From Dracula to Dead Things: What we can learn from the Season 5 premiere

By Elz

Buffy vs. Dracula is an episode that seems to get very little respect. The concept of the ep seems like a throwaway: bring the Dracula story to BTVS, get a few laughs from Xander as a bug eater and Giles in the "chick pit," and toss in a red herring ending about the source of Buffy's power which will never be explained but suffices to keep Giles around for another year. I don't think I'm too off-base in characterizing that as the popular opinion. I've rarely seen it discussed in this group because Spike has such a small role, and yet, it sheds an enormous amount of light on his current place in Buffy's life.

What does the character of Dracula, after all, add to the story? Why bring him into the Buffyverse? To me, the simplest answer is that he's *the* vampire, the cultural archetype, and so he makes a great representational figure. Try looking at the episode from a season 6 perspective and seeing Dracula as Spike, or at least the vampiric side of Spike.

Consider the sequence of events:

-Buffy is being pulled away from her friends and family by her slayer side, but she refuses to admit it.
-Vampire comes along and confronts her on this, telling her she's a creature of darkness.
-Vamp and Slayer have a quasi-sexual encounter.
-Buffy tries to deny his power over her, but her will is initially too weak to resist him.
-Vamp gets her to embrace her own darkness.
-The darkness actually strengthens Buffy, and she turns around and kicks the vampire's ass.

Then check out the dialogue echoes from Wrecked and Dead Things:

BUFFY: Stay away from me.
DRACULA: Are you afraid I will bite you? Slayer, that's why you came.
BUFFY: No. Last night ... it's not gonna happen again.
DRACULA: Stop me. Stake me.
BUFFY: I... Any minute now.
DRACULA: Do you know why you cannot resist?
BUFFY: Cause you're famous?
DRACULA: Because you do not want to.
BUFFY: My friends-
DRACULA: They're here. They will not find us. We are alone.
DRACULA: Always alone.
DRACULA: There is so much I have to teach you. Your history, your power... what your body is capable of...
BUFFY: I don't need to know.
DRACULA: You long to. And you will have eternity to discover yourself.

(And Dracula is even wearing red and black in this scene...)

Buffy had been hunting all summer, allowing the slaying to draw her away from the people close to her, and none of them seemed to notice. It's the vampire who challenges her, who calls her on her own actions, fears, and desires. When Riley discovers her bite marks, she tries to reassure him: "I swear to you. I'm your girl, and I'm gonna stay that way." She refutes the vampire (Angel and Dracula)'s control over her with those words - and reacts so violently when the phrase is used by another vamp (Spike) whose control over her she fears she can't resist. It's even worse for her with Spike than with Dracula because the 'thrall' comes from within her - no hypno-vamp powers required. No denying that she can't resist because she doesn't want to. She'd been clinging to the idea that she was drawn to him because she came back wrong, but at the end of Dead Things, even that was stripped away.

That a vampire should have such power over a slayer seems like a perversion of her calling; that's certainly what some groups of fans would say. But is it possible that there are things to be gained from this situation? It's a question that resonates from the Dracula/Buffy interactions to the B/S relationship we see in Dead Things. Buffy puts herself in Spike's power in the off-screen handcuff scene and in the Bronze scene. And she does learn things, about him and about herself.

Spike doesn't actually separate her from her friends, he just forces her to acknowledge the separation. He doesn't make her do anything she doesn't want to do, but he causes her to realize what it is she does want. She can explore any aspect of herself with Spike because she's not worried about protecting his good opinion of her, the way she was with Angel and Riley. She could be weak or sad with him earlier this season, because he's the only one who doesn't depend on her strength, and she can be rough with him now because he has strength of his own. She lets herself go and is learning with Spike what her body is capable of. In the alley scene, he brings out a much less pleasant side of her, as he encourages her to hurt him. An essential part of growing up for her and the other Scoobies, however, is realizing that she isn't perfect and accepting and dealing with her darker side. Until they face their own capacity for evil, they can never fully understand what it means to be good or appreciate the goodness in other flawed people (and creatures).

The things Spike says to her in the Bronze are very much related to what Dracula says to her in BvsD. Dracula gets her to drink his blood, and by tasting that darkness, she's able to reject it, and reject him. He urges her on: "Find it. The darkness. Find your true nature." How often have we heard that from Spike this season? Her true nature proves to be much more complex than just darkness, however, for which Dracula is unprepared. As she stakes him, she asks, "How do you like my darkness now?" She uses it against him, but it's important to note that she doesn't actually succeed in killing him.

Spike, like Dracula, brings her darkness out into the open, but I think the point of this arc will be that that's hardly a bad thing. Buffy needs to acknowledge her darkness, her flaws, her failings and her temptations and deal with them openly instead of trying to suppress them. Kendra had that side of her closed off completely, at great cost to her enjoyment of life. Faith embraced her darkness too much and lost all sense of balance.

At the end of the episode, Buffy looks to her watcher for answers about the nature of the slayer, but ultimately he doesn't have any. There's a symmetry to the fact that the only one who can teach her what it means to be a slayer is a vampire. It's the slayer's enemy and opposite who raises all of these questions about her identity, who provokes feelings in her too powerful to ignore, and who ultimately causes her to reconnect with herself and gain a new sense of purpose.

Giles tells Willow early on in BvsD that he's taken Buffy as far as he can, and he's right. The Watchers have academic knowledge, but Buffy needs the kind of information that can only be acquired through experience. He stays because of her request at the end of the episode, but ultimately, he can't really help her. The search that she begins there, to understand what it means to be a slayer, is one that she's continuing now with Spike. I think that's what the ever- popular Restless reference to Spike being like a son to Giles and taking over his role means. Giles can't help her in FFL, The Gift, OMWF, or at all, post-resurrection. Spike can, and it's because he's a vampire rather than in spite of that fact. In Intervention, Giles must transfer his guardianship in order for Buffy to get answers about herself. Specifically, about the connection between slaying and her ability to love. The answer she gets (compressed a bit) is that to love, give and forgive will make her stronger and lead her to her gift - and the episode points a big arrow at Spike as to who she should be loving and forgiving. These things are all entwined; his status as lover and counterpart strengthens his power as mentor, but it also puts him at risk for the inevitable backlash.

This loving/hating/learning/fighting interaction could only end badly with Dracula, but there's hope with Spike because he is more than just pure vampire. He can't get close to Buffy without being as affected by her as she is by him. Spike has a head start towards appreciating his own duality: the chip. Buffy's old righteousness is what begins to be destroyed in Smashed. In their dance, their push and pull interactions, they both learn more about themselves: he adds to her understanding of what it means to be a slayer, and she adds a new layer to what it can mean to be a vampire. The story gives us hope that in the end, each will emerge the better for it.

So there it all is at the beginning of season 5: a summary of the season 6 Spike/Buffy arc, and the reasons why Spike is critical to Buffy's development. It's not a template per se, since the focus is so narrow, but it's a nice piece of foreshadowing which has been largely underappreciated.



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