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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. 


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.


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)

Wasn't talking about souled spike since I fail to see the difference. Unsouled Spike, killed, raped etc since his siring. Chipped spike killed (demons), betrayed humans ( only way he could hurt them). Souled spike killed demons, humans and betrayed them. By his actions no different. Me I judge people by what they do not what they say.

With regard to betrayal. Lack of knowledge of the consequences of a deal with the devil does not make you innocent. I give you exhibit A again Gunn. If Gunn is is some way culpable as he is , then why hold Spike to any less of a standard.

With security the reasons do not matter only the risk. Straight forward risk assessment. Spike's potential risk by his presence outweighs all possible benefit without the benefit of hindsight. Therefore risk assessment would dictate at the minimum you exclude him from all discussion and relegate him to hired muscle or you eliminate the risk. This is what Wood and Giles do. And they are absolutely right. Buffy is only right in retrospect. Her decision making was really poor.

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

It wasn't that he "lacked knowledge of the consequences" of a deal. He lacked knowledge of the deal itself. Spike was a puppet. The First was his puppeteer. If I punch someone in the mouth with a sock puppet, do you blame the sock?

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)

and just ignore those bloody italics, 'k?

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

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.

True. Yep rather than talk ourselves around in circles lets agree to disagree.:-)

Good meta like this is good for dicussion and also very interesting as the views elucidated in this post and various comments give a lot to think about on the internal mechanism of the character rather than the meta effect in the show as a whole.

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