Buffy & Riley, Buffy & Spike

For those of you who check this site on any kind of regular basis: Yup, you've seen this before. I'm moving it up because I recently got some more comments!! Out of all my posts, this post gets the most comments, no contest. I don't want to start a range war, but I'll say it anyway: Twilight is not going to be the lasting phenomenon; Buffy is.

I'm currently watching Buffy: Season 5 (just finished disc 5). Based on the travesties of Seasons 6 & 7, I'd forgotten that Season 5 is actually, well, pretty good.

It doesn't have as many classic episodes as the other seasons. Despite its weaknesses, Season 4 has at least three classics: "Pangs," "Something Blue," and "Hush" (oh, and "Superstar"). Season 5 really only has one: "The Body." I like "Intervention" personally, but I don't think it has that quality, the quality that makes one remember an episode for itself, rather than the story arc it belonged to.

Having said that, I do think Season 5 is well-written. It has a consistency about it that Season 4 lacks (and I'm not even going to get into Seasons 6 & 7!). If I remember correctly, there was a strong chance Buffy would be cancelled after Season 5, and the writers made a real effort to create a big, Buffy-worthy send-off.

Which brings us to the handling of Buffy & Riley. I was very impressed by the break-up writing for Buffy & Riley. Compared to the break-up writing for Anya and Xander--okay, I said I wouldn't get into the last two seasons. In any case, Buffy & Riley are handled extremely well. I found their break-up entirely believable and, even, inevitable.

To be clear, I am not one who loathed Riley. I am also not one who takes sides on the Buffy & Angel v. Buffy & Spike debate (except to say, I think Buffy & Spike were handled very badly in . . . OKAY, I WON'T mention the last two seasons). I actually quite like Riley. But he and Buffy would never have worked and even though Buffy went running after him, I think it's just as well Riley missed her.

Riley needs to be needed. Now, to an extent, we all need to be needed re: Xander's "comfortadore." But Riley doesn't just need to be needed in a Maslow's heirarchy kind of way, Riley needs to be needed in a "define me" way.

That is, Riley needs someone to tell him how to be needed; for another type of gal, that would work fine, but Buffy, for all her self-reliance, is not into managing her relationships. And her relationship with Spike points the distinction.

Spike is the ultimate romantic; even when he was William, his relationships with all women (including, we later learn, his mother) are founded on emotional highs. This isn't the same thing as chivalry by the way--that's Angel's gig. But Spike defines moments around him in terms of desire, lustful, affectionate, and fanciful. This makes Spike easier to control than Angelus (bad Angel) since Spike is willing to sacrific dreams of revenge for good onion rings. This also makes Spike (and I quote him), "Love's bitch," but, and herein lies the lesson, this is Spike's nature.

Spike isn't waiting for someone to define him. He's already defined. When he decides to love Buffy or rather when he decides that loving Buffy is inevitable, he goes at loving her (or stalking her) with all of himself. He doesn't wait around for Buffy's signals. He doesn't even wait around to see if she approves, and her lack of approval doesn't alter Spike's fundamental personality in the slightest.

Riley, however, needs the signals. He needs to be given definitions after which he is fine. This is one reason Riley becomes much more interesting once he re-enters the military. The military gives him definition. Now, there's an "every authoritarian institution is bad" theme going on in the last three seasons of Buffy which, other than being rather adolescent, also crippled a number of possible plot lines; I don't think the military MADE Riley want definitions; I think Riley is attracted to institutions that give him definition. There's nothing bad about that, and I respect Riley for recognizing it and going off to a life that will ultimately give him more comfort than Buffy can.

This brings us to why I think the Buffy-Spike relationship had much greater potential than, ultimately, it was given. In the last two seasons, the writers gave rather facile excuses for not promoting the Buffy-Spike relationship such as, "But Spike is evil." Yeah, sure, but the show had a regrettable tendency (repeated at the end of Angel) to pick and choose when exactly to remember characters' evil sides. I maintain that Spike's quest for morality gives rise to much more difficult questions of free-will, goodness and evil than, perhaps, even Buffy writers could handle.

In any case, I don't rest my defense of Buffy-Spike on the quality of Spike's evil. I rest it on the level of comfort Buffy feels around Spike. I think this is the key to the relationship; I think, to an extent, it is the key to every workable relationship (on television and off it). From the beginning, Buffy has no problem talking to Spike, and Spike has little difficulty comprehending Buffy. They speak the same language. To an extent, they even think the same. Until Spike starts stalking Buffy, she keeps her home open to him. She yells at him and then asks him to watch her family. She stops by his crypt at every opportunity.

