Female/Male Fatales in BTVS & ATS
by Shadowkat (www)

[1]This essay focuses on the roles of the fatal and how the traditional view of the fatal is subverted in the cult television shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Btvs) and Angel The Series (Ats).  It also deals with the functions of fatales in other popular culture mediums including comic books, pulp fiction, and film noir. Film noir, according to Dale E. Ewing Jr. in his essay Film Noir: Style and Content, was first coined by French critics in an attempt to describe the dark nihilistic films coming out of Hollywood in the 1940s and early ‘50s, which had strong underpinnings in both the literary gothic tradition and hardboiled mystery novels. (73) While other scholars have briefly touched on how Btvs (most notably Thomas Hibbs essay Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Feminist Noir) and Ats (Slain’s essay Are you Noir or Have you Ever Been ), are influenced by the noir genre, they do not directly address how the series subverts or expands on noir themes. So I will only briefly mention them here as additional sources the Buffy scholar can consult regarding the relationship between Btvs and Ats with the noir genre but not as support for anything in this essay. Of the two essays, I highly recommend Slain’s Are you Noir or Have you Ever Been, which does an in depth analysis on how Angel the Series fits the noir model.

[2] Introduction: What is the fatal and their overall function in the narrative?

French critics first coined the term “fatal” to describe the female antagonist/romantic foil in hardboiled 1930s and 1940s films. Later, this term enveloped the male antagonist/romantic foil in gothic fiction and fantasy.  The fatal is defined as “an irresistibly attractive character who leads the protagonist (hero/heroine) into danger”.
(Marling 1, Mills 1)  This character is often the protagonist’s romantic interest or foil.  Traditionally the protagonist’s involvement with the fatale “may range from mild flirtation to passionate sex, but in the denouement s/he must reject or leave the fatal, for the revealed plot shows the fatale to be one of the causes of the crime or horror”. (Marling 1).  In very few cases does the hero end up with the fatale or share the fatale’s fate.

[3]  Fatales in popular fiction and cinema have a wide range of roles - anything from provider of uncomfortable truths, damsels, romantic foils to unpredictable villains. They can often serve the purpose of being the hero/heroines one true confidante - the one person the hero can reveal their sins to without feeling ashamed, because the fatale has often done something far worse. The fatale may also free the hero/heroine to express their best or worst qualities and is often sought out romantically by the hero/heroine when the hero/heroine is at their lowest emotional point.

[4]  Examples of famous fatales include: Phyllis in Double Indemnity , Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and Rita Hayworth’s characters in Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai. More recent television fatales, again mostly female, include: Xena from The Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Juliette the female vampire and club owner in Forever Knight, and Lilah in Angel The Series. Recent male fatales in genre television would be Ares in Xena Warrior Princess, Spike and Angel respectively in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Without exception all of these characters had at some point engaged in romantic flirtation with the hero, some may have even consummated that in a passionate relationship only to be rejected by the hero and cast off in some manner towards the end.

[5]  Fatal as Sex Object

The fatal must be sexually attractive to the hero/heroine and more often than not the writers/filmmaker will focus attention on the blatant sexuality of the fatale. If female - we’ll see lots of leg, bust, etc. Example in Double Indemnity - the filmmaker focused the camera on Phyllis’ ankle bracelet. When she enters the first frame, we watch the camera slowly pan up from her ankle to her face, emphasizing that piece of naked flesh which in 1940s cinema was quite risqué. (Davenport 1: “Dangerous Because of Her Sexuality”) Today it would be a naked breast or she would be exposing her bare back. In the Robert Mitchum film classic Out of The Past - the camera spent time focused on Kathie Moffet’s (played by Jane Green) bust. We the viewers saw her from the perspective of the hero, in Out of the Past  - the private dick, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), in  Double Indemnity, the crooked insurance salesman, Walter Neff ( Fred McMurray).  In Ats, the character of Lilah, a wicked female attorney who continuously is shown tempting Angel, the show’s anti-hero detective, into doing nasty deeds - is often seen wearing outfits that emphasize her legs. We see her through the eyes of the male protagonists - first Angel then his friend and colleague, Wesley. Lilah usually wears a short skirt, an open shirt, or tight slacks. The camera will pan her length emphasizing her curves and physical appeal.  In Btvs  - Spike, a vampire who has fallen in love with a vampire slayer and was once amongst the show’s principal villains, is often seen wearing nothing but a silver necklace around his neck. His chest is repeatedly and often blatantly emphasized. Adorning jewelry is often used to heighten the effect or show him as decidedly wicked, just as it is used on Phyllis, the temptress in Double Indemnity, as the camera focuses on her ankle bracelet. When Angel, a vampire, was the fatal in Btvs, he often had his shirt off, an elaborate tattoo emphasized on his shoulder to demonstrate his wickedness and unsuitability for the heroine. Like Spike, Angel was bare-chested whenever Buffy came into his living quarters.   In Innocence S2  Btvs, shortly after Angel has slept with the heroine and lost his soul, we see him with nothing but a sliver chain and black leather pants. His pants were tight often leather, and the camera repeatedly emphasized how “hot” he was in comparison to the other male leads. Buffy’s other male friends, Xander, OZ, and Giles, humans, seldom if ever had their shirts off or wore jewelry or tattoos. The rare moments that Xander is shown shirtless are for comic effect - in Go Fish S2 Btvs,  where he wears a speedo, in Nightmares S1 Btvs, where he finds himself in nothing but boxers in front of his peers, and in First Date S7 Btvs where he is hanging above the seal to the Hellmouth. The heroine is not shown lusting after “good” friend Xander, rather she’s shown lusting after the dark twisted vampire fatales.

[6] The fatale’s dark sexuality psychologically expresses the protagonist’s own fears of sexuality and their need to control or repress it. (qtd. in Davenport : “Dangerous Because of Her Sensuality” ) The more exposed s/he is, the more tempted and repressed the hero. In Season 2, Btvs - we see this need to control or repress sexuality in how the fatal literally turns on the heroine after they make love, while in Season 6, the need for control is shown by the brutal sexual acts between the two characters culminating in sexual violence by season’s end. In Btvs’ sixth season viewers noted and often complained that Buffy, the heroine, remained fully clothed or covered in her scenes with Spike, while Spike is either nude or bare-chested. The most we saw of Buffy was her bare shoulders or ankles. Spike, we often saw everything but his rear end and genitalia, which were cleverly obscured by camera angles. (Smashed, Wrecked, Gone, Dead Things, and As You Were S6 Btvs)  In film, the femme fatal is often the nude party while the male is fully clothed. An example is Body Heat, where we glimpse the wicked female,  Kathleen Turner’s, breasts and naked form, but very little of the hero, William Hurt.  The fatal is shown free in their nakedness, unabashed, seductive, almost as if they are taunting the hero. Asking what the hero is so afraid of.  When the fatal and hero/heroine become sexually involved - the fatal is often the seducer, the betraying party and the one who pays for the act. The fatale takes on the sins while the hero remains pure. (Davenport 1: “The Femme Fatal is Punished”; Blazer 4)

[7] Subversion of the Fatale’s Role in The Narrative

In Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Btvs) and Angel The Series (Ats) the writers subvert the idea of the fatal - they follow it up to a point then do the opposite from the standard formula.  This is in part because Btvs is a satire of the traditional horror and noir genres. Satires by their very nature invert and subvert the rules, simultaneously making fun of and honoring the genre they are based on.  Instead of having the fatal die a villain, the writers of Btvs and Ats often attempt to redeem him or her. The fatal may even evolve from fatal to being an anti-hero, as is seen by the character of Angel jumping from fatal status on Btvs to anti-hero status on Ats, a pattern that was previously set by the pop culture series Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Xena Warrior Princess. In those two cult television dramas, the femme fatale left Hercules and started her own series as the hero. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has begun this evolution with another character - Faith and may be doing it with Spike as well.

[8]  Female/Femme Fatal vs. Male/Homme Fatal

Angel The Series (Ats) in keeping with the classic tradition in which it is based (film noir) does not always subvert the fatal.  In some ways it has played out both the traditional and subverted versions, updating the genre that it bases itself upon in the process.  But as I will explore in the sections that follow, the way it does subvert this classic formula is in the way it rewards the fatal for keeping her power and punishes her when she lets it go. Flipping traditional gender themes and roles in noir films on their head as seen through the development and paths of the following female characters: Cordelia, Darla, Lilah, Gwen, and Fred.

[9] Buffy The Vampire Slayer  (Btvs) plays out the same formula but in regards to the homme fatal, which has a somewhat different path in visual narratives than the femme.  In Btvs, after the fatal becomes sexually involved with the heroine and turns wicked, instead of killing them, the writers start the process of redeeming the fatale.  While the femme fatal is rarely allowed to live or be redeemed, the homme fatal not only gets to live, he also gets a second chance with the heroine and the possibility of being redeemed through her acknowledgment of his good deeds.  This appears on its surface to be a classic subversion of the traditional role of the fatal - but if you look over the homme’s role as fatal in classic literature, specifically romantic and gothic works, (Marling 1) you’ll notice the homme fatal often has a more positive fate than the femme fatal of noir fiction. Possibly because the fatal role was in a sense created with the female in mind and as a reaction against female empowerment?

