Saturday, January 4, 2014

It's New To Me

In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It's New To Me!

One of the most interesting aspects of Buffy The Vampire Slayer that has continued since its premiere episode is how it portrays many actual teen issues within the horror genre. This trend continues in this week's pair of episodes, both of which effectively explore some dark themes that, aside from their supernatural aspects, have been touched upon in other teen dramas. One of these episodes also contains important plot developments for the season as a whole, which should make for an interesting finale.

The nineteenth episode of Buffy 's second season, entitled "I Only Have Eyes For You," has perhaps the most disturbing premise of any episode yet. While checking in on Giles after school, Buffy stumbles upon a quarreling young couple in the hallway and intervenes when the boy pulls a gun on the girl. The couple seems like they have been awakened from a trance, with no memory of their encounter. Principal Snyder unfairly blames Buffy for the incident and orders her to report to his office, where she notices a yearbook from 1955 falling off the shelf. While in class the next day, Buffy falls asleep and dreams of a conversation that took place in the same classroom in 1955 that took place between a student and a teacher who had an affair. When she wakes up, she sees that the teacher has inadvertently written the phrase "Don't Walk Away From Me, Bitch!" on the blackboard, which is what the boy with the gun in the hallway said to his estranged girlfriend. Things get even weirder when Xander is attacked by a disembodied arm in his locker that disappears as soon as he closes the door. The Scooby Gang immediately deduces that the school is haunted, and Willow surmises that it may be the spirit of Jenny Calendar.

That night, the same scenario takes place in the hallway, only this time it involves the school janitor (played by future Oscar nominee John Hawkes), who shoots one of the teachers with a gun that appears out of nowhere after both of them have the exact same argument that the bickering couple had the night before. Giles arrives after the teacher is shot and killed and apprehends the janitor just as the gun disappears into thin air. Discussing the event with the gang, Giles is convinced that Jenny is the spirit causing the trouble, but everyone else disagrees, having done some research into Sunnydale High's sordid past and discovering that in 1955, a teacher named Grace Newman was murdered by a student named James Stanley on the night of the school's Sadie Hawkins dance after she tried to break off her affair with him. Things get even more spooky in the school when snakes invade the lunchroom, which sparks another cryptic conversation between Principal Snyder and the Chief of Police regarding the Hellmouth. The gang decides to perform a containment spell that night at the school, though Giles is still convinced that Jenny is the haunting spirit. Their first attempt fails however when the spirit unleashes a swarm of wasps around the school, causing the gang to temporarily retreat.

We are then taken to the new hideout for Spike, Angel, and Drusilla, where Dru receives a premonition that the Slayer is about to experience a dangerous confrontation at the school. The still-wheelchair-bound Spike convinces Angel to confront Buffy there and finish her off, and Angel agrees, taunting the jealous Spike by saying that when he returns, he will have his way with Drusilla. Regrouping at Buffy's house, the gang convinces Giles that the haunting spirit at the school is James Stanley, who is trying somehow to recreate the crime he committed in 1955 through human vessels in order to try to get a different result. Buffy is particularly harsh on James, stating that he deserves to suffer for what he did to his teacher. Returning to the school to confront the spirit, Buffy is confronted by Angel, and both are possessed by the spirits of James and Grace, respectively. Buffy shoots Angel while possessed, but of course since Angel is a vampire, he survives and follows her into the music room, where he stops Buffy from pulling the gun on herself, which is what James did on that fateful night. Through Buffy and Angel's bodies, the two spirits reconcile and leave the school, and a very confused Angel retreats back to his hideout. Buffy returns to the gang, stating she has no idea why Grace's spirit decided to forgive James, while Angel tells Spike and Drusilla that he was violated by feelings of love and needs to commit a foul act to purge himself of those feelings. When Angel leaves with Drusilla, Spike emerges from his wheelchair, fully healed from his injuries.

This is yet another episode that shows what a different cultural climate we all lived in back in the late Nineties. "I Only Have Eyes For You" deals with both a school shooting and a teacher-student relationship, both of which became sadly more commonplace in real-life headlines after this episode first aired, and it makes me wonder if the subject matter of future episodes will not be as salacious and shocking in the post-Columbine era. Regardless, this episode featured a creepy and effective ghost story that didn't have a new creature for Buffy to beat up, which is a nice change of pace from the usual standalone installments we've had so far, and the growing divide between Angel and Spike should make for some interesting plot developments as the season comes to a close. "I Only Have Eyes For You" earns 4.5 OUT OF 5 GHOSTLY SLOW-DANCES.

