So, Kate and I were both annoyed by a recent BuzzFeed article ranking all 144 episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a series which I love quite a bit and to which she is irrationally attached. We didn’t agree with the rankings at all, basically, and I didn’t like that there was no real sense of a rubric, no one standard or set of standards by which the episodes were being judged.
We were originally going to do one post about our top ten, but that wasn’t working out, so she’s going to do her top ten at her site, I’m going to do my top ten over here, and then we’re going to have a joint post discussion of all things Buffy, and perhaps my brother (who is not her brother – I know, our family is weird!) will join us.
I have to confess, from the outset, that my memory is pretty blurry on seasons 5-7. Okay, 4-7. I actually have zero memory of anything that happened in Season 7. The Big Bad was the First, right? Like, the First evil, source of all other evil? Which mainly looked like your dead loved ones and got all up in your head about shit? And Buffy found all the Slayers-in-waiting? And Faith was good again? I mean, good for Faith? And some creepy church dude who was maybe played by Nathan Fillon? Okay, so that’s not zero memory. That’s, like, .75 memory. (Sorry, Zoe is making me number everything. “Do you like this game/outfit/picture? How much?” And the scale is 0 – infinity, and she is always disappointed if the number is < 100. Also she doesn’t believe infinity > any single number.)
So my episodes are mostly going to come from seasons 1-3, and also, the rubric I will be using will mainly be, “Do I enjoy the experience of watching this episode?” There will also be consideration given for “a really good and useful way of exploring the themes of the season/series” and/or “a really well-done story in and of itself.” But mostly it’s going to be, “If I flip on the TV and the episode is on, do I want to watch it?”
Also, I think the issue with “Buffy” is, for me, it’s not as much about episodes as it is about arcs, threads, lines, and characters. So there are some perfectly terrible episodes with great moments. “The Zeppo” (3.13) is the one featuring Xander trying to prove (to himself, mostly) that he’s useful and capable and it’s just a dreadful episode. Totally out-of-character moments for all the other Scoobies just to set up a contrivance-filled, stupid-ass plot. But! It’s the one where, upon discovering that Willow and Buffy have eaten all the jelly-filled donuts during a research session, Giles says, “But I’m the one who always says, ‘Let’s have some jellies in the mix,'” and it is awesome. But we’ll get into threads, arcs, lines and characters in the group discussion.
Now, this list is going to leave out some great episodes. Episodes like “Surprise” (2.13) and “Innocence” (2.14) which really cemented the show’s theme of monsters=real life with its “Lose your virginity to a guy, watch him become a monster” thing. And the way Giles reaffirms Buffy’s worth as a person despite her dirty, dirty sex-having cements this show in the feminist firmament. The end of season two, “Becoming (Part I)” (2.21) and “Becoming (Part II)” (2.22) was brilliantly executed and heart-breaking. Angel, having lost his soul to Buffy’s happiness-inducing hoo-ha in “Surprise”, has started a spell that can bring about the end of the world. Buffy must kill him to end the spell. At one point, it looks like he’s defeated her. She’s on the ground, weaponless, and he asks, “What happens when you take away your friends, your family, your weapons?” (I’m paraphrasing) and she grabs his sword by the blade and says “Me.” Bad-ass. But then during their final fight Willow, from the hospital, completes the spell that restores his soul. He becomes Angel again, unaware of what he’s been up to, still in love with Buffy. And she has to shove a sword into his belly anyway. This episode was my first exposure to the show, not through watching it, but through having it described to me by my bff right before first period the morning after it aired. I cried intermittently all day, despite never having watched the show.
The finale of Season 3, “Graduation (Part I)” (3.21) and “Graduation (Part II)” (3.22) is also kick-ass, with Buffy leading the school in bringing down their mayor-turned-enormous-snake-demon (Joss does love his phallic imagery), which is both just cool as hell and also all thematic and shit with Buffy graduating from childhood and shucking off all her patriarchal oppressors. I’m also a fan of all things involving Faith, the other Slayer, Buffy’s dark side.
And I’ll mention some moments and some powerful forces in “Buffy” that I don’t have room for here. But I already cheated on my Top
Ten Seventeen (How very dare I! Kate’s going to hate this!) list so here we go!
10. “Hush” 4.10/”The Body” 5.16
I did, actually, pair these for a reason. I promised that my rubric was “Episodes I love to watch.”
I cannot watch either of these.
And yet they are two of the best episodes of the series.
“Hush” (4.10) is the only episode to be nominated for an Emmy. I read over at Snark Squad that it was written in response to the criticism that, sure, Joss can write witty dialogue, but that’s really the only trick up his sleeve. So he wrote an episode in which the Monsters of the Week – The Gentlemen – steal everybody’s voices in Sunnydale. So no dialogue. But Emmy nominations. Take that, mofos.
It’s a really brilliant episode. The lack of dialogue – or any sound at all, really – is compelling, and it allows the characters to express themselves in other ways, when language was really a barrier between them. Buffy and her Season 4 love interest Riley, after stumbling in and out of conversations about cheese and classwork (He’s her TA and we’ll just pretend that’s okay. So much was wrong with their relationship that I’m not going to quibble about inappropriate teacher-student relations.), finally can express their attraction and kiss in silence. Even small moments, like Willow being visibly freaked out by all the silence and Giles hugging her, even though neither of them is usually that physical, are lovely. And it uses humor really brilliantly, too. Giles gives a projector-enhanced “talk” on his research, which is already hilarious, and then Buffy, in order to indicate that she wants to know if she can stake them, makes a motion that . . .
well . . .
Looks like that. And everyone gives her hilarious side-eye. Even just the guy selling whiteboards for $10 was great. American entrepreneurship, people.
So with all this awesomeness, why can’t I watch it?
Because it creeps me way the fuck out. I can’t watch this and then hope to sleep for, like, a week.
The Gentlemen, oh, my God, the Gentlemen. They have these gracious, polite mannerisms and these creepy as fuck smiles and they glide everywhere in a group of seven and SCARE ME TO DEATH, OKAY?
And! The whole episode is capped by a disembodied, high-pitched child’s sing-song voice reciting a creepy nursery rhyme about the gentlemen.
Plus not being able to speak is one of my top five biggest nightmares.
So. Great episode. Deserves a spot on the list. Can’t watch it.
“The Body” (5.16) is similarly quiet; the decision was made not to have any of the soundtracking customary to TV shows. Whedon & co. didn’t want to guide your emotional reactions. And they didn’t have to. Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mother, is found dead by her titular daughter. She’s died of complications related to a brain tumor; there’s no demon or vampire for Buffy to fight. Just real life.
Look, I can’t even write about this episode. The last half-decade or so of my life renders me completely incapable. Go look at my sister’s blog for the Anya quote that goes with that picture; it’s heart-breaking. The whole episode is heart-breaking. And my heart can’t withstand it.
9. “Helpless” 3.12/”Checkpoint” 5.12
Another pairing! Ha! And these, while separated, deal with the same theme – Buffy’s relationship with The Watcher’s Council, the sort of bosses of the Slayerverse. They only really play a part in these two episodes, and both times, they illustrate how much Joss Whedon hates authority.
I mean, how useless they are to Buffy.
The first, “Helpless,” is really a heartbreaking episode. It’s Buffy’s eighteenth birthday, and, because Slayers don’t usually make it to eighteen, they get tested at that age. Their watchers are instructed to inject them with something that takes away their superpowers, and the Council then sets up a test, to see if they can survive without them. What’s that, you ask? Why would the council deliberately endanger the few Slayers strong and smart enough to get to their eighteenth birthdays? I dunno, dude. Because the patriarchal authority structure sucks. Don’t you pay attention?
It’s no accident that this episode takes place during the season in which the Big Bad is The Mayor, another very literal representation of oppressive (demonic) patriarchy. And it involves another patriarch and his relationship with the Slayer – Giles, her pseudo-father. In the beginning of the episode, Buffy makes that connection for us, in case we hadn’t already picked up on it. Her real father is unable to make their annual date to the Ice Capades, and Buffy brings this up with Giles, saying the Ice Capades is something you take your daughter to. Or your student. Or your Slayer.
But Giles is at first complicit in the Council’s plans, even though it’s plaguing his conscience. Then the extra-vicious vampire that the Council’s brought in – he was a homicidal sociopath before he was turned – gets loose because in addition to being evil, the Council is dangerously incompetent. (They actually remind me a little of the villain of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. They are not evil because they are on the side of bad, the way demons and vampires are. They are evil because they are on the side of good but think that their ends – that the world is saved – justify their atrocious, abusive, officious means.) So Giles tells Buffy what’s up. Buffy is furious with Giles and leaves him. Giles decides to arm himself and go help her.
Buffy, in the end, needs very little help to rescue her mother from the vampire’s clutches. She fights though she is weakened and defeats the vampire with a glass of holy water placed near his medication (I guess even if you get turned into a vampire you still need your psychiatric meds?). She feels betrayed by her not-dad, but that feeling of betrayal is softened when the head of the Council announces that while Buffy passed her test, Giles failed. He has a father’s feelings toward the Slayer. The Council fires him, but Buffy says “Fuck that” and fires the council. It’s like she’s growing up and emancipating herself from all this patriarchal authority right around her eighteenth birthday/high school graduation? You know?
The Council shows up two years later in Season 5. At this point Giles and Buffy have been operating Council-free for a while. And the Big Bad that season is the better-in-smaller-doses Glory, whose main superpowers are, as far as I can tell, to annoy me and to maintain perfect ringlets at all times.
Anyway, what The Council knows but Buffy doesn’t at this stage is that Glory is not your run-0f-the-mill demon; she’s a god. And they won’t tell Buffy unless Buffy passes various tests. Buffy tries at first to jump through their hoops, and we have a good time watching her friends answer interview questions (Willow and Tara get adorably defensive about their lesbian love, only to learn that the Council cares about their relationship with Buffy, not with each other; Anya tries to cover up the fact that she’s an ex-demon; Spike gets flirtatious with a Councilette who gigglingly confesses that she wrote her thesis on him). But in the end she’s like, “You know what? I’m the motherfuckin’ Slayer. You need me more than I need you. So how about you give me my information and I agree to let you keep living?” And, on Giles’s prompting, “And you give Giles his job back. With backpay.”
Anyway, I like the episodes that speak to the feminist-oriented themes and the anti-authoritarian themes underlying the series, and these Council-centered episodes give a pretty good lens on that.
8. “This Year’s Girl” 4.15 & “Who Are You” 4.16
Oh, Katie Boe, I don’t think I have many single-episode items on this list. This pairing, at least, makes sense, because this is a two-part episode, and I know you have a problem even with that, but it’s one story split into two 43-minute segments; I’m not going to feel bad here.
This two-episode story is about Faith, the other Slayer, who shows up in Season Three and is sort of Buffy’s “bad girl” alter ego. At first they play for the same team, slaying together, working through their different work styles and towards common goals. Buffy is confounded by Faith’s ease and happiness with the Slayer life, and Faith is confused by Buffy’s I’m-still-a-nice-regular-girl-schtick. (Best moment from Faith’s first episode, “Faith, Hope & Trick” (3.03) is when Faith, trying to connect with Buffy, says, “Isn’t it funny how slaying always makes you hungry and horny?” While her friends all look to Buffy, full of curiosity, Buffy shrinks in her chair and says, “I sometimes crave a non-fat frozen yogurt?” That, right there, is the difference between Faith and Buffy.)
But in the middle of Season 3, Faith accidentally kills a human. (I mean, he worked for the demonic mayor, but he wasn’t a demon, and it’s not clear if he knew the mayor was.) The way she handles it, and the way Buffy and the Scoobies handle it, pushes Faith to the dark side. She spends the rest of Season 3 working for the Mayor, until Buffy nearly kills her in a fight over Buffy’s vampire-with-a-soul boyfriend Angel. Then Faith is in a coma and we don’t hear about her again until this pair of episodes.
Faith wakes up and realizes that a lot has happened since she’s been out. She is left a gift by the dead Mayor that allows her to switch bodies with Buffy. Buffy, in Faith’s body, ends up in the clutches of The Council, while Faith, in Buffy’s body, messes with Buffy’s friends, sleeps with Buffy’s boyfriend, and torments Spike a little in one of those scenes where you go, “Yeah, Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters have too much chemistry for them not to hook up eventually.”
