Spike/Buffy Fan Disclaimer: My meta here is Buffy-centric, so while I discuss Spike’s relationship with Buffy, it’s in terms of how it relates to Buffy’s character arc and what he symbolizes. I don’t drift into tangents (much) about how much I believe Buffy cares for Spike, how she’s proud of Spike or even shows love for Spike (okay, I do a bit). The specific emotions Spike inspires in Buffy are referenced only when they relate to how they motivate her character’s struggle.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a character torn between two worlds, two identities: her role as the Slayer and her role as simply Buffy (friend, sister, daughter, lover). These two worlds aren’t easily separated and the way they collide and intersect is part of Buffy’s constant struggle. Buffy’s Slayer identity is often telling her to fight alone while her human identity is demanding “give me back my friends.” However, when these two worlds aren’t tearing Buffy in opposite directions, they often provide her with great strength. Buffy’s power as the Slayer enables her to save the lives of her friends time and again (without Buffy arriving in Sunnydale, Willow and Xander would’ve long since become members of the undead as shown in “The Wish”) and likewise the strength Buffy draws from her “ties to the world” enables Buffy to stay strong as the Slayer, to battle against the death wish Slayer’s are in danger of submitting to under the pressures of their violent life.
As Spike attests in “Fool For Love”, Slayers have a death wish because they’re constantly faced with death, with violence and pain, and eventually they begin to wonder “where does [death] lead you” and what might it be like to experience “that final gasp, that look of peace” because being the Slayer is an exhausting trial that never ends until you die (5.07). Death for a Slayer is a reprieve from the constant violent battle; the only way for a Slayer to know rest is to die (a metaphor for life as we are all Slayers battling our inner demons; “the hardest thing in this world is to live in it” 5.22). Buffy battles this death wish, this desire to lay down her arms and finally rest, by embracing life through relationships with her friends and family. Through her connection to her friends, Buffy finds the strength to go on living, to go on fighting (“Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together.” 3.10).
For Buffy to be truly strong, she must stay connected to her friends and family—they are her strength—but it’s not always possible to be close to her friends. She’ll be disconnected often because of the trauma of her life as the Slayer. She pushes away her friends in “When She Was Bad” because of her issues over dying at the Master’s hand. She drifts away from her friends when she becomes close to Faith and later when she becomes wrapped up in her new relationship with Riley. She’ll begin to emotionally pull away when there’s too many responsibilities for her to handle (e.g. caring for her sister, for her ailing mother) and she more fully emotionally cuts herself off when she feels grief and the inability to help those she loves (e.g. when her mother dies, when Dawn is kidnapped by Glory and Buffy slips into a catatonic state). Emotional trauma and even resenting her friends for ripping her from heaven will also keep Buffy emotionally at a distance from her friends and her sister; it’s only when Buffy reconciles with Dawn and when she confides in Xander about what she’s been going through, that Buffy really reconnects and begins to heal enough to realize she wants to live, that she wants to be with her friends, to experience life and all the world has to offer with them.
Being the Slayer also challenges Buffy’s ability to connect to her friends because she feels it is her duty to protect them, to be strong for them. She is the Slayer—she is the one who dies so that they may live. As much as Buffy loves her friends, a part of her resents her duty because it’s been driven home time and again that Buffy will die long before she’s even had a real chance at life (the fact that death doesn’t last for her both times only makes the bitter pill harder to swallow: Buffy can’t live a happy life free from violence, nor can she find peace in the afterlife because the world and her friends need her). Eventually, her friend’s need and overreliance on Buffy to protect them becomes a burden (“I wish Buffy were here!” 5.11), a burden which Buffy resents as it becomes synonymous with her duty as the Slayer. Being the Slayer means she is automatically set apart from her friends, that she’s different, but Buffy is not purely the Other. She is both the Self and the Other. Letting resentment and jealousy of her friends drive her from them means she embraces the Other; letting go of her resentment and jealousy leads to her embracing the Self and consequently, embracing her friends and family and finding the source of her strength (e.g. Buffy joining with her friends in “Primeval”).
