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Buffy The Vampire SlayerWhere Angels Fear to Tread: The Buffy-Spike Relationship
By Shaun Narine
Thursday 17 April 2003, by Webmaster
In general, I’ve avoided talking about the Buffy-Spike relationship for a number of reasons. For one, it’s a topic that, I am sure, has been covered in excruciating detail by many people. For another, I suspect that many people will disagree with my analysis of the relationship, and Spike fans are a particularly dedicated bunch. Even so, arguably, the most fundamental part of Season 6 was Buffy’s affair with Spike, and it is certainly a development that is having significant ramifications in Season 7. So, it needs to be addressed in some detail.
Let me begin by recounting the dynamics at work in Buffy’s affair with Spike. At the end of S5, Buffy sacrifices her life for Dawn. Buffy’s act is motivated by her love for Dawn and her duty as a Slayer. But Buffy’s death is also an act of suicide. Buffy is depressed and lost after the death of her mother; her mind itself collapsed and tried to run away from the weight of her responsibilities and her guilt over giving up (however briefly) on Dawn. As she tells Giles before they leave for the final confrontation with Glory, she has lost her sense of moral clarity; she is confused by the harsh choices that she seems to face and she no longer knows how to live in the world. At the end, however, everything comes clear for her; the confusion slips away, she knows what she has to do. She realizes that her death has been preordained by Fate: the omens and portents have pointed to this for two years, the First Slayer has already told her that "Death is your gift". When Buffy dies, she is at peace with herself, maybe for the first time in her life. Her suicide is not an act of despair; it is the act of someone who knows that she is fulfilling the purpose of her life. Her reward is that she ends up in Paradise, existing in a place where she is warm, loved, complete, and content in the knowledge that her loved ones are safe. She is finished.
Then, she is not. The very people whom she loves pull her out of paradise. She is returned to a world where everything is violent and painful, where she is expected to resume an endless struggle that had come to an end. The peace and clarity that she had achieved before her death are gone. Instead, she is back in the world, when she knows that she is not supposed to be back. To say that she is depressed by these events probably can’t begin to capture the extent of her despair. She tries to deal with the situation by becoming emotionally numb, but she cannot feel alive so long as she cannot feel. At the same time, she cannot turn to her friends because she does not want to hurt them by telling them what they have done to her and, besides, there is nothing they could do to help her anyway. Indeed, their own needs of her are already proving oppressive. So, she ends up turning to Spike. Spike is not a friend and was not involved in her resurrection, so she can tell him the truth. Eventually, her desire to feel alive causes her to engage in a sexual relationship with Spike. It is here that things start becoming messy.
Buffy’s affair with Spike in S6 must be understood, primarily, as an act of self-hatred. Buffy hates her life; she hates being numb, but she also hates existing in the world. She would prefer to die, but she cannot bring herself to actually end her life. So, she turns to Spike to make her feel something - anything - that she can hold onto. By taking this action, however, Buffy goes from emotional numbness and a kind of passive despair over her existence to an active self-hatred. This is because by having the affair with Spike, Buffy completely betrays herself and her calling. Remember that Buffy defines herself as the Slayer ( a theme that has been carried to an unhealthy extreme in S7). Buffy sees herself as a mythic warrior of good against the forces of evil. By having a sexual relationship with an evil creature - regardless of what Spike’s feelings may be for her - Buffy is betraying her own fundamental sense of what makes her what she is. To her credit, throughout S6, Buffy does not make excuses for her actions. She is deeply ashamed of her affair with Spike and she knows exactly why: as she tells Tara "(h)e’s everything I hate, everything I’m supposed to be against." She knows that character matters and that, no matter what Spike may feel for her or how he may make her feel, he is still a savage, murderous, remorseless monster and nothing can change that. She knows that her friends will not forget that reality if they ever found out what she was doing. She is also aware that using Spike as a plaything is wrong, and is an act that degrades her as a person, if not as a Slayer. In addition, Buffy is apparently ashamed of her sexual conduct with Spike. We don’t know what they do together, but evidently she allows him to do things to her with which she is not comfortable. In all these respects, Buffy’s affair with Spike is deeply destructive to her. By the time she finally finds the strength to break it off with him, she is not exaggerating by saying that the relationship is "killing" her. It is allowing her to feed her own weakness and selfishness while, at the same time, destroying her sense of who and what she is. Buffy’s relationship with Spike in S6 was destructive and degrading (in some ways, to both of them) and deeply unhealthy. Oddly enough, however, it may also have been what Buffy needed at the time, no matter how harmful it may have been to her later. It may have been what held her to the world at a time when she desperately needed a connection.
