2.19 I Only Have Eyes for You
2.20 Go Fish
This is that difficult week of episodes that happens after the manic pace of last week’s (“Phases,” “BBB,” and “Passion”) and before the jaw-dropping awesomeness of the “Becoming” two-parter season finale next week. Our guest this week will look at what that means for these episodes within the arc of the season, so I won’t get into it much other than to say they’re rarely listed among the fan favourites.
But I have to say, I’ve never listed them as ones that were bad. It’s just their unfortunate juxtaposition – had the subject matter come before “Surprise” and “Innocence,” perhaps fans would have been kinder to them. On their own, I think they’re very good… and in the case of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” great.
“Killed by Death” has never been a fave of mine. It takes place away from familiar locations – the library, Buffy’s house – and is focused more on Buffy and her childhood problem more than the other characters. And coming on the heels of “Passion,” it was a disappointment when, following the shocking horror of Jenny’s death, Giles seemed to be puttering around the hospital and not openly grieving. But… that’s not really Giles. Yeah, he pulls a Lost Weekend when he thinks he’s effed up so badly people are going to be seriously hurt, but when the people HAVE been hurt and he can no longer help them, he buries himself in his duties to hide the pain he’s feeling.
When I checked my write-up for it that I put in Bite Me, it was the first entry where I disagreed with my much-younger self who wrote that, oh, a decade ago. In it I said if there’s some sort of metaphor here, I didn’t get it. But watching it now, I do get it. In the hospital, the children can see the horrors that the adults can’t. In the FOX show, Fringe, we discover that scientist Walter Bishop once ran tests on young children, giving them a particular drug that could heighten powers he believes we’re all born with, but as we get older certain parts of our brain become inactive and, effectively, kills off our potential. Similarly, these children still have eyes open to the nightmares and bogeymen, where the adults in their lives no longer believe in such fancies. This idea brings us back to one of the essential themes of the series – that Buffy might appear to be a “kid,” but she knows more and has seen more than most adults will ever see. She’s an old, wise mind in a young person’s body (this becomes more obvious in later seasons once she’s out of high school).
Some extra notes:
• One fun game you can play with this week’s trio of episodes is “Spot the Guest Character Who Went on to Bigger Things.” In this episode, we see Stanford from Sex and the City playing the security guard that Cordy tries to seduce.
• I see that Buffy’s borrowed Kendra’s silver Aladdin pants for her hospital sojourn.
When Buffy first aired, “Killed by Death” aired on March 3, and then the show went on a seven-week hiatus. When the show returned on April 28, many fans were swept up in the romance and wonder of “I Only Have Eyes for You.” I adored the ghost story, and when Buffy and Angelus stepped into the roles – and we saw Angel again for the first time in a long time. See, for us rewatching – even for the first-timers – it’s only been a couple of weeks since Angel went to the Dark Side. But at the time, he turned bad on January 20, and this is the first time in three months that we saw a glimmer of the old Angel again. So it had been a very loooooong time since we’d seen him, and it was glorious. I especially loved Buffy taking the man’s role, and Angel – who is often seen as the feminized side of Angelus – is the woman. It brings up the important idea of forgiveness, something the ghost needs to move on. If Buffy ever gets the souled Angel back, will she ever be able to forgive him for what his demony counterpart did?
Some extra notes:
• Apparently when Angel loses his soul and begins sporting the hot leather pants, Buffy switches to skintight… gold ones.
• John Hawkes!!! I’d completely forgotten he was in this episode. Sol Star from Deadwood, Lennon from Lost, and an Oscar nominee. Who’d have thunk the janitor from this episode would have gone on to such critical acclaim?
• Also, James, the 1950s ghost, is Henry from Ugly Betty; the teacher the janitor shoots when they’re possessed was Cousin Eddie’s wife in the Vacation films; Meredith Salinger was in several movies in the 80s and early 90s (I always think of her in that Jimmy Reardon movie with my teenage boyfriend, River Phoenix).
• The director of this episode is the son of actor James Whitmore.
• Snyder returns! I’d forgotten how much he looked like a rat.
• How odd that Jenny’s computer is back on her desk with all her lesson plans on it… didn’t we watch Angel burn it in Passion?
• Giles needing that ghost to be Jenny was heartbreaking. I still I get a catch in my throat when Willow looks at him and says, “Jenny could never be this mean!”
• Where’s Samuel Jackson when you need him? I’d love to see him walk into the school and say, “Why are there motherf***ing snakes in this motherf***ing cafeteria?!”
• Angel tells Buffy that he loved her with his last breath… and he’s telling the truth.
