In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone has still not learned her lesson about buying Cheez-Its to keep in her office. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:
- Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
- Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
- Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
- Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
- Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
- The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
- All the monsters look like wieners.
- If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
- Angel is a dick.
- Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
- Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
- Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
- Science and technology are not to be trusted.
- Mental illness is stigmatized.
- Only Willow can use a computer.
- Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
- Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
- Oz is the Anti-Xander
- Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
- Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
- The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
- Smoking is evil.
- Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
- How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
- Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
- Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
- Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
- Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments. Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.
WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.
CW: RAPE, SUICIDE
If I were to rank all the Buffy episodes in order of greatness (maybe I’ll do that at the end of the recaps in twenty-six years), “I Only Have Eyes For You” would easily make the top ten. It has so much, dear reader. It has so much.
Our story opens at The Bronze, where the real life band Splendid is playing. Something casual fans of the show might not have realized is that all of the bands (including Oz’s band) are actual music groups in real life.
Oz’s band, by the way, wasn’t Dingos Ate My Baby, but T.H.C.. See comments, I was totally wrong about which band was who. I can see why that might not have flown on a show aimed at teens.
Anyway, we’re at The Bronze, and Buffy is on the catwalk, looking down at the crowd forlornly. A guy approaches Buffy and tries to get her to remember him from Algebra class the year before. Buffy pretends to remember him, and he tries to get her to ask him to the Sadie Hawkins dance. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept (I’m pretty sure it’s a predominately American thing), Sadie Hawkins comes from the comic strip Lil’ Abner. Sadie Hawkins day is when all the single men of the town of Dog Patch have to run from the single women, and if the single women catch them and manage to pull them across the finish line, they have to get married.
Lil’ Abner is a super weird comic franchise, but it’s got a kick ass musical.
Sadie Hawkins dances became popular because of this, and the whole point is that women have to ask the men to the dance, and in some cases, pay for the whole date. Which I guess was revolutionary and kooky in the mid-20th century, and was kind of a mild female empowerment thing. We still have them, which is weird. I asked lots of boys on dates in high school, because they were usually too chicken shit to ask the girls.
On the other hand, I did bully my husband into dating me, so I might be the odd duck out.
So, Buffy tells the guy that it’s not personal, she’s just never going to date anyone ever again. Like you decide to do when you’re a teenager going through your first heartbreak. Downstairs, Willow tells Buffy that she’s been doing too much patrolling, rather than hanging out. Willow thinks Buffy should go out and start dating again.
Willow: “You’re thinking too much. Maybe you need to be impulsive.”
Buffy: “Impulsive? Do you remember my ex-boyfriend the vampire? I slept with him, he lost his soul, now my boyfriend is gone forever and the demon that wears his face is killing my friends. The next impulsive decision I make will involve my choice of dentures.”
Willow reminds Buffy that despite what happened with Angel, love can “be nice.”
Which leads us to cut to Sunnydale high, where a guy and his girlfriend are arguing:
Guy: “Come back here! We’re not finished! You don’t care anymore, is that it?”
Girl: “No, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what I feel!”
Guy: “Then tell me you don’t love me. Say it!”
Girl: “Will that help? Is that what you need to hear? I don’t. I don’t, now let me go!”
Guy: “No. A person doesn’t just wake up one day and stop loving somebody.”
He pulls a gun on the girl and warns:
Guy: “Love is forever.”
Then we fade to the opening credits, and come back to the guy brandishing the gun.
Guy: “I’m not afraid to use it. I swear. If I can’t be with you–”
Girl: “Oh my god!”
Guy: “Don’t walk away from me, bitch!”
Luckily, Buffy is patrolling the school halls. She stops the guy from shooting the girl, and a janitor comes running to help.
Let’s talk, for just a second, about the brave janitors of Sunnydale high. That has to be one of the most dangerous jobs on this show, and they keep coming in night after night, scraping gum off tables and sweeping papers and debris down the halls with those long, flat brooms, just a couple floors above the Hellmouth. Let’s have a round of applause for these unsung heroes of Sunnydale.
