I Can't Take My Eyes Off You

I Can't Take My Eyes Off You: Angel, Spike, and the Nature of Evil

By Lynne

SPIKE: For a demon... I never did think that much about the nature of evil. Just threw myself in. Thought it was a party. I liked the rush. I liked the crunch. Never did look back at the victims.

ANGEL: I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

- Angel, Season 5, “Damage”

Hope and Crosby. Stills and Nash. Chico and The Man. That’s how Spike describes his long-standing association with Angel/Angelus in “Hellbound.” All of these are apt analogies, because each is an opposing pair. Except, perhaps, Stills and Nash. Felix and Oscar might have been a better comparison.

Angelus and William the Bloody were the Evil Odd Couple. They took opposite approaches to destruction: one fastidious and methodical; the other loud and messy. Both had a passion for creating havoc, yet each expressed his passion in very different ways. And those differences have carried over into the way in which their souled counterparts deal with their past misdeeds.

Angelus was the Felix of the pair. For him, killing was calculated; crafted; an art form. This philosophy is evident throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. One example: in “Amends” (BtVS, Season 3) the First Evil comes to haunt Angel, in the guise of several of his victims. One of them tells Angel:

The thing I remember most was thinking how artful it was. In the dark, they looked just like they were sleeping. It wasn’t until I bent down and kissed them good night that I felt how cold they were. You grabbed me, and I thought, who would go to so much trouble to arrange them like that?

Later in this episode, The First masquerades as Jenny Calendar, telling him, “Cruelty's the only thing you ever had a true talent for.”

Another example: during season 2 of BtVS, when Angel loses his soul and returns to his wicked ways, he makes it clear that he wants to kill Buffy. But he doesn’t just charge in, the way Spike does in “School Hard.” Instead, he spends weeks stalking Buffy and her friends, taunting them, leaving threatening mementos, like sketches and dead goldfish. All of this is designed to torment Buffy, mentally and emotionally. Killing her isn’t artistic enough; he wants to break her before he kills her.

In “Damage,” the vampire slayer Dana cuts off Spike’s hands, as punishment for his evil deeds. Dana was kidnapped as a young girl, tortured, and driven insane by her assailant. Her insanity leads her to believe that Spike is the man who tormented her. But her captor’s approach isn’t really Spike’s style. Spike doesn’t have the patience to keep a victim locked up for weeks, toying with her like a cat with a mouse. That’s more of an Angelus maneuver. Later in this episode, Angel tells Spike that, back in the day, he would have admired the way in which Dana’s mind was broken: “I was only in it for the evil. It was everything to me. It was art. The destruction of a human being… Hell, I would've considered Dana a masterpiece.”

And, indeed, Dana does bear some striking resemblances to another young woman Angelus destroyed: Drusilla. She’s strong. She’s insane. She’s supremely dangerous. Even Spike recognizes the similarities: “You're a real sack of hammers, aren't you? Hey... don't worry. I used to date a girl who wasn't all there.”

Creating a Masterpiece

In the art schools of Europe, after many years of study, a student was required to produce a piece showcasing everything he had learned. This work became known as the masterpiece, so called because it marked a change in the artist’s status, from student to master. For Angelus, Drusilla is that work.

When Angelus first lays eyes on Drusilla, she is out walking with her parents and sisters. Darla is the one who brings her to his attention:

ANGELUS: The three daughters — all virgins.

DARLA: Close.

ANGELUS: The one in the middle has something delicate and unique. Did you find me a saint?

DARLA: Better than that. She has the sight.

ANGELUS: Visions. She sees the future. She is pure innocence, yet she sees what’s coming, she knows what I’m going to do to her. I’ll really have to come up to snuff for this one.

- Angel, Season 2, “Dear Boy”

It’s clear from this exchange that Angelus enjoys a challenge. Drusilla is sure to put up a fight. She is saintly and good; he embodies everything she despises; and she knows his moves before he makes them. Like Buffy, she is the perfect canvas for his “art.” Creating a masterpiece is never easy. It takes effort, skill, persistence and determination. His destruction of Drusilla will require all of these.

Angelus starts by tormenting Drusilla psychologically. First he masquerades as a priest, telling her during confession that she is a “devil child” and a “spawn of Satan” (BtVS, “Becoming,” pt. 1). Next, he kills her family. Finally, when she flees to a convent for sanctuary, Angelus tracks her down and kills the nuns (“Dear Boy”). Drusilla finally understands that there is no safe place, no escape from her tormenter. So she retreats into her mind, the only sanctuary she has left. She is plunged into madness, and Angelus’s victory over her is complete.

What should he do with his victim, now that he's destroyed her? Killing her, after all this time and work, isn’t enough for Angelus:

DARLA: So are we going to kill her during, or after?