[10]  Examples of classic homme fatals include Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff of the Bronte Sisters novels. Or the fate of poor Mr. De Winter, the brooding lead and possible murderer, in Daphne DeMaurier’s classic Rebecca. All three men survive and are at some point reunited with their ladyloves. The only one that appears to be somewhat doomed is possibly Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. The film director, Alfred Hitchcock played around a bit with homme fatales as well - in Spellbound, we have the amnesia victim, Gregory Peck, who could be a murderer and leading poor Ingrid Bergman astray. We learn later that he’s just misunderstood and she helps him get to the root of it, in effect saving him.  Or Cary Grant’s character in Suspicion whom poor Joan Fontaine becomes convinced is trying to kill her.  Both characters are redeemed in the end by their ladyloves.

[11] This not always the case of course, there are instances in popular culture and literature, especially science fiction, neo female noir, and horror, where the male fatal cannot be redeemed and dooms the female heroine. Some of these aren’t true fatales so much as villains and include such characters as the Cardassian villain of Star Trek’s DS9, GulduKat, who seduces the female heroine Kira as well as the audience, yet remains to his dying day a sadistic if somewhat seductive villain. Others include Count Dracula, who seduces the lovely Mina Harker in Bram Stoker’s classic, or David Hanover, a seductive serial rapist, in Lizzie Borden’s Love Crimes. I will explore these themes in greater depth through the characters of Spike and Angel in Part II of this essay.  Two characters who are in many ways subversions of the male fatal noir and gothic character arcs mentioned above.

[12] Through exploring the paths of the male and female fatales in Ats and Btvs - I hope to examine how the fatal works in the overall narrative structure and what if anything the evolution/subversion of the role implies about our own changing views regarding gender and gender politics. The last part will be more implicit since my knowledge of gender politics outside of purely personal experience can be placed in the space of what amounts to a thimble.

[13] Part I: The Subverted Role of Femme Fatal in Angel The Series

Darla and Lilah - The Subversion of the Traditional Femme Fatale

In Angel the Series , Darla and Lilah follow similar arcs, moving gradually from the role of antagonist, to sex partner, to informant, to damsel, to death.  Their redemption, if it comes at all, is through their deaths or damsel status. They end the same way as most of the traditional femme fatales do -either killed by someone else or by their own hand.

[14] Lilah: Femme Fatal as Working Class Icon or The Girl Can Take Care of Herself

Lilah’s arc is the same as the femme fatales in the classics - most notably Jane Greer (Kathie Moffett) in the 1947’s Robert Mitchum classic Out of the Past - she becomes romantically linked to the hero, but at the same time kills her opponents and threatens his life.  Both women are smart, savvy, and shown as sexual predators. They don’t need men to protect them. Actually someone should probably protect men from these tigers.

[15]Several of Jane Greer’s scenes from Out of the Past can be paralleled with Lilah’s in Angel the Series. Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), the anti-hero, first encounters Kathie in a café just as Angel first encounters Lilah in a lounge area above a gladiator pit (The Ring, Ats S1) or Wes encounters her in a bar where she seductively whispers in his ear (A New World Ats S3).  Later in Out of the Past, Kathie slaughters two men, just as Lilah slaughters Linwood in the S4 Ats episode Deep Down. (Mills 4) In most of Out of the Past we remain uncertain about Bailey’s fate as we remain uncertain of Wesley’s in the beginning of Season 4 Ats. Will they wind up with the fatal, doomed? Of course not, the femme fatal is doomed to failure. Both Kathie and Lilah meet nasty ends.

[16]Lilah is introduced in typical femme fatal fashion, a workingwoman, a high paying job, working for a larger company, and will literally do anything to get what she wants. She’s the independent woman with power, which in the 1930s and 1940s was looked at with fear and disdain. (Cobb 212; Davenport: “Film Noir & Femme Fatale: Introduction”)  Michael Mills in his essay “High Heels on Wet Pavement”, describes Kathie Moffet from Out of the Past as the “real deal”, her sexiness is derived from “sheer cunning” (3), not from the mere presentation of her body, but from her actual attitude and independence. According to Mills, Kathie was the perfect on-screen persona of the post-war desolation angle (4), just as Lilah can be seen as the perfect on-screen persona of the post-modern femme fatal - the female attorney who kills to get to the top of the corporate ladder. Both are smart, savvy, independent women, who cunningly use the male anti-hero to further their own ends.  John Blazer echoes this view in “No Place for a Woman: the Femme Fatale”,

…the dominant image of the fatal is one against the traditional family and woman’s place in society. Noir films create the image of the strong, unrepressed woman, then attempt to contain it by destroying the femme fatale or converting her to traditional womanhood. (3-4)

In noir, workingwomen do not succeed; their jobs and solo enterprises are seen as nefarious.  For example in James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, the single working woman pushes her way through the depression, makes a success of herself, only to find herself back-stabbed by a scheming daughter and ex-lover.  Lilah in Ats, is a successful woman who has literally slaughtered her way to the top of the lawyer food chain. Her associates, Lindsey and Gavin, are depicted as relatively tame in comparison, poor deluded saps who either finally see the light and get the heck out of dodge or end up beheaded zombies. (Dead End S2 Ats and Habeas Corpses S4 Ats)  Lilah ends up joining the good guys, her law firm slaughtered, her home in ruins, and wounded by the Beast. (Cavalry Ats S4) A somewhat reluctant helper, providing information and unwanted advice, she is eventually murdered by the Gal Friday-turned-fatale, Cordelia.  Lilah’s end comes in typical fatale fashion, without fan fair and without redemption. In noire neither the hero nor the fatal are redeemed. The most the hero may expect is to get out of the experience alive. Such is the case for Wes and Lilah’s romance. Lilah is killed. Wes grieves for her, his grief though appears to be more for his inability to save her than for any real relationship he had with her. She almost brought him to ruin, he pulled out of it and hoped he could pull her out as well. His inability to do so, motivates him to go and try to save others, leaving Lilah a decapitated corpse. (Salvage S4 Ats)  The girl who could take care of herself - is shown falling victim to that very conceit. Left alone in the Hyperion with the newly evil Gal Friday and the newly evil anti-hero, she is quickly and efficiently dispatched by them both. (Cavalry S4 Ats)

[17] Lilah’s ending is in some ways a commentary on the typical ending of fatales - in 1940s and ‘30s films they often met this type of end. Walter Neff, the insurance salesman at the end of Double Indemnity discovers the calculating Phyllis isn’t the submissive helpless woman she pretended to be, like in “his pre-war fantasies”,  she is justifiably and rather fatally punished.  “Phyllis is put in her place, although rather fatally, just as men returning home from World War II may have wished women in the workplace would remain in the home.” (Davenport: “Reasoning Behind the Femme Fatale”)  In Ats, Wesley discovers that Lilah is not the strong, man-eating, lawyer she pretends to be and Gal-Friday Cordelia justifiably and rather fatally punishes her. (Cavalry S4 Ats) It’s Lilah’s momentary weakness and willingness to trust that proves fatal to her in Ats while it is Phyllis’ calculating independence that proves fatal in Double Indemnity. One is a commentary on modern audience’s views regarding successful women and one is a commentary on the pre-war audience’s fantasies.

[18] Darla: Femme Fatale as Damsel - Can I Save Her From Herself?

Dashielle Hammett who created the pulp fiction version of the femme fatale in his works, The Maltese Falcon  and That Dain Curse  amongst others, had fatales that the hero frantically desired to save from their own worst impulses. ‘If I can just save her, purge her of her demon addiction, perhaps I can save my own soul.’ This being noir, it never quite works out that way. Usually the hero ends up on the verge of losing his soul to the fatale and escapes just in the nick of time. In Ats, the vampire Darla, Angel’s sire and first lady love, is brought back from the grave as a human being by the evil lawyers, Wolfram & Hart. (To Shanshue in LA Ats S4) Angel frantically tries to save the human Darla in the hopes that by doing so, he may somehow redeem himself or his feelings for her. In Btvs, he had killed her to save Buffy (Angel, S1 Btvs).  In Ats, he is faced with the prospect of having her die of syphilis, the disease she had as a human when the Master sired her ages ago. (Darla, Ats S2) Darla, fearing death, requests that Angel turn her into a vampire and even goes hunting for another vampire to sire her when he refuses. Angel kidnaps her, trying to keep her from giving up her soul for eternal life a second time. (The Trial, Ats S2) In That Dain Curse, Gabrielle Dain belongs to a cult, uses drugs, and has small, pointed ears and teeth. In one scene she actually drinks blood from one of her victims and in another is shown addicted to morphine.(Marling 1) The hero kidnaps and imprisons her to cure her of delirium tremens and lust, just like Angel kidnaps and attempts to imprison Darla. Gabrielle Dain has killed numerous people and the hero is desperately attempting to save her from her own worst impulses.  Raymond Chandler creates a similar fatale in  The Big Sleep, Carmen Sternwood - who almost fatally distracts his hero Philip Marlow.  In Ats, Darla poses a similar threat to Angel’s well being.

