Friday, November 28, 2014

How season 10 of SPN let us all down

A rant, adapted from my excited and as yet, unfulfilled, predictions from the inter-season break.


Dean has flirted with demonhood since late Season 2, so in a journey that has taken almost a decade, you’d think the writers would know what to do when we finally get to meat of the story.   Let me explain.

The early days

In late S2 Dean sold his soul in order to resurrect Sam.  Dean knew the cost was eternity in hell, but he didn't know that meant eventual demonhood.  We get that Dean was willing to sacrifice his eternal soul for his brother's life, because he always believed Sam was worth more than he was-that was just what he was raised to believe.  But if his reasons were strictly because Sam was more valuable than himself, then he never would have made the deal.  See, Dean resurrected Sam knowing that Azazel’s plans for Sam were just coming to fruition.  Dean knows these plans required Sam to be alive since killing Sam was John’s fail-safe for the whole thing.

Dean didn't have a clear picture of what Azazel’s master plan was, but he believed it involved corrupting Sam into some kind of demon-human hybrid.   Now, let’s just think about how bad that could be.  John Winchester, who loved Dean so much he was willing to spend eternity in hell to save Dean’s mortal life, and who absolutely loved Sam even more than that, felt that Sam’s death was preferable to being part of Azazel’s plan. 

Basically Dean's act was in no way selfless, was entirely selfish and was largely done to atone for the guilt of failing both his father and his brother.  And then, whoopsie, turns out your time in hell turns you into a demon.  Which is roughly 10,000 times worse than becoming a ghost because you refused to cross over (something that Dean adamantly did not want to become).

The middling years

Poor Deano. (photo source)
So let’s skip ahead to Season 4.  Dean spends about 40 years in an absolutely terrible, torturous, Dante-had-no-idea hell.  After roughly 30 years in this hardcore-no-bullshit-DMV-line hell, Dean agrees to actively participate in the demonization process.  To clarify, just being in hell is the demonization process.  You spend enough time in there and your humanity will burn away, and all the pain you’ve endured leaves you with a desire to cause pain, etc.  I assume there’s something metaphysical happening, but whatever.  The point is that at some point Dean took an active role in the process, instead of a passive one.

Dean happily journeyed down this demonization road for 10 years before being rescued by Castiel.  We know that souls are in hell for decades, or even centuries, before coming topside again (side note: I want my demon-Bella, goddammit.  I've wanted it since S4).  We know that hell sucks even for demons.  We also know that Dean had a VIP status in hell.   Alastair himself tortured Dean endlessly, since it was such a fucking important step in releasing Lucifer from the cage.  So, although it can be assumed that it has taken other souls a longer amount of time to turn in to demons, we can speculate that Dean’s process was fast-tracked, as in more demony in a smaller amount of time.  Dean admits he enjoyed torturing people while in hell.  So, my question is – what’s been going on with his soul ever since?

For seasons 4, 5 and 6 he tries to redeem himself, with various levels of success, but is still an incredibly broken person.  He always held himself to remarkably high standards in terms of measuring his success and after enjoying torture and breaking the first seal, he really had quite a lot to make up for.  S5 is especially hard for Dean because throughout S4 he was toying with the idea that there was a God who saw redemption for Dean.  When he starts to figure out the truth, it just shatters him.  To the point where his soul is so dead that he’s unaffected by the power of Famine.  

A really important thing to track through seasons 4-6 is Dean’s use of torture.  At first he was resistant to use the skills he learned in hell, particularly in S4 when there's still some hope that there's a God who cares and could maybe forgive and maybe even give Dean the grace to forgive himself.  In S5 he's upset at his future self for using torture.  As far as I can recall, Dean doesn't personally torture anyone in S5, but allows it to happen and doesn't object to plans that require it (like when Crowley and Dean kidnap the demon Brady).  By S6 Dean is allowing torture to happen in more and more situations (the alphas, or bringing Meg with them in Caged Heat with the specific intention of torturing Crowley).  Later in S6, he's torturing demons for information, and when Crowley takes Lisa and Ben, he's goes on an all-out torture rampage, and seems to enjoy it. 

The later years

In Season 7, Dean hit rock bottom.  His struggles with depression and alcoholism rob him of whatever he had been able to rebuild in himself, so he’s just this empty creature.  I have tons and tons to say on S7, but this isn't the time for it.  Suffice to say he is a shell of a person who doesn't get enjoyment from anything.  But then something good happens (kind of), and Dean gets sent to Purgatory.

