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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lies My Parents Told Me

[Updated May 3, 2013]

"For when was revenge in its exactions ought but an inordinate usurer?" Herman Melville.
Immediately after the episode which taught us that the narrative has trapped Buffy, we learn that some part of that narrative consists of lies. The brilliantly constructed Lies My Parents Told Me is the fourth/fifth great episode of S7. Why is it so great? Partly it’s the flashback scenes, building on what we saw in Fool For Love, to which there are many references. Partly it’s the major clue about the source of Buffy’s various related problems. But mostly because it poses, in the sharpest possible way, the moral dilemmas Buffy faces this season: justice v. vengeance; redemption; consequentialist v. deontological ethics.
By no means does LMPTM provide definitive solutions to the difficulties it exposes. What it does is pose them in a way which furthers our understanding of several major characters in circumstances where arguments can be made for or against any of them. “Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.” (G.W.F. Hegel) Because it was so carefully constructed, there were probably more internet arguments about this episode than any other besides Seeing Red or maybe the upcoming Empty Places.


I’ll use this post to analyze the actions of the four main characters, Giles, Wood, Spike, and Buffy. Though I’ll ultimately criticize Giles and Wood, I do recognize that their fundamental point was true, namely that Spike was still a danger. For me, that’s not enough to justify their conspiracy, as I’ll explain in detail below.
I want to begin, though, with the scene in which the nature of Spike’s trigger is exposed. That sets up the remainder of the episode, so it’s important to explore what happened there.
We’ve known since Sleeper that Spike has a “trigger”, that is, something that the First can use to bring out his demon. He and Buffy were very careful about Spike’s freedom when they discovered the trigger. Spike kept himself chained or stayed around Buffy as his figurative “leash”. Since Buffy rescued him from the First in Showtime, and even more since the chip was removed in TKiM and the First seemed to be in “reMission”, Spike has been more “free range”.
Notwithstanding all this, we’ve also known that “it wasn’t time” for Spike yet, as the First/Jonathan told Andrew in First Date. That strongly implied the continued existence of the trigger and suggested some residual danger. In light of this, it’s not clear why Buffy told Wood that “the trigger’s not active any more”. Perhaps she believed that, which would explain her more relaxed attitude towards Spike recently.
Now consider what the Prokaryote Stone showed. It confirmed the continued presence of the trigger and revealed the specific song as “Early One Morning”. The name of the song is of limited value in itself; it doesn’t explain why that song had such a powerful effect on Spike, as Giles points out after the Stone did its work. The net effect was therefore to confirm that the trigger was still active, as everyone should have suspected, and to add a minor, albeit useful, detail.
I’ve summarized all this, obvious though it seems, in order to note the reactions of Giles and Buffy to the results. Buffy unchains Spike, Giles insists that Spike’s still a danger, implying that he should continue to be chained until he cooperates in eliminating the trigger. It seems to me that the importance of these events is that nothing has changed. The situation remains what it was before the Stone, although Buffy was wrong about the trigger. But the fact that Buffy unchained Spike wasn’t any different than what she’d been doing for several weeks beforehand (at least since Showtime), even if she was wrong about the reason. Buffy trusts Spike under those conditions, Giles and others don’t. Note that even though Buffy trusts Spike, she recognized that others don’t and agreed to have Wood watch over him while she was out with Giles.
What changed was not Spike and not Buffy, it was Robin Wood. It was in this time that the First tempted him with the chance to obtain vengeance for his mother’s death. What Wood did was seize the opportunity presented by the confirmation that Spike still poses a risk.
Now let’s turn to the consequences. I’ll start with Giles because only his agreement to cooperate with Wood enabled Wood to move from desire to action.
Many people were upset with Giles’s behavior here, claiming it was out of character. I disagree for two reasons. First, I think his behavior fits with the metaphor of the parent who tries to continue to control his adult child. As I said in my post on First Date, I think the events of S6 caused Giles to doubt whether Buffy could handle the responsibilities of being an adult (at least as he sees them). On no subject is this more true than her relationship with Spike. Not only does Giles detest Spike, but he remembers Jenny Calendar as well.
Second, in my view, Giles has always taken the view that it was right to sacrifice the interests of an individual for the greater good, which is how Wood expressly phrased it to Giles. Giles’s ethics is a form of utilitarianism – the famous “greatest good for the greatest number”. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory of ethics, meaning that it judges the propriety of actions by whether they have good consequences regardless of the means used to achieve those consequences (see my post on Choices for the meaning of “consequentialist” and the distinction between that and “deontological”). We saw Giles’s attitude at its most forceful in The Gift, so it’s no surprise to see it here:
GILES
It takes more than rousing speeches to lead, Buffy. If you're going to be a general, you need to be able to make difficult decisions regardless of cost….
GILES
So, you really do understand the difficult decisions you'll have to make? That any one of us is expendable in this war?
BUFFY
Have you heard my speeches?
GILES
That we cannot allow any threat that would jeopardize our chances at winning?
BUFFY
Yes, I get it.
GILES
And yet there is Spike….
GILES
Spike's a liability, Buffy. He refuses to see it, and so do you. Angel left here because he realized how harmful your relationship with him was. Spike, on the other hand, lacks such self-awareness.