[19]After under-going a series of dangerous trials, Angel succeeds in convincing Darla to not become a vampire and this time just die a normal death, her soul intact. Just as Darla decides to do this, Angel’s worst crime comes back to haunt him, his immortal daughter Drusilla is brought by Wolfram and Hart to sire Darla in front of Angel’s eyes. (The Trial, Ats S2)  He can do nothing but watch. Crushed by his failure to save Darla, he spins out of control and in a sense briefly succumbs to Darla and Drusilla’s will. He assists them in their revenge on the lawyers that used them. Locking them in a room with their human prey. (Reunion - Redefinition Ats S2) He also half-rapes, half-seduces a sex-obsessed vampire Darla. Knocking her through a window and engaging her in violent sex, which they both assume will cause him to lose his soul, instead he ends up impregnating her with one. (Reprise Ats S2) This horrible act ironically frees them both. Unlike Gabrielle Dain or Carmen Sternwood, Darla is in a sense redeemed through her sexual relations with the anti-hero. By succumbing to her charms - Angel hits rock bottom, takes Darla with him, and they both eventually break free of their addictive cycle. If Philip Marlow had succumbed to Carmen, he’d have been shot and killed by the end of The Big Sleep. (Marling 1) Angel succumbs to Darla and ends up rejoining the world and his friends.  Angel leaves Darla, saves his friend Kate from suicide, rejoins his friends, and works to do good again. (Reprise-  Epiphany S2 Ats) Darla, several episodes later, discovers herself impossibly pregnant with a human child. (Offspring, Ats S3).   Re-ensouled by the child, Darla finds herself back on the path of redemption, slowly breaking her dependency on human blood and showing her remorse for past sins.   She eventually stakes herself so that her child can live in the episode Lullaby Ats S3.   Her death or sacrifice unlike Gabrielle Dain or Carmen Sternwood’s signifies her redemption. Yet it is not through her love of the anti-hero that she is redeemed so much as it is through the love of her child.   She does not sacrifice herself for Angel nor does she declare her love for him. No, the only thing she admits to ever loving is the unborn child she carries. She sacrifices her life for his and by doing so, is redeemed.  This is another clever yet subtle inversion of the theme, the femme fatale is not saved by the hero, nor is she punished for her addictions and sexual perversions, instead she is saved by her love of her child.

[20]  In classic noir films - the good mother was often the redemptive choice for the anti-hero. At the end of the film, the hero would leave the fatale behind and fall into the arms of the good mother. For example in Fritz Lange’s Metropolis, workers are seduced by the fatale robot Maria into destroying their city, yet eventually fall back into the arms of the pure good mother Maria, who reunites them with their boss. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Frederic March 1931 version, Muriel the pure “good mother” is contrasted with the evil Ivy who unleashes Hyde with her poison ring. (Ursini 224-225, 228). The good mother is in short the sunlit maiden that the anti-hero contrasts with his evil dark seducer, the fatale.  In contrast, the sexual relationship between the fatale and the hero, which is an impossibility at the beginning of the film, turns into a possibility at the end and the means to mutual destruction. (Davenport - “Film Noir and Femme Fatal: Introduction”) The hero is only saved by the fatale’s death and the good mother’s acceptance.

[21] In Angel the Series - the sexual interaction between Darla and Angel ironically leads to both characters salvation - with Angel breaking his dark cycle and Darla regaining a soul. The fatal, Darla, literally becomes the good mother, who kills herself in front of Angel’s eyes to save their child, handing him a purpose to continue his good works as well as an example on how to pursue them.(Lullaby Ats S3) Love = Sacrifice = Redemption, she seems to say. This is a subversion of the classic noir view, where the fatale views family, children and husbands as a cage, an anathema.  She rebels against the concept of the family and remains independent of it, accepting death over that alternative. Darla similarly accepts death over family, but not as a means of remaining independent of it nor as a negative view of it - but rather as a means of ensuring it, honoring it. If she lived, her child would die. By dying, she honors the families she once devoured as a vampire. In a sense she does the opposite of the classic fatale, she sacrifices her life to ensure children and family. Ironic, since her existence as a vampire was the antithesis of that - as a soulless vampire, Darla despised family and marriage and sought to destroy it. Ensouled she chooses the reverse. Or rather her son’s soul enables her to choose the reverse.

[22] Cordelia: Flipping Fatal and Gal Friday

The character of Cordelia starts out her role on Angel the Series as the gal Friday, the charming secretary who keeps the anti-hero in line. Thelma in The Philip Marlow novels. She never sleeps with the hero. He barely acknowledges her existence sexually, way too enthralled with the sexy femme fatales wandering about. She acts in some ways like a perky sidekick. Offering advice, keeping him focused on the mission and saving him from his darker impulses whenever necessary.

[23]Cordelia is a major subversion of the femme fatal concept in that she started out as the innocent good girl Friday, whom until fairly recently the hero would never think of sleeping with, and over time slowly became the “femme fatale”, evil and wicked, pushing a male hero towards a dark path. It is interesting to note by the way, that it wasn’t until Cordy began to move towards this path, that she became sexually alluring to the male characters. Prior to S4 Ats, Cordelia really isn’t shown as a sexual entity, oh we have the bikini scene at the start of the Pylea Arc in Season 2 (Belonging S2 Ats)  and the relationship with the Grooslauge. (Couplet, The Price, A New World S3 Ats) But we don’t see her having sex with anyone or wearing sexual outfits until she has turned to the dark side. It’s not until Apocalypse Nowish S4 Ats that Cordy is seen having sex with another character - in this case the hero’s son, a virgin lad, who appears to be seducing her when it is actually the other way around. Also in Awakenings S4 Ats, we get the first scene of Cordelia and Angel truly making love - an act while pure fantasy causes the loss of Angel’s soul. Just as her act with Angel’s son causes a sizable rift to occur between father and son.

Throughout the first three seasons, Cordelia is compared to the fatales Lilah and Darla.

[24] Lilah and Cordelia : The Independent Woman and Gal Friday

Cordy - who wishes to be her own independent woman, a working gal, is seen at first envying Lilah then grateful she didn’t go down Lilah’s path. As she states to Lilah in Billy S3 Ats: “I used to be you, but with better shoes.” Lilah is everything that Cordelia could have become - self-absorbed, financially successful, anything for fame, fortune and the almighty dollar. Lilah in some ways is Cordelia, Btvs Season 1, and completely and utterly alone. Lilah exudes sex appeal while Cordelia seems almost awkward with it in Ats, a major change from Btvs where Cordy flaunted it.  Lilah is Cordelia’s foil, her dark side.

[25]By season 4, the dynamic begins to shift slightly, Lilah becomes more and more dependent on the Angel Investigations team to save her and Cordelia becomes more and more adrift from them. (Habeas Corpses, Cavalry S4 Ats) Cordy no longer wants saving, if anything she is starting to take over Lilah’s manipulative role. It is now Cordelia who is manipulating the gang and Lilah who is running from the Beast and vampires. The final shift occurs when Cordelia literally murders Lilah and metaphorically takes Lilah’s former place in the story. Lilah must die in order for Cordelia to take over her role as the femme fatale - the seductive dark female - complete in her dark gown and sexual damnation. (Cavalry S4 Ats)

[26]  By having the Gal Friday take over the Sexy Independent Femme Fatale role, the writers have effectively inverted the classic noir formula. Cordelia is punished not by being the independent, resourceful woman, but by buying the hero’s mission hook line and sinker. Classic noir - the woman is punished for being independent and resourceful and rewarded for following the hero. (Covey 319; Davenport - “Reasoning Behind the Femme Fatal”) Here it is the reverse, by giving up her own life to be part of his. In Season 2 and 3 Ats, Cordelia is given two chances to pursue a life separate from Gal Friday and the Visions. The first is in Pylea where Groo offers to remove her visions and take them on himself. (There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb, S2 Ats) She turns him down, not wishing to give up her role at Angel Investigations. The second is in Birthday S3 Ats, where Cordelia, dying of visions, is given a choice to either pursue her own career path as an actress or become half-demon and keep the visions. She sacrifices herself to the second path as all good Gal Fridays should. In return for this sacrifice - she is shaded in white light, glows, elevates and appears to ascend to a higher place. (Birthday - Tomorrow Ats S4) But the audience and the character are misled. The writers have not rewarded her, they’ve punished her for choosing to kow-tow to the hero. By choosing to kow-tow to the hero’s mission, giving up her own hopes and dreams - Cordelia ends up becoming the very thing she hated, the fatale and her fate is to be engulfed by her own child, all semblance of her former self twisted and gone due to her faithful following of the mission. (Inside Out Ats S4)

The Ats writers don’t stop with the independent woman archetype, they continue this theme with the good mother.

