Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 2

 Phases   Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered   Passion   Killed by Death

I Only Have Eyes For You


The Metaphysics of "Phases"

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 5 BtVS/season 2 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Oz is a human being, albeit a human being with a "condition" that transforms him radically, both physically and psychologically, three nights a month--a werewolf.

Evil in "Phases"

Cain the Werewolf hunter kills elephants and werewolves for financial gain and rationalizes it to himself by calling werewolves "animals" and hunting them only in their wolf form. If ever there was a human character on BtVS without moral ambiguity, it is Cain. In a way, he is as much an "animal" as the werewolves he hunts, killing for personal benefit without a thought to the moral implications of what he is doing. He talks down to Buffy and accuses her (and Giles, for that matter) of taking the "let the werewolf live" side out of feminine emotions, which he finds ethically irrelevant. One wonders if he finds anything ethically relevant, however, beyond his own self-interest.

Moral Ambiguity in "Phases"

How does Oz really feel about being a potential killer? When he wakes up in the forest naked, his reaction is a mildly curious "...huh." After he confirms that the cousin who bit him is a werewolf, he is troubled and worried about hurting people. And rightly so; the only reason Oz-wolf didn't attack Willow in the forest was because he smelled another human--Cain--nearby. When Willow kisses him at the end, Oz calls himself "a werewolf in love." In saying this, he is on the way to accepting what he is, which isn't so hard when someone loves you despite it. More on Oz's wolfy struggle with self-image.

You mean that  stereotype's not over yet? When Buffy suggests that Willow make the first move with Oz, Willow worries it will make her a slut. Collective groan from the older generation of women.

Ethical Quandaries in "Phases"

Should werewolves be killed?

Giles: Killing is punishment for an act done out of conscious free will, and a werewolf acts on instinct. The human self (who has conscious free will) is not doing the werewolf's acts, and is therefore not guilty of them. In addition, if the human self is not aware of his werewolf state, he is not negligent for his failure to control the werewolf's acts.

As unethical as he is, Cain gives Buffy an argument that resonates with her--not killing the werewolf gave it a chance to escape; hence any harm it perpetuates after that point Buffy will have played an active causal role in. This sinks in after Theresa is found dead. Even a single death is one death too many. However, it does not follow from this that Oz should be euthanized. Euthanasia is one response, so is finding another way of preventing Oz from ever attacking another human being.

Willow: Even if a human being is aware of being a werewolf, they have not chosen to be a werewolf, and therefore should not be killed simply in virtue of that fact. Other methods to restrain them should be found.

Regardless of how many people Oz killed when he first changed, it does not make him guilty of anything. At the time, ignorance left him without known options. Now that he knows what is happening, he has options. Oz, ...walks into his cage without coercion. Killing Oz would be like killing anyone with a contagious fatal disease. We don't do that. We just try to keep them away from the rest of us. (Michael Hennebry, 07 Jul 1999 16:29)

More on werewolves and responsibility (B&tB)


Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

The Metaphysics of "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered"

The "mojo": Witch powers without spells--Amy stares into Mrs. Beakman eyes. A moment later Mrs. Beakman smiles at Amy and gestures as though she's accepting a paper from her.

The Cordy love-spell: Xander sits holding a candle on the floor of the science lab inside a large red "woman" symbol. He has three red vertical stripes painted on his bare chest. Amy twirls Cordelia's locket in a circle over a potion which is boiling in a beaker, reciting her spell. As she does so, mystic energy emanates from the beaker and swirls above it. Xander blows out the candle as the power dissipates.

Turning Buffy into a rat: Amy's eyes turn pitch-black. She lifts her hands. Goddess Hecate, work thy will. Before thee let the unclean thing crawl! Mystic energy swirls around her. She thrusts her arms out at Buffy, and the energy leaps from her hands, envelops the Slayer, then dissipates. From the sleeve of Buffy's empty raincoat, a rat comes crawling out (see also Gingerbread).

The spell to undo Amy's spells: Giles assists Amy in two spells. After bringing a potion to a boil in the science lab, Amy recites the spell while Giles sprinkles powder into the potion.

