Spike: He Don't Impress Me Much
I had a lovely chat last night with a friend I haven't talked to
in far too long, and we rebonded over the fact that Spike? Just doesn't impress
us that much anymore. Don't get me wrong, I think he was a great character,
and can still add a certain, um, sharpness to things -- I'm hoping this will
increase. But neutered Spike wore thin on me. Spike and Dru, unrepentant,
fully evil Spike and crazy, crazy Dru, they were a sight to behold. Then we
had Spike as the cock-up, defeated by love, fucking up at every turn -- and
both funny and tragic in his attempts to regain Dru's love. It wasn't the
main story, for me, given the meltdown of the Scoobies and their relationships,
but it was all of a theme, and many of us won't ever forget the "love's bitch" speech Spike gave to Buffy and Angel.
Even the literally neutered Spike interested me, again funny, and kind of pathetic, but I had to feel sorry for him, all of his instincts thwarted. And I was intrigued by his obvious, growing obsession with Buffy, I liked the Beauty and the Beast motif -- but I wanted the Beast to stay a beast, I guess. Really, it's a tribute to Marsters' acting and the writing and the development of the character that I can both recognize that development, see how brilliant it is in so many ways, and still really just not like Spike very much.
And really, it boils down to that: I just don't like him very much, as an individual. As a person, if you will. I don't like the type of person he is, and I don't trust him. I'm not sure I'm supposed to, frankly. I'm very much with Xander on this, and it's no mystery to me why he doesn't give Spike a break. He doesn't like him, and he doesn't trust that if Spike were able, he wouldn't revert to his bloodthirsty, "isn't carnage a blast," jolly-well-met kind of guy.
And the fact is, at this point we don't know he wouldn't. Yes, he has a soul -- but so did Warren. So did Willow, when she flayed Warren. So, apparently, did Anya, while a demon and while not, IIRC. It's not the soul that makes you good, as far as I can see, in the Jossverse, nor, possibly, is it intrinsically the lack of soul that makes you evil. Do we know of any other demons that are explicitly soulless, but vampires? Because vampires are "born" in an entirely different way than other demons, and maybe you have to be born as a child to have a soul? Beings born by possession, or infection, or whatever brings about vampires also dislocates the soul, or suppresses it, though it clearly doesn't destroy it. Really, is the Jossverse soul anything more than a conscience? Something big has changed, if that was indeed Spike munching on the mortals, and God, I hope it was. Spike, ensouled and still bad, choosing bad, is different. It's interesting to me in a way moping, lovesick Spike really isn't.
The whole Buffy/Spike storyline last year ate at me, disgusted me, even, in that "too real" way, and this is entirely because I've been in that position, where you may care about the other person, but you aren't with them because you love them and want them, but because they give you something nobody else around can. They make you feel: feel attractive, feel powerful, feel connected, feel. And even while you feel this, you know they genuinely feel more, and it makes you feel dirty, and cheap, and manipulative. Even when there's mutual admission that you're using each other. Even when you're both getting off on it. And you really don't like yourself very much, you know? But the sad thing is, you really end up not liking the other person very much sometimes, either. You can grow to despise the fact that he's letting you use him. And if, as I saw in Buffy, the worm turns, and he stops being the "bring it on, I can take it" guy and starts realizing the power he has, if the power shifts and he starts being the user as much as you ever were...then it gets scary, even while it's a turn-on.
Now, I grant you, as with everything, my viewing of the course of the relationship is entirely informed by my own experiences, but lo and behold, everything Buffy said in her slayertherapy session last week bears it up to the letter for me. I've not heard anyone else say this explicitly, but there was a definite shift for me at the point Spike learned he could really hurt Buffy physically. In some ways, he reverted to form, and Buffy went right along with him. In no way do I want to undercut Buffy's responsibility for herself, her participation in her own degradation -- but that's what it was to me. The fucking on the balcony in the Bronze was totally hot, and totally fucked up. It's so bewildering and frightening to both want something so badly and want to get as far away from it as possible. By fucking Spike, and fucking him over, Buffy could feed both sides of herself, the part that feels she's inferior, that she deserves no better, and the superior part, that got off on having Spike at her beck and call, under her control and unable to really hurt her. But then he could, and it terrified her, even while it was thrilling. How often, in her life, has she been out of control? How often has she let herself go like that?
And the danger of doing that is that you can fool yourself that you still have control, until something happens to really wake you up. See, I'm one of those who thought the attempted rape was in no way out of character for Spike, even allowing that he loves Buffy. And I also think that he'd been pushed to his limits and beyond -- and that in no way exculpates him or limits his responsibility. When we do stupid things, (and Buffy had been doing incredibly stupid things in playing with Spike, since the only thing that we know kept him in check was the chip) we suffer the consequences, even when those consequences shouldn't happen. Play with fire, get burned, etc. She forgot Spike was fire, and she got burned.
I've seen people object to the attempted rape, or indicate that it wasn't so bad, on the grounds that Buffy was strong enough to get away at any time. It played entirely realistically to me, having been in a situation where you freeze because you simply can't believe what's happening. I'm not talking rape, exactly, but a situation where physical strength isn't really an issue in the moment because you can't really believe what's happening to you. Where the games you play suddenly take a frightening turn and things are real. That's what I read from Buffy, and ultimately, she did stop him, but that doesn't mitigate the fact that Spike was attempting it, and we really don't know if he would have stopped. Ultimately, responsibility isn't a zero sum, where if I accord Buffy any responsibility in the events leading up to that, it somehow reduces the responsibility of her attacker, or makes the whole frightening thing any better. I really can't wrap my mind around how liking Spike can change that, but then, as I said, the attack didn't seem at all out of character to me, given what I'd seen and thought all season. This is another of those areas where I just have to face that fact that I'm watching a different show than many other people.
I've also seen people object that it was out of character. That having led them into affection for Spike, now ME turned on them and betrayed them by saying Spike hadn't changed at all -- and I'm still trying to figure out where, exactly, this perception of change is coming from. Yes, he helped Buffy, loved Buffy, fought alongside the Scoobies against demons and evil -- but I've never been convinced that he ever saw this as doing something that he ought to do, so much as something that let him be close to Buffy, be part of her world -- and let him take out his aggression by beating the shit out of evil, since he couldn't take on good anymore. Even evil can be capable of love and some measure of compassion, but that in itself doesn't make it good. And if there were changes, does it matter what the motives behind the changes were? I'm not sure about that. What I am sure about is that for me, I have to see those changes continuing, by choice, unconstrained. As long as Spike can't prey on humans, I have no proof that he'd choose not to, and therefore no proof that he's changed in any but an coerced, involuntary way.
Now, having said all this, I'm not a Spike-hater. I've always found him to be a great character, in terms of story. But I don't like him. I hope this doesn't mean I'll always think the worst of him -- and I certainly don't. I do think he loves Buffy, and cares about Dawn. He was there for Buffy during an incredibly bad period in her life, and while I squinted and sighed through the early stages of their involvement, and worried about Buffy, I wasn't really upset about it until things started seeming ugly to me. And I really don't like a neutered Spike. I was cheering during this week's ep when he was revealed as therapist!vamp's sire, and we saw him bite the woman who'd chatted him up. I'm desperately hoping that this is Spike, back and badder than ever, because I love an unrepentant villain. I love a good redemption story, too, and in the back of my mind I guess I trust that if this is the way ME is going, they'll make me enjoy it. I just want it to be new, and different, and thrilling.