Faith plans on escaping Sunnydale in Buffy’s body, but when some demons attack a church, she realizes that the “Because it’s wrong” Buffy she’s been mocking is in her, too. She can’t take her chance at escape and let all those people die . . . because it’s wrong.
The episode pair is great in part because Sarah Michelle Gellar f-ing NAILS IT. I don’t feel strongly about her acting one way or another most of the time. I think she has brilliant, beautiful moments and meh moments and gets-the-job-done-competently moments. This episode pair is one of her absolute best.
And of course it’s always delightful to see Eliza Dushku. She’s nowhere near as good as Sarah Michelle Gellar here but she’s not bad and she’s pretty and Faith is a great character.
But I also like the way it explores the theme that Faith has always been instrumental in exploring – what does it mean to have Slayer powers? What are your ethical obligations? How do you handle the power? How do Buffy and Faith deal with these questions differently? Especially in a Season that really has Buffy dealing with what it means to be a Slayer now that she’s not in college, and now that there’s such a thing as the Initiative, and now that her world has been morally compromised by a vampire-with-a-chip-and-killer-cheekbones, it’s a really good episode pair.
7. “Witch” 1.03/”Puppet Show” 1.09/”Earshot” 3.18
This is really going to drive Kate nuts. Sorry, Kate!
I included these three because I said in the beginning that my rubric was “Episodes I Want to Watch.” I love these four. There’s nothing particularly awesome about any of them from a season/series arc perspective or from a storytelling perspective. In fact, some of them, like “Witch” aren’t even objectively all that good.
But “Witch” has Drunk Buffy (She’s not really drunk; she’s under a witch’s curse) which is delightful and also Joyce’s declaration that under no circumstances would she ever in a million years want to be a teenager again, which, I feel ya, Joyce!
“Earshot” is the one where Buffy can hear people’s thoughts. Again, nothing awesome or thematically relevant about it, but it’s funny. It’s funny the way Cordelia is always saying exactly what she’s thinking. It’s funny when Buffy, having been cured of this problem, is back at school with Giles and Giles invites her to a training session that afternoon and she goes, “Sure. If you’re not too busy having sex with my mother!” and he walks into a tree. It’s funny how Willow and Xander are thinking regular teen things and Oz is getting all philosophical, like, “If we are because we think, and she can hear our thoughts, do we exist at all? Are we all Buffy? Is she us?”
(This episode actually couldn’t air with its season originally because in it, tertiary nerd Jonathan has got a gun in a clock tower and it’s implied he’s going to shoot his fellow students, although it turns out he intended to shoot himself. And right before it was supposed to air, Columbine happened.)
And “Puppet Show,” a first-season one-off in which a demon is harvesting body parts from students involved in the school’s talent show and also there’s a ventriloquist’s dummy who’s also a cursed demon hunter and really, there’s nothing special about this episode at all. It’s just fun. And if it’s on, I watch.
6. “Anne” 3.01
The end of Season Two really just sucked for our girl. The second slayer (who was called when Buffy died briefly at the end of Season One) is killed by one of the Big Bad trio of the season and Buffy is accused of the murder by the principal who has it out for her anyway. Said principal also expels her. Her mother finds out about her Slayer-ness (For which I was grateful – two seasons of her not realizing what her daughter was up to just speaks to extreme parental negligence.) and kicks her out of the house. (So I guess the parental negligence is not over.) And then, she has to kill her suddenly re-be-souled love Angel. Sure, when she’s fighting him (while he still doesn’t have a soul yet) she declares that, even without her friends, family, and life, she’s still got “Me” and “me” is a total badass, but that’s a lot for a high school junior to take. So she gets on a bus and starts a new life in L.A. as a waitress at a diner named Anne. A waitress who doesn’t say a word when a patron pinches her ass. It’s like she’s not “me” anymore!
Until a damsel in distress leads her to a demon who’s making the most of kids like her who don’t think they’re “me” anymore! Then she leads those poor lost kids in a revolt against the demon!
It’s a beautiful and brilliant episode. It shows you exactly what Buffy still has inside her. My favorite moment is when she’s investigating the demon at a blood drive center and the nurse walks in on her and threatens to call the police. Buffy very calmly rips the phone off the wall and proceeds to question the nurse like it ain’t no thing. Kick-ass. It’s a great, feminist-y but also just human message about what happens when you don’t know who you are and when you find out. And it foreshadows the end of the season, where Buffy will lead her classmates in revolt against their Mayor/giant snake demon.
