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I only have eyes for you: The Teacher and the Student

r2dh2

Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain
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I’ve been watching and re-watching S2, something that I do when I’m on a deadline and I need a non-distraction distracting me… and I have some question about the intended messages from “I only have eyes for you.”

I get the biggest one: Buffy’s guilt and need for self-forgiveness. She carries around the weight of “killing” Angel in a moment of blind passion. But a thing that I cannot understand is why when talking about the spirit nobody mentions that the teacher (an older woman, probably twice the age of the guy) was sleeping with her student. Besides the obvious age gap, the biggest problem for me is the place of authority that the teacher has. I get that she is shown as truly being in love with him and as presented as the “victim” of the accidental killing. But I cannot avoid feeling that it is a big point specially since we know that first love can feel so intense as shown in the case of James and Buffy that might lead to act out on that. The fact that the teacher is a figure of authority in his life adds more complications imo (I guess that’s why they decided to go with the gender swap, presenting a male teacher and a female student wouldn’t have been received well). What are your thoughts on this point? Does it bother you at all that nobody mentions the student-teacher imbalance of power (or differences in maturity level)? Was it putting her in a position of power relative to James done on purpose by the writers? If so, why?

Just to clarify, personally, I don’t have any problem with the age difference between Buffy and Angel. Even though, I am not a fan of a somewhat paternalistic dynamic that they fall into at time, I’m fine with them together. I was only wondering about the particular choice of mirror couple in this episode.

The second question that I have is regarding the love between the student and the teacher. It is shown as mutual and intense. Are we supposed to get that Angelus loves Buffy in a twisted way? I’ve always taken it as pure sadistic obsession.

P.S. There is a line that Buffy says: “He couldn’t make her love him so he killed her. Sicko.” Is this how she sees herself at this point? Or am I overthinking it?
 

Spanky

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Black Thorn
It's because the teacher was a female, so it's more acceptable. Same thing when the students thought they were going to get lucky with the bug-lady-teacher.

It's sorta a guy thing. Hell, there was even a song about it.
 

Priceless

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The power imbalance between student and teacher is obvious, no matter the sex of the teacher. I am sure it was done deliberately and assumed this is a reference to male violence and they didn't want to show a teenage girl shooting a man on a show like Buffy, where guns are very much a male thing. Apart from Darla I don't think we see any women with guns in the show, and I think we only see Darla with guns because she's a vampire. (Willow in S7 does threaten Kennedy with a guy, but that's only when she's turning into a man)

I also think the student/teacher relationship is a reference to Buffy and Angel, in that Angel plays the teacher, the one with the power. I don't have a problem with the age difference between Angel and Buffy, but there is a power dynamic at play that often gets overlooked (like female teacher/male student dynamic)
 

Ethan Reigns

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The core of the story is that Buffy had no sense of forgiveness, which is why she ended up being the shooter in her case. The writing is quite clever in that Angel cannot be killed by a normal bullet nor by the fall off the balcony, so he survives in the undead sense. The most important exchange in the story is:

Giles: (leans back) Yes. (gets up) I imagine he does. (goes to her) But when James possesses people, they act out exactly what happened that night. So he's experiencing a form of purgatory instead. I mean, he's, he's doomed to, to kill his Ms. Newman over and over and over again, and... forgiveness is impossible.
Buffy: Good. He doesn't deserve it.
Giles: To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's, 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 gonna have to live with.
Xander: He can't live with it, Buff. He's dead.

The writers tie together the idea of lack of forgiveness and becoming the aggressor in this case. Giles also shows taht the real purgatory is wanting to change something that you did in life but never being able to unless unusual circumstances (like Buffy and Angelus being caught up in the spell) prevail.
 

TriBel

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I agree with @Priceless - irrespective of sex, there's always an asymmetrical power dynamic when one of a couple is in a position of authority. I think Lacan calls the authority figure "subject-supposed-to-know" because he/she is idealised (idolised?) as someone who has all the answers. The real (false) ideal/idol is usually someone from the past (ie. parent)
It's sorta a guy thing.
Nah...I don't get that. Girls "fall" for teachers/mentors: Willow/Giles...Willow/Jenny. It's at the root of (or an aspect of) what @r2dh2 calls the
"paternalistic dynamic" between Buffy/Angel and Buffy/Giles.

