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Thursday, December 15, 2011

School Hard

[Updated April 29, 2013]

Spike and Dru. They’re favorites of most Buffy fans, including me, and their entrance into Sunnydale and Buffy’s life makes School Hard a very popular episode. It’s certainly one of my personal favorites for re-watching. Every minute with Spike on the screen is mesmerizing, but there are lots of great moments. “How much sugar did you add?” might be my favorite.
I think we can read the episode on multiple levels, but the problem is I can’t explain the details without spoiling possibly the biggest plot twist of the entire series. Let’s see if I can talk around the problem. That will involve talking about Spike, while I leave it to you to consider what or who Drusilla might represent.

The first thing we learn about Spike is that he’s arrogant and self-centered. He’s ready to challenge any vampire present, he loves to brag about the way he killed two Slayers, he promises to kill Buffy, first to the Anointed One, then to Buffy herself. It’s part of what makes him so fascinating.
For me, the most important scene in the episode is the very popular one at the end where Spike dusts the Annoying Anointed One. In my reading of S1, the Anointed One was a twisted mirror image of Buffy. He would stay a child forever, which is the future she risked if she didn’t commit to follow her destiny. Because she’s made that commitment, the Anointed One no longer serves any purpose. That problem is in the past and Spike and Dru represent the future: “Me and Dru, we’re movin’ in.”
I also think it’s important that it’s Spike who destroys the child. My explanation for this, though, takes us into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it for later.
Spike and Dru are the first vampire couple we’ve seen, though we were told about Angel and Darla. Are they in love? That’s a tricky question indeed, and you’ll get a lot of arguments from Buffy fans about whether vampires can love. My own view is that they can, but their love is selfish and obsessive because they lack a soul. That’s a form of immaturity, too. Maybe it’s easiest to think of it as lust rather than love.
Indeed, Spike and Dru are overtly sexual. Their opening scene in front of the other vamps screams it. Besides their actions, we get Spike’s reference to “biggest wrinklies” and his promise that “I’ll do your Slayer for you.” When Spike watches Buffy at the Bronze, the music and the scene suggest a sexual predator. Note that Xander goes to get her stake and pulls out a yo-yo (representing Buffy’s childhood), a tampon (representing her sexual maturity), and finally the stake, representing her destiny, i.e., adulthood. Spike searches for Buffy by calling “here kitty, kitty”. And when Buffy finally confronts him in the corridor, every line consists of double entendres:
“Spike:  Fe, fi, fo fum. I smell the blood of a nice ripe (turns to face Buffy) girl.
Buffy:  (holding the ax) Do we really need weapons for this?
Spike:  I just like them. They make me feel all manly.
He drops the pole and slowly steps toward Buffy. She drops the ax.
Spike:  The last Slayer I killed... she begged for her life.
Buffy slowly walks to the middle of the hall, watching him intently.
Spike:  You don't strike me as the begging kind.
Buffy:  You shouldn'ta come here.
Spike:  No. I've messed up your doilies and stuff. But I just got so bored. (smirks) I'll tell you what. As a personal favor from me to you I'll make it quick. It won't hurt a bit.”

Spike refers to Buffy’s menstrual blood, his pole is an obvious phallic symbol, redolent of rape, other slayers begged him, and he promises the virgin girl that “it won’t hurt”. Spike nearly wins, but Buffy is rescued by her mother. Lots of sexual themes in this episode. Sigmund Freud would have a field day with it.

“A Slayer with family and friends.” That is new.
Trivia notes: (1) The episode title takes its name from the movie Die Hard, and some of the scenes play off the movie. (2) Spike’s promise to Dru that “I’ll chop her into messes” quotes Othello, Act IV, sc. 1. (3) “What’s a sire?”, Xander asks. A sire, as we’ll soon learn, is the vampire which creates another vamp.



    Seriously, if you haven't seen all of S2 yet, don't read this comment. You really don't want to be spoiled.

    I suggested in discussing SAR that Chris, Daryl and their mother formed a trio representing ego, id, and superego, and that the whole theme of S2 was that an out-of-control id would lead to a distorted view of love. School Hard, the very next episode, introduces us to what I interpret as Buffy’s metaphorical id/ego.

    Spike as ego seems pretty obvious. He brags, he’s arrogant, he believes he’s in charge (like Captain, only to find that the real power was Tennille). He’s also obsessed with Buffy and her sexual side. Spike was the one to destroy the Anointed One because the ego believes that it has put childhood behind even when Buffy’s still in the transitional stage of being a teenager, a fact emphasized in School Hard when Xander goes through Buffy's purse.

    Dru, we learn, was created by Angelus, which makes perfect sense because it’s Angel who is the object of Buffy’s desires. At the beginning of the season Dru was weak and controlled, just as Buffy’s desire for Angel was. The ego, thinking it’s in control, decides to give free reign to the id in WML. During the “restoration spell” Angel’s essence – that which had created Dru in the first place – poured into Dru, bringing her to full strength. Buffy’s id was now in control, as Bad Eggs told us – as Buffy herself tells us in the teaser to Surprise – and we see the consequences in Innocence.

  2. I think the question about whether or not vampires can love is covered in season 2 of Angel.

    What's your take on the meaning of Dru siring Spike?


    From the Wikipedia article I linked in SAR:

    "Developmentally, the id is anterior to the ego; i.e. the psychic apparatus begins, at birth, as an undifferentiated id, part of which then develops into a structured ego.... 'The ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world' ..." My emphasis.

    The purpose of the ego is to satisfy the id's desires, so I think of Dru creating Spike to satisfy her own desires.

  4. Interesting. Having only had one year of AP Psych in high school ten years ago, I'm having a hard time reconciling these scholarly concepts with my beloved characters.


    I like your take on Dru though, and I find it fascinating the writers carried that general concept through several more years and onto another show. Bringing her onto Angel (the show) to re-sire Darla certainly shows the id taking over, and leads to an arc where Angel (the character) is nothing but superego.

    ***IIRC, you said you haven't watched Angel and have no plans to do so. If not, please skip this comment and we'll discuss the events in question when you get around to AtS Season 2!

  5. Great job, Mark. Really interesting and thoughtful interpretations about the id and ego with regards to Dru and Spike.

    Upon rewatch one line always stands out to me as unknowingly but utterly prophetic: "No, Spike. It's gonna hurt a lot." Oh, you two have NO idea.

    1. Thanks. And yeah, as foreshadowing goes, that's hard to beat, whether intended or not.

  6. Really interesting direction in this episode: after Drusilla slits Spike’s cheek and licks his blood, it cuts to Buffy, whose same cheek is streaked with red paint.

    It's mindboggling, the cryptic foreshadowing in BtVS; Buffy and Spike are linked (by lymph nod—uhhh, blood, Spike’s well-favored motif) subtly, in Spike’s very first few minutes of screen time. Brilliant.

    I am wishing I had more to add, but your analyses are impeccable. Bravo!

    1. Oooh. I didn't even notice the blood on the cheeks bit. Nice catch.