Buffy Rewatch: Relationships

Posted: June 5, 2013 in Critical Hit
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trigger warning: some talk of rape.

“You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love ’till it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other ’till it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood – blood screaming inside of you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.”

– Spike,  Lover’s Walk (S3E8)

To me, the above quote is one of the single best speeches in all of Buffy – it might even be my personal favourite. In his lone appearance in S3, Spike is forced into a brief alliance with Buffy and the newly-returned Angel, and instantly sees through their claims to be “just friends”. Superficially, then, his response is not only the emotional denouement of the episode, but a comment on their relationship.

Only, here’s the thing: Buffy and Angel do become friends. Their love has already reached its big romantic climax. Buffy has fought with Angelus, not Angel; they’ve only had sex once (the events of I Will Remember You are reversed, and therefore don’t count); and though they argue down the line, they don’t ever hate each other. The relationship Spike is describing doesn’t exist.

Or rather, it does – but not between Buffy and Angel. This entire speech is a neat foreshadowing of everything that happens between Buffy and Spike. They’re not friends; they never were. Buffy dies being loved by Spike – he collapses in grief at the loss – and then later, after she says she loves him, Spike dies for Buffy in turn. They fight and shag constantly through S6 – sometimes simultaneously – and frequently state their hatred for one another before then: in fact, this is the exact progression of events in Smashed and Wrecked, when they first have sex. In Dead Things, we even see them stand on opposite sides of the same door, reaching for each other, each one yearning against their better judgement – blood screaming inside them to work its will, while Out Of This World by Bush plays eerily in the background. When it comes to Buffy, Spike is unashamedly love’s bitch. This speech will never not be about them.

Buffy and Spike is my crackship. Not because they’re impossible together, but because they should be – and because, like crack, they’re unhealthily addictive.

Their relationship is every possible flavour of fucked up. From the moment Spike first shows up in S2, they’re enemies – but when Angelus tries to end the world, it’s Spike who helps Buffy defeat him. In S4, despite their mutual loathing, we go down the rabbit hole of their relationship twice – once in Something Blue, when Willow’s magic forces them together, and then again in Who Are You, where Faith flirts with Spike while wearing Buffy’s body, and we realise he’s equal parts angry and aroused at the prospect. In Goodbye Iowa, he even refers to Buffy as Goldilocks – a term of endearment he uses again in S6’s Gone, when the usage prompts Buffy to cut her hair short. But it’s not until S5’s Out of My Mind that he realises he loves her: a dream-revelation that throws him awake with a whispered, “Oh god, no. Please, no.” (Love isn’t brains, children.)

Some of what Spike does is deeply gross (the Buffybot) or outright indefensible (his abortive rape attempt) – and yet, I keep coming back to their relationship; as broken and dysfunctional as it is, it’s nonetheless compelling. Even now, I still can’t decide whether every loving, useful thing Spike does while unsouled – withstanding torture to protect Dawn, fighting on Buffy’s side, comforting her when nobody else even knows what’s wrong – either outweighs or is outweighed by those two awful, terrible things. Because, here’s the thing: we don’t blame Angel for the crimes he commits as Angelus. His soulless personality is so different to his human one that it’s easy to view them as a flipswitch binary: he’s either one or the other. Angel has a romantic relationship with Buffy; Angelus wants to torture, abuse and kill her. But Spike is much more ambiguous. His emotional evolution starts while he’s still unsouled, to the point where loving Buffy prompts him to get his soul back. He’s so horrified by his actions in Seeing Red – the rape attempt – that, in his own words, he makes himself into the man she deserves: someone whose conscience would render him incapable of sexual violence.

And I just… OK. It’s impossible, literally impossible, to get away from the rape attempt (though apparently the fact that Xander did the same thing in S1’s The Pack is both forgiven and forgotten). You can’t ignore or downplay it, and while you can try and contextualise it for the purposes of discussing both Spike’s character and his relationship with Buffy, that still doesn’t change what he did. Thematically, though, there’s something significant in the fact that Spike stops himself – that he regains himself mid-assault, realises what he’s doing, and goes immediately to get his soul back. Because when Angel turns into Angelus after he and Buffy sleep together, the whole narrative becomes a metaphor for the fact that sometimes, men change once they’ve slept with you – they turn into monsters, and you’re left to pick up the pieces. It’s a theme that’s reiterated when Parker turns out to be a colossal douche, and to a lesser extent, when Riley starts seeing vampire gals on the side. Men turn into monsters, but overwhelmingly in the Buffyverse, they refuse to acknowledge it – except for Spike, who not only admits what he is, but actively tries to change.

