Contains Spoilers through Not Fade Away, or the end of both series
Personal website: Ficbitch.com/almightygah & Ficbitch.com/slashingtheangel
Spike & Angel: A Shipper’s Manifesto
1. A Little Bit Of Background
Angel, played by David Boreanaz, is the original Jossverse vampire with a soul. Initially brought on to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be Buffy’s (disposable) antagonist, the actor proved so popular that he was signed as a regular, and instead went on to become Buffy’s love interest.
Pay attention, the above theme is going to become familiar.
Angel was cursed by Gypsies to feel eternal remorse for his hundred years of evil deeds as a vampire; he was given back his soul. Unfortunately, the curse had a catch. After experiencing “perfect happiness” with Buffy on the night of her seventeenth birthday, he lost his soul to love, forgiveness, (and her virginity) and reverted back to his former evil self, Angelus. He then wreaked havoc on her life, the town of Sunnydale, and Willow’s goldfish throughout the rest of S2, before Buffy tearfully sent him (newly re-ensouled, on his knees and to swelling music) into Hell.
You might wanna pay attention to that theme too. Buffy, and souled vamps who fall in love with her only to die spectacularly are also rather recurring. Luckily for them, they also always come back.
Before Angel(us) was gutted with a magic sword and sent to the fiery pits, the audience learned some more about his past: exploits, companions, and lovers.
Enter Spike, aka William the Bloody, played by James Marsters.
(I mention the actors’ names in this essay for several reasons.
First, it is hardly a coincidence- because rarely is anything a coincidence in Jossverse- that the actors, much like the characters they play, are polar opposites: Angel is tall, dark, handsome, mysterious, brooding, and prone to great dramatic gestures. Spike is smaller, fair haired and skinned, handsome, in-your-face, boisterous, and…prone to great dramatic gestures.
Second, the actors have brought a great deal of themselves to their roles, and have commented publicly on the nature of their characters, and their characters’ relationship with one another, in ways that will prove illuminating later on in this essay.)
Spike came to town with his long-time paramour, Drusilla, meant to invoke the literate viewer’s recollection of the incestuous story of Caligula. Inappropriate familial relations: a primary significant theme between Spike and Angel, in all their incarnations.
Drusilla was turned into a vampire by Angel, and we find out later that Spike was turned by Drusilla, even though over the course of the next five years, Spike will continually refer to Angel as his sire. So- are they like brothers? Father and son? Is Spike his own grandpa? Does the family tree even branch? You make the call. Incest is all *cough*relative*cough* when you’re a vampire.
Spike was also meant to be a villain of the week (or plot arc), but proved popular enough to- you guessed it. It did take Spike a bit longer to become Buffy’s love interest, an entire four seasons after his initial appearance. In the interim however, Spike and Angel found plenty to banter and bond over.
2. The Beginnings of a Ship
Their onscreen relationship begins with ‘School Hard’, when Spike, in the midst of trashing the high school and hunting Buffy, is obviously quite excited to see his old hunting partner, Angel. (Whom he calls Angelus, not knowing yet that he has gained a soul, a conscience, and a girlfriend who’s the Slayer). Angel and Spike hug, almost share a meal (Xander), but something- and we’re never told what, chalk it up to some very open-to-interpretation intuition, sets Spike off.
“You think you can fool me?” he shouts, and he’s obviously furious, betrayed. “You were my sire, man. My Yoda!”
(Later, Xander will ask Angel what a sire means. Angel will look broody, mysterious, and subtextual about it. But in the mean time, we get that these two had some kind of bond, and now that it’s over, Spike is pissed.)
It is telling that later on, even before Angel loses his soul, he does not once go after or try to destroy Spike or Drusilla. In fact, upon running into Drusilla one night, he makes a specific point of telling her to “take Spike and just go.”
Of course, she doesn’t, and we get fun with threesome bondage in the episode “What’s My Line”, in which Angel, tied to a bed and gagged, is tortured with Holy Water by Drusilla, and called ‘baby’ by Spike. I couldn’t make stuff this good up if I tried.
(The two male vampires will have numerous chances to do one another in, both souled and unsouled, over the course of the next five years. Instead, they snark, smack one another around, and in the end always leave the other alive. In fact, by the time Spike shows up on Angel’s show, they make a habit of saving one another’s lives on a regular basis. They do not, however, ever stop the snarking.)
Near the end of Season 2 BtVS, following the deflowering of Buffy and the de-souling of Angel, we see the crazy familial bond in action again: the newly freed Angelus goes to the warehouse where Spike and Dru are staying, and Spike can barely contain his excitement. He’s bouncing in his seat, and babbling right along with Drusilla about being a family again. In fact, when Angelus leans down to kiss him, he closes his eyes. (If you watch the scene, you can see Angelus stick his tongue out right before he presses his lips to Spike’s forehead.) Then, Spike, who has apparently lived over a hundred and twenty years, and killed two Slayers, collapses in giggles.
