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Meta: Spike's soulquest

1st June 2007 (15:51)
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It seems to have become a habit of mine to post meta here inspired by discussion over at elisi 's journal - in this case, it's thoughts about Spike's soulquest at the end of season 6. This is an adapted version of something I originally wrote on atbvs about a year ago.



The question is, why did Spike go on the quest to Africa? The "correct" answer - supported by comments made by Joss and the writers, not to mention Spike's own words in season 7, and on season 5 of Angel - is that he wanted his soul back all along. All that talk about the chip was deliberately misleading, leading up to what Joss called "a little something I invented called a 'plot twist'". Unfortunately, the fake-out was so good (not even James Marsters knew the real story during filming...) that the twist seems to come too much out of the blue for many people. There just seems to be nothing in Spike's dialogue leading up to the last scene in 'Grave' that would support the idea that he really did go for his soul.

What I'm going to do here, therefore, is to analyse in detail Spike's words, especially during the scene in his crypt with Clem during 'Seeing Red' when he decided to go on the quest to Africa. I'm going to try to show that despite all his talk about the chip, this wasn't really what lay behind that decision; it was only the catalyst.




We start with Spike re-living his attack on Buffy over and over again, and acting distressed and angry. Important to note: he's not angry at Buffy for stopping him raping her, as certain people have occasionally claimed (on the basis, presumably, that he was so angry at her that he decided to get the chip out to "teach her a lesson"). Otherwise he'd be re-living her kicking him away and telling him to back off, wouldn't he? No. He's shocked at what he did; he's angry at himself.

SPIKE: What have I done? 

Now, I'm not going to claim that he's all surprised and shocked at the revelation that he's a (potential) rapist; he's certainly already well aware of that. Hello, vampire? In fact his next comment confirms it: 

SPIKE: Why didn't I do it? What has she done to me? 

No, I think Spike is shocked at the discovery that he is capable of hurting Buffy, when he swore he'd never ever do that. ("I don't hurt you") When I say 'hurting' we're talking about emotional pain, of course - physical pain is no big deal to a Slayer and a vampire, especially given their past history with each other. He went to her to apologise, perhaps even to get back together with her... and ended up doing the one thing that will almost guarantee she'll never give him another chance. No wonder he's horrified and angry at himself; he's blown it with her. And yes, that's a selfish, even an evil motivation... 

...but there's the other part of it. When she kicked him away, he stopped. The old Spike wouldn't have done that... we saw in 'Fool For Love' that when a Slayer kicks him down he shouts in exultation and jumps right back into the fight. Not this time, though... he looked horror-stricken at his own actions, and slunk off in guilt and shame. Remorse is really not a feeling that vampires are accustomed to, and it can't be very pleasant to experience for the first time. Not to mention confusing.

CLEM: Oh. The Slayer, huh? Gosh. She break up with you again?
SPIKE: We were never together. Not really. She wouldn't lower herself that far. [...] Why do I feel this way?
CLEM: Love's a funny thing.
SPIKE: Is that what this is?

He's feeling emotions that are totally unfamiliar to him. (Well, maybe not totally, but you can forget a lot in 120 years of slaughter.) He's searching for an explanation. He's also finally admitting some unpalatable truths about himself and about Buffy - that she really didn't love him, that he did misjudge their relationship completely. And yes, he's angry at himself but also angry with her - "she wouldn't lower herself" to be with him is hardly complimentary. 

And now he starts talking about the chip. Which, to be sure, is the start of the misdirection. But let's see what he actually says:

SPIKE: I can feel it. Squirming inside my head.
CLEM: Love?
SPIKE: The chip. Little Jiminy Cricket, gnawing bits and chunks. [...] Everything used to be so clear. Slayer. Vampire. Vampire kills Slayer, sucks her dry, picks his teeth with her bones. That's how it's always been. I've tasted the life of two Slayers. But with Buffy... This isn't the way it's supposed to be. It's the chip. Steel and wires and silicon. It won't let me be a monster. And I can't be a man. I'm nothing.

First, he's still expressing his confusion at the emotions filling his head... and blaming the chip. Because, after all, what else is there to blame? What else has changed in his world? But compare Spike's feelings here to how he was in seasons 4 and 5, when he also raged against the chip.

From 'The Yoko Factor':
ADAM: You feel smothered. Trapped like an animal, pure in its ferocity, unable to actualize the urges within... Clinging to one truth like a flame struggling to burn within an enclosed glass... That a beast this powerful cannot be contained. Inevitably it will break free and savage the land again... I will make you whole again. Make you savage.

