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"ALL THAT WE BECOME":
RENEGOTIATING VAMPIRE/PERFORMATIVE MASCULINITY IN
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER AND ANGEL
MICHAEL S. PEARL
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF
FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I thank Alan for constant support, even when it means leaving, and my parents for
always letting me get where I need to go. I thank every friend who assured me I could do
this and did not snicker, and even those who snickered anyway.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDGEMENTS ............................................................ ...............ii
ABSTRACT............. ......... ....................... .............v
1 INTRODUCTION................... .................. ......................... .. ...1
2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE............... .................................4
Vampire Studies Overview................... ................. ................... .........
Gendered Vampire Studies .............................................................. 8
3 HISTORIES AND PERFORMATIVITIES........... .................12
Setting up Personas................. .. ... .. ............... 12
Scholarship Concerning Buffy and Angel.................................................. ... ............14
Lessons to be Learned from W erewolves.............................. ............... 17
W working in the Gaps of Performativity...................................... ........... ......... 21
4 LIAM AND W ILLIAM ............................................. ................. ... 24
5 SOULLESS HYPERMASCULINITY AND THE IMPORTANCE OF
PARENT S........... .............................. ........31
Sexual Sirings...................... ........................... ........31
Sexuality and Violence............................ ................. 37
The Trouble with Souls.............. ..... .............. 39
Spike's Violent Love................ ...................... ...... ............ .............. 40
W hen a Chip Just Isn't Enough............................................................................... ......45
6 THE PARALLEL PATHS OF PERFORMATIVITY.....................48
7 OVER THE CHASM, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE...................................52
How Batailles Works with Buffy. ....... .............................. 52
W hy Not Go Gay........... ....... ... ... ............ ......... ...... .....54
M maintaining a Tenuous M asculinity............................. ................... 55
8 CONCLUSION............ ................................................. 57
LIST OF REFERENCES........... ..................... ......................... .59
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.................. ........................... .. .........61
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
"ALL THAT WE BECOME":
RENEGOTIATING VAMPIRE/MASCULINE PERFORMATIVITY IN
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER AND ANGEL
Michael S. Pearl
Chair: Philip Wegner
Major Department: English
My project combines vampire studies and gender theory. Specifically, I analyze the
recent television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel in an attempt to
examine the programs' representations of male vampire masculinity, namely through the
two integral examples of Angel and Spike. After grounding my research in pertinent
aspects of vampire studies, I argue that although androgyny is an important aspect of
vampirism and gender, the performativity of gender, masculinity especially, cannot be
dismissed as evaporated into the semblance of "androgyny." This is especially true in
shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which consciously incorporate the
importance of gender and performativity, which can be seen on several layers in various
episodes. In regards to masculinity in particular, I argue that the vampire myth created in
these shows creates personas that survive over centuries and subsequently must
renegotiate the particulars of their performativity as their specific geographic, temporal,
and cultural contexts shift. Both Angel and Spike are granted origin stories that indicate a
failure to successfully perform masculinity, and both of them use their vampiric
monstrosity to renegotiate a hypermasculinity that conflates sexuality and violence. I
argue that this conflation is essential to the reconfigurations of their masculinities. As
vampires, Angelus and Spike create a homosocial bond with each other and around their
female interests wherein Spike tends to copy the hypermasculinity already personified by
Angelus. Both characters ultimately regain their souls and encounter the modern-day
Slayer, Buffy, which together force them to separate their sexuality and violence while
still maintaining both. I argue through the theories of Georges Batailles that the figure of
Buffy is a romantic interest for both Angel and Spike in that she represents the very
conflation of sexuality and violence they are denied, as well as the embodiment of their
deaths. Ultimately, their relationships are terminal and transitional, serving only to allow
both characters to find a performative masculinity that is acceptable in the modern world,
one that is sexual and violent but not simultaneously, and also maintained not through a
homosexual relationship but instead through a homosocial kinship network.
Is there anything interesting that remains to be said about vampires? The subject
has been discussed at great lengths, from Dracula to The Lost Boys, from novel to
internet slash fiction. In recent years, academics interested in vampires have turned their
attention to what is arguably the most popular form of the vampire myth today: Buffy the
Vampire Slayer. Especially since the conclusion of the program in May of 2003, writing
about the show has increased significantly, ranging from cultural studies to media studies,
Postcolonialism to feminism.' In May of 2004, the show's spin-off, Angel, concludes its
own series, ostensibly bringing an end (at least for now and for the televisual component)
to what many fans call the Buffyverse, as created by Joss Whedon.
As the narratives come to a conclusion, so opens a space for a study that would
link these two shows the ever-growing field of masculinity studies. This particular
application is not entirely novel; there have been previous attempts to discuss the shows
in terms of gender dynamics while focusing on the shows' representations of masculinity,
although the vast majority of scholarship that analyzes the show's gender constructs do
so with a focus on Buffy herself. Lorna Jowett' s "Masculinity, Monstrosity and
Behaviour Modification in Buffy the Vampire Sn1iyei" is a prime example of recent
scholarship that attempts to analyze the masculinity of Buffy at some length. And while
1 One need only to look at the announced paper topics for the upcoming Slayage Conference for May 2004,
with panels including "Feminism and Gender," "'Pangs,' Postcolonialism, Nationalism" to see the most
recent topics of discussion within 'Buffy Studies.'
the essay provides a number of useful insights, it is also quite broad and perfunctory,
spending a brief time analyzing each male character on the show. Like many similar
essays,2 her essay was published before the conclusion of Buffy or the final seasons of
Angel, which provide essential expansions within the narratives concerning masculinity.
But my aim is not simply to extend an analysis like Jowett's into the seasons that occur
after her essay. Rather, I shall narrow the field and focus the lens, looking more closely at
a particular species of masculinity within the Buffyverse: the male vampire. Specifically,
Buffy provides two prime examples of the male vampire who subsequently but separately
leave for Los Angeles and the promised land of the spin-off: namely, Angel and Spike.
Unlike these previous studies, I argue that an extended character analysis of these
vampires and their various personas as developed over the seasons of Buffy and Angel
will not only create a fuller, more complete picture of their masculinity, but it will also
allow me to formulate a more specific argument concerning the state of masculinity in the
late 1990s-early 2000s.
In tracing the growth of these two characters, who follow eerily similar narrative
paths and create interesting comparisons of masculinity, I argue that both Angel and
Spike, as their personas evolve over centuries, must continually negotiate for a workable
performative masculinity that their peers will acknowledge. As the show progresses
through its various seasons, the personas expand and complicate themselves in notable
ways, especially through Judith Butler's and Eve Sedgwick's theories of performativity
and masculinity, which figure significantly in my arguments below. The human
predecessors to Spike and Angel are both undeniable failures at performing masculinity,
2 Specifically I refer to Jowett, Rhonda Wilcox, Arwen Spicer, and Stacey Abbott, all of whose analyses I
use in varying degrees to develop my argument.
both unable to receive the all-important acknowledgement of their gender from others,
especially their mother and father, respectively. Their transformations into vampires are
themselves distinctly sexual and violent, and I argue that this conflation of sexuality and
violence is an essential component of Spike's and Angelus' hypermasculinity, wherein
sexuality-is-violence-is-masculinity. But when these characters are forced to change their
ways, whether through gypsy curses or government implants, their masculinities
destabilize, forcing them to renegotiate their reiterations of masculinity in order to allow
others (often Buffy herself) to acknowledge their performances. Thus both Spike and
Angel must repeatedly alter their performance of masculinity and work within the gaps of
performativity towards a successful masculinity. I will also show that Spike's narrative
closely parallels that of Angel(us), ultimately arguing for the former's gendered mimicry
of the latter, which I argue is another example of the copy without an original. Finally,
the shows allow both personas to move in a specific direction that rejects the need for
Buffy or women in general. Although both characters do need Buffy as a mediator
through performativity, (at which point I argue that Georges Batailles works nicely to
suggest why, in fact, Buffy is necessary for both characters), both ultimately leave Buffy,
instead relocating themselves in a markedly homosocial kinship network that supports
their newly-stabilized masculinity, one that encourages sexuality and violence but
maintains a clear distinction between the two.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Vampire Studies Overview
I will begin, however, with a review of pertinent literature concerning vampire
studies and gender. My goal in these following pages is not simply to show the path of
vampires through scholarship, but to contextualize Buffy and Angel in a grander tradition
of vampire mythos. Developments in the vampire lore, especially in the decades
preceding these shows, create a specific linear trajectory towards the mythos Joss
Whedon creates. I argue that sexuality and violence has always been an essential
component of vampire masculinity (and femininity), and it is imperative that we
understand this vein of vampire history if we are to appreciate the ways that Buffy and
Angel reconfigures sexuality and violence in significant ways.
Scholarship concerning vampires has gone through as many permutations as the
vampire stories with which they deal. As suggested by Leonard G. Heldreth and Mary
Pharr, "periodically they [vampires] emerge from the darkness of the world's imagination
into folklore, literature and media. When they come forth, they take a variety of forms,
among them the Roman lamia, the Gothic nosferatu, the Victorian aristocrat, or the
contemporary heroic antagonist" (1). They also recognize that Bram Stoker's Dracula,
while a pivotal moment in the evolution of the vampire mythos, is not the 'central text'
but an important link between modes of perception. In response to this wide variety of
texts and analyses, "vampire studies" has proliferated the number of anthologies in a
variety of themes.3
Nina Auberbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves is an essential text, from a cultural
studies perspective, of recent work within the field. Auerbach argues that vampires "can
be everything we are, while at the same time, they are fearful reminders of the infinite
things we are not" (6). Auerbach reads the variations of the vampire mythos as reflections
of their cultural contexts: "more than our heroes or pundits, our Draculas tell us who we
were" and are (112). Nineteenth-century British vampires differ significantly from the
American vampires of the twentieth century. These earlier forms of the vampire relied on
an allure based on "intimacy," "sharing," and "maternal suffusion" (Auerbach 59). "The
twentieth-century vampires Dracula spawned many mean things, but they have lost the
love they brought to those they knew. In the nineteenth century, vampires were vampires
because they loved" (Auerbach 60). The earlier vampires were erotically charged, which
was the very essence of their monstrosity in an erotically controlled context. Later
vampires' monstrosity was grounded in social rebellion, according to Auerbach, who
despite these differences identifies an important similarity: "In both cultures [British and
American], vampires turn to women to perform the extreme implications of their
monstrosity-erotic friendship in England, social rebellion in America" [italics mine] (7).
As I will show, both Angel and Spike must turn to women, not to perform their
monstrosity but their masculinity: the latter becoming deeply imbricated in the former,
such that the performance of monstrosity as mediated through women creates the space
for a more successful performance of masculinity. But when monstrosity ultimately
3 Including The Blood is the Life: Vampires in Literature, Blood Read: The Vampire a Metaphor in
Contemporary Culture, and The Vampire: A Casebook.
becomes subdued in the cases of Angel and Spike, women continue to play integral parts
in their ability to renegotiate a different masculinity.
