When the murderous vampire Spike was first introduced in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season, he appeared to be just another ordinary adversary for Buffy Summers. After four seasons of mutual loathing and disgust however, they were about to embark on a journey that was at many times both rewarding and unfortunate for both of them. For Buffy, having been in a relationship with the cursed vampire Angel and the good college boy Riley, no one would ever have dreamed that the follow-up, in what would become her third and final relationship of the series, would be Spike. As Spike often quips, ain’t love grand indeed.
The definition of the relationship that develops between Buffy and Spike is a frequent topic of debate. Was it obsessive love? Lust? Unrequited? Romantic? The list drags on, and many have argued one over the other. In their essay “Buffy in the Buff: A Slayer’s Solution to Aristotle’s Love Paradox,” authors Melissa M. Milavec and Sharon M. Kaye argue that the three major relationships that Buffy has during her run on the show can be classified under Aristotle’s three levels of friendship – Riley as the utility friendship, Spike as the pleasure friendship, and Angel as the complete friendship. To better understand their reasoning, it is necessary to take a closer look at each of Aristotle’s three levels and how each suitor qualifies.
The first level is the utility friendship, which is defined as “a relationship based on mutual benefit, irrespective of whether or not the two parties especially enjoy each other … the individuals establish a relationship in order to accomplish a conscious goal” (Milavec and Kaye 174). Milavec and Kaye argue that Buffy and Riley have a utility friendship because they share a common goal in fighting evil and accomplish this together. What undercuts a utility friendship it is built on rationality alone. This model is an accurate reflection of Buffy and Riley’s relationship because “Buffy deliberately chooses Riley with a particular goal in mind: to have a ‘normal’ boyfriend” (Milavec and Kaye 175). For Milavec and Kaye, when Buffy desires to date a wholesome good guy like Riley, she does so for all the wrong reasons and fails to connect to her partner emotionally. They benefit one another in utility and nothing more.
The second level is the pleasure friendship, which is defined as “a relationship based on mutual enjoyment, regardless of whether or not either party is especially beneficial to the other … the members get together to indulge passions and escape the toil of everyday life” (Milavec and Kaye 174). Here, Milavec and Kaye argue that Buffy and Spike have the pleasure friendship because it is fueled solely by passion: “Spike is irresistible to Buffy because he is a monster: monsters are evil, evil is dangerous, and danger is exciting.” What undercuts a pleasure friendship is that it is built on passion alone, and once the danger and excitement is gone, so is the appeal. However, unlike the first model, which accurately paired Riley in his deserved category, this is not a true reflection of Buffy and Spike’s relationship. It is rather a segment to a much larger picture, a note that will be expanded and elaborated upon further.
The third level is the complete friendship, which “includes both utility and pleasure but does not exist for the sake of either … each party values the other for his or her own sake” (Milavec and Kaye 174). Milavec and Kaye argue that Buffy and Angel classify the complete friendship because they achieve the rarity of valuing each another for who they are. This model, like Riley’s model, is an accurate statement to Buffy and Angel’s relationship because they successfully have all three elements: the utility, the pleasure, and unconditional value for one another: “Each is willing to sacrifice anything. At the same time, however, neither is ultimately willing to let the other make these sacrifices” (Milavec and Kaye 181). For Milavec and Kaye, Buffy and Angel’s relationship is total in devotion and loyalty, and this is why they are understood to have the complete friendship.
Milavec and Kaye’s qualification of Buffy and Spike’s relationship as the pleasure friendship is inaccurate because they restrict it under one, and only one, conclusive definition like so many other authors have. This is in and of itself problematic because Buffy and Spike’s evolution over time, unlike Riley and Angel, constantly brought major reinvention. Any attempt to define them as primarily one thing or another is bound to fail, because just when they appear to qualify as one term, they transition into another. Rather, this paper will argue that Buffy and Spike qualified, at different points, as all three of Aristotle’s levels of friendship in addition to several other varieties of love. What is important to take away from this argument is that unlike Angel and Riley, the tendency for Buffy and Spike to be inconsistent in definition is precisely what made them compelling and authentic in its change over time. In essence, the indefinable bond that is reached between Buffy and Spike is a model for a meaningful relationship that any individual would want to reach with another.
How Did She Come to This Extremely Entertaining Conclusion?
