Death is on your heels, baby. And sooner or later, it’s gonna catch you. And part of you wants it. Not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you’re just a little bit in love with it.
In my personal ranking of “Best Buffy Episodes,” “Fool for Love” hangs out in my top ten. Part of it is that I’m an unrepentant Spuffy fan and “Fool for Love” occupies a special place in that arc. But my romantic prejudices aside, this is one top notch episode that both gives us insight into now-series regular Spike, but also foreshadows the advice given in “Intervention” and the choice made in “The Gift.” Buffy’s leap in “The Gift” seemed shocking at the time, and unexpected, but in watching the season again, there are plenty of seeds planted along the way, with Spike’s lessons an important part of this theme.
“Fool for Love” is an Angel cross-over episode. Originally, its companion piece, “Darla,” aired right after Buffy. You don’t need to watch “Darla” to understand what happens here, though there are several reveals in it that give deeper meaning to how the characters act in Spike’s flashbacks, so we won’t be discussing any parts of it in this recap. However, if you’re streaming these episodes, cue “Darla” up next.
During a routine patrol, Buffy is caught mid-quip by a run-of-the-mill vampire who manages to stab the Slayer in the gut with her own stake. Luckily Riley, who just happens to be stalking walking by the graveyard at night even though his girlfriend has told him it’s too dangerous for him to be out patrolling and didn’t want him tagging along with her, is able to drive the vampire off and get Buffy to safety. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Slayer seriously injured by a generic vampire. Sunday, back in the first episode of season 4, might have been the last one to get the upper hand on Buffy.
The aftermath of Buffy’s joining with the First Slayer this season has been an increase in her interest in being “The Slayer” as part of a lineage of Slayers, and the exponential development of her abilities. She’s training seriously for the first time in years, defeated Dracula, and is more in touch with her own strengths – yet she’s almost murdered by one of Poison’s roadies. The close call sends her to Giles and his books, looking for the stories of her predecessor’s last fights. What she finds out though is that almost no accounts remain of the other Slayers’ final battles. As Giles says, even if their Watchers survived when their Slayers didn’t, losing their charges was too painful for them to relive through their diaries.
This little exchange in The Magic Box is one of the great scenes in an episode packed with them. In just one line and a look, we’re reminded of how much Giles and Buffy love each other.
So The Watcher records are a bit thin on this kind of history, but Buffy does have one valuable asset she can tap – Spike, the only vampire to ever kill two Slayers. That’s an impressive piece of vampireing in the Buffyverse. And yet now Spike is a neutered old dog reduced to selling his secrets to a Slayer so he can afford to buy blood from Sunnydale’s butchers. Buffy offers to pay him (she roughs him up for free) for the tales of his two previous kills, in the hope it’ll reveal something to her about how her sisters messed up.
Much of the rest of the episode is told in various flashbacks that serve to reposition how we understand Spike. From his introduction as the vampire Sid to Dru’s Nancy, we’ve been led to believe Spike’s always been a terror. Unlike Angel, who was a douche who slid into monstrosity, Spike was what we might call a gentle soul, a soft spoken young man who lived with his mother and wrote terrible poetry, and pined after disguised vengeance demons who were pretending to be young society maids.
Yes, Virginia, Cecily, Spike’s old timey love interest, was played by the same actress that went on to play Halfrek, one of Anya’s demon besties. It’s confirmed in the comics that Cecily was Halfrek in disguise. She was so disgusted by how the salon treated William that she slaughtered them after he left. Later on, at another one of Buffy’s doomed birthday parties, Halfrek and Spike run into each other. Note when you get there that she calls him “William,” and they both awkwardly pretend not to know each other very well when Buffy asks about it. I’ve always wondered how much of this flashback he actually tells Buffy, because so much of it is so very painful to watch. It seems hard to believe he would tell her something as vulnerable as Cecily saying William was beneath her, but he must have, because Buffy’s able to use it against him later in the episode.
After the disastrous party, William slinks off to an alley to cry, where he’s tracked down by Drusilla. She claims to see something special in him. It’s always a crapshoot about whether or not Dru is really seeing the future or just nattering on, but it seems like she was on the money with poor William, who goes on to become Spike, one of the few soulless vampires with the capacity to still feel love. Vampirism agrees with Spike, who finds a freedom in the mindless violence, and doesn’t much care what the consequences of it are. Angelus tries to use the threat of the Slayer to bring Spike’s behavior in line, but that just makes him seek her out.
