I Only Have Eyes For You is…weird. It feels like an episode that started with its last five minutes and was written backwards. It’s a Marti Noxon episode so we have every right to expect greatness, and yet…as I watched it the first time I was checked out. It felt like an episode of spooky 90210 to me. This sounds a bit silly when describing an episode of a superhero show but it felt a bit ungrounded to me, which makes sense given its the first time the show is concerned with actual ghosts. But the melodrama just didn’t do anything for me – I say melodrama because these ghosts and their tryst haven’t earned the right for me to care about them. Haunted bees? Really? What were they thinking with thi…oh…Ohhhh…

*sniff

Ok I love it

At the Bronze Buffy dodges the advances of an incoming guy. She tries to bail and Willow tries to best friend her from the doldrums without success. Meanwhile in the school halls two students are in the midst of a lovers quarrel. The boy pulls an old timey looking pistol. Buffy, out on patrol intervenes and knocks the pistol out of his hand, which disappears.

Snyder makes Buffy wait in his office and a old yearbooks falls of it’s own accord from the shelf.

Willow is still teaching for Miss Calendar.

The kids laughing at the joke is probably the least believable thing in this episode including the ghosts. Willow lets Gile’s know she’s found a bunch of files on Miss Calendar’s computer regarding magic.

Buffy spaces out for a moment in a class about the depression and wakes up out of time, witnessing a long look between a student and teacher. When she returns to class her actual teacher has written something uncontrollably on the board

After several odd occurrences Giles decides the gang is dealing with a poltergeist, and indicates the only way of ridding themselves of it really is by providing it a sort of spiritual catharsis.

That night as a teacher and the janitor pass each other in halls they are overcome by the same spirit as the kids from earlier. A gun appears in the janitors hand. He fires, and the teacher tumbles from the roof dead. Giles working late hears a noise and suspects it may be Jenny’s spirit that is haunting the place.

He witnesses the teacher’s murder and tackles the janitor. The gun disappears.

The next day Giles explains it;s Miss Calendars spirit causing these instances. The gang is unconvinced.

After a bit of research into previous shootings they discover the people Buffy dreamed of in the archives. The student and teacher were having an affair. The teacher tried to break it off and the student shot her, then went to the band room and shot himself. Willow is saddened by the whole thing but Buffy seems unusual unsympathetic.

More poltergeist hijinks ensue and Snyder shares a surprising conversation with a police officer.

At the mention of the mayor’s name Snyder shows some unusual fear. Willow finds a spell with a chance of dispelling some of the big bad voodoo at school and Xander points out the James the ghost shooter seems oddly fixated on Buffy. Unsurprisingly the ritual doesn’t go according to plan.

Spike, Dru, and Angelus have moved to a new home. Angelus’ continued torment of Spike appears to be having its intended effect. Spike speech feels slow. Defeated.

Drucilla has a vision of a gate opening and something wanting the slayer. I may not have mentioned this before but Juliet Landau’s Drucilla performance is incredible. She’s like an undead woodstock hippy tripping on ecstasy and lsd. I have grown to appreciate her physicality the more I watch the show.

mean…you just KNOW Angelus has made Spike watch them right? Right? Or is that just me? The shot hangs on Spike for a long time and to me that insinuates…activities. I’m just saying. Angelus is creep.

The gang discuss their failed attempt to banish James the ghost and what James might be looking for.

Buffy is, again, unswayed. Cordy continues her hitting streak of brilliance

Buffy storms off and is called in trance back to bee school. Willow frets that Buffy just went in there to get shot and Giles wonders who the other person is to play out the grisly ghost story.

Buffy, clearly under the thrall of the ghost begins the deathly reenactment…from the James’ perspective. Angel is momentarily amused…and then

And this is the moment when the purpose of the episode dawned on me.

Angel is dead again. Except that unlike the teacher, Angel can’t die from a gunshot. Buffy goes to the band room to finish the reenactment, that culminated in the James’ suicide. But this time.

Ok so remember Buffy’s feelings about James?

“He’s a murderer and he should pay for what he did…”

Consider the gender swapped lovers and on the night of the Sadie Hawkins dance, no less. Buffy very specifically takes James’ role in the murder suicide reenactment. James’ teacher was older than him, as Angel is older than Buffy. Her relationship to the James is a suggestion of her own guilt over Angel’s death. And the ripple of consequences that have come since. Her vehement lack of empathy when describing James is only an indication of how she’s feeling about herself.

James destroyed the person he loved the most in a moment of blind passion. Thats not something you forgive.

As Xander pointed out, James was fixated on Buffy but not from a combative sense but because he identified with the guilt she was carrying.

“James picked me. I guess I was the one he could relate to.”

The key to understanding the episode is realizing it doesn’t matter whether we think Buffy did anything wrong, she thinks she has.

“Was it me. Was I not good?”
“So it was me. I did it.”
“Consequence of my love life.”
“I’m sorry.”

And Buffy is looking for the same thing James is.

He wants forgiveness

But she can’t find it because she doesn’t think she deserves it. So why should she be allowed to be happy?

And then the dialogue between Angel and Buffy provides her the moment she needs. Whether it was Angel speaking the words or some spirit inside of him, this tiny echo of the man she loved is a moment of reprieve. A breath that gives Buffy the space and peace for one of the most difficult acts of compassion.

The act of forgiving yourself.

Yesssss…I like this episode. Either I’m a little thick or the whole point is a little easy to miss. But now that I think I’ve got the grasp it really is a poem. There is rhyme and meter to the whole thing a beautiful thought revealed by the ending. It has a similar thematic aspiration as Killed By Death but is executed so much more elegantly than that episode as it doesn’t introduce some new background detail we’ve never heard of to make its point.

In the final scene Angelus is disgusted by his forced participation in the love fest and goes hunting with Dru, taking another moment to taunt Spike. And as the music thrums Spike kicks himself free of the chair and stands up, reborn.