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Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Best Episode: Once More With Feeling

This week we're kicking off a new series in the television section, titled (for now) "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. Katey kicked things off last week by looking back at Lost, and this week Sean continues things with a Halloween-appropriate Buffy the Vampire Slayer retrospective. Read below, argue with us in the comments, and enjoy the new series!

Normally, this would be impossible. Singling out the best episode of a long-running television series? Sophie had an easier choice. Only two options! How does one narrow down the funniest Seinfeld episode, the most riveting episode of The Wire, or the most unforgettable Arrested Development episode?

That’s why I went with Buffy the Vampire Slayer when we started pitching this column around at CinemaBlend headquarters. Because when discussing the best episode of Joss Whedon’s masterful soap opera, there can be only one choice: The legendary musical, Once More With Feeling.

Oh, sure. Some would make a case for Hush. And I guess I could have argued the two-part season two finale Becoming, where Sarah Michelle Gellar’s cheerleading vampire killer had to off her true love, Angel (David Boreanaz), and the show suddenly became a mature, deeply emotional, must-watch television program.

But Once More With Feeling realized the full potential of the Buffy cast and its creative team. Instead of a standalone episode, Feeling advances season-spanning (and series-spanning) storylines while also maintaining rhythm and harmonies that rival several high-dollar Broadway productions. As a musical, Feeling is first class. But as a Buffy episode, it’s a masterpiece.

I knew it would be special right away, when Gellar moped through the mid-tempo opening number, “Going Through the Motions.” Because up to that point in season 6, the resurrected character of Buffy had been doing just that, and fans were losing patience waiting for her to shake this malaise. Hearing Gellar express this frustration – through song and clever lyric – signified that Whedon wasn’t just scratching a creative itch to work a musical into his popular program. Instead, everything he had done prior seemed to build to this musical episode, and Feeling was his exuberant release.

The lyrics penned for Feeling expertly analyze some of the key issues plaguing Whedon’s Scooby gang, making me wonder how long before the musical episode the screenwriters had to start mapping out plot threads so that they could bring them to a head in this brilliant episode. Feeling isn’t a placeholder, like so many gimmicky musical episodes attempted by lesser programs. “Under Your Spell” advances the Willow-Tara relationship (“spread beneath my Willow tree”). The Xander-Anya relationship falters through the hilarious duet “I’ll Never Tell,” and the strenuous Spike-Buffy relationship settles in “Let Me Rest In Peace,” all without Whedon forcing his hand. And yet, choice stanzas also capture everything we had come to appreciate about the series. The lyrics are sarcastically clever. (“And what’s with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyways?”) They are unifying, as when group harmonizes, “What can’t we face if we’re together? What’s in this world that we can’t weather?” Better yet, they believe it. And we believe them when, in the tearjerking “Where Do We Go From Here,” the gang laments, “Understand, we’ll go hand in hand, but we’ll walk alone in fear.” (Nice choreography as well, Joss.)

The singing’s not great. It doesn’t have to be. The plot involves the demon Sweet (stage star Hinton Battle) weaving a magic spell that forces everyone sing, so these are ordinary people prompted by dark powers to croon their feelings. And this cast wasn’t hired for their pipes, though regular co-stars Anthony Head, Amber Benson and Emma Caulfield actually are quite good. Others, from Nicholas Brendon to Gellar, are adequate. And I think Alyson Hannigan makes it through the entire episode without singing more than one or two lines.

But in its sixth season, when too many television programs find themselves “Going Through the Motions,” Whedon elevated Buffy to its highest peak. The show concluded after its seventh season, meaning the cast and crew never got a chance to do this once more, with feeling. Though given the strength of this flawless episode, that’s probably for the best.

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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.