By the beginning of the fifth season, Buffy and Spike are easily termed as enemies. Spike is still rendered harmless to humans due to a chip that has been implanted in his brain by the Initiative, and being that he is still a demon, one should wonder why Buffy does not dispatch him in his impaired state. As Richard Greene and Wayne Yuen put it, “Spike has utility. Spike has access to information about demon and vampire activity in the area, which at times prove to be invaluable to Buffy … Without this utility, given the long-term threat he poses, killing Spike would be just as permissible as killing a rabid dog that has been temporarily restrained” (2). They may be enemies, but are not entirely useless to the other.
Needless to say, Spike’s utility is but an occasional convenience – his information may be valuable, but he is not a constant resource she can rely on, given their obvious mutual hate as well as his continued desire to kill her. In “Out of My Mind,” Spike sets out yet again to have his chip removed so that he may taste the blood of the Slayer, and yet again, he fails. At first, the plotline appears to be recycled because the audience has already seen this, even before the predicament of an implanted chip came into play – Spike has a plan, Buffy stops the plan, and Spike fumes until another plan (for another episode) is conceived. During the retreat back to his crypt however, the flare and feist in his rage appears more elevated than usual: “I’m her pet project. Drive Spike ‘round the bend. Makes every day a fresh bout of torture … I can’t get rid of her. She’s everywhere! She’s haunting me!” This leads up to the climactic moment when, to his horror, Spike awakens (literally) to the realization that he is in love with Buffy.
Spike’s wet dream reveals his underlying erotic desire for Buffy. The scene is shot in a blue and gray tint that is ambiguous in that it is neither overtly light nor dark. According to Leigh Clemons, colors in clothing on the show are also far from insignificant. “Red, black, and white carry special significances in American culture. White is the color of purity; black, the color of evil or death; green, the color of jealousy; and red, the color of lust or sensuality” (Clemons). Dream Spike wears all black as a symbol of his inherent evil, and Dream Buffy dons a pair of flaming red leather pants, a shade that attracts the eye and is a stimulant for eroticism. When Dream Spike tears off his shirt, he is also symbolically removing his evil front and reveals the vulnerability that is beneath it. Dream Spike then grabs Dream Buffy roughly by both arms and submits her to a hungry kiss, though she willingly returns it. When the real Spike lunges upward in bed, he is panting and his limbs rise uncomfortably beneath the sheets, suggesting an erection. Though Buffy submits to Spike in the dream, in reality it is Spike who submits to Buffy, and his meek “Please, no” acknowledges that he’s well aware of the affliction this will bring him.
So how to classify Buffy and Spike now? While they are no longer mutual in their opinion of one another, the inclusion of romantic feelings are unquestionably one-sided. Other characters have had one-sided feelings for another, such as Willow’s crush on Xander, but in each case they are already emotionally rooted in friendship or the bond that inclusion in the Scooby Gang provides. Spike’s one-sided feelings, on the other hand, are rooted in a history as Buffy’s hated adversary. The only relationship that is even remotely similar to this unique position is Xander and Anya, though she is human and the Scoobies never experience firsthand the treacheries from her former demon life that she talks about, save for Cordelia’s wish that was later reversed – and yet this is also a treachery that only talking can convey, as none of the originals recall anything about their doppelgangers until they are told about it. Spike, on the other hand, has schemed, kidnapped, and tried to kill them. The rarity in this one-sided affection is significant because Spike falls in love with someone who is an adversary not just in principle (like Angel) but also in personal history. This concept is something that was not only new to the show’s writing, but nonetheless intriguing for an audience to watch unfold.
With a newfound imbalance to their emotions, Victoria Spah argues that Buffy and Spike’s relationship throughout the remainder of season five corresponds closely to courtly love, a term commonly used in romantic medieval literature. Spah defines this in which a “Knight or lover finds himself desperately and piteously enamored of a divinely beautiful but unobtainable woman … his desire to impress her and to be found worthy of her gradually transforms and ennobles him” (1).
Spike does fit this qualification, for a while anyway. He makes several attempts to draw attention to his behavior to better Buffy’s opinion of him, such as passing the temptation to sample a victim in “Triangle” or appearing unexpectedly to help her stake a vampire in “Checkpoint.” Nonetheless, Buffy remains fairly unreceptive.
