“Seeing Red,” by Stephen DeKnight
Love is back in business in the Buffyverse, because WillTara are a thing again! A happy, delighted, so-in-love post-coital thing. After the events of “Entropy,” they spent the night together, and now as morning comes they’re just catching their breath with a bit of shop talk.
What a contrast with Spuffy waking up in that broken house, huh?
By shop talk, I mean all things Buffy, and soon Tara is confirming Willow’s just-sparked suspicions about the spuffage. After a brief burst of “Why didn’t she tell me?” hurt feelings, Willow goes to see if Buffy needs support. And she may indeed, but she still hasn’t made it home.
It’s not so unreasonable that both Xander and Willow are hurt by having been left out of this particular loop. The fact that even Dawn figured it out might make the sting even worse. But then Tara puts in an appearance, and that puts an end to all discussion of elder super-siblings, because Dawn is such a WillTara shipper. She is so thrilled at the prospect of possibly having this particular relationship back on its feet that she does everything short of tying the two of them together and putting on the Barry Manilow. Hooray for forgiveness and reconciliation!
For a change, Buffy’s reason for not coming home isn’t sex in a crypt, although Spike is at the heart of it in a way. Bury your troubles in work, is her apparent philosophy, so she’s busy breaking into Nerd Central. She emphatically does not admire the Trio’s collection of scantily dressed female action figures. She also grabs some of their papers as she pokes around the basement, all the while talking to them in case they’re hiding or invisible. But they’re not around. They’ve left a buzz saw deathtrap behind and scampered off.
It’s not a very effective deathtrap, unless the goal is to annoy. She gets away with documents, floor plans, CDs, and Klingon love poetry, then sets up a Scooby meet to pore over the loot.
It’s more of a mini-meet, really: her, WillTara, and Dawn. Buffy figures neither Xander or Anya is in the right frame of mind, and she doesn’t want to see Spike. It’s moments like this that make us miss Giles all the more.
(In point of fact, Anya’s having a drink with a betrayed woman and not even realizing that her renewed vengeance gig isn’t going well. She’s too wrapped up in her own troubles. She monologues right over her new target’s “I wish,” several times in a row.)
Elsewhere, the Trio is doggedly pursuing their latest plan. Using Andrew as bait, Warren tasers a Nezzla demon into unconsciousness before having Jonathan gut it and put on its skin. The whole point is the demons keep the mystical equivalent of a super-zorchy force field in their lair. Only they can pass through.
Who haven’t we seen yet? Oh, of course—Spike! With everyone else actively angry at him or wrapped up in their own relationship stuff, it falls to Dawn to show up at the crypt and ask the Bloody if he’s okay. He’s drinking—big surprise there. It’s a weird scene. She asks if he truly loves Buffy and ends up telling him, or perhaps reminding him, that his banging Anya turned out to be pretty darned hurtful.
By now, Jonathan has successfully retrieved the Orbs of Nezzla’Khan. Instead of using them himself, he foolishly hands them over to Warren, who promptly makes himself superstrong and invulnerable. There’s a great idea, right?
And have I complained about the Watcher’s Council lately? Oh, I know what you’re thinking—they’re not even in this one. But would it perhaps have been a good use of their time, over the centuries, to just maybe go round up some of these otherwise useless villain-tempting power-ups? They could chuck ’em into Mount Doom, or fire them into space or even give them to vulnerable nice people they like. Jenny Calendar, for example, or Faith’s original non-evil Watcher are two who spring to mind.
Right. Digression. Forget I said anything.
Buffy goes to Xander’s to see if they can talk sensibly about Spike. He’s living in sloth and depression, and appears to be even more upset about the Spuffing than he is about Anya’s one-off sexual indiscretion. The rapproachement doesn’t come off. They fight about Spike’s lack of soul and in the end, Xander walks out, even though it’s his own house. We get to see him walking the streets of Sunnydale, in a funk, while Anya dusts the Magic Box. He peers in on her, then walks on, off to the Bronze where a woman tries to pick him up... but he’s not having any. He’s just nursing his drink and, though he doesn’t know it yet, waiting for the Trio to show up.
(WillTara, I’m happy to report, are still in bed.)
At this point, there’s a bit of a jarring transition. In the midst of life and all this romantic turmoil, Buffy suddenly heads out on patrol. She gets bounced off a gravestone by a lucky—if easily toasted—vampire. This hurts her enough that she actually feels it, and heads home to shower off the injury.
It might have been more elegant for one of the Trio’s buzz-saws to tag her, just a little, but the upshot is she’s hurt and not at her spryest when Spike follows her into the bathroom and tries to apologize.
This turns into him insisting she loves him and her saying he’s not trustworthy.
Trust? Spike laughs this silly notion off. “Trust is for old marrieds.”
What interests me about the exchange between these two is that in the moments before Spike completely loses his mind and attempts to rape Buffy, she replies, as follows, to to his line about love being a thing that burns and consumes:
“Until there’s nothing left. Love like that doesn’t last.”
This passes for an admission, at least to my mind, that her feelings for him run very deep indeed.
But Spike isn’t listening. In the wretched-making scene that unfolds next, he tries to force Buffy to love him by forcing her to have intercourse with him. He’s angry, he’s desperate, and he doesn’t give up until she’s punted him into, and very nearly through, the bathroom vanity.
