“You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love till it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood…blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.” – Spike, “Lover’s Walk”
Though the Buffy fandom is a house divided over the OTP, the popular Spuffy is a contentious topic even outside of the shipping wars. A wild ride from Spike’s first appearance in the series in Season 2, their relationship culminates in his demise in the series finale, “Chosen.” While Spike was an excellent addition to the show and a great match for Buffy in terms of her Slayer nature, their relationship is problematic in the greater scheme of relationships in popular media because of their conflicting desires, Spike’s nature as a vampire, and Buffy’s inner issues during the last few seasons of the series.
It’s not until Season 5 that he discovers that he’s fallen in love with her and he deals with it in the way that any soulless vamp would: he becomes obsessed, builds a shrine to Buffy, tries to kiss her while explaining he killed two Slayers before her, and holds her and his ex-lover Drusilla hostage while trying to coerce Buffy into admitting she has feelings for him. Not exactly Prince Charming behavior. Even towards the beginning of his days as a neutered vamp in Season 4, he maintains a level of disinterest and distain for the safety and lives of the Buffy and her friends.
There are a number of great things about Spuffy: above all else, they understand each other better than any of the other characters. They’re drawn to the darkness and both want to become better – whether that “better” is Buffy’s issue of morality or Spike’s drive to be the best. They both understand family loyalty and the importance of protecting family, and what it means to have to sacrifice for family. It’s evident in Season 5 and onward that Buffy trusts Spike with her family’s safety because he’s strong enough, smart enough, and has enough knowledge of the darker side of life to protect them.
Not only is he on par with her physically and mentally, Spike also shows that he has the ability to read every other character while personal issues had kept the rest of the gang from catching on. In particular, he could tell that there was something wrong with Buffy after she was brought back from the dead while her friends blindly hoped that she was brought back in top shape.
Probably the greatest of the problems with Buffy and Spike’s relationship: their secret, mainly sexual relationship after Buffy is raised from the dead in Season 6.
Suffering from depression and numbness to the world, as well as a growing frustration with her friends, Buffy turns to Spike in order to feel something, and he grabs at his first chance with her after being in love with her for over a year. On both ends, it becomes a relationship of take-and-take, both using the other for their own needs rather than as a system of support. After a half season of Buffy treating him extremely poorly and dismissing their relationship as weakness on her part, she breaks things off towards the end of Season 6.
In a move that upended the audience’s overwhelmingly romantic view of the relationship, the show runner made a statement with the episode “Seeing Red.” When I watched it the first time, I was confused and shocked because I had fallen into the trap of wanting Buffy and Spike to work out and be together when in reality they had an unhealthy relationship of mutual abuse. After Buffy broke things off with Spike, he goes on a bender and tries to prove to her he loves her in literally the worst way possible: he attempts to rape her.
There are many arguments about how to view what happened at the end of “Seeing Red.” On one hand, we’ve seen that the relationship between Spike and Buffy, historically, hasn’t exactly been rainbows and puppies. Every time they have sex, it’s rough. The first time they get together they literally bring down a house. To a demon without a soul who’s also drunk, it was a twisted logic to try to recreate what they had had in order to show her that he loves her.
But again, their relationship wasn’t healthy, and “Seeing Red” was a very important moment in the development of the story between them. Fans get caught up in their idea of how relationships should go on shows, and it was important to show how really wrong the cycle of abuse Spike and Buffy had set up for themselves. The show also took a turn with Spike’s fate, which carries through to his redemption, becoming a hero, and the ultimate destruction of the Hellmouth at the end of the series.
In terms of Buffy’s partners, Spike is perhaps the most interesting and the best suited to her, but the package deal is problematic. He recovers his soul on his own – unlike Angel, who was cursed with it – and he respects Buffy as the Slayer, even if that means she’s physically stronger and independent – unlike Riley, who was critical and self-deprecating to the point of making her feel like her Slayer strength was a negative aspect of herself. Spike accepted Buffy, even in the darkness that manifested in her after her return from the dead. Season 7 has a great amount of development in their relationship, but most of the problematic material occurs before Spike regains his soul.
Buffy’s relationship with Spike is complicated and complex, especially in Season 7, but that’s what makes it interesting to watch, especially with the questions and problems that plague the couple. Pre-Season 7, the relationship between the two needs to be approached critically because of the problematic nature of their interactions. While they respect each other as warriors, they don’t respect each other as people. Mutual respect is the foundation for a strong relationship, and that respect does not appear until Season 7 when Spike returns with a soul and Buffy learns to appreciate what he’s done for her. As a fan of the ship, it’s hard to take a step back and really look at the problems involved, but it’s necessary in order to be an active viewer and member of a fandom. Buffy’s relationships are always a side story to the Big Bad of the seasons, but they are a huge part of her development as a person.
Christina Casano is a TV & Film writer at Girls in Capes, with a focus primarily on TV shows. Spanning cult favorites and current series, her favorites include Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Once Upon a Time. Christina is a recent graduate of Miami University and is now based in Chicago.
While I was examining the relationship between Buffy and Spike, I had lots of ideas about Buffy’s pattern of relationships and how Spike fit into that. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time or the space to discuss this topic, but check out Samantha Field’s “#WhyBuffyStayed” article on The Mary Sue, where Field discusses why Spike and Buffy work well but are problematic in terms of Buffy’s pattern of accepting abuse.
If you’re looking for more Buffy, check out an examination of bisexuality (and bisexuality erasure) on the show or an exploration of the father-daughter relationship between Buffy and Giles.