I’m so tickled at how much of a response I’m getting on the first Buffy post! So I’m happy (and relieved) to get this second part up, getting the entire (complicated) thought out, finally. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
In part 1, I tried to show how linked Buffy and Willow’s journeys to power are—how, in fact they mirror each other, often lock-step. This mirroring continues, although a bit more loosely, in season seven, each girl’s path linked to the other, right up to the big finish. So here’s the plan. First, I’ll whiz through season seven, showing how this mirroring of the two character arcs continues. Next, I’ll look at where the two arcs culminate. Finally, I’ll poke at how it broke down for me, and why.
Okay, start your engines….
We begin season seven with Willow in England, healing and receiving training in magic from Giles and an off screen coven of witches. She is tentative and scared, and the magic seems to take her over at times, for example with visions that bring her to her knees. In one such vision, she sees the Earth, “…and it wasn’t all good and rootsy. I saw its teeth,” (“Beneath You”). Her awareness of the complexity of the world is deepening. The Earth, the source of her power, is not a clear good/bad, black/white thing anymore.
Meanwhile, Buffy finds Spike in the basement of the old school, tentative and scared, and in fact gone crazy and, similarly to Willow, taken over at times with strange visions that make him incoherent. He is as inconsistent as WIllow’s magic is, sometimes clear, sometimes babbling. In addition, Buffy discovers that Spike, amazingly, now has his soul: the good returned to the demonic. Spike is no longer clearly one thing or the other, vampire or man, good/bad, but some of both.
At first Buffy doesn’t tell her friends about seeing crazy Spike, unable to figure out how, or whether, to try to integrate him back into her life (“Beneath You”). This is mirrored by Willow’s return to Sunnydale, where her magic, still wonky, causes her to be “out of phase” with her friends, and unable, literally, to see them. She is as unsure about whether she can recover from what has happened, as Buffy is unsure what Spike has become. “I’ve changed,” says Spike, and she answers, “Yes. But I don’t know what you’ve changed into.” Because of the confusion—and a flayed body—the question must be asked: is Willow still a killer? Is Spike? After the dark events of the previous finale, uncertainty is the name of the game. However, Willow and Spike are cleared, and there is a nice hint of what is to come here, when Buffy offers to “share her strength” with Willow, to help her heal from a demon attack (“Same Time, Same Place).
So, reintegration begins, however awkwardly. Magic Willow and Crazy Spike are both back in the Scooby circle, welcome (Willow) or not (Spike).
The first time we see Willow using her magic is a locator spell at Anya’s (that lights fire to Anya’s carpet). But the first time it really comes out is when she defensively protects herself against a spider demon called by Anya. Willow’s eyes go black and she turns mean for a second, saying “Shut your whimpering mouth,” to the hurt girl. But the spell works—she is a powerful witch, after all—and she, and the girl, are saved. But it’s a scary moment for her.
Parallel to that, we see sweet, understanding, Buffy-in-white speaking kindly to Spike—and it’s an illusion created by the First (the season’s Big Bad), an illusion popped by the real Buffy’s arrival, dressed in black, annoyed, even mean. But she gets Spike out of the basement that is making his crazy worse. Her action is better for him than the First’s supportive lies (“Selfless”). Power and meanness seem to be holding hands at this point, so close as the characters are to the darkness of a few months before.
Willow is deeply ambivalent about using her magic, and Buffy’s feelings about Spike are equally ambivalent. “I think I can’t stand him and then…I feel for him,” (Buffy in “Him”).
We soon find out that their concerns are not groundless. Spike has been taken over by the First and is killing people, despite his don’t-hurt-humans-chip, and has been siring new vampires. Similarly, when Willow tries to use her magic, the First takes her over, blasting Buffy across the room (“Bring on the Night” and “Never Leave Me”). It would seem the First knows right where to find the weak links in the Scooby chain.
At this point, Buffy makes a strong statement about Spike after he begs her to kill him. “You risked everything to be a better man. You can be. You are. I believe in you.” There is no mirrored statement of belief on Willow’s part towards her magic, but we do see her “testing” it by floating a candle. Buffy’s strong belief in Spike gets him through torture by the First and she is finally able to rescue him, after a drawn out fight with the uber-vampire, pulling him back from the First. At the same time Willow works to recover her magic from the First (“Showtime”), using it to create a barrier that the uber-vampire can’t pass. It’s tug of war with the First, forcing both Willow and Buffy to claim things they want (though had been unsure of up to now), magic, and Spike.
