The final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired last night and in the midst of the final episode frenzy, a larger than usual number of articles were written about the show. I tended to avoid most of them, hoping desperately to skip the spoilers. Even so, I found out that some Scoobies would die (Anya did, which I guessed, but didn’t know for certain, as did Spike, even though we know he will be back in some form for Angel next season) and that Buffy would not. The episode excelled, however, in that I finally felt like I saw a gleam of the old characters I had come to love – the humor, the mutual respect, the “That was nifty” understatements far outweighed the battle sequence in my mind.

Though I avoided most articles, I did read one on Salon that my friend “L” showed me: Why Spike ruined “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (you’ll have to do the day subscription to get the entire article). With L’s permission, I thought I would share some of our e-mail conversation about it, whereby I rant, and she speaks intelligently about coolness, attitudes, cyborgs, and monsters. My rant starts, followed by L’s, and it switches back and forth. As a disclaimer, this conversation happened prior to the series finale, which added a great deal to some issues, and helped resolve others. (edit: I moved most of this into an extended entry)

—- J —-
Ok, getting beyond my initial slapdash response… I read the rest of the article.

I agree with some points – esp. about Kennedy (I don’t understand that relationship at ALL). But Spike is a total misfit – almost a complete misfit. He’s not a “cool punk” [edit: the argument from Salon guy] – he’s a failed poet in a cool leather jacket. And he’s ten times more interesting a character than Angel ever was while on Buffy – b/c his life is about choices, especially the bad ones. Of course he didn’t apologize about Woods’ mother – because even with a soul, Spike can be an asshole. He has one priority, and that is Buffy [edit: usually, i would argue, from a needy, selfish perspective]. Which makes him a little off, a little scary, and a little daft.

As to the reference [edit: again, ref. to Salon article] about his “beating women” – well, first, I hardly think that’s set up as a good thing (not so “cool,” as it were); second, it’s not like he’s beating on women who generally aren’t beating on him as well. Buffy was as much an abuser of Spike as the other way around. Both are seriously messed up individuals, who use violence as a primary method of communication. None of these folk are real charmers, with the exception of Xander..

And I disagree about Andrew – even though I didn’t like him at first, he draws out the geekiness (and our love for geeks) in almost every episode. We like when Dawn treats him nicely. We laugh when Spike shares a recipe with him on the motorbike. We chuckle when Xander reveals that he knows just as much Star Wars lore as Andrew does. But all of those people are embarrassed by these hidden things, while Andrew naively (rather than innocently) spills them – this is perhaps the show’s BEST revelation about adulthood – about how we become ashamed of those things that we loved as children and teenagers. A turn away from the games and fantasies that we loved to engage and a turn towards the “horrors” of adult life. Not to mention the fact that his episode with the camera (can’t remember the title) was actually one of the best of the season, despite the fact that I thought beforehand that it would be terrible.

What ruined Buffy is not Spike, but Buffy, who has never learned from her mistakes, who only just now learned to block, who every single season runs away from her friends rather than embracing them and – god forbid – asking their opinions with intent to listen. The article is right – Willow got a token relationship, Anya got nothing, Xander got a poke in the eye, and Giles turned into a prick – but this is Spike’s fault?

Hardly. It’s the writers. A shame too…

—- L —-

Wow, Jason… this is a blog entry, not an e-mail! Here’s another Buffy bit for the day:

All Things Considered is doing a story on Buffy in academia today… website says it will be available online after 9 p.m. tonight.

I wish I had time to give this a proper response. Mostly I would say I agree with you. I like that the less cool parts of Spike are often played up… his lowly beginnings as bad poet for instance… and you’re absolutely 100% right that he is way more interesting than Angel ever was… I never liked David Boreanz (sp?) or found the character all that interesting, and that’s why I chose Alias over Angel this year when I had to make a choice. Spike has always been the antidote to the very bland, and badly acted, Angel.

To me, Spike (*not* Angel) has *always* problematized the line between those with and without souls, those who are human and those who are vampires (and thus slay-able). When Angel has a soul, he’s human and compassionate and etc… when he doesn’t, he’s a vicious, unrepentant maniac who needs to be killed (and Buffy did have to kill him once of course)… his “humanity” rests on whether or not he has a “material” soul. But Spike is more-or-less the same guy, with or without the soul… as human, as vampire, with soul, without, he has a tendency to fall in love, hard, and his volatile emotionalism has always been his downfall (remember Druscilla, I would say to Salon guy, or how Spike’s jealousy of Angel got him into trouble time and time again).

That the line is problematized is crucial to the show and what it makes it interesting, particularly in the last couple of years when the issue of what is good, what is evil, is so central to the development of the story arcs. And it’s central to the last episode, which I thought was fantastic (but I’m still feeling blog-shy so I didn’t post to your entry on it). The whole ethos of the show turned on a realization that to fight pure evil and unspeakable violence you can’t use more evil and violence, or at least not terribly effectively. Thus the elaborate speeches of love, the sex scenes…. thus Buffy fighting by not fighting. I don’t think she just suddenly remembered how to block punches… I think she realized that evil is the absence of love and human contact (even the First is jealous that it cannot experience those things, that scene a big deal I think, a big clue as to what is at stake)… so to fight violence, you do so nonviolently. All season long she has been going at this thing in a scary extreme version of what he’s been doing for years… she’s been calling herself “the law,” she’s been acting like a general, she’s been training warriors, she’s placed herself above everyone else because she is superior at committing violence. I think the last episode illustrated how wrong she was to approach it like that… it plays off the episode where she turned down the power offered her in exchange for a partial loss of her humanity. A little sappy, but there it is.