This changes Buffy's rat status (see also Gingerbread). Giles then takes a pinch of an herb from a jar and puts it into the potion. He twirls Cordelia's pendant over the brew and drops it in. A powerful swirl of energy appears above them and spirals down into the beaker. Giles

This stops the love spell.

Evil in "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered"

Spike vs. Angelus: We begin to see the truly sadistic side of Angelus in BBB. Spike gives Drusilla a beautiful if somewhat macabre necklace for Valentine's day. But when Angelus arrives and gives the insanely evil Dru a fresh human heart, Spike knows he has been out-gifted in Dru's eyes. Angelus adds insult to injury by mocking Spike's gift and putting the necklace on Dru himself. Then Angelus belittles Spike by, in one sentence, insulting Spike's disabled state and moving in on his territory: "I know Dru gives you pity access, but you have to admit it's so much easier when I do things for her."

Good and Moral Ambiguity in "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered"

The unintended consequences of magic: In what is probably not one of his finer moments, a dumped and hurt Xander blackmails Amy into doing a love spell on Cordelia so he can get revenge--win her love, then break up with her and subject her to the same hell she put him through. Amy is hesitant because his motive isn't good, and this may explain what happens next. Xander finds every woman in Sunnydale responding to the spell except Cordelia, and then their interest in him escalates into selfish, murderous obsession. Giles explains to Xander what Amy did not: "people under a love spell lose all capacity for reason."

To his credit, Xander saves Cordelia from the crazed girl-mob (almost becoming Angelus-bait in the process) and doesn't let the effects of the spell go to his head.

When Buffy, the woman he has had a crush on for over a year, advances on him, love in her eyes and *nothing* on under a leather coat, he gulps, sweats-- and tells her he can't (singed_cat, 25 Mar 2000 15:57),

The moral ambiguity of Harmony


The Metaphysics of "Passion"

The ritual to revoke the invitation to vampires: The owner of a private residence can revoke the invitation to a vampire by reciting certain rhyming Latin couplets, burning moss herbs, sprinkling holy water, and hanging crosses. When Angelus tries to enter Buffy's house after Joyce unlocks and opens the door, Buffy and Willow are coming down the stairs. Willow is reading a Latin verse from a book:

Hicce verbis consensus rescissus est.
Translation: By these words [Angelus'] consent [to enter] is rescinded.

Angelus hits an invisible barrier.

The orb of Thessela is the "spirit vault for the rituals of the undead"--in other words, it is a temporary container of a human soul (presumably, of someone who has been vamped) summoned from the ether. It is unclear why the orb glows when Angelus picks it up. It also glowed when Jenny picked it up, so this might just be a response to being held.

The Ether: We know very little about the ether, except that this is where Angel's human soul is residing while Angelus rules the body. It is implied that this is (a dimension?) where all human souls reside while a vampire is in possession of their bodies. If this is true, it means that any human soul could be brought back to its vamped body. This is what happened in Angel's case. The other thing we know about the ether is that Angel seems to have no memory of his time there (Becoming, Part II). Fan speculation on the ether:

The transliteration annals: Like other rituals, the text of "the ritual of the undead" has been kept safe from those who would misuse it by putting it in a secret code. Deciphering it requires "transliteration annals". Without the annals, the text of the ritual makes no sense. This is why Jenny told Buffy that re-cursing Angelus "couldn't be done" in Innocence--thanks to the mass slaughter of the Kalderash, her people no longer know how to break the code. But Jenny resourcefully uses her computer to translate the encoded incantation to English based on a random sampling of the text.

Psychic visions: Dru has a vision of Jenny's visit to the magic shop and is able to sense some of Jenny's intentions in going there.

Evil and Moral Ambiguity in "Passion"

Again in Passion we see that Angelus has more interest in torture than in killing. He taunts Spike's wheel-chair bound helplessness and comes on to Drusilla in front of him. Rather than use his invitation to Willow's house to kill her or her family, he kills her fish to frighten her. Although he does kill Jenny, he takes as much delight in taunting and belittling her verbally and chasing her through the school. And he doesn't drink from her. Instead, he breaks her neck in a perverse play on the way Angel saved her life in TDA.