They instantly become rivals for Dru’s affections (it is made clear throughout both Jossverse series that this has been a long time rivalry). The boys snark at and hate one another with a lovely to witness fiery – uh, passion. Angelus slaps Spike on the back of the head in pretty much every scene, reinforcing Spike’s place as subordinate in the family hierarchy. Which alludes to yet another recurring theme- every time these two are on screen together, there is jostling for Alpha Male, complete with growls. The only component of said fight for dominance which we don’t actually see onscreen is humping. Except, we do: the over-the-car-hood scene in “In the Dark,” which occurs seasons later, when Angel has his own series, but Spike is still jostling.
From the forehead kiss scene in ‘Innocence’ on, the subtext rapidly becomes text. And for the next five seasons of Buffy, then continuing when Marsters moves to Angel’s series full time, Angel and Spike are rivals for not only Drusilla’s affections, but Buffy’s as well. (Not to mention Champion status and the right to Shanshu, or once again become a ‘real boy’.) These guys will fight over anything.
3. Let’s Talk Meta
In her book Between Men, scholar Eve Kofosky Sedgwick writes of a concept she calls "homosocial desire." Sedgwick defines the term as: "Homosocial" is a word occasionally used in history and the social sciences, where it describes social bonds between persons of the same sex; it is a neologism, obviously formed by analogy with 'homosexual,' and just as obviously meant to be distinguished from 'homosexual.'
To draw the 'homosocial' back into the orbit of 'desire,' of the potentially erotic, then, is to hypothesize the potential unbrokenness of a continuum between homosocial and homosexual-- a continuum whose visibility, for men, in our society, is radically disrupted" (Sedgwick 1-2).
Homosocial desire is characteristic of "male bonding" and other social situations where men gather. There is, Sedgwick writes, a "continuum between 'men loving men' and 'men promoting the interests of men'.
And how is it that men bond? In the Jossverse (and one could argue in reality) it is often through violence. And sometimes, Sedgwick argues, it is through a woman.
The Angel/Spike/Buffy(Drusilla) arc, which persists throughout the entire run of both series, is an excellent example of the sort of homosocial bonding through an erotic triangle with which Sedgwick's essay is concerned: "the bond between rivals in an erotic triangle" is "even stronger, more heavily determinant of actions and choices, than anything in the bond between either of the lovers and the beloved" (Sedgwick 21).
From Drusilla’s affections to Buffy’s, from fighting on the side of good to gaining a soul, Spike, since Day One, has followed in “Daddy’s” footsteps. And has resented the hell out of it.
But, Sedgwick writes that male bonding through rivalry "is not detrimental to "masculinity" but definitive of it" (50). Although homoeroticism is stereotypically associated with effeminate behavior among men, homosocial relationships such as Angel/Spike are characterized by stereotypically masculine behavior.
Their roles as men are emphasized by their violent competition over women, and their fight scenes have decidedly sexual overtones, such as the use of poles, stakes, and other phallic objects. The beaten party is often left on his knees, in a position of submission. (See BtVS: “What’s My Line”, AtS: “In the Dark,” “Soul Purpose”, “Destiny” for some of the most spectacular examples of fighting as sexually charged metaphor).
Sedgwick calls male rivals such as this the "two active members of an erotic triangle" (21). The third participant, the desired woman, is passive, serving as a representative of and link between men: "patriarchal heterosexuality can best be discussed in terms of one or another form of the traffic in women: it is the use of women as exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men" (26).
"[T]he choice of the beloved is determined in the first place, not by the qualities of the beloved, but by the beloved's already being the choice of the person who has been chosen as a rival," writes Sedgwick (21). In other words, it isn’t the girl the rival necessarily wants, it’s whatever happens to be the property of the initial male. Because what is truly desired, is the initial male himself.
Indeed, in the climax of the Buffy/Angel/Spike triangle, which occurs near the end of the final season of Angel, the episode “The Girl in Question”- Buffy isn’t even present. She is seen only for a moment, a blur of shining blond hair across a dance floor. Immediately after, the only two souled vamps in the universe have a beautifully sequenced fight with leather coats flying in slow motion, pursue several running gags including sharing a small Vespa with their arms around each other , and even end the night commiserating over their love ‘lost’. In fact, Buffy has never once even shown her face.
This is supposed to be the romantic rivalry on which their souls and destinies hinge, but the entire episode focuses solely on Angel and Spike, their long standing history with one another, and the fact that they may fancy themselves slaves to her heart and whim, but ultimately, they are alone- together.
Sedgwick's writings on homosocial desire show that their mutual desire for the same women indicates, rather than disproves, the homoerotic nature of Spike’s feelings for Angel, and vica versa. For writers of Angel/Spike slash, their joint attraction to Buffy is not a hurdle to be overcome but, rather, a means to bring them together.
4. Let’s Talk Canon
Or, one could skip the girl and head straight for the idea that the two have been shagging like bunnies since before Buffy’s grandfather was born.
Witness the scene from “Destiny”, where a newly made William (not yet calling himself Spike) first meets his grandsire, Angelus. He’s drunk, surly, and not a little unkempt, and the upper class William is seemingly unimpressed, if not a bit afraid. In a moment of spectacularly macho showmanship, Angelus holds his hand into the sunlight, watching it burn. Not to be outdone, William follows suit, even lets Angelus hold his hand while it catches fire, all while Drusilla watches and giggles. More competition for a girl? Maybe. But here’s what Angelus says next:
“Don't mistake me. I do love the ladies. It's just lately... I've been wondering what it'd be like to share the slaughter of innocents with another man. Don't think that makes me some kind of a deviant, hmm?”
