Feb 24 2014 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: A trigger, a soul and a chip walk into the high school

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Nikki Wood

“Lies My Parents Told Me,” by David Fury and Drew Goddard

New York, 1977:  Nikki Wood whales on Spike, and vice versa, while wee tiny Robin watches from behind a park bench. It’s hard to say which of the three is the most adorable. Nikki is looking as though she might get bit when Robin distracts Spike. Who decides that since he’s gone to all the trouble of stalking another Slayer—he knows her name, and has come looking for her just for the joy of it—he should drag out the hunt. Also, he loves her coat.

Having covered his otherwise sketchy motives for giving up on a fight he’s essentially won, Spike bails and Nikki gives Robin a big dose of tender loving care. She explains that she loves him but she also was born to Slay, and thus he must go be babysat by a Watcher who surely adores being put on childcare duty. Giles doesn’t know how good he has it. Oh, wait—Giles is now running a school for wayward young ladies.

In the here and now, Spuffy and Robin are fighting a pack of vampires in an alley. One imagines they were all headed out for a charming evening at that marvellous French restaurant when the remaining bloodsuckers of Sunnydale jumped them.  Robin’s getting pummelled and, on Buffy’s instructions, Spike goes in for the save. He tells Robin to be bold, and stake the darned monsters already.

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Robin Wood

“Just waiting for my moment,” Robin murmurs. The part he doesn’t say, of course is: “To kill you, you mother-slaying former poet.” Spike isn’t listening to either text or subtext.

Next day at school, everything is relatively peaceful by Hellmouth standards. Robin is wishfully thinking that maybe getting Andrew to cry on the seal was all they needed to do to keep the First at bay. Buffy’s pretty sure that’s not true. They’re interrupted when Giles pops in, filled with rage over the oh so electronic state of the new library. He also, rather conveniently, reports that the coven says the Apocalypse is still on time, on schedule, and on evil budget. Everyone who hasn’t achieved minimum safe distance from the high school and the seal by, say, May? Is toast.

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Robin, Giles

Giles moves onto the topic of Spike. As Robin tries to catch up on all the things Spike has in addition to fangs—the soul, military brain-altering hardware, a good bleach job, Nikki’s coat, kitten-gambling debts, crypt decor tips, and the affection of a good woman—Buffy and Giles argue about whether the trigger put in his mind by the First can be deactivated.

Giles has a spell that might help identify the trigger, and has hit Charms R Us for a magic stone that has to penetrate Spike’s mind. (I know, but it does!) They chain him up, and Willow turns the stone into an exciting CGI brain worm, which wiggles its way into his head through Spike’s eye socket. There it sets off a flashback: William the Bloody Awful Poet, reading to his thoroughly delighted mom.

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Spike, mom

Because she’s his mom, she tells him it’s masterpiece of verse. She adds that he should totally chase Cecily Underwood. Finally, we see that the old lady is a touch consumptive, but not so consumptive that she can’t sing “Early One Morning.”

Hearing the song in the flashback is enough to trigger a glorious outburst of Spikey violence. He attacks everyone, but then the wormy rock falls out of his eye and he seems to be back to normal. He also wants out of the chains. Giles and Robin interrogate him about the deeper meaning of “Early One Morning.” He insists that the song means nothing to him.

Upstairs, Willow is patching up Dawn, who got clocked in the scramble, while the Slayettes demand to know why a homicidal vampire gets to bunk in their basement. Then Fred phones, from L.A. and Willow goes zooming out of the episode to meet her.

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Spike, Dru

Next more flashback: Drusilla and newly turned William dance in his living room. (Hi, Juliet Landau!) She wants to make out on his couch, and is really quite unimpressed to learn that he’s brought her home to eat and turn Mother.

Buffy, true to form, has decided to release Spike from bondage. Robin and Giles are not on board with this choice. They agree that Spike and his trigger are simply too dangerous to leave lying around... loaded? Robin tells Giles about Crowley the Watcher, his amazing foster dad. Giles, of course, knows all about Spike’s having killed Nikki.

The revelation means that Giles understands that Robin’s all about revenge. The thing is, he kind of wants to kill Spike, too. He’s dangerous, after all, and he’s simply not good enough for Buffy. And all Robin wants is for him to get Buffy out of the way.

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Giles, Robin

No problem, says Giles. Off he leads Buffy to the cemetery. He tells her she has to look to the big picture, to start making sacrifices and hard calls. (I think The Walking Dead cribbed some of this dialog and then reused it every single week.)

