Buffyversed #32: “I Only Have Eyes for You” Marks A Cathartic Hour of Emotional Release

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Buffyversed is a week by week, episode by episode, re-exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look for it every Friday on Goomba Stomp. 

After “Passion” set season 2 down the road toward it’s inevitable end game, “I Only Have Eyes for You” finds a way to explore the themes surrounding Buffy and Angel’s doomed union through the unique lens of a surprisingly emotional monster-of-the-week episode.

While last week’s “Killed By Death” did manage to find a few ways to get Angel in on the action after his dramatic murder of Ms. Calendar, his appearances felt like more of an after thought than the actual point of the episode, whereas his appearance here actually feels as if it fits in thematically.

But, as usual, we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Let’s back it up a touch, shall we? We begin with something we rarely see in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: a gun. As a young man chases his lover through the school and ends up pointing a gun in her face, Buffy manages to intervene just before he pulls the trigger.

So what is the meaning of these ghostly shenanigans? Well, it seems that a student and a teacher had an affair all the way back in 1955, and when the teacher, Grace, attempted to break it off, her student, James, shot her.

Throughout the episode Giles, struggling with his own regrets, hopes against hope that Jenny is the ghost, despite how little sense that makes with the situation at hand. Again it fits with the themes of the episode, while also working with his individual character growth.

It’s a simple enough story, and one we’ve seen time and time again in other teen dramas, as well as in the news regularly enough that it doesn’t even surprise us anymore. I mean, minus the murder part, of course. So what does Buffy do with “I Only Have Eyes For You” that makes it worthy of our attention?

First of all, and most importantly, it uses this story as a lens for us to examine Buffy and Angel’s failed relationship. It’s not exactly subtle about it either, as Buffy repeatedly shows a seemingly merciless hatred for James, while empathizing with Grace.

What’s interesting about this approach is how it is explored throughout the episode from a dozen different angles, until it is finally flipped on its head in the climax of the hour. You see, the tragedy of James and Grace is replayed again and again throughout “I Only Have Eyes For You”, as James’ ghost cannot forgive himself for what he did that day.

When things reach their natural head, it is Buffy and Angel who act out the tragedy for the final time, only with the gender roles reversed. While Buffy spends most of the hour identifying with Grace, she is actually more like James: a younger, jilted lover who doesn’t understand why she has been rejected by someone who loves her. She’s angry, she’s hurt, and she wants to kill Angel, which is why James takes possession of her body, while Grace possesses Angel.

It gives the final version a really interesting spin, and forces both Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz to work way harder in order to make the scene work.

The fact that only Buffy and Angel could break the curse, and the means with which they unwittingly do it, are a genius bit of storytelling.

Fun fact about this scene, it’s actually the moment that Joss Whedon decided that Boreanaz had the chops to helm his own spin-off. Don’t believe me? Pull out that good ol’ season 2 DVD and check out those special features baby!

The last bit of narrative brilliance in the main plot of “I Only Have Eyes For You” comes in the way that, after Buffy shoots Angel, he awakens from death, and breaks the curse by stopping the loop, allowing both ghosts to go on to the afterlife. It’s really a fantastic yarn, and an interesting take on a more traditional ghost story, rather than Buffy‘s usual vamp/demon hijinks.

There’s still a couple of other things that we need to unpack before we wrap this thing up though. The first is the revelation that the authorities, the local government, and even Snyder are well aware of the fact that they’re on the Hellmouth, and what that entails. This adds a lot more credibility to the concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as it would be pretty tough for only Buffy and her friends to have seen all of the crazy stuff that goes on in Sunnydale.

But wait, there’s more! We also get a brief mention of the mayor, and even a veiled threat from the officer in charge who asks Snyder: “…unless you’d like to meet with him yourself?” This is an important thing to remember, as the mayor may or may not be popping up very soon in the ever-growing Buffy mythology.

Finally, we have the closing revelation of the episode, and another puzzle piece that helps things to make a lot more sense: Spike is fully healed, and evidently has been for some time. And now that he knows the true quality of Angel’s character (or lack there of), he’s ready to feel better “sooner than you think.” Hell yeah!

Spike has had more than enough of Angel’s horse shit. Now he’s out for blood.

Cristina Says:

“Cristina Says,” is based on observations my fiancèe makes. This is my 4th time through the series, but Cristina is a first-time watcher with modern TV sensibilities. 

“Whoa… that’s pretty… deep.” (Cristina reacts to the hardcore opening which features a boy shoving a gun in his girlfriend’s face, and telling her that “Love is forever!”)

“So he knows something?” (Not just Snyder baby, the whole administration that runs this town is in on the Hellmouth action. More on that in season 3!)

“Ohhhh, so he is fine. I’ve been wondering about that, like is he just gonna sit in a chair all season?” (After Spike reveals that he’s been faking his injury to reveal Angel’s true character.)

Man, Angel is seriously the fucking worst this week. Taunting Spike about his injuries, then actively seducing Dru, right in front of him. What a bastard.

Notable Whedonisms:

Whedonisms are a sort of term for (Buffy creator) Joss Whedon’s style of dialogue, and something we’re using as a catch-all for particularly fun or witty lines.

“You just went O.J. on your girlfriend!” (Buffy uses some very era-appropriate dialogue to communicate to a boy that he was about to ice his girlfriend.)

“Giles! I made them laugh! I did the teacher thing!” (Willow is such a nerd, as she continues to fill in for Ms. Calendar. It’s pretty adorable.)

“‘Something weird is going on?’ Isn’t that our school motto?” (Xander quips about the way something supernatural seems to be happening pretty regularly around these parts. One might even say… weekly.)

“Big windows, lovely garden, it’ll be great for when we wanna get burned to ash.” (Spike mocks Angel’s choice for a new hide-out.)

“Are you crazy!? I saw that movie! Even the priest died!” (Cordy freaks out after Willow suggests that they do an exorcism.)

Wanna know what’s coming up next week? Well, grab a deck of cards Scoobies, cuz we’re about to “Go Fish”. See ya in 7. 

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Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone. He's the managing Games editor for Goomba Stomp, and the creator of the weekly Buffyversed column.