The construction of Buffy’s narrative relies on the conflict of these two worlds, the Other and the Self, the Slayer and her humanity. It’s only when Buffy successfully navigates both worlds and finds ways to bring them into a mutually beneficial alignment that she can achieve victory and even find happiness. To some it might seem repetitive that Buffy must constantly work through the same trials, but this is the essence of her character: her struggles are based on who she is and she cannot stop being the Slayer just as she cannot stop being human. Her issues never get resolved fully nor are they always easily resolved because new forms of conflict arise and sometimes Buffy isn’t prepared to handle them for various reasons (e.g. she doesn’t know how to solve the problem, she’s suffering from trauma, or has too many responsibilities on her plate and isn’t well-equipped to deal).
This is Buffy’s journey for the first six seasons—her struggle to reconcile both her Slayer and human identity (two very non-mixy things)—and it continues in Season 7.
The season opens with Buffy, Dawn and Xander acting like a happy family. Buffy is teaching Dawn how to protect herself; she’s even happily plotting to give Dawn secret presents and waiting for Xander to arrive at her house (to drive them all to Sunnydale High again like one big happy family) before she shares the surprise: a cell phone. Communication and connection. Buffy is happy and connected to her sister and one of her closest friends. But the Hellmouth (the Other) starts percolating and impinging on her happiness (humanity, the Self), and she’s kept apart from her sister and forced to run through an underground maze in the basement to reclaim her connection to humanity. It’s only with Xander’s help that the spirits are defeated and Buffy’s loved ones are safe.
Enter the First.
The First appears wearing the face of all Buffy’s former Big Bads and then finishing in Buffy’s own visage. The overall theme of the season is “it’s about power”, but the seven years long character arc for Buffy Summers grounds how this battle for power will be played. The First, wearing Buffy’s face, shows it will be attacking Buffy by turning her against herself. Just as the First manipulated Angel into killing himself with the faces of the victims he killed, haunting him in dreams and waking nightmares, the First will weaken Buffy by invading her sleeping mind with the nightmares of the Potentials being killed around the world, by attacking Buffy at her weak spot: her connection to others.
Does the First direct the dreams? Or does the First take advantage of Buffy’s Slayer heritage knowing she’ll dream of the Potentials dying? I imagine it’s both as the First is shown to be able to live in the hearts and minds of humanity. The First attacks Buffy by tormenting her with her failure to save these girls who share a bond with her, her spiritual sisters. Buffy is powerless to save them, she can only experience their deaths in her dreams, even sharing their screams. The First attacks Buffy’s sense of responsibility as the Slayer and her guilt over those who die, those she cannot save. Buffy withdraws from others when she feels guilty and griefstricken, unable to face her friends for fear of their judgment in the face of her failure. The First’s strategy hits two birds with one stone: by killing the Potentials, the First weakens Buffy with the assault also and begins Buffy’s Season 7 arc of guilt and isolation as she buckles under the pressure. By isolating Buffy emotionally, the First cuts Buffy off from her source of strength: her connection to humanity.
7.2 Beneath You
Buffy watches horrified, crying at the sight of Spike’s suffering. Spike got his soul for many reasons (one being that he wanted to become a person and emerge from the liminal state he’d been living in ever since he was chipped), but one of the main reasons was Buffy herself. Spike is suffering and Buffy feels responsible. Cue massive guilt. This connection to Spike, her empathy for his pain and his plight, will lead to Buffy keeping secrets from her friends (the Other pulling Buffy away from the Self), but it also offers a shattering revelation that Spike fought for his soul in large part because of his relationship and experiences with her. Spike, the Other, the shadow figure, has fought back for a piece of his Self. This hints at hope for reconciliation between Buffy’s two discordant identities. The episode ends with her watching Spike from a distance: she stands alone.
7.3 Same Time, Same Place
Willow returns to Sunnydale and Buffy must face the possibility that Willow’s gone dark and is killing again. Buffy’s Slayer side demands that she face this possibility; she doesn’t have the luxury of having complete faith in Willow, not when she’s responsible for the safety of others and the world. Buffy has had to kill a loved one before to save the world (Angel) and she rejected this option when forced to face the possibility she’d have to kill Dawn. Willow going dark last season means Buffy has been considering this possibility for a long time, girding herself to be ready in case Willow has to be stopped. This will not be the last time Buffy is forced to contemplate killing one of her friends for the greater good in Season 7. Yet in spite of her Slayer duty making her suspicious of Willow, this episode ends with Buffy using her Slayer strength to help heal Willow. Sharing her power connects Buffy to Willow and together they both become stronger. The episode ends with her sitting with Willow. She is not alone.
