Why Seeing Red Is The Worst Episode of Buffy: Defending Spike Part 1

Conclusion

Of course, none of this behavior justifies what Spike does to Buffy in Seeing Red.  His actions are wrong and horrible, even taking all the mitigating relationship factors into consideration.  However, neither Buffy’s abuse of him nor his assault on her change how I feel about either of them.  I do not even mind that the writers brought the characters to such a dark place, though I find Buffy’s seasonal arc more believable than Spike’s.  Her depression is very realistic given the circumstances, and her behavior rises very credibly out of the minor character flaws she already possessed in earlier seasons.  These are merely magnified by the interior struggle she faces in the aftermath of her resurrection.

My real problem is not with Buffy’s behavior per se, but with the fact that the writers continually excuse it through the structure of the season arc itself.  For most of Season Six, they seem to be trying to prove to audiences that Spike is no good for Buffy, that he can never be worthy of her without a soul.  The bathroom scene of Seeing Red is supposed to be the final straw in a bad relationship.  Yet while the relationship between Spike and Buffy in Season Six is undeniably a dark one, the writers failed to demonstrate that the fault for this brokenness lies entirely or even primarily with the soulless vampire involved.  Indeed, by this point in the season arc, I would have found it more consistent with the trajectories they created for both characters if Buffy had been the one to pin Spike to the bathroom floor instead of vice versa.  I’m not saying that I wanted this to happen and it is probably one of the few alternatives that could possibly have gotten the writers into hotter waters with the fans than what actually did happen.  But when looked at objectively, it makes more sense for someone who is already physically abusing and objectifying her lover to progress to raping him than it does for the enabling victim to commit sexual assault against his tormentor.

As it stands, the scene feels like an awkward and forced attempt to reestablish viewer sympathy for Buffy, one that uses his sin to cleanse her of her own culpability in the eyes of audiences.  It works for a lot of viewers because rape is one of the few crimes that even jaded modern audiences accustomed to sympathetic villains and antiheroes find truly appalling.  However, personally, Seeing Red is one of the few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that compromises my suspension of disbelief and forces me to remember that these individuals are in fact just characters who must act out the roles the writers assign them.  I must confess that I do not think of Seeing Red as the episode in which Spike attempts to rape Buffy.  I think of it as the episode in which the writers themselves violated their two most complex creations by forcing them back into the neat boxes of White Hat and Black Hat.

This frustrates me because I believe that the writers owed it to the complex characters that they created (and the audiences that love them) to deal just as seriously with the events leading up to Seeing Red as they did the attempted rape. Unfortunately, while Season Seven does provide some healing for the broken couple, it still does not treat their behavior equally.  After receiving his soul, Spike expresses his contrition for his crime by draping himself over a cross and letting it sear his bare flesh.  He is under no illusions about his guilt.  In response to her behavior, Buffy…(deep sigh)…seeks free therapy.  How very modern of her.  Just in case the scene from Conversations with Dead People isn’t awkward enough, she also ends up staking her vampire therapist because to her, he’s an evil soulless thing.  Moreover, in the one moment of Never Leave Me when the she discusses her past behavior with Spike, the conversation quickly moves from her culpability to his ensoulment.  Thus, as sweet as their Season Seven relationship becomes, it is predicated on Spike being willing to be the scapegoat who carries the sins of both parties.

Despite this problem, my affection for these characters always manages to survive the turmoil of the later seasons.  Every time I watch Buffy lay into Spike in Dead Things, I remember her sacrifice in The Gift.  Every time I watch the assault in Seeing Red, I remember Spike’s willingness to endure torture for her in Intervention.  What is so irritating about the double standard is that it is not necessary to blacken Spike’s character arc to redeem Buffy’s.  They are both complex characters whose ability to love is greater than the inner darkness that threatens to overtake them.  In the eyes of this particular viewer, this capacity to love is more important than the color of their respective hats.

 

[1] Kristen Smirnov, “Domestic Abuse and Gender Role Reversal in Season 6: My Letter to Mutant Enemy,” www.allaboutspike.com/kristen.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Some fans have pointed out that given Buffy’s affection for her stuffed pig, Mr. Gordo, this may not be less insulting than it appears.  It is a funny possibility.  Still, she has a tone when she says it.

 

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