In tracing the path of the vampire, Auerbach highlights the concept of the
vampire-as-angel. In the 1970s, "hovering between animal and angel, they are paragons
of emotional complexity and discernment, stealing from Van Helsing the role of knower
but adding a tenderness and ineffable sorrow human beings have become too monstrous
to comprehend" (131). As vampires found themselves in the 1980s of AIDS and
Reaganism, Auerbach suggests they begin to reflect the changing atmosphere,
particularly as changing attitudes towards sexuality alters a sexual being like a vampire.
They "mutated as a species into unprecedented mortality .. the best of them took on
the holy isolation of angels [italics mine], inspiring awe in a humanity they could no
longer govern" (7). The vampires of Anne Rice are the most obvious examples of this
trend, vampires driven and "defined by their origins rather than their plots" (172). Rice's
vampires are what Heldreth and Pharr refer to as "heroic antagonists": "they radiate a
sensitivity based on their uniqueness and force, qualities coveted yet feared by a culture
that reveres individual strength even as it proclaims general equality" (3). Rather than
blind killers rampaging through towns, vampires become guardian angels, watching from
the shadows, "so clannish and self-enclosed that they present no threat" (186). Any fan of
Buffy or Angel must wonder whether Joss Whedon had read Auerbach before he named
his most important male vampire as such-Angel is a clear representation of the vampire-
as-angel conception, watching and protecting humanity from the shadows.
The 1987 film The Lost Boys is to 1980s vampire film what Anne Rice is to 1980s
vampire literature. Practically every discussion of vampire studies in the 1980s refers to
The Lost Boys as paradigmatic. The movie introduces its own idea of vampirism, not as
an "alternative to human society, but an illusion as fragile as a drug trip. [... .] Stripped of
its hunger, its aerial perspective, its immortal longings, vampirism becomes more
perishable than humanity." Vampirism was less romanticized as the immortal or the
undead and more the lonely, tortured, perishable creature that the 1980s demanded. The
film also introduces an important paradigm shift: the half-vampire. "For the first time,
vampirism itself is mortal" (Auerbach 168). This idea of the half-vampire convolutes into
the vampire-with-a-soul in the Buffyverse that is so essential for the characters of Angel
and Spike, as mortality takes on the additional weight of conscience and guilt.
Trevor Holmes suggests that "there is a peculiar mix at work in end-of-the-
millennium reanimations of the vampire figure, a mix that includes embodied decadence,
cynical neo-Romanticism, HIV, savvy camp, and, I would add, a post-punk aesthetic"
(174). Holmes discusses issues of gay male vampire fiction, which becomes far more
overtly possibly in the 1990s, while Queer Theory simultaneously enabled the
interrogation of same-sex dynamics in far older vampire texts, including Dracula.
Whether Rice's Interview i/i/i the Vampire or Jeffrey McMahon' s Vampires Anonymous,
the end of the Twentieth-century saw its vampires become just a little bit self-consciously
queerer. In this trajectory, vampires in the Buffyverse, too, are queerer, openly toying
with notions of gay male sexuality between vampires without having gay male
4 It should also be noted that Spike is an excellent example of the 'post-punk aesthetic' within the
Buffyverse: a Sid Vicious-like vampire with a leatherjacket, platinum hair, and a British accent.
Gendered Vampire Studies
The figure of the vampire works as well in gender studies. Rob Latham points to
androgyny as a vital system within vampirism and suggests that, in fact, differentiated
gender becomes irrelevant within a Marxist-materialist critique of consuming youth:
As Christopher Craft has argued in his analysis of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the
sexuality of the vampire is inherently ambiguous because it is expressed orally,
combining qualities of the masculine penetrativee teeth) and the feminine
(enveloping lips), and thus generating a profound "erotic ambivalence" that
destabilizes the representation of sexual roles .. The actual gender-and thus, by
implication, the sexual object choice-of the vampire is, finally, irrelevant to its
enactment of an eroticized consumption. Ultimately, vampires are voracious
androgynes driven by an indiscriminate longing. (97)
Subsequently, Latham, through Craft, tends to look more at 'androgyny' as the
performative gender of choice within vampirism rather than specifically looking at
masculinity and/or femininity, which is imperative in his own critique. However, in a
program like Buffy that consciously reverses gender roles by turning the blonde-bimbo
victim into the empowered slayer of the vampire, the actual gender of vampires in the
program must remain relevant. I argue that the vampire is not simply a figure of
androgyny. The narrative clearly and unequivocally points to the importance of gender
for all of its characters, most especially for its male vampires Angel and Spike; indeed, I
will suggest that much of their monstrosity and masculinity is in fact a function of their
previous inabilities to perform masculinity.
Another relevant scholar who links vampires/monsters to masculinity, Cyndy
Hendershot situates Dracula within the framework of one-sex and two-sex bodies. Within
the "one-body system," a notion Hendershot takes from Thomas Laqueur,
women and men were perceived as having the same anatomy, but the male body
was perceived as a more perfect version of the same sex ... the one-sex model,
however, while endorsing male dominance, also underlined the flexibility of the
body ... in a worldview in which the body itself was mutable and liable to change
from male to female, and vice versa, the social became the means of naturalizing
social difference social, not biological, difference is the mark of sexual
As society began to accept a two-body system, wherein the male body was simply better
than the female body, sexual difference became predicated upon biology alone.
Hendershot posits that "Stoker introduced a body that undermined any belief in a clear-
cut biological difference between men and women-the vampiric body" (21). The
publication of Dracula occurred alongside the rise of the New Woman and the aesthete
within Victorianism, both of which were seen as movements to "unhinge gender from
biological sex" (21). The vampire of Dracula only reinforced the fears such movements
instigated, as the vampire, because it is genitally undifferentiated, makes biological
difference irrelevant, while at the same time making the vampire socially subservient to
the masculine (the father Dracula). Hendershot suggests:
The aesthete unhinges masculine and feminine traits from rigid Victorian
biological explanations of them yet subordinates them to a masculine ideal. As
critics have observed, the use of the androgyne as a central ideal of the aesthetic
movement subordinates feminine qualities to masculine ones The one-sex
body of the vampire hence parodically and demonically embodies the aesthetic
ideal of a sexless body in which masculine and feminine traits exist but in which
the masculine in the mastering force. (22)
Thus Hendershot identifies a crucial point: even though the Stoker vampire may be an
androgynous mixture of both masculine and feminine traits, masculinity still dominates.
But do vampires on Buffy and Angel exist as one-bodied creatures still? One
significant difference between such vampires and Stoker's is the relevance of genitalia.
Stoker's vampires do not participate in genital sexuality, only an orally penetrative one.
Yet by the second season, we learn that vampires such as Angel can indeed participate in
genital sex (though they traditionally lack procreative capability), which in fact allows
Angel to bear a son in the third season of Angel (through a complex sequence of events).
In regards to subordination to masculinity, Buffy explicitly subverts the traditional
system, replacing the patriarchal figure of the father-Dracula with the female Slayer. An
interesting question outside the scope of my project is whether the Slayer's subordination
of the vampire is still a subordination under masculinity-veiled-as-woman or genuine,
albeit "empowered," femininity.
The relevance of genital sexuality and procreation is not to be underestimated.
Cynthia Freeland points out that:
the vampire violates the norms of femininity and masculinity, as allegedly
directed through heterosexual desire to marriage and procreation. Sexuality is rife
in the vampire genre, which is unusual in horror for its eroticism and beauty ... in
their search for blood, they can find physical intimacy with a person of almost any
gender, age, race, or social class. Sexuality is transmuted into a new kind of
exchange of bodily fluids where reproduction, if it occurs at all, confers the 'dark
gift' of immortal undead existence rather than a natural birth. Transgressive and
violent eroticism links the vampire's monstrousness to revolution against norms
established by partriarchal institutions of religion, science, law, and the nuclear
Freeland expands the subversive eroticism of the vampire through its focus on the oral
penetration of the neck instead of genital penetration of the vagina, as well as the reverse
in bodily-fluid flow, as the vampire is the recipient, not the donor, of the fluid. Thus, she
argues, "there is a sort of feminized component even in their 'masculine' aggression and
violation" (156). Freeland links such feminization with that of the exotic vampire and the
increased homoeroticism between vampires I mentioned earlier. Although the
transformations of Angelus and Spike are indeed this transmuted sexuality, it is also
significant that both end up heterosexually coupled with their sires, Darla and Drusilla,
respectively. Although initial seasons suggest a familial pattern in their foursome, with
Angelus and Darla as parents to Drusilla and Spike, later seasons complicate this familial
nature through the establishment of a sexual link between Angelus and Drusilla, as well
as a homosexual/homosocial connection between Angelus and Spike. These
complications become important later.
The vampires preceding those of Buffy or Angel are valuable reflections of their
social contexts. Furthermore, it becomes clear that the vampire is a site of gendered
hybridity, whether masculine-subordinated androgyny or subversive eroticism. There is a
clear trajectory that leads into the transformation of the vampire mythos within Buffy and
Angel, which, in spite of its paradigmatic changes to the mythos, moves along in a
direction apropos to its context at the turn of the millennium. Male vampires in these
shows are a complex mixture of masculinity and femininity, although the progression
through the seasons allows for a distinct layering of this hybridization. Thus it does not
suffice to say that masculinity in Buffy and Angel is about hybridity, but about how that
hybridity, and the performance thereof, alters in order to navigate the change in times and
HISTORIES AND PERFORMATIVITIES
Setting up Personas
Up to this point I have discussed the characters of 'Angel' and 'Spike' as simply
two characters, but before I can continue it is necessary to clarify the varying personas
that, in fact, make up 'Angel' and 'Spike.' Taking a cue from Anne Rice's vampire
stories that focus more on origin than plot, Angel and Spike often fit into the narrative of
the shows through their origins, such that flashbacks are often used not as the primary
revelation or crux of the narratives but as supporting juxtapositions. As many of the
examples that I will discuss show, flashbacks and revelations about the pasts of these
figures serve to reinforce their actions or their narratives in the present. Angel and Spike
cannot escape their origins. Thus, flashbacks become a standard device on the show to
reveal timely bits of information about these characters in centuries past.
Through such flashbacks, the shows are able to establish three distinct characters
throughout the history of 'Angel': Liam, Angelus, and Angel. Liam is the Irish human of
the Eighteenth-century who becomes a vampire; Angelus is the vampire he becomes;
Angel is the hybrid human-vampire Angelus becomes after gypsies curse him with the
return of his soul. Angel is, for the most part, the modern form of the character
throughout most of Buffy and Angel. In the early seasons of Buffy, Angel works alongside
the vampire slayer Buffy and soon develops a romantic relationship with her. Midway
through the second season, they consummate their relationship, an act that, according to
the gypsy curse, removes his soul, turning him into Angelus once again. Angelus thus
serves as the "big bad" for the remainder of the season. Although Buffy is forced to kill
him, Angel returns in the third season. Unable to work alongside the girl he knows he
cannot love, he leaves the show at the end of the third season, disappearing into the mists
of his spin-off Angel, where he works as a private investigator, 'helping the helpless' as
he calls it. In an investigation of the masculinity of the character of Angel, the
distinctions between Liam, Angelus, and Angel are absolutely crucial not only for
understanding the particular masculinity of Liam, for example, but for deciphering how
the masculinity of the character evolves over time.