From 'Crush':
DRUSILLA: I don't believe in science. All those bits and molecules no one's ever seen. I trust eyes and heart alone. And do you know what mine are singing out now? You're a killer. Born to slash and bash and bleed like beautiful poetry. No little tinkertoy ever could stop you from flowing. [...] I can see it. Little bit of plastic spiderwebbing out nasty blue shocks - and every one, is a lie. Electricity lies, Spike. It tells you you're not a bad dog. But you are. You're my bad dog and you bite.

Back then it was all so clear: Spike's primal killer instincts were merely restrained by the chip. (Although it's significant that both those speeches were by other people trying to manipulate Spike, not his own words). Now, though, he's not complaining about being unable to rampage and kill, which is a fairly simple problem. Instead, he's torn by unfamiliar emotions and problems he can't see an answer to. The problem is not that he can't hurt Buffy (and anyway, he clearly can hurt her): he's complaining that hurting her makes him feel bad.
So what can he do? 

It won't let me be a monster. And I can't be a man.

That's the crucial line. And the key to it is this: the chip won't let Spike be a monster... but he doesn't want to be a monster. Not anymore. Not now that he's seen how easily he can turn on Buffy, hurt her, drive her away. 

But if he doesn't want to be a monster, how can he be a man? It's impossible. Buffy might have treated him like one, on the good days ('The Gift') but he knows, now more than ever, that it's only ever a pretence. A façade. 

Except...

CLEM: Hey. Come on now, Mr. Negative. You never know what's just around the corner. Things change.
SPIKE: They do... If you make them.

In that moment, he had his epiphany. He remembered the legend about the cave in Africa and the demon that could restore souls (or grant wishes, whatever...). He realised that he *could* become a man; that instead of being either a demon or a leashed demon, he could become something more. 

SPIKE: She thinks she knows me. She thinks she knows who I am. What I'm capable of. She has no idea. I wasn't always this way. It won't be easy, but I can be like I was. Before they castrated me. Before... Then she'll see who I really am. 

More misdirection, perhaps. But notice the *two* 'before's... "Before they castrated me" and then a second 'before'... before what? "Before I lost my soul", perhaps? 

Some people think that this is just Spike's Mwah-ha-ha speech: he's going to get himself turned back into the old unchipped Spike so he can rampage and be evil and hurt the people Buffy loves. (Remember, he already can hurt Buffy herself; the chip doesn't work on her.) 

However, we should consider that Buffy knows full well what unchipped Spike was like, and what he was capable of. That wouldn't surprise her. Souled Spike - William - certainly would, however... But the irony is, of course, that Spike doesn't really know what having the soul will do to him either. I doubt he thinks it'll turn him back into an ineffectual Victorian dilletante... I'm sure he's self-confident enough to think that the essentials of the personality he constructed for himself will remain. Except he'll have a soul. And, presumably, not be Evil any more (or at least have the option). And he'll be complete, a man again, able to face Buffy as an equal. No longer a monster. 

So why does Spike keep going on about the chip? (Other than, y'know, to fool the audience). Because he blames it for getting him into this situation in the first place. Before the chip, everything was black and white, and Buffy was just another Slayer to kill or be killed by. After the chip, Spike spent enough time in Buffy's company to fall in love with her. Which has brought all kinds of emotional torment to his life, so of course he's pretty angry about it.. But the chip is old news. He's had two years to get used to it. His motivation now is to solve his problem with Buffy. 



Why does Spike go for his soul? Not self-preservation: he certainly doesn't give the slightest indication that he's just looking for an excuse for Buffy not to stake him. There is some evidence that he wants to make himself worthy of her, so she will no longer consider him 'beneath her'... and that's backed up by his comments in the next two episodes about "giving the bitch what she deserves."  (Amusingly, One Bit Shy once suggested that he actually did think the soul would turn him back into William the simpering mummy's boy, and that this would serve Buffy right for complaining about his soullessness. It's a nice idea, but like I said above, i think Spike's ego is large enough to think he'd survive the process with his personality intact.)

Mostly, though, I think it's more self-centred. The soulquest is the only way left for him to resolve the fundamental question of who he really is.  He's horrified at the monster: so he will rediscover the man. Or die trying.

