2.19. I Only Have Eyes For You
The second part of season 2 just keeps breaking you heart, doesn’t it – after Passion
, here is another moving, dark, haunting (no pun intended) episode. While no main characters die in this one, this is one of those episodes that make me cry every single time. Both for its ghost story about the 1950s tragic romance between Sunnydale high school student James (young Christopher Gorham) and his teacher Grace, which ended in a murder and suicide that gets replayed several times by different pairings of actors – but loses none of its poignancy – and for the way it resonates with the Buffy/Angel story in an unexpected way. And this time it was no different, I started bowling my eyes out since the scene where Buffy is over-identifying with James, to the 1950s scenes between James and Grace, to the climactic resolution as Buffy and Angel get possessed and replay the fateful scene. Writer Marti Noxon has said that the ghosts were really a metaphor for repentance and second chances, and this is exactly what the episode conveys.
I love the gender-flip twist in the episode (foreshadowed by the Sadie Hawkins dance, a traditional event in whichgender roles are reversed and women are the ones to ask men out to the dance). In the opening scene at the Bronze, we learned that Buffy was feeling guilty for her „impulsive“ decision to sleep with Angel, which is why she told a boy who asked her to the dance (or asked her to ask him to the dance, missing the entire point of the event) that she won’t ever date anyone again (!), scared of what disasters she might cause if she continues to make impulsive decisions in her love life (well, she was kinda right about that one). We are first lead to believe that James's ghost will always possess men and Grace's ghost women, and all the characters keep assuming that throughout the episode – because people (characters as well as the audience) tend to be narrow-minded that way and make assumptions that males will identify with males and females will relate to females. They keep expecting that James will need a man to possess even after they realize that Buffy isn’t angry at James just because it reminds of the abuse she's suffering from Angel(us) – but that she’s so harsh and unforgiving of James because she’s identifying with him
. She relates to James because she feels tremendous guilt for „destroying“ the person she loves, costing him his soul. Of course, rationally and objectively speaking, Buffy isn’t guilty of anything and her action of sleeping with Angel is no way comparable to what James did. She had no way of knowing about his curse, and if anyone should have found the time to research it, it was Angel himself during those 100 years he spent wandering around; not to mention that Angel is, of course, an adult who made the decision to have sex with Buffy. But none of this matters to Buffy, all it matters is how she feels about it deep inside.
There is another reason why the parallel makes perfect sense: James/Grace and Buffy/Angel were both 'forbidden', transgressive relationships that were inappropriate in the eyes of the world, between a teenager and a much older person, in the former case she was his teacher, and in the latter, Angel is a 240-old vampire. And this is what makes the story of James and Grace a bit more complicated from the moral standpoint: even though none of the characters ever comment on it, he was the murderer, but he was also a teenage boy, in a relationship with a teacher; it’s not just the society in the 1950s that would have had a problem with their relationship, nowadays a teacher like Grace would also lose her job at best, if not, depending on what James’s age was, go to prison for statutory rape. Of course, Buffy never thinks in those terms, and how could she, when she also doesn’t see herself as a kid and doesn’t think that Angel did anything wrong by being in a relationship with her (the one time she called him a cradle-snatcher, it was a joke). Giles and the other Scoobies don’t see the James/Grace relationship in these terms, but neither did they see the Buffy/Angel relationship like that; the only one who had a problem with it because of the age difference was Joyce (who, ironically, had no idea just how big that age difference is). The show never took an overt judgmental stance either. The B/A pairing doesn’t seem like a typical May/December romance since Angel looks like a 20-something, but also because Buffy is a strong, smart and precocious teenager with a lot of responsibility. Besides, while don’t know much about Grace and her life and circumstances, but Angel seems to be in some ways an emotional adolescent despite his hundreds of years of experience. On the other hand, the age difference between him and Buffy was still emphasized lots of times, especially the times when he would assume the role of a „wise experienced older men“ and patronize Buffy (Reptile Boy
, Lie to Me
, The Prom
). In that context, it’s fitting that the last words James says to Grace before he shoots her – and that Buffy gets to replay – were „Don’t do that! Don’t talk to me like I’m some stupid...“ The missing word was obviously „kid“.
The song „I Only Have Eyes For You“ by the Flamingos
that James and Grace dance to in one of the flashbacks and that James plays in the music room just before he kills himself is about obsessive love - it's one of those oldies that sounds beautiful and romantic but may also sound haunting and also really disturbing: "My love must be some kind of blind love, I can't see anything but you". A powerful infatuation/romantic obsession that makes you blind to the reality. This is often what teenagers are like when they fall intensely in love for the first time, even if most of them don’t take it as far as James did: at that age, you cannot imagine they will ever fall out of love with that person or in love with someone else, you believe that the love you’re feeling is One True Love that is going to last forever (James’s words moments before he shoots Grace: „Love is forever!“). On the other hand, Grace and Angel were older and more mature people who were aware that their relationship with a teenager was inappropriate, maybe they should have known better, but they still couldn't help falling as hard. Grace was a rather young teacher, but she was still an adult and in position of authority – though she didn’t seem to be abusing in order to show special preference to James. However, no matter how precocious, intellectually and physically and even emotionally mature teenagers may be, they still tend to be volatile and to feel everything too intensely, to see everything in life-and-death terms. Of course, there are adults who commit crimes of passion, but we can’t judge an adolescent in the same way.
