The Ship Debate: Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Edition

To ship or not to ship. That’s a debate we’ve had for many years, about many shows, many couples. And even though we here at Fangirlish agree on many things, we don’t agree on everything, and one of the things we don’t always agree on is ships.

Especially when we go way back, apparently.

But here at Fangirlish we also believe that you can ship what you ship, and you can defend what you ship, but ship arguments between friends can actually be fun and constructive. So we don’t agree on ships. Big deal. Does that mean we can’t be friends? Nope. Does that mean we’ll just change ships? Hell no.

It means we can have these fun kind of arguments.

So we’re starting here, with the first love triangle this group of ladies agreed to disagree on: Buffy/Angel vs. Buffy/Spike. Joining me this time are Gillian, Mimi, Jasmine, Amanda and Janelle. So, let’s do this!

What is it about Buffy that we’re still having these discussions over 20 years after its premiere?

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Lizzie: I think it was just a formative experience for many of us – because of when Buffy: The Vampire Slayer entered our lives, because of what she was at a point in our lives where there were really no females like her on TV, and also because of what that meant for a lot of us growing up. I have re-watched Buffy as an adult and I have found many things that I haven’t enjoyed as much as I remembered, but I have also found many things that stand the test of time, and I think the most important one is just …how Buffy made us feel, how she made me feel. Because when a show manages that, the elusive touching people, making them relate, then I don’t think, even if you go back after and realize that it wasn’t all roses, it ever loses it.

Gillian: Personally, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer was one of those formative shows for me. I think I watched my first episode (Becoming, Part 1) when I was 10 and it hooked me. On the other hand, while Joss Whedon has understandably gotten flack lately for some of his choices both personally and professionally, he always writes incredible characters. With all love triangles, they would be nothing if the characters themselves aren’t well-written and multi-faceted.

Mimi: Buffy, for me, was an instant connection to the characters and what they were going through and less about the supernatural events or “Hellmouth” upon which they lived. I loved the stories they told week after week. We all remember the Buffy losing her virginity to Angel and him turning back into a monster episode because he was truly happy.  “Becoming” part 1 & 2, as Gillian said, those episodes were very allegorical, I think I’ve re-watched the entire series more than 100X. I can quote it, I can sing along to it and I can cry and remember fondly what I was going through at the time I watched it. I am a Buffy fan for life! I even had every season on DVD at one time, BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!

Jasmine: Well for me, Buffy will always remain a classic. The Buffy: The Vampire Slayer film which was released in 1992 and starred Kristy Swanson as Buffy and the late Luke Perry as her love interest Pike, is what led me to the TV series. Many people may not even be familiar with the film because it was pretty campy but I loved it. When I first heard about the series coming out with Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, I was so excited. I watched every episode religiously and still watch reruns every now and then. I loved Buffy because she was the first kick ass female I recall watching on TV. She stood up for what she believed in and she was willing to sacrifice herself for her loved ones. I think so many people love Buffy because it wasn’t like anything that we had ever seen on TV before. The things that the kids of Sunnydale dealt with, from high school to relationship drama is something that remains relevant to this day.

Amanda: I think the reason we’re still having these discussions about Buffy twenty years later is threefold. First, because the love triangle is only the cherry on top of an already exceptional series. There’s plenty of other complex topics within the Buffyverse and surrounding Buffy herself that are passionately discussed-there’s a reason why it’s the pop culture property most written about [x]-so discussing the love triangle never feels diminishing the way it does for many other series, i.e. The Hunger Games.

Second, the love triangle between Buffy, Angel, and Spike wrote the blueprint for some of the most beloved love triangles that would come later. If, for example, you think that the love triangle between Elena Gilbert, Damon Salvatore, and Stefan Salvatore as seen in The Vampire Diaries could have existed without their predecessors, you are incorrect. Rory Gilmore, Jess Mariano, and Dean Forrester from Gilmore Girls? Same thing. This love triangle’s influence is everywhere, and thus deserves its due respect and analysis.

