This is the latter of the two combined episodes. The truth is, these two episodes each deserve to be on this list, and very well could have been, but I consider them to be two halves of the same coin. They’re both episodes about honesty and communication, and they both have devastating results on the characters in the series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer worked because it presented everyday problems, but represented them with supernatural villains and demons. This created a show where everyone could simultaneously relate to the cast, while being entertained by the alien natures of their problems.
“Hush” was the result of writer and creator Joss Whedon hearing that the key to the success of Buffy was its dialogue. In response, he wrote the story of a group of demons, called “The Gentlemen,” who steal the voices of the townspeople in order to carve the hearts out of their victims without anyone hearing them.
The Gentlemen are among the creepiest things ever allowed on television. I recommend finding a picture of them if you haven’t seen them, because the fact that they are perfectly silent and elegantly dressed only makes them that much more unnerving. Also, they surgically remove your heart while you’re alive, which probably is the most horrifying way to die that an episode could directly imply, if not outright depict. They seem to be a metaphor for Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) own hesitance to engage in physical intimacy with her new paramour Reilly, after her last two encounters resulted in A) her boyfriend losing his soul (literally) and B) a boy using her as a conquest. They’re male figures who carve out hearts and are only shown to be killed by a woman’s scream. Nobody said the analogy was subtle.
The entire episode has only 17 minutes of dialogue, and it features the cast communicating solely through their actions, which, surprisingly both to the characters and the audience, is much more effective than their attempts to talk to one another. Three different couples finally connect because they stop talking their way into bad places and instead act on their hearts. In this episode, honesty brings people together.
“Once More, with Feeling,” on the other hand, is all about honesty driving people apart. Best of all, it’s about honesty driving people apart in song. Yes, “Once More, with Feeling” was one of the first musical episodes by a non-musical show, and it is still the best, in my opinion (though, following the original writing of this, the episode “Duet” of the Flash is damned good, including a song sung by Jesse L. Martin, Victor Garber, and John “I’m so amazing” Barrowman, and if it weren’t for all the great original songs in this episode, that one would be better).
The plot is that there is a demon named Sweet (Hinton Battle), who, when summoned, makes people sing and dance until they combust, and then leaves with a bride. In the meantime, all of the songs people sing will expose their innermost secrets, often to the very people from whom they’re hiding them. It’s because of this modus operandi, that Sweet is the only villain who ever really beats the Slayer and the Scooby Gang (her friends), even though he chooses to waive the bridal clause of his summoning (upon finding out that it would be a guy). He ruins their relationships, then leaves, having killed at least 3 people in the process. Nothing happens to him at all, except for the loss of his dancing minions.
“Once More, with Feeling” and “Hush” tell the story that honesty can be a force for great good or for great evil, it just depends on how it is conveyed.
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Here’s my favorite part of Once More With Feeling:
And here’s an incipient nightmare: