One of the oldest debates in fandom is Spuffy vs. Bangel. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer immediately and then report back. Done? Ok, good. Now I realize that this debate hasn’t really been active in quite a while, but it’s one that’s close to my heart and one of my friends recently told me that he doesn’t think Buffy and Spike should be together. I immediately told him we could never speak again until he changes his mind, and in the spirit of that I will now definitively tell you why Spuffy is the best ship ever (ok maybe not, but I do think there are some truly beautiful things about their relationship).
Now I am the first to admit that in season 6 their relationship is abusive. Wholly abusive. Spike does not in any way understand consent (he badgers her until she has sex with him many times, will physically restrain her when she tries to leave his presence, and regularly ignores her requests). Buffy on the other hand just uses him and then proceeds to insult him, berate him, yell at him, beat him up, and generally act emotionally abusive (“you’re not a man. You’re a thing”).
But Spike is right when he points out that they understand each other: both of them are broken people who don’t understand how they fit into the universe and are attempting to fulfill roles that will never be quite right for them. Buffy will never be the perfect, motivated, “good” Slayer that she was before she died. Spike will never be the big bad that he was before he got his chip. Both of them are struggling with feeling pointless, and both of them see themselves in the other. Spike has always had a talent for truth telling (see season 3, Love Walk, when he tells Buffy and Angel that they will never be friends) and he is the only of Buffy’s lovers that doesn’t idealize her in some way: he sees her dark bits and he loves those bits. He loves her complexity and her struggle because it makes her human, it makes her relatable, it makes her stronger: he sees that she has to choose over and over to continue in a life that isolates her, and she does it because it is right. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat that fact for her, he simply reminds her that it makes her an amazing human being.
Beyond their recognition of similarities in each other, one of the more amazing things about Spike is that he actually improves himself because of Buffy: he goes to get his soul. Some people might interpret this as the ultimate nice guy move (I got my soul back for you, now date me!), but if you look at his face after he realizes that he nearly raped her, he is fully disgusted by his own actions and wants to change. His motivation is more that he doesn’t want to hurt her anymore. There are few examples of relationships in media in which one party recognizes that they have behaved badly towards the other and then chooses of their own volition to make serious changes to their self and their life in order to be better and do better. I am amazed at the strength of Spike’s love that it allows him to do this. Not even Willow could. When Tara left her over magic using, Willow kept on going. But Spike, the moment he realizes how seriously his lack of soul is fucking up his relationship with Buffy, makes a change.
Once season 7 rolls around, things are very different between Buffy and Spike, not only because Spike has a soul, but because both of them have healed somewhat as people. Any relationship between two individuals who are deeply depressed will be fucked up. So while season 6 is part of their history, I don’t see that relationship as the best representation of what they can be together, because it isn’t the best representation of either of them as people. So let’s look a bit at season 7, shall we?
Once it hits this season, Spike has fully recognized Buffy as an autonomous person. Angel, Parker, Riley (especially Riley), all try to manipulate Buffy’s actions in some fashion. They want her to love them or not to love them or to be less strong or fulfill her destiny. Spike does none of these things. He backs her up, he challenges her when he disagrees with her, but he truly recognizes that she can exist fully without him and that he does not need to get her to behave in any particular way. Buffy in return begins to see Spike as someone deserving of compassion, someone with a complex history whose heart has been broken over and over and who simply needs love (see: “Can we rest now?”). While she doesn’t know if she can love him, she is content to be with him in a wholly present fashion that is incredibly healing for Spike. From the looks of it, no one else in his life has ever done that (certainly not Cecily and Dru was never really what you’d call present).
There is a great deal of tenderness in their relationship in season 7. Each of them has moments of complete vulnerability during which they show the parts of them that hurt the most, and in return the other listens, holds them, and simply reminds them that they are worthy. Each of them has come through a great deal of loneliness (Spike in his human life and when Dru left him) and confusion, and this gives them far more understanding of what the other is going through. What’s beautiful about this is that it shows how deeply two broken people can love. While season 7 doesn’t contain any crazy sex or passionate kisses, I would argue that it has the most passionately loving scenes in the whole series. In the last episodes when Buffy stays in an abandoned house with Spike, he gives her a bit of a pep talk. It is honest, loving, intense, and emotional. It is perhaps the most passionate thing I’ve ever seen in my life. That mix of gentleness and deep passion for the other person is what makes their relationship work so well. They hold each other so carefully because they know what it is to be hurt.
Spuffy has always given me hope that even if we have a past of pain and cruelty and confusion, we can learn from those things the compassion to love imperfect people. It doesn’t pretend that either party is good. It recognizes each of their faults and allows them to exist as they are while still loving each other, and even to love each other because of their faults. I don’t like aphorisms about learning from your pain or how bad things make us stronger or better in some fashion. But if there is one relationship in all of media that would convince me that having hurt in your past can expand your ability to have compassion, to care deeply for someone, and to make yourself vulnerable, it would be this one. The quiet moments in which Buffy simply asks Spike to hold her show so clearly how two people can take care of each other in the worst of situations.
If you’re not convinced of the beauty of Spuffy at this point, you have no heart. And so I will leave you with the most touching speech I know of, from Spike to Buffy.
“You listen to me. I’ve been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine, and done things I prefer you didn’t. I don’t exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood, which doesn’t exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes, a lot of wrong bloody calls. And 100+ years, and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of: you. Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say, “I love you,” it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.”