Once Buffy has the guy subdued, he’s all sorts of confused. So is his girlfriend. They can’t explain what happened; they weren’t even arguing before reaching this point. Buffy asks why he had a gun, and the janitor points out that there is no gun. It’s just vanished.
The next morning, Buffy is in Principal Snyder’s office. Snyder is convinced that whatever happened with the couple the night before was Buffy’s fault, and he’s going to find a way to make it so. When I first watched this show, I thought Snyder was unreasonably obsessed with framing Buffy for stuff that happened, but now that I’ve seen the whole series, it makes sense. I mean, whenever something weird happens, Buffy is involved. But so is Giles, who’s an employee who I assume doesn’t have tenure, because he hasn’t worked at the school that long. Why not just cut Giles loose and hope the problem moves off campus? We’ll talk about that in just a little bit here.
Snyder is called away when a vegan student chains himself to the snack machine, but he tells Buffy to stay in his office. As soon as he’s gone, a book slides itself off a shelf:
Since Buffy only heard it fall, she picks it up and sticks it back on the shelf like it’s no big deal.
In computer class, Willow is still, inexplicably, teaching Ms. Calendar’s class. Giles comes to the door and looks super proud of her. She tells him that Ms. Calendar had all her lessons already planned out, as well as files about Paganism. Willow also found a necklace with a rose quartz crystal on it. She gives it to Giles because it has healing properties, and she thinks Jenny would have wanted him to have it.
Meanwhile, Buffy is in another class, bored out of her skull. She nods off and when she wakes up, she’s still in her classroom, but there’s something different about it. Like, the fact that everyone is wearing poodle skirts and there’s a sign for a fallout shelter near the door, for example. Also, nobody seems to notice her sitting there, especially not the pretty young teacher and her student who discuss Hemingway and hold hands:
They’re interrupted by an opening door, and Buffy is snapped back to the present day, where her teacher is writing something completely different on the board than what he’d probably intended:
I feel so bad for that teacher, because now he probably thinks he’s got a brain tumor or he’s having a stroke or something.
Buffy tells Xander about the incident as they walk the hallway. She firmly believes that something weird is happening.
Xander: “‘Something weird is going on.’ Isn’t that our school motto?”
Xander is ready to chalk up the incident to Tourette’s syndrome and domestic violence, but then he opens his locker and is attacked by a zombie hand. Buffy rescues him and slams the door on the hand, while the other kids in the hall look around, stunned. When they open the locker again, the hand is gone.
I love this scene, because these students see a rotting corpse arm shoot out of a locker and try to drag another student in, and you can hear one of them in the background go, “Oookay.” Almost like they’re annoyed. Not scared. Just annoyed by yet another random supernatural occurrence. Nobody screams, nobody runs. Just, “Oookay.”
I think we need a number to label these scenes, because more of them happen. So please welcome #26: Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks. This element also makes #8 even more baffling. They know this stuff happens, to the point that they are desensitized to it and even continue to send their children to school here.
In the library, Willow teases Xander about his shell-shocked appearance, and Xander tells her about the horrible attack he just narrowly survived:
Xander: “I’ll have you know I was just accosted by some kind of…um..locker monster.”
Giles: “Loch Ness Monster?”
Giles is adorably excited at the prospect of there being some kind of loch Ness Monster mystery going down. But he gets even more adorably excited as they go into detail about the locker arm and the teacher’s possible neurological issue. Giles thinks it sounds like a poltergeist, a spirit that can’t be at peace, but doesn’t know how to fix things. He suggests they figure out who the spirit is.
Later that night, the janitor from before–now we know his name is George–is mopping up when a teacher is leaving her classroom to go home for the night. The reason we know George’s name is because the teacher has to ask if that’s his name (probably because of the high turnover of school janitors due to violent, spooky-stuff related death). So they don’t know each other at all, except in passing as they work their different shifts. He tells her to have a good night, and then:
George: “Oh, Ms. Frank– You can’t make me disappear just because you say it’s over.”
Ms. Frank: “There’s no way we can be together. No way people will ever understand. Accept it.”
George: “Is that what this is about? What other people think?”
