A very brief overview, Seasons 2-4
Season 2: Spike comes to Sunnydale as the main second-level villain (as opposed to the Great Villain, who is to be Angelus) and eventually sides with the Slayer in a whopping great case of enlightened self-interest. Though it's not in the script, James Marsters plays Spike as sexually attracted to Buffy in hopes that perhaps that sexual tension will keep him on the show. Apparently, his strategy works. At the very least, a million Buffy/Spike fanfics were inspired. Spike becoming a turncoat makes some wonder if he could turn good, inspiring a million Good Spike fanfics.
Season 3: Spike returns to Sunnydale for only one episode because Juliet Landau, who plays Drusilla, is busy making movies (if anyone knows the titles of these films, and where they can be rented, I'm obliged to you). Buffy tells Spike she violently dislikes him and Spike is able to see into her heart, but he actually flirts with Willow, and a million Spike/Willow fanfics are launched, to the dismay of B/S'ers everywhere. Spike sportingly tells Buffy where her friends are, to the delight of GoodSpikers.
Season 4: Spike returns to Sunnydale, again sans Drusilla. Spike's viciousness toward Buffy in The Harsh Light of Day dismays B/Sers and GoodSpikers, however, B/Sers take heart in the possibility that he was jealous about Parker. B/Sers and B/Wers, mostly the latter group, find reason to celebrate when "The Initiative", the episode in which Spike gets his no-biting chip, airs. Spike calls Buffy "gorgeous" and is still obsessed with her...but he actually flirts with Willow. Spoilers are released stating that Spike and Willow will hook up later in the season. This turns out to be untrue, devastating S/W'ers everywhere, relieving most B/Sers, and frustrating Spike fans like me who at this point will settle for a romance with some nice girl, any nice girl. B/Sers receive much more hope later on with Something Blue...the fan reaction to which had Mutant Enemy salivating over the S/B possibilities. Spike complained about Buffy not coming to see him off in A New Man, lusted for Faith-in-Buffy in Who Are You, and blatantly hit on Buffy in Superstar. Though the season ended unpromisingly for the B/Ser, we had reason to hope that the UST would continue.
Season 5: It is during this season that Spike as fun villain/comic relief/Cordeliaesque chorus dies, and Spike as Serious Character is born. In the early episodes, Buffy is continually infuriating him by bursting into his crypt and slapping him around for answers. Unable to retaliate, he creates a mannikin with a blond wig to kick to pieces as a form of anger management. Spoilers are floated that seem too good to be true but they pan out.... in Out of My Mind, Spike thinks his chip is out, tries to bite Buffy, finds it's not out, goes mad with frustration, and then dreams of engaging in hot nookie with Buffy and confessing his love. B/S shippers are in hog heaven. However, it's with Fool for Love, the Spike Origin episode in which we discover that he started out as a nice, nerdy guy, that a new kind of fan, the Redemptionist, is born, replacing the GoodSpiker. GoodSpikers tended to think Spike wasn't so bad all along. Redemptionists, many of whom never even liked Spike before, acknowledge he is evil but now believe he is capable of overcoming his own demonic nature and becoming good. Most redemptionists are S/B shippers, and vice versa.
In Season 5, Spike's path is inspired by that of Quasimodo, the deformed lovestruck man who suffers from unrequited love, tries and fails to save the object of his desires and is crushed by her death. He also takes on a Mary Magdelene kind of role in the last act of the season, during which Buffy becomes a Christ figure. Despised by Buffy even after he confesses his love, he unwittingly proves himself to her by allowing himself to be tortured rather than betray her and her sister, causing Buffy to absolve him of his sins, forgive him, and accept him as one of her circle. He is not cosmically redeemed, nor does he win Buffy's romantic love, but he does achieve the role of trusted ally and Buffy does love him as a friend, as she says, by inclusion, in The Gift ("I love you all, but I'm sorry.)
It is in The Gift that Spike has his finest hour, promising in the perfect Queen's English of his human alter-ego, to protect Dawn until the end of the world, and admitting that while he knows Buffy will never love him, it's enough that she treats him as a man. Buffy's look...passive, sad, and deep, when he says she will never love him, seems to belie his statement. She does love him now, just not as he wants. And perhaps that's not so sad, as the new, Christlike Buffy probably is not capable of romantic love. She has more important things, like saving the world, to consume her attention.
Spike's potential for redemption looks very promising at the end of Season 5, as a result of his determination to keep his promise with no hope of reward and at cost of his own vampire life.
"You just call out my name/And you know whereever I am/I'll come running to see you again/And I'll be there/You've got a friend." "You've Got a Friend," a song.
Spike's nobility is at a high point in the first few episodes of Season 6, as is B/Sers hope for a love relationship between Spike and Buffy. Though there are a few trouble signs....his nastiness toward Giles and his longing look after the hell-raising biker demons in the premiere...he conducts himself as a gentleman. He continues to take care of Dawn, still trying to honor his promise even while his love is in the grave. He demands nothing, not even friendship, of the resurrected Buffy, who may or may not be exactly the same Buffy they put in the ground. He attends to her needs, offers his help, listens to her talk without judgment, treats her with gentleness and kindness. Buffy, in return, shows the first signs of viewing Spike as a love interest...she nervously buttons her shirt when he first sees her in After Life, gazes at him as though he is the only thing worth seeing both at home and when she visits his crypt, confides in only him about her time in Heaven.
