Follow by Email

Monday, September 10, 2012


[Updated May 2, 2013]

He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process becomes a monster himself.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

For all that there’s a good deal of humor in Intervention, it’s got a very serious point to it. This episode lays out in express terms Buffy’s feeling of separation between her human half and her Slayer half, a feeling which we saw prefigured in The Replacement, and which has been reinforced since by the recognition that Glory and Ben actualize the “separate parts in a single body” which Buffy feels. Buffy’s concern now is that the Slayer side is winning, that she’s becoming “hard”:

“BUFFY: … I'm just ... starting to feel ... uneasy about stuff.
GILES: Stuff?
BUFFY: Training. Slaying. All of it. It's just ... I mean ... I can beat up the demons until the cows come home. And then I can beat up the cows ... but I'm not sure I like what it's doing to me.
GILES: But you've mastered so much. I mean, your strength and resilience alone-
BUFFY: Yeah. Strength, resilience ... those are all words for hardness. (pause) I'm starting to feel like ... being the Slayer is turning me into stone….
BUFFY: I don't know. To slay, to kill ... i-it means being hard on the inside. Maybe being the perfect Slayer means being too hard to love at all.”

The parallel to Glory becomes obvious with her first words after the teaser: “GLORY: (annoyed) He's getting stronger. I'm losing him, I'm losing control of him.”
In short, Buffy has recognized that, like Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, she risks becoming what she hates. In the words of the Spirit Guide, she’s “afraid that being the Slayer means losing [her] humanity.” We’ve come full circle back to her conversation with Giles in Buffy v. Dracula. To put this in terms of the metaphor of slaying as growing up, I’d say that Buffy feels that the steps she has needed to take to become an adult make her hard, cold, and unfeeling.
Her concern had to be reinforced by the failure of her friends to recognize that Spike’s sex toy wasn’t actually her. Contrast this to the immediate reaction they had to April in IWMTLY:
BUFFY: So, what do you guys think she is? I mean, this may sound nuts, but I kinda got the impression that she was a-
TARA: Robot.
Everyone nods in complete agreement.

The Spirit Guide reassures Buffy that she still has the capacity to love and tells her that it’s that love which will lead her to her gift. There’s some doubt that Buffy believes this – even when she returns from the desert she learns that it’s gotten so bad that her friends can’t tell her apart from a robot. And the Delphic nature of the Spirit Guide’s advice still leaves a last challenge for Buffy to solve her dilemma in the finale.
While I personally have a very Buffy-centric view of the show, I can’t ignore the debates about Spike which were a constant on the internet by this point. Before this episode, Spike’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Buffy were mostly pathetic. You could feel for him, but only because he had no chance. Viewers who were skeptical of Spike regularly accused him of selfishness in his “good deeds” because those came across as fairly transparent attempts to attract Buffy’s attention rather than as internally motivated. I find it very hard to argue for any such motivation in Intervention. If he did hold out from Glory’s torture in an attempt to impress Buffy, he did so at the risk of his own (un)life. That would pretty much defeat the purpose of impressing the girl.
Still, there were those who did make that argument.  Here’s part of a debate I had with another AtPO poster, Random, in 2004:
Random: “Buffy notes: "What you did, for me, and Dawn ... that was real." Unfortunately, she obviously wasn't paying close enough attention...he never said he did it for Dawn. He didn't. Nor did he do it for the sake of the world at large. There's not really that much confusion here. He was quite clear on his motivations, and they were based on love...but a selfish love nonetheless. It was a dramatic scene, but not essentially different from him risking his unlife battling the forces of darkness by her side or impulsively charging a Hellgod and getting bitchslapped for his troubles. Eros is not just the basic act of sex, after all. Certainly it most often manifests as sexual drive …. But it essentially describes desire [my note: this is a very Nietzschean way of looking at eros] . …. Spike had a clear understanding of exactly what would happen to the object of his eros if he gave up Dawn. He almost certainly knew what would happen to him two seconds after he gave Glory what she wanted. So he acted accordingly and worked to escape. The episode made obvious that the whole "loosened chains/kicked by a Hellgod and sent flying" thing wasn't entirely unplanned. I tend to look at the events of Intervention as a variant of those of Becoming -- Spike being love's bitch and acting accordingly. Certainly, there is a little more overt nobility and less overt pragmatic self-interest in the former, but the basic impulse is the same.”
Sophist: “I think you need to account for this dialogue from the previous episode (Forever):

