itsnotmymind (itsnotmymind) wrote,

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Anti-Feminist Interpretation of Spike's Redemption Arc and Buffy/Spike

I've been read reading posts in gabrielleabelle's livejournal. I've had a particular interest lately in her feminist posts, such as The Feminist Filter, wherein gabrielleabelle and her friends analyze each episode of Buffy from a feminist perspective (unfortunately, it only gets as far as the S7 episode Homecoming, since gabs has left the fandom). These posts are absolutely awesome, and you should check them out if you haven't before.

However, when I read the comments on the posts, there is a definite Spike bias. Spike gets a lot of praise, Xander and Angel get a lot of criticism. This is understandable. The vast majority of the posters on gab's lj are/were Spike fans, and Buffy/Spike shippers. We all have our biases. Furthermore, there was some very intelligent criticism of Spike from Spike fans, and there were some very vocal fans who stepped in to defend Xander and Angel. Sometimes to the point of distracting from the feminist intention of the series. Still, the overall bias was there.

This got me thinking. What are the feminist aspects of Angel and Xander and their arcs? What are the anti-feminist aspects of Spike and his arcs?

This post isn't about Angel and Xander. It's about Spike. It's basically an anti-feminist interpretation of his redemption arc and relationship with Buffy. This has been done before, of course--there are plenty of fans out there who hate that Spike was redeemed, and can't stand Buffy/Spike. Nonetheless, I wanted to do it myself as a thought experiment.

I think the interpretation I'm laying out below is a legitimate interpretation of Spike's arc in the last three seasons of Buffy. I certainly don't think it's the only interpretation. But I think it's there.

In this analysis, I'm certainly not going to deny that there are feminist and gender-swappy elements to Spike's arc. To do so would be dishonest. Every storyline on Buffy has feminist elements, and Buffy/Spike in my book wins for gender swappy. That is one of the reasons I like it so much. But I think there is an argument to be made for Spike's overall arc from BtVS S5 to BtVS S7 as anti-feminist.

When Spike first falls in love with Buffy in S5 he perceives himself as a dogged "nice guy". "What's it take?" he grumbles in Triangle when Buffy is not by impressed by him refraining from feeding off off injured people. He firmly believes that getting Buffy to love him is simply a matter of jumping through hoops. The idea that she might not be obligated to eventually fall for him is not on his radar. In his quest for Buffy's feelings, he stalks her, threatens to sick his vampiric ex on her, and, eventually, tries to rape her.

At first, the Scoobies, with the exception of Dawn but including Buffy, are entirely disgusted with Spike. Giles tells him, "We are not your way to Buffy. There is no way to Buffy." Spike is portrayed sympathetically (see: Fool for Love), but his point of view is not, initially, endorsed by the narrative.

From Intervention through early S6, things change. Spike shows himself capable of selfless acts. He tells Buffy he knows she'll never love him--a strong contrast to his insistence in Crush that he knows she she has feelings for him.

Pathetic stalker Spike has been replaced by noble knight Spike. Perhaps the implication is that Spike's stalker behavior was caused by his vampiric nature, while late S5 Spike is returning to his noble human nature. In a fantasy world, this makes sense. From a real world, this is problematic. Certainly, human beings are complicated, and someone in real life can be both abusive and noble. But the extent of Spike's nobility seems like a romanticization of the very "love" that he expressed earlier with stalking and a death threat. It's an engaging story--but it's not very feminist.

S6 is a wonderful subversion of the entire relationship. Spike finally gets what he wants--sex with Buffy. But she denies him any emotional connection, uses him, and abuses him. The creep factor of Spike's feelings for Buffy never goes away (see, for example, the balcony scene in Dead Things). Spike's feelings during their sexual relationship, while generally treated sympathetically, are not romanticized.

The season end with Spike regaining his soul by choice--and undergoing trials in order to do so. Spike's exact motivations for choosing to regain his soul are much-debated in fandom. We have this quote from Spike, though: "So you'll give me what I want. Make me what I was. So Buffy can get what she deserves." He does it for Buffy. Out of that same love that caused him to try to rape her.

Again, I find this to be a very powerful story. The idea that the exact same emotion could cause such wildly opposing actions draws me in. The fact that Spike has to pass trials in order to regain his soul is reminiscent of the trials Angel faces to save Darla in the AtS episode The Trial. Angel's deep love for Darla is enough to convince her to choose to die human--to not become a soulless monster again. Spike's trials, again, are strongly associated with love--the love for Buffy that turns him from monster to man.

Let's look at this from a feminist perspective.

As with S5, we see Spike engaging in disturbing violence towards Buffy, and then doing something hugely heroic for her. Again, I think it's important to remember that real people do things like this, too. The ambiguity of Spike's reasons for getting a soul--and the initial ambiguity as to whether Spike was trying to get a soul or get his chip removed--tones down the romanticism. But from a doylist sense, this is the end of the season. The very end. The last thing we see is Spike receiving his soul. I know, I know, it's a great ending. But it very clearly shows how loving a good woman can change a man. Spike, at this point, is still convinced that if he jumps through hoops x, y, and z, Buffy will love him. That's not the sole of Spike's motivation--he says, "So Buffy can get what she deserves". He cares about her well-being. But there's still the jumping through hoops aspect.

