[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury and Drew Goddard | Director: David Fury | Aired: 03/25/2003]
Uhh… yes, please? From the first time I saw “Lies My Parents Told Me” I thought it was one of those “big” episodes where complex situations and character growth won the day. From the revelations and growth Spike experiences to the depth and satisfaction we get in closure to Wood’s arc to the insurmountable growth Buffy showed in saying no to her former mentor when he was wrong, which finally turned her into the general she’s only been playing in name until now, what we’re looking at here is nothing short of a brilliant episode. Buffy was forced into the role of leader, by Giles no less, and has done the best she knows how — mistakes and all — so far. But it’s here where we see her make a tough decision on her own that puts her at odds with Giles.
With of all of that going for “Lies,” and I haven’t even mentioned many other bits going for it, I’m amazed that nearly everywhere I go I only see crap flung at it. Most of these complaints are leveled at Giles’ behavior and Spike, well, in general. I’m always willing to offer respect for an opposing point of view that I can understand, but most of the arguments I’ve read against this episode just don’t make any sense to me. As far as I’m concerned, this is an easy choice for a Top 25 list. As usual, though, I will present my case for the episode and let all of you decide whether I did it well enough. Although this time around, I’ve got some wonderful backup (keep reading after my review is done for a surprise). So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
To start with, what a phenomenal opening scene! In the rain drenched cityscape of New York City circa 1977 we see Spike sparring with Nikki Wood before that fateful encounter on a subway train (see “Fool for Love” [5×07] ). The comments these two exchange with each other includes some potent references and a hint of where the episode is going, from Nikki’s comment of Spike looking “wet and limp” to Spike’s response, “I spent a long time trying to track you down. Don’t want the dance to end so soon, do you, Nikki? The music’s just starting, isn’t it? By the way, love the coat.” It’s obvious Spike doesn’t just want to kill her; he wants it to be a challenge to kill her. Nikki tells her young son to remember “the mission” — a lesson Robin clearly loses sight of the more time passed after his mother’s death.
There are four major players here: Buffy, Giles, Wood, and who everyone is fighting over… Spike. Buffy obviously has a very complicated history with Spike, Giles has never liked him and sees him as a risk, and Wood is pissed about his mother’s death and subsequent lack of a normal childhood. For most of the episode, Spike is simply caught in the middle of it all. In “Get it Done” [7×15], Buffy and Giles had an argument over her decision to remove Spike’s chip — something Giles was understandably unhappy about. Here in “Lies” we see Giles bring a stone that will give Spike the opportunity to search his past and recognize what is causing the trigger. Good on Giles for trying to reduce the risk Spike poses.
To Giles’ credit, I agree that Buffy is a little too eager to have Spike romping around outside when the First can still trigger him to kill at any moment; that’s the one point that I completely side with him on. I get Buffy’s faith in Spike, but he can’t control when he’s triggered. But on the other hand, Giles is thinking in a very traditionalist manner in regard to Spike and doesn’t see the unique opportunity for goodness he represents; Giles doesn’t see the larger war of souls being waged against the First. The First is corrupting Wood by feeding his vendetta against a monster that doesn’t exist anymore. The First knows it can’t lose Spike to Buffy’s side, and it’s getting worried that it won’t get the opportunity to trigger Spike at an opportune time before the trigger is disarmed, so it would rather have Spike dead.
When Buffy says that Spike is their strongest warrior, she doesn’t necessarily mean in the physical sense. Spike’s redemption by its very nature shakes the foundation on which the First is built. Giles’ history as a watcher and his experiences with Angel feed into his opinion on the matter. He has never been friendly in regard to re-souled Angel ever since Angelus killed Jenny Calendar — we would be silly to ignore that. So, Giles’ motivations are complicated, but understandable.
Giles’ inherent dislike of Spike fuels his genuine logical concerns about everyone’s safety though. This is why he is susceptible to Wood’s plan to off Spike. I’m really pleased there’s absolutely no confusion between these two men over their motives and that the air is clear between them over Wood’s desire for vengeance. This way we’re not led to feel in any way that Giles was mislead. Wood makes a case to Giles that very much speaks to the type of man he is — a ‘do what must be done’ type. I find it totally in character for Giles to play the role he plays here to rid the world of his dislike and genuine concern around Spike. We saw this side of Giles emerge earlier most notably in “Helpless” [3×12], “The Gift” [5×22] (remember Ben, the relatively innocent guy who Giles killed simply because he shared a body with a dangerous evil being and was a risk to Buffy — hmm, sounds relevant now don’t ya think?), and in his decision to go back to England in S6 to force Buffy to take responsibility of her problems.
This is precisely what Giles tries to explain to Buffy as he distracts her in the graveyard. He’s not trying to justify his decision when he tells Buffy about making hard choices; he fully believes it. He tells her, “while I’m not technically your Watcher anymore, the fact that your life is such chaos only underscores the importance of the lessons I can impart to you.” … “It takes more than rousing speeches to lead, Buffy. If you’re going to be a general, you need to be able to make difficult decisions regardless of cost.” Giles’ case becomes stronger when he gets Buffy to admit that if she was asked to sacrifice Dawn to save the world now, she would. This is a powerful moment that really shows just how much Buffy has grown from “The Gift” [5×22]. While Buffy’s decision in “The Gift” [5×22] — to all just die if there’s no other alternative but killing Dawn — was in many ways admirable and certainly understandable, it wasn’t the smart move. Giles’ argument to her there was the correct one, and it’s the same argument he uses here in his case against Spike.
My one regret with this scene is that Giles didn’t bring up the fact he killed Ben, which would have completely brought his argument full-circle. What kills me is that the scene was in the script but got cut for time. Anyway, Giles ends his argument by painfully telling Buffy, because he knows Spike’s death will cause her pain, just like poisoning her in “Helpless” [3×12] and telling her Dawn must die in “The Gift” [5×22] and leaving her in S6 did, to “stop playing the role of general, and start being one. This is the way wars are won!”
In total, Giles puts together an understandable and largely convincing argument that I can sympathize with. There are two problems with his approach though. The first is that he doesn’t realize that by keeping Spike by her side, Buffy is making a hard, risky call, and it’s not just fueled by her feelings for Spike. The second problem is that Giles is thinking in outdated terms. He sees Buffy’s connection with Spike as a weakness — as something clouding her judgement. There is likely a little bit of truth to this, but the connection these two have built, especially over S7 so far, is far more powerful and positive than Giles realizes. The strength these two give to each other is a large part of what leads them all to their ultimate victory over the First.
Clearly Giles has always been very much a father figure to Buffy. When Giles is blatantly lying to Buffy about why they’re in the graveyard, betraying her trust in him once again — albeit for what he views as a just cause — I can’t help but think back to “Helpless” [3×12]. That’s the very first time Buffy saw another side to Giles, and it was the first hint that he’s occasionally susceptible to traditional methods of accomplishing what needs to be done for the greater good (although to his credit, he didn’t like that “test” one bit, but did what he deemed was ‘necessary’ of him). The true lie here, I think, is that Giles is Buffy’s mentor anymore. As far as I’m concerned, she’s made it; she’s a viable leader and a mature adult at this point. Is she perfect? No! But Buffy has the experience, skill, and knowledge to lead these Potentials. In “Never Leave Me” [7×09] Giles told Buffy it’s all up to her. Well, Giles, it’s time to eat your own words. It’s time for Giles to now follow Buffy. Can he do that? Fortunately, after this episode, yes, which continues to speak well on Giles as a person, despite the mistakes he, too, has made in his life.
But reaching that conclusion is not an easy one for the likes of Giles and Wood due to their backgrounds, personalities, and the fact that they haven’t seen, first hand, the connection Buffy and Spike have built. We as viewers have a much clearer picture of the story, which leads us to more easily accept what Spike is becoming and the potential Buffy sees in him. “Never Leave Me” [7×09] set the stage for all of this when Buffy professed her faith in Spike’s potential to be a better man. Spike saw something amazing out of Buffy that day, just as Buffy witnessed something amazing out of Spike at the end of “Beneath You” [7×02], and since then he’s doing his best to live up to the faith Buffy has put in him.
Wood, on the other hand, wants to kill the person that took his mother away from him — another understandable motivation. What Wood completely fails to realize is that that person does not exist anymore. His pain and anger is blinding him to that fact, and he makes a mistake in taking it out on Spike. Here in “Lies” it’s not Buffy that is clouded when it comes to Spike, it’s Wood, and to a lesser extent Giles. When triggered, Spike doesn’t suddenly become the Spike of old, he becomes very much like the Ubervamp was: a mindless instinct-based animal. Killing that animal doesn’t avenge the death of Wood’s mother, it only jeapordizes their likelihood of defeating the First, which is why the First sends Wood after him.
With everyone’s motives set into motion, we’re left with Spike trying to make sense of all of this. In the first flashback we see Spike reciting his imfamous poetry to his beloved mum. Although it’s easy to make fun of William’s life and closeness with his mom — sadly a very American stance — what’s important to realize is that William’s mom is the only substantive relationship in his life, despite desiring a relationship with Cecily. This becomes particularly important when he later, as a vampire, makes his mother an immortal.
Now freshly vamped, his “mother” tears into him with one cruel comment after another, claiming that no one could compare to his mother for his affections and even that he would rather be together forever with her than another woman. Spike, being beaten up by Wood at this point, is finally realizing his root issue: that the vampire he created was not, in fact, his mother and that there is no need to dig into himself over what she said of him. In his mind he is finally able to apologize to his actual mom for doing what he did — a realization that frees him from his trigger thus invalidating Giles’ entire case against him. With this new realization, he imparts what he’s learned onto Wood, after giving him a proper beating, in a conversation that connects the dots between Spike and Wood.
The episode’s title plays into all of this by referencing the relationships between Spike and his mother, Wood and his mother, and Buffy and Giles. The most important relation centers around Spike though. See, I don’t believe William’s mom thought his poetry was all that bad. I think she thought it was good simply because he was her son and he got enjoyment out of it. When he vamps her, though, she cuts into him with all kinds of mean words. It seems like she’s revealing her true disdain for William’s life and poetry; revealing that lie. This is what Vampire William takes from the experience, which plays a huge role in shaping the vampire he becomes. What’s interesting, though, is that this is not the lie that the title is referring to. The lie is how that’s not really how his mom felt about him — the demon set loose in his mom simply used her memories to inflict pain against him. This is the key realization Spike makes while being pummeled by Wood.
Wood, venting his anger, explains that Spike “took my childhood. You took her away. She was all I had. She was my world.” Spike responds “And you weren’t hers. Doesn’t that piss you off?” … “I know slayers. No matter how many people they’ve got around them, they fight alone. Life of the chosen one. The rest of us be damned. Your mother was no different.” Wood says, “No, she loved me.” Spike then closes with, “But not enough to quit, though, was it? Not enough to walk away… for you. I’ll tell you a story about a mother and son. See, like you, I loved my mother. So much so I turned her into a vampire… so we could be together forever. She said some nasty bits to me after I did that. Been weighing on me for quite some time. But you helped me figure something out. You see, unlike you, I had a mother who loved me back. When I sired her, I set loose a demon, and it tore into me, but it was the demon talking, not her. I realize that now. My mother loved me with all her heart. I was her world.”
All of this comes together when Buffy runs to Wood’s place to find out what’s going on and she finds that Spike bit Wood but let him live on account of the fact he killed his mother. Buffy then articulates all the themes that have been bumbling around the episode. She says, “I lost my mom a couple years ago. I came home and found her dead on the couch.” … “I understand what you tried to do, but she’s dead.” … “I’m preparing to fight a war, and you’re looking for revenge on a man that doesn’t exist anymore.” … “Spike is the strongest warrior we have. We are gonna need him if we’re gonna come out of this thing alive. You try anything again, he’ll kill you. More importantly, I’ll let him. I have a mission to win this war, to save the world. I don’t have time for vendettas.” The episode then comes full circle when Buffy tells Wood that “The mission is what matters.” This, of course, connects with what his mom told him as a child.
Before the final scene of the episode, there’s a brief but important little moment where we see Buffy stopping by Dawn’s room and stroking her hair like she used to do back in Season 5. It’s a small emotional gesture that speaks volumes about Buffy’s heart and empathy for her family and friends. Despite her devotion to “the mission,” it’s still these people that keep her going.
The final moment of the episode involves Giles making his final point about what he did only to get utterly shut down by Buffy. This episode — and particularly this moment — is where Buffy actually becomes the general Giles was talking about in the graveyard earlier. While Giles will remain a valued friend of hers, he is no longer her teacher. Buffy has now not only asserted herself as an adult, but also as a leader. Ironically, this is exactly what Giles has been teaching her the entire series right up to his own words in the graveyard in this episode. He told Buffy “it’s time to stop playing the role of general, and start being one.” Well Giles, you got your wish. This moment represents the climax of seven years of wonderful character development for Buffy. It’s to Giles’ credit, as I mentioned before, that he has no problem letting go of his own ego to follow her leadership now, as we see in “Chosen” [7×22].
“Lies My Parents Told Me” is a complex and rousing episode that gets at the very nature these characters, analyzes them, and then evolves them. Buffy, Giles, Wood, and Spike are all never the same after what transpires here. Although this is a huge episode for Spike as he completely regains full control over himself and his destiny, it’s an even bigger episode for Buffy as we see her step completely out of the shadow of her youth to take on full leadership of her army. Buffy is one hell of a complex individual — one that we completely understand in regard to just about every aspect that makes her who she is. In terms of pure character growth, I think this is the capper to Buffy’s journey. We’ll see her faith in Spike pay off big in the final arc of the series.
[Rick Osborne’s Analysis]
Just over a month ago Mike and I made a scandalous backroom deal to release my thoughts on “Lies My Parents Told Me” alongside his review. My purpose in writing this piece was not to usurp our dear reviewer, however, but to offer his readers a unique perspective on what I feel is one of the best episodes of Buffy. For this reason, I will not be discussing all the accomplishments and flaws of the episode, since this is a duty we entrust to Mike’s more comprehensive process. Instead I intend to focus on several core themes and characters.
I chose this particular episode first and foremost because I feel it is a pivotal episode in the series, perhaps even the best of the seventh season. But it also happens to be one of Buffy‘s most obscure episodes, one whose probing character studies and thematic insights lurk behind a rather straightforward plot. These subtleties are unusually dark and complex, even for a Whedon show, and that, gentle readers, is where I live! So without further delay, off we go!
“Lies My Parents Told Me” (LMPTM) is probably the most ambitious episode of the series. Despite being a solid character study of Spike, it also manages to explore the psyche of the Slayer within the greater context of the struggle between love and leadership. In both of these pursuits, the episode inspires a profound discomfort in the Buffy fan because its message challenges our preconceptions about the show’s characters and, more still, its purpose. Can the Slayer really live a normal life? Can Spike really be absolved of all his crimes? Is Buffy truly alone? These are all questions LMPTM explores, and its answers leave all but the most uninvolved of viewers wary of what the show has become.
The best way to approach this multitude of ideas is to focus on the unifying aspect of the episode: its title. Almost all of LMPTM’s intentions are developed through three parental relationships, each of which revolves around an implicit lie from parent to child. The first such relationship, between Spike and his mother, is the primary focus of the episode that provides an insightful glimpse into Spike’s character. Since it’s been clear for several episodes that mommy’s singing triggers him into frat boy-slaughtering fun, the first question that comes to mind is: um, why? The answer seems to be rooted in the sense of security Spike’s close bond with his mother provided him. His mother was the only person who actually loved him for what he was: a sensitive, dare I say ‘unmasculine’ man who wrote poetry and lived at home with his mom. She affirmed what was an otherwise forgettable life ridiculed by everyone else.
But after turning his mother into a vampire, Spike is jarred by her rejection of the very life she gave meaning. With his masculinity insulted, his affections perverted by incestuous overtones (eww, anyone?), and his admittedly terrible poetry exposed, Spike is no longer insulated from the criticisms of his peers. The qualities of William’s personality — humility, gentleness, loyalty, and expressiveness — were all vulnerable traits because they contradicted the ambition and rationality others expected of him. That even his mother could not love him underscores why Spike the vampire takes on an almost opposite personality: violent, lustful, and cruel.
It goes without saying that Spike would have been a very different vampire had he not sired his mother. In the course of 40 minutes, viewers come to understand the contradictions inherent to his character. For most of his ‘demon career,’ Spike was an unusually skilled vampire, having killed two slayers and survived over a century. Yet his ferocity as a villain was always undermined by a powerful emotionality that left him vulnerable to jealousy and recklessness. What made Angel such an effective villain was his lack of humanity. He killed because it amused him, because the suffering of others inspired a pleasure so removed from human feeling. Spike’s crimes, on the other hand, were driven by the most powerful of emotions: rage, lust, jealousy, and despair. He might have been dead, but Spike was the quintessential human. He sought prestige and power in order to redeem what he saw as a worthless human life, but that pursuit left him vulnerable to mistakes because, at the end of the day, we can never really escape what we are. There are certain immutable qualities we possess that must be reconciled with what we want to be, not removed from it. Thus Spike meanders through a century long career of terror mired by unstable relationships with Drusilla and, later, Buffy. He can’t really separate the violence from the love, even when one gets in the way of the other.
Recognizing that contradiction, Spike reclaims his soul at the end of season six. For the first time he must confront his mother’s rejection as an ensouled being with a conscience. He certainly can’t relish in a redemption filled with violence and destruction. But, without a viable response to his mother’s rejection, he can’t exactly revert to his former human self either. That’s why, when presented with a lullaby once sung by the mother whom his life disappointed so deeply, Spike is ‘triggered’ into the killing machine that freed him from the mediocrity of his human life
It is only when Wood kicks the shit out of him that Spike finally comes to terms with his mommy issues and his own nature as a vampire. He alleviates his guilt by abandoning it entirely, denying any responsibility for killing Wood’s mother. Although it’s a little crude to call the whole slayer-vampire dynamic a “game,” there’s a valid rational observation here. As a soulless vampire, Spike was compelled to violence via the demon within. Whereas Angel sought to atone for these compulsions, Spike forfeits his guilt along with his responsibility. What’s more relevant here, though, is that Spike’s understanding of culpability, or more precisely his lack thereof, reminds him that a vampire is not the same thing as the person it infects; it is a desouled version of that individual, whose evil and destructive impulses are no longer checked by a conscience. Spike’s mother was a kind and wonderful woman who loved her son very much. Upon becoming a vampire, however, she negates her own humanity by rejecting the authentic love she had for her son. While love is one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences we have, it’s also the one that entails the most vulnerability. In letting others in, we need to open ourselves up. Deprived of her conscience, Spike’s mother moves to close that opening. What follows is merely a lie from a mother to her son.
Love’s imperfections extend well beyond its need for vulnerability, however. Perhaps its greatest flaw (or is it ours?) is the mirage of invincibility and eternality we bestow upon it, which leads us directly into the second relationship of the episode: between Principal Wood and his mother, Nikki. Their bond provides some crucial insight into the nature of the Slayer. Regardless of the number of allies she has, the Slayer is the final and only arbiter of demon law. In accepting her destiny, she not only commits to fighting the forces of evil, but to doing so alone. School, boys, and friends (a.k.a. a normal life) are always secondary to that mission. Since Wood sees his mother’s death as unfair happenstance fixed within a “game” of destiny, he’s unable to give up on the lie that his mother would have chosen him instead. Sure, destiny befalls the Slayer. But, in the end, she chooses destiny. And if we look back to “Fool for Love” [5×07], it’s clear that the odds to this game are fixed. The Slayer doesn’t choose to play because there’s something to win. Her loss is all but certain, her death not a question of if, but when. That the Slayer chooses a duty whose invariable conclusion is death over a life defined by loving relationships is a testament not only to the tragedy of her condition, but to the heroism of her choice.
For six seasons, viewers have been misled into believing that Buffy is an exception to this rule. In the earlier seasons, she always managed to balance prom night werewolves with homework and graveyard shifts with boyfriends. And in season five, she sacrificed her own life as a testament to her love for her sister and friends. But by the final season of the series, we’re made more aware than ever of the personal sacrifices Buffy makes everyday. These sacrifices and the isolation they entail are the topic of the conversation between Buffy and Giles in this episode, which incidentally is our final parent-child dynamic. Yay for us!
While not technically her father, Giles has always been Buffy’s guardian, and the paternal overtones are certainly there. Most of the juicy dialogue between them this episode comes from the often overlooked and misunderstood cemetery scene, which in my opinion is actually the most important conversation of the season and one of the series’ best. We have Buffy being dragged out to the cemetery by Giles, someone she still regards as a mentor. He continuously gnaws at her judgement concerning Spike, claiming that she needs to learn how to make hard decisions. And while I am inclined to side with Buffy overall, I feel the need to give credence to Giles’ arguments here. Buffy’s telling him that she understands the neutrality her role requires. And she acknowledges that “any one of us is expendable.” Yet she remains stubbornly resolute in her defence of Spike, a powerful vampire who at any moment may be triggered by the First into mass murder. It is not difficult to understand why Giles remains unconvinced, especially in light of Buffy and Spike’s tumultuous past.
But the meat of this conversation comes when Buffy brings up her refusal to consider letting Dawn die in “The Gift” [5×22]. Giles immediately asks: “But things are different now, aren’t they? After what you’ve been through, faced with the same choice now, you’d let her die.” Buffy’s response is nothing short of shocking to most fans: “If I had to. To save the world. Yes.” Unfortunately, most viewers criticize this comment as having “gone too far,” and in doing so, completely miss the point. Buffy is not saying she would have sacrificed Dawn instead of herself. What she’s addressing is Giles’ suggestion earlier in “The Gift” [5×22] that they let Dawn die should they fail to stop Glory. She’s essentially admitting that Giles was right; if Glory had opened the portal and Buffy herself could not close it (remember, nobody knew she could do that until the end), letting Dawn die would be the only way to save the world. Fighting Glory “till the death” sounds good on paper, but being sucked into a crappy CGI portal doesn’t.
What Buffy has come to realize is that being the Slayer means making rational choices that transcend conventional morality. Training girls for war despite knowing many if not all will die is neither right nor wrong. Letting Dawn die for the sake of the world sacrifices one innocent for another, but the necessity of making a choice underscores the nonmoral essence of the selection. This concept is more complicated than a simple “the ends justify the means” mentality, being bound as it is to the notion of the mission. Despite her passions and her relationships and her humanity, the Slayer’s responsibility to the world requires that she step outside of herself. This is precisely why the Watchers have enforced an almost ascetic lifestyle on slayers for thousands of years.
Before completing that thought, I must draw attention to a very short scene right after Buffy’s “mission” speech where she stops by Dawn’s bedside. The execution of this scene is so subtle one might be tempted to call it filler. Yet it’s a perfect reminder of Buffy’s humanity amid an episode dedicated to proving her realism. Stroking the hair of a girl you said could die if necessary an hour ago might seem a bit odd, but it’s an important reminder of why Buffy continues to fight. Her responsibilities necessarily isolate her even from those whom she loves most, but she is still very much the same woman she has always been. She may have abandoned the childish idealism that would compromise her chances of success, but she has not lost the capacity to love. Being able to separate your emotional inclinations from what must be done does not mean that you feel any less acutely. Dawn is the most important person in Buffy’s life, and it is clear that there is nothing more Buffy wants than to prove it. That Drew Goddard manages to slip this scene in so subtly is one of the episode’s greatest accomplishments, as it captures in one sweet moment both the hope and tragedy of Buffy’s life.
Returning to the point at hand, it seems clear, both from her admission to Giles and warning to Wood, that Buffy understands the tough choices ahead. Giles argues tirelessly for several episodes to the contrary, but his frustration with Buffy has as much to do with her inability to make hard decisions as it does with his own unwillingness to accept one. Buffy has made a controversial choice to keep Spike alive. While she is admittedly a little too unconcerned about the risks of Spike’s trigger, she refuses to kill a re-ensouled being with a real shot at redemption and great fighting potential in the coming battle. She has in essence drawn a moral line: Yes, it is important to focus on the big picture, but one must not lose sight of the details. Being a leader does not give her the right to decide who lives and who dies unless necessity forces a choice. Sure, personal feelings are likely playing at least a small role in Spike’s reprieve, but for the most part Giles is mistaking rational conviction for emotional weakness.
To Buffy, this means that Giles’ betrayal isn’t a final lesson on leadership, but a blatant attempt to undermine the very authority he would have her assume. Understanding this, when he resumes lecturing her at the end of the episode, she calmly shuts the door in his face, asserting: “I think you’ve taught me all I need to know.” The third and final lie of the episode, then, is that Buffy has anything left to learn from Giles. His wisdom and knowledge will always be of value to the group, but Buffy has the necessary skills to lead without him (I mean, isn’t that why he almost, sort-of, not really left Sunnydale?).
I can think of no better example of this point than Buffy’s confrontation with Wood, which is why I’m addressing it after the final scene (no, I’m not a hater of linear progression). Buffy coldly tells Wood that his mother’s death cannot be avenged. In a perfect world, someone would and should pay for Nikki Wood’s murder. But in real life justice is often elusive. Spike can’t be reduced to a monstrous “non-thing” in order to indulge a broken man’s need for closure. Spike may be a vampire, but his soul renders irrelevant any dissociation from humanity that designation implies.
Buffy doesn’t kill vampires because they’re vampires. She kills them because their inability to differentiate right from wrong (since vampires don’t have souls) endangers human lives. Killing Spike not only violates that principle, but jeopardizes Buffy’s chances of defeating the First. If Wood forces a choice between Spike and himself, Buffy will and should choose Spike: “If you try anything again, he’ll kill you. More importantly, I’ll let him. I have a mission. To win this war. To save the world. I don’t have time for vendettas. The mission is what matters.” This is easily one of the most chilling lines of the series. Besides consolidating her power with the threat of force, Buffy has made the crucial decision to not distinguish between humans and demons when it comes to winning. Those who work against her mission to the save the world risk death. And that’s how it should be; to argue that the Slayer cannot kill humans because the designation “human” means something in and of itself undermines the very reasons we as a people deserve saving. The moral line in the Buffyverse has never been marked by sharp teeth or extra limbs. Characters are not defined by their physiology, but by the choices they make.
If I had to conclude with a singular plaudit for this episode, it would be that it so cleverly undermines the series’ established themes and morality: Vampires with souls must wallow in self-pity, slayers can’t kill humans, the right choice always exists… justice exists. As I mentioned, BtVS had always been a sort of tongue-in-cheek feminist statement. Sure, Buffy could slay vampires in a halter! Why not?
Season 7 is so disconcerting because it hints that the Slayer’s life can never be normal. In deciding who lives and who dies and in baring sole responsibility for the survival of her species, the Slayer always stands alone. And I think that reality has always emerged in the defining moments of the series. In “Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21], Whistler reminds Buffy that “in the end you’re all you’ve got.” In “Restless” [4×22], Buffy searches tirelessly for her friends, but ends up alone in a vast, empty desert. And in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07], Buffy articulates for the first time the acuity of that loneliness. Whether or not she deserves it, whether or not she chose it, the strength of the Slayer is hers and hers alone. That no one else can feel what she feels or do what she must do is the basis of her feelings of superiority. And as Holden wisely responds: “it all adds up to you feeling alone. But everyone feels alone, Buffy. Everyone is. Until you die.”
I suppose that’s what this episode is all about. Despite what our parents tell us or what love makes us feel, our lives are ultimately independent journeys. We share certain moments and encounters, many of which we deem crucial to what we are, but only the individual herself can create the purpose and live the responsibilities of “life.” Nikki Wood loved her son as much as Buffy loves Dawn, but each is called to a mission that supersedes love. That’s not to say that the duty of the Slayer makes the experience of love any less profound. It merely means that to be chosen is to be called to something beyond yourself.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Wood telling Buffy she sometimes reminds him of his mother. This carries on more meaning than a simple compliment.
+ Giles storming into the Principal’s Office complaining about the travesty of the new library. There’s too many computers! Haha! Classic Giles.
+ Xander’s offhand reference about not having the chains up last week. It’s these type of little comments every episode that really bring the universe alive.
+ The funny awkwardness of William’s mom showing up while he and Drusilla are having fun on the couch. She asks “are you drunk?” William responds, “little bit.”
+ Wood’s awesome “sanctuary” filled with crosses covering every wall. Spike’s reaction is perfect: “What the bloody hell is this?”
+ The music during the fight between Spike and Wood — simply exhilarating!