See, the problem with Angel/Angelus being two extremes of a binary personality is that Angel is never held accountable (or at least, not by Buffy) for the things he does as Angelus. We never see him apologise: not for the way he treats her while evil, not for Miss Calendar’s death, none of it. Despite the fact that Angel’s whole redemptive arc is predicated on actively atoning for his vampire crimes, he still behaves as though it was all beyond his control. He doesn’t apologise for what he does to Buffy, because he’s not the one who did it – yet even if we consider that to be technically true, it still seems reasonable to expect him to seek forgiveness. Parker, however, has no such excuse: he’s a classic user, a weasel who avoids responsibility for his actions by claiming his motives were always obvious – that Buffy, or whichever girl he’s left broken-hearted, has simply misunderstood him. And then there’s Riley, whose response to being caught cheating is to issue an unbelievably selfish ultimatum: either Buffy can decide immediately that she still wants him around, in which case he’ll make an effort to earn back her trust, or she can stay angry and lose him forever. The speech that Xander gives Buffy at this point to convince her that Riley ought to stay is infuriating. He’s 1% right, in the sense that fairness doesn’t enter into it – Riley has given her an ultimatum, and as sucky as that is, she can’t abstain from making a decision – but given how incredibly shitty a thing Riley’s done by putting her in that position, he really doesn’t deserve Xander’s understanding; he certainly doesn’t deserve Buffy’s. And despite his denials, it’s clear his real issue with Buffy is her greater strength: she didn’t need his protection, he felt insecure as a result, and when presented with an easy out – flying away to the Amazon if his demands weren’t met, instead of staying to make things right – he takes it.

And then there’s Spike.

He apologises for the Buffybot; he openly admits that he’s a monster. After his assault on Buffy, the first thing he does is try to redeem himself, because unlike every other man she’s ever slept with, he admits he’s done something wrong, and that he, Spike, is the culprit. And it’s not silent redemption, either: the guilt drives him mad, and when he comes back at the start of S7, not only the audience, but Buffy herself is left in no doubt that what he’s done – regaining his soul – has been an act of atonement: that he’s given himself a conscience, punished himself physically and mentally, and returned with no expectation of forgiveness to offer what help he can. And that, I think, despite everything, is at the core of why I keep coming back to Buffy and Spike’s relationship, why I can’t let go of it: as brutally fucked up as their history is, and despite the fact that Spike’s assault is arguably* the worst thing any partner has ever done to her, he’s also the only parter to accept responsibility for his actions, and to try and directly atone for them. Spike learns because of Buffy; he becomes a better man – or a better monster – through loving her, and I don’t think that’s true of any of the others; even Angel.

And speaking of Angel: sit down and think for a moment about the basis for their relationship. S1 is only twelve episodes long. Angel doesn’t appear in all of them, and most of the time, his presence is fleeting. He and Buffy don’t even kiss until episode 7, and two episodes later, we’re meant to believe he’s in love with her – and while we later learn he’s been watching her quietly ever since she was called (which is incredibly creepy and stalkerish), the short timeframe strongly implies that her love of him is a youthful infatuation, at least initially. They’re together for a while, but a bit more than halfway through S2, he turns evil, and Buffy sends him to hell. When he returns in S3, he isn’t back on the field (so to speak) until about episode 7 – prior to that, he’s recovering. Though they get back together soon afterwards, when Joyce speaks to Angel about the “hard choices” he and Buffy have ahead of them, he breaks it off with her – and as sensible as that decision ultimately is, the way he goes about it doesn’t sit well with me. However immature Buffy was at the start of their relationship, she’s grown up enormously by that point, and instead of treating her like an adult – someone capable of knowing her own mind and making her own decisions – he takes the choice away from her, effectively dumping her for her own good. This is something he does again by returning in S4 without letting her know he’s there, and it’s also something we later see Riley do, too: indulging in paternalistic, overprotective behaviour despite her superior strength and emotional autonomy.

A sidenote here about Xander: I cannot even begin to express how much it bothers me that his rape attempt from S1’s The Pack is never addressed in the narrative. Despite remembering everything he did while under the influence of the hyena spirit, Xander feigns amnesia in order to dodge the consequences of his actions, putting him on the same page as Angel, Parker and Riley. Never mind the fact that, at this point – which is to say, four episodes into the first season – he and Buffy have known each other for all of a month or so, and that realistically, if a guy you’d known for such a short amount of time sexually assaulted you while in an altered state,  it ought to make you wary of him afterwards at the very least. But this doesn’t happen, which I take to be an enormous failure on the part of the writers. The fact that Spike’s assault is more forceful then Xander’s doesn’t detract from the vileness of the sentiment – nor, indeed, from the fact that, whereas Spike regains his senses mid-struggle and stops himself, Xander has to be physically incapacitated by Buffy. But despite the difference in their demonic aspects – Xander is possessed by a hyena spirit, while Spike is soulless – the two states nonetheless appear to be rather similar, in that both are guided by primal urges while still retaining their base personalities. It therefore seems a telling sign of Xander’s status as a Nice Guy that, whereas Spike seeks redemption for what he’s done while still soulless, Xander doesn’t so much as apologise even when back to normal. Xander, it seems, has less decency at times than someone who physically lacks a conscience.

Which is, I think, the best definition for vampirehood in the Buffyverse. Becoming a vampire invests you with bloodlust and demonic strength while stripping you of your conscience: what’s left is who you were before, but influenced by power and hunger and unfettered by consequences, which is the perfect explanation for Spike. In S5’s Crush, he’s implicitly likened to Quasimodo – a troubled outsider whose love for Esmerelda (that is, Buffy) can never be reciprocated, because his motivations in pursuing her are purely selfish – and yet, in the same conversation, we’re also invited to sympathise with him, for the sake of the effort he makes. Spike’s soullessness means that he’s without conscience, but unlike Quasimodo, he tries to grow one, and eventually succeeds by regaining his soul – but this being something of a chicken and egg dilemma, his attempts prior to that are equal parts creepy, misguided and genuinely touching. He makes a shrine to Buffy, furnished with clothes and photos stolen from her house. He tells her about Riley out of a mix of self-interest and real concern, but when he realises how deeply she’s been hurt by it, we see him express contrition and empathy. In S5’s Triangle, we even see him rehearsing apologies, complete with a dented box of chocolates. In Crush, he threatens her with death at Drusilla’s hands unless she confesses being attracted to him, but at the same time acknowledges how wrong his own feelings are. And when Glory captures and tortures him, he withholds the secret of Dawn’s identity at great personal cost, because he knows how much her loss would hurt Buffy. Without recourse to a conscience, he’s pulled in different directions at once, trying to do the right thing but failing at least as often as he succeeds. The demon in him is selfish, lustful and possessive, but the good man, the poet, so long dormant, is fighting for control.