Comments

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 16:12 (UTC)

Thanks - having your arguments complimented by someone who disagrees with them is always the most valuable sort of praise. :)

Regarding Buffy & co being murderers - I've always thought of them more as soldiers. They're fighting a war to defend humanity against evil, and the fact that some of the enemy soldiers could be perfectly decent people given the chance isn't really relevant. If you see someone in the enemy's uniform holding a gun, you don't normally stop to ask him if he's really loyal to the enemy cause, or if he's aver considered changing sides - you just shoot him. (If he throws his gun down or tries to surrender, of course, that's a different matter. It's why Buffy often didn't bother to kill demons who were running away, or just minding their own business).

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 16:33 (UTC)

I agree the slayer and the council are soldiers. The scoobies though are heroes and whilst there is a long history of anti-heroes in comics one of the things that initially drew me to Buffy was the chuthuluesque mythos which was quite black and white. As opposed to TNG where all the baddies are neutered and converted to be good little allies.

By allowing Spike to act the way he does they undermine the slay on sight argument. This problem continues with Clem and Lorne and makes you look at all their earlier slayings in a different light. Sure they are still fighting evil. But they don't wait until they attacked witness the slayings of S6 & S7. It turns our heroes into at best tarnished heroes or anti heroes.It certainly changes the morality to a greyer tone. Unfortunately this is not a planned change but an accidental byproduct.

Regarding the supposed misdirect/fakeout. Did anyone actually believe that? I thought it was blindingly obvious given the blatant favouritism shown to the character and the fact that Marti was running the show. No Spike coming back as an evil active agent of the first would have suprised me. Buffy staking him after killing another 11 innocents would have suprised me.

Regarding the soul my main problem is that it makes no difference to the way Spike acts he is the same before and after gaining his soul. He still murders, sires, serves evil, thinks of himself.

Angel/Angelus the other vampire with a soul is very different and therefore supports the metaphysics of the universe. Spike undermines it.

The Spike arc is a retcon to give the writers an excuse to keep an actor around they like. Whilst many people like this I personally think it is the fonz moment of the show.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 17:46 (UTC)
buffies

I don’t think they do have a ‘slay on sight’ policy. Or at least when that does seem to apply, Buffy harpooning the junkie Vamp in Into the Woods or setting sleeping nests alight with Faith in Bad Girls it’s in the context of being a bad thing. On routine patrols Buffy is shown attacking vamps/monsters who when not actively engaged in attacking victims are responding to her aggressively. At the very least by growling or going for game face. Vamps who run away she lets go, Harmony/Dru and the putative poofter vamps in Crush just as she does neutered Spike from S4 onwards.

Regarding the soul my main problem is that it makes no difference to the way Spike acts he is the same before and after gaining his soul. He still murders, sires, serves evil, thinks of himself.
But the murdering, sireing and serving evil are not under his conscious control. Of his own volition he’s unwilling to fight even in self defense until Buffy calls him out on it, which she never would have had to do before the soul.

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 18:05 (UTC)

But the patrolling is part of an active rustle the bushes policy designed to kill bad guys on sight. True we don't see much active regular patrolling in later seasons but enough to indicate it still goes on.And also you are right that in Into the woods it is portrayed as a bad thing that she kills all those vamps. Problem is the show is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Those vampires they should be dusted on sight. She is then following her higher calling rather than dusting to her own agenda.Her not doing it undermines Buffy as a character imho.


And you're right she lets vamps run away to kill again which is one of the problems I have with the later seasons. This is done so the writers can avoid drawing attention to why the hell she does not stake Spike. If she staked Harmony which in S1-3 as a vampire slayer she would of done then viewers would be going why not Spike. This is my whole problem post S4 with his survival. Great character, antagonist before that.The S2 Woodstock scene is one of my favourite of the series.

The thing is the hypnotic trigger is part of his get back soul deal. Did we ever learn when that was implanted ? But it is a consequence of his own actions therefore he is culpable in some respects. Same deal as with Gunn just because he did not think of the consequences doesn't absolve him of blame. But Spike probably did and didn't care.

Plus it is the 2nd time he has betrayed them.When Giles colludes with Wood to kill Spike, Spike takes great pleasure in beating Wood down.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 18:18 (UTC)
buffies

But the patrolling is part of an active rustle the bushes policy designed to kill bad guys on sight.
If, which is what I was proposing, we don't see them being killed on sight but only after also returning aggression than I don't think you can conclude that this is *her* policy even if *you* think it should be.

I don't think her letting the scaredy-vamps runaway to tell their friends how terrifying she is is such a bad strategy. She's one girl she can't kill them all but if her reputation frightens even the Angeluses of the world into avoiding fun but attention-drawing massacres it's doing her job for her.

We never find out when or how the trigger was implanted. As far as we know it's a consequnce of his own actions only in the sense of his having those pesky mother issues from way back and not staking himself. Which he immediately offers to do once he understands what's going on.