Buffy tries and fails to save Cassie (Cassie dies from a genetic heart condition). She’s another dead girl Buffy wasn’t able to save, just like the Potentials who’ve been haunting her dreams. Buffy can’t stop thinking she could’ve done something to save Cassie (just like how Buffy fantasized about saving her mother by administering CPR in “The Body”, Buffy feels she “failed [Cassie]”), but Dawn disagrees and tells Buffy, “I guess sometimes you can’t help.” Buffy replies, despairing, “So what then? What do you do when you know that? When you know that maybe you can’t help?”
Answer: you keep trying. The episode ends with her sitting alone, separated by a pane of glass from the students passing by, ever ready to help. (I’ve included a second cap here because this scene just breaks my heart.)
After failing to save another helpless girl the episode before, Buffy is again confronted with the responsibility of having to kill one of her friends as Anya goes evil and slaughters a fraternity of young men. Buffy’s lesson learned from the earlier episode—you keep trying to protect the innocent—comes into direct opposition to her desire to help her friends. To protect the innocent, Buffy feels she must kill Anya. In fact, letting Anya roam the streets after turning Ronnie into a giant slug a few weeks earlier means that Buffy feels responsible for the fraternity brothers’ deaths. Buffy knew Anya was a threat, witnessed firsthand the chaos Anya wrought and didn’t deal with Anya then because Anya was her friend. Buffy didn’t do her job as the Slayer because of a personal relationship and innocent people died. Again, Buffy’s duty as the Slayer coming into direct conflict with her personal life. Buffy feels her failure so strongly that her duty overrides her personal concerns and she hardens herself in order to do what she feels must be done. She doesn’t see any other way even though she wishes there was one (“Then please find [another way].”). The episode ends with Anya and Xander walking off in opposite directions. Buffy is left alone in the fraternity house.
The magical jacket love spell breaks down Buffy’s connection to Dawn here, having Buffy turn on Dawn for her own selfish desires, even lying and manipulating Dawn to get her out of the way. Yet, it’s only when Dawn’s life is truly in danger that Buffy regains a sense of purpose. Even while still under the influence of the spell, Buffy races against a speeding train to save her sister. Here, she’s doing both what she feels is right as the Slayer and right as a sister. The episode ends with her sitting next to her sister with her friends nearby.
7.7 Conversations With Dead People
Buffy discovers that Spike has allegedly been siring other vampires. The shock of this revelation is powerful: another dangerous person Buffy has been close to has been killing innocent people and she failed to stop them (even though she knew Spike was potentially dangerous just as Anya was—he still hurt Ronnie even though he was chipped, as he also hurt the student in “Help”). Once again, her two identities are in conflict. The episode ends with her standing alone, contemplating the implications of Spike's return to evil and her failure as the Slayer to rein him in.
Learning that something has been playing tricks on everyone and spreading lies, Buffy works to discover the truth by following Spike, only to have her worst fears confirmed. It’s not this mystery demon, but Spike who is doing these evil things. She prepares herself to kill him, has the stake in hand, then figures out that there is something playing games by controlling Spike. Knowing Spike may still be a threat, she chooses to bring him into her house and help protect him. She tells her friends it’s to discover the First’s plan, but she’s also hesitant to attack one of her friends again. Helping Spike is a way to make up for not believing fully in Willow and for jumping too quickly into slay mode with Anya (both of which she regrets), but also because she cares deeply for Spike. Opening up to Spike is an incredibly dangerous prospect for Buffy, but she does it and she does it with her friends support. Here, Buffy attempts to reconcile her Slayer duties and her personal connection. The episode ends with her surrounded by her friends and looking over at Spike, trying to understand him and what he's been going through.