The scam here is that because Buffy and Giles are out, Robin is tasked with babysitting Spike. The house full of Potentials doesn’t really want him around, especially with Willow off doing other stuff. He brings Spike to his sanctuary, whose walls are covered in crosses. He tells him the truth, and since he really wants to kill Evil Spike, not Souled Spike or Crazy Babbing Spike, or Chipped Spike or even Handing Down Slay Wisdom from the Mountain Spike, he puts “Early One Morning” up on the sanctuary sound system.

Spike, predictably enough, vamps out.

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Robin, Spike

Flashback time! William the baby vamp returns home after a party weekend of shagging Drusilla, looting the National Library’s naughty romantic poetry collection and putting select members of the aristocracy on spikes. He has come to check out how it’s going with Moms. How it’s going, as it turns out, is a bit of a mixed bag. Oh, she’s looking radiant and has had some quality time with the hair crimper. She’s also got better things to do than listen to her son’s attempts at poetry for all time.  William’s love for her survived his death. Her affection for him? Not so much.

As Robin fights the enraged, entriggered, engamefaced Spike, we see that William’s mother discovers she likes being mean, and so she calls the undead fruit of her loins a “limp, sentimental, fool.”

It’s all so crushing that Robin manages to Spike rather thoroughly and take back Nikki’s coat.

Elsewhere, Giles has hit upon the strategy of asking Buffy to drag out the killing of the evening’s dustable vampire. This is nice for the vamp because he gets to have a character name—Richard!—and five more minutes of screen time than usual. Sadly, Giles overplays his hand by raising the question of why are we keeping Spike, anyway? He forgets how well Buffy knows him, I think.

Buffy the Vmpire Slayer, Lies My Parents Told Me, Spike, mom

Back in Victoria’s day, William’s mom gets violent and incestuous, and then Spike stakes her. He says “I’m sorry,” in both the past memory and in the present day. But he’s not apologizing to Robin. Restored—in the sense that he’s no longer a mindless puppet of the First—he piles back into the fight.

Along the way, he does a nifty bit of psychoanalyzing about what Robin’s real issue might be: Nikki was a Slayer first and a mother second. He could, if he wished, have rubbed salt in the wound by making reference to Nikki’s having a death wish. This is, after all, what he told Buffy about why Nikki lost their fight. It’d be an interesting additional thing to lay on Robin, maybe.

Instead, Spike claims to be free of the First’s influence. He goes into game face and seems to be about to kill Robin.

Buffy bails out of the graveyard and the Giles distraction gambit as soon as she realizes what’s going on. She finds Spike reclaiming his coat, and Robin, naturally, still alive. (Though significantly less peppy.)  Claiming that Robin’s used the one chance he’s getting for mercy, Spike stalks off. Possibly in a bit of a dudgeon.

Buffy checks out the cross-walled sanctuary, and tells Robin about losing Joyce. It’s an “I feel your pain, but—” kind of speech. She says she’ll let Spike kill him if it comes to that, because the mission is what matters and Spike’s a better fighter. Sucks to be you, Robin.

As for Giles, he still thinks Spike should be killed, but Buffy’s too hosed with him to engage in that particular conversation. And we all know she’ll probably get over being mad, in due course. 

Next: The Mission is Can Faith Please Come Back Soon?


A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on! 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, in early March!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Robin got the short end of the stick this episode, and not just because he gets the crap kicked out of him.

Buffy and Spike both realized that their parents lied to them. Giles, just now is setting up Spike, and Spike's mom, when she was a vampire.

But because of Spike, and the overall tone of the ep, Robin never learns, Nikki lied to him too. She lied about being a Slayer first and a mom second. Putting Slaying first is the only way she knew how to be a good mom, to try and survive to be with her son, but that doesn't mean, as Spike assumed it did, she loved her son less for it.
2. Carmenghia
I'm all for these rewatch posts - especially Buffy - but would love for it to contain some insights and evaluations and not just a synopsis of the episode. The Star Trek rewatches are done really well that way.
Marty Beck
3. martytargaryen
@2 - Alyx's evaluations are in her tone. Compare this season's posts to early season posts, and the difference is stiking.

I think of these posts as an invitation to discuss the insights we all have, and the comments have been good. So thank you Alyx.
Marty Beck
4. martytargaryen
Aeryl's comments about feeling bad for Robbin reminds me that I'm always left wondering how much we are supposed to feel bad for him in this episode.

