I. Love. This. Episode. It’s my favorite episode of Season 5 (my fave season) even though it doesn’t involve the Big Bad, because it shows Spike’s backstory, establishes a majorly important theme, and captures the nature of Spike and Buffy’s relationship. If you ever wonder why the heck I ship Spuffy, this is one of the episodes I would show you.
The episode starts out with Buffy fighting a really badly dressed 80s vampire. Buffy does her usual snarking but right before she gets to staking, the vampire ends up staking her in the gut instead. Buffy punches the vampire in the face and removes the stake from her gut as she runs. 80s vamp catches up to her and you’d think Buffy is on the ropes, but Riley ends up saving her.
Again, apologies to Marc Blucas, but you can pretty much replace this scene with any other character and it would’ve been the exact same thing. Buffy isn’t usually the damsel in distress but given that she had to deal with a major stab wound, you can allow Buffy to be vulnerable for a bit. I am gonna do my best to be nice to Riley, but I’m not gonna make any promises.
Riley patches up Buffy back in her bedroom. Riley asks Buffy if there’s something special about the vampire who got her, but Buffy says it was just a regular vampire. Dawn and Joyce come in and Dawn covers up for Buffy. Buffy shows the wound to her sister and makes her promise not to tell. Riley decides to take over for patrol. Buffy accepts under the condition that he takes the rest of the Scoobies with him.
I won’t go into detail on the scenes with Riley’s patrol because honestly, this is not what the episode is about. The scenes where Riley goes after the 80s vamp and his friends establishes how Riley’s “demon hunting” style is different from Buffy’s. Riley was trained in the military, so he uses guerrilla tactics and some major overkill. Buffy in contrast, has a more improvised style. Yes, she does research but she usually thinks on her feet.
Said “thinking on the go” applies to the next two scenes. After pouring over tons of Watcher Diaries with Giles, Buffy laments that the Slayers’ final battles were never recorded. Giles says it’s because the Watchers found themselves unable to detach from the pain of losing a slayer. Pop quiz: Who in this show has killed two Slayers and lived to tell the tale?
Right on cue.
Buffy and Spike go out to the Bronze to talk about the two Slayers that Spike killed in exchange for cash. He tells Buffy that it’s not about the moves and demands that she order a plate of buffalo wings. I know Spike is coming off as a jerk in this scene, but, well, Buffy is acting equally jerkish to him. And as sad as it is to say, Buffy is not gonna get any easy answers from Spike. Spike brags to Buffy that he was always bad. We’re about to find out, however, that Spike is lying.
The flashback shows a very adorable William Pratt working on a poem. He sees a beautiful woman named Cecily walk into your typical Victorian England party and goes to talk to her. He finds her with some of his “friends,” ask him about some strange disappearances happening in London. He tells them that he prefers to think of things of beauty, referring to his poem. The upper crust frenemy reads the poem out loud and, well, it’s bad: “My heart expands, ’tis grown a bulge in it, inspired by your beauty, effulgent.”
It might just be my long experience with my own bad writing, but it wasn’t actually bad. Regardless, everyone starts laughing at William’s couplet, so he takes his poem and follows Cecily to a sitting room. Before he leaves, though, we find out that William was called “William the Bloody” because of his bloody awful poetry and not because he was already some kind of pugilist or serial killer. The upper crust bully who read the poem says that he’d rather have a railroad spike through his head than listen to that awful stuff. He’s gonna regret those words.
William goes to Cecily inside a sitting room. Cecily asks if the poems are about her and is aghast to find out that they are. William professes his love to her only to get shot down. She says “You’re nothing to me, William. You’re beneath me.”
William leaves the party sobbing, tearing up his poem as he walks. He crashes into a trio of very well-dressed aristocrats. (Spoilers: The aristocrats are Drusilla, Angelus, and Darla.) He ends up inside of a barn where Drusilla ends up finding him. William mistakes Drusilla for a pickpocket, but that’s not what she has in mind. William is intrigued by her, but, well, Drusilla has a way with getting what she wants. And, well, you know what happens after she starts biting his neck.
