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Monday, July 23, 2012

Out Of My Mind

[Updated May 1, 2013]

If one theme of S5 is, as I said regarding The Replacement, “split personality”, then an episode entitled Out Of My Mind seems like an obvious sequel. There are 2 stories here of mental issues, those of Riley and Spike, both of whom go a bit crazy about Buffy (or because of Buffy, depending on how you see it). I guess I could include Joyce and her fainting spell as a mental issue, but I’ll leave her aside for now because that’s a bit unclear. I might also include Buffy, since her behavior in the teaser seemed to be another display of the “hunting” we saw in Buffy v. Dracula. And since I think every episode is about Buffy in some way, this might be a clue that what I’m about to say about Riley and Spike will eventually come back to her. Not necessarily in this post, though.

At the end of S4, in Primeval, we saw Riley remove the chip from near his heart. That was metaphor, as I noted, and it’s carried over here in Out Of My Mind. The operation on his heart now is necessary because his heart is metaphorically breaking – Buffy doesn’t love him. And the more his heart breaks, the less he believes that he can be the kind of man she would love. Xander, understanding what’s going on after what Riley told him at the end of The Replacement, too subtly tries to tell Buffy this: “Like, I had this friend once, who really liked this girl, and ... he got all worried that maybe she didn't like him back....” Nobody understands him.
Riley’s concerned that the government will convert him into “Joe Normal”. But in The Initiative he described himself as “Joe Regular” and in Goodbye Iowa Buffy said that Riley was supposed to be “Mr. Joe Guy”. Riley now sees the real him (heh) as inadequate for Buffy. He now feels that he needs superpowers because he wants to join her in the workplace:
RILEY: Hey, hope I didn't get in the way.
He puts his arm around her. She gives a fake smile.
BUFFY: Of course not. I-I was just ... startled. And, you know I don't ... love the idea of you patrolling alone.
RILEY: Not much for bench-warming. …
RILEY: (grinning) Hey, wanna go again? Come on, I bet this place is just teeming with aerodynamic vampires.

He’s trying too hard to prove himself. “Afraid of a little competition?” he asks her later, projecting his own insecurities onto her. His heart broken, Riley loses his mind a bit. He thinks he needs to keep what the government artificially gave him in order to hold on to Buffy:
RILEY: I go back ... let the government get whimsical with my innards again ... They could do anything that- Best-case scenario, they turn me into Joe Normal, just... (sighs) Just another guy.
BUFFY: And that's not enough for you?
RILEY: It's not enough for *you*.
BUFFY: Why would you say that?
RILEY: Come on. Your last boyfriend wasn't exactly a civilian.
BUFFY: So that's what this is about? You're going to die, all over some macho pissing contest.
RILEY: (shakes his head) It's not about him. It's about us. (Buffy shakes her head, not understanding) You're getting stronger every day, more powerful. I can't touch you. Every day, you're just ... a little further out of my reach.

His government-issued power is a false source of strength, as we know from S4. Yet, at the same time, it’s hard to resist the feeling that he can’t stand the implicit comparison to Buffy and that he’s trying to prove something to himself. Graham gets right to this other half of Riley’s problem:
GRAHAM: But you know you don't belong here, right? (Keeps walking and talking although Riley has stopped walking and is staring at his back) This town? I mean, you're nothin' here.
RILEY: Hey. (Graham stops walking, turns to look at him) What are you saying?
GRAHAM: Come on, man. You know it's true. There's nothing for you here.
RILEY: There's her.
GRAHAM: Okay, right, there's her. And? You used to have a mission, and now you're what? The mission's boyfriend? Mission's true love?
Riley looks at the floor, then walks on, past Graham.
GRAHAM: You belong with us.

After the operation, Riley looks no more convinced than before that Buffy loves him. He’s obviously disappointed when she tells him she needs to go look after her mother, rather than staying with him. Whether he’s right to feel that way is arguable, but it’s pretty clear that he does.
Spike’s also going crazy because of Buffy. At this point she’s his motivation for getting the chip out of his brain:
SPIKE: [I’m gonna] bathe in the slayer's blood. Gonna dive in it. (with relish) Swim in it.