• Spike standing up from the wheelchair is one of the highlights of the season for me. He’s like the vampire John Locke!!
“Go Fish” is a much-maligned episode within the longstanding Buffy fandom, but I actually don’t mind it. I mean, it’s worth it for that scene where Xander enters in slow-mo in the Speedo. Comedy gold. (Joss Whedon always joked that Xander’s body was far too ripped to be nerdly, so he tried to show him shirtless as many times as possible as an in-joke.) And the scene where the fish creature jumps into the pool, and Cordy begins her long speech to it thinking it’s Xander is a very important moment in the development of her character. Even though she’s back with him post-Valentine’s Day, there’s still a sense of superiority she holds over him. “I’m better than you, you’re a nerd, and you should be happy that I’ve lowered myself to be with you.” But in this scene – even as she believes Xander’s been turned into a fish!! – she professes her true love for him, telling him she’ll stand by him and even get him extra bath toys (LOL!) I love this scene, and it’s where our sympathies truly begin to turn in Cordy’s favour.
Some extra notes:
• Xander: “It’s especially nippy. So say my nips.”
• Gage is played by Wentworth Miller, who starred on Prison Break.
• I honestly don’t buy the whole Willow-as-teacher thing. How does that work within the teacher’s union? How is a student teaching the class? What would that do to student-teacher politics? If Willow was harassed and disrespected by students before, wouldn’t they come down on her even harder now? Is there honestly not one single teacher in the area who could sub in for Jenny?? And even if this is a whole “Snyder keeping everything on the down-low” thing, I still don’t buy it. Aren’t her parents wondering why their daughter isn’t being paid? And if she IS being paid, how is that being worked out with the other teachers? “Oh, great… she’s had half a year of computer training but I guess she’s as qualified to teach high school as I am… after several years of university and practical training.” And yes… I understand the irony here that I have no problem with the swim team turning into sea creatures but I do have a problem with the practicality of Willow being a substitute teacher. ;)
• Buffy’s use of “from whence it came.”
• Jonathan ♥♥♥
• Buffy: There’s just something about the smell of chlorine on a guy. Oh baby.”
• Buffy on Xander’s worry he’ll turn into a fish: “Let’s not break out the tartar sauce just yet.” LOL!
• Xander correcting Cordy on the difference between the creature from the blue lagoon and the black: “The creature from the blue lagoon was Brooke Shields.”
• I love Buffy and Willow eating the popcorn while watching the swim team. Watch for the popcorn bucket to pop up again and again in weird moments.
This week I once again welcome Steve Halfyard for a small slice of cheese as she discusses the use of music in this week’s group of episodes:
You have to admire the way Beck’s music remembers and connects up ideas from earlier episodes. “I Only Have Eyes For You” brings in another little twist on the Love Theme for the two ghosts. We first here it in Buffy’s ‘dream’ about their moment together in the class room – it has the first three notes of the LT, but with an extra note added on the beginning and the end – the note at the start makes is a little bit discordant and gives it an extra yearning. It comes back again when the janitor and teacher are possessed; and then, when Buffy and Angel are possessed at the end, we get another version which is closer to the original LT, but still not quite right (for obvious narrative reasons – they aren’t quite Buffy and Angel at that point). Also, note the fragment of the Giles/ Jenny theme from “Passion” when Willow gives Giles Jenny’s necklace, and how it starts sneaking back in (in the oboe) when Giles hears the sound of the janitor and teacher fighting, thinks it may be Jenny’s ghost and rushes off to try and find her: but the full theme never quite arrives, because, of course, Jenny is not there.
Thanks, Steve! And now it’s my pleasure to introduce Ian Klein. Ian’s featured on my blog a few times in some of my anecdotes. I met him on a shuttle from the Little Rock airport to the Slayage conference in 2008, and my friend Sue and I began hanging out with him and Ryan, also from that shuttle. We all stayed in touch (and I got together with Ian in the interim when I was in NY on business) and at the last Slayage we did the conference first, and then went to Universal Studios, where we stayed in a huge suite in Holiday Inn and went on rollercoasters and rides and saw Harry Potter land and ate tons and tried this awesome Mexican place and had a blast. He’s brilliant. (And he’ll probably kill me for running that photo, but seriously… adorable, right? We saw this old car at Universal and I told him to pose, and you don’t have to ask him twice.)