The real fun, though, comes in putting Jenny's dead body in Giles' bed and decorating his living room in a way that implies that Jenny is upstairs waiting for romance. The way Giles' expression goes from giddy expectancy to shock is Angelus' legacy. Finally, Angelus lurks outside of Buffy's house to see Buffy and Willow's sorrowful reaction to Jenny's death. He smiles. Evil-as-sadism in its pure demonic form.

Reawakening the Ripper: Giles avenges Jenny by grabbing his "good weapons", including a torch which he uses to set Spike's factory aflame, and a club which he also sets alight before whacking Angelus across the face repeatedly. The look on his face as he moves in on the sadistic vamp says all.

The "hermetically insensitive" Cordelia

Xander, attitude boy

Ethical Quandaries in "Passion"

Was it right for Jenny to keep her real identity and mission from Giles and Buffy?

Jenny's defense of her secret identity and mission

Who is morally responsible for Jenny's death?

The demon Angelus is solely responsible

Many people are responsible--including Jenny

Angel himself has some responsibility

Does Ty King bear any responsibility?

Masquerade's note: holding the author of an episode responsible is akin to holding God responsible in a universe where God controls (at least some of) our actions and we do not have (complete) free will.

Killed by Death

The Metaphysics of "Killed by Death"

der Kindestod ("child death"), looks like a hideous old man but is much more able-bodied. Dressed like a 19th-century dandy, he is a predatory child-killer, feeding off of children by sucking the life energy out of them. He kneels over his victim, and two long proboscis protrude from either of his eyes. They extend toward the victim's forehead where they attach themselves. der Kindestod cannot normally be seen. His invisibility is never explained, but it seems to be a supernatural adaptation that prevents this monster from being caught. However, he is visible to those who are sick and delirious with fever, and sick children are his preferred victims. After death, they appear to have died from their illness.

Evil in "Killed by Death"

der Kindestod is a good example of predatory evil. He attacks to drain the life energy from his victims. Like less supernatural predators, he picks the easy targets--the young and sick.

Angelus takes delight in beating up a sick Buffy. His intent does not seem to be to kill her, but when he sees a chance to rid himself of her with minimum damage to himself, he decides to take it. Luckily, Buffy's friends come to the rescue and Angelus only ends up putting Buffy in the hospital. When Angelus arrives there to take further advantage of her weakness, he finds instead an opportunity to taunt Xander by reminding him that he has had sex with Buffy.

Good and Moral Ambiguity in "Killed by Death"

Buffy's point-me-at-something-to-kill mode kicks in when her guilt over Jenny's death makes her ill. A trip to the hospital reminds her of her cousin's death long ago, and Cordelia suspects she is trying to "conjure up a monster that you can fight so you can save everybody and not feel so helpless." Luckily for Buffy, there is a real monster threatening the hospital, and she's a real super-hero. *crack*

The "hermetically insensitive" Cordelia

I Only Have Eyes For You

The Metaphysics of "I Only Have Eyes For You"

A ghost is a human spirit that has remained on the Earthly plane. Haunting is a highly psychological phenomenon. Appearances of a ghost are tied closely to places (Sunnydale High, especially the balcony where James accidentally shot and killed Grace) and events (the night of the Sadie Hawkins' Dance) that were meaningful in the life of the individual who is now a ghost.

"Purgatory" refers to the condition they take on in this state. One fan speculates:

James is condemned to reenact the last traumatic moments of his life again and again through living human intermediaries, with no ability to change the outcome as a living person could.

A poltergeist is a ghost so plagued by the problems it faced in life that its anger and confusion somehow allow it to effect physical objects (unlike Willow in Halloween, but like Maude Pearson). Many of James' poltergeist activities occur by possessing living human beings (e.g., when Buffy's teacher is lecturing on the New Deal but writing "Don't walk away from me bitch! " on the board.) Examples of cases in which he does control physical objects:

The exorcism of poltergeists: The purpose of the "Mangus-tripod" is to bind the spirit--to keep it from doing harm. Willow, Xander, and Cordelia go to positions around the school that create a triangle. Buffy goes to the balcony where Grace died--James' "hot spot". At midnight, each lights a candle and

It is unclear why the spell does not work. It might be the fact that Cordelia uses slightly different words, or because Willow did not pick the right kind of exorcism spell.

