[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Douglas Petrie | Director: Nick Marck | Aired: 11/14/2000]
I think it’s safe to say that my love of this episode will not come as a surprise to anyone. This is easily one of the best episodes in the series. The main plot of the season isn’t even touched on, but the emotional and character themes of the season are right at the front. The revelations made about Buffy and Spike affect my entire outlook on the series in regard to these two characters. This episode is masterful in its direction, music, and acting. Several times I even find myself in complete awe over hearing some of the sharpest dialogue the show ever put out, which is saying something huge.
Doug Petrie really outdoes himself here and deserves all the credit he gets for this. The two major things we see during this journey is Spike’s origin story: how he became a vampire and got his name, his scar, his hair, and his coat. While this material gives Spike a huge new layer of depth, his insights gained over time are imparted on Buffy who, like myself, stand there shocked. There just isn’t any word positive enough to describe my elation over this episode, so instead I’ll just get right into the review.
I’m going to begin by talking about Riley, because he’s pretty much the only thread that is separate from the intricately entwined Buffy/Spike interaction. The important thing to take notice is that he runs off and kills that vampire nest by himself as a means to not only prove to himself that he can handle patrolling alone, but also to taste more of Buffy’s world, to attempt to feel the kind of excitement she appears to occasionally get out of the danger. This darker streak in Riley will continue to grow in the next few episodes.
Anyway, the rest of the episode is focused very much on Buffy and Spike. It all begins with a pretty jarring introduction. Buffy’s making her usual jokes while handedly pummeling a regular vampire when he, really abruptly, turns it around and stabs her. The only time she came close to losing a standard vamp fight was when she was being poisoned in “Helpless” [3×12] . Buffy, herself, is confused about how this even happened and tells Riley she’s in the best shape of her life. You’d think Buffy would be happy Riley was out patrolling with her this time! Yet he still gets no appreciation and respect from Buffy for actually being very useful in the field. In fact, she even tells Riley he needs to bring the Scoobies with him to patrol; as if he can’t handle himself out there alone every now and then. At least she thanked him for helping her wrap up the wound.
It makes a lot of sense that this wound would be a catalyst for Buffy to begin looking up the details on previous slayers. This also fits with the continuing theme of the season for her: finding out about her slayer heritage and learning to use and understand it. She says she doesn’t want to die so young and doesn’t understand why the other slayers did. What did they do wrong? Spike potently explains later. This scene is also a bit more chilling knowing that the season ends with Buffy’s death. Giles tells her that the likely reason most of the previous Watchers didn’t keep better journals about their Slayers’ final battles is because it was simply too painful for them. The expression on both of their faces here is one of subdued mutual concern and love for one another, and is wonderful to see. Knowing what’s to come makes this moment really special, in a somber way.
As a result of Buffy’s ‘slayer search’ she realises she’s got a contact who is an expert in slayers right in town: Spike. I think she’s incredibly smart to use him to show her how he killed the two slayers in times past. It doesn’t matter that she hates him and that he’s a really bad guy. Buffy will use whatever’s available to her in this fight, even Spike, which is a continued development in Buffy and for me an early glimpse of her behavior in S7. This, of course, leads right into the scenes at the Bronze, which are pitch-perfect; magnificent even. The heat and tension between Buffy and Spike is undeniably strong through the rest of the episode. This meeting is the best thing Spike could have hoped for as it’s essentially a date in his eyes, although Buffy’s obviously there for a completely different reason.
Very quickly we see Spike deciding he’s really going to be honest with Buffy and tell it like it is, from his own experiences. When she asks him how he killed the two slayers, he at first amusingly responds, “We fought. I won. Pay up.” He then goes on to say, “did you want a blow-by-blow description? It’s not about the moves, love.” Like usual, Spike is also incredibly observant. When Buffy throws him against the wall earlier, he notices it doesn’t hurt like usual. Then he sees her wince in pain as she turns in the Bronze and states it’s like he thought, “something got a taste of you.” It’s about at this point when the stunning flashback sequences begin, and instead of just getting huge character insight and development for Buffy, we surprisingly get just as much from Spike!
It goes without saying that the 1880 London flashback sequence is awesome. We get Cecily’s “you’re beneath me,” how he got his nickname (“they call him William the Bloody because he’s a bloody awful poet”), and how he gets his vampire name, the first layer of Spike’s complex persona (“I’d rather have a railroad spike through my head than listen to that awful poetry”). Also, he has a softer British accent here. William says, “I know I’m not a good poet. But I’m a good man.” This is a fascinating correlation to what he says in “The Gift” [5×22] : “I know I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man.” Essentially, what is said in “The Gift” [5×22] is the reverse of what he tells Cecily in 1880. Here he says he’s not a good man, but Buffy treats him like one and he appreciates it tremendously. All of this works together to seriously begin to change Spike.
We can see in this flashback that William is a very sensitive, kind, and respectful man. He loves his mother dearly and writes bad poetry to express his love of Cecily. Her complete rejection of him hurts him deep and is ultimately what leads to him becoming a vampire. It seems that most vampires retain much of their pre-vamp personality but little of their heart, which I see as different from their soul. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call Spike an anomaly in the vampire world, I do feel he’s very unique. Just like humans vary drastically in size, personality, and heart, I imagine vampires work in much the same way, although their nature makes them inclined to throw away most of the heart they had pre-vamped.
Spike has not only retained much of his pre-vamp heart, but he’s embraced it and let it flourish in, at first, his relationship with Drusilla. His growing love of Buffy is bringing this aspect of him out more strongly than ever before — so much so that it often surprises him (see “Crush” [5×14] ). This is also likely one of the reasons why Spike becomes so fond of Joyce, who is of course Buffy’s mom.
With his heart broken, Drusilla comes to William’s aid in his saddest of days. Immediately she can read his mind, in the way Drusilla does, and knows that somewhere in him is the capacity to be the kind of lover she wants. Although, with how insane Drusilla is, it’s hard to tell what that want actually is. Is it his soft heart? He ends up always being soft and kind to Drusilla. She says, “Oh, I see you. A man surrounded by fools who cannot see his strength, his vision, his glory … Your wealth lies here… and here. In the spirit and… imagination. You walk in worlds the others can’t begin to imagine.” The reason he gives into her is because she will allow him to actually live his vision in reality. We also know, from “Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21] , that she has some hypnotic-like abilities. All of this plays together here to help facilitate William’s transformation into Spike.
Back to the present for a moment, Spike explains to Buffy that becoming a vampire is a “not something you’d flip past on the Discovery Channel.” That it’s a “profound and powerful experience.” He says, “getting killed made me feel alive for the very first time.” With the life and unfullfilled potential William had, it makes a lot of sense that vampirism would be liberating for him (the loss of his soul kinda helps with that too). He then says he needed a gang to spread his wings.
Enter Angelus, Dru, and Darla. He and Angelus, though, really don’t seem to be getting along very well at first. Angelus, true to character, likes to do things in finesse, for the art of the kill (just remember “Passion” [2×17] ). Spike, on the other hand, enjoys getting into the thick of things, “fist and fang.” That he’d prefer a brawl any day to Angelus’ philosophy of only going after prey he knows he can kill. Spike says, “you know what I prefer to being hunted? Getting caught.” This is also why he’s not terribly afraid of Buffy finding out he’s in love with her, and how he’ll go for a grand gesture once she does to prove it (see “Crush” [5×14] ). Keep in mind that at this point I feel Buffy’s still more of a sexual obsession of his rather than a love interest. This, of course, slowly changes throughout the season.
Spike tells Buffy that when he found out what a Slayer was, he got “obsessed.” He says, “to most vampires, the Slayer was the subject of cold sweat and frightened whispers. But I never hid. Hell, I sought her out. I mean, if you’re looking for fun, there’s death, there’s glory and sod all else, right? (shrugs) I was young.” This helps explain Spike’s current ‘obsession’ with Buffy even more. He goes on to say that, “a Slayer must always reach for her weapon. I’ve already got mine [vamp face].” We see immediately after this how ‘reaching for her weapon’ got the Chinese Slayer killed.
This scene, by the way, is beautifully choreographed and shot, and is just overall excellent stuff. It’s also where Spike gets the second layer of his current persona: the scar. He nearly gets killed by this Slayer, but a lucky explosion turned the tide. We then see him and Drusilla romanticizing over the dead Slayer’s body using her blood as sexual enticement. The dead Slayer unwillingly is part of this romance between Spike and Drusilla. This reinforces the idea that slayers, death, vampirism, and sex are all very much mingled together in Spike’s mind, only in his youth the death and vampirism of the act were of more importance to him while now it’s becoming more skewed the other way.
Before continuing I must point out that the shot with all four vamps walking slow-mo with Spike now being shown as the dominant male in the group is utterly stunning. I needed to point this out within the review itself just because of how cinematic the direction is here, something that is really unusual to see on a television show. As we switch back to the Bronze we see that Buffy sounds sickened with Spike’s story of telling her he got off on killing that Slayer. He responds with his usual intuitiveness, “what, you telling me you don’t?” We’ve seen several times now, and it was originally brought up by Faith, that all this fighting often gets slayers “hungry and horny.” Spike knows this and Buffy can’t and doesn’t refute it. She’s just annoyed that it’s true and doesn’t want to admit it to him.
After all this mesmorizing dialogue, we get loads more. Spike explains that all it takes is one lucky demon to kill her, to have a “real nice day.” Part of him wants this to happen, for him to be that one lucky demon. But now part of him also wants her to live, to be with him. As Buffy and Spike move outside the Bronze, the dialogue to Spike gets even more sexualized, even telling him “give it to me.” He then says that the question to how he killed the other slayers isn’t “why’d I win. It’s why they lose.” Spike says Buffy’s “not ready to know” about the second Slayer. This is because of the death wish he’s discovered about slayers, the thing he thinks the New York Slayer (Nikki) had and is his very unique view on the Slayer.
Buffy persists, and he tells. The weaving going on here, with both Spike fighting Buffy and Spike fighting Nikki, between the past and present is so well done. He says Nikki “had a little bit of your style” and even calls her hot, which is exactly what he thinks of Buffy. Thus, a very personal connection is made to Buffy as well. He says, “I could have danced all night with that one.” Buffy, quickly catching on, replies “you think we’re dancing?” Spike says, “that’s all we’ve ever done.” This exchange is absolutely potent: powerful, tension-filled dialogue that is delivered perfectly by the truly exceptional James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar. I can literally feel the heat coming off the two of them. Talk about chemistry!
All of this very insightful and ponderous dialogue then is thrown at Buffy and the viewer like a lightning bolt to the gut. The entire speech about death from Spike is haunting, bone-chilling, and simply mind boggling to think about in retrospect. It’s so important to the season and to knowing more about Buffy’s Slayer heritage, once again a big theme of the season, that I can’t resist quoting it here: “And the 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. Every Slayer… has a death wish. Even you.” Can I just say shudder?
Continuing the speech, Spike also points out that “the only reason you’ve lasted as long as you have is you’ve got ties to the world… your mum, your brat kid sister, the Scoobies. They all tie you here but you’re just putting 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.” After hearing this Buffy is, like me, shocked and speechless. Spike sees this immediately says, “Oh… did I scare ya? You’re the Slayer. Do something about it. Hit me. Come on. One good swing. You know you want to … Give it me good, Buffy. Do it!”
All of this was chilling the first time I heard it because it made a lot of sense when pondering the nature of a slayer’s life. In retrospect, knowing what I know is to come–Riley’s departure, the death of Buffy’s “mum,” and her “brat kid sister” forced to die–Buffy’s in that place Spike warned about, although not even remotely in the way Spike envisions it here. There’s no way she can have anything more “stripped away” (see “The Gift” [5×22] ), so she lovingly takes Dawn’s place and dies instead, finally at peace. The thematic link between “Fool for Love” and “The Gift” [5×22] is incredibly strong and is as powerfully realised as anything I’ve ever seen on film before. This is the reason I broke down on my second viewing of “The Gift” [5×22] and not the first: I became fully aware of this connection and it broke my heart.
During this entire subway sequence we also see Spike now has the dyed hair, the third piece to his current persona. Killing Nikki then gets him his infamous leather coat, the last piece of the complete Spike package which makes him the vampire we see talking to Buffy in the present. I’m astonished that Douglas Petrie was able to seamlessly cram this much complexity, history, and intelligence in the span of only one episode. This shows what the medium of television is capable of when there’s truly intelligent and inspired people at the helm.
The sexual tension between Buffy and Spike is just bursting at the seams when he finally tries to kiss her. Her response? “What the hell are you doing!?” Then she goes on to tell him that maybe she does want all that darkness and sexuality he spoke of, but not with him. How stunningly ironic is that (S6)? We then get the thematic “you’re beneath me” connection to Cecily. This breaks Spike up and angers him beyond belief, exactly like it did before. Harmony actually has it right when she says, “you’re so sensitive!” William, and by extension Spike (when you get past the exterior tough-guy) is a very sensitive individual. How the women he loves affect him absolutely proves it. We saw first signs of this back in “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] when he’s moping about his break-up with Drusilla.
The writing continues to blow me away when just as the thoughts of that break-up come to mind based on Harmony’s comments, we get a flashback to right after the events of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] and before “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] . First of all I’m so happy we get to see the chaos demon Spike was speaking of in “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] . This scene is not only hilarious, but very meaningful in that we can see that Drusilla broke up with Spike in part because of his newly developed feelings for Buffy, which was obviously in a very subconscious stage for Spike in this scene as he’s got no clue what she’s talking about. Fans of only the early seasons often see this addition as out of character for Spike. I personally think it fits his character perfectly. In “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] we don’t see him lusting after Buffy even in slight hints because he’s still mooning over Drusilla. Also, everyone knows Drusilla is insane. Spike likely thought as much when she was telling him about being “covered” in the Slayer in South America.
So while Spike, in full anger-mode over Buffy’s rejection of his feelings for her, grabs a shotgun to blow a hole into her, we find out that Buffy’s mom is going in for a cat scan. This is the point where Buffy just can’t hold in how absolutely scared she is that her mom might die. As great as the acting from both JM and SMG has been all episode long, the scene at the end on the porch tops it all. Heart-breaking for Buffy and touching for Spike as he slowly puts his shotgun to the side. Check out those multi-dimensional facial expressions from Spike! Wow! No words are needed from Buffy to show just how sad she is right now. The fact she lets Spike softly pat her on the back is evidence enough. The episode ends as they just sit quietly together on the back porch and even slowly breathe out at the same time. Just, wow.
There’s really nothing more to say to conclude this review except that this is, flat out, one of the most phenonemal episodes of television I’ve ever seen, with its only competition being other Buffy episodes.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Dawn covers for Buffy’s wound. Good for her. I suppose the bonding in “No Place Like Home” [5×05] went both ways.
+ While it seems odd that the Willow, Xander, and Anya would be making so much noise while patrolling with Riley, it does fit. They have often had conversations and such while patrolling in the past.
+ Spike bumps into Angelus, Darla, and Drusilla after being rejected by Cecily. It’s amusing how we see the other side of this scene in “Darla” (AtS 2×07).
* The many thematic links and hints of where Buffy’s headed to, which comes to fruition in “The Gift” [5×22].
* Drusilla says to Spike, “you taste like ashes.” “Chosen” [7×22] anyone?