Ian G. Klein earned his BA with Honors from the University of Washington. He is currently studying at Columbia University in pursuit of an MFA in Dramaturgy, which will be completed in Spring 2012. Ian first experienced the work of Joss Whedon when he started watching Buffy in anticipation of an assignment concerning fandom during his senior year of college. He has since become a charter associate member of The Whedon Studies Association and has presented papers at several academic conferences, including The Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses and meetings of the National Popular and American Culture Associations. His most recent publication was “'I Like My Scars': Claire Saunders and the Narrative of Flesh” in the SmartPop book, Inside Joss’s Dollhouse. You can read an interview with Ian here, and he blogs regularly here (and if you haven’t been checking out his site, please do: he’s been following our rewatch since January and doing his own weekly posts, which have been excellent!)
Without any further ado, please welcome the wonderful Ian Klein!
Ian G. Klein
If there’s a task more daunting to me than writing about some of the most iconic episodes in the series like “Surprise,” “Innocence,” and “Passion,” it’s writing about the trio of episodes that rests between “Passion” and the epic two-parter “Becoming” that concludes the show’s second season. These three episodes are not unlike many other episodes of the series, especially from the first season. But placing episodes that signal a return to the quieter tone and content at this point in season 2 (which is so fraught with violence, grief and drastic character transformations) can seem like a step back on the part of the show’s progress both in season 2 and the series as a whole.
When I knew I would be writing about “Killed by Death,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “Go Fish” I thought the only way to write about them would be as discrete units through the monster-of-the-week lens as I perceived these episodes to be based on my last complete viewing of the series in late 2007/early 2008. Even when I started watching these episodes I was still skeptical not only as to how they related to the compelling story arc they were housed between but as to how they related to each other. How could these episodes be so “ordinary” amidst such greatness?
As I finished this close rewatch, I realized this question was also the answer. These episodes serve as a kind of unholy trilogy of the ordinary in the midst of life’s greater conflicts. Just because your boyfriend dumps you, turns evil, and wreaks havoc on your city, doesn’t mean life gives you a break from the rest of the world’s troubles. Life goes on after trauma. Our bodies and minds continue to be affected through extended suffering. As Buffy later says in the season 2 finale, “Becoming, Part 2”, “It doesn’t stop. It never stops.” The Hellmouth doesn’t stop speaking.
I am currently an MFA candidate in Dramaturgy at Columbia University in my last semester of classes. If there’s one thing I won’t miss as a non-student, it’s my body’s tendency to break down the moment I turn in the last of what is often five final projects. For the last x number of years, getting sick or being overcome with fatigue happens like clockwork at the end of a semester. So what happens to Buffy immediately following the loss of her boyfriend’s soul and the death of Jenny Calendar caused by said soulless boyfriend? She gets sick.
In “Killed by Death,” Buffy’s mother, Joyce, tells Giles “Buffy’s been so down since [Jenny’s death] happened. I mean, she never gets sick.” Our bodies have a way of reminding us when it is time to slow down and relinquish some of our daily responsibilities in order to repair, not only physically but mentally. It might not normally occur for her or us as the audience to think that she would be stopped by something so mortal, so human, when she is so super-human.
Non-Slayers, a category that includes myself, tend to use this same logic for ourselves too. We often think we’re superhuman and this false perception of ourselves can be compounded by our ability to come out victorious on the other side of seemingly impossible tasks through sheer adrenaline. But life takes a toll and at some point the choice to remove ourselves from the world for a spell no longer is a choice. The Slayer, however, does not have the luxury of stopping being the Slayer. Sometimes the fight comes to you when you’re down and you have to fight back.
We have to keep living in a world of constant threats despite our internal afflictions. In Buffy, these threats are both literal and metaphorical. In our world, the demons we face don’t have horns, pointy teeth or fish heads, but it’s true that some of the forces we confront in our lives like trauma can’t be seen at all. In these three episodes, the unseen threat is represented by the fever in “Killed by Death,” poltergeists in “I Only Have Eyes for You” and internally driven metamorphoses in “Go Fish.” In this tripartite treatise on trauma, it’s not just Buffy who is affected. The recent tragic events in Sunnydale have also disturbed Giles, Xander, Willow, and even Cordelia in different ways. Nothing will be the same, but in their shared trauma, they come together stronger than ever. There is hope when it comes to recovery from trauma but not before it may take over both body and mind. In each of the episodes, someone must succumb to potentially life-threatening conditions in order to defeat a given threat. They must endure the trauma, even embrace it in order to overcome it.