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 18:32 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:08 (UTC)

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:24 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:42 (UTC)

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:57 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:40 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 20:06 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 20:12 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 21:31 (UTC)

Posted by: prophecygirrl (prophecygirrl)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 17:57 (UTC)

I agree that they never explained the difference a soul made to Angel vs. Spike. For me, this remains one of the most compelling and intriguing inconsistencies in the 'verse.

But, I do take exception to the idea that it made no difference to Spike, or that
He still murders, sires, serves evil, thinks of himself.
He murders/sires/serves evil under the influence of the first, and suffers mightily because of it. Souless Spike would not have comprehended or suffered guilt or remorse except where these acts impacted Buffy's feelings for him. He never sired anyone without the soul, that we saw on screen, underscoring that the choices he was making were not those he would make on his own.

I'm not sure what you mean by "thinks of himself", or how you reconcile that to his sacrifice at the end of "Chosen".

As for the metaphysical aspects, personally, I think they arecompletely in keeping with the the direction the series took over the seasons. Think about Willow's S6 arc, for example, or Anya's decision to be a vengance wizard again, Giles' decision to conspire with wood. It becomes an increasingly fine line as the series progresses.

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 18:25 (UTC)

And he murdered and killed whilst not under the influence of the first. The only time he doesn't kill humans is when he is chipped and that is because it causes him pain not because he doesn't want to do it. So no difference there.

"comprehended or suffered guilt or remorse."

And did he show this for anyone but Buffy in S7 ? Not that I can recall. His focus is still all on her. One of the things I actually missed in S6/7 was the Spike/Dawn friendship sort of odd couple like.

Regarding his sacrifice. Since no one had any idea about what "the plot macguffin which undermines the whole message" would do. His action becomes less than selfless. The goodbye scenes remember all occur after it activates.

As regards the metaphysics yep in line with the greying line. And I think that should have been explored. It was really more an ATS line though.

Willow's arc rather than being a power corrupts , absolute power corrupts absolutely and being used to show the flaws in her character instead of course became guilt free magic crack, slap on wrist. Anya became get huffy kill lots of people , slap on wrist.

Giles is the only storyline that sort of worked. You have a clear and present , security risk, killer who has betrayed you twice and is under the control of your enemy and you don't kill him or at the very least exclude him from your councils ? Only precognition about the need for a souled vamp which Buffy does not have would mean you keep him around.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 18:50 (UTC)

he murdered and killed whilst not under the influence of the first
When? (I assume you're talking about season 7 and Ats season 5). Souled Spike doesn't willingly murder anyone. He's even slightly more reluctant to kill hostile demons, although his old joy at fighting hasn't completely left him.

The goodbye scenes remember all occur after it activates

Buffy tells him to escape with them - he refuses because the job isn't finished. There's no reason to suppose he couldn't have simply taken the amulet off again, after all...

You have a clear and present , security risk, killer who has betrayed you twice and is under the control of your enemy and you don't kill him or at the very least exclude him from your councils ?

At first I thought you were talking about Giles himself there, not Spike. :) But if Spike doesn't know what he does under The First's influence, there's no reason to suppose the opposite is true either. And even if he did, it's pretty pointless for The First to gather information by questioning Spike, when It could simply hover around Casa Summers in insubstantial form and listen in anyway... Anyway, Spike didn't betray anyone, because he wasn't in control of his own actions. Unless you agree with Xander that souled Angel was responsible for the murders carried out by unsouled Angelus?

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:03 (UTC)

Posted by: rowynnecrowley (rowynnecrowley)
Posted at: 10th December 2008 16:49 (UTC)

Posted by: prophecygirrl (prophecygirrl)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:12 (UTC)

He murdered before the soul. After the soul, he himself said that he would not willingly >do anything to add to the bodycount with all the guilt he's feeling now.

And, I agree it would be good to explore that grey area a lot more than we got a chance to, and that ATS got to play in this grownup world a lot more satisfactorily. It always did, just the nature of the two shows.

But as for the rest, I think we'll just have to agree to disagree (on my part, pretty vehemently). We'll never see eye to eye on this one. But, it's nice to think that a TV show can inspire disucssions like this one, and meta like the original post, well after the fact.

Posted by: prophecygirrl (prophecygirrl)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:12 (UTC)

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:19 (UTC)

Posted by: The Deadly Hook (thedeadlyhook)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 17:30 (UTC)
Bad Rude Man by noaluvjames

Regarding Buffy & co being murderers - I've always thought of them more as soldiers. They're fighting a war to defend humanity against evil, and the fact that some of the enemy soldiers could be perfectly decent people given the chance isn't really relevant.

