Thursday, September 07, 2006

Spike, m'boy

No, for once not my baby boy (although he has been super-adorable of late). I'm talking about his namesake. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. William the Bloody. Randy Giles. You know the one.

My buddy Kendra Clark blogged about him recently on Trish Milburn's blog (another Whedonite! Yess!). Now, you all know I'm a BTVS fan. And a Spike fan. Hello, I'm a grown woman with three freaking posters of him around my computer. And I'm a Spuffy, viz. a fan of the Spike and Buffy relationship. Buffy fans are continually divided by the eternal Bangel vs Spuffy question (yes, continually: I'm swum in the murky waters of fandom and it's a manic place!), arguing forevermore over which one Buffy truly loved and should have been with. Joss didn't make things any clearer in the end, and quite right too, I think.

For my own part, I believe Buffy loved Angel a great deal. He was her first love, and we all know how intense that can be. I remember the first boy I fell in love with. I thought my heart would never heal, and we never had half the relationship B&A did (I wish!).

But, then there's Spike. I find him more attractive as a character, and not just because he's such a damn hottie. Angel's a damn hottie too. Hoo, baby. But I've never been a van of the tall, dark and brooding type. Gimme a man who makes me laugh any day. Gimme a bad boy. Gimme someone who's not afraid to admit he's love's bitch.

I'm going to state my case here, plain and clear, and say that I think Spike is one of the best characters I've ever seen on TV. He's superbly written and acted, but he's also been allowed to evolve. I'm going to ignore the Angel(the series) season, because I don't feel he was well represented there. We're sticking to BTVS, here. Spike entered that series as a straight villain, and ended it a hero. He went from someone who killed Slayers, to someone who died for one. And yes, there's the thorny issue of Seeing Red, a plot twist James Marsters was reportedly very unhappy with. How can you believe a man loves a woman when he's attempted to rape her?

Oh, how we've moved on from those forced seduction romance novels of the 70s and 80s! And thank God. I always hated those books. What I really hated was that the stupid heroine neverfought back, accepted the brutal way she was being treated, even apparently enjoyed it, and fell in love with the hero anyway! That's not love, that's Stockholm syndrome.

But I will defend the Seeing Red eposide. I think it's an important part of Spike's journey. Let me state here and now that I'd not defending his actions--of course I don't think attempted rape is defensible. But I understand why it had to happen in the story. I believe it belonged there, just like I believe the death of Buffy's mother belonged there, but it doesn't mean I wanted her dead.

Let me explain. In the Buffyverse, when a vampire is created, he loses his soul. Buffy falls in love with Angel because, although he is a vampire, he's had his soul returned. When he loses it again (careless boy), he plots to kill Buffy and end the world, with Spike's help. Spike, however, betrays Angel because he doesn't want the world to end (it contains good things, like Manchester United) and helps Buffy to stop Angel's fiendish plot. When Angel's soul is once more restored, he's understandably upset, and broods a whole lot more.

It's very important to understand the distinction here. Soulless Angel: vicious violent mass murder. Soulless Spike: vicious, violent mass murderer who saves the world half a dozen times; falls in love with a Slayer; protects and befriends her little sister; mourns her mother; and battles to restore his soul so he can be the man she deserves.

This gives us some clue as to Spike's strength of character. As Buffy explains in season two: "You die, and a demon sets up shop in your old house, and it walks, and it talks, and it remembers your life, but it's not you." And yet somehow, flashes of the old Spike come through.

In season five, an eposide of flashbacks shows all the important moments of Spike's life as a vampire. How he killed his first two Slayers, and how he got bitten in the first place. Why he got bitten. You see, Spike used to be known as William the Bloody...because of his bloody awful poetry. Yep, Spike was a poet. A bad one. Composing terrible rhymes to his lady love (and reading them out to his mother), he was terribly hurt by the lovely Cecilia's reaction (ie, scornful hilarity) and rushed outside into the cold Victorian streets, where a woman actually took an interest in him. Unfortunately she made him a vampire. And, doubly unfortunately, she was Drusilla, the novice nun Angel had tortured, raped and driven insane before making her a vampire.

So. William the gentle poet gets taken over by a demon and falls in with a pretty bad lot. He's got all this super strength and shit, but the girl he really wants now--Drusilla--still keeps messing around with that Angel guy. How to impress a gal like her? Why, kill the Slayer! It's such a rush that the next time he runs into a Slayer, he kills her, too. He develops a reputation, and the nickname Spike, derived from the railroad spikes he likes to torture his victims with. Now with Drusilla by his side, and Angel off being soully and broody and out of the picture, Spike's the king of the world.

Then Buffy shows up, and everything goes kerblooey.