Ms. Frank: “No. I just want you to be able to have some kind of a normal life. We can never have that, don’t you see?”
George: “I don’t give a damn about a normal life. I’m going crazy not seeing you. I think about you every minute.”
Ms. Frank: “I know. But. But it’s over. It has to be.”
George: “Come back here! We’re not finished yet!”
They go through the rest of the dialogue, exactly the same way as the first couple did, until a gun appears in George’s hand.
Giles is working in the library, and he hears George shout, “Don’t walk away from me, bitch!” He gets up to go investigate and hears a disembodied female voice whisper, “I need you.” He naturally assumes this is Jenny Calendar, trying to make contact. He goes into the hall, where he sees George the janitor shoot Ms. Frank, who falls to her death from the second story. George tries to run and Giles tackles him, knocking the gun from his hand, where it evaporates. George has no idea what’s just happened, exactly like the kid from the night before.
Meanwhile, our three arch villains have moved into new digs, a lovely big mansion with night blooming flowers in the courtyard, which pleases Drusilla. But obviously not Spike:
Spike: “It’s paradise. Big windows, lovely gardens. It’ll be perfect for when we want the sunlight to kill us.”
Angel makes tons of jokes about Spike being in a wheelchair, which is fantastic, because I was already on the fence about making physical ableism it’s own number. I just can’t remember a time when it would apply outside of this particular character and set of circumstances. I’m going to leave that call up to you guys: do you think we should add physical ableism to the list?
Anyway, Spike points out that their old address was just fine, but Angel went and caused it to get burned down. And that’s kind of it. The scene really serves no purpose other than to a) remind us that these characters still exist, and b) show what an utter cheese hole Angel is. Come on, man. Throw at least something else in there.
The next day, Giles tells Willow, Xander, and Buffy that he believes Jenny is at the root of the haunting. Though they argue with him that the circumstances of Jenny’s death didn’t involve a gun or a super specific lover’s spat, he refuses to listen to them.
Giles: “I appreciate your thoughts on the matter, in fact I encourage you to always challenge me when you feel it’s appropriate. You should never be cowed by authority. Except, of course, in this instance, when I am clearly right and you are clearly wrong.”
In the computer room, Willow, Buffy, and Xander talk about how weird it is that Giles is clinging to this one idea. Buffy points out that it’s because he misses Jenny, and she feels super guilty about that. All the while, they’re maddeningly grouped around the desk where the floppy drive containing the cure to Angel’s evil problem is just sitting in a crack, collecting dust.
Buffy: “What do we know?”
Xander: “Dog spit is cleaner than human.”
Buffy: “Besides that?”
This makes me laugh hard every time. As much as I disliked the Spuffy pairing becoming canon under her watch, I love Noxon’s writing.
So, Willow decides she’ll just cross reference all the Sunnydale school shootings, because they apparently have had more the one, and she finds this:
Willow tells them that a student murdered his teacher on the night of a Sadie Hawkins dance. He killed her because they were “having an affair” and she tried to break it off, then went into the music room and killed himself.
So, this has all the hallmarks of interesting news stuff. First of all, we’ll give them a pass on the “having an affair” thing, because in 1955, statutory rape and power dynamic consent issues weren’t as much of a hot button as they are today. So, we’ve got forbidden teacher-student “affair” happening, we’ve got murder/suicide, and we’ve got one of the town “jocks” involved.
WHAT THE FUCK WAS HAPPENING IN SUNNYDALE THE SAME WEEK THAT THIS GETS RELEGATED TO A SIDE COLUMN HALF-WAY DOWN THE PAGE?
Seriously, what was the big story that day? Did the Hellmouth actually open? Of course not, because that shit just gets ignored in Sunnydale. What could possibly have been happening in town on that day that this was a minor news story?
