Shades of Gray: A Redemptionista Response to David Fury
Since David Fury’s infamous interview about his episode "Crush," many online denizens have been waxing eloquent about whether Spike is capable of redemption. Anti-redemptionists point to Fury's interview as conclusive evidence that Spike is evil and cannot ever change. I believe Fury's interview is a red herring. To support this assertion, I will examine how Fury's opinions regarding Spike are problematic and illogical, particularly in light of evidence we've seen on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Fury says that, "A vampire with a soul [Angel] is a very different thing [than Spike with a chip]. If other vampires can choose to fight evil or choose not to be evil, I don't think Angel's as unique a character." In other words, Fury is claiming that Spike has not been choosing to fight evil this past year and a half. According to Fury, Spike is apparently not capable of free will, but instead is locked into his actions, programmed if you will, to always revert to his natural evil state.
Fury (who, not-so-coincidentally, writes for Angel as well), goes on to say, "It [doing good] is still a choice for Angel. Yes, he's driven by guilt, but he's also driven by a blood-thirst. Also, can he be redeemed? He's not sure if he can, and, 'If I can't be redeemed, what's the point? Why can't I just go killing people?' That's the interesting dilemma for Angel. To afford that kind of conscious choice on a character like Spike would diminish both of them." OK. If Spike doesn't have a conscious choice, then I would argue that he can't be an evil serial killer. He is no more evil than a rabid dog that has no choice but to bite and foam at the mouth. One can only be evil when one consciously rejects good and travels down the path of darkness. For example, in Western culture Lucifer is the archetypal figure of evil because he consciously rejected the path of good (the path of God) and chose to rebel. The story would not be nearly as effective if Lucifer did not have free will, if he was simply programmed by God to be unremittingly evil.
Fury’s statements also contradict what we’ve seen on the show. Repeatedly Spike has made a conscious decision to do good. Even in "Crush," he eventually makes the correct choice, although the presence of the demon makes it exceedingly difficult. Although his actions (chaining up Buffy and threatening her) are undoubtedly wrong, Spike ultimately rejects Drusilla, the woman who created him, and chooses to help Buffy. Dru says that Spike is "lost": he has become so tainted by his love for Buffy that even she can't restore him to his Big Bad status. Ironically, David Fury's own episode does not negate the possibility of Spike's redemption!
Finally, David Fury's statements regarding Spike and free will don't correspond with the opinion of the show's creator. Joss Whedon, the executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, claimed at a recent press event for Angel that vampires can choose to do good; it is simply more difficult for them because their "guiding star" is evil. Either David Fury disagrees with Whedon or he was just blowing smoke in his interview about "Crush."
Fury (along with many anti-redemptionists) also conflates the ability to choose between doing good and evil, and the ability to choose to do good for pure, unselfish reasons. They are separate issues. Spike can choose to do good; we've seen ample evidence to support that. But can Spike do good for unselfish reasons? The evidence we've seen in this regard is equivocal and complex. Spike's motivations, like the motivations of many human beings, are not "pure." They are ambiguous. He hopes to bed Buffy and have her reciprocate his love. He realises that being a bloodthirsty murderer will not appeal to a righteous warrior like Buffy, so in episodes like "Triangle," "Checkpoint," and "Blood Ties" he chooses to adapt and change. He tries to become a better man, a man that Buffy potentially could love. The good deeds he performs in these episodes are symptomatic of the love that is infecting his vampiric system, and they are not always completely selfish. In "Triangle" he continues to help the bleeding victims in the Bronze, even after Buffy calls him "disgusting." In "Checkpoint" he takes care of her family. Had he truly been evil, then as soon as she left he would have had them killed or turned them over to Glory. In "Blood Ties" he protects Dawn even when Buffy isn't there to see it. Finally, there's the end of "Fool for Love," the episode that escalated all this talk about Spike's moral nature. Spike, after being rejected by Buffy, flies into a murderous rage and plans to kill her. However, when confronted with her tears, he feels compassion and asks, "is there anything I can do?" At that moment, Spike does something selfless. He suppresses his own pain and his own selfish demonic desire to harm Buffy. He had just been rejected in the worst possible way, and yet part of him (a good part of him) still wanted to comfort her.
I suspect the writers themselves are conflicted about how to treat the relationship between Buffy and Spike. They like his character, they don’t want to kill him off, they want to give him interesting things to do, but they don't agree on where Buffy and Spike's relationship should go. Thus, we see Buffy sending decidedly mixed signals to Spike. She goes to him for help in "Fool for Love," "Checkpoint," and "Blood Ties." She even apologises to him in "Blood Ties" and has several civil conversations with him.
Perhaps Buffy's strangely inconsistent behaviour towards Spike is an indication of how unsettling she finds him. In "Crush" Dawn tells Spike that Buffy is constantly worried about what will happen when Spike’s chip comes out. For this reason, Buffy doesn’t want to get too close to Spike, or ever forget that he is (in her opinion) a heartless, soulless, killer. She doesn't want to trust him and then be hurt again à la Angelus. Furthermore, to admit that a soulless vampire might have genuine feelings for her and might be capable of being good would make her question Angelus's behaviour and also her own mission of hunting vampires. Was Angelus, the vampire who was pure evil and totally lacked humanity, the exception to the rule? Or is Spike, the vampire with so many human qualities (the ability to love, the affinity for human food), the exception to the rule? If Angelus is the exception, that means every vampire has the potential for redemption and the received knowledge from the Watcher's Council is as erroneous as Custer's opinions about Native Americans—a decidedly uncomfortable notion for the Buffster! Perhaps that is why the lady doth protest so much. To believe that Spike genuinely loves her, she would have to admit that Angelus could have been capable of rejecting evil and loving her. No wonder Buffy is having a difficult time accepting Spike's morally ambiguous nature. It is far more comfortable to view the world in black and white.
Now to the final point: will Buffy and Spike ever have a romantic relationship on the show? Fury states: "Spike is charismatic, there's no doubt. Good-looking guy, no doubt. But Spike, boyfriend, it raises a lot of moral questions about our characters, about the kind of people they would date. It would speak volumes about Buffy in a negative way, if she were to reciprocate. She is a strong, moral woman, and for her to suddenly go, 'Hey, he is kind of cute,' that would diminish her character." Yes, Buffy is a strong, moral woman. And I agree with Fury in part: for Buffy to suddenly say, "Hey, he is kind of cute" would diminish her character. But I hope that if this storyline ever comes to fruition, the writers would do something more nuanced and emotionally complicated than that! In order for Spike and Buffy to be together romantically, certain things would have to change. Spike would need to demonstrate that he has a genuine desire to do good; that he is in it for the long haul and will not revert to evil. His desire to do good would need to be independent of Buffy's reciprocation of his affections. If she rejects him unequivocally (which she seems to have done at this point) and he still continues to do good, then I think he will have proved the genuineness of his desire to be a better man. If he does that, then I see no reason why Buffy couldn't pursue a relationship sometime in the future with this new shades-of-gray Spike. After all, if Xander can shag an unrepentant ex-demon without being morally sullied, why can't Buffy have a bit of fun with Spike?
Nobody knows where this storyline will lead. Indeed, recent developments with Spike and his Buffybot are a further reminder that the path to redemption is, to steal a line from Paul McCartney, a "long and winding road." We at BAPS remain hopeful that Spike will not run off to L.A. to be the "Big Bad" on Angel. We at BAPS remain hopeful that David Fury's interview was Mutant Enemy propaganda. We at BAPS remain hopeful that the outcome of Spike's story arc will be intellectually and morally challenging and even . . . dare I say it . . . effulgent.
*JodithGrace made this point on the Buffy Cross and Stake.
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