Looking At Spike:
My earlier comments on Spike are probably going to elicit protests from Spike’s fans about the nature of the character, so let me explain how I understand him. First, in evaluating the Spike of S5-S6, I start from the fact that he is a vampire. In the Buffyverse it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what that means, and the recent episodes of "Angel" with Angelus have served only to confuse the issue some more. What we do know seems to be the following: way back in "Welcome to the Hellmouth, Part II", Giles told Xander something along the lines that when he sees a friend who is a vampire, he is looking at the creature that murdered his friend. So, when a human is turned into a vampire, the human dies and the vampire demon takes over the body. Whether or not the vampire spirit has any consciousness of its own is not clear, but it clearly takes the personality traits of its host and uses these as a template on which to build its own personality. How the vampire selects the qualities of the host that it will use is not clear. It may select the strongest characteristics, it may simply end up with some kind of a mix. Unfortunately, we generally don’t know enough about the humans who became vampires to really establish a pattern. We know little about Liam before he became Angelus, so it’s hard to know why Liam became the particularly repugnant creature that he did. The one vampire about whom we know the most as a human is Vampire Willow, and here we don’t know enough about the vampire to make a good comparison. The things that stand out most about V.W. were that she was obviously bisexual, deeply sadistic and, apparently, easily bored. We know that Willow is bisexual and, given her stint as Dark Willow, capable of great sadism. But this still does not shed much light on the vampire-human relationship, and this situation is complicated by Spike, a creature who seems to have held onto some completely human characteristics in the course of becoming a vampire.
As a vampire, Spike is a sadistic monster. He gets his name from his habit of torturing his victims with railroad spikes; he has sought out slayers to kill them; he has alluded to his history of raping and murdering little girls. Yet, the quality that most defines Spike- as both a human and a vampire - is obsessive and dependent love. Spike fixates on a woman as the object of his affection and then does whatever he can to please her and keep her. He is enormously dependent on his love object; he has very little will of his own, at least in anything dealing with the woman he is fixated upon. We see this throughout the character’s history. When Spike first appears, he swaggers into a meeting with the Anointed One, full of attitude, until Drusilla appears. Suddenly, he is attentive and loving. Whenever she is around, Drusilla commands his full attention. His first major scheme in Sunnydale (after attacking the school) is to find a way to restore Drusilla to health. When Drusilla leaves him ("Lovers’ Walk") he ultimately decides he can solve his problems with her by finding her, torturing her, and forcing her to be with him again - in other words, by being what she wants him to be - in this case, as brutal and sadistic a demon as possible. His love with Drusilla is twisted and sick, but that is a love befitting vampires, and it is also quite genuine. As far as we know - and in keeping with his character -Spike never cheats on her, though she seems to run around on him on a fairly regular basis.
The pattern repeats with Buffy. Spike falls in love with Buffy because he needs to be dominated by strong women, and Buffy is a strong woman who is constantly dominating him. In contrast to Drusilla, who encouraged his demon characteristics, Spike realizes that if he is to have any chance with Buffy at all, he must be "good", including helping her in the fight against evil. His motivations are entirely selfish. He feels nothing for the people he is helping, he has no sense of being good for the sake of being good. He is entirely motivated by the desire to please Buffy, in the hope that she may eventually return his affections. His desire to please Buffy extends so far that he will even endure torture on her behalf and will protect Dawn to spare Buffy the pain of losing her sister. This is, indeed, love - but it is a very selfish form of romantic love that has no regard for anyone unless they are connected to the immediate object of affection. After Buffy dies, Spike continues working with the Scoobies, apparently out of a profound sense of guilt at having failed Buffy by being unable to protect Dawn.
