spike and buffy got screwed–now with proof! (part 2)

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.

However.

…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.

Wha—?

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 isnt 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.

Fade-to-black

+ “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!

[pant, pant]

Okay, there.

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.)

28 thoughts on “spike and buffy got screwed–now with proof! (part 2)

  1. rebcake

    Well, yeah. Even my husband, who doesn’t think about this stuff nearly as much as I, feels let down by the “no you don’t”. On the one hand, it’s very Rhett and Scarlett, where he loves her for years — flaws and all — until he finally gives up on her the moment she realizes he’s the one she loves. Rhett/Spike think that it’s still Ashley/Angel that Scarlett/Buffy wants, and can’t hear her when she tells him otherwise. But! We all know that William “Love’s Bitch” the Bloody still very much gives a damn, so his rejection of her love doesn’t ring true.

    I think the breakdown between the parallels comes because Spike is not just a symbol of the source of Buffy’s demon power. He’s a character himself, in a way that “magic” is not. He gets his own arc, separate from Buffy’s, while “magic” is entirely in service to Willow’s arc. So, for me, the finale is satisfying as a end to Spike’s arc, what with the selflessness and effulgence and all, but it’s NOT satisfying as a finale for Buffy’s arc. The only thing I can think of is that Joss was ready to end Willow and Spike’s stories, but couldn’t bring himself to end Buffy’s.

    If they couldn’t get the ending they had worked toward due to the events of S6, I blame knee-jerkism in the writers’ room during S6. There’s no question that the relationship between Buffy and Spike in S6 was abusive, but not everybody agrees about who was the abuser. I’d say that the writers wrote themselves into a corner that could not be satisfactorily resolved when — in response to allegations that Buffy was the abuser in the relationship — they tried to turn Buffy into Spike’s victim in “Seeing Red”. It’s a role that doesn’t fit her character, and it’s there that they broke the story’s integrity, imo. Because of that, yes, Spike and Buffy (and all of us) got screwed.

    Reply
    1. maya Post author

      Rebcake,
      I’d say it’s pretty clear that the relationship was abusive on both sides. For heaven’s sake, half the time their foreplay was to beat each other up! 🙂 I thought the almost-rape scene in “Seeing Red” was a perfect culmination of what had come before and is deeply mirrored in what is going on with Willow, namely, the much maligned and abused power starts to bite back, trying, and failing, to take over Willow, just like Spike, pushed to the edge, tries and fails to take over Buffy. That was such a powerful scene, that one and the house-knocked-down-sex in “Smashed,” in many ways more interestingly dark–and real–than network tv could really handle. So they kept hemming and hawing and trying to define it in acceptable terms. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.

      Reply
  2. rranne

    The Tara/chip comparison is a really good one and I am glad that somebody adequately put it in writing, both being keepers of the conscience, so to speak. Willow and Buffy have paralleled each other in so many ways since they started college.
    I completely agree on the cope out of season seven in general. It was the first season that I actually watched live, not in off season repeats, and the shift in the overall tone of the show was obvious fairly early on in the season; by Conversations with Dead People, I think it was the second or third episode, you could feel the dark cloud building. Many fans feel that season six was the darkest season for BtVS, but season seven was far darker, and I think it bugs the fans more than season six ever could for all the reasons you stated and a few that you didn’t. No pun intended, but I have always called it the season of missed potential.
    Thanks for writing this.

    Reply
  3. Lexi

    Here’s another way they could have gotten the ending right: totally get rid of Angel. The guy had no business being in what is Spike and Buffy’s story, and it was blatant fan pandering that brought him to Sunnydale. They found a scythe just sitting around Sunnydale, and they could have found an amulet sitting in the Magic Box this whole time. There was no reason, except one, to bring Angel into it, and that one reason is about the fierceness of those who love Angel and Buffy together.

