Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, with Feeling

"She needs back-up. Anya, Tara..."

The metatextual joke in the above quote is that, yes, Giles is sending two of the gang to help Buffy against a demon baddie, but they are doing so in the capacity of... backing singers. That's one of many wonderful metatextual touches in this, the best ever episode of Buffy and a piece of televisual history, written and helmed for our delectation by Joss Whedon himself. My favourite metatextual joke is that the underling captured by Spike and questioned about the baddie's intentions seems about to deliver the info in the form of a song after much build-up, but then simply tells them.

Like the second-best episode, Hush, this episode relies on an unusual form- the fact that it is structured like a musical, with characters bursting into song- and marries this to content. Songs in musicals are generally about the singer's  innermost feelings, but here this means that everyone's innermost secrets are revealed to all and sundry. Hence Tara learns that Willow has used magic to manipulate her mind. Hence the outing of Xander and Anya's mutual doubts about their marriage ("I love her tight... embrace, tight embrace!"). Hence Giles' decision to leave, so Buffy can get used to not relying on him as a crutch. And hence (this is the biggie) everyone learning that they brought Buffy back, not from a Hell, but from a Heaven. The episode ends with the characters, and their relationships, shattered.

There are some nice structural touches. The opening medley of short scenes is without dialogue, contrasting the status quo where there is a lack of communication to the excess of communication that follows. And an alienated Buffy sneaks off from the big show-stopper to share a dramatic final kiss with Spike.

It would be remiss of me not to praise the awesomeness of the songs, again by that Rebaissance man, Joss Whedon, or the equally awesome singing voices of certain cast members. But this episode is awesome because it is metatextual. This may be the highlight of Whedon's TV career.

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