damalur: (you must be myth-taken)
no, use my SPACE name! ([personal profile] damalur) wrote2017-02-25 10:42 pm
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when you're not ride-or-die, you're... walk-and-live?

Discussion of Buffy/Spike and rape apology behind the cut.

I recently finished the big Buffy rewatch with Skyrim Friend. We rolled straight into Veronica Mars; she's never seen either show before, and I'm not sure if it's watching her discover all of these stories and characters or if I've changed that much as a fan, but I... find that I'm no longer ride-or-die for Buffy/Spike?

What I've always liked about the pairing is that they're a quippy battle couple with themes of atonement and duty, which broadly fits almost all of my favorite ships, but in the aftermath of this rewatch, they're no longer clicking for me as automatically as they once did. I used to believe that the writing failure in season six was the shift in Spike's behavior between the first third of the season (caring for Dawn, listening to Buffy, providing an undemanding source of support) and "Seeing Red" (the episode where he tries to rape Buffy). This time around, it struck me that his characterization is absolutely and wholly consistent: he sees Buffy is isolated and isolates her further, he uses his understanding of her to convince her that he's the only one who understands her, he pushes past her boundaries over and over, and he feeds her all the lines that manipulative abusers have always fed their victims ("You came back wrong").

I don't mind unhealthy dynamics in pairings, particularly if the characters work past their toxicity and build a more stable and compassionate relationship, but there's two real hang-ups now that I'm having trouble getting past: the first is that Spike tries to rape Buffy, and the second is that Buffy and Spike have dramatically different levels of interest in and demands of their relationship.

As far as (1) goes, canon and fandom allow for plenty of justification. The writers tried to have their cake and eat it, too; they wanted to retain Spike as a heroic and romantic lead, but they were aware that having Buffy fall head-over-heels for the guy that assaulted her was crossing a line. They should have either had Spike repent before he crossed that line, or they should have shut down any and all hints that Buffy and Spike still had feelings for each other. It was Not Cool and hello, I am ten years late to recognizing this in my gut and not just my head.

And... it might be watching Veronica Mars immediately after that led me to this conclusion? I've always drawn a line from Buffy/Spike to Veronica/Logan, probably because that's one of the ways that VMars was sold to me, but watching both shows in proximity is making the analogy fall apart. The blandest read of Logan is the charming, semi-reformed bad boy, and he shouldn't be excused for his role in Veronica's rapes (Dick Casablancas does not deserve the complicated feelings I have about him), but -- this is going to be strained, bear with me -- while Logan contributes to rape culture, he doesn't rape Veronica. He knows and cares that there's a line, he just doesn't realize that the line is several feet closer than he was taught, and he apologizes for that transgression without prompting and then makes good on his apology through his later actions. Pre-soul Spike may have the dawning realization that there's a line, but he doesn't care, or at least he doesn't care about Buffy more than he cares about himself. There's about four thousand other ways that the characters are unlike, but that's the most pertinent to this post, and it's possibly why I'm finding one of those redemption arcs easier to stomach than the other.

You can handwave Spike in season six; I have, and I certainly understand why others do. Blame it on inconsistent writing or a divided writers' room (both of which were pretty real throughout all of Buffy and during season six in particular) or on the lack of soul (convenient, but also a core part of the show's mythology that I thought was never fully explored) -- the chemistry is still there, as is the potential for an interesting romance... but that's better left to fic, I'm starting to think, because the show exists somewhere else entirely.

Which is (2): Spike is far more interested in Buffy than she is in him. Season seven of the show is why I've always shipped it, because it hits the bickery battle couple notes and mutual supportiveness while redeeming (or excusing) Spike's previous sins via magical machina, but prior to that, it's so one-sided in a way that is far more vivid to me now than it was when I first dived into the show a decade ago. The Buffybot isn't just funny or exasperating, it's genuinely creepy. Lurking outside Buffy's window listening to her have sex with her boyfriend is threatening. That beatdown in "Dead Things" is not nearly as brutal as I remembered, nor is it in any way comparable to "Seeing Red." I will probably continue to enjoy the one-liners and the fic and the entirety of "Fool for Love," but it's not the same, you know? Sometimes you fall out of love, too.

Discussion welcome -- this isn't meant as a judgment on Buffy/Spike itself, just some thoughts on how my feelings on the pairing have changed.

(Also, I like Xander slightly more than I thought I did. And there's always Buffy/Faith for that quippy-atoning-warrior-partner kink, right?)
rebcake: Spike & Buffy kissing in bed (btvs spuffy_kiss)

[personal profile] rebcake 2017-03-03 08:26 am (UTC)(link)
Sometimes you fall out of love, too.

You're the 2nd person* I've seen to have this kind of epiphany about Spike, and I wonder if I'll see my interpretation shift as much at some point.

I agree that Spike's characterization was overall consistent** in season 6. I credit Marsters for that, because the writing staff was all over the place, as you say. But I don't interpret his motivations the same way you do. I identify to a ridiculous degree with Buffy — including the emotionally withholding part of her character. I see her has having so much agency in her choices regarding him and their messed up relationship that to me he always seems to be flailing around for some way to catch up.

Do you feel that Buffy was forced or manipulated into "giving Spike what he wanted"? Lots of people do. I don't think she was. But then, I've also engaged in sexual relationships while depressed, and get miffed at the implication that depression somehow makes a person incapable of true consent. I also don't think he ever got what he wanted in Season 6, which IMHO was a mutually loving relationship with a Buffy who wasn't suffering. Anyway.

I think as the years go by, I have a lot less sympathy for the characters that don't allow other characters freedom to make their own decisions: Angel, later-season Willow, Riley, and sometimes Giles. I don't want to be mad at Giles, but sometimes he makes it difficult.

*You're the 2nd in several years. I'm not implying that it's an epidemic.
**"Into the Woods" still doesn't make sense to me from a plot standpoint. Spike is The Doctor? That's...ridiculous. But his character is still consistent!
rebcake: Spike & Buffy: happy under the carpet (btvs spuffy_carpet)

[personal profile] rebcake 2017-03-05 02:32 am (UTC)(link)
I absolutely agree "that love doesn't prevent someone from inflicting hurt or abuse". (Personally, I think this applies as much to Buffy as to Spike, but I realize that "Buffy actually does love Spike" is not a universally held opinion, even by depressed!Buffy herself.)

However, I don't think Spike took advantage of Buffy's poor mental health to push her to sleep with him, at least not initially. Buffy was the instigator of their sexual relationship. She kept kissing him, refusing to talk about it, and then she — much to his surprise — turns the fight in the abandoned house into, well, hours of sexual congress. While still refusing to talk about it. He follows her lead, she keeps showing up, he keeps doing what he thinks she wants. I can see that he might easily fall into using his skills for reading her to achieve the short-term goal — that of getting Buffy into bed. Or, you know, somewhere in the vicinity of the bed. But whose goal is that? I don't believe it's his, except inasmuch as he thinks it's what she wants, deep down. However, he most likely feels that it's the only time when they are really connecting on any meaningful level. And connection IS what he craves.

Maybe that's the rub? Their relationship is broken because he wants to connect emotionally with her — and he'll do whatever he can to reach for that — while she (says she) wants nothing but a zipless fuck from him and will resent anything "meaningful" between them. And...I'm just restating the endless essays on the genderbent nature of the relationship and Spike as the film noir bad girl, without improving on them.