Dean, as fucked up as ever, with a renewed sense of purpose (source)

Dean LOVED Purgatory.  He loved the purity of killing and not needing to fret about the morality of it.  In early S8 he describes himself as “clear-eyed” for the first time in a while.  Though he’s still committed to the good side of the fight, he’s about the fight, not about the good.  It’s not about "saving people, hunting things" any more, it’s about dealing out swift death.  And he loves doing that.  Of course he's still got his sense of morality, but it's largely just inherited from his years of believing and adhering to it.  His still sticking to his code, but is making more compromising choices than he has in the past, and doesn't really seem to be interested in any sense of justice (and a good measure of this is how he treats/what he expects from Kevin).

Dean volunteers to complete the heavenly trials because, as he tells Sam, he has no chance at normalcy.  Dean wants to go out fighting because he likes fighting and he wants to do that while he’s still on the side of good.  You know that whole, die a hero or live long enough to become a villain?  Yeah, Dean can see that coming from a mile away, even if he's not fully aware of it.  The real reason he’s not okay with Sam doing the trials isn't because he’ll miss Sam, the truth is Dean does not trust himself to outlive Sam.  And he probably shouldn't.  

Sam keeps Dean in check.  Remember how scary and cold-blooded Sammy was in Mystery Spot after Dean’s Wednesday death?  At this point, Dean would be even worse.  During S8 Dean was able to rebuild parts of his relationship with Sam.  It's not great, but it's more than he had in S7, and it's helping to keep Dean grounded. This is the reason Dean makes Sam stop the trials, and why he violates Sam and allows Gaddreal to possess him (despite the fact that they’re both survivors of sexual violence, and control of your body and mind should be all the more important).  Dean needs Sam, and Cas, to keep him in check.

And then we get to Season 9.  Meandering S9.  Once again Dean is about the fight.   He doesn't care about consequences, or big pictures, he just wants to fight.   He doesn't care about the alliances he makes.  He’s fine working with Crowley, not necessarily because Abaddon is the bigger threat—though she is—but because she, personally, pissed him off (which I talk about here).   The second half of that post covers a lot of my feelings about the Dean/Cain similarities, but to simplify:  Dean is very much like Cain because at this point he cares about exactly two things: his brothers (Cas included), and killing.

Deanmon Days

An awesome scene that really should have been just the start of the Deanmon plot line (source)

And then Dean, who has always jumped head first into situations without really understanding the consequences, becomes a demon because of the Mark he recklessly accepted without even glancing at the "warning label."  And it should should been the most insanely dark thing we've ever seen on this show--and we've seen some dark shit.

I want to reiterate one more time: Dean has always enjoyed violence.  In S1, he told Sam "this job ain't without its perks" while handing him a gun, implying that using extreme violence on monsters is fun. Pre-demon Dean loved violence and killing, demon-trainnee Dean loved torturing people.  Raised-from-Perdition Dean loved torutre.  Mark of Cain Dean was addicted to killing.  Dean is now a full-blown fucking demon.  Demons do shit like tear off children's heads in front of their parents for shits and giggles.  Deanmon needs to be doing worse shit than fucking S2 Human Dean has done, and the show has not delivered.

Deanmon should have (eventually) been the worst demon we've ever met.  Why?  Because he's Dean freaking Winchester.  He's easily one of the greatest hunters ever to walk the earth.  He was supposed to be the champion for heaven but he rejected that, because his sense of morality was too fucking high to be the goddamn champion of freaking heaven. And now he's fallen.  And guess what?  The higher you are, the harder you fall.  

Furthermore, Dean's previous choices have destabilized hell by humanizing Crowley, and  assassinating the next best contenders for a stable ruler.  Yet while Dean killed the last remaining Knight of Hell, he himself turned into one, and has the power to make more.  

Honestly, it's like barely subjective how this story should have progressed.  And the writers made a bad, easy choice.  See, Deanmon didn't transitioned to a demon in the traditional way.  We know that Cain was able to put his demonic personality aside for love.  So it's possible that Sam and Cas's love would have been enough to reawaken Dean's humanity.  After all, there's no evidence Cain needed any kind of spell to reawaken his.  

Even if Sam wanted to use the spell, it shouldn't have worked.  Dean is an entirely unique kind of demon in the history of the world.  He has the foundation of a normal demonization process, and his  actual transformation was because of the Mark.  And, more important than any of that logic is sticking to the fucking theme of this 10 year old story.  The Winchester story is sacrifice.  Add in an explainer line that the blood for the healing ritual has to come from the person performing it.  Now Sam either needs to find a human hunter he can trust enough to transition his brother, or he will need to decide to complete the trials, seal the gates to hell, and sacrifice his life for his brother's soul.

Now there's some conflict.  Sam is weighing options while Dean is growing more and more evil.  Now Sam's story involves tracking down Cain and asking about how to activate the humanity within Dean,;or, deciding to drink demon blood and control his brother ; or, figuring out a way to pass the Mark along to someone else.  Someone, like maybe Castiel.  