The twist is that Spike’s antics with courtly love are not just methods for winning over Buffy’s feelings, but are revealed as a remnant to his human life in the appropriately titled episode “Fool for Love.” It is here that the audience learns about Spike’s human past as a social outcast and rejected lover. He regularly composed dreadful verses in an attempt to win over socialite Cecily, who declared him as beneath her. When Buffy is faced with questions regarding her mortality, she turns to Spike for answers, and while he rivets her with his accurate insight to a Slayer’s inherent desire for death, he simultaneously courts her in many ways during these lessons: he refers to their history as dancing, kneels before her in the alley, and even leans in for a small kiss – very chivalrous indeed. But like Cecily, Buffy attests that Spike is beneath her, a stinging remark that only serves to remind Spike that though he may be a few centuries old, as Carolyn Korsmeyer puts it, “his human past is not so distant” (169). When Drusilla’s sires him into the demon world, it allows Spike to become everything that he was not as a human, and it is significant that Spike voluntarily turns rather than being forced or tricked.
While Buffy’s regard for Spike becomes increasingly degraded, Spike’s regard for Buffy becomes increasingly obsessive. When small courtly favors are not getting it done, Spike fills the void by hoarding several articles of Buffy’s, such as sweaters and photos. While this behavior is at times wonderfully comedic, it is nonetheless undeniably creepy. By the episode “Crush,” Spike has accumulated a Buffy shrine, a mantel that represents his shift into obsessive love. He takes it to its most extreme form when he, the obsessed lover, threatens murder in the name of the beloved. While the intended victim, Drusilla, is nonetheless a demon and her death would have been no big loss, especially to the Slayer, the notion wins nothing for Spike because he is “without an innate desire to do good but rather a selfish desire for personal gain” (Spah 4). In addition to obsessed lover however, the courtly lover in Spike is also still active. As Spah puts it, just as courtly knights face slim chances at their love coming to fruition, “For Spike there is a certain glory and exaltation to be had in facing desperate odds” (3). If there weren’t a certain satisfaction in the thrill of this predictable chase, Spike would have thrown in the towel after the first generous helping of being punched in the face.
Spike’s obsessive love does not stop there, however. In “Intervention,” he has a robotic Buffy sex slave made in order to give a physical outlet to his fixation. The robot may be uncanny in appearance but is a simplified and degrading version of the real thing that Spike programs to talk dirty and pleasure him. And yet when Spike’s obsessive perversity hits an all-time low, he endures fierce torture from the hell god Glory just a few scenes later when he refuses to reveal Buffy’s younger sister Dawn as the Key. As Laura Resnick puts it, “In equal measures, Spike regularly repels us and wins our admiration” (61). Spike protected Dawn’s identity not to win points with Buffy or to nullify his behavior with the robot, but because he’d rather die before seeing Buffy endure the pain of this loss. According to Anthony Bradney, it is when Spike is able to step back from his trademark attitudes that he truly shines by simply letting “love command his behavior, not hope of any reward” (4). Similarly, Buffy also steps back from her attitudes when she displays her first genuine regard for him. She acknowledges his loyalty with a soft kiss that is not driven by formality but by a gratitude held between friends. She articulates this sentiment afterwards: “The robot was gross and obscene … it wasn’t even real. What you did, for me and Dawn, that was real. I won’t forget it.” True to her word, Buffy does not forget. When Glory finally does learn Dawn’s identity, it is Spike that she enlists to help protect her in “Spiral.” And when Glory finally does capture Dawn, it is again Spike that Buffy counts on to protect her in the climactic fifth season finale, “The Gift.”
So where does this leave them? The fifth year for Buffy and Spike began with a relationship based on mutual hatred to a relationship based on imbalance, with Spike becoming a courtly lover, an obsessed lover, and at times a hybrid of both. “The Gift” marks the final point of evolution for the season as Buffy and Spike enter a utility friendship – the relationship that Milavec and Kaye argued was also the case for Buffy and Riley. Recall that the utility friendship is “a relationship based on mutual benefit, irrespective of whether or not the two parties especially enjoy each other … the individuals establish a relationship in order to accomplish a conscious goal” (Milavec and Kaye 174). When Buffy is determined not to sacrifice Dawn to save the world, she goes further to say that she will kill anyone who even goes near her, a pointed comment that gives insight to her apprehension, even for her friends. And yet, Spike is the one that Buffy personally counts on to protect Dawn because she instinctively knows that he will. As Lorna Jowett puts it, “Buffy relies on Spike’s strength, at once a characteristic of real masculinity and a symptom of his monstrosity” (165). Buffy may not trust him, but she values him in a conditional manner.