When the doctor fakes the operation, Spike is driven nearly around the bend:
SPIKE: Buffy, Buffy, Buffy! Everywhere I turn, she's there! That nasty little face, that ... bouncing shampoo-commercial hair, that whole sodding holier-than-thou attitude.
HARMONY: Well, aren't we kinda unholy, by the-
SPIKE: She follows me, you know, tracks me down. I'm her pet project. Drive Spike round the bend. Makes every day a fresh bout of torture.
He stops running, picks up a headstone and throws it against another. Harmony cringes as the dust showers her.
SPIKE: You don't understand. I can't get rid of her. She's everywhere. She's haunting me, Harmony!

Spike’s dream at the end may seem like it came out of the blue, and perhaps it did: Something Blue. You never know what consequences might follow from magic spells. It could very well be that the marriage spell there had the ramifications we see here.
Less speculatively, Spike’s been obsessed with Buffy for a long time now. In vampires it’s hard to separate obsession from affection.
Trivia notes: (1) Explaining how Buffy’s conversation with Willow about the French Revolution connects to the episode requires a bit of background and some guesswork. Roughly, Jean Paul Marat was a radical journalist who helped turn the population of Paris away from the moderate Girondins and towards the more radical Jacobins. He was assassinated by a woman Girondist who stabbed him in the heart after pretending to admire him. It’s the stab in the heart which, I think, connects the story to Riley. To clarify, I’m not saying that Buffy is the assassin, though Riley might very well see it that way. (2) Willow’s “I feel like a witch in a magic shop” plays off the saying “I feel like a kid in a candy store.” (3) In the James Bond novels, Q is the person (or branch; it’s not entirely clear) who provided tools and equipment which Bond needed. Q from Star Trek is, well, more of a God-like character. The training room is obviously more like the former. (4) Spike’s line “Oh Pacey you blind idiot. Can't you see she doesn't love you?” refers to the TV show Dawson’s Creek which was on the same network at that time. (5) When Harmony says she’s “on the lam”, she means she’s running away from the law (in this case supposedly Buffy). (6) The doctor referred to Riley’s tachycardia, which is the technical term for rapid heartbeat (tachy = fast, cardia = heart). (7) Riley referred to the Initiative using chemical treatments on the soldiers, which we saw in Goodbye Iowa. (8) We saw Riley playing basketball because Marc Blucas played college basketball for Wake Forest and professionally in England.


  1. I know people aren't commenting much, so I like to comment occasionally to let you know that I'm still reading! I look forward to your insights each week, and you always point out some connection or interpretation that I've never considered before, and that delights me to no end! Thanks for this labor of love.

    I'm also currently reading the "Mark Watches" blog, which allows me to see the show from the perspective of a complete new-comer. It's fun to have both perspectives: fresh/new and considered/comprehensive.

    I know you've been asked before, but are you ever going to do "Angel"? I think there is a ton of philosophical fodder in that show which I'd really love to see you chew on.

    1. Thank you! I really do appreciate the comments.

      As of now, I don't plan to do AtS. For one thing, I spend a lot of time on these posts and I'm not sure I have the time to double my workload. I guess that leaves open the possibility of taking up AtS when I finish S7. Which leads me to the other factor....

      Namely that I haven't obsessed about AtS the way I have about BtVS for the last 10 years or so. I haven't seen it as many times, I haven't thought about it as much. I really doubt I have much to add under those circumstances.

    2. Celia,

      you might be interested in checking out Noel Murray's reviews over at the AVClub (if you haven't already). He's completed his run of the show, but he also watched as a newcomer. I like Mark's take on the show, but I found Noel's to be a bit more, I don't know, thoughtful or something. All good . . .

      (I did enjoy Mark's recent take on Once More with Feeling.)

    3. Oh, I followed the AV Club reviews with relish (and, indeed, that is where I first discovered Sophist's exciting perspectives on the show). I am really enjoying their progress through "Firefly", too.

      Mark's take is, for sure, far more "fanboy/squeeeee!" than Sophist's sophisticated ruminations, but since I am both a scholar AND a fangirl, I really enjoy both sorts of perspectives!!

    4. Another source for unspoiled reviews is Myles McNutt, which you can find at

      Unfortunately, Myles stopped his reviews about a year ago, just after OMWF.

