"Once More, with Feeling" is a musical episode of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a mysterious force compels Sunnydale residents into songs that reveal their deep secrets. It was written and directed by Joss Whedon, the creator of the show. The lyrics and music were also written by Whedon, with a score by Christophe Beck and arrangements by Beck and Jesse Tobias.
Joss Whedon had wanted to create a musical episode since the first season of Buffy, but wasn't allowed to until the show was moved to a more lenient network, UPN. Another reason for his delaying the musical episode is revealed in his DVD commentary for the episode, where he comments that if he had placed the episode in season four, it would have occurred shortly after the Xena: Warrior Princess musical episode "The Bitter Suite" and would have appeared far less original. Supposedly, the episode "Hush" (which was nominated for an Emmy Award for its use of the absence of human voices) is located where the musical episode would have originally been placed.
"Once More, with Feeling" was first broadcast as the seventh episode of season six by the United Paramount Network on November 6, 2001.
Buffy is patrolling in a cemetery at night, but there is something wrong with her and with the demons she meets and kills: they are all singing and dancing. Buffy sings about her life after returning to Earth, and the way she feels detached from it ("Going Through the Motions").
The morning after, the friends find out such things have happened to them all. They suddenly burst into song again, first wondering what can possibly be the cause for this ("I've Got a Theory") - including a novel idea by Anya ("Bunnies") - and then, guided by Buffy, asserting their ability to deal with it together ("If We're Together"). They further learn that all the people in Sunnydale are forced to sing about their inner feelings ("The Mustard").
Later Tara sings a love song to Willow about the difference she's made in her life ("Under Your Spell"). Xander and Anya sing together about things they would otherwise have never told themselves or each other, namely their fears about their coming marriage ("I'll Never Tell"), and Spike sings to Buffy about the torturous nature of their relationship ("Rest in Peace").
It seems that a new demon in town, Sweet, is responsible for all the singing. Unfortunately, some people are singing and dancing so much that they spontaneously combust, due to the dramatic release of their pent-up emotions. Sweet has Dawn kidnapped by his minions, interrupting her as she begins singing a lament about her life ("Dawn's Lament"). When Dawn wakes up in The Bronze, she and two of Sweet's minions engage in an interpretive dance; this is Dawn's attempt to escape. ("Dawn's Ballet") Sweet explains that he thinks she is the one who summoned him, and intends to take her to the Underworld and make her his queen ("What You Feel").
Meanwhile in the Magic Box, Giles sings his thoughts, that his continued presence encourages Buffy to remain emotionally dependent on him and that he should no longer act as a father to her lest she never mature, thus he decides to leave again and return to England for good ("Standing"). Tara finds out about a forgetting spell Willow had cast the evening before to make her forget about a fight they had, and decides to break up with her. Giles and Tara duet about leaving as they look at Buffy and Willow respectively, the two of whom are distractedly chatting ("Under Your Spell/Standing (Reprise)").
The gang discovers through one of Sweet's minions the location where Dawn is being held. Xander, Anya and Willow are eager to help save Dawn, but Giles insists that Buffy should go alone. Spike, dismissing Giles' stubbornness, offers to back Buffy up, but Buffy takes him to task regarding his wish for her to stay away from him, and a humiliated Spike skulks away, telling her he hopes she will dance until she burns. Buffy leaves alone, once again singing about her inability to feel, as both a conflicted Spike and the Scoobies express their desire to fight along with her, accompanied by Sweet, who summons them in song ("Walk Through the Fire").
Arriving at The Bronze, Buffy starts to sing and dance defiantly, cynically expressing her current condition and the hardships of being the Slayer. Then she finally reveals to Sweet and her friends that, by resurrecting her, they had ripped her out of heaven rather than rescuing her from a hell dimension as they thought. As her friends react in horror to the admission, and once she has vocalized her anger and despair, she dances ecstatically to the point of fuming, in a somewhat suicidal effort. Spike arrives and helps her recover, telling her that the only way to mend her wounds is to carry on living, "so one of us is living" ("Something to Sing About"). Dawn ends the song by saying "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it" This is the same line Buffy used when speaking to Dawn in Season 5 finale "The Gift"
Applauding, Sweet prepares to leave with Dawn, but it turns out that it is not Dawn who had summoned him, but Xander - who had not understood the implications - leading to the demon giving up on the queen matter and vanishing. As he leaves he points out that due to all the hidden feelings he caused them to reveal to each other none of them can claim "it ended well" daring them to say that they are really happy "once more with feeling" ("What You Feel (Reprise)"). The group does, questioning the pyrrhic victory they've achieved and what to do next ("Where Do We Go from Here?").
