The Road Less Traveled: Mutant Enemy, Spike, Angel and Redemption at the End of the Day

Written on the first anniversary of "Fool for Love"

By Leslie

If life's a journey, then most of us are at some point stranded without a map. But TV isn't real life, and we look to the lives of TV characters for a structure, an arc, we don't necessarily have in our own lives. We may fiddle around, going nowhere fast, but in drama we look for progress, achievement, an all-wrapped-up-in-a-big-red-bow ending. And in the particular case of Spike, we're looking for red-ribboned redemption as his--and our--reward. Will he get there? Do the smiling sadists (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) at Mutant Enemy have happiness in store? I believe yes, but in their own special way.

Start with Angel, the vampire with a soul, the darling of the Powers That Be, with his destiny, his epiphany and his shanshu. Angel was the first BtVS vampire to set foot on the road to redemption, and his is a mystical, fated journey. Because of that, he has only a limited amount of free will. When he's in danger of straying too far from his pre-ordained path, of opting out of life and the struggle, the Powers intervene and set him right or save him (magical snow, anyone?), as the situation demands. Interestingly--and somewhat off the main argument--one of the biggest problems Buffy will (or would, anyway, if I ran the circus) face in her acceptance of Spike is the fact that if he can do good without a soul, why couldn't Angelus? I venture to say that that, too, was as a result of Angel's destiny. He had to be evil so that his transformation back to the Good would have the necessary meaning. His path is a narrow one, and he has very little chance to stray from it, whether for good or bad. Unlike some, I actually find him an interesting character and his potential struggle--against himself, against the Powers that have taken away his ability to choose--a fascinating one. How far ME will go with that remains to be seen, but I'm still enjoying the ride. But that's Angel's road, and only Angel's road. If we all had Important Roles For The Fate Of The World to play, then his wouldn't be special or interesting, and there would be no point in telling his story.

Then there's Spike. Clearly Angel's road isn't open to him. He's a regular guy, in vampire terms, and what he gets, he has to figure out and fight for himself. For the fundies, that means redemption is out of the question, because Angel's road is the road to redemption, and since it's closed to Spike, so is the possibility of reaching redemption. That's, imho, patently ridiculous, and I once more return to the metaphor of life as a journey for my explanation.

Suppose you want to drive from NYC to LA, west, where the sun sets, toward the traditional literary site of heaven (ie: redemption)? You would be unlikely to just get in your car, head west and hope to get there. You'd pull out a road map and plot a course. And that road map would show you dozens of possible routes, not just one. So you'd choose, and probably for at least the first half day you'd even follow the course you'd laid out. But then you stop for lunch at a diner and get talking to the guy next to you at the counter. You find out that the world's biggest ball of string is just 30 minutes north, and of course you have to see that. (Yes, I actually would detour to see such a thing. So sue me.) After a fun time at the String Museum, you could opt to drive 30 minutes back the way you'd come and rejoin your original route. Or you could look at your map, discover a different westward highway 15 minutes to the north and decide to go that way. And your trip would go on in that vein, still heading west, but detouring, maybe even occasionally backtracking because you took a wrong turn, or discovered your planned road was closed for construction, or a bridge was out. Eventually, though, you'd get to LA, the City of Angels, heaven.

I think of the road to redemption as being much like that cross-country trip. For the fundies, there's Highway 1 and no other. But for most of the world that map is just a mass of possibilities crying out to be explored. Even if you take the stand that redemption is a religious concept and can therefore only be achieved by following a spiritually designated path, there are many possibilities. And most of the people in the world consider themselves religious in one way or another, so they choose one of those paths. The religious route (essentially Angel’s route) is the well-traveled road, and it's the easier road, as well. After all, God and/or the Powers That Be have laid out the steps, so all we have to do is follow to the best of our ability and we can get there. Even a sincere deathbed confession can get us in with the In-Heaven crowd, despite a  lifetime of sinning. In other words, very little free will is necessary, and therefore the effort we have to expend is limited. Decisions are made for us. We may need to carry them out, but we don't have to figure them out.

Fundies are fundies precisely because their argument, based as it is on the religious concept of a soul, is a fundamentally religious one. That means it's based in belief, not logic, and nothing I say next is going to sway them. Frankly, I don't care, because I don't have a lot of interest in the thoughts of anyone who's uninterested in original thought, in interpreting the world around them, in the value of free will, and--most of all--in weighing the value of actions, of reality. I have to believe that an atheist who does good simply because it's the right thing to do is a better person than the criminal who recants and finds God on his deathbed. If the fundies want to consign the first to hell while rewarding the second with heaven, that's their prerogative, but it's mine to disagree with them.

Though I'm personally not religious, my approach to life and morality is informed by religion, specifically Judaism. One of the key differences between Christianity (and the fundies are clearly aligned with Christianity) and Judaism is that the bulk of the Judaic laws and the main thrust of the religion deal with man's treatment of his fellow man, quite a comfortable fit with my own atheism. Another is that there are no concepts of heaven and hell in the Christian sense, though there is a concept of reward. And I would argue that Mutant Enemy's approach to Spike's redemption is essentially either an atheistic or a Jewish one (not that I think that was anything like a conscious decision, just that that's where it nets out at the end of the day), because it's based not on divine intervention and posession of a soul but on actions, realities. And that's just as valid an approach--to anyone but a religious fundamentalist (and you already know what I think of them)--as any other.

No soul for Spike, so he can't take that popular religious road. But he can still take his own road. It may be a tougher one, a lonelier one, because he's got to find his own way, but he can still get there at the end of the day. He's going to find more detours along the way--in other words, he's going to backslide--and his trip will be made more difficult by the fact that until recently he didn't even realize he was on a journey. I think "Tabula Rasa" was a turning point for him, though. Suddenly he had to consciously define himself, and the way he wanted to define himself--as a man who happened to be a good fighter when faced with evil--ended up demonstrably at odds with the reality of who he is: a vampire (and not one with a soul). Back to that damn road trip metaphor. He took out the map. He looked at where he is and where he wants to be, and the next step is to figure out that he can plot out a course for getting from one to the other, or at least for (ditching the metaphor for this one) merging the two into a whole that he can live with. He recognizes redemption as a concept, now he has to plan out the rest of the trip to get there.

As has been said a million times, for Spike the road to redemption began with two things: the chip, altering his behavior, and love, altering his mind and heart. What the chip gave him was breathing room. It forced him to think about what he was doing, what he wanted to do, because he could no longer work off his vampiric instincts. At first he simply tried to find other ways to do the things he'd always done: fight and kill, even kill the Slayer. What love gave him was a new context for his behavior and, eventually, a desire to think about what he was doing and how it affected others. This is already too long, so I'm not going to go into all the specific evidence indicating that he can be redeemed; I'll just generalize. For the most part he's still at the stage of considering the effects only on Buffy and her circle. (Let's say he’s made it to Missouri, shall we?) But there's nothing wrong with that, because the journey--ie: the series--is still ongoing. Now that he knows he's traveling, he can choose his road. For perhaps the first time in both his life and his un-life, he's in control. He's always had free will, but now he's got a more focussed world view that allows him to actually take advantage of that free will. Does he realize that yet? I don't know, and in order for his redemption to be valid, I think he does have to develop an awareness of what he's done in the past, as well as an acceptable way (and there are several that would satisfy me) of moving forward from there in a way that benefits both himself and his world, and a desire to choose that way in lieu of any others. His way almost by definition has to be action-based, both because he doesn't have a soul (which doesn't mean he can't have morals or human/humane impulses and emotions, which can and must be part of his guiding star) and because over the last 100+ years he's become an act-first kind of guy.

But what a road he's got to choose. The popular path is out, so all that's left is the lonely one. And he really does have to do all the work himself, at least for a while. Right now his love for Buffy isn't returned--or not in the way any sane person would want it returned, anyway. And when she does return it? In some ways that could be a hindrance to redemption, since it would be tempting for him to get stuck at the stage (Reformed!Spike) of continuing to do good only for her. I think by that point he'll have the self-awareness to know he needs--wants--to move beyond that simplistic motivation in order to achieve not just Buffy!Love but redemption, but that only means his path will continue to be a solo one in many ways. Because he has no soul and the easy option is closed to him, he's going to have to work, and work hard, for what he wants. But what we work for, we treasure. We hold it dear because it cost us dearly. Spike has caused hell, now he may have to go through it. But once he does? He gets it all. He gets the girl--and not just any girl but a superhero girl--and he gets redemption. Not only that, I think we can reasonably believe that his journey will be not just as valid as the religious path but in fact a better one, in terms of what it's already shown--and will continue to show--about him, his mettle, and all that makes him--and us--human. As Robert Frost said:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It will make the difference in Spike, too.


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