So far, so good. But do you suppose Giles ever stopped to think whether his argument might apply to Angel or to Wood or to Willow or to Anya as well as to Spike? I see Spike's trigger as metaphorical. We all have something inside us that can release our basest instincts -- the death of a loved one, a child, whatever. Willow can lose control under the influence of grief (as recently as The Killer in Me); Anya upon rejection; Angel in the case of true happiness. Each of these instances represents a metaphorical way of exploring the dark side of the human soul, that which can cause us to lash out at others. Spike's loss of control under the trigger is no different than the loss of control experienced by the others. No one can ever guarantee that their own trigger won't be pulled.
One argument against this is the fact that the First potentially could trigger Spike without him having the ability to control it. This begs the question, to some extent. By that logic, Angel was just as dangerous pre-Innocence as Spike is now. Surely Willow is just as dangerous, because her own subconscious – by definition something outside her conscious control – could be manipulated by Amy in such a way as to nearly cause her to kill Kennedy.
The larger point is that Giles’s argument ignores the power of free will, the power of the soul, as Buffy keeps reminding everyone. What made Angel “safe” in S3 wasn’t the elimination of his trigger, it was his own recognition of the fact that he had a trigger and his determination to control it. The same is true of Willow now. Thus, when Buffy insists that what makes Spike safe is that “he has a soul now”, this is what she’s getting at.
A second argument against Giles’s argument remains even if we ignore the soul. If everyone has a trigger, then everyone is a risk, but that doesn’t mean we should “lean towards the postal” as Xander did in Revelations. The risk is proportional to the individual's power/ability. The only way to eliminate the risk is to eliminate also the opportunity for that person to use that power/ability for good. Surely Willow poses a much more serious threat than Spike does. She has far greater power, her use of that power is shaky at best, the First has already shown that it can take control of her spells (BotN), and Amy has the power to manipulate Willow’s subconscious (TKiM) just like Willow’s own subconscious can cause her to lose control (STSP). The same holds true for Anya.
More ironically, it would be easy to justify taking out Wood or Giles himself under Giles’s theory. Both proved themselves a danger to the Mission by conspiring behind Buffy’s back in order to eliminate an ally, and Wood actually acted under the very influence of the First that Giles claimed to fear from Spike. Both have a “trigger” that the First can use in the form of Spike. Giles’s argument cuts both much too far and far too close to home.
Buffy rightly accepts the risk because she trusts others. That trust, in turn, inspires others to trust her, to reach beyond themselves when the need arises.
Metaphorically, we might see Buffy’s conversation with Giles in the graveyard as reflecting Buffy’s own internal debate regarding what to do about Spike. On the one side is her rational self, coldly logical and applying the standard arguments of crisis. On the other side are her instincts, telling her that Spike is important and that the whole premise of Giles’s argument is wrong:
BUFFY
Spike is here because I want him here. We need him. I'm in the fight of my life….
GILES
You want Spike here even after what he's done to you in the past?
BUFFY
It's different now. He has a soul.

An even bigger problem for Giles is the way he went about it, conspiring with Wood (whom he hardly knew) and lying to Buffy. I thought the conspiracy with Wood followed naturally from Giles’s basic attitude, his oft-expressed dislike of Spike – from Giles’s dream in Restless: “I still think Buffy should have killed you.” – and his recognition that Buffy would disagree. After all, Giles never told Buffy that he had killed Ben (a line in the shooting script contains this adMission but it was cut). But as was true with Ben, the fact that Giles conceals both his motives and his actions is itself evidence that he knows that he’s embarked on a dubious course.
Giles’s own words contradict his actions. If Buffy’s supposed to be the General, as Giles insists in their conversation, then it’s hard to explain how her chief lieutenant is conspiring behind her back. For a sense of just how controversial this got, here are two sides of the debate on the quality of Buffy’s Generalship:
Malandanza: “I think there was significant good to come out of the episode -- we got to see more of the evolution of General Buffy. At the start of the episode, we saw people making choices for her -- Giles and Wood, of course, but also Willow, who kept her Mission to LA a secret. Hey, why should the "general" have all the information necessary to make informed choices? Giles berates Buffy for playing at being general at the same time he's second guessing her and deliberately subverting her orders. By the end of the episode, we saw Buffy crack down on the insubordination of her well-meaning underlings -- she lets both Giles and Wood know that she is the one making the decisions and, finally, mutiny will be dealt with harshly. I doubt she'll shut Giles out completely -- he's a useful tool -- but he is no longer her superior or her equal. He'll be taking orders from Buffy, not the other way around. Her officers are there to advise her; once she makes a decision, though, they need to help her carry it out, not act on plans contrary to her goals. Hopefully, we'll see some of the others put in their places next ep -- Willow, Xander and Kennedy, particularly.”
Earl Allison: “The problem is, Buffy has shown herself as all too willing to expend (or at least risk with tremendous stupidity) the lives of EVERYONE else in the house over Spike.

