Buffy Love, Lust and Trust - A Relationship Analysis

-- by Colleen Hillerup


Does Buffy love Spike? That's the question I sought to answer in reviewing the current season thus far since Afterlife. I admit to a certain pro bias which will colour my conclusions, and no doubt another poster could come up with an equally valid argument in the negative, using the same source material. I'm not only looking for evidence of love (whatever that may mean), but also sexual attraction to and trust of Spike.

Unfortunately, there are a few gaps in my tape collection, specifically Flooded and All the Way, which I cannot fully investigate here beyond memory, but hope to garnish sometime in the summer rerun schedule.

In studying these episodes, I also came to the conclusion that a study of the instances where the characters lie, both to each other and to themselves, would also be enlightening. Perhaps another day.

In Afterlife, Buffy has just returned from the dead, literally. She is in shock, detached from her environment. We later learn that this is caused, not only by her physical resurrection, but by the sensation of being torn from a place of peace (which she assumes may be heaven) and the harshness of life on earth, which she compares to hell. This resurrection sets up her journey for the remainder of the season, in which she faces depression, resentment, alienation from her friends and uncharacteristic behaviour, typified by her affair with Spike.

When Buffy comes down the stairs towards Spike, she makes eye contact in a way she hasn't been able to with her sister. At first she is embarrassed, doing up her buttons (consciousness of her sexuality) and hiding her hands. But in these hands she finds a common bond with Spike - they have both experienced crawling from their graves. He can share an connection with her that none of her friends can. When he takes her hands in his, she doesn't flinch. She looks him in the eyes. It is only when her friends, the ones responsible for her situation return, that she attempts to hide them again.

When she visits Spike in his crypt, he is holding a large knife, and mentions it in the context of watching one's enemy. She ignores this, only noticing that his hand is hurt. Not only is this another representation of their connection, it shows rare compassion on her part. Later, she sees him in back of the Magic Box. She says that she can be alone with him there, which he takes as an insult. It could mean that he doesn't register on her radar, which would tie in with his "Rest In Peace" song in the musical - "Whisper in a dead man's ear, doesn't make it real" - or could mean that she has become so comfortable in his presence that she is at peace with him. In any case, she tells him her darkest secret, and only after she states it realizes that she has said too much. She doesn't know if she can trust him to keep it, and states that her friends can't know. This is an example of her unconscious trust of him (earlier evidenced by leaving her mother and Dawn in his care), verses her conscious distrust of him (believing erroneously that he would tell Glory the secret of Dawn).

As I said, I am missing Flooded and All the Way. I do recall that they fight well together as a team, and that in one of the episodes (I believe Flooded) she watches him leave. As John Travolta says in 'Face/Off', "I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave." There is also a scene in one of these in the basement of the Magic Box in which Buffy's sexual attraction to Spike is becoming evident, but the details escape me.

By the time of Life Serial, she is comfortable being with Spike. They seemed to have formed a type of friendship. She trusts him enough to become very inebriated with him. She has come to count on him, in much the same way she does Giles, as a protector and saviour. "You were gonna help me. You were gonna bust heads and fix my life." When his actions fall short of her expectations, she says, "The only person I can stand to be around is a neutered vampire that cheats at kitten poker." I would maintain that one of the barriers in their relationship is not so much that she thinks he is evil, but that she doesn't respect him. This will become very evident in As You Were.

In Once More With Feeling, the relationship is defined. Spike wants love and sex, the whole shebang. Buffy wants the status quo, or so she would maintain - Spike as confidant and information source. However, she is becoming sexually attracted to him, "What else would I want to pump you for - I really just said that, didn't I?" and he realizes it. "You just like to play the thought that you might misbehave." She fights her feelings, steeling herself to his entreaties, breaking eye contact, crossing her arms. Yet, in the grave at the end of 'Rest in Peace' she lies on top of him, staring into his eyes, making a tiny move towards his lips, before she jumps off and runs. Her resolve is weakening.

In the Magic Box, she makes it clear she hasn't really heard what his song was saying. What she did hear, hurt. "I thought you wanted me to stay away from you. Isn't that what you sang?" Later, she tells Sweet, "Give me something to sing about." The only one that appears to make her sing is Spike. During the song 'Where do we Go From Here?', she makes eye contact after he saves her life, then breaks it. But when he leaves, she hurries after him, initiating what appears to be a very heartfelt kiss, however she may protest that "this isn't real." Her actions belie her words.

In the cemetery at the beginning of Tabula Rasa, Buffy tries to avoid talking to Spike. She denies that their kiss meant anything. She will never touch him again. Though, when his 'life' is in danger, she instinctively throws herself on top of him to protect him. Again, she is betrayed by her subconscious. She also pushes him out of the way of his antagonist after this, again a protective move. "If I would just stop saving his life, it would simple things up so much." But nothing in their relationship is destined to be simple.

When he enters the Magic Box, she looks away from him and crosses her arms. This parallels the same posture she has towards Giles, upset that he is leaving. This is hurt, denial Buffy. After the amnesia spell takes hold, she is instinctively protective of Spike. "Hey, stay away from Randy!" When they leave to find the source of their attack, she evidences the two sides of their relationship. She is afraid for Randy when he is in danger, and afraid of him when she discovers that he is a vampire.

Instinctively, she is comfortable with him. She knows he is a vampire, but she doesn't try to stake him, even though she knows nothing about him. She unconsciously straddles him, a position which could be construed as sexual in nature, yet appears innocent in context. In this scene there is evidence of another barrier in their relationship - like Spike, Randy doesn't know when to shut up.

When her memory returns, she is devastated. She is hit with all the pain and complication in one blow. Again, it is in Spike that she seeks refuge. She has obviously sought him out, since he had walked away. Their kiss is frenzied and public. One isolated incident she might pass off as the result of a spell, but this is becoming a pattern.

And then we come to Smashed, where their uneasy friendship literally falls through the floor.

She tries to find excuses for kissing Spike - it was a spell, she was grieving Giles' departure, but Spike doesn't believe this, and we wonder if she does. When Spike calls her at the Magic Box, she already has sexual seduction on her mind. She balks at the phrase 'grunt work' because she has been thinking of him that way.

When he confronts her in front of the old house, and she realizes that his chip isn't working, she has a look of grieved terror on her face. This is a reaction solely to the thought that he is dangerous again - she doesn't know that it is only ineffective with him. I believe it strikes her that she may be forced to kill him, and lose him. It is only after she learns that the chip still works on other people that she is horrified by the thought that she is 'wrong'.

But when they fight, they fight as equals. As odious as the thought of hitting someone you care about may seem to us, physical combat is a part of both their lives. They are stimulated by it. And when they kiss, again it is Buffy that initiates it, as she initiates the intercourse, changing the very nature of their relationship. When they join, they stare into each other's eyes. Whatever her denial may be later, for that moment she sees him. She doesn't back away.

But the morning after is another story. Unconsciously, she trusts him. She has slept the night beside him, vulnerable and naked. In the light of day, she is shocked by her actions. Indeed, there must be something seriously wrong with her to behave in such a way, or so she thinks. He is her mortal enemy, and she has experienced a night of sexual abandon unlike anything she has dealt with before. Yet, with all her reservations, she is drawn down to him again, kissing him, until he puts his characteristic foot in his mouth and destroys the moment. (Spike's bravado and lack of self esteem are an essay topic in themselves).

Is sexual attraction love? No, but I would say there is a correlation. The desire is obvious, "A bloody revelation" Spike calls it, yet she denies it. She tells him, "One vampire got me hot, and it wasn't you." She's spent the night proving this to be a lie. When she spits out the words, "You were ... convenient" she seems to carefully pick out the worst word she can think of. It is another lie. There is nothing convenient about Spike. When Dawn is in trouble, she goes to him. Again, she trusts him without consideration. Apparently, she is afraid to touch his naked body, throwing a candle at him to wake him up. She looks away from his nudity, though she has become familiar with his body; less embarrassment than the avoidance of tempting thoughts.

Though she may deny it, he knows he has touched her emotionally. "You felt something last night." "Not love." "Not yet." When Dawn screams, they are a team. The look they exchange is instinctual. And while she may not trust herself with Spike, she trusts him with her sister. They communicate on a non verbal level when he suggests she go to Willow. When she stops thinking about the implications of her feelings, they work as one.

When she does think, she is terrified. She strews her room with garlic, clutching a cross, not to keep him out, but to keep herself locked up inside.

It is in Gone that we find the clearest indicator thus far of Buffy's depth of feeling towards Spike. His lighter is a symbol, not of sexuality, but of Spike himself. When she hides it in her pocket, unable to throw it away as she tries, she is keeping Spike close to her. (She is also showing a tendency towards her sister's kleptomania, but I digress). Note the look on Buffy's face, caught almost in the act by a characteristically oblivious Xander, when he says, "Only a complete loser would hook up with [Spike]." She is offended, and she is hurt. She is reinforced in her desire to keep the relationship a secret. When she cuts her hair, it is a conscious desire not to be Spike's 'Goldilocks', but it fails. Invisible Buffy hurries back to his arms. She delights in deceiving Xander, playing a dangerous game of near discovery. No doubt she resents his earlier comments. But Spike is becoming disenchanted with a Buffy that attempts to separate love and sex, and he throws her out, to her great consternation.

Buffy's life slips into a nosedive in Doublemeat Palace. She takes a boring, dead end job which drains her. When Spike arrives in the restaurant, she steels herself. He tries to convince her to leave, but she won't listen. "Please don't make this harder." What he says to her resonates, and his opinion matters. Later, she leaves to again find solace in their sexual relationship, but not even his charms can bring her out of her greasy stupor.

And then there is Dead Things, an relationship emotional roller coaster ride. It starts with a scene of sexual abandon and a happy conversation. Buffy and Spike are seen communicating on more than one level. She admits her feelings are more than physical. "Do you even like me?" "Sometimes." When he asks if she trusts him, she denies it, "never", yet she wears the handcuffs. Once again, her actions belie her words.

In the upper balcony of the Bronze, we see Spike initiate sexual intercourse for the first time. She says "don't", but she doesn't attempt to stop him. When he tells her to open her eyes, she does. She is alienated from her friends. She is drawn to him. She is drawn to him again in the cemetery, touching his crypt door with tender longing. There connection is now so acute that he knows she is there. But she walks away. "Don't think about the evil, bloodsucking fiend." She objectifies him to keep the barrier between them. As the song playing says, "The barriers are all self-made."

In her dream, Spike is her lover. He comes to her in her own bed, comforting her. This is making love, not just sex. When he is utterly defenceless, as she was with him earlier, she does what she trusted him not to do. She kills him. Her fear is not of who Spike is, but who she is. She believes she has killed an innocent woman. She is a killer.

I think this is key to the alley beating. It is unconscionable that she attacks her lover mercilessly. However, I do not think it is Spike that she is beating down. When he says that he has tried not to love her, "You think I haven't tried not too?" she hits him, countering his words with, "Try harder." I don't think those words are really directed at him. I think she is talking to herself. When she beats him, her words reflect her feelings about herself. "You are dead inside, you don't feel anything." She is the evil, wrong thing. When she sees what she has done, she walks away, unable to face anything but her own guilt and pain. She walks towards the police station like it is her holy grail. But his words, "you always hurt the one you love," have penetrated her. She reiterates them in relation to Warren and Katrina. She asks Tara, "Why do I feel like this?" She cries, "but the only time I ever feel anything is when ...", collapsing into tears.

But Spike has forgiven her. Like the biblical scapegoat, he has placed her sin on himself. So, when Willow mentions Buffy's birthday party, he comes.

Since Tara is the only one who knows about the relationship, Buffy shares with her that she isn't "ready to ..." "Come out?" Tara asks. This implies that Buffy does not rule out sharing the relationship sometime in the future. She is offered an alternative, 'normal' relationship with Richard, but shows him nothing more than pleasant indifference. She teases Spike, "Maybe he's not the jealous one." She treats him like a secret boyfriend, rather than an evil aberration. In the morning, they are playing cards together. When they bicker, it is an homage to Moonlighting. "Fine." "Fine."

Spike does not always play well with others. His jealous chiding of Richard gives away too many indications of his vampire nature, another indication that he and Buffy cannot have a 'normal' relationship. He is not totally comfortable in being included as a scoobie, as much as he may want it, calling it "an encounter group."

But when the demon attacks, Buffy again shows her unconscious trust of Spike. "I'm gonna check upstairs. Keep an eye on things down here." She tells Dawn, "Stay with Spike", again trusting her precious sister with him. When they fight the demon, they fight as a team.

So the relationship continues, secret, sexual, and ultimately unsatisfying for both of them, but continuing. Until Riley returns. It is in As You Were that the strongest argument against Buffy's love for Spike can be made.

Early in the episode, Spike meets Buffy outside her house. She is exhausted and greasy, but once again she falls into a sexual encounter. It is not unwelcome. As Spike says, "I'm not the only one thinking it." They make eye contact when he kisses her. But the sex is not tender, out on the lawn, "He's not getting any gentler." Still, she sleeps underneath her grass stained coat, which she has tried to clean. Then Riley shows up at work and unresolved feelings surface. I don't believe these are feelings of love - he left her because he didn't think she'd ever loved him. But whatever attracted her to him is still evident. Their 'embrace' mimics her position with Spike in Smashed. And he represents the good guy, the white hat, the hero, the acceptable lover. Yet, he says to her "There's not many people I'd ask to risk their life for me." How different from Spike's "You have to go on living." When she finds out Riley is married, she sees the life they could have had as a team, "Husband and wife tag team demon wrestling." Their life seems perfect, hers is anything but. She turns to Spike for comfort, saying the one thing that could hurt him more deeply than any blow when it is only for her benefit, "Tell me that you love me." She goes to him for comfort, but she shows she doesn't trust him when she follows Riley down the ladder.

And, tragically destructive to the relationship, she doesn't respect Spike. She won't believe Riley about the eggs, not because she thinks that Spike has changed, but because he's "incompetent." No wonder he is brought to tears by her "games." She won't hear him out, she won't see him for who he really is, and she destroys his home (necessary as that may be) without a thought.

Lack of respect does not mean lack of emotion, however. When Riley asks if Buffy wants him to "take him out", she is horrified. "How could you ask?" She is sleeping with Spike, and this may be her first conscious realization that he is a person. She didn't have a chance to tell Riley that she was sorry how things had ended, but she does have a chance for closure with Spike. She admits that she wants him, and tells him she "can't" love him. "Can't", not does not. Finally treating him as a man, she says, "I'm sorry, William," and leaves.

But closure is not so easy when your ex doesn't head off to Nepal. Spike shows up at Xander's wedding with a date, and even though Buffy knows it's a calculated move to make her jealous, "it hurts." When Dawn tells her about Spike's friend, Buffy looks sad. In a scene full of emotion, Spike tells her how hard it is to talk to her. She is not happy with the thought that he will have sex with his date, meaningless as it may be, and he says that he won't. But when he tells her she's glowing, she lights up. She jokes with him about the dress and they laugh together, in a totally unselfconscious way. When she reiterates that she is in pain, he thanks her, and out of his earshot she says, "You're welcome." Her eyes linger on him as he leaves.

We come to the final episode to date, Normal Again, in which realities become blurred. Xander is back from his weddingless run, and he is still in love with Anya. When he says that without her there's a "painful hole inside," the camera cuts to Buffy, who can obviously relate.

When she runs into Spike in the cemetery, he asks "did you cry?" He means at the wedding, but she seems to relate the question to their breakup, and the answer would appear to be yes. They chat about the wedding, but she shuts down when her friends arrive, pretending to treat Spike as an evil vampire again. I think that she isn't fully responsible for anything she says or does at this point, since the demon poison is affecting her, but it is still significant that she cannot reconcile her life with Spike and her life with her friends.

I think that when she says to Spike, "You're not a part of my life," it is a reaction to the words of the doctor in the asylum. Spike is a vampire and cannot exist in real life. She will soon extend that concept to include her friends and sister. But Spike takes it as another rejection of their relationship, and inadvertently echoes her 'mother's' words - that she shouldn't be a hero. She can't deal with the complication their relationship brings to her life, and she pours out the antidote, rejecting not only Spike, but everyone else in her life that she should love - her friends and Dawn. She retreats to the childhood love and care of her parents. In trying to destroy her 'construct' life, she tries to kill them all, telling Dawn that this can't be reality. How could she be a "girl who sleeps with a vampire she hates?" But I ask, if she asks the question, does she really hate him? She finally decides to face her problems, which must include her relationship with Spike, when asylum Joyce tells her, "I know the world seems like a hard place sometimes, but you've got people who love you." She chooses the people of Sunnydale.

What would be necessary for their relationship to work? Before Buffy can truly love anyone, her friends, her sister or Spike, she needs to learn to love herself. And she needs to respect Spike. On his part, he needs to accept himself as the less than evil person he has become, and gain some self-esteem.

So, does Buffy love Spike? I think so, but only time will tell the tale conclusively. In the meantime, I do not think the ship has sailed. I think it is in drydock for a refitting.

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