Buffy tells them she knows it happened in 1955, and the next scene opens with her tossing down a copy of the yearbook that jumped out in Snyder’s office. She tells them about the time travel dream she had, and then the discussion turns toward James, the teacher shooter. Xander thinks he’s stupid, because killing someone else or killing yourself are stupid things to do (his words, not mine), and Buffy has more sympathy for the teacher, Grace Newman. Buffy calls James a sicko. Willow is the only one who doesn’t take a hardline anti-James stance. She asks Buffy if she really thinks James should have paid with his life for killing Grace:
Buffy: “No, he should be doing sixty years in a prison breaking rocks and making special friends with Roscoe the weightlifter.”
It’s minimize the horror of rape time on Buffy, kids! I could cover all of this under the heading of #6, but it’ll be more convenient just to add #27: Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go to our list. Let’s start with Buffy’s prison rape joke. These jokes aren’t okay, and it’s really hard for people to understand this. For example, everyone made jokes last week about child rapist and sex slavery tourist Jared Fogle (CW: pedophilia, rape, molestation) enjoying a “foot long in prison.” The implication was that Fogle would be raped in prison, and that this was an acceptable form of justice. A lot of people who are smarter and more eloquent than I am have written about why prison rape is a fucked up thing to joke about or gleefully wish upon criminals, but it’s so deep in our culture that we just saw it pop up in this (admittedly dated) show that was intended for teens.
While we’re on the subject, what happened to this student? Was rape. Even if he approached his teacher, even if he welcomed advances she made, there was no way for him to consent. He was underage and there was a power dynamic at work that makes him the victim and her the predator in this situation. This is something that has been hotly debated on this blog in the past, but I think you all know where I stand on the “primary education teachers screwing their students” front. I’ll admit, I find student/college professor a hot dynamic in fiction/fantasy (while recognizing the real life issues and implications of that dynamic), but there’s something about high school, above and beyond the “they’re underage” factor, that really sets it apart for me. Probably because the American high school system and the American university system are so completely different. Anyone who went to high school in America will tell you that the thing that shocked them the most about college was the sense of freedom they suddenly had. That sense of freedom makes all the difference for me. In high school, you’re still being treated the same way you were treated in middle school, in elementary school. You’ve been trained to accept the ebb and flow of routine with unquestioning obedience, and school becomes your entire world. If a teacher tells you something is okay, or that you should do something? You listen or there are consequences, and by the time you reach high school, you already know those consequences are going to be a lot of bullshit hassle that you don’t need. In college, those consequences are definitely still there, but you’ve got a little more agency.
And here’s something interesting about this scene: when Buffy tells them about her dream, Xander asks her to predict when and if he’ll ever have sex. Swap Xander out for James, and have a hot teacher come onto him. Will he be able to resist? Of course he won’t. Because he already failed that test, as did other male Sunnydale students. And as long as we’re swapping out people, imagine if the roles had been reversed. Would Buffy have found James so reprehensible (and deserving of rape as a punishment) if James had been a female student?
James had no power in his relationship with Ms. Newman. Ms. Newman had the power, and she was supposed to use it to say no. Instead, the audience is supposed to see either a poor, victimized teacher and her psychopath student, or a tragic lost love. This relationship fits neither.
Willow suggests they figure out what the vengeful spirit of James wants, but Buffy gets all tough, saying she doesn’t care what he wants, she just wants to shut him down. Uh, Buff? You can’t do that until you know what he wants.
In the cafeteria, Cordelia is outraged by the very idea of a Sadie Hawkins dance. She’s worried that things are going to get “scary.” And then all the pulled pork sandwiches turn into snakes. Way to go, Cordelia.
The school is in a state of panic, but when Snyder arrives on the scene, he doesn’t even put down his coffee. He’s totally unsurprised by this weird turn of events. As animal control tries to contain the scene, and EMTs treat Cordelia, who got bitten in the face, Snyder has the following conversation with a police detective:
Detective: “School boy pranks?”
Snyder: “Never sell.”
Detective: “The sewer got backed up.”
Snyder: “Better. I can probably make that one fly. But this is getting out of hand, people will talk.”
Detective: “We’ll take care of it.”
Snyder: “I’m doing everything I can but you people have to realize–”
Off Camera: “Snyder, what’s going on here?”
