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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Never Leave Me

[Updated May 3, 2013]

Never Leave Me – the title quotes the words of Spike’s trigger song, “Early One Morning” – reveals the identity of the Big Bad while tying together more tightly the threads of the Spike and Andrew story lines with each other and with the seasonal arc.


NLM gives us lots of information as well as themes. The identity of the Big Bad allows us to recognize the robed figures as the Harbingers (at least it does if we remember Amends). We also now learn at least in part why the robed figures are killing off the girls. We can also look back on the end of Lessons and ask ourselves again the meaning of what the phantoms told Spike. In particular, we now know it was the First, not Buffy, who used the phrase “it’s about power”, so we can recognize going forward that our understanding of that phrase, and its meaning for the season, might change.
We also know that the First can’t be touched, leaving open the question of how Buffy can fight it. That, in turn, is a clue to the First’s metaphorical role, which I’ll discuss later.
Spike’s “recovering addict” metaphor gets reinforced in this episode with blatant references to withdrawal. The parallel between Spike and Andrew is pretty clear, even down to Andrew’s black coat and boots. Andrew isn’t recovering yet – he’s still buying blood and listening to The First. He wants to be bad, but he isn’t very good at it. Neither one wants to kill again, but they’re susceptible to doing so in different ways. The danger presented by Andrew is relatively straightforward, but Spike’s potential as a “Manchurian Candidate” (or the movie Telefon if you prefer) adds to the complexity.
Xander tells Andrew that Anya removed his heart and replaced it with darkness. I see this as a reference to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, which was the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now. That movie, remember, formed part of Xander’s dream in Restless. Of course, Xander is being typically childish here in blaming Anya for what was really his own fault. Contrast this with the forthright way Buffy accepts some of the blame for her relationship with Spike in S6 (see below). Andrew’s inability to take responsibility for his own actions – indeed, even to separate fantasy from reality – is what makes him potentially dangerous.
Both Andrew and Spike pose moral challenges for Buffy, which Anya articulates in the teaser: “Shouldn't we stab him through the chest? Isn't that what we do when these things happen?” At least since Innocence, Buffy has faced the problem of deciding whom to hold responsible. In NLM Buffy clearly distinguishes between Anya – who, she said in Selfless, “chose to become a demon” – and Spike, whose attempt to accept responsibility she rejected:
BUFFY Was that you who killed those people in the cellar? Was that you who waited for those girls?
SPIKE There's no one else.
BUFFY That's not true.

If you think back to the post on Amends, this is the same view Buffy took of Angel in that episode. For her, the soul is primary. If you are capable of exercising free will, then you can’t be held responsible if, for some involuntary reason, you are deprived of that free will. The consequence is that neither is responsible for the actions of their vampire selves, not Angel for Jenny’s murder and not Spike for the attempted rape or the recent murders. Mind you, this is Buffy’s view; as we’ll see, it isn’t necessarily the view of other characters.
Buffy knows much less about Andrew at this stage, not even that he killed Jonathan, so she’s keeping him from doing harm.
In my view Buffy has been consistent about this issue and I’ll defend her decisions past and future alike, but the issue will arise again over the course of the season and there’ll be plenty of room for argument about who belongs on which side of the line.
Spike’s dialogue with Buffy about the consequences of his soul was taken amiss by some viewers at the time. There were two areas of controversy. One was whether Spike was blaming Buffy for their relationship in S6. The other was whether he overstated his prior evil behavior, with implications of rape and torture. I’ll give a brief sample of each debate (all quotes from AtPO).
The argument that Spike was blaming Buffy went like this:
Malandanza: “We still see Spike blaming Buffy for all his problems. Nice to know some things never change. Apparently free will applies only when he does good (albeit for selfish reasons) and when he does evil, it is someone else's fault. Buffy used him. She mistreated him. He tried to change for her. It's all about Buffy. So, really, when you think about it, Spike's sufferings are all Buffy's fault.”

