Bite-Sized Redemption? Spike and Dawn

by Aurelio Zen


One of the critical elements in Spike's quest for redemption seems to be his evolving relationship with Dawn. Spike's original attitude toward Dawn was one of, at best, tolerance based on the fact that she was the sister of the woman that he loves. However, I would argue that his friendship with Dawn is now independent of his feelings for Buffy, and possibly is an indicator of whether Spike can eventually generalize his love for Buffy into a moral code toward others.

The progress of the relationship between Spike and Dawn is fascinating, and a look at the episodes where the two of them have interacted with each other reveals how it has changed over time. When Buffy brings Joyce and Dawn to Spike's crypt in "Checkpoint," Spike really doesn't seem to know or care much about Dawn - he sees her only as the Slayer's bratty sister. He takes care of Joyce and Dawn because Buffy tells him that he is "the only one strong enough to protect them." He is flattered by Buffy's entrusting him with her family, and may also believe that this is evidence that Buffy had some kind of feelings for him. However, his conversation with Dawn is terse and annoyed - he warns her not to break anything and to be quiet so that he can watch "Passions" (although the soap opera provides an unexpected bond with Joyce). For her part, Dawn is revolted both by the blood in Spike's fridge, and by extension, his vampiric nature.

In "Blood Ties," Spike and Dawn form a fragile bond, though it is based on who is "badder." Spike taunts Dawn with watching "Teletubbies" (which is obviously a TV show for much younger children), while Dawn emphasizes Spike's inability to do her harm. A little stung, Spike helps Dawn to break into the Magic Box where the two discover Dawn's true identity together. Even though Spike goes along with Dawn, with the stated intent of protecting her, his mind is still on Buffy - he tells Dawn that Big Sis wouldn't like it if anything happened to her. Spike clearly still sees Dawn as an appendage of Buffy, while Dawn sees him merely as a useful ally in mischief.

By "Crush," Dawn obviously likes Spike very much, and appreciates his matter-of-fact way of dealing with her Keyness, which is so different from the stifling concern to which Buffy and the Scooby gang have subjected her. He tells her that "it doesn't matter much where you start out," and Dawn understands and appreciates this. Spike seems to like her too, but his liking for Dawn is still very closely tied into his feelings for Buffy. He is about to evict Dawn from his crypt when Dawn says that Buffy is always worried about what will happen if Spike gets the chip out. Spike is obviously a bit flattered that Buffy talks about him, and so he lets Dawn stay, and starts telling her horror stories about his past. When Buffy breaks up their little party, Spike is still more concerned about what Buffy thinks ("I was just about to send her home, I knew you'd be worried") than about Dawn.

By "I Was Made to Love You," Dawn feels utterly betrayed that her "friend" really was, as she thinks, using her to get to her sister. Her trust in Spike's inability and lack of desire to hurt her has been shattered by his reprehensible behavior toward Buffy. Furthermore, she may even feel partially responsible for having placed Buffy's life in danger, since she was the one who alerted Buffy to Spike's crush and tripped off the whole sequence of events. In the scene in the Magic Box, Spike tries to turn to the one person among the Scooby gang that he believes to be on his side, but Dawn simply sees this as further evidence of Spike's duplicity and spurns him.

Where their relationship turns around, I think, is in "Forever." Spike genuinely liked Joyce for all the reasons that he said, and I've always wondered whether he might have been waiting in the graveyard to pay his respects to her when he finds Dawn. This is the first time that he sees Dawn as an individual separate from Buffy and what he feels for Buffy. He sees how much pain Dawn is in, and something in him is deeply moved, to the point that he decides to help Dawn to do something that must be kept secret from Buffy and for which she would undoubtedly kill him if she ever learned of it. He goes with Dawn to see Doc and fights the Ghora because he feels compassion and liking for Dawn - not because he wants any credit from Buffy. Dawn, who still believes that Spike is only helping her to "get in good" with Buffy, sees by the end of the episode that Spike is willing to risk his life for her without wanting Buffy to know anything about it.

Spike and Dawn don't have any interaction in "Intervention," but I think it's interesting that Dawn is really not all that angry about the Buffybot. She remembers that Spike helped her before, and I think this tempers her feelings about the Buffybot. For his part, Spike undergoes some tremendous change in his understanding of himself and his part to play in the world as he endures Glory's torture. In the past, he had always been willing to kill for love (e.g. his threat to kill Dru for Buffy in "Crush"), but now he is willing to die for it, even with the knowledge that it will never be reciprocated.

That brings us to "Tough Love," in which the relationship between Spike and Dawn now encompasses acceptance, compassion, comfort, and friendship. Dawn understands what Spike did for her, and that means that she can forgive some of the bad things that he did before. She also trusts him with her feelings in a way that she trusts no-one else -- we have never heard Dawn speak as openly about what she fears in herself as she does to Spike in this episode. Spike, for his part, is moved by compassion and deep affection for Dawn, surely the first time that he has ever had such feelings outside a romantic context in his entire time as a vampire. He tries to offer the physical comfort of stroking her hair (interestingly, it echoes Buffy's own way of showing love for Dawn), though he withdraws the gesture, perhaps in fear of being rejected. He tries to alleviate Dawn's guilt over her part in what was done to him by Glory by belittling the extent of his injuries. He tells Dawn very convincingly that she is not evil, and even admits that he is no longer the Big Bad he has wanted to be for so long. By now, it is clear that Spike's love for Dawn is quite independent of what he still feels for Buffy. He might very well protect Dawn out of love for Buffy (as he did in "Checkpoint"), but the offering of comfort was out of love for Dawn (again, in contrast to their terse, unfriendly conversation in "Checkpoint").

By "Spiral," I would almost describe the relationship between Spike and Dawn as that between a brother and sister, with love between them as a given. Dawn bandages Spike's wounded hands, and when Buffy asks how Dawn is, her first reaction is to tell Buffy that Spike is hurt. We are shown several scenes in which Spike stands protectively behind Dawn and Buffy, a visual cue that he is now a part of their family group. At the end of this episode, Spike is the first to want to rush after Glory to find Dawn, ignoring Buffy's emotional collapse.

After Dawn is abducted by Glory at the end of "Spiral," she and Spike do not interact with each other until the tragic finale. However, in "Weight of the World," Spike's concern for Dawn is very obvious. Doc tells him that he should leave town if Glorificus is around, that no-one would want to face her; to which Spike replies, "Love to. Can't," and the explanation for his staying is provided a few moments later when he says, almost plaintively, "She's got Dawn."

Finally, in the great season finale, Spike's relationship to Dawn is formalized by the promise that he makes to Buffy. She asks Spike to protect Dawn at all costs, because she knows, that unlike any of the other Scoobies, his loyalty to her and to Dawn is absolute - he is the only one besides her who will place Dawn's safety above averting the apocalypse. He promises her that he will protect Dawn "till the end of the world," not realizing that the end of his world will come that very night, when Buffy dies.

Tragically, he fails Buffy, because he cannot stop Doc from bleeding Dawn. The long look that he and Dawn exchange in the moments before Doc throws him off the platform is full of love and anguish. Spike's desperate "No" and his scream as he falls from the platform are echoed by Dawn's scream, which I think is about equal parts concern for her own life, and concern for Spike's. Ultimately, Spike's promise to Buffy to guard Dawn will be, I think, what enables him to go on living after Buffy's death despite his grief, and Dawn's love for Spike will keep him anchored to the Scooby Gang.

What is so interesting from a redemptionist standpoint about this relationship is that what began as Spike's grudging tolerance of Dawn born out of his love for her sister, has turned into genuine love for Dawn. If love for Buffy can extend into love for Buffy's sister, then there is no reason to think that it cannot ultimately extend to all of Buffy's friends, and given time, to all those whose fate Buffy cares about. Since her role as the Chosen One is to care about all of humanity, it is not, I think, entirely delusional to believe that Spike could come to care in the same way, though it may take centuries to achieve that outcome.

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