Kissing a Fool:
Smashing, Wrecking, and Rebuilding Spike's Identity
Rowan - December 02 2001
In Smashed, Buffy and Spike physically smash each other and their surroundings; metatextually, the episode smashes their illusions about their individual identities as vampire and slayer and their joint identity as a couple. The episode culminates in their sexual union amidst the physical and psychic rubble. In Wrecked, we start to see hints of what will survive and rise like a phoenix out of the rubble and wreckage. The importance of these two episodes when evaluating the potential for true internal change and possible redemption for Spike can’t be emphasized enough.
Spike, long established in the Buffyverse as the teller of uncomfortable truths, keeps reminding us that things have changed. In fact, both episodes are book ended by this notion. Early in Smashed, Spike tells Buffy, “A man can change.” After he finds out that his chip is still functional, he then comments, “It’s about the rules having changed. Everything is different now.” Early in Wrecked, after Buffy tells him their night together was a mistake, Spike tells her, “It was a bloody revelation.” Close to the end of the episode, he comments again that since their night together, “Things have changed.”
So what exactly has changed? Spike has started to make noticeable progress towards putting together his new identity. We saw the problem in Smashed: he’s neither a vampire nor a human. He’s not good nor is he evil. He’s supposed to slay the Slayer, not love the Slayer. Whatever peace of mind Spike showed in Tough Love when he commented to Dawn “Well, I’m not good, and I’m okay” seems to have evaporated to some extent. If he’s not those things, who is he?
In Tabula Rasa, Randy showed us that Spike’s basic instincts lean more towards good than evil. When Randy discovers he has no apparent desire to bite Joan, he decides, “I must be a noble vampire. A good guy. On a mission of redemption. I help the helpless. I’m a vampire with a soul.”
The small problem here is that Spike is not Randy. Spike has life experiences that does not mesh with what Randy thinks is his identity. In fact, what Randy believes is his identity is actually Angel’s identity. When Spike’s life experiences return to him, he can’t realistically assume that identity as his own. Angel’s path of redemption leads him to altruistic expressions of love for humanity. He wants to help the stranger on the street to balance the incredible crimes against humanity that Angelus perpetrated. But Spike has always been something different. He’s a fool for love. Spike’s love is personal, passionate, and specific.
Instead of taking the obvious definition of a fool as someone who is full of hot air or easily deceived, let’s focus on a different definition. In the Tarot, The Fool in the Major Arcana is the risk-taker. The Fool is an innocent, totally at ease with the physical world and ready to start a journey of enlightenment.
Interestingly enough, the Fool corresponds to the Joker in the contemporary pack of playing cards. I’ve read several interesting analyses discussing how Spike (and Buffy) function as jokers in the Buffyverse. They are totally off the radar screen of TPtB. It seems their prophecies, while full of Angel, are remarkably silent on Spike. Buffy dropped off their radar screen after she fulfilled her function as Prophecy Girl. But both Spike and Buffy have had profound effects on the course of events in the Buffyverse; in some cases, extremely unpredictable effects.
But I digress. Let’s get back to our Fool. In FFL, William starts that journey for enlightenment one night in an alley with Dru as he gropes for something effulgent.
Drusilla is looking for a lover. She wants a partner in the way Darla has Angel as her partner. They suggest she sire someone. She says, “I could pick the wisest and bravest knight in all the land – and make him mine forever with a kiss.” In some ways, that’s exactly what Dru did. William was a bloody awful 19th century poet. He was probably steeped in Arthurian lore and the chivalric tradition of courtly love as reinterpreted by Victorian poets like Tennyson. He idealized Cecily through that lens, offering her his poems like a knight offers his lady his service of arms.
In that alley, Spike was born. In order to assume his identity within the ‘gang’ and win his dark lady Dru from her father (Angelus), he begins an unlifelong quest: the hunt for Slayers. He is the darkly twisted chivalric knight, searching out the Holy Grail of vampires. He validates himself in his own eyes and his lovers through this quest.
In China during the Boxer Rebellion, he kills his first Slayer, offering her blood to Dru. The Holy Grail contained the blood of Christ. The Slayer contains the Buffyverse equivalent. Spike drinks of it and then offers it to his lady as a token of love. They even make love afterwards.
Later, in New York, he kills a second Slayer, this time keeping her leather duster as a trophy of battle. It’s interesting that he doesn’t drink from this Slayer (at least not that we see). The quest is now more about the battle than the object. It’s the journey, not the destination he’s craving. He also picks a token that is purely for himself, not something he shares with his lady.
But this journey begun in that alley has another effect on Spike. Eventually, it turns him into love’s bitch: someone under another’s control who loves pain as an end, not a means. Exposure to Dru over a 100+ years warps him. We never really get to see Spike and Dru’s relationship at any healthy point. In Season 2, we first see Dru control Spike through her illness and weakness. Once the situations are reversed and Angelus arrives, we discover that for Dru, it’s really all about Daddy. Spike has loved Dru, but she has never really loved him back: he’s been her toy to occupy her when the real man she wanted was unavailable.
In some respects, Spike has been Buffy’s bitch since he realized he loved her in Out of My Mind. The temptation for Spike after Smashed is to revert to that identity and duplicate the destructive patterns of his relationship with Dru in his new relationship with Buffy. In Smashed, Buffy even taunts Spike that he doesn’t love her, he loves the pain she provides.
