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Buffy The Vampire SlayerCode of the Whedonverse - Elect and the Damned ?
Thursday 25 September 2003
The Whedonverse is a sticky place. At one time or another, nearly every character has been pushed into some incredibly dark action. Gunn murdered Fred’s professor. Wesley imprisoned Justine in his closet. Willow murdered two men. Faith should still be in prison, and we have our beloved vampires with souls. The list goes on. If real world ethics were applied, all of the characters would probably be in jail.
However, in the Whedonverse, crimes, battles, and monsters have metaphorical qualities and are judged in that context. A fictional universe has its own rules and codes. Soul canon is evidence of that. For a moral or ethical code to have any justice, rules must be uniformly applied. This is where I sometimes find myself confused by events on the shows.
In "Once More with Feeling," Xander performed a spell to ensure his own happy ending. This spell resulted in the deaths of several people. Xander also avoided taking responsibility for the spell until Sweet was ready to drag Dawn off. This was swept under the rug, never addressed, and was never shown to have any consequences. Xander’s mistake didn’t count.
I have also read Marti Noxon say the Scoobs uncaring treatment of Spike during his insanity and various and sundry tortures was due to his attempt to kill Willow in Season 4. I accept that explanation. However, Willow tried to kill Buffy, Dawn, and Giles in Season 6. She tried to destroy the world (which contains a few billion people), but after a summer in Bath, Willow returned home to be greeted with open arms. Again, I’m not criticizing Willow. Willow had a prior relationship with Buffy and the Scoobs. But there remains the fact that the rules were applied differently even though Spike had acquired a soul. Of course, Willow’s murderous rampage lasted only a few days and, although murder can’t exactly be quantified (one killing still makes one a murderer), it’s difficult to resist the urge to do so …which brings me to Angel.
Angel was an unsouled, actively killing vampire for approximately 145 years, and Angel is considered a "good guy." This, as writers and fans have stated ad nauseum, is because Angel has a soul.
As I have come to understand it, though the vampire is informed by the person they were in life, when vamped something essential is lost. In my own mind I have equated soullessness with clinical psychopathy. Research indicates damage to the frontal lobe can cause a normally moral person to exhibit violently anti-social behavior, and abnormally low neural activity in the frontal lobe is a root cause for a psychopath’s lack of conscience. Through illness or injury, a good person can become a psychopath, someone physically incapable of processing information in the same way as a normal person. This, to me, seems roughly equivalent to soulless vampirism in the Buffyverse. "Soulling" would then be the metaphysical cure for this problem, restoring the vampire to his true, whole self. This would explain the souled/unsouled dichotomy in a way that makes sense to me.
It seems to me that if Angel is forgiven for his actions in his unsouled state, then Spike must also be. There’s a reason why the image of justice is blindfolded. Justice should never depend upon who you are. It is unjust if Angel is given special dispensation because he is the title character. It is unjust Spike if is judged by different criteria. That’s favoritism not justice.
Angel isn’t perfect. He’s been shown doing a black magic spell for his own purposes which was the direct cause of an innocent bystander’s death. He played judge and jury with everyone in the wine cellar and locked them in to be killed by Darla and Dru. He was also shown post-souling as seeking out Darla in Shanghai because he wanted to join the old gang, and he admitted to having killed criminals for food. In a Season 2 AtS episode, Angel became disappointed in mankind and decided to try to lose his soul by screwing Darla, despite knowing what happened the last time he lost his soul. To me, these are morally ambiguous actions. I’m not advocating diminishing Angel’s hero status. I like Angel a great deal. What bothers me is when these actions are ignored and discounted, but every transgression of Spike’s is judged far more harshly and unforgivingly. A coat that Buffy pretty much bullied Spike into resume wearing with her publicly humiliating "Only the killer was useful" speech in "Get it Done" seems to be judged as more unforgivable than Angel seeking Darla out in Shanghai or leaving people with a demon in the Hyperion. I find this perplexing.
I understand that the Whedonverse does not need two identical characters. However, it’s never seemed to me that Spike and Angel were identical. The humans, Gunn and Wesley, are allowed to be individuals, so I am unclear why Angel and Spike are not also allowed to be. It seems somehow unjust (and given their histories somewhat illogical) to make the distinctions between them a simplistic moral divide. To play favorites between the characters means creating a caste system where Angel is the ’elect’ no matter his mistakes and Spike the damned, no matter how he tries. To me, the truly fascinating differences are in their personalities not in subjugating one character to the other.