Thirdly, Buffy still lives on! Not long after the television Buffyverse ended in 2004 with Angel the Series’ series finale, it was picked up in comic form. These comics illustrated the adventures of the Scoobies in a world where Buffy and Faith were far from the only Slayers anymore, as initiated in Buffy’s series finale, and only concluded less than a year ago. Now, we have the rebooted Boom! Studios comics, going back to the beginning of Buffy’s journey in a way that echoes season one of the show. In the future, we are expected to see a rebooted Buffy television series with Monica Owusu-Breen at the helm. How can we expect the conversation surrounding Buffy and the love triangle to die when we’ve hardly ever been without fresh material?

Janelle: For me, Buffy was the first time I saw the witty, resilient, sexy, and marginalized hero that I was used to reading, come alive on my TV screen. There is just something about Buffy. Her fearlessness doesn’t just apply to vampires, it also applies to her own emotions. And even though she is clearly gorgeous, she isn’t objectified and made to be a sexualized teen like pretty much every other show before Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will also say that there is something about the connection between Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles that will always guide me back to this show. It’s a pure kind of friendship and nerdiness that comforted me when it first aired and comforts me still. Buffy the Vampire Slayer tells us to be who we are in capital letters, all the way to the grave.

Pick a side: Buffy and Angel or Buffy and Spike. Explain why.

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Lizzie: The answer was, back when I first fell in love with Buffy, and will forever remain Angel. I’m not usually the kind to switch OTPs in the middle of a series, and though there are many things about Buffy and Angel I understand now weren’t nearly as romantic as I imagined them to be, I always go back to “I Will Remember You,” to that one instant of happiness they had, and to two people who, maybe, loved the world way more than they loved each other at times, and were always willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of the job, whatever that was. Which, I know sounds unromantic, but in my mind, was always what made them two sides of the same coin, and the heroes of this tale.

Gillian: I’m a Buffy/Angel girl for life. It might be because of the first episode I saw, which explored his life before becoming a vampire, then getting cursed with a soul, and when he first saw Buffy as a somewhat vapid teenager who is completely unprepared for her destiny. Also, David Boreanez was really cute! (Again, I was 10)

Mimi: This is so hard. If we are starting at the beginning then I am team Angel for sure, but let’s be honest when Angel left for L.A. and left Buffy in Sunnydale, I actually liked her pairing with Spike. Their banter was delightful, they had chemistry, they had spunk, and he would check her and let her know she was wrong about people or things in a way Angel never did. I liked Spike until he tried to rape Buffy, but it was never the same after that.

Jasmine: I am and always will be team Buffy/Angel. I know he did some pretty shitty things once they had sex and he lost his soul, which still pisses me off to this very day, but I loved their chemistry. They were so passionate and their feelings for each other were INTENSE! I was sad when they weren’t together anymore and I just never got the Buffy/Spike thing. I guess it was because I always hoped Buffy and Angel would last forever.

Amanda: Buffy/Spike. Unflaggingly. No contest. There’s so many reasons why that I could probably add a dissertation of my own to the pool of academia, but I will try to be as brief as possible while still presenting my case.

There’s a video I always recommend when I get into this debate that articulates it perfectly [X]. Spike stayed, while Angel left. Soulless Spike loved that Buffy treated him like a man, while soulless Angel wanted to punish her for it. Spike gave her a reason to keep fighting-whether that came in the form of a toxic, mutual punching bag to take her frustrations out on in season six or a confidant to tenderly hold her together in season seven-while Angel left her with scars that would ultimately make fighting, make being happy, harder. Spike was visibly and lastingly devastated by Buffy’s death in season 5, only held together by his promise to take care of Dawn, while Angel, by his own admission, was okay. Spike and Buffy built up their trust in each other with every passing season, while Angel and Buffy only become more distant and unaware of what was going on in each other’s lives.

In the end, what it comes down to is this. Whether in possession of a soul or not, once Spike fell in love with Buffy, she was always his top priority. In a calling where Buffy was never able to put herself first, that’s exactly what Buffy needed. Angel wasn’t able to make the same commitment.