And then there’s the issue of the Buffybot. More than once in the course of the show, a character spurned or crossed in love resorts to magic or science as a way to regain control: Xander once, with his wildly destructive love spell in Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered; Warren twice, first with his own robot, April, and then with the enslavement, attempted rape and actual manslaughter of Katrina; Willow twice, first with her abortive attempt to curse Oz and Veruca, and then with her erasure of Tara’s memory; and Spike twice, once with his abortive plan to cast a love spell on Drusilla, and then again with the Buffybot. (And that’s before you count Anya’s work as a vengeance demon.) As skeevy and gross as the two sexbots are, for my part, I find them vastly less disturbing than Xander’s attempt to actually put Cordelia in his power – at least the robots aren’t real people. (We see from the Buffybot’s point of view in one episode, which was mechanical enough to convince me it lacks true sentience.) In fact, Xander’s spell is uncomfortably close to Warren’s plans for Katrina, in that both men actually used magic to try and control their ex-girlfriends; the fact that Xander never killed or raped anyone doesn’t put him that much ahead of the game when you consider not only how narrow his escape was, but the fact that he’s never really penalised for it. By contrast, Spike abandons his plan to curse Drusilla when he realises their split is his fault, not hers, an epiphany that Xander never has, and which stands as yet another instance of Spike admitting his faults and learning from his behaviour when other, ostensibly more moral characters fail to do so under similar circumstances.

There is, I suspect, a rather awful reason for this – and, indeed, for why Spike alone of all Buffy’s lovers and love interests accepts responsibility for his actions. It’s all down to narrative impetus: we, the viewers, are meant to sympathise with Xander, just as we’re meant to sympathise with Angel and Riley. At base, we “know” they’re all good guys, and as such, their contrition is implied. We don’t need to see them apologise, because the surrounding story is structured to suggest that they’ve already been forgiven off-camera. But Spike, by contrast, begins as a villain. His developmental arc is the most dramatic and varied in the whole show, culminating in a  radical heel face turn at the end of S6. We need to see his redemption, because otherwise, there’s no reason to believe that it’s taken place – and to an extent, this makes sense: if the audience can reasonably infer that something has happened, then it’s a waste of script and wordage to insert it. The problem is that, if the good guys never apologise on screen, then their goodness is called into question – which is why  the most fucked up relationship in the whole show is simultaneously the most equitable. Neither Buffy nor the audience can assume anything about Spike’s intentions that we aren’t actually shown, and as a result, he has to work the hardest out of anyone to be seen as good.

Thus: when Angelus is trying to end the world, Spike is trying to save it. When Xander is busy making threats and lying, Spike is saving Giles and keeping his promises. When Riley is out paying lady vamps to bite him, or sulking because Buffy’s had the temerity to put her own need to be strong ahead of his need to feel manly and protective, Spike is telling her the truth and offering quiet, undemanding support. When Willow and the others are smothering the newly resurrected Buffy, Spike gives her an out. And when absolutely everyone betrays her at the end of S7, it’s Spike alone who keeps faith with her. From villain to invalid to lovelorn drunk; from glowering menace to chaotic, defanged outsider; from frenemy to lover to ex; from assailant to madman to stalwart, both Spike’s personality and his relationship with Buffy undergo the most development in the whole show. He’s done some truly awful things, but when it really matters and everyone else has abandoned her, it’s always Spike, and Spike alone, who’s there to watch her back.

*I say arguably, because Angelus’s crimes are pretty horrific, too, and YMMV in terms of which you consider to be worse overall: there’s no sliding scale for evil, no definitive catalogue with which to determine their heinousness objectively.

  1. Loved this post. Great analysis of Spike and Buffy’s relationship and her other relationships. I agree completely about Spuffy being my crackship. It’s damn compelling, and even though Spike’s done awful things, nothing he does in the show squicks me out nearly as much as Xander, Riley, and Angel. Aside from the attempted rape scene of course.

  2. T.L. Bodine says:

    I think Spike’s story arc is the most compelling part of the show, in much the same way (though inverted) that Wesley’s arc is the most interesting part of Angel (the series). The only thing I find more interesting are the moments where Giles gets to be a genuine bad-ass, like the moment in Season 5 when he puts a final end to Glory.

    On the whole, I like Xander just fine, but it’s always confused me why he manages to evade moral judgment for all of the dumb, dangerous things he’s done. Such as, for example, summoning the demon in Once More With Feeling, then not mentioning anything about it even after people start to die.