The “Killer in Me” however, marks a shift in both Willow and Buffy’s relationships to their power. Willow “lets go” of Tara for a second when kissing Kennedy and, in guilt, begins turning into murderous Warren (because of a hex placed on Willow by Amy). In other words, ties to the past cause Willow’s magic to go crazy and destructive. At the same time, Spike’s chip starts malfunctioning, going crazy and destructive, and in an effort to save him, he and Buffy go back (to their past) to the Initiative that installed the chip (opening the trap door together), an action that results in the removal of Spike’s chip.
In some ways, Tara and the chip are alike. Willow couldn’t stop from using her magic selfishly (like the memory spell she cast on Tara), and Spike couldn’t stop the demon inside of him (and, at the time, didn’t want to) from hurting and killing people. Tara wanted Willow to stop using magic altogether, and the chip forced Spike to stop violence against humans altogether. But this approach turns out to be problematic for both. Willow says “Giles says it’s just as dangerous for me to stop completely [as to give in to the magic]” (“Conversations with Dead People”) and about Spike, Buffy says, “[The chip] was like having a muzzle on him. It was wrong,” (“First Date”). Now that Willow is moving on, letting go of Tara, she is beginning to let go of the restraint she has been under and trusting herself to use her magical power for good. Similarly, now that Spike’s chip is removed, he is under no external control to keep him from harming humans. It is up to him to use his vampire strength for good. “The Killer in Me” marks the release of past muzzles for both Willow and Spike, and an important step in their healing.
“Get it Done” pushes this healing further. Buffy jumps through a dimensional portal, forcing Willow (“the Wicca who Won’t-a”) to finally use serious magic not just “light stuff.” It also forces Spike to quit being a “wimpire” and return to being “the Spike that is dangerous.” Willow grabs at Kennedy and Dawn’s strength to cast the spell. Spike goes through his old things to find his leather coat, a symbol for his old bad-ass self, and, wearing it, kills the demon and throws its body back through the portal in trade to bring Buffy back. By the end of this episode, both Willow and Spike have leveled up.
All throughout these episodes we have had hints, in touches and looks, about the relationship between Buffy and Spike. For example, Buffy being concerned about Spike’s injuries, or helping him to stand and his grateful touch and look in return, or her tearing up and helping to walk him out of the cave where he was tortured. We also see in-jokes and knowing looks pass between them. They are fighting smoothly together, for example tossing a knife cooly between them with no verbal warning. They seem to be working well together and caring about the welfare of the other. Many of these moments are non-verbal, but all of them add up to create a growing feeling of equality and respect between them that comes to fruition in “Lies My Parents Told Me.” Robin Wood tries to kill Spike while Spike is under the influence of the First’s trigger, but Spike is able to deactivate the trigger and refrains from killing Wood. “I gave him a pass, on account of the fact that I killed his Mum” and Buffy backs Spike on this. “Spike is the strongest warrior we have….You try anything again, and he’ll kill you. But more importantly, I’ll let him.” Spike has become “the one person who’s been watching my back,” readily following Buffy’s leadership, but not beneath her. “Got my own free will now. I’m not under the First, or anyone else’s influence anymore,” and he chooses to throw his strength behind her mission. The two of them have come far from crazy Spike on the hell mouth, and even farther from the events of “Seeing Red” (“Get It Done”). At this point in the story, they feel like a team.
Willow, also, seems to have similarly recovered her willingness and ability to use her magic. We don’t get a lot of this, but, for example, we see her doing Jedi mind tricks on the local cops to get police records (in search of information on Caleb)(“Empty Places”) without much trouble. However, Willow’s fear—that who she is, that who she is revealed to be, is bad—is still present. “I’ve been in a place where I should be restrained. I’ve been controlling myself, (Willow to Kennedy in “Touched”). With Kennedy’s help, Willow continues to work on letting go. “I’ll be your kite string,” says Kennedy. And the more Willow let’s go, the more access she has to her magical power—and the more she has to trust herself to use it for good.