Why? Spike is muscle, nothing else. Worse, he was unreliable muscle until the trigger was destroyed. Yet over and over she has bent over backwards to find reasons to keep him around, to decide he wasn't killing, or that if he was, it wasn't his fault.

Buffy wanted to unchain Spike even after he had JUST grabbed her by the throat and flattened Dawn with a thrown cot. There was no reason to assume the trigger was eliminated -- but Buffy wanted him free, why? There was no pressing need for him to be unchained, and if he HAD been triggered again, who other than Wood or Buffy could subdue him? Buffy willingly risked everyone else -- and I still want to know, for WHAT? There was no benefit, no immediate payoff, and it's not like leaving him restrained HURTS anything. I can't understand what motivates Buffy, so I can't accept her as a leader -- I wouldn't trust her with a pet rock right now.

Given what I've seen to date, I'd follow Giles long before I'd follow Buffy, who HAS shown an enormous preference towards Spike regardless of risk to others.

With Giles, I can accept that sacrifices would come from being for the greater good -- for Buffy, I have to be honest, I have NO idea what her motivations are, and the idea that she is General and therefore her word is law -- not nearly good enough….

If ANYONE is to be put in their place, IMHO, it needs to be Buffy. These people supported her for years, and THIS is how she repays them, by favoring the until-recently unstable and potentially dangerous vampire over ALL of them?

Were I in the group, I would either be leaving, or looking to relieve her of command. Buffy does not, and has not, inspired any leadership at all that I can see this season.”

I, by the way, disagree with both of them. But the arguments you see here are about to play out in an important way two episodes hence. I’ll explain why I think they’re both wrong in that post.
One more point about Buffy’s interaction with Giles. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this is the last episode in which Buffy stakes a regular vampire (leaving Ubervamps aside for now). Vampires serve multiple purposes on the show, and one is that they represent the obstacles on Buffy’s path to adulthood (see the Introduction). As she closes the door in Giles’s face, she tells him, “I think you’ve taught me all I need to know”. She no longer needs to slay vampires now that she’s fully accepted adult responsibilities herself.
Now let’s consider Wood. Wood sells Giles on the plan based upon the danger Spike poses. The way he puts it is that Spike is a danger to Buffy: “Now he's gonna prove to be our undoing in this fight, Buffy's undoing, and she will never—never see it coming.” It’s interesting that he makes this particular argument, since it’s somewhat at odds with Giles’s argument that Spike poses a danger to others (presumably the Potentials).
Taking Wood’s argument at face value, and putting aside Wood’s veracity for a moment, he doesn’t know, nor does Giles, that Buffy has been in danger from Spike ever since Smashed, but he has never tried to kill her. Nor do they know the details of Spike’s remarkable journey to get his soul, or that, trigger or not, Spike had enough self-control to back away from biting Buffy in Sleeper, that Spike asked Buffy to kill him in that episode, that Spike was tortured by the First but didn’t change sides, or that Spike offered to leave town in First Date.
It’s hard to tell if Giles truly believes this justification, but we don’t have to. Maybe Wood believes it when he says it, but it’s pretty clear in the event that vengeance is his real goal (with perhaps some jealousy mixed in). In my view, there are 2 key points regarding Wood’s “avenging son” attitude: the timing of the vengeance and the justification for it.

I see no possible counter argument to the timing claim. There is an apocalypse coming; the one in charge (that would be Buffy) believes Spike is essential to defeating it. There is no reason I know of why Wood couldn't wait until afterward to exact vengeance if that were justified. And his attempt here is inexcusable on multiple grounds: he deceived Buffy; he acted after the First influenced him to kill Spike, yet without recognizing the irony claimed to worry that the First will influence Spike; he used the First’s own tactic to access Spike’s demon; he ignored the fact that Spike has saved his life more than once, including earlier in this episode. Wood not only wasn’t fighting the First, he was acting on behalf of the First – he gave in to the evil voice inside him telling him to seek revenge.

