Angel v. Spike

I was reading one of my Christmas presents this morning, a collection of essays about Angel & Buffy, and decided, Hey, I've got some opinions about all this stuff. While the shows were going on, before I started this blog, I would exchange e-mails about the episodes with two of my brothers. Below is an e-mail that I wrote regarding Angel v. Spike during the last season of Angel (with some editing).
Crazy Spike with a soul was fun but ultimately not different enough from Angel. And Spike is intrinsically different from Angel. If you were to compare them to Old Testament people, Spike would be Jeremiah and Angel would be, oh, Saul before he went nuts. Something like that. That is, Angel is the noble guy who fights. He's interested in redemption but he isn't particularly theology-minded. Which is less of a contradiction than it sounds.

Angel's "disillusionment" always seemed a practical extension of his personality. And his adoption of a fatalistic, Norse-like idea of the universe (there's nothing beyond this life but we fight the good fight anyway) is also in keeping with his warrior ethic.

Spike is the visionary. But he's not an Isaiah type visionary. He's a Jeremiah type visionary. The guy who can cut through all the gobbledygook to the center. It came off trite but Spike's statement last night that he could see the poetry in how to kill the bad guy was dead-on accurate. There's an episode back in early Buffy where Spike comes back to town after being dumped by Drusilla. He runs into Angel and Buffy who are pretending to "just be friends," and he knocks down their explanations, bang, bang, bang. Later, Buffy says, "Spike can figure it out, for some reason."

(The episode where Spike explains to Buffy why slayers die is another great example of this.)

This is what makes Spike Spike. Spike is Jeremiah saying, "Don't be stupid. The Babylonians are stronger than you." And then watching everyone around him doing the exact opposite of what he suggests and self-destructing.

The difference is, Angel will adopt disillusionment as a way of dealing with life, but I'm not sure it matters much to Angel. His "theology" is secondary to his behavior, as it is with most people. But Spike, I think, is, while not a believer, a man who will keep worrying at the framework of things. In his head at least. He isn't a reader, and Angel is. He is a poet, and Angel likes Manilow. This works. As character development, it's ripe for exploration.

For instance, Angel's redemption has no religious foundation whatsoever. He feels guilty. That's enough. He doesn't like to hurt people. That's enough. But Spike, in my personal estimation, would have been more prone to go at his redemption (if he decided even to pursue it) from the point of view of theology—why and what for and what does it mean and so on and so forth. He won't stand for anything shallow or insincere but he would be more likely to take it to pieces, and he would go at it harder. The inconsistencies upset him more. Angel tries and gets bitter and gets over it and keeps going. I don't think Spike has that kind of personality. Angel is, say, Zeus and Spike is, say, Eros or Loki or a dozen other tricksters who undermine things precisely because the moral discrepancies bugged them.

So, I would have liked to have seen Spike take his getting a soul from a more religious angle. Get all priestly (in fact, a priest Spike would be a hoot). He wouldn't have to keep up the intensity for longer than one season of Buffy. He could relax a bit. But it would have been far more interesting than Spike moping around soulfully after Buffy. It would have been much better if he'd come back and the business about having a soul so consumed him that Buffy just lost relevance.

But maybe not, since Spike has always been a closet romantic.
Note: the (non)use of Spike during the last season of Buffy really bugged me. I thought he was given precious little to do except stand around. Actually, I wasn't a huge fan of the last season of Buffy at all. Yes, yes, I know people who thought the seasons got better and better for both Angel and Buffy. I don't, and I agree with Peter Beagle who thinks that Angel gained this wacky soap opera baroque quality. I pretty much skipped the middle of Angel, and only watched the last season because it was the last season. Which doesn't mean that it still wasn't better television than a lot of other stuff out there. But I HATED the lighting in the last season.

