Buffy and the Beast:
An Analysis of Buffy and Spike's Relationship
Paul F. McDonald - August 30 2001
When William the Bloody first turns up in Sunnydale at the beginning of season two, he makes an immediate impression. With his sire and lover Drusilla at his side, he takes over the local vampire gang, dusts the Anointed One, and very nearly defeats the Slayer at a particularly exciting Parent-Teacher Night, all in a single episode. It is his intent to have "a lot less ritual" and "a lot more fun," quickly establishing himself as the Sid Vicious of the Sunnydale vampires. Acquiring the nickname Spike because of his reputation for torturing his human victims with railroad spikes, he is Buffy's nemesis for an entire season.
Unlike the Master at the end of season one, Spike avoids meeting the working end of Buffy's stake and makes it out of the year alive - or as alive as a vampire can be. In fact, in Becoming Part II, he actually temporarily joins forces with Buffy, both to exact a bit of revenge on Angelus, and also to get Dru safely out of the country while he still can. Yet this is only the beginning of Spike's journey in the Buffyverse.
Even before he is captured by the government-operated Initiative and implanted with a chip that keeps him from feeding off living human beings, Spike is far from being a static, one-dimensional character. When he returns for Lover's Walk in season three, the episode has him threatening to shove a broken bottle in Willow's face in one scene, and in another, casually having a hot chocolate with Buffy's mother, discussing the pitfalls of eternal love. The series has always had him oscillating between savage beast and tender romantic. This tenderness was once reserved for his half-mad love Dru, his "pet," but the chip changed everything for him.
It seems that for Spike, all roads eventually lead to Buffy Summers. But it is not until the chip is activated that his feral hatred of her blossoms into genuine love.
That there might be something between the two should not have been unexpected. Certainly, Dru saw this, perhaps with the aid of her clairvoyance, noting even the pre-chip Spike "reeked of her." Also, Buffy herself has been known to fall for vampires, although Angel is a notably unique case. But for both of them, perhaps it goes even deeper than that.
Everyone knows the story. The Slayer is called to stop the spread of vampires, and has been a symbol of good and the forces of light for at least a dozen centuries. Yet she carries within her a certain darkness as well, a kind of primitive bloodlust for the hunt and for the kill. In order for her to slay vampires, it may be necessary for her to have a little of them in her. How many moon-lit nights can a Slayer spend in the cemetary, crouching in the shadows, anxiously looking for prey, before it begins to rub off on her?
At the beginning of season five, Dracula comes to Sunnydale and attempts to get Buffy to ask herself that very question. The suave prince of the night refers to her as "kindred," and asks her if she even knows what a Slayer really is, implying she is a killer, much like him. Partly because she is under his thrall, and partly because she is simply curious, Buffy tastes his blood, causing the audience to pause along with her and wonder where vampires end and Slayers begin.
Of course, Buffy then immediately breaks the chilling visual by hitting Dracula, and with a quick pun, "that was gross," re-establishes the direct line separating subject and object. Yet the point remains that she did in fact assimilate part of him into her. At the start of the season, it did indeed look as if Buffy is exploring the darker side of her own nature, restless and unable to sleep before getting in a good "kill."
The more ambiguous nature of the Slayer has been something of a running theme throughout the series. In season three, the Slayer Faith comes to town and eventually joins the evil Mayor in his attempt to ascend to the status of pure demon. She uses her power for herself, her simple philosophy being summed up in three words - "Want. Take. Have." Series creator Joss Whedon noted that she is essentially Buffy's "shadow self," and what Buffy might have grown to be without love or support.
In Restless, we meet the First Slayer, an aboriginal girl who serves to reinforce the idea that Slayers are predators in much the same way vampires are. She defines herself as "destruction - absolute - alone." The primitive warrior exists solely to hunt and kill, doomed to prowl the earth in solitude.
Since she was not identified and trained as a young girl by the Watchers Council, Buffy has always been special. Never the traditional Slayer, she is raised in a family and has friends, both of which provide a strong foundation for her. She is a part of human society, not just its champion. Still, she is on the frontlines of a war against the forces of darkness, and even she will inevitably taste that darkness now and again.
In one of the pivotal episodes involving Buffy and Spike, A Fool for Love, the blond vampire informs her that "Death is [her] art," that she makes it with her hands everyday. He would know, having once done the same thing, though in his case it was with human beings. Still, she is likewise a hunter, just as Dracula labelled her. As a matter of fact, the incident that drives Buffy to Spike to learn about the two Slayers he killed is that she is seriously wounded in a fight. Using her own weapon, a vampire grabs her arm and forces her to drive a stake into her own stomach. The unusual dichotomy and transference between Slayers and vampires is again established.