To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's, it's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.
I agree about the importance of that line (I can't remember the episode properly and I sometimes find what Giles says ambiguous) but I think this is equally important:
I mean, he's, he's doomed to, to kill his Ms. Newman over and over and over again, and... forgiveness is impossible.
The reference I made above originates with discussion of the therapeutic process and I think (Lacan's impenetrable so I make most of it up and I'm over-simplifying) it goes something like this. The analysand "falls in love" with his/her analyst because he/she thinks the analyst has all the answers and will ease their psychic pain. They don't...the analysand has the answers buried deep in the unconscious and whatever is repressed returns "over and over" in a different form. It's only when the repressed moment, fear or wish returns to consciousness that it can be addressed. In addition, it's not the analyst who can forgive - the analysand has to forgive him/herself and (kinda) love themselves. I've seen comparisons between Catholic confession and Therapy - confession is a type of "talking cure" - but we ask God to forgive us when we need to forgive ourselves. It's something more to do with immanence than transcendence. It's often epiphanic but it comes from Beneath rather than Above.

Look at Spike in Beneath You - apropos the soul:
"It's what you wanted, right? (looking at the ceiling) It's what you wanted, right? (presses his fingers to his temples, looks down, and walks toward the altar).

07x02 - Beneath You - Buffy the Vampire Slayer Transcripts - Forever Dreaming

Looking up suggests the question is directed at Heaven (God). The second question I always presumed was directed at Buffy but the staging might imply he's asking it of himself (IDK). Either way I'd say the soul was something Spike wanted (but didn't know he wanted when he left Sunnydale)...Buffy doesn't realise it was something she wanted until much later. I think Giles is wrong to say "it's impossible" - he's hanging on to his own guilt.

Lucifer does it better - or more explicitly (and Lucifer himself is seeing a therapist who he makes Subject-supposed-to-know). Neither God nor Lucifer sends us to Hell - it's our own guilt that's responsible. Once we're in Hell we're caught up in a "Hell loop" when our worst moments play over and over. It's only when we confront our worst fears etc. that we can pass from Hell to Heaven. Chloe (spoilers for the last episode) avoids hell by not feeling guilty about Dan's death. Lucifer returns to Heaven (and becomes God) when he stops blaming his dad for all his mistakes and admits to and exercises free will. The final episode recalls a S1 Episode with a Catholic priest/Father and a confessional box)

It's at the core of S7...it's why Spike says "I can't say sorry. Can't use forgive me." on Beneath You. The person he has to apologise to is his mum/Wood (?) - by apologising to Wood he's also apologising to himself (?). It's why he and Buffy enter into a protracted "blame/not to blame game" in S7. It's why there's so much repetition in BtVS. It's not "lazy writing" - it's the return of the repressed. TBH, I'm not sure the therapeutic journey is ever over in BtVS...which is why I'm very ambivalent about (hate) S12.

The key is probably in the Sarah McLachlan St Francis Prayer that's playing at the end of Grave.

O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive-
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

It kinda raises the question of who/what we're actually seeing when we "Only have eyes for you".
New-man seems a bit of an "on the nose" name. Like Law-son is "Why We Fight.

I am sure it was done deliberately and assumed this is a reference to male violence and they didn't want to show a teenage girl shooting a man on a show like Buffy, where guns are very much a male thing. Apart from Darla I don't think we see any women with guns in the show, and I think we only see Darla with guns because she's a vampire. (Willow in S7 does threaten Kennedy with a guy, but that's only when she's turning into a man)

Guns are traditionally a masculine sign/source of power...ie. phallic. Buffy has her own "tool" - the stake (which is phallic in shape), but, as she tells us, the stake is not the power. I kinda like that the Scythe both chops and stabs/penetrates. I reckon "love" (but not as we know it - a new configuration) is probably the power...it's always love.

Spanky Just because you don't get it doesn't mean it aint true.
Yeah...it does. I was being polite. I'm also humming Mrs Robinson so thanks for that. 😒 God...Simon's lyrics are good. Before you go all Loki on me...it's both a male and a female thing.
 
