Thursday, 22 November 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 2.19 & 2.20 – 'I Only Have Eyes For You' & 'Go Fish'

Thursday, 22 November 2012
Drusilla: Then I'll sleep naked. Like the animals do.
Angelus: You know, I'm suddenly liking this plan.

I feel bad for saying this, because I can see the merits and laudable intentions of "I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU", but I was quite bored most of the time. I think the reason is how little I cared about the ghosts—James (Christopher Gorham), a student from 1955 who killed his teacher Grace (Meredith Salenger) after she called off their illicit affair. Their story just didn't feel like it was given enough attention, and got lost in the various spooky sequences that was blamed on James's haunting: a monstrous hand grabbing Xander (Nicholas Brendon) from his locker, or Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) being bitten in a snake-infested cafeteria. It was better when the janitor (John Hawkes) was possessed and re-enacting James's final moments with a passing teacher, but for some reason writer Marti Noxon couldn't help throwing in weirdness like Willow (Alyson Hannigan) being sucked into the floor.

What can I say? The episode lost me fairly early, and I remained so. I can appreciate what it was trying to do—using ghosts as a symbol for second changes, which fed into the idea of a possessed Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel (David Boreanaz) momentarily getting back together in unusual circumstances—but it felt like Noxon's script needed a better angle and more clarity. I was actually more interested in the belated return to the idea Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) knows Sunnydale's a hotbed of supernatural activity (he knows about the Hellmouth!), and the increasingly awkward vampire threesome of Spike (James Marsters), Angel and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) now they've moved to a garden hideout—where Drusilla's behaving even more like Helena Bonham Carter on drugs. I have a feeling Angel's comeuppance will come courtesy of rival Spike, who may even help Buffy get revenge on her ex—by restoring his soul as a fitting punishment for making moves on his girl? It was also fun to spot future stars in a young Gorham (Harper's Island, Covert Affairs) and pre-Oscar nominee Hawkes (Deadwood, Eastbound & Down)—although neither was given a chance to shine. And while I appreciated the effort to keep Jenny's recent death at the forefront of Giles' (Anthony Head) mind, it just felt silly that he'd believe she's responsible for the hauntings.

I don't want to hate on this episode too much, because it's a world away from the awfulness of season 1's lowlights, but now Buffy the Vampire Slayer has proven it's capable of great things I've adjusted expectations accordingly. There were great performances from Gellar and Boreanaz (easily the most improved actor), a few good visuals, and interesting ideas bubbling away, but I found it hard to care about the mostly contrived "I Only Have Eyes For You". Finally, a question: do US high schools seriously let their students takeover running classes if a teacher's absent or has died? Willow would have her head permanently down a toilet if she tried that in a UK college/university.

Cordelia: (to Xander) You were courageous. And you looked really hot in those Speedos.

The biggest irritation with "GO FISH" is that nobody really wants a monster-of-the-week instalment this close to the season's end, with a two-part finale on the horizon and coming off the surprise of invalided Spike's recovery in "I Only Have Eyes For You". Putting that aside, I quite enjoyed this poorly-scheduled episode—even if took the situation with Willow being a substitute IT teacher to an even greater extreme. She's allowed to grade fellow student's coursework now?! As usual for BtVS, the story took an element of the high school experience and gave it a supernatural slant: with Buffy coming to realise the swimming team, including Gage (a pre-Prison Break Wentworth Miller), have been transformed into fish-men by their coach. This will enable them to win an important interstate contest that Principal Synder's (Armin Shimerman) particularly keen on, but unfortunately means the swimmers have developed a taste for human flesh and resemble the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

This was a slice of disposable fun, that's not really worth too much retrospection. The most notable thing was how fantastic the creature effects were, with easily the best example of a "man-in-suit" costume BtVS has delivered in two seasons. The transformations of the athletic swimmers into scaly aqua-beasts was also surprisingly ugly—with Gage ripping apart his own chest and watching in horror as his hand's skin flopped away to reveal dark green scales. For television, I was surprised by how gruesome that scene was. It certainly left more of an impression being physical makeup than the CGI they'd undoubtedly use today instead. Other than that, this was a good episode with an obvious anti-drugs message in the subtext, but nothing to get excited about. I liked how the story led us to believe the swim team were being attacked by creatures coming up through the school sewer system, before the twist that the enemy's quite literally within, too. Seeing that Wentworth Miller hasn't aged a day in 15-years also made me very jealous.

written by Marti Noxon (2.19) & David Fury & Elin Hampton (2.20) / directed by James Whitmore Jr & David Semel (2.20) / 28 April & 5 May 1998 / The WB