The episode ends with Spike and Buffy kissing, as the curtains fall, as predicted in the previous song's final verse, as the chorus swells one last time ("Coda").
Characters and continuity
- Although he is never named in dialog or lyrics, the demonic villain of this episode is called Sweet, as per the episode's closing credits and the shooting script.
- Anya's line "His penis got diseases from the Chumash tribe" refers to the season 4 episode "Pangs", in which a Native American spirit infects Xander with a cornucopia of various diseases, including syphilis.
- The song "I've Got a Theory" features numerous references to previous episodes:
- Willow suggests that "some kid is dreaming, and we're all stuck inside his wacky Broadway nightmare", a reference to the events of "Nightmares". In that episode, when the characters come to realize that people's dreams are coming true, Giles says, "Dreams? That would be a musical comedy version of this. Nightmares — our nightmares are coming true."
- Anya reinforces her fear of bunnies, introduced in "Fear, Itself", as she blames the singing on them ("Bunnies", a short rock and roll section inside "I've Got a Theory").
- Buffy sings "I've died twice", referring to the final episodes of season 1 and season 5.
- In the season 7 episode "Selfless", there is an extended flashback to this episode. Anya and Xander reference an earlier song involving coconuts, and Anya sings about wanting to become Mrs. Xander Harris. She also opens the window to hear a man complaining (in song) that he got mustard on his favorite shirt, providing backstory for a well-known gag in this episode.
- Dawn continues to exhibit kleptomania, stealing Sweet's pendant. She first showed an inclination toward crime in "Blood Ties", and began a trend of stealing small trinkets and jewelry in "Intervention".
- The rest of the Scoobies discover in this episode that Buffy was not rescued from a Hell dimension, but was rather pulled out of Heaven.
- Giles expresses his intention to leave Sunnydale again because he believes Buffy is becoming overly dependent on him.
- Willow and Tara's problems over Willow's magic use continue, which had begun in "All the Way".
- Xander and Anya begin to express, through song, doubts about their relationship, which they won't otherwise articulate in a normal conversational context until it's too late.
- After Spike's long obsession with Buffy (which had first been made explicit in "Out of My Mind"), their relationship deepens.
- The majority of the footage of "I'll Never Tell" was shot in just one take. Other scenes, notably the parking meter aria immediately following, are long, continuous takes that are unusual in their complexity, at least by television standards.
- This is the longest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — 50 minutes long, even with shortened opening credits, as opposed to the usual 42 minutes. It ran past the regular hour.
- This is unique amongst Buffy episodes as it was the only post-Season 4 episode shown in letterbox format in the US (Seasons 4-7 were shot in widescreen; those versions only air overseas), had different opening credits and title music, and the monster in the Mutant Enemy Productions logo sang his "Grrr, Arggh!" in falsetto (by creator Joss Whedon).
- This episode took two weeks to rehearse dance numbers, record songs, and film (although, unusually for Buffy, it was filmed in "bits and pieces" — the various sections were recorded between other episodes in season 6).
- Almost Human, the special effects company used by the Buffy spin-off Angel, was called in to design the demon Sweet. Their work was so well received that Almost Human did the majority of special effects from this point forward.
- Amber Benson's musical number, "Under Your Spell", featured heavily-implied sex between two women, and was edited out for the episode's first broadcast in conservative countries like the Philippines and China.
- Writer Joss Whedon said in the audio comentary on the DVD that the lyrics in "Under Your Spell" were pornography and that they were the dirtiest lyrics he had ever written.
- As well as singing, James Marsters played guitar for "Rest in Peace".
