The closing scene of Beneath You is, IMHO, the best dramatic scene in the entire series (Joss wrote it). When S6 first aired, I had a lot of criticisms of Spike’s storyline from Seeing Red through Grave. I gave them all up when I saw this scene. It’s so transcendently beautiful that the set-up is worth it.
Joss said later that one thing he wanted to explore in S7 was the extent of forgiveness – what evil can be done yet still be forgivable. The ending of BY is a key moment for this exploration, but there will be many others throughout the season.
The title resonates not only with the theme of this episode and of the season, but with Fool For Love, where both Cecily and Buffy told Spike “you’re beneath me”. In his soliloquy Spike says that he sought a spark. Sparks glow; they are, one might say, effulgent.
Spike’s behavior follows the recovering alcoholic trope I mentioned in the post on Lessons. He begins the episode still in the DTs, saying repeatedly that “it’s not the time” and that he’s “not ready”. We see him later, however, come into the world with bravado, claiming he’s “changed” (note the change in clothing; it is, as he later admits, a costume) and therefore can handle "it" all on his own. As we’ll see later, there’s a reason for this behavior, but I won’t go into it now in order to avoid spoilers.
It turns out that Spike can’t “handle it”, and he tries to hide his new condition. Stabbing Ronnie was so traumatic, both emotionally and because of the chip (yes, it did fire), that he can’t hold the pretense. He loses his emotional control and confesses to Buffy in the church scene that she’s inspired him to “quit”.
We can see Ronnie as a metaphor for Spike – as a demon, he pursues one woman single-mindedly, but when the spell is reversed he ends up human – naked, vulnerable and wounded like Spike in the church. For once in his life, Spike is not wearing any costume. It’s that stripping off of layers which allows him to confess to Buffy that he got his soul. This is an essential step in his progress – he understood his fatal flaw and confessed his commitment to change.
Spike got his soul for Buffy and, I think we can say, because of Buffy. Does this mean he’s now her responsibility? I’ll let Rufus and Rahael take two sides of this:
Rufus: “Whatever Spike is now, whatever he is to become, I feel that Buffy has the power to shape [him]....will she choose to forgive, or will she reject the newly souled vampire? The choice is hers, and remember a certain guide in Intervention told her....."love give forgive"....to do anything else would be wrong.”
Rahael: “We cannot look to other people to save us. When we start trying to save ourselves, that's the key. That's what gives us responsibility and respect for ourselves. That's how we save ourselves. Others can give us motivations - but they cannot be held responsible for what we do - if they were, our 'salvation' is meaningless.”
I see it as a little bit of both. Buffy, having died and returned, is Spike’s route to salvation. To put it in Christian terms, his justification comes through Buffy. But unless you’re a strict Calvinist, that doesn’t mean Spike’s own conduct is irrelevant. As I interpret Joss’s view, seen in previous experience with Angel, Spike might lean on Buffy – he clearly wants her forgiveness but knows he has no right to ask for it – but eventually he has to take responsibility for himself. No, he can’t rest. Not yet.
We’ve also seen this pattern with Spike himself. He came to Buffy (“in friendship… well, seething hatred”) and begged for help in Pangs. Against all reason, she extended it to him. That eventually paid off in Intervention. The question for S7 is what responsibility Buffy will feel for the situation now.
I also saw the worm as representing Buffy's fears about Spike -- that he would stalk her and attack her. Spike instead attacked the demon (thereby protecting Buffy), and revealed that the demon was just a man inside it all. Same lesson Buffy learned about Spike himself a few moments later.
Spike’s soliloquy has pretty obvious sexual references, but can also refer to Buffy’s death in The Gift: “And you make me weak, thinking of you, holding myself, and spilling useless buckets of… salt over your... ending.”
The soliloquy also reaffirms that Spike sought his soul voluntarily.
Anya’s situation parallels that of Spike in some ways, as confirmed when they both “demon up” in the fight at the Bronze. There’s also a contrast: Spike got his soul for Buffy; Anya returned to vengeance because of Xander. Both Buffy and Xander took actions in the past which led to this point, and Xander was very wrong when he told Nancy that Anya was “ruining his life” when it was he who ruined hers. But Xander’s right when he tells Anya “sooner or later, Anya, that excuse just stops working.” Yes, the actions of others contribute to our current situation, but that doesn’t relieve us of responsibility from this point forward.
Anya has backed herself into a real corner. OTOH, as Hallie told her in Lessons, she has to worry about D’Hoffryn. If she fails to deliver the vengeance she’s supposed to mete out, then she will personally experience the fact that “it’s a bad time to be a good guy”. Hence her bravado in the confrontation at the Bronze.
But D’Hoffryn isn’t her only problem. If she continues as a vengeance demon she’s on a collision course with Buffy, as we see from the way Buffy put the sword on the table in the Bronze. That’s Buffy’s way of saying she means business.
It’s pretty clear that Anya herself is conflicted about her demon persona because she reverses the spell. She’s confused about what she is, but she’s reaching the point where she’s going to have to take a side.
Trivia notes: (1) The teaser was expressly an homage to Run Lola Run. (2) Buffy mentioned Dawn kissing a vampire, which she did in All The Way. (3) The worm monster derives from the movie Tremors, or perhaps Dune if you’re older. (4) Nancy’s boyfriend was Ronnie, a joke on the names of President Reagan and his wife. (5) Note also the additional joke in the name of the “[Nancy and] Sluggoth” demon. There was also a character in the comic strip named Spike. He was a bully who beat up Sluggo. (h/t Allie) (6) There’s perhaps a third pun too. Spike looks much like Sid Vicious, whose girlfriend was Nancy Spungen. If you see the worm as a metaphor for Spike, then this pun follows naturally. (7) Anya’s grant of Nancy’s wish was a pun. Nancy asked to make her boyfriend a worm. Anya made him the “same phylum” in accordance with her usual “bait and switch”. (8) Spike asked Buffy if she was “up for another round on the balcony”, referring to their sex there in Dead Things. (9) Spike asked Buffy if she was “off to the batpoles”. Buffy then rescues Nancy in a scene very reminiscent of Batman. (10) One of critic Robin Wood’s (see trivia note 8 to Lessons) essays on horror films is called “What Lies Beneath?”, which he wrote in 2001, and the theme of which is Freud’s theory of repression and the return of the repressed, with particular reference to the movie Day of the Dead. Hm.