    Then again, Season 1 is so different from the rest of the show in terms of tone that it sometimes hardly feels like canon. Since they had no idea whether the show would renew or not, pretty much every episode feels like a status quo reversion, so a lot of things happen without the lasting consequences really being addressed.

  3. Ah, rats. Now I am compelled to re-watch the whole dang show. There goes the novel revision.

    Thank you for this analysis. Much to chew on.

  4. mStudios says:

    Great article and analyzation of those relationships.

    Love it, and totally agree. Yes, that and Spike and his development is what actually makes the whole series worthwhile watching, all others are side figures – arguably in parts quite important, but they are all entourage. Angel as a character is actually quite weak (opposite of Spikes forceful demeanor) and Xander, don’t get me started on him – how many times did he want to stake either Angel or Spike, out of selfish reasons, fear at the minimum, but constantly masquerading it as thoughts of friendship for Buffy and her safety?! Yes, at times he did stand up and did what is right, but in many ways he was a weasel.

    It’s a bummer that there will always only be one Spike. Have mercy on the day when somebody will try to do a remake or a movie ‘continuation’ with another ‘Spike’.

  5. Aaahhh, Spike and Buffy is one of my favourite TV ships, and you’ve summed up why I love it perfectly – and also why I love redemption arcs in general.

    I’ll have to disagree with you, though, on the analysis of Xander’s culpability during the Hyena episode. I wouldn’t have considered him to be in an altered state, and I don’t think comparing his possession to vampirism is fair because his hyena actions weren’t an indication of his essential personality – minus those pesky barriers of self-control and a conscience. I haven’t watched the episode in a while, so I may be wrong, but as I remember it, he was possessed by a wholly separate entity who controlled his actions. He had no choice or control over his decisions during that period.

    You’re dead on about all the other douchey stuff he’s done, but I can’t honestly hold him accountable for the hyena possession. As for Buffy’s reactions to him afterward – Buffy’s familiar with magic and the world of magic, so I guess she could distinguish that line between Hyena!Xander and real Xander.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I do think Xander is in an altered state, if only because he retains all his memories while in it. He uses his knowledge of his friendship with Willow to really hurt her, and when he attacks Buffy, he references how she’s always teasing him, leading him on, and that she wants it. It’s why they don’t realise straight away that something is wrong – he’s basically still Xander, but predatory.

      • flootzavut says:

        I so agree with fozmeadows here. Xander’s actions are too specific to him, they’re not random. He’s, he’s in an altered state, but if there weren’t some of Xander in there, then his targeting Willow and Buffy (and doing so with devastating precision) simply doesn’t make sense.

        And even if we were to buy into it being nothing to do with Xander (which I think simply doesn’t explain the episode), we can’t ignore the fact that he lies about remembering what he’s done and never apologises, At the very least, he could/should have said “If I did anything while I was possessed that hurt either of you, I’m so very sorry”, which would still be a lie but would at least acknowledge the hurt he caused. Whether you hold him accountable or not doesn’t change the fact that Willow was torn into by her very best friend who’s also the boy she loves, and that Buffy was sexually assaulted by one of the few friends she’s made in Sunnydale. For Xander to just sweep that away and for Giles to help him do so is horrible.

        Wonderful article, by the way. My only tiny disagreement is that I’m not convinced Angel and
        Buffy ever have anything I would describe as friendship, at least on a mutual level, and that Spike and Buffy, in moments in S5 and in early S6, have s relationship that is tending towards friendship. But I think that’s very YMMV anyway.

        And for the most part I just want to applaud.

  6. kveale says:

    This is a fantastic article. The examination of Xander as a stark comparison to Spike is particularly interesting: even if we take for granted that Xander had no *agency* during his attack on Buffy, remembering it afterwards should have been enough to make someone feel bad. The fact he actively hides it afterwards underlines the furtive, skeevy vibe.

    I like Whedon’s work, and as people cleverer than me have covered, It’s Okay To Like Problematic Things, but *yikes* is it sometimes hard to get past stuff like this. The thing that I can’t quite put down, as much as I’d like to, is that Xander is frequently framed – even by Whedon and the other creative staff – as someone inspired by a young, awkward Joss Whedon.

    And the whole angle of “But we KNOW he’s a feminist, so we can’t critique the problematic stuff in his work!” that crops up online in discussing Whedon’s work has uncomfortable crossover with the “We know he’s good so we don’t need to see him show his work as a moral agent” angle you identify.

    Hmm. HMM.

    • //”And the whole angle of “But we KNOW he’s a feminist, so we can’t critique the problematic stuff in his work!” that crops up online in discussing Whedon’s work has uncomfortable crossover with the “We know he’s good so we don’t need to see him show his work as a moral agent” angle you identify.”//

      Yeah, right. I’ve been in this fandom for a year and that argument has never worked for me. (And Joss is hardly the only person it’s applied to. Pretty much any “god-creator”. For me it works the opposite way: if you’re going to boast about your feminist cred and use the title as a marketing tool (basically) then you have that much more responsibility to demonstrate it in your work.

      • cil_domney says:

        Great analysis – sorry that I did not join in this re-watch of the series, but very happy to have found my way here from a recommend at my site.

    • flootzavut says:

      I’ve frequently thought that the number of times Xander basically ‘gets away with’ heinous behaviour is most likely due to his being Joss’s author avatar on some level. We are consistently told he’s a good guy, but very inconsistently shown it. He has some Crowning Moments of Awesome, for which he’s always lauded either in universe or is shown to the audience to deserve applause for (The Zeppo, for example), but he also has some crowning moments of bloody awful, and they are very rarely tackled and never really explored in depth.

  7. Kagi says:

    I really need to watch Buffy – I’ve only seen the movie, and quite a few scattered episodes of Angel. I love Spike though, he’s so….human. Definitely find him to be one of the most interesting characters in the mythos.

  8. Helen Lowe says:

    A great post, well thought through and i pretty much agree with it 100% with regards Spike and also Xander, particularly the part where Xander supports Riley’s ultimatum in series 4–that’s always really grated with me.

    And to be honest, I always thought the Spike rape attempt was ‘out of character’ with the whole development of his character vis a vis Buffy up until then. So I’ve always seen that as a ‘writer failure.’

    With respect to Angel, in terms of his previous Angelus life, pre-Buffy & Sunnyvale, we do see him express remorse for his crimes generally and his crimes against Drusilla in particular–but not so much with his reversion in Series 2 afterward. Possibly the whole ‘however long’ as Angel in hell was meant to have covered that, perhaps?

    I’ve also wondered, is it an an inconsistency that Angel is a binary as you term it, but Angel has always seemed to retain more human attachment, eg his commitment to Drusilla, which later becomes a commitment to Buffy…

    • fozmeadows says:

      I don’t think it’s an inconsistency that Spike retains human sentiment and Angel doesn’t. Angel’s human self, Liam, was pleasure-obsessed, with little self control and a dislike of authority. Match those characteristics with bloodlust, power and no conscience, and his human passions – wine, women and song – become transmuted into dark, bloodthirsty pleasures – torture, psychological warfare, rapine.

    • Buffy did use Spike for sex, however much he said he didn’t mind, soulless or not, that has got to mess you up a little.

  9. Lauren says:

    Excellent article, thank you 🙂 Spike’s relationship with Buffy was my favourite in the show too, although I have to admit to being totally taken with Angel. Your Buffy Rewatch series is really making me want to do a rewatch as well. I was a teenager when I watched these and reading more critical articles on Buffy now, I realise how uncritical I was at the time. I’d still love the show if only for sentimental reasons, but I’d like to take a closer look at the characters’ psychology and Joss Whedon’s feminism and ‘feminism’.

  10. rheather says:

    I always got the sense of Spike at least trying in his relationship with Buffy. None of the others seemed to make much effort. Now you’ve made me want to rewatch.

    And somewhere in the original watching of the series I realized that Xander is not a nice guy. He’s just a weak bully. That-to me-was made really clear when Spike was ‘neutered’ and Xander could pick on him with no consequences. That disturbed me.

  11. Nancy Werlin says:

    This is a wonderful synopsis.

  12. Great post! I just finished all the seasons and I agree with you.
    Now on to the comics I go 🙂

  13. Thank you for writing this! I’ve wrestled for years with why I was behind the Buffy and Spike relationship far more than Buffy and Angel. At the time I tried to justify in terms of what the actors were bringing to the table (which is still a relevant part in the on-screen dynamic), but that’s not enough when you’re dealing with the stories of Buffybot and the rape attempt.

    For me you’ve got it spot on. Spike is the one that learns, the other intimate partners offer far less (and I always felt uncomfortable about Xander’s skeezy, self-centred behaviour). It also lead me to thinking; by S6 Buffy is dealing with a whole lot of life things that are acquired skills and experience, not related to her innate talent, so where does her acknowledgment of developing internal anger and frustration get a similar recognition? I could be wrong on that, but it seemed that given Willow’s grief rage, Anya’s hundreds of years of being in the vengeance business, that wasn’t something communicated to Buffy as support in dealing with her own, personal anger. Apart from with Spike.

  14. EHGreenaway says:

    I really enjoyed this; Spike is such an extraordinary character and it’s great to hear him analyzed so thoroughly. Although your post has given me some uncomfortable thoughts about how we are expected to respond to the frequent sexual ‘attempts’ towards Buffy: Are these incidents perhaps overlooked in characters who we consider ‘good’ because we are meant to expect people to be insatiably drawn to Buffy as an indication of her raw sex appeal? In an under-cover way, is the fact that she is so frequently abused/almost abused in this manner meant to inform us that she is ‘sexy’? Thus slightly justifying these characters, as they have not done something ‘wrong’ but rather ‘given in’ to their helpless attraction to the impossibly sexy vampire slayer. Just thinking, but would be glad to know your thoughts.

    • fozmeadows says:

      That’s an interesting point! It’s not something I’d considered myself, but I’m not going to gainsay it as an interpretation. I do think, though, that there’s something telling in the fact that Buffy’s abuse comes solely from people she knows as trusts, and that the good guys are universally forgiven without apology. To me, that runs uncomfortably close to victim apologist narratives: ‘oh, he didn’t mean it, he wasn’t himself’ – and it’s telling that Spike alone is held accountable, and Spike alone who apologises.

  15. Nemo says:

    I’ve realised I like reformed bad guys (like Zuko in The Legend of Aang’s season 3) but this article helped me realise even more why it is I liked Spike’s reformed bad guy-ness so much. Thanks for the insight.