Likewise, Spike has at least two distinct personas: William the human and Spike
the vampire (although the vampire Spike goes through several stages throughout the
show, he is never granted the nominative distinctions of Angel, a point that I will develop
later). Spike enters the show in the second season as an evil vampire, working with his
lover/vampire Drusilla against Buffy. After the second season, he makes sporadic
appearances in subsequent episodes until he becomes a regular character in the fourth
season, when he is captured by a military group called the Initiative and fitted with a
behavior-modification chip that prevents him from doing violence to humans. Effectively
neutered, Spike joins the fight against evil (much to the chagrin of Buffy and her friends)
and in the process falls in love with Buffy. After the two begin a secret sexual
relationship, Buffy spurns him, which inspires him to regain his soul. Upon returning, he
works with Buffy in the final season, ultimately sacrificing himself to save the world.
Much like Angel, however, this death is only temporary, as he is resurrected on Angel for
its final season, where he joins Angel and his friends in their own fight against evil.
Unlike Angel, the distinctions and barriers between William and Spike are much
more fluid. Thus Spike is occasionally referred to as William or William the Bloody. This
fluidity becomes even more apparent once Spike regains his soul. He does not change his
name as Angel does, so there is no clear nominative distinction between Spike-with-a-
soul and Spike-without-a-soul. While both may occasionally be called William, it means
very different things depending on the condition of his soul. When Buffy refers to Spike-
with-a-soul as William, it is often more tender, meant to invoke the more human aspect
of his character. But when the various Watcher textbooks refer to Spike-without-a-soul as
William the Bloody, it is a fearful nickname that refers not to his human counterpart but
to the violent nature of the demon.
Scholarship Concerning Buffy and Angel
Much of the scholarship that deals with these characters identifies Angel as a
traditional representation of masculinity. Rhonda Wilcox finds Angel to be "the most
sexualized and eroticized of all the characters [with a body that] invites the constructed
consumer gaze of romance novel covers, soft-core pornography, and mass circulation
advertising" (83). This is to a large degree an accurate depiction of his character;
however, his sexuality and eroticism become questionable once he bars himself from
sexuality at all. After having sex with Buffy and learning that it is the 'one moment of
happiness' necessary to undo the gypsy curse, he must literally remove himself from the
story. Leaving for his own spin-off is the easy way to avoid his desire for Buffy without
completely neutering a popular character. On Angel, his sexuality becomes far more
subdued, though not by any means altogether eliminated, thus maintaining much of his
desirability among fans intact.
Likewise, Lorna Jowett identifies Angel as "traditionally gendered. Unlike the
other 'friendly' males on the show he is both physical and sexual (attributes heightened
by his vampire nature). He is the one male character who consistently and successfully
uses physical means to rescue Buffy from danger" (63). However, I argue that while
Angel is the most traditionally gendered, he is by no means traditionally gendered. In a
show about an empowered superhero-like female vampire slayer that surrounds herself
with a British librarian, a fairly inept teenage dork, and a quiet musician/werewolf,5
clearly Angel is, relatively speaking, the most traditionally gendered male on the show.
When in a fight, it is Angel who provides the best support.6 But it would be incorrect to
infer from this that Angel is actually traditionally masculine. He is in all ways
subordinate to Buffy. In terms of narrative, Susan A. Owen sees Angel as "plot-enabler,"
serving to provide "various cliches of heterosexual romance, such as the redemptive
power of dyadic love, the agony and angst of star-crossed lovers, the allure of secret
trysts, and the deflowering of the female virgin" (27). Jowett reads this assertion correctly
in that "Angel's significance lies in his relationship with Buffy, but also in that he
upholds 'cliches' of gender" (63). The dependency of Angel's significance upon Buffy
throughout BtVS is not only a narrative subordination but a character subordination as
well. It is because of Buffy that Angel comes to Sunnydale at all; it is Buffy who kills
5 Admittedly I am wholly unfair to the "British librarian" (Giles), the "inept teenage dork" (Xander), and
the musician werewolf (Oz). Their characters are by no means irrelevant to a complete discussion of
masculinity on the show. Giles' function as father-figure to Buffy is absolutely essential, and Xander is
arguably the most consistently important male figure in Buffy's circle of friends through all seven seasons.
6 The one exception to this may be Riley Finn, Buffy's boyfriend in Seasons 4-5. Through season 4, Riley
enjoys enhanced abilities due to his involvement with the government's Initiative. But when he quits the
Initiative, he loses these enhancements, thrusting him into the same position as Giles, Xander, and Oz. This
position as a man who cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Buffy becomes an increasingly vexed part of
their relationship, until Riley ultimately leaves Buffy to rejoin the government.
Angel, and it is because of Buffy that Angel leaves Sunnydale for Los Angeles and
Although much of the scholarship examining Spike is incomplete, since a great
deal of it was published before the final seasons, which saw significant developments in
his character, it is interesting how much of it situates him in the hybridized, androgynous
tradition that is so common in vampire studies. Arwen Spicer argues that "the arc of
Spike's character development throughout the first six seasons of Buffy can be described
as a progressive movement away from an ultimately disempowering masculine alignment
toward a more empowering hybridization of masculine and feminine gender roles" (2).
She reads various sites where Spike either codes himself feminine or is coded feminine
by others while maintaining various masculine traits, becoming a sort of gendered
chameleon, "continually recreating himself through whatever codes, masculine or
feminine, best suit his individuality" (5). Likewise, Jowett suggests that the very fluidity
of Spike and William is seen in his gendered self: "Spike may be macho, villainous and
monstrous, but he is also William, passive and weak. Indeed, we might say that Spike has
been modified to be more like a 'new man"' (70). However, nearly all of these essays fail
to explain the connection between Angel and Spike, which is absolutely essential in the
development of the latter character. Spicer makes a crucial connection:
Spike is not proposing to become his old self at all but rather attempting to
remake himself in the image of Angelus, the super-masculine dictator whose
success with Dru and penchant for torture are well-documented. Not only has
Spike ceased to represent an image of unadulterated masculine power; judged by
the standard of Angelus, he never represented it. (2-3)
The observation that Spike is simply copying Angel is crucial to my argument. But the
eventual direction of the narrative, particularly once Spike joins the cast of Angel, proves
Spicer incorrect when she says that "in no case does a homosocial male rivalry play a
determining role in his attachment." Although she does concede to covert homosexual
subtexts in the relationship between Spike and Angel, it is for Spicer clearly only
homosexual and not homosocial, positioning Spike as submissive to the dominant Angel,
and therefore feminized. Spike's inclusion in the final season of Angel successfully
changes these possibilities, and thus I will later discuss in more detail the development of
the homosocial and possibly-homosexual bonds between Angel and Spike.
Lessons to be Learned from Werewolves
I begin my own analysis with the episode of Buffy that explicitly thematizes the
show's perspective on masculinity: "Phases" (2015). In the episode, Buffy and her
friends attempt to discover the identity of the werewolf who has been killing people and
animals in Sunnydale. Their detective work leads them to potential candidates, all of
whom prove incorrect. Later it is revealed that Oz, the quiet musician/love interest for
Willow, is actually the werewolf On the surface, the story is a simple werewolf tale with
little relevance to a discussion of male vampires. But like much of Buffy, there is more in
play here. The werewolf in the episode is much more than a simple fantasy monster. In
explaining the nature of the creature to the gang, librarian/watcher Giles says the "the full
moon brings out our darkest qualities," and that in the case of the werewolf, it elicits
"inborn animalistic traits," creating a creature of "pure instinct, no conscience." Thus the
werewolf becomes a representation of the id, acting on pure desire and without
conscience. It is a sexual, erotic being that exists in both men and women. Clearly the
werewolf is more than simply "innate masculinity." Instead, it is sexuality, and the
episode makes it very clear that there is no cure for werewolfism. Rather, the sufferer
must learn to simply deal with it and work his or her life around it. Just before he
transforms in front of Willow, Oz tells her that he is going through changes that he must
learn to accept. Later, once the problem has been resolved, Oz tells her that "I'll be okay,
I'll just have to lock myself up" on full moons. The episode makes it clear that the innate,
animalistic werewolf is a metaphor for sexuality. Oz makes this parallel fairly obvious in
his comment about 'changes,' which Willow, not understanding that he is the werewolf,
thinks is a reference to puberty or growing up. The werewolf is the innate sexuality that
surfaces during puberty. And this is not simply a masculine issue, for at the end of the
episode, Willow, in an attempt to console Oz, admits to her own 'werewolfiness' using
her menstruation as a parallel. But the show also uses this opportunity to address what the
show describes as a common complaint from women about men: "Guys-who do they
think they are?" This is Cordelia and Willow's common refrain concerning the mystery
of men. Just as Oz is changing from man to werewolf, so do all men, according to the
show, change from hot to cold, or according to Willow, from lukewarm to cold in Oz's
case. But this too becomes an extension of their sexual nature according to the general
explanation the episode suggests. Thus a man's sexuality is responsible for many things,
but a man must also control or suppress that sexuality.
Both men and women go through changes when they grow up, and these changes
are, of course, inevitable. But what is significant is the show's assertion that we work
around them, not with them. In "Wild at Heart" (4006), Oz meets a female werewolf who
has a different attitude about her condition/sexuality: she embraces it. She is able to
seduce Oz as she tries to convince him that he, too, should embrace the werewolf within.
The show makes it clear, however, that this is not an acceptable route, particularly when
she is killed. Oz is left with two options: continue to suppress the animalistic urgings, or
learn to control them. Choosing the latter, Oz leaves the show to 'find himself,'
effectively favoring the control of sexuality over the suppression thereof.
The episode "Phases" also juxtaposes another masculinity-related storyline with
the werewolf plot: the coming out of Larry. In the beginning of the episode, Larry is an
overly-masculine, misogynistic, sexually-driven male who contrasts sharply with Oz
when Larry asks him whether he has had sex with Willow. As the episode progresses,
Larry becomes the obvious prime werewolf-suspect for the gang and the audience,
equating the overt violence of the werewolf with the overt hypermasculinity of Larry. But
when Xander confronts Larry in an attempt to make him confess, he inadvertently gets
Larry to confess the wrong thing and come out of the closet. Larry is, through Xander,
finally able to say aloud that he is gay, and the subsequent consequences for Larry are
astounding. Larry previously equated heterosexual masculinity with violence and
misogyny. But after coming out, Larry becomes polite to women, at one point stopping
and helping a girl in the hallway pick up her dropped books. Buffy notices the changes
and comments on them-his altered masculinity is successfully registered and approved
by peers. What is at issue in this sequence is Larry's performance of gender. Judith Butler
says that unlike performance, performativity "consists in a reiteration of norms which
precede, constrain, and exceed the performer and in that sense cannot be taken as the
fabrication of the performer's "will" or "choice"; further, what is "performed" works to
conceal, if not to disavow, what remains opaque unconscious, un-performable" (24). The
act of coming out for Larry has a profound effect on Larry's gender. If the
hypermasculine Larry is easily dropped as a mask to hide his homosexuality, is the
gender that he exhibits the "real" Larry? The show might seem to suggest as much, but
this case presents a good example of the instability of gender on Buffy. Larry, in an
attempt to appear heterosexual, apparently adopts a hypermasculine gender that he is able
to drop once he accepts his homosexuality. If performativity is that which cannot be
confused with will or choice, then Larry's hypermasculinity is a clear performance of
gender, hiding, even disavowing, the homosexuality within.