- In a press interview, Amber Benson admitted to dancing into a pole during her backup dance in "Something to Sing About". The viewer can see her laughing as she steps back (this occurs during the lyric "and every single verse / can make it that much worse"). And she can be seen arranging the front of her shirt and her hair, afterwards, also.
- This is Joss Whedon's second favorite episode. (The first being Innocence.)
- The backpack that Dawn empties on her bed just before the demons come and get her is actually Joss Whedon's bag.
- The original airing of "Once More, with Feeling" received 5.4 million viewers.
- Action figures of Buffy Summers, Anya Jenkins, and Dawn Summers were produced based on this episode.
- Buffy's Brechtian line, "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday", is a reference to UPN, which aired Buffy on Tuesday nights. Buffy also aired on Tuesday nights on The WB for the majority of its run.
- Spanish title: Una Vez Más, con Sentimiento (literal translation)
- French title: Que le Spectacle Commence ("Let the Show Begin")
- German title: Noch Einmal mit Gefühl (literal translation)
- Italian title: La Vita è un Musical ("Life Is a Musical")
- Finnish title: Vielä Kerran Tunteella (literal translation)
- Swedish title: En Gång Till, med Känsla (literal translation)
- Turkish title: Bir Kez Daha, Hissederek (literal translation)
- Russian title: Ещё раз с чувством (literal translation)
- Ukrainian title: Ще раз, тільки з почуттям (literal translation)
- Danish title: Lad Det Komme Fra Hjertet ("Let it Come from the Heart")
- The Music Man - At the end of the episode, Spike says to Buffy, "The day you suss out what you do want, there'll probably be a parade. Seventy-six bloody trombones." This is a reference to the song "Seventy-six Trombones", from the Meredith Willson musical The Music Man.
- Rent - Joss Whedon gained lots of musical inspiration from musicals such as the rock-edged Rent by Jonathan Larson. Whedon has said that the song "Walk Through the Fire" partly came from the line "Walking through fire without a burn" from the Rent song "I Should Tell You".
- Pinocchio (1940 film) - Sweet's henchmen appear wooden and puppet-like. When Spike is unable to stop a henchman from escaping, Spike mutters "Strong. Someday he'll be a real boy". This is a reference to the story of Pinocchio.
- West Side Story - Whedon says he thinks the song "Walk Through the Fire" as inspired by the "La Resistance" medley from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, itself a pastiche of musicals and, in "La Resistance"'s case, directly parodies "One Day More" from the musical Les Misérables.
- Les Girls/Bugsy Malone - "I'll Never Tell" also references the song "You're Just Too Too" from "Les Girls" by Cole Porter. Both songs have a very similar filming style (two people dancing around a living room) and content (a couple somewhat-facetiously discussing each other's good and bad points), and it even features one direct reference: Anya's line "Look at me, I'm dancing crazy!" is also said by actress Kay Kendall in the original song, in both cases during the songs' dance breaks - however, it could also be a reference to Bugsy Malone, in which a gangster says, "Look at me, I'm dancing!" during the song 'Bad Guys'.
- The Love for Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev - A theme from the overture of that opera is quoted in Buffy's opening number "Going Through the Motions", both by her and by the dancing vampires behind her. The original opera is a surrealistic fairytale.
- Xander's line, "Respect the cruller. And tame the donut!" is a reference to a similar (yet far more obscene) line from the film Magnolia.
- Spike's line, "Finish the big group sing. Get your kumbaya-yas out", is a reference to both the song "Kumbaya" and to The Rolling Stones album Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert.
- One of the lines in "Going Through the Motions" references the song "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)". Buffy sings "You'll find this fight just doesn't mean a thing..." and the vampire she punches finishes "...she ain't got that swing."
- Spike, while discussing the recent events with Buffy, mentions "A 600 pound chorago demon making like Yma Súmac", commenting that "Now that one'll stay with you."
Acting and singing
Joss Whedon discovered his actors could sing during a wine-charged Shakespeare
reading at his house. He later fashioned his songs around each actor's ability and amount of comfort with their talent. This is why Alyson Hannigan and Michelle Trachtenberg only sing a few sparse lines in this episode; Trachtenberg says she had an agreement with Joss Whedon that she would "sing as little as possible and dance a whole lot".