No matter how strange it feels at first glance to compare „Angelus“ to a much nicer Grace, there is a parallel because he is fighting against feeling that love (but for completely different reasons from those that make him feel it's wrong while he's souled) - at the end of the episode, he feels really disturbed for having felt love when Grace's ghost possessed him. And I think this is what precipitates his decision to destroy humanity, something that he never seemed keen on doing on all his 100+ years as an evil soulless vampire. I don’t the problem is just that he felt Grace's love, but that he remembers what he was like when he had a soul and loved her, and without a soul he still can't let go of his obsession for Buffy, only now it's turned to hate exactly because he hates that he used to love her so much and that she made him feel human. But no matter how much he tried to hurt Buffy in various ways, in the end he can't really get rid of that feeling completely and be free of her unless he destroys humanity completely.
of the episode is, no doubt, the powerful scene in which Buffy and Angel replay the James/Grace murder/suicide and allow the ghosts their resolution – Angel survives because he is a vampire, which makes it possible for Grace to come back and give the scene a different ending, stop James from replaying his suicide, tell him she never stopped loving him and give him forgiveness and peace. (The name Grace was probably not accidentally chosen.)
So many lines in that scene get a new meaning in the context of B/A, as when James/Buffy exclaims: "A person doesn't just wake up and stop loving somebody!" There’s a enormous amount of foreshadowing
not just of Becoming II
(where Buffy does „kill“ Angel, but Angel will also come back after being sent to hell, which will allow Buffy to start forgiving herself) but also Angel breaking up with Buffy in The Prom
(the episodes had the same writer, so maybe the latter was intentionally echoing IOHEFY). The things that Grace (through Angel) says to James (Buffy) as to why she ended their relationship are exactly the reasons why Angel leaves Buffy at the end of S3: "I just want you to be able to have some sort of normal life. We can never have that, don't you see?" James yells "I don't give a damn about normal life!" which is pretty much the same conversation Angel and Buffy will have in The Prom
. James demands of Grace to tell him she doesn’t love him, which she manages to do even though she’s lying; Buffy will ask the same of Angel in Lovers Walk
but he won’t be able to do it; in The Prom
, she asks him to tell her he doesn’t want to be with her, and he does.
I’m really impressed with SMG’s acting as James, this is one of the most powerful performances. And how can one not love seeing Buffy yell at Angel: „(Don’t walk away from me), BITCH!"
The episode also shows just how much Giles is missing Jenny – to the point that he’s desperately trying to believe that the poltergeist is her ghost, despite all the disturbing things it’s causing, until he finally accepts the fact that it can’t be her.
Willow, Xander and Cordelia have rather small roles in this episode. We do, however, see hints that Willow’s life is changing a lot for the better – she’s obviously happy in love, she likes being a substitute teacher of computer science and feels more confident, she’s starting to feel ’cool’, even making the students laugh at her jokes, and she’s getting interested in magic and paganism that Jenny was into. Xander and Cordy are just comic relief – and in this case it really should be called „much needed comic relief“. Cordy is still a spokesperson for anti-feminist views, shocked that there is an event where women have to ask men out and pay for everything (it’s the latter that seems to really be bothering her), and Xander goes along saying that the event must have been invented by some „hairy-legged feminist“, which is ironic since the origin of the Sadie Hawkins dance
has nothing to do with feminism, and it’s poking fun at the stereotypes, while being a reminder that, while the show and its creator may be feminist, many of the main characters aren’t, especially at this point.
But the best comic relief comes from Snyder, who returns in all his „glory“ after haven’t been seen since What’s My Line I
. We learn that Snyder, at least a part of the police force and the mayor all know that the town lies on the Hellmouth, and that Snyder has been hired to keep that a secret from the majority of the town’s population. It’s the first time that the Mayor is mentioned, though not by name – so far we just know he’s in on it, and that Snyder is afraid of him.
I wish I’ve started some sort of a death count for teachers and students of Sunnydale. The unfortunate teacher possessed by Grace’s ghost who got shot by the janitor (Deadwood
’s John Hawkes) she barely knew, who got possessed by James’s ghost, is at least third teacher to die violently on the show (after the biology teacher eaten by the praying mantis in Teacher’s Pet
and Jenny), not to mention the principal eaten by his students, err by ’dogs’, and the ’teacher’ who was actually the praying mantis... You’d think they’d figure out by now that Sunnydale High is not a safe workplace. Snyder must be really doing an amazing cover-up job.