  16. DM says:

    I feel like Xander’s hyena assault was so readily excused because he was never a threat to Buffy. Unlike Angelus or Spike, he couldn’t do more than hurt her feelings, and at that point in the show, she was barely friends with him and certainly not romantically interested, so he couldn’t even do that. Buffy wasn’t lucky to get away, Xander was lucky she didn’t cave in his skull. Spike’s assault in comparison was portrayed as much more disturbing because he had the power to succeed, and Buffy was in serious danger. Neither incident was primarily from the perspective of the attackers and their capacity for violence when in altered states, but from the perspective of Buffy’s own sense of being threatened. Since she was cavalier about it, then the audience was expected to be, too. Had Willow been threatened like that by Xander, I think the results would have been far different.

    The show treated Xander as essentially harmless most of the time, giving the more questionable aspects to his character a pass because he didn’t have the power or the ambition to take it very far. I feel like there was a thin line between him and Warren, you know, very “there but for the grace of god go I” (especially with Warren’s entitlement towards women), but it’s been awhile since I watched the show, so I don’t remember if the similarities were lampshaded at all.

  17. Gigi Young says:

    I was a Buffy/Spike fanatic (and rabid Spike fan) from S2 until S6. I have the fan-fiction to prove it. *g* However, the ugly sordidness of Buffy and Spike’s relationship in S6 turned me off entirely to the point where I despise Spike…that old thin line between love and hate.

    IMO, Buffy’s romantic life never matured the way her slayer life, family life, professional life, and moral life did. She jumped from Angel to Parker to Riley to her ~relationship~ with Spike, and when things got tough, she got out. She still had high school girl/fairy tale stars in her eyes about romance (understandable, since when the show ended, Buffy Summers was 22), and in hindsight, I wish the Buffy/Riley pairing had naturally run its course. Because Buffy never experienced a normal relationship or normal life cycle of a relationship–ironic considering how much she fought to have a “normal life” and “be like other girls…to fit in this glittering world.” In my mind, I have Buffy and Riley moving in together In S5, haha.

  18. Terrie says:

    This was such a treat. I could chat about Buffy and Spike all day long. For me, too, it’s the most interesting relationship Buffy has and Spike is the most interesting character on the show — his character arc is fascinating. I wish I could remember exactly where I saw this so I could give credit, but I read a fascinating article on Buffy and Spike quite a while ago that suggested Spike is Buffy’s shadow figure — he acts out whatever it is that she is suppressing in herself. That’s interesting to consider. Another article really looked at Spike as being absolutely fluid in gender role and sexuality. The quote you started with embodied that: he’s love bitch but man enough to admit it. He’s hyper-masculine in his strut at the same time that he paints his nails and dyes his hair. He’s got that long black leather coat, which turns out to be a woman’s. He’s the baby sitter. He’s passionately emotional. He loves violence.

    I think that Spike’s accountability is an opportunity that the show missed in dealing with Angel. Because our look at Spike’s history lets us know that he is absolutely a consistent character from human to vampire: he is still a poet, love’s bitch, after glory, after that something effulgent. And if that is true for Spike, why isn’t it for Angel? Why does no one really explore that for Angelus to be who he is, Angel has to have one hell of a dark side himself?

    Anyway. Love the article. Spike is a brilliant character. He also strikes me as the only one who is smart enough for Buffy. He’s every bit as snarky and fast. I will always love his five word response to what he’s doing outside Buffy’s house.

  19. “I keep coming back to their relationship; as broken and dysfunctional as it is, it’s nonetheless compelling”

    Oh yes. So very much. And I agree with your essay down to every comma and colon. Spike is so *fascinating* – flawed, fallable, greedy, and driven by his wants, yet he is also brave, incredibly loyal, tender and loving. I think his love for Buffy in the end is the purest of all the forms her loves profess to have for her. He loves her to the end, to the death and without hope of reciprocation.

    Compared to him, Angel really is Captain Cardboard. And Xander…ugh. Rewatching the series from the start through, I came to dislike him very early on and ended up loathing and despising him. (And Giles much of the time.) If Xander is Whedon’s alter ego as it was claimed, then that speaks badly of Whedon.

    This is a great post, and highly enjoyable. Thank you.

  20. Lexi says:

    This is everything and more I’ve ever wanted to say on the subject of Buffy’s relationships, but better written and much nicer (I kind of seriously dislike Angel. It’s a thing) than I could have said it.

  21. Rio says:

    It is interesting isn’t it? Spike is so necessary, if there were no Spike the whole Buffy series would be flat. Why do we keep coming back to the Vampire theme anyway? I think it is because while we love to love a hero we really want to understand the villian and see the villian redeemed. I think what we fear is that WE could fail to be more than self-centered and destructive violence junkies (vampires), so Spike’s journey out of that is what is the most compelling story arch.
    As for Buffy and Spike’s relationship, we all want to know “how much can it take?” We are all there for the heat, but are we there for the forgiveness? Don’t know.

  22. orchardist says:

    What Bullshit. Xander is possessed by a hyena and his attack is equivalent to what Spike did?

    And Xander DID acknowledge how horrible the BBB spell was. And we don’t know how long it took for Willow to forgive him because it happened offscreen. Giles ripped him pretty well on-screen but apparently that was insufficient. YES, it was terrible that Buffy and Cordy let it pass. ITA on that count. But to imply Xander didn’t realize how wrong he was in BBB is just not true.

    And more importantly… your defense of Spike is that Xander did it too????