This concept is best demonstrated in the scene when Buffy and Spike return to the Summers home for supplies. Having revoked his invitation in “Crush,” Spike asks Buffy to hand him the weapons through the door only to receive a second invite less than half a season after being ousted. When Buffy is on the staircase, he calls her and she stops halfway to listen: “I know you’ll never love me. I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man.” Spike is grateful for being re-evaluated in Buffy’s eyes, but Spah notes that she is “willing to stand above him on the stairs and assume this elevated role” (5). This is precisely why a utility friendship fits them in these circumstances. Like Riley, it is beneficial to have Spike by her side right now; they are both strong warriors and they both share a common sentiment for Dawn’s wellbeing, but they do not share a common sentiment for each other. Spike loves Buffy, Buffy values Spike conditionally. When Buffy sacrifices her life to save Dawn’s, her death may have finished their story but as creator Joss Whedon and company soon figured out, that wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
She’s a Sweet Girl, Spike, but Hey… Whew… Issues.
The beginning of the sixth season finds Buffy gone and her friends and sister carrying on the fight against evil without her – and then there is Spike. Jennifer Crusie observes, and accurately so, that “If Spike’s love were immature and conditional, [Buffy’s death] would finish things, and he’d return to his old life. Instead, he stays in a life that doesn’t fit him, helping her friends and protecting her sister, knowing that he’ll never see her again and still loving her hopelessly” (90). Having wept openly at the sight of her lifeless body, Spike fights alongside the Scoobies all summer and continues to look after Dawn. His shaky statement, “I’m not leaving you to get hurt … not again” indicates his misgivings with himself from the night Buffy died, remembering every moment of being on the tower with the chance to save Dawn and his subsequent failure to do so. Spike believes that he has failed Buffy, and can only make up for it by protecting her sister in life where Buffy, having died, cannot.
As Willow indicates in the season premiere, Buffy’s friends have planned on her return all along whereas the unknowing Spike has not, a point which makes his grief over her loss and his resolve to stay true to his word to protect Dawn all the more genuine. Gone is the notion of courtly love, obsessive love, and the perversity of the previous season – Spike has entered another league in his emotions towards Buffy, even without her in the picture anymore. It is clear by his reaction in “Afterlife” that had Spike known about the plan, he certainly would have stopped it, as he reveals (as well as Giles later on) his painful content with leaving Buffy in the ground for her own sake: “Willow knew there was a chance that she’d come back wrong. So wrong that you’d have… that she would have to get rid of what came back, and I wouldn’t let her. If any part of that was Buffy, I wouldn’t let her.”
When Spike meets the newly resurrected Buffy once again, she descends the stairs and stops halfway as Spike stares up at her from the floor’s level. Her raised elevation, similar to their scene in “The Gift,” is an early indication that despite new circumstances, the two are still imbalanced. This is not to say that their sentiments have not changed however, for Buffy connects to Spike in ways that she cannot with anyone else – note that he is the only one that she allows to touch her without an initial flinch when he takes her bloodied hands in his. Only Spike knows instinctively what Buffy went through, and it is in this shared trauma that a deeper bond is forged. Gregory J. Sakal notes, “Like him, she has risen from the grave. Like him, she had to literally claw her way out of the ground” (248). Buffy then accepts Spike as her confidant by confessing only to him that she was torn out of heaven and not hell, a level that no longer qualifies their relationship as a utility friendship. The scene supports the metaphor of light and dark as Spike sits in the shade because the sun was “low enough” for him to be out. Buffy, however, steps out of the dark and into the sunlight after swearing Spike to secrecy. Rhonda Wilcox notes that, “The hero must embrace darkness to become truly strong – to save herself; and as the sixth season proceeds, Buffy embraces Spike” (3).
