Friday, October 2, 2015

BtVS: Effulgent: Season 5, “Fool for Love”

Covering “Fool for Love,” in which I know that my life makes you nervous, but I can tell you I can’t live in service.

Over the years, so many rumors of further BtVS spinoffs got passed around. Everything from Faith the Vampire Slayer, to a Ripper miniseries, to a cartoon revisiting Buffy’s high school years with Dawn now added to events. But one that never got rumored about was a spinoff centered on the Whirlwind, the grotesque vampire family so central to so much of the show, and the bloody swath we’re told they carved across Europe and Asia. Would it have been hard and expensive? Undoubtedly. But it also would have been fucking awesome. Darla, the cruel and imperious matriarch. Angelus, evil’s greatest artiste. Drusilla, mad mystical wildcard. And Spike, the lustfully violent anarchist. How amazing would that have been? Sure, a show devoted to the four taking their dark pleasures across the late 19th century globe might not be terribly sustainable, but, hell, give me as many episodes as could have been managed, I’d have loved it.
            The closest we get is “Fool for Love” and its Angel crossover, “Darla,” which isn’t half bad as compensation. If “Hush” is the best (which it is), “Fool for Love” surely is second best, a sweeping epic spanning continents and centuries ostensibly telling a story we’ve wanted to see since Giles set it up way, way back in season 2—how William the Bloody fought two Slayers in the past century, and killed them both.
            It went down like this: they fought. He won. The end!
            The end of season 4 and start of season 5 set up the story of Buffy digging deeper into Slayerdom, exploring its origins, mechanics, and meanings. Unfortunately, the show really didn’t get into this story all that much, as the Dawn business ends up taking primacy, so in hindsight, it’s really just an excuse to restore Giles’ position, which, you know, good idea there. “Fool for Love,” though, could well be taken as the capper of that story, or at least its season 5 iteration. So Buffy is nearly defeated by a vampire who doesn’t seem particularly special (though, perhaps significantly, he has Ramoneish hair and a leather jacket to match, and a Clash t-shirt), so she seeks out Spike in the hopes of divining why those other two Slayers died. And as Spike can be reliably counted upon to do, he tells at least one absolute truth, the statement above. They died because he won, and that is the end. As much as Buffy might wish otherwise, there truly is no greater secret or significance—Spike had a pair of really good days, and eventually some other beast will again, if not something else. That “something else” takes on a particularly relevant cast when Buffy returns home to find Joyce packing for a night of observation and MRIs in the hospital. Despite her success and accomplishments, she’s still probably destined to be a footnote some Slayer three centuries hence will complain lacks details. A fairly bleak hypothetical conclusion to this storyline, by then again, the show has never exactly shied away from the bleakness of the Slayer’s plight. Spike, in another truthful moment, frames that plight not necessarily as an exercise in futility, but certainly one in stasis, where real headway or progress is impossible.
            What we learn in “Fool for Love” is a great deal about Spike, as between it and counterpart “Darla,” we take our deepest dive yet into vampire mentality, and Spike’s (also Darla’s, which is just a bit outside the scope of this project). Mostly, being a vampire is everything obnoxious Ford was hoping for back in “Lie to Me,” and a complete immersion in horror, best epitomized by the grandiose march of the Whirlwind through the chaos of the Boxer Rebellion, a shot featured in both episodes as a dark triumphalist strut in “Fool for Love,” and something decidedly more ambivalent in “Darla.” And in this context, where becoming a vampire may be a horrific loss, but is also described by Spike as a profoundly transformative experience, things like his avowed thoughts on turning Willow into a vampire once take on a new meaning. Wouldn’t this, by his twisted thinking, be doing her a great favor? Sex and violence being inextricably smashed together in vampire thinking (or, uh, you know, American) isn’t earth-shaking revelation, it’s sort of their whole point. But we see how, for Spike, Dru’s wisest and bravest knight in all the land, they are perhaps even more inextricable than normal, given how his discovery of love is so inextricable from his death.
            Violence gives him power and esteem, and lets him hide and even forget what he was, and this rather is a revelation, how much Spike self-aggrandizes, self-mythologizes, and outright lies to hide the embarrassments of his humanity, and make himself seem more nefarious. And yet, he is also strikingly truthful. “I’ve always been bad,” he says before immediately being revealed as a fragile bespectacled fop who won’t even think on ghastly business like a rash of mysterious murders and can’t find a word to rhyme with “gleaming.” But he also declares, just after his transformation that he “was done living by society’s rules,” which is totally true, as he even went so far as to turn the japes and humiliations that society (pointedly, high society) used to mock and reject him—William the Bloody Awful Poet preferable to take a railroad spike through the head—into reasons that society should fear him. One of the big take-aways from both “Fool for Love” and “Darla” is that it enshrines in certainty that our four most compelling vampires transformed in reaction to a society that judged, disapproved, refused,and rejected them so that they could respond in kind (see? The Whirlwind would have been an awesome series!). It is no coincidence that the names three of them go by—“Darla,” “Angelus,” and “Spike”—are not the names they were given at birth. Spike lies about himself, but they all possess an outcast’s shame that would compel them to lie if they needed.
            He needs to lie because he has to impress the woman he’s been after for a century. Drusilla found him (and, you know, I still check the wiki every once in a while to see if those crazy kids have worked it out somehow), but the woman he pursued is the Slayer (notably, his preferred way to reference Buffy), and suddenly Spike’s lust for Buffy, which seemed rather arbitrary in “Out of My Mind” makes utter and complete sense—she is the woman he’s been dancing with for a hundred years, or at least she’s part of her. While Drusilla made William Pratt into a vampire, but the Slayer made William the Bloody a legend, and when this woman finally proves resistant to his violence, it seems only natural his thoughts would turn to sex.
            I’ve talked about “Darla” a little bit, which I’m pretty sure is the last crossover episode and pretty inarguably the greatest—not as focused as “Fool for Love,” perhaps, but still awesome, giving us Darla’s origins as a successful but shunned Virginia Colony prostitute, and centered on her efforts to save him from his inflicted soul in the past, contrasted with his efforts to save her with her inflicted soul in the present.
            But the end of “Fool for Love” finds Spike enacting one of his brilliantly blunt plans—after his death wish taunts fail to get enough rise from her (or perhaps, too much of one), he’ll just point a shotgun in Buffy’s direction and open both barrels, chip pain be damned. Harmony’s doubtful, but, you know, it seems nigh on foolproof. Except when he finds Buffy on her back porch, she’s a mess of tears from, as noted earlier, finding her mother confirming the one truth to be gleaned from her evening. A twisted gallantry has always been one of Spike’s central traits, along with strong relationships with women (perhaps natural, given how central women are on Buffy). In “Something Blue,” he wasn’t sure he could protect Buffy, in “The Initiative,” he talked of bringing Willow into his world, in “Where the Wild Things Are,” he commiserates with Anya, and in “Family,” he allays Tara’s doubts by punching her in the nose. Future episodes will see him deepening his relationship with Joyce, one of the many delights of “Lover’s Walk,” and forging one with Dawn. But in “Fool for Love,” he finds Buffy vulnerable, alone, and distracted, the perfect position for his plan, the perfect chance to resume the dance he’s had with this woman since 1900, but he sees her tears, and stops. He asks what’s wrong and if he can help somehow. And when she doesn’t answer because it’s very confusing, because why the fuck wouldn’t it be, he sits down next to her and not sure of what else to do, awkwardly pats her on the back. Fumbling but earnest, it’s his first fully human action in 120 years, and possibly the first of his entire existence. And it’s probably his best.

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