[27] Darla and Cordelia: The Good Mother  - Flipping Fatal and The Good Mother (Genteel)

Cordelia is shown early on in Season 3 as a better mother than Darla. When she attempts to help Darla, comforts her, Darla goes for Cordy’s jugular. (Offspring, Ats S3). After Darla dies for her child, it is Cordelia who changes the child, Connor’s, diapers and holds him and rocks him. Cordelia becomes his surrogate mother. (Dad - Couplet S3 Ats) Connor is kidnapped when Cordelia is away on vacation. (Loyalty - Sleep Tight S3 Ats) And when Connor returns, it is Cordelia who wipes his pain away. She is dressed in white robes and literally glows when he sees her - the good mother personified, holy and nourishing. (A New World S3 Ats.) Darla by contrast is a vampire, dressed in dark clothes, seen in S3 drinking the blood of innocent children, violent. (Offspring-Quickening S3 Ats) Her child eventually changes her into a better person, one willing to stake herself to save his life. (Lullaby S3 Ats.) Cordelia starts out wonderful, but once impregnated, becomes the embodiment of evil. Cordelia’s motherhood changes her into a blood drinking, evil monster, who kisses the Beast and desires an innocent girl’s blood in order to have her child. (Apocalypse Nowish -  Inside Out S4 Ats.) Unlike Darla, Cordy doesn’t sacrifice herself to have her child - she sacrifices someone else.

[28]The irony is that Cordy requests the blood of an innocent to have her child while Darla, a vampire, takes her own life to have hers. The two archetypes, gentile good mother and fatal are flipped. Cordelia seduces the virginal son, Connor, in order to give birth to a child or god. (Apocalypse Nowish Ats S4) Angel pseudo-rapes Darla, and accidentally impregnates her - to give birth to Connor. (Reprise Ats S2)  Cordelia and Connor’s sex is shown as almost romantic, under the sheets, not rough, soft, passionate, while Darla and Angel’s sex is rough and violent. Both Darla and Cordelia technically sleep with their surrogate children. Angel is Darla’s vampire child - the one she gave birth too ages ago with her blood. (Becoming Part I, Btvs S2, The Prodigal Ats S1, & Darla Ats S2) Connor is Cordelia’s surrogate child, the one she adopted from Darla’s ashes. (Lullaby Ats S3) By sleeping with their sons, they become impossibly and mystically pregnant. And their pregnancies change them to reflect the souls of their children. Darla becomes the good mother, Cordelia the femme fatale. Cordelia is in a sense punished for wanting to protect her family at all costs while Darla is redeemed for it.

[29]  In case the audience doesn’t catch the significance of this comparison, the writers bring Darla back to attempt to convince her son Connor to go against Cordelia’s wishes and not sacrifice an innocent life. In Inside Out Ats S4, Darla, the evil vampire who had eaten millions of innocent lives, resurfaces in an attempt to tell her son not to spill innocent blood for his unborn child. His soul ironically made it possible for her to attempt to convey this message to him, just as it is his child’s soul that makes it possible for Cordelia to kill the innocent girl when he refuses to do so himself. Cordelia tells him Darla is lying to him and he believes her, he allows himself to succumb to the fatale and by doing so, is punished in classic noir fashion. But the twist is that the fatale was the gal Friday, the good mother…while his vampire mother is the one attempting to save him and in classic good mother/Gal Friday fashion - fails.

[30] Flipping Damsel/Gal Friday and The Fatal: Fred and Gwen

Winifred (Fred) is introduced as a fairly self-sufficient heroine in the Pylea arc, quirkily brilliant, she successfully aids Angel in escaping from the Pylean world. (Over The Rainbow, Through The Looking Glass, There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb, S2 Ats)  She’s not so much a damsel in that three-episode arc and as a fellow comrades in arms. Fred risks her life attempting to save Cordy from demon slaveholders and Angel risks his in saving Fred. Fred in typical Gal Friday fashion returns the favor by saving Angel. She also forms an odd attachment to him, which starts out as a romantic infatuation and gradually becomes friendship.  Her arc with Gunn is quite different, they grow from friends to lovers - Gunn sees Fred as the Innocent Girl, the Gal Friday, and the sidekick, who can kick ass by his side. He, also in typical hero fashion, swears to protect her no matter what - to the extent of breaking up with her in Double or Nothing Ats S3 to prevent the soul-collector from taking her soul instead of his. Up until Season 4 Ats, Fred like Cordelia fits the typical Gal Friday role model - she sneers at the fatal Gwen, who unlike Fred wears spandex and slinks across the screen cat-like in hot red skin-tight clothes. (Ground State S4 Ats, Long Day’s Journey, S4 Ats) Fred wears far less form fitting outfits and her hair is less free-flowing and wild, brown and straight down her back. Gwen’s is a dark unruly mass of curls highlighted with neon red.

[31]Gwen in looks and deeds practically screams the fatale archetype. Get too close to me and, zap, you are dead. She’s a bit like the comic book fatales Catwoman and Electra, lady thieves, who threaten to take the male hero down with them. Catwoman threatens on numerous occasions to bewitch and destroy the besotted Batman. A lady thief with devilish ways and a black spandex costume, Catwoman slinks across the Gotham city rooftops in Frank Miller’s nourish Batman Year One. Or the lady Electra described in Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics as an assassin who shadows her lover, the anti-hero vigilante, Daredevil, believing wrongly that he killed her industrialist father. Gwen equally has a tragic past, cursed with a talent that makes it impossible for her to touch people without killing them, she lives in an isolated cavernous compound with luxurious works of art that she has stolen. (Ground State S4 Ats and Long Day’s Journey, S4 Ats) She wears long gloves and engages in witty repartee. But one touch of her hand and she stops your heart.

[32]  Gunn learns this the hard way in Ground State S4 Ats - where Gwen’s touch literally kills him for ten minutes. It also inevitably brings him back to life. She can stop and jump-start his heart as if it were no more than an electrical battery. Fred holds the same power, but in a far more metaphorical sense. Gunn’s love for Fred, leads him to stop his heart and kill Professor Seidel - an act he comments on several episodes later in Sacrifice S4 Ats- about having to turn off his emotions in order to kill for her and how she so easily did it before he even gave thought to it. It is Fred who leads Gunn to commit murder in Supersymmetry S4 Ats. Just as it is Fred who almost leads Gunn to attack and kill his best friend Wes in Soulless S4 Ats. Fred, the gal Friday, has in effect become the traitorous fatale leading Gunn to commit acts he’d prefer not to. Like Walter Neff of Double Indemnity, once he does commit the murder, he becomes persona non-gratis with his ladylove, she stops being the submissive Gal Friday he thought he loved.

[33]  Gwen in contrast appears on the surface to be leading Gunn astray, but isn’t. In the episode Players S4 Ats, we believe Gwen has an ulterior motive regarding Gunn, one that will lead to his downfall. The opposite of what we believed about Fred. But, in fact, Gwen merely wishes to find a way to connect to others. She does set Gunn up in the episode - using him as a distraction to steal a valuable electronic device. When he catches her - she tells him it is a type of covert mechanism, designed to monitor skin temperature and body waves and being developed by arms dealers to sell to the highest bidder. The owner is using it for evil ends. Her client’s ends, she claims, aren’t so evil. Gunn, purely by accident, discovers that she’s not stealing the device, called LISA, for another client but for herself. It’s not for money or as a weapon, but as a means to short-circuit and monitor her own powers. To make it possible for her to connect with another human being without killing them. Gwen’s nefarious purpose is to keep herself from taking lives - Gunn by helping her, inadvertently saves lives as well. Instead of taking the hero down with her, Gwen uplifts him. After the episode, Gunn returns to AI reinvigorated, appreciative of life, no longer feeling lost. While after Supersymmetry S4 Ats, when he killed Seidel for Fred, he is anything but invigorated. He’s lost and feels disconnected from everything.