This is not one of those coy faux-rapes that television so loves to throw at us. It’s scary and ugly, and the script leaves no room for misunderstanding. He basically says: “You’ll love me when I’m in you.” It only fails because she fights him off.
At that point, way too late, he’s horrified with himself. Even if you do buy that Spike has steadily been becoming a better person, this is a profound failure on his part. It’s a moral lapse. It’s a total disconnect in terms of his emotional connection with Buffy: he utterly fails to hear her, or to show her anything resembling compassion. He acts, as Angelus often does, with complete and unabashed selfishness.
If he hasn’t been becoming a better person—if he truly is an evil, soulless thing, as Xander argues—can Spike truly be held responsible for this action? There have been plenty of times when these characters distinguished between the actions of Angel and Angelus, but Spike, so far, has never been anything but a demon wearing the face of William the Bloody Awful Poet.
We all need to catch our breath at this point, and Xander’s been chilling out for awhile, so let’s head back to the Bronze. Warren is there chatting up a random attractive woman, and while he’s distracted Jonathan makes an attempt to get Andrew to side with him—to form an alliance before it’s too late.
“Warren’s the boss,” Andrew simpers. “He’s Picard, you’re Deanna Troi.”
Soon ‘Picard’ has found an old bully from high school and is cheerily beating on him and every other fight-minded stuntman in the place. Xander tries to calm things down and gets taunted about Spanya and then face-punched across the room. Warren looks to be of a mind to kill him then and there when Jonathan intervenes, waving his watch and reminding everyone that the Trio has big plans elsewhere.
The baddies bail. Xander goes back to Chez Buffy and finds her still reeling, in the bathroom, from Spike’s attack. Willow shows up, too—she has figured out where the Trio’s get rich scheme is likely to unfold next.
(I probably shouldn’t be wondering if Willow was just down the hall for that whole shower scene, and why she didn’t hear the screaming. I do know what she was up to, but still!)
Spike is reeling, too. I think this may be the first time it has ever occurred to him that he might be one profoundly messed up unlife form. He hits the crypt, tries to drink, and grapples with both the horrible thing he just did and the fact that he feels guilty about it. He doesn’t know why he did it, and he doesn’t know why he didn’t keep trying. Clem the flappy demon stops by (to watch Knight Rider!) in time to catch a major aria of confusion and resentment. It all culminates in Spike’s blaming the Initiative chip for all his problems.
He’s not a monster, or a man. Darn this newfangled technology and the moral confusion it brings!
“Things change,” Clem reminds him, by way of being supportive. And, bless him, Spike remembers that things do change—especially if you do something to change them yourself.
Warren’s not so down with change. No, he’s running what is by now his standard playbook: breaking things and lying to his companions. He is about to pull off a massive armored car robbery, while Jonathan and Andrew watch impotently; Andrew is vocally coveting the orbs. Jonathan knows they’re never gonna get a chance to play with them. He’s doomed and miserable. He knows there’s no good outcome in their future.
Before they can grab the dough and run for the hills, Buffy arrives, feeling far less punched-through-a-gravestone and delighted to have an opportunity to smack the bleep out of someone invulnerable and deserving. Warren obliges her by providing violence, obnoxious sexist banter, things to throw and by claiming, prematurely, to be the guy who beat her.
Then Jonathan jumps Buffy, apparently demonstrating fantastic Trio team spirit. Warren cheers him on. Maybe years from now, he’ll wonder if he allied with the wrong partner-in-crime when he chose Andrew.
Or not. He won’t actually be wondering anything pretty soon, will he?
What Jonathan is actually doing is making a potentially long battle short by cluing Buffy in to the existence of the orbs. She tears them off Warren’s hip and smashes them. So much for super-strength: Warren flees with a jetpack, leaving Jonathan and Andrew to the tender mercies of the Sunnydale PD.
(Andrew is all brokenhearted, in a played-for-laughs gay way, that Warren abandoned them. I could have done without this.)
Just like that, we have reached the point in the season where everyone needs to be set in their final places for the endgame. The rape attempt sends Spike zooming out of town on a motorbike, apparently—based on his statements—so he can get himself dechipped. Warren’s still on the loose, leaving us to assume he’s got some major Big Baddery ahead of him.
What of our gang? Season six does have echoes of season four, as you all have mentioned. The gang becomes alienated from one another once again, though in some very different and sometimes subtler ways. Spike busted them up before the confrontation with Adam, but they pulled back together nicely. This time, Willow and Buffy have been on separate but parallel journeys, and the reconciliation process is happening in the same fashion.
And so the newer, better WillTara are just climbing out of bed, after more robust celebrating of their relationship, and peer down into the backyard to see Buffy and Xander embarking on a genuinely affecting heart to heart.
I love this scene. It’s an honest, grown-up conversation about their respective issues and the things that have come between them. They’ve set aside the defensiveness they brought to the earlier attempt to discuss things; they listen.
Then Warren shows up. With a gun.
It turns out that he really doesn’t appreciate having a woman, Slayer or not, bust his magical balls. He fires a couple vaguely aimed shots as Buffy shoves Xander out of the way. In the process, he kills Tara instantly.
Willow, who is allowed to be even more upset about this than all of us, gets her evil glowy-eyed thing on.
Buffy might still chill her out, though, if she moves fast.
Oh, wait. Guess who else took a bullet?
Next: Dark Phoenix is Bored Now
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)