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

nope this did not happen

This is the first of a series of essays anonymously defending the character of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer written by my friend Scholastica and edited by me. To this day, the fandom is divided about whether Spike was better as a villain or as an anti-hero, whether Buffy and Spike really loved each other or not, and especially about what is called “the bathroom incident” or “the attempted rape scene” in the Season 6 episode Seeing Red. There are mentions of abusive relationships, sexual violence, and other uncomfortable “trigger warning phrases” throughout this series of essays. However, Scholastica and I feel that these things need to be said because we both love Buffy, the titular character, and the character of Spike. So please read these essays with an open mind. Civil discussions are welcome, but keep in mind I moderate comments here.  You have been warned.

 


One of the most controversial plot lines of Season Six of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the torrid and abusive affair that springs up between the newly-resurrected titular hero of the series and the soulless but chipped vampire Spike.  The half-season story arc involves violent and secretive sex between the two characters, angry verbal spats, and one brutal scene in an empty alley.  All of this ugliness culminates in the horrific bathroom scene of Seeing Red, in which Spike attempts to assault Buffy.  In the aftermath of this painful scene, Spike journeys to Africa, and audiences are led to believe he is trying to remove his chip so that he can return to being the Big Bad.  Instead, the vampire undergoes strenuous trials and ends the season by regaining his soul.

Internet commentary reveals that Seeing Red is one of the most divisive episodes of the show.  Former fans of the character often find themselves unable to forgive Spike’s actions.  For the vampire’s detractors, the attempted rape is proof that his love for Buffy was never real.  “Spuffy” shippers who continue to love Spike after Seeing Red are sometimes accused of justifying or dismissing rape.  Now, I have no intention of excusing Spike’s actions in Seeing Red.  He attempts to rape Buffy and needs to undergo penance.  I believe he does. However, the episode does not change how I feel about him or his relationship with Buffy.  This essay, the first in a series that defends Spike as a character, explains why.

Before beginning, however, I would like to put forward a disclaimer:  I view Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a practicing Catholic.  I do not mention this fact because I am trying to convert anyone or dreg up controversial Church teachings, so I would politely ask that no one troll this essay or the next ones about subjects they do not address.  I realize that Joss Whedon is an atheist and that, like most shows on television in the twenty-first century, the bulk of the romantic relationships depicted on Buffy are illicit by Catholic standards.  I happen to believe that Christians should still engage with art that disagrees with their worldview, and the wonderful thing about the Slayerverse is that it brings up all sorts of fascinating moral and philosophical issues that viewers from diverse backgrounds will likely interpret differently.  I bring up my own religious background mainly because it would be impossible for me to address such topics as the nature of love and morality, free will, ensoulment, and redemption without drawing openly upon the Thomistic philosophical tradition that undergirds so much of my Catholic faith.

Ironically, these issues are much easier to explore in rockier relationships than in easy-going ones, making Spike and Buffy’s romantic entanglement a perfect avenue.  The “Spuffy” relationship exemplifies in many ways the increasingly complex moral universe of the show itself. Throughout seasons Two through Four of Buffy, all soulless vampires were claimed to be incapable of moral good.  By Season Five, this assumption no longer seems set in stone.  Moreover, as the series progresses, it portrays more and more human villains.  By the end of Season Six, even the heroes are shown making serious moral mistakes.

Set against the backdrop of this increasing moral complexity, the attempted rape in Seeing Red seems like an awkward late-series attempt to restore the paradigms set up in the early seasons of Buffy.  For the past two seasons, the writers themselves have appeared unsure how to treat the “monster” who wants to be a man for his beloved.  The bathroom scene is apparently their answer to the question of whether or not Spike can be good without the oft-mentioned soul.  Unfortunately, it does not really accomplish this task because the scene itself feels forced and unnatural.  Like many viewers, I consider the attempted rape to be borderline character assassination of Spike.  Not only do I object to the way it is presented on the show, I also believe that it does not fit with what has been slowly established about Spike’s background and personality through the past seasons.  Thus, for the rest of this essay, I will explore my manifold objections to the scene.

 

Objection #1: The Scene is Unnecessary to Advance the Narrative

This objection is actually the least bothersome for me because I do understand the sort of hero’s journey the writers were trying to tell:  A beloved character hits rock bottom and commits the most heinous sin the show’s feminist universe can imagine.  It should be unforgivable, but the possibility of forgiveness is raised nonetheless.  Confronted with his own interior ugliness, the character goes on a quest to redeem himself.  Most of the psychological force of this narrative is blunted because the writers were also trying to trick viewers into thinking Spike was on his way to Africa to remove the chip.  Nevertheless, it would make for a good story if it were not for the other objections on my list.  The point of this objection is not that the story they were trying to tell is lacking in cathartic satisfaction.  Rather, it is that it was not the only way to spur Spike towards redemption.  The beauty of fiction is that writers have an infinite number of ways to get characters from point A to point B, and while not all stories are equally compelling, there were plenty of other options for Spike that could have served just as well.