[34] Fred becomes the fatale leading Gunn to do horrible acts while Gwen becomes the redemptive damsel leading Gunn to re-connect with his humanity. Gwen is the self-sufficient, independent woman with her own gig and own place. Fred is the sidekick who must be part of the group and whose mission is in effect someone else’s. It’s really not until Fred is forced to break away from AI and set her own course - that Gunn and Fred end up re-bonding on some level. Their best and most insightful talk may actually be in Sacrifice S4 Ats, where Fred informs Gunn that it is better to feel pain than to be an empty shell and admits to feeling pain with him for killing Seidel. “It eats at me inside, too,” she declares. “We killed Seidel,” not just you, she tells him. (Sacrifice S4 Ats) Fred has not taken the path of other fatales completely, she takes responsibility for the crime; she doesn’t shirk it off or the pain of remorse that comes with it. She is punished for the crime but not in typical fatale fashion, her fate is not her death, but rather the loss of the love she once had with Gunn. Fred’s mistake may in a sense have been the lack of independence in dealing with Seidel - the lack of caring for others, instead she uses them and their mission to suite her desires for vengeance - an act she pays dearly for with the dissolution of relationships dear to her. (Supersymmetry - Sacrifice S4 Ats)  Gwen in contrast is rewarded for her actions and her fierce independence, her fate a night of love with Gunn. (Players S4 Ats)

[35]  Angel The Series Subverts the Noir Structure to Empower the Femme Fatal

In Angel the Series, like most noir series, the femme fatale (always female since the male is the hero) is initially set up as sexually alluring, aggressive, manipulative, anti-family, and her goal appears to drag the male hero into her dark orbit much like a spider. If this were the typical noir film or series, the fatale would be killed after she got the male and her death would free him from his own darkness. She would be punished for her power and the hero would be left atoning for his sin of being with her. (Davenport  “The Femme Fatal is Punished”) But as explored above, Ats cleverly subverts this formula so that it is when the fatal either gives up her independent life and the power of that life, as seen with Lilah in Calvary S4 Ats or when the fatal decides to embrace motherhood as seen with Darla in Lullaby S4 Ats, that she dies. In the case of Lilah, she dies when she loses her power; in the case of Darla, she chooses her own fate, staking herself, because of her power.

[36]The writers further subvert the fatale’s role with the female characterizations of Fred, Cordelia, Lilah, and Gwen. As described in the sections above, Cordelia and Fred start out as “girl Fridays” or “innocent” characters - representing all that is wholesome about womanhood. They are in essence sidekicks. Lilah and Gwen start out as fatales, the alluring wicked female who if the guy isn’t careful could led him to his doom. By mid-season, Fred is depicted as the female who leads the character Gunn into committing murder to save/preserve her innocence. And in fact causes a potentially violent love triangle to erupt between herself, Wes, and Gunn. Cordelia is an even better example - she comes back from a mystical realm plotting and planning the hero’s downfall. Previously the hero’s confidante and virtuous love, she manipulates him into losing his soul and sleeps with his son.  Meanwhile, we discover the sexy Gwen, the red-spandexed thief in Ats, is just misunderstood - all she wants is some sort of connection. She appears to lead Gunn to do a nefarious deed, but in a classic twist merely seduces him into connecting with her and stealing the means to do so.  Gunn’s actions with Gwen, which entail stealing a potential weapon from nefarious arms dealers and helping a woman whose never been able to connect to actually connect, are far more positive than his actions regarding Fred, which entailed murder and violence. (Supersymmetry S4 Ats and Players S4 Ats.) Same with Lilah, Lilah wishes to let Angelus out of his cage in order to kill the Beast and save the world,  Cordelia wishes to let Angelus out of his cage so he will join her in plotting the world’s destruction.  When Angelus does get out - Lilah fears he will kill them all. Cordelia applauds the idea and kills Lilah, taking her place.(Calvary, Ats S4)

[37] Ats successfully subverts the traditional view of the fatale by turning the fatale into a heroine and the heroine into a fatal. The female empowerment theme gains new life by the subversion, because the fatal survives when she has power, it’s when she gives up her power that she is doomed. The reverse of the themes in classic noir films where the fatal is punished because of her power or in spite of it, only being redeemed when she allows herself to either be domesticated by the hero or gives herself up to his power. Impulse, a Neo Noir Film starring Theresa Russell, is an example of the traditional view of the femme fatale’s redemption. In this film, the working girl steals money for a better life but because of the love of a good man, returns it, joins his mission, and allows him to domesticate her, in effect giving up her power to him. (Covey 319)  In Ats, it’s when the fatal embraces her own power - as Darla does when she stakes herself to save her child (Lullaby S3 Ats) or Gwen does when she lives her own independent life and takes action to find a way to connect to others within the structures that she created, that she is redeemed. (Players S4 Ats)

[38] Part II. The Role of Male/Homme Fatal in Buffy The Vampire Slayer

In the world of neo-female noire and gothic fiction, the male becomes the fatal and the female the hero. The difference between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and most neo-female noire is Buffy is not doomed when she falls into the male fatale’s embrace instead she somehow helps him redeem himself. This in some ways is in keeping with classic gothic formulas, where the heroine’s main task is to somehow redeem the dark misunderstood brooding male. That, in a way, is the Btvs inversion the female heroine empowers the male fatale to seek his own redemption.

[39] Neo-Female Noire Homme Fatal vs. Gothic Homme Fatal

“Neo-female noire” is somewhat new to film audiences, not really making its debut until the films of the late 1980s and early 90s with Love Crimes, Siesta, Betrayed, The Morning After, Blue Steel, Black Widow, and Lady Beware. In these films the hero is female, she is usually a detective or hard-boiled investigator who comes close to falling for a male fatale that could and occasionally does destroy her. The trajectory of these films is similar to the 1940s and 1930s films with the male lead, except that the roles are reversed. (Covey 311-312)  Prior to these films, homme fatales usually just existed in gothic romance fiction and suspense. Alfred Hitchcock did flirt with them a bit in his films Suspicion, Rebecca, Psycho, and Spellbound, but in most cases, the homme fatales we saw were in stories such as Rebecca, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. They were either the villain seducing the poor innocent unknowing female as seen in Psycho, Dracula and Wuthering Heights or a misunderstood brooding male with a dark past as seen in Rebecca, Spellbound, Suspicion and Jane Eyre. If sex occurred between the heroine and the gothic fatale, it was dewy-eyed, often chastely depicted, and highly romanticized.

[40] The neo-noire fatal in comparison is usually depicted in a far more naked and realistic manner. No brooding dark hero who mysteriously helps the heroine from the sidelines or hides his own dark past, the neo-noire comes right out and tells her who and what he is. He doesn’t brood and he usually isn’t hiding behind a fairy tale curse. He may hide his villainy, but she’s more or less aware of its existence and what he is. Unlike the gothic, his redemption is less certain, less of a guarantee. He’s also much darker than the femme fatal in standard noir fiction, less appealing. Their romance is usually more sexual than romantic, raw and far darker. In Neo Noire - the sex falls into what Sharon Y. Cobb defines as noire sex in male film noirs:

“The protagonist falls in lust with the femme fatale and becomes obsessed with her. The femme fatale turns up the heat by flirting and luring the protagonist into a sexual relationship. Many New Noir films feature highly erotic ‘love scenes’ which leave the main character [and sometimes the audience] wanting more. His professional objectivity becomes increasingly compromised by obsessive thought of what his next sexual encounter will be with the woman of his fantasies.” (212).

In Female Neo Noir, the roles have flipped and we can have one of three scenarios: the homme fatale becomes obsessed with the heroine or the heroine becomes sexually obsessed with the fatal or a combination of both. Btvs in Season 6 went for a combination of both. The similarity between the gothic and neo noir fatales is that if she gives into him, she could and possibly does lose everything. But while one reveals her idealized views of herself and the world, her fantasies, the other reveals her repressed desires. One is the teenage girl’s fatale that we often find in gothic romance novels, the misunderstood hero who has a curse that causes him to turn wicked on her otherwise he’d always be at her side, the other is the woman’s fatale - the wicked romantic foil who she can never quite predict or trust and that she is allured by.

[41] In order to make the homme fatal work in genre fiction - the female hero must be more powerful than the male or at least equal to him. Buffy is clearly Spike and Angel’s match and they are hers. Being on a level playing field appears to be prerequisite. They are also on opposite sides of the law. Angel and Spike are vampires; Buffy is a vampire slayer. The conflict is obvious at the start. Both sides are caught between the love you or kill you dilemma. Both are in effect sleeping with the enemy. In this case, mortal enemy, since one wrong step and bam, you’re dead. This is a prime ingredient of noire, the possibility of the flip. As Cobb states in “Writing the New Noir Film”, “not only will the [male or female] protagonist be beguiled and betrayed by the [male or female] character, but violence, in one form or another will be the result of the two characters alliance….Sex and violence collide in the symbiotic co-dependence between [hero] and [homme] fatale.”(212) The violence must be in some way evident at the start. The risk she takes in engaging the fatale as well as the risk he takes in engaging her.

[42] The following two sections will explore the roles/functions Angel and Spike perform as fatales in Btvs.  The classic gothic male fatale and the subverted neo-female noire male fatal.  When watching Btvs, it is best to remember that it is a female coming of age story. Unlike Angel the Series, which, keeping with the themes and attitudes of classic noir, focuses on the existentialist path of a dark anti-hero and his experiences in the world, Btvs focuses on the coming of age of a girl. As a result, the fatales in Btvs, must reflect that journey. Angel as a fatal is introduced and developed during Buffy’s adolescence, her teen years where she deals with teenage hopes and dreams. Spike as a fatal is introduced during that difficult post-teen period when Buffy becomes an adult and deals with the ambiguity of post-teen twenty-something hopes and dreams. The contrast between the two is reflective of the difference between those two stages in psychological development and growing up. It is also reflective of how society views women and male/female roles during those stages.

