Reflecting on Buffy, Spike, and ‘That’ Scene

Recently, I became a moderator of Elysian Fields, a fan fiction archive that focuses on the relationship between Buffy and Spike (aka Spuffy) and has around 25,000 members at the time of writing this. Not long after that, the mod team were asked if we wanted to be interviewed as part of an article for Polygon. A few of us said yes and that article is now live, which can be read here.

I hadn’t wanted to do the interview via Zoom but instead wrote to the author of the article, Katie. Below is what I said in full.

I’ve been very public about writing and enjoying fan fiction, to help counteract the taboo some people feel about it. As with many other taboos, I never really ‘got’ why people felt shame about it. But that’s perhaps off-topic.
What draws me to fanfic, in general, is satisfaction. Either I’ve seen a really great movie or read a great book and want more, or I’ve been left frustrated by something and feel the need to fix it somehow. I’m a massive control freak, so fixing things that others wouldn’t consider broken is kind of my jam haha. Outside of fan fiction, I write novels and poetry and short stories set in my own worlds, so words are very much how I relate to everything.
In 2019/2020 I did an English Literature course that required me to read A Streetcar Named Desire, and the ending left me so upset I went home and wrote an epilogue that offered a grain of hope for at least a couple of the characters. I’ve done that in a few different fandoms, but for the most part, my heart is with Buffy. As to why, I’ll need to give a little background.
I was fourteen when the show ended in 2003––such a pivotal and transformative time in a lot of people’s lives. I was navigating what it meant to be a teenager in the modern age while living with parents who considered so much of society evil, from the music on the radio to the shows on TV. That included Buffy––and even tamer things, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the first Harry Potter films. I wasn’t allowed to watch any of it. But, given the effects of a, frankly, negligent and emotionally abusive upbringing, I did not have a whole lot of other options for what to do with myself. I didn’t really have friends. I didn’t go out. I was terribly depressed, sometimes even suicidal.
My brother would sometimes watch Buffy (the rules never seemed to apply to him), and so sometimes I was able to catch it, too. And it grabbed me. I became obsessed. Here was a show that dealt with real-life traumas (death and heartbreak and betrayal), albeit via the medium of puns and a fresh twist on vampire lore.
The character of Spike drew me in most of all. The complexity of his character––how he could be furious and honest and seductive all at the same time. And he cried! It was revolutionary to me to see a man, no less one seen as ‘cool’, to show his feelings. Being able to feel things alongside him and the other characters helped me process things in my own life. It was a lifeline, getting me through some of the hardest years I’ve had so far.
And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think that’s why people stuck with the show, and why it’s still finding fans even now. I don’t have the hard statistics for how the number of fics and members of the community have changed over time, but I feel confident in saying we’ve stayed strong, and our archive in particular is still growing.
With regards to Seeing Red, I have a lot of feelings, and some of them contradictory. On the one hand, I think the topic was an important one to tackle and, as I was saying about taboos, earlier, not left in a place of silent shame. However, I find ‘the bathroom scene’ incredibly hard to watch, and I don’t think the show handled it well at all. We never got to see Buffy and Spike properly address it on screen, and that’s a huge disservice to both the characters and the fans. I feel like the showrunners actively hurt a lot of people with where they look the arc of Spuffy’s sexual relationship, not because it got dark, but because they left it mostly unresolved in that dark place.
I don’t mind reading or writing difficult topics. A lot of the time that’s exactly what needs to be done, and leaning into the raw, difficult aspects of a situation makes the writing stronger. But you can’t half-ass it. The resolution doesn’t need to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it does need to feel resolved. To go through this huge thing as a character and an audience and then almost never talk about it again is bad writing at the very least.
And that’s where the fans have stepped in and written their own endings. Their own resolutions. The beauty of fan fiction is that it gives those most invested in the narrative the power to control it. I’ve read dozens of stories that either change things before Seeing Red, so the bathroom scene never happens, or ones that go through the motions of having the characters fully deal with the aftermath. I’ve written both myself, and I’m not done exploring the topic. It’s that important. It means that much to me. The show saved my life, and it almost feels like, in some small way, I can return the favor.
It is my firm belief that fan fiction is not plagiarism or in a moral grey area, because it only ever adds to the source material. Say you write fanfic in some circles and you’ll be laughed at, but those same circles will fall over themselves for the latest ‘retelling’ of a classic work. The double standard would be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating.
I think a big part of it is actually that fan fiction is popular with women, and looked down upon (either consciously or subconsciously) for that reason. I could rant about it all day, but I’ll spare you.
Let me know if you want anything clarified or expanded upon.

On Being Strong

There are many different definitions of strength. Most of them, I find, are inadequate. Strength isn’t the absence of fear or weakness, and it isn’t something purely physical.

I’m partially thinking about this because I’ve been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer season seven, these past few nights, but also because strength is something I’m constantly striving for. I have to remember that being strong is also not the same thing as being hard on yourself. I mean, sometimes it is, but not all the time.