For instance, there were a number of Spike lovers who would have preferred a soulless redemption for the vampire.  I actually have a lot of sympathy for this position.  This may surprise some readers, given that Catholics are generally pretty big on souls, but I think it makes a lot of narrative sense.  Because I plan on delving into the issue of vampire souls in more depth in my next two essays, I would prefer not to spend too much time discussing it here.  Suffice to say that I believe the soul canon in Slayerverse is sufficiently murky that a soulless redemption could have been believable.  Moreover, a good portion of Spike’s appeal is due to his ability to defy the apparent norms of vampire metaphysics, and a soulless redemption would have seemed like a natural extension of this aspect of his character.  I am not saying this is my preferred solution, but it would have been a plausible option.

The general impression I have gotten from fans who prefer soulless redemption is that a lot of their objections to Spike’s ensoulment have to do with the heavy effect it has on his character.  Whatever else the acquisition of a vampire’s soul may bring, it does seem pretty intertwined with feelings of intense guilt. While I do consider contrition a necessary component of redemption, I can also understand why advocates of soulless redemption dislike the guilt-fest.  In Season Seven, the newly-souled Spike is put through a tremendous among of physical and mental suffering, retreating in the first half of the season to a dank basement where his insanity is given full play.  He comes dangerously close to being transformed from a fun-loving punk rocker to a brooder like Angel, Buffy’s first vampire lover.  I’ll admit that I loved seeing Spike get his taste for a good fight (and his awesome coat) back in Get it Done.  With or without his soul, I prefer to see the sort of penitence that fits his personality, not Angel’s.

For me, the real advantage of a soulless redemption arc, however, is less about avoiding all the Angel-style broodiness and more about how the other characters react to the change.  For so much of Season Six, Buffy and the Scoobies justify their mistreatment of Spike by citing his presumed soullessness.  One of the unfortunate side effects of him getting his soul back is that it allows Buffy to change her opinion of him without having to confront the past cruelty she inflicted upon him.  While she does admit in one scene of Never Leave Me that his changes began before his ensoulment, she does not really dwell on his pre-soul moral growth.  Instead, whenever she addresses his detractors in Season Seven, her defense of him always begins with “It’s different now.  He has a soul.”  The soul comes across less as a requirement for morality than something all the cool kids have to have in order to please their peers.

Despite these considerations, I do have a slight preference for souled redemption because the quest to regain his soul works very nicely with the chivalric tropes I believe underline Spike’s character.  However, I still dislike using attempted rape as the catalyst for this soul quest, when there were a number of other ways to push Spike to embark upon it.  For instance, our boy could have continued to backslide into lesser crimes, much like the ones he committed in Season Five.  Such a narrative would make his decision to seek a soul the result of the realization that his good intentions were not enough without a moral compass.  Instead of reversing all the moral progress that has been made, his soul quest would be the natural culmination of the previous season’s character arc.  Alternatively, he could have sought the soul after the brutal beating Buffy gives him in Dead Things, either as an effort to understand her pain or to prove her harsh assessment of him wrong.  He could also have sought it after her rejection of him in As You Were, in order to be considered worthy of a continued relationship with the Chosen One.  He could even have sought it after the painful post-Anya scene in Entropy, when he seems so depressed that he almost welcomes death at Xander’s hands.  Any of these options would have seemed more in character with Spike in Season Six.  Regardless of what alternative one prefers, the point is that there were many ways of getting him to that cave in Africa without the bathroom scene.

Objection #2: It is only partially true that Buffy is responsible for stopping Spike

This is another relatively minor point, but one I cannot help making.  Technically, yes, the whole horrible scene ends because Buffy gives Spike a good kick that brings him up short.  Personally, I would have liked to see Spike stop himself (barring, of course, completely eliminating the scene altogether).  However, I suspect that the writers ended it the way they did in order to show a woman successfully fighting off a potential rapist, and I think that is a worthy enough message to send to female viewers that ultimately I accept the need for Buffy’s kick on those grounds.  A woman should never assume that words alone will end an assault and victims should fight back.  However, I will point out that Buffy’s kick might only have halted the attack temporarily.  She does not kill him or incapacitate him in any way.  Nor does she immediately try to escape.  If he had truly wanted to rape Buffy, the kick might only have given him a moment’s hesitation before he tried again.  In fact, I suspect that many real-life rapists might actually become more enraged by the kick.  Spike is clearly horrified.  So while her actions do (rightfully) halt the attack, I think it should be taken into consideration that the vampire is not evil enough to try again.  This does NOT remove his responsibility for the original attempt and I am not trying to argue that he should be given credit for not continuing his attack.  What I am saying is that perhaps it should give us pause that plenty of souled human males would have gone back for a second round of struggling.  I think this reveals something about his understanding of the situation and his intentions, which I will explore in a later objection.

