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Monday, January 7, 2013


[Updated May 3, 2013]

Sleeper connects Spike’s “addiction recovery” story and the Big Bad (still unidentified). I now need to explain how Spike’s story since S4 intersects with the themes of S7.

I’ve commented several times before on the “Clockwork Orange” theme that the show has been using with Spike since S4. In my first post, on The Initiative, I mentioned that the writers were using the American version of the novel. The difference between the American version, which Kubrick used for his movie, and the English version is that Anthony Burgess’s original novel had 21 chapters (representing the age of adulthood) and the American version ends with chapter 20.
Chapter 20 ends with Alex’s conditioning reversed after he was deprogrammed, and with him looking forward to resuming his violent ways. That’s a very pessimistic outcome, of course, and the fact that Spike is killing again is a thematic recasting of Chapter 20. The difference is that in Alex’s case the conditioning had to be removed, while in Spike’s case the chip/soul are still present and some form of conditioning has overridden them in order to get him to kill again.
Sleeper finishes Chapter 20, but then it goes further to show Spike rejecting his instruction to feed off Buffy. This rejection sets up Chapter 21 of the novel, in which Alex has grown tired of the violence and settles down to raise a family. In short, Burgess saw Alex as ultimately on a path to redemption without the conditioning, and that’s roughly where Spike is at the end of Sleeper.
The S7 story line achieves this result by means of the metaphor of a very well-laid-out path for recovery from addiction, a theme that can also be read into A Clockwork Orange pretty easily as an alternative to Burgess’s growing up theme (and vice versa). Here’s how it’s played out so far, summarized from what I’ve mentioned in previous posts: in Lessons we saw Spike in the DTs, alone by himself in the basement, which continues into the beginning of Beneath You. He then comes into the world with bravado (BY), claiming he’s “changed” and therefore can handle "it" all on his own. He can't; as he said in his ravings in the teaser there, “not hardly ready”. He therefore tries to hide his new condition, but he can’t hold the pretense and confesses to Buffy in the church scene that she inspired him to “quit”.
Because of the influence of the still-unidentified evil, he relapses into the DTs (STSP) and starts “drinking” secretly again, eventually going on a binge (CWDP and earlier, though we don't see it until the final scene of CWDP). In Sleeper we see the evil something appear to him mostly in his own form, indicating that his own weakness is the source of the problem. The fact that the evil is Spike’s own weakness tells us an important fact about the Big Bad.
We get clues to the addiction theme, and to the fact that Spike is being controlled, early in the episode. When Buffy confronts Spike in his bedroom, he insists that she’s “trumped up some charge about me being back on the juice.” We need to know that something has controlled Spike, as opposed to him resuming his killing ways. That’s why we got the scene where Spike hit Xander in order to leave the apartment. His chip fired, meaning that it still works and that something is overriding it. The scenes of “Buffy” encouraging his binge and his own behavioral changes also support the presence of external control.
Later at The Bronze (a place no alcoholic should go), the Aimee Mann song “This is How it Goes” reinforces the addiction theme in its chorus: “It’s all about drugs, it’s all about shame/and whatever they want, don’t tell ‘em your name”. The title of her other song, “Pavlov’s Bell”, highlights the conditioning used to deprogram Spike and to get him to kill again, Pavlov being famous for his experiments in conditioning dogs to react to a bell. The chorus of “Pavlov’s Bell” ties together the drug use, the conditioning, and Spike’s dependence on Buffy: “I'm all about denial --/But can't denial let me believe? … If you're what I need,/Then only you can save me/So come on baby -- give me the fix….”
In both cases, the chorus of the song is played over key moments with Spike in the Bronze to give us powerful clues to the themes of the episode. With “This Is How It Goes”, the song fades out briefly, only to come back strongly on the chorus as Spike searches the Bronze for the girl he killed in CWDP. With “Pavlov’s Bell”, the chorus provides the background for Spike’s fight with the vamp on the upper level – “nobody knows that’s how I nearly fell, craving for love and ringing Pavlov’s Bell” – at which point he realizes that he’s been killing again.
Spike now takes a major step for someone struggling with recovery and admits his problem to Buffy, bringing her to the house. The vampires rising up from the basement represent Buffy’s fears of Spike’s dark side. Since it’s not Spike’s basement, that means he’s not entirely responsible for them. Buffy defeats the vamps only after she sees Spike resist attacking her and change. Note, too, how the scene should bring to mind the events of Seeing Red. Here’s the dialogue:
“Buffy fights the vampires, who have taken tools from the basement to fight her with. Spike-2 is talking to Spike.
You know what I want you to do.
Buffy continues to fight the vampires, but they manage to get a hold on her, one on each arm, holding her up for Spike.
They're waiting for you. Take her, taste her, make her weak.
Spike stands, and walks toward Buffy menacingly.
Spike, no!”

In Seeing Red Buffy had to kick Spike away when he ignored her cries of “no”. This time, after he takes communion from her blood, his soul allows his love for Buffy to stop himself from repeating his sin:
(in human face) I remember.
Spike's horrified. His face is one of complete shock and disbelief that he could have actually done those things. He recoils from Buffy, staggering back to the far end of the room.”

The way I see it, the chip allowed Spike the time and space for love to redeem him, i.e., for his soul to take over. Karen suggested in a comment to Smashed that “Quoting C.S. Lewis, who describes pretending and 'acting good' as real steps in moral development: ‘When you are not feeling particularly friendly, but you know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are... Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.’ Spike thinks he's better than he really is. In Tabula Rasa, he thinks he's a hero, a good guy, a vampire with a soul. He needs to act the part before he becomes the real thing.”
That’s not all he needs to do, though. The key moment comes when Spike asks Buffy to help him. This is the biggest hurdle for a recovering addict – seeking help. Before this episode, Spike was unwilling to ask for help: “I could never ask”, he tells the false “Buffy” in Selfless. He was unwilling to seek help from anyone, least of all from Buffy, the woman he’d wronged. Now he’s “hit bottom” and he faces up to his failure, aided, perhaps, by the fact that his latest wrongs aren’t “really” him anymore. His guilt makes him ready to give up, but he seizes the last chance and asks Buffy for help. Buffy recognizes that Spike was under the control of something else: “There's something playing with us. All of us. … You didn't see him down there. He really didn't know what he'd done. It wasn't in his control.” For that reason, and because she’s Buffy, she agrees to help him.
In my view, Sleeper is a terrific episode and a remarkable payoff to a theme which began 3 seasons previously.
Trivia notes: (1) Xander wanted to analyze the facts in a “CSI-like manner”, referring to the TV show Crime Scene Investigation. (2) Xander made the same request for an “objective” analysis about Angel in the episode Angel. In both cases his prejudice seems pretty clear. Of course, given the events of S2, Xander does have some cause for his attitude. Just don’t mention Anya. (3) Xander described Spike as “cool as Cool Whip”, referring to the brand name whipped cream. (4) The song which we hear Spike humming in the teaser and which triggers Spike’s change, first with the harmonica on the Promenade and later sung in the basement by his evil twin, is the old folk song “Early One Morning”. The lyrics sing of a maiden betrayed by her suitor. (5) The Promenade, where we see Spike and Buffy walking, is an outdoor shopping area in Santa Monica. (6) Spike’s evil twin uses a line from “Early One Morning” when he asks Spike “how could you use a poor maiden so?”. (7) When Spike tells Buffy “it's still all about you” I take that as a reference to the internet debates regarding whether the show is “all about Buffy”. (8) The bouncer called Spike a “Billy Idol wannabe”, for which see the link. (9) The bouncer also said Spike was a “real player”, which is a slang expression for someone very promiscuous.


  1. More Trivia!

    Spike's victim is a Whedonverse repeater. She played Cindy Perrin, wife of Sen. Daniel Perrin(played by Alexis Denisof) on Dollhouse.

    More substantial comment later!

    1. Yep, and got killed there too.

    2. Well if you're not a recurring character, that tends to be how you go out on a Whedon show.

      So any plans for the blog when you finish the series? Just asking out of curiosity, Mark Watches finished Dollhouse last week, so I've lost my daily fix.

    3. I haven't decided yet. I'll keep it up, obviously. I'm also thinking of putting the posts into an ebook, with some edits to account for corrections, comments, etc.

      At one time I had the plan of writing character essays, but I don't know if I'll get to that.

    4. Hey Mark,

      just wanted to chime in and say I think the e-book is a great idea (but then, I was one of those over at the AVClub who thought this blog would be a good idea, and I wasn't wrong). It's something I'd definitely look forward to.

