Big Bad Love: Thoughts on Buffy and Spike in "Beneath You"

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Title: Big Bad Love: Thoughts on Buffy and Spike in "Beneath You"
Creator: Gwyneth Rhys
Date(s): 2002
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Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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Big Bad Love: Thoughts on Buffy and Spike in Beneath You is a 2002 essay by Gwyneth Rhys.

Excerpts

It's been a long time since Buffy the Vampire Slayer made me cry. I got a bit sniffly in Lovers Walk at the ending montage, with the haunting guitar music and the sad faces and how tormented everyone was, but shed no real tears. The last times I really broke down and cried were both related to Buffy's killing of Angel -- when she ran the sword through him in Becoming, and when she finally confessed to Giles and Willow what she had done.

It was that latter episode I went to the more I thought about Beneath You and the more I rewatched this exquisitely painful and beautifully written episode. Buffy's explanation in Faith, Hope, and Trick keeps coming back to me: "So I told him I loved him, and then I kissed him and I killed him." I've used this as a .sig for years because it's always been one of my favorite lines on the show, but it carries an echo into Beneath You, resonating, in me at least, in a way I hadn't expected.

In BY, it's like we're seeing the death of the old Spike. Whoever he is has been replaced by someone else; maybe, in his madness, a lot of someone elses. Buffy kissed him (had the sexual relationship with him) and killed him (made him destroy that part of himself he hated for hurting her and not being what she wanted) metaphorically, and just a little bit literally. The only thing missing is her love, but Spike's love for Buffy was never in question.

In BY, we watched Spike veer back and forth between William and Spike and someone else entirely, someone created in the dark spaces of his insanity. His attempt at the old Spike, wearing the "costume" of the blue shirt (and how very fashion forward of our favorite vampire -- the three-quarter length sleeves, short midriff, tight fit, all very Versace. Who knew insanity and souledness would help you find a tres chic style update?) and slicking back his hair a little and keeping his voice modulated still couldn't hold it all together well enough, and the battle with the different aspects of his personality (or personalities) is one he may not be able to win. The quiddity of Spike as we knew it is gone, no matter how hard he tries to pull it all together.

And all because of love, because he had to kill what he was before so he could earn Buffy's love. As if the love of the Slayer is what destroys, what has to destroy, because the vampire and the Slayer can't be. It's so wrong that the law of the universe seems to be saying: one side of these unnatural pairings must suffer -- and in this universe, it's got to be the side of evil, the vampire side. This lends it a wonderfully, operatically tragic quality.

The greatest tragedy, the thing that really made me weep copiously each time I've watched this episode, isn't the cross scene. It's Spike unzpping his pants and talking about servicing the girl. I can scarcely even think about it, it hurts so much. That this is what he believes himself reduced to -- a sex toy for her, that she could only see him then and in the future as someone who exists to service her, breaks my heart into a million pieces. He once said he was her willing slave, and how apalling is it that she made him worse than that, that she made him lower than a slave, left him feeling so degraded and shamed that he can't even tell appropriate from inappropriate anymore, and begins unzipping his pants to do the thing he believes she wants? The only thing he's good for, even with a soul? Then, when he sees her anger, he chastises himself for thinking that. That was one of the most tragic scenes I've ever come across on television or film, and it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to watch.

But things, I really believe after seeing this episode, are going to be different. Buffy's now walking her talk about being a better person after her speech in Grave. She is trying to redeem her life from season six. And I think now, judging by her shock and horror and understanding of what Spike is and what he can be, she will continue to grow that tenderness and caring and help Spike. At least, I hope so -- I don't know if it's my naïve shippy heart talking, or what, but I felt that her crying over him, over what he's done, finally shows that she gets it at last. If it doesn't manifest itself as romantic love, it will at least manifest itself as the agape kind of love -- something greater, more encompassing, more altruistic and tender and true. All I can do is pray for that, because Spike has done something that deserves forgiveness and love. And if Buffy is what the first slayer told her she was, if she is full of love, then she must show it to Spike, even if it isn't romantic love.

I've seen a lot of speculation that if this is the final season of BtVS as we know it, then Spike will likely sacrifice himself for Buffy or for the greater good against the big evil brewing in Sunnydale. But I don't believe that, and I hope it's not true.

References