The episode "Phases" provides a number of valuable ideas to remember about the
Buffyverse. First, sexuality is a latent fact of life for both men and women, which they
must learn to accept and live their lives around. Who is able to embrace sexuality? Who
is forced to suppress or control it, and how? How does this apply to male vampires?
These are questions that will I will address later. Second, violence is equated with
heterosexuality and heterosexual masculinity. Larry threatens to beat Xander up when his
heterosexuality is threatened. Additionally, a werewolf hunter tracking Oz in the episode,
complaining that Buffy wants to protect, not kill, the werewolf, says "no one's man
enough to kill" the monsters of Sunnydale. In doing so he once again equates masculinity
with violence. Clearly, the relations between violence, sexuality, and masculinity will be
crucial to discussing the masculinity of vampires on the show. Finally, this episode
suggests gender to be highly performative and unstable. Larry is able to drop the drag of
hypermasculinity for a 'kinder, gentler' masculinity.
As I mentioned earlier, the show uses a narrative about a werewolf to setup its
own perspective concerning masculinity, but I argue that the vampire ultimately presents
the clearest and most precise reading of performative nature of masculinity within the
Buffyverse. This shift occurs for a number of reasons. In the extra-narrative sense, Seth
Green, the actor who plays Oz, specifically asks to leave the show to pursue outside
projects in the fourth season. His departure also allows for the fourth season coming out
of Willow, which had been hinted at in earlier seasons. Thus in order to continue
explorations of masculinity through the werewolf, it would have been necessary to
introduce another werewolf character. But I also argue that although the werewolf
explicitly makes clear the importance of sexuality and violence in regards to masculinity,
the nature of the werewolf is of split-existence. Oz is a docile, pensive teenager when he
is human, and a violent, caged animal during the full moon. Never does Oz need to
reconcile directly his own sexuality and violence in relation to that of the werewolf But
the vampire does not have a split existence, but a dual existence. The vampire may
change his/her face at will to reflect his/her demonic nature. A vampire is always a
vampire, and thus must reconcile at all times his/her demonic nature with the human
form. The characters of Angel and Spike in particular create an even more pronounced
dual existence, for although they regain their souls, they are still vampires. Their natures
are constantly in flux. Angel in particular struggles significantly with balancing his
human and demonic natures. Thus I argue that the shows' representations of the male
vampire allows for the most useful reading in terms of masculinity. Their unending need
to negotiate the demon and the human correlates nicely with their need to negotiate their
conflicting sexual and violent natures in a successful way.
Working in the Gaps of Performativity
In Butler's response to the uptake of her previous works like Gender Trouble and
clarifies the most troublesome issues, she specifically critiques the idea of gender as
[T]here is no subject who is "free" to stand outside these norms or to negotiate
them at a distance; on the contrary, the subject is retroactively produced by these
norms in their repetition, precisely as their effect. What we might call "agency" or
"freedom" or "possibility" is always a specific political prerogative that is
produced by the gaps opened up in regulatory norms, in the interpellating working
of such norms, in the process of their self-repetition. Freedom, possibility, agency
do no have an abstract or pre-social status, but are always negotiated within a
matrix of power. Gender performativity is not a matter of choosing which gender
one will be today. Performativity is a matter of reiterating or repeating norms by
which one is constituted: it is not a radical fabrication of a gendered self. It is a
compulsory repetition of prior and subjectivating norms, ones which cannot be
thrown off at will but which work, animate, and constrain the gendered subject,
and which are also the resources from which resistance, subversion, displacement
are to be formed. (22)
In the previously discussed example of Larry, it would seem at first glance that Larry
does choose a gender, that his character is afforded the very agency or freedom to which
Butler refers. However, although it is clear that Larry's performance of gender changes,
his performativity does not. Whether reiterating or repeating the norms of
hypermasculinity-which may have been viewed negatively by some characters but still
are an acceptable reiteration of gender within the context-or reiterating or repeating the
norms of the more considerate, toned-down masculinity, Larry's gendered shift is a shift
in performance and not performativity. His shift occurs within the gaps Butler refers to:
accepting and announcing his homosexuality creates a gap within the gendered space that
allows him to shift the gendered performance. By no means is Larry's gender a new one,
but rather a different, differentiable, yet still pre-accepted set of norms he must, in effect,
Such shifts in gender performance are even more important for characters like
Spike and Angel. Because the shows use flashback sequences somewhat regularly to
expand on these characters' histories, their personas come to extend over centuries.
Liam's transformation into Angelus is a complete overhaul of his gendered self; the re-
ensouled Angel is likewise another significant shift in gender, and in fact Angel alone
experiences shifts in gender performance over the decades. William, too, undergoes a
gendered shift when he becomes a vampire, as well as when he is neutered by the
Initiative and then again when he regains his soul. It would be easy to say that these shifts
are the kinds of gender choices that Butler dismisses. But Spike does not simply choose
one day to be more feminine one day and more masculine the next, as may be suggested
by someone like Spicer. Both Angel and Spike negotiate their gender with changes in
time, setting, and self. And while their performances of gender may shift, their
performativity is wholly stable. In fact, I maintain that performativity is the most
essential aspect of their genders-they do not cease to repeat pre-existing norms in favor
of revolutionary or new gendered norms. Instead, they renegotiate i/ i/hi/l such pre-
existing norms in such a way that allows them the most acceptance.
LIAM AND WILLIAM
Although Angel and Spike in their modern personas are more central to plot and
most fully developed within the narrative of the programs, I actually want to begin with
their human counterparts. Generally in vampire mythos, vampires are vampires, and the
humans they once were are irrelevant to their state. Anne Rice's stories and their
emphasis on origin rather than plot popularized the idea of considering origins at all. But
Buffy and Angel take this concept even further. Rather than simply investigating the
origins, the narrative of these shows often indelibly links these origins to the present. In
the Angel episode "Prodigal" (1015), Darla, the vampire who sired (vamped) and loved
Angelus, tells Angelus in a flashback that "[W]hat we once were informed all that we
become." This is a very important fact within the Buffy mythos. Vampires in Joss
Whedon's narratives are demons that inhabit the body of a human who has been sired. To
sire a vampire is made more complex in this mythos than in previous ones, for the
transformation requires not only that a vampire feed on the human, but that the human in
turn feed on the blood of the vampire; only then will a human become a vampire. Once
one does become a vampire, the soul of the human dies, and the demon takes over the
body, although retaining the human's memories and often their personality traits.
Although the series initially made a clear distinction between the human and the demon,
such distinctions became less stable as the series progressed, especially by the time of the
Angel spin-off, and indeed the series suggests that different vampires exhibit different
qualities of their human counterpart (usually the more 'genuine' the aspect or trait, the
more likely it will carry on into the vampire). But in spite of this variability, Darla's
observation remains steadfastly relevant: to understand the vampire, one must understand
Liam is first introduced on Buffy in "Becoming, Part One" (2021) in a flashback
sequence that shows when, where, and how Darla sires Angelus; the episode is crucial to
establishing Liam's performance of masculinity. The scene occurs at night and in a town,
as Liam and an unidentified friend are thrown out of a tavern. The two drunkenly walk
away arm-in-arm, discussing their next stop for debauchery and gambling. When the
friend passes out, Liam sees in the distance a beautiful lady who is clearly of a higher
class. He follows her into an alley and asks what a lady of her status is doing in such a
seedy alleyway; she responds that she is lonely. Liam kindly offers to protect her and,
more truthfully, to keep her company, with explicit sexual undertones. When she
questions whether he is up to the challenge, he retorts, "[Y]ou'll find that, with the
exception of an honest day's work, there's no challenge I'm not prepared to face." To this
point in the scene, then, Liam has shown himself to be a gambling drunkard who refuses
to put himself to work. In 1753, it's clear that a lazy, gambling drunkard is hardly a
paragon of masculinity. As the scene continues, Darla suggests she has been
"everywhere," to which Liam confesses having never traveled, though he quickly adds
that he wishes to see the world. The two move close together, face to face, as Darla offers
to show him the world, her world, an offer which Liam gladly accepts. As he closes his
eyes, her face changes to the crinkled, demonic face of the vampire she truly is, bites his
neck, cuts herself above her breasts, and pulls Liam's face into her bosom to feed. As the
camera pulls out, we see the two kneeling on the floor in this same embrace before the
scene switches to the present, showing Angelus (having already slept with Buffy)
stalking Buffy. Although this scene's purpose is to flash back to the act of the siring
itself, it also takes care to provide several insights into the character of Liam that are
particularly revealing concerning his inability to perform masculinity satisfactorily.
In the aforementioned Angel episode "Prodigal," flashbacks provide even more
insight into Liam's home-life and likewise his failure at masculinity. Like "Becoming
Part One," the episode begins with a flashback to 1753 with a maid filling a pitcher while
a disheveled Liam watches from the shadows. Liam calls to the maid, Anna, to come to
him. She asks him why he is hiding in the shadows, and he responds that his eyes are
sensitive to the light, suggesting to the audience that this is Angelus and not Liam. But
when Liam's father comes from behind and pushes him into the light, we obviously learn
that this is, indeed, Liam. Thus, if there is one way in which Liam is like Angelus, it is his
overt sexuality. His father criticizes Liam, now on the floor, "[U]p again all night, is it?
Drinking and whoring. I smell the stink of it on you." As Liam gets up, his father calls
him a disgrace. The two go back and forth until his father slaps him hard and declares, "I
am ashamed to call you my son. You're a lay-about and a scoundrel, and you'll never
amount to anything more than that." The scene then suddenly cuts to the present, where
Angel wipes the blood from his lip as he continues to fight a demon on a subway. A later
flashback offers another similar exchange between Liam and his father:
Liam: "You'll want to move away from the door now, father."
Father: Go through it, but don't ever expect to come back.
Liam: As you wish, father. Always, just as you wish.
Father: It's a son I wished for a man instead God gave me you! A terrible
Liam: Disappointment? A more dutiful son you couldn't have asked for. My
whole life you've told me in word, in glance, what it is you required of me, and
I've lived down to your every expectations, now haven't I?
Father: That's madness!
Liam: No. The madness is that I couldn't fail enough for you. But we'll fix that
now, won't we?
Father: I fear for you, lad.
Liam: And is that the only thing you can find in your heart for me now, father?
Father: Who'll take you in, huh? No one!
Liam: I'll not lack for a place to sleep, I can tell you that. Out of my way.
Father: I was never in your way, boy.
Liam opens the door and storms out.
Father: If you'll go courting trouble, you're sure to find it!
He slams the door.
This conversation makes even more explicit the inferences of the scene between Darla
and Liam. He is a disappointment to his father because of his drinking and debauchery,
but it is the father's judgment that is significant here: what he wanted was a man and a
son, and instead what he got was Liam. The subsequent scene shows what we've already
seen in "Becoming Part One" as Angel meets Darla. The clear implication here is that
Liam's father's disapproval of his own son drove him to prove his father right, and thus
right into the teeth of Darla. The episode has the father, the most important figure of
masculinity for any boy, tell Liam that he is not a man-that he is a failure in
masculinity. This is the very thing that causes Liam to seek out something-inadvertently
becoming Angelus, hypermasculinity personified. Everything that Liam is not, Angelus
is; nearly everything that Liam is, Angelus is not, with the exception of sexuality
(although Angelus is far more refined in his sexuality than Liam). Thus although Liam
dies, he lives on to haunt Angelus, in all ways informing how the latter behaves.