Dawn: You don't have to be all nice to me. I know why you're doing this.
Spike: Do you now? Enlighten me.
Dawn: (frowns, stops walking) Spike, I'm not stupid. You're, like, stalking my sister. (Spike stops, turns to look at her) You'd do anything to get in good with her.
Spike: (takes a few steps closer; firmly) Buffy never hears about this, okay? (looks around) Found out what I was doing, she'd drive a redwood through my chest.
Dawn: Then, if you don't want credit, why are you helping me?
Spike: (looking at the ground, quietly) I just don't like to see Summers women take it so hard on the chin, is all. (looks up, speaks angrily) And I'm dead serious. You breathe a word of this to Buffy, I'll see to it that *you* end up in the ground. Got it?
Dawn: Yeah. Got it.

I think Spike's behavior with Glory is more complex than your post makes it out. Sure he knew Glory probably would kill him once he told. But at the same time, she eventually would kill him if he did NOT tell her. His best option, then, was to cooperate with her from the beginning and try to ingratiate himself with Glory like he did with Adam. But he didn't.”

As for what Spike’s behavior said about him as a moral agent, I’ll let Finn MacCool and manwitch set out the grounds of debate:
Manwitch: “In Intervention it’s an act of will on Spike's part for basically altruistic reasons. And when he does it, he has no reason to believe anyone will ever know what he did.

… I think good behavior and its consequences can come from all kinds of motivation and still be good. Just like evil can still be derived from good intentions and just and honest motivations.”
Finn: “I wouldn't call what Spike did in "Intervention" altruistic. Yes, he never expected to get anywhere with Buffy by not telling Glory about Dawn. However, part of loving someone is a desire for their happiness, and Spike knew that giving Glory the info would lead to Buffy being immensely unhappy or even dead. Now, if Dawn weren't the Key, if some random stranger on the street that Spike happened to know about were the Key, then Spike would be altruistic for keeping hush hush. I guess I just don't see looking out for the welfare of someone you love but no one else's doesn't strike me as altruistic.

P.S. Yes, good deeds done for selfish reasons are still good deeds, but that doesn't necessarily make the person who does them a good person.”
Manwitch: “Well this is that whole Kantian/Cartesian idea that the action is separate from the actor. You have the deed and you have the doer. Does the quality of the deed determine the quality of the doer? or does the quality of the doer determine the quality of the deed? or is there no relationship between the qualities of deed and doer?

Nietzsche says there is only the deed. I lean that way myself. What does it mean to have a "good" person, independent of their action?
altruism Regard for others as a principle of action; unselfishness

I suggest that Spike showed regard for others, as in other than himself, in giving his comfort, health and life for Buffy, especially given that supposedly as a soulless fiend, he had no reason for making such a sacrifice. Spike's love, at that moment, was a sacrifice of self, as love should be. That's why it’s a turning point for Buffy. It’s no longer the obsessive stalking predatory love that Spike typically displays. It is, as she says, "real." Spike was ready to die, with no one knowing why, no one knowing that he had done what he did, simply for care of someone else. That seems altruistic to me. I think we're just emphasizing different aspects of the word.”

