Reluctant Hero, Abuser or Martyr? The blurring of the lines in Buffy: the Vampire Slayer

For the first four seasons of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, the title character was clearly cast as reluctant hero. Although Buffy Summers longed for a normal life, she rose to the challenges she was presented, slaying vampires and evil fiends, preventing apocalypses, and occasionally even finding the time to excel in her SATs.

During the fifth season, the challenges of Slayerhood became greater and more personal, leading to Buffy's noble decision to sacrifice herself to save her sister. With Spike at her side "to the end of the world", Buffy can do anything, even make the ultimate sacrifice for love. Of course, she had to go through a catatonic coma before she could reach that inner peace, but she did find it eventually.

Her resurrection at the start of Season Six gives Buffy a new perspective on life. "Torn out of Heaven" to face her own personal Hell on Earth, it's hard to know what is going on inside Buffy's head this year. Her first instinct is to return to the scene of her death - the place where she last knew peace - and try to return to the peaceful Heavenly Dimension where she spent her death, "Warm - and complete - and finished". As the season progresses, we shall see that New!Buffy is characterised by a need to escape, or run away from her troubles.

Buffy avoids her responsibility for Dawn, most notably in All the Way and Gone, and this has clearly contributed to Dawn's growing delinquency. Even the BuffyBot was a better parent, as we see in Bargaining, where she faces her "Biggest Challenge Ever". At least BuffyBot didn't leave piles of dirty dishes in the sink! (::cough:: unlike your author).

Buffy's desire to avoid Spike in Wrecked is symbolic of her desire to avoid her responsibilities. She is on the brink of sacrificing her only chance to help Dawn in order to make a point with Spike, even though he is the only one who can help her.

She is avoiding responsibility with her job, unwilling to face up to adulthood and the need to set herself upon a path to her future. The loss of her mentor Giles has affected her deeply, but her trouble and inability to run her own life go far deeper than that.

Buffy has never taken responsibility for her own sexuality or love life; and it is here that Spike's effects can be felt most profoundly. Abandoned by Angel "for her own good", deserted by the womanising Parker, she allowed Riley to leave without a reconciliation. Buffy is poison to relationships; she won't open up to her partners, won't allow them a connection with her. She has shut herself off from them, just as in Season Six she shuts herself off from the world.

But Spike sees through that; he sees what Buffy's former lovers never have. He loves her for what she is, or perhaps despite who she is; he makes no attempt to mould her to suit himself. In the early season, Spike can be All!About!Buffy, which is precisely what she needs; later, he begins to push back, to tell her the unpleasant truths she is unable to tell herself. In Gone, he even kicks her out of his crypt when he realises that she is play-acting, and that their encounter is not real to her.

Just as, in Fredless, Fred is forced by her parents' presence to accept that she is living in the real world and not a Fairy Tale, Spike attempts throughout the season to force Buffy back into the real world, to make her accept and embrace her life. In Gone and in Normal Again, this is overtly stated. He is her link to the real world; her bridge between reality and unreality; the "stalwart, standing fast" that Giles wishes (in Once More, with Feeling) that he could be. Spike and, to a lesser extent, Dawn are what ties Buffy to this world; what gives her stability and strength.

Buffy, of course, does not want to be robbed of her role as Martyr. She has succumbed to the lure of having all her friends pussyfooting around her, never confronting her or questioning her. She revels in the escape provided by Willow's forget spell in Tabula Rasa, where she can be a superhero with no memories to integrate into her life, falling victim once again to a near-catatonic state when forced to face reality and her memories once again. She even identifies herself as a martyr, although of course it has been three seasons since she was nearly burnt at the stake (in Gingerbread). It is Spike who pulls her from her withdrawal in Tabula Rasa, just as it was Spike who saved her from dancing herself to death in Once More, with Feeling.

The onset of Buffy and Spike's sexual relationship in Smashed begins a new phase of Buffy's devolution. It is here that we clearly see the damage that she has undergone, and the damage that she can wreak. By Normal Again, it seems clear that Spike doesn't particularly like Buffy, and would even be glad to be rid of the love that binds him to her. But love her he does, and he keeps trying to help her, hoping to be the catalyst that will help her to heal. In Dead Things, she lays into him with fists and words, beating him nearly unconscious, while he simply lies there, telling her to "Put it on me. Put it all on me". He hopes that by taking her pain on a physical as well as emotional level he may help her to overcome her fear and doubts.

Not invited to her twenty-first birthday party, Spike attends regardless, bringing hope in the form of his friend Clem, the kitten-eating demon. Spike saves Buffy and her friends - again - with no thought of personal reward. This time, it is from the Sword Demon, helping her to defeat her demons even as she remains stuck in the birthday-that-never-ends.

Spike gives Buffy what she needs, when she asks for it. In As You Were, we see Buffy's desperate attempts to return to the girl she was in Season Four - carefree, happy and not a little silly about Riley Finn. He is there to support her, to love her as she is without judging her; and perhaps he has even taught Riley a little about acceptance. In Hells Bells, he can remind her he is supposed to be evil, yet we see that the demons are the lesser evil when compared to Xander's family and even, perhaps, to Xander himself. He selflessly compliments her, and even leaves the wedding to make her more comfortable, yet he also makes her face the reality - that she misses him and wants to be with him. The next step is to break down her "can't" be with him; for it is by defeating her prejudices that Spike will redeem the Slayer.

It is through her relationship with Spike that Buffy makes her first hesitant steps to recovery and to embracing the world; that she learns (tentatively) to love, to give and - ultimately - to forgive.

- 01-Apr-2002

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