Objection #3: The scene feels out of character for Spike at this point.

I actually think that it is out of character for him at every point in his personal evolution, but especially so by Season Six.  I am not saying that their relationship is a particularly healthy one or that Spike’s evil inclinations are fully in the rearview mirror.  What I am saying is that raping the woman he loves no longer seems like something he would try to do, if it ever had been part of him to begin with.  I found his attempted rape out of character for at least three reasons: 1) the scene does not fit with how sex has been connected to violence in their relationship up to this point 2) the scene provides no plausible motive for the attempted rape that fits either Spike’s personality or his relationship to Buffy and 3) the scene ignores the character development that has happened through the past two seasons.

Catharsis and Character Empathizing: The Heroes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I have gone into detail in other entries about how one aspect about Asperger’s Syndrome is having narrowly defined interests in something, otherwise known as “obsessions.” My latest obsession, if you haven’t read my blog before, is currently Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I said in my previous entry that one reason I started watching Buffy last year was to get into the Halloween spirit. However, another reason that I got into Buffy was because I was seeking catharsis.

The dictionary defines catharsis as: “the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions,especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.” I wanted an escape from some things that were stressing me. Without going too much into detail, somebody I wanted to cut off all ties with tried to contact me again and was in completely in denial about the hurt they caused me. This person was also into vampires, so naturally, a show where the vampires were the bad guys was just what I needed.

Joss Whedon stated that the things Buffy was put through represented the things teenagers had to overcome. Even though the first season had horrible lighting and the writing was “safe” but nothing special, I wanted more. Long story short, I watched all seven seasons of Buffy in a matter of five months.

What I love about Buffy is that I felt like I was part of that world. The show didn’t have social media marketing, just an underground of message boards and chat rooms. I didn’t chat with anyone about what I was watching. I just let the show sink into me. Not only did this show provide me the catharsis I needed, but I found myself relating to three characters from the show: Buffy, Spike, and Tara.

When I got halfway through Season 2, I was particularly drawn to all the times that Buffy felt vulnerable. I felt Buffy’s pain as Angel lost his soul. I cheered for her when she used the rocket launcher against the Judge. I cried when she sent Angel to Hell and felt so devastated that she decided to run away. I wanted her to be happy in Season 3, even as Angel was sending her mixed messages before deciding on leaving her. I loved it whenever she embraced her Slayer duties and used her powers to stand up against all who opposed her, especially in Season 4. I wanted to hug her in Season 5 when she suffered so many losses and finally decided to embrace her gift. I wanted to be there for her in Season 6 when she couldn’t find a single soul who understood what she really felt except for one particular reluctant ally. And I was on her side in Season 7, even when everyone else except for that same reluctant ally was turning against her.

I knew that I would love the show and I knew that Buffy was always going to be my fave, but there were some things I didn’t expect.

One of them was me growing to love Spike. From what my friends told me and what I read on TV Tropes, I assumed that Spike would be this poorly written character that got a large fanbase because he was the bad guy or that he was the Buffy equivalent of Loki. Boy, was I proven wrong! Getting the chip didn’t make Spike less of a badass. One fan of Buffy pointed out that it actually made him even more badass. I can’t help but agree because although I liked Spike as a comic relief character in Season 4, it wasn’t until Season 5 that I realized that I was falling for the bleach blonde vampire.

So I guess you’re wondering why and how I fell in love with this particular vampire even though I originally watched the show because the vampires were bad guys.

It’s pretty much a matter of empathy. I understood what he was going through, to an extent. I tend to sympathize more with people who experience unrequited love rather than people who are being chased by someone whose feelings they don’t returned, although both have happened to me. Spike was stupid, don’t get me wrong, but he was a bad guy who was trying to make the best of a bad situation. He stood up to a Hell Goddess and refused to reveal any information about Dawn, even if it meant getting himself killed. He helped Buffy try to deal with her depression in Season 6, even though his actions were horribly misguided. He got his soul back after realizing that his misguided actions led him to pushing things too far and he ended up saving the world in “Chosen.”

