We’re over halfway to the top spot in Mick’s Top Ten Best of Buffy. For spots Ten through Five, click here and here.
And now - with the usual reminder that you will find evil SPOILERS in the Top Ten - let’s continue with the countdown!
FOUR: "ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING"
Season 6, Episode 7, Air Date: 11/6/01
Written and Directed by Joss Whedon
I hate musicals.
I worked for a local non-profit musical theater organization as a carpenter/stagehand for four summers. Before the end of the first summer, I was drawing pictures of men wearing Miss Saigon t-shirts hanging from nooses in letters to friends. And no, I don’t fucking think it’s so fucking nice to have fucking Dolly right fucking back where she fucking belongs. Fuck Dolly and everyone who looks like Dolly.
So I was not happy about the prospect of having to watch a musical episode of Buffy, but I was pleasantly surprised. "Once More, With Feeling" is now one of the most repeatedly played episode on my DVD player.
One of the things I hate most about musicals is the one-dimensional characterization. Everything, after all, is secondary to the silly singing and dancing. In the case of "Once More, With Feeling", I already knew the characters in question, and so there was never any threat that they would seem shallow or ill-conceived. Also, the sheer absurdity of the idea lent itself so well to the show.
As anyone who’s ever heard the opening theme from Firefly (which Whedon wrote) will attest, Joss Whedon has a rare gift of making his songs completely applicable to a very specific situation, while at the same time rendering them universal. Most of the episode's songs could be completely relevant outside Buffy. For example a line like "Nothing seems to penetrate my heart" from "Going Through The Motions" could easily be injected into songs having nothing to do with vampires or legendary woman warriors, but it makes the line that much better when Buffy sings it as she slams a stake into a vampire’s chest.
The episode also holds a special place for this humble viewer, in that - while the series finale was a year and a half way - it represents something of an emotional climax to the series. It was one of the last episodes with a unified group of Scoobies. Shortly afterwards Giles left for England, Xander and Anya split, Willow turned to the dark side, and Spike tried to rape Buffy. With the Summers home filled with Slayer-wanna-be’s in Season 7, the group of heroes would never really be the same. While I’m sure some may disagree, I feel it was also the series finale as far as quality was concerned. In fact my girlfriend (whose opinions have done quite a bit to influence my choices for the Top Ten) feels the rest of Season 6 may have suffered from the amount of time and energy put into the musical episode.
THREE: "FOOL FOR LOVE"
Season 5, Episode 7, Air Date: 11/14/00
Written by Douglas Petrie, Directed by Nick Marck
It isn't unreasonable to think that "Fool for Love" is on the list just because Spike is one of my favorite recurring characters on the show.
Still, I think its spot on the list is well-deserved. Despite the fact that one could argue its mixing of flashback scenes of Spike’s early history with the present storyline makes it little more than a clone of "Becoming", there’s a lot about "Fool for Love" that distinguishes it from the earlier two-parter and even improves upon it.
Unlike Angel or Drusilla, Spike is neither a psychotic nor a brooding guilt-machine. The element that makes him so fun to watch, an element that was never better illustrated than in "Fool for Love", is that he’s all about viciously reveling in what he is. When the 70's slayer smashes his head through the window of a subway train and he screams, the scream isn’t one of pain but of absolute joy. The joy of someone who's exactly where he wants to be.
Also, while the flashbacks of "Becoming" served mainly as build-up to Angel’s fall, "Fool for love" both expanded on Spike’s character and acted as a parallel to Buffy’s inner conflict. When - in past and present - Spike brings his hands together inches from Buffy’s nose, it’s one of the most powerful moments ever between the two characters.
Another thing I love about the flashbacks - something I actually considered a downside until I was thinking about it in preparation for this review - is that, unlike "Becoming", Spike’s origin story is told directly from Spike’s lips and so the picture we get is tainted. Continuity hounds will remember, for example, that Angel was Spike’s sire (i.e., Angel turned Spike into a vampire). However, in "Fool for Love", it’s implied that Drusilla was his sire instead. Considering the sexuality inherent in Buffy vampirism, Spike might not like the idea of telling Buffy that it was a man who turned him, much less Angel. Likewise, Spike depicts Angel as a relatively tight-assed vampire who slaps Spike down every time he goes wild and takes risks. Of course, when Angel went to the dark side in Season 2 and allied himself with Spike and Drusilla, it was Spike who got nervous every time Angel got a little too eccentric.
Season 5, Episode 17, Air Date: 2/24/98
Written by Ty King, Directed by Michael E. Gershman
In concept, direction, and acting talent "Passion" is uncontested in the entire Buffy collection. It’s as if Whedon injected super-soldier serum into the veins of everyone involved and said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you, this is the episode where you’re all fucking perfect."
There are a lot of things to love about "Passion". With the first death of a recurring good guy - Jenny Calendar - it’s one of the darkest episodes of the series. The funny’s still there (particularly with Cordelia’s attempts to de-invite Angel from her car), but it takes a backseat. Instead of the usual straightman/funnyman chemistry between Giles and Xander, the two nearly come to blows. Joyce’s conscious ignorance of her daughter’s weird night life begins to chip away when she finds out Buffy lost her virginity to Angel. Giles’s emotional walls come tumbling down when Jenny’s death sends him on a collision course with Angel (with a scene that makes you jump in your chair and cheer the first time you see it).
I’ve always felt Boreanaz was better as a villain than a hero and "Passion" saw his greatest portrayal of the soulless Angel. More than anything else, "Passion" conveys the sense that when it comes to Angel’s love for Buffy, nothing has changed. He still loves her, it’s just that love from a psychotic vampire (particularly one that’s been locked up for over a century) is not a good thing. Or, as Willow aptly puts it to Buffy, "You’re still all he thinks about." It's a feeling that was lost towards the end of the season, but that doesn't take away any of this episode's awesome power.
Wow! Mick mentioned super-soldier serum in that review! How could anything be better than that? What could number one in Mick’s Top Ten Best of Buffy possibly be?!?!?!
Find out tomorrow!