Power and Control in Smashed
Rowan - November 21 2001
Marti Noxon said in an interview recently that she worries about kids watching BtVS because of its advanced sexual concepts. Last night, I feel like I was treated to Advanced Sexual Concepts 301. When they finally let me take the senior seminar, it may kill me. It seems to me that the episode dealt a lot with the dynamics of control and power in a relationship. Up until last night, Buffy had the power in the relationship with Spike. First, she had physical control. If a conversation or event arose that she did not want to have, she could enforce her wish to end it by overpowering him physically. We saw that several times last night, but it’s been an ongoing theme since he’s been chipped.
Second, she had moral control. Because of her moral compass, Buffy enjoys ethical control over Spike. Despite Spike’s insights into the human heart and his reforming behavior, Buffy still has the moral high ground. Her comments last night about him being not a man, but an evil thing reinforce that, and again, those comments have been an ongoing theme (despite recent episodes that have shown a different attitude on Buffy’s part).
Third, Buffy has emotional control. Spike has confessed he loves Buffy (ostensibly at least) does not love Spike. All this makes Spike her willing slave – but a slave nevertheless. She’s the master.
Last night, Spike discovered that the chip no longer worked with Buffy. That immediately created a dramatic power shift in their relationship. We saw Spike get drunk (smashed?) on that power. Buffy no longer has physical control. As Slayer, she may be stronger than Spike. But a vampire can always have ‘one good day.’ In the fight scene, we saw them relatively evenly matched, both giving as good as they got.
Buffy no longer has ethical control over Spike, either – or at least her control has diminished. She is no longer made out of ‘stuff’ that is different from his stuff (or so he thinks). He’s not human and she’s less human than she was. The hateful comments that they yelled at one another during their fight reinforces that they have come closer together ethically. They are now more like each other than they are like anyone else.
Buffy no longer has emotional control. Last night, she revealed that (at least sexually) she has powerful feelings for Spike. It’s very interesting what we saw in that sex scene. First, they are greedy and violent, pushing each other around. They are standing, so neither one is dominant (on top). They continually switch position against the wall (the ‘leader’ usually faces the wall).
Then when they physically `connect', suddenly the power games go right out of the window. Both are, frankly, stunned. They stop. They stare. Their eyes meet. They connect on a level beyond the physical. This continues up to and beyond where they crash to the floor. We get a reminder of OMwF's RIP ending grave scene, with Buffy on top of Spike, but this time providing that `sweet release.' I'll go out on a limb and say that they are both feeling something powerful and good during the sex (as opposed to the desperation , greed, and control issues of the foreplay, which are a little more problematic, but also necessary).
Let's talk about the promo for Wrecked. Now we see Spike really trying to exert control over Buffy on all levels. First, he's obviously the one more comfortable with being a sexual creature. He lolls naked, while she struggles to find her clothing (armor) to don. Physically, he can wrestle her to the ground and control her enough to initiate sex. Emotionally, he can control her by manipulating her need for him since he's now `in her system' as a craving as powerful as his for blood. He gives her a love bite, branding her as a form of control, subverting her deepest fears (her death wish) with her darkest desires. From the start of Smashed to the start of Wrecked, the power pendulum totally swings from Buffy to Spike.
Now, where is this going? Well, I think that ME is speaking very powerfully about the heart of relationships. When a couple gets together, one of the things that happens is they have to deal with the power balance in their relationship. Being in love and being sexually active makes a person extremely vulnerable. Relationships require trust because we are willing giving our well-being into the hands of a person who can hurt us or use us terribly if s/he chooses. Haven't we all looked at relationships of others and said, `Boy, what does he see in her? She's such a witch to him' or `How can she let him browbeat her like that?'
Relationships run the gamut from functional to dysfunctional. It's hard to define a functional, healthy relationship. Perhaps the closest I could come to a definition that might get a consensus is that a functional relationship is one in which the parties willingly concede their power over each other and voluntarily agree not to use it to control each other or cause each other intentional pain. Even in healthy relationships, we can all swing from extremes of loving tenderness to raw, primal emotion. Healthy relationships might be said to have achieved a balance where pleasure is the prime result, not pain. They still have pain, but pain serves the higher purpose of good, its not an end to itself.
Right now, Buffy and Spike are in the first stages of their relationship. They are working through their control and power issues. It's disturbing us and it should, because not everything is healthy here. Buffy is trying to control Spike through her continued denial of what's going on and Spike is trying to control Buffy with sexual fulfillment. We're definitely on the darker side of passion here.
I know that as a Project Manager, we often speak of the stages that high performing teams go through. Sometimes teams experience all stages and sometimes they get stuck in one. The stages are: forming, storming, norming, performing, and mourning. I think the terms are fairly self-explanatory. Buffy and Spike have now formed as a couple. They are in the stage of storming. There's a lot of energy and emotion which could end up being very destructive, or it could form into more normal healthy patterns.
Where will they go from here? ;) I think we all agree that they are struggling with identity issues. Both have had their old identities smashed. They are picking up the pieces of those and trying to reuse them, but it's not really working very well. Do they have what it takes to get to a performing, healthy relationship?
Spike's sexual identity was forged in Dru's fire. That is not a healthy thing. He associates sex with violence and pain. Whatever William's sexual experiences were, I think it's safe to say they were probably close, if not actually, non-existent. Can Spike learn something different? My answer is yes. We saw Spike acting out sexual situations that were tender and loving with the Bot. We have seen Spike treat Buffy with love and respect. Spike has not suddenly transformed back into some evil being. All these facets of his personality are bubbling around and they surface, disappear, then resurface. Frankly, they have yet to coalesce into a consistent, integrated, new personality. He hasn't grown up. Yet. Without any positive reinforcement, I doubt he can.
I often think of the movie Pretty Woman when I think of Spike. Richard Gere tells Julia Roberts that she could be anything in the world and seems confused why she would be a hooker. She tells him it's easier to believe the bad stuff. I think Spike finds it easier to believe the bad stuff, too.
Buffy's sexual identity has been forged by Angel, Angelus, Parker, Riley, and her father figures. This is not a healthy thing. She associates sex with abandonment and inadequacy. As a result, she fears loss of control, but she secretly desires it. She has frozen her emotions to a large extent to protect herself from pain. She is attracted to pain, but worried about what that means. She's afraid she is not normal. Now she's getting almost as addicted to the need for the sexual fulfillment that Spike can provide as she is to denial and emotional detachment. She's struggling to understand her origins and her identity. She's afraid she's not made of what other, good people are made. She's hasn't integrated this into a new identity. She hasn't grown up. Sound familiar?
Can Buffy learn something different? I think she can. She is at heart a loving person. She sacrifices herself for the world and barely stops to count the cost. She is full of love. It's blinding.
But this doesn't sound like a recipe for success, does it? Two screwed up people trying to make a relationship work against the odds. Well, aren't most of us screwed up? I mean, I feel I might be looking at my life story, with certain names changed to protect the innocent, and events slightly altered for dramatic effect. Now I see where ME is going with the growing up theme and the love/hate relationships theme.
I suspect Wrecked is a necessary second part to Smashed just the way all of you probably do. I don't know what will happen. Is there some spell at work here? Even if there is, the emotions expressed here seem too raw and powerful not to be real. I suspect that to achieve a temporary cessation of hostilities, the power balance will swing back to Buffy and perhaps we will have a truce between the two in Wrecked. I don't expect resolution of this relationship for a long, long time. I think we're in this thing for the long haul until the end of the series. These two will shag, fight, hate each other until they quiver, and perhaps mature in the process without destroying everyone and everything around them. I think.