I was going to mention the other season opener, “When She Was Bad” (2.01), when Buffy comes back from L.A. after having died and then killed the Master who murdered her, brats around for a while, then sobs as she pummels the Master’s bones with a mallet. And the next day, even though she’d been awful to her friends for days, they greet her like nothing’s wrong and ask what they’re all doing tonight. And Xander, with a big smile, says, “Well, we could grind our enemy’s bones to powder, but heck, we did that last night!” I love the depiction of friendship on this show. But I didn’t want to drive Kate even crazier.
5. “Nightmares” 1.10/”Killed By Death” 2.18
These two are my favorite scary episodes. “Nightmares” (1.10) has a boy in a coma who has brought everyone in Sunnydale into a nightmare universe, in which all their nightmares become true. This is one of those early episodes that doesn’t try to answer “Why?” with more than “Uh, Hellmouth?” which is fine. I am attracted to dream-episodes and this was a good one. We get your standard naked-in-class/doesn’t-know-anything-for-a-test/singing-on-stage stuff, but then things get scarier. Buffy is informed by her father that her parents’ divorce was really all her fault for being such a difficult child. Then we see her grave (which is Giles’s nightmare. Because he’s her real father.) and then she climbs out of it a vampire, declaring that they better solve this problem quick, because she’s getting hungry.
And then it turns out that the kid is in a coma because his coach beat him up. Awesome. Do you think Joss struggles with authority? Especially when it’s male?
“Killed By Death” 2.18 puts Buffy in the hospital with the flu, where she discovers a demon that sucks the life out of little kids and can only be seen by feverish kids. So even when Buffy gets better, she has to give herself some flu virus so she can see the monster she’s fighting, which is kinda cool. And it’s the demon that killed Buffy’s cousin when she and Buffy were kids, so . . . something meaningful? I don’t know. And then one of the kids she saved makes the above picture for her. I don’t know, really, why I like this episode so much. I just do.
4. “Halloween” 2.06
So I love that in the Buffyverse, Halloween is pretty much a day off for the demons, because, you know, so commercial. I love it because it’s funny on its own but also because it echoes what we deal with in the real world. Do you know that only one person has ever poisoned kids’ candy on Halloween? And that person was the kids’ father? He poisoned his kids’ pixie stix, figuring that he wouldn’t be caught, because they’d just be part of the annual rash of kids being poisoned by Halloween candy. Only since that NEVER HAPPENS EVER, he was totally caught, and because he lived in Texas, he was executed. I’m not really in favor of the death penalty, like, in principle, but I can’t say that makes me real sad.
Anyway, in this episode, the demons are relaxing, but Ethan Rayne, a human and an old friend of Giles’s from Giles’s bad boy teen years, is in town to make trouble. Any costume bought at his shop turns you into that character! Xander becomes an actual military person, Willow becomes a sort of hooker/ghost (don’t worry about it), and Buffy becomes a dainty 18th century damsel. It’s not really that great an episode – there’s some uncomfortable Xander-needs-to-prove-his-masculinity schtick and it’s not clear to me what, if anything, Ethan was after, although if all he was after was mayhem that’s fine by me. But it’s a really fun concept, and Sarah Michelle Gellar is laughably bad as a damsel. She gets better at that kind of character – I love her as the Buffybot in Season 5, even if the plot line is disturbing and gross – but here, with the accent and the ridiculousness, it’s terrible. But enjoyably terrible. I love this episode.
3. “The Wish” 3.09/”Doppelgangland” 3.16
I’m going to go ahead and feel okay lumping these two together because they are both good for basically the same reason – they have Vamp Willow! Allyson Hannigan is a complete delight all the time, and her evil counterpart is so perfectly Willow, but evil.
In “The Wish” (3.09), a new girl has come to Sunnydale in the wake of Cordelia and Xander’s break-up (which happens as a result of events in “Lover’s Walk” (3.08), another great episode I don’t have room for here, even with my generous interpretation of “ten”). But she’s not just a girl, she’s a vengeance demon! And she grants the wishes of wronged women!