This concept is brought to full light (pun intended) in the musical extravaganza “Once More, with Feeling” when a singing demon arrives whose power causes residents to sing their innermost feelings. Buffy’s opening song, “Going Through the Motions,” draws immediate attention to the Slayer’s growing emptiness in her emotions since her resurrection. “Going through the motions, / losing all my drive. / I can’t even see / if this is really me. / And I just wanna be alive” implies that she currently does not feel alive and sorely wants to. This conveys Buffy’s desire to feel something, but not necessarily love. She then turns to her confidant Spike, and he in turn delivers “Rest in Peace.” In it, he acknowledges Buffy’s desire but rejects it simultaneously: “You’re scared / ashamed of what you feel. / And you can’t tell the ones you love, / you know they couldn’t deal. / Whisper in a dead man’s ear, / that doesn’t make it real.” Spike may be Buffy’s confidant, but it is not real in the sense that it is driven by love, and Spike knows that.
In the episode’s final number, Buffy sings to Spike, “I touch the fire and it freezes me / I look into it and it’s black. / This isn’t real / but I just wanna feel” while Spike sings, “You can make me feel” right before she plants a classic Hollywood kiss on him as the curtains close (literally). They express the same desire in the other partner in wanting to feel, but it is grounded by lust. Their kiss is not like any kiss that Buffy has shared with Angel and Riley – it is not a sensual, soft, close-lipped kiss that is framed in glorious close-up, but rather a hungry, open-mouthed, lunge that is framed wide in order to include their bodies, which are being heatedly pressed against one another. They each recognize the ability to feel something through their partner, but the situation is hardly ideal. They fall into lust rather than love, for Buffy’s draw to Spike is in his innate darkness, not in him personally. According to Wilcox, “In sum, at this stage Buffy’s desire for Spike and her desire for death are equivalent” (3).
Buffy and Spike’s lust for one another is given further emphasis in “Smashed” when they consummate their relationship, an act that is as violent as it is perverse. When Spike discovers that his chip no longer activates with Buffy, the two engage in foreplay in the form of a full-fledged fight that culminates when Buffy mounts him, pulls a zipper down, and begins to thrust erotically. As Crusie notes, it is significant that Buffy does not have sex with him until after she already knows the chip does not work on her because “it means that in the heated proximity of the rough sex they become addicted to, they’re both easy to kill” (92). The fact that their first sexual encounter takes place after a knockdown fight that brings walls down is an easy metaphor and foreshadow of a literally destructive companionship. Similarly, their sex scene in an alley in “Doublemeat Palace” is also lustful. Pressed against a yellow wall with a dumpster just a few feet away, they are hardly in an ideal location for romance. The fact that they go at it in this environment is a product of their erotic desires. Though their sex is not loving and romantic, it is the first instance where a confidant becomes a lover. Confidants in the series, to a large extent, have been nonsexual and are people that are turned to when they want to talk about love relationships with other people. The fact that Buffy and Spike are the first to make the shift from confidants to lovers is not insignificant. They have a history that progressed to this point rather than one that starts from it, an early indication to a more mature and messy adult relationship, even in light of being currently driven by lust and not love.
By now, Buffy and Spike’s have entered a new phase in their relationship – the pleasure friendship that Milavec and Kaye argued for them. Recall that the pleasure friendship is “a relationship based on mutual enjoyment, regardless of whether or not either party is especially beneficial to the other … the members get together to indulge passions and escape the toil of everyday life” (Milavec and Kaye 174). When Buffy and Spike acknowledge the ability to feel something through their partner through sex, they both engage in mutual enjoyment. The problem with their pleasure friendship is that falling into lust under separate pretenses proves harmful to both of them. They both desire the other partner to make them feel, but while Spike is in love with Buffy, Buffy is using Spike for sex.
In “Dead Things,” Buffy’s sexual affair with Spike has become so unpredictable that, as Resnick quite accurately points out, “It’s frequently unclear to both of them whether he’s currently her lover or her ex-lover” (61). What is clear, however, is that Buffy is ashamed of herself. She will not tell her friends and sister about the relationship, and her despair over why she keeps “letting him in” is unclear even to her. Spike, on the other hand, is and always has been the one more emotionally invested. While Spike enjoys sex with Buffy, he continues to push for something deeper with her despite her insistence that it will never happen. In a climactic moment, Buffy, in a manner that Wilcox notably points out is similar to when Faith beat on her own body, pummels Spike in the face mercilessly while insisting that he (or substitute she) cannot love or feel anything real because he (she) is dead.
