i think one of the reasons that spike is so compelling to me, and one of the reasons that i’m really glad he’s part of the show, is that he’s pretty much the only character that has a consistently poetic command of language. and by that i don’t mean that he speaks in a pretty or heightened way, exactly. he speaks frankly and irreverently as much as he speaks evocatively. i’m not talking about his insight either, given that i think we’re supposed to see his insight as unreliable or flawed or accurate-but-malicious about half of the time.
what i mean is that he phrases things interestingly, in a way that links unexpected concepts together. things like:
XANDER: Why blood? Why Dawn’s blood? I mean, why couldn’t it be like a, a lymph ritual?
SPIKE: ‘Cause it’s always got to be blood.
XANDER: We’re not actually discussing dinner right now.
SPIKE: Blood is life, lackbrain. Why do you think we eat it? It’s what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead. (quietly) Course it’s her blood.
that repetition of “makes you…” is a poetic sort of conceit. it’s got rhythm. it links “warm” which can mean either physical warmth or emotional warmth, and “hard” which suggests sexuality and more animal parts of living, and “other than dead.” it makes you intuit this more abstract notion of what it means to be “alive” and even: why the show is a vampire show in the first place. (there’s a whole other post to write about buffy’s obsession with the concepts of “dead” and “alive” and the way it uses spike in particular to express and explore that obsession).
he does this sort of parallelism again in the gift: “i know you’ll never love me. i know that i’m a monster. but you treat me like a man, and that’s…” that’s some cool overlapping repetition, where the “i know” parallel intersects with the “man/monster” parallel.
or go back to lovers walk. where he talks about “beautiful dresses with beautiful girls in them.” the show loves using demons to play on expected words and idioms like that. angelus talking about finding a heart “in a quaint little shopgirl” or dru saying “i didn’t like him. he got stuck in my teeth.” but spike is one of the few characters where it would make sense to use a repetition of “beautiful” as part of a “demons live in moral and linguistic opposite land” joke.
(actually one of the reasons i always thought spike and dru made perfect sense as a character combination is because drusilla also phrases things poetically. she says things that don’t make sense but actually do, and what’s more poetic than that? “you taste like ashes” etc. of course spike would be in love with her.)
or take his death wish speech in fool for love. that speech could never come out of any other buffyverse character’s mouth, and i love that he gives the show an excuse to use language in that way. “death is your art” is some intense phrasing. and like in his other speeches, the way he links death as art, death as a dance, and death as “on your heels” makes you intuit something complicated. the repetition paints death as this simultaneously constructive and destructive thing. something both kind of sexy and kind of terrible. it’s not an authoritative outlook on death by any means, but it is a poetic one. and i love that it exists in the show because it can stand in contrast to the stark, awful version of death in “the body” or the loving, sacrificial version of death in “the gift.”
because spike talks this way, he has this ability to bring things out in characters and scenes that wouldn’t be there otherwise. the beneath you church scene would probably have been unbearably overwrought if it had featured anyone other than spike. but because it does feature him, it allows the show to use unusual words and dramatic symbolism. or in episodes like smashed, as the tension mounts between buffy and spike, buffy starts speaking with an interestingly spike-like sense of repetition:
SPIKE: Oh, poor little lost girl. She doesn’t fit in anywhere. She’s got no one to love.
BUFFY: Me? I’m lost? Look at you, you idiot! Poor Spikey. Can’t be a human, can’t be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in?
She throws him across the room.
BUFFY: Your job is to kill the slayer. But all you can do is follow me around making moon eyes.
SPIKE: I’m in love with you.
BUFFY: You’re in love with pain.
he also gives the show an ability to talk about the poetic instinct itself. that is, the way that putting things poetically can allow you to say unusually true stuff, but also can allow you to say false stuff in a dangerously seductive manner. it’s awfully pretty for spike to tell buffy “i don’t hurt you”…but we see not an episode later that that isn’t true. it makes sense to me that in season six, a season that is obsessed with the foolish and harmful parts of fantasy, spike starts out seeming gentle and attractive, but becomes an increasingly toxic figure. and basically finishes the season with all of his romantic images of himself destroyed.
(there’s something to probably say about his speech in touched and how it’s him speaking poetically in a way that is not about him, and not about finding a chink in someone’s armor, and this being a resolution of his season six role)
fiction is full of bad-boy foils. characters who can speak freely because they aren’t bound by kindness or propriety. but what i like about spike is the way that the show is basically aware that he is that kind of character and complicates him accordingly. not always elegantly or anything. but fool for love for example works hard to reframe him as a Poet and a Lover (and also importantly…a fraud), to the extent of ret-conning his past, and that colors how we see the way he speaks going forward. i never feel like spike is just “saying cool stuff.” instead, i feel like his character captures both the yearning to say things that sound good, to pursue to grand notions, and also the need to deflate that instinct. and that tension is compelling.