Spike and Andrew steal the show. In their very different conflicts with good and evil, they raise interesting questions about identity and responsibility, says Rachel Lovinger
James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Michael Yarish/UPN

Spike and Andrew steal the show

After last week’s slow-paced build-up, the latest ”Buffy,” entitled ”Never Leave Me,” finally gets to the point, with convention-flaunting plot twists and some surprising character revelations. Unfortunately, before we get to the most urgent topic — the aftermath of Spike’s association with the First Evil — we have to first get through the portrayal of Spike’s ”come-down” from binging on human blood, as if he were going through heroin withdrawal. Even for this show’s cosmology, which gets a lot of mileage out of making metaphors into monsters and vice-versa, Spike’s ordeal seems a bit overstated. After all, he isn’t the first vampire in Sunnydale to quit feeding on humans. It’s not even the first time that HE’s done it. Then again, this time he has been been under the influence of something stronger than blood.

The question of how much of Spike’s past evil he should be held accountable for is complicated by the fact that he’s been haunted and manipulated by the First almost since the beginning of his born-again state. As he explains to Buffy, he didn’t know he was being messed with because he thought his pain and confusion was part of the normal experience of having a soul. Because he isn’t successful in goading Buffy to kill him, he’ll have to learn to live with the horrors that he’s committed.

There’s an admirable subtlety to Spike’s identity struggle. We watch him discover that it’s not always just a question of ”Hero” or ”Monster.” The final nail in the coffin comes when he tries to pull a ”Hannibal Lecter” on Buffy — playing the psychopath with uncanny insights and analyzing her masochistic tendencies. However, he begins to understand that being human is a lot more complicated than playing the villain or savior when Buffy undercuts his high dramatics by saying, ”You don’t know me. You don’t even know you.”

Then there’s Andrew. With his constant whining and ineffectiveness, he used to come across as a mere caricature, but now that identity is working for him. The change in his look is hysterically funny (the butcher calling him ”Neo” — priceless!), and he delivers lies and threats with an absurd tone that inspires absolutely no one to take him seriously. At the same time, his nearly complete impotence allows him to shift from comic relief to tragic figure in the same scene. This guy desperately needs somebody — anybody — to follow. In fact, he’s so pathetic, it’s almost enough to make you sad that he’s lost, alienated, or killed everyone who ever gave him a second glance.

That same mixture of ridicule and sympathy colors Andrew’s run-in with Willow. So much violent history has passed between these two, and yet they hash it out with threats that imitate the style of amateur theater. This makes the scene so much more human and real than if they fired off sharp banter with dramatic music rising in the background. They come off as two average, awkward children playing out the battle between good and ultimate evil. With very little to do, Andrew even shines as he’s subjected to Xander and Anya’s good-cop bad-cop routine, right before being beaten, bitten, nearly stabbed, and then used as a weapon. He may be the bad guy, but I found myself unable to resist rooting for him.

Though the major conflict is reaching a peak fairly early in the season, there are still plenty of mysteries to maintain the suspense. Is Giles really dead? Maybe it’s time for a field trip to England. What’s going on with Principal Wood? Was I the only person yelling, ”Don’t be evil!” when he headed to the basement? How will the loss of the council affect the upcoming battle against the First? (Okay, maybe no one’s really wondering about that.) And, why would the First Evil use vampire blood — actually, pig’s blood filtered through a vampire — to summon… Nosferatu?

Are you wondering the same things, and what did you think of the show?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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