William does not seem to think so, because he goes hunting alone with the crazy Irish stranger in the next scene. (The next scene, which is cut-tagged directly from a present-day sex scene. The folks in Jossverse have never been afraid to play to their slasher audience.)
Spike and Angel, as mentioned earlier in the essay, represent archetypal opposites: Angel is the Hanged Man, the hero destined for tragedy. He can’t keep his friends and comrades in arms alive (the series ends with every single original member of the AtS cast with the exception of Angel dead), and he can’t keep lovers lest he turn evil and kill them. Somehow, everyone always ends up following him anyway, right to the end. And the first volunteer to join him in a battle that even he calls suicidal? Spike.
Spike is the Trickster, never-static, ever-evolving, rule breaking and obnoxious. Hard to like but impossible not to.
I wouldn’t be so pedestrian as to leave you with the statement about opposites attracting. So I’ll let the actors and writers do it.
5. Let Someone Else Talk
"The real love story this season (Season Five) on Angel is Angel & Spike."
-David Fury at W&H Auction Q&A session with fans.
“I would have liked to see the relationship between Angel and Spike explored more. They have so much chemistry and history together.”
-David Boreanaz, when asked what he regrets most about not having a sixth season, convention: Chicago 2004.
"Well, David and I talked about it and we decided that underneath all that hatred, there's a lot of love. The characters! The characters have a lot of love!"
-James Marsters, on method acting, convention: Atlanta 2003
For a dose of Spike and Angel HoYay! onscreen, I recommend the following episodes and scenes:
School Hard- S2, BtVS (reunion scene)
What’s My Line- S2, BtVS (bondage fun)
Innocence-S2, BtVS (the only male/male kiss of any kind in Jossverse)
In the Dark- S1, AtS (featuring a hilarious voice over by Spike as he spies on Angel. Not for the first time, Spike decries Angel’s masculinity and sexuality, calling him various slang words for 'gay'. We wonder how he knows so surely.)
Destiny- S5, AtS (the first thing a newly corporeal Spike does?* Touch Angel’s chest. This ep also features the hand in the fire and deviant line scene.)
Soul Purpose- S5, Ats (the Matrix style fighting! The angst! The UST! Angel waking up in bed- with Spike! The expository explanation for just about every issue Spike and Angel ever had!)
Damage- S5, AtS (a wounded Spike is comforted bedside by Angel. Contains one of the most profound lines in the series, about innocence and forgiveness. Begins the trend of having multiple episodes in a row close with a shot of the two vampires together.)
The Girl In Question- S5, AtS (a 50’s style farce where Boreanaz and Marsters play vampiric versions of Bob Hope and Jack Lemmon, without the cross dressing. According to Boreanaz at a convention in Chicago, 2004, he and Marsters suggested cross dressing. Joss vetoed it.)
Hole in the World- S5, AtS (Angel and Spike hold hands. No. Really. And, according to dialogue, they’ve done it before.)
Power Play- S5, AtS (Spike confesses to having been ‘intimate’ with Angel, once.)
(*Corporeal after being ressurected as a ghost, after dying to save the world, for Buffy. Told you. Was a theme.)
Want to see what fanfic writers make of this pairing?
Largest collection of fic and essays on Angel and Spike as a ‘ship-
Capt. Peroxide & Deadboy (fangedfour.com/deadboy/) The BtVS Writer’s Guild for the pairing.
Best historical fics, otherwise known as Fanged Four (Angel, Spike, Drusilla and Darla in various and sundry combinations, heavy on the HoYay)-
Peasant's Plot (ficbitch.com/peasants_plot ) Epic stories, pre-Sunnydale.
Other sites with large collections of fic-
Slashing The Angel (ficbitch.com/slashingtheangel)
All About Spike (allaboutspike.com)
More of a visual sort? Try the vids over at Headtilt.com. Specifically, I recommend “Closer”, a lush ode to the similarities, differences, and sexuality of Angel and Spike, set to a dirty Nine Inch Nails song. So, it’s perfect, really.
6. To Repeat- No, Is Too Much, To Sum Up
Finally, I’ve been asked why I personally ship Angel and Spike. Frankly, that answer is much simpler. The first fanfic I ever read was Angel/Spike slash. I’ve been a shipper since the glory days of School Hard. I waited impatiently for six long years, but Joss came through for me in the last season of Angel- in spades.
What’s the appeal?
Pretty man+ Pretty man = Two pretty men!
Centuries of history with long hair and tight pants, gladiator style battles and UST so thick you could lick it.
Writers and actors who are willing to wink at and nudge those who ship the ‘ship.
Some of the most talented authors in Jossverse, who write the saddest, happiest, simplest, most complex, sexiest, ohmyfuckingodhottest fic in the fandom.
Yea. I’m shallow. But who can resist the allure of all that for eternity?