a couple of them. No, my problem is that I really enjoy it too much to reflect on it. This is pretty unusual for me because, as this blog can attest, I generally dislike viewing television as “popcorn;” if it doesn’t bear reflection then it wasn’t worth watching in the first place. Not to say that “Once More, with Feeling” doesn’t have some substance to it, just that I don’t feel the need to explore it. To compromise, I think I’ll explore why that may be.
The first and most obvious reason I’m not compelled to analyze this episode is the fact that it’s a musical. I’m not saying that music doesn’t bear analysis, there are plenty of people who approach it the same way that I approach narrative, I’m just not one of them. I’d rather hum along than stop to think about the lyrics or the intricacies of a particular drum solo. There’s certainly a good story being woven with this set of songs, but the part of my brain that could assess it just seems to switch off during the overture.
The heart on sleeve nature of the episode also discourages analysis. While emotional nuance may not be Buffy’s strongest suit, this is still the only time it had characters look into the camera and say what they’re feeling. That’s a cornerstone of most musicals (and a big part of why I generally don’t like them) but this one goes a step further by making the honesty of the songs into a central conceit. The characters are compelled to sign about whatever it is they’ve been holding inside and the fact that they’re simply stating the truth means we shouldn’t waste a lot of time looking for subtext.
Consistently breaking the fourth wall is a shortcut to audience engagement. All that looking into the camera not only discourages deeper analysis, it renders the audience a direct part of the proceedings. Characters frequently sing to themselves in this episode, the people around them seemingly oblivious to what they’re saying. But, as the looks at the camera acknowledge, they’re not really singing to themselves, they’re singing to us. If that weren’t enough of an indication that we’re a bigger than usual part of this week’s episode, we get Buffy explicitly telling us to sing along.
As often seems to the case, the process of writing this post has helped me discover what I really wanted to say. It’s not reflection that’s essential to narrative, it’s engagement and this episode offers that explicitly rather than through layers of subtext. The layers may be there, but they aren’t necessary when we’re participants in what’s going on.
This episode makes for another fine example of Buffy’s not Buffy. We’ve got a widescreen musical with new opening and closing credits and an audience role that’s shifted.
“Standing” is probably my favourite song, at least at the moment. It seems to depend on what mood I’m in while watching.
Speaking of “Standing,” I really wish that more attention had been given to the buildup to this decision. Not that Giles’ needed better reasons, just that I think there was way more dramatic potential in this story. The dissolution this relationship really should’ve been up there with Buffy/Angel.
Who didn’t jeer when Dawn’s song started and cheer when it was cut off?