The other thought I am left with is that the show is trying to say, "This is why the Slayer can't have a family of her own." My point being that this is a dogmatic concept that gets made obsolete by the happenings in Chosen.
Constance Sublette
5. Zorra
That Spike walked away from the fight he won, and did not kill the man he defeated, spoke an entire audio library of how far he's come. It also seemed to speak that the way to go forward is sometimes by going back and looking at everything in a new way. Sometimes it really does help one to forgive and leave past abuses, terrors and sins by understanding a little better those who committed these against us.

I do know how much more peaceful my emotional life got when I grasped that the "family" story I'd endured wasn't just about me, that it had begun much earlier. To me this is still one of those signatures of growing up in a series that took place sometime between my 16th and 17th years. More understanding and letting go had to be done of course, but the sheer lessening of the burden, the relief of lightening that emotional baggage was a big encourager to keep on.

Love, C.
6. Dianthus
@5. This! God, yes! Bless you for keeping on.

Someone, whose name shall remain Joss Whedon, felt betrayed by a parent, and needed to forgive said parent before he could let go of the past, and move on to a brighter future. That's the real reason for the trigger, IMO. Not TFE's stupid, so-called plan.

Also, too: this is supposed to explain and 'cure' Spike's misogyny. It seems the Big-Bad, No-Good, Evil vampire was so, so rotten 'cuz his mommy said all those mean things to him. Never mind that Spike's a demon, and most demons hate humans, regardless of gender. Nevermind that his featured victim in CWDP was a guy, or all the guys down in the old lady's basement, along with the girls. Didn't they tell us, or at least imply, that Spike was primarily targeting women under the First's influence?

Aa an Anne Rice fan, this ep is kinda funny to me. Angel is not really analogus to Lestat in the slightest! He's more like Louis, the one who feels bad for the all the terrible things he's done (Inteview with a Vampire). Lestat is a charming, sexy, pain-in-the-ass who delights in flaunting the rules and messing up other people's doilies.
In his own book (The Vampire Lestat) we're told that Lestat turned his mother because she was dying of consumption. Spike and Lestat might sneer at one another considering their respective nationalities, but they're definitely brothers in rebellion. Lestat was my favorite vampire, pre-Spike.

Speaking of Anne Rice, she and Whedon actually have some things in common:
A history of personal tragedy - Rice's mother died when Anne was only 15. On top of which, Rice's daughter died at age 6.
They both worked out their issues through their writing.
They both referenced Apocalypse Now in their writing.
7. Dianthus
Sorry, but I meant to say, bonus points to you, Alyx, for your header... though the chip's been out for a while. How about a demon, a soul, and a trigger walk into the high school? Sounds like the set up for a joke, no?
Constance Sublette
8. Zorra
One of the elements I took away from the scenes with Mum and William, is that before William the Bloody turned his mother, she really did hold on to him with her golden ties of love, attention; she believed HER son was every bit as wonderful as she said he was. A typical situation for a mother early widowed with an only son-child, particularly in those days.

When she was turned demon that turned upside down like everything else. This is what happens to most turned vamp. Not many can hold on to any bit of humanity as they once had it. What they keep they use to create greater terror and cruelty. It was natural that a loving mother would turn against her son, even if the son was the one who turned her.

At least that's how I've always read those scenes. Moreover, seeing this, because William is not the average turned-into-vampire (how many vamps are able to defeat and kill Slayers?), he comprehends his real mother as she was is in torment undeserved as a demon, and gives her the true death. This is the sort of line that allows Spike to travel to love, to a soul, to a sacrifice. A true poet of life and death, soul and damnation, if not that great with words (that would be Drusilla ....).

Ah, I iz blathering now.

Love, C.
Jason Parker
9. tarbis
Glad somebody else brought up Rice. There was definitely a lot of doubling between the momma's boy vampires. The difference in result is the important part. Lestat's mother rejected him and after a bit of moping he went on with his unlife. William on the other hand does not take the rejection of his semi-incestuous desires so well and kills mom. At heart he re-killed her because he couldn't possess her the way he had possessed her when she was alive. This actually ties back to "Lover's Walk" when he was eager to brainwash Dru. Spike doesn't want a partner, he wants someone that makes him feel special and in control. The soul might be helping to keep that from being his primary driver, but it's in there.