Spike, too, is informed in all ways by the nature of his human counterpart,
William. Like Liam, the origins of Spike are detailed through the flashbacks in the
episode "Fool for Love" (5007), wherein Spike details much of his history to an
inquisitive Buffy. As they sit discussing the issue, Buffy snidely asks whether he was
born annoying. Spike, just as snidely, responds, "what can I tell you baby? I've always
been bad." But the scene immediately cuts to the first flashback, which is clearly meant
to undercut Spike's statement. As we soon learn, Spike has most assuredly not always
been bad. The scene, set in 1880 London, begins with a close-up of William scribbling on
a pad. When offered an hors d'oeuvre, he declines and asks the waiter for help selecting a
more rhymable word-William is sitting alone in a party, writing poetry. He eventually
joins the party-attendees and is asked to participate in a discussion of a recent strings of
disappearances. But William refuses: "I prefer not to think of such dark, ugly matters at
all. That's what the police are for. I prefer putting my energy into creating things of
beauty." Another man quickly grabs hold of the scrap of paper William is holding and
reads it aloud, much to the scornful delight of the others, who laugh at how bad the
poetry is. As William walks away to follow a woman in the crowd, we hear one voice say
how they call him William the Bloody "because his poetry is so bloody awful," while
another voice states that he would prefer having a spike in his head rather than listen to
William's poetry. Faithful viewers of the program will find both of these fact ironic: The
first because we learn that William the Bloody is in fact not a reference to his violence
but rather to his poetry, contradicting what the lore about Spike suggests; the second
because lore about Spike suggests he is so named because he killed people by thrusting
spikes into their skulls, which the above comment seems to have inspired).
The sequence joins William sitting on a couch with a woman named Cecily. She
demands to know whether William's poetry is about her, which he confesses is correct,
much to her chagrin. Sensing her discomfort, he implores her "I know I'm a bad poet, but
I'm a good man. All I ask is that you try to see me." At this point, Cecily interrupts him
and says "I do see you. That's the problem. You're nothing to me, William." She then
stands and snaps, "you're beneath me" before walking away. The shot lingers on
William, alone and heartbroken before cutting to a street outside, where we see him
walking and sobbing as he tears up what we presume is the poem. He stops in an alley,
where Drusilla finds him. Although he is wary at first, she quickly soothes him by
appealing to the very thing we know he desires: she sees him in the way that Cecily
refused. "Your wealth lies here," she says as she points to his heart and his mind. In
Drusilla, William finds understanding from a woman. Thus when she asks him if he
wants what she can offer him, it is not surprising when he moans in the affirmative and
rests his hand on her breast-clearly he is thinking sexually. When Drusilla's face turns
vampiric, William looks intrigued but not frightened, and as she bites into his neck, his
screams of pain subside into moans of pleasure as the two sink to their knees and,
beneath the camera, Spike is born.
William is quite different from Liam, but the end result is ostensibly the same.
William is not just a man of letters, but an untalented man of letters at that. He is at a
party, but clearly he is not like the other men, for he remains unable to mingle and jest
with the women. He has eyes only for Cecily, who handily rebukes him, in spite of his
argument that he is, in fact, a 'good man.' William simply desires heterosexual
acceptance. If Cecily were willing to look past his 'bloody awful poetry' and see the man
he believes himself to be, his masculinity, though tenuous, would likely be secured. But a
bad poet without a woman to love cannot be a true man in 1880 England. Thus it is easy
to see why Drusilla's words so easily sway William. In Drusilla, he sees the potential,
real potential, for heterosexuality, and thus an opportunity to establish himself.
SOULLESS HYPERMASCULINITY AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PARENTS
It is worth noting at this point that the transformations of both Angelus and Spike
contain overt elements of sexuality. Of course this is nothing new for the vampire
mythos, as the penetrative act of the bite and the swapping of body fluids is often seen as
a sexual parallel. In Buffy in particular, the necessity for both victim and vampire to drink
blood in order to create a new vampire makes the act even more sexual. Interestingly, it
makes the gender of both participants irrelevant, much as Latham suggests. Both the
victim and the vampire penetrate, and both the victim and the vampire receive fluids-the
already gender-ambiguous act becomes even more destabilized. The sexuality of the act
is maintained far after the act itself. Darla sires Angelus, and the two of them begin a
sexual, mutual relationship. So, too, do Drusilla and Spike. For the vampires, especially
Spike and Angel, sex is actualized and embraced-but only problematically, as I will
Much like "Prodigal," Buffy episode "Lies my Parents Told Me" (7017) provides
flashbacks to William's home-life. But whereas Liam has important interactions with his
father, it is William's mother that provides the crux of the episode. In the episode, the
gang is attempting to determine the root of the trigger, by which current "big-bad" The
First has brainwashed Spike in order to make him commit acts of violence. Under a spell
cast by Willow, Spike begins to flashback to his past. We first see 1880 William reciting
one of his poems to his adoring mother, who showers him with praise as many mothers
would. She inquires as to the significance of the Cecily referred to in so many poems,
telling William that he needs a woman in his life. He in kind informs her that he has a
woman in his life-his mother. He then assures her that he has hopes of finding a woman,
although he also promises that he always plans to look after her. She asks him to sit with
her as she continues to sew, and he sits on the floor beside her, much like a child with his
mother, as she begins to sing a tune (the tune is familiar to the viewers as the trigger, and
indeed upon hearing the song in the flashback, modem-day Spike experiences a violent
In a second flashback, Spike finds himself with Drusilla, apparently only days
after their initial meeting in the alley, in his home. They dance together and begin to kiss
passionately as they talk of their plans to lay waste to Europe. Spike confesses to Drusilla
his hope that his mother join them. Drusilla is, unsurprisingly, mortified at the suggestion
that they "bring mum with us." At this point, his mother enters the room, happy to see
William is okay. He explains that Drusilla has made him a vampire, and asks that she let
him sire her in order to prevent her from dying from her apparent illness. Confused and
afraid, he takes hold and hugs her, promising her that they will be together forever before
sinking his fangs into her neck, ending the flashback. The relationship established already
in these two flashbacks contrasts significantly with that of Liam and his father. William
loves his mother immensely, putting her welfare before his own. Indeed, even after he
becomes a vampire, his love for his mother does not die with William. Spike is wholly
informed by William's love for his mother, so much so that he decides to grant her the
gift of vampirism/immortality. Just as Darla suggests, "what we once were informs all
that we become."
In the final flashback sequence, vampire-William returns to the house and finds
his mother walking about without her cane and with her hair let down-"all better," she
pronounces (although he is now a vampire, he has not yet adopted the moniker of Spike,
as his mother and Drusilla continue to call him William). William suggests they shall
feast and then go to the theatre or perhaps dancing, whatever be her pleasure, to which
she responds, "[P]leasure? To take my leave of you, of course. 'The lark hath spake from
twixt its wee beak?' You honestly thought I could bear an eternity listening to that
twaddle?" The scene suddenly cuts to Spike fighting Robin Wood, the son of a previous
slayer who Spike killed, seeking revenge for the death of his mother. The juxtaposition of
this fight creates a sense of suffering from Spike, as he refuses to fight back, and instead
allows Robin to strike him repeatedly as though paralyzed by the memory of his mother's
rejection. By juxtaposing this past with the present day, it becomes clear that the pain
from the conversation with his mother is a lasting one. The sequence continues, back to
Mother: I hate to be cruel No, I don't. I used to hate to be cruel in life. Now, I
find it rather freeing. Nothing less will pry your greedy little fingers off my apron
strings, will it?
William: (looks away) Stop. Please.
Mother: (walks closer to William) Ever since the day you first slithered from me
like a parasite...
William: What're you s -
Mother: Had I known better, I could have spared myself a lifetime of tedium and
just dashed your brains out when I first saw you. (turns away) God, I prayed you'd
find a woman to release me, (looks at him) but you scarcely showed an interest.
Who could compare to your doddering housebound mum? A captive audience for
your witless prattle.
William: Whatever I was, that's not who I am anymore.
Mother: (snickers, walks up to him) Darling, it's who you'll always be. A limp...
sentimental fool. You want to run, don't you? Scamper off and cry to your new
little trollop. Do you think you'll be able to love her? (leans close to William)
Think you'll be able to touch her without feeling me? (William looks around,
panicked and disgusted, for a way to escape) All you ever wanted was to be back
inside. (touches his face and body) You finally got your wish, didn't you? Sank
your teeth into me. An eternal kiss.
William: (shakes his head) No. I only wanted to make you well.
Mother: You wanted your hands on me. Perhaps you'd like a chance to finish off
what you started.
William: (pushes her away, looks away from her) I love you. I did. Not like this.
Mother: Just like this. This is what you always wanted. Who's my dark little
prince? (tries to kiss him)
William: (pushes her away, knocking her down) No!
Mother: Get out. Get out! (stands, swinging her cane at William; they struggle
and he breaks the wooden cane; Mother transforms into vampire) There, there,
precious. It will only hurt for a moment.
William: I'm sorry (as he stakes her; her face de-vamps, and for a moment looks
tenderly like his mother before turning into dust).
Although William's love for his mother was absolutely genuine and thus able to
transcend his becoming a vampire, the transformation of his mother allowed the new
vampire to be wholly and brutally honest. Not only does she confess to hating his poetry,
but she admits that she wished he would find a woman to replace her while all the while
knowing he never would, suggesting that instead of finding a good woman, he was
secretly in love with her all along (the implication of 'limp' also implies a sexual
inadequacy). Mother kindly does the psychoanalytic reading for us-William has an
Oedipal complex that would make Freud raise an eyebrow, though William refuses to
believe what his mother suggests. In the end, his mother rejects him, and this rejection is
clearly a defining moment for Spike. His fantasy, to have Drusilla and his mother at his
side as they rampage through Europe, is dashed. The only woman before Drusilla to love
him, to like his poetry, has rebuked him, just as Cecily earlier. In the process she has
challenged his masculinity, suggesting he is limp and unable to find a woman to love
because he is too attached to his mother. But as a vampire, he no longer needs to accept
who he was-he has the power to create who he will be and prove his mother wrong. He
will prove he can be a good man, even if he has to kill her in the process. Ultimately,
rather than let the demon live and profane the memory of his mother, he kills her-his
first real act as Spike. His hope to bring mother along for eternity was incompatible with
his newfound vampirism, and only when he sires his own mother does he learn the truth:
he was in fact a failure at masculinity. By killing his mother, he in effect destroys any
semblance of that former life, any illusion that he could be the same, romantic William.
To succeed with Drusilla and as a vampire, he must start anew.
