In the nineteenth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a ghost forces people at Sunnydale to relive his final moments in an attempt for forgiveness, prompting Buffy to face her own issues with forgiving Angel. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Sweet summer child, what an unbelievable and thrilling piece of writing. I’ve been noticing a pattern with a lot of episodes this season. Everything feels a tad mediocre for the first twenty minutes or so, I fall for whatever red herring the writers give me, and then the story gets HOLY SHIT AWESOME for the last third. “I Only Have Eyes For You” is no exception to that rule; the writers have to set up a lot of suspenseful and emotional cues for the endgame to pack the punch that it does, but it’s absolutely worth the wait.
Even though Buffy is not a serialized show, I am really enjoying the fact that there are these small moments that absolutely require one to have watched everything that’s happened before. The cold open, where Buffy declines to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with some dude is – wait, can I take a moment to talk about this? I don’t even remember the guy’s name, but Dude. Dude. The entire point of the Sadie Hawkins dance is for women to ask men to go with them. By asking Buffy to ask yourself, you’ve ruined the whole point. I would have rejected you on that detail alone. Anyway, that moment holds so much weight because we know that Buffy is still dealing with feelings of guilt and rejection because of Angel’s transformation at the end of “Surprise.” And honestly, I don’t blame her for not wanting to give another guy the time of day. It’s not every day that your boyfriend just loses his soul and then murders your friend. (Wait, will Angel remember what he did as Angelus? Don’t answer that. Just thinking aloud.)
At the same time, the writers parallel Buffy’s journey with Giles, who is still trying to cope with the loss of Jenny. Here, though, he latches on to her not only as the cause of the paranormal weirdness at Sunnydale, but because he thinks he might have a chance to speak with her in some way. What this episode ends up being about is framed by the main plot itself: these are all people who cannot let go. Buffy cannot let go of her guilt over Angel. Giles cannot let go of Jenny. And James refuses to let go of Grace, reliving the moment he murdered her and then killed himself through other students. The first time it happened, it just seemed like a dramatic fight that was escalated to a violent threat. But when Buffy tackles the kid with the gun and it disappears, it was clear that this was something new.
This is also the return of Principal Snyder, who we haven’t seen in some time. He shows up to sulk, posture, and yell at Buffy some more, and I honestly thought he would, once again, just do this and then disappear for another ten episodes or something. However, this episode has two huge character developments that are unexpected. Of course, it’s a huge shock when Principal Snyder confirms that he knows the Hellmouth exists, and it’s heavily implied he was put at Sunnydale because of this. YEAH, OKAY, WHY AREN’T YOU GIVING ME MORE INFORMATION ON THIS? This is a huge twist for his character! Does this explain why he’s so strict? Is he overwhelmed by the pressure that the city has been putting on him to keep things “normal” at Sunnydale? OH MY GOD I NEED MORE OF HIS STORY IMMEDIATELY. Seriously, y’all, I love it so much when fictional worlds do this kind of shit to their characters, you know? It’s especially effective when you think you know a person, and one scene completely changes their entire context. (For those in the know, I think the most flawless and brilliant example of this is in Breaking Bad, with gur rcvfbqr “Ureznabf” va frnfba sbhe. Fbeel, gung rcvfbqr qrfgeblrq zr sberire naq vs gurl qba’g svaq n jnl gb rkcnaq Thf’f onpxfgbel, V jvyy jevgr sbhe natel yrggref.)
I honestly never thought there would come a day when I would type this sentence, but here goes: I feel sorry for Spike. LOOK I DON’T EVEN KNOW IF UNDERSTAND THESE FEELINGS AT ALL. I’m just going to put them out there. The first time we see him, Angelus, and Drusilla in that new mansion and Angelus pervasively teases him, HE JUST LOOKS SO SAD! Like, I legit got depressed thinking about how Angelus just stole all of his thunder, and even Drusilla doesn’t really care about him. He is constantly left behind or wheeled out of danger, and it’s messing with his head. I know I’m jumping to the end, but holy shit, HE IS GOING TO FUCK SHIT UP, isn’t he? I mean, he doesn’t seem to happy with Angelus, but what could he do to stop him? AHHHHHHH.