Ultimately, I would say that as of the end of this episode, there's a lot of possibilities as to how the story could end. The means the feminism of the story is open-ended.

In S7, Spike's perception of himself as a dogged "nice guy" is basically gone. Spike in Beneath You talks about getting his soul so he would be loved--jumping through hoops again--but I'm not quite sure if he's referring to the motivations of his soulless self, or if he still feels that way. For most of S7, Spike feels undeserving of Buffy's love.

However, in the context of Spike's greater arc, Chosen is very problematic.

Before we get there, let's talk a bit about Spike's non-Buffy and non-Scooby victims.

Soulless, non-chipped Spike was in Sunnydale in S2, S3, and S4. We see him kill onscreen in S2 and S3--I can't remember if he killed onscreen in S4 or not, but in S2 and S4 in particular, he almost certainly killed offscreen. That's a fair amount of dead people. Sunnydale is, at least in theory, a small town. Yet from Spike's chipping in S4 until the end of the series, the Scoobies never once encounter a loved one of the people he killed in Sunnydale.

In fact, soulless, chipped Spike never encounters any family or friends of anyone he killed. That would interfere with his staircase redemption* story, wouldn't it?

The only loved one of someone Spike kills that Spike actually encounters is Robin Wood. This is, of course, post-soul. By which point Spike does remorse.

...In theory.

"I don't give a piss about your mum. She was a slayer. I was a vampire. That's the way the game is played."

Yeah, I can't even.

Now, I do think Spike would have reacted differently if a loved one of less a powerful victim (say, one of those teenage girls he did unspeakable things to) had tried to kill him. That's not to say that killing a hero and leaving her kid without any parents isn't horrible--just that in another situation I do think Spike would have expressed remorse.

But on a Doylist level, this is literally the only time we see Spike confront a loved one of someone he personally killed. And that's how he reacts.

So, Chosen. Spike dies--and gets a very sparkly heroic death. A champion. I outlined above some of the complications with Spike's story from slayer of slayers to champion, but that's not directly relevant to this meta. What's relevant is that Buffy tells him she loves him.

Now, Buffy is entitled to have whatever feelings she wants about Spike. And I do love this scene. But the way it plays out in terms of the larger arc is the dogged "nice guy" trope. Spike has jumped through all his hoops, and his reward is that Buffy loves him. In a way this was inevitable, if not from Out of My Mind onward, than at least Fool for Love. He loves her soooooo much that, eventually, she has to love him back. Buffy's love is, ultimately, his reward for good behavior.

On a Watsonian level, there's a lot of debate about why Buffy told him she loved him, and whether she meant it or not. I think she meant it--but I also think that part of the reason she said it at the moment was as a reward of sorts. He had done so much for her that she wanted to give him something back. So while obviously this part is open to a great deal of debate, I think that the "reward" aspect of that line is both Watsonian and Doylist.

Then, Spike tells her she doesn't mean it.

Okay, telling someone their feelings is really rude and condescending. There's probably a lot of gender issues woven into to, but I'm not going to analyse that at the moment. I'm am going to point out that Spike has a long history of telling Buffy her feelings, starting with Fool for Love at the latest ("Come on. I can feel it, Slayer. You know you want to dance."), and culminating in the attempted rape in Seeing Red, where he tries to force himself on an obviously upset Buffy while insisting that despite what she has said repeatedly, she does love him.

But this time, he says she doesn't mean it, so now he's the noble hero. Even though it's actually part of the same pattern of behavior.

Finally, Buffy's last word on the series is "Spike." Now, there's obviously a lot more going on with Buffy at the end of Chosen than her relationship with Spike. Not being the only slayer anymore being one huge example. But I'm a symbols and patterns girl--and I do think the fact that her last word is the name of male character is kinda...problematic for a show that's supposed to be about empowering women. It's not that her male love interests can't be important her--but the last word she says on the show?

There are certainly feminist aspects to Spike's overall arc, but there are some very not-feminist interpretations. It's a redemption arc where a lovesick male character is ultimately rewarded with female affection. The portrayal of Spike's feelings for Buffy is complicated--just as real people are complicated--but ultimately, the positive aspects of Spike's love are romanticized to a disturbing extent. I saw a discussion of the Jessica Jones TV show where someone found some fanfic descriptions that paired Jessica with her creepy stalker. They expressed horror that these stories existed. I read the descriptions of the fanfiction, and none of them bothered me. They all seemed to be well away that Kilgrave (the stalker) was a horrible person, and that any consensual relationship between him and Jessica would be beyond creepy. There weren't fic I'd necessarily want to read, but based on the descriptions they don't seem to in any way downplay, excuse, or romanticize stalking. Compare that to many Spuffy fics (and Bangel fics, but that's not the point of this meta).

So yes, I think Spike's arc is questionable from a feminist perspective. And I hope to have done a good job of doing something that we in fandom all know we must do, but still always find difficult: Criticizing something I love.

*Staircase redemption: I refer to Spike's redemption as a "staircase redemption" because of the way he becomes "good" step by step. As opposed to Angel's light switch redemption. Yes, AtS S2 in particular really complicates the "light switch" aspect of Angel's redemption story, but I still refer to it as a light switch redemption because it cracks me up it's treated that way much of the time.

Tags: btvs

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