Whether Wood is “justified” depends in part on what credence you give to the presence of a soul. Buffy gives a lot; Xander and possibly others are less certain. I see it Buffy's way -- souled Spike is essentially different from the vampire he was before. In my view, Wood is no different than
Holtz (spoilers at link) if he fails to recognize this. However, for the sake of analyzing Wood’s moral choices, I’ll assume that SouledSpike bears responsibility for the murders of VampSpike and is still dangerous because of the trigger.
Probably the most fundamental principle of our legal system is expressed in an old maxim: "No man may be a judge in his own case." This maxim not only establishes the most basic principle of due process, it also serves as the foundation for the Lockean political philosophy which supports the entire American system. Here’s James Madison explaining the point in Federalist 10: “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.”

There are both historical and psychological reasons why we adopt this principle. Historically, primitive legal systems operated under a vengeance principle. This was widely seen as a failure, leading to cycles of blood. It was precisely to get away from vengeance cycles that the legal system adopted the maxim I quoted. The avenger takes it upon himself to judge his own case and enforce that judgment. This undercuts the foundation of justice as we recognize it.
I personally doubt that vengeance is ever justified. I can see reasons for punishment. I can't justify vengeance -- it's an endless cycle of hatred and violence. That’s the point of the quote from Melville which heads this post.
That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it myself in some case. I might well react like Giles in Passion or Willow in Tough Love, given the right circumstances:
SPIKE: You - so you're saying that a ... powerful and mightily pissed-off witch ... was plannin' on going and spillin' herself a few pints of god blood until you, what, "explained"?
BUFFY: You think she'd ... no. I told Willow it would be like suicide.
SPIKE: I'd do it.
SPIKE: (looks down at the ground) Right person. Person I loved. (looks at Buffy) I'd do it.

So I fully understand the motivation. What I’m saying is that from a societal point of view, vengeance is unacceptable. That’s also been the view of the show since at least Innocence: “It is not justice we serve, it is vengeance.” That’s the contrast, all right.

Now let me address some specific defenses of Wood which I’ve taken from the internet. The first is the claim that Wood had no one to go to for justice. This is wrong – the Slayer is available, and Wood knows it. Now, Wood may not like Buffy’s judgment, but that doesn’t allow him to seek vengeance on his own.

Another argument I’ve seen is that Wood’s silence would be construed as a form of complicity. If Wood acts as though Spike is just another guy, then Spike, Buffy, and everyone else may very well assume that he doesn't really care. This suffers from the logical fallacy of
excluding the middle. There are lots of options between silence and killing Spike.

A third argument focuses on Spike’s own character. If he were truly is sorry for his deeds, he should desire forgiveness for the sake of his victims. That would show true repentance. I agree with this in general. But for me the key point is this: how is Spike to know that he needs to demonstrate contrition for this particular wrong, more than any other, unless Wood speaks up? And how will he ever get the chance if Wood stakes him without warning while Spike is protecting Buffy? By the time Wood told Spike, he was preparing to kill him.
In a larger sense, Wood’s real target was The Mission. That’s what took his mother away as much as Spike. If his mother was truly dedicated to that Mission, then Wood betrayed his mother when he betrayed, even perverted, her Mission, as Buffy told him at the end. We can debate whether the Mission really is what matters, and I will as we move towards the finale. (We might do well to remember the words from the beginning of Apocalypse Now: "I needed a Mission. And for my sins they gave me one." That’s a HINT.) My only point here is the narrow one that Wood failed to respect his mother’s own dedication to the cause, indeed, that he may not even understand what that cause is.
Now let’s consider Spike. Until the very end, Spike did nothing controversial; he was the victim. LMPTM marks the end of the beginning of Spike’s journey since Grave, the final step in his “recovering alcoholic” progression during S7. Once Buffy rescued him in Showtime, Spike had to accept that he had moral authority over himself. That couldn't happen until he got the chip removed (The Killer in Me). At that point he needed to face the monster within and gain control over it (Get it Done, and LMPTM). Only now can he begin to reconstruct his life on his own, without Buffy standing at his side every minute. In that sense, Wood succeeded in killing the monster within Spike.
That doesn’t mean Spike should be seen as redeemed; far from it. As I’ve said before (Amends), redemption is a process, not an event. How far does he have to go? Well, let’s start with his cruel comments to Wood at the end of the episode, which were very controversial at the time. Here’s the dialogue, fighting omitted:
SPIKE I wasn't talking to you. I don't give a piss about your mum. She was a slayer. I was a vampire. That's the way the game is played….
ROBIN You took my childhood. You took her away. She was all I had. She was my world.
SPIKE I know slayers. No matter how many people they've got around them, they fight alone. Life of the chosen one. The rest of us be damned. Your mother was no different.
ROBIN No, she loved me.
SPIKE But not enough to quit, though, was it? Not enough to walk away... for you. I'll tell you a story about a mother and son. See, like you, I loved my mother. So much so I turned her into a vampire... so we could be together forever. She said some nasty bits to me after I did that. Been weighing on me for quite some time. But you helped me figure something out. You see, unlike you, I had a mother who loved me back. When I sired her, I set loose a demon, and it tore into me, but it was the demon talking, not her. I realize that now. My mother loved me with all her heart. I was her world.