Psychic day-dreams: In history class, Buffy sees a student and teacher flirting with romance in that very same room in 1955. Later, she sees James and Grace slow dancing in the music room. Finally, she has a vision of Grace being chased and shot to death by James. Buffy goes out on the balcony, where James appears to her, partially decomposed, and tells her to "get out!".

Psychic visions: Drusilla has a vision in which she sees a black gate open to take the slayer into death. Dru realizes "the gate" needs Angelus to complete this task, and she tells him to find Buffy.

Possession: James and Grace possess a boy and his girlfriend, George the Janitor and Ms. Frank, and Buffy and Angelus in a ritual acting-out of the last moments of their lives. An interesting part of this re-enactment is the phantom gun, which actually kills Ms. Frank and wounds Angelus (temporarily). Since we do not see Grace's spirit except when the ritual is being played out and later when Angelus/Grace saves Buffy/James from killing herself, it would appear that Grace's haunting is only in virtue of James' purgatory, not her own.

James took possession of Buffy (Giles calls it being in the spirit's "thrall") in her home because before she left the school, a poster from the 1955 Sadie Hawkins dance, physically manifested during one of her visions. ended up in her coat pocket.

Resolution finally comes when Grace's ghost is freed from the reenactment ritual by Angelus' inability to die from a gun shot. Grace, in Angelus' body, is able to confront James in Buffy's body, forgiving him. This causes their souls to leave Buffy and Angelus' bodies and ascend out of the Earthly plane (See also RWAV)

Evil in "I Only Have Eyes For You"

By IOHEFY, Spike is on to Angelus' lack of interest in killing Buffy. When he points it out, however, Angelus uses the challenge as an opportunity to physically flirt with Drusilla right in front of the (presumably) disabled Spike. But Spike will not take Angelus' taunts sitting down for much longer. He is simply biding his time until he can take his revenge.

Spike's sire from the Freudian perspective

The Angel/Dru/Spike fits the classic Oedipal profile. We have a father figure - Angelus - a mother figure - Dru - and the child - Spike. Dru's siring of Spike entangles him more firmly into this complex relationship because she, in a sense, birthed him into this life. Angelus' siring would somehow distance Spike from Dru, rather than result in the closeness they shared, making him more brother than lover. In this relationship, Spike feels a hatred for Angelus, his "father", a desire to kill him and to take his place in "mother" Dru's bed. Dru is fulfilling her role in the triangle by catering to both of them, fueling the fire of competition (strigoi, Jan 21 16:09 2000).

Moral Ambiguity in "I Only Have Eyes For You"

Cordy's disdainful comments about the Sadie Hawkins' dance are classic anti-feminism. She is willing to trade her freedom of choice for dependence on men (letting dating be a system in which men always pay). Other examples of Cordelia's sexism.

Ethical Quandaries in "I Only Have Eyes For You"

Does James deserve forgiveness for killing Grace?

In Buffy's view, James let his anger over Grace leaving him get the best of him. Even if he realizes later it was wrong to kill her, she is still dead, he still did it, and it was his emotional weakness that caused him to do it. Since he is guilty of such a heinous crime, he cannot be forgiven.

Giles argues that James' guilt is irrelevant in the decision to forgive. Forgiveness is not ignoring a crime or the proverbial "slap on the wrist" punishment, it is a therapeutic act. Since James cannot deal with his own guilt and is stuck in an eternal purgatory of self-blame and violence, the only way to help him is, literally, "therapy for the dead". When Grace's spirit returns via Angelus and forgives James, he is able to get past his guilt and move on to the next life.

Pictures are copyright © 1998 The WB Television Network
Screen shot credits
Translations are by Alexander Thompson and I. Meyers
This page last modified 10/13/01

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