Janelle: I am team Buffy and Angel. Honestly, this mostly has to do with my love for television and what it was like to experience this relationship, week by week, when it first aired. It’s the best thing about vampire stories to me, just the depth of pain and longing and the abject pain of hope that is elicited by everlasting life. Being able to watch these moments and then process them at school or with my sister after watching, they made me feel alive. The twisted, sad, and sexy tale of Buffy and Angel made me fall in love with the art of television as much as it made me fall in love with them as a couple. Because of that connection, I could never NOT ship these two.

With Buffy/Angel, there was a big age difference, and also, yeah, all the things he did without his soul. Are these issues insurmountable for you? Why?

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Lizzie: No, they are not. I think there are certain lines that are personal, and it’s hard to get into the why is THIS the line you draw instead of this one without being unfair to other people’s experiences, but though the age difference is, in retrospect, more bothersome than when I first watched, and though there’s a level of what I assume is someone’s self-insert (*cough* Joss *cough*) into Angel falling in love with what is basically Buffy’s innocence, the point is the didn’t remain those people for the whole show. They grew, and their love went way beyond that first creepy feeling and developed into something real.

As for the Angelus thing, well …I always see it as, if he’d made the choice to get his soul back, as Spike did, he would have had much more control – he didn’t, and of course, he was consumed by Angelus. I don’t think in this moment he was Angel at all, and though I do agree he should still be held responsible for his actions (and he expresses remorse over them), I don’t necessarily think they mean a relationship with Buffy is off the table forever.

Gillian: Looking back now, the age difference is a bit much. But at the time of watching, it didn’t bother me. The lie of him being a college student, while still questionable, was a closer age gap so I didn’t put much thought into it. As for his previous life, I mean, he clearly felt remorse after he was cursed with a soul. He made his choice to be a better person with a soul and for the most part was.

Mimi: People need to remember that Angel was cursed by a Gypsy with his soul. He didn’t go out searching for it like Spike did. He was a vampire and he killed hundreds of people, just like Spike, until he was cursed. Spike attempted to rape Buffy and in his turmoil, for lack of a better word, went out and fought a demon to regain his soul. Also guys! Before Drusilla turned Spike into a vampire,  he was like the sweetest, nerdist, guy with a soul! Drusilla made him evil Spike. Blame Drusilla! She started all of this, with her mind reading and love triangle between Angel and Spike. Side bar: Is there going to be another thread about Dawn or Anya, Willow? I mean I know I’m veering to the left but like let’s break those characters down too. Next roundtable, Lizzie!

Jasmine: Wow Mimi, I forgot about how Spike started out so yeah screw Drusilla for what she did! I know the age gap for Buffy/Angel was pretty huge but it never crossed my mind because I was so into them falling in love that it just went to the back of my mind. Angel did do a lot of terrible things but I just can’t bring myself to not think about how much I loved him and Buffy together!! Ugh! It’s so frustrating. This literally feels like when I watched the final season of The Vampire Diaries and Stefan was doing all those terrible things!! I hated him and loved him at the same time because I kept thinking of who he was in earlier seasons. I guess that’s what I’m doing with Angel right now.

Amanda: Taking it one piece at a time, the age difference doesn’t bother me that much in and of itself. I understand that this is a vampire show, and therefore that the logistics around how to navigate age gaps are much trickier. Rather, what disturbs me are the details surrounding how Angel fell in love with a fifteen to sixteen year old Buffy. He watched her as she was first told that she was to be the Slayer at her pre-Sunnydale school. She was dressed in a daisy tank top and matching hair clips while sucking a lollipop, and he instantly fell in love with her. Angel’s attraction towards that epitome of innocence is incredibly creepy, and harkens back to Angelus.

Which brings me to the second part of the question, which is probably my simplest answer to these questions. Yes, the things Angel did without his soul are insurmountable to me. Not only did he kill Jenny Calendar, repeatedly have kinky sex with Drusilla, and try to end the world, he also inflicted irreparable psychological harm to Buffy.