Angel’s mansion is also introduced in this episode – he got it (we don’t know how exactly) after the factory was burned down, and it’s the place where he, Spike and Dru will live to the end of season 2 and also the place where he’ll live in season 3. The Angel/Dru/Spike triangle is escalating – Dru is now openly flirting with Angel and enjoying the way he’s touching her, right in front of Spike. She doesn’t seem to have the same views of love and fidelity that most humans do, and she’s like a self-centered child, preoccupied with her needs and whims; she’s still calling Spike to come to hunt with them: „Are you coming, pet“ but doesn’t seem to notice or care that Spike’s face shows that he’s really hurt by her behavior. Dru is mostly in her own world that others like Spike and Angel are only tangentially touching, Spike with his romantic Victorian gestures and Angel with his more animalistic way he connects to her. Spike, on his part, doesn’t seem to think of Dru as an adult who can be blamed for her actions. She’s his beautiful princess/little girl he buys necklaces and pretty dresses for (there’s still a lot of a Victorian man in him, and it shows in his relationship with Dru; just how different his relationship with a Buffy will be!). Drusilla’s cheating isn’t something Spike is going to have a talk about with her, he just seems to have a beef with Angel over it (and as we’ll see in Becoming
, his solution is to remove his rival and collect Dru, however she may feel about it). It’s all about their rivalry, and Angel seems to have the upper hand now – Spike’s barbs aren’t hitting the mark anymore because Angel knows that what he’s doing with Dru is hurting Spike much more.
Which is a good introduction to the surprise twist at the end, which must have made a lot of viewers cheer – I sure was delighted the first time I watched it. It was high time for Spike to get out of that wheelchair and be a force in the story again.
Xander: "Something weird is going on." Isn't that our school motto?
Principal Snyder: People can be coerced, Summers. I'm no stranger to conspiracy. I saw JFK
. I'm a truth seeker. I've got a missing gun and two confused kids on my hands; pieces of the puzzle. And I'm gonna look at all the pieces carefully and rationally, and I'm gonna keep looking until I know exactly how this is all your fault.
Secretary (on the intercom):
Mr. Snyder, Billy Crandal chained himself to the snack machine again.
Snyder: Pathetic little no-life vegan.
Most meaningful lines:
Giles: To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.
Buffy: No. James destroyed the one person he loved the most in a moment of blind passion. And that's not something you forgive. No matter why he did what he did. And no matter if he knows now that it was wrong and selfish and stupid, it is just something he's gonna have to live with.
Xander: He can't live with it, Buff. He's dead.
Buffy describes what happened with Angel like this: „Do you remember my ex-boyfriend, the vampire? I slept with him, he lost his soul, now my boyfriend's gone forever, and the demon that wears his face is killing my friends.” This is the first time she seems to be clearly separating in her mind Angel’s soulless alter ego from the Angel she loved. It’s not clear, though, if she means it literally. Not that it would prove anything about the nature of Angel, just about the way Buffy sees him.
However, neither she nor anyone else is using „Angelus“ to describe soulless Angel yet. Dru addresses him twice in this episode and calls him „Angel“ both times.
He certainly proves he isn’t that impulsive and thoughtless as the later seasons (starting with season 3) portrayed him to be, and can actually make a plan and be patient and bide his time, instead of rushing in and fighting Angel(us) right there. Then again, one might ask why he isn’t willing to fight him without Buffy’s help. Is he worried whose side would Drusilla and their other minions take? (I suppose there is at least one that we see later in Becoming II
, though we don’t see them around lately?) Kicking the chair (boy, those vampires are histrionic...) was a really cool TV moment, but the chair isn’t a very dangerous opponent, so any judgment on Spike’s badassery will have to be left for the following episodes.
Dru calls Spike „pet“ just likes he calls her. Giles calls Xander’s way of speaking „Xander-speak“. (Television Tropes calls it Buffy Speak
Pop culture references:
Oliver Stone’s JFK
.Buffy says the boy who almost shot his girlfriend went O.J. on her.Cordelia thinks that „exorcism“ is a movie (The Exorcist
Xander paraphrases the famous line from Network
, describing the poltergeist this way: „I’m dead as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!“
He also paraphrases a line from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
(„the quality of mercy is not Buffy). Buffy is frustrated that she has to be „Dr. Laura“ to the ghost – I had to looked that one up, but I figured it was a TV or radio psychologist, turns out it’s the latter (and I had no idea that she played Dr. Nora on Frasier
!). Willow paraphrases Julius Caesar’s famous speech to describe Buffy blowing off the boy who came on to her at the Bronze: „You came, you saw, you rejected.“ Grace lent James a novel by Hemingway that she says was based on a true story – I know little about his works, but I figured it had some bearing on the plot, and indeed, that’s what Buffy Wiki says: “The book is A Farewell to Arms
, by Ernest Hemingway. It is about a teenaged World War I soldier who has a romance with an older woman—an army nurse. The relationship ends after she dies in a fashion that he blames himself for. It is based on events that happened to Hemingway.“
This is one of my favorite episodes of Buffy
. It also ratchets up the tension, especially with the Spike reveal, and sets the stage perfectly for the two-part finale. Too bad that Becoming I/II
doesn’t follow right from there, and that Go Fish
is placed in between.