In “Killed by Death” this takes place as Buffy willingly infects herself with the flu so that her perception is fundamentally altered and she can see Der Kindestod, the demon that sucked the life out of sick children. The effects of this selfless act are twofold. First, she reaffirms her identity as the Slayer as she tells Ryan, “We both know that there are real monsters. But there’s also real heroes that fight monsters and that’s me.” Second, she works out personal trauma not only by moving forward from the deeply affecting ordeal with Angel but an older trauma: being the sole witness to her cousin Celia’s brutal death at the hands of Der Kindestod. The moment Buffy kills Der Kindestod, she effectively deals with these two traumas. She avenges Celia’s death and by snapping his neck mirrors the manner in which Angel killed Jenny in the preceding episode, “Passion.” Her trauma caused by Angel, however, will take much more time and effort.
“I Only Have Eyes For You” sees Buffy physically and psychologically taken over by the spirit of forbidden love throughout the episode — more than just the final confrontation between she and Angel, who in a wonderful plot twist takes on the role of the female teacher in the pair of star-crossed lovers while Buffy takes on that of the spurned male student. Buffy is constantly afflicted by an outside force experiencing powerful, visceral, and vivid visions and Xander, Giles, Willow, and Cordelia also experience varying degrees of the school’s violent haunting. The poltergeists are not banished upon their first coordinated attempt. Like some illnesses, this haunting must consume its hosts and run its course before it will release its hold. This and the other two episodes discussed here are about the hurt that lingers as much as it is about new ills that befall us while we are beaten and broken. In order to defeat one evil, the hero must often live another. Even “under the spirit’s thrall” or yielding to a high-grade fever, there are still opportunities to process pain, recover and — as in this episode — to be forgiven.
These three episodes explore a wide spectrum of Buffy villains: the silly, the nightmarish, and the worst kind of villain of all: the one you love. In most viewer’s books, “Go Fish” would probably fall into this first category. The creatures, as Cordelia points out, bear a strong resemblance to the creature from the Blue Lagoon (which Xander corrects to “Black”) and the swim coach’s motivation for bringing about these transformations is no more involved than wanting to win the state championship. “Go Fish” is also the least related to the season’s primary throughline. Why does it matter? It matters because it is, as I suggested in the introduction: ordinary. In the wake of trauma life keeps happening. This is especially true of life on the Hellmouth. At Sunnydale High, members of the swim team turning into freakish fish monsters is life as usual. As with “Killed by Death” and “I Only Have Eyes For You” we see the trope of a character who submits himself to dangerous circumstances in order to conquer an unseen evil. By getting on the swim team and participating—though unwittingly—in the toxic “aromatherapy” of the steam room, Xander is affected internally. It is only after getting to that perilous and frightening place that progress can be made and the threat can be overcome. Sometimes that threat is one’s own pain.
In response to Giles’ erroneous theory that Jenny is the one haunting the school in “I Only Have Eyes For You”, Buffy remarks, “He misses her. He can’t think. Just a little more fallout from my love life.” If there were one word that could unify these episodes, it would be “fallout.” Buffy’s life and the lives of those around her have been shattered and they breathe in the resulting radioactive dust. Indeed, the nexus of their trauma is that of Angel and though the effects of his actions are not just Buffy’s burden, she bears the heaviest load.
It’s important to note that Angel as Angelus appears — albeit briefly — in each of these episodes. He illuminates the storytelling even as a background character. His appearance at the beginning of “Killed by Death” for example seems a bit superfluous and unnecessary and if this were any other episode, it would begin with any other vampire, but the choice to make it Buffy’s biggest vampire adversary at this point in the series reminds us that her wounds are still fresh and the healing process is far from over. In fact her wounds will deepen before the season is through. Angel’s reduced presence is also symbolic of Buffy’s resolve to regard him as a threat amongst many others across the landscape of the Hellmouth and another threat that needs to be defeated. In fact, these episodes are as much about recovery from trauma as much as they are about mentally preparing for the battle ahead. These three episodes allow Buffy a much-needed breath before the inevitable showdown.
After being attacked by Angel, Gage asks Buffy, “Was that the thing that killed Cameron?” “No,” she responds, “That was something else.” “Something else?” “Yeah unfortunately we have a lot of other something elses in this town.”
“Killed by Death”, “I Only Have Eyes For You”, and “Go Fish” are places where those “something elses” thrive — the somethings that simultaneously get in the way of life as we’d like it and force us to move forward with our lives as we reclaim our broken selves. There’s always something else and even if you’re the Slayer, you’ve never seen it all.
Thank you, Ian!
Next week: Becoming, Parts 1 & 2, brought to you by... me!! (They're possibly my favourite episodes of the series, so I laid my claim on them early.) We'll also have some music analysis from Janet/Steve, so I'm looking forward to that, too. :) Brace yourselves for season 2's backstory!