    Frankly I thought the rape attempt was way out of line for the Spike character and felt it was character assassination by the writers. It did, however, set up a huge redemption arc where Spike attempted to atone for his actions. Meaty story arc if the writers are interested in your character. Still, I wish they had done it differently because I didn’t see attempted rape of the woman unsouled Spike loved as truly within his wheelhouse.

    Just like I don’t see rape within Xander’s wheelhouse.

    And a hyena possessed Xander is not equivalent to an unsouled Spike. Souled Spike still drinks blood. Xander can’t look at bacon.

  23. This conversation is internet-old but I’m replying anyway:
    I was never convinced that Spike loved Buffy. I think that Spike loved love. He relished the feelings that he spoke of in the monologue you transcribed above. He wrote bloody awful poems about it. So while I agree with you that Spike is one of the few characters who actually apologies, I just can’t accept that his relationship with Buffy was anything besides Spike just liking to be miserable. He liked the pain. He liked the hunt. He liked the drama. He liked the chaos. I don’t think that his relationship with Buffy was able to grow because he would never be in a relationship with her. If she were 100% willing and no one looked askance at the slayer-vampire pairing, he wouldn’t have cared about her at all.

  24. Sosa says:

    I find the comparison between Xander’s AR and Spike’s AR to be very unfair. Spike wasn’t possessed when he attempted to rape Buffy, he was plain Spike. Xander was possessed! An outer force taking over his body and making him do things beyond his control.

  25. Best Spuffy analysis ever!

  26. Slick565 says:

    Fantasic article. I do get really tired of hearing about the attempted rape by Spike though. He was caught up in the moment and felt if they were together sexually, Buffy would see how much he loved her. He knew she was upset about him being with Anya and thought that meant she was trying to hide how she really felt about him.Technically, he pushed her down and grabbed her robe. I think he would of stopped on his own, before it went any further, if she hadn’t stopped him. Buffy didn’t exactly ask Spike before she unzipped and mounted him in Smashed. She said no on the balcony at the Bronze but didn’t stop him then, she went along with it. Buffy was also the aggressor in Gone & didn’t seem to need his permission to rip off his clothes (while he was protesting) & have her merry way w/him orally. If what he did in Seeing Red is attempted rape, then what do you call her actions in Smashed & Gone? I guess since he was “technically” an evil, soulless monster his permission isn’t needed. So endeth my rant.

  27. I loved this. Very nearly captures my own feelings. Though I am also fascinated by Spike’s gender role-reversal as a narrative tool — the premise of the show being that Buffy is stronger than nearly everyone else in it (including the vampires), and since she was the sexually aggressive (and often sexually and emotionally abusive to Spike), she was in the stereotypical “male” role, and Spike was the stereotypical female.

    And yet, this complete gender role-reversal is a hard concept for most to truly internalize completely. To wit, the idea of the AR in Seeing Red didn’t land quite as most the writers/show-runners expected — it was a re-write of a real-life experience of one of the female writers. As she was in the midst of an unwanted breakup, she thought that if her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend would sleep with her one more time, be insider her one more time, he’d realize their deep connection and want to stay with her. In her desperation, she attempted to force herself on him, and regretted it. The writers thought this would be the answer to the question “what could Spike do that was so bad he’d feel guilty enough about it that he’d want to seek his soul for Buffy?”

    We were supposed to realize that Spike trying desperately to reconnect to Buffy sexually was the equivalent of a woman (weaker physically) trying to get a man (stronger physically, as Buffy is compared to Spike) to sleep with her because of emotion, and feel a sort of pity and sympathy with him, including sympathizing with Spike’s horror at his behavior. Indeed, Buffy, even weakened by injury as she was, still was able to push Spike off of her, which was the moment he realized his transgression.

    Unfortunately, this attempted rape is still seen by most as a typical male monster trying to overpower a weak woman for his own selfish and power-hungry ends, and most missed the point completely, and becomes the biggest stumbling blocks for understanding the depth of Spike’s devotion and love.

  28. sonia says:

    This was bloody brilliant! I’ve read a lot on this subject but nothing has touched upon the questions quite like you have. I’d love to see some more of your writing surrounding buffy. 10/10 would read again!

  29. Lara says:

    I agree until a point. I don’t think the Buffy Bot is one of the grossest/most terrible thing ever, or think it’s on par with attempted rape. I don’t separate Spike unsouled or post soul, as Spike made the conscious decision to get it (unlike Angelus), so it’s not two separate entities at work.

    I don’t find what Xander did while possessed as comparable to what Spike did in that bathroom, nor do I think that was even Spike’s intent. Not saying that any of them are right, obviously, but intent is part of the equation (IMO). That isn’t ignoring it or downplaying it, but context in this situation in that season is essential, and I feel that it was over simplified in the essay (and often in fandom in general).

    Xander’s speech to Buffy about Riley, given the information Xander actually had on the situation, was valid. Xander did not know all the pieces, but Buffy did, so expressing ire at Xander’s opinion given what he knew is ludicrous (IMO).

    Leaving the blame 100% at Angel’s doorstep for breaking things off with Buffy is also wrong. Yeah, he did it, but he did it at her mother’s request. I will agree that the where and the how was shitty. And it’s no surprise that Buffy loved Angel more than Angel loved Buffy. The one woman Angel loved above all others was Cordelia, and the proof’s in the pudding.

