The Best of Buffy – “Fool for Love” (5×07)
SPIKE: The only thing about the dance is, you never get to stop. Every day you wake up, it’s the same bloody question that haunts you. Is today the day I die? Death is on your heels, baby, and sooner or later it’s gonna catch you. And part of you wants it…not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you’re just a little bit in love with it. Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp. That look of peace. Part of you is desperate to know, what’s it like? Where does it lead you? And now you see, that’s the secret. Not the punch you didn’t throw or the kicks you didn’t land. She merely wanted it. Every Slayer…has a death wish. Even you.
There’s something about Spike that just never quits running.
I don’t feel I’m hyperbolising when I say that he is one of the most endearing characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s certainly one of the most endearing vampires in contemporary vampiric lore.
There are layers to Spike that hide deeper layers. From the first two episodes, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” (1×01/1×02) we have been reminded that a vampire is a soulless monster, where a demon steals the body of a human, absorbs their memories and aspects of their personality, but kills the consciousness, the humanity, the “soul” of the host body. What remains is a shadow, a bloodsucking parasite with no sense of empathy.
We’ve seen soulless Spike in murderous action throughout the series. And we’ve been up close and personal with soulless Angelus, a very different kind of vampire from soulless Spike. Spike’s M.O has always been murder, mayhem, and chaos, causing a scene wherever he goes. In his heyday, Angelus was about cold, calculated planning, turning his kills into art and psychological terror like the worst kinds of serial murderers.
However, unlike Angelus, Spike seems to have retained some of his humanity after his turning. We’ve seen it before (with Drusilla), we’ll see it later on in the series, and in a shocking turn of events, we witness it at the end of this episode.
But before any of that, we will see a Spike in progress, constructed piece-by-piece and then vehemently deconstructed. Like a Jenga puzzle, all it takes is for one block to be pulled out of place and the Spike tower comes crashing down.
“Fool for Love” opens with a typical Buffy teaser, one viewers have seen many times at this point. The Slayer battles it out with a vampire in a graveyard. He is a rather silly looking creature, not so much a throwback to an 80’s hair metal fan as someone who just left a costume party. As Buffy punches and kicks the vampire around, she fires off quips at a machine-gun pace. Typical Buffy. Typical fight.
Then suddenly, the tables turn. With one slip-up, the vampire twists Buffy’s own stake into her torso. Now the Slayer, bleeding from a major stab wound, becomes the prey, the hapless victim often slated as the first to die in horror movies. It is only through Riley’s intervention that Buffy is rescued.
Such a defeat comes as a shock to Buffy, who has never teetered so near death’s edge. She has also been undergoing an entirely new training regimen that should have her skills and instincts sharpened to where a monster in a goofball getup couldn’t possibly have himself a “real good day,” as Spike puts it later. Where did she go wrong? Where did she misstep? The Watcher Diaries don’t provide the answers; previous fatal battles were ordeals past Watchers found too sad and painful to record.
But there is someone who can recall with great clarity the final moments of not one, but two Slayers…because he personally killed them.
In “Fool for Love,” Spike presents himself as having all the answers, not just when it comes to Slayers, but life, the universe, and everything in-between. He is arrogant the point of distraction. He takes Buffy on the journey of his ascension, from his humble origins as a hapless romantic and scorned human to the bleached-blond, leather jacket wearing vampire of 2000. In every flashback, William gains something new for his continuing evolution into Spike.
First is the actual turning. After William is taunted within his social circle and viciously rejected by a woman with whom he is infatuated, he runs off into the night, only to be approached by Drusilla. She is able to psychically pinpoint the strong man behind the thick glasses and tears; her insight draws William under her spell, and his road into the darkness begins.
Next comes a new accent, a new name, and the ‘fist and fangs’ approach to murderous chaos, which Angelus, the Scourge of Europe himself, wholly loathes for safety reasons.
ANGEL: You can’t keep this up forever. If I can’t teach you, maybe someday an angry crowd will. That…or the Slayer.
SPIKE: What’s a Slayer?
From then on, the nature of the brawl takes on a whole new meaning. Spike’s kills have been largely one-sided affairs, but now he desires something different: a challenge. Somewhere out there is a “happy meal with legs” doubling as a human capable of contesting Spike, a human whose fated purpose is killing Spike’s kind. He becomes obsessed. He actively seeks out the current Slayer, which leads to the next flashback,1902, during the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. As explosions blast off and rioting fills the streets, Spike battles the Slayer in what would inevitably end in his death if not for pure luck. For his efforts, Spike receives the iconic scar (in real life, actor James Marsters got it while being mugged) along with his first Slayer kill.
Spike tells Buffy it was the best night of his life. Buffy is understandably disgusted; not only was the kill ruthless, but Spike had victory sex with Drusilla not far from the corpse. A Slayer’s blood, we are told, is a powerful aphrodisiac.
The penultimate flashback jumps to 1977 New York. Spike has found the Slayer of the late 70’s era, a black woman whose fighting methods are strikingly similar to Buffy’s. Spike has upgraded his own style of dress to a Billy Idol look. After killing the second Slayer, the vampire steals her leather jacket, thus completing the Spike metamorphosis. Seemingly gone forever is the human William, writer of “Bloody awful poetry.”
Buffy comes to Spike expecting a dance lesson. She is focused on the physical aspects of the Slayers’ defeats. To her shock, she receives a psychological profile instead. Since the chip’s installation, Spike’s only weapons left to him against humans have been psychology and intuition, which he has demonstrated time and time again as being quite formidable. Whenever he has assessed a character on the show, he has never been wrong. He knows Slayers. He knows Buffy. And he understands that since a Slayer deals in death, she is curious about receiving death in return. Thus, all the slip-ups have occurred from a subconscious standpoint rather than a stumble in the dance.
SPIKE: The only reason you’ve lasted as long as you have is you’ve got ties to the world. Your mum, brat kid sister, Scoobies. They all tie you here but you’re just puttin’ off the inevitable. 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. Here endeth the lesson. I just wonder if you’ll like it as much as she did.
Does Spike reveal the ugly truth to Buffy in order to hurt her, or does he simply want to give her money’s worth?
Spike himself doesn’t know what he wants. He is supposed to be the vampire with all the answers, not just when it comes to Slayers, but life, the universe, and everything in-between. The reality is that arrogant, sage-like Spike is torn apart on the inside. The chip has rendered him unable to (physically) harm humans, and his unfulfilled drive to make Buffy dead Slayer # 3 has transcended into a sexual obsession. Spike hates her; he wants her. He desires pleasure from Buffy in two completely different ways, and it is driving him mad.
Thus, Spike manically leaps from his mental torture of Buffy to a sudden attempt at stealing a kiss. Buffy, harrowed by the story, the psychoanalysis, and this rapid move toward affection, shoves Spike to the ground. She throws her pile of money at the fallen demon and delivers a venomous retort with a double-meaning:
BUFFY: Say it’s true. Say I do want to…it wouldn’t be you, Spike. It would never be you. You’re beneath me.
Buffy storms away, leaving the supposed know-it-all, the alleged supreme being, broken and crying.
A final flashback seals it in. We are brought back to 1998, in a scene immediately following Season Two’s finale. In South America, Drusilla has cheated on Spike with a Chaos Demon (recall “Lover’s Walk,” 3×08) and much of what led to the affair was Spike’s Buffy obsession. Dru is a mind-reader, remember; she sees Buffy surrounding Spike like a vice-gripping aura. What was the nature of the obsession at that time? It isn’t explained; all we know is that the obsession pre-dates the sex dream in “Out of My Mind” (5×04) by at least two years.
In the present, Spike returns to his crypt and digs out a shotgun. He is aware that simply aiming the weapon at Buffy will result in a migraine for the ages, but whether he will finally kill her or simply collapse in agony doesn’t matter to him; he is too enraged to care. Meanwhile, Buffy comes home to find Joyce packing a bag. She has not gotten any better, and is preparing to visit the hospital for a CT scan.
The weight of everything comes tumbling down on Buffy in that moment. The Slayer retreats to the back porch to burst into tears.
Along comes Spike with his shotgun, ready to end his Buffy problem once and for all.
Except that doesn’t happen. Spike sees the weeping Slayer and a thought process occurs, a mental conundrum. The Slayer turns her gaze from the ground toward Spike; in her eyes we see hopelessness, pain, anger…but not fear. “What do you want now?” she coldly growls, eyes reddened.
That’s a very good question.
Wheels turning, assessing: “What’s wrong?” Spike asks.
Buffy refuses to talk about it. Spike approaches the porch, puts his shotgun aside, and sits next to Buffy. Frozen in almost catatonic despair, Buffy doesn’t protest, doesn’t move away. Her face registers surprise when Spike gives her an awkward back pat, but beyond that, nothing.
The episode fades to black with the vampire and the Slayer, both utterly lost and confused, sharing the porch. From Buffy’s point-of-view it could be seen as a metaphorical staging: “Restless” (4×22) and “Buffy vs. Dracula” (5×01) laid the foundation for a Slayer’s true nature being rooted in darkness. Perhaps here, Buffy has let the walls come down to allow in darkness, and Spike is easily representative of that darkness. His reaching out to pat her on the back and her lack of a reaction is significant as well: this is Buffy letting darkness touch her.
As for Spike, the ambiguity is blinding; it is far more open to arguing and interpretation. Maybe Buffy and Spike could compare notes on how conflicted and scattershot they are on the inside.
To me it is a rare act of compassion being expressed by a soulless monster. A sliver of the big-hearted William returns to the cold vampire. If only briefly, the human that once was floats to the surface.
And the layers continue being peeled back.
Is There Anything I Didn’t Like?
Obnoxious Scoobies – The majority of the episode focuses on Spike’s back story, and in the 45 minute running time there’s not much room to spotlight the other characters. Unfortunately, the side scrap relegate Xander, Willow and Anya into the roles of obnoxious stooges, where they munch loudly on chips and annoy Riley as he hunts Buffy’s assailant in the cemetery. I’ve seen “Fool for Love” many times and I never understood the reasoning behind this. It feels pretty lazy and stupid to me. If the actors were obligated to appear on screen because of their contracts, their characters could have easily been utilized in a better way.
The Final Word:
“Fool for Love” is the type of Buffy episode that one could use to introduce people to the series. It stands on its on own well enough that unfamiliar viewers can jump right in. The story is fantastic; it is dark but very compelling. The only downside is that one may need to explain to newcomers that the other characters aren’t always this silly and useless. But overall, “Fool for Love” gets a well-deserved “Best of Buffy” from me.