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


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)

Wow! I never thought of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil quite that way, but you're totally right. Thank you for that.

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 10th December 2008 17:04 (UTC)
Spike - fighting for his soul by awmp

My pleasure. I'm afraid I've given it entirely too much thought... (meta tends to eat my head. *g*)

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

Nothing wrong with self-pimping. :) I've already read that essay, and I'm sure it was a subconscious influence on my thoughts here.

What we once read informs all that we have written, after all. :)

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)

Thanks. That is pretty much my view on the whole "soulless redemption" question: Spike got the soul for his own selfish reasons, not because he was 'acting good' - but the end result was the same.

As for love, I think it's best to look at it as a mixture of emotions, including (1) taking pleasure in your partner's company, (2) possessiveness and jealousy, (3) wanting them to be happy, and (4) being willing to sacrifice yourself for them. Soulless vampires can certainly feel 1 and 2, and I think they can also feel 3 - although probably purely for the self-interest benefit that if you make your partner happy, s/he will be more likely to stay with you, rather than because they take genuine pleasure in making them happy for its own sake.

4, on the other hand, I think is beyond them. Possibly beyond even their understanding - which is why they don't realise it matters. Hence why Darla thinks she loved Angelus, but souled Angel says she never did.

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

I’m not sure about 4. There was that James character on Angel and I think Spike would have died for Dru as a grand romantic gesture. He nearly did for Buffy in Intervention.

I think Dru put it best saying that without a soul they could love quite well but not wisely. Wisely here meaning with understanding. Spike would have died for Buffy in S6 but what he couldn’t do was let her go. He loved her more than he loved himself, he’d got to the point of being incapable of distinguishing her from himself and hence couldn’t understand that she might not feel for him exactly what he felt for her. He couldn’t understand that she was a different person with different needs and desires not an extension of himself and still love her.

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

Actually, you've reminded me of the tendency of minion vampires to willingly die for their masters... I'm thinking of the female vampire who came into Buffy's classroom in broad daylight to send her a message from Angelus. So perhaps self-sacrifice wasn't the best term. Maybe lack of empathy is the way to go - as you say, Spike's inability to realise that Buffy's wishes were differnet to his own.

I've always taken Dru's comment about "not wisely" to be a barb at her own feelings for Spike, which she clearly must feel were a mistake at this point...

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

I would sustain Aycheb's point of you here : Drusilla seems more in a process to explain vampire love rather than mocking Spike. "Not wisely" is certainly a good enough lense to look through at Spike's love.As for what Spike's unwise love is, passion amoureuse seems to cover it for me or at least presents many common traits with other passions amoureuses in tragic literature : its overwhelming strength, its obsessional caracteristic, the loss of identity and the identification with the object of the love (in France the psychologists would speak d'amour fusionnel, I don't know how to say it in English. It has nothing to see with a lack of empathy but more with immaturity in feelings and a lack of self identity. Seems to fit Spike rather well)and then of course its strong link with death and destruction.

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)

Replying five years after the original post isn't VERY late, is it? :)


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

A bit beyond "fashionably so", yes, but then timing was never my forte. (Newbie to the show - literally, this year - and so I find all these fascinating discussions that are years old. Alas.)

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