We should have had more episodes of Dean becoming more, and more evil.  We should have had Dean annointing Knights of Hell, and seeking out the tablets on a mission from Crowley.  We know the tablets are powerful and can directly source power to the holder (Metatron did that).  So, what happens when an uncontrollable and evil Deanmon puts his hands on the tablets?  Probably he decides to crown himself King of Hell.  

That is really where we should be in this season.

What has happened has been a total farce, and my only hope is that maybe it actually is a farce.  Maybe the spell didn't work.  Dean could still be a demon.  During the purification ritual Dean was "human enough" to escape the devil's trap.  It's possible he's "human enough" to not react to holy water.  It's also possible that the ritual helped his humanity resurface, but he's still a demon and it will be a back and forth between his love of killing and his humanity.

Hopefully Cain reentering the story will help set some things to rights (and maybe help re-evoke Dean's demonic side, since killing Cain requires the Mark and the Blade).  Maybe all my fears will be alleviated and I'll have Dean as a Knight of Hell, doing dark and terrible shit.  Not because I think it's cool that he'd be evil.  But because absolutely nothing else makes any sense.    

But unfortunately, I have almost zero faith in Jeremy Carver as show runner, which sucks because he's written some of my favorite episodes.  The demon plot line may be dead, and I fear that for once the writers won't resurrect something (zing).

Monday, August 25, 2014

SA in BtvS Part V: Buffy and Spike

Trigger warning for discussion of abuse, rape, attempted rape, rape culture, sexual assault, and sexual violence.

This is part five in a series about sexual violence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - you can read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here and Part IV here


Last time I (hopefully) established beyond any doubt that Buffy and Spike were in an abusive relationship.  Anyway, let’s move on.

Eventually Buffy realizes that the things she's doing and allowing Spike to do to her are not okay.  Part of this revelation comes when she realizes that she is, in fact, all the way human.  Spike had her convinced that she was somehow less human than before her death, and that allowed her to tolerate the relationship.  This really echoes how a lot of people feel when they're on the receiving end of abuse.  Like maybe they're not good enough or whole enough to deserve better treatment.  Once she recognizes that, it becomes a little easier for her to move on.

And she does.  But Spike doesn't like that.  He continues to stalk her, tries to manipulate her, and eventually, he attacks her.  Despite what other people have argued, it is not like their previous sexual encounters.  There was always an aspect of violent sex in their relationship, but not like this.  Buffy had firmly shut down the relationship and Spike had tried his darndest to start it up again.  She made it clear that she wasn’t okay with what they’d been doing and that she also didn’t feel right using him anymore.  

This is NOT a situation of a guy who didn’t realize he was going too far.  Side comment - the "he didn't realize what he was doing" is a pretty standard argument against believing women about their own rapes, so maybe we need to put that to rest all together.   This scene is shot to incontrovertibly establish that Spike was purposefully assaulting Buffy.  He was acting like a monster selfishly taking what he can, and what he believes he is entitled to.  This is the same monster who, not more than a few weeks prior, thought for a moment that his chip was broken and immediately went out to kill people.  He has feelings, sure, but he has the same range of feelings he had when he was with Dru.  And he doesn’t have a conscience the same way ensouled persons do.  

I want to make it clear that the fact that he doesn't have a soul does NOT excuse his behavior.  At several points throughout the series he asks to be held to the standard of “a man.”  He wants Buffy to treat him like a person, not a monster who can’t be held accountable for his actions.  Spike can’t just pick and choose which actions should be held to a standard for humans, and then say, “Well I’m a vampire,” when he falls short.  And even if we're going that route, I'm a bit uncomfortable with this sudden shift to moral relativism.  If you're going to say, well he's a vampire he's not responsible for those actions, then you would need to justify that it's cruel to kill vampires since their feeding habits are morally justifiable since they don't have souls - and I don't think anyone is going to take that position.  And either way, Spike's cultivated the skills necessary to interact regularly with the humans, so it's not like he didn't know any fucking better.  

Buffy is able to fight Spike enough during the attack that he stops.  He realizes that he’s crossed a line there is no way to uncross.  She will never be able to see him as anything but a monster, ever again.  All the work he put into their relationship (the “Nice Guy” stuff, like protecting Dawn and helping slay demons) are down the drain.  She flat out tells him that she can never love him because he is capable of doing things like this.  So I don’t think it goes too far to say that his decision to seek out his soul is an inherently selfish act.  

The show uses a nice bit of misdirection, making the viewer think Spike is seeking to get his chip out, to “make him like he was” so that he can “give Buffy what she deserves.”  All of this comes from an angry, vindictive, and violent place.  The audience is meant to assume he’s seeking revenge – and he is.  He’s not looking to better himself as an individual because he committed a terrible act and feels guilt or remorse, he’s acting like a 5 year old child, with the logic of, “I’ll show her!”  He just attempted to rape Buffy to get what he wanted from her, but she stopped him, so now he’s changing his game plan, but it’s still just to get what he wants from her.  This much, if nothing else, should prove to viewers that Spike knew what he was doing.