Even as he wrestles with his affection for Buffy, the fact that Spike has not fundamentally changed is borne out many times. The first thing that he tries to do when he thinks that his chip has stopped working is to kill an innocent girl; while he is conducting an affair with Buffy, he is also trying to sell demon eggs on the black market. When Buffy breaks off the affair, Spike attacks her and tries to rape her - a desperate attempt, on his part to regain what he has lost. He realizes his mistake in doing this, however, and then repeats the pattern he already established with Dru: he goes off to become what he thinks Buffy wants him to be. For Spike, he apparently feels that if Buffy could love Angel with a soul, then she will love him with a soul. His reasons for wanting the soul are, again, entirely selfish. He is not motivated by any great desire for redemption; as Spike says in S7, until he gained his soul, he did not know what it meant to hate himself. ("Never Leave Me"), so he cannot have any desire to be redeemed. When Spike actually performs the trials necessary to get his soul, his anger and bitterness towards Buffy are distinctly reminiscent of his bile towards Drusilla in "Lovers’s Walk". In S7, this pattern continues. Even with a soul, the primary force motivating Spike is his desire to please Buffy. After she rips into him for being useless in her fight against evil, he goes off, retrieves the coat he stole from Nikki Wood, and becomes the savage Spike that Buffy wants. ("Get It Done")
I believe that the argument that I have just made about Spike’s character holds up fairly well under scrutiny. However, the events of "Lies My Parents Told Me" do complicate - and perhaps add an intriguing element - to the analysis. When William turns his mother into a vampire, he does so out of a genuine love for her, and a desire to end her suffering. When he later stakes her, he does so out of horror at the things she is saying. He is reacting to her as a son to a mother, not as one demon to another. It is clear that William has changed - he is talking to Drusilla about bathing in the blood of innocent people - but when it comes to his mother, he appears to be the same person that he always was. This is not easy to explain, but - assuming that the writers are trying to be consistent here (and I have more faith in Drew Goddard than most other "Buffy" writers in this respect) there may be an explanation. Pat of what is being suggested here is that obsessive, dependent and narrow love is a demonic quality in itself. Perhaps by leaving intact William’s ability to feel genuine love for particular people, the demon that possessed him recognized the harm that could be done by a person obsessively in love with someone else. This theme has appeared in "Buffy" before - in "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", Giles says that "People under the influence of love spells are dangerous. They lose all capacity to reason." Later, he refers to the effects of the love spell as being "selfish, banal obsession" not love.
Buffy and Spike in Season Seven:
In S7, the Buffy-Spike relationship remains a critical part of the ongoing storyline - perhaps too much so. Nonetheless, the relationship merits a few observations.
Buffy now appears ready to love Spike, in the way that she could not when he was just a vampire. Her constant refrain - "he has a soul now" - is, perhaps, an attempt to convince herself of how much he has changed. Buffy’s attachment to Spike, however, is peculiar and, as yet, inexplicable. It is also deeply selfish. In "Lies My Parents Told Me", Giles and Wood correctly diagnosed the problem: Spike was incredibly dangerous. He was a vampire walking around with a trigger which could be activated at any time. He was a danger to everyone around him. Buffy’s willingness to overlook this fact was irresponsible and foolish. Her insistence that Spike is her strongest fighter makes little sense if he turns around and murders half of her army. Moreover, Buffy’s actions touch on the issue of favoritism, and the other members of the household are starting to notice what little regard Buffy seems to have for their lives where Spike is concerned. Buffy is expecting everyone else to make major sacrifices - even to the point of sacrificing their lives - but she will not lead by example by making the sacrifice of Spike. This does not mean that Spike should have been killed, but if he was going to stay around she should have kept him chained up until they could be sure he was cured of his trigger. When Giles was insisting that Spike cooperate in his treatment of the trigger, Buffy’s willingness to free Spike and forget about the problem, rather than ordering Spike to cooperate with Giles, was an indication of the extent to which her feelings for Spike have clouded her judgment. Buffy’s attachment to Spike may be attributable to the fact that he went to the ends of the earth to get a soul, ostensibly out of his love for her, and she is responding to this sign of his dedication. The other contributing factor may be a bit more subtle: maybe Buffy is not ready to lose another vampire with a soul. Spike may remind her of Angel. Buffy’s rejection of Spike’s offer to leave - "I’m not ready for you not to be here" - is an indication of her emotional attachment to Spike, but she may also be reacting to her earlier experience of losing Angel before she was ready to lose him.