    Referring to Xander’s possession via hyena spirit as a mere “altered state” is also erroneous. Yeah, he remembered everything, but he wasn’t in the driver’s seat–just an observer. Much like Cordy in s4 of Ats (although she does apologize to Angel in s5). It was emphatically not Xander, just his body. Additionally, Buffy is neither shaken or stirred after the incident (although, the irony there is that I don’t think she realistically would have been shaken during the events of SR either, but that’s the writer’s fault for not being consistent and trying to prove some kind of lame point). Also, comparing Xander’s possession to Spike is…dumb. Spike is Spike. He is the demon. He’s not possessed by anything–a vampire is what he is. I think a lot of people tend to forget that. Spike has William’s memories as they have the same mind, sure. But he’s been a vampire several times over than he was a human. So Spike acting like a vamp? Really not that out of the ordinary. But he has a lot of heart, so behaving like a man is what makes him extraordinary. But he is still a demon. Or a demi demon, as vampires are not “pure.”

    “The problem is that, if the good guys never apologise on screen, then their goodness is called into question …”

    Well, Buffy never apologizes for her behavior, but her goodness is rarely called into question.

    Saying that Spike gives Buffy an “out” while her friends are smothering her–I don’t think that’s true so much as he was merely there. She made him an out. Nor do I think Spike was ever an ex, as he was never her boyfriend. Lover? That’s being kind. He was an f-buddy and a dirty secret.

    Also, there is totally a sliding scale for evil.

    Really, really long, lol, but after the first few paragraphs, I was just like, “Nope!”

    • Lara writes “I don’t find what Xander did while possessed as comparable to what Spike did in that bathroom, nor do I think that was even Spike’s intent. Not saying that any of them are right, obviously, but intent is part of the equation (IMO). That isn’t ignoring it or downplaying it, but context in this situation in that season is essential, and I feel that it was over simplified in the essay (and often in fandom in general).”

      A rapist’s intent does not matter. “I want to make you feel how much you enjoyed having sex with me by forcing myself on you” is not a justification for trying to rape someone. You say that you aren’t downplaying it but by pretending there is some sort of context in which rape is allowed is disgusting.

      And please. The OP did not write that the Buffybot was the “one of the grossest/most terrible thing ever” or ” on par with attempted rape.” She wrote that the Buffybot was “deeply gross.” Which it is. Later, the OP goes on to list instances of magical sexual manipulation that she considers to be worse. Very few of which are addressed in the series.

      Trying to alleviate the actual horror that rape is by pretending Spike had some sort of less-horrific intent is dangerous. It is beyond insulting to actual victims of rape. It helps actual rapists justify their actions. It infests the actual court (both legal and of public opinion) systems.

  30. daminikus says:

    I feel like Xander’s hyena assault was so readily excused because he was never a threat to Buffy. Unlike Angelus or Spike, he couldn’t do more than hurt her feelings, and at that point in the show, she was barely friends with him and certainly not romantically interested, so he couldn’t even do that. Buffy wasn’t lucky to get away, Xander was lucky she didn’t cave in his skull. Spike’s assault in comparison was portrayed as much more disturbing because he had the power to succeed, and Buffy was in serious danger. Neither incident was primarily from the perspective of the attackers and their capacity for violence when in altered states, but from the perspective of Buffy’s own sense of being threatened. Since she was cavalier about it, then the audience was expected to be, too. Had Willow been threatened like that by Xander, I think the results would have been far different.

  31. Shira says:

    Insightful, genuine and well written observation of the romantic heroes of the show’s narrative. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing your reflections and character arc explorations.

  32. tatterhood.jack@gmail.com says:

    I’ve always found it interesting that Spike’s attempt on Buffy was treated as monsterous and unforgiveable (which, yes, obvy.) while Buffy’s unwanted attention to Spike was played for laughs. Comedy. It’s pretty distressing, to see the abuse of men treated as comedic, when abuse of women is both given weight, and normalised.

    Also, isn’t Buffy…pretty abusive toward him? Someone said something that really stuck with me: that violence is the only language Buffy allows Spike. How many times did she beat the shit out of him? Remember that time she punched his face in, when he tried to prevent her from sabotaging herself? (Wait, does that really narrow it down?) His actions were horrible, and they were also attempting to reach her in the only way she allowed him. Spike is a deeply broken creature, but he’s also pretty consistently impulsive, unstable, emotional. He took what she gave him and took it far too far.

    Personally, I lost interest in Spike the moment he got a soul. I was fascinated – am still fascinated – by the monster helping and serving and engaging, even though nobody thought he could be more than a monster. And yet, that whole summer Buffy was gone, he looked after Dawn, protected her. The soul didn’t make him do good, those were his own instincts. They were just tossed in with all the other selfish, impulsive, shitty bits too.

  33. Grae Foxx says:

    A lot of what you described sounds like a moth’s attraction to the flame. The moth knows it’s wrong, but is compelled by it nonetheless. Buffy and Spike are toxic together and the fans are compelled by it. Buffy is the hero. It makes no sense that Spike could EVER be deserving of her. What kind of message does that send? Guys, it’s okay to be toxic because in the end, you’ll get the girl. Girls, it’s okay if he tried to stalk, rape, or kill you, because he can’t help his obsessive love of you. I don’t care if this is fictional. It’s still wrong.

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