In the first of several close parallels between Angelus and Spike, the conclusion
of "Prodigal" has an ending similar to that of "Fool for Love." Liam's family finds his
body and, concluding death, bury him. But of course he rises from the grave as Angelus
and returns to his home. After killing his sister, he approaches his father whom he pushes
to the ground. "Strange-somehow you seemed taller when I was alive," he comments,
"[T]o think I ever let such a tiny, trembling thing make me feel the way you did." While
Liam fears his father who looks down on him and runs away, it is Angelus who returns
and looks down on him. Now it is the father who trembles in fear, while Angelus stands
triumphantly hypermasculine, fresh from a moment of violence against his sister and
mother. Just as Spike felt the need to prove his mother wrong, Angelus wants to show his
father that he can be a man: "You told me I wasn't a man. You told me I was nothing-
and I believed you. You said I'd never amount to anything. Well, you were wrong." As
his face turns vampiric, he continues "you see father? I have made something out of
myself after all." Being a vampire affords Angelus everything he lacked as Liam: power
and violence. Coupled with Darla, he is an impressive display of hypermasculinity. But
when Darla comes to the scene in a later flashback, she suggests that the damage of their
relationship is more far-reaching than Angelus expects:
Darla: "This contest is ended, is it?"
Angel: (He has his feet up on the table playing with his father's pipe. His family
lies dead around him.) "Now I've won."
Darla: "You're sure?"
Angel: "Of course. I proved who had the power here."
Darla: "You think?"
Darla: "Your victory over him took but moments."
Darla: "But his defeat of you will last life times."
Angel: "What are you talking about? He can't defeat me now."
Darla: "Nor can he ever approve of you-in this world or any other. What we
once were informs all that we have become. The same love will infect our hearts,
even if they no longer beat. Simple death won't change that."
Just as with Spike, Angelus cannot destroy the importance of his relationship with his
parent simply by killing him. Angelus at this moment thinks only of power and control,
winning and defeat. But Darla, a much more experienced vampire, knows far better.
Spike's mother and Angelus' father both were the final figures of disappointment in their
sons' lives. Both parents were the final judges of their sons' failures in masculinity, and
both play significantly in their sons' subsequent reigns of terror that seem clear
representations of their refigured masculinity of violence and sexuality.
Sexuality and Violence
I have already suggested that Angelus presents the clearest example of
hypermasculinity in the series. Stacey Abbott suggests he is an "tiber-vampire,"
presenting in a clarified form everything that makes the vampire masculine. He is
extremely sexualized, having sex not only with Darla but Drusilla. After having sex with
Buffy and being transformed into Angelus again, he presents a constant sexual threat to
Buffy. As Jowett points out, "as Angelus he presents a more explicit sexual threat, and
plays out the bad older boyfriend scenario: after sex with Buffy he wakes and leaves her
sleeping, goes out and feeds on a lone woman, blowing out 'smoke' as if from a post-
coital cigarette" (64). He eventually becomes equated with a sexualized stalker, most
strikingly in "Passion" (2017), when Buffy wakes up one morning to find a sketch of her
sleeping, proving Angelus has been in her room during the night. Spike tells Buffy that
while most vampires talk about ending the world as mostly 'blowing smoke,' Angelus is
one of the crazy ones who would actually do it. Angelus has a reputation among vampires
for being among the most cunning and violent, often striking fear or admiration among
For Angelus, however, sexuality is just as if not more important than violence. It
is a sex act with Darla that turns him into a vampire, and it is sex with Buffy that turns
Angel into Angelus again. Jowett suggests that "this sexual nature is Angel/us' flaw or
weakness; indeed sex put Angelus in this position in the first place, given his
relationships with the female vampires Darla and Drusilla ... in a similar way to Oz,
Angel's sexual desire may lead to a return of his violence, but both are manifestations of
his disturbing physical masculinity .. Angel can never be good, because of his bad
nature (as a vampire and/or as masculine)" (64). Although I agree that his sexuality and
his violence are suggestive, even constitutive of, his physical masculinity, I disagree that
he can 'never be good' because he is either violent and/or sexual. As "Phases" suggests,
sexuality is not a bad thing, it is simply something that must be worked around. You
cannot eliminate it, nor is it isolated to men or masculinity alone. Sexuality is an essential
part of Angelus and Angel, and in neither form is he able or willing to suppress it.
In Angelus, however, sexuality and violence are coupled. The moment of his
siring with Darla is simultaneously violent and sexual. The coupling of sexuality and
violence becomes quite evident in the final fight scene between Angelus and Buffy in
"Becoming, Part Two." Having dispatched with his cadre of vampires, Buffy and
Angelus duel, each armed with a sword. Buffy, who usually fights with her fists and a
small stake, is forced to use a larger, more phallic sword to match Angelus' sexualized
violence. As they fight, Angelus eventually snaps her sword, suggesting victory of his
own phallus over hers. Unarmed, she lays on the floor against a wall looking up at
Angelus, who menacingly waves his sword in her face. He has stripped her of everything,
and he tells her, "[N]o friends, no weapon, no hope-take all that away, and what's left,"
as he thrusts his sword towards her for one final, violent, sexual penetration. Of course
Buffy grabs the sword with the palms of her hands, preventing such penetration, answers
his question, "[M]e," and thrusts the sword backwards into his face. Ultimately Buffy
triumphs over Angelus' sexualized violence, before sending him back to hell. During the
fight, Willow successfully casts a spell that restores Angel's soul, but Angelus' damage is
done, and Buffy must tearfully penetrate Angel with his own sword in order to save the
world, restoring the inverted hierarchy of the show. The coupling of sexuality and
violence is thus damned, self-destructive, and wholly rejected in a modern world where
The Trouble with Souls
Before all of this, however, Angelus exists before Buffy is even born, happily
merging sexuality and violence-a different time and the lack of a soul and its
accompanying conscience make this conflation more possible than the modem context of
Buffy. But when he rapes and murders a gypsy girl, they curse him with his soul-
Angelus becomes Angel, the first vampire with a soul. For a long time, Angel descends
into a lowly state. Darla, able to smell the stink of his soul, rejects him. Although Angel
attempts to feed on humans, tries to remain evil, tries to hold his sexual violence intact,
he is ultimately unsuccessful-his soul and its subsequent conscience weigh too heavily
upon him now. Unable to enact such soulless hypermasculinity, he disappears into the
American sewer system, feeding on rats, wasting away for a century. Stripped of his
violence and sexuality, Angel slips back into the Liam persona-a degenerate, drunken
failure in masculinity. It is only when Angel is shown Buffy through a mysterious
stranger named Whistler that he realizes he can do and be more: "I wanna help her. I
want...I wanna become someone," he tells Whistler, who agrees to train Angel and have
him waiting in Sunnydale for her arrival.
His new existence, his ability to perform his new masculinity effectively, is
wholly dependent upon Buffy. This is made clear in the episode "The Wish" (3009),
where the narrative enters an alternate universe where Buffy never came to Sunnydale.
Angel is there, but he is a prisoner of the vampires that control Sunnydale. He passively
allows a vampire-Willow to torture him a regular basis, calling him her 'puppy.' Without
Buffy, not only has Sunnydale fallen to the forces of evil, but Angel never successfully
enacts the new masculinity he creates in the regular universe: a masculinity that relies on,
but separates, sexuality and violence.7
Spike's Violent Love
Spike's masculinity is more problematic than that of Angelus. Jowett suggests
"Spike is primarily a comic character, and his gendering began in the form of parody"
(67). But Spicer tends to have a more supportive argument, arguing that Spike actually
begins as "a paragon of masculinity, one half of a symbolic whole completed by his ultra-
feminine lover, Drusilla. Their very names establish this division of roles: 'Spike'
obviously phallic, 'Drusilla' flowery and feminine" (2). Furthermore, we learn early in
Spike's presence on the show in season two that Spike has killed two slayers, an
impressive feat among vampires, one that even Angelus is unable to match. However, as
the series progresses and in later seasons, it becomes clear that Spike's masculinity is
wholly dependent upon Drusilla. In "Lover's Walk" (3007), Spike returns to Sunnydale
heartbroken after being dumped by Drusilla. He stumbles around town with a bottle of
alcohol, moping at one moment and throwing violent fits the next. Having kidnapped
Willow to cast a love spell for him, he threatens her with a broken bottle and then
7 Although outside the boundaries of my own project, it is worth noting that this alternate universe is
worthy of additional analysis. We meet a bisexual/S&M vampire-Willow dating an equally-queered
Xander, who might interact with the implications of my argument in interesting ways.
immediately sits down next to her and tells his sad tale as if they are chums, at one point
even putting his head on her shoulder, to which she awkwardly responds by patting his
head and consolingly says, "there, there." Later, in a scene with Buffy's mom, Joyce, he
retells the same tale (word for word-as though the telling itself is performance) over a
cup of hot chocolate to a slightly more sympathetic audience. But such moments of
sentimentality and confidence with other women ultimately do him no good. It is only
after a brawl with a group of vampires that he realizes he's been looking at the problem
I'm really glad I came here, you know? I've been all wrongheaded about this.
Weeping, crawling, blaming everybody else. I want Dru back, I've just gotta be
the man I was, the man she loved. I'm gonna do what I should done in the first
place: I'll find her, wherever she is, tie her up, torture her until she likes me again.
At this moment, Spike realizes that a conflation of violence and eroticism will get him
farther than moping, crying, and casting a spell. Although he leaves Sunnydale optimistic
that his plan will work, his return alone in the fourth season suggests that being the man
he used to be was not enough for Drusilla. But when we see Spike again in "The Harsh
Light of Day," (4003), he is no longer depressed, in spite of his inability to woo back
Drusilla: he has a new girlfriend, recently vamped/former-best-friend-of-Cordelia,
Harmony. His new relationship with Harmony progresses into the next season, but it
becomes increasingly clear that Spike is merely using her-mostly for sex. She is not the
understanding, mysteriously feminine Drusilla, but a doltish, air-headed blonde bimbo
who, more often than not, annoys Spike. However, the fact that he keeps her around
when he clearly doesn't enjoy her company only underscores his utter dependency on
At this point, Spike becomes imprisoned by the Initiative and fitted with the
behavior modification chip that prevents him from attacking humans. In "The Initiative"
(4007), the behavior modification chip is explicitly paralleled with sexual impotency for
Spike. After escaping the Initiative, he ends up in with Willow in Buffy's dorm room. He
attempts to attack her but is unable to, resulting in the following conversation:
Spike : I don't understand. This sort of thing's never happened to me before.
Willow : Maybe you were nervous.
Spike : I felt all right when I started. Let's try again. (He leaps on her and draws
back immediately. He tries again, with the same results.) Ow! Oh! Ow! Damn it!
(He gets up, kicks the dresser, and paces around the room.)
Willow : Maybe you're trying too hard. Doesn't this happen to every vampire?
Spike : Not to me, it doesn't!
Willow : It's me, isn't it?
Spike : What are you talking about?
Willow : Well, you came looking for Buffy, then settled. I--I... You didn't want to
bite me. I just happened to be around.
Spike : Piffle!
Willow : I know I'm not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It's
always like, "ooh, you're like a sister to me," or, "oh, you're such a good friend."
Spike : Don't be ridiculous. I'd bite you in a heartbeat.
Willow : Really?
In this scene, violence and sexuality become overtly and humorously intertwined.
The double entendre is obvious, and it suggests that for Spike, being unable to do
violence to Willow is as troubling as sexual impotency is to 'normal' masculinity. Thus
Spike's masculinity is clearly dependent upon the ability to do violence as well as sex.