Snyder: “Backed up sewer line! Same thing happened in San Diego last week! [to detective] We’re on a Hellmouth. Sooner or later people are going to figure that out. ”
Detective: “The city council was told that you could handle this job. If you feel that you can’t, perhaps you’d like to take that up with the mayor.”
Oh ho! Here’s interesting. When television shows are first proposed there are at least a few seasons already plotted out. However, Buffy is one show that consistently foreshadows future seasons, and this is a great example. They’re already introducing the Big Bad of season three in season two, and he doesn’t even make an appearance yet. #21.
But it’s interesting for another reason: Snyder is aware of the Hellmouth. He knows that supernatural shit is occurring in the school. Unlike other residents of Sunnydale, he isn’t content to ignore it or explain it away to go about his untroubled life. And it appears that he took this job knowing that there was a Hellmouth situation. And when the detective invokes the name of the mayor, Snyder is cowed, suggesting that he also knows that the mayor is a bad dude (although judging from the last episode of season three, he didn’t have an idea of how bad the mayor really was. But I’m getting ahead of myself). So the question is, why does Snyder hold Buffy responsible for the weird shenanigans in the school, if he knows about the Hellmouth?
#28: Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
Consider this: Snyder is aware of the presence of evil in the school, but presumably not the existence of a Slayer. Or maybe he is aware that the Slayer exists, but isn’t aware of or is misinformed (perhaps by the mayor) about her function in the supernatural battleground that is Sunnydale. Since we know that Snyder isn’t in on the mayor’s evil plans in season three, it’s a good bet that Snyder, while being a hard-nosed prick to our protagonist, is really on the same side. He’s been hand-selected to manage the supernatural occurrences within the school, and probably thinks he’s fighting on the side of good. His constant surveillance and antagonism of Buffy isn’t just because he’s a dick. Snyder is fighting evil. Snyder is a good guy. He’s just pointed in the wrong direction.
At Buffy’s house, Willow declares it’s time for decisive action:
Willow: “I’ve done some homework and found out the only solution is the final solution.”
Xander: “Nuke the school? I like that.”
WHOA. Whoa. Whoa.
Someone here needs a history lesson. “The Final Solution” did not refer to the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. It referred to the plan to murder every Jewish person in Europe. I have no idea if Noxon intended to make that into a WWII joke and just didn’t know the difference, or if this was a really unfortunate coincidence, but I do know that Willow is Jewish, and having a Jewish character deliver a line like “the only solution is the final solution” is skeevy in the extreme. Though the conversation about “Jewish” describing a race or a religion or an ethnic group has been going on for a long time with various different viewpoints always changing and evolving, I’m going to mark this down as #12, because the unintentional grossness smacks of white cluelessness, and as it references the Holocaust it fits, since Nazis saw Jewishness as a racial trait.
In any case, Willow isn’t talking about any horrible event from the past, but exorcism. Cordelia, who is the voice of reason basically full time on these matters, points out that exorcism is fucking scary.
Personal note: Nothing, literally nothing on this earth, is scarier to me than possession/exorcism. #CatholicSchool
Willow’s idea for an exorcism involves a “Mangus Tripod,” in which one of them will chant at the spot where the teacher was killed, and the others will chant in different places around the school, forming a triangle. Buffy says she’ll take the “hot spot” where Ms. Newman was murdered, but honestly, I’ve always thought that Willow should have taken that one, since she knows more about the stuff. But whatever, they didn’t ask me. They go to the school armed with magical scapulas made of sulfur to ward off the bad spirits, but once they’re inside, the doors all slam shut, trapping them.
Back at evil doer headquarters, Drusilla is musing about sleeping naked in a hole when she suddenly gets a vision. It’s a good time for Angel to kill the Slayer.
Spike: “Big deal. He won’t do anything.”
Ah, Spike. He’s clearly goading Angel into attacking the Slayer, probably because he knows how hard it is to kill one. He’s banking on getting Angelus killed and away from Drusilla, who Angel is obviously banging. Angel decides to go after the Slayer, but definitely not to prove anything. At all.
