Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Buffy: 2.19 ‘I Only Have Eyes for You.’

A video of the episode with a song by Evanescence

Writer: Marti Noxon
Director: James Whitmore Jr.

What's the sitch?

A school dance is imminent, but for understandable reasons Buffy isn't feeling the least bit romantic. Heading to the school library, she stops a student from killing his girlfriend with a gun. But neither the student nor his girlfriend have any memory of why they were fighting. And the gun has disappeared too. The next day, Xander is attacked by a disembodied arm coming out of his locker, while later in the evening Giles witnesses another couple fight in exactly the same way Buffy did. But this time the man shoots the woman and she falls over the balcony…only for the man to have no memory of what he did and for the gun to have yet again disappeared. Buffy and co. decide that a poltergeist is to blame, and they try to exorcise it. But it doesn’t work and the gang are subjected to individual scariness that sends them fleeing the school. It turns out that the ghost is that of a Sunnydale student called James from back in the 1950’s who killed his lover, Grace, a teacher in the school, and then killed himself out of guilt. Later, Ghost James lures Buffy back into the school…just as Angelus turns up to kill her; however, the evil vamp immediately becomes possessed by Grace’s spirit, while Buffy becomes possessed by James. They argue and she shoots Angelus. But being a vamp it doesn’t kill him and therefore gives the spirit of the murdered teacher the chance to forgive James/Buffy and to stop him/her from committing suicide. This act of forgiveness finally gives Ghost James the peace he’s needed and both spirits leave their hosts and ascend to who knows where leaving behind a highly confused Buffy and Angel, who rushes off overcome by disgust at having played such an intimate loving role with Buffy. Meanwhile, Spike has secretly recovered from his spinal injury.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

It’s all about guilt and forgiveness. And the sometimes dark and overwhelming passion that can drive people to do the things they do, a major theme of this season. But the episode tells us that no matter how terrible and burdensome guilt can be, it’s the simple act of forgiveness that carries far more power. Here we see that Buffy carries such terrible guilt over what happened to Angel, because she believes it was down to her why he lost his soul. And in this episode she rages at Ghost James for his selfishness and his destructive behaviour when it is really herself that she hates. The plot device of having Angel possessed by Grace works brilliantly. It is a distinctly weird thing to see Boreanaz playing the frightened fragile Grace and Gellar the furious, heart broken spurned lover James. But it works. They both act their socks off. And although it falls in to high melodrama, the simple, beautiful theme and the weight of the Buffy/Angel story behind it makes for genuinely touching stuff. This episode could easily have been a disaster, a silly, overwrought Kleenex-fest. It is still a blatant tearjerker but in writer Marti Noxon’s skilful hands the script holds more weight and meaning than it otherwise might and helps set up the grand season finale very well indeed.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Ghost James and Angelus

Why it rocks

This isn’t just the run of the mill monster of the week show. It is about something intrinsic to the characters and where they find themselves approaching the end of the season. Ghost James is not evil. He made a tragic mistake (the gun went off accidentally it transpires) and he can’t rest because of what he did. His anguish infects others and manifests as scary things in the school. There is no beastie to be fought here, only the beasties within - the guilt and the self loathing, which can only be overcome by forgiveness.

Marti Noxon’s script is a beautifully crafted, densely plotted and thematically and emotionally weighty affair.

Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz. Together in their usual roles the chemistry always sizzles. Together in new and even more tragic roles playing the deeper meaning the chemistry boils over and the pain is palpable.

Nice spookiness. The ghost tries his hand at scaring the gang in individual ways with Cordy undergoing a Poltergeist-y mirror shock, Willow sinking through the floor and a zombie arm attacking Xander from his locker.

The lovely Meredith Salenger (Natty Gann herself) plays Grace.

Why it sucks

Contrary to Giles' explanation, poltergeists are supposedly entities that cause mischief merely for the chaotic fun of it and are not ghosts undertaking a haunting per se. This same mistake was made by the trio of Poltergeist films. Another mistake was making two rubbish Poltergeist sequels after the classic original.

It's Buftastic

Angel’s repulsed, horrified reaction when the spirit of Grace leaves him holding and kissing Buffy.

Dialogue to die for

Xander: Something weird is going on. Isn't that our school motto?

Xander: I defined something? Accurately? Guess I'm done with the book learning.

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. And no matter if he knows now that it was wrong and selfish and stupid, it’s just something he's gonna have to live with.
Xander: He can't live with it, Buff. He's dead.

Angelus: What do you know about it? I'm the one who was friggin' violated. You didn't have this thing in you.
Drusilla: What was it? A demon?
Angelus: Love!

And another thing

James listens to the song "I Only Have Eyes For You" as he prepares to kill himself in 1955. But the recording he's listening to is the Flamingos' version, which wasn't released until 1959.

The lovely Meredith Salenger, who played doomed teacher Grace Newman, had her name misspelled in the credits as "Meredith Salinger."

Meredith Salenger starred in the Disney film The Journey of Natty Gann opposite John Cusack back in the early eighties.

This episode originally aired with a public service announcement at the end regarding teen suicide. Co-sponsored by Cedars Sinai Medical Center's TeenLine and the American Association of Suicidology, the PSA was voiced over by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

John Hawkes who plays George the janitor has been Oscar nominated this year (2011) for his role in the film Winter’s Bone.

How many stakes?

I’m an old softy. 4 (out of 5)

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