[43]  A. Angel: Subverting The Traditional Role of the Gothic Homme Fatale

Angel in Btvs fits the classic definition of the homme fatale in gothic fiction and film. Misunderstood, brooding, potentially evil but usually due to a curse, and redeemed through the unconditional love of the heroine. The gothic male fatale populates fairy tales, fantasy and gothic fiction dating as far back as the Bronte Sisters and the Grimm Fairy Tales of early Germany. We also get him in several Alfred Hitchcock films, ranging from Daphne De Maurier’s Rebecca to Suspicion.  Max De Winter in Rebecca is portrayed as the potential murderer of his wife, his new wife must uncover whether he is a remorseless killer or a repentant lost soul cursed by an evil dead wife. Jane Eyre follows a similar pattern, the heroine must determine if her boss, Mr. Rochester, is truly an ogre or just misunderstood. In both cases, the men are redeemed by the unfailing love of the heroine/protagonist. Same thing occurs in the fairy tale Beauty and The Beast where Beauty breaks the Beast’s curse by loving him. Angel in some ways is a subversion of this theme, unlike most gothic heroes, his curse is the soul; freed from the curse he’s an evil unrepentant monster. Buffy can’t save him by loving him that only unleashes the monster within, but her love can empower him to set off on a journey to find his own redemption even if that journey means leaving her forever behind. Unlike the gothic romances and fairy tales, Btvs does not necessarily supply us with a happy ending and that’s where it crosses over from gothic romance to noir.

[44]  When Angel is first introduced in Season 1, he is introduced in the role of mysterious informant and unreliable protector: the man lurking in the shadows, disappearing when it becomes light. Occasionally coming to the rescue. Usually just providing information but in a sketchy suspicious manner.  Buffy is not sure what to think of him, they engage in banter, flirt, and he disappears romantically into the night. Occasionally he’ll even come to her rescue only to disappear at the last minute. In Welcome to The Hellmouth S1 Btvs, Buffy catches him following her. He gives her a cross, informing her she’ll need it, then disappears again. His appearance is partly to remind her of her mission, a mission she’s attempting to forget, it’s also partly to reemphasize her own fantasies and the negative side of them.

[45] In the episode Angel S1 Btvs, Buffy learns that Angel isn’t what he appears to be. Up until this episode, she believed he was a demon hunter like herself, human. When she moves to kiss him, after he warns her not to, he shows her his real face, that of a vampire. In classic gothic fashion, the veil is lifted and a monster is shown beneath the surface. And it happens with a kiss. Instead of the kiss turning the monster into a prince, it turns the prince into a monster, another subversion of the gothic form.

[46] Later in the episode, Buffy sees Angel leaning over her mother, Joyce’s, limp form. She believes that he tried to kill her mother. It’s the traditional mislead - in gothic fiction the heroine will often catch the fatal in a horrible act and misinterpret it to mean he is a remorseless villain she should never have trusted. Instead, he’s trying to save her mother and has been set up. Buffy in true gothic fashion discovers this when she confronts Angel and he offers her the choice. Explaining the curse to her. Telling her how he hasn’t been able to kill a human since gypsies cursed him ninety years earlier. Cursed with a soul. Soulless, he felt no pain in killing, now he does. No he didn’t hurt Joyce, that was someone else. But he doesn’t expect her to believe him. Kill me or trust me. Up to you. She stares up into the dreamy dark eyes and lean handsome face and drops her weapon, exposing her neck, placing herself, consciously in his power. And the true villain, Darla reveals herself. Angel proves Buffy is right in trusting him when he stakes Darla to save her life then disappears into the shadows. Later, Angel proves himself again by providing information on the Master in the episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight S1 Btvs  - an act echoed by Spike in The Weight of The World four seasons later in Season 5 Btvs.

[47] Betrayal of Romantic Love: The Subversion of the Fairy Tale Curse

By the time we reach Season 2, Buffy fully trusts Angel and has metaphorically given him her heart. She believes he could never hurt her or anyone she loves. And continuously finds herself risking everything to save him. He plays the damsel in the first part of the season. As a fatal, he is an interesting damsel since the question keeps arising whether she should save him. Whether he is salvageable. As Kendra states in What’s My Line Part II S2 Btvs, “he’s a vampire, he should die.” Ironically it’s not outsiders who kill Angel, but Buffy herself. She dreams in Surprise S2 Btvs  that Drusilla slays him and is terrified of losing him. Yet, it is in a purely nourish twist Buffy who does so and the way she does it is a subversion of the gothic fairy tale, that subversion, as well as what follows, is when Btvs crosses the line from “gothic romance” to science-fantasy noir.  It also pinpoints the loss of Buffy’s innocence - something female noir films often focus on - the heroine’s realization that the world is not what they wish it to be.

[48]  In Surprise S2 Btvs, Buffy and Angel make love, unbeknownst to them, this very act, making love, is enough to cure Angelus of the soul. In the classic gothic motif, the act of making love would cure Angel of his evil ways, he would become good. In Btvs, the act of making love turns Angel into an evil monster incapable of feeling love or compassion. So pure of human feeling that the evil Judge can’t burn him. As the Judge states - he is clean, there is no humanity in him. Cured. (Innocence S2 Btvs) The twist is - in a fairy tale or gothic romance- it would be the reverse. A “judge” would state that fatale is now cured of his evil ways, the spell has been broken, and he has returned to his natural state, a man no longer an evil beast. This is after all what happens in fairy tales such as Beauty and The Beast, The Frog Prince, and Rose White and Rose Red. But in the world of gothic noir - kissing Angel turns him evil. Foreshadowed in Angel Btvs S1, where he literally goes into vamp face after their first kiss. And again in a future episode, where Buffy tells him when she kisses him she wants to die. By giving into her desires for Angel, Buffy feels she has doomed herself and her friends. In her head she believes she has literally slain him and given rise to a demon in his place, that by making love to him - she sired the soulless vampire that now walks in his place. She says as much in I Only Have Eyes For You S2 Btvs when her friend Willow suggests she try being impulsive and ask a guy to dance; Willow’s last advice to Buffy was to seize the day and sleep with Angel.  “Impulsive? Do you remember my ex-boyfriend, the vampire? I slept with him, he lost his soul, now my boyfriend's gone forever, and the demon that wears his face is killing my friends.” (I Only Have Eyes For You S2 Btvs)

[49] In Buffy’s head, when a person becomes a vampire and loses their soul - that demon is no longer the person. They walk, talk, act and look like the person but it’s not them. (Lie to Me S2 Btvs) As a result, she believes that by sleeping with Angel she killed the man she loved. In a way this is a twist on the classic noir motif, the hero wishes to save the femme fatale but by succumbing to her, he destroys them both. This theme is echoed years later in Ats with the Wesley/Lilah relationship, when Wes feels he killed Lilah by bringing her into the Hyperion, instead of saving her as intended, he got her killed. (Cavalry - Salvage Ats S4) Her feelings and trust in him were what killed her. The hero in noir takes the blame upon themselves. It’s not Angel’s fault that he is soulless; it is Buffy’s. She broke the curse. Instead of saving him her love turned him into a soulless beast. (I Only Have Eyes For You and Innocence S2 Btvs)

[50]  The finale of season 2, Becoming Part I & II,  continues to play off of these noir themes, here Buffy is faced with yet another decision, do I attempt to save the fatal who has turned all evil on me by re-ensouling him or do I kill him before he destroys the world?  This decision in a way is the culmination of the season, where she has either risked everything to save Angel or risked everything to avoid killing him. The desire to save the fatal is present in most classic film noir. The hero/heroine believes if they can save the fatal and live happily ever after with them it will in some way redeem them, empower them, provide meaning in their lives. Unfortunately this is impossible, the only choice is to reject the fatale completely, because any other option leads to the heroine/hero’s doom.( Marling 1-2; Davenport - “Film Noir and the Femme Fatale: Introduction”) Philip Marlow in The Big Sleep is faced with a similar choice concerning the fatal, Carmen Sternwood, if he’d given into her at the end, he would be dead. Same with Debra Winger’s character in Betrayed, she falls in love with a white supremacist leader but must betray him to the Feds or risk losing her own soul and life. Buffy goes down the same road, she attempts to delay killing Angel until he gets re-ensouled only to risk Giles, Willow and Xander’s lives - critically injuring Willow, breaking Xander’s arm and placing Giles in danger. (Becoming Part I S2 Btvs)  Learning from her mistake, the next time she confronts Angel she decides to kill him. Unfortunately on this occasion, her friends do succeed in cursing him with a soul and Buffy is faced with a dilemma that will continue to haunt her throughout the rest of the series - should she kill her lover to save the world? He stands between her and eternal damnation. If she lets him live, everyone is doomed. If she rejects him and stabs him through the heart, the world is saved. She slays him. (Becoming Part II S2 Btvs) The fatal dies like he does in all noir films. Except for one thing and here’s where Whedon’s inversion comes into play - before he is sucked into hell, he becomes cursed with a soul, he wakes up, and embraces his lover. He is also not killed, just sucked out of this dimension into another one ready to return in the next season.

