Alright, so I’m taking a break from writing about games to talk about something entirely different. I’m not really a fandom sort of person, but I live with someone who has watched the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer something like seven hundred times, and as a result I’ve seen the whole series about six or seven times and I’ve gotten to thinking quite a bit about the series’ mythology, how vampires work and specifically the character of Spike and his transformation throughout the show, and seeing as how it’s the series’ 20 year anniversary I wanted to share that with you guys. I’m going to issue a big WARNING here that this theory contains a lot of SPOILERS about the series. Yes, I know, the show is now officially twenty years old, but if someone is going to have the chance to watch it spoiler free then I’m not going to ruin that. So, for any of this to make sense I have to lay some groundwork, so let’s start with…
Buffy is Wrong about How Vampires Work
In episode 2 of the show (The Harvest) Buffy lays out what happens when someone becomes a vampire, explaining to Xander that his friend Jesse just isn’t there anymore. Basically you’re dead and there’s just a demon possessing your body. They have your memories, but they have your memories the way google has your search history, they know what happened and can use that experience but they weren’t shaped by it. This seems to be pretty handily confirmed by the vampire Jesse’s dialogue a few scenes later where he’s clearly identifying as an entirely different entity, referring to “Jesse” as a pathetic loser and also using past-tense verbiage. So why am I saying that Buffy is wrong about Vampires? A few reasons, but let’s start with Angel.
Angel is our introduction to the concept of a vampire with a soul. I’m going to be referencing Angel as a character, as well as the show Angel pretty regularly in this article but for now what’s important is this: when Angel gets his soul back, he is very clearly not the same person as Angelus. He is not just Angelus with empathy and all of those soul-related things, he’s a completely different person who refers to the demon inside of him as a separate entity. In the season two episode “The Dark Age” they trick Eyghon into possessing Angel because “There’s [a demon] inside me just waiting for a good fight.” So for Angel, there’s a clear distinction between Angelus (the demon) and Angel/Liam (the person). Now you could say that this is the consequence of him having a soul, but I don’t think it is for a few reasons. The first is that when he gets his soul back he immediately feels guilty for the things that he did when he was a vampire. The key here is that it’s the things that he did, not the things that Angelus did. The demon may have been steering the ship, but the person is very clearly still there. Not just his memories, but him. If that’s not enough to convince you, though, let’s take a look at Darla.
Darla was a relatively minor villain from season one of Buffy who became a major character in Angel. She has a lot of backstory and most of it isn’t super important, but here’s what is: she died as a vampire and came back as a human, and being a human did not significantly change her. They brought her back as a human person, with a soul, and tried really hard to get turned into a vampire again. If being a vampire meant that the person you were went away entirely then there’s no way she’d be trying to turn vampire again. Clearly, Buffy’s understanding of how vampires work is incorrect, which is important because…
Different Vampire Demons Treat their Human Hosts Differently
The demon that took over Jesse in “The Harvest” clearly had nothing but disdain for his host and Angelus had nothing but hatred for Angel/Liam, but this isn’t always the case. If you look at Darla, she clearly got along just fine with her demon to the point that she wanted it back. Similarly, Holden from the season seven episode “Conversations with Dead People” seems to be mostly himself. He not only uses his skills as a psych major but also genuinely connects and reminisces with Buffy. There’s no soul to give him empathy and there’s definitely a powerful demonic influence, but it seems to be primarily Holden at the wheel. We know because of Angel’s internal conflicts with Angelus that the vampire demon does form opinions of their person and Darla and Holden are both evidence that that opinion is sometimes positive.
Because of this I think it’s fair to assume that any given vampire is a combination of the person they were, the demon that inhabits them, and how they interact. Not every vampire demon is the same and they may not even be the same species. There’s no guaranteed similarity in skills, abilities, attitude or overall personality. Angelus was basically a serial killer, Darla’s demon was a schemer as was Holden’s, and Spike’s demon some kind of warrior (maybe a Fyarl demon, which would explain why he spoke Fyarl, but I digress).
Now that all of that is laid out, if you’re still with me, we can get on to meat of my theory. Here’s where THAT starts…
Spike and William Pratt Are Best Friends
Alright, for those of you who don’t know, William Pratt is the English poet and generally sad fellow who became Spike. For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to refer to the human aspect of the character as William, the demon as just “the demon” and the vampire that they create together as Spike. I’m also going to try and be as chronologically accurate as possible.