In one of the less plausible arguments I saw at the time, a few viewers took Spike’s comment as a statement being made by the writers themselves about the worth of Nikki Wood as a mother. They then extrapolated that to claiming that the show itself was dismissive of working mothers generally, or as a sign that Spike lacked remorse for his previous actions. To be polite, both of these conclusions require a radical interpretation of the text.
Take the issue of mothers first. The most significant problem is that the argument about the worth of mothers completely misreads the point of S7 and of LMPTM in particular, for reasons I’ll have to discuss later. I’ll just say that in an episode with this title, we shouldn’t accept at face value everything the two parents say.
There’s another fundamental problem with this argument as well, one I discussed in my posts on Lover’s Walk and The Wish. It confuses the voice of a character with the voice of the author. It’s implausible, to say the least, that the writers were intentionally insulting mothers. We all have them; loving one’s mother is as close to a universal as there is. Nor would such an insult be likely given the context of Spike’s realization that his mother did love him. I think Spike is telling Wood, through his own experience, that he had placed the wrong interpretation on his mother’s feelings and had now realized his mistake, something Wood should do too.
Even if we set that aside, the scene tells us more about Spike’s view of love than it does about some objective or ex cathedra view of mothers. Spike has always believed that love is consuming, overwhelming. In Lover’s Walk, he told Angel and Buffy, “You're *not* friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. (points at his temple) Love isn't brains, children, it's blood... (clasps his chest) blood screaming inside you to work its will.”
Spike has lived this attitude from the beginning; he’s always been love’s bitch. It’s why he came to Sunnydale to cure Dru in School Hard. It’s why he was willing to kill Dru for Buffy in Crush; why he withstood torture in Intervention; and why he ultimately got his soul in Grave. For Spike, real love – true love – means the willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of the one you love. That’s what he’s done his whole life, first with his mother and then with Dru and Buffy. His epiphany at the end of LMPTM confirmed (to him, at least) that his mother had loved him the same way, the way he believed she had when he was alive, regardless of what she said.
Spike’s comments to Wood tell us not only how Spike sees love, but also how he sees Slayers. His statements to Wood tell us that he believes that, for Slayers, “the Mission” is the most important thing in their lives. But that very fact means they can’t possibly love the way Spike understands love; no Slayer will ever let love for another interfere with “the Mission”. Spike has now adjusted himself to that world. Wood seems to accept Spike’s view of both love and Slayers, but he hasn’t yet adjusted to it, nor for the possibility that his mother might have loved him completely notwithstanding her loyalty to the Mission. Spike’s view of Slayers may or may not be true, just as his view of love may or may not apply to Slayers (or to anyone – see Buffy’s response to him in Seeing Red). Those are wholly different questions indeed.
Whether Spike does or should show remorse is somewhat more complicated. It depends in part on how one views the soul in BtVS. As I see it, and as I explained vis-à-vis Angel in my post on Amends, the restoration of Spike’s soul makes him an essentially different person than what he was when he lacked one. Souled Spike bears no responsibility for the actions of unsouled Spike. The new Spike doesn’t need to express remorse for something “he” didn’t do. Buffy also takes this view, as she tells Wood “…you're looking for revenge on a man that doesn't exist anymore.”
Closely connected to the question of remorse is the issue of Spike’s coat, which first came up in Get it Done. Some have pointed to the fact that Spike took Nikki’s coat back from Wood as evidence of Spike’s lack of remorse or, worse yet, as a sign that the show was validating his murder of Nikki by showing his lack of regret. This interpretation strikes me as wildly implausible for many of the same reasons noted above.
As I said when discussing this issue in my post on GiD, I saw the coat more as Spike’s reminder to himself of what he had once been. He spent the first part of the season trying to believe that the demon was no longer a part of him, that he could simply return to being William (see, for example, his attire in Beneath You). This not only wasn’t true, it was inhibiting his personal growth. When Buffy called him on it in Get it Done, he retrieved the coat as a reminder to himself that he wasn’t “just” William, but that part of him was Spike too. Spike didn’t affirm Nikki’s death, he tied a metaphorical string around his finger so that he’d never forget his own character.
Finally, Spike bit Wood, but pulled away without killing him even as “Early One Morning” played. That was necessary to show, beyond any doubt, that Spike himself is now in control, not the demon inside him and not the First. It was the lesson Wood needed to learn if his concerns about Spike’s trigger were anything more than rationalizations, and, more importantly, to remove Wood’s own trigger – contrary to Wood’s belief, Spike is not simply a demon any more.
Last but hardly least we get to Buffy. What are we to make of her conversation with Giles in the cemetery and of her words to Wood when she finds him lying prostrate, failed in his vengeance plan? In part I think the episode serves as a metaphor for Buffy’s fears of how she will be perceived by Dawn – i.e., her human self – if she devotes everything to “the Mission”. She can’t resolve this yet, so we should consider the story on its face for the time being.
The image we get of Nikki Wood, and Buffy’s actions since at least Bring On The Night, demonstrate that there’s a core of truth in Spike’s description of the Slayer to Wood. The Slayer is chosen (an object), not choosing (a subject) to fight a Mission. As the Bodyguard told Ampata in Inca Mummy Girl, “You are the Chosen One. You must die. You have no choice.” Nikki, like Buffy – like every Slayer – was forced to play a game she couldn’t win and couldn’t tie. Every slayer takes on the responsibility for the world, sacrificing her own humanity and the ties of friendship and family, in substantial part because she has no choice. We’ve seen Buffy’s life made better by her humanity, her friends, her love, but those all involve her human side. When it comes to her slayer side, in the final analysis (and that’s what we’re getting in S7) she remains alone: “You get down on me for cutting myself off, but in the end the slayer is always cut off. There's no mystical guidebook. No all-knowing council. Human rules don't apply. There's only me.” (Selfless)
The impact of this on Buffy, over time, is devastating, just as it must have been for Nikki and every other Slayer. We can see this in Buffy’s response to Giles when he tests her resolve in the graveyard:
GILES …Would you let this vampire live if it meant saving the world?...
BUFFY … Giles, we had this conversation when I told you that I wouldn't sacrifice Dawn to stop Glory from destroying the world. [deontological ethics: do the right thing even if the world ends]
GILES Ah, yes, but things are different, aren't they? After what you've been through, faced with the same choice now, (paces) you'd let her die.
BUFFY If I had to...to save the world. Yes. …
GILES … So, you really do understand the difficult decisions you'll have to make? That anyone of us is expendable in this war? … That we cannot allow any threat that would jeopardize our chances at winning?
BUFFY Yes, I get it.”

