Title: Ten…uh, Twenty Years of Spike
Hi! I have never posted to this community before, though I’ve enjoyed many of the contributions from others over the years. These days, I mostly sit quietly on the sidelines of the Buffy fandom, but I still love the show and the characters dearly, and seeing that it was the twentieth anniversary of School Hard made me remember a little something I posted a decade ago (hahahaha I am old) to a Livejournal community called adecadeofspike. When I reread it, I didn’t totally hate it, so I thought it might be fun to join in the celebration by reposting it here. Thank you so much to the organizers and contributors of this community for keeping it alive and thriving!
TenTwenty years of Spike, and he’s still one of the most popular, as well as one of the most polarizing, characters in fandom. Looking back, “School Hard” was the episode that really cemented the change in BTVS’s tone that started with Buffy’s anger in “When She Was Bad”. From the moment Spike saunters into the factory in SH, mocking the other vampires and their hoity-toity rituals, he sets a new, darker standard for the series. He’s not just a monster, he’s a monster with personality plus, a sense of humor, and no respect for his so-called “betters”. James Marsters said recently more than a decade ago at Dragon*Con that he hates watching his initial scene in SH because as an actor he hadn’t yet learned to tone down his mannerisms from stage acting to film acting; I actually love that scene for exactly those reasons. Spike’s grand entrance is all about making that memorable first impression, and the over-the-top quality of JM’s performance works for that scene, making Spike seem bigger than life.
And then Drusilla comes into the room, and the Big Bad turns into the Big Romantic, and a million fangirls swooned. When he turns to face Dru, it’s the first time the audience sees his human face, and it’s all sharp cheekbones and blue eyes, and hello, the new villain is gorgeous. Too gorgeous to kill off in a three or four episode arc, that’s for sure. More than his looks, though, what made him an instant object of attraction was the gentleness and concern he showed for Dru. Sure, maybe he’ll rip your throat out, but he’s a really good boyfriend! Part of what makes SH such an effective episode is that it illustrates how attractive and charming Spike, Dru, and their relationship can be, while not whitewashing the fact that he’s a brutal killer. He stalks Sheila and kills her two companions, then takes her home for Dru to eat. He snaps the teacher’s neck for no reason other than that murder is fun and makes him feel better. He’s not a nice guy.
Yet we love him anyway. The combination of personality traits that Spike exhibits in SH, the wit and impatience, the way he slips from merciless killer to devoted lover, makes him irresistible as a character. In addition, Spike was the first vampire shown on the series to embrace modernity. Darla could wear modern-day clothes and play at being a schoolgirl in S1, but she was still beholden to the Master and his ritualistic court. Spike though, ends his first episode by suggesting to Dru that they see what’s on television. Over the years he’s shown to be a soap opera fan hooked on Passions and invested in Dawson’s Creek and a music fan who loves the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. He name drops Bob Barker and Falcon Crest, watches the Charlie Brown Halloween special, and plays Crash Bandicoot. He’s also the first vampire we see whose verbal wit matches that of the Scoobies, his ability to snark making him sound as modern as the teenagers he’s sparring with.
Spike brought sex to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The first season of the show is almost G-rated in its depiction of sex and romance: there’s some flirting, a little kissing, a shirtless Angel scene. S2 hints at a more adult turn right away in WSWB with Buffy dirty dancing at the Bronze, and Spike and Dru seal the deal. Even though they’re never shown actually having sex, their relationship is tinged with eroticism. Spike stalking Buffy on the dance floor of the Bronze, then later running his hand down towards his crotch as he menaces her in the high school, gave the series a sexual tone that it hadn’t possessed before, opening the door for more adult themes to start defining the series.
Aside from the fact that it’s an entertaining episode in its own right, what’s most fun about looking back on “School Hard” now is all the irony.
Angel: Things change.
Spike: Not us! Not demons!
Oh, Spike. More than any other vampire, he is shown as capable of change. Sometimes it’s because he’s forced to adapt — to life without Dru, to the chip in his head, to the soul — but most memorably it’s when he chooses to make the ultimate change by fighting for and winning his soul. Maybe Jossverse demons can’t change, or maybe they just don’t want to, but Spike can and does, making him an unpredictable character to watch.
Spike: But I’ll tell you what: as a personal favor from me to you, I’ll make it quick. It won’t hurt a bit.
Buffy: No, Spike. It’s gonna hurt a lot.
Really, there could be no better foreshadowing to the S/B relationship, even if the writers had no idea at the time what they were doing. From the lyrics of “Stupid Thing” that play over Spike seeing Buffy on the dance floor for the first time to the fight between them in which they both irrationally decide to drop their weapons, this episode is almost scarily prescient in setting up Spike and Buffy as romantic partners. Yeah Spike, it’s gonna hurt a lot. But it will be totally worth it.
But that’s all in the future. For this episode we leave on Spike putting an end to silly vampire rituals and annoying child actors, then going off to watch some telly with his girl, and that’s almost enough to love him forever right there. It’s an auspicious beginning to a character that ten twenty(!!!) years later still lives on in the hearts and imaginations of his fans.
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/846316.html