Following that unconventional standalone episode, the show goes back to the "Monster of the Week" format with "Go Fish," an episode that takes a fresh look at the idea of student athletes being valued higher than regular students. Here, the athletes are the members of Sunnydale High's swim team, whose chances of winning the State Championship are threatened when the flayed skin of one of their star swimmers turns up on the beach. While still subbing for the late Jenny Calendar, Willow confronts Gage, another member of the swim team (played by future screenwriter and Prison Break star Wentworth Miller) about his lack of participation in her class and is pretty much ignored. She is later told by Principal Snyder to let Gage pass in order to secure the school's chances of winning. Meanwhile, Buffy receives some unwanted attention from Cameron, another member of the team, nearly breaking his nose when he tries to put a move on her. Buffy gets no sympathy from the school nurse or the team's coach, who tells her that she needs to dress less provocatively. After clearing his sinuses in the team sauna, Cameron runs into Xander in the hallway on his way to the cafeteria. Xander overhears Cameron screaming and runs to the cafeteria to find Cameron's loose skin on the floor and a large gill monster standing behind him.

Xander relays what he saw to Giles and the others, stating that the monster ran away before he could get a good enough look at it. The gang deduces that this creature is targeting members of the swim team since the two best swimmers on the team were its victims and surmise that Gage may be who it will attack next. Buffy decides to shadow Gage at the Bronze, but he quickly catches on that he's following her, and when she warns him that his life is in danger, he laughs it off and leaves the club. He then runs into Angel, who attempts to feed off of him but is unable to drink his blood. While sitting in on swim practice the next day, Buffy tells Willow and Cordelia that there is something in the swimmers' blood that is attracting the creature. The three girls then are shocked to find that Xander is the newest member of the team. He explains to them that he is going undercover to see why the swimmers are being targeted by the creature, but Cordelia can't get past the idea of dating an athlete on an elite team. After practice, Buffy waits around the locker room and hears Gage screaming. When she runs in, she finds one of the gill monsters facing Gage, who then tears his own skin off and becomes another gill monster. Buffy battles both creatures before being saved by Coach Marin, who seems to know a little bit about what's going on with his team.

While sitting in the sauna with the rest of the team, Xander discovers that the substance being given to the swimmers to improve their performance is actually in the steam within the sauna. The school nurse confronts the Coach and tells him that she cannot continue administering the steroid to the athletes, and the Coach reacts by throwing her down a grate in the floor that leads to the sewers, where she is devoured by the gill men. When Buffy confronts the Coach herself, he pulls a gun on her and forces her to go down the same grate, where she is surrounded by the creatures. Xander then arrives, disarms Coach Marin, and pulls Buffy out of the sewer. In the ensuing fight, Coach Marin falls into the sewer, where he is immediately attacked by his former star athletes. The episode ends with Xander receiving treatment from Giles that will prevent him from turning into a gill man and the three surviving monsters swimming into the ocean.

"Go Fish" is a lot lighter and sillier in tone than most of Season Two, but I enjoyed the spin it gave to the character archetype of conceited jocks and the permissive attitudes that coaches and administrators may have towards them as long as they keep winning. Xander's attempt at infiltrating the swim team and Cordelia's reaction are the most humorous parts of the episode, as is Cordelia's semi-heartfelt monologue when she assumes that he has been turned into a gill monster. The insinuation by the Coach that his gill monsters have "other needs" when Buffy is turned over to them was a little off-putting and probably not something the show would be able to get away with nowadays. While Angel wasn't a huge part of this episode, his involvement was an essential piece of the plot and it continues the season's streak of finding interesting things for him to do in episodes where he isn't the main threat. Overall, "Go Fish" wasn't as important to the overall story of Season Two as the previous episode was, but it did provide an entertaining hour with yet another villain that wasn't defeated in the usual fashion of having Buffy beat the snot out of it. Knowing this show, I wouldn't be surprised if these ocean-dwelling monsters made a return appearance in Sunnydale before series end. 4 OUT OF 5 JAWS QUOTES.
Full Post

No comments:

Post a Comment