[51]  Alter Egos & The Fatal: Fatal Solving The Heroine’s Dilemma

In Season 3 Btvs, Angel does literally come back from hell and his trajectory changes slightly.  This time around, the heroine is uncertain whether she can trust him. Before she trusted him implicitly. Now he’s an unknown entity. But her need to save him remains intact. He’s still the gothic fatale. We’ve also added another element to the mix, Faith, who in many ways represents the side of Buffy she represses.  While it is tempting to see Faith as a fatal, she is really an alter ego or shadow self to the heroine. Carl G. Jung defines the shadow as someone or something symbolizing the negative side of an individual’s personality. Jungian M. L. Von Franz clarifies the function of the shadow in her essay “The Process of Individuation”:“ …whatever form it takes, the function of the shadow is to represent  the opposite side of the ego and to embody just those qualities that one dislikes most in other people.” (182)   In this case “ the dark-haired, violent, promiscuous Slayer Faith is Buffy’s Shadow figure. In Faith, Buffy has battled the dark side of herself…” (Wilcox 2).  The concept of a shadow or alter ego is a common motif in female neo noir. In the film Black Widow, a female detective, Debra Winger, goes undercover to trap a serial killer played by Theresa Russell. Debra is brunette and Theresa is blond, throughout the film the two characters are compared and contrasted and at one point Debra Winger’s character is faced with the fact that she is not all that different from her alter ego. All her pain, regrets, passions, and fantasies in some ways are acted out by the alter ego.  This general theme of alter egos is also set up in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis where the spiritual leader’s likeness is placed on an evil robot doppelganger. The robot often doing the acts that the heroine resists or cautions against. A similar motif is used in the science fiction television dramas Smallville with Lex Luther and Clark Kent and Star Trek’s DS9 with GulDukat and Sisko, where GulDukat went from being a fatal to the heroine Kira to an alter ego for the hero Sisko. 

[52]  All the emotions, feelings, desires Buffy can’t express are expressed by Faith. Faith’s relationship to Angel, the fatal, is representative of the emotions Buffy feels uncomfortable expressing - her guilt, anger, desire, fantasies. In Beauty and The Beasts S3 Btvs when Buffy discovers a wild Angel in the woods, it is Faith who tells her all men are beasts who need to be tamed. Earlier in Faith, Hope and Trick S3 Btvs, it is Faith who hangs all over Scott Hope, the boy who is pursuing and eventually dates Buffy. Faith openly flirts with Scott, while Buffy hangs back uncertain. It is also Faith in Homecoming S3 Btvs, who seeks vengeance against Scott for dumping Buffy and bringing another girl to the dance. And it is Faith in Enemies S3 Btvs who expresses Buffy’s own hidden desires for Angelus - what with the bondage and the torture.  She even asks Buffy in an earlier episode, Bad Girls S3 Btvs, if she hadn’t been just a little turned on by big bad Angelus.  Faith acknowledges that part of the turn on is the mixture of darkness and light. Buffy can’t quite give voice to this.

[53] Angel likewise can reveal his dark side with Faith. With Faith, he admits that he enjoyed being soulless, that killing without remorse makes one feel like a god. (Consequences S3 Btvs) He admits that before he met Buffy, humans seemed to just exist to hurt each other. In true fatal fashion, he bonds with Buffy’s doppelganger. Faith can see the part of him, the dark half, that Buffy refuses to look at it. The fatal in the gothic tradition often poses this problem for the heroine, she stubbornly refuses to see anything but the good in him and he attempts to comply. Through Buffy, he has realized there is a better way. It is Buffy’s unconditional love for him that pushes him to seek out a path towards redemption.

Angel:  (smiles) You and me, Faith, (straightens up) we're a lot alike.
Time was, I thought humans existed just to hurt each other. (sits next
to her) But then I came here. And I found out that there are other types
of people. People who genuinely wanted to do right. (looks at her) And
they make mistakes. And they fall down. You know, but they keep caring.
Keep trying. If you can trust us, Faith, this can all change. You don't have
to disappear into the darkness. (Consequences, Btvs S3)

This speech is a projection of the fatale’s feelings. Angel wants to believe that by striving to do good, he won’t have to disappear into the darkness. That he can eventually step into the light. This is yet another subversion of the form. The fatal in both gothic and noir traditions seldom desires to venture into the light, rather he wishes to drag the heroine into the darkness with him. He doesn’t believe he can step into the light, so being a self-centered bastard, attempts to pull her back into the darkness with him. Angel in a way is a subversion of this, in that he both attempts to step into the light and when he discovers he can’t do it, decides to leave the heroine for her own good. (Graduation Day Part II S3 Btvs)

[54]  Buffy throughout Season 3 struggles with this dilemma. Should she succumb to Angel again, just love him, be in the darkness with him? Or should they break up entirely? Can’t they just co-exist as friends? Can she trust him? He’s no longer evil, she tells herself; he has a soul. That evil demon that killed Jenny and hurt her friends wasn’t him. (Passion S2 Btvs) Yet, Angel says a few things that make her wonder. In Doppelgangland S3 Btvs, when Buffy tells Willow not to worry VampWillow isn’t her, Angel attempts to correct her, stating actually it sort of is. And in Enemies S3 Btvs, Buffy sees first hand how adept Angel is at playing Angelus. So adept that in some ways he’s almost worse than Angelus was. Noticing this causes her to ask him for a break. He asks if she is still his girl to which she replies after a slight hesitation, always. Eventually, it is Angel who must make the break for them both and he waits until the end of the season to do so. 

[55] Angel’s decision is another subversion of the classic gothic fatal arc. Instead of the heroine succumbing to the fatal or the fatal being redeemed at the end by her love and living happily ever after at her side, Angel disappears in the mist, not even waving goodbye. (Graduation Day Part II, Btvs S3) He makes his decision to go after she sacrifices herself to save his life. By sacrificing herself, Buffy decides to succumb to Angel; she gives up the world to save him. Angel realizing what she has done decides he must leave since he can’t bear to have her join him in darkness any more even if this is what she herself wants. 

[56]  The episode arc is an odd one because of how it both subverts and emphasizes gothic and noir themes. At the beginning of the arc, it is Faith who poisons Angel, again acting as Buffy’s dark id. When Faith’s arrow pierces Angel, Buffy is asking Angel to either leave or stay, telling him that she can’t have him in her life while trying to move on at the same time. (Graduation Day Part I S3 Btvs) She desperately needs him to stay, even though she realizes they must part. The dilemma is tearing her apart. Faith’s arrow punctuates it. So Buffy goes after the side of herself, the dark slayer, who tried to take Angel out of her life. She metaphorically kills that side of herself, when she stabs Faith. Ironically it’s not the dark id she kills, it’s the rational, slayer portion, the part that has realized Angel must leave her and she must move on. The dark id, the part that loves Angel desperately, more than the world, rushes back to him and forces him to drink from her - almost killing herself in the process. (Graduation Day Part II S3 Btvs) This act horrifies Angel even as it saves him. It is this act that Angel sees foreshadowed in his dream where he marries Buffy only to watch her burn in front of his eyes when they walk into the sunlight. (The Prom, Btvs S3) He realizes that by attempting to kill Faith and allowing him to bite her, Buffy has given into her own desires to be with him no matter what. If he stays with her, he’ll destroy her and himself. (Graduation Day Part II S3 Btvs)

[57] The twist is that it’s not the fatale who sacrifices himself and is redeemed here, it’s the heroine who sacrifices herself for the fatal and is almost damned in the process. Almost. Angel saves Buffy and himself when he rushes her to the hospital as opposed to siring her, and makes the decision to leave Sunnydale for good after they defeat that season’s big bad. (Graduation Day Part II, Btvs S3) He actually begins his journey towards redemption the very moment he decides he must leave. Instead of the heroine rejecting the fatale, the fatal rejects the heroine. Empowered by the heroine’s example, the fatal goes off to seek his fate, alone, and in doing so, develops from a fatal into an anti-hero. Meanwhile, the heroine in classic noir fashion graduates from idealistic teen romantic to cynical adult, realizing that love does not last forever or make everything all right.

