There’s very little not to love about Buffy the Vampire Slayer - arse-kicking female protagonist, the Scooby Gang, Angel, Spike, Anya’s morbid dread of fluffy, fuzzy bunnies. It’s an iconic show, that give or take a few episodes (Season 1 & 7, I’m looking at you), holds its own on the second, third, and twelfth viewing. And that’s because of the genius of Joss Whedon.
What’s not to like?
I love Firefly (whyohywhy with that cancellation?), enjoyed Dollhouse, marvelled at the Avengers (first one, second one - eish), so on and so forth. I love the way he writes; the characters, the plots, the storylines, the development, the dialogue, hell that dialogue.
Spike’s speech.Oh. My. Word. Truth right there.
But for this post, I am looking at one feature: the love story.
***Warning: There are spoilers coming up!***
When it comes to a great antagonist - the Big Bad - Whedon’s got the lot: power hungry gods, a mayor who sells his soul, a vampire who’d prefer to watch Man Utd than take over the world, and a trio of nerds who plot domination from the (Star Wars memorabilia-filled) basement.
But what I like the most, what captured my romance-hungry spirit was the redemptive character arc of William the Bloody, aka Spike, aka the Season 2 Big Bad.
Spike roars into Sunnydale, his psychotic psychic girl in tow, hellbent on a little of the old ultraviolent. He’s already snuffed two slayers, and he’s game to add another notch to his belt. Deeply romantic, a failed poet, a deadly killer. But Joss, ah, he had some plans for this particular vamp.
The unlikely plotting of redemptive hero love story
Lust at first sight
Spike first sees Buffy dancing with her friends at the Bronze. Something about the way he looks at her, suggests that’s it’s not all about the staking, er conquest, er…you get the picture. The interior/exterior conflict is established - slayer meet vampire. Impossible odds. The stakes are high (groan).
It’s only near the end of Season 2 that we see a slightly different side to Spike. Spike asks Buffy for help to defeat the turned Angel - seems Angel’s plans for world destruction don't really align with Spike’s. Buffy agrees. Our first turning point in their story.
But how do you keep a deadly vampire in the story as a potential love interest/hero/member of the Scoobys (as if)? Have him implanted with a chip by the…damn, I can never remember their name, was it the society, the organisation, what? Riley’s government friends. As Spike points out, he’s been ‘neutered’. Now he can join the action. Sort of.
Things swing along merrily until mid-way (and mid-way in this particular love story) Season 5ish, Spike realises he’s in love with the slayer he’s continually threatening to kill. Disaster. Calamity. The midpoint. Im-possible. He does what any self-respecting vampire with a crush would do. Has Warren make up the Buffy bot. (Okay, so this is a rather creepy solution to his problem, but I love the way Whedon really rams home the ludicrousness of a Buffy/Spike pairing, at least in their minds). While he’s busy testing out the robots, um, capabilities, Buffy chooses Spike to confide in with her mother’s declining illness and subsequent death, slowly bringing an emotional closeness to the two. And wouldn't you know it, he seems to have forged a protective relationship over Buffy’s younger sister Dawn, little bit. Love this next clip - sums up why he never quite seems to kill her.
All good right? Looks set for go.
Joss kills Buffy. Kills her. Again.
To cut a long story short (you have to watch it, really you do). The Scooby’s bring Buffy back from the dead. Only she’s not as delighted as you’d imagine, having being yanked out of heaven and all, to once more get her nose kicked in fighting the undead. Again, she confides in Spike. Things escalate. They kiss. Then they near fight to the death when Spike realises that he can attack the no-longer-completely-human Buffy. Only the fight turns into one of TV’s most epic sex scenes. It brings the house down.
So they’re together, right? Wrong. He’s still a soulless vampire, she’s still a slayer. She’s ashamed. He’s frustrated - he’ll never be good enough for her. Shit goes pear-shaped. The point of no-return: Spike attacks Buffy. He leaves Sunnydale. The point of no return.
All is lost. Buffy has no love - Angel and Spike are both blood-hungry, violent bastards who believe in kill, fight, kill. And then there’s that little problem of sun allergy.
But, Spike fought for his soul. And he won. It’s returned. And left him a broken man. He’s repentant, desperate for atonement, absolution. And still, totally in love with Buffy.
How awesome is this clip? Great foreshadowing, great dialogue, the use of the cross. Beautiful.
Slowly, very slowly, they forge some sort of relationship again. He’s her go to. She’s his everything.
But now there’s a big bad to defeat. Spike’s turn to complete his arc from villain to anti-hero to hero. As he’s about to be turned to ashes, saving the world from destruction, Buffy finally tells him how she feels. All of the feels, peeps. Resolution? Read the graphic novels!
* First presented at #ROSACon2016 in a talk by the same name