ANGELUS: Neither. We turn her into one of us. Killing is so merciful in the end, isn’t it? The pain has ended.

DARLA: But to make her one of us? She’s a lunatic.

ANGELUS: Eternal torment. (Angelus grabs Darla’s arms and rolls them, until he is on top of her.) Am I learning?

The fact that he ends up on top of Darla in this scene is symbolic of his transition: from her student, to a master in his own right. Angelus wants to make Drusilla a vampire so that her suffering will go on — something that not even Darla had thought of doing.

There’s also an element of vanity in his decision to turn Drusilla. After all, what artist would want to dash his masterpiece to smithereens? He wants to preserve her for all eternity, as a testament to his talent for evil. Years later, he tells Buffy, “I did a lot of unconscionable things when I became a vampire. Drusilla was the worst.” (BtVS, Season 2, “Lie to Me.”) A century and a half later, he still views her as his greatest accomplishment — or his greatest sin, depending on whether or not his soul is in residence. And this, as we shall see, has profound consequences for his later behaviour.

Let’s Party!

Spike, on the other hand, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about artistry. For him, killing is fun. The contrast between their differing approaches is never clearer than during this scene:

ANGELUS: You’ve got me and my women hiding in the luxury of a mine shaft, all because William the Bloody likes the attention. This is not a reputation we need.

(Spike takes a deep swig from a wine bottle.)

SPIKE: Oh, I’m sorry. Did I sully our good name? We’re vampires.

ANGELUS: All the more reason to use a certain amount of finesse.

SPIKE: Bollocks! That stuff’s for the frilly cuffs-and-collars crowd. I’ll take a good brawl any day.

- BtVS, Season 5, “Fool for Love”

Note that Spike has a wine bottle in his hand during this exchange. He’s drinking, as if he were at a celebration. Killing, running, hiding, chasing or being chased — it’s all just a big party to Spike. It’s not the outcome, it’s the adrenaline rush, the thrill, that matters to him. And the debate continues:

ANGELUS: And every time you do, we become the hunted.

SPIKE: Yeah, you know what I prefer to being hunted? Getting caught.

ANGELUS: That’s a brilliant strategy really... pure cunning.

SPIKE: Sod off! (laughs) Come on. When was the last time you unleashed it? All out fighting in a mob, back against the wall, nothing but fists and fangs? Don’t you ever get tired of fights you know you’re going to win?

ANGELUS: No. A real kill... a good kill... it takes pure artistry. Without that, we’re just animals.

SPIKE: Poofter!

He’s deliberately goading Angelus into a fight here, trying to prove his point. And it works: the next instant, Angelus is grabbing Spike, shoving him backwards, and threatening to run him through with an iron bar.

Spike simply laughs in his face: “Now you’re gettin’ it!” He wants Angelus to lighten up and join the fun. But Angelus knows that life (or unlife) isn’t a party. There’s serious work to be done. For the moment, however, he despairs of Spike learning this lesson, saying: “You can't keep this up forever. If I can't teach you, maybe someday an angry crowd will. That... or the Slayer.”

And so begins one of the few focused, lasting obsessions of Spike’s existence. Spike may not have Angelus’s penchant for creating masterworks, but he does like a challenge. And what bigger challenge is there than battling the most powerful foe of the demon world? He sets his sights on killing a Slayer, because it’s the biggest rush to be had. Spike was a devotee of extreme sports, long before the term was invented. Later in this episode, Spike freely admits to Buffy that he “got off on” killing his first Slayer, calling it the best night of his life.

We see evidence of Spike’s thrill-seeking ways during his very first appearance in the Buffyverse. In “School Hard,” Buffy is expecting Spike and his gang to make their move on Saturday, the night of St. Vigeous. But he attacks on Thursday, two days ahead of schedule, saying, “I couldn't wait.”

Planning, tormenting and dismembering his victims isn’t Spike’s style. During part two of “What’s My Line” (BtVS, Season 2) Spike leaves Drusilla to torture Angel, saying, “I've never been much for the pre-show.” And in “Into the Dark” (Angel, Season 1) Spike tells Angel, “I had a plan.... A good plan. Smart. Carefully laid out. But I got bored. All that watching, waiting... My legs started to cramp.” Most notably, in this same episode, he hires Marcus for the job of torturing Angel, only occasionally stopping to lend a hand. It’s hard to imagine Angelus farming out this kind of work, if the situation were reversed. (Indeed, in “Becoming,” part 2, Angelus tells Giles, “I really wanna torture you,” then proceeds to do the job himself.)

