In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs from classic movie and TV montages.
Somehow I knew almost nothing about Buffy The Vampire Slayer when I first watched it, many years after it aired. Although I’m not usually a stickler about keeping plot details under wraps, watching Buffy unspoiled resulted in many unexpected delights. For instance: All I knew going into season six was “Giles sings at some point.”
That left me wonderfully unprepared for how funny—and devastatingly brutal; after all, Joss Whedon wrote it—“Once More, With Feeling” is. Styling the episode as a musical from the moment the opening credits begin, Buffy creator Joss Whedon moves the plot forward with each verse and chorus, using song and dance as a device that both disarms the viewer and underscores the narrative. “Once More, With Feeling” falls about a third of the way into the sixth season, when the Scoobies’ relationships are all about to boil over. Buffy is relying too heavily on Giles; Willow is relying too heavily on magic; Dawn is relying too heavily on a shoplifting habit. And boil over they do, when a dancing demon comes to town and spurs both the truth and a few furious tap dances.
But back to the pleasures of Giles singing to Buffy. Like all good things with Whedon’s name on them, the sharpness of the song is double-edged with winking hilarity and painful recognition. In this case, that means that Giles is gutted with the realization that he has to leave Buffy… which he sings about during a training montage à la ’80s movies. At this point in the episode, the affliction of song and dance is known but not yet understood, and as Buffy practices various fighting skills, she prefaces Giles’ solo with, “I’m just worried this whole session is going to turn into some training montage from an ’80s movie.” And then the inspirational power chords swell.
Unlike the triumphant tunes from Footloose or (500) Days Of Summer, Buffy’s training montage is foregrounded by a melancholy Giles deciding to abandon his father-figure role and leave Buffy to stand on her own. Through backflips and punching bags, Giles sings: “Your path’s unbeaten, and it’s all uphill / And you can meet it, but you never will / And I’m the reason that you’re standing still.” For a show about slaying demons, and in an episode that both sends up and celebrates musicals, not even a throwback training montage is enough to save the day.