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Monday, December 31, 2012

Him

[Updated May 3, 2013]

The question you should be asking about Him is “who’s the ‘him’”? There’s an obvious “him” in Him: R.J. But the entire teaser focuses on Spike. It begins with Spike moving into Xander’s apartment, and then shifts to Dawn and Buffy discussing Spike. The teaser always sets up the episode. Thus, I think we need to see the title as referring to Spike as well. There are several clues to this effect throughout the episode:


The focus on R.J.’s coat (the magical effect of the coat might also suggest, perhaps, some meta-commentary on Spike fans); like William, R.J. was a poet before he became cool (note the look on Spike’s face when Lance mentions poetry); Dawn tells Buffy that she “knows R.J.’s soul” after Buffy has twice emphasized Spike’s soul to Dawn; and Anya tells Willow “I looked into him and saw his soul”, just as she did to Spike in Beneath You.
Given these clues, we should see the story of R.J. and the jacket as an allegory of Spike. Not just Spike and his duster, which we haven’t seen since Seeing Red, but in the more general terms of an entire persona. The point of the magic jacket was that it made the wearer cooler, more attractive, more dominant than he actually was. That’s why we saw Lance – poor Lance went from star jock on campus to pretty much where Xander was in S4, complete with pizza delivery shirt. We all understood that this is what would likely happen to R.J. once they burned the jacket.
Now let’s translate this into Spike. He’s putting his past behind him; that’s both the story of getting his soul and the metaphor played by the soul in the series. Just as we saw with Lance and anticipate for R.J. using the metaphor of the letterman’s jacket, putting his past behind him means that Spike will now reveal his true underlying self. Spike is no longer the same “person” that he was.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Spike will necessarily be like Lance. That’s one possibility, of course, since the human William wasn’t much. But just as Angel was neither Liam nor Angelus, it’s possible that Spike will be somewhere in the middle also. Later episodes will show us where he’s headed.
There’s probably another message as well: that Buffy’s no longer obsessively attracted to Spike as she was last year. She couldn’t be – that Spike no longer exists. Whatever Buffy thinks or feels about Spike will be based on his new persona, not his old one.
The dialogue is careful to emphasize that Buffy’s feelings toward Spike are unclear. In her conversation with Dawn, she’s unable to articulate just why she’s helping Spike, but she knows it’s the right thing to do:
DAWN
Last night, you said you weren't helping Spike out of pity. What is it?
BUFFY
It's a good question. (sips her drink through a straw)
DAWN
Is sitting there drinking soda some kind of a Zen non-answer?
BUFFY
(puts sunglasses on top of her head) No, I just... I don't know what I'm feeling. I think I can't stand him, but sometimes...
DAWN
You love him?
BUFFY
No. I—I feel for him.
DAWN
Feel what, exactly?
BUFFY
(shakes her head) Dawn...
DAWN
No, I'm—I'm just trying to understand. I mean, none of it makes sense. First you say Spike disgusts you, but secretly you two are doing it like bunnies. And then Spike says he'd die for you, but he tries to rape you.
BUFFY
(sighs) For the record, Spike knew how wrong it was. That's why he went away.
DAWN
But to get a soul? Like that would make him a better man? Xander had a soul when he stood Anya up at the altar. And now he says he still wants her? I just don't think it's the school basement that's making people crazy.
BUFFY
(sighs) I should really get back. You comin' with?
 

Buffy’s actions speak at least as loud as her words – she now has Spike sharing an apartment with her metaphorical heart, albeit with her heart expressing some well-founded, uh, reservations.
Buffy’s forgiveness policy also extends to Anya. Anya, like Spike, doesn’t want to admit that she needs help and doesn’t want to accept it, but Buffy helps anyway:
ANYA
… Now please go away. (takes ice and dish towel into the other room, picks up a knocked-over chair) Look, I don't need anyone's help. Or, OK, clearly I do, (sits in chair) but I don't want to need anyone's help, so stop helping. (starts making an ice pack with the ice and towel)
BUFFY
I get it. After last week, you feel you need to be all renegade and broody. Taking yourself out of the loop—
ANYA
I need to figure out who I am. (puts ice pack on her leg)
BUFFY
Another, something bad is happening. I don't want my friends out there alone right now, OK?