I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life so far – fought through a fair few difficult situations – and where I am now, I have more hard things in front of me.

I am fighting against my body and the medical condition I have to get pregnant.

I am trying hard to lose weight – something that even people without PCOS struggle to do.

I’m also trying to secure a publishing deal.

These are big things. A lot of people much better than me have spent big chunks of their lives tackling one or other of these. The fact that I’m struggling with them is not a sign of weakness. Or, maybe it is, but that weakness isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes, I gotta cut myself some slack.

I cannot be top of my game, doing my very best, all of the time.

Being strong is not an absence of weakness, it’s accepting the things holding you back – the things failing and falling apart – and going on, regardless.

I am both weak and strong. That’s okay. The same is true of all people, even slayers. I just need to remember that.

The Thing About Buffy

When I was in my formative years – fourteen, fifteen, sixteen; probably before that, if I could remember – I was a lot of things: frustrated, depressed, creative, hopeful, and incredibly, incredibly lonely.

High School was hell, home was… not a place I would actually define as a ‘home.’ But I found that music helped, some, and the creativity and hope kept me thinking that if I could just make it to eighteen I could go wherever I wanted and be and do anything.

The day to day, though… that was tough. I’m not going to go into it and I’m not going to try and pretend that I had it hardest. But it was still tough. Hardness was my reality.

I closed myself off, repressed the pre-teen years, and become someone who, frankly, wasn’t very nice in return. Someone who literally didn’t understand what being nice meant. Again, I’m not saying I was a bully who tortured small animals and wished death upon children, but life was hard and so was I.

And then there was Buffy – this innocuous little TV show about teenagers living on a Hellmouth. A TV show that had layers, and pain, character development that was mind blowing and just so many things that, amongst all the vampires and demons, were just so damn real.

The show dealt with sex and relationships, domestic abuse, betrayal and, yes, death. Everything in between. The scary and the funny and the dramatic and the exciting and the gross.

And the thing is, it made me – broken teenager on the verge of suicide me – it made me feel things. It made me feel all of the things I’ve already mentioned and a million besides. It connected with me, and I was obsessed. I was mocked for it – still am, sometimes (screw you, Steph!) – but I didn’t care. I’d found my thing and it mattered to me more than anything.

That thing is now twenty years old and still touching lives. How freaking crazy is that? THAT is what I aim for in my art. And that is what I am forever thankful to Joss Whedon for.

Let’s Talk about Spike

William PrattMy favorite character of all time from anything ever is Spike, from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

As a reader, and a writer, and as a person, I find his character so rich, and layered, and engaging that I can’t help be sucked in (pun not intended).

Yes, he’s a vampire from Victorian times, but he comes across realistically, and that’s impressive. That’s why I want to talk about him. It’s why I love him.

So, what’s the sitch on this Spike guy? First thing you should know is that he’s a killer. There’s no sugar coating it, and no escaping it. He’s also a lover, a warrior, a poet, and a punk.

Throughout his long existence, he’s been human, a soulless vampire, a soulless vampire with a chip, a souled vampire, and a souled vampire-ghost-hybrid. He’s been brilliant, and he’s been idiotic. Clever and ridiculous. Merciless, protective, and loyal to a fault.

Despite the fact that he’s hyper sexual and masculine, he’s never shy about his feelings, and never apologetic about his tears.

I once posed the question to my Facebook friends, about whether Spike is a misogynist or not, and the conclusion is that yes, he is, and no he’s not. He loves women. He loves strong women. And he’s also used and discarded various women at various times.

His moral compass often completely lost in a sea of desires, he’s been both selfish and selfless.

He questions himself, his actions, and his motives, but never tries to justify the many wrong moves he makes. He tries to be better – going completely against his demonic nature – and he succeeds.

Most of the fan fiction I write is either about Spike or from Spike’s perspective and, as divisive as he is, I often find myself torn over the little details concerning him. Sometimes, in my stories, he has calluses on his hands from all the fighting he does, whereas sometimes I depict his hands as smooth, and soft – exemplifying the huge, intrinsic part of him that is a lover. William the Bloody

He can be both gentle and firm, I know this without doubt, but what would his handwriting be like? Like everything else, I can imagine it two ways – as an immaculate, almost calligraphic, cursive script he no doubt learnt in his days as an upper class London gentleman; and as a grungy scrawl portraying his adopted working class persona.

I’m sure he can and does use both, depending on the occasion, but that’s not to imply that he’s anything less than genuine. More than anything else, he’s just himself. Crazy and compelling as that is.

To quote one Tumblr user on the topic: “I love how Spike is both super cool and also a HUGE FUCKING LOSER!!” Or to put it into the words a different user used to caption the two photos included in this post: “…if that isn’t an awesome character development I don’t know what that is.”