Spike meets his first Slayer during the Boxer Rebellion, and the second in New York City. (Nikki Wood, the NYC Slayer, becomes more important as the show goes on, particular for season 7.) He kills them both, and takes from them each two important trophies. His signature eyebrow scar is given to him by the Chinese Slayer’s mystical sword. After killing Nikki, he removes her long leather duster, which becomes a part of his uniform.
Buffy keeps pressing him for answers, wanting to know the why of how he beat them. Spike’s a great fighter – we know that from years of watching him dance with Buffy – but it’s not the fight that’s really important:
Every day you wake up, it’s the same bloody question that haunts you: is today the day I die?… Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp. That look of peace. Part of you is desperate to know: What’s it like? Where does it lead you? And now you see, that’s the secret. Not the punch you didn’t throw or the kicks you didn’t land. Every Slayer… has a death wish.
We see in both of the flashbacks talented young Slayers going toe to toe with Spike until something throws their game off, an opening where they seem to stop fighting, stop struggling. In Spike’s stories, that’s his moment to slip in and kill them. That’s his “real good day.”
But when Spike tells Buffy that she’s just a little in love with death, he’s not just talking about her. What else can you say about a vampire in love with the Slayer? She is his death. He’s a bit familiar with death wishes.
And he is in love with her. Another flashback, one that Spike doesn’t tell Buffy about, shows him in Brazil after the events of “Becoming Part 2.” Dru is cheating on him with a Chaos Demon because, she says, Spike is already in love with the Slayer and doesn’t even know it. She’s “all around” him, suffocating him, and crowding Dru out of his life. Spike’s confused, because he thinks she’s talking about the deal he made with Buffy to save Dru’s life, but she’s talking about something he won’t realize until this year, when he wakes up from a nightmare to know he’s fallen in love with Buffy.
In the present, Spike is clearly energized by his storytelling and the punches he and Buffy have been exchanging. He leans in for a kiss and Buffy, shocked, pushes him away. When he presses the point, saying that he knows she feels something between them, Buffy shoves him to the ground. What comes next might be the cruelest thing Buffy ever does in the series – she throws his money at him and tells him that even if everything he says is true, that she has a death wish, that she’s attracted to him, that she has a dark side she’s been ignoring, none of it matters, because Spike will never have her. He’s beneath her.
It’s a kick in the guts moment.
Spike cries and picks up the cash anyway, and then storms off to the crypt to pick up a shotgun. Shooting the Slayer might blow his chip and his brain up, but the insult of Buffy’s rejection has enraged him beyond reasoning. He stalks off to the Summer’s house, where Buffy is sitting on the back porch. While Spike was fuming at the crypt, Joyce was telling Buffy that her health issues might not be so minor after all, and she’s headed to the hospital for some more tests. Buffy’s retreated to the back porch to cry where her mom can’t see.
And that’s how Spike finds her. Instead of killing her – and this could be his moment, since she sees the gun and does nothing about it, this could be his good day – he asks what’s wrong. Spike does a lot of messed up things in his wooing of Buffy – some phenomenally messed up things – but he does have genuine feelings for her, and it’s apparent in moments like this. When Buffy is vulnerable and hurting, he doesn’t take advantage of it, he sits down next to her and pats her back, trying to offer her comfort.
Over in the B-plot this week, Riley offers to take over Buffy’s patrols while she’s out of action, something she agrees to only if he takes the Scoobies along with him. Despite the fact that Willow and Xander have been actively fighting the forces of evil for 4 years now, including multiple stints at patrolling while Buffy was wrapped up in something or another, the show inexplicably has them acting like the Keystone Cops to Riley’s Rambo. The Scoobies loudly eat from a bag of potato chips and shout at each other while trying to sneak up on vampires. Xander, whose long ago Halloween transformation into Army Guy has been used as repeated plot point as recently as last season, suddenly has no idea what Riley’s basic hand signals mean. It’s a really embarrassing set piece – something totally out of continuity just to provide some moments of levity and justify Riley’s power play.
Because the Scoobies are being such nincompoops, when the gang does find a vampire nest, Riley sends them all home to wait for sunrise, when they can attack the group with better odds on their side. A completely sensible plan that Riley doesn’t bother following, because in case you’ve missed his character development this season, he’s really goddamn resentful about being shunted off to supporting player in this demon fighting outfit. So he returns to the crypt to off the vampire who stabbed Buffy in the beginning of the episode and blow up the rest of the nest. I suppose there’s a personal argument Riley could make in his mind that says he’s doing this as revenge for what happened to Buffy, but that hardly defuses his testosterone-laced decisions. Riley will never accept being second string.