Tara Maclay was a character who didn’t appear until Season 4 and [SPOILER ALERT] ended her run towards the end of Season 6. She’s one of the characters I wish had more screen time because I saw a lot of myself in her. We were both introverted and intuitive. I loved that she did her best to help Dawn and Buffy out in Season 5 and felt like a genuine member of the family, but she was pushed to the side and eventually left the show in the most heartwrenching episode that to this day I refuse to watch after seeing it once. I also liked that she was friendly to Spike. She didn’t judge him like the other members of the Scooby Gang and she could do magic without falling into darkness like Willow. And without going into detail (again), I understood how Tara felt when it came to people who tried to control her. She learns how to stand up for herself. If I could change one thing about the show (other than how “Chosen” ended), it would be so that Tara would’ve been a bigger asset to the team.

Tomorrow, I look into the villains of Buffy and talk more about the process of catharsis.

True Love Tuesday: Why I Ship Spike/Buffy and Faith/Angel

In October 2013, I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer to get myself hyped up for Halloween. Since all 7 seasons were available on Netflix, I went through all 7 seasons in a matter of 5 months.

At first, I liked the Buffy/Angel relationship. I thought it was cute. I also loved Spike as a villain and I loved him with Drusilla. I was fairly certain that I would ship Bangel given how much Buffy loved him. And I still like Angel’s character to this day, but when he became Angelus, it was basically the most emotionally driven story arc I’ve ever seen next to Seasons 5.

Then everything changed when I started watching Season 3. It kept showing just why Buffy and Angel could never work in the long run. She is desperate to hold onto him while he keeps her at a constant distance, knowing the consequences of what happened in Season 2. It culminates with Buffy forcing Angel to feed on her and it shows that that is the closest thing the two of them get to having sex without Angel losing his soul.

As I said, I love Angel as a character, but what irks me about him is that his brooding demeanor. He has a reason to brood, obviously, but that kind of attitude is all wrong for Buffy. So when Faith came around in Season 3 and tried hitting on Angel, I was actually intrigued. When I watched the episodes where Faith appeared in Angel, I was even more certain that they would be better together.

Faith and Angel are birds of a feather. Both of them have seen the darker side of life and are working towards bettering themselves as people. However, Faith can bring something to Angel’s life that Buffy can’t: a wild, rambunctious spirit that can lift Angel out of the dumps and a more direct approach to life. Even if Faith and Angel had sex and Angel would lose his soul, they’d still work together and become the hottest evil couple ever. In an AU where evil rules the world, Faith would be a hardened vigilante who plays by her own rules and Angelus would encourage her to embrace the darkness she loves.

So where does that leave Buffy? Should she be with Riley? Uh, no. Riley is boring and a total hypocrite. Intimidated by Buffy because she’s stronger than him and then he goes and marries someone that can fight alongside him? Someone beat him over the head with a shovel. Repeatedly. Until he dies.

No. I ship Buffy with Spike. It started in Season 4’s “Something Blue.” The intent of the episode was supposed to show how ridiculous the Spike/Buffy relationship. Instead, I loved the idea of it. I literally went from “I know they’re under the influence of a spell, but this is so cute” to “Get a room already!” in the span of one episode. Then as soon as it was established that Spike was falling for Buffy in Season 5, I wanted Riley out of the picture way earlier than when he left and for Spike and Buffy to start hooking up. I ship them so hard, that I’ve started writing fanfiction about them. And I haven’t posted anything on fanfiction.net in years.

Why? Because again, it’s about bringing out what the other person needs. Buffy needs someone who brings fire into her life. Spike’s devil-may-care attitude combined with a softer, romantic side is perfect for Buffy who has a bad tendency to close off her emotions. It’s shown that the two of them work wonderfully together in the Becoming 2-Parter. He also gets along with her mom and when Dawn enters the picture, Spike is the one who acts as Dawn’s confidante and protector. Need we bring up the events “Intervention” (stupid BuffyBot aside)?

Yes, Spike and Buffy have a complicated relationship and Spike attempted to rape Buffy in “Seeing Red.” Attempted rape is always going to be a horrible horrible thing but the problem is that it was kind of the end result of a series of complicated events that I’ll explain on Friday. I’M NOT SAYING THAT SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT OR THAT SHE DESERVED WHAT HAPPENED. I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WHAT SPIKE DID WAS WRONG. A really well written defense is shown in this post.

Funny thing is after that happened, he went off to get his soul so that he can become the man Buffy deserves. And their relationship was actually at its best in Season 7. It was also one of the few good things in Season 7, especially the episode Touched.

To quote Spike in Touched: “I’ve seen the best and the worst of you and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are.” Which is true as evidenced by this post.

Even if Spike were to lose his soul somehow, they could still work because Spike sans-soul and sans-chip has been shown to be a good ally to Buffy in Becoming Part 2. The best picture that shows their relationship was in Chosen when the two of them held hands and their hands caught fire as Spike was about to sacrifice himself. Buffy and Spike are the fire that the other one needs.

On Friday, I will cover the form of love everyone is familiar with but also misunderstands the most: Eros.