But I don’t really want to dive into Spike, I want to focus on Buffy.   Spike is straight up and inexcusably an attempted rapist. Rape is disgusting and terrible.  But here's the thing: the world isn't just this black and white place where you're either a rapist or a saint.  People are complex and are capable of growing and learning and showing remorse.  Survivors of violence are entitled to decide how to respond to his or her attacker.  If they decide to forgive their attacker, that's their right and their choice.  If they wish their attacker would die and burn in hell, that's also their right and choice.  The point I'm hitting at is that we don’t get to tell a survivor what he or she has to do.  We're allowed to be concerned if we think our loved ones are in an actively dangerous situation, but we cannot control their actions and we certainly can't control their emotions (nor should we want to!).

Buffy has already experienced a ton of shaming and judgment from her friends (mostly Xander).  This is really reflective of the experience of lots of survivors, and it echoes her own former experience with Angel.  Xander never trusted Angel and he was very I-told-you-so when Angelus popped up.  Xander certainly had far less trust and respect for Spike, and he just told Buffy how disgusted he was with her, so my guess is that Buffy isn’t feeling like confiding in him very much.  Unfortunately for her, Xander shows up in the immediate aftermath of the attack and figures out what happened. 

And here’s another mini-rant about her good pal, Xander.  Instead of offering her comfort, or asking her what he can do, or telling her he loves her, or any of that – he goes to storm out, bursting with masculine anger at Spike.  Sigh.  This is not the way to handle this situation.  Acting like that means he's making Buffy's experience about himself.  About his own feelings and what he can do to feel better.  Instead of, you know, making it about Buffy.  

Also (and I find this almost unforgivable), Xander tells Dawn about Buffy’s assault.  Here’s the thing: if someone confides in you about their experiences of sexual violence, you don’t fucking divulge that information, especially to people in their lives.  Buffy should have been allowed to talk to Dawn about it if, when, and how she chose.  Instead Xander felt entitled to do that.  Once again Xander felt that Buffy wasn’t doing what she “should” do (tell Dawn, and kill Spike).  When Buffy choose a different course of action, Xander did what he could to redirect that course to what he felt it should be.  Man, Xander is the worst sometimes.  

Xander being a judgmental jerk, and Buffy being a cool,
forgiving and empathetic friend (via)
Back to Buffy.  First off, Buffy isn’t very used to “being a victim.”  She’s literally the strongest human in the world, and she “should” be able to protect herself.  Notice I’m using lots of quotes here.  This is a really classic victim-blaming trope that’s being played up on a superhero-scale.  The idea is that if we women follow “the rules” we won’t be assaulted.   The “rules” for us normal women are the tips and advice you might find posted on a university wall, “Don’t drink to the point of excess, don’t walk to your car alone, don’t leave your drink unattended, be aware of your surroundings, wear comfortable shoes you can run in, don't be female.  For Buffy the rules are something like, “always be strong, emotionally and physically; always put the needs of humanity before your own human needs for intimacy and connection; always protect yourself; vampires are the enemy, don’t get close to them.   

There are lots of terrible, god-awful issues with this idea of "rule following", one being that following the rules is about decreasing the likelihood of attack against one person and not about eradicating sexual violence.  Another issue is that it’s total bullshit and plays into a false rape narrative (most people don’t get attacked walking to their car alone, they are attacked by friends/acquaintances/lovers); and one of the worst things is that it blames the victim instead of the perpetrator (if you were attacked, you must not have been following the rules!).  

According to Buffy's rules she should be smart enough, and strong enough to defend herself.  Once again we get a reminder that even the most powerful woman on the planet isn’t immune to the violence that hurts so many of us.  On top of that, she’s still feeling disgusted with herself for being involved in such a twisted relationship to begin with, both her abusive actions and her acceptance of his abuse.  She obviously is having a hard time confining in her friends and she needs to start to build up those bridges of trust and support again.

And it really sucks that Spike is still strong enough to help fight against evil.  Buffy is charged with the greater good of the world, and the protection of Dawn.  She doesn’t always feel like she can put her personal feelings before that.  So, even though he’s an abusive, scumbag, rapist, she still feels like she needs to use him in her battles to save the world (we know this because she immediately consents to let him watch Dawn).

But one of the major things about their relationship is what happens next.  Lots of people are really angry about the fact that Buffy not only saves Spike in season seven, but she forgives him and eventually establishes a relationship with him again.  Even after his insanity and killing spree and all that, she still chooses him in an important way.  That’s not to say that she thinks of him as her boyfriend, or even that she loves him, but she trusts him.  She forgives him, and she cares about him.  Guess what?  These are Buffy’s choices to make. 

Some people feel that Buffy’s choice is justified because Spike with a soul is a different person than pre-soul Spike.  But a) I don’t really think that Buffy requires a justification for her choices in how to deal with her former abuser, she gets to make whatever decisions she wants; and b) I don’t totally buy this.

Spikes re-ensoulment feels really different from Angel’s.  Angel was cursed with a soul, the whole point was to bring a conscience to a truly evil entity and ensure that both parts of him would suffer eternally.  Spike’s cure is a cure.  We don’t have solid answers but we do know that there’s not the violent personality dichotomy we know with Angel/Angelus.  It’s not William/Spike, it’s just a new, changed, Spike.  Spike sought the return of the soul, he opened the gate (true, he didn’t do it with pure intentions and really wasn’t prepared for the consequences) and it seems like the two parts of him meld together more than Angel/Angelus.  People can point at writing discrepancies but I don't think it's that.  It seems like the ensoulment is fundamentally different for Spike.  This is just my theory, and admittedly I only watched Spike-episodes of Angel way back in the day so maybe I’m way off here and I’d be happy to hear what other people have to say, but this has always been my take.

So, I think the argument that souled-Spike is a different person than original Spike isn’t the best way to go.  Sure, souled-Spike doesn’t necessarily need to be held responsible for all the things Spike did, and yet, even when there’s a clearer separation between Angel and Angelus, Angel felt guilty as shit for the things Angelus did.  What I'm saying is that the pre-soul/soul Spike seems like more of an ambiguous continuum than Angel/Angelus, and we still have precedent from Angel/Angelus that there is crossover guilt, leading me to believe that Spike would feel it even more profoundly.  

I will eventually write about Spike's messianic storyline in S7, but now I just want to
point out that he and Jesus both had interesting hair. (via)

The truth is that Buffy had every right to write Spike off forever.  To let him fester in insanity and death, and whatever else.  She had no obligation to save him, forgive him, trust him.  But Buffy’s story has always been a story of growth.  Seasons 1 through 5, Buffy kept growing stronger and stronger, both as a slayer and as a human.  Season 6 was all about backsliding. She fell into depression, abuse, addiction, violence, and even went briefly insane.  Season 7 is about growing by leaps and bounds to be more than she ever was.  And it’s awesome.  And part of Buffy’s growth is embracing the growth and change of others.  

By the end of season 2, she’s already given Xander two free passes on attempting to sexually assault her.  She also forgave Angel for the actions of Angelus.  She has a strong track record of giving people more chances and turning their growth into her own.  Her mercy is a major part of who she is, and although she could have taken a different path with Spike, she didn’t.  Buffy has been through major, terrifying ordeals.  And only she (and the writers who orchestrate her actions…) gets to decide how to move forward from there.  I understand the indignation about writers having a young woman form a relationship with her attempted rapist, I do.  But I also don’t think the violence that Buffy experienced was downplayed or trivialized.  It’s always a minefield when you try to present things like this on television, but I think that her decision to forgive Spike was a slow and deliberate one and was done tastefully.  I also like that we get to see a character deal with this, because it’s so rarely talked about, and when it is seen on television it’s usually as a quick backstory to inspire sympathy, or a plot device (all of which is revolting).  Buffy consistently proves that she’s strong and in control of her actions, time and again she establishes that she can be trusted to make her own decisions.   So why are we, as viewers, second guessing this decision?

I want to take a time out to say that I don’t necessarily think it’s “strong” to forgive your attacker.  I think each individual finds strength in different things and they need to figure out which course is right and healthy for them.  And I think strength is a misleading word when it comes to recovery.  There are a lot of connotations with the word strength (especially in the context of a show about a superhero), and those connotations maybe aren’t well reflected in lots of journeys through recovery.  It’s even more confusing since I’m talking about strength of character and strength in recovery almost interchangeably with Buffy (since this is the shape her journey takes).  

I don't want people to read this and think I’m saying that Buffy’s strong because she quickly recovered and went so far as to forgive her attacker.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.  Strength in recovery comes in all different forms.  What actions give one person strength may be terrible and counterproductive for another.  Buffy’s a fictional character that’s a hero for the world, therefore her strength in recovery is something that aligns with the traditional sense of the word; and  since Spike is an interesting character on the show who inspires conflict, Buffy’s choices involve keeping him around.  

The truth is that due to the nature of the show her character would never have been allowed to just write him off completely.  She was probably always going to have to work with him, and that’s generally going to mean forgiveness, or at the very least some kind of tolerance.  Overall, the show did a good job getting us there in a reasonable way.  Buffy has a long history of experiencing violence, many instances of which were sexual in nature.  The show isn’t perfect and doesn’t handle each situation well very, but that’s why we have these conversations.  I’m okay with the way she came to that decision.  It felt realistic for her character.  It didn’t feel like an easy decision she just switched on.  I don’t think Spike was her “soul mate” and I don’t their relationship was, at any point, a totally good one.  It was a complicated mess at the best of times, but that's okay because the show never portrayed at as a perfect love story (which is sorta did with Angel, which is problematic).

Buffy isn't defined by her relationships with men.  Not with Angel/Angelus, and not with Spike. Not even with Giles or Xander or the Watcher's Council.  All of these things are important aspects in her growth and development, but none of them define her (that's kinda the whole thing with her rejection of the Council).  Buffy builds relationships with friends, family, lovers, and students (the Potentials) and according to a lot of the show's themes, that's the source of her strength.

Buffy quite literally drawing strength from her friends (via)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

SA in BtVS Part IV: Buffy and Spike

Trigger warning for discussion of abuse, rape, attempted rape, rape culture, sexual assault, and sexual violence.

This is part three in a series about sexual violence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - you can read Part I here, Part II here and Part III here

Last time I wrapped up talking about the individual instances of sexual assault in Buffy.  There are a LOT more, but I am obviously terrible at updating and it would take forever to dissect them all.  Here are few more that I think are really important, though:
  •  There's Buffy's experience in Helpless where she is drugged and left--well, helpless--against an insane vampire (at the hands of someone she loves and trusts, btw)
  • There's her experience in Something Blue where Willow accidentally casts a spell on Buffy which causes her and Spike to plan their nuptials 
  • There's the whole Faith-body-swap, which is an expression of rape/bodily violation itself but which is further compounded by the fact that Faith uses Buffy's body to have sex, and which is even more complicated by the fact that the sex is with her current boyfriend/lover (lots to unpack there, I'll undoubtedly post about this at some point)
  • There's her experience with Dracula, which is a confusing, unhealthy and dangerous relationship
  • There's her ongoing relationship with the Watcher's Council, which seeks to control her and regulate her power for itself
  • And then there's all the stalking, obsessing, kidnapping, sex-robot-using, and other creepy, dangerous and violent behaviors that Spike throws her way
So, on to Buffy and Spike.

How? What? How?! (source)

Buffy and Spike started off as sworn enemies – both too strong to be killed by the other.  Not that Spike was physically too strong, he was just too smart, lucky and cautious.  Buffy is certainly physically stronger, and she had very few weaknesses because she surrounded herself with friends and family who always have her back and her blind spots.  

We actually learn a lot about Spike in the early seasons that explains his behavior once he has the chip in his head.  Namely, we learn that Spike is all about the fight.  He's not about the cause at all, he just wants to do things his way and enjoy a nice spot of violence.  This is partly why he can't stand Angelus or the Anointed One, since they're all about plans and bigger goals and other such bullshit.

Interestingly Spike is one of the only enemies I can think of who Buffy ever teams up with to fight a common enemy (that time Spike helped save the world and also stole his girlfriend back from Angelus).  He didn't have a problem making an alliance with his enemy when it worked for his interests.  All of that lays a good foundation for his post-chip choices.  He knew he could be protected by Buffy and company if he was an asset to them, so he takes that route.  As soon as he discovers he can inflict violence he "helps" them even more, since he'd rather be fighting for the side of good than not fighting at all.  We also see what his idea of a great, functional relationship is.  And it's not very healthy.  His love for Drusilla is weird, obsessive, kind of father/protector-y, and deeply possessive. All of this is to say that we have a general understanding of who he was before he started working closely with the Scoobies.

Buffy and Spike had a complicated relationship way before Spike showed up at Giles’ door begging for help.  He’d been obsessed with killing her for a long time.  As mortal enemies they already had a good chemistry and rhythm to their relationship and understood each other really well.  Probably because they spent a lot of time evaluating each other .

By the by, I've already discussed how vampire feeding habits are sexual in nature and are a form of implied/alluded to sexual violence.  So in a way, Spike’s always had a sexual obsession with her.  It’s just that the form of desire for consumption transforms over time.  Previously he was obsessed with literally consuming her flesh in an eating way; eventually he wants to consume her flesh in a sexual way.  And, fun fact, the shift really happens when he is no longer capable of actually eating flesh.   

By season 5, Spike's behavior toward Buffy is just straight-up alarming.  We see him start off with things like following her around, role-playing that his sexual partner is Buffy, and stealing her clothes to enjoy her scent #justvampirethings (please note that all hashtags in my blogging are sarcastic).  It escalates to him waiting outside her home for hours, kidnapping her and holding her hostage while trying to force feelings from her, and commissioning the creation an identical Buffy sex robot.

I'm gonna need to take a second to talk about the sex robot.

The only other character we know of who uses one is Warren (though I do have a lot to say about Ted, Joyce’s robo-boyfriend, which is an interesting inversion of a sex robot).  Anyway, Warren tries to rape and actually succeeds in killing his ex-girlfriend.  Obviously the creation of an object that is supposed to approximate a woman but have none of the qualities that constitutes a person (free will, emotions, independent thought, etc.) is a literal form of dehumanization and objectification of women.  I’m not in the least surprised that the two characters who use the robots end up attempting to assault actual women later, since they obviously view women as subordinate to themselves, especially in the context of sex.  In Buffy’s case, Spike has a robot designed to specifically replicate her.  It’s a gross, selfish, violation of Buffy’s autonomy.

In all seriousness, it'd be pretty cool to have a robot double of yourself (source)
But throughout all this violating behavior, their relationship progresses in other ways.  Spike also tries to demonstrate that he cares for Buffy by doing things like offering her comfort when she is sad, helping her fight evil, and protecting Dawn.  Buffy comes to rely on Spike in a lot of ways.  She uses him for information and for back up in a fight.  She ignores his crush (until she no longer can) but she continues to use him because in a lot of ways he’s a good ally to have.

Now, let’s talk about how Spike is fundamentally different from Angelus.  Spike got a chip in his head and quickly realized he should offer something to Buffy and her ilk if he wanted to survive.  He immediately put precedence on his own survival over the goal of killing Buffy.   Since he was always more passionate about the fight rather than the cause, he was happy to fight against evil, seeing as it was really the only game open to him (the guy just likes killing).  As his obsession over killing Buffy gradually morphed into an obsession of being with her, his attitude changed from self-preservation and monetary gain to a much different kind of gain.  Spike pretty much exemplifies the idea of a “Nice Guy” who expects that once he does enough nice things for Buffy, he’ll be able to have her.  Pretty messed up, but let’s keep going. 

Unlike Spike, Angelus wasn't passionate about violence (though I'm sure he enjoys it), he was all about causing pain and torment.  He once arranged the dead bodies of children to make it look like they were sleeping just so that he could enjoy the look on the father’s face when he realized the kids were dead.  If Angelus had a chip it may have prevented him from killing people, but that wouldn't have significantly decreased his danger.  He would have lashed out in other ways to cause the pain and devastation he loved and would probably have found some flunkies to help him with the killing and stuff.  Spike was much less dangerous with the chip because his loyalties and motivations were easy to understand and possible to control. 

Also, I want to point out that Spike was not in any way rehabilitated because of his chip.  When he first discovers he can hit Buffy without experiencing pain, he immediately goes out and tries to kill someone.  That means that S6 Spike has as little regard for individual human life as S2 Spike did (who was willing to stop a planet-wide annihilation of humans, but in the same breath was looking to kill and eat a police officer).  He may care specifically about Buffy or Dawn, but that’s a value he’s assigning to them as individuals, not because they’re human.  

After Buffy’s return from death there were new levels to her interactions with Spike.  For one, he had grown very close to Dawn and had protected her in Buffy’s absence. This can’t undo any of the creepy, violating things he did before, but it does demonstrate that Spike was willing to take care of Dawn even though there was no chance of winning brownie points from Buffy.  It hinted at some kind of selflessness, however small.

And here we have Spike relating to Buffy better than her human friends,
which sets the tone for their messed up relationship (source)
Secondly, and more importantly, Spike is now the only person around her who has experienced death.  He is fundamentally different, not just because he’s without a soul (though that’s huge), but also because he’s dead.  Angel was the same way.  Even though they are “on the team” so to speak, there’s a massive disconnect between the vampires and the rest of the Scooby gang.  Given the fact that Buffy was ejected from heaven and sent to earth, she’s probably feeling pretty confused, discombobulated, and disconnected from the others.  In early season 6 she starts spending increasing amounts of time with Spike and away from the others.  Spike is the only one she confides in about where she really was.

Also, Buffy's struggle with depression would have deadened a lot of the emotions and instincts she felt so sharply before.  So, in early season 6 we have a Buffy who's a lot more vulnerable than she's ever been, who feels she can relate to Spike in a way she can't to her friends, and who perhaps feels that Spike has demonstrated a modicum of selflessness in his care for Dawn.  Spike is the recipient of this new, slightly more trusting and time-spending Buffy. 

But Spike also knows how to push her.  He manipulates her and tries to get her into even more vulnerable and compromising positions.  After a few make out sessions he ramps up the stalking and starts in with the mind games.  A few days after their second kiss he proposes they take it further, and she flatly rejects him, even going so far as to say she was vulnerable and depressed and knows that's not what she wants.  He says, "Only a matter of time before you realize. I'm the only one here for you, pet! You got no one else!"  Basically, he's using textbook techniques to make her feel worthless and alone, so that he can take advantage of her.

