C R U S H, 5x14
Or, Why Spuffy Was Never Going to Have a Happy Ending Without a Soul in the Equation
And, let me preface this before I catch flack with the fact that I love Spike and Buffy. I love their relationship. I'm a huge shipper of it. But, I love it for its flaws, and I love it for Spike's journey.
That said, let's review. This may get trigger-y.
Now, in the past, (see: 4.22 Restless, among others) we've seen Tara being used as the voice for those who can't speak for themselves. Often she's Miss Moral Ambiguity, sometimes she's in-context just honestly speaking for someone else. But in this episode, she speaks for what we're supposed to be getting out of this episode. Something that we need to understand through this episode and Spike's drastic actions which are based in wild obsession -- not love -- as viewers.
When walking in the halls of UC Sunnydale with Buffy and Willow, Tara talks about The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This entire scene is hugely representative of the entire episode. Willow, the romantic, sides with our figurative Spike and claims that Esmeralda and Quasimodo should have gotten together, because Quasimodo helped her. Tara explains; "No, see. It can't end like that, 'cause all of Quasimodo’s actions were selfishly motivated. He had no moral compass. No understanding of right. Everything he did he did out of love for a woman who would never be able to love him back. Also, you can tell it's not gonna have a happy ending when the main guy's all bumpy." Now, if you hadn't caught on by the end comment, this is directly referring to Spike and his obsession. "All bumpy?" Yeah.
Granted, I'm not saying that writer intent is the way we all have to interpret it and feel about it, but obviously nothing Spike did while he was obsessed with Buffy, even knowing that she couldn't love him back, was going to be his redemption. It was selfish. He was trying to make her love him. Even in season 6, even after he accepts that she can't love him in The Gift and is okay with that, he tries to find ways to make her love him. He makes himself into what her friends can't be, and when that doesn't work, he tries to drag her down to his level since he obviously can't lift himself to hers. This isn't love. It's selfishness. Just because he spends as much time trying to raise himself to her level in her eyes -- repeatedly begging for recognition for acts that he did just for the recognition and not for the sake of the act itself -- does not mean he's redeemed. It means he's trying to get her love and doing whatever it takes because he's crazed and obsessive.
Another interesting thing of note here is Buffy's commentary. "When's the test? ... [soon] ... I won't have an opinion until then." It's an interesting kind of foreshadowing about the rest of the episode, how she'll have to develop a place to stand on this issue because she's going to be "tested" on it. A recurring theme of the story is bringing Buffy to a strong moral standing and showing how she develops to that point and how she has to be the one who stands firm and makes these calls, because when it comes down to it, all of BtVS is about Buffy growing. In this instance, the message is that even though some characters/viewers/fans (Willow, for example) might have sympathy for Quasimodo/Spike, she can't. Because she's the one who has to draw the line and realize what is good and what isn't Being good for the sake of some personal gain isn't good, it's the opposite. It's manipulation.
I always hulk out on people when they say that Spike might as well have been redeemed until Seeing Red and then act like they got whiplash from his attempt to rape Buffy in that episode. As if it was surprising. If anything, the fact that it woke him up and the fact that he was legitimately near an emotional breakdown the whole time he did it makes it the thing that really makes him redeemable. That's what gives him the capacity for good -- his ability to look outside of himself and see that he's still doing monstrous things. He's still hurting Buffy for selfish reasons and that's the opposite of what love is about. Spike gets his soul because he realizes this. He realizes that he was never one of the good guys while he was just a muzzled animal, he was worse than some of the bad guys even. Because he pretended that what he was doing was good. He saw himself as the hunchback and realized that as long as he has no moral compass and no understanding of what being that good and that righteous really means, he isn't someone who deserves love.
So, he made himself better.
The message of Spike and Buffy's relationship in season 5 and 6 isn't Spike's failed attempts at redemption. It's that being selfish in love isn't love at all. There was never hope of a happy ending for them until he had a soul, not as long as he had no moral compass. Spike's only motivations pre-soul were his own selfish desires. People say that for the way she treated him, Buffy doesn't deserve Spike, but the truth is that Spike's right when he talks about it in season 7. He didn't deserve her. He didn't deserve love period.
Mostly this is just me ranting and raving about how much it maddens me that people don't realize that he was evil the whole time, no matter who he was helping. We see multiple times that he wasn't.
Yes, she grew to have feelings for him. Despite everything, she felt for Spike. But every reason that she couldn't trust Spike was based in his lack of soul and his lack of moral compass, and that was always going to be a hurdle that kept her from loving him. At the end of the day, Buffyverse operates on one principle. And that's that true redemption, true penance, without a soul is impossible. With season 5 and season 6, they were trying to make you doubt that and see a gray area, but it never existed. It was never real.
And in this case, in Spike's case, we see that it's not just about a soul as an object. It's a soul as an identity. Spike's actions were entirely motivated by him wanting to do it for Buffy. When he went and got his soul, it was NOT solely motivated by Buffy. It was motivated by his desire to be "a kind of man." Yeah, it can look like it, but at the end of the day, redemption's not real. Not unless it comes from a person's soul, a person's self, rather than for the sake of someone else. And that's why it's beautiful writing. This is why I have a massive boner for Joss Whedon.
Here endeth the lesson.