So much of the Buffyverse is built on duality, and vampires, the undead, serve as both commentary - and as a reflection - of the world of the living. Outside the mortal sphere, they feed off the living, and long to live forever. They have no human souls and therefore no conscience, existing only for themselves. For the most part, they seem brutal beasts, hollow caricatures of humanity ruled by their lusts and desires.
The demonoid Adam once remarked that "vampires are a paradox," walking in two worlds but seperate from each. As their prime nemesis, the Slayer must tread the same narrow path, neither completely in one or the other. And Buffy acutely feels this. In a moment of despair in The Gift, she confesses to Giles her fear that "maybe being a Slayer just means being a killer after all," worried that she is losing her hold on her humanity. And in the end, it is only by embracing her gift and willingly dying so that the next generation can live that she does not do so.
Yet the question could also be asked that if indeed a Slayer is not so far from the darkness, is it then inconceivable that a vampire is not so far from the light?
Half in Love with Easeful Death
In A Fool for Love, the audience is treated to their first look at Spike before he became a vampire. Rather than a rebel or a womanizer, he is revealed to have been a timid man who wrote bad poetry. He nurtured a rich imagination, but was rather shy when it came to matters of the heart, more comfortable adoring his lady love from afar. These facts become important in the general scheme of the show. For one, the fact that he was a poet coincides with Angel giving Buffy a book of poems for her birthday, and later when she tells a professor that she has since developed an affinity for it. They are also important in that they demonstrate that, in one incarnation or the other, Spike has always been "love's bitch." One could say that William and Spike come full circle when he is spurned by Buffy, and she repeats the crushing words of his first love, telling him "You're beneath me."
The episode is full of surprises, and in it the strange kind of union they share becomes obvious. Each is the predator as well as the prey.
It is appropriate and more than a little ironic that Spike accuses Buffy of having a death wish like the other Slayers he has come across. He himself is not like most vampires, frantically clinging to existence. When he ran with Angelus' gang, he was forever getting in fights with mobs, and fostered an almost suicidal fascination with the Slayer the moment he heard of her.To him, being a vampire was about glory and reputation, even at the risk of being staked, and "sod all else." He too clearly carried an obsession with death.
It is interesting that in each instance he killed a Slayer, he assimilated part of them for himself, much like Buffy did with Dracula. He drank the blood of the Chinese Slayer during the Boxer Rebellion, and went so far as to take the New York Slayer's long leather coat, claiming it as his own. On some level, he is intimately aware of the relationship between the Slayer and the vampires she hunts.
The fact that he killed one in a Buddhist temple is worth noting. Current Buddhist philosophy centers around ideas such as dependent origination, which strives to demonstrate the basic unity of even the most seemingly disparate elements. Thus all things and concepts arise mutually, correlatives that - while extremely different - are not completely separate. Vampires and Slayers are at opposite ends of the same pole, with just a drop of one in the other.
The theme of dependent origination runs throughout the series. The main arc of the show involves Buffy and the Scooby Gang trying to get through adolescence, which is of course the pole both separating as well as uniting child and adulthood. And though they are her immortal enemies, the term "vampire" is even in the title of Buffy's job description, one dependent on the other for identity. In fact, in Anne, the street girl Lily suggested that Buffy had "brought" monsters with her to LA. She hadn't of course, but they certainly became more visible when she arrived.
This odd juxtaposition is used to great effect in A Fool for Love. When Buffy and Spike are sparring in the parking lot of the Bronze, we see flashbacks to his fight with the Slayer in New York, the past and present almost mirror images of one another. He says he could have "danced" with that one all night, telling Buffy that they likewise had never done anything else. In that episode, the dance is the fight, and the fight the dance.
After his initial attempt at romance is rejected, Spike is consumed with anger. Later he goes to Buffy's house armed with a shotgun, intent on killing her despite the chip. Stalking up to her, he sees she has been crying out on the back steps, having just learned that her mother is ill. Unable to go through with it, Spike asks her what is wrong, and sits down beside her. The two then sigh in perfect synchrony.
The last scene is sublimely orchestrated, Spike coming to her home to blow her brains out, yet instead sitting with her and ever-so-gently patting her on the back, trying to console her. That scene alone speaks volumes about their curious relationship, veering wildly from love to hate and back again.