Spike’s passion for fighting carries over even after he becomes unable to hunt for himself. When the Initiative plants a chip in his head, rendering him unable to hurt people, his despair at being so “pathetic” leads him to try to stake himself (BtVS, Season 4, “Doomed”). Later, when he realizes that he can hit demons, his joy knows no bounds: “That’s right. I’m back. And I’m a bloody animal! Yeah!” At the end of this episode, he tries to convince Willow and Xander to come out demon hunting with him:

I say we go out there and kick a little demon ass! .... Come on! Vampires! Grrr! Nasty! Let’s annihilate them. For justice, and for - the safety of puppies and - Christmas, right? Let’s *fight* that evil! Let’s *kill* something! (fade to black) Oh, come *on*!

From this exchange, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter to Spike who he fights, or which side he’s on. It’s the fight itself that matters. This will lead to him fighting at Buffy’s side, and eventually, down a road that will end in his most important battle: the fight to win back his soul.

A Pillar of Salt

In the Book of Genesis, God tells Abraham that he plans to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as punishment for their wickedness. Abraham begs the Lord to spare his nephew, Lot, who lives in Sodom; so God sends two angels to warn Lot and his family. They tell Lot: “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” (Genesis 19:17) Lot’s wife, however, does not heed the warning to “look not behind thee.” She stops to look back, and is turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26)

This tale is frequently cited as a warning to obey God’s orders: do what the Lord tells you, or he’ll turn you into a statue, or some other dastardly fate. There is, however, another interpretation: about the dangers of looking back, metaphorically speaking.

When Angel first regains his soul, he is consumed with remorse for all the evil he has committed. He spends the next hundred years wandering aimlessly, avoiding contact with humans. He becomes, in a manner of speaking, a pillar of salt — paralyzed by his own guilt. It’s only after he meets Whistler and becomes Buffy’s ally (and later, her lover) that he starts to feel like he has a purpose once again.

But even with his new-found sense of purpose, Angel’s past haunts him. He remembers all the lives he destroyed in the name of his “art,” and it sickens him. What is an artist to do, when his creations disgust him? Smash them? Destroy them? He's already done that. So Angel’s obsession with his “art” mutates into an obsession with atonement.

During “In the Dark,” while he’s hanging in chains, he tells Marcus, “I want forgiveness.” Marcus is astute enough to reply, “You want to earn it. You’re not the type that takes the easy way out.” And he's right. Angel spends his days helping the helpless, trying to earn the forgiveness he so desperately craves.

But who, exactly, is supposed to grant this forgiveness? His victims? Most of them are long dead. God? The Powers That Be? We’re never really sure if they’re listening. They talk (through Doyle and, later, Cordelia), but they never say much on the subject of forgiveness.

I would argue that the person who most needs to forgive Angel, is Angel.

In “I Only Have Eyes for You” (BtVS Season 2), Giles tells Buffy: “To forgive is an act of compassion.... It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.” What Giles fails to mention, is that forgiveness most often helps the person doing the forgiving.

In the documentary Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, a leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising talks about the bitterness he feels over his treatment at the hands of the Nazis: “If you could lick my heart,” he says, “it would poison you.” No one would argue this man’s right to feel bitter. He is the victim of a monstrous injustice. Yet the bitterness that eats away at him does not bring him any closer to justice. Nothing ever will. Instead, it means that he continues to suffer, more than half a century after the crime has been committed.

Social scientist Robert Enright has done leading work on the power of forgiveness — not its power to reform criminals, but its power to heal victims. He describes forgiveness as paradoxical:

It is the foregoing of resentment or revenge when the wrongdoer’s actions deserve it and giving the gifts of mercy, generosity and love when the wrongdoer does not deserve them. As we give the gift of forgiveness we ourselves are healed.

(Source: The Forgiveness Institute)

Forgiveness is good for us, mentally and physically. When we let go of old anger and resentments, we feel as if a weight has been lifted off us. We become happier, healthier people. This doesn’t mean that we condone the offender’s actions, or that we ignore the injustice. It means that we freely give up our right to vengeance, because we prefer to focus on healing ourselves.

Angel needs to forgive himself for his past crimes. His guilt may be completely appropriate, but it will get him nowhere. It will only eat him up inside, until it consumes him. This comes dangerously close to happening when Darla comes back from the dead. He completely loses his focus, trying desperately to save her, because he believes that saving his maker will somehow lead to his own salvation. He fails, and then feels guilty about failing. He is so despondent that he nearly gives up on his mission.

Eventually, he has an epiphany, realizing that “if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.” (Angel, Season 2, “Epiphany.”) His tendency towards guilt and self-blame decline noticeably after this episode. Yet it remains a struggle for him. As late as season 5’s “Underneath,” he blames himself for failing to save Fred, telling Spike, “I should never have let her come here. Bad things always happen here.”

Compare and contrast...