- Anthony Stewart Head has extensive musical experience. He played the lead role of Frank-n-Furter in a British production of The Rocky Horror Show and also starred in the London production of the musical Chess, taking over the role of "The American" originated by his brother Murray. He released a solo album, Music for Elevators, with small guest appearances by James Marsters, Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson, and a song by Joss Whedon.
- James Marsters also has some musical experience as he was the lead singer and guitarist for his own rock band formed by his friends, Ghost of the Robot. He since then started a solo musical career in 2004 and released two albums "Civilized Man" and "Like A Waterfall".
- Writer/producer Marti Noxon makes her first on-screen appearance on Buffy as the singing woman receiving a parking ticket. Similarly, executive producer/writer David Fury makes his first appearance as the man who joyously proclaims how the mustard stains were removed from his shirt. Both actors later reprised their roles for the episode "Selfless" in the following season, in a short song explaining exactly how the mustard stains were created.
Special guest star
All the actors sing their own parts without having another singer dubbing
their voices (although for "What You Feel", Michelle Trachtenberg had to dub her own voice during post-production when her lines proved to be unclear). Joss Whedon had originally planned to have Buffy's rhythmically complex song "Something to Sing About" dubbed by professional vocalist Jewel
, but Sarah Michelle Gellar
performed it anyway. All the regular cast are featured in significant solos except Alyson Hannigan
), who had asked Whedon to limit her singing role. In response, Whedon gave Willow an amusing, fourth-wall breaking line for one of her three short solo parts: "I think this line's mostly filler.
" Hannigan's reluctance to sing - or to perform before a live audience at all - had actually been made part of Willow's character, as was shown in first-season episodes "The Puppet Show
" and "Nightmares
," which illustrated Willow's crippling stage fright. Amber Benson said in an interview that Joss caught her by surprise when he scored her song "Under your Spell" slightly higher than her normal range because he was sure she could handle it.
The opening sequence is completely changed from its usual form, featuring a 26-second main theme whose rock and dark atmosphere was eliminated through its use of percussion in the background and a stereotypical light drum sequence at the end of the theme, similar to the conclusion of heroic classical films.
The songs "Walk through the Fire", "Something to Sing About", and "Where Do We Go from Here" (all progressive rock-style) were musically inspired by Yes's fifth album Close to the Edge, one of Joss Whedon's favorites. The BBC's website about Buffy states that those are just from the song "Close to the Edge", but "Something to Sing About" is more in style of album's songs "And You and I" (that notably was the inspiration of Whedon's trademark "Mutant Enemy", too) and "Siberian Khatru" (Buffy's whirling dance).
Critical and viewer response
Due to a misprint, this episode was left off the list of potential Emmy Award for Drama Writing
nominees sent out to voters. This was fixed with an addendum, but it was too late, as many voters had already returned their ballots.
Numerous critics placed the episode on their "alternative Emmy" lists and it continues to win plaudits. It was recently voted the 13th greatest musical of all time in a poll conducted by the British TV channel, Channel 4. It has always been a firm favorite among fans.
The episode was nominated for a Hugo Award in the category science fiction/fantasy for best dramatic presentation, along with the films Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Monsters, Inc., Shrek and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The last won.
The episode won the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in Television - Music, Episodic Live Action.
Shortly after the original episode aired, Singalongs and Rocky Horror-style re-enactments started becoming common at fan festivals and conventions. These events could involve audience members singing along with the projected episode, audience callbacks, props, costumes, and even live casts. (The official posting board party probably had the first cast in February 2002 and Dragoncon in Atlanta probably has the longest running.) Recently, Singalongs have become popular as individual events outside of fan conventions. The first of these events was held in Boston in 2004 and there is currently a group in New York City that has a monthly live cast. Many of these events and casts have evolved independently with no knowledge of other similar groups. Buffy Singalongs have recently received growing media attention with stories done by the AP, MTV News, and the New York Post. At the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival, a special screening and sing along was held on June 27th. Both Marti Noxon and Joss Whedon were in attendance and gave brief speeches to the audience. In October of 2007, after a dispute with SAG over unpaid residuals, 20th Century Fox pulled the licensing for public screenings of Once More With Feeling, effectively ending official Buffy singalongs.