It is Tara who determines conclusively that it is a minor molecular attribute to Spike’s defective chip towards her: “Funneling your essence back into your body, it altered you on a basic molecular level. Probably just enough to confuse the sensors or whatever in Spike’s chip. But it’s all just surfacey physical stuff. It wouldn’t have any more effect than a bad sunburn.” When Buffy realizes that she is in fact, completely human, she is far from relieved. Roz Kaveney describes this as “an element of irresponsibility: she wants to believe that she [was] not choosing this,” the ‘this’ being sex with Spike (32). The problem with Buffy and Spike is that lust cannot survive on its own. Through the lust, they are able to express the same desire to feel through the other partner, but they do not feel equally. Spike feels love, while Buffy feels shame.
Buffy is wise to end the relationship, but to have Spike go from an erotic pleasure partner back to the confidant that he was before their connection turned sexual, is simply not logical for them. The episode “Seeing Red,” which provides Buffy and Spike’s final scene together of the season, is easily the most controversial and upsetting episode in the history of the series but one that needs to be addressed. Buffy acknowledges: “I have feelings for you. I do. But it’s not love. I could never trust you enough for it to be love.” In an act that is both monstrous and human, Spike attempts rape in order to force Buffy to feel something for him. The second she kicks him off, it is harder to say who is more horrified by his actions.
This violation towards the woman that he loves allows Spike to finally see that he can never be worthy of Buffy’s love and trust because the necessary element for that just isn’t there – a soul. It’s out of the same horror and disgust of his actions that prompts Spike on a journey to Africa to transform himself. At first, Spike’s resolve appears motivated by a desire to kill Buffy; he angrily speaks about giving her what she deserves and calls her a bitch. It is all a clever trick on the writers’ behalf, however, for Spike is not after the removal of his chip but rather the restoration of his soul. Jowett states that “He is aware of the binaries of gender but cannot transcend them because his role (villain, lover, or hero) depends on ‘being a man,’” so he therefore sets out to gain what will make him the man that Buffy deserves (165). Perhaps the reason that the imbalance between Buffy and Spike has existed all this time is not solely because their feelings for one another have never been mutually shared, but also because they have always been, at their core, two separate beings; one with a soul and one without. Spike acknowledges this at last, and seeks the necessary change. As Arwen Spicer puts it, “The same hybrid identity that brings out some of his worst characteristics gives him the ability to surpass them” (5).
Understandably so, Buffy and Spike’s relationship becomes blurry following his attempted rape of her. But despite having crossed Buffy’s moral line and giving her no reason to trust him, she still holds him in certain regard when it’s Spike that Dawn wants to stay with for protection during Willow’s rampage with black magic. Though Spike is already well on his way to Africa at that point, the fact that Buffy even agrees to the idea is something. Spike’s journey for his soul is a clear indication that it’s still all about Buffy for him, but Buffy herself has also demonstrated here that she will still rely on him when necessary – the tie between them is still there. It cannot simply be severed, but the elements that now comprise and define it are left intentionally ambiguous for their sake… and the sake of the seventh season.
She’ll Tell You… Someday She’ll Tell You.
The seventh season finds Buffy and Spike estranged and ambiguous to one another. No longer in a pleasure friendship but certainly not close in any way, the restoration of Spike’s soul only adds to this complexity. “His demon nature and his human nature are so incompatibly extreme that trying to incorporate them into one persona makes him mentally unstable at first” (Resnick 62). In fact, Spike goes to great measures to conceal the fact that he has regained it to begin with in “Beneath You” for fear that Buffy will not understand. First he arrives at Buffy’s door for the first time since she witnessed his post-soul disorientation, blaming it on the “ghostly types” from the school basement rather than the soul. Second, he wholeheartedly acknowledges to Buffy that his attempted assault on her was unforgivable and that he has changed, but prevents Anya from revealing his soul by starting a fight in the Bronze with his usual attitude and goads that negates the previous testament.
Spike’s antics are not enough to conceal the secret for long, however. According to Clemons, “Clothing first and foremost serves as a reinforcing agent for the character’s development and change. While this may seem like a small distinction … television characters are free to hold onto significant character clothing choices for as long as they serve to reinforce the ideas of the character within the given universe” (Clemons). Noticeably absent since Spike’s return is his leather jacket, a symbol of his demon persona that was revealed to be a trophy taken from the Slayer he dispatched in New York. This conscious attempt to ignore who he is and what he has become fails him, and he later removes his shirt: “It didn’t work. Costume. Didn’t help. Couldn’t hide.” The final scene of the episode, when he confesses the truth to Buffy in a church, is bathed in deep blue mood lighting that Jenny Alexander argues is representative of the “conflicted intensity” of Buffy and Spike’s bond, noting that it is the same used when they first consummated their relationship (7). The difference here is that Spike is no longer beneath Buffy; he is not an empty shell that a human once inhabited, for like her he has a soul – an asset that has proved so often in the past makes all the difference.