Let's talk about their first sexual encounter.  It starts off as a fist fight--both beating on each other quite a bit, which is the definition of an abusive relationship.  It doesn't matter that they both have super strength—they're trying to beat the shit out of each other.  Also, they're really hitting each other way below the belt with their words:

SPIKE: You came back wrong. [referring to his ability to hit her] It's just you, that's the funny part. You're the one who changed, that's why this doesn't hurt me. Came back a little less human than you were.
SPIKE: She doesn't fit in anywhere, she has no one to love.
BUFFY: Me? I'm lost? Look at you, you idiot. Poor Spikey. Can't be a human, can't be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in? Your job is to kill the Slayer, but all you do is follow me around, making moon-eyes --
SPIKE: I'm in love with you.
BUFFY: You're in love with pain. Admit it. You like me because you enjoy getting beat down. So who's really screwed up? 

[And then they bone]

The intensity of their fighting and fucking actually demolishes the house they're in.  Get it?  Their relationship is destructive.  Get it?!?! 
So, Spike knows how vulnerable and alone Buffy feels, because she's told him.  He preys on that to further isolate her and picks at her wounds to drive her into his arms.  This is, once again, classic abusive behavior.  Trying to wear down your partner's emotions and make them feel as though they have no other options.  Spike does all of this which means, and I really hope everyone in the entire world gets this, this is an abusive relationship.  In one particularly disturbing scene, Spike finds her when she's feeling really isolated from her friends (a pretty common experience for people experiencing depression) and then makes her watch them dancing and laughing while he has sex with her and whispers about how different she is from them. 

The only thing I like about this is that Buffy is wearing Zoe's necklace (source)

Look, people get to define their own experiences.  Maybe Buffy (and/or Spike) would look back on this later and feel that it was just unhealthy but not classify it as abusive.  That’s her choice (his too, but if someone says, "Hey you were abusive toward me," you pretty much have to engage that conversation).  I would say it was abusive, especially emotionally, but also sexually and physically.  The entire basis of their relationship was sexual and it was about hurting one another.  And of course people can be into whatever they’re in to, and I'm in no way me condemning the BDSM community or kinks.  But this isn’t coming from a healthy place of, “This is what I’m looking for right now and fulfills me.”  This is coming from a place of, “I am falling apart and I will let you do these things to me and I will do the same or worse to you.” And even worse, there were plenty of instances where consent was definitely not enthusiastic and on-going, meaning that Spike's attack of Buffy is probably not the only instance of sexual assault in their relationship (I actually have a lot to say about this in Part II).

And though I know that Buffy perpetuated violence as well, I have a hard time seeing her as the abuser in the situation.  I think she's a victim to Spike, who has been plotting, pining, and planning to "get" her for years.  She's extremely vulnerable and Spike's taking advantage of that.  He's manipulating her into a this role and she's lashing out in ways that are harmful to her, and to Spike as well.  Spike happily takes her violence along with everything else because he has no model for a healthy relationship.  He thinks that good love should burn and consume and hurt.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that her past two serious relationships had instances of sexual violence.  I went into depth about the Angelus thing, but there’s also an incident with Riley that I skimmed over, where Faith, in Buffy’s body, has sex with him.  This is a pretty clear-cut “magical” instance of sexual assault.  Faith uses Buffy’s body to have sex.   That would mean that Buffy’s body is experiencing sexual contact with her knowledge or consent (which = rape).  I’d argue that instances of possession and magical body-swapping in horror/fantasy/sci-fi can pretty consistently be read as instances of sexual assault, and the Buffy/Faith switch takes it a step further.  

The point I’m getting at is that Buffy’s first relationship was totally unhealthy, even when her boyfriend wasn’t trying to murder her.  Her second relationship was very complicated for lots of reasons, including the power dynamic (both physical and emotional - Riley was a total chauvinist), and the whole he unknowingly sexually assaulted her body while cheating on her mind/spirit thing #SunnydaleProblems.  It just doesn’t surprise me that when she is vulnerable and depressed she finds herself in a toxic relationship, trying desperately to feel something, emotionally and physically, and that she doesn’t immediately recognize how abusive the situation is.

This is about the halfway point for my essay on Spike/Buffy, so I'm gonna split the post here.  The next half will be up tomorrow and then I we’ll be done with this series for a while.  But don’t worry, I have some awesome Firefly stuff in the works and some ideas about Xander and Giles I want to flesh out.  I’m also finishing up my reread of the Animorph series so I’m letting that ruminate.  PLUS I’ve been doing a SPN S4/5 rewatch, so there’s loads of stuff there.  I feel like the next 6 months will involve lots of posting, so be ready.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or sexual violence there is help available, RAINN is an excellent resource