In the seventeenth episode of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scoobies face the unfortunate and uncomfortable reality that Spike’s trigger is still active. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Okay, until one specific moment towards the end, this is one incredible episode of the show. Brilliantly acted, it’s exciting to watch and full of RIDICULOUS SURPRISES. While I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the ending (IT’S REALLY WEIRD), I think this was largely a very smart way to address the fact that Robin Wood needed to confront Spike about Spike’s murder of his mother.
Most of the other characters take a back seat to an episode that features Principal Wood, Giles, Spike, and Buffy. Dawn says a couple lines and gets hit in the face, Xander makes a sex joke and then never says anything else, Anya wears a really strange hat, Andrew answers the phone, the Potentials get made once, and then FRED CALLS WILLOW AND ASKS HER TO COME TO LOS ANGELES. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Are we seriously going to see Willow crossover onto Angel? CAN THIS ACTUALLY HAPPEN INSTEAD OF IT BEING TALKED ABOUT IN HINDSIGHT LIKE THE LAST TIME?
So, with all the characters getting their requisite moment of acknowledgment, “Lies My Parents Told Me” barges straight ahead with a gut-wrenching parallel between Robin Wood and Spike. WHICH IS SOMETHING I NEVER ONCE CONSIDERED. But that’s the beauty of this episode. Not once did I ever think that Spike had mother issues. I should have seen it coming, though, considering how much Spike’s trigger plot borrows from The Manchurian Candidate, a film with a similar device that also has hints towards a mother-son incestuous vibe. After spending so many episodes analyzing where Principal Wood has come from and how his relationship with his mother inspired him to become, as Giles puts it, a “freelance demon fighter,” it was refreshing to see the writers give Spike’s side attention as well. Plus, look, y’all, I’m pretty sure it’s canon around here that character parallels are like cupcakes to me: incredibly delicious. So, over the course of “Lies My Parents Told Me,” we see why Spike’s trigger affected him so viciously.
A bit on that topic: I love that the emotional basis of Spike’s trigger is discussed. It makes the idea that he was brainwashed a lot more believable, and it paints the First as far more malicious and evil than I had thought. You know, we’re told that the First is the source of all evil, but it hasn’t quite been that brutal yet. The Turok-Han was worse than the First. Still, I feel like that’s probably intentional. I’m kind of scared for what the end of this season is going to bring. I get the sense that since this is the final season, they can do anything they want with these characters.
But anyway, the true evil in this backstory of Spike’s is that the First exploited Spike’s rejection from his mother. First of all, I was UTTERLY SHOCKED by the existence of the flashback simply because I never thought I’d see William the Bloody ever again. Through these flashbacks, Spike’s behavior towards women is given a new contextualization. Seriously, how did I never once assume that Spike had issues with his mother, given how he treated Buffy and Drusilla? Even if this part of his past was never, ever planned by the writers, it actually fits remarkably well with what we know. Spike held his mother in high regard, so much so that he sired her.
What we see of Anne is terrifying, but the show purposely makes a distinction between both sides of her. She’s a loving and calm mother, appreciative of her son, but when Spike sires her, the demon within her exploits her own fears. Or Spike’s, for that matter. Whether Anne actually felt smothered herself is left open to interpretation; it’s entirely possible that her demon side simply amplified what was already the truth. Still, it’s a painful moment for Spike. Even though Drusilla expresses disappointment that Spike wants his mother to come along on their murderous adventures, she apparently let him go through with his very first siring. His plan falls apart when Anne turns on him, insulting his entire personality and then coming on to him. It’s an uncomfortable and heartbreaking scene, one that Spike finally understands because of the Prokaryote stone. All these years, Spike has believed his mother, that he’ll never be a real man, that he’ll always be weak, “limp,” and useless, and it certainly goes a long way towards explaining Spike’s hyper-masculinity. His entire persona as Spike, even if it is controlled by a demon, is influenced by this formative event. That fear of rejection and impotency is what the First exploited when it gave Spike a trigger.
While this is going down, we get to watch as Wood and Giles plot behind Buffy’s back to go after Spike and take him out of the picture. Generally speaking, it’s a complicated moral situation, but I gotta say that Giles seriously misread Buffy. Shouldn’t he be aware at this point that Buffy hates when people manipulate her? Like, that’s one of her #1 triggers ever, so I hope he’s not at all surprised that she’s super pissed at him.
In terms of Spike’s danger, it’s hard for me to say what I would do in the same situation. I don’t like the dynamic of Giles and Wood assuming they know what’s best for Buffy, but at the same time, it’s absolutely true that Spike has gotten passes from Buffy that no one else gets. When Anya went evil, Buffy impaled her! So Spike has the capacity to be a good person, but Anya does not? That inconsistency is what Giles and Wood go after, particularly Giles. It reminds me of when Giles took it upon himself to kill Ben, since Buffy couldn’t do it. Perhaps he thought this was a similar situation. Surely he could understand that this was a lot more emotional than that?
For Robin Wood, though, it was clear that this entire set-up was more about avenging his mother’s death than taking out a potential problem, though it was partially that. “Lies My Parents Told Me” opens with a HEARTBREAKING scene where Robin watches his mother get attacked by Spike. Ugh, you know it wasn’t long after that that she was killed. AND HE TOOK HER JACKET. Up until the very end of this episode, the writers never make a point to invalidate Wood’s concerns. It’s what I’ve liked about the way his character is handled. Spike killed Wood’s mother, and his anger is justified. So this is why I think the ultimate ending to this kind of misses the mark for me. Throughout all of this, Wood unknowingly unlocks the reason that Spike’s trigger works, and he essentially cures Spike. At that moment, things get… weird. Suddenly, Spike has the advantage, he’s given the proper moral standing, and the fact that Wood wanted revenge for his mother is painted as silly and immature. Even worse, Spike assures Principal Wood that his mother loved him, and Wood’s did not. He says he knows slayers, that they are solitary humans because of the nature of what they do.
Okay, what? If this is the case – if this is the lie that Wood’s parent told him – then what the fuck is Buffy? Or Faith? Throughout this series, we have seen Buffy make more than enough room to love plenty of people. ISN’T THAT THE ENTIRE POINT OF SEASON FIVE? She comes to love Dawn as her sister. Does Spike mean to suggest that this isn’t real? If he believed this, then why did he want Buffy to love him back? Even Faith, who isolates herself from everyone, could be said to love Angel for what Angel did for her. So… what? What the hell is this line? The thing is, it’s not even necessary. Spike could still have realized that he misread that situation with his mother all those years ago, and he never would have had to further insult and belittle Wood at all. This is made even worse when Buffy uses the same line his mother said to him in the cold open: “The mission is what matters.” Okay, that’s nice, but why do the writers make it feel like Wood was wrong for ever hating Spike in the first place?
It’s a confusing twist at the end of an episode I really did enjoy. It doesn’t ruin it for me, but man, now Giles and Wood are on Buffy’s bad side. YAY EVERYONE IS BACK TO FIGHTING AGAIN. Despite that, is it okay to admit I am far more excited to see more of Buffy than four straight episodes of the S.S. Nope? Perhaps Willow can cast a spell to retcon the past so that Connor/Cordelia never happened.
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