Then again, so did Angel even with his soul.

Janelle: I mean, this is a show where a teacher seduces students before turning into a giant praying mantis and eating them. So, my suspension of disbelief is quite strong and it just kind of accommodates the monster, ghouls, and other problematic-if-you-think-too-hard situations. At this point, twenty years later, the main thing that would be irking my now that I never noticed then would be the complete lack of diversity on the show. Yikes!

With Buffy/Spike there was, above all things, the attempted rape. To ship them, it’s necessary to see beyond that. Can you? Why?

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Lizzie: No. This is my line, and the scene is burned in my brain in the same way traumatic events are. It was, as a kid, my first experience with trusting something and the fear that that person will be the one to hurt you. It’s a visceral reaction, and one I cannot control, and honestly have no desire to.

But above that, I don’t think it’s merely about comparing Angel to Spike and what their soulless personas did, because you could even say Spike without a soul, minus this, was better than Angel without a soul. Does this make either of them good for Buffy? Does it forgive what the other did? The answer is, of course, no. And the simple matter is that, even if I were to see Spike without a soul as a different man than Spike with one (a much different endeavor than Angel/Angelus, as they behaved so similarly), and even if I could somehow erase the visceral reaction what he tried to do to Buffy has burned into my brain, I still wouldn’t see Spike’s S7 ‘redemption’ arc as something that makes me ship him with Buffy, but as something that makes me like him, as a character.

Mimi: Ugh. It’s hard to say I ship them perse… I was definitely on board with them when it was happening, but I was also younger and less informed. I really prefer Buffy alone, or Buffy with Faith if we are being honest. Yes, Spike attempted to rape her and it was burned in my mind forever. I also remember the season that followed, and how by the end of it, they were on the same team again. You know why it’s hard? Because Sarah-Michelle and James had so much chemistry. That’s why it’s hard to hate them or not ship them. Those two were great on screen together, they really were, in a way she and David were not. It’s a different dynamic. I mean Willow killed several people, as did Anya, and like they get a pass? But Spike doesn’t? Don’t kill me, I’m just playing devil’s advocate. Listen, all the characters on Buffy were complicated and layered and that’s why we all fell in love with them. That’s what they need to a rebooting right now! I’d be so down.

Gillian: I loved Spike in season 2. He was one of my favorites. When he returned in season 4, I was excited and the chip in his head was a fun development. I didn’t mind him and Buffy but I also stopped watching during season 6 so I know I don’t have a full grasp on their relationship. But they were also built on some weird things. Spike became obsessed with her and the whole sex robot thing, yuck. And I know Buffy’s feelings for him came from the fact that she was brought back from the dead but it never felt right in my eyes.

Jasmine: I did not ship them. I will admit Spike and Buffy had some pretty hot moments together but, I just didn’t see them being together long term. That was an odd relationship to me. Maybe I need to rewatch again to see if I would feel any differently now that I’m older.

Amanda: I wouldn’t say that I see beyond that exactly. Obviously, the attempted rape had to be the end of the relationship between Buffy and the Spike that we knew. The fact that as a result he goes out to fight for his soul of his own volition is groundbreaking and, arguably, the pursuit of a death and rebirth. It’s the obtaining of that soul that makes a healthy relationship between them possible for the future, as we see hints of in season seven.

I want to close by asserting that it’s not fair to compare a soulless Spike with a souled Angel. I understand that those are the versions of each of them we are shown the most, but it isn’t a balanced argument. The question I ask is, would a soulless Angel have shown the remorse for his actions we see a soulless Spike exhibit?

Janelle: I can’t see beyond the manipulation and toxic desire that is key to Buffy and Spike’s ship. The attempted rape is the culmination of that obsessive and controlling lust. It does prevent me from shipping them, but honestly, the mind control stuff alone would probably prevent me from shipping them. I will say, at the time I felt differently because I had much less informed shipping glasses.

Who do you ship with Buffy? Or is the answer neither? Share with us in the comments below!


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