CD track listing
A music CD has been released, featuring the entire score and some additional tracks, namely the demo of "Something to Sing About", sung by Joss Whedon and his wife Kai Cole, and three pieces of music from other popular episodes by regular composer Christophe Beck. The art for the CD — also used as cover for related items, such as the script book, the DVD and the poster — is by popular comic book artist Adam Hughes. The booklet includes liner notes by Whedon, the lyrics for the songs, and pictures from the episode.
||"Overture / Going Through the Motions"
||"I've Got a Theory / Bunnies / If We're Together"
||"Under Your Spell"
||"I'll Never Tell"
||"The Parking Ticket"
||"Rest in Peace"
||"What You Feel"
||"Under Your Spell / Standing — reprise"
||"Walk Through the Fire"
||"Something to Sing About"
||"What You Feel — reprise"
||"Where Do We Go from Here?"
||"End Credits (Broom Dance / Grr Argh)"
||Suite from "Restless"
||Suite from "Hush"
||Sacrifice (from "The Gift")
||"Something to Sing About" (demo)
Other technical differences between this episode and the normal ones are its running time (50 minutes and 52 seconds instead of the usual average of 43 minutes) and its format: the episode aired in letterbox
On the commentary it is mentioned that the episode was filmed in Anamorphic
The region 2 version is slightly cropped at the sides as it shown in standard 16:9 (1.78:1) as opposed to 1.85:1 (this is most noticeable on the opening credits).
Because of the running time, UPN only aired the full, unedited episode once — delaying the start of the following program (a U.S. pilot of Iron Chef hosted by William Shatner). Unfortunately serious technical glitches plagued UPN's broadcast feed to some of its affiliates in the U.S. Eastern and Central time zones when the episode aired on November 6, 2001. In the case of one UPN affiliate, WKBD-TV in Detroit, the only "glitch" involved a few seconds where the picture "froze" during Sweet's initial meeting with Dawn. At UPN's insistence, Joss Whedon supervised the editing of the full length episode into a more advertiser-friendly standard length. UPN never aired the full length episode again, opting instead for the shortened version. The shortened version is also the one that airs in syndication on FX. The editing eliminated parts of certain songs, including Buffy singing "If We're Together" and several bars of "Walk Through the Fire." Loss of certain dialogue resulted in a confusing ending for the audience, with Sweet abruptly announcing "Big smiles everyone, you beat the bad guy," with little apparent cause.
This "one time only" dispensation to air a longer format is not unprecedented for Whedon and Buffy. A first season episode, "The Puppet Show", enjoyed only a single airing (on May 5, 1997) of a closing credits scene in which Xander, Buffy, and Willow perform a scene from Oedipus Rex in their school's talent show. The scene, however, was repeated at least one more time when it was first rerun on FX.
In an unusual effort to garner Emmy support, 20th Century Fox had the full length episode pressed onto special DVDs shortly after its airing for distribution with the industry trade publication Daily Variety. Regular DVD series collections also include the full length episode.
Also available for sale is the original script book (ISBN 0-689-85918-X). Besides the actual screenplay the book features pictures from the episode, articles, sheet music for all the songs and a behind the scenes.
Finally, after pressure from fans, a single (Region 2) DVD has been released in Europe (two editions: in English for the United Kingdom and in German for Germany).
David Fury, producer and writer of the show (who also appeared in the episode as the man excited they got the mustard out) asked Whedon if he could document it, and shot about 40 hours of behind-the-scenes material; part of this material is available on the Season Six DVD set.
All of the Region 1 DVDs have French and Spanish versions, and the songs are done in French and Spanish too.
In Italian TV and DVD version, while all other songs are as original with subtitles, the "Parking Ticket" song, originally played by Marti Noxon, for some technical problems had to be redubbed by an unknown singer.
- Stories that take place around the same time in the Buffyverse: