(WARNING: This article contains possible triggers related to rape and abuse)
Manipulative, sarcastic, lust-driven, obsessive and emotionally abusive: that's #BuffytheVampireSlayer's bleached blonde vampire, Spike. As the show shined a light on the darker side of love and addiction, Spike emotionally targeted #Buffy for three seasons, praying on her weaknesses and dragging her down a hole she never fully escaped.
Ever since the show's initial run, fans have been divided over this abusive relationship. While many see the dangerous obsession that Spike tried to mask as love, others believe wholeheartedly in the relationship the two had. Defenders of Spuffy are quick to reference series creator Joss Whedon's support of the coupling:
I’m a Buffy/Spike shipper. I always felt like he was a more evolved person, but that’s like saying Juliet’s going to be so happy with Benvolio and everyone will love it. Buffy/Angel is for the ages; Buffy/Spike is maybe for me. Actually, I’m a Spike/Angel shipper. Completely re-write the equation.
However, Whedon's intent and personal feelings are hardly the final say in a show that encourages viewers to develop their own opinions.
For many, Spike's storylines brought out the worst in our slayer, and left her an ashamed victim of emotional abuse. Buffy was romantically entangled with a few guys who weren't great for her, including Angel, but William the Bloody was the most notable. Unfortunately for the show, this was for all the wrong reasons, particularly because it undermined the show's message of female empowerment.
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In Harm's Way: Spike's History of Abuse Before Spuffy
Incessantly licking unhealed wounds from a horrifying relationship with his mother, Spike spent his entire vampiric life as an undead Freud-worthy basket case overcompensating for a lack of self-worth, finding empowerment through destroying women. Spike has a history of targeting weak and lonely women, charming them into becoming his easily disposable playthings. This is something we first saw play out in his relationship with Harmony.
The constant focus of Spike's rage and displeasure, Harmony was his all too willing lover. This was not entirely surprising, given her history of being weak-willed and a "sheep," as Cordelia put it. During their time together, Spike hit her, insulted her, staked her, and even had her dress up like Buffy to play out his sexual fantasies. After a while, though, Harmony put her foot down, stood up for herself in her own way, and left.
While she was certainly unbearable at times, Harmony was undeserving of the physical and emotional abusive Spike served her for two seasons. It was a shining moment in 'Crush' when she started to fight back:
What about me, Spike? You forget about me again? The actual girlfriend? I gave you the best ... bunch of months of my life! I thought I could change you, Spike. I thought maybe if I gave and I gave and gave, maybe you'd come around. Maybe be a little nicer. Stop treating me like your dog. But now I see it's you. You're the dog. Who needs to be put down.
Harmony, 'Crush' (Season 5, Episode 14)
Fans eager to see Spuffy (the shipping of Spike and Buffy) come to fruition were all too happy to see Harmony take her annoying broken heart and exit stage left. This is one of the trace beginnings of a Spuffy trend that would not only come to overlook Captain Peroxide's unhealthy and dismissive treatment of his partners, but actually reconfigure his cycle of abuse to make him appear as the victim.
Though disappointing, it is not a complete surprise that Harmony tried to reconnect with Spike when the two crossed paths in #Angel's fifth season. Spike showed no interest until it suited him, and he seduced her only for it to turn into a disastrous fling that they both abandon.
Harmony's relapse at Wolfram & Hart is one of the worst parts of what she faced at the hands of Spike. Her inability to completely get over him is hardly a character flaw; being drawn to someone who hurts us is a tale as old as time. This is not even the first time we saw someone have this issue with Spike. In 'Crush', Drusilla came back for him, willing to overlook his chip-induced impotence and desires for the slayer — the original reason she left him.
As fun as it may have been to see the Harm and Spike together again in Angel, it cheapened Harmony's hard won independence from abuse. It also further illustrated how casually Spike uses, mistreats, and throws away women in a television series that is celebrated for exemplifying female strength.
Buffy v The Master Manipulator
Sadly, the degradation of female characters on Buffy at the hands of a misogynistic coward did not end with Harmony or Dru. In season five, Spike set his sights on the strong, empowered, and unattainable Buffy, unconsciously seeking to dismantle her as part of a destructive need to validate himself as a man worthy of love.
In the moment, Spike realized Buffy was something other than an adversary, he began to manifest an obsession that would affect everyone in his life and hers. What is interesting is how the writers eventually brought Spike's sick, abusive love to light in a way that depicted him as the victim. In fact, many fans still believe this to be true and gladly defend Spike, his feelings, and his actions.
You can argue that Spike did a lot to help Buffy since he became obsessed with dominating her, but how much did he do for her because it was right, and how much did he do because it got him closer to his end game of obtaining her? Remember that time he so proudly "helped" bleeding disaster victims at the Bronze in 'Triangle'? It was all a show to impress Buffy, and even he knew it.
Some would say that he tried to save Dawn in 'The Gift' too, purely out of the goodness of his heart. However, it is doubtful that this was an altruistic act on his part. By the time Glory's ritual roles around, Spike is so infatuated with Buffy that even he can't tell that his actions are self-serving. He attempted to save Dawn to be Buffy's hero. How better to nab the woman that pities you than to make her feel forever indebted to you by saving both her sister and the world? We also learn in season two that Spike didn't want the world to end, so he was saving himself as much as anyone.
Did Spike aid Buffy during 'The Gift' because, after 120 years of parading around as an abusive, homicidal, self-indulgent vampire, he suddenly found the inspiration to become a selfless champion thanks to a completely disinterested California woman? Unfortunately, that notion is as absurd as it sounds.
As much as the plot may have tried to illustrate a creature that could strive for good while still being soulless, we are left with a psychopathic, angry vampire who drank so much of his own Kool-Aid that he couldn't see how selfish he continued to be. As one fan recapped on the Buffy Boards under a thread about victim blaming:
Hmmm, stalking, violence, self-involved whining, blaming the woman for his actions ... nah, that sounds like Spike to me. Let's not forget that in Season 5 he literally chained Buffy to a wall and demanded she love him, or he would kill her, not to mention stalking her, stealing her underwear and building the BuffyBot, all of which grossly violated Buffy. Honestly, Season 6 simply escalated what was already there.
One remaining question is, why did Spike continue to care for Dawn after Buffy's death? It seems so simple and genuine, right? He is keeping a promise he made to a lady, after all. This too seems improbable, especially for a man who, in 'Never Leave Me', said to Buffy:
"You wanna know what I've done to girls Dawn's age? This is me Buffy."
Spike, 'Never Leave Me' (Season 7, Episode 9)
It makes more sense that Spike held on to Dawn because she was the focal point of Buffy's life, and the last link to his addiction. Without Dawn, Spike would have had to go cold turkey and face failure. Instead, he allowed his obsession with the slayer to thrive, masking himself as the caring protector.
I Hate You, Don't Leave Me: Spike Was An Enabler
There is no denying that the Buffy/Spike relationship was a two way street once they started hooking up. In season six, Buffy was clearly using him to deal with her pain and self-loathing. While that was not great behavior on her part, it doesn't put Spike in the clear. Had he really loved her, he would have stopped their unhealthy cycle of sex and shame, rather than entertaining it for his own benefit. Spike even goes so far as to tell Buffy that she thrives on the misery.
Spike was an enabler, letting himself be "used" by her, allowing her (and us) to think she had all the power. The fact is, he was a willing participant finally getting closer to his obsession, no matter how emotionally damaged she had become.
When Buffy finally has her moment of clarity, Spike can't handle the rejection. Dedicated as he claimed to be, Spike could not watch her assert her power by leaving him without his inferiority complex lashing out in the form of attempted rape.
In a scene that was all too real, Spike assaulted an already beaten Buffy, ready to force his love on her. The charade he had been putting on since season five came crashing down and we saw the monster within him still wholly intact. I struggle to understand how anyone could continue to cheer for Spike after that moment.