I'm not saying that Buffy is secretly in love with Spike. She isn't in Season 5; I'm not sure she ever is. But she feels comfortable around Spike. Spike is sure enough of his own personality to take Buffy as she is. In Season 1, Buffy says to Giles (concerning one-episode-boyfriend-Owen), "Five minutes in my world, and he would get himself killed." Buffy finds no comfort in people who need her for what she can give them, whether the "what" is excitement or definition. Instead, Buffy finds comfort in people who love her but don't need her and go on being themselves (Giles, Willow, Angel, Xander, and Spike: interestingly enough, this means that Buffy finds comfort in people who may, ultimately, leave. If she had told Riley she needed him, he would have stayed; she told Angel she needed him, and he still left--thus the risks of loving people who have their own definitions and agendas).

I believe this desire for comfort outweighs all other types of love. Lust comes and goes. Affection is a long-term investment. Comfort is what people truly seek: to feel comfortable, feel like one can relax. In some Maslow's heirarchy way, this is the kind of love everyone is seeking: this person gets me, this person talks my language, understands what I'm trying to say. And really, what Buffy needs isn't someone who needs her to need him but someone who gets her and doesn't fall to pieces as a result.



Anonymous said...

S5 was boring just like Riley was an ugly bore. And your dislike of S6 speaks volumes about your boring taste. Spike and Buffy were the best. And she loved him. Judging by their continued popularity I'm not the only who believes they had amazing love story. So don't think your opinion is some kind of authority.

Kate Woodbury said...

Interesting comment! Do you usually respond to posts without actually reading or understanding them? The majority of my post is a defense of Buffy and Spike's relationship, particularly the potential of that relationship. My beef with Season 6 is that the relationship was allowed to founder. I also thought it was badly written (with a few exceptions--the musical being one). I guess I'm boring enough to be interested in things that are well-crafted! Do I think that gives my opinion some kind of authority? Well, yes, I do--more authority at least than the opinions of people who defend their perspectives NOT by giving strong examples but by calling other people names.

Thanks for the fun!

Anonymous said...

I just started re-watching Buffy myself, but I've been jumping around seasons instead of watching them through straight. It's mostly been random episodes from seasons three and six so far.

It continues to surprise me how much more I like season six now than I did when it first aired. I still think that Buffy and Spike's (and Xander and Anya's) relationships were handled very badly and I never cared for the Geek Trio, but I've a new appreciation for the general sense of despair and destruction during that season. I still have a strongly negative view of anything past "Normal Again", including all of season seven (now that was a travesty), but early season six has its moments. None of the episodes are classics along the lines of "Hush" or "The Body" - except possibly "Once More, With Feeling" - but I'm rather fond of "After Life" and "Normal Again".

I quite enjoyed your analysis of Spike's and Riley's characters and fully agree with them, though I must confess that, although I didn't loathe Riley, I never liked him, either. (Spike, on the other hand, is one of my favourites, next to Willow, Tara, Buffy, Giles, and Miss Calendar.) I'd also add "Restless" and possibly "This Year's Girl"/"Who Are You?" to season four's classics in place of "Superstar".


Abbe said...

I just finished s7 of Buffy for the first time yesterday. I went through the series pretty quickly, so a lot of it is still fresh in my mind. I really liked Riley and would have liked him to stick around, at least for a while. When he left, in such a painful way, I knew it was to clear the ground for Spike, which made me a little resentful and resistant to the relationship. But I thought it was handled well enough at the beginning that it overcame my resistance and I was willing to see the relationship progress. All that leads up to why I was so disappointed with much of season 7. The Spike/Buffy relationship opportunity was just squandered. They did so little with it, that I don't understand why they bothered to start it at all.

I think the s6 approach worked because it was true to Spike's character. As Kate said, Spike is a romantic, so it's completely believable that when he fell in love with Buffy, he would pursue her intensely. But he was also still soulless and evil, so his entire motivation was what felt good to him and brought him closer to his desires. He was never interested in what was best for Buffy. He would certainly never have taken the Angel approach and left just for Buffy's well-being.

But in s7, the approach seemed to be for Spike just to sit around and wait for Buffy to signal that she wanted him. He never made a move of his own. I'm not sure he ever even touched her if it wasn't involved in fighting of some kind. That just doesn't seem like Spike. Even with a soul, I think he would have put more effort into his greatest passion, especially considering what he went through to be in the position to do so.

Damien Sullivan said...

Interesting post, Kate. Especially on Spike/Buffy comfort; I think that resonates with half-forgotten observations I'd made, of how she (and Dawn) interacted with him. "Why am I even telling you this?" (unless that was with Spike/Willow), "I can't hide my love except from [I forget], or Spike for some reason".

I also like the onion rings line, even if I'm not sure I could explain what it means.

"He was never interested in what was best for Buffy."

Well, hrm, it was back in Season 5 that he absorbed Glory's torture rather than give up Dawn/the Key, and he stopped what he thought was the Buffybot (poor Buffybot) from squealing, *because of the effect on Buffy*.

Mind you, you'd think a vampire would be better at telling the difference between a human and a robot (heartbeat and all) but as presented he seemed to be playing it straight, not going along with the con.

Anonymous said...

I think season seven sucked majorly. Buffy was too whiney, and complained all the time. it made me wanna hit her in the face.

Anonymous said...

I've nearly finished watching S5 for the umpteenth time - I love it. 1-5 rocked, 6 sucked majorly and I haven't seen 7 though I saw the ending and hated it. Spike dying was a cop out, didn't like poor Xander losing an eye.

Loved the Spike/Buffy relationship which they messed up in S6: first the whole sex thing was ridiculous and turned what had been a touching relationship into a laughable one, and second what did it for me was Spike's attempted rape. Spike may be a vampire but he isn't a monster.

Well written post, wish they hadn't ruined Buffy with the last 2 series but at least we have 5 damn fine ones before it!

cinnamon gurl said...

I just came upon your post in the throes of a Spike obsession, having finished the whole series within a month and a half or so. Now I'm waiting to start Angel, just in the hopes of seeing more Spike. I can't help but jump in on this though.

I think you're pretty much right on, including the part about the series having failed the potential of the relationship. I really wanted them to have a real relationship, and I was so disappointed when they had sex in the falling-down house. (I know you said you were going to stay away from the last two seasons, but I never made that promise. And I still really liked those seasons.) I figured it was a metaphor that everything around them would be destroyed by their relationship, and I really thought Spike offered the potential for Buffy's redemption too, to break her bad history with guys.

As for the comment that Spike wasn't looking out for what's best for Buffy the way Angel did by leaving her for her own good - I thought Angel was disgustingly paternalistic for that move. Can you get any more condescending than telling someone who is *supposed* to be an equal partner that they don't know what's good for themselves? I don't think so.

In one of the special features, I saw Joss Whedon saying something about bringing Angel into the second last episode because he had to leave their relationship open, since that's what the fans really wanted - Buffy and Angel together. Now, I loved Buffy and Angel together - until he left her that is - but by the time Spike came into his own, I was like Angel who? I think Whedon may have misread the fans... Spike was fascinating to me because I *should* have hated him and stalkery, abusive ways but I just couldn't.

Sorry for the long-winded comment.

Kate Woodbury said...

I've moved this post up since it seems to be one of my more popular posts!

I agree with Cinnamon Gurl that deciding what is best for a relationship (without consulting the other person) can be very condescending. I've never cared for it as a fictional device. However, I thought it worked for the show (I've mentioned elsewhere that Buffy and Angel are one of the few on-again/off-again couples that I tolerate on television because they are so darn well-written).

Setting aside David Boreanaz needing to move to his own show, I thought the ultimate break-up worked partly because it was the right decision (which Buffy admits later on) but also because it pointed to the underlying problem in the relationship.

Buffy 'n' Angel were, in many ways, a classical relationship, but their relationship was classical in the high on romance/low on day-to-day living sense. Angel was rescue-guy. Buffy loved rescue-guy passionately. Buffy needed rescue-guy to go away, so she could grow up.

I have no idea what I might be starting by mentioning Twilight here, but I think this rescue business is one problem with Twilight. Once one of the members of a relationship takes it upon him (or her)self to FIX stuff, the relationship does enter a child-parent place, which isn't altogether healthy.

But, again, I think being the parent was, to an extent, Angel's burden in Season 3. No way is a teenage girl going to send her perfect, handsome, rescuing boyfriend AWAY. So he had to go away. Which was ultimately very noble (and, referring now to David Boreanaz, very smart career-wise).

On the other hand, although Angel could hurt Buffy much more than she could hurt him, Buffy could hurt Spike as much as Spike hurt her. It sounds messed-up, but, actually, it indicates a much more equal relationship. One of my (few) favorite parts of Season 6 (granted, I should probably watch it again to see if it really is as awful as I remember) is when Buffy, apologizing to Spike, calls him by name, "I'm sorry, William." She finally accords him the respect of acknowledging that she has been using a person, not just Mr. Token Evil Guy.

Cherndawg said...

I'm pretty dead on with your take on the situation, although, as much as I LOVE Angel/Buffy, I was always a fan of the maybe/maybe not Xander/Buffy relationship. I think Buffy choosing Xander would be the ultimate proof of her having finished "growing up" as he s the only male figure(aside from Giles, and let's just say now, ewww)in her life to be (mostly) solid and dependable. Even in "Once more with feeling" Anya mentions the connection that still exists there.
Buffy has always desired to be nothing more than a Normal, Human girl, and pairing up with a demon, vampire or reddemed creature of some sort would never work out, as the inevitable midlife crisis would eventually hit former heroic monster fighter husband guy, and he's run off, leaving Buffy and kids to reclaim his former glory.
Buffy, though, has had her adventure, has had her moments, and really seeks nothing more than to finally set the responsibility aside and finally LIVE. Xander would allow this. He's not really a hero, an adventurer. Xander Just cares for his friends so intensely that he will go into the fray, again and again, even to the loss of body parts, to support them and be with them.
The Anya/Xander break up does make this a little hard to believe, but again I agree that was badly written and handled. And to be fair, perhaps he was trying to move on with hislife and realized that Anya wasn't who he wanted?
Anyway, the Buffy/Xander relation was supported by SMG herself, and she felt that's who Buffy should be with, not that she's really an authority on the Lore, but she SHOULD know the character.
With all that aside, have you been reading he Season 8 Comics, as well and the After the Fall series for Angel? Buffy starts well, but begins to flounder. IT does have some great stuff though, including a Hint about how Buffy feels about Xander, the return of Dracula is a major way, and, regrettable, Buffy exploring here sexuality (and willow gets jealous). After the Fall, though, has been Especially AMAZING and I recommend it in every possible way.

Kate Woodbury said...

Hey, Mike! I think Xander deserved a better pay-off than he got at the end of Buffy. I always liked his everyday guy function on the show. See my latest post about good and bad brooders! Xander makes it onto the list of characters who, thankfully, don't brood (too much).

Cari Hislop said...

As a Spike fan, I enjoyed your analysis of the Spike/Buffy romance. It's never occured to me to consciously analyze their relationship, but you're right. Your post was like having someone transcribe the intuitive consenus I didn't even know was floating around in my brain on the subject!

The Xander/Buffy possibility doesn't feel right to me. Yes he's the normal guy, but he's been worshipping her for years from afar...I don't think if they got together it would last past the "gaga" stage of love. When he found his idol had feet of clay I think he'd be off to find someone less disapointing, someone more normal!

Can hero/worship-love ever mutate into real (equal) love? I don't think so. When fantasy and reality collide things tend to get ugly.

Kate Woodbury said...

I completely agree with you about the collision of fantasy and reality spawning problems! For instance, the dark, sultry, obsessed hero looks great on paper; in reality, YIKES!!

I have no problem with readers being obsessed with, say, Edward (Twilight) although I found the book kind of dreary myself. But I do get uneasy when readers want to make comparisons between Edward and real men, as in "Why can't real men be more like Edward?" Keep it a fantasy, say I.

But then I confess to being a bit of a non-romantic in this regard. I never expect to see the fantasy in reality although I do enjoy the fantasy for what it has to offer. Romance novels are a hoot to read what with men declaring their undying love and being redeemed and piling up the promises and doing cleverly romantic things at a moment's notice. But I wouldn't trust a guy who started acting like that in real life; I'm afraid my reaction would be, "Are you ill or something?"

I confess to feeling the same way about female romantics. I just watched Random Harvest with Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson. Fun. But I couldn't help thinking, "Oh, stop pining and just tell him you're his wife, you silly woman."

This post addresses romantic heroes in terms of fantasy versus reality.

The Rush Blog said...

But in s7, the approach seemed to be for Spike just to sit around and wait for Buffy to signal that she wanted him. He never made a move of his own.

That is because Spike was afraid of his own shadow, thanks to his shiny new soul.

Why do you think that Buffy finally ranted against his wimpish behavior in "Get It Done"? She was tired of him sitting around and acting like a flake.

Anonymous said...

I disagree... I think s6 and s7 were well done.. especially s6 because of the topics they explored... It went into a very dark space - but I think that's what made it all the more interesting. Spike & Buffy's relationship was innately destructive, this is made obvious right from the beginning from the fact when they first "made love" the tore down an entire building... but I like your point about Buffy and Owen - never thought of it that way before, and it explains why she would ask him to protect her family.

Juanita's Journal said...

I believe that Buffy and Spike's realtionship was destructive in Season 6. Both approached the relationship in the wrong way. Buffy used Spike to alleviate her depression, yet at the same time, refused to face her feelings for him. Spike was so happy to be in a relationship with Buffy that he allowed her to use him anyway possible, despite the fact that a part of him hated the idea of her using him.

By the end of Season 7, both of the got their acts together to form not only a deep friendship, but a potential romance. But the events of "Chosen" never allowed that potential to be fulfilled.

The reason Xander is so "dependable" is that he has a crush on her. He always has. And this crush was never really healthy. Buffy has never been capable of opening up herself to Buffy, the way she had with both Spike and Angel.

seth said...

i have been reading your post and everybodies' responses and i never knew that there were so many dorky people like me who were into buffy and angel. its actually sooo dorky its cool. i got really into angel recently and watched all 5 seasons and then moved onto buffy just so i could see more angel. i was surprised how awesome buffy is angel or no angel, although it sounds like from what people wrote on your page buffy was a lot better with angel, seasons 1 - 3.

what interested me was when you mensioned classic episodes that stand on their own regardless of story arcs. i do not know the series well enough that im able to name off a bunch of shows that fall into that category but i am definitely going to go back and watch them all again and keep track. the one show that came to my mind immediately that falls into that category is the christmas episode when angel stood on the hill waiting for the sun to rise and needed a miracle to prove to himself that he should keep on living. when either some evil or some benevolent power came through in the form of the snow it was tear-jerking. That was an awesome episode and a great scene.

Whenever i am watching an episode that is really great i always feel an excitement while i am watching it. although i dont remember the name of all the episodes i remember that feeling a bunch of times in all the angel seasons, which went off the air while they were still going really strong, and season 1-3 for buffy (i have not gotten to s4, s5, s6, s7 yet).

as for relationships, since i have not watched the spike/buffy relationship yet i cant weigh in on that but i have watched the beginning of season 4 and i hate riley!!! i think i would hate anyone who tried to be with buffy after angel though... i mean who are they kidding, she loves angel and would drop them in a new york minute if he came calling. i think i may be able to watch the spike thing unfold though because in season 5 of angel spike and he kind-a bonded with the both loving buffy thing.

anyway, there's my 2 cents. sorry it was not all about the relationship thing. but if anyone wants to suggest more classic episodes I can look out for in any seasons please feel free. i will definitely be watching the ones mensioned already straight away.

interesting post and comments from everyone, keep up the good work.

ps. to anonymous-12:33pm, you are sounding pretty angry there friend. take it easy, you'll live longer.

Kate Woodbury said...

Hi! It is always great to meet a new Buffy/Angel fan!! I was actually introduced to Angel first too. The first episode I ever saw was "Rm w/a Vu" (one of my favorites). It just so happened that it was back to back with the Thanksgiving episode in Buffy Season 4; I ended up watching Buffy and voila! The rest is history.

My favorite episode of Buffy is "I Only Have Eyes For You," the episode where Buffy and Angel act out an old ghost story. What a classic!! But, of course, that is Season 2. I'll try to think of some more from Seasons 4+.

Welcome :)

Heiots said...

Well, I don't know when this entry was posted, but I recently got into BTVS and I'm a huge fan of Spike/Buffy. (I mean, Spike is adorable. How can you not love him?)

True, they had an abusive relationship in S6, but I feel that's mostly Buffy's choice. Spike loved her so much that he'd take whatever she offered him. (Just to get this clear, a vampire without a soul can love, right? Spike has repeatedly told Buffy he loved her, but she'd always said he cannot love.)

I got really upset when he died at the end. Even the relationship didn't quite have a proper ending. Buffy finally said she loved Spike, but he replied with 'no, you don't'? How infuriating. At least we know Spike truly loves her, but with Buffy, I'm not sure if Angel or Spike is her true love.

By the way, I used to ship Angel/Buffy, but he left and Spike was so persistent in chasing after Buffy and so cute. Ah well. Just upset after all they've been through, it ended like that.