Spike explains the allure of becoming a vampire over a game of pool. My personal theory about vampires in the Buffyverse (and in general) is that vampires are human souls corrupted to varying degrees by the demon that takes over their bodies. And not all vampires are the same.
This is clearly shown when Spike joins Angelus, Darla, and Drusilla. Angelus and Darla aren’t exactly keen on Spike because “William the Bloody” (which has now taken on a more sinister tone) likes starting riots for the sake of, well, having a riot. Angelus, for those who don’t know, is a lot like a stylized serial killer. He likes playing mind games and putting a lot of thought and effort into the way that he kills people. Spike, on the other hand, is a rough-and-tumble kind of vampire. And yeah, David Boreaneaz’s Irish accent sucks. (Apologies to the David Boreaneaz fangirls.) The two vampires start fighting and when Angelus starts realizing that Spike has a point on the appeal of the rough-and-tumble fighting style, he tells Spike that he’ll probably end up killed by an angry mob or the Slayer. Now usually, vampires go running from the Slayer. Spike is a unique vampire because he actively seeks out Slayers. The first lesson that Spike tells Buffy is that she always needs her weapon at the ready. He then starts telling the story of his battle with the Chinese Slayer.
Way back in the days of the Boxer Rebellion in China, Spike fought a Slayer named Xin Rong whose swordfighting skills gave Spike the scar on his eyebrow. The fight scene is amazing, like something out of, well, a really good action movie. But ultimately, Spike gets the upper hand and kills her. Drusilla comes in very turned on by the fact that Spike killed a Slayer. Spike tells Dru that the blood of the Slayer is a powerful aphrodisiac and shares the blood with her. Then, well, you can guess what happened after that. Even if they are vampires, they are also very much in love.
The two of them meet with Darla and Angelus out in a town square and Drusilla announces Spike’s latest victory. You might notice that Angelus is a bit odd in this scene. Let’s just say he’s not himself right now.
The shot of the Whirlwind doing a slow walk through the town is nothing short of epic, especially for fans who’ve wanted to see Darla, Angelus, Drusilla, and Spike all together. And Spike says that the night he killed the Chinese Slayer for the first time was the best night of his life. Buffy is disgusted that Spike and Dru got off on the kill, only for Spike to snark back “And you haven’t?” Incidentally, another Slayer would say something about how slaying gets a girl “hungry and horny” but I digress.
Spike tells Buffy that the one thing all vampires hope for is one good day and that Buffy is starting to think that she’s invincible. Buffy says that she can handle herself. Spike points out the wound in Buffy’s gut and they take things outside.
Buffy starts sparring with Spike and Spike tells Buffy Lesson Number Two: Ask the right questions. It’s not “Why did he win?” It’s “Why did they lose?”
Cut to the 1970s where a very cliche disco track plays over 1970s Spike’s battle with the New York Slayer, Nikki Wood. The flashback is interspersed with Spike and Buffy’s sparring in the alleyway. Spike explains that Nikki was more cunning and resourceful, similar to Buffy.
“I could’ve danced all night with that one.”
“You think we’re dancing?”
“That’s all we’ve ever done.”
Spike points out that the only thing about the dance of the Slayer is that the Slayer dances with death and it never stops. He knows that sooner or later death will catch up to Buffy. Every Slayer eventually has a death wish. What makes Buffy different, the reason she’s lived longer than most Slayers, is that she has ties to the world.
Spike makes one more intimidating glare to Buffy, boasting to her that when she gets that death wish, he’ll be there to grant it.
You can tell by Buffy’s face that Spike really got under her skin this time. And, well, even if Spike wasn’t a potential love interest, I would’ve been okay if Buffy died by Spike’s hands because he is a worthy opponent.
DAMMIT BUFFY HE WANTS TO KISS YOU! KISS HIM, YOU IDIOT!
Okay, I am gonna save the feels for later. Calm down.
Buffy shoves Spike away and tells him that he’ll never get to her and says
“You’re beneath me.”
Now, I’m not sure if Buffy knew how much hurt those words had on Spike. The episode never shows how exactly Spike told his origin story to Buffy. But she knew that they would hurt. I don’t blame Buffy for wanting to have the last word because, let’s be honest, Spike scared her. But I end up feeling sorry for Spike at the end of this scene instead of siding with Buffy and usually I am on Buffy’s side.
Spike gets a shotgun at his crypt and plans on killing Buffy once and for all, but Harmony (Spike’s really lame “girlfriend”) points out that he won’t be able to kill Buffy because of the chip in his head that prevents him from really killing people. And she yells that even before Spike got the chip, he was never able to kill Buffy even though he had plenty of chances.
Cut to a flashback with Drusilla, who still sees Buffy in Spike’s life. She’s cheating on him with a demon with antlers because she still sees Spike as covered with the Slayer. This flashback, by the way, takes place in Rio, where Spike and Dru went to after Season 2. The aftermath of this argument would lead to Spike appearing in Season 3’s “Lovers Walk.”
The episode ends in Buffy’s house, where Joyce is packing for an overnight stay at the hospital. Joyce explains that she’s getting a CAT scan for whatever she has in her head. Buffy heads out to the back porch, burdened with the knowledge that something is wrong with her mother and that there’s nothing she can do about it. She starts crying as Spike slowly walks towards her, gun in hand. He starts arming himself when Buffy looks up at him with tear-filled eyes.
Instead of killing her, he asks Buffy “What’s wrong?” She replies that doesn’t want to talk about it, so Spike goes to sit next to her, setting his gun aside to comfort her.
Even though the two of them never exchange words, this final scene captures the nature of the Spike and Buffy relationship. In spite of Buffy not wanting to open up to Spike, Spike will always be there anyway because, unlike all the other vampires in the show, Spike has some levels of empathy.
In several interviews, James Marsters has confessed that in spite of what Joss laid out about vampires being soulless, he always played Spike as having a soul. Spike having at least an echo of a human soul is clear in this episode. As I said before, I always interpreted the nature of the “soul” in vampires to be like souls of humans in a completely fallen state. The nature of the vampire brings out a person’s dark side and the human soul is still part of the vampire, but in a corrupt form. Humans, after all, are capable of horrific deeds in spite of the fact that we are created with souls.
Buffy and Spike’s “relationship” from Seasons 2-7 takes on different natures. I’ll explain more as to how in another post. In Season 5, Spike is in love with Buffy, and yes, in spite of his idiotic actions in later episodes, I do think he’s in love and not just obsessing. He just acted in a very misguided manner because in my honest opinion, vampires don’t exactly lack souls as they do a moral conscience. The only reason he acts so rude to Buffy is because she’s acting rude to him. And yes, there is still a part of Spike that wants to kill her. But Spike fights against that nature more and more as the series progresses.
I know I’m probably sounding like a blind fangirl here. I understand that some people see Spike as an evil being whose actions in Seasons 4-5 are like a criminal in a straitjacket, being forced to do good against his will. And well, a certain episode in Season 6 doesn’t help things. But when you look at the scene at the end of the episode, you can see that Spike hates seeing Buffy crying. And I think it’s because there’s still a part of William in Spike that empathized with Buffy’s sadness.
It says a lot about James Marsters’s performance that Spike was able to capture the hearts of at least half the fandom. Spike wasn’t supposed to be sympathetic and yet he changes way more than Angel does. And Angel was given his own show. Five whole seasons of Angel and the brooding blockhead is still a brooding blockhead. By Season 5 of Buffy, Spike became complex and layered. It’s really no wonder why I have a Texas-sized crush on him.
So if you’re a Spike fan like me, check out this episode. It’s actually a good standalone compared to the rest of Season 5. It shows the stakes that Buffy has to deal with and, as I said before, shows the complicated nature of the Spike/Buffy relationship.
Screencaps are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.