This harrowing event was underscored by the writers having Buffy downplay the attempted rape, refusing to pursue any sort of justice, help, or emotional support. Despite highlighting how traumatizing this was for Buffy, the writers used Spike's actions as a tool to enhance his character: As a monster who only looks out for himself, his next move makes so much sense.
According to James Marsters, the point of the scene was to ensure viewers were reminded of just how horrible Spike was:
It was the hardest day of my professional life. It was just unbelievably hard. But again I’m glad we did it. Spike was evil, and I think a lot of people forgot about that. Joss was constantly trying to remind the audience, “Look, guys, I know he’s charming, but he’s evil.” He’s a bad boyfriend. It would be bad to date a guy like this. And I think he wanted to reinforce that in the most dramatic way imaginable.
After Buffy kicked Spike's ass in self-defense, he headed to Africa to extinguish the spark of humanity that stopped him from actually raping her. In a twist, instead of getting the chip out, he got his soul back.
It is often disputed that Spike intended to get his soul back, so that he could be the man Buffy deserves and wants. Whedon expressed that we were meant to think he wanted the chip out, but in actuality he wanted his soul restored. Though that may have been the intended effect, the scenes leading up to the moment suggest Spike is filled with anger and frustration at not being able to rape Buffy.
The return of Spike's soul seemingly served as a plot device to essentially absolve him of his horrifying actions. It ignited sympathy and undeserving mercy towards him from Buffy and many fans of the show. Somehow, attempted rape set Spike off on a journey of self-discovery that eventually led to him saving the day in 'Chosen' without ever having to pay for his sins. That was the big take away.
Girl Power Saved the Day, But Emotional Abuse Won the War
The series writers validated Spike's abusive and manipulative behavior right up to the end. As Buffy told Spike she loved him while the Hellmouth crashed down around them in 'Chosen', he told her how she really felt.
In that moment, when Buffy told Spike the one thing he wanted to hear so badly, regardless of how genuine it was, the abusive monster within could not tolerate someone else being in emotional control. While most would have graciously accepted Buffy's sentiment, Spike told her that she did not actually love him. In their final moments together, he was unable to produce pure or genuine love for her. For Spike, it was a game of control to the end.
For some, the question remains: did Buffy truly love Spike? Or, did her heart belong to Angel? At the recent 20th anniversary Buffy reunion, Sarah Michelle Gellar shared her thoughts on who Buffy should have ended up with:
People ask who I thought was Buffy's ultimate and I get a lot of hate and a lot of death threats – seriously. There was something so beautiful to me about the Buffy and Angel story. I think that Spike understood a different part of who Buffy was and I think she needed to understand that and discover. But for me as Buffy, I think Angel.
That fact that Gellar receives death threats for voicing an opinion that was unfavorable among Captain Peroxide's acolytes illustrates just how dangerous the toxic notion of Spuffy is.
William Leaves a Bloody Mark
During his time on Buffy, Spike may have seemed to be the ultimate bad boy, but it takes little chipping away at the surface to discover the hurt, scared, and angry male underneath. Buffy and Spike never experienced real love, built on a healthy and mutual connection. What they had was nothing more than the result of an out of control obsession belonging to a pathetic, insecure man racked with emotional and control issues seeking to force an image of who he thinks he should be onto unwilling woman he then abuses and manipulates.
It is worth noting that Spike's relentless power struggles probably stems from his relationship with his mother. His behavior is not necessarily unfounded, but his unwillingness to do anything about it at the expense of others leaves him much less the victim than he was at the start. It is completely reasonable to feel a pang of sympathy for Spike, difficult as he makes it sometimes. He was dealt a rough hand to start, but he let it consume him.
For most of its run, Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired us with its message of girl power in a world dominated by male superheroes. Sadly, that glory was somewhat undermined by an angry, self-loathing and destructive vampire named Spike; another dominating male unapologetically bent on keeping women under his thumb to validate his misogyny and lacking sense of self-worth. Some big bad.
What are your thoughts on Buffy and Spike's relationship? Share your opinion in the comments section.