All that said, Salon guy is right I think about one thing… I have felt some real lost opportunities this season to fully explore what it means for Spike to deal with having a soul and being human… we have only had that in narratives and flashbacks with Angel, but here was a chance to watch a real struggle over what it is to be human, an embodiment really of the issues the gang has been dealing with the last two years since Buffy was resurrected… and I think that the overarching plot of the First so engulfed the show this year that the opportunity was lost.

Some thoughts…–L

—- J —-

Sorry I didn’t reply to this earlier – got lost in the tangle… and all I really have to say is, ABSOLUTELY. Spot on.

The thing that I would add to the monster/human binary (complicated by Spike, maintained by Angel) is this: cyborg. Spike is the one who had a chip in his head for years, thus creating a triad of cybernetic behavioral control, soul(less)-desire, and monstrous hunger. At some point, Buffy says to Dawn, “I want you to stay away from Spike – he’s dangerous, he’s a vampire.” Dawn says, “What about Angel – he’s a vampire.” Buffy: “Angel had a soul; Spike just has a chip.” Dawn: “What’s the dif?”

That to me signifies an important trend in the Buffy-verse conception of morality and behavior – a really fascinating complication of what measures humanity. Because it’s not like most of the characters are not morally ambiguous – Cordelia and her selfish behavior (as the most simple, earliest form of high school “nastiness”), Willow and the “dark” arts, Oz and his werewolf coupling (with that other female werewolf), Xander and Willow’s frisky-ness in season 2 (3?) which caused them to betray their lovers, Buffy’s *violent* abuse against Spike and Spike’s sexual abuse of Buffy. Xander leaving Anya at the altar.

What, then, makes Spike “the bad guy”? Physical teeth. Frumpy brow. Physical signs as much as demonstrated behavior, which is why The First (while tedious) is also a somewhat interesting character, because it abuses this notion of physical signs as indicators of righteousness or “goodness” – Caleb “the priest garb” Evil-boy is a prime example.

Hmm.. maybe we need to post this all as a collaborative (anonymous, if you like) blog entry.

—- L —-

EXCELLENT… I agree… loved that scene… I had forgotten about the chip. Interesting that without the chip and with a soul, it’s still ok to beat the hell out of Spike. I have to think way more about the Buffy-verse and morality… not sure how coherent this will be…

At some point (season 3? season 4?) I started to question the distinction between good and evil continually evoked… kill demons?=good but kill humans?=evil… maybe it was the point at which the show Angel comes along and we start to get “good” demons portrayed… or maybe the body count of demons was getting so high that it just started to bother me. It’s coming up again a lot lately now that Faith is back, as she is often the catalyst for moralizing.

Seems to me that if Spike, not Angel, is the nonhuman character who best embodies the contradiction of humanity… Faith might be his human counterpart. Like Buffy, she’s a slayer, born to kill essentially (notice they are “slayers” and not something noble sounding like “protectors”)… but she actually seems to both enjoy it *and* feel remorse about it (neither feeling do we get from Buffy, at least on the surface)… and Faith crosses that (somewhat arbitrary, somewhat comprehensible) line between killing demons and humans, which condemns her to a lower spot in the moral universe, beneath Buffy, just as Spike is continually relegated to a sub-Angel position.

Yes, you can post it if you like 😉 Just sign me L though.


4 Responses to They Saved the World… A Lot.

  1. chuck says:

    Great discussion of “Buffy.” I remember finding the Salon article on Spike somewhat misguided. I’m not a regular Buffy watcher. I didn’t have access to TV reception for 4 years during Buffy’s peak, so I’ve been trying to watch it chronologically on DVD.

    But I think Spike ups the ante on all of the moral questions (human/nonhuman; violence/nonviolence) in a much more complicated way than Angel ever did. Also, my experience with Angel is that his outsider status always felt forced (Boreanz’s acting, perhaps?) while Spike, with his punk rock trappings, always seemed more interesting to me.

    The exchange about a “real” soul versus a computer chip is also telling, I think.

  2. Jason says:

    I did see, after the fact, a huge reader response to that particular Salon article, but the URL has eluded me (then again, I haven’t looked that hard either 😉 ). Salon does provide some good coverage of Buffy, I should say, including a nice, recent interview with Whedon.

    Because of the title of the show, I think most have an immediate gothic expectation. The intense use of all things cyber, however, from Willow’s hacking, to discussion of Giles’ books vs. Ms. Calendar’s Net research styles, to villains who are monstrous cyborgs (Adam) or cyber-hip monsters (Warren), and (pseudo) cyber heroes like Spike and the Buffy-Bot, reveals that this show is less generic horror/gothic and more cyberpunk/Frankenstein (another work, of course, where science and gothic meet).

    Angel was a great character for the first love story they wanted to tell, and he reflected an early complication of the human/monster binary. But his curse limited him a great deal, I think, especially since he was necessarily defined through his relationship to Buffy. Now, I don’t think Borneaz has the acting range that Marsters does, but Angel has turned into a pretty good show in its own right (primarily through its distance from Buffy).

    All that said, Angel has always been a way “cooler” character (in the sense of the Salon writer) than Spike, at least in my mind. Spike, for me, is forever the misfit, just one who happens to cover it up with a rad leather jacket and a bad dye job.

  3. chuck says:

    Definitely agree with the “cyberpunk” interpretation of “Buffy” for all of the reasons you mention. In appearance, at least, Spike looks like he could walk right off the pages of a William Gibson novel.

    Also, I have a link to the Whedon interview on my blog (scroll down to Monday or Tuesday). BTW, have you heard about the call for papers for an online book on blogging? I’ll try to post it to my blog later today.

  4. Jason says:

    No, I haven’t. Will look at your site soon.

    Also, saw that you had the link to the Whedon interview, but after the fact 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.