Now, does Buffy really mean it in her heart of hearts, or is she just telling Giles what he wants to hear? Some of both, I think. She expressed those concerns to him at the beginning:
BUFFY
Have you seen me with those girls? I mean, the way I've treated my friends and my family and... Andrew.
Giles’s response, which I quoted in my discussion of his actions, was to drive Buffy to become even harder. In addition, Buffy’s sense of isolation is causing her to articulate Giles’s view. There’s also more justification for that view this time. Dawn is no longer a helpless, innocent target. She’s a fully committed participant in the fight against evil. Dying in that struggle would mean something entirely different than what it meant in The Gift.
And yet there’s a conflict between what Buffy says to Giles now and what she told him in First Date: “you can’t beat evil by doing evil”. There’s also what she does when she realizes the real world consequence of what Giles has said: Buffy races off to save Spike. I think she instinctively knows that the battle against the First is at least partly a battle for souls. Losing Spike, after all he’s been through, would be a huge loss on that front.
Her words to Wood at the end may seem harsh, but Wood’s in no position to complain. He betrayed Buffy – the Buffy who trusted him, worked for him, went on a date with him, brought him into her home, shared details of her life (and her friends' lives) with him, patrolled alongside him, and otherwise made him a part of the team – as she now realizes. She knows that Wood suborned Giles into his conspiracy. She’s seen how battered Spike is. She can see the nature of Wood’s “sanctuary”. What she tells him reflects both sides of her struggle: the compassion of recognizing the pain of his mother’s death; and the stark choice she offers him as General to give up his vendetta or to suffer the inevitable consequences (which she surely has no duty to protect him from).
When she returns to the house we see her stroking Dawn’s hair to show that she loves Dawn as much as Nikki Wood loved Robin, and shutting the door in the face of Giles’s arguments. But at the same time Buffy’s statement to Wood rings true to her current mindset when she unknowingly echoes Nikki: “The Mission is what matters.” It’s the burden of the Slayer, and Spike articulated it harshly but accurately in what he said to Wood. Buffy needs to deal with this conflict by recognizing the lies her “parents” have told her; that’s what will enable her to escape the story in which she’s now trapped, and it’s the whole point of Season 7.
Trivia notes: (1) The opening scene gives us a date of 1977, which we should remember as the year Spike killed his second Slayer as he described to Buffy in Fool For Love. Drew Goddard wrote the flashback scenes, David Fury the present day ones. (2) Giles’s concern that computers have replaced books in the library gives us another back to the beginning reference, in this case to his debate with Ms. Calendar in I Robot, You Jane. (3) Buffy complained that Spike’s trigger song wasn’t “catchy” like Pink’s “Get the Party Started”. (4) Buffy covered her near-insult of Giles by switching to using the name of the actor Yul Brenner. (5)  Coughing up blood, as William’s mother did, is a typical symptom of tuberculosis. (6) William asked his mother if he should send for Dr. Gull. Dr. William Gull was a real Victorian physician. He features prominently in theories about Jack the Ripper, including a comic series by Alan Moore. It was Moore whom writer David Fury drew on for Primeval. (7) Though we don’t hear it in the dialogue, William’s mother’s name is Anne, which is Buffy’s middle name. In the DVD commentary, writer David Fury says that Carolyn Lagerfelt was cast for the role because she resembles Sarah Michelle Gellar. Oh yes, Spike has Oedipal issues; you might think back to Seeing Red and reinterpret his reaction to the attempted rape in light of his experience with his mother. (8) Andrew answered a call from Fred, meaning Winifred Burkle (spoilers at link) from AtS, which is why Andrew thought Fred “sounded effeminate”. (9) Willow left to go to Los Angeles to help Angel. See the AtS episode Orpheus. Though I didn’t mention it above in my discussion of Angel’s “trigger”, I think it’s no coincidence that Orpheus aired at the same time as LMPTM. (10) When Spike tells Wood, “I’m not much for self-reflection”, that’s a double joke. It’s true for Spike as an individual, but it’s also the case that vampires have no reflection. (11) William tells his mother, “you’re glowing”. That’s another reference to Fool For Love – “glowing” is the word for which William wanted a synonym and ended up with “effulgent”.