As you can tell from my quoted passage above, I’m with Buffy – what Spike did in Intervention, that was real.
Trivia notes: (1) For an explanation of the hokey-pokey, see the link.  (2) The language Giles spoke during the ritual was Swahili. (3) Buffy’s greeting to the mountain lion – “Hello kitty” – refers to the Japanese Sanrio character. (4) Buffy recognized the desert landscape because it’s the same as that in Buffy’s dream in Restless. (5) When Dawn took Anya’s earrings, a really obsessive viewer (ahem) might remember this scene from Becoming 1: “Buffy:  (worried) You're not from Bullock's, are you? 'Cause I-I meant to pay for that lipstick.” Dawn’s seemingly trivial action sets up a plot point for S6. (6) Xander asked RobotBuffy about her “Vision Quest”, referring to the 1985 movie of that name. (7) It’s understandable that Willow would get upset about the Salem Witch Trials. (8) Willow’s “less Satanic than thou” description of the Salem judges plays off the phrase “holier than thou”. (9) The First Slayer told Buffy “Death is your gift.” Compare this to Spike’s statement in Fool For Love: “Death is your art.” (10) Spike’s claim to be as “impure as the driven yellow snow” plays off the phrase “pure as the driven snow”. The latter means something very pure; snow is only yellow when someone pees on it. (11) Glory questions whether Spike is “precious”, perhaps a reference to Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Remember that Joyce referred to Dawn – the actual key – as “precious” in Listening to Fear, and that Quentin told Buffy to protect the dummy “as if it were precious” in Checkpoint. (12) Willow’s and Xander’s discussion of the previous “intervention” with Buffy refers to the S3 episode Revelations. (13) Anya refers to Buffy as being in “denial. That usually comes before anger.” The reference is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the Stages of Grief. (14) Buffy killed the “key-sniffing snake” in Shadow. I believe the mention of this fact in Intervention is related to the subtle clue I mentioned in my notes on Forever. (15) The Price is Right was a long-running game show which originally appeared in 1956. Bob Barker was the host of the show for 25 years, and for 25 years before that of the show Truth or Consequences. He’s still alive, which probably means he actually is older than dirt.


  1. "He’s still alive, which probably means he actually is older than dirt."

    Amazing. :)

  2. "We will bring you the limp and beaten body of Bob Barker."

  3. Good writeup as always. Intervention is an interesting, tricky episode. I tend to think that Buffy's right, too: what Spike did was real. It's not something that most people would be able to do. I find it telling that even Xander is sympathetic to Spike at the episode's end -- the guy really did go through hell for Buffy. And while I think you can still see that as essentially selfish, to view it as selfish pejoratively is to diminish almost all human emotions. If Buffy goes out and saves the world in Prophecy Girl because she doesn't want Willow to suffer, is that selfish because she cares about Willow? Maybe -- but it is at a point where it's hard to see what could qualify as not selfish.

    The downside to Spike's altruism here, genuine though it is, is that it's both limited to a very small circle of people, and that in order to have such altruism without a soul, he has to, basically, have his whole identity invested in Buffy. And I think that has to happen. I do think that a soul metaphorically carries a sense of ability to care for people outside yourself; Spike just has a very strong tendency to latch onto other people for his sense of self. When it's Dru, he's even more evil than he would be by himself, and when it's Buffy he's much better than most vampires have a right to be, but it's psychologically unstable. Buffy can risk her life for Willow but she can also risk her life for strangers and she can still have a sense of self separate from them; the other human characters can as well, though it's Buffy who's the show's primary hero. Spike's not there in this episode; his heroism comes at the expense of his ability to deal with and imagine a life not devoted to Buffy.

    I tend to take the manwitch approach and feel that good deeds are mostly what there is. I think a good person is mostly a person whose deeds are mostly good. I do think that a person who does good deeds for the "right reason" is perhaps more admirable and is definitely more trustworthy to repeatably do the right thing, but identifying the right reason seems pretty difficult to me. (Well, within reason. Acting for love is better than acting out of spite, e.g.)

    1. I'm entirely with manwitch when it comes to people. I'm not sure the samw rule can or should apply to vampires.

      I agree with you about Spike's very narrow sense of morality at this point. Still, it's quite possible to interpret his situation as principally relating to Dawn and therefore his limitation as not all that important for this episode. Nobody knows, yet, what will happen if Glory gets Dawn, so it's not clear what other risks there might be.