Spike replies with, “Hate to break it to you, mate, but bad things always happen everywhere.” We can see from his response that he’s more accepting of the way the world is, and less likely to blame himself for it. He’s much more likely to blame Angel:

ANGEL: What is your problem?

SPIKE: You are, ya ponce! You’re my problem. You got it too good. You’re king of a 30-floor castle, with all the cars, comfort, power, and glory you could ever want, and here I save the world, throw myself onto the proverbial hand grenade for love, honour, and all the right reasons, and what do I get? Bloody well toasted and ghosted is what I get, isn’t it? It’s not fair.

ANGEL: Fair? You asked for a soul. I didn’t. It almost killed me. I spent a hundred years trying to come to terms with infinite remorse. You spent three weeks moaning in a basement, and then you were fine! What’s fair about that?

- Angel, Season 5, “Just Rewards”

Spike resents Angel living the good life, while he’s condemned to a ghostly existence. Angel resents the fact that Spike doesn’t seem wracked with guilt. He thinks it’s unfair that Spike hasn’t spent every waking moment, since he got his soul back, berating himself for his misdeeds. So why hasn’t he?

Well, for one thing, shortly after Spike gets his soul, he’s given a job to do. Buffy asks for his help training the Potentials. She gives him a mission, and there’s nothing Spike likes more than a good fight. Contrast this with Darla’s reaction to Angel’s soul: she throws him out (twice), leaving him to make his own miserable way in the world.

Spike does show remorse for his actions during the first few months of BtVS season 7. Who wouldn't feel guilty, with a newly minted soul and all those deaths on their conscience? Feeling guilty is an appropriate response; but as Buffy points out in “Get It Done,” it’s of no use to her. If Spike lets guilt weigh him down, the only thing he’ll be good for is getting “weepy or wailed on.” She tells him: “What I want is the Spike that’s dangerous. The Spike that tried to kill me when we met.” And Spike realizes, by the end of this episode, that she’s right. It’s okay to feel guilty; just be useful while you’re doing it.

At the end of “Get It Done,” Spike kills the demon needed to bring Buffy back from the shadow world, saying, “I don’t know your feelings, big guy... but to me, a tussle like that... is good for the soul.” Spike is focused on the fight, not the victims; and this allows him to shrug off his guilt more easily than Angel did.

Angel resents this, of course, and never fails to remind Spike of his evil past. In “Damage,” Spike dismisses Angel’s accusation that he “murdered” the Chinese slayer, saying, “I didn’t have a soul then, did I?” Angel shoots back, “Right, ’cause having one now is making such a difference.” Later, Spike ignores Angel’s warnings about confronting Dana:

SPIKE: What do you want me to do? Go all boo-hoo ’cause she got tortured and driven out of her gourd? Not like we haven't done worse back in the day.

ANGEL: Yeah, and that’s something I’m still paying for.

SPIKE: And you should let it go, mate. It’s startin’ to make you look old.

Spike has no time for Angel’s guilt. He thinks Angel would be better off “letting it go,” and he may be right. Angel’s guilt hurts no one but Angel. But forgiving oneself for past misdeeds isn’t just about letting go of the past. It’s also about learning from it. And that’s something Spike has yet to do.

When he confronts Dana for the second time, he fails to account for her anger and resentment. Spike may have forgiven himself for his evil past, but Dana hasn't. Even after he convinces her that he’s not the man who tortured her, she refuses to let him go. “Doesn’t matter,” she tells him. She recognizes him as William the Bloody. She knows about his crimes, and she wants to punish him. So she cuts off his hands. It’s interesting that earlier in this episode, Spike tells Angel, “I killed two Slayers with my own hands.” From Dana’s point of view, the punishment she metes out is poetic justice.

And so, 124 years after their confrontation in the mine shaft, a Slayer finally teaches Spike the lesson he refused to learn from Angelus: that life isn’t a party. Actions have consequences, and one must be prepared to live with those consequences. Spike is lucky; Fred is able to reattach his hands. Dana’s sanity cannot be so easily restored. Every monster has a maker; and while Spike didn’t make Dana, he surely made many others. He must be prepared to take responsibility for them, and for the other lives they may destroy.

Angel and Spike each have something to teach the other, about their past, and about their futures. Neither of them needs to suffer the way Angel has, full of guilt, shame and remorse; yet neither should they shirk responsibility for the crimes they’ve committed, the way Spike tried to do. Contrary to Spike’s party-hearty attitude, it does matter which side you’re fighting on. As Angel says in “Epiphany,” “I want to help, because I don't think people should suffer, as they do.” They may not be able to make up for the people they hurt back then, but they can help the people who need it now — including themselves.

 

Feed Lynne
Back to the Essay Index