I think there are two important ideas to take away from this. One is that the Xander/Anya relationship, in which the two are obviously conflicted, continues to parallel that of Buffy and Spike. The other is that this uncertainty is, in both cases, important to the seasonal arc, particularly on the question of what it means to have a soul.
Him is bookended by 2 great but relatively dark episodes, and it’s much lighter in tone. There’s lots of humor and some pointed commentary on all the female characters. Anya calls R.J. her best friend, which is how she once described Xander (Hell’s Bells). Willow claims that R.J. is devoted to her, just as Tara was (“I am, you know. Yours.” – Who Are You). Dawn was ready to sacrifice herself, like Buffy was for Angel in Graduation Day 2 and for Dawn in The Gift. Note that Buffy never said she loved R.J., just that he loved her. She was certainly ready for the sex, though. J
The reference to so many previous episodes – and there are arguably even more than I’ve mentioned – probably represents continuing commentary on the way the problems one faces before becoming an adult are so much easier to solve once we reach adulthood, similar to what we saw in Help.
It’s pretty clever when Spike turns the angels to face away from him while Xander’s talking to Lance. Keep in mind that Spike’s path is that of a recovering alcoholic, and he sees himself as not yet worthy. He’s now out of his self-imposed prison, no longer suffering from the DTs, and trying to live in the world. We’ll see more of his journey in the next two episodes.
Trivia notes: (1) Xander called Spike “Nimrod”, which is an American slang term meaning a stupid person. (2) The romantic music which begins to play when Dawn falls off the bleachers while transfixed by R.J. is, naturally, the theme from the movie A *Summer* Place. I guess I’m dating myself, but I died laughing when it began to play. (3) Buffy’s old cheerleader clothes were from Witch. (4) Xander mentioned Dawn’s former crush on him, which we saw in Real Me. (5) Dawn’s “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition” comes from the Monty Python routine. (6) Buffy’s reference to Anna Nicole Smith in criticizing Dawn’s behavior at the Bronze may be dated by now, so see the link. (7) Buffy called R.J. “Mr. Wizard”, which was the title of a TV show from the ‘50s and ‘60s, later revived in the ‘80s (h/t Aeryl). It was a science show for kids. (8) Buffy’s denial that she’s under a spell recalls her similar denial in Something Blue. (9) Xander’s flashback reminiscence was to Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered. (10) The split screen sequence of the 4 women is an homage to the TV show Charlie’s Angels. (11) Buffy’s bazooka/rocket launcher is possibly the one used to destroy the Judge in Innocence. (12) Willow began to call on Hecate, the same goddess Amy supplicated for Xander’s love spell in BB&B.

15 comments:

  1. Hey Mark,

    after admitting in your last entry that you don't like this episode very much, you still do a fine job of teasing out some of its many nuances. The dialogue about Spike and his parallels with R.J. are especially well considered.

    But mostly I wanted to write and wish you a very Happy New Year! I haven't commented much lately because I've been finishing up a big project (submitted and successfully defended my PhD dissertation in film studies!), but I've been following along and enjoying your posts as much as ever. Not sure where I'll turn to get my regular Buffy fix once you wind this up in a few weeks!

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    1. Thank you! You know, I didn't hit on the Spike connection until I went to finalize my post over the weekend. I like the episode better now. :) What I don't like about it are the scenes of Dawn being humiliated. That's a personal thing -- I didn't like it with Xander in Reptile Boy either.

      Congratulations on your dissertation! I know how big an accomplishment that is. I've missed your comments, but at least you had a good reason.

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    2. Those scenes mortify me as well. Xander's I didn't mind so much, he shouldn't have stalked Buffy and Cordy to the party. Dawn's hit home a lot more, but, again that's why I like this ep.

      Those scenes, like the ones in Beer Bad where Buffy daydreams about Parker, really parallel actual things that have happened to me, and that this show can portray it so realistically, well that's what makes me love it.

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  2. Mr Wizard was still airing episodes in the 80's, when I was a child.

    That rocket launcher scene never fails to slay me. It's why I rank this one higher than Pangs.

    I completely missed the meta-commentary on Spike's jacket, duh!

    Aaron, we are about to finish season 4 on a Buffy rewatch over on Tor.com!

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    1. Apparently there was a revival of Mr. Wizard in the '80s that I didn't know about. Thanks.

      While I still like Pangs better overall, the rocket launcher scene is hilarious.

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    2. Totally missed the jacket meta-commentary myself . . . double-duh!

      Thanks for the link, I'll definitely check it out. Nothing like going through my fave season 5 again!

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    3. I find it amusing that your commentariat is so pedantic, we have to comment on your trivia.

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    4. I like it that people keep me accurate. Besides, it reassures me that I'm not the only pedant around. :)

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    5. I checked out the rewatch posts on Tor.com and they're great, made me laugh out loud a lot. Thanks for the link!

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  3. Spike turning the angels away from him also recalls Drusilla's behavior with her dolls. She blindfolds them as punishment. It's flipped around though. Spike thinks he doesn't deserve to be seen by angels. Drusilla thought her dolls didn't deserve to witness her feed on Sheila in season 2 or the victims on the train in season 5.

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  4. Ok, I have to confess that I also missed the meta-commentary on Spike and his coat. This ep seemed at the time like a total throwaway/throwback to the YA-ness of s1.
    Not only is Spike rooming with Xander (Buffy's heart), they're once again working together as a team. They made a great team when they 'forgot' they hated each other.

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  5. In keeping with your observation that the classroom lecture always pertains to the story, I'm guessing that in the algebra equation "6x + y = 16" the 6 X (chromosomes) are Lori, Cheryl, Dawn, Buffy, Anya, and Willow and the Y (chromosome) is R.J. Not sure why they equal sixteen. Maybe because the high school students are sixteen?

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    1. Heh. I thought it was math class to set up Buffy's lines to R.J.: "There's one of you, (points to herself) and there's one of me. (walks up to him, touching his back) You were the one in math class. Tell me what that adds up to."

      But maybe it's more sophisticated than I thought.

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  6. Several other sites point out that the theme from "A Summer Place" (plus a feather boa) is also what Oz says what it will take for a girl to impress him in Inca Mummy Girl.

    JEL

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    1. Yeah, I noticed that, but Oz doesn't get credit for a musical pun. :)

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