Both are essential, and this is why Spike is so willing to join the good fight-violence is
violence, regardless of the victim, be it human or demon. Thus, once Spike learns that the
chip doesn't prevent him from doing violence to demons, he almost too enthusiastically
joins the gang, much to their resistance. Does Spike's sense of masculinity change
because of his behavior chip? He is still able to have sex with Harmony, and in fact it is
during this time that he develops his crush on Buffy. Likewise, he is still able to perform
violence, albeit on demons. Spike's performativity remains eventually unchanged,
negotiating with the new set of variables in which he finds himself. In fact, his sense of
gender is only seriously threatened when he is unable to satisfy his erotic longings for
Through the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons, the relationship between Spike and
Buffy changes, causing significant changes in Spike's performance of masculinity. At
first, Spike secretly harbors feelings for Buffy, as demonstrated through fantasy
sequences during sex with Harmony and dream sequences. In "Crush," (5014), Spike's
love for Buffy finally becomes expressed, with disastrous results. Buffy is disgusted to
learn of his feelings for her, and at the advice of her friends and family tries to shoot him
down completely. But this episode has two greater significance. Buffy's rejection of
Spike is oddly similar to the rejection of Cecily: just as she suggests she does not wish to
see him, so does Buffy command Spike to get out of her life, even to get out of
Sunnydale. But there is a difference as well: Cecily's rejection was successful, as
William does as she wishes and leaves her forever. But over a century later, Spike is even
more the romantic than he was as William. Rather than accept Buffy's rejection, he
steadfastly maintains that something exists between them and that they cannot simply
ignore it. William was a romantic but also a pushover. In contrast, Spike is unrelenting,
much to Buffy's dismay. He refuses to accept her rejection and in the process becomes
akin to the sexual threat that Angelus became, although with far less potency or danger to
Buffy. Spike's constant rejection turns him into a feminized lover. Spicer argues,
Spike casts his identity as a forlorn lover in the feminine [as 'love's bitch,' as he
refers to himself in "Lover's Walk"] and the courage to confront that identity in
the masculine ["at least I'm man enough to admit it"]. His assignment of these
specific genderings is conventional. His feminizing of the heartbroken lover, in
particular, follows the current pop culture notion that in romantic relationships,
"men are from Mars; women are from Venus." In other words, men are
substantially motivated by desire for sex, women by desire for love or
companionship. Though it goes without saying that Spike has a vigorous libido,
'love's bitch' clearly inhabits the Venus side of the equation: he is a feminine
Spicer is correct to note that in spite of Spike's overt sexuality, he is in fact feminized.
When Buffy does finally relent and begins a sexual relationship with Spike, it is just that:
sexual. Spike gladly agrees, hoping it will lead to more. But for Buffy, it is only about the
sex, and the episodes with their sexual encounters are, by the standards of previous sex
scenes, rather risqu6, with elements of S&M. When Buffy realizes she is just using Spike
for sex, she ends the relationship. Again she rejects Spike, but again he refuses to believe
it is over-he still feels something, and she seems to as well.
Returning to "Crush," a second significant issue is that Spike chooses Buffy over
Drusilla, who returns to Sunnydale to take back her former lover. The episode initially
suggests that Spike will take her back, returning to his old ways. But he specifically
chooses Buffy, and in fact he suggests that he will kill Drusilla for Buffy in order to
prove his love. Of course Spike again confuses sexuality with violence, a move that
Buffy unsurprisingly rejects-killing Drusilla does not prove his love, only that he is a
"sick, miserable vampire." Spike here is still operating under an older system of
masculinity, where sexuality-is-violence-is-masculinity. But why does Spike choose
Buffy? And for that matter, why does Angel fall in love with Buffy? I will address these
When a Chip Just Isn't Enough
With only the behavior modification chip, Spike lacks an understanding of good
and evil. "Fools for Love" offers Quasimodo of The Hunchback ofNotre Dame as an
analog to Spike, both of whom perform acts that are selfishly based on impressing a
woman. This is especially true of Spike, whose blend of violence and sexuality may have
impressed women like Drusilla but does little to woo the likes of Buffy. For a short while
it does woo Buffy, however, who, having been resurrected and apparently pulled from
Heaven, desperately wants to "feel again" and finds that violent sexuality with Spike,
who too understands death, is the closest she can come to satisfying that yearning. Their
eroticism is both taboo and violent. In "Smashed" (6009), Buffy and Spike engage in a
violent sexual eruption that causes the house they are in to fall down around them-
although they are so caught up in each other that they do not notice the rubble until they
wake up the next morning.
When Buffy subsequently ends their relationship, Spike refuses to accept it. He
continues to try and woo Buffy, an effort that climaxes in "Seeing Red" (6019) with
Spike's attempt to rape Buffy in her bathroom. Buffy still refuses to believe she actually
cares for him, and Spike refuses to believe her rebuff. "I'm going to make youfeel it," he
tells her as he climbs on top of her. It becomes clear that Spike, once again, confuses
violence and sexuality. But Buffy will have none of it, beating him off of her and forcing
him out. This moment crystallizes everything about Spike's masculinity that is no longer
workable. To have Buffy-the modern, self-empowered woman-he can no longer rely
on a masculinity that overlays violence and sexuality. In retrospect, Spike, haunted by the
screams and pleadings of Buffy, finally comprehends the significance of what he has
done and the futility of his current state: "Why do I feel this way? This isn't the way it's
supposed to be. It's the chip. Steel and wires and silicon. It won't let me be a monster.
And I can't be a man. I'm nothing." In the moment, the audience is fooled to believe he
intends to remove the chip as he leaves Sunnydale for Africa.
When he returns, we learn that Spike has, in fact, not removed the chip but
instead regained his soul. Thus, when he says that the chip fixes him in a state of
nothingness between man and monster, he suggests that the chip is not enough.
Behavioral change is not enough for the modern man. He can try all he wants to be a
man, but in the end it is how others interpret his own repetition of norms that establish his
gender. Buffy refuses to look past the fact that he has no soul, and because he has no
soul, he is unable to know right and wrong, unable to understand that violence is not
sexuality. He requires a soul, a conscience, to become a man in Buffy's eyes.
And indeed, when he returns, Buffy finally sees that, with a soul, Spike is a
man. He has not been tamed, for he is still the strong, powerful vampire he was, still able
to sacrifice himself in the series finale, to become a champion, in the lexicon of the
narrative. But no longer does he confuse this violence for sexuality. And in fact, he does
not return to Sunnydale to woo Buffy back. When Buffy asks him why he actively sought
to regain his soul, he replies, "Why does a man do what he mustn't? For her. To be hers.
To be the kind of man who would nev- .. to be a kind of man." Although he does not
say it, Spike knows now that he should not have tried to rape Buffy. And he doesn't
complete the statement because to be a kind of man, any kind of man, is to know that he
should not have raped her. In the world of Buffy, masculinity can no longer pretend to
beat women in the name of love. Spike shows that love is not necessarily about sexuality,
and that sexuality is not necessarily imbricated with violence. Spike does not give up his
eroticism. But he also does not have sex with Buffy once he regains his soul. The closest
he comes is in "Touched" (7020), when he and Buffy lay in bed holding each other,
looking into each other's eyes. This occurs during a montage of non-conventional
sexuality, cutting between this scene, a lesbian scene with Willow and Kennedy, Xander
and Anya, and white Faith and African-American Robin Wood, each making love. Given
its inclusion in this montage of sex, it becomes clear that this tender moment between
Spike and Buffy is indeed as erotic as the other scenes of sex. But there is absolutely no
violence. Spike and Buffy succeed where Angel and Buffy fail-achieving a tender
eroticism that is devoid of any violence. In this regard, Spike becomes perhaps the best
example of the new, hybridized masculinity, ironically (given their similarities as I will
discuss below) surpassing even Angel. He is strong, still able to commit violence against
evil, willing to sacrifice himself for not just a woman but for the world, yet able to love a
woman unselfishly, erotically, and devoid of any form of sexual violence.
THE PARALLEL PATHS OF PERFORMATIVITY
The shared love of the slayer is perhaps the most obvious parallels between the
two vampires. However when Angel, and eventually Spike, come to Los Angeles, the
parallels between them become far more overt. In the Angel episode "Destiny" (5008),
flashbacks reveal that the parallels between Angel and Spike are perhaps not
coincidental. The episode opens in 1880 England, shortly after Spike's siring, and details
the initial meeting between Spike and Angelus. Drusilla introduces her new creation to
Angelus. The scene also makes clear that the homosexuality hinted between Angel and
Spike in earlier episodes is not a recent development:
Angelus: So, instead of just feeding off of this William... you went and turned
him into one of us. Another rooster in the henhouse.
Drusilla: You're not cross with me, are you?
Angelus: Cross?(grabs William's arm and holds it out into the ray of sunlight
beaming through the closed curtains) Do you have any idea what it's like having
nothing but women as travel companions, night in and night out?
William: (pulls his sizzling hand away from Angelus) Touch me again-
Angelus: Don't mistake me. I do love the ladies. It's just lately... I've been
wondering...(holds his own fist in the sunlight) what it'd be like...(watches his
hand sizzle) to share the slaughter of innocents... with another man. (turns his
hand over so the palm is in the light now; watching as it smokes) Don't... don't
think that makes me some kind of a deviant, hmm? (pulls his hand back) Do you?
(Staring at Angelus, William sticks his own hand in the light voluntarily as
Angelus laughs and slaps William on the shoulder affectionately)Ah hah! I like
this one! You and me, we're gonna be the best of friends.
Not only does Angelus overtly suggest a homosexual connection between the two, but
here we also see, for the first time, Spike imitate Angelus. The episode makes it clear that
Angelus becomes a vampire-mentor for Spike. Of course Spike loves and adores Drusilla,
but she hardly provides a model of vampiric hypermasculinity. We can presume that this
scene occurs after his encounter with his mother-the moment that encourages Spike to
prove what kind of a man he can be. Angelus, already established as the paragon of
masculinity, provides the ideal for Spike to copy. The episode, and indeed the series,
suggests that Spike's vampiric masculinity, combining sexuality and violence, is merely a
copy of Angelus' masculinity. This copy of a copy seems the very thing that Butler
argues about gender itself:
[... .] Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a
kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and
consequence of the imitation itself. In other words, the naturalistic effects of
heterosexualized genders are produced through imitative strategies; what they
imitate is a phantasmatic ideal of heterosexual identity, one that is produced by
the imitation as its effect. (313)
Although Butler here is discussing homosexuality as a copy of the so-called original
heterosexuality, the relevance to Spike and Angel is obvious. Spike effectively tries to
copy Angelus's performance of masculinity, but we know quite well that Angelus'
masculinity is equally performative. Indeed, Angelus' masculinity is tenuously dependent
upon his use of simultaneous sexuality and violence and becomes easily disrupted by his
soul. The masculinity of Angelus, in fact, becomes naturalized, becomes an original, only
because Spike copies it.