      I like the reading of Spike's arc as one of recovery from addiction. I think it can be read, similarly, in a lot of ways as a "recovery" from different types of problematic or anti-social behavior. One thing about Spike that the show is great at getting across fairly subtly is his need to be loved and his fear that he never will be. That fear (which is something lots of addicts share) often drives people to self-destructive behavior. It's like, "she's never gonna love me anyway, she thinks I'm scum, I'll show her." And then the acting out causes the loss of love or respect, and the person can then say, "ha, I knew it."

      Breaking out of that cycle (and I think it's one that plagued Spike's relationships with his mother and Drusilla as much as it does with Buffy) is incredibly difficult and the desire to fall back into it - for the sake of comfort? familiarity? safety? - can be overwhelming, which seems to be part of what Spike's dealing with in the early episodes of S07.

    5. Thanks!

      I agree on the self-destructive tendencies. In fact, it's often hard to separate the underlying tendencies from the addiction, or to decide which one causes the other.

      I'd say something similar about growing up, a metaphor that also applies to Spike (as it did to Alex). The tendency to repeat juvenile behavior is a strong temptation.

  2. Just discovered your blog. Interesting.
    Joss clearly has a lot of issues with addiction. Not that he's the first to link vampirism and addiction, but addiction comes up often in his work. Willow is addicted to magic, Buffy is addicted to Spike, Angel keeps falling off the wagon, etc.
    I wasn't crazy about this ep (or most of s7), but I love the scene in the basement where Spike presents himself for the staking. He knows Buffy will do what she feels is right, and he calmly awaits her judgement. It's very powerful, and well-acted by both JM and SMG.

    1. Joss uses addiction metaphors a lot in Buffy (and AtS). Angel's story in S1-2 reads pretty easily as an addiction metaphor as well as a "boyfriend gone bad" story. Same with the story of Giles in The Dark Age. The idea apparently fascinates him.

      Hope you like the rest of the blog. Maybe I'll even convince you to like S7 better. :)

  3. I thought the suggestion that Spike was some kind of "playa" insulting and ridiculous, as he'd just returned from the Hero's Journey he undertook after Buffy inspired him to better than he was. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    1. Well, he'd just gone a killing spree that apparently lasted a couple of weeks (we don't know for sure). Presumably he picked up the girls at the club, and that's what the bouncer saw.

      In more general terms, you're right -- Spike has been faithful to Buffy since at least Crush (assuming you don't count the Bot).

    2. I thought the suggestion that Spike was some kind of "playa" insulting and ridiculous, as he'd just returned from the Hero's Journey

      Is it ok to reply to that from a slightly different angle? This information is something the bouncer can't possibly know - he's looking at Spike from the outside and making an assumption, based on life and job experience. But he can't know what Spike has been through or who he is, any more than the Scoobies could possibly know or fully understand what Buffy went through in Bargaining, in Becoming, or the burden of being a Slayer in general.

      Assumptions based on surface appearances and pre-existing perceptions or emotions (rather than actual evidence or analysis) is a common theme throughout the series. (That Willow will always be "old reliable", that Riley is a "normal" guy, etc - everyone on the show has their demons, more or less hidden.) In most instances those assumptions prove to be wrong, and often have disastrous consequences. So I don't take the bouncer's words as representing "the voice of the show" by any means; the remainder of the text, Spike's arc in full, tells me otherwise.

    3. "In more general terms, you're right -- Spike has been faithful to Buffy since at least Crush (assuming you don't count the Bot)."

      And Entropy?

    4. Ooops. Yeah, small detail. I could weasel out of it by saying that Buffy broke up with him so he wasn't under any obligation at that time, but I think the spirit of the discussion makes that moot.

  4. They tell us Spike was preying on women, but Webs isn't a woman (he's one of Spike's victims), and neither are all the vamps from the basement. I can't get over the ways in which they kept undermining their own point(s).

    1. Mostly girls, but not all:

      Oh. Missing people. Eight, maybe. Oh, ten of them. No bodies, they're just missing. Mostly young. Lots of girls."

      Then Spike's flashback memories show him killing one or two boys (not including Webs).

  5. Mark, I read many of your meta essays as Sophist over at the AV Club but I haven't really taken the time to read your posts here. (I've been hanging out in a corner of Buffy fandom over at LiveJournal, mostly.) But other LJ's have been urging me to read your blog and I need to play catch-up after reading this analysis of Sleeper.

    S7 is one that has really grown on me a lot just since the time I first watched it last May, and Sleeper is one of my favorites in terms of Buffy and Spike's arcs. You've tied together the addiction metaphor re: Spike much more comprehensively than I'd had a chance to yet. To put it rather cruedly, I see Spike in terms of someone who chose voluntarily to "go to rehab", as opposed to someone who was forced to go to rehab by a court order (ie Angel).

    I have no words for the way you tie together the basement scene in this episode with Seeing Red, except "Wow" and "oh of course".

    Xander made the same request for an “objective” analysis about Angel in the episode Angel. In both cases his prejudice seems pretty clear. Of course, given the events of S2, Xander does have some cause for his attitude. Just don’t mention Anya.

    Xander's maturation this season is something I find really fascinating, and he's not my favorite character by a mile, so I'm surprised that I've been paying so much attention to it lately. I'll have to read your reviews of Him, Selfless etc to see what you have to say in that regard. I think that despite his prejudices he has nonetheless shifted in his tone and even his attitude, and is less judgmental overall, and I'd say is at his most helpful and supportive on several levels, more in control of his prejudices.

    By the by, I tried to log in under my LJ account but error messages kept coming up.

    1. Welcome and take a look around. Feel free to post on any episode -- I get notification and I'll respond.

      The continuing lj discussion is pretty remarkable considering it's almost 10 years later. I recognize your lj name, but can't place where I've seen it. Shadowkat? McJulie? Somewhere else maybe?

      I don't know what the problem is with the lj sign in. I always sign in via Google.

      I agree with your distinction between Spike and Angel.

      I really haven't said much about Xander so far. I'd agree that he's less judgmental than he has been in the past, but I think his prejudices still come through (notably in Selfless). Here in Sleeper I read his comments as subtly anti-Spike, though he was ambiguous enough that it's hard to tell for sure. Lots of folks at AtPO jumped on me for reading it that way, so maybe I'm too harsh on him. Wouldn't be the first time.

  6. Hi Mark! Love seeing the CS Lewis quote. This is one of my favorite episodes this season, if only for Pavlov's Bell and that scene as Spike gradually achieves self awareness and acceptance. This is one of those big payoffs that I love in the Buffyverse.

    I'm another who's going to need a new Buffy connection fix when you're final blog is written for Chosen.

    1. I'd never seen the Lewis quote before, so I'm glad you brought it up.

      Aeryl recommeded, so you might give that a shot. I'll need a place to lurk, myself.

    2. There is also who are working their way through Buffy (in season 3 at the moment). Amongst other things. I find their perspective on things to be fun to read and often thought provoking.


    3. Thanks for suggesting snarksquad, they're pretty darn funny. This was posted months ago but I still would like to recommend, which I came across recently. They've just started S6 and they have very thorough discussions about each episode, lots of fun.

  7. In the script, the song that triggers Spike is "I'll Be Seeing You." His evil twin sings "I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces." It was probably too expensive to get the rights.

    1. Interesting. I suspect they had to save money like that lots of times.

  8. "Later at The Bronze (a place no alcoholic should go)"

    Since you brought it up, Mark.....this has been bugging me for a while.

    What, exactly, is The Bronze? In S1-3, it was portrayed as a kind of "kid's nightclub" where the underage youth of Sunnydale could hang, socialize, and enjoy cookies and milk (or other non-alcoholic treats like a glass of Countrytime and a bag of Doritos).
    I thought this portrayal of The Bronze made a lot of sense for a town located on The Hellmouth, where many many youngsters must have gone missing over the years, so a reasonably safe hangout spot for the young people of Sunnydale would be a natural outgrowth of the way the town deals with its weirdness by not really dealing with it, if you get what I mean.

    But starting sometime after GD and the transition to college, The Bronze is just a nightclub that serves alcohol and would card anybody who looks underage.

    Maybe I'm overthinking it. Was this brought up on the show and I missed it?

    1. I think they were pretty flexible about it. The first episode I can remember where they mention alcohol there was Doppelgangland (Anya orders a beer but can't show ID), though it seemed likely there was alcohol in Band Candy. Earlier it did appear to be an alcohol-free zone, consistent with CA law, but from at least Doppelgangland on there were lots of episodes which featured drinking there.