My comparison between Angel and Spike continues below. This is an e-mail from the same season (the episode where Angel and Spike are chasing after the goblet of something or other).
The fight sequences between Spike and Angel went on a bit long, but they were still very cool. Truth is: watching two guys beat the crap out of each other is sexy stuff. I don't mean Texas Ranger type beating. That's not sexy. That's just pathetic. But the whole Henry IV/Hotspur thing: "Hi, we don't like each other, but we're both reasonably honorable so let's hack each other to death with swords." And then they fight and get all bloody and one of them falls over and croaks out, "You have all the honor, comrade" and dies.

That is very sexy. And, yeah, the whole male bonding thing can be fairly sexy too. Not sappy male bonding a la Beaches. Home Improvement type male bonding.

The cleverest of the clever bits was the whole Angel vs. Spike thing. The clever part was that the arguments played on the Angel fan versus Spike fan arguments that I hear about from my Buffy friends. Personally, I like 'em both, but there are definite followings amongst the fanbase and definite (and vocal) opinions about who Buffy should end up with. The whole exchange played on that and it looks like the writers will go on playing with it for this Season. There's a tongue-in-cheek aspect to it that I find very amusing.

I also thought the dialog worked on several levels. Spike's romanticism was played out effectively but more importantly I think it gave Angel a bit more depth, ambiguity-wise. The line that Angel, as Angelus, gives Spike, "You can take all you want, but nothing is yours" is reflected in Angel's "good" self. Just like Spike wanted the cup to get back at Angel as well as for the meaning it would give his life, I think Angel's warning, while partly given to dissuade Spike, was honestly meant. He's still trying to dish out to Spike the same advice: there're no automatics; there're no guarantees just because you have a soul. Angel, older and wiser, learned this the hard way. And I thought it worked effectively to illuminate the differences between the two.
I want to add here that the episode where Andrew shows up with the slayerettes (the episode with the crazy slayer) is another good instance where Angel's experience of pain comes up against Spike's relative youth (both in terms of years and in terms of years with a soul). Spike doesn't really grasp until that episode how bad badness can be; he hasn't understood what exactly he should be feeling guilty about. He wants to argue that he isn't that person anymore and that he sacrificed himself to save the world and come on, why SHOULD he care. He wants his beer and skittles life. He doesn't really know how to cope with his new persona. This does fit into my earlier analysis. Angel, who has already been through all this, has accepted a role/position/lifestyle that makes sense (to him). But Spike is bothered by the logic of the whole thing. Which doesn't mean he won't end up being a hero who cares about others, but his way of getting there will be a lot more confusing, unsteady and querulous than Angel's (really, think Jeremiah). As Peter Beagle says, "I like them both. I care about them . . . But I worry about Spike." (His article is in Five Seasons of Angel edited by Glenn Yeffeth.)


Anonymous Mike Cherniske said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. Personally, one of my favorite Spike/ Angel moments is the cavemen VS astronaut fight. Who would win? And which side would the fang boys be on? From the episode we can derive that Spike was on the caveman side, while angel was on the astronauts. In a really scary yet undeniably Joss Whedon way, this silly argument tells us a lot about each character. Spike knows the violence, is almost intimate with it. Spike was always about the physical, whether it be his relationship with Buffy, his bloodlust for a fight or his complete acceptance of his vices, spike is really about the here and now. While this does change throughout the course of both shows, in the end spike is a physical, temporal being.
Angel, on the other hand, is about emotion and thought. Even as angelus, angel didn't go for the physical pain as much as the emotional or physic trauma. It is for this reason the Drusilla was his greatest accomplishment. It is in this reasoning that we see Angel's embrace of the Astronaut side of the battle. Even angels search for redemption lied more in the emotional, the logical, rather than the physical.
What makes this fight so much more interesting is how each character slowly starts moving to the other side of the argument. Spike, slowly, starts making strides towards the spiritual, while angel begins to focus on the temporal. It would have been awesome to have seen where this journey would have finally led both characters.

4:10 PM  

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