Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Buffy Blog: "I Only Have Eyes for You"

“I Only Have Eyes for You” written by Marti Noxon and directed by James Whitmore Jr. works, like many Buffy episodes on several levels. On one level “I Only Have Eyes for You” is Buffy doing a poltergeist tale. In 1955 around the time of that high school ritual the Sadie Hawkins Dance a student, James Stanley, shoots and kills his “lover”, Sunnydale High School teacher Grace Newman. Now that the Sadie Hawkins dance at the Scoobies Sunnydale High draws near James and Grace are reenacting James’s tragic shooting of Grace by taking over two students, the script calls them Fighting Boy and Fighting Girl (the end of the teaser and the beginning of act one), and later in the episode George, Sunnydale’s janitor, and Sunnydale teacher Miss Frank (the end of act two and the beginning of act three). Buffy, who is returning to Sunnydale High to talk to Giles about patrolling stops Fighting Boy/James from killing Fighting Girl/Grace. Giles, however, is too late to stop George/James from killing Miss Frank/Grace.

The Scoobies are able to figure out that James is a poltergeist in act two, act three, and act four. We learn during the course of “I Only Have Eyes for You” that James accidentally killed Grace because she broke up with him not because she didn’t love him but because their love, a love between a younger man and an older woman, a relationship between a student and a teacher, is a forbidden love. Can you say forbidden love between Buffy and Angel, Slayer and vampire? James, as a result, is stuck in a purgatory, as Giles puts it, because, as Buffy realizes, he seeks forgiveness for what he did to Grace.

On another level “I Only Have Eyes for You” continues to follow the growing tensions between Spike, Dru, and Angel. The episode links the season two arc, Buffy and the Scoobies versus Spike, Dru, and Angel, with the arc of this episode, the poltergeist haunting Sunnydale High School and what to do about it. The sexual tension between Spike, Dru, and Angel is tangible in this episode. Spike is jealous of Angel’s advances and increasingly sexually charged relationship (in words, touch, if not deed) with Dru and hurt by Dru’s receptivity to those advances. There’s a back story waiting to be told here as we will see.

On still another level “I Only Have Eyes for You” is about memory, love, forbidden love, remorse, loneliness, guilt, and forgiveness. Buffy and Giles live, not easily or readily, with the memories of their departed beloveds, Angel and Jenny. Giles is so distraught that, after hearing a female voice telling him he “needs” her (it is actually Grace) he thinks Jenny a “trapped” needs his help to free her. Buffy realizes that Giles misses Jenny in death just as he missed her in life. Buffy refers to Jenny’s death as “Just a little more fallout from my love life”. Buffy, in other words, continues to feel guilt about turning Angel into Angelus and about not being able to save those who Angelus is now killing thanks to being turned. She cannot forgive herself just as she can’t forgive James (and males in general) for what he did to Grace. He calls him a “psycho”. Angelus tries to wash off the memories of his “violation” at the hands of James, Grace, and Buffy, of his love for Buffy, at the end of the episode.

These themes come together in powerful fashion during the final possession scene, the scene in which James possesses Buffy (Buffy hears James’s voice say he needs her) and Grace Angel. Buffy and Angel reenact yet again that fatal night of the Sadie Hawkins dance at Sunnydale High as Buffy/James once again kills Angel/Grace. But this time there is something different. Since Angel is a vampire and can’t die the resurrected Angel saves Buffy/James from killing himself, allows Angel/Grace to forgive Buffy/James for accidentally killing her with a kiss, and allows James’s and Grace’s spirits to rise and vanish from Sunnydale High. Buffy still doesn’t understand how Grace could forgive James but when Giles asks her if it matters she says no. Is Buffy on the way to forgiving herself for what happened to Angel?

Continuing Revelations: Once again we see Snyder (who is still hassling Buffy) and the Police Chief fabricating a story about the weird goings on in Sunnydale. Not only do people forget what they don’t want to remember as Giles notes in the very first episode of Buffy, “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest”, but the powers that be are involved in a conspiracy to explain the irrational things that occur in Sunnydale in naturalistic ways. Once again the magic room is tied to the weird happenings at Sunnydale High. In “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” Marcy played a flute in the magic room and had her hideaway in the ceiling above it. In “I Only Have Eyes for You” James dances lovingly with Grace in the music room and later kills himself in the room after he has accidentally shot Grace. What is it with the music room?

Revelations: The first mention of the Mayor. Wait until season three to see what this means. Spike can walk and he’s mad as hell at Angel and isn’t going to take it anymore. Wait until the season two finale to see what this means. Willow finds a bunch, of Jenny’s of “files and internet sights about paganism and majic and stuff” and casts her first spell during this episode. This will not be the last time Willow will cast spells with good intentions that don’t quite work.

Shakespeare Moment: Xander’s response to Buffy’s unwillingness to forgive James, “the quality of mercy is not Buffy”.

References: I have already noted Xander’s paraphrase of Shakespeare. Xander also paraphrases the film Network (“I’m dead as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”). Buffy refers to the OJ murder case (“You”, she says to Fighting Boy after she stops him from shooting his Fighting Girl girlfriend, “went OJ on your girlfriend!”). Snyder references Oliver Stone’s film JFK. Willow references Julius Caesar when she tells Buffy, “You came. You saw. You rejected” after Buffy turns down a request for a date from Ben. Buffy tells Ben that “It's not you. You seem great. It's just - I'm not seeing anybody. Ever again, actually.” The fallout from Angel going bad continues to impact Buffy’s life. Xander references pop radio psychologist Dr. Laura Schlesinger (“Great. So now we're Dr. Laura for the deceased”) when he learns that they need to figure out what is keeping the poltergeist at Sunnydale High and cure it. The title of the episode, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, is a reference to the popular song “I Only Have Eyes for You” written in 1934 and performed most notably by the Flamingos in 1959. It is the Flamingos version of “Eyes” that is used in “I Only Have Eyes for You”.

The Chorus: “I Only Have Eyes for You” is emotionally powerful, emotionally moving, and deeply tragic, all hallmarks of Whedon and company. It is socially ethically sophisticated, nuanced, and ethically and intellectually challenging in an existentialist sort of way, again all hallmarks of Whedon and company. By the way, I really liked the lovely little montage of the Scoobies (Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Cordy) saying Willow’s spell to expel all evil from Sunnydale High School. And I love the fact that Cordy the forthright recognizes that Buffy over-identifying much with James. James, of course, as Buffy recognizes, related to her because like her James was so “sad”.

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