At this point, while Spike is out of town on a reconnaissance trip, Buffy’s fear—that she will always be alone, that she can’t be who her friends want her to be—is powerfully activated when the gang votes her out. Spike returns to find her depressed and hiding in an abandoned house. “I’ve hummed along with your pity ditty. I think I should take the mic for a bit.” He says, “I’m not asking you for anything. It has nothing to do with me. I love you, I love what you are, I love what you do, what you try.” This is a huge shift from season six—and the last time they spent the night together in an abandoned house (in “Smashed”)—when he wanted a lot for himself: sex, admission of love from Buffy, for Buffy to tell her friends about them. Now, instead, he offers her his strength, no strings attached, by holding her through the night as she let’s go into her trust of him. This is a nice turn around: when their relationship was abusive and manipulating, it was all about sex. On this night that has so many couples pairing up, Spike and Buffy don’t have sex, but instead are intimate, something they have avoided up to now. It’s been a long time coming (“Touched”). Buffy let’s go a little more with Spike, Willow let’s go a little more with Kennedy.
The next morning, Buffy and Spike admit how important to each their night together was, although they are “terrified” (Spike in “End of Days”) about it. At the same time, Willow expresses her fear about “total loss of control” as a part of the spell she will do in the big fight to come. Will our gals be able to take the final step they are so afraid of? Will they complete their journey begun years ago?
But first!…a visit from Angel. Buffy and Angel have tremendous chemistry—the moment he arrives, there is such an easy pull between them, such a different texture from the hard-won connection between Buffy and Spike. I love this, that two relationships can both be depicted as intense but also so very different in flavor. And of course they would be: Buffy and Angel began by fighting evil together, whereas Buffy and Spike began by trying to kill each other. The two couples had lived through tremendously different arcs.
I don’t have an opinion about whether Buffy should be with one or the other of these in a forever sort of relationship. The fact is, Buffy has been involved with both of them, and continues to be deeply tied to both at that point in the story. Spike often felt like the also-ran of the two, as he lacks Angel’s heroic scope and theme music. But there are ways that Spike’s scrappy underdog beats out Angel for appropriate partner, at least at this time in Buffy’s story, if you ask me. Here’s a quick rundown:
1-Angel got his soul back on accident, as a punishment. He had no desire or plan to be a better man. It happened to him. Whereas Spike, as a demon, sought out his soul, getting it back at great cost to himself. For Buffy.
2-Angel left Buffy because he thought she ought to be able to be a normal girl. He couldn’t give her children, or grow old with her, or have sex with her. Spike, on the other hand, doesn’t impose a goal of “normal girl” on Buffy. In some ways he is much more understanding of Buffy as she is: not normal at all, rather, a Slayer, linked with dark things.
3-The aforementioned sex. Spike can go there. Angel can’t.
4-Angel, like Riley, goes off to be the center of his own story. Spike, on the other hand, is content to be the second (or third, or fourth) in Buffy’s story. This is important for someone in a relationship with The Slayer, a gal who is always going to be unavoidably the center of her own story. It’s an occupational hazard, after all.
I’ll stop there, and again say I’m not trying to prove a One True Love for Spike and Buffy. As Buffy says, “I don’t see fat grandkids in my future with Spike,” (“Chosen”). But as coworkers with benefits who love each other and back each other to the death? Yes. That works for me. And it flows from what was on the screen up to that point.
Oh, did I say “love”? Well, Spike has no trouble with the word. He makes his declaration in the abandoned house, loud and clear. But it becomes…odd, how much work Buffy puts into not using the “L” word.
“Do you love him?” said Angel. “He’s…in my heart,” she answers (“Chosen”). Okaaaay…. But what does that mean? Given how many times she avoids the word, it is inevitable that the big finale moment is going to include her saying it. Stories work on reversals and this one is set up all season, beginning with “Conversations with Dead People” when Cassie says to Spike, “Someday she’ll tell you.”
Buffy sends Angel away with vague promises about the future, which feels right. He was a big love for her, possibly still is, but he isn’t in her life now. Spike is.
Which is where she goes now, to Spike’s place, in her house. Spike saw Angel, saw Buffy kiss Angel, and is angry and jealous, but Buffy tries to put him at ease. “There was no tongue.” (Ha!) She offers him the jeweled necklace “meant to be worn by a champion,” and she gives it to him with big, emotion-filled (loving? they look loving) eyes. He puts up a fuss when she wants to sleep beside him again (“You have Angel breath” says Spike), but when she turns to leave, he stops her. “That was really just a smoke screen.” “Oh, thank God,” she says. And he answers, “I don’t know what I would have done if you’d walked up those stairs.” (“Chosen”). They cuddle and sleep in Spike’s narrow bed together. Despite Angel’s visit, these two are still in sync, still strengthening each other, still…in each other’s hearts.
Back to Willow. We’ve seen Willow move from terrified of her magic and what it can do, towards a gradually increasing confidence, up to now where we find her on the brink of finally using her magic fully, for the first time since she tried to destroy the world. For Willow’s story, as arced, to finish in a satisfying way, we must see this trajectory come to completion—and we do. In season six, as I described in part 1, Willow’s problem was that she was using her magic to TAKE, to try to fill the empty parts of herself, with all the accompanying masking-arrogance and selfishness. Here, in the finale, after much healing and exploration, Willow comes full circle. Buffy comes up with the idea of turning all the potentials into full Slayers, and taps Willow as the gal for the job. In other words, Willow will be using her magic to GIVE, to fill others, using her power to pass power along.
And she does. In Willow’s big finale, she goes into an ecstatic, joyful place, so unlike Dark Willow. “Oh. My. Goddess!” (I love that moment!) Willow becomes like a goddess, white hair streaming—and yet all the while, again unlike Dark Willow, she remains humble. It is the perfect culmination of Willow’s story! The first time I saw it I was crying and cheering. Yay, Willow!
How about Buffy? Well, Buffy, too, shares her power. “I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be our power.” This is terrific. And remember that moment way back in the beginning of season seven when Buffy offers to share her strength with Willow? They do it again here, on another order of magnitude. Yay! again! When all the potentials turn into slayers I was crying and cheering, again a great culmination.
…And here we come, at long last, to the part of the tale where I get really freaking annoyed.
After all the long, long arc of Buffy’s relationship to Spike, his healing, their healing, their clawing their way out of abuse and pain to find a healthy respect and equality…I was floored by the fizzle of their storyline.
In season six, Buffy was TAKING from Spike, using him to feel, using him to punish herself for the things she hated about herself, and he was going along with it in flaming self-destructive glory. Then in season seven we saw him get his soul, saw him heal, saw her gradually come to trust him, saw them become a team—and yes, saw her GIVE to him in her belief in him, and in acknowledging that he can be a champion…and in finally telling him she loves him (something that, for me, was obvious for quite a while in the way Sarah Michelle Gellar played Buffy)…but then…it stops. Just as Spike and Buffy should have been having their big moment, like Willow with her streaming white hair, they…don’t. Finishing out the mirroring that has built and built for years, Buffy should have, to my mind, given back to Spike and he should have received it. “No you don’t, but thank you for saying it,” says Spike and I went, huh? What? Wait, Buffy isn’t countering that? Insisting she means it? What?
Why this big hesitation to use the word love? It’s all over her face, a dozen times in as many episodes. She says it herself, in a slip, when she says, “Why is everybody in this house so sure I’m still in love with Spike?” (“First Dates”) No one brought up Spike or love but her, and take a look at that word STILL. “He’s in my heart,” “I have feelings for him,” “I care for him,” so many euphemisms. Why not the word? It’s so…strange. But that’s cool, it was something she had declared so many times, I don’t love you, I can’t love you—so of course she would have a hard time turning that around. All those almost-phrases pointed straight to the moment when she would, finally say it. And they do…
…when she thinks he’s dying. But Spike refutes it, and she doesn’t correct him. Arg! This was so…wrong for me.
For my satisfaction, Spike should have said, “I know.” Or “Thank you.” Or, “Are you sure?” Or, just freaking smiled, that would have worked. But a refutation? That’s like Willow starting to get white roots and then saying, “oh, no, wait a minute, I don’t deserve this!” and turning the power away. What a limp ending that would be! It’s like taking away a gal’s O right before it arrives! No, no, no.