7.9 Never Leave Me
Buffy hardens herself to deal with Spike, even watching with a steely gaze as she feeds him blood directly from the bag. Realizing he’s too dangerous to stay upstairs after he attacks Andrew, she brings him down into the basement and chains him up. She questions him for information on what’s going on, but this is not purely a Slayer battle. It’s personal and Buffy makes it clear that she won’t be killing Spike because she believes he can be good; she saw his penance. Again, Buffy attempts to reconcile her two discordant worlds, this time by trying to help Spike, the shadow figure who has a glimmer of humanity in him which she wishes to foster and help grow—to bring humanity to the Other figure. By believing in Spike, she’s also believing in herself; by treating Spike with humanity, Buffy herself brings humanity to her Slayer side. However, outside forces intervene and the Bringers kidnap Spike. Buffy is left surrounded by her friends and uncertain what to do, but she recognizes the Bringers and finally realizes who they’re facing: the First Evil. Buffy attempting to help Spike and get close to the truth leads to the Bringers intervening; by displaying her humanity, Buffy learns more about the Slayer threat she’s facing even as she loses a close personal connection in Spike.
7.10 Bring On The Night
Realizing that Spike is a key figure not only to the First, but to Buffy herself (helping him offers her the first moment of clarity she’s had in a long time), Buffy tracks down the cave where she last faced off against the First—but not before Giles arrives with a crew of Potentials in tow. More responsibility, more people to save and care for and teach, more people to answer to, to reassure and be strong for--the pressure is rising. Buffy’s first encounter with the Turokhan in the cave is brutal, but she manages to stake him in the chest—just not hard enough. She panics and runs, understandably, only to spend the next day with no sleep, then forced to face the Turokhan again to try and save Annabelle, a Potential who panicked. Exhausted, disconnected from the person who she’s invested her humanity in (believing in Spike is helping Buffy believe in herself), the Turokhan defeats her. Failing to defeat the monster, Buffy listens to her friends talk about her internal bleeding, how Buffy might still die, and how she was their only plan. Marshalling her fear, Buffy hardens herself and delivers a speech about defeating the First and how they’re all going to do it together. By the end of this episode, Buffy stands alone with her friends on the other side of the room; she’s with them in words, but not fully in spirit, partly because they’re completely relying on her to protect them and, against this evil, she’s simply not enough. As Faith will later say about this burden of leadership Buffy shoulders when everyone looks to her to protect them: “I’ve never felt so alone. And that’s you every day.”
Buffy welcomes a new Potential into her home, Rona, only to face the upsetting realization that the First has been hiding among them, pretending to be Eve. Another dead girl Buffy failed to protect. With the threat of the Turokhan imminent, she works together with her friends and sets up a showdown to fight the Turokhan while the Potentials watch. She pulls herself together by sheer force of will and defeats the Turokhan. The episode ends with Buffy rescuing Spike. By embracing and utilizing the resources afforded her by her personal ties, Buffy succeeds and in saving Spike, she helps bring both of them back home. By working together with her friends (their connection is so strong they can hear each other's thoughts), she's able to achieve victory and reunite with Spike (their connection is wordless, relying on intimate tactile sensation and unblinking eye contact). She is not alone.
Flush off her victory over the Turokhan, Buffy becomes wrapped up in the mission of training the Potentials for battle. She’s shown them that the enemy can be defeated. Now she has to teach them how they can do it themselves. She devotes herself so fully to this endeavor (with Spike at her side) that she begins to ignore Dawn even more than she had been before. She takes her connection with her sister for granted and her sister acts rashly in response, seeking out danger and excitement to prove herself worthy. In the end, Dawn does prove herself resourceful and capable of taking care of herself, but Buffy’s negligent regard for Dawn leaves the two sisters at a distance. (It also doesn’t help that Buffy’s friends are slightly reluctant to share the news with Buffy about Dawn being “chosen”.) Buffy isn’t alone by the end, but Dawn is the one now disconnected, meaning Buffy is out of touch with the person she typically feels closest to (“I hold her and I feel closer to her… Dawn is a part of me.” 5.22). Her Slayer duty again pulls her away from her connection to humanity.
7.13 The Killer In Me
While Willow is dealing with her guilt over Tara’s death and moving on with the help of Kennedy, Buffy is looking for a way to help Spike when his chip starts malfunctioning (note how Buffy isn't really there to help Willow, but then Willow also pushes everyone away so it's understandable). Spike’s been telling her for a while now that she has to kill him and she’s been resisting, trying to save him, trying to help him save himself, but now it appears to be taken out of her hands. The chip is killing Spike; if he dies, that’s another person she failed to save (only keeping Spike alive isn't her responsibility as the Slayer--his death would be the death of someone she cares for deeply and who she's able to be herself around). They head into the underground rubble of the Initiative looking for drugs and instead run into soldiers sent by Riley. Buffy’s offered a choice: fix the chip or remove it. Buffy continues to try embracing her humanity through believing in Spike’s ability to redeem himself—being human by treating others with humanity—and so she has the chip removed. Her dedication to Spike, however, continues to separate her from her friends. The episode ends with her standing with a stranger, looking alone and confused—ultimately, she chooses Spike, but at what cost?
7.14 First Date
Giles and Buffy butt heads about Buffy removing Spike's chip, but Buffy’s faith in Spike prevails and Giles relents (for the moment). Meanwhile, Buffy takes a break from her serious Slayer duties to pursue a date with the principal, Robin Wood. She, Willow and Xander even have fun joking around in the living room, appearing so carefree that Giles rebukes them for their immaturity and not taking the threat seriously. Buffy leaves in the middle of her date to go rescue Xander from his date who unsurprisingly turned out to be a demon. She shows more concern for Spike who’s barely wounded than she does Xander who was nearly killed. Again, a worrisome pattern since Xander was the victim she should’ve been rushing towards. The episode ends with Buffy sitting next to Spike looking worried and telling him she’s not ready for him “to not be here.” As Giles says earlier in the episode, Buffy relies on Spike and Spike relies on Buffy, but to what end? Ever since Buffy took Spike under her wing, she’s been more grounded and focused in trying to manifest her humanity by helping Spike, but she’s been drifting apart from her friends (even when they’re in danger and need her) without even noticing, first Dawn (“Potential”), then Willow (“The Killer In Me”) and now Xander (“First Date”). In the end Buffy is not alone, Spike is with her, but he’s also the person who she feels she “can be alone with [him] here.” By focusing so much of her energy on Spike, Buffy gets to be both alone and not alone—to the detriment of her relationships with her friends who she's not equally investing time in. It’s understandable why she prefers Spike’s company—Spike isn’t demanding anything of her that she’s unable to give. With her friends, she feels destined to fail them in defeating this evil and that’s something she’s not ready (or even able) to face. Buffy sits alone with Spike at the end of this episode, both connected and alone.
7.15 Get It Done
The First hits home and terrifies Chloe into commiting suicide. Another dead girl on Buffy’s watch, only this time not because Buffy failed to physically protect her, but because Chloe was vulnerable emotionally. Buffy’s been hardened over the years by the many traumas she’s had to face—dying by the Master’s hand, killing Angel, attempting to kill Faith, losing her mother, dying to save Dawn and the world, losing heaven—so she’s more readily able to cope with the terror the First elicits and her Slayer powers give her confidence that she can handle herself. Not that she really fears her own death, I think; no, what terrifies her is other people dying. Chloe’s death hits her hard and she reacts by lashing out, channeling the rebukes Giles gave her the episode before and venting them on everyone for not taking this threat seriously enough. She can only do so much, she can fight for them, she can bleed for them, but she doesn’t know how to teach them to conquer their fears—so she snaps and barrels past tough love and lands right into harsh, brutal (even abusive) truth. In her desperation to find something to help save them and defeat their enemy(she doesn’t believe the solution resides in her friends), she jumps through a portal and seeks answers from her Slayer heritage. Rejecting the insidious Slayer ‘rape’ power, all she gets for her trouble is the knowledge that the enemy she’s facing is greater and more terrifying than she’d imagined. Rejecting connection to her humanity only leads her further into terror, forcing her to emotionally shut down even further so she isn't paralyzed with fear.
The episode ends with Willow trying to comfort Buffy and reconcile, but Buffy looks distanced from the interaction, lost in the vision of thousands of Turokhan waiting to attack. By isolating herself from her friends and turning to her Slayer side, she becomes further isolated by her terror of what’s to come. This episode begins with Buffy trapped in a terrible dream and ends in her stricken by the sight of a terrible vision. Her attempts to conquer her fears by facing them—by recklessly diving into the unknown—aren’t working; fear is often most potent when you feel alone. Her Slayer side and her personal ties are in conflict again, but it’s a conflict of Buffy’s own making as her terror rises. One more girl dead she couldn’t save. Her friends pull her back to their world with magic, rescue her from her reckless dive—Spike and Willow working together—but Buffy is getting more and more out of touch. She sits with Willow on a bed again, like she did months before in "Same Time Same Place", but they are not connected. Buffy is alone.
The Hellmouth is a-hoppin’ with the Seal of Danzalthar activated and students are dropping like flies. One student’s death is played for laughs as Buffy says he really should’ve gotten “that foot rub." It’s noteworthy how Buffy doesn’t really seem upset--compare her reaction to all the chaos now back to when Cassie died in “Help”. Buffy’s disconnected from people now, a necessity so that she can deal with all these catastrophes as quickly and efficiently as possible (without breaking down). It just so happens that the solution to this specific problem benefits from her coldhearted approach: to deactivate the Seal of Danzalthar, Buffy must feed it Andrew’s tears, so she terrifies him into a miasma of guilt over murdering his best friend. In this instance, her disconnection from humanity suits her purpose and reinforces her stance. To get it done, she needs to be a heartless machine. The episode ends with Andrew owning up to his guilt and responsibility for what he’s done thanks to Buffy forcing him to admit it; ironically, feeling responsible for other people’s deaths is what Buffy’s been running from herself and why she’s emotionally shut down. She can't even allow herself to feel this fear, let alone face it. Again, she stands alone, emotionally cut off from everyone.
7.17 Lies My Parents Told Me
The threat with Spike’s trigger comes to a head when the First finally reactivates it and Spike inadvertently hurts Dawn (the person Buffy’s been neglecting for a while now). Instead of caring for Dawn herself, Willow handles the job while Buffy continues to deal with Spike. Buffy overrules Giles protests (he wants to continue prodding Spike into cooperating) and unchains him; an arguably unwise move considering Spike just lost control and hurt her sister. But Buffy’s now thinking in terms of what is most useful to the mission and has been hardening herself to the reality that sacrifices must be made (even her sister’s safety, even killing a loved one). Spike’s usefulness strategically outweighs the potential threat he may be (she also believes she can handle him so she's not intending to be willfully reckless); his usefulness even outweighs the value of Robin’s life. Buffy doesn’t have time for Robin’s vengeance so she’ll tacitly take Spike’s side in any future conflict because “the mission is what matters.” Buffy’s dedication to the mission and her belief in helping Spike redeem himself (and make himself useful) have further distanced her from her friends, to the point that she is endangering her loved ones as she desperately searches for a way to defeat the First. The episode ends with Buffy closing her bedroom door in Giles’ face as she ignores his attempts to reason with her—she’s beyond hearing him (his betrayal and manipulation are a huge factor), having emotionally shut herself down so she doesn’t fall into a state of catatonia caused by all the death surrounding her that she feels responsible for (or she would feel responsible for if she were allowing herself to feel anything). Where earlier in the season Buffy’s Slayer identity came into conflict with her personal one (both internally and externally), Buffy’s decided that the only way to win is to be all Slayer, all the time now. She's all business and she won't suffer betrayal nor easily forgive (Giles is left on the outside of her inner sanctum). She's remade herself into a tower of strength, brittle stone, inflexible and unyielding. She is alone.
7.18 Dirty Girls
Faith is back and Caleb arrives on the scene. Another Potential arrives in Sunnydale, lands in the hospital and later becomes another dead girl. Buffy deals with her insecurities by punching Faith in the face and later feeling threatened by Faith’s immediate bonding with Spike. Principal Wood fires her, pushing her further towards her Slayer duties by removing her from her human responsibiities as a counselor—she can’t help people emotionally anymore, she can only slay. Meanwhile, the Potentials are rumbling with doubt over Buffy’s reckless behavior, only to be quelled by a rousing speech of faith from Xander. Buffy witnesses this and for the first time shows a hint of vulnerability and softness, even tearing up a bit. Later, learning about Caleb’s holing up at a vineyard with a taunt that he has something belonging to Buffy, she decides to mount an attack even though it sounds like a trap—she’s reckless and impatient: “Don’t know. Don’t care.” Not even underestimating her enemy, Buffy doesn’t even pause to estimate at all, but dives in head first, leading everyone in behind her. Girls die, Xander loses an eye. Buffy is shaken by her best friend’s injury and more Potentials dying (though not visibly upset, she is more arrested at the sight of the fallout). She not only feels responsible, she arguably is responsible. Her dedication to the mission is leading to the people she loves suffering, with no forward progress in actually defeating the enemy. The episode ends with Buffy staring silently at Xander lying in a hospital bed before she leaves to roam the streets alone. Pushed into becoming all hardened Slayer to survive and cope with the numerous threats, her hardcore stance is no longer achieving any good results to outweigh the overwhelming bad. There is no good here. Buffy walks alone.
7.19 Empty Places
The whole town is evacuating, trying to avoid the trouble. Buffy’s avoiding, too, but it’s more the emotional complications. She refuses to even stay to spend time with Xander in the hospital. Buffy isn’t prioritizing the mission because it’s the right thing to do at the moment, she’s more retreating into the mission as an excuse to avoid emotionally dealing. She goes to her old school office and, once alone, mourns the state of her friendship, staring at an old picture of her, Willow and Xander. Her slight moment of being in touch with her feelings is cut short when Caleb attacks, knocking her unconscious. His total dominance freaks her out and the avoidance and reckless behavior return; her instincts are telling her there’s something there at the vineyard, but her strategy to just do as they did before doesn’t make sense and everyone protests. The timing of her announcement underscores how out of touch she is—right as Xander returns home from the hospital, she lays out the plan, then when met with opposition, demands everyone fall in line. Everyone rebels (except Spike and Andrew who are absent), questioning her judgment and Buffy is kicked out of the house. She’s hardened herself, cut herself off, all for her friends’ well being—because Buffy was the plan and they had no back up (as Giles said in “Bring On The Night”) until Faith arrived and there was another Slayer to stand behind. Buffy devoted herself to her Slayer side for her friends safety, but disconnecting herself from them was ultimately misguided (though perhaps unavoidable). In the end, she walks alone.
Exhausted and feeling lost, Buffy breaks in and commandeer’s someone’s house, leaving him to flee in terror. She’s no longer all Slayer, she only ever was to protect her friends who were depending on her and now she’s not wanted. So, purposeless, she lies down. Spike finds her (her shadow figure, the only one who could track her into the dark where she’s retreated) and gets her to open up. Buffy finally admits she’d been keeping everyone at a distance because she knew people would die and she was afraid to internalize that loss. In return for Buffy sharing her belief in Spike earlier, Spike returns that gift by sharing his belief in Buffy—they connect and Buffy lets Spike be close to her, the one person not making demands or passing judgment. He helps restore Buffy’s faith in herself and also restores her internal balance by reconnecting her to her emotions (“My emotions give me strength. They’re total assets.” 2.10). Buffy finally rests after months of driving herself at a nonstop breakneck pace. She awakens rejuvenated and inspired to follow her instincts by going after Caleb. Even though she’s disconnected from her friends, she is in touch with her emotions and her instincts serve her well. She faces Caleb alone and doesn’t allow him to touch her, avoiding the conflict where before she charged head first into it. By playing keepaway, she reaches her goal. Her singular strength serves her well (“No weapons, no friends, take all that away and what’s left?” / “Me.” 2.22) and reinforces the idea that she can be strong standing on her own, though she still draws her strength from being close to others. Buffy may stand alone physically, but she is not emotionally closed off from others anymore—Spike is with her there in spirit and for the first time in months Buffy feels hope.
7.21 End of Days
No longer emotionally closed off, Buffy doesn’t take the bait and fight Caleb even though she’s humming with power from acquiring this new Slayer weapon—her concern is for her friends and she rushes off to help them (“Faith go boom.”). Buffy rescues Faith and the Potentials, then reunites with everyone at her house. There isn’t much time to talk but the spirit of forgiveness and teamwork imbues their interaction. When Buffy goes to research the origins of the Scythe, meets the Guardian and then faces off against Caleb, she does so alone, but with her friends’ support and Spike out there supporting her mission (“We’ll go be heroes.”). Enter Angel who watches Buffy slice up Caleb. Feeling victorious, Buffy turns to bask in Angel’s presence. She doesn’t let him fight her enemy for her, but when it’s all done (or so it appears), Buffy is more than happy to momentarily retreat into a fantasy where she’s seventeen and Angel is the guy who makes her feel safe (not based on what he’s done for her or to her, but just ‘cause that's how she's idealized him--the gauzy lens shot of Angel reinforces her POV stylistically). Considering the mental and emotional hardship of the past year, a few minutes to relive a fantasy where love is "forever" and she's "just a girl" seems perfectly in character. And so Buffy basks and I’m tempted to say in this moment she is slightly alone since she’s not connected to what’s real.