Last edited:
Spanky
Spanky
Just because you don't get it doesn't mean it aint true.

r2dh2

Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain
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The core of the story is that Buffy had no sense of forgiveness, which is why she ended up being the shooter in her case. The writing is quite clever in that Angel cannot be killed by a normal bullet nor by the fall off the balcony, so he survives in the undead sense. The most important exchange in the story is:

Giles: (leans back) Yes. (gets up) I imagine he does. (goes to her) But when James possesses people, they act out exactly what happened that night. So he's experiencing a form of purgatory instead. I mean, he's, he's doomed to, to kill his Ms. Newman over and over and over again, and... forgiveness is impossible.
Buffy: Good. He doesn't deserve it.
Giles: To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's, 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 gonna have to live with.
Xander: He can't live with it, Buff. He's dead.

The writers tie together the idea of lack of forgiveness and becoming the aggressor in this case. Giles also shows taht the real purgatory is wanting to change something that you did in life but never being able to unless unusual circumstances (like Buffy and Angelus being caught up in the spell) prevail.

Yes, I get this part. It's straightforward. We're even told so through Cordelia in case we were missing the point.

The power imbalance between student and teacher is obvious, no matter the sex of the teacher. I am sure it was done deliberately and assumed this is a reference to male violence and they didn't want to show a teenage girl shooting a man on a show like Buffy, where guns are very much a male thing. Apart from Darla I don't think we see any women with guns in the show, and I think we only see Darla with guns because she's a vampire. (Willow in S7 does threaten Kennedy with a guy, but that's only when she's turning into a man)

I also think the student/teacher relationship is a reference to Buffy and Angel, in that Angel plays the teacher, the one with the power. I don't have a problem with the age difference between Angel and Buffy, but there is a power dynamic at play that often gets overlooked (like female teacher/male student dynamic)

I hadn't thought about the gun at all... But it bothers me a lot that in all the scenes where Buffy is self-flagellating through James and putting all the blame in James, nobody ever tells her that James was a teenager in a relationship with an adult woman, who was an authority figure (and a role model) in his life during some of most important formative years preceding adulthood. Not even Giles, the adult of the group, says anything about that in the scene described above by @Ethan Reigns or the very last scene when Buffy asks him why would the Teacher ever forgive James. The closest thing that we have to somebody presenting another point of view is Willow showing some sympathy for James. And I understand that the episode is supposed to be cathartic for Buffy, but I greatly dislike that everyone lets her put the blame in James, when in reality the whole situation was a mess created by two people, one of them being an adult and the other one an adolescent. She carries around a weight too big and no one says otherwise in this episode.

I don't feel this strong when thinking about Angel and Buffy. I get your point and I agree that there's a power dynamic. But as I've mentioned elsewhere, I give Angel more of a pass because for this season I take them at their word regarding the 100 years that he spent alone and hiding post-soul. But I can see him being "the Teacher" in the relationship, although I am not sure that this is what the writers were going for.
 

Priceless

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I hadn't thought about the gun at all... But it bothers me a lot that in all the scenes where Buffy is self-flagellating through James and putting all the blame in James, nobody ever tells her that James was a teenager in a relationship with an adult woman, who was an authority figure (and a role model) in his life during some of most important formative years preceding adulthood. Not even Giles, the adult of the group, says anything about that in the scene described above by @Ethan Reigns or the very last scene when Buffy asks him why would the Teacher ever forgive James. The closest thing that we have to somebody presenting another point of view is Willow showing some sympathy for James. And I understand that the episode is supposed to be cathartic for Buffy, but I greatly dislike that everyone lets her put the blame in James, when in reality the whole situation was a mess created by two people, one of them being an adult and the other one an adolescent. She carries around a weight too big and no one says otherwise in this episode.

I don't feel this strong when thinking about Angel and Buffy. I get your point and I agree that there's a power dynamic. But as I've mentioned elsewhere, I give Angel more of a pass because for this season I take them at their word regarding the 100 years that he spent alone and hiding post-soul. But I can see him being "the Teacher" in the relationship, although I am not sure that this is what the writers were going for.
I have never liked this episode because I don't like that Buffy blames herself and feels that she needs some sort of forgiveness. I do think, as you say, this is very representative of James and the Teacher, Buffy plays the teen who is begging forgiveness, while Angel plays the adult who has the power in the relationship.