This same episode also makes relevant the analysis of homosociality by Eve
Sedgwick. Before the episode, there is already a clear rivalry between Angel and Spike
for the affections of Buffy. Angel's brief return to Sunnydale at the conclusion of the
series provokes what Buffy calls a "Dawson's Creek" response when Angel reacts poorly
to the revelation of Spike and Buffy's relationship. Spike likewise gets jealous when he
sees Angel and Buffy together. But the two do not really experience this rivalry together
until Spike shows up on Angel's show the next season. The two repeatedly trade barbs at
each other's expense concerning Buffy and who she truly loves. This is the first example
of the triangles that Sedgwick discusses. Starting from Rene Girard's theories, Sedgwick
points out that "in any erotic rivalry, the bond that links the two rivals is as intense and
potent as the bond that links either of the rivals to the beloved: that the bonds of 'rivalry'
and 'love,' differently as they are experienced, are equally powerful and in many senses
equivalent" (21). Even more significant is the triangle that involves Spike, Angelus, and
Drusilla, as demonstrated first in the second season when the recently-retransformed
Angelus' flirtations and overt sexuality with Drusilla makes a wheelchair-bound Spike
jealous. This same triangle is further developed in another flashback sequence in
"Destiny." Spike walks in on Angelus having sex with a woman, who turns out to be
Drusilla. Upon seeing Spike, Drusilla asks whether he missed her, to which Angelus
answers for him, "I'm sure he did, Dru. After all, you are his destiny," making light of
what Spike said to Drusilla in an earlier flashback. The two laugh at Spike, who
understandably grows angry, at which point the scene cuts to the present, where we join
Spike and Angel in fisticuffs over a mystical cup. Like the scene in "Lies my Parents
Told Me," the flashback is spliced into the present-day narrative to give more depth to the
anger between these two characters. Because we have seen plenty of other flashbacks and
modern-day scenes that show Angelus and Spike on friendly terms, we know that Spike
is able to look past Drusilla's indiscretions. But at the same time, much as Sedgwick
suggests, there is a clear triangle that develops between Angelus, Spike, and Drusilla, the
homosocial bonds of which last far beyond Drusilla's presence. Indeed, the same two
points create a new but overlapping triangle with Buffy as a fourth node. The second
triangle, laid over the existing triangle, only serves to strengthen the rivalry and,
subsequently, the homosocial bond, between Angel(us) and Spike.
OVERLOOKING THE CHASM, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
How Batailles Works with Buffy
Knowing, then, that there already exists a rivalry bond between the two vampires,
as well as a sense of mentor/mentee between them, it is not surprising that both end up
falling in love with Buffy. But the question remains, why do they fall in love with Buffy,
a vampire slayer? The slayer is the sworn enemy of the vampire, its harbinger of death.
Spike's plans are repeatedly foiled by Buffy, and Buffy kills Angel(us) in order to save
the world. Spike specifically chooses a resistant Buffy over his creator, sire, and lover
Drusilla. What would be the reason behind this? To answer this question, I turn to
Georges Bataille's theories on eroticism. Bataille begins by describing the difference
between discontinuous and continuous beings:
Beings that reproduce themselves are distinct from one another, and those
reproduced are likewise distinct from each other, just as they are distinct from
their parents. Each being is distinct from all others ... he is born alone. He dies
alone. Between one being and another, there is a gulf, a discontinuity. This gulf
exists, for instance, between you, listening to me, and me, speaking to you. We
are attempting to communicate, but no communication between us can abolish our
fundamental difference. If you die, it is not my death. You and I are discontinuous
Bataille argues that eroticism, sexuality, is the attempt by the discontinuous being to
bridge that gap: "so it seems to the lover only the beloved can in this world bring
about what our human limitations deny, a total blending of two beings, a continuity
between two discontinuous beings" (20). However, while this is how it seems to the
lover, in fact, "eroticism opens] the way to death. Death opens the way to the denial of
our individual lives" (24). In the erotic act, the individual risks losing her/himself,
something we can rarely achieve. Although "the urge towards love, pushed to its limit, is
an urge toward death" (42), the discontinuous being will "come as close as possible to
death. Without flinching. And even, if necessary, flinching ... as even, if necessary,
dying" (Guilty 93). Eroticism allows us to get as close as possible, put one leg out over
the cliff, and then withdraw ourselves back onto solid ground, our heart beating,
ourselves spent, according to Bataille. He also links eroticism to violence, suggesting
[T]he violence of death and sexual violence, when they are linked together, have
this dual significance. On the one hand the convulsions of the flesh are more acute
when they are near to a black-out, and on the other a black-out, as long as there is
enough time, makes physical pleasure more exquisite. Mortal anguish does not
necessarily make for sensual pleasure, but that pleasure is more deeply felt during
mortal anguish (105).
The figure of the vampire slayer is the linkage of sexual violence with the violence of
death for Angel and Spike. She is everything they once were but can no longer be:
simultaneously sexual and violent. For both Angel and Spike, seeking to bridge their own
gulfs, seeking continuity of their own, Buffy provides the purest form of eroticism-
leading-towards-death. They are very much in love with the enemy, indeed in love with
death itself. Spike's relationship with Drusilla was important as a hypermasculine
vampire because he already put forth sexuality and violence simultaneously. But once
fitted with the chip, neither Drusilla nor Harmony provide any satisfaction towards
death-they are ultra-feminine, relics of the old fashioned masculinity, and in no way
provide the cliff overlooking the abyss to which Bataille refers: Only Buffy makes
Spike's or Angel's eyes roll back into their heads.
At the same time, neither Angel nor Spike can maintain such eroticism. Angel
learns that eroticism with Buffy is, for him, death. If he is to maintain his fragile, tenuous
grip on a masculinity wherein sexuality and violence are enacted, then he cannot have
Buffy, who represents that very union. And he cannot simply be friends with Buffy, nor
even be near her. Ultimately, he must leave for Los Angeles. There, he is only able to
maintain that tenuous grip on masculinity because he is offered another option:
employment and fatherhood. In Angel, he surrounds himself with an increasingly male
circle of peers, with only fleeting possibilities of eroticism. He begins his own
investigation service and, in the final season, even becomes the CEO of the multi-
dimensional, demonic law firm of Wolfram and Hart. Meanwhile, as the result of a brief
fling with Darla, he becomes a father. Without Buffy, who provided a way of being
sexual and violent independently, he must ultimately depend upon the traditional values
of masculinity: productive membership in society and heterosexual reproduction. Angel's
only subversion of traditional masculinity within his own show ultimately becomes the
replacement of a beloved woman with a homosocial kinship network, into which Spike
Why Not Go Gay?
It is interesting to note how the show flirts with the homosexual connection
without ever actually solidifying it. Why, then, does the show refuse to allow Spike and
Angel to become lovers? In the tradition of Kirk/Spock slash fiction, there is a large
amount of slash fiction that can be found on the internet linking the two of them together.
And although many shows on network television are often wary of having a gay couple,
Buffy clearly cannot make such a claim, as queer audiences quickly hailed the show's
lesbian relationship between Willow and Tara as one of the most accurate portrayals on
television. The show could easily go the next step and couple Spike and Angel. One valid
possibility is the fear of alienating the many fans who continue to hold out for the reunion
of Buffy with either Angel or Spike. As the finale of Angel draws closer, one of the
central curiosities among fans is whether Buffy will return and, if so, whom she will
choose. But I would argue that there is another reason as well. The current strategy on
Angel positions both characters in a gray area. Audiences know that both Angel and
Spike still love Buffy. But the show undeniably provides homosexual undercurrents
between them. This strategy in effect opens up the implications of the masculinity both
Angel and Spike perform. By linking them as exclusively homosexual, the importance of
their homosocial kinship network would become effaced. However, forcing at least one
of them into a distinctly heterosexual relationship would also efface the same homosocial
kinship network central to Angel. Thus the current strategy avoids associating their
masculinity with either heterosexuality or homosexuality.
Maintaining a Tenuous Masculinity
Does Spike maintain his newfound masculinity on Angel? Brought back from the
grave under complex circumstances, he finds himself amid Angel and his gang at
Wolfram and Hart, the evil law firm. Although he initially wants to go to Buffy, who is
reportedly now in Italy, he ultimately decides against it, preferring instead to keep her
memory of him untouched. "If I show up now," he says, "flesh and bone, my grand finale
won't hold much weight. All of it ... won't matter." Thus Spike suggests that his
sacrifice, while noble, still had an element of selfishness to it. It is better, suggests Spike,
to let Buffy think he died honorably than to let her know he has come back. But it might
also be suggested that this is a cop-out on Spike's part. He must know that, at some point,
Buffy will learn he has returned. And in one of the final episodes of Angel, "Shells"
(5016), Spike gives this possibility some support. In the episode, the group is mourning
the loss of Fred, a beloved (and only remaining) woman in the group. Angel gives Spike
the option of becoming a roving, fully-funded champion (in a conversation that sounds
remarkably like a couple considering divorce), but Spike turns it down, opting instead to
stay in Los Angeles. At first he says the decision is based on what Fred would have
wanted, the same reasoning we would have expected from Spike of years past. But Spike
corrects himself, "[I]t's what I want. I don't really like you, suppose I never will, but this
is important, what's happening here. Fred gave her life for it. Least I can do is give
what's left of mine. The fight's coming Angel. We both feel it. And it's gonna be a hell
of a lot bigger than Illyria. Things are gonna get ugly. That's where I live." Although
Fred does still matter, and, in fact, Fred's death helps lessen much of the tension between
Angel and Spike (putting aside their differences for the good of a common good-a
woman they both care about-another triangle), Spike ultimately stays because he wants
to, because he feels he can do some good. Although Spike has entered the even-more-
homosocial kinship network of Angel, forgoing any real possibility of eroticism or
sexuality, he is still able to maintain the masculinity he performs at the end of Buffy. He
finally acts selflessly and for the good of others, not just a woman he loves and is trying
The evolution of the personas of Spike and Angel, as I have detailed them,
represents a complex and ever-changing negotiation of gender and sexuality. Both Spike
and Angel are failures at performing masculinity properly as humans. Both Spike and
Angel are afforded the opportunity to renegotiate their genders, effectively revealing
gender as a whole within the Buffyverse to be highly performative in nature. Both Spike
and Angel are afforded a masculinity as vampires that conflates violence and sexuality,
often requiring the victimization of women. Both Spike and Angel ultimately must accept
that they can no longer operate in the modern world with such a masculinity, forcing
them to re-adapt into a masculinity that allows for the separation yet maintenance of both
sexuality and violence, to varying degrees of success. Both require the love of the slayer,
the agent of their death, to arrive at their gendered destinations, but both must ultimately
give up the same slayer for the sake of their own masculinity. The new masculinity that
Spike and Angel work towards is transitionally dependent upon women, but is ultimately
maintainable, as least so far as the narrative suggests, within a network of homosocial
kinship. If Auerbach is correct, and vampires are reflections of their cultural contexts,
then Spike and Angel, in their search for a workable masculinity that can operate within
the confines of a changing heterosexuality, wherein a woman is afforded sexuality and
violence as well, are clearly reflexive products of their times. Their existences, as both
vampires and men, are not easy, nor easily attained or maintained, but absolutely
essential if they wish to survive relatively unscathed.
LIST OF REFERENCES
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- Guilty. Venice, CA: The Lapis Press, 1988.
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Spicer, Arwen. "'Love's Bitch but Man Enough to Admit It": Spike's Hybridized
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Michael Pearl was born in January, 1981, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was raised
in Orlando, Florida. He studied at the University of Florida from 1999-2004, receiving
his Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 2002 and his Master of Arts degree in English