    5. Celia, right there with you on enjoying both sort of take (and I liked Noel's cuz they were sort of in the middle).

    6. MikeJer's reviews over at Critically Touched are very good as well. He's also done Angel, and is working his way through the series again. I found Mike's reviews through his comments at AV Club

    7. Yes, I definitely should have mentioned Mikejer.

  2. "Spike’s dream at the end may seem like it came out of the blue, and perhaps it did: Something Blue."


  3. Mild Spike SPOILERS:

    The question of whether Spike's dream came out of the blue is a fascinating one. I know a lot of fans don't really like how the show handled Spike post-S02, but I think it's from this episode on that some pro-Spike folks really get upset. On the flip-side, of course some grow mad for him from here on . . .

    What's important, I think, is the way from here on Spike seems to become something completely new in the Buffyverse. Without getting too spoilery, I think it ties in (at least in oblique fashion) to some of the things your wrote about existentialism back in earlier seasons. What is the essence of the un-souled vampire? A demon and a killer, right? While Angel has a reason not to kill (his soul), Spike's only reason thus far has been his chip, and it's been made clear (including in this episode) that he hates it, hates what it's done to him, and cannot wait to get it out so that he can kill again. But the dream changes that somehow and Spike, well, unlike Angel, Spike makes a series of non-vampiric choices from here on that are AGAINST his nature (whereas, it could be argued, that Angel's choices, even while the choices of a vampire, are generally characteristic of a souled vampire).

    I don't know if that makes him a good character, but it makes him a hell of an interesting one, especially in a show that is so much about becoming what you are/what you're meant to be.


      Spike's arc is fascinating. I plan to discuss it much more when we get to S6 (and hopefully without the more emotional reactions which even as recently as last week riled up whole sections of the internet. 10 years after the event -- that's impressive.) To me, the key points are these: Spike is still "Clockwork Orange'd", and that's important; I think it relates to Buffy's role and the Hero's Journey sequence; and Spike's behavior after Seeing Red creates real issues for what seemed to be vampire canon on the show. It's a remarkable journey for a supporting character.

    2. SPOILERS cont'd

      It is a fascinating journey . . . looking forward to your thoughts on it. I guess you're right that S06 is where the conversation should really take place, but the way the show lays the groundwork for it from at least Something Blue is really admirable. And this season's Intervention is a very cool stepping stone, for more than the obvious reasons.

      Out of curiosity, where was the "riling up" over Spike going on?

    3. It started at Mark Watches with his post on Smashed [SPOILERS THERE FOR THOSE STILL ON S5]. It all happened in the comments there and on Wrecked -- screaming fights, bannings, etc. Then there was a lot of follow up on livejournal over the weekend, and his review today (Gone) gives his side of the mess. If you're on lj, discussions about it are easy to find.


      I agree that Spike's journey begins in S4. It's just hard to talk about and keep the no spoiler policy because it's so gradual. By S6 the issues are obvious and easier to talk about.

    4. You know, I hear all the time from Spuffy fans that they get a bad rap put of all the fandoms, but when you see stuff like that happen over at Mark's, which had until this point been very open and friendly with hardly any contention, aside from some initial tension over how people were viewing Xander, you can't help but feel that they brought it on themselves.

      I've never known a fandom to get as angry as Spuffy fans when they feel they aren't being given their "due". There was a huge snit during S8 over at Whedonesque because of some stuff said by Scott Allie, editor of Dark Horse.

      And for fans of a feminist show written by an avowed feminist, for those fans to attack with rape threats and the like, is just, wow.

    5. I tend to agree more with Drusilla, that Spike's journey begins in S2, when he makes the pact with Buffy—that that is the first moment at which his obsession with killing her begins to shift... SB is another step in this process—and may be the reason he stays in Sunnydale—because a Spike not already half in love with Buffy would have searched the world to have his chip removed instead of lingering near the Initiative in hope that they might change their mind—but it is not to me the first.

      That said, when we get to the appropriate points in S6, I may argue, if only for the sake of argument—I am not yet fully convinced of the idea—that Spike has always been different from other vampires, essentially different... which is emphatically not to say that I am a shipper...