It is during Life Serial that the first cracks in the fragile friendship initiated in April, 2001's Intervention start to appear. In a depression over her inability to succeed in a job or at school due to the torments of the nerd triad, she goes to Spike and gets drunk, then expects him to solve her problems by beating the answers out of demons in a bar. When Spike doesn't succeed, the "honeymoon" ends. Buffy tells him off, seems disgusted that she can only stand being with a neutered vampire, and complains vociferously that he could not make everything all right. Things are starting to slip back to pre- Intervention tension. The redemption cause seems to be in a wee bit of trouble as well, as Spike's answer to Buffy's problems appears to be to convince her she's a creature of the darkness, encourage her to get drunk, and get her to visit the seediness of his world.
In the musical, Once More With Feeling, matters worsen when Spike is disappointed that Buffy only wants to pump him for information. The "true feelings" spell taking over, Spike reveals that he can't stand being around Buffy and not being able to consummate their relationship, and begs her to go, only to express dismay when she actually leaves. Redemptionists are thrown a bone, however, via his confession that his passion for Buffy lies in the fact that she makes him feel alive, i.e. human.
Later he offers his help, only for a peevish Buffy to turn him away. Spike's true feelings now conflict between a desire to kill her and save her, his dual vampire/William nature being starkly illustrated. We're reminded that the consistently knightly Spike of The Gift through Flooded could not last because he still is a vampire, still has demonic urges and lacks the traditional, soul-provided conscience.
Spike comes through in the end however, the only one who is able to stop the suicidal Buffy, still mourning Heaven, from dancing to her death, and along with Dawn, the only one able to speak the words that break through the ice around her heart and re stoke her desire to live again. Again, his heroics occur without hope of reward, and he walks away telling Buffy to go back to her friends. But she pursues him, singing that she is frozen and though this isn't real, she wants to feel again; Spike sings that he died a long time ago, again identifying himself with the nice guy he used to be, and Buffy kisses him. Things look excellent for the shippers.
"Will you take it all the way/Now that you've shoved it in my face?" - - a song, I don't know the title or the group.
However, it is now that the real conflict begins brewing. The kiss served not so much to begin a love affair but to end the friendship between Spike and Buffy. She begins a pattern of passion and rejection which infuriates Spike. The two get a respite when they lose their memories; Buffy is a happy slayer again, and Spike thinks he's a noble vampire with a soul. Newly depressed and bitter from Giles' departure, Buffy seeks his solace but then turns away from him, conflicted about his vampire nature and probably fearing further abandonment. This leads to a physical fight in Smashed...Spike feels no pain from the chip, believes he can kill again, and, enraged at Buffy's insults and rejection, incurs a whopping great fall from whatever grace he had achieved by trying to bite and kill a woman. The thin string of hope for redemptionists here is that Spike has to talk himself into it, not sounding too convincing when he describes himself as an evil killer.
"You let me violate you/You let me desecrate you/You let me penetrate you/...Help me I've got no soul to sell/... Help me think I'm somebody else/I wanna *&%& you like an animal." -- Nine Inch Nails
When he finds out that his chip still works, and it's only Buffy he can hit because she's not quite human, he gets dolled up with a purple shirt and gold necklace and accosts her in an alley, goading her into a violent verbal and physical fight which does not end until Buffy kisses him, unzips his fly, and initiates sex with him. Though the sex isn't delicate, it is not violent, and the two make long, emotional eye contact which indicates that there is more going on here than physical lust. But the next morning, it all goes south again when Buffy describes their night as a freak show and Spike says the only thing better than killing a slayer is screwing one...and that she's a vampire groupie.
All is not lost for shippers and redemptionists, however, when Buffy seeks out Spike to help her find Dawn and he willingly helps her and when he again confesses his love, thus putting the kybosh on his earlier implication that he just wanted to boink a Slayer. His threat to bite her if she keeps coming around and being a bitch is variously interpreted as a sign of evil and as a positive indication that he's finally standing up for himself. Buffy, witnesses Willow's descent into magic addiction, sees herself as a Spike addict and apparently swears him off, surrounding herself with garlic and a cross.
It is ironic that Spike's karma seemed to be better when Buffy was dead than when she came back as the apparently demonic, yet still good, Revenant Buffy. He fought evil with the Scooby Gang and took care of Dawn when no one else could. But after Buffy came back he fell out with the Scoobies because they didn't tell him about it, he stopped interacting so much with Dawn...his most humanizing influence...and his sexual and romantic frustration won out over his best of intentions, to simply be a sympathetic friend to Buffy. Buffy, for her part, seemd to view him as her devoted knight until he couldn't solve her problems in Life Serial, after which she abandoned her respectful treatment of him. And now, the more intimate they become...from impusive kiss to prolonged necking session to ardent sex, the more she rejects him as a person, and the more belligerent he becomes.
This seems to be a tale of two damaged people, one perhaps irretrievably so (Spike), who are seeking to heal themselves through love and/or passion, and failing because they don't truly know who they are, what they want and how to relate to each other. Not only does Buffy believe a relationship with Spike is wrong, but Spike himself referred to his own heart as a traitor, implying that he too isn't comfortable with the vampire-human romantic dymanic. Only when Spike commits himself to turning his back on evil, and only when Buffy can see and relate to the man in him, not just the demon, can they have hope of happiness. And as every shipper and redemptionist knows and dreads, that day may never come.
But as every shipper and redemptionist
will tell you...we keep hoping.