Speaking of O’s. Let’s talk about the teaser fade-to-black of the night before. On the eve of the big battle, Joss gives us a moment when Buffy walks down the basement stairs to Spike, who stands, and the two of them look at each other in this super intense way for about one-mississippi…and then…black.
I know, I know, I’ve heard the commentary. Joss wanted the viewer to be able to fill in the blank with whatever would make him or her happy.
To which I say: cop out! I want to know what happened, dammit! The characters, as written, will do something here, the story, as written, arcs to something here, and I want to know what that is, whatever the writers know is right. Whatever comes from what has gone before. You don’t just…leave a blank! Especially not at the top of an arc that has taken YEARS to get to! For heaven’s sake! Story’s are not mad libs!
Also, okay, I know, I know, Joss has said the relationship between Spike and Buffy in season six was so abusive that having them resume a sexual relationship would send the wrong message to girls everywhere…
And again, I say: cop out! I know, I know, I understand that this was network tv and they did what they had to, yada yada…but still. Trying to jam a message (or in this case, a not-message) into fiction rarely works. Preaching a message almost always messes up art: its a truism of writing. I know Joss knows this—he’s a fabulous writer—and so I must assume that forces beyond telling the story true were too powerful (network rules, the pressure of the fans, I don’t know, but I’m sure they were immense) to deny.
What I mean is, there is story integrity and it can be broken—and we all know when it happens. Just imagine if Xander suddenly started being mean—unless you were given a good reason, and quick, it would feel like the character was was acting wrong—was broken. It happens in bad writing all the time—characters are broken for a joke. Plot is broken because the actor got pregnant and had to be replaced. Etc. Xander would never be casually mean, and we know it. A story arcs in a certain direction—and we may not know what is going to happen—great stories surprise us all the time. But in the surprise we will still feel the rightness of it, if it’s good storytelling. And we know if what happens isn’t right. That is, if what happens doesn’t spring from what has come before.
And I swear, for me, what happened for Buffy and Spike in the finale did NOT spring from what had come before, was not satisfying, did not culminate that arc in a big glory, as Willow’s did, did not work. Instead, I sat there feeling like the story had suddenly, at the last minute, failed.
After spending two nights cuddling, plus all the depending on each other for months, and given that they were both super attracted to each other (see that moment in “First Date” when he runs into her upstairs while she’s getting dressed), why would these two not, on the night of their probable impending death, why would they not get it on?
And, hey, after all that crazy humping they did in season six, wouldn’t it be a great turn around if this time the sex was…quiet? A giving instead of a taking? A natural extension of the cuddling they’ve been doing?
I think, YES.
It drove me mad not to get this satisfaction. But I was willing to let that go—barely—if they had gotten their big moment on the hell mouth.
Here is one version that would have satisfied the arc for me: If Buffy had said “I love you,” as if she is surprised to find it’s true, she is finally realizing it, oh my god, I really love this man who has has changed himself so much, for me!, that he is killing himself to save the world—and oh no! Just as I’ve finally figured this out, he’s dying!
That would have been terrific. If she had realized she loved him and they had kissed and then he had sent her off to save herself just before going up in flames, WOW. That would have done it for me.
Not a pity-”I love you” because he’s about to die. Come on! Fizzle.
After years of mirrored journeys, Willow’s path ends in a big finish where she lets go of her fears and steps fully into her magic through giving it to others, bam, Goddess Willow. There should have been a parallel moment for Buffy and Spike, who had been on the same journey, step for step. They should have been able to let go of their fears and give to each other in a big blazing togetherness, finally. It was what the story had been aiming at for years.
Willow got her moment, and I adore her moment. I still tear up and cheer when I see it. By extension, after so much mirrored storytelling, Buffy and Spike, should have gotten their moment, too. They almost did. But no. I was robbed. I still get mad every time I’ve watched it.
+ “No you don’t, but thanks for saying it”
= Maya pissed for ten years at getting my big finale O ripped from my grasp right at the very end!
I’ve said it all. I’ve given all my reasons. Spike and Buffy got screwed and so did I.
I’m just saying.
Can I get an “Amen”? Or do you not buy it? I’m sure there are those of y’all for whom the ending worked just fine. That’s cool. And I’m sure there are counter arguments that are compelling, and maybe I’ll even change my mind.
(Probably not. I’m stubborn.)