The weirdness at Sunnydale continues to escalate in ways that are increasingly hard to ignore. I’m a bit confused on two points, though. Was James the one responsible for the hand in Xander’s locker, as well as the snakes? I didn’t understand how those were connected to him or his story at all. That didn’t distract from how terrifying both of those moments were, especially the snake one. UGH SOMEONE ALMOST BIT INTO A SNAKE BURGER oh my god CORDELIA GOT BIT WHAT IS GOING ON. But when a teacher dies at the hand of the janitor (played by John Hawkes, who is in everything), it’s now impossible to ignore how fucked up this all is. As the dance approaches, does that mean James is just going to keep possessing random sets of students until one of them chooses differently? WHERE IS PRINCIPAL SNYDER AFTER A TEACHER IS SHOT, BY THE WAY?
Can I just call this episode “Willow To The Rescue”? That’s basically what it is. She’s the main person to not only help figure out what’s going on (initially, that is; Buffy is the only one to understand why James is doing what he’s doing), but to come up with a method to combat James, using research inspired by Jenny. (MY HEART WILL NEVER HEAL.) Plus, she’s the one who gets Giles to admit to himself that Jenny is gone, and she’s not coming back. Can we get a Willow-centric episode? I would love that.
I do want to spend some time talking about the ending of “I Only Have Eyes For You” because of how profound it is to me. I’m sure you’ve all determined that I’m terrible at figuring things out; I’ve always been that way. I try as best I can to immerse myself in a television show or a book and I generally don’t try to guess or theorize all that much. That’s the case with this episode. I figured that once Buffy went inside, one of two things would happen: the janitor would be there, and Buffy would act out the murder scenario with him, or James would find a way around needing a second body. In hindsight, the first theory makes no sense. That janitor murdered someone and he’s probably in jail at that moment, so why would he be around? Plus, even though James appeared to Buffy with a rotted face, that didn’t seem to be a confirmation that he himself could be a substitute in this weird poltergeist scheme.
So when Angelus stepped up behind Buffy inside of the school, I just smacked my forehead. I didn’t see it coming at all, and then I realized what a brilliant choice this was. To then have the roles reversed – with Buffy playing James instead of Grace – added a whole new layer of subtext to this episode. Buffy had guilt, sure, but I came to understand that this was also about the pain of rejection. Buffy could not forgive Angelus for rejecting her. To hear the two of them cycle through the dialogue a third time was electrifying because it all had a new meaning. THIS IS SO CLEVER IT HURTS. Except I kept expecting someone to burst into the room to change things, to prevent the inevitable from happening.
And then Buffy shoots Angelus.
WHAT THE FUCK. For like five seconds, I forgot that this couldn’t actually kill Angel, but it still shocked me. What is this show doing? Angelus is sprawled out at the bottom of the stairs, just like Grace, and just like the teacher that the janitor shot. There’s just too much poetry here and my heart hurts. When Angelus does get up and, with Grace acting through him, stop Buffy from killing herself, the words he speaks are precisely what Buffy needs to hear. The episode is smart enough to later make the distinction that both Buffy and Angelus know that they themselves did not speak those lines. What’s impressive about this is that the writers don’t make Buffy instantly forgive Angelus. That moment still hasn’t happened, and it’s something that’s going to have to occur in the future. Instead, this story gives her perspective. She can’t fathom why Grace would forgive James, but realizes it doesn’t really matter.
The truth is that forgiveness is always going to be a personal matter, one that only those involved can ever truly understand or cope with. There’s no set rubric for forgiving someone. There’s no accepted timeline. It has to be on the terms of the person doing the forgiving, and there can’t be an obligation to do it. I think Buffy is open to this now, though I don’t think we’ll see it immediately. She has a lot of pain and remorse to work through, but forgiving someone can also be a cathartic, spiritual process for some people.
God, what a fantastic story. I can’t wait to see what’s in the future. If the show can be this good in the second season, surely there are even better storylines in the upcoming episodes. SO GOOD.