“To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It’s not done because people deserve it, it’s done because they need it.”
I’ve mentioned this before but I can not get over the differences in quality between Buffy and True Blood. Mostly, this is because I’ve been simultaneously recapping the two shows for months now, so a good part of my brain pan is devoted to all things True Blood and Buffy. This week, I had to watch the season finale of TB S4 and a Monster of the Week episode of Buffy. While “And When I Die“ was a good entry into the TB world, it was a good episode because the rest of the season was just so terrible. It is simply blown away when placed next to this single episode of BVTS. There is so much care taken in “I Only Have Eyes for You” to respect the audience and to build a coherent emotional arc for the characters. Nothing in it feels hollow or fake, and more importantly, it feels like the writers and producers respect both the world their building and the people who are watching it. This is where Ball and his gang repeatedly fall down.
The gang is at the Bronze hanging out. Buffy is keeping to herself, watching everyone from the balcony. She turns down a date from what is likely a perfectly normal, non-homicidal, non-vampire boy from school. As she tells Willow, she’s already fulfilled her quota of impulsive decisions for her lifetime. There’s a very similar scene to this in S6 — except now Buffy is still able to talk to her friends about what’s wrong. She hasn’t isolated herself yet.
While swinging past the school to talk to Giles, Buffy interrupts a pair of students arguing about their relationship. When the boy pulls out a gun, Buffy beats the snot out of him ““ and suddenly the couple seems confused and the gun is nowhere to be found.
Buffy: What? I didn’t incite! I stopped that boy from killing his girlfriend. I mean – ask them. Ask the janitor.
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 a puzzle. I’m going to look at all those pieces carefully and rationally. And I’m going to keep looking until I figure out exactly how this is all your fault.
When Snyder gets pulled out of the meeting, a 1955 Sunnydale yearbook floats off a bookshelf and falls the floor. Buffy notices it, shrugs, and puts it away.
From there, the weirdness around school escalates. Buffy falls asleep in history class and dreams about a young teacher and her student who are clearly involved with each other. Her history teacher writes “Don’t walk away from me, bitch” on the board ““ the exact words the possessed teen from the night before yelled out. A mummified hand shoots out of Xander’s locker and bangs him around some.
Willow is still filling in for Jenny’s programming class. It’s a role that suits nerdy Willow well ““ Giles compliments her on how well she’s handling things. Willow mentions that she’s found some pagan bookmarks on Jenny’s computer (which Angelus burned up in Passions, but we’ll forgive them for that continuity error) that she’s exploring. I cannot watch this exchange without immediately calling to mind S6 and Giles calling Willow a “rank, arrogant, amateur.” This is the first step in that long arc and seeing it now in retrospect, the moment has an unintended sadness.
The gang meets back in the library to discuss the problem of the week. For once, the problem is identified immediately (ghost) ““ though maybe not the right ghost. Giles is sure that the turbulence is Jenny trying to communicate to them. The gang suggests that the evidence doesn’t seem to fit, Giles isn’t ready to hear them:
Giles: Yes. Well. I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. In fact, I encourage you to always challenge me when you feel it’s appropriate. You must never be cowed by authority. Except, of course, in this instance when I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong.
With Giles out in la-la land, the gang takes ten seconds to research previous shootings at the school and find a newspaper article about a student (James) who shot a teacher (Grace) and then killed himself over a broken-off love affair. Bingo! Discussion of what to do about the poltergeist takes place over lunch. Or it was taking place over lunch, and then it was taking place over a nice plate of snakes, as the ghost infests the entire cafeteria with snakes, one of which bites Cordelia in the face. The school is closed down due to a “sewer back-up.”
Across town, Angelus is showing Spike and Dru around their new home, an art deco mansion plopped mysteriously in the middle of Sunnydale. Spike appreciates the garden, the views, and the large windows that let in vampire-frying sunlight. Angelus appreciates Dru. Dru just loves the attention ““ oh, and incoming message, the slayer is going to meet “death.”
Willow calls a Scooby meeting, aggressively outlining the new attack to this poltergeist problem. They’re going to do an exorcism. Willow found the plans on the Internet, so nothing will go wrong. Back at the school, the gang splits up, each taking up a separate position to complete the exorcism. Willow bumps into Giles near the library ““ he’s still trying to communicate with Jenny and won’t listen to reason.
Things go wrong immediately. Cordelia has a vision of her face rotting. Willow is sucked into a black hole/quicksand spot in the floor as the ghost tries to stop the ritual. Giles is able to rescue Will and help her complete her part of the spell, at the same time everyone else does their part.
And then they’re chased out of the school by an enormous swarm of wasps. Which is why you don’t get your exorcism rituals off the Internet. Back to Casa Summers it is, for a new strategy.
The show is pretty clever about misleading us about the parallels between James/Grace and Buffy/Angel. There’s repeated attention drawn to the genders of the couples reenacting the tragedy ““ we see two men possessed by James and two women playing Miss Newman, as well as both Buffy and Giles attributing James’s anger as a male quality. The first time I watched, it wasn’t until the meeting back at Buffy’s house that I understood what was going on:
Giles: To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It’s-it’s… 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.
We hear a lot in the show about how guilty Buffy feels for Jenny’s death. But we never hear the extent of it, nor get a hint of her self-directed anger, until this episode. Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown (or bears the stake). She’ll never be very good at forgiving herself for her mistakes. Maybe it’s just not a quality a Slayer can nurture.
Buffy finds a copy of the 1955 Sadie Hawkins flyer in her pants and slips out of the house by the back door. She’s already inside the high school when the Scoobies figure out that she’s gone ““ and they can’t go in after her, because the building remains surrounded by the wasp swarm.
Inside, Angelus catches up with Buffy. She’s already possessed by James ““ Angelus doesn’t take his part until he gets close to her. The cycle starts over again, with the added weight of Angel/Buffy twisting itself around James/Miss Newman. She chases him outside the building and the gun goes off. This is where the cycle stops but since Angelus is a vampire, the bullet doesn’t kill him. Angelus/Grace is able to keep Buffy/James from committing suicide, forgiving him:
Angelus: I’m the one who should be sorry, James. You thought I stopped loving you. But I never did. I loved you with my last breath.
He did. Buffy’s name was the last thing on Angel’s lips, just like James’s was the last thing Grace uttered. The two pairs of lovers dance together for one last time and kiss. This is the closure that James and Grace needed; they ascend to the afterlife, together. As soon as they’re gone, Angelus shoves himself away from Buffy and flees.
Angelus ends up back at the mansion, scrubbing himself raw. He’s hurt. Violated. That love touched him at all ““ that Angelus had to feel an echo of the love Angel had for Buffy ““ disgusts him. In a later season, Buffy insists that vampires can’t love and both Dru and Spike tell her that they can, “quite well, if not wisely.” But not Angelus. He has no shred of humanity, no capacity for affection or depth of feeling ““ the Judge told us that weeks ago when he said there was nothing human to burn out of him. When he leans in close to Spike and tells him he’s taking Dru off to hunt and kill, it’s not because he cares for Drusilla; it’s only the anger in Spike’s eyes he’s looking for.
Spike waits until the two of them leave before rising from his wheelchair, the first we’ve seen him standing since the accident at the church.
Bonus: Peggy Lee singing “I Only Have Eyes For You.” While The Flamingo’s version of the song is used in the episode, it wasn’t released until 1959, when the episode repeatedly stated the murder happened in 1955. So this is a version (1950) of the song they might have actually been dancing to in the music room.