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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 19:00 (UTC)

Excellent points about freedom - and thinking about it, it's a shame that we never saw a scene between souled Spike and Drusilla. I'd pay good money to watch that...

It's paradoxical because Spike didn't vamp out during the AR scene, but I think it's more subtle that way.
I think that's because he was driven by desperation, frustration, the need to re-connect with Buffy despite her (misguided, in his view) unwillingness. Human emotions, in other words, rather than simple vampiric greed, lust and cruelty. It wasn't the demon that tried to rape Buffy, it was the man.

But the twist is that the man that Spike used to be before Drusilla wouldn't have done that either. The demon hasn't just trapped him; it's deformed him, made him less than he was. Which is why he wantes to be restored into what he used to be...

Posted by: prophecygirrl (prophecygirrl)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:17 (UTC)

But the twist is that the man that Spike used to be before Drusilla wouldn't have done that either. The demon hasn't just trapped him; it's deformed him, made him less than he was. Which is why he wantes to be restored into what he used to be...

Yes, perfectly and beautifully stated.

And, I would also have loved to see Dru and souled Spike interact. Another thing we were cheated of in S6 of ATS.

Posted by: prophecygirrl (prophecygirrl)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:33 (UTC)

Also, OK to friend?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 19:44 (UTC)

Absolutely, and thanks for your comments too. :)

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 21:00 (UTC)

Excellent essay and discussion.

Human emotions, in other words, rather than simple vampiric greed, lust and cruelty. It wasn't the demon that tried to rape Buffy, it was the man.

But the twist is that the man that Spike used to be before Drusilla wouldn't have done that either. The demon hasn't just trapped him; it's deformed him, made him less than he was. Which is why he wantes to be restored into what he used to be...
Yes.I've always thought that ME used at least two figures of the vampire : the first one being simply a demon in a human shell, the second one being these of a liminal creature, somewhere between human and demon (Drusilla, Dalton), even bending, with Spike, towards a demonised human. Another scene which illustrates the deformation of the human in Spike is the turning of his mother where selfishness(one of the forms of evil in the Jossverse) blends with a genuine concern to "save" her from her disease. Add to that his incapability to perceive the monstrosity of this act. In a way, it could be seen as a reversed mirror of the AR where for the first time he really sees his monstrosity.

As for a scene between souled Spike and Drusilla, I wish we could have seen it. Drusilla was an interesting character, with great potential.

Thank you Stormwreath for taking the time to make us share your thoughts. I'm going to friend you if you don't mind, feel free to do the same with me or to have a look in my LJ,there's a piece of meta on the nature of vampire which could perhaps interest you.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 21:42 (UTC)

the first one being simply a demon in a human shell, the second one being these of a liminal creature, somewhere between human and demon

And the first type appeared less and less often on the show, because fundamentally they weren't particularly interesting - except as an opponent for Buffy to dust by the dozen, and a foil to illustrate her own personality development.

I've had a quick look at your vampire essay - I'll read it through properly later. Thanks!

Posted by: Chani φ (frenchani)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 22:02 (UTC)

You didn't understand me (or rather I didn't take the time to explain it). My theory si that vampirism is a metaphor for various urges, instincts, lusts etc...Vampires are passive beings, driven by those urges. Vampires are there to tell us something about human nature. So of course when Spike tries to rape Buffy it's about a man trying to rape the woman he loves. Yet concerning Spike's jouney, it's because he's a soulless vampire and not his own a man, that he does it. He thought he would always keep his words, he thought he would never hurt Buffy because he decided a man in love wouldn't do that. He thought he knew who he was. But he did hurt Buffy which made him face what he was and therefore what he was not.

In other words, the AR made Spike realise what being a vampire stole from it.

It's like Stevenson's novel. The fantastic elements are used to say something about men. Hyde represents the unleashed urges too. By the way I've always thought that in Angel's case the soul as a curse with a clause worked like the potion unleashing Jeckyll. It's a similar plot device.

Of course as soon as Spike understood he had to get his free will back, he made a choice and stopped being a passive creature. He had virtually already won his soul back, and just didn't know it yet.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st June 2007 22:38 (UTC)

It's not so much that I misunderstood you, as that your analysis catalysed my own feelings on the matter - which are possibly not exactly the same as yours. :)

I agree with the metaphor of the vampire representing humanity's baser urges, but I see it more as an id/ego distinction. The pure vampire is fuelled by nothing but bestial lust, hunger, rage and hatred (see Angel in the Pylea episodes). The human side provides control and forethought and self-preservation. (And continuing the analogy, the soul would be the superego and provide empathy for others, and the capacity to make moral choices). I also think that most vampires do give free reign to their id, but that doesn't mean a Buffyverse vampire is capable of nothing else, that they have no free will. The ones who don't learn to control themselves are the ones who end up dusted by Slayers before they even get to speak...

As I see it, it's not the vampire that tries to rape Buffy. Spike never vamps out during that scene, and I don't think he's doing it out of either lust or hate. Rather, it's a desperate and pathetic attempt to replay the scene from 'Wrecked' and restart his relationship with Buffy... it's the human side in control. Hence his subsequent horror at himself.

Posted by: rowynnecrowley (rowynnecrowley)
Posted at: 10th December 2008 17:16 (UTC)

I've always been of the opinion that Spike had his soul all along. Perhaps it wasn't attached, as with Angel, but it was there, lurking about, affecting his decisions and actions.

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