Tony Fyler tells a tale of geeky, unrequited love.
It’s not easy being a teenage slayer.
Not only does dating have to carry the proviso ‘sure, if I’m still alive and the world hasn’t ended by then,’ but there’s the night shift, the graveyard-fresh aroma, and having to explain to any prospective boyfriend that he’ll always come a close second to Mr Pointy.
So it’s no real surprise that Buffy Summers tends to choose her potential partners from the pool of people already on the same world-saving, demon-slaying, fang-ass kicking page as she is. It just saves so much time. Plus, y’know, there’s the honesty thing.
Unfortunately, those who are on the same page as she is are a bit of an odd bunch. Xander is a total nerdboy who only bulks up with the hotness long after he and Buffy have set up the picnic table in the friend zone. Oz is a monosyllabic band-boy who rocks the werewolf look at his time of the month. Not judging, but eww, dog-hair!
But both of them are also-rans when it comes to Buffy. One of the many courageous decisions taken by Joss Whedon and the creative team behind the series was the acknowledgement of the fact that it lived in a world of teenagers, and teenagers are full of hormone goodness, meaning that (at least once everyone’s good and legal for the US audience), they have what Willow describes as ‘the sex’.
Unfortunately, it’s really not easy being a teenage slayer. Buffy’s first ‘love’ – sulky stalker-boy and Twilight-inspiration Angel does the broody cheekbones thing until Buffy decides to have her first sex with him – annnnd he loses the soul that stops him being an out-and-out evil monster. She eventually has to kill him at least once. With some guys, once is just never quite enough.
Her next boy-toy is, she thinks, regular Captain America and A-Grade student Riley Finn. Naturally he’s really a soldier battling the forces of the supernatural, but actually being manipulated by Frankenstein’s monster’s evil twin, Adam, annnnnd when he and Buffy get major-league busy in what turns out to be a haunted house (in Where The Wild Things Are), it leads to the release of pent-up sexual energy from a bunch of dead kids, which seals off the whole house in which the busy-getting is going down, and will eventually lead not to le petit mort, but le freakin’ grande grande mort – in other words, when they stop making with the sweet sweet love, they’ll start making with the sour, sour deadness. Seriously, not a surprise that Buffy’s a little scared to get involved with people. Riley, eventually intimidated by Buffy’s powerful slayer vibe, starts letting vampire-skanks bite him for kicks, which has multiple levels of ick, and he ships out to do some world-saving where his manly pride isn’t in danger from the world’s most awesome cheerleader.
The lesson of Angel is that ‘the girl likes a little monster in her man.’ The lesson of Riley is that no ordinary man is likely to be able to stand up to or keep up with the slayer. So what’s a girl to do?
Spike came into Buffy’s life quite early in her time in Sunnydale, as a badass, slayer-killing vampire with a punk rock ’do and a Brat Prince attitude – he’d kill you in a heartbeat, and outclassed the so-called Chosen One in evil, setting out his stall as the vamp to beat. Over time though, Spike was revealed as a man who went bad for love, a sensitive poet-soul who was bullied and learned how to take his revenge with a pair of fangs and a will to win. And slowly, story by story, he became a kind of replacement Angel with a sense of humour and a harsh realism about the world that was quite literally Spikier than the Dark Prince of Brooding In Corners had ever mastered. Spike began not to just feel his love for Buffy, but to suffer it. He became, not to put too fine a point on it, the avatar of unrequited geek love for guys and girls who set their heart at the feet of the popular kid in class, but who the pretty people would never even contemplate being with. The geek avatar side of Spike is at least a third of the explanation for his ongoing popularity. The other thirds being that he’s funny as hell, and damn, with the hair and the coat, he looks pretty fine.
Spike though is on a hiding to nothing. Buffy views him as the annoying British undead guy that one day she’ll probably have to stake. It takes her own death, spending time in what she thinks is Heaven, and being brought back to life by her well-meaning, clueless Scooby Gang friends, for her to take that kind of interest in Spike. After hearing him confess his love – in song of all things (during Once More With Feeling), Buffy kisses Spike with a kind of desperation to feel anything. It’s a moment that leads, in Smashed, to their first time together, a powerful, consuming eruption of lust born out of taunting, insult, and fighting. This first scene is indicative of something primal in their relationship – the heat, the fury, the itch that won’t be scratched, and – unlike with Riley – Buffy holds nothing back because it’s Spike, and she sees him already as half enemy. It’s a kind of love we see on every street – wild, fiery, argumentative and passionate. But it’s also, still, an abusive relationship. Buffy uses Spike to try and feel something, anything real after her return from beyond the grave, and while he’s delighted to go along for the ride and satisfy her needs, he knows that sex under these circumstances is not the same as love. Eventually, unsatisfied and understanding she can never see him as a good man, Spike sets out, like many foolhardy and potentially dangerous swains in our world, to ‘prove’ his love to Buffy by going through trial by combat to win back his soul. Of course, as it turns out, having a soul – not so good for Spikey-boy, as The First plays havoc with both his mind and soul, almost as soon as he has it.
But if we want to see what really is between these two crazy mixed-up kids, it’s to the very end of the Buffy series we need to turn. Having gone from soulless slayer-killer to love’s bitch to good dog who can’t bite the other puppies any more, to dark accessory of existential despair and sex toy, to love’s hero, determined to prove his worth, finally, at the end of Chosen, as Spike stands with all the potential slayers to stop the rise of The First, it is he who wears Angel’s mysterious amulet, he who stands as a conduit of power to close the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. Knowing that he’s probably about to die, these two share a moment, hand in hand. For all the attention that Bad Wolf Bay gets from Whovians as the site of the ‘I Love You’ that never came, this scene, where Buffy tells Spike ‘I love you,’ and he knows, and sees the truth in her eyes, and chuckles, is a moment for which Buffy fans had been waiting for years. Spike, the avatar of all our geeky hopefulness, keeper of our dreams of getting the hot girl or the cool guy or the one with a spirit that made us sing, was going to get the acknowledgement that he too was loved, and by her.
Except, oh, so perfectly except – he really is our avatar. He’s the coolest geek in history, but he’s still a geek – the ridiculed poet till the last, and he notices the details. He sees it in her eyes, and chuckles. ‘No you don’t,’ he tells her. ‘But thanks for saying it.’
That’s the ultimate truth of Buffy and Spike. It’s a love story that could never come true, despite closeness, despite insanely hot sex, despite the quest for a soul and despite getting one, and standing side by side – ultimately… she’s just not that into you. Joss Whedon, himself one of the world’s leading geeks, won’t be swayed by fairy stories and romance right at the end, however much we want him to be. What Buffy says to Spike at the end is not really ‘I love you.’ It’s ‘I see that you deserve to be loved’. It’s not the result either he or we have been desperately hoping for, but it is a genuine attempt to give him a gift at the end of his life, to show a kindness to an equal and a partner in the strangest life. And so she runs, while he saves the world in her place, the vampire who loved the slayer not wisely but too well. And geeks everywhere brush a tear from their eye.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk