|Linda's Buffy Stuff
Episode Analysis -- (also available at Dead Things)
Pain, Love, Trust, and Barriers in Dead Things
by Linda Barlow
I haven't been able to stop thinking about Dead Things -- what a wonderful,
multi-layered and complex episode. Buffy's desperate journey, Spike's
increasing humanity, the complexity of the Buffy-Spike relationship, the
absence of metaphorical villains as humans (with souls) perpetrate the Big Evil.
Spike and Buffy have six scenes together: Post-lovemaking in his crypt, the
infamous Bronze scene, the amazing crypt door scene, which flows into the
demon fight/Katrina's body scene; Buffy's dream, and finally, the confrontation
in the alley.
I see the first and the final scene as mirroring each other in significant ways,
while the two other scenes fill in the picture and show the characters and their
relationship from several different angles. It's all about love, and pain, and
trust, and the barriers that keep people apart.
In the crypt:
That scene under the rug - things breaking, crashing, moaning, panting - Buffy
and Spike are doing their dance, breaking things, trashing Spike's crypt, as
usual. How do they end up under the rug? They were so swept away by their
desire for each other they couldn't make it to the bed. But this is also
emblematic of what Buffy's trying to do - sweep all her feelings for Spike under
the rug so she can continue to deny the relationship exists.
For the first time since we've seen them together sexually, they are joking,
teasing, laughing, talking. They even pay each other erotic compliments. What
a joy this must be for Buffy, considering the how sexually inadequate her
former lovers made her feel.
And yet... "You know, this place is okay for a hole in the ground." I hear this
and flash back to Once More With Feeling, when she and Spike fell together into
an open grave, a hole in the ground, she landing on top of him. Briefly, she felt his body
pressed intimately to hers...the forbidden pleasure of it...and then she fled, as she's
been doing ever since.
Spike's crypt has a bed, but they keep missing it. The only time we've seen
them make love in a bed was when we didn't see her. "You're only here
because you're not here." (Gone). Does Buffy feel that if it were a normal
relationship, they'd make love in a bed, not in a grave or a wrecked house, or
up against the wall in an alley? Later, in her dream, Spike is naked in bed with
her, loving her tenderly, just like a real boy.
"Isn't this usually the part where you kick me in the head and run out, virtue
fluttering?" No, actually, that will happen later, in the alley.
In the crypt, Spike, being Spike opens mouth, inserts foot: "The things you do.
The way you make it hurt in all the wrong places. I've never been with such an
animal." His tone is sexual; the idea of pain doesn't bother him; rather the
contrary -- he's getting aroused all over again. But his comment foreshadows
their final scene in this episode, where she will be a animal and will indeed
make it hurt in all the wrong (non-erotic) places. "I'm not an animal," she
insists, but Spike knows her better than she knows herself. He's got bite
marks. She, not he, has been big with the fangs.
"What is it to you? This thing we have."
"We don't have a thing."
First "the things you do" now another use of the word "thing."
rejects the term because, in this context, a "thing" is not negative at all. A
"thing" between lovers is a connection, perhaps even a relationship. Buffy
doesn't want to admit that she's got a thing going with Spike.
"Do you even like me?"
She gives him a thread of hope. "Sometimes."
It's more than he's had for a long time - more than he's had since she trusted
him with the secret she could tell none of the Scoobies. But Spike wants much
more than "I like you sometimes." Will she ever love him? What would it take?
What are the prerequisites to love? She thinks he's evil. That he's a thing -
essentially a "dead thing." "I know you'll never love me," he told her
in the The
Gift. If he were not a monster, would she love him? How can he convince her
he's no longer a monster? Does he *want* to convince her, or does he want her
to accept him as a monster yet treat him like a man?
He, after all, accepts her.
What would it take? Trust? He pulls out the handcuffs. It's significant (for
later) that these are police handcuffs - not the kinkier leather bondage
restraints or the metal shackles he used on her in Crush. "Do you trust
Submitting to bondage requires enormous trust. Not only are you vulnerable
and at the mercy of your partner if he means you harm, you are also erotically
helpless. You can't return your lover's caresses, you can't take charge of what's
happening, you can't orchestrate the action. For a control freak like Buffy, so
often the sexual initiator, this must be particularly hard.
Besides, the last time Spike put her in bondage, right there in his crypt, he
gave her a cruel ultimatum - love me or Drusilla will kill you.
"Never," she says, but it sounds like her typical "Don't." or
"Stop that." When
she submits to it (as we know she does when we see her rubbing her wrists the
following day), Spike's hope for the relationship surely takes another leap
upward. Despite her insults, her denial, her constant running away from him,
she does trust him.
In the Bronze:
Real or dream? Not sure it matters. But it's interesting that either Spike
himself, or Buffy's perception or fantasy of Spike, is now subtly changed. He is
supremely confident in this scene. He is very much the erotic dominant,
controlling her, initiating the act, taking her from behind in a position that
gives him total access, giving her orders. It's there in the look on his face; in
the tone of his voice. Buffy responds submissively, at least at first, getting off
on it, sinking into the pleasure of it. She is wearing black ribbons or cords
around her neck in a manner that suggests a collar. She is his.
"You try to be with them, but you always end up in the dark. With me." It' s
true, and she already knows it. Spike wants her in his world; he's told her that
she belongs there over and over. That's half true. In fact Spike is no longer part
of his own world - he's caught between worlds just as Buffy is. They could, as
lovers do, make their own world, but Buffy isn't ready for that yet. They're out
of this world, as the lyric of the song says in the crypt door scene.
Below them on the dance floor, the Scoobies are dancing, but it's not the sort
of dancing Buffy and Spike do. Their dance is much wilder, more passionate,
more dangerous, ferocious at times. "That's not your world," he tells her.
belong in the shadows. With me."
She has long suspected that he's at least partially right. She fears he might be
wholly right. He -- the dreamlike, dominant, powerful Spike of this scene -- is
giving voice to her worst fears. The First Slayer told her in Restless that The
Slayer doesn't walk in this world. She is alone. She has no friends. Buffy
rejected that. But in some respects, Spike wants it to be true because if it's
true, she's vulnerable to him. Ever since School Hard, he's been unable to get
to her because "A Slayer with family and friends -- that wasn't in the
Contrast the Bronze scene with the part of her dream where she is dominant
and he is the one wearing the handcuffs and the collar. There, Buffy holds the
power. Spike is submissive, her slave. Helpless, sleeping, his chest bare, his
heart vulnerable to being staked. If she is truly the destructive first Slayer, out
of this world, in the darkness, then she needs no lover. She dreads the
possibility that she might have to kill Spike, but she can't ever forget it. No one
who has been through what she went through with Angel/Angelus can ever
The Crypt Door
The scene at the door of the crypt is the most romantic scene Spike and Buffy
have ever had together, even though they are on separate sides of a barrier.
They don't see each other; one of the problems of their relationship is that
they don't truly see each other. But Spike's perceptions are more acute than
Buffy's. They always have been. He can sense her. He knows she's coming to
him, and for a few moments he just wants to savor it. To feel her, revel in her.
They each put their hands against the door as if trying to reach through the
barrier that separates them. The yearning is palpable on both sides.
Usually she kicks down his door, enters without an invitation, something he
cannot do. This time she stops at the barrier puts her hand there. And there is
a further barrier -- Buffy is wearing a glove. Spike's hand, like his heart, is bare.
The barrier between them is real. She is living, even though she is "She who
hangs out in cemeteries." He exists on the other side of that border marked by
the crypt door. "I died so many years ago/But you can make me feel like it isn't
so." But it is so. Spike can never come into the sunlight. "I kill your
I bite yours." They have made a truce -- she doesn't stake him and he doesn't
bite her, but this is who they are.
And yet...that yearning between them is so strong. Buffy has let down her
barrier with him and invited him into her house, into her life, into her body. She
is still guarding her heart. But her heart is vulnerable, as is his. The heart on
the tombstone, the song playing in the background - - "we are home now;"
barriers are all self-made." Is the barrier real or is it self-made? Can it be
brought down? How? What would it take?
The fight in the woods
Something very significant occurs as Buffy flees the temptation of crypt. She
tries to get her mind off the "Evil bloodsucking fiend," wishing for something
distract her. And it does. A girl screams for help. Buffy looks up to heaven and
thanks God for the distraction. The scream allows her to do what she does best
-- be the hero and help the helpless.
And then it all goes wrong. With her soulless fighting partner at her side, Buffy
battles the demons summoned by the now-evil geeks - who do have souls,
black ones. During the one chance that she has to speak to "Katrina," Buffy
assures her that it'll be ok, she will get her out this. In other words: trust me.
Buffy is devastated when she thinks she has killed an innocent girl. "Trust me,"
Spike tells her, taking charge. In the past, she has been the general and he's
taken orders from her; now, as he did in the Bronze scene, he takes command.
Spike has a moral code, although it's not the same as Buffy's. It is relatively
simple: protect the people you love. How? Do whatever it takes. We saw
Spike's protective instinct all through season 2 with Drusilla. We began to see
with Buffy as early as season 4 in Something Blue. Under a demon attack,
Spike, betrothed to Buffy, feared he couldn't protect the woman he loved. We
saw it in the climactic final scene of Fool For Love. And in Crush when
he realized Dru was indeed going after chained-up Buffy. His protective feelings increased
as his love for Buffy grew.
There is something very human about his behavior here. The drive to protect
those we love from harm is a powerful one. Buffy should know this. She chose
to protect Dawn in The Gift even though she knew that Dawn's death could
save the world from total destruction. Spike's actions are understandable. What
Buffy's dream is, I think, the key to understanding what happens later in the
alley. As she sees it, an innocent girl who screamed for her help is dead. It was
Buffy's wish to be freed of her obsession with Spike that links Katrina and Spike
in the dream.
As the Slayer, Buffy has been entrusted with task of saving people from
demons - it's a sacred trust. She's a vampire slayer, she's supposed to kill
creatures like Spike, not love him. "He's everything I'm supposed to be
against," she tells Tara, anguished, at the end of the episode.
On the other hand, she's supposed to save women like Katrina, not kill them.
In the dream, she tries to stake Spike but instead she stakes Katrina, who
trusted Buffy to save her. Buffy can no longer trust herself to be faithful to her
noble calling in life, the one thing she's always excelled at - slaying the bad
guys and saving the good.
Worse, Spike knows what she has done. Dream-Spike tells her "It will be our
little secret." What power that would give him over her! If she allows him to
protect her, she will not only be turning her back on her moral responsibility
(much the way the troika did) but she will also be admitting that she belongs
in the shadows with him. She is truly lost, and the dream handcuffs are a
reminder of the usual thing handcuffs are used for - restraining criminals.
She wakes, horrified. It's the middle of the night - panic time, guilt time. Buffy
knows what she must do: "Dawnie, I have to," she says, using the same words
that she used on the tower before she killing herself to save the world. Now
she must save her soul by confessing her crime and accepting her punishment
-- otherwise, she, too, will be what she most fears becoming: an evil, soulless
Scared Buffy doesn't take the time to think it through, to question why she
experienced a time shift (something she's experienced before), or what kind of
demons she was dealing with. Control freak Buffy must resume her role as
general and take the action that seems both morally appropriate and necessary
to assuage her guilt and fear. Righteous Buffy is willing to sacrifice herself
again...she has done it before.
Note: Buffy does not appear to recognize Katrina, whom she met when April,
Warren's first robot girl, attempted to kill Katrina. (April almost succeeded).
Those events happened on a devastating day in Buffy's life: the day of her
mother's death. It was directly after the Warren-Katrina-Aprilbot mess that
Buffy went home, walked into her living room, and found Joyce's body lying on
the sofa. Her mother, whom she could not save. Her mother, whom she might
have been able to help if she had not had to deal with Warren, Katrina and
April. If she had come home a little earlier that day.
Is it possible that Buffy's unconscious mind makes the link and contributes to
her deep distress and guilt over Katrina's death?
In the alley
Outside the police station, Buffy confronts not her lover but her worst
nightmare - someone who is determined to stop her from doing what she firmly
believes is right. Spike himself is the barrier here. He is not going to let her
As I mentioned in the beginning, there are several places where the alley scene
reflects the first scene between Buffy and Spike in the crypt. Perhaps the most
significant is the "under the rug" reference. Buffy has been the one to insist
that their affair be swept under the rug - a secret that she keeps from her
friends. Sexually, she has been in heaven, and, as in Once More With Feeling,
"not one among them knows, and never can be told."
Now Spike wants to sweep something else under the rug - her supposed crime.
From his perspective, it's another secret between them, which, for Buffy's sake,
no one can ever know.
The comparison with what happened with Faith and the Mayor's assistant is
impossible to avoid. Although Spike is acting from very different (and much
more defensible) motives than Faith did, he unfortunately uses the same
arguments she used - what's one life compared to all the lives you've saved?
Buffy knows it doesn't work that way. If you take an innocent life, there are
moral consequences. She must take responsibility for her actions. And it's her
choice, not his to make.
Within their own individual moral frameworks, both Buffy's and Spike's actions
at the start of this scene are understandable. "I can't let you do it. I love
Spike failed to protect Dawn when he was given that responsibility by Buffy.
There is no way he is going to fail to protect Buffy now that she's in trouble.
Both, however, are acting recklessly also. Spike moved the body, and if there's
one thing he ought to know about, it's dead bodies. Surely he should have
realized Katrina had been dead for some time. Buffy should have questioned
the circumstances. She's experienced other weird time lags recently. Hello,
Sunnydale; things aren't always what they seem.
But the stakes here are very important for both of them. He's not going to lose
her; she's not going to lose the last shreds of her self- respect. They are
probably both terrified. It's the irresistible force and the immovable object, and
the battle is inevitable.
In fairness to Buffy, it's Spike who takes the first aggressive action, throwing
her back into the alley twice. He even lets his demon out - his weapon, as he
referred to his vampire face in Fool For Love. He didn't vamp out during their
last big battle in Smashed. Here, he's prepared (initially at least) do whatever
it takes to stop her from sacrificing herself again.
But the sight of his game face makes it easier for her to be the Slayer to his
Vampire. This is what she's supposed to do - fight vampires, kill them. She is
not supposed to kill young human women.
At the same time, Spike is mirroring her, as Faith mirrored her darker side. She
is a killer. Spike is a killer (although it's been a long time, and he has
changed). He has just cleaned up a body she left behind. In the past, she has
cleaned up his bodies (specifically, Ford in Lie to Me). When he puts on his
demon face, he is mirroring her worst fears about herself: i.e., she is an animal
who leaves bite marks like a vampire does; she is a killer.
To make it even more complex, here's Spike, in an alley, vamped out,
preventing a woman from leaving the alley - this recalls the scene in Smashed
where he cornered a woman and attempted to bite her. He claimed to be evil in
that other alley, and he tried to prove very hard to prove it. This time it's Buffy
who insists that he's evil, although, by the end of the scene, surely even she
doesn't believe it.
"I love you." "No. You don't." He can't. He's been lying to her, lying
A vampire without a soul can't love.
Then he surprises her: "You think I haven't tried not to?"
Her terror-trigger goes off. He's been telling her he loves her for more than a
year now. He's proven it over and over, and she knows it. He's seen her at her
worst. He knows her darkest secrets. He has always accepted her. He has
always been there for her. And now suddenly he's admitting he has tried not to
She slams into him and throws him across the alley. "You can't understand why
this is killing me, can you?" And she's too furious to explain - his inability to
understand that she's the Slayer and that the Slayer is GOOD, despite
everything he's told her, despite her own fears about having come back wrong.
And then he calls her his girl, and she totally loses it. She becomes the animal
he said she was, making it hurt in all the wrong places.
"There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside. You can't feel
anything real." She is projecting -- talking about herself. "This isn't real,
you can make me feel" was the line she used when she first approached him for
sexual comfort in Once More With Feeling. She's the dead thing. She's the one who
can only feel when she's in his arms. "Put it all on me," he urges her, and she
does. She projects her feelings onto him, as she's been doing for weeks. Generously,
loving her, he opens himself up to her rage.
The scene began with Spike prepared to battle her with all his strength. Why
does he change his mind and take this beating?
In Waiting in the Wings, Angel tells the prima ballerina that she must change
the dance that she's been doing for the past 100 years. She does, and breaks
the spell. The metaphor of the dance has been used between Spike and Buffy
ever since Fool For Love (if not before -- he first saw her dancing in the Bronze
in School Hard). The dance represents both their physical battles and their
sexual moves on one another. The most dramatic example is the final scene of Smashed.