A further measure of Buffy’s irrationality in regards to Spike are her final comments to Wood at the end of "Lies". Spike has just told Buffy that he will kill Wood the next time Wood "even so much as looks at (him) funny again". This is coming from a vampire who, Buffy has been insisting, will not kill humans again because he has a soul. The appropriate response to this situation was for Buffy to take both Spike and Wood into the woodshed (so to speak) and tell them that she cannot afford to have her allies fighting each other; the two will need to learn to put aside their personal differences and work together. And, by the way, no one will kill anyone else. Her actual response - telling Wood that she will let Spike kill him if he gets in Spike’s way again - was brutal, unnecessary, and stupidly shortsighted. It was also tainted with the feeling that Buffy is, once again, allowing Spike to get away with things she would not - or should not -tolerate from anyone else.
As for Spike himself, it remains to be seen if he is much of a human being, even with a soul. So far, the signals are mixed. Wood tried to kill him, so his harsh and cruel comments to the man may simply be him speaking out of anger. Spike has made the decision not to feel responsible for what he did as a vampire without a soul. In many ways, that is reasonable; it is surely clear that the vampire with a soul is not the same person as one without. Even Angel, it turns out, was not torturing himself for his actions as Angelus, but spent 20 years in rat-infested alleys as penance for what he had done as Angel. It seems apparent so far, however, that Spike does not compare well to Angel. For one thing, I doubt that Angel would be threatening to murder humans. In the one case where Angel stood aside and let the lawyers of Wolfram and Hart be slaughtered, it was recognized that he was beginning to slide into darkness and that his actions were unacceptable. For another, even if he has comes to terms with his responsibility for Angelus’ actions, Angel has never been blasť about the costs of his actions to his victims and their families. He even apologized to Holtz. Spike seems not just unrepentant about his murder of Nikki Woods, he seems aggressively spiteful. Again, Wood tried to kill him, so perhaps his comments are understandable. A true measure of the kind of person Spike has become, however, will be if Spike continues to wear Nikki’s coat. It would take only a small amount of compassion on Spike’s part to recognize that wearing the coat he stole from a murdered Slayer in front of her son is a deeply cruel act. Indeed, wearing the coat at all is contemptible, given the circumstances under which Spike acquired it. We’ll see what happens.
Some Final Thoughts:
The dissolution of the Scooby family will be my topic for my next column, but I want to make a few comments on recent developments. The fact that Giles and Buffy’s relationship has now gone into the tank is a worrying and unfortunate development. I think that Giles was wrong in trying to kill Spike for a whole host of reasons. Nonetheless, the fracturing of the Giles/Buffy relationship is a further step towards Buffy’s isolation. As I have mentioned in past columns, the idea that the Slayer is alone - an idea repeated by Spike in "Lies" - is a concept that Buffy has strongly and wisely rejected in the past. I am assuming that the characters will eventually come to terms and reconcile and Buffy will come to accept that she is nothing without her friends. However, there is not much time left in the season and many of the major characters - notably Xander and Willow - seem to have been relegated to the sidelines for the past several episodes. I’m disappointed by this largely because of my feeling that so much of S7 has been wasted in pointless shows and useless characters (the Slayers in Training in particular). It would have been nice to get back to a bit of the spirit of earlier seasons before the series comes to an end.
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