During his time at the school, he began an affair with his teacher Grace Newman, but, when she attempted to break it off to give him a chance at a normal relationship, James lost his temper and shot her dead, subsequently taking his own life in grief.
In 1998, Buffy was given a lens into this budding relationship when she dozes off in her American history class and has a vision of Sunnydale High in 1955. In this vision, she was also in American history, although they were studying the Minutemen rather than the New Deal, and she witness James and Grace discussing the Hemingway book she lent him.
James' spirit returned, attempting to seek forgiveness for what he had done by possessing others to relive his last moments with Grace, but unfortunately he was trapped in a loop; every time he attempted to undo his mistake, the participants repeated the couple's last moments, and James' host ended up shooting Grace's. This resulted in the death of one of the teachers when she and the school janitor were possessed, although Rupert Giles was able to stop the janitor before he could kill himself.
Eventually, James managed to break the cycle when he and Grace possessed Buffy Summers and Angelus respectively. Although "Grace" was still shot, Angelus's vampiric abilities allowed him to survive the injury, allowing "her" to stop "James" from killing "himself," and admit that she had always loved him. With this last act, the two kissed, their spirits finally able to pass on to the next life. Later, Giles offers counsel to Buffy who, despite being able to feel pity for James, didn't understand how Grace could forgive him.
Powers and abilities
- Ghost abilities: James has standard powers of a ghost like intangibility, invisibility, possession and telekinesis.
- Possession: While unfortunately stuck on a loop, he is forced to re-enact the moments with Grace by possessing the bodies of three students, a vampire and two of the school staff members, killing not only a teacher, but also a vampire despite the latter not being able to die.
- Invisibility: He can be invisible to the naked eye by making a 1955 yearbook fall off the shelf.
- Reality alteration: He can warp reality by manipulating Xander's closet to put a monstrous hand inside, turning the cafeteria food into snakes, summoning wasps, manipulating Cordelia's snake bite and using a demon hand to pull Willow inside a floor.
- Shapeshifting: He can turn himself into a rotting zombie with a half-gory and half-skeletal face.
- Telekinesis: He can use his powers on Mr. Miller by making him write "DON'T WALK AWAY FROM ME, BITCH!" in public while writing on a chalkboard.
Behind the scenes
- He was portrayed by Christopher Gorham, Brian Poth, John Hawkes, James Lurie, and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
- James shows signs of a borderline personality disorder, which includes difficulty controlling aggression, believing relationships to be more intimate than they actually are, frantic attempts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, impulsivity, and mood swings.