It's set up as a romantic episode, but I just don't get it. Boy murders woman and woman forgives him, that's already too much for me, and then they cast Buffy as the boy, as though she needs forgiveness for killing Angel by releasing Angelus. Both levels I find disturbing. Do you think the writers wanted us to find the situation disturbing or romantic, or both?
 

r2dh2

Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain
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I have never liked this episode because I don't like that Buffy blames herself and feels that she needs some sort of forgiveness. I do think, as you say, this is very representative of James and the Teacher, Buffy plays the teen who is begging forgiveness, while Angel plays the adult who has the power in the relationship.

It's set up as a romantic episode, but I just don't get it. Boy murders woman and woman forgives him, that's already too much for me, and then they cast Buffy as the boy, as though she needs forgiveness for killing Angel by releasing Angelus. Both levels I find disturbing. Do you think the writers wanted us to find the situation disturbing or romantic, or both?

Mmmh... I'm having so many thoughts right now. Ha. I think the episode is meant to be merely romantic and the teacher-student was simply chosen for the school setting and the gender swap for the potential backlash of having a male teacher instead.

But on the topic of forgiveness, I'm ok with an episode exploring the complexity of the feelings that Buffy is having and the blame that she places on herself. It's normal, we all do this even when we are not the guilty party. I like Giles addressing this point in Innocence:


"Buffy: But this is all my fault.

Giles: No. I don't believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. A-and I can. I know that you loved him. And... he... has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months a-are gonna, are gonna be hard... I, I suspect on all of us, but... if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm, I'm not your man. All you will get from me is, is my support. And my respect."


But I can understand Buffy still internalizing the situation as her fault, especially as Angelus harassment intensifies (i.e. killing Jenny). She blames herself for everything that is going on and, in particular, for "killing" Angel. I just wish they had handled this episode in a different way. Because at the end of this episode, Grace forgives James and he moves on, which in their case kinda makes more sense since he clearly was carrying a gun with the intention of maybe using it and he (accidentally) shot her -- despite my strong feelings about Grace having a relationship with her student, he did shot her. But this last part doesn't have counterpart in the Buffy/Angel situation. Buffy wants to be forgiven by Angel, when what she needs is to stop blaming herself (which I identify as self-forgiveness, but I might be erroneously thinking of it that way). I like that she finally understands all the grief, sadness and guilt that she is carrying around, but I dislike that nobody ever points out to her again that she's not guilty of anything and through out the whole episode, they let her blame James and only James (obviously while she identifies herself in James).

And I love Giles' quote about forgiveness. I hadn't thought too much about it but now I'm starting to wonder if at some level he validates her feelings of guilt because of Jenny's death. There's a clear shift between what he tells her in Innocence and what he tells her now:


"Giles: To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's, it's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it."

"Buffy: James picked me. I guess... I guess I was the one he could relate to. He was so sad.
Giles: (sits by her) Well... they can both rest now.
Buffy: I still... (exhales) A part of me just doesn't understand why she would forgive him.
Giles: Does it matter?"
 

Priceless

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"Buffy: But this is all my fault.

Giles: No. I don't believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. A-and I can. I know that you loved him. And... he... has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months a-are gonna, are gonna be hard... I, I suspect on all of us, but... if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm, I'm not your man. All you will get from me is, is my support. And my respect."

I'm not a fan of this either :oops: I know everyone says how wonderful Giles is right here, but if you break down what he's saying it still comes off a little judgey to me.

Buffy is blaming herself and instead of Giles simply saying 'No it is not your fault' he says 'I don't believe it is', it's not a matter of fact to him, but a matter of faith. He has chosen to believe it is not Buffy's fault, but he could just have easily blamed her.

I like the 'if it's guilt you're looking for Buffy, I'm not your man' line but to me it still comes off as judgey. Maybe it's just that Giles doesn't know how to deal with this situation, his Innocence has been lost too and he's trying his best.

I think, like later in Season 5, when Buffy hears the doctor saying that if she'd got to her mother sooner, she might have saved her. Here Buffy is hearing what I'm hearing, that note of judgement in Giles voice, that not quite believing he's being as supportive as he could be.

I don't like the fact that a murdered woman is expected to forgive her murderer, I presume because she had sex with him underage, which of course she should take responsibility for. But then why is Angel not asking for forgiveness for doing the same thing? I don't like that Buffy feels the guilt and plays the James role. Although I do think it fits with Buffy's personality at carrying the weight of the world in every instance. She never can just shrug and let anything slide. Because she loves Angel, in her mind, once he forgives her, she will be free to forgive herself, but until then she carries the guilt around with her.
 

r2dh2

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... I presume because she had sex with him underage, which of course she should take responsibility for.