I have often thought that if Spike and Angel were analyzed by Myers- Briggs personality types, they wouldn’t come out the same. (Myers- Briggs breaks someone into 4 categories — Introvert or Extrovert, Sensing or Intuition, Thinking or Feeling, Judging or Perception.)
I would think that Angel falls into Sensing (facts and experience) whereas Spike is Intuition (aspiration, change)
Angel is Thinking (decides on principal, objective observer, decides on long term view), where Spike is Feeling (subjective, decides on value, a participant, decides on the current situation).
Angel is Judging (decides, organizes, controls). Spike is perception (explores, inquires, flexible, spontaneous).
These things, these personality traits account for why Angel and Spike approach things differently and make different choices. As soulless vampires both were killers — Angel plotted and planned "clean kills" while Spike flew into crowds with "fists and fangs." As soulless lovers of Buffy, Angelus—Sensing/Thinking/Judging—found the prospect of being influenced by emotion to be abhorrent. "She made me feel like a man. You don’t just forgive that." Angel’s decision making processes are based on principles (albeit when soulless, they were amoral principles) and to be swayed by emotion would be unacceptable. Angelus must cut it out.
Spike on the other hand is an emotional creature whose decision making processes tend to be based on feeling. He is a Sensor/Feeler. It’s how he has always decided things. "I may be love’s bitch, but I’m man enough to admit it."
Now, soulless BOTH Angel and Spike had their value systems warped. As Angelus the principles that Angel judged by were not principles the souled Angel would use. Soulless, the decisions that Spike’s emotions led him to were not the same as those he would reach souled. Souled William cared for his mother and took care of her. Unsouled, that same emotion and need to take care of her led to the horrific decision to turn her to a vampire. Though he still made decisions based on emotions, his decision making processes were skewed because he was soulless.
However, given Spike’s personality type, in the crypt scene in "Seeing Red," Spike was is in full crisis as his emotional/feeling decision making processes became stressed to the limits as they came in conflict with his amorality. He was an uncontrollable monster. He saw that and intellectually understood that’s what a soulless creature should be. But emotion pulled at him, and because of his personality type, he could act on intuition, feeling, and spontaneity (as opposed to Angel’s personality type whose decisions are based on experience, logic, and control). Spike, following his personality type, sought an unconventional answer - a soul.
To me, it seems it would be better to use Angel’s and Spike’s personality differences to compare and contrast them rather than take a Calvinist "there are the predestined elect and the damned unchosen" approach. To consistently weight all judgments and stories in one character’s favor isn’t justice and can reduce dramatic tension. After all Angel always wins. Spike always loses. To say that Angel’s status must be preserved because he’s the star of the show and designated ’hero,’ and Spike must be condemned as inferior because he is not, is difficult for many fans to accept because it feels unfair. Different rules for different people isn’t a particularly ethical system. It’s apartheid. . . and it alienates fans who feel for the character who is never allowed to find acceptance or love, the one left to die alone.
Angel is a character who has had fate intervene. He doesn’t want to fail the high expectations imposed on him or the responsibilities that he has. Spike is a character who has had to make his own fate, who has nothing, and who has rarely had any helping hand. Nothing is ever expected of Spike except that he fail. His struggle is to be someone who is valued, and seen, someone who has worth, someone who can be loved. That’s a difference between Angel and Spike, and one that doesn’t require a caste system. I simply find it difficult to understand how William could be a good man and Spike the vampire who chose to seek a soul and yet somehow these two positives result in his being considered inferior to Angel in every way.
There are those who identify with Angel’s fear of failure, and there are those who identify with Spike as the character who struggles to be seen and to matter at all. For Spike never to have any happiness, recognition, or acceptance feels as though the Whedonverse only favors those who are the elect. If Spike isn’t considered worthy of redemption after his efforts, sufferings, and after willingly dying to save the world how is it that Angel—despite his mistakes, and transgressions—is to have a happy predestined ending ? Is Angel going to top dying to save the world or is it that Angel’s life is simply considered more valuable than Spike’s ? One person matters more ? That’s a caste system.
No one says that since Gunn is there, Wes must be inferior because you can’t have two humans on the show. Gunn and Wes are treated as individuals. Cannot Spike be afforded equal opportunity ? It seems to diminish both Angel and Spike that somehow Angel’s heroism can’t withstand having Spike around unless Spike is forced into an inferior position. It diminishes the sacrifices of a character who has changed through his own efforts and without benefit intervention from Whistler or Doyle, a character who suffered, lost, and died.
Can’t Angel and Spike be treated as individuals rather than the elect and the damned ?