So, the earliest encounter we have with William is at an upper crust British party where he’s bullied by a bunch of fellows who have no appreciation for his poetry. Shortly after that he gets rejected and then makes his way into the streets where Drusilla turns him vampire. Now here’s the most important thing about this: when he gets turned, Spike’s priorities are the same as William’s. He turns his mother into a vampire to save her life, because William loved his mother and wants to save her and the demon in his body isn’t going to deny him that opportunity. That’s one of many cases where the demon is actively working to give William the things he’s always wanted. The demon uses his power to make William feel strong, to save the people that William wants to save and to hurt the people that picked on him when he was weak. I don’t have a reason why, exactly. Spike’s demon is clearly a warrior and a brute, but maybe he likes William’s poetry (Angel did, after all) or appreciated the way William’s intelligence helped him plan and be more effective, I don’t know. It’s really not super important why, but what’s important is that even without a soul William was still there. He was still around and he was on exceptionally good terms with the demon inside of him.
There’s more to support this, though. At one point Angel tells Spike that when they were running around being evil vampires together he liked his poetry, which was clearly a William thing and not a hardcore battle demon thing. Even without a soul Spike has an appreciation for art and beauty and has a concept of love, and being in love, even though without a soul he can’t experience it. These are all the purview of William the person, not the violence demon that is Spike. This leads into the final part of my theory.
Spike’s Entire Character Arc is a Conversation Between the Demon and William
Ok, so, after William gets turned we know he and his demon cut a bloody swath across the world as Spike. However, while Angelus was doing the most horrible of things and building his reputation as a monster, Spike was having what he considered fun. He didn’t hunt down and kill a slayer for evil’s sake, he did it because he wanted the challenge. It was playing the game on Hard Mode and he wanted to know if he could do it. At this point in the story the demon is in full control, but he’s likely listening to William. I imagine a lot of…
William: “Hey, demon friend, you know what would be cool?”
Demon: “Are you about to say ‘hunt down and kill a slayer?’”
William: “I was! Think you’re up for it!”
Demon: “You know what? Let’s do it!”
And then they high five. And things stay that way until we see them in Season Two of Buffy, where Spike is the big bad until Angel goes dark again. But after that happens, you will notice that Spike starts acting very differently. His whole “faking an injury/stuck in a wheelchair” was not the plan of a violent warrior demon but rather came from the nuanced mid of William. Afterward, William started to have a stronger influence in their mind which Drusilla noticed, which is why she ditched him for that Chaos demon. She didn’t “even have the decency to kill” Spike though because she saw William, the same miserable person she took pity on in an alleyway so many years ago and took pity on him again. This is why we see Spike losing his edge over the course of seasons 3-6. The demon is letting William have a lot more influence, which leads to him making some pretty stupid decisions for the sake of theatrics, like when he confronted Buffy with the gem of Amara in broad daylight. He was being dramatic rather than practical, which is very different from the Spike that we had seen in season two.
By season six the character we’re seeing is very different from the character we first met. Sure, part of that is that he’s in love with Buffy but when have we ever seen another vampire with even a concept of love? The master has some affection for Darla, sure, but he wasn’t particularly kind to her and you couldn’t reasonably call that love. One of the Gorch’s had a girlfriend, but he bailed on her real quick when the danger struck up. Spike was ready to be tortured and die for Buffy in season five. Again, that’s not the warrior demon, that’s the sappy poet acting up. This culminates at the end of season six when William convinces the demon to fight for William’s soul.
When season seven starts, Spike has his soul back and this is really where the conversation between the two becomes important. Up until this point Spike only has one frame of reference for a person getting their soul back and that’s Angel. When Angel got his soul back he pushed the demon into a deep dark corner of his mind and never let him out, so that’s what Spike’s demon thinks is supposed to happen. This is why, in the immediate aftermath of getting his soul back, Spike isn’t half the fighter he was in season five and he’s a far cry from the badass we met in season two. This is because William is driving the bus, and while he might can make his body move he doesn’t have the demon’s fighting instincts. That whole thing where he goes and gets his trench coat back to kill the big scary demon? That was a lot more symbolic than you might realize. That was William telling the demon “I need you. I can’t do this without you. William was a good man, but Spike was a fighter and we need a fighter right now.”
While we’re at it, have you noticed that even though Spike killed rather a large amount of people and committed a rather large amount of atrocities as a vampire, he got over it a lot quicker than Angel did? There was no 100 or so years of living in alleyways and eating rats. I think this is because while William was all moping around like “I was terrible, look at the things I’ve done!” his demon was trying to comfort him. He was telling him things like “No man, you’re not a monster! I’m a monster! Seriously, I was the one who killed all of those people! You’re a good man William!” By comparison, Angel’s demon was probably constantly whispering about how he was just as bad with a soul as without and how he was worthless before he got turned and so on.
What we see after about the midpoint of season seven is the two parts of Spike, William and the Demon, finally finding their balance and learning how to work together. This makes them more effective because now William’s soul gives Spike real passion for whatever they happen to be doing, whether it’s writing poetry, being in love, or beating vampires up.
So there’s my theory, in its entirety. I hope you enjoyed reading it.