Cordelia (not realizing she’s talking to a demon) reasons that if Buffy had never come to Sunnydale High, teen queen Cordelia would never have looked twice at nerdy, awkward Xander, and it was only his coolness-by-association-with-Buffy that led to their going out at all. (It’s actually a kind of weird speech, because Cordelia doesn’t think Buffy is cool. It was more that Xander kept being involved in activities that saved Cordelia’s life/the world that pushed her toward Xander. Still, that was Buffy’s fault, so, you know, same result.) So Cordelia wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale.
And then our favorite vengeance demon Anyanka goes all veiny in the face and says, “Done,” transporting Cordelia to the Sunnydale that would exist if Buffy hadn’t been there. A Sunnydale in which you’re not to wear bright colors and you’re to get home before dark. A Sunnydale in which there are monthly memorial services for all the Sunnydale High kids who die each month. A Sunnydale in which the Master arose (an event which Buffy had prevented back in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (1.01) and “The Harvest” (1.02)) and turned the teen nightclub The Bronze into his personal headquarters. A Sunnydale in which Xander and Willow have been turned and Angel is kept in a cage and tortured for their amusement.
Like I said, Willow takes the cake here, because she’s still Willow, just with also being a vampire. She asks the Master if she can “play with the puppy” in that same adorable Allyson Hannigan voice – and “play with the puppy” turns out to mean “flick lit matches at a chained up Angel.” And also she tortures and kills Cordelia. And I even like the idea that alterna-Willow is the Master’s favorite, and regularly-scheduled-Willow is the mini-Giles. But even besides that, I am a big fan of alternate histories and “What if this one thing were different?” kind of stories, and this delivers. Buffy eventually arrives from, like, Ohio? Detroit? Somewhere like that. And it’s a different Buffy. A kickass Buffy, sure, but a Buffy who is more like what we’ve been shown Slayers are like without family and friends and other things to tether them to the real world – a little heedless of her own life. She’ll fight, she’ll kill, but she won’t protect herself. She won’t even necessarily protect others. And, in fact, in this alterna-reality, The Master snaps her neck, killing her. In our reality, the Master also killed Buffy that one time – but she was connected to people who loved her and rescued her.
Eventually, Giles realizes that the necklace the now-dead Cordy was wearing was a power center for the demon who created this reality and smashes it, sending us back to the reality we know, and only Anya knows what happens. Only now Anya is stuck in human form and we get a brand-new, (mostly) delightful Scooby!
A few episodes later, in “Doppelgangland” (3.16), Anya gets Willow to help her with a spell that’s an attempt to recover Anya’s lost necklace. But something goes awry and instead of bringing the necklace over from the other dimension, they bring Vamp Willow! Really it’s mostly an opportunity for Allyson Hannigan to show of her mad skillz again, but it’s a good opportunity and full of many cute moments, not the least of which is the hug that first Buffy, then Xander, and then Giles, pile onto when they realize that their Willow has not been vamped. And it also helps Willow own a little of her own badassery.
2. “Band Candy” 3.06
Like I said on Facebook, I realized I was a grown-up when I stopped crushing on Oz and started crushing on Giles. And this episode right here really helped.
Now, this episode of “Buffy” is not one of its strongest, plot-wise. Ethan Rayne, Giles’s ex-friend, is back in town for a little chaos-causing. This time, he’s poisoned the candy that every Sunnydale High student has to sell for the benefit of the marching band, such that when the adults (who buy it from their children because honestly, who wants to go door to door selling candy?) eat it, they all revert to their teenage selves. Unfortunately for the gang but SO VERY FORTUNATELY FOR ME, Giles had a particularly rebellious teenagehood and his re-enactment of his teenage self is just so fantastic I can’t even.
Anthony Stewart Head is a national treasure. I guess not of our nation, but still.
But the chaos is all to collect, like, five babies from the hospital’s nursery. Which the demons can do because the nurse on guard is resentfully watching TV and munching chocolate and not paying attention but . . . the whole town of adults needed be turned into teenagers to achieve this end? Most of them don’t go anywhere near the hospital on a given day.
Ah, who cares. Giles! And actually all the adults do a fantastic job of being teenagers for this episode. Delightful.