But in Wrecked, when Buffy starts doling out the pain, Spike tells Buffy clearly, “I won’t be your whipping boy.” He rejects the pain. He wants the pleasure. That’s what his love is about. He reinforces this at the end of the episode when he tells her that if she continues to play the bitch, he will bite back. He refuses to continue their patterns. He will not attack her, but he will defend himself. He sets boundaries and he lets her know where they are, while at the same time reinforcing that he loves her.
Let’s step back to FFL for a minute for some clues about what might be going on in Wrecked. In the scene where the Fabulous Four are hiding in the sewers, Angelus and Spike begin a verbal and physical fight. It’s a fight over two things: the identity of the gang and Drusilla. Angelus wants to maintain a low profile, minimizing risk and maximizing success. Spike wants risk; he wants to fight the fights they don’t know they can win. It’s also a fight over Drusilla. Even though she owns Spike because she sired him, Angelus still owns Dru: she is one of his two women.
Drusilla makes a strange comment that day. She says, “The King of Cups expects a picnic. But today is not his birthday.” We know that Dru has the Sight. Earlier in FFL, she sees burning baby fishes around William’s head, which sounds much like a prediction about the chip. But what does this prophecy mean?
Who is the King of Cups? In the Tarot, the Minor Arcana has four suits, each associated with a particular element. Cups (the modern day equivalent is Hearts) is associated with Water. The element of Water is associated with moods, dreams, emotions, romance, and fantasy. It’s seasonal correspondence is…summer.
Each court card represents a personality type. The King of Cups is a mature man of wisdom and intuitive insights. He appreciates beauty. He is often thought to be a good husband and father. His trademark is his ability to forgive and empathize with others. When his jealous nature is aroused and his veneer of self-control is breached, he can be fierce.
Dru’s reference to a picnic/birthday party could symbolize a coming of age (growing up) moment that has not yet arrived. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest that the King of Cups could well be an identity that Spike will eventually assume. This particular confrontation between Angelus and Spike is not ‘the’ confrontation about Spike’s identity.
Wrecked may be the birthday party or at least its harbinger. Spike is now experiencing Summer(s). He’s also fighting again for a woman he loves and his main rival is Angel. This time, he’s fighting Buffy’s memory of Angel, her illusions about Angel, and the damage resulting from her relationship with Angel. References to Angel are all over the morning after scene. Spike claims vampires get Buffy hot and Buffy immediately contrasts the ‘one’ vampire against the ‘convenient’ vampire. Spike takes Buffy’s taunt that he thinks he is God’s gift and claims that’s hardy true because ‘it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.’ Buffy’s sexuality was forged in Angel’s fire as much as Spike’s was in Dru’s. Angel and Dru are part of the ghosts they have to lay to rest in the rubble.
Spike is still a Fool on his journey for love. But now the journey is as much about loving himself as loving others. Let’s look at this new fool for love who is arising from the rubble of Smashed. He appears to have a certain wisdom and maturity characteristic of what a redeemed Spike might display. First, he’s not bad enough to find Rack’s house. Amy can find it. Willow can sense it once Amy points it out and then is able to find it on her own. Spike’s clueless.
Second, despite the sexual tension and bantering that Spike loves, once Buffy mentions Rack, Spike’s mind is immediately on how to help Dawn and Willow. He’s about sex play, sure, but he’s not about irresponsibility.
Third, despite their uncomfortable conversation on the street that leads Buffy to claim she wants Spike out of her life, her work, and her home, Spike points out that life is more complicated than that. She’s already invited him in. He’s involved. She just can’t wish him away with a few words. Things are messy. He shares her work with her and the Scoobies, and he shares the care of Dawn. He also points out how immature it would be for Buffy to risk harm to Dawn just to spite him. He’s advocating responsibility both in this particular situation and in others going forward.
Fourth, Spike demonstrates his caring and nurturing side with Dawn. He strokes her hair, he takes her hand, and he tends to her while Buffy fights the demon. Simply put, he loves Dawn. Clearly, he isn’t just a fool for sexual love. He is capable of non-romantic, non-sexual connections.
But we really already knew that about Spike. What’s new in Wrecked is that Spike is clearly now able to empathize with humans outside the Summers family. It is Spike who stops, moved by Willow’s tears, much as Buffy’s tears in FFL moved him. He has every reason to be as angry on Dawn’s behalf as both Dawn and Buffy are. But he keeps his head. He doesn’t say a word. It’s his compassionate heart that causes Buffy to stop, rethink her anger, and go to her friend. Spike manages to do this despite the fact that he’s never really had anyone extend an empathetic hand to him in quite the same way.
Fifth, this is all combined with the Spike we’ve already seen, who has tremendous and profound insight into others. He knows Buffy felt something. He knows it was a bloody revelation. He senses he’s breached some walls.
Not everything is rosy in Wrecked. Spike does problematically say to Buffy, “If I’m dirt, then you’re the one who loves rolling in it.” It’s unclear whether he believes that about himself or if he’s just trying to use Buffy’s own comments against her. It’s been clear since The Gift that Spike does not believe Buffy can ever love him. But in Wrecked, part of his revelation is that Buffy does feel something for him and when Buffy challenges him that it’s not love, he replies enigmatically, ‘Not yet.’ It’s unclear whether Spike now feels himself worthy of Buffy’s love because he is aspiring to her level of goodness or if it’s because Buffy has now descended to his level.
Where will he go from here? We’ll see when we return from rerun hell in January. But the first half of Season Six has been a bright one for Spike’s redemption.