    If you want to go ahead and say Angel had to bring the amulet, fine. But once again, there’s no in-story reason for Buffy to kiss him first thing. Once again, fan pandering. Those Buffy/Angel fans are fierce, remember. Buffy hasn’t seen the guy in about two years, he’s been out of her life for four years, so why would she swap spit with him right off the bat. As I said, this is Spike and Buffy’s story, so Angel still is butting in.

    Without Angel, both of your quibbles would have been solved: there’d be more reason to believe the fade to black had canoodling going on if Buffy hadn’t been canoodling with Angel just a few hours earlier, so there’s your big O. Also, maybe if Angel had stayed in LA like he should have, Spike would have believed Buffy when she said she loved him.

    Or you could just go back to season 6, as rebcake says, and fix the writerly conundrum of What To Do With Spike, have Seeing Red’s attempted rape not happen, and have much stronger ground to build season 7 on.

    Reply
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  5. DARYNTHE

    Excellent points. I agree it was excruciatingly painful to see Spike not getting a drop of all the love he deserved in the end. However, I agree with the first comment. He had a great arc and the best ending of all the characters in the series. He ended up saving the day when Buffy didn’t.
    On the other hand, while it hurt when I saw it now I realize it was right for him not to get the crumbs Buffy gave him last minute. He needed to go out and become his own man, be able to give and receive love in equal terms. This will probably happen in S9 or S10. Hopefully.

    Reply
    1. maya Post author

      Darynthe, I don’t know, I’ve given up the hope that we’ll ever see Spike get anything. Read Season 8 with hope and…there is Buffy, still fantasizing about him, there he is, still saving her, still getting rejected, and I thought, BOO. I’ll keep reading—I’m addicted!—but I’ve given up on that particular satisfaction ever coming around.

      Reply
  6. Scarlett

    Nice article. You helped me identify and clarify why I was so disappointed at the “no you don’t” at the end of the Buffy Spike relationship. But season seven Spike and Buffy, was overall wonderful, as you point out, and I think maybe relationship they had was bigger somehow than the “true love” thing.

    Reply
  7. norwie

    Wonderfully laid out. I agree that Buffy’s story didn’t came around at the end of season 7, which is a shame, since the whole thing is her story to begin with.

    Like you, i have some difficulties with the way it “fizzled”. But then I remember, that we’re dealing with contemporary pop culture, and despite all the positive storytelling capabilities Whedon might have – pop culture is a business first, art second. As such, pop culture has to adhere to the laws of economics first, the freedom of art second. It is thus that pop culture always has a huge possibility of breaking the story /art (the secondary aspect of itself) in favor of the first aspect. As a business model, pop culture follows fashion trends and opinion, whereas art doesn’t. More “Tea Party”, or “Yes We Can!” than Cubism or Supremalism.

    And, that is no coincidence. Pop culture moved to the top of the cultural food chain, so to speak, substituting art as a means of expression after the Shoa (writing lyrics after the Holocaust is barabrism, as Theodor Adorno stated in “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft”, 1949).Art for art’s sake is difficult in the face of “extermination through labor” and “war of annihilation”, which our culture brought forth – total barbarism defeats life, and thus art.

    So, in a way I forgive Whedon the cop out. While BtVS is the very best in pop culture I have ever had the joy to experience – at the end of the day, the story is secondary. So we make our own narrative, replacing product with art in our minds (if we are capable of that) to complete the story, to transcending economics into life, to grasp at the invisible beauty of it 8or to make the invisible visible).

    In a way, I think that’s what Whedon tries to “say” with his fade-to-black scene in “End of Days”: ‘Make your own narrative, make art where I’m not able to do so.’

    Reply
    1. maya Post author

      Norwie, that’s interesting about “what Whedon tries to “say” with his fade-to-black scene”. Yes, it seemed to be a way to try to get something in there that he couldn’t otherwise.

      Reply
  8. Deanna

    I’ve always figured that the main reason for Spike’s “No you don’t, but thanks for saying it” was to allow him to cross over to Angel (or, at the time, possibly a Faith spinoff). If Spike allowed himself to believe that Buffy loved him, as soon as he becomes corporeal, nothing could stop him from leaving and going to Buffy’s side, which would take him away from the other show.

    But they still should have had something more from Buffy, some actual grief or regret. Maybe a few lines between Buffy and Xander, who both just lost their lovers. Or just looking sad while running for her life, leaving Spike to die. When the script fails to show something important, you can do it with good direction, but both broke down here. Of course, even if they had Buffy specifically tell everyone “I was in love with Spike but realized it too late,” those fans who want to deny that there was ever any feelings between them would still find a way to claim that they meant nothing to each other.

    Reply
    1. maya Post author

      Deanna, Yeah, that whole Spike doesn’t go to Buffy thing (on Angel) always felt like broken storytelling, victim of production issues (one show canceled, etc). I don’t know if it was a REASON they had Spike say that, but I think you’re absolutely right, that if he had a moment of real, doubtless, connection with her, nothing would have stopped him from going to her. Which he couldn’t do and stay on Angel.

      I also agree about the lack of mourning, even for a couple of seconds, there at the end. Always bugged the crap out of me. Hello? he just saved all your lives and died doing it? How about…something?

      Anyhoo, thanks so much for commenting!

      Reply
  9. sister cuervo

    Amen, sister! They did indeed get screwed out of their bit moment.
    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! I love this! And ain’t it the truth.

    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. Absolutely agree. Sometimes a good bit of the show seemed to veer off course into afterschool special-dom.
    Thanks so much for writing this essay!

    Reply
  10. spikealicious

    Great essay! Although I saw the similarities between Buffy and Willow, and Spike and Willow (S-7) while watching, I don’t think I ever so concisely saw it put this way.

    As for Spike and Buffy not getting their moment. I am so with you on that! I totally agree that Buffy, in looks and words, and even that slip to Willow you pointed out, “Why is everybody in this house so sure I’m still in love with Spike?” (although somewhere along the way, I heard SMG blew the line and it was supposed to be without the still. Then again, knowing how much SMG was a professional who always knew her lines, according to James, I don’t know if that’s true.) was showing that she loved Spike.

    In everything that Buffy does, how she defends Spike, how she comes to rely on him, the respect that they come to have for each other, and the intimacy you spoke of in Touched, and beyond, shows the love, even if she doesn’t say it until the end.

    Another line that really bugged the crap out of…no wait, infuriated me, was when Buffy and Spike were discussing that night, and while she tells him that he doesn’t have to be terrified and that she was there with him, when he asks her what it means, the writers (and I say writers, because after her calling Spike back, telling him all that, I was flabbergasted that Buffy would come back with the rejoinder! grr!) she asks, “Does it have to mean anything?” WTF???

    As to the ending line of Buffy’s – I really didn’t even like the delivery of the, “I love you,” line. I thought it was rather anemic, and think that SMG was right in telling Joss that she didn’t ‘feel’ it or get it or something. There was a special on the dvd and he said that sometimes the actors say they don’t get it,but that they gave him gold nonetheless. Well, I disagree with him there. I did, however, like the look on her face when their hands caught on fire; her face shows the love (rapture, even?) as she (INMO) feels the warmth of his soul, the love.

    As for his rejoinder, ‘No you don’t, but thanks for saying it,’ James sold the line, although I hated it. I think that line spurned many thousands of fanfics that sought to explain it, or correct it, etc. In my own (years-long WIP), I have him telling her that he knows, but she has to live for Dawn, herself,and for him.

    Thanks for a great essay. Even years later, we still love them, and they’re still worthy of analysis and discussion. 🙂

    Reply
    1. maya Post author

      Hi Spikealicious, That’s interesting about the SMG confusion, yes? Even on that end it was confused. Perhaps. Who knows. Yes, the “I love you” was anemic, sort of a pity thing, poor vampire he’s going to die, I’ll throw him a bone… No, no!

      Reply
  11. rebcake

    Hey Maya! Thanks for responding. I did think that the AR was fairly true on Spike’s side, expressing his complete failure to grasp where the line is drawn given their messed-up history. Where it didn’t feel true (to me) was on Buffy’s side. She’s often the target of demon attack, as with Hyena!Xander, and yet never comes across as a victim, until that scene. Things affect her, usually after the fact, but she’s fierce! I’ve read a lot of meta on the subject, and I can see why Buffy’s reaction worked for some audience members, but she never struck me as the begging kind…

    As for their foreplay being mutual violence “half the time”, we only see Spike hit her the first time (after she hits him), and every incidence of violence we see afterward (until SR) is Buffy beating on Spike. So while it may be true — insofar as a fictional story is true — that the abuse was mutual, that’s not what’s actually shown to us. Hence, much of the audience saw Buffy in the role of abuser, which took the writers by surprise.

    I’m not sure about the “still” loves Spike line being a mistake or confusion. It wasn’t in the shooting script, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t purposefully changed later. Chao Ahn’s home language was changed from Vietnamese to Mandarin at some point, and Buffy’s top was stained with pizza (thanks, Dawn) rather than grape juice as it says in the script. I’ve heard the actors say that they had to redo scenes if they left out an “um”, so I don’t think that a meaning-changing “still” would’ve snuck by. I vote for purposeful on that one.

    This is such a wonderful essay. You’ve brought together so many threads of meaning and laid them all out beautifully!

    Reply
  12. Ivana

    In some ways, “No you don’t, but thanks for saying it” is a perfect painful dramatic irony of the Gone with the Wind kind. Especially when you consider that it’s the mirror of their scene in Dead Things, when Spike, while trying to stop her from throwing her life away, says “I love you!” and Buffy retorts “No, you don’t!”

    I don’t think Buffy could be expected to have started arguing with him there and then, especially as she must have been surprised by that response. But at the same time it’s annoying that so many people simply pronounce that Spike’s words trump Buffy’s – he gets the last word, even though it should be her story. Buffy not loving Spike would be contrary to what I had been watching, but it also would make the story without climax, payoff or meaning for Buffy. I think that people who believe that Spike was right and Buffy didn’t love him are probably those who see seasons 6 and 7 as Spike’s story but not so much as Buffy’s story – because that would be a great ending to Spike’s story, he gets to be a hero selfless and show that he isn’t doing it to get her love, he gets the last word. But it would be a completely lame ending to Buffy’s story – and, what would Buffy’s story with Spike in seasons 6 and 7 be about, then? Not loving some guy and then proceeding to learn to not love him? Bullshitting him that the problem was about not trusting him to be a good man, rather than she just never loved him, whether she trusted him or not? It just makes no sense. Buffy in that scenario is nothing but a supporting character in Spike’s story, an unobtainable object of desire (with *object* being the crucial word here to convey how she is seen, with her own feelings and motives being secondary). And usually people who insist that Buffy didn’t love Spike are either those 1) who didn’t like seasons 6 and 7,. or 2) who don’t like or relate to Buffy.

    Spikealicious and Maya: I see people saying a lot that SMG’s delivery of the line in Chosen was “anemic”. What I’m surprised by is that nobody comments that SMG’s line delivery of “I love you” to Angel in “Lie to Me” in season 2 (after he asks her “Do you love me?” before admitting his history with Drusilla) – the first time she tells him she loves him (the first time she tells anyone ILY in the romantic sense in the show) – was equally “anemic” – because SMG played it 100% the same in those two scenes. Buffy is clearly having trouble getting those words across in Lie to Me, and pauses for a few seconds before saying it in a weak voice, like it takes an effort. See it for yourself – 100% the same acting choice in both scenes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bSZvaIh7Tk
    Yet I don’t see anyone claiming that she was lying to Angel in season 2 that she loved him?

    Spikealicious: She didn’t say “Does it have to mean anything?” She said “Does it have to mean something?” It’s amazing how often people misquote that line. And many seem to see it as a rejection – even though nothing about the rest of the scene or Buffy’s delivery makes it look anything like that. In Storyteller (also written by Espenson), Xander and Anya talk about their relationship and tell each other that they love each other but that they don’t know if it means anything anymore – i.e. if they have a future. That’s a lot more negative than what Buffy said. IMO, Buffy was asking if they needed to define their relationship. Do they have to make big promises and grand statements, instead of just letting things develop on their own, see where it takes them.

    Rebcake: Their relationship in season 6 was mutually abusive, and I really have no interest in “Who Hurt Who More?” debates that fandom loves to engage in (which usually means that it’s either about “Heartless Bitch Buffy and Poor Woobie Spike” or “Manipulative Bastard Spike and Victim Buffy”, neither of which fits what I saw on screen). As far as physical abuse goes, it doesn’t really paint the accurate picture to say that Spike only punched Buffy after she punched him first in Smashed. He deliberately provoked and planned their fight in Smashed, because he wanted to show Buffy he wasn’t ‘toothless’ anymore and vent his frustrations. She did throw the first punch, but only after he threatened and deliberately provoked her, and he was content when she punched him because it was what he wanted. The only scene that justifies people seeing Buffy as more abusive was her beating of him in Dead Things. I find it ironic when some fans complain that just one scene, the attempted rape in Seeing Red made it look like Spike was more of an abuser and Buffy more of a victim while it wasn’t like that before, when this is exactly the same thing one could say about the alley scene in Dead Things.

    But abuse is not just about physical abuse. I was far more disturbed by the emotional abuse in their relationship, and that was going on from both sides – they were bouncing off each other and bringing out the worst in each other. Not to mention all the dubious consent sexual moments in their relationship, which Seeing Red was a natural extension and culmination of.

    Reply
  13. Lucy

    Ivana, I think you and I should hang out.

    I agree with every single point you make–and I LOVE that you talked about Buffy’s “I love you” to Angel in Lie to Me–because I think the circumstances and delivery of that “I love you” are one of the most overlooked details in fandom. Buffy didn’t volunteer the words to Angel–he ASKED her point blank. She answered his question–who knows how long it would’ve taken her to say those words if he hadn’t pried them from her–after all, she never said them to Riley. And she, like you said, was hesitant and evasive in answering Angel–not forceful or overwhelmed. If anything, her volunteering of the words to Spike are a sign that she DEFINITELY meant them. He’s the only romantic interest we ever see her freely give the words for the first time out of the gate.

    And this is because Buffy has intimacy issues. And she has a hard time saying the words “I love you”–something that she admits to Giles in season 5’s, Intervention. She found it weird to say the words to people she KNEW that she loved, like Dawn and Giles–so saying them to someone who she was SCARED to love, someone she was putting herself out there for, making herself vulnerable for–is going to be even harder for her. Thus why she never said it to Spike until the last moment. And also why it seems like such WORK for her–why it supposedly seems anemic. Because it’s HARD for her to say it. She has to force the words out not because she doesn’t feel them, but because she (like Spike) is terrified of what it means.

    And consider this: She’s opening herself up when she KNOWS there will be no resolution. She knows she’ll be hurt, because Spike is dying. Big time pain is what she’s inviting, and she knows it. But she says the words any way, because they’re true, and because she has to say them. Because, as Ivana points out, Buffy’s arc is about learning to love–love is the source of her power as much as her Slayerness is. Again, this is illustrated in season 5’s episodes Intervention, when the First Slayer tells her that she is “full of love” and in The Gift, when she figures out that acting out of love is what she wants to do.

    All of that said, Maya, I think you did a marvelous job with this essay–and you really opened my eyes in several ways. I especially like how you tied together the attempted rape in Seeing Red to the source of Slayer power–and showed how that paralleled Willow’s run of darkness–how magic (the source of her power) almost overtook her, but failed.

    Also interesting is how in Get It Done in Season 7, Buffy is chained and almost “raped” again with extra demonic power. But she, like in Seeing Red, doesn’t allow it to overtake her. She fights back. And that’s the same episode that Spike and Willow “level up” as you said–they come to terms with the source of their strength.

    Anyway. Great essay!

    Reply
    1. maya Post author

      Hi Lucy, thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment! God, the comments on this thread are awesome…

      Reply
  14. Colleen

    I think the main reason Spike said what he said (wha?) was that he was headed to Angel. If he believed her, he would have no reason to stay in LA. That’s in no way satisfying in an organic story-telling way, but it was what it was.

    Reply
    1. maya Post author

      Colleen, you are so right. When he finally gets his body back, there is no way he wouldn’t have gotten on that boat and gone to find Buffy. But in order to keep him on the show, he has to decide not to. Doesn’t make any sense at all, but as you say, it was what it was.

      Reply
  15. Salustra

    Spike and Buffy got screwed because Joss does not and has never liked Spike. He didn’t want to keep him, the fans are the ones who brought him back. He never wanted cool vampires. David Greenwalt talked him into Angel and the door was opened a crack for cool vampires. And Spike was cool. Too cool. Joss punished Spike again and again in his storylines for the cardinal sin of being cool and popular with the fans.

    Reply
  16. Lori Cobb

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Just started watching the series on Netflix and finished it in a week, it was great, I thought I loved angel until we got to know spike and I feel like HE really got the raw deal. In the end he was the ONLY one who believed in Buffy, when here own sister (well, sorta) turned on her. I was really more upset they didn’t give Buffy the apology she deserved, but I digress. Spike is truly the very best character of all, he was so intense and real in a way that Angel never was. The fact that in the end Buffy gave him pity love was just messed up. I feel very robbed. You’re so right about the parallels and mirrors and it just ended so…wrong. I’m going to have to watch the last season of angel to get my spike fix. I guess I’m 15 years late on this series, but it was worth it.

    Reply
  17. Haveyouseendectectorists

    Amen Maya.

    Thank you for your analysis, I really enjoyed it.

    Like you I felt acute disappointment and frustration with the ending of Buffy when I watched the series 20 years ago and felt the same rewatching it with my daughters recently.

    I felt cheated out of a resolution for the Buffy/Spike love story (it took some time to come round to the idea, as I loved Buffy/Angel, but ended up adoring Spike) but more importantly felt that Buffy’s ending was not the pinnacle we wanted for her and that she was no longer the hero of her own story.

    Reading your post though, I was wondering whether choice (or the free will that Spike achieves too?) is really a central theme and we didn’t get the resolution we wanted because Buffy’s power was thrust upon her – the chosen one – it was not her choice (as with Angel and Spike and all vampires) and so her pinnacle is achieved when she chooses to share responsibility for saving the world with the potentials and so begin to feel more like the normal girl she had enjoyed being. During the series we see her writhing under the weight of the sole responsibility, but her smile at the end says shared responsibility is one that she can embrace. If this is true, she and Willow (the goddess) are on an opposite trajectory in that Buffy wants to be boring ordinary Buffy (hence Riley, not Spike) and Willow wants to put that behind her (swapping Xander, Oz and computers for lesbian Wicca bliss).
    With Spike, even though Buffy can feel his soul and his sacrifice at the last and know that it’s not just for her that he’s saving the world, that he is redeemed, she can’t truly love him because he chose her. She was the one but you don’t have to love someone just because they love you, and that was what Spike was acknowledging.

    But, really, bollocks to that, because that wasn’t what I wanted.
    What I really wanted was for Spike to almost sacrifice himself but for Buffy to truly love him (for him to be the one) save him and save the world again, and then go off with Spike for a future filled with lots of wild, passionate (and consensual and loving) sex, freed from the sole responsibility of saving the world.

    Sorry if this has been said a thousand times before.

    Reply

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