    6. I think you're right about the obsession and when it began, and that's an essential step. It's just hard to talk about anything before S4 because it was all internal at that point.

    7. Sorry, meant to respond to your spoiler point as well. That's an interesting issue. I've seen lots of debate on it, but I've never been able to make up my mind on it. It'll be good to run through it again.

    8. State, I kinda agree with you, and I am emphatically not a shipper. I like Buff's relationships for what they bring to story, I don't prize any of them.

      I'll discuss this more when appropriate(in a few episodes) but I think the method of his transformation to vampire plays a big role in this difference.

    9. It would be interesting to go back and watch the back half of S02 with this idea in mind. I've always taken Spike's actions in the finale to be driven more by his anger/jealousy over the Angel situation than by any actual desire for friendship or any other kind of relationship with Buffy.

      All the Big Bads, to a certain extent, eventually become obsessed with the Slayer (perhaps the Mayor least of all). And Spike's obsession with her starts early - maybe even in School Hard when he's intrigued by the "slayer with friends" concept. But I always took that to be more of his sense of first rising to the challenge, then being pissed that he can't defeat her (or help Dru), then completely flummoxed with the Angelus situation.

      His pact with Buffy at the end of the season is really just as selfish as anything else he does (he doesn't want to be cut off from his happy meals with legs). But like I said, I'm intrigued by the idea of watching again with this possibility in mind . . .

    10. Spike's approach to Buffy was very sexual -- sexual predator, really -- from the beginning (see my post on School Hard). That befits a season which dealt with sex and its ramifications.

      That's not to say I read much into Spike's interactions with Buffy when I first watched Becoming. I'd certainly describe him in S2 as obsessed with Buffy. Calling him obsessed is also consistent with what we hear about Dru in Lover's Walk. The question for me is how much should be attributed to the chip on top of that. I'm inclined to give that some of the "credit".

    11. I don't doubt that Spike was obsessed with Buffy in S02, or that much of it was sexual in nature. I just wonder how much of that had to do with Buffy, per se, and how much of it had to do with "the Slayer."

      In Spike's upcoming recounting of his duels with the other slayers, there also seems to be a heavily element of sexual danger. That seems to be one of Spike's calling cards (think of his name!). So I just wonder if in S02 he wasn't getting off more on the thrill of hunting another slayer than he was on his growing obsession with the individual Buffy Summers.

    12. I'm not saying that Spike's pact with Buffy is not selfishly motivated; of course it is, as are many of his actions after his realization of his love for her, in that he is acting not out of love, but out of a desire for her love. However, the pact does mark the first turn in his obsession with Buffy as a Slayer towards something more than the desire to kill her. It also marks his turn to the good for the first time, even though it is a completely selfishly motivated turn. I would also argue that it is his first turn toward Buffy in her specificity, as something more than just the Slayer—it is not conscious, of course, but like Drusilla, I see more in it than just the selfish desire to get her back—Dru does have the sight, after all. It is only the first very small step, the first incremental move of his obsession with Buffy as a Slayer he wants to kill to the Slayer he wants most to kill (because he can't) to the Slayer he loves, but it is the first. Other things, such as the chip, do in my mind, play crucial roles in what is a complex process.


      It's an interesting thought, and, to be honest, his meeting Joyce at the time somewhat backs it up (at least symbolically). It's not only the Slayer he's making the pact with, but Buffy Summers, daughter of Joyce (who, we know, comes to have a special and somewhat personal relationship with Spike).

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


    aaron—I did not see your post before I wrote mine (forgot to refresh the page this morning), but—

    I agree that for Spike sex and death, particularly when it comes to Slayers, is the essential mix, so that the question is when his sexual interest in Buffy begins to shade into something more specific and emotional.

    1. Ooops, this should be as a reply in the column above. Apologies.

  6. I love how the titles and themes refer to so many characters in these episodes (and throughout the series). The parallels between Dawn and Harmony in Real Me led me to the deeper metaphor, which The Replacement then highlights further. In Real Me, Buffy tried to get closer to the state of one-mind, and now, the distractions of OoMM pull her out of it, as the title seems to suggest. We get the surface story, its mirroring side story(s)...and then...OH! And oooh, that, too!