Yes, very good point. This is why I've never really understood the "but then Buffy's a murderer" argument - she was, for all intents and purposes, drafted, told what to do by a higher authority, and sent into battle. That she builds up enough autonomy to question those orders over time and reassesses the truth of what she's been told shows growth of the character - a point made specifically in S4, actually, when we see Buffy question the Initiative's methods. We honestly weren't given all that much cause to trust the Council's word on everything (their records contain plenty of holes and errors), so it's entirely possible that there are complications to Buffy's mission that weren't in her original brief. That she keeps adjusting her viewpoint to fit the available evidence makes her more heroic, in my book.

That said, Spike DOES seem to have been large anomoly - it's only because of the chip that he had time to build up enough awareness to be anything other than active evil. His storyline challenges the built-up rules of the universe, but doesn't outright break them, because his circumstances are so unique. (The same could also be said of Angel, IMHO. Because soul = good? Not from any evidence we saw on the show.)

Terrific essay.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 18:20 (UTC)

Thanks!

I'd agree the equation is not soul=good, but rather soul=gives the capacity to choose between good or evil. Lack of soul, likewise, I'd say means ultimately selfish and self-serving (or mindless minion) rather than automatically evil. Spike is an anomaly because he's put in a unique position: in order to be selfish and self-serving (in other words, get the relationship with Buffy he wants), he has to act as though he's the opposite. Ultimately, the cognitive dissonance gets too much for him...

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 18:49 (UTC)
Spike - Seeing Red by earth_vexer

*Very* neat bit of reasoning there.

soul=gives the capacity to choose between good or evil
Exactly! I once wrote a terribly, terribly long essay on this: Souls and Redemption in the Buffyverse. Of course it's slightly tangerial to the topic of this post...

Oh and I'll leave now! Sorry about the self-pimp. :)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:12 (UTC)
Spike - fighting for his soul by awmp

Actually, I'll just touch upon the one aspect of the essay that really matters here, because Biblical metaphors are fun: The soul is the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
"They all just tell me go... go... to hell.

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Spike wants to 'be like God' (Buffy) and did something he knew he shouldn't... "Buffy, shame on you. Why does a man do what he mustn't?"

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked
[...]
and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

"God, I can't... Not with you looking."

Free will is a great and terrible thing.

Posted by: rowynnecrowley (rowynnecrowley)
Posted at: 10th December 2008 16:56 (UTC)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 10th December 2008 17:04 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:28 (UTC)

Posted by: The Deadly Hook (thedeadlyhook)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:29 (UTC)
Bad Rude Man by noaluvjames

Spike is an anomaly because he's put in a unique position: in order to be selfish and self-serving (in other words, get the relationship with Buffy he wants), he has to act as though he's the opposite. Ultimately, the cognitive dissonance gets too much for him...

Yep, that's a good way of putting it. Especially since nothing in that portrait actually contradicts the idea that he really does or can love without a soul - after all, aren't most people's "loving" relationships self-serving in one sense or another? Buffy's love for Angel certainly wasn't selfless, nor his for her. So, while soulless wasn't necessarily being "good" in seeking a soul, he ended up giving himself the option of making those good/evil choices in future, because of the soul.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:55 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 21:45 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 22:52 (UTC)

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 2nd June 2007 18:05 (UTC)

Posted by: red_satin_doll (red_satin_doll)
Posted at: 16th September 2012 16:46 (UTC)

Coming in VERY late here...I hope you'll forgive me for saying that I've read a lot of your essays and reviews over the last months (and comments on other LJ forums) and I never fail to enjoy your writing even if I oftentimes disagree with you. But on this meta I can only nod my head in absolute agreement to all of it, but particularly to the comment you've made here:

I'd agree the equation is not soul=good, but rather soul=gives the capacity to choose between good or evil. Lack of soul, likewise, I'd say means ultimately selfish and self-serving (or mindless minion) rather than automatically evil. Spike is an anomaly because he's put in a unique position: in order to be selfish and self-serving (in other words, get the relationship with Buffy he wants), he has to act as though he's the opposite. Ultimately, the cognitive dissonance gets too much for him...

THIS summarizes the entire issue very elegantly and succinctly, IMO.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th September 2012 21:38 (UTC)

Posted by: red_satin_doll (red_satin_doll)
Posted at: 17th September 2012 18:05 (UTC)

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