Let’s Face the Music and Dance:  Couples in OMwF

By rowan

Using timeless classical patterns, Joss focuses the action around three pairs of couples:

1.        Anya/Xander

2.        Willow/Tara

3.        Buffy/Spike

Each couple can be described by their purpose within the musical:  Anya/Xander as the Stable Couple, Willow/Tara as the Disintegrating Couple, and Buffy/Spike as the Forming Couple.  Clearly, Buffy and Spike are the lead couple: both their introduction and their denouement are held off for last.

Anya and Xander are the Stable (Maintaining) Couple.  Of the three pairs, they are the only ones to sing a duet together.  Granted, there are hints of trouble in paradise; but throughout most of the musical, they are together.  They do very little in the musical on a solo basis.  Of all the couples, they are presented as the most static and stable.

Willow and Tara are the Disintegrating Couple.  This couple does not really have an interactive duet.  They frame a scene where Tara sings to Willow of her love.  Willow is an active partner in the scene, but she doesn’t sing or reveal herself.  This hints at the trouble that Tara later reveals in her solo.  Willow is the actor and Tara the acted upon.  This is reflected in the fact that Tara does the majority of the singing in this couple; she has a lot to reveal about her reactions.  We hear only about her side of the relationship, her perception of it.   Willow really has no meaningful lines at all.  Eventually, she comes to realize through the musical that she must leave Willow.   It’s really quite wonderful how Joss managed to incorporate AH’s reluctance to sing into one of the major thematic arcs of the season.

Buffy and Spike are the Forming /Lead Couple.  They both have strong solo appearances that outline their major themes.  For Buffy, this is her acknowledgement that she is detached from life (‘going through the motions’) and her desire to feel again (‘get her fire back.’). For Spike, this is his acknowledge that he is detached from life (dead) and his torment over feeling again  (‘you [Buffy] make me feel alive’). They also have several numbers together.  Spike’s duet, of course, actively includes Buffy, even though she does not yet sing with him at this point in the musical.  Buffy’s major solo, where she burns to death, incorporates Spike in its resolutions.  Their one true duet (while very short) is held off as the conclusion of the entire musical, in the classical fashion for all lead lovers.

As the story plays out, we have two other couples who feature prominently in the mix:  Buffy/Giles and Dawn(Buffy)/Sweet.  These couples are also used to illuminate the issues faced by the Lead Couple.  Buffy/Giles as a couple represent the dynamic of Child/Father.  Giles’ song about Buffy, while she trains, reflects his worry over her continued detachment and his sincere desire to connect in some way to her. His attempt to ‘penetrate her heart’ ultimately fails, however, since Buffy doesn’t hear him at all.  She’s cut off from the paternal love he offers.  She is eerily out of step (as demonstrated by her slaying moves) with his emotions and his meaning.  Buffy also refuses to let Giles penetrate her heart for much of the musical. She doesn’t reveal what she sang about ‘going through the motions’ and when they discuss the nature of the problem they face, she responds with the easy platitudes about ‘facing things together.’

Let’s compare this with how Buffy reacts to Spike’s song.  Although she does not sing during Spike’s song, her expressions and actions show she is actively engaged.  She is at once annoyed, angry, aroused, and amazed.  She’s irritated that he’s confessing his love again; she’s apprehensive when he breaks the bottle; she’s in active Slayer mode when she pulls him off the priest.  Then, in the conclusion of the scene, she’s afraid to answer the question he’s really posing when they are lying together in the grave: ‘even though I’m physically dead and you’re emotionally dead, are we going to live again by becoming lovers?’  She flees.

Part of the musical pits the Forming Couple against the Child/Father Couple.  When they all meet up and hear Sweet’s nefarious plan, Giles and Spike have opposing opinions about what to do.  Giles advocates that Buffy go alone.  Spike thinks this is crazy.  When the group (reluctantly) sides with Giles, Spike tells Buffy he will ‘watch her back’ and to ‘forget them.’

This is an important moment.  Buffy can either follow her father’s advice, her lover’s advice, or her own course.  She rejects her lover’s advice.  But the way she rejects it is telling:  not on the basis of its worth, but because Spike has hurt her by saying he wanted her to ‘stay away.’

Buffy turns to her father for his advice. Buffy does finally hear Giles.  What manages to penetrate is his insistence that she face the troubles alone.  Since Buffy didn’t hear the earlier message, she takes his advice, but again, she is acting out of emotion, not intellect.  She leaves,  perceiving that she has been abandoned by everyone.

The other interesting couple is Dawn(Buffy)/Sweet.  Dawn’s themes of feeling invisible are quite touchingly portrayed by her interactions with the demon who wants to make her his child bride (a al Beetlejuice).  But beyond her own issues, Dawn also represents Buffy’s.  This is later made abundantly clear when Buffy consciously repeats the choice of The Gift:  to substitute for Dawn.  Buffy’s desire to submit to Sweet and his song is her deathwish come back with a vengeance.  She can literally emote herself into a flaming death; she’ll feel, but it will be an unchanneled, frenzied world of feeling where getting mustard out and being torn out of heaven are equally ‘things to sing about.’  Then, once she receives the blessing of this sweet oblivion of song, she can return to bliss.

This is where all the themes intersect in the penultimate scene.  Giles’ quickly repents his (erroneous) fatherly advice and shepherds everyone down to the Bronze to provide ‘backup.’  But this course of action is ineffectual as Buffy begins a frenzied dance of death.  Suddenly, her abandoned lover appears (having gotten over his snit), to grab her and save her both by deeds and words.  Spike tells Buffy that life isn’t about songs or bliss, it’s just this:  living, with all its messy complications.  And his best advice is his last advice:  fake it until you make it. But Buffy hasn’t just been saved by her lover; he’s helped, but she really (like Dorothy) knew the way home all the time:  her alternate self, Dawn, repeats her dying words that ‘the hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it.’

In confusion after this big revelation, the gang continue to sing, asking ‘where do we go from here?’ even though the spell is broken by Sweet’s departure.  They can’t break free of the song world.  Tellingly, it is again Spike (who can never tolerate too much human society for any period of time!) who breaks the chain and flees the scene.  Buffy, now ready to choose her lover over her father and her death wish, chases after him, confessing that she does want ‘to feel.’  Spike, with the good sense of all romantic heroes, responds that he wants ‘to feel’ alive also.   They sweep into a life-affirming, very sexual embrace – because after all, there’s no sex in heaven or in songs, is there?


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