Speaking of Dru I loved her facial expression when William brought up the idea of turning his mother. It was a fantastic "no really you're serious" look.

@6- I can't speak for Anne Rice in the seventies, but the closest to atheist you can tag her with these days is non-denominational unchurched Christian. A major shift from the few years at the turn of this century when she was hard core Catholic, but still a long way from being atheist.
Paul Keelan
10. noblehunter
I've had a headcannon since my last rewatch that Spike got infected with Dru's madness when she turned him. Except his madness is best described as love. That's why he turns his mother, why he spends most of his unlife with Dru, and why he becomes obsessed with Buffy.

Our William was never quite right in the head after he was turned. But that let him make real choices in way that Angelus and Drusilla never could, which would eventually lead him to his soul.
11. Alex C.
First things first: I love this episode.

The ongoing discussion about What Went Wrong with season 7 keeps circling back to a few things - the surfeit of convenient plot devices, the focus on unlikable minor characters (I'm glaring at you, Kennedy) at the expense of beloved main characters - but I think that single biggest culprit may just be a more familar one: ladies and gentlemen, we've been suffering through an episode drought.

To reiterate something that's been commented on before, this season had a really phenomenal first act. That show-stealing church scene at the end of "Beneath You" was followed in fairly short order by the magnificent Anya-fest of "Selfless", and then the brilliantly written "Conversations With Dead Peope", but after that it peeters off into a long string of episodes that average as so-so, at least in comparison to the previous standards of the show. Of the eight episodes after CWDP, none of them are really 'bad', and most have some great moments or nuggets of really clever character development in them, but there's nothing that's really... memorable. (Contrast this with S6, which even in its weakest section never went longer than three episodes before giving the audience something big to chew on).

"Storyteller" was therefore a big relief, in that it marked a return to form by the standards of the show. But it revolved around one of those minor characters, and consequently didn't feel very weighty.

Then along comes "Lies My Parents Told Me", and I'm very happy again. This episode was everything that I'd been missing since Conversations - psychologically astute, gripping drama that delves deep into three of the most important characters on the show.

To go for the obvious angle, I think that key to understanding the episode starts with its title. There's a note of irony mixed in here, in that of the three parent-child relationships that we see referred to in detail, none of them feature any straight-up lying by the parents to their children: almost everything that Nikki said to Robin, and Mrs. Pratt to William, and Giles to Buffy, was clearly meant earnestly and whole-heartedly, despite the fact that there's some seriously screwed-up parenting on display here (leaving your kid to be functionally raised by a Watcher, making incestuous advances to your son, and trying to murder your daughter's boyfriend? Not cool).

Instead, the lies that really matter are the ones that the kids tell themselves about their parents, and the effects that that can have. The crux of the episode comes through Wood, Spike, and Buffy finding, for one reason or another, that they have to let go of those lies. Robin's gotta face up to the fact that his vendetta against Spike in no way at all honors the memory of his mother, even if it is what she would have wanted him to do.

There are so many character implications for Spike in this episode that I'm not even going to try and scratch the surface of them. Suffice to say that everything we see of him in this episode makes so much sense that it's brilliant. He's always been a man (or demon) ruled by his passions, and his passions have always been fired by the women in his life - "Love's Bitch" in every sense of that glorious summation of himself that he delivered all the way back in season 3. To see him take such an enormous step towards overcoming, even mastering that part of himself, is quite thrilling.

And then there's Buffy. Although it's fairly understated, I actually think that her parts of the episode might be the most important. The father/daughter relationship that she has with Giles has always had its ups and downs (this is neither the first nor the worst betrayal of her trust that he's guilty of), but this really is a critical turning point: the lie she finally discards is that he's still her mentor, or has anything left to teach her. She won't stay mad at him forever, but the terms of their relationship can never be the same again after this: she's now for the first time unambiguously reaching for the leadership that he urged on her before, and that before this episode she was (I'd argue) only really play-acting at. In a very important sense, she's letting go of one of the last and most important remaining links to her youth.

There's a really rocky time for our hero coming up over the next couple of episodes, but she'll come out the other end of it stronger, in no small part because she reaps the mother of all dividends from her decision to place complete trust and faith in Spike.
12. DougL
I am never sure why the characters had so much trouble distinguishing ensouled vampires from the other ones, they did this bettr on Angel I think. The difference is essentially Buffybot v. Buffy and people can make that distinction easily enough.
Alyx Dellamonica
13. AMDellamonica
Aeryl, Robin does get the short end in a lot of ways, but I can certainly forgive Spike for taking the harsh view on how he presents Nikki to Robin. He's got no great reason to be kind, in that moment, and his feelings about Slayers in general are pretty complicated. Add to that the fact that he did stalk and kill Nikki, and he's just had this epiphany about his own mother... well, he says what he thinks in the moment.