Light and Shadow
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, famous for his work with mythic archetypes, once made a startling remark regarding polarities that we often think of as being mutually exclusive. He wrote that "Nobody can fall so low unless he has a great depth. If such a thing can happen to a man, it challenges his best and his highest on the other side; that is to say, this depth corresponds to a potential height, and the blackest darkness a hidden light." Such words become incredibly useful when dealing with someone as ripe in contradiction as Spike. Yet he really echoes the entire series. The Buffyverse has never taken the easy way out in its depiction of the ongoing war between good and evil. There is a gray zone, and it is possible for the two elements to overlap. In that respect, it is indicative of the times, and honest to the modern world's complexity. Tara's father once said that "Evil is evil," but with the advent of science and psychology, the simple-mindedness behind the statement becomes clear. Evil is never just evil, not in the real world, and sometimes not even with fairy tale monsters.
It is Giles who first suggests Spike may have some kind of a "higher purpose" once the chip forces him to refrain from feeding on people, though the vampire is quick to dismiss such a possibility, steadfastly ignoring him. It is also Giles who first begins deconstructing the idea that good and evil are simple and clear-cut things. His voice laced with irony in Lie to Me, he tells Buffy just how it isn't. "Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguishable by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies ... and everyone lives happily ever after."
This can certainly apply on a psychological level too. The demons on Buffy are not only metaphorical projections of the volatile emotional life of the teenager, but likewise representations of the unconscious mind. Jung often referred to the "shadow" when writing about his experiences with his patients, defining it as the dark side of the ego-personality. Yet much like the sometimes ambiguous interplay between good and evil, the shadow can bring with it positive aspects as well as negative ones. The embracing of the repressed side of the psyche is what he called the "realization of the shadow," and is often the only thing that keeps one from being devoured whole by it.
One of the clearest expressions of this comes in Dopplegangland, when Willow embraces her evil twin Vamp Willow before she is sent back to her own alternate dimension. As a result of this psychological integration, Willow becomes a stronger person, and the part of her she was holding back manifests itself positively in her relationship with Tara. There is a lot of such psychological fodder in doppleganger episodes, and Jung's quote about the highest light corresponding to the lowest dark does help explain the sadism displayed by Vamp Xander and Willow in The Wish.
Spike is a classic shadow figure, and as such, brings aspects of both the positive and the negative. Even while he was a vampire thriving on murder and mayhem, he seemed to possess an enormous intuition regarding relationships, one that even the human Scoobies often lacked. Time and again he is proven right, whether pointing out that Buffy and Angel can never be just "friends," or that Willow is in fact still emotionally devastated by Oz's untimely departure, or just how much Dawn means to Buffy, maybe even before Buffy herself knows.
He himself is likewise able to establish relationships with human beings. Many fans have pointed out that, before it is all over, he is under the sway of all three of the Summers' women, not just Buffy. Whether bringing flowers for Joyce's funeral or vowing to defend Dawn "till the end of the world," Spike is clearly enamored with all of them. For whatever reason, Summers' women apparently just have a way of getting into Spike's unbeating heart.
Even Spike's identity as a vampire has brought with it some fruitful rewards. Like Angel before him, it is mainly in his vampire strengths that he contributes to the Scooby Gang, and helps in the fight against evil. The vampire who once hunted the Slayer is now only capable of slaying demons himself, and perhaps this had had more of a psychological effect on him than anyone realizes.
It is such a strange, uneasy, yet nevertheless fascinating mix that makes up Spike, but it is not really anything new in the world of myth or dream. He can be seen as playing the "animus" for Buffy, or the masculine aspect of the feminine psyche. Such an aspect plays out in any number of ways, but the universal myth of Beauty and the Beast is of particular interest in this regard.
The story goes that Beauty is only one of four sisters, but because of her innate goodness, she is her father's favorite. In order to please her, the father steals a white rose from the garden of the Beast. This, however, upsets their perfect father-daughter relationship, for the Beast is angry. While he uncharacteristically allows the father to go back home to his daughter (because of this, he remarks the Beast seems both "cruel and kind"), he is to return in three months to receive punishment. The Beauty insists that she take the punishment for her father, and becomes a captive of the Beast. Even though she refuses to marry him, he allows her to go back to visit her father for a week when she sees that he has fallen ill in her absence. Not long after she has returned and her beauty has revived her father, she dreams that now the Beast has fallen ill. She journeys back to be at his side, and he admits he quite literally finds himself unable to live without her. Beauty, now careless of his monstrous looks, promises to marry him if only he won't die. The next moment he is turned into a handsome prince, and tells her a witch had cast a spell on him making him hideously ugly. It could only be broken when a beautiful girl loved him for his inner goodness alone.