At the school, Giles and Willow run into and scare the beejezus out of each other. Giles tells Willow that he thinks he’s close to contacting Jenny’s spirit. Willow clearly withholds further argument that no, this has nothing to do with Jenny. Then we have a nice Giles and Willow moment:
Giles: “What’s that smell?”
Willow: “It’s my scapula.”
Giles: “Right, of course. Did you use sulfur?”
Giles: “It’s clever.”
I like this little bit, because it sets up an important relationship between the two of them. As Willow continues on her path to witchiness, Giles is really the only person who understands her (until Tara comes along, and even then, I don’t think Tara understands Willow The Witch as much as Giles does. We’ll get to that in seasons six and seven). After Ms. Calendar dies, her notes make her Willow’s posthumous mentor, but for the most part, Willow has to make her own way. We don’t see a lot of Giles sharing his experience with her, but little moments like this show us that Willow isn’t adrift, without anyone to talk to about magic.
Giles warns Willow that she she should leave, because contacting Jenny might prove to be dangerous. But he doesn’t really ask her what she’s up to. As Buffy roams the halls, she hears “I Only Have Eyes For You” playing, and spots the ghosts dancing in the gym. Xander goes to the still-snakified cafeteria to set up shop, while Willow and Cordelia cover a staircase and a bathroom, respectively. As Buffy dreamily watches the ghostly pair, she gets a look at James’s face:
The ghosts disappear. As Cordelia examines her snake-bitten face in the mirror, her skin turns red and crinkly, and she screams. Willow sets up her candle to get ready for the chanting times, and the floor turns into a hand and tries to drag her down. She screams for Giles, and he arrives in the nick of time to pull her free. Buffy stands on the balcony where Ms. Newman was shot, and she gets a vision of the murder and James’s suicide, capped off by the ghost of rot-faced James grabbing her and shouting, “Get out!”
Everything goes back to normal with Cordelia’s face and the floor. Willow tells Giles that there’s no way it’s Jenny haunting the school, because she couldn’t be so mean. The kids all start chanting in their assigned places:
Willow: “I shall confront and expel all evil.”
Cordelia: “I shall totally confront and expel all evil.”
Xander: “Out of marrow and bone…
Buffy: “Out of house and home…never to come here again.
I love these instances where the Scoobies all join together to do magic. It doesn’t happen often, and I’m not sure if I want it to happen more, or if it’s perfect when it’s like, maybe once a season.
All of the candles blow out, and a mass of wasps start pouring through the halls. Buffy kicks down a door and they flee, only to turn and see the insects completely swarming the school.
Back at Buffy’s house, Giles is finally on board the “It’s James” train. He tells them that the ghost is recreating the tragedy over and over, as they tend to do, trying to fix the situation. Buffy says he wants forgiveness, but Giles points out that when James reenacts the murder, he can’t really change anything, so he’s stuck in a hellish loop and can’t be forgiven. To which Buffy says:
Buffy: “Good. He doesn’t deserve it.”
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 what he did, and no matter if he knows now that it was wrong and selfish and stupid, it is just something he’s going to have to live with.”
In which everyone knows that this is not about James, well before Buffy will admit it. Cordelia even says:
Cordelia: “Okay. Over-identify much?”
Thank you, Cordelia. She might annoy the other Scoobies, but she’s definitely saying exactly what needs to be said basically all of the time.
But Giles is wrong about forgiveness. Always forgive someone for yourself. Not for their benefit. If someone wrongs you, you deserve to acknowledge that, even if it makes them feel bad.
Buffy has angrily stormed off to the kitchen, where she finds a flyer for the class of ’55 Sadie Hawkins dance in her pocket. Then she hears James’s voice saying “I need you,” and wanders off out the back door. Giles tells Willow that they shouldn’t go back to the school, because the spirit is too angry, but tell that to Buffy, who’s in a trance and walking straight toward the swarm.
