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Buffy's Angel Issues Part Deux

My post on Buffy's Angel Issues got a lot of reaction, which I honestly wasn't expecting. Because it's one of those things I intuitively interpret from Buffy's character arc, and I just kinda take it as a given now.

But I find myself puzzled by a few reactions, in particular. And, because I am Verbose Girl, I feel like clarifying and elaborating.

There were a couple comments to the effect that Buffy's treatment and attitude towards Spike were not influenced by her S2 experiences with Angel but were, instead, a result of Spike's own actions and her detection of his moral failings.

And...to be quite honest...I don't see this view as mutually exclusive with the interpretation I put forth. Even without the Angel incident, Buffy could well have acted completely the same towards Spike. It's impossible for me to say because I'm not the type of fan to speculate on that.

But saying that Buffy would have rejected Spike anyway doesn't really have any connection to the Angel Issues interpretation, and is really rather beside the point.

As I noted in my last post, there are several things that originally led me to this conclusion.

1. Events have long-lasting effects in BtVS.

It's one of those wonderful shows where stuff that happens to characters change and forward their long-term development. Sometimes, an event can change their entire life. The Angelus incident happened at an incredibly vulnerable time in Buffy's life and did have noticeable long-lasting effects on her character. She became more withdrawn, more prone to reining in her emotions, was reluctant to express feelings of love, etc.

The Angelus incident is also notable as it's the first time Buffy sees what a difference a soul can make. It's the only example she has outside of Harmony. And...well...Angelus was a lot more personal, intimate, and influential than Harmony.

People learn from their experiences. Buffy presumably learned from her experience. Even if it's not a conscious thought of "soulless = EVIL BAD; soul = GOOD", it's there in her subconscious as her only reference point for what happens when a person loses their soul.

If you only have one example of something like that, then, yeah, you're gonna use it as a bit of a perceptual compass in the future, even if you're not consciously going back and thinking, "Well, I met that one guy once who didn't have a soul and he couldn't love anything even when he could with a soul, so..." A lot of our actions stem from things we hold in our subconscious.

I'm a Sociology major. It's a thing.

2. Buffy vehemently and passionately denies that Spike can love.

Very passionately.

This is actually what forms the basis for my interpretation. It's not the fact that I don't think Buffy loved Spike until S7, but the fact that she doesn't accept that what Spike feels is love.

Buffy's protests to Spike's feelings go a bit above and beyond the moral assessment of a Slayer. It's personal.

From Crush

Buffy: Stop. You don't mean this. You don't even know what... feelings are.

And later...

Buffy: And whatever you think you're feeling...it's not love. You can't love without a soul.

As has been pointed out, it's quite possible Angelus retained some feelings of love for Buffy in S2. It's very ambiguous, but that interpretation can be made. What's important, though, is what Buffy believes. And, in her perceptions, Angelus didn't love her. Was obsessed with her, yes. Thought about her all the time, yes. But love her? No.

What other basis does Buffy have for saying that it isn't possible to love without a soul? The only experience she has to draw on is what happened with Angelus. And this very strongly affects the rest of her relationship with Spike.

From Dead Things

Spike: I can't. I love you.

Buffy: No, you don't.

From Entropy

Spike: I've tried to make it clear to you, but you won't see it. Something happened to me. The way I feel... about you... It's different. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself it isn't. It's real.

Buffy: I think it is. For you.

Incidentally, I honestly have no other way to interpret this than as another denial of Spike's feelings. By saying his feelings are real "for him", she's implying they're not real "for her" or in any other context, such as reality. It feels like she's humoring a teenager in the throes of puppy love by telling them their feelings are "real for them", even if they're not important in the "real", adult world.

All through S5 through S6, we have Buffy consistently refusing to believe Spike can love. She gets nicer about it. She even throws him a bone by recognizing that his feelings are real in some sense to him. But we never get an acknowledgment that a) she knows he loves her b) that any soulless vampire can love.

This is in the face of overwhelming evidence of Spike's love.

Spike's feelings for Buffy started in obsession. First a violent obsession. That turned sexual and then romantic when leashed by the chip. And, eventually, it did become a form of love. People complain that it's not on par with human love because it isn't "pure". Which...I think their view on human love needs to be reevaluated because love is hardly ever pure.