Spike’s phrasing is ambiguous, and could certainly be seen as criticizing Buffy (she herself took it that way at first). That would be a bit much under the circumstances, but I interpret him as talking only about himself. Here’s the dialogue:
SPIKE … There was a price. There were trials, torture, pain and suffering... of sorts.
BUFFY Of sorts?
SPIKE Well, it's all relative, isn't it?
BUFFY Meaning?
SPIKE Meaning I have come to redefine the words pain and suffering since I fell in love with you.
BUFFY (sighs) How can you say that?

It’s possible to interpret this as saying that Buffy directly caused his suffering. While she did mistreat him in S6, the way I read it is that the presence of the soul – which he got for her – has caused a self-loathing for his previous deeds. IOW, the soul has given him a new understanding of what pain and suffering are about, something he now recognizes because Buffy was the one who inspired him to get his soul:
SPIKE I'm feeling honest with myself. You used me.
BUFFY Yes.
SPIKE You told me that, of course. I never understood it though. Not until now. You hated yourself, and you took it out on me.
BUFFY You figured that out just now?
SPIKE Soul's not all about moonbeams and pennywhistles, luv. It's about self-loathing. I get it.

The extent of Spike’s previous evil was much more controversial:
KdS: “I think that if ME intended not to downplay Spike's evil [previously] they did a very bad job. I think there was plenty of evidence for people to consider Spike's past as being about relatively innocent battle killing and not sadistic torture - there's the speed of most of his kills in early S2, the oft-quoted "Not one for the pre-show" line in WML2, and the whole argument between him and Angelus in FFL. Also note that his worst threats against Willow in Lover's Walk were in a context where they could be explained by him wanting her to do something for him and not by motiveless cruelty.”
Ponygirl: “There was simply no way to have Spike as a regular, sympathetic (at least grant him a semi-sympathetic) character if his past crimes had been graphically depicted. It would have made Scooby interactions with him that much more implausible, and given unwanted weight to his every scene. Since we now have a clear line between Spike of seasons past and current Spike - that being the soul-- it is no longer necessary to hold back on his past crimes.”
Slain: “Spike has rarely had the opportunity to be Spike. In a handful of episodes in Season 2 he's dangerous, but after that he becomes disabled, then lovelorn, then chipped, then souled. Spike has rarely had the opportunity to be himself, to do what he's truly capable of; he's always been in the power of others (Dru, Angel, The Initiative, Buffy, The First).

So in this way, Spike's lines are a
retcon, a way of reminding us that what Spike has to atone for is not just what we've seen him do by far, but everything that happened before he ever came to Sunnydale. The question is of course, Should we have been told about Spike before, should we have always looked at him and thought of him as a rapist and a sadist (rather than simply a masochist)? I don't think so. I think, up until Season 6, that kind of real evil wasn't part of BtVS. We've had glimpses of it, but until recently [the writers] haven't gone that far for fear of compromising the lightness of the show.”

There’s another possibility too, namely that Spike’s overstating things deliberately in order to convince Buffy to kill him. Spike might have wanted to die for lots of reasons, including all his wrongs done as a vampire. However, I think what bothers him the most is that the First got him to kill again after he got his soul. He insisted to Buffy in Sleeper that it was “not the chip! Not the chip, dammit” which kept him from killing. Learning that the soul didn’t save him made him feel helpless, made him feel that he might commit a whole new series of horrors (as, in fact, he just did).
Buffy’s reaction can be read as interpreting his description of his past wrongs as part and parcel of his plea for her to kill him: “It's not your fault. You're not the one doing this…. Was that you who killed those people in the cellar? Was that you who waited for those girls?” She’s rejecting his culpability and is too smart to give him an easy way out. Instead she tells him that she believes in him, putting the onus back on him to prove her right. When she tells him that, it’s one possible fulfillment of Cassie’s prophecy to Spike in Help (“Someday she’ll tell you”). The look on his face in response shows that this is the incentive he needs to continue the fight.
The destruction of the WC was a shock to everyone.  It’s been a symbol of patriarchal authority since S3, so is it good, bad, or neutral that it’s gone?
Principal Wood’s status is deliberately ambiguous at this point, so I’ll leave it that way.
Trivia notes: (1) When Andrew tells Warren that he’s like Patrick Swayze, the reference is to the movie Ghost. (2) Warren told Andrew that Andrew was his “iron fist”, a reference to the comic book character of that name. (3) Andrew’s “that’ll do pig” is a quote from the movie Babe. (4) The butcher called Andrew “Neo”, a reference to The Matrix. (5) Andrew’s butcher shop order resembles the condom-buying scene from the movie The Summer of ’42. (6) Andrew told Xander that he was “barking up the wrong asparagus”. That’s a garbled version of the American expression “barking up the wrong tree”, which means looking in the wrong place. (7) Spike’s “saw a man about a girl” plays off the expression “saw a man about a horse”. It’s a way of refusing to say what you spoke to someone about. (8) Spike remembered that Buffy told him she was using him. That came at the end of As You Were. (9) Anya mentioned a horse named Trigger. That was the name of Roy Rogers’s horse. (10) Xander was “in the army” in the episode Halloween. (11) We last saw the First and its harbingers in Amends. (12) Quentin Travers’ reassuring words to Lydia are a quote from William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”. That poem was chosen by Timothy McVeigh as his final statement before his execution for blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Building much as the Watchers’ Council building was destroyed (with some pretty bad special effects). (13) When First/Spike tells Spike that “You're the one who had to … learn something about himself”, the reference is to The Master’s words to Spike in Lessons.  (14) In an online discussion after the episode aired, Drew Goddard suggested that they had to use leather straps for the crucifixion scene rather than nails because of network censorship. Given that it was intended as a crucifixion, you should recall Spike’s crucifixion pose in Restless.

18 comments:

  1. I never saw that line about pain and suffering as making Buffy culpable in Spike's pain, just Spike admitting that loving someone who doesn't love you back is a painful thing.

    And when Spike was talking about the terrible things he'd done, I think back to Dru. I've done some reading on serial killers and killer teams, and when there is a woman involved in the team, it seems her desires are the goad for the man, generally speaking. She wants to see someone hurt, so he hurts them for her.

    I always viewed Spike and Dru that way, and when we first meet Spike, Dru is incapacitated, we don't get to see her goad Spike's violence, instead their relationship is one of nurture and care, ensuring Dru has enough to eat, doesn't tire herself, etc. They aren't playing with their food.

    So I think that really ties in with the idea that we haven't seen Spike at his worst, first because of Dru's disability, then his own various disabilities.

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    1. I didn't interpret Spike's comment as blaming Buffy either, but there were plenty of viewers who did.

      Interesting point about Dru and killer teams. That builds on Slain's point.

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  2. I agree with KdS that its a bit of a retcon to imply pre-Sunnydale Spike was especially vicious. A killer, yes. Ripe for violence. Yes. But (and I hesitate to say this because I don't want to trivialize ANY violence) he seemed to epitomize the violence that might be on a par with jousting or boxing, from a vamp's POV. His kill count and violent action were 'for sport' moreso than to express a fundamental sadistic nature. In a way, given their soulless monster nature, vamps are mere predators such as lions or wolves, whose actions shouldn't be judged as evil, but are rather 'natural.' Spike exhibited 'normal vamp predator behavior' rather than Angelus level sadism.

    Instead, we have lots of examples of Spike as a regular bloke who happens to be a vampire rather than as a vampire who has an overriding vicious streak. One quote in support of this view, from Becoming:

    We like to talk big, vampires do. "I'm going to destroy the world." Its just tough-guy talk. Struttin' round with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You've got dog racing, Manchester United, and you've got people... billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It's all right here. But then, someone comes along with a vision. With a real... passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester-bloody-Square. You know what I'm saying?

    I'll try to make the case later, after Lies My Parents Told Me, that not only is Spike a "normal boring predator vamp" as opposed to an Angelus-like evil supervamp, but in fact he's a special vamp because he's somehow retained some vestige of humanity, even if he's lost his soul. Somehow Spike is unique as a vampire, but not because he's especially evil.

    And I will go on record here, that adding Andrew was a big mistake, and one reason I think S7 is flawed. I wish Spike had killed Andrew when he was triggered and burst through that wall.

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    1. I saw it as a retcon, too. In fact, it was my comment to that effect which set off the debate.

      I do disagree on Andrew, though I'm pretty sure you're in the majority of fans. I love Storyteller, so I accept Andrew.

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    2. I'm not so sure I'd go as far as to call the vicious-izing (?) of Spike a retcon. When he's first introduced we hear about his fondness for railroad spikes and his nickname "William the Bloody" (one could argue that THOSE elements of his character are later retconned to be softer - I'd rather argue that Spike's history is a mixture of myth and fact). He's always clearly taken great pride and joy in the killing of two Slayers.

      Furthermore, rather than a "regular bloke," he's also cruelly manipulative - we see it most obviously in The Yoko Factor. But even in the famous "regular bloke" speech from Becoming, he's merely taking advantage of the situation to get Buffy's help. Spike doesn't want to save the world to save the world, he wants to save the world so he can keep feeding and doing violence. The line about people as Happy Meals with legs is especially telling as, coming from a "normal" human, it would be a pretty telltale sign of some sort of sociopathy.

      Spike might not have had the sadistic malevolence of Angel, but he still seems to have been a pretty nasty character who relished violence and reeking havoc more than your typical vampire who just wants to feed and move along. I, for one, think that makes his redemption struggle more powerful.

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    3. When I say it was a retcon, I need to emphasize two things.

      First, the term "retcon" has a broad use and a narrow use. In the narrow sense, it refers to changing previously understood facts. I don't think that happened with Spike. In the broad sense, it means adding new facts which change our understanding of the character or of previous events, but without actually contradicting any previous facts. It's this latter sense that I have in mind.

      That brings me to the second point. I completely agree that Spike was introduced as a hyperviolent character and that we didn't see much of that. Indeed, later facts tended to contradict that to some extent.

      But I wasn't referring to that aspect of what he told Buffy, so much as his implication of raping and torturing young girls. That's the part which I saw as a "retcon" (broad sense), and I think it came from the debates on Seeing Red -- lots of viewers argued that Spike's behavior in attacking Buffy was "out of character". I interpreted the scene in NLM as a response to that.

      This may sound odd, but in my own mind this use of "retcon" is descriptive rather than pejorative. There are other (broad definition) retcons in the series. An obvious one is with Giles in The Dark Age. I don't have any problem with that, but I don't see any reason not to call it what it is. Maybe a different word would help, but I don't know one.

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    4. That makes some sense to me. I'm not really familiar with that use of "retcon" (which, I don't mean to imply, doesn't make it inaccurate), so as you've explained it here I can see more clearly where you and Karen are coming from (although I'm still curious to see her argument for Spike as a "normal boring predator vamp"). It seems like the kind of retconning you're talking about here goes on a bit more frequently on Angel the show.

      I'm still somewhat inclined to buy Spike as having been just as vicious as he describes himself (accounting somewhat for his continued sense of hubris throughout hsi arc), but I'd also agree that the true nature of Spike's past and character are somewhat slippery based on the writers' needs for him from season to season (and even episode to episode, ahem, "As You Were").

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    5. Just to complete the thought, Wikitionary defines "retcon" as a situation "in which a new storyline explains or changes a previous event or attaches a new significance to it."

      Similarly, Urban Dictionary says it this way:

      1. (original meaning) Adding information to the back story of a fictional character or world, without invalidating that which had gone before.

      2. (more common usage) Adding or altering information regarding the back story of a fictional character or world, regardless of whether the change contradicts what was said before.

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    6. Interesting, it seems like the version you're employing here is the "original" meaning (at least according to UD). Funny the way terms about contested elements of narrative can often become themselves contested.

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    7. Yeah, that's why I wish we had two different terms. "Retcon" generally has a pejorative sense, and it should in cases where they change previously understood facts. But where nothing is contradicted, and only the impression or "sense" of a character is changed, that's not necessarily wrong. It may just add depth to the character (like Giles, in my example above). Having to use the same term for both is unfortunate.