Whoa, back up a minute. It’s the middle of the goddamn night. Where’s Joyce? Her daughter’s school librarian, again and for the bajillionth time, is at their house at an inappropriate hour, just hanging out with a group of teens. She either doesn’t question this, or just isn’t home. And she’s not at work, because she runs a gallery. So she’s just electively out all night, with a troubled teenager at home? #3
Anyway, Buffy walks right through the swarm unharmed, straight into the school, where the lights turn on and the doors open automatically for her. Back at the Summers house, Willow finds the flyer. They all return to the school and are prevented from going to help Buffy because of all the wasps. Giles theorizes that because there’s not another person in the school–specifically a man–for James to inhabit, Buffy should be safe from being shot in the reenactment.
Except for the fact that Angelus is there:
Angel: “Fun fact about wasps. They have no taste for the undead.”
Well, wasps don’t really taste you when they sting, but since you’re from centuries ago, I’ll let your faulty scientific knowledge slide, Angel. He goes on to taunt her, to which Buffy replies:
Buffy: “You’re the only one. The only person I can talk to.”
Angel: “Gosh, Buff. That’s really pathetic.”
Buffy: “You can’t make me disappear just because you say it’s over.”
Angel: “Actually, I can. In fact…I just want you to be able to have some kind of normal life. We can never have that, don’t you see?”
Buffy: “I don’t give a damn about a normal life! I’m going crazy not seeing you. I think about you every minute.”
The scene shifts to Ms. Newman and James, then back again as Buffy and Angel act out the heart-wrenching dialogue. Which is, you know, double heartbreaking because we’re not just watching the ghost of James act out his desperation and confusion and anger, but with Buffy taking James’s role, we’re watching the breakup that Buffy needed to have with Angel to get closure. Which makes the line:
Buffy: “A person doesn’t just wake up and stop loving somebody!”
(which, notice, is differently worded from the other times it’s been repeated) even more tragic, because that is exactly what happened with Buffy and Angel.
As Buffy/James brandishes the gun and chases after Angel/Ms. Newman, we see Ms. Newman stop to try to talk James down. While he shouts at her to not treat him like a child, he accidentally fires the gun. Angel is shot, and tumbles from the balcony just like Ms. Newman did. The Scoobies, still powerless to stop what’s happening, hear the gunshot.
Buffy, still possessed by James, walks to the music room, but Angel, being a vampire, is able to get up and follow her. Buffy sees herself as James and points the gun at her head, but Angel/Ms. Newman, stops her. Through Angel and Buffy, Ms. Newman tells James that she knows he didn’t mean to kill her, and that she never stopped loving him, even after he shot her. Buffy/James and Angel/Ms. Newman kiss, and this happens:
This is good news for James, but bad news for Buffy and Angel. When the possession wears off, they’re enemies again. Just as Buffy thinks Angel might be back, he pushes her away in disgust.
Back at the library, Willow, Cordelia, and Xander report that all the bugs and snakes are gone. Buffy tells Giles that she thinks James picked her because he could identify with her more.
Buffy: “I still… A part of me just doesn’t understand why she would forgive him.”
Giles: “Does it matter?”
Buffy: “No. I guess not.”
And Giles smiles sadly because Buffy finally understands, and he must understand, too. See, here’s a part of this episode I’ve always overlooked, because I was caught up in the Buffy/Angel parallels. Giles felt Jenny had unfinished business. Hours before she died, they made plans to rekindle their relationship, though they had never outright forgiven each other. Giles feels he should have forgiven Jenny sooner, but it’s too late now. In a way, he was kind of reverse-haunting Jenny.
At Maison du Vampire, Angel is bathing in the courtyard fountain while Spike looks gleefully on:
Spike: “You might want to let up. They say when you’ve drawn blood, you’ve exfoliated.”
Angel doesn’t find it funny. He feels violated by the spirit of Ms. Newman, which is fair enough. He announces his intention to go out and do some really depraved killing, but when Dru invites Spike along, Angel nixes the idea, making more remarks about Spike being in a wheelchair and basically useless. Again, if you can think of other times in the series that ableism features so heavily, let me know in the comments and we can add it to the list. Anyway, they leave Spike behind to give us one of the most wonderful “Oh, shit,” moments of the series. He stands up, punches the air, and kicks the wheelchair he doesn’t need, because he’s only been pretending that he’s not fully healed.
In summation, what the fuck, this episode is amazing.