The undeniably good things Spike did, including withstanding torture, were done because of his feelings for Buffy. By S6, it is very obvious that he loves her.

And, yet, Buffy remains resistant to the idea.

This goes above and beyond her Slayer training. She has a deep-seated conviction that a soul is required to be able to love. It may not be a conscious thought, and she may not even be aware of it. But there's a logical connection between the effects of the Angelus incident and her fervent belief that Spike cannot love without a soul.

And, yes, many people pointed this out, that Buffy does admit that Spike loved her in Conversations With Dead People

Buffy: And the joke is, he loved me. In his own sick, soulless way, he really did care for me.

However, and I did mention this in my original post, the revelation that Spike fought to get his soul in Beneath You caused a shift in Buffy's worldview. She begins reevaluating things and is looking back with a different perspective. This is wholly consistent with my interpretation.

3. Buffy rails against her own feelings for Spike.

Buffy unquestionably has some feelings for Spike by the end of S6. She says so herself in Seeing Red

Buffy: I'm not saying I don't have feelings for you. I do. But it's not love.

She's only able to admit this much after she's started recovering from her post-resurrection depression. Earlier in the season, she reacted defensively and almost violently against any hint that she may feel something for Spike.

And, oh yes, there are a whole host of other issues there. S6 is a complex, deliciously intricate affair that involves a lot of factors. However, Buffy lashing out at the thought that she may be feeling something for a soulless vampire is also consistent with my view.

4. It's an interpretation.

This really should go without saying, but I guess it doesn't. Buffy's Angel Issues is an interpretation derived from canon. Like most character interpretations, it's an extrapolation. We form the characters from the clues given to us. With a character who so rarely reveals their innermost thoughts, such as Buffy, we're often left to draw conclusions from their behavior and to make connections between current behaviors and past events.

There's a lot of room for multiple interpretations, each one as valid as the other. The interpretation that Buffy has Angel Issues can absolutely co-exist with interpretations that Buffy was right-on in rejecting Spike and would have done so anyway.

With character interpretations, you're open to just about anything as long as it's not contradicted by canon. Think back to your lit courses. Interpretations and analysis are based on looking at the work as a whole and drawing conclusions based on the sequence of events. Some are more backed by canon than others. However, unless it's explicitly contradicted by canon, it's a valid interpretation.

Yes, this makes fandom a big, tangly mess of people who have vastly different views of the same show because they came to radically different conclusions based on the same evidence and...you know what? That's just people. That's the way it works.

If Buffy's Angel Issues works for you, that's great. Adopt it into your view of how Buffy ticks. If it doesn't, that's also great. Whatever makes your BtVS awesome for you.

5. Things I'm not saying with this theory.

- That Buffy had no feelings for Spike until S7. As noted above, she absolutely did. However, I believe her when she says it isn't love. And I wrote an entire entry about that.

- That Buffy should have returned Spike's feelings or accepted his affections. I always think of my Tough Decisions poll series with this where I honestly chose "No opinion" for all but one choice. And that's because the simple fact remains: I look at the series as it actually played out. I don't make judgments about what a character should have done at any point in time.

- That Angelus in actuality didn't love Buffy. I do think Angelus had some form of love for Buffy that he was actively railing against in his attempts to terrorize her. However, as noted, we're looking at Buffy's perceptions. And she was far from impartial at that point in time.

- That this is the only factor in the Buffy/Spike relationship. My word, no no no. Long-time readers know how much I've written about Buffy/Spike. Hell, you could write a book on that couple and still be missing stuff. Highlighting one factor isn't meant to ignore the rest.

- That Buffy was wrong in her assessment of Spike. I have my own, personal, assessment of the Spike character from my place as Viewer Outside the Fourth Wall. However, Buffy is inside the fourth wall and she's the Slayer. Her assessment is bound to be different than mine, and, as I noted above, I don't pass judgment on a character's viewpoints. What's interesting to me is untangling those viewpoints, figuring out where they come from, and seeing how they affect events in the series.

Whew. If I'd known what reaction I was gonna spark, I would have spelled all this out in the previous post. But I was just presenting my interpretation in the most general sense possible. I hope I've hit on most of the fuzzy areas here. And if you still don't agree with it, then...well...I think I'll live. :)


Jun. 13th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
The way I usually like to put it is that the vampire's personality is a twisted version of the original personality. And that an ensouled vampire's personality is an "untwisted" version of the soulless vampire's personality.

