… Effulgent!

Take that, 19th century bullies

Spike’s slice of “Not Fade Away” is probably its most disappointing one.  Things are fine as far as they go, and I’m certainly pleased about the way he chose to spend his last day, but there’s not a lot of insight into the character here.  That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise; Spike’s arc stumbled once he got his body back, staggered once Lindsey’s deception was revealed, and stalled completely in his bogus journey to Italy.  Expecting <1/8 of an episode fix that is unreasonable.  We need to settle for confirmation of what we already knew: much as Spike’s grown, he’s still figuring out who he is.

A question mark is about as far removed as possible from the exclamation point I said that a series finale should be, but it works for Spike.  What’s made him such a fascinating character is the seemingly limitless ambiguity between who he is and who he pretends to be.  That’s never been quite so wonderfully captured as it was the first time around in “Fool For Love,” but this season does add some interesting layers on top of what way already established, starting with his initial appearance.  It’s just that, appearance; Ghost-Spike is form without substance, a phantom who can be seen but not felt.  There’s no time wasted in underscoring this metaphor for his identity issues as his first opportunity to regain substance is by becoming Angel.

Spike doesn’t go through with the body swap, but passing on the opportunity boost his heroic credentials… which doesn’t exactly distance him from Angel.  From there his season arc all about measuring himself against his grandsire.  Well, not “all,” but Spike’s still repeating his old patterns here.  Whether it’s reacting against the sneers of socialites, or striving to be Buffy’s man, or fighting to supplant Angel (AKA be Buffy’s man), the perceptions of others are always foremost in Spike’s mind.

When a character’s so thoroughly rooted in image, putting any sort of stamp on who he “really is” is likely to do more harm than good.  In this context, we should perhaps be grateful for the fact that Spike’s last day didn’t try to delve any deeper, but there’s still some satisfaction to be found in his choice.  There’s no last-ditch effort to prove he’s the one who’s going to Shan-Shu prophecy and no awkward phone call to Buffy.  Instead Spike goes where nobody knows his name, a place where he can be free of pretense and give us one of the rare and wonderful moments of vulnerability that help make the character great.

There’s an audience here but, based on his demeanor, Spike isn’t performing for them.  He seems to expect the same mockery he received the last time the ode to Cecily was given a public reading and the applause, genuine rather than just polite applause, comes as a shock.  And he deserves it.  Whatever the quality of the poem, reading it took guts and the barroom audience serves as our surrogate here.  More than just being a nice nod to the character’s past, the poem serves as a landmark for how far Spike’s come and we’re proud of him for reading it.

I seem to have contradicted my original point here but this is one of those reviews that has me liking the subject more as I work through it.  Spike’s affectations have always had their root in self-loathing (a fact expanded upon this season) and this scene feels like he’s finally putting some of that behind him.   There’s no “return to William” here, a fact confirmed when it’s revealed just how drunken this delivery is, but maybe Spike’s finally able stop running away from him.  No longer defining himself in opposition to his past may only make the character more ambiguous but, given that it’s ambiguity that’s made him great, this is probably for the best.

Final Thoughts

Far from my best post, structurally speaking, but the conclusion really did come to me halfway through and I’m disinclined to do much editing.

“Can I deny you three times?”

Continuing with my “elements of the series” theory of the finale, I suppose that Spike’s ending showcases the fun.  That’s a bit of a reach as there’s lots of fun to be had elsewhere, but the poetry reading is both surprising and purely joyous, the only such moment of the episode.

Continuing the comparisons with Buffy’s finale thread, Spike’s ending is soooo much more satisfying this time around.  Saving the baby was probably the least dramatic mission of the hour (I’d actually forgotten about the kid before Angel reminded us) but it’s still infinitely superior to the deus ex amulet.  Spike’s ending is a product of his own choices and that makes saving a nameless infant far more significant than sealing a Hellmouth.

Not to kick a dead horse, but Spike’s arc really did need to conclude in “The Girl in Question.”  I’m still happier with its ending than a I was before writing this review, but this episode really did nothing to pay off the central relationship of the season (sorry, much as we loved Wes/Fred, they were never central).  The finale needed to be bigger than Angel & Spike, but this fact only makes the previous episode’s failure sting even worse.

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One response to “… Effulgent!

  1. I saw Spike’s arc in Season 5 as being his struggle to define himself without Buffy in his orbit. For years, he made her a part of his personal identity, whether as a threat for him to fight against to prove his worth as a vampire, a love interest for him to aspire to, or a source of redemption. But, after losing contact with Buffy, Spike had to learn to be his own man without her as a defining element. His poem reading scene felt like a part of that journey, him expressing his true self without fear or the restraint of expectation. I actually like Spike more in Angel Season 5 than I did in Buffy Season 7.

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