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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: 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)

True the rep things is a good strategy but you have to admit she starts to let an awful lot run away. And that woudl only really be useful in the early days, which would be S1-3 which is when she doesn't do it.

A black hole of death from which no vamps emerge is more in keeping with the slayers bogeyman image though and just as effective.

Maybe the trigger will be explained in one of the spike comic books ? If it is implanted by the demon who gave him is soul reasonable to assume since we have no evidence otherwise then he is culpable in the same way Gunn was culpable for Fred's death by his deal. To have it go back to his mother would require another not quite retcon but something close.

Strange that I am having such an enjoyable discussion about one of my least favourite characters. Shows you what a good meta can do Stormwreath.:-)

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

A black hole of death from which no vamps emerge is more in keeping with the slayers bogeyman image though and just as effective.
Well not if none survive to tell the tale. They don’t even leave bones to warn off future vamps.

True the rep things is a good strategy but you have to admit she starts to let an awful lot run away. And that woudl only really be useful in the early days, which would be S1-3 which is when she doesn't do it.
She lets Spike walk away from their first encounter I S2 (during which he doesn’t attack her). Otherwise the runaways we see are mostly concentrated in Crush. There’s one she doesn’t let run away in B vs D but her actions there fall into the ‘bad’ category from what she tells Giles about hunting.

The thing is that while it may not be Slayer policy to attack on sight, it is the way most vamps behave, being evil n’ all. So for the most part we don’t get to see her letting them go.

To have it go back to his mother would require another not quite retcon but something close.
I didn’t mean that it was implanted when he killed his mother but that his having done so gave whatever did implant it (I’d always assumed it was the First or an agent thereof) something to work with.

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

They don’t even leave bones to warn off future vamps.

Very true.:-) Or even money, or clues. I often wondered at what point vamps didn't entirely dust. The master didn't of course but Kakistos did as did Darla. 1000 years plus ?

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

I'd always assumed that to be something special about the Master, not just a product of his age. Either a spell he cast on himself, or a side-benefit of being master of the Order of Aurelius, or even a side-effect of being trapped inside the Hellmouth for so long.

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

Maybe it was cork in bottle syndrome or the order thing. Certainly there seems to be a thing that they become more demonic with age. Both Kakistos and the master show that. Certainly that is the rpg view.

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

She lets Spike walk away from their first encounter I S2 (during which he doesn’t attack her). Otherwise the runaways we see are mostly concentrated in Crush.

Heck, as early as season 1 episode 2 she's letting vampires escape. During the big fight in the Bronze, after she stakes Luke, she stares meaningfully at a couple of vampires, who immediately run away. She lets them....

Not to mention all the times she goes into Willy's Place for information in the early seasons, and doesn't immediately start staking the assorted vampires and demons who get up to leave when she comes in...

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

My theory is better than I remember then :-)

I suppose one counter-example would be her lobbing the thurible after Spike as he escapes with Dru at the end of WTM2. Still by then Dru is not just a current threat but a prophecised one (as far as they know).

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

I suppose one counter-example would be her lobbing the thurible after Spike as he escapes with Dru at the end of WTM2.

Yeah, but at that stage Spike isn't just a random vamp. Spike just tried to kill Angel. And nobody messes with Buffy's boyfriend. :)

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

Like the junkie vamp did Riley? Sex and death the same damn thing.

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