A major reason that the Scoobies don't tend to see souled Spike/soulless Spike as two different people to the same extent they do Angel/Angelus, is that the differences in behavior between Angel and Angelus are more easily visible (although they have a lot of underlying personality traits in common, such as a tendency toward obsession). I think the most important difference between souled and soulless Spike is the potential for understanding that the soul gives him. The differences in actual behavior tend to be more subtle (once he gets over the insane phase).
Jun. 13th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
Agreed. And I think there's more similarities between Angel and Angelus than Angel would ever admit to.
Jun. 13th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
I suspect that there wouldn't be much difficulty in getting Angel to admit to all sorts of similarities to Angelus. Angel, after all, is someone who practically savors his guilt and obsesses over his past.

(I say "his" because that's how Angel thinks of it. I think the reality is more complicated.)

Souled Spike, in contrast (at least by the later part of BtVS S7 and AtS S5), tends to largely ignore his soulless past and at least pretend he doesn't care about it.
Jun. 14th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
I'd actually say the opposite. Angel usually takes great care to separate himself from Angelus, even going so far as to adopt a modified name. Yes, he feels a ton of guilt, but he rationalizes his past by saying it was a different person and that he's not that guy anymore.

This is the basis for his return in S3, where the audience is expected to accept him back into the fold and absolve him of his crimes in S2 because those were committed by "Angelus", not "Angel".

On the other hand, Spike has a much less distinctive transition. He keeps the same name, eventually takes up his old "costume", and he openly confesses to the crimes he'd committed without trying to distance himself from it by adopting a new persona (his discussion with Buffy in both Beneath You and Never Leave Me).

However, Spike also is not one to brood on the past. He moves forward (like a shark!). So once his soul-getting angst of S7 is over with, he considers it largely behind him and doesn't dwell. It obviously still affects him, as seen in AtS S5, and he does seem to feel a responsibility to do good as a result of it. But he doesn't actively flog himself over it as Angel does.
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
Angel does adopt a modified name, but I think he's also hyperaware of how close all the old instincts are to the surface (e.g. "Angel" where he tells Buffy he wanted to bite Joyce, "Amends" where he says that the First showed him what he "ever shall be", "Somnambulist" where he tells Cordelia and Wesley that the killing dreams weren't nightmares because he enjoyed them). I think he tries to separate himself somewhat because he's worried that there's too much of a connection, not because he's denying that there is one.

Spike, on the other hand, doesn't seem to think about such things that much. He isn't on the same kind of hair-trigger-alert that Angel is.

I think the difference is largely due to differences in their basic personalities. It's probably also partly due to the different way in which they got their souls. Angel had a soul basically forced on him, while in Spike's case it was one step (although an extremely important one) in a longer process.
Jun. 14th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
Well, yes, Angel's always aware of his nature. It's a bit of cognitive dissonance for him. He's afraid of it, and he intuitively knows it's there under the surface, but he makes every effort to distance himself from it consciously. His friends even separate the Angel/Angelus personas, and Angel appears to encourage this view.

As mentioned, Spike just doesn't brood. He never makes the same, many, no soul/soul distinctions that Angel and Angel's friends do in relation to Angel.

Just putting up a buttload of examples from transcripts.


Cordy: You’re not him, Angel. Not anymore. The name I got in my vision, the message didn’t come for Angelus, it came for you. Angel. And you have to trust that whoever that The Powers That Be be, - are, - is.. anyway, - they know the difference.

Angel: Yeah.

Cordy: People really DO change.

Angel: Yes, they do. And sometimes they change back.

Dear Boy

Wesley: Well, there are forces that can make Angel revert to Angelus, the vampire he was before he got a soul.


Angel: You know what I am. You *made* me. Darla. I'm Angelus.

Darla: Not anymore.

Angel: I can be again.


Darla: That wasn't Angel.

Dru: He's gone. He's all gone. Oh it hurts! It hurts!

Darla: Wasn't Angelus either.


Holtz: Angelus.

Wesley: No. Angel. He's not Angelus anymore. He's a good man.


Angel You thought I was going to turn evil and kill my son. I didn't turn into Angelus. It's important to me that you know that. This isn't Angelus talking to you, it's me, Angel.

Edited at 2009-06-14 11:54 pm (UTC)


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