Even after the revelation of Spike’s soul, Buffy and Spike’s relationship has never been blurrier. In “Sleeper,” the First Evil (the major villain of the season) bypasses Spike’s chip and coerces him into feeding on humans again. Everyone believes that he is a liability and it is significant that the first person that asks Buffy to dispatch him is Spike himself. Buffy’s refusal to do so demonstrates what Gregory Sakal notes as the universalist viewpoint of redemption that she lives by. “She demonstrates this belief in her willingness to accept Spike at face value, in spite of his being a creature that she would normally destroy … To Buffy, it is not for her to decide who is redeemable and who is not. Her task is to protect and help – not to judge” (Sakal 250). And Spike does ask for her help in a step towards his own redemption. He last asked for her help in season four’s “Pangs,” back in a time when his only use to Buffy was his utility in having something to offer her in return. When he asks for her help now, it is not an exchange, but rather the notion of saving himself for the good of others.
If Buffy and Spike no longer have a utility friendship, a pleasure friendship, or a concrete foundation for any other definition, what are they to one another? Though Spike acknowledges that God help him, he still loves Buffy, Buffy on the other hand remains generally uncertain, though the clairvoyant Cassie Newton’s prophecy to Spike that “someday she’ll tell you” in “Help” hints that Buffy’s support of Spike transcends beyond mere principle. This is brought to the forefront in “Never Leave Me” when Spike asks Buffy for the second time to kill him when the First Evil is still relentless in its pursuit of him. Spike is wise enough to know now that Buffy is not keeping him alive because of love, but is riveted by her admission of belief in him:
BUFFY: Be easier, wouldn’t it? If it were an act, but it’s not. You faced the monster inside of you and you fought back. You risked everything to be a better man—
BUFFY: – and you can be. You are. You may not see it, but I do. I do. I believe in you, Spike.
Two years ago, it was Spike who rationalized to Buffy why he could be a good man and why he was worthy of her respect. The role reversal provides the potential for Buffy and Spike to build a newfound bond that will ultimately become more meaningful than any other they have shared.
It is this same bond that carries Buffy and Spike into deeper loyalty and devotion for one another despite their ambiguity in definition. In “First Date,” it becomes a point of conflict between Buffy and Giles when he learns that Buffy authorized the Initiative to have Spike’s chip removed, rather than repaired, when its deterioration threatened Spike’s life. For Giles, soul or no soul, the threat of releasing a demon into the world that has already been a target of the First Evil is not a worthwhile risk. Buffy sees differently; as Bradney puts it, “Since Spike has gained a soul, he has to be given a chance to be good of his own free will without being electronically muzzled by the chip” (5). Buffy reasons that instinct is telling her that Spike can be a better man. Here, even Giles addresses the lack of clarity in their growing bond: “There’s a connection. You rely on him, he relies on you. That’s what’s affecting your judgment.” And he’s right – to say that Buffy removes the chip solely on principle is inaccurate. It is her bond with Spike, “whether agape or eros,” that also leads her to this decision (Bradney 4).
The bounce between agape and eros of Buffy and Spike’s bond becomes even more prominent when Buffy accepts a date with Robin Wood, a high school principal by day and demon hunter by night. When the date turns into a rescue mission, even Wood senses the history between Buffy and Spike and knows that there’s no competition. Subsequently, when the First Evil reveals that it has unfinished plans for Spike down the road, Spike offers to leave town, citing that with the addition of Wood as another demon fighter, Buffy will manage fine without him. Buffy is adamant: “That’s not why I need you here… I’m not ready for you to not be here.” Spike is not asked to stay on the grounds of utility or principle. He is asked because Buffy herself is not ready to be separated from him, and Spike stays with her, even with the knowledge that staying could bring further harm to everyone involved. Their bond, “whether agape or eros,” directs how both of them will act (Brandey 4).
Though Buffy and Spike’s bond was portrayed as fairly ambiguous in the seventh year, it is finally able to be given a concrete definition in “Touched,” the episode that at last enters them into the highest level of their bond – the complete friendship, the relationship that Milavec and Kaye also argued was the case for Buffy and Angel. Recall that the complete friendship “includes both utility and pleasure but does not exist for the sake of either … each party values the other for his or her own sake” (Milavec and Kaye 174). The three key elements of having a complete friendship are therefore utility, pleasure, and an unconditional value in the partner for who they are. By now, Buffy and Spike have utility again due to their common goal as warriors in the fight against the First Evil. The other two elements are gained in this episode when Buffy is exiled from the Summers house and appears adamant in committing herself to defeat. At her lowest, it is Spike who comes through to her with strength and love:
A hundred plus years, and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of: you. Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.
Buffy, moved by his unconditional belief in her just as Spike was moved by her unconditional belief in him in “Never Leave Me,” asks him to stay with her through the night and hold her. It is here that they regain the element of pleasure in their complete friendship – while it is not sexual, it is physical and sensual and above all, powerful. It is also not a coincidence that the other couples of the series are shown in a montage having sex when Buffy and Spike are not. Kaveney notes the pleasure friendship of season six as “passionately sadomasochistic” and the complete friendship of season seven as “chaste bed-sharing love,” a sharp contrast that marks the growth and evolution of their bond (29).
While Buffy and Spike do have utility and pleasure in their complete friendship, it does not exist for these things alone. Their devotion and loyalty is unconditional. They believe in one another instinctively and their bond persists even when everyone gives them hundreds of reasons to break it. Indeed, complete friendship is a rarity, but Buffy and Spike have it. The climactic series finale, “Chosen,” is further proof of this. Though it begins with Buffy and Angel in a kiss, they enter an argument mere minutes later over, not coincidentally, Spike. And while Buffy admits that Spike is not her boyfriend, he nonetheless has a place in her heart just as Angel does. Buffy’s complete friendship with Spike is both different and separate from the one she has with Angel, as it should be. Ultimately, it is Spike that Buffy bestows the champion’s amulet to and it is Angel who she sends away for the final and decisive battle against the First Evil. It is also Spike that Buffy spends what they believe may be their last night on earth together in a long shot that frames them on either side of the basement before fading out. Left intentionally ambiguous, it is for the audience to decide how they spent their last night together – all that is certain is that their last night was spent with each other, which ultimately does not undercut its importance.
In the end, Spike sacrifices himself and ensures Buffy’s victory, an act that destroys his kind so that Buffy’s may live. Though Buffy begs him to come with her, Spike knows that his life is required to at last achieve redemption; Buffy knows this too, and she needs to let him go. She clasps his hand by weaving her fingers through his and it catches fire, a powerful symbol to their bond. Kaveney notes here that “before she kissed him in ‘Once More, with Feeling’ she reprised her song ‘I touch the fire and it freezes me’” (57). Their hands being consumed in the flames and the flinch in their eyes tells the audience that unlike before, they feel every ounce of it. And though Buffy finally tells Spike that she loves him and Spike doesn’t believe it, in many ways, it is unimportant in the end. Regardless of whether or not the audience believes that they are in love or not, Buffy and Spike reached a bond that is understood as complete and total. Buffy’s final word in the series, “Spike,” is further proof that while he may be gone he will never be far from her memory.
Milavec and Kaye’s qualification of Buffy and Spike’s relationship as the pleasure friendship is just one piece from a much bigger picture. While it is easier to classify Buffy’s relationships with Angel and Riley as one term, to do so with her relationship with Spike is far too limiting. Their major evolution over time subsequently makes them definable to many things over time. They successfully reached all three levels of Aristotle’s friendship models in addition to other varieties of love along the way, ultimately developing a bond that was both genuine and unconditional. Regardless of whether or not a viewer believed that Buffy and Spike’s bond had reached a true romantic level, the end result is an admirable model for a meaningful relationship, for Buffy and Spike were utterly loyal and devoted to one another in the end. And who wouldn’t want that kind of bond with another individual?
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Suzie Weis is a senior film major at Emerson College with a minor in writing. Her area of interest in the filmmaking process lies primarily in cinematography and screenwriting and she has completed many independent film and video projects during her undergraduate study. She is currently residing in Los Angeles for an internship program in the industry before her graduation in May of 2007. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org