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  3. It goes back even further than the soul, IMO.
    Spike: Every night I save you.
    For 147 nights he tortured himself imagining ways he could've saved Buffy.

    Here's something else to chew on - Bad Boyfriend Angel was a monster who needed to be put down. Ditto Bad Boyfriend Pete (s3 ep. Beauty and the Beasts). Bad Boyfriend Buffy, OTOH, was just misunderstood.

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  4. Mark, while much of the post is taken up with a discussion of Spike, I also find this point from early in the post fascinating:

    "In particular, we now know it was the First, not Buffy, who used the phrase 'it’s about power', so we can recognize going forward that our understanding of that phrase, and its meaning for the season, might change."

    I guess I find Buffy's struggle to understand what power is, what it means, how to use it, etc., one of the show's fundamental themes, going all the way back to her conflict with the Master and her own growing realizations about power. One of season 7's strengths, I think, is the various ways it explores that question and, in doing so, sometimes allows Buffy to fail/make mistakes so that she can learn her own very necessary lessons about what "power" is.

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    1. Oh, I definitely agree that Buffy is struggling to understand power.

      SPOILERS FOR S7

      As I interpret the First, it's expressing the ideas and concerns of the characters, but it's twisting them. Thus, when we see the First as Buffy it appears as a distorted aspect of her character, but not one that is made up out of thin air.

      The First's idea of power is very different than the one Buffy will eventually come to adopt, but there's a sense in which her actions up through at least Get it Done are more consistent with the First's notions of power. That's a plausible and seductive sense of power, and it's easy to fall into it.

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    2. Yes, especially your second paragraph. I think part of Buffy's journey is learning how to, in a sense, re-define power and how it works (I think something along these lines formed much of the discussion of the latter half of S7 over on the AVClub).

      Another example comes in S5's "Checkpoint" when Buffy utters a similar line about power. She eventually wins her struggle with the Watchers' Council (and it's a big rah rah! moment). But she does so by winning based on the WC's notion of power - she's a bit manipulative, and more than a bit domineering. She beats them by doing to them exactly what they'd been doing to her - withholding something they want in order to force them to give something up.

      It's almost like patriarchy has compelled Buffy to play its game, and she gets very good at; but defeating the First is finally what forces her how to move beyond that conception of "power" and "winning." Or something like that.

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    3. This is it, exactly. That's how I see the whole point of S7 -- moving from one definition of power to another.

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  5. Just a short note to apologize for going AWOL—and for not yet writing the promised analysis of the S6 finale in terms of relational identity and Levinas—

    Perhaps it will just have to wait for the grand finale—

    I'm in the process of returning to teaching after a long sabbatical, which also means returning to life outside the US (which has its own pleasures), so the really important things, like Buffy, have had to be left to the side for the last while—

    But I'm almost settled...

    Most of all, wanted to say how much I enjoyed your analysis of the end of S6, difficult as it is, and am enjoying your work on the opening of S7—

    And I think that an E-book AND character studies would be terrific—don't know what I am going to do with myself when this ends...

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    1. Oh sure, give me a big project just after you get back from sabbatical. :) Welcome back, though; we missed your comments. Thanks.

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    2. "but until recently [the writers] haven't gone that far for fear of compromising the lightness of the show.”

      Frankly, I'm loving the recent turn (post "Him") tonal shift to darkness and intensity that the season has taken. It also seems to be letting go of the stand-alone nature of the eps, and taking a more serialized approach. A sustained, consistent tone, longer unbroken serialized arcs- all these are good, in my view.
      I think it was Noel Murray at AV Club who said this stretch of "Buffy" felt a lot more like "AtS" and I'd have to agree.

      SPOILER FOR ATS

      Having watched "Angel" for years, I can't possibly hate Andrew. After all, he delivered what may be the funniest (and most biting) line in the Buffyverse: "Check the viewscreen, Uhura. I've got twelve Vampyre Slayers behind me, and not one of them has ever dated you"

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