20 comments:

  1. I think Malandanza was incorrect in Willow keeping secrets from Buffy, after the phone call she runs down the basement steps and confers with Buffy, then leaves.

    I continue to be amazed at how you suss out these intricate details that are pointing towards the conclusion, which I did not see coming. And the excellent insight that all of these characters have triggers, which in many ways makes them no different than Spike.

    I already loved this episode, for the way it fleshed out Spike's backstory, for the culmination of the Wood/Spike conflict. I love it even more now that all these details have been brought to the fore.



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    1. Thanks!

      I think Mal's issue was that Willow didn't tell Buffy the specific reason for her trip. Personally, I think there were good reasons for that.

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    2. I just can't recall if it was mentioned whether she did or not. Sure Buffy never mentions where Willow goes, but I don't know if that's because she doesn't know, or doesn't want everyone else to know(Lord knows, knowing what was going on with Angel at that moment would have given Giles even more impetus to undermine her).

      Plus I'm sure it gets mentioned when Willow returns from LA with her *ahem* baggage.

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    3. Willow specifically says she's not going to tell Buffy why she's going:

      "Nothing you need to worry about. I'll give you the full scoop later. Maybe I'll even bring back some good news."

      I'm sure Buffy got most of the details eventually, but it's not clear exactly when.

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    4. That's right. I haven't watched in a while, so sometimes I need my memory recalled. I just remembered them talking on the steps, but I thought other people were talking while they were.

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  2. You misspelled Yul BRYNNER'S name the same way Sarah Michelle Gellar mispronounced it. Poor Yul. I always wondered if that was Sarah's own mistake (which no one affiliated with the show bothered to correct), or if it was SUPPOSED to be yet another typical, mangled Buffy pronunciation. :-)

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    1. Damn. Thanks for catching that.

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    2. a different anonymous posterFebruary 7, 2013 at 4:34 PM

      Many if not most people pronounce it incorrectly (I knew the spelling and didn't know it was supposed to be pronounced Briner) including Rupert Head's brother Murray in the (awesome) song "One Night in Bangkok." So I don't know about not bothering or mangling. Maybe it's just a fairly common misperception?

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  3. again from a different anonFebruary 7, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    Wait now I'm confused. How did Buffy pronounce it? Brenner or Briner? Which are you saying is correct? I'm just intterested is all, 'cause for a sec I thought I had been pronouncing it wrong all my life along with everyone else I've ever heard say it, but only based on the way I read the original comment. But I just found this somewhere not too dubious on the internet:

    Boris, the middle son of Jules and Natalia, earned a Masters
    degree in mine engineering in St. Petersburg, before
    operating the Bryner mines north of Vladivostok. He married
    Mara Blagovidova and had two children, Vera and Yul Brynner
    (both later added a second 'n' to Bryner, to suggest the
    correct pronunciation. "It rhymes with 'sinner,'" Yul liked
    to say).

