Death is your art. Every slayer has a death wish. Even you. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Five

Buffy stumbled in Season Four. Despite a couple of stand-out classics, and a few strong enough episodes, it was overall a lacklustre season that made a number of fundamental mistakes. If it repeated them in Season Five then I suspect the show would have been facing cancellation. Indeed, by the end of the season, it was scrabbling around to find a new home. If it had underperformed, it may well not have found one.

However, thankfully that didn’t happen. Because Season Five was a glorious (arf) return to form. For many it is the best season of the show (I’m afraid s3 just nudges it for me, for reason explained elsewhere) but it’s an incredibly powerful season and one of the best of the show’s history. Certainly it has perhaps one of the best arcs and for me the second best season finale of the whole run.

A complaint that’s often levelled at Steven Moffat by the M***-M***s is that he doesn’t listen to feedback. What they really mean is that he’s not making the show exactly the way they want it to be but I’d say as a showrunner he’s been incredibly open and accommodating. People didn’t like the convoluted story arcs, so we got ‘movie of the week’. People didn’t like the overly clever stuff, so it clearly got dialled back. Moffat, in both Sherlock and Who, is a man who not only listens to his critics, and to his fans, but reacts to them as well.

The same is true of Joss Whedon, I think. Certainly it was not unusual for him to make an appearance on both The Bronze message board and later on Here was a showrunner who embraced the internet and the fan community before it became the Thing that it is now. Basically, he listened.

And we can see it in Season Five. Giles drifting along aimlessly not working? Fine, let’s put him in the Magic Shop to give him a surrogate library and somewhere to give the Scoobies a focus. Buffy’s perfect boyfriend not enthusing? Fine, let’s give her an angsty, dysfunctional relationship with a vampire. Scoobies too fragmented? Cool, let’s re-emphasise the bonds between them. Big Bad a bit underwhelming? Here, have a Sandra Berhardt-esque bee-atch Goddess. Just about everything that went awry with s4 was more or less put right for this season.

But, of course, there were still problems to take care of. The Scoobies were all getting a bit old now and no longer hitting that crucial young teen target market. Hence we get Dawn, Buffy’s younger sister, cunningly ret-conned into the show’s mythology. Now, you’ll not find a lot of love for Dawn out there and she is incredibly annoying. (Although I have to admit I found her less so on this rewatch). Michelle Trachtenberg has a pretty thankless task as the petulant, screechy, pipsqueak who’s always needing rescued. She’s Scrappy-Doo to the other Scoobies basically.

But aside from Dawn, some of the newer faces introduced (or re-introduced) last season get to step up and shine. After her unorthodox wooing of Xander in s4, Anya gets to become a Scooby proper, essentially taking the role vacated by Cordelia and not properly filled in s4. And Emma Caulfield is wonderful. From here on in, she’ll do amazing work.

Similarly, Tara becomes a true Scooby. Family is an often overlooked episode but I’d say it’s one of the strongest stories of the whole show. This completes the rescue work done in Restless in bringing the Scoobies back together, making them the unit that will all contribute to the eventual defeat of Glory. But its main purpose is consolidating Tara as a key figure in the gang. This is important for what Glory does to her later. It wouldn’t work if she was somehow considered a female version of Riley.

And what about Riley? His whole good ol’ boy schtick just wasn’t working. And this is no reflection on Marc Blucas, who I think was great. And this was clearly recognised as they tried to make him a bit darker too. But this I think didn’t really work and seemed almost a betrayal of the character they’d already built up. Part of me thinks they should have just stuck to their guns and kept him light and wholesome, perhaps until he realised that he and Buffy just weren’t compatible.

So on to Spike. This is the beginning of the Spuffy character arc (sorry @Pedant) and is to me more satisfying than the Bangel variation. Firstly because James Marsters is given more to play with (so to speak) and secondly because he’s just a more capable actor than David Boreanaz. Here we’re in stalker-phase Spike. We’ll move on from this in subsequent years to some very interesting places but that’s a discussion for another time.

Fool For Love (and its Angel s2 companion piece Darla) are also pivotal episodes. It’s the first time we really start to see who Spike truly is, the Romantic with a capital R, the wounded poet, the mother’s boy. The leather coat, the punkish bad-boy act are his armour. And from here on in we start to see Spike’s slow transformation, his slow road to a redemption that you might argue outshines Angel’s. But in Fool For Love, we’re told clearly who old Spike is and what he stands for:

Sooner or later, you’re gonna want it. And the second — the second— that happens, you know I’ll be there. I’ll slip in, have myself a real good day

And, of course, by the end of The Gift he’s got his wish and he’s devastated. He’s changed and will continue to do so. We’ll see a different Spike in s6.

The Gift really is a doozy of a finale. Personally, I think the end of s6 trumps it slightly but not by much. It’s near perfect and indeed if the show had not been picked up by UPN, it would have been a fine note to end upon. Every main character gets their moment of redemption. Xander brings in the big guns to help defeat Glory. Willow uses her magic powers. Spike is faced with a moment of real loss. Anya joins the fight at last. And Giles has possibly his darkest Ripper moment. It would have been a satisfying ending to the show if it had ended there. If more than a little bleak.

But there are a couple of things that don’t quite work, I think. Glory’s minions were just a bit too rubbish and comedic, and undermined her as a Big Bad. I just couldn’t believe that she would actually have put up with them for an instant. They veered too much into Monty Python territory for my liking. As did the Knights of Byzantium. I kept expecting them to say Nii!

And there’s one problem I keep having with s5. Mrs Fish profoundly disagrees with me on this so maybe I’m just being too sensitive. But I just feel that the attitude to mental health in this season veers a little towards the Victorian. Something that smites you and can quickly be remedied just by killing the bad guy. It’s not something I can put my finger on and I’m probably wrong but there’s something about it that nags at me. I find myself asking would we ever had Glory healing herself by giving her victims cancer, say.

But compared to the seasons preceding it, s5 doesn’t really have any really duff episodes. The Weight of the World is essentially a lightweight retread of Restless and I Was Made to Love You didn’t really gel, I think. It does have some nice funny moments, introduces a pivotal future character and leaves you with that gut-wrenching final image.

I’ve left The Body till last because it’s a truly astounding piece of TV. Not just within the context of Buffy, because it is pretty unrepresentative of the show at large, but it’s probably one of the best hours of TV ever. Full stop. Whenever I hear someone say they don’t like Whedon because he’s not a good writer, or his characters are all just smart-alec ciphers, I point to The Body and that shuts them the hell up. Or at least it should. Because as far as I’m concerned the discussion is over. It’s 50-odd moments of profound emotion, with great stand-out moments from (especially) Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan and Emma Caulfield. It’s a piece of TV history — part of three Buffy episodes that are key moments in pop cultural TV history. We’ve now had two and there’s one more to go. But I’d say that The Body stands out as the best of them.

Season Five finishes on what seems like a moment of absolute finality. There’s no cliffhanger, there’s no walk off to the sunset. The theme of this season has been Death, reaching its most naked point in The Body, but ending with the death of the show’s central character. There was nowhere left to go.

Was there?

As ever, leave your thoughts and comments below. But only on Buffy season one to five, and Angel Season One.


  1. Fantastic analysis JimtheFish. I’m so close to total agreement while somehow falling on the other side of the fence.

    I agree there are no duffer episodes in s5. I wasn’t impressed by the Dracula episode first time, but the Buffy/Dracula banter and hilarious Xander makes it worth it now. The Body is amazing, I never look forward to watching it so it’s not high on my favorites list, but like Purofilion said, I wouldn’t want to change it all, it’s perfect.

    Glory was the most challenging big bad yet and I even like her minions. The minions were perfect for Glory because she didn’t get to pick them just like having to share a body – she just got stuck with them. It reminded me of Cordi’s groupies. She would hate and tolerate them at the same time, since bad groupies are better than having no groupies. I thought the minions looked cool when they fought and put up a decent fight against Buffy, Scooby gang and Buffy bot.

    My favorite s5 episode is possibly the most flawed of the entire series! The Spiral.

    I thought Dawn not remembering seeing Glory/Ben switch was a massive blunder, until they revealed the memory/perception filter. That was brilliantly done. And it was even better when it didn’t affect Spike or her minions.

    We are the knights of phenomenally freaksome conspicuousness who say Nii. 😆

    But I have a solution that makes that part better. The general’s gold necklace could be a wide range perception filter. Glory has her memory perception filter, so I think the necklace idea is not unreasonable (they did draw a lot of attention to the necklace, but I wish they would have said it).

    My biggest BtVS gripe is how Glory kills all the knights when she leaves with Dawn. They never show Glory has that power. Plus it was a missed opportunity to make the minions and the knights much cooler. A truckload of minions should have showed up and surrounded the knights. A battle scene ensues where the knights put up a fierce fight but are killed by the minion hoard, allowing Glory to escape with Dawn. I just imagine that’s what happened since we didn’t get to see it. 😥

    The rest of the episode is all kinds of action packed goodness.

    But in true Buffy fashion the grand finale meets all expectations and does not disappoint. If BtVS ended like that, I would be screaming for Joss Whedon and Santa… IT CAN’T End Like That!!!

    I love s5, it’s my 2nd favorite season. Spoilers.

    But I just feel that the attitude to mental health in this season veers a little towards the Victorian.

    I kinda see your point, mental illness isn’t taken as serious as other diseases (still), but I agree with Mrs. Fish.  Whedon could have made it irreversible, but I like that Buffy found the way to cure them.

  2. @JimTheFish

    As you can imagine I largely agree with this and consider Season 5 to be the best single serial of storytelling on TV. Only S5 of Who has come close to speaking to me so … personally, with such truth and with such powerful grasp of metaphor.

    It is so complete that even its relative bum notes don’t bother me much. The Knights Who Slay Key were basically the military arm of the Monks Of The New Dawn and it is unfortunate that TV budgets (or SFX at the time) couldn’t really achieve the look of thousands, which it why they look a bit daft, I think. I Was Made To Love You nearly had Britney Spears as April, so be thankful for Shona Farr, who did a fine job. And of course there is the over-acting crappy accented one’s appearance in the otherwise superb Crush (although, as noted elsewhere, its use of Red Shirts in a pivotal scene set a million moist 15-year-olds  – of all ages and sexes  – off on a stupid and disruptive shipper trip that made some fan venues all but unusable).

    But all of these are trivial when set alongside the extraordinarily powerful metaphor that permeates the series: blood.

    Blood is life. Of course it’s blood lackbrain, it’s what makes us other then dead (even the Very Nearly Dead Undead)

    Blood is family. This blood? Summers blood. They made her from me. Not in a literal sense, not in the DNA sense (red blood cells have none anyway), but in the oldest of senses, the sense of Blood Ties and Blood promises. Of making a cut in your hand and pressing palms together.

    Blood is sacrifice. Of course Buffy’s blood could spoof the portal. Of course death is her gift. It probably would have done it without the blood element (Dickens knew that!). It was nothing to do with it being Slayer blood. It was about protecting the innocent.

    Back in the day, some people claimed there was a plot hole because they could not work out how Buffy’s final act worked. This type of point-missing is very common in genre fandom and I feel genuinely sorry for fans who get so sucked into plot and its mechanics that they miss the theme, miss the point.

    Some fans argued that a better story would have had Dawn sacrifice herself. The technical term for this group is ‘stupid people’.

    S5 also spawned two of the stupidest debates in fandom:

    1. When did Olaf become Olaf The Troll God (answer: when Anya decided to big him up when trying to rally the troops)

    2. Where is the Third Slayer? (the Slayer Line flows through Faith now)

    But we are still a long way from the single stupidest fan debate of all time. That joy is still to come.

    (I’m with Mrs Fish, btw – I don’t think it is clear that all Glory’s victims were cured: they were still following orders after Willow healed Tara)

    Also of interest (but to be handled with care, because spoilers): the most important character development of the series was cleverly masked and becomes screamingly obvious only with the benefit of hindsight.

    Now, a final puzzle: does anyone suspect that there might be a link between Ben and Glory?

  3. @barnable

    But I have a solution that makes that part better. The general’s gold necklace could be a wide range perception filter. Glory has her memory perception filter, so I think the necklace idea is not unreasonable (they did draw a lot of attention to the necklace, but I wish they would have said it).

    Nice idea but it’s the whole ‘it it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage’ argument for me. We can only assume that the General had a perception filter if we’re explicitly told or shown it.


    I don’t think it is clear that all Glory’s victims were cured: they were still following orders after Willow healed Tara

    Maybe not but I think what I was really driving at is the general attitude to mental health throughout the whole season, that it’s appropriate for it to be used in the way that it is, which I feel is kind of throwaway and trivialises the issue slightly. I do realise I’m probably being a little bit too precious about it but as I say it always made me slightly uncomfortable. But to be fair, I think s6’s Normal Again addresses this issue, perhaps deliberately.

    I forgot to mention that I also love the Checkpoint episode and the major satisfaction of seeing the Watchers’ Council finally being put in their place a little.

    One final reservation that I had about the series was the whole Glory is a God angle. In the end it was kind of wasted and really was just a phoney way of upping the ante. In real terms, she’s no more daunting than a particularly badass demon. If they were going to make her a God, it should have had greater implications I can’t help but feel. But Claire Kramer was great.

    With regards to s5’s greatness, I used to place it as the best, or most accomplished, season but I have to admit that this time around I think s6 edged it a bit. But there’s really not much in it at all. They’re both incredibly powerful pieces of TV. (But with s3 still being the classic iteration of the show.)

    So, what you’re saying is Ben and Glory know each other?

  4. @Barnable

    They never show Glory has that power.

    Sorry – that’s attention span failure. She has never used her power because until just before hand she did not know where The Key is, so was circumspect about who she killed. “If I wanted you [Buffy] dead you could tell by being dead already”.

    No filter necessary.


    She is a God out of her dimension – immensely more powerful than anything known, but also (and despite of) being inhibited by being on the home team’s turf and the home teams rules. She wants her omnipotence back.

    Now, if only we could work out the link between Ben and Glory.

  5. @JimTheFish  Superb stuff, thanks.  Feeling an almost overwhelming desire to watch the whole damn lot again, start to finish.  Though perhaps not do what we did one time and interweave BtVS and Angel eps according to broadcast dates.  Nerdy or what…  But doing that made us realise, though we loved Angel, we loved Buffy so much more.

    It’s too long since I’ve rewatched (shame!  shame!) to comment in detail, except to say that Family is a top fave episode.  A great example of a Spartacus moment, and really integrating Tara in the group, as you say.  And what can I say about The Body that hasn’t been said? I have to brace myself to watch it.  Indeed on some run throughs I’ve seriously contemplated skipping it.  The coda to the previous ep (Mom? Mom?  Mommy?) just punches me in the gut every time, and the episode itself is so beautifully written, so perfectly paced and pitched, and it breaks my heart.

    I won’t go on because I’d just go on, and on, and I’ve little to add, but loved reading the blog, and the comments.  And I’ve just realised you’ve done blogs on previous series’ which I’ve missed, having been AWOL from the forum since Xmas.  That’s my weekend sorted!

  6. @pedant

    She is a God out of her dimension – immensely more powerful than anything known, but also (and despite of) being inhibited by being on the home team’s turf and the home teams rules. She wants her omnipotence back.

    Yes, I agree. But in terms of dramaturgy, Glory’s godhood is built up to be A Very Big Deal when in the end it amounts to nothing more than a lazy way to big her up as a Big Bad and differentiate her from a dozen other demons. Quentin might as well have said “Glory isn’t a demon. She’s a hedge-fund manager” for all the ultimate relevance it had to the arc. It just ends up not really meaning anything. But, as I say, no reflection on Claire Kramer who puts in a wicked good performance. Glory probably comes in as my 3rd top Big Bad.

    It’s actually the bind the show found itself with having to top the previous year with a bigger, badder Big Bad. They found the perfect way around it in s6 but it kinda comes back to bite them again in s7.

    There’s definitely something between Ben and Glory. It’s right in front of us and we’re too blind to see it. (slaps table)

  7. @Pedant

    Sorry – that’s attention span failure.

    Right in both cases, my bad.

    No filter necessary.

    Agreed, there are much easier solutions to the knights’ problem. I went back and checked my maths. It was shown how easy the knights could change clothes and blend in. There was never a problem, so no fancy solution needed. .

    Barnable:  They never show Glory has that power.
    She has never used her power because until just before hand she did not know where The Key is, so was circumspect about who she killed. “If I wanted you [Buffy] dead you could tell by being dead already”.

    Glory not showing her power is not a problem like I thought it might be. I did forget about that line, thanks for pointing that out. Good explanation for Glory’s selective use of her powers too. That’s almost irrefutable proof that Glory has the power, it’s definitely suggested in show that she does have it, but not seeing it used still leaves wiggle room.

    I don’t want to be preachy. Sorry for this long explanation. But this example helps me explain.

    I go by the theory – if there are any problems, the wiggle room can be used to fix them. The wiggle room story is basically fan fiction, but it’s still viable until it gets officially disputed.

    Glory having the power is definitely suggested in show and nothing says it didn’t happen, but without actually seeing her use it on the knights; we can only imagine that’s what happened.

    Glory might have raised her arm – with Dawn getting dragged along in Glory’s other arm – then lightning shoots out at all the knights at the same time. Then the knights fall to the ground.
    On the other hand, it might not have happened like that at all. Without seeing it happen it’s just fan fiction explanation. Whatever visualization you like to imagine could have happened. Glory might have used red lightning, green flames, or anything that makes the story the coolest for yourself.

    I think the knights were kinda wasted in s5 and wish they were used a little more (a small problem for me). So for my fan-fic explanation, I like to imagine they put up a badass fight against the minions. The knights still died, it was still Glory that caused it, but she just used minions instead of lightning bolts. It solves my problem with the knights without changing anything that happened on screen.


    It’s the whole ‘if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage’ argument for me.

    To me, it’s just different opinions. That’s fair.

    I think SM believes in wiggle room.


  8. @JimtheFish

    We can only assume that the General had a perception filter if we’re explicitly told or shown it.

    Good point. That is more than just opinion. I agree with that too, because it’s important the writers at least try to stick to the rules of story telling.

    There has to be some difference between using wiggle room and just covering up for bad writing. I’m not sure what that is though. Probably when it starts to feel like cheating.

    But sometimes it’s not cheating. It’s just that everything can’t be shown on screen clearly and needs some help explaining it or they tried to explain it, but it got lost. Like the knights changing clothes to travel was kind of  subtle.

    The general’s necklace would have been mostly in the cheating category.   They did draw attention to it though, so that might have been a subtle hint at the explanation but it got lost.

    Sometimes shows just make mistakes,  like the knights seeming like they only say Nii. 🙂



  9. Wonderful summary @Jimthefish: just completed my watch. So with S3, as I mentioned elsewhere, there’s a seam to be seen, a fatal flaw running down our lives which suggests we’re on the brink of a fabulous discovery -as we get closer, this ‘knowingness’ fades or inches away. In  S3, it’s still a little austere, painted up, not too daunting, acceptable. Victory assured.

    S5? Not so: there’s an inevitable fragmentation, a foreordination of something quite terrible…it’s been there all along.

    “Love isn’t brains, it’s blood.” And also the First Slayer from the Fourth Season…that was all there, too. Here, the hideous mechanics of birth, madness, lack of trust, death and defilement have never seemed so monstrous and so brutal.

    I saw the nature of this mental illness -and the way it played out -as something ancient and primeval, born of a night: to me it symbolised the universe becoming a void as “order is overthrown, realities crumble [and] dimensions bleed into each other as the universe [will] tumble into chaos.” Perhaps, at heart, we’re all folded into chaos and perhaps Glory had a point? We’re all bile, blood and madness? Hmm. A little doom and gloom there for puro….A bit of self indulgence.

    All the dreams and portents from very early on, at first incoherent and clothed in mystique, transmute themselves into a climax of love and blood. So simple but elegant. And still quite complicated. That’s why I place S5 above S3 -S3 had a “faultless orchestration” but S5 had more content over form.


  10. @Barnable

    I look at the knights as traditional crusaders; their complete disavowal of the Slayer and her ‘family’; their use of weapons almost torturous and painful -bringing about blood. And there’s a lot of it. When Buffy punches the General, he spits out blood; Spike is repeatedly hurt both holding back a sword and being torn by another; Giles is bleeding and it’s possibly a mortal end. Tara is bleeding in her mind: “it’s time, it’s time”- the weight of all this pain and ‘inner sight’ too heavy for her gentle soul.

    I thought “ooh, clerics” (S5 Who) and wondered what people would make of this particular use of the concept at the turn of the millennium -whether it would seem too ‘priestly’? And yet, really, how could they be anybody else?

    I imagine some fans might have liked a ‘Rambo-ed up’ military – machine guns, rocket launchers -but that’s been done already (launchers and the Initiative -boy, was that latter part pretty awful!).

    As for the Big Bad – Kramer’s brilliant and the General’s absolutely marvellous narrative about her intent was enough to give me shivers -and the Boy too. It didn’t seem to us like “they’re upping the ante coz there’s not anywhere else to go”. After all, she’s not from this plane -not made from dust and dirt like us.

    And whilst we’re made of blood and vampires, drink blood, Glory is using particular blood -the Key’s -as  a portal, and so it’s nicely set up. It didn’t seem anti-climactic.

    The battle at the end of S3 was short -fabulous, but over in a flash and whilst the Mayor was The Best Big Bad, I thought his dispatch was pretty simple -again it’s that argument about form over content. Perhaps in S3, content (the end of high school, a new beginning) bests S5 -but only at the very end of the finale of S3. In this season, I feel we’re given complicated glimpses into the lives of these people, some like Anya and Tara, who have grown with a unique intensity so that all their qualities and frailties come together at the very end.

  11. @purofilion – Envying you the experience of first time watching of Buffy, and as always immensely enjoying your analysis – the ideas and the way you write.  @JimTheFish – fantastic work, looking forward to the rest!   I should have checked in on the forum – in my defence it has been an ‘interesting’ couple of months workwise, but I should have known there would be good things happening here even when we’ve no current Who to theorise about.

    Buffy is one of the shows I am most evangelical about – I’ve had to defend it against some very snidy comments in the past, and some people just aren’t ever going to get it, but anyone who loves Who I’m pretty confident will love Buffy too.  We discovered it almost by accident, caught a random episode one night and thought ‘this is really rather bloody good’ and have been Whedon obsessives ever since.


  12. @purofilion

    Little Miss Moffat, curds and whey

    7:30 – counting down to 7 3 0 (Faith – 730 days to Buffy’s death).

    Restless – clock still reading 730 “That clock’s wrong”.

    Blood is life, blood is family, blood is sacrifice.

    Now, where are you on the idea that there might be some sort of link between Ben and Glory?

  13. @pedant
    Giving the knights more to do seemed like the best way to make them cooler, since plots are mostly my thing, but like you said plots are not the main thing in Buffy.

    I thought about what the knights mean to the themes instead. They are the temptation for Buffy to take the easy way and just kill Dawn.

    At first 4 knights show up and tell Buffy and they only threaten to kill Buffy (the pressure is pretty low then). In the Spiral a whole army of knights are there and have all her friends trapped and Giles dying (so the pressure is turned up to the max).

    So the army of knights wasn’t really wasted, because it was a metaphor for how much the pressure was growing. The knights didn’t really need to do anything for them to serve their purpose for the story arc.

    On top of that the knights were a reflection of the Buffy’s misunderstanding the First Slayer’s message The knights had a duty to kill, just like Buffy thought her duty as slayer was just about killing.

    I think that makes the knights cooler. Apologies for getting stuck on that yawnworthy plot point for so long. 😳

  14. @pedant

    There’s a link between Glory and Ben? You mean as in working with each other, right?

    @CathAnnabel -people are snidy about Buffy? Where? Let me beat those innocents to a pulp! Or not.

    As for my analysis, thank you, but re-reading that, I left out my emotions -it was awful. Lots of tears: Harris proposing to his Demon, and then Spike: “I know you’ll never love me, I’m a monster, but you treat me.. like a …well.. I’ll go get the weapons.”

    His tears? His falling to the ground. Without a soul? What would he be like with one? Now, after all this time has elapsed. Still a poet? Perhaps.

    Oh boy, ‘730’, bloomin’ heck, I never did get it!

  15. @pedant I now have to hide Season 6 from The Boy who is INTENT on starting it now. At 10 pm! hah! I need a sleep and another think. I think best whilst asleep.

  16. @purofilion The Boy chez nous is currently partway through a rewatch of Buffy S3.   That’s good parenting, that is.

    Yes, the emotions…  I’m a hopeless weeper, as I’ve acknowledged freely on this forum many times, and Buffy gets me so often, in so many ways.  I guess S5 is particularly powerful in that respect.  There are episodes about which I cannot easily speak without choking up.  Family and The Gift in particular.  Spike’s story arc is stunning – in Family he at least claims not to care what happens, but then protecting Dawn, and withstanding torture for Buffy’s sake.  The whole ‘chip’ thing is neat – as if the presence of an ersatz soul (something that prevents you from doing harm actually allows him to be someone else, for something of who he was before to resurface.  As he says, he’s not good, but he’s alright.

    Oh, @purofilion and The Boy, you have so much more to enjoy!  Allons-y to S6!


  17. @Purofilion

    I look at the knights as traditional crusaders;

    They’re definitely goal oriented – Pedant was right, “We are the knights who kill Key” 🙂

    I imagine some fans might have liked a ‘Rambo-ed up’ military – machine guns, rocket launchers -but that’s been done already (launchers and the Initiative -boy, was that latter part pretty awful!).

    To me Buffy is so good because most of the time it’s the perfect mix of the relationships, humor, and the explodiness.

    I’m still working out  S4. I’m thinking the initiative and Adam would have been better if they had more to do.

    I thought one more battle would fix the knights too, but I like the temptation metaphor for them even better. Buffy’s temptation to kill Dawn was finished as soon as Glory took her. So, they didn’t show Glory using her powers on the knights, because it was really taking Dawn away from Buffy that killed the temptation-metaphor-knights.

  18. @purofilion

    His tears? His falling to the ground. Without a soul? What would he be like with one? Now, after all this time has elapsed. Still a poet? Perhaps.

    But he doesn’t have a soul, does he?

    And he may have had 200-odd years to convince himself that he is a romantic dreamer, but he was still a Bloody Awful Poet who couldn’t even come close to winning Cicely over, never mid rhyme ‘effulgent’. And that was with a soul. Although his physical heroism and loyalty is undeniable, his ‘romantic’ conduct was warped and obsessive (not to mention objectifying), to put it mildly.

    Until, until….

    So what is a soul? Surely not something that is merely enabled by having badness inhibited?

    New network, new showrunner in Marti “Whedon’s Mistress Of Pain” Noxon.

  19. @pedant

    I think the implications of what having or not having a soul mean are explored with more nuance in Angel, particularly s2 (blog of which coming next weekend so I’ll probably leave it till then but it definitely means more than having badness inhibited. It’s probably more about having the option to do evil but choosing not to).

    But I’d argue that Spike is a romantic dreamer. His whole world view, his view of love, of life, is Romantic with a capital R, as in Byron/Shelley/Bronte. And that often takes in the warped and the obsessive.

    I’d also argue that the ultimate joke about Spike’s poetry is not that he’s a bloody awful poet but that he’s quite possibly a good one (though definitely not a great one) — just not one that stultifying Victorian society is ever going to understand. Cicely was never going to get him, but someone with like Dru would. Dru might be crazy but she’s still a mistress of her own imagination and a twisted aesthete. That, along with her ‘sight’, is part of what Angelus saw in her all those years ago.

    And you nicked the Mistress Marti line I was going to open the s6 blog with, you swine!

  20. @pedant

    ‘I look at the ground, shuffling my shoes and knowing you’re right about William”.

    I know.  Evil inhibited aint a soul.

    Still. Still.

    …..Look at -Ripp-evil’  -he killed Ben!!

    OK. Not the same. Nothing like it.

    Still. Spike cried.

    @Barnable indeed: ‘the knights of Key’. No longer needed when Dawn is ‘affixed’. @CathAnnnabel I’m a weepy soul. This is my problem. I think -with Spike. I forgive real easy. I overlook.

  21. @JimTheFish

    But I’d argue that Spike is a romantic dreamer. His whole world view, his view of love, of life, is Romantic

    I completely agree – but there is a reason ‘soulful’ and ‘romantic’ are at the same end of the spectrum.

    And using Dru to assess Spike’s poetry… Hmmm.


    Spike. I forgive real easy. I overlook.

    And therein is the lethal danger of his charm (“Oh, but I love him” as many a battered wife (and squeeing fangirl) has said…).

    …..Look at -Ripp-evil’  -he killed Ben!!

    OK. Not the same. Nothing like it.

    She’s a hero you see. She’s not like us (see my comment in the fan fic discussion about who does The Federation’s dirty work). Either way, it would be very difficult to argue that Spike has a concept of the greater good.

  22. @Cath Annabel – Regarding the chip in Spikes head- that also blew me away then but
    recently I’ve see that people are letting themselves be micro chipped for various
    reasons. We are slowly beginning to accept the idea now of bionic devices in our bodies.
    Its not as off putting now as it was when it happened to Spike. I wonder about the
    implication of that.

  23. @pedant

    On every level (no, most levels) I understand what you mean and what Spike is -it’s my ‘fatal flaw’ that I ‘selectively’ choose certain elements of Spike’s personality to herald as a demonstration of his ‘quasi soul’. In fact, it’s this blindness  that causes forgiveness. But forgiveness to me always equals forgetting -and I don’t forget what he did -holding Buffy hostage namely; killing without mercy (and enjoying it).

    I need one of those rubber bands on my wrist -every time Spike ‘appears’ good, I need to flick it.

    *Warning* Bell Tolls. “Re-education in process”.

    @lisa people are having chips put in their head?

  24. @purofilion @IAmNotAFishIAmAFreeMan – yes, agreed, Spike is capable of appalling cruelty.  I think the fascination (apart from the cheekbones) is in the contradictions.  A romantic poet who will endure torture to protect the person he loved, yet  who torments and tortures and kills with pleasure and as you say without mercy.  He’s conflicted, even without a soul or a chip, compromised by affection or loyalty, let alone love.  Angel/Angelus is either/or.  So (to me) less intriguing in either guise.  But the other factor with Spike is the humour.  Right from his first appearance, he’s funny, irreverent, taking the piss out of the whole solemn paraphernalia of Vampness.  He gets better lines than Angel or Angelus.

  25. @cathannabel @purofilion

    I think Spike is one of the most fascinating characters to emerge in fiction- a wannabe romantic shorn of anything resembling a moral compass is quite staggeringly dangerous. So much more interesting than a Hannibal Lecter (or even Dexter) type.

    My problem is entirely with a noisy section of the fanbase that sensible made discussion impossible because Spike-is-wuvverly-and-a-darling-and-must-never-ever-be-critiqued.

    Marsters had a couple of interesting comments that it would be best to leave until S6 has unfolded for puro.

  26. @pedant

    And using Dru to assess Spike’s poetry… Hmmm.

    I know it sounds weird but it’s valid nonetheless. Dru is psychotic, without pity or mercy and you certainly wouldn’t want her for a babysitter. But something that’s been established right from her introduction in s2 and is consistent throughout is that she has insight. Her commentary on any situation is quirky, often oblique, but it is always understandable and it is always relevant (thus calling into question to what level you can actually call her a lunatic). And that I’d say means that her aesthetic judgement can be relied upon, even if nothing else about her remotely can.

    Admittedly the scene in the alley in Fool For Love, she’s telling William what she knows he wants to hear in order to seduce him but I think she’s genuinely understanding something about him that he doesn’t yet understand about himself. And you can call me a doomed romantic too, but I genuinely think those two were deeply in love. It’s as real a relationship as Buffy and Angel’s, and possibly more real than Buffy and Spike’s. But I’d argue that a small but significant part of Spike’s entire character arc is that he is in fact a good poet and I’d use a certain scene that I can’t even begin to hint at as ultimate evidence of that.

    RE. Spike. Yes, you’re definitely right that a lot of serious discussion about Spike gets submerged in besotted fan chat that can’t get past his angst, cheekbones and abs but I also think you’re being a teensy bit too tough on him (and possibly letting your disdain for certain sections of the fan community lead you to overcompensate slightly).

    But it’s a testament to Marster’s acting chops — and to the nuanced writing of the character — that he can make such a morally ambivalent character so appealing to many to the extent that many of his more questionable acts can be willingly written off.

    However, any real discussion on chips, free choice, redemption and Spike’s souldom can’t seriously be done until at least the end of s6, and possibly not until s7’s Lies My Parents Told Me. Certainly s6 changes everything where both Buffy and Spike are concerned.

  27. I’m not being tough on Spike (who, as I said above, is one of the finest characters ever) I am just not letting the cheekbones distract me from the premise of the show.

    Any setting aside of premise renders the entire notion of The Slayer untenable.

    But as you say, it is probably best to save this up for post-S6 (at least)

  28. @pedant — I definitely agree that Spike gets a get out of jail free card a lot more than, say, Faith or Angel do and it’ll be very interesting to see if @purofilion‘s attitude to the peroxided one has changed any by the end of s6.

    and @purofilion — I think Giles killing Ben has to be put into another category than Spike’s morally questionable acts. Spike’s acts — both good and bad — are essentially driven by self-interest at this point. Giles kills Ben because he knows that Buffy doesn’t have it in her to do so. He takes the tough decision because of his love for Buffy. You could argue that that makes it a heroic act — just as heroic as storming up the scaffold to confront Doc and save Dawn in many ways.

    It also shows Giles finally succeeding as a Watcher. Quentin and Wesley might be pompous arses (in Buffy anyway, Wesley in Angel is a much more complex beast) but they understood that part of the Watcher’s calling is doing the unpalatable things, the things that other people can’t (and shouldn’t have to). In Helpless in s3 he failed to understand this and that possibly makes him a more likable and more human character but it did mean that he failed as a Watcher. Which is why Quentin fired him. And was quite possibly right to do so. But here Giles redeems himself as a Watcher at least.

  29. @JimTheFish no, no, I’m not comparing Giles’ act towards Ben and Spike’s violence -I was attempting humour. So, not the same.

    Nor @pedant am I a besotted fan -really?  leather coats, cheekbones? Not for me! (flicking rubberband) -it really was/is (??) his ‘seeming’ change in personality and I should add that whenever anything goes wrong it’s Buffy who calls for Spike: look after Niblet and Mum? Sure. Keep Dawn safe again? Absolutely. Not to mention Spike being Dawn’s baby sitter for many, many days -and everyone’s fine with it.

    He could still be nasty but he made a ‘promise to a lady’  -so, generally he’s, well, ‘generous in …spirit’?

    But S6 could be ominous….already begun…onto other thread…

  30. @purofilion

    and everyone’s fine with it.

    Actually there not, but also neither here nor there. Spike is chipped – he is defenceless adn that is the only reason he is alive.

    But it is absolutely fundamental to the show, its most guiding principle, is that vampires have to be slain because the absence of a soul makes them not only evil but incapable of being anything else. Without that the entire Slayer mythos collapses.

  31. @pedant I get that!! I do…I can imagine hordes of teeming gals having a fantasy with Spike/about Spike. Vampires are evil -but Angel is not. He has soul. Spike does not. But should the mythos be tested? Isn’t it a requirement that it be tested at least?

  32. remember I’m viewing it for the first time and whilst I reckon on Spike’s innate twisted-ness, I also have to see what’s right in front of me: he’s changed. A lot. Since S1 and 2. Will he change back? Who will lose if he stays the way he does? I’m bettin’ Buffy will lose. Spike may take advantage of her… in some way… Or maybe if he doesn’t, then that suggests his ability to ‘change’ and be less ‘monster’ is indicative of quasi soul.

  33. @purofilion @pedant  This is exactly what’s so interesting about the way the show develops.  Are we OK with the simple binary that says that demons can be despatched without question or troubled conscience because they are without the capacity for goodness?  Like, say, Daleks??  We’re encouraged to accept that, but at the same time there are all sorts of hints that it may not be quite that simple.  And Spike’s story arc is the biggest challenge to that simplicity.  OK, it would make being a Slayer all the more challenging if you have to ask first and stake later.  But we see in both Buffy and Angel that demon = irredeemably evil unless ensouled is not the whole story.   Dammit, I really am going to have to do a full re-watch, with that in mind…

  34. @CathAnnabel I see that. Problem is, it’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The calculation can’t be out. Spike =vampire =evil.

    End story. But. I Want = Fatal.

  35. @purofilion and @cathannabel — the binary Human/Demon, Soul/Evil etc in Buffy did get some criticisms — is Buffy a white supremacist narrative with Buffy and her white, middle-class vigilantes roaming the suburbs exterminating anything that could be construed as ‘Other’. As said elsewhere, I think it was Angel that first started to question that dichotomy and introduce the, erm, shades of grey (can I just say that it really pisses me off that this expression is now probably ruined forever?) In Angel, the lines between good and evil, human and demon are much more fuzzy. And I think it actually started having an influence on the parent show after a while, with a more nuanced approach to the whole subject in seasons 6 and 7. That and Marti Noxon getting an increased lead in the direction of both shows.

  36. @CathAnnabel @JimTheFish ‘shades of grey’. I don’t want to even give that any oxygen! But I hear you.

    Yes, I recall chatting with Boy Ilion back in S1 about the White Supremacist Narrative and typically he would point out: “oh, look an African American Vamp!” That narrative is a very difficult one to avoid seeing through the post-modern eyes of the present university system, at least in the Western model, or indeed thru a sociological kaleidoscope.

    I can see how Angel takes you on a ‘different pathway,’ Although that phrase for me is also ruined as Ed QLD’s arranged “Varying The Pathways” instead of a) going on the dole b) doing an apprenticeship or c) doing nothing at all except working at KFC rather than going on to university (which 3/4 students have dropped out of since we began ‘keeping notes’ in 1998) .

    Anyway, I am mournfully behind on Angel having not quite finished S1. I’m assuming Dru goes to LA (as specifically stated near the end of S5 Buffy) and tempts Angel back into “no soul land.” And fails- judging by her cuts and scars.

    She then simply leaves Spike with a few choice words. I liked her “we do love, though not always wisely” speech. I feel that will have tragic consequences for all of S6 and a good deal of its cast.

  37. @purolfilion

     the post-modern eyes

    The world would be a much better place is post-modernism had its eyes ripped out and stamped on.

    Deconstructionism? I could shit a better philosophy.

    Buffy was the cute blond chick who is the first one offed in the horror film for the amusement of overwhelmingly male fans. Whedon wondered what would happen if she turned out to the the monsters’ worst nightmare.

    Also, for ever African American vamp there was a mixed-race Kendra.

  38. @purofilion — It’s unfortunate, but yes Crush in s5 of Buffy does offer some serious hints of what was happening in Angel at the same time. So I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to say that Drusilla plays a not insignificant role in s2 of Angel.


    Buffy was the cute blond chick who is the first one offed in the horror film for the amusement of overwhelmingly male fans. Whedon wondered what would happen if she turned out to the the monsters’ worst nightmare.

    And that is surely textbook postmodernity.

    But what we’d be talking about here is something a bit closer to post-colonial theory than anything else. And just because it’s been spouted by ivory towerists who use way more jargon than they really need to, it doesn’t mean that they might not have a point. And pointing to Kendra and Mr Trick in defence just isn’t going to cut it.


    I think these people in various universities felt they were noble -and thus shat marble.

    I think it’s more that the cultural studies brigade was populated by people who actually hated — and didn’t understand — literature and did their damndest to have it theorised out of existence at universities. Fortunately their time is waning now. Give me Leavis or Wilson-Knight or Dover-Wilson any day of the week.

    But at the same time, deconstruction, structuralism, post-modernism in general, they’re just tools in the critic’s box of tricks and are perfectly valid when used properly and within the correct context. It’s only when they’re used incorrectly or in blanket-fashion that they become ridiculous. Also when used by people who have no idea how to write or analyse cogently and think that hiding behind mountains of jargon and obfuscation will disguise that fact.

  39. @JimTheFish

    And that is surely textbook postmodernity.

    Only if one thinks that post-modernism is the only field of critique, and that feminism or structuralism or impressionism or any earlier insight – upon the shoulders of which it is not fit to stand – don’t exist. Subverting tropes is hardly a new game (see Film Noir).

    And just because it’s been spouted by ivory towerists who use way more jargon than they really need to, it doesn’t mean that they might not have a point.

    It isn’t that they use too much jargon, it is that they talk complete and total bollocks. PoMo, and bastard offspring deconstructionism in particular, has reduced a perfectly reasonable critique of structuralism and especially duality into a sub-6th party game. It ain’t big and it certainly isn’t clever. There is no perfectly valid use for deconstructionism.

    And PoMo has been extraordinarily damaging to science over the past 15 years or so. The anti-vax movement in the States is a logical outcome.

  40. @Purofilion @JimtheFish

    @Pedant is right that Kendra cannot be swept aside. She was a slayer, not just a token character. In the Buffyverse slayers are at the top, Queen C as in cool. Unfortunately Kendra didn’t receive the love she should have, imo it’s only because of that cringe-worthy accent. It wasn’t meant to be insulting, the same accent problem plagued Angel and Drusilla’s characters too.

    Mr. Trick: Sunnydale. Town’s got quaint, and the people: he called me “sir”, don’t you just miss that? I mean, admittedly, it’s not a haven for the brothers. You know, strictly the Caucasian persuasion here in the Dale. But you know you just gotta stand up and salute that death rate. I ran a statistical analysis and, Hello Darkness. Makes D.C. look like Mayberry. And ain’t nobody sayin’ boo about it. We could fit right in here. Have us some fun.

    Mr. Trick is commenting on widely held belief that inner city violence is ignored, a politically charged economic and racial issue. He’s even pointing out the lack of racial diversity of the show. BtVS is undeniably expressing anti-racist sentiments.

    Was BtVS perfect on racial equality? No, but it didn’t ignore racial issues and definitely tried to avoid making the same stereotypical mistakes.

    The casting of Riley was a racist stereotype, imo. The casting for Riley and Forrest from S4-S5 should have been switched. Black Riley still would not have been the right boyfriend for Buffy, simply because his personality wasn’t right for her. Black Riley just couldn’t handle it, just like White Riley couldn’t. They would have broken up the same exact way. But an all-American, black Riley from Iowa would have fit the famous Buffy subversion of tropes better – Mr. Perfect, Captain America is black.

    HOLD THE PHONE: Captain America is black!! 😯

    Missed opportunity – BtVS could have done it first. I don’t know why they didn’t do it. Maybe it was racism or they just didn’t see it as racist at the time. Just too confusing because casting people based on color is racist! 😕

    I believe Joss Whedon’s intentions were not racist at all.

    (SPOILER: Buffy S7 is another example of trying to get it right)

  41. eeer @Barnable  I never said it was racist? At least I think I didn’t? I was mentioning narrative and how difficult it is.

    I see your point, though.

  42. @Purofilion

    Sorry – I wasn’t accusing anyone of anything.  I hope everyone knows that.  It was just a response to this.

    Buffy did get some criticisms — is Buffy a white supremacist narrative with Buffy and her white, middle-class vigilantes roaming the suburbs exterminating anything that could be construed as ‘Other’.


  43. @Barnable okey-dokey!  Of course, I was just confused but I do see the point -it seems that with some telly shows you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I recall Supernatural copped some real shtick both during the beginning and the middle of its (still on-going) run.

    So where are you on Spike? Is he good because his actions contribute to goodness? Or is he evil non-emancipated?

    Ooh, wrong thread! Must dash to other one…for that….

  44. @Purofilion

    So where are you on Spike? Is he good because his actions contribute to goodness? Or is he evil non-emancipated?

    Spike’s vampire doing what vamps do.  He’s not good or evil, sometimes he does good things and sometimes bad things.

    He doesn’t get blame or credit for anything he does while he is possessed or without a soul.

    Buffy doesn’t blame Angel for the people he killed without a soul, not even Ms. Calender.




Leave a Reply