In Dead Things, Spike changes the dance. He stops participating. He no longer
wants to dance to the death with the Slayer the way he did with the Chinese Slayer and the
NYC Slayer. But if he fights her now, that's what it could devolve to - Buffy is out of
her mind much as he was the last time they went at each other with Spike in vamp face in Out
of My Mind. He tried to bite her then, and she could very well try to stake him now.
For the moment, the shaky trust they have
established is gone. This is one dance that is not going to turn into passionate
sex in the alley.
But even with death in the balance, it's totally against Spike's natural
inclinations to back down in a fight - he loves to fight and he's always ready to
risk his unlife. But his natural inclinations are out of whack. If his natural
inclinations had been operating, would he have dumped Katrina 's body without
feeding from her? Hello, vampire, interrupted meal in the crypt, dead girl, no
interference from the chip. We know from the autopsy report that Spike did not
drink before he tossed Katrina in the drink. Yes, he's in game face, but how
much of a vampire *is* Spike these days?
His unexpected surrender forces Buffy (eventually) to realize what she's doing
to him. She is horrified. He can't maintain the demon face; he turns human,
looking almost as battered as he looked when Glory was finished with him.
Does the sight of that bruised and bleeding face remind her that this was how
he looked when she gave him her first kiss? Does he now mirror her in another
way -- his pain -- bloodily evident -- reflecting her pain at being here, being
alive again, having to be responsible for her actions?
The brutal beating she delivers reveals the truth - Spike has changed. There is
a human under the vamp face, a generous and loving human who can even see
some shred of love in her actions: "You always hurt the one you love," he
manages to say. It sounds almost lighthearted.
As the First Slayer put it in Intervention, "Love is pain, and the Slayer
strength from pain. Love, give, forgive. Risk the pain. It is your nature."
It is Spike's nature, too. In fact, there's a part of Spike that genuinely thrills to
the pain of living. Ample evidence of this - going back to Fool For Love, head
thrust thru window on NY subway - his scream of exultation. Buffy takes every opportunity
to slam him for this, denying that it's human or normal to feel this way. Despite the
First Slayer's words, Buffy is still trying to escape the pain that
come with being alive. The hardest thing in this world is living in it - why?
Because living hurts. Spike, hurting, is alive. He is overflowing with human
Could he possibly believe she loves him, or will love him? Does he believe that
if she has this much rage inside her for him, she must feel something else,
something more than "I like you sometimes?" Why not? He did. Believing
himself de-chipped in Out Of My Mind, he leapt upon her and tried to tear her
throat - furious, hating her, aching to end his obsession with her. Instead, it was his
denial that died. Is Buffy on the verge of the same break-through?
But she's not yet ready to accept that old cliché about hurting the one you
love. She remembers why they're there, and heads into the police station. And
Spike realizes he has failed: she is walking away from him again, reminding us
of his line from the first scene: "Isn't this usually the part where you kick me in
the head and run out, virtue fluttering?"
In her final scene with Tara, Buffy finally cracks, breaking down and feeling
something with someone other than Spike. She confesses, but not to the
police. "I'm wrong," she insists. Tara offers her absolution -- "it's ok if
him...and it's ok if you don't." And Tara -- who was also the voice of the First
Slayer in Restless -- offers her the first outsider's perspective on Spike, a
perspective that confirms what Spike himself has been insisting for months:
"He's done a lot of good, and he does love you." Wow. Independent
Buffy finally understands that using Spike, if that's what she's been doing, is
wrong. Spike isn't a dead thing and doesn't deserve to be treating like one.
"Using him? What's ok about that? It's wrong. I'm wrong." It marks a turning
point. She's still not certain what Spike is, now that he's changed, or how she
really feels about him. Does she love him? In Intervention Buffy feared that
she had lost her ability to love.
FIRST SLAYER: You are full of love. You love with all of your soul. It's brighter
than the fire ... blinding. That's why you pull away from it.
BUFFY: I'm full of love? I'm not losing it?
FIRST SLAYER: Only if you reject it. Love is pain...
Buffy has been rejecting Spike's love for months, even while accepting him as
her partner in so many ways. To love him she must accept the pain, risk, fear,
guilt, and possibility of loss that love causes. Is she ready for that yet? Is the
final barrier about to collapse?
Perhaps not, but at least the door is beginning to crack open.
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