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    1. I always pronounced it "Brenner", hence my mis-spelling. I just listened to SMG say it, and she makes the same mistake.

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    2. It is pronounced Brenner.

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  4. I don't know if this is trivia or what, but I think it's interesting that in both Fool for Love and LMPTM Buffy unknowingly administers that last devastating, echoing blow for Spike and Wood: "You're beneath me" & "The Mission is what matters."

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    1. I'm not sure either, but it's a good point.

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  5. Having read your comments on S7 up to this point, and also having discussed some of this with you some time back during the AVClub write-ups, I know where you stand on the issue of Buffy as General, and I pretty much agree with you. One thing that occurred to me while watching this episode is that, even as Buffy is trying to fit (uncomfortably) into the role of general (at the insistence of Giles among others), she's also grappling with other types of leadership as well. I'm not an expert on war theory, but I think Buffy has a fairly strong strategy but is weak on the tactics.

    Her display of knowledge that Spike is necessary in the coming fight shows a big picture understanding of how she's going to handle (or attempt to handle) what's to come. The same is probably true to different degrees with Willow, Anya, Andrew, and the others. What you've written about Buffy's capacity for forgiveness figures into this, but it's also a credit to her understanding that she's got only so many tools in her arsenal and she needs to learn how to put them to good use (or, to go back to some previous posts, get them to bring their A games).

    Her day-to-day tactics (acting the general, shutting people out, keeping secrets, etc.) are more problematic. And I think that also fits into your reading of one of the season's major conflicts: when Buffy trusts her instincts (keeping Spike alive, refusing more power from the shadow men), her leadership instincts are strong, and they tend to be non-patriarchal in nature. When she succumbs to the demands of others to be a general, to fit her round pegginess into their square hole-iness, that's when she falters.

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    1. I think this is fair. I'd add two points. One is that there's a Frodo/Gollum comparison to be made with Buffy and Spike, I think. The other is that Buffy's struggles in each season are always both personal and take place in a larger context. In the personal sense, Buffy needs Spike just as she needs Xander and Willow and Dawn and Giles, so keeping him around is the right decision.

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  6. Oh, and a thought on Spike and his comments to Wood. I'm not sure if I agree 100% that Spike the ensouled cannot be (or should not be) held accountable for Spike the pure demon. He and Angel certainly have the capacity to remember and feel remorse for their crimes (in fact, that is one of the main reasons Angel was first ensouled by the Gypsies). And Angel, at least, seems to feel the need to redeem himself for his past crimes by his present actions (that's sort of what AtS is all about). And in any regard, even if Spike needn't feel remorse for what old Spike did, if we're thinking along those lines of "doing the right thing," then he should at least understand that Wood might benefit from Spike's acting contrite and remorseful.

    But I don't think the question of Spike's culpability really matters all that much in relation to his words to Wood anyway. I get the feeling that Spike responds to Wood to hurt him - Wood just tried to kill him after all, and Spike knows why. Spike's a fine manipulator, and great at using people's own thoughts and emotions against them, to push them towards self-doubt.

    But I think it's even more than that. Spike has got to be somewhat grateful to Wood. He seems to know in the moment he reverts back to his own self that the trigger has been vanquished, and he has Wood to thank for that. In a way, I think he's almost returning the favor. He needs to break Wood of his vengeance trip (or his "trigger"), and he attempts to do so by dropping a dose of what he sees as cold reality on him.

    In a sense, Spike is very right (and very close to Buffy in this regard) - it doesn't matter who killed whom 25 years ago. What matters is now, and if Wood wants to be a part of that, he needs to get his head in the game.

    Knowing Spike, I'd say he's also driven, at least in part, by the desire to exert his superiority (or sense of it, anyway).

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  7. I adore this series, but I always felt that there was a missed opportunity in S7 wrt Giles. Instead of doing the is-he-noncorporeal bit, the writers could have laid the groundwork for all his deeds by exploring the end of the WC. When that blew up - and we know that many Watchers have been murdered - Giles has gone from being a Watcher in disgrace to pretty much the senior Watcher remaining. That would be an incredible burden, because it would mean that he was responsible for most of the Potentials, and also for making sure that the knowledge of the WC was rebuilt to lay a foundation for protecting humanity for eternity.

    It would have been a great source of stress, could explain his turning against Spike, and been wonderful for a character arc.

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    1. Cool idea. I'd like to see it as part of a Giles spinoff (which, sadly, we're never going to get).

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  8. At your opening para about LMPTM, i think you could have added forgiveness. To me that's the biggest theme.
    Just a sugestion,
    Thanks

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