I have to admit that the way I feel about this episode is in big part a personal projection. My first real boyfriend was my professor and about 9 years older me, I was fresh out of college starting grad school and he was my very first instructor. We had a very unbalanced relationship for about 3 years. A few years ago, I almost got involved with my psychologist, but after a couple of miscommunication issues (mostly on my part), it didn't go anywhere. I internalized it as being my fault, when in reality I did have my issues to solve, but he was somebody using arguments related to ethics, morality and power imbalance to fit whatever he wanted in the moment. So I have a lot of personal issues with this type of situations. It's a pet peeve of mine.

But then why is Angel not asking for forgiveness for doing the same thing? I don't like that Buffy feels the guilt and plays the James role. Although I do think it fits with Buffy's personality at carrying the weight of the world in every instance. She never can just shrug and let anything slide.

Agree.
 
Priceless
Priceless
Totally understandable. Sometimes we don't see things until we have some distance.

Stake fodder

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Does it bother you at all that nobody mentions the student-teacher imbalance of power (or differences in maturity level)? Was it putting her in a position of power relative to James done on purpose by the writers? If so, why?
That bothered me a lot, too, that the focus was drawn away from the teacher's completely inappropriate actions. I thought it was possible that it was glossed over because, having happened so far in the past, and to dead people, the writers felt its appropriateness was now irrelevant.

However, this episode came out soon after the infamous Letourneau case (link), a teacher who gave birth to her 13-yo student's child. So it seems odd for them to ignore that aspect, even if they just chose it to be the closest parallel to Buffy and Angel's relationship that they could think up.

A few years ago, I almost got involved with my psychologist, but after a couple of miscommunication issues (mostly on my part), it didn't go anywhere. I internalized it as being my fault, when in reality I did have my issues to solve, but he was somebody using arguments related to ethics, morality and power imbalance to fit whatever he wanted in the moment.
I don't think it's too late to report him to the medical ethics board, if you are so inclined. It definitely wasn't your fault.
 
r2dh2
r2dh2
Thanks. Just to clarify, it wasn't manipulation on his side, it was more complicated. But I feel strong about power imbalance like teacher-student, psychologist-patient, etc. bc it filters through and affects the dynamics in the relationship.

Punkie

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Letting go. Lots of Letting Go needing to be done. Buffy has to let Angel go. Giles has to let Jenny go. Buffy needs to let go of her shame. I remember when I watched it, I thought they could’ve picked a better song (like You Keep Me Hanging On).

Did they establish that the teacher and student had sex? I cannot remember. Maybe it was just love?

I know a guy who fell in love with his student. He was 25. She was 18. He waited until the day she graduated and then he asked her out. They married, raised their kids and are still together.

It happens. In the immortal words of Sara Evans, “You can’t fence time and you can’t stop love.”
 

DeadlyDuo

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Was it ever revealed how old James was?

The relationship was definitely unprofessional and inappropriate on Grace's part, given that he was her student and probably hence why she was trying to break it off, but if he was 18 and it was all legal, then it wasn't criminal behaviour.
 

Ethan Reigns

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Was it ever revealed how old James was?

The relationship was definitely unprofessional and inappropriate on Grace's part, given that he was her student and probably hence why she was trying to break it off, but if he was 18 and it was all legal, then it wasn't criminal behaviour.

It is definitely a conflict of interest when someone who assigns marks for work done is also romantically involved. It might not be criminal but it would definitely be a firing offense.

There is also another legal right for the parents to expect their children to be taught but to not have any personal relationahip other than teacher / student.
 

DeadlyDuo

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It is definitely a conflict of interest when someone who assigns marks for work done is also romantically involved. It might not be criminal but it would definitely be a firing offense.

There is also another legal right for the parents to expect their children to be taught but to not have any personal relationahip other than teacher / student.

I completely agree and I think the show glosses over this by having it a) be in a different time period and b) being between a female teacher/male student. The show also kind of glosses over this in Teacher's Pet which was more of an issue. I'm surprised that eyebrows weren't raised over Giles' closeness to Buffy.
 
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