Remember that for a hundred years, Spike has been ruled by a demon that whispers in his ear to kill, kill, kill. His girlfriend is a psychopath who likes violence and keeps dead birds in cages. He's pretty far removed from the normal world of romance. So when he falls for Buffy, he has no bloody clue what to do about it. The last time he wanted to make a girl like him, he went around killing Slayers, but that would be rather counterproductive now. The time before that, he wrote poetry, and that didn't end well, either. To add to his problems, Spike gets stuck with a chip in his head that means he can't hurt humans any more. A neutered vampire in love with a Slayer! He might as well die.

And yet, he lives. Taking out his violent urges on demons, taking care not to hurt humans, effects a change in our boy. Trying to please the Slayer falls in naturally with this, to the extent that when Buffy is killed, instead of being glad he's off the hook now, Spike continues to help the Scoobies to fight the forces of evil. He bonds with Buffy's little sister, Dawn, and protects her as much as he can. When Buffy comes a back from the dead, it's Spike who understands. He's clawed his way out of a coffin, too. He's counted the days since she's been gone. He listens when she confesses that she's been pulled out of heaven, and now she's in hell.

Bleak stuff, but Spike has finally found a way to connect with Buffy. He finally feels wanted and needed by her. When she thrashes out her anger, misery and loneliness in a destructive fight with Spike, that leads to sex which literally brings the house down, Spike figures he's finally got what he wanted. Buffy is sleeping with him, confiding in him, trusting him. When she's with him she smiles, jokes, she's happy. He's happy.

And then she tells him it's over. Her ex-boyfriend has come to town and Buffy's so ashamed of her vampire lover. Terrified her other friends will find out. Ashamed of herself for using him. Of course, if she cared nothing for him, she wouldn't mind that she was using him. Spike has never minded. He knows Buffy doesn't love him and probably never will. But it's enough for him, enough for now. Until she takes it away.

And Spike the vicious vampire demon comes roaring back to the surface. He's got to get her back. Got to make her happy again, got to find the happiness she gave him. He doesn't know what to do. He wants to make it stop. Make the feelings stop. He doesn't want to be in love with her any more. He tries to dull the pain, fog her memory by sleeping with another woman, but that all goes horribly wrong, and Buffy's friends all find out she's been shagging a soulless fiend. They hate him. She hates him. It's all gone horribly, horribly wrong. Even Dawn, Spike's greatest supporter, comes to tell him how much he's hurt Buffy.

< He needs to make her love him. Before, when they were having sex, she at least seemed to like him. If he can get her to have sex with him again, maybe she'll like him more. She's saved his life before, she doesn't want to see him dead, she must feel something, right? It's love, she just needs to admit it. Spike's desperate. He'll do anything to get her back, to make the pain go away.

But he can't force her to love him. Not emotionally, and not physically. And when he realises what he almost did, and what he actually did, he's horrified. He nearly raped her. And he really made her hate him completely.

Okay, so let's look at that. He went too far. For too long he's been kicked around, literally, by this woman, he's given up everything for her, changed everything, and she's finally, finally thrown him a bone. Then she takes it away. If he was a dog, you'd call the RSPCA. A starved, neglected creature, desperate for love--you take it in, give it a warm bed, food, affection, and then you kick it in the ribs and call it a Bad Dog when it's done nothing wrong. So the dog snaps, and attacks you. Of course it does. It doesn't understand why it's been treated this way. It only wanted to please you.

So the dog attacks you, and you have it put down. Who knows what would have happened if Spike hadn't got out of town? Certainly, Buffy's friends wanted him dead. Half a season later Giles, the most rational member of the group, plots to kill Spike.

But Spike still isn't defeated. He knows what he's done is terrible. Once again, let me remind you: at this point he still has no soul. Soulless Angel killed remorselessly. He revelled in Buffy's anguish. When he got his soul back, then he was mortified. Spike doesn't have the luxury of a soul, but he still knows he's done something appalling. He has a conscience. He knows he's got to make things better. He's got to give Buffy what she deserves: a good man who loves her and will never hurt her again.

So he nearly kills himself to get his soul back. He does everything in his power to become a better man. Guilt over his past actions drives him to the point of insanity, but he still never stops trying to help Buffy, to atone for the way he treated her. With his brand new shiny soul, Spike knows full well it's not likely a paragon like Buffy can ever love a creature like him, but he's still determined to give her everything he can. He never pressures her for anything again, certainly not sex, but works out what she needs from him--a friend--and gives it to her. And you know what, I believe Buffy does come to love him. I believe he's finally redeemed.

So that's it. That's my defence of a plot point that's divided and embittered many fans. I'd stand by it, if I was Joss Whedon. I believe it's something that needed to happen in that relationship. I believe something had to give, and that the demon infesting Spike's body won for those few awful minutes. But if sweet William hadn't been fighting so damn hard against that demon since the first moment he laid eyes on Buffy, the demon would have squashed him completely, and there would have been no fight. Spike would never have been redeemed.

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