Carmenghia, you're right: some essays weigh heavier to a recap. Others do dig in a little more. With such a savvy and well-informed group of fans, I do want to leave lots of room for discussion. Collectively you all know far more about BtVS than I ever could.
14. Dianthus
@2. If you're hungry for more, I'd recommend 'Fragments Of My Imagination' and The Soulful Spike Society's Spikecentric analyses. The first is complete through s7. Unhappily, the second stalled out in early season 6, but there's still the possiblity of more to come.

@9. It's my understanding that Rice self-identified as an Atheist for many years. She has, as you say, since regained her faith, but the loss of her daughter hit her hard.
15. Dianthus
@9. Gabrielle leaves Lestat eventually, but her 'rejection' is far less traumatic for him than Anne's is for William.

William want his mum, yes, but not in the more literal Oedipal sense. He is obviously repulsed by her coming on to him. Really, on a strictly personal level, how is his action here more selfish than Willow doing the spell to raise Buffy? Both of them used their power to 'save' a loved one w/o any thought of the consequences.
Jason Parker
16. tarbis
@15. Note the use of the word "semi-incestuous" in my earlier comment. A being with fully incestuous desires would not have rejected the mother's advances. However William had been the center of his mother's attentions and desired to remain so forever. That drive coupled with the sexually charged nature of creating a vampire makes her transformation semi-incestuous. He didn't want sex, he wanted affirmation and attention from his mother.

This double desire dovetails nicely with your mention of Willow because at the end of the day that is what she wanted from raising Buffy. Also I will not defend Willow on this point. The former-hacker turned witch is a character who on rewatches is hard to ignore what a petty possessive and occasionally bullying presence she is.

It also means that at least in my reading neither Willow or Spike is motivated by saving a loved one so much as a feeling of affirmation, accomplishment, and a want for praise from the person they were "saving." A trait they both demonstrated as far back as seasons two or three depending on how generous you want to be.

To reference Rice again I think a major difference in Gabrielle's leaving is time. Lestat had lived and unlived without for months or years before he turned her. He knew he could exist without her, even if he didn't want to. William/Spike did not have that experience, at most he might have a few years at public school (British version) if the family could have afforded it. That Gabrielle hung around for a little while was icing on the cake. Although I have to admit a certain affection for Gabrielle because like most of Rice's vampire women, and unlike most of the men, she found an interesting thing to do with her unlife.
Constance Sublette
17. Zorra
The former-hacker turned witch is a character who on rewatches is hard to ignore what a petty possessive and occasionally bullying presence she is.
Which underlines a principle difference between writing books and writing television. A novelist, completing the first draft, would be able to see this, and then decide whether or not this is what she intended for this character to be. Even if she didn't intend, she might well think -- wow! this is great. I had no idea! Thank you subconscious creativity! Or -- go, Oh no, this is wrong, and revise accordingly.

A television series writer can't do that.

Revision and re-writing are a book writer's very best friends -- which means re-reading and re-reading and re-reading your stuff beyond the point you can't stomach it any more. But this is what pays off.

Thus my hat keeps going off to the Buffy writers, who could do a limited abount retro-conning, but not that much, and who every year had to write a whole season's story, that fit with previous seasons, without knowing whether yet another season of story would be needed next year.

Love, C.
18. Alex C.
@16 - tarbis:

On Willow being "a character who on rewatches is hard to ignore what a petty possessive and occasionally bullying presence she is".

Oh, yes. Very much so. I don't think that it was in any way an accident that the sixth season heavily insinuated Willow and Warren as reflecting each other, in a number of ways - "The Killer in Me" just made it explicit.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that so much of the screentime alloted to Willow in the last season gets eaten up by her relationship with Kennnedy. Foccussing some attention on how she comes to recognize the flaws in herself and how she treats people would have been very nice to have in addition, or even better, instead.

In fairness, the early episodes of S7 do seem to have been gesturing in that direction (notably in Lessons, STSP, Selfless, and CWPD), but unfortunately this joins the list of promising things that faded away increasingly after ep. 7x07.

@17 - Zorra:

Amen to that.

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