The fantasy ends and Buffy sends Angel packing because the real world is calling, but not without a tentative promise of future fantasy indulging. She returns home to discover her attempt to send Dawn away with Xander backfired and Dawn refuses to be ignored—the sister’s connection is more firmly restored. Buffy and Faith also bond and Buffy opens up about what it feels like not only being the Slayer, but being the one chosen to lead. Heading downstairs, she reconnects with Spike and again shows her belief in him by giving him the amulet Angel had brought. Later when she’s confronted by the First while Spike sleeps, she realizes that her fighting alone isn’t enough, but that it’s more than just bringing everyone into battle with her—she needs to share her power.
Walking down the halls of Sunnydale High, eventually everyone parts ways and goes to take position, but they’re fighting together even though they’re physically apart. The Potentials become Slayers, the battle continues until it reaches a turning point, the amulet activates and Spike’s soul begins to tear through the army of Turokhan. It’s not Buffy’s Slayer abilities that win the battle, but her humanity: her belief in Spike and her connection to her friends who made it possible to empower all the Potentials (plus her being open enough to consider the notion of sharing her power rather than hoarding it or giving it up). The battle is won through working together. Buffy’s belief in Spike guides him forward and by clasping his hand she tells him he’s not alone, that she’s proud of him, and only leaves him when he orders her to go (the shadow figure who fought for his own humanity then channeling sunlight to destroy the shadows within the Hellmouth). Then she runs after her friends, leaping rooftops to return to them. In the end, Buffy stands alone—only until her friends stand beside her. Symbolically, her Slayer side is no longer solely linked to her Other figures who are also shadow figures (vampires like Angel and Spike), but to all the Potentials (now Slayers) who share her power. Her Slayer side is then brought out of the darkness and isn’t as dramatically in conflict with her humanity—she can connect with Others like her who are also human. She’s not alone, the Hellmouth is destroyed and (after the sad acceptance of Spike’s sacrifice) she smiles.
From the very first episode to the last of Season 7 (and the series), Buffy’s struggle is shown in her face. This season focuses on Buffy's character and her POV to an intense degree, digging in deep to explore her struggle to connect and be whole. Looking at the season through Buffy’s POV, I now find it ironic to criticize the First as an ineffective villain. The First planned to turn Buffy against herself and nearly destroyed her several times by pushing her to a state of reckless desperation. (In terms of psychological manipulation, the First played a far more subtle, far deeper game than Angelus in Season 2.) Buffy’s descent, her breakdown, comes from hit after hit of being forced to face heartbreaking moral choices as she’s torn between her desire to stay close to the people she loves, her desire to keep those she loves alive at whatever cost and her duty to protect the world.
I can’t help but feel sympathy, empathy, everything for her when I watch her harden as the season progresses. She’s nearly driven crazy by the pressures, by the weight of the world and her friend’s expectations—the only reason she doesn’t slip into a catatonic state is because she emotionally shuts down to cope. Buffy represses her emotions and her needs in order to serve others (that’s why her selfishness in “Him” is so glaringly OOC while she’s under the spell) and she’s eventually forced to repress her pain so far deep that she can’t even feel the good emotions because she’s had to close up her heart to not let the bad emotions stop her dead in her tracks. Because she can’t sink to her knees and cry. Because she can’t go to bed after an endless night of slaying—she has to go to work instead. I watch Season 7 and I see Buffy pushing herself beyond her limits until she cracks and her friends turn on her. Were they right to question her during “Empty Places”? Absolutely. But they also stood idly by for most of the season until Buffy had reached a breaking point before they expressed concern for her mental and emotional health. I think Willow somewhat understands what Buffy is going through (the way she hides that it was Anya in “Selfless” because she understands Buffy’s duty, the way she goes to Buffy in “Get It Done” and understands why she was harsh though honestly I don’t think Willow being conciliatory there helped), but she never confronts Buffy and gets her to open up. It’s not purely her friends fault, either. It’s partly the situation: this is what it means when there’s one Slayer. This is why it’s bad. This is too much responsibility for one person to bear. Sigh.
I love Buffy always and forever. My girl. ♥