Was The Flash’s Musical Episode Really Better than Buffy’s?

I don’t usually watch the CW superhero shows the day they air, so I was watching with some skepticism as the accolades rolled in for the Flash’s musical episode Tuesday night. The Twitterverse loved “Duet” and parts of it implied that it was the best musical episode ever. I’ve seen “Once More With Feeling” from Buffy too many times to take that at face value but then I saw the episode.

It was so much fun. It’s precisely the kind of we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously fun that makes the Flash so much fun. It knows that everything from the premise of the show to the characters and plots of the show are completely ridiculous so it amps them all up to eleven and just has fun with it.

Duet does a lot of the things that made Once More With Feeling so great. It wasn’t just a regular episode of the show with some songs added—well, it was, but like Once More With Feeling, there was just enough explanation in the plot to make it make sense. In this case, the Music Meister shows up to teach folks a lesson and does it by locking Barry Allen and Kara Zor-El in a sort of dream state where they have to play out a musical to get out alive. While they’re off singing, the Music Meister goes off to rob a bank and if that doesn’t come back to mean something, I am going to be very disappointed.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the most popular musical episodes come in shows that have a fantastical element. It’s a heck of a lot easier to introduce a Music Meister or a singing, dancing demon in a show that has some fantastical elements than it is in other shows and that integral-to-the-plot-even-if-it’s-so-very-cheesy-ness of it is why it can work on The Flash but wouldn’t work on Mr. Belvedere.

There’s another similarity though, that I think is ultimately much more important. What happens during the songs is integral to the plot and more than that, it has an enormous impact on the relationships between the characters. This is how these episodes reflect on what it means to be a fan. When you’re a fan, you can’t help but treat characters like real people and not matter how much you know it can’t be so, you want them to be happy.

In “Duet,” the songs make Barry and Kara realize that they know how to be happy and they’ve done some stupid things that are getting in the way of that happiness.

In “One More With Feeling,” and I think this is why it is ultimately a bit better than “Duet” the things that happen during the songs impact more relationships on more levels in more directions than “Duet” does. “Duet” simply has two people in parallel situations where “Once More With Feeling” presages the end—at least temporarily—of two romantic relationships, the beginning of one very unhappy, very unhealthy romantic relationship, and it punches every relationship Buffy has with her friends right in their respective guts. It hits every important character from multiple angles and closes it out with the absolute epitome of how messed up everything is by having Buffy kiss Spike.