Obviously, this can tie-in with Buffy and Angel's relationship. After all, in Becoming Part I, it is the sight of Buffy being called that moves Angel toward yearning for redemption. It is Buffy who likewise sees his inner goodness, and her concern for him after a fight in What's My Line Part I allows her to not even notice that he is wearing his hideous vampire visage. But Angel is not the only monster set on the road of redemption because of his love for Buffy.
In his essay "Ancient Myths and Modern Man," Joseph L. Henderson analyzed the Beauty and the Beast story. As a protege of Carl Jung, Henderson saw the myth as very important when dealing with the problems girls face growing up. He reasoned that Beauty requested the white rose not only to signify her innocence, but also as a subconscious need to break out of her perfect but limiting role as "daddy's little girl." Once her father retrieves it, they are both brought under the influence of the Beast. Henderson points out that it is "as if she wished to be rescued from a love holding her to an exclusively virtuous and unreal attitude." The story is about the adolescent awakening of human love in its animal, or sexual, form.
In other words, as another Beast both "cruel and kind" might put it, Beauty needed a "little monster in her man."
This theme is repeated in many stories the world over, and Henderson notes it even presents itself in the dreams of some of his women patients, both young and old. One such patient reported having a dream in which she and several other women were confronted by strange "ape-men" in the basement of a house. They soon fall under their power, but the dreamer reports she has an epiphany. "Suddenly, I feel the only way we can save ourselves is not to panic and run or fight, but to treat these creatures with humanity as if to make them aware of their better side. So one of the ape-men comes up to me and I greet him like a dancing partner and begin to dance with him."
In all these stories and dreams, the shadow is accepted, and in the process, humanized. In The Gift, much the same thing is happening. Buffy realizes Spike is not simply stalking her in a game of conquest, but that he truly loves her. Because of this, she invites him back into her home, dropping the barrier spell. As a result, he begins to take pride in the human side of things. "I know you'll never love me. I know that I'm a monster," Spike tells her, adding, "But you treat me like a man."
And the Beauty and the Beast romance finds yet another form.
The Sacred Marriage
In contrast to the feminine romances, Henderson points out certain recurring motifs that showed up in the dreams of some of his male patients. In several of them, there were similar images, but one of the most interesting was that of the sacrificial hero - "the handsome young man who places himself on an altar." There are many possible readings of this, but Henderson believed in most cases it was indicative of the "ego-building process of late adolescence."
The figure himself looked to be in the full-bloom of youth, powerful, attractive, and full of energy, but he was ultimately playing the role of the human sacrifice.
A parallel could be drawn with Spike, particularly with his actions in the latter part of season five. In Intervention, Spike is captured by Glory's minions, who believed he was the Key which would allow their master to return to her dimension. Realizing he isn't, Glory nearly tortures him to death in an attempt to find out who really is. Throughout, he refuses to give up Dawn, revealing later that he did so because he knew losing her would have killed Buffy, and he couldn't have lived knowing he'd caused her so much pain.
The sacrificial figure in the dreams is apparently metaphoric of giving up one stage of a person's life so that they might embrace the next. It can refer to adolescents and middle-aged men alike. It speaks of leaving behind the role of dependence on a wife or a mother and becoming self-sufficient. Being vamped at a relatively early age, Spike has been at a stage of arrested development for awhile, acting out as the bad boy teenager. Perhaps his assuming this role points to his own new desire to begin growing up.
It is worth pointing out that in Giles' dream in Restless, Spike shows up, and strikes various poses as photographers shoot pictures of him. At first glance, it implies - as a vampire unable to kill - that he has become nothing but a poser, but at one point, he strikes a classic crucifixion pose. Maybe that was a bit of foreshadowing for season five, and his willingness to play the role of the sacrificial hero dying for the greater good.
Correlatives exist in the Buffyverse, much as they do in the real world. There is a child in the adult, and an adult in the child. There is a sinner in the saint, and a saint in the sinner. And yes, probably even a vampire in the Slayer, and a Slayer in the vampire.
Spike has traveled a long way from the vampire who crashed into the Welcome to Sunnydale sign back in season two. He once dreamed of spilling the blood of the Slayer, and it is quite poignant to realize that out of all of Buffy's close friends, it is Spike who breaks down first and cries like a baby when her body is discovered. What he had once characterized as "a real good day" - the day when the Slayer, any Slayer, dies - was probably the worst of his life.