1. “Once More with Feeling” 6.07
The musical episode. Best thing ever.
Look, even if they did an only mediocre job with the episode, it was going to be my favorite anyway. I love musicals and I love the musical-ization of things that should not be musical-ized. But they actually did a really good job with it. The songs were not bad at all. All the singing was not great – Anthony Stewart Head and Amber Benson (Willow’s girlfriend Tara) can sing but none of the rest of the cast really can – but there were solid acting and storytelling reasons to keep all their voices as is, rather than “Singin’ in the Rain” the whole thing.
And Season 6 is a tough one to deal with. It’s mostly about Buffy suffering from severe depression after she died and was brought back to life – and out of heaven – by her friends. But the musical episode manages to skillfully sort through her emotional issues as well as all of the issues everyone else is having, all the secrets they’re keeping from each other, all the things they’re not saying. That’s actually the Monster of the Week’s job – he comes to town and everyone sings their feelings until they spontaneously combust.
And the lyrics are really talented at getting at double and even triple meanings in terms of what’s happening for people. In the second song of the episode, “I’ve Got a Theory,” in which the Scoobies gather at Giles’s magic shop to research what could be causing the singing and dancing, everyone proposes various possibilities, and then Buffy sings:
I’ve got a theory
It doesn’t matter.
What can’t we face if we’re together?
What’s in the world that we can’t weather?
Apocalypse, we’ve all been there.
The same old tricks.
Why should we care?
What can’t we do if we get in it?
We’ll work it through within a minute.
We have to try.
We’ll pay the price.
It’s do or die.
Hey, I’ve died twice.
On the surface, and as perceived by her friends, it’s a bad-ass, bring-it-on type statement, and that last line is met with smiles. But the audience, who knows what she’s going through, also sees that deep, troubling ennui that’s seized her and that she sang about in her first song, “Going Through the Motions.” What difference does it make what this demon does or doesn’t do? Nothing will change.
Xander and Anya also have a pretty good song about their relationship that I think encapsulates all the relationship problems that aren’t “S/he cheated on me/hit me/stole my money.” They sing about their uncertainty about getting married, including the little things – “She eats these skeazy cheeses that I can’t abide” – with the big things – “Will our lives become too stressful if I’m never that successful?” and “I’ve read this tale; there’s wedding, then betrayal.” And they also reaffirm the title of the song, “I’ll Never Tell,” which is of course at the root of every relationship problem ever.
And Willow and Tara’s song – well, Tara’s song that she sings to Tara – is this lovely, beautiful little ballad full of sweetness and magic, and also some dirtiness when Willow totally goes down on Tara on network TV . . . except that we know, and Tara does not, that Willow’s been using magic to mess with Tara’s mind so that Tara will forget the things she’s mad at Willow for. NOT COOL, WILLOW. NOT COOL. Also they are both wearing beautiful, but totally bizarre outfits in that scene.
The plot, I’ll admit, is a little weak. The musical demon was summoned, and the episode tries to indicate that it was Dawn, that ball-of-energy/Buffy’s sister, and that would have made some degree of sense. Dawn is a lot younger than the Scooby gang and has been shown time and time again, before and after this episode, to do batshit stupid things regarding the demon world she knows is out there. But then, to wrap up the episode, they reveal that it was Xander who summoned the demon. Because, you know, whoever summoned the demon has to go be his hell bride, but the demon doesn’t really want Xander. Haha. Male homosexuality is hilarious.
The problem is, Xander has been a Scooby since he was fifteen. He has already had one bad run-in with magic, when he tried to do a spell on Cordelia in “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” (2.16) and it went very awry. And he’s spent the past two seasons growing into a mature, responsible, supportive man. It’s too much of a stretch to believe he’d have done this. Dawn doing it would have given me one more reason to hate Dawn, but it would have been in character. I would have also accepted that sterling explanation that was so popular in Season One, “Umm . . . Hellmouth?” But since it’s such a minor part of the episode it doesn’t really mar your enjoyment. This episode does that thing Whedon does best – funny and deeply emotional all at the same time.
Also, Spike and Buffy finally kiss. Which you knew had to happen because Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters set off fire alarms when they’re within five feet of each other. But ugh. We’ll talk more about my ugh feelings in the discussion with Kate and Evan.