[58] B. Spike - A Subversion of The Neo-Female Noir Homme Fatal

Spike represents the neo-noir fatal in the Btvs. Unlike the romantic gothic male fatal, who is mysterious and may or may not try to harm the heroine, the neo-noir fatal has every intent on harming the heroine when he’s initially introduced. The ironic twist is not that he appears to be good on the surface but will go for your jugular if crossed, but actually the reverse. Oh he’ll go for your jugular but underneath it all, when push comes to shove…he might be the one who helps you save the world when it matters. This a perversion of the standard formula, which is no matter how good you think he is - he will kill you if given half the chance.

[59] The interesting thing about Spike, as neo-noir fatal, is as you rip off the layers you discover that underneath it all lies a man who just wants to be loved and accepted. Who would rather love than kill. Another example of homme fatales in the neo female noir tradition is like their counterparts, femme fatales, they are lonely souls who ache for companionship but are unable to reconcile their own darkness to achieve it. As a result they act as wonderful romantic foils to the heroine/hero. Showing the hero/heroine the dark side of love and passion, or their own dark hidden desires.

[60] The Sexual Predator - Villain Into Fatale

Spike is introduced in the episode School Hard S2 Btvs where his motivations are quickly revealed to both heroine and audience as nefarious. He’s the new big bad, a remorseless killer who preys on women to feed his sick girlfriend, Drusilla. Within the first half of the episode, he stops bad girl Sheila in the alley, kills off her two male companions, and seduces her into following him back to his abode, where he subsequently ties her up, gags her and feeds her to Dru, his lady-love. The scene is reminiscent of scenes in neo-female noir films and gothic films, where the male villain stalks the heroine, takes one of her acquaintances or friends, rapes and/or murders them and taunts the heroine with it. Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula does it with Mina Harker’s best friend Lucy. Spike is also revealed as a legendary killer of vampire slayers. A perfect foil for Buffy in Season 2 Btvs, who is a legendary slayer of vampires - the “chosen one”.

[61]When Angel is introduced he appears to helping the heroine, he is a mystery. We don’t know what or who Angel is. (Welcome to The Hellmouth S1 Btvs)  There appears to be no mystery about Spike, he shows up in vamp face.  He states very clearly that he wants to kill Buffy and slayers in general. The mystery oddly enough shows up when his vamp face melts away and he is shown to be a handsome man in love with a pretty child-like somewhat sickly woman. (School Hard S2 Btvs) The audience is faced with a classic noir quandary, everything isn’t quite as clear as it appears. Spike has what amounts to an Achilles heel in Drusilla, one that Buffy uses against him repeatedly. Because of this niche in his armor, over time he develops from villain into fatal.

[62] In Female Noir Film, fatales may develop from villains, they may even start out or be the principal villain of the piece - not unlike their counter-parts, femme fatales. One of the best examples of the homme fatale in neo-female noir is David Hanover in Love Crimes, a 1992 film that stars Sean Young (Dana) and Patrick Bergen (David) and was directed by Lizzie Borden. Love Crimes is about a assistant district attorney (Dana) investigating a man (David Hanover) who poses as a fashion photographer to seduce women. When David Hanover, takes photos of these women, he makes them feel sexy and good about themselves. David persuades them into taking off more and more of their clothes, often leading to some sort of physical assault and usually culminating in consensual sex. Dana, the protagonist and ADA, is caught in a legal loophole. She can’t prosecute him for his crimes, because even though his victims feel violated, he comforted them and made them feel good at the same time.  In Love Crimes, Hanover is clearly the antagonist, the villain, there is no one else. But the heroine through her involvement with him discovers he’s not completely the villain she anticipated. He’s the fatal that develops from a villain as do most of the fatales in the neo-female noir films. (Covey 321-322)

[63]  Unlike the gothic homme fatal, the noir homme fatal is not seeking salvation from the heroine when they get involved. The previously mentioned film Love Crimes deals with this type of fatale. When Dana first encounters Hanover - she is seeking him out to either imprison him or kill him. When Buffy first encounters Spike - she wants to kill him. In fact she wants to kill Spike pretty much up to and including the moment he loses his ability to physically kill living things. Metaphorically in Btvs Seasons 2 through part of 4, Spike represents what Buffy fears most in sexual relationships, both from herself and men. His comments are often projections of these fears as seen in Harsh Light of Day S4, where he crudely asks her if she’s just easy, did it only take a few kind words to pry apart her dimpled knees. Earlier in School Hard S2, he teases that weapons make him feel all manly, and he’ll make sure it’s not painful.  Like the female noir films, Lady Beware (where a lady window-dresser gets involved with her stalker and destroys him), Love Crimes (a lady district attorney deals with a seductive fashion photographer and rapist), Blue Steel (a lady cop deals with a sleazy businessman’s obsession with her and her gun)- Spike is the sexual predator stalking the heroine, taunting her with her own sexual fears and anxieties. Eventually the heroines in these films turn the tables on the fatales and stalk and destroy them. Just as Buffy eventually turns things around in Btvs, resulting in Spike being in a wheelchair (Surprise S2 Btvs) or neutralized by a behavioral modification chip. (Wild at Heart - The Initiative S4 Btvs)

[64] Foil, Provider of Uncomfortable Truths

Spike graduates from villain by the end of Season 2, when he surprises everyone and offers to help Buffy save the world from the evil Angelus. The writers have literally flipped the gothic fatal and the villain. In previous episodes, Angel was the one who came through at the last minute, who offered to save the world and usually from Spike. Now, it is Spike, Buffy’s nemesis, who steps forward offering to help. And he does so in typical noir fashion, beating up a cop, sitting on the hood of the cop’s car smoking, giving a nifty speech about saving the world, then reaching over to kill the cop. (Becoming Part II, Btvs S2) He unflinchingly lets her know - still evil, but it’s in my best interest to help you right now, so take it or leave it, because neither of us can do this alone. This is very typical of the Humphrey Bogart noir films of the 1940s. In The Maltese Falcon Bogart sort of teams up with the evil Brigid O’Shaunessy to find the Falcon. Or in Casablanca, Bogart teams up with the local magistrate to help a friend escape from the Nazis. This theme also occurs in comic books, where the villain and the hero discover there’s something worse out there than the two of them put together and they declare a truce to take care of it.

[65] Later, Spike falls into the role of informant, providing uncomfortable truths to the heroine about herself. Most of these truths, in true fatal fashion, are projections of the fatale’s own feelings regarding his own situation. In neo noir film, what the fatal teases the heroine with is often just a projection of his twisted psyche, but it also serves as a reflection of hers. It is in this manner that he becomes her foil or the psychological representation of her worst fantasies. (Covey 323-324) Everything she represses reveals itself through his actions and taunts. In Lover’s Walk, midway through Season 3 - it is Spike who points out to the heroine that she and Angel can’t just be friends. In reality, he is probably talking about himself and Dru, who had just told him they can still be friends but the romance is over. But ironically, he has also hit on the problem between Buffy and Angel. He hits on it, because he has been from the get go, Buffy’s foil. Her counter.

[66]  In School Hard S2 Btvs through What’s My Line Part I & II S2 Btvs, Spike’s actions regarding Drusilla show the dark edge of Buffy’s feelings for Angel. Spike clearly will drop everything for Dru, just as Buffy is shown repeatedly dropping everything for Angel. Buffy even states in What’s My Line Part II S2 Btvs - ‘you may go after me, but go after my boyfriend and you’re dead’. The audience cheers her on. Meanwhile Spike goes after Angel to save Drusilla. Angel is Dru’s cure and he is willing to risk everything to cure her. Just as in Lie to Me S2 Btvs, he gives up a room full of humans and gets locked in a cellar, because Buffy threatened Dru’s life. He probably would have won the fight against Buffy if he’d been willing to sacrifice Drusilla. Buffy ends up falling somewhat into the same trap with Angel, her love for Angel turns him evil and against her. Spike’s love for Dru makes her powerful yet ends up crippling him. In Becoming Parts I & II S2 Btvs, both Spike and Buffy want their lovers back. Spike gives voice to the desires Buffy is suppressing in Becoming Part II  S2 Btvs, when he states he wants his girlfriend back, he wants to go back to the way things were before Angelus. So does Buffy.  And she hits him when he states it. Because it gives voice to a desire that she can’t express. Also it is Spike in Becoming Part II S2 Btvs  who appears to get what he wants - he gets Dru back and takes off with her. We are lead to believe that Dru and Spike are back together again. Just as we are lead to believe in the beginning of Season 3 Btvs, that when Angel returns, he and Buffy will be together again. But, as is revealed by Spike in both Lover’s Walk S3 Btvs and later Harsh Light of Day S4 Btvs, this is not the case. There is no going back.

[67]  Spike’s ability to force Buffy to face things about herself and others she does not wish to face is used in Season 3, Lover’s Walk, and throughout Season 4 and Season 5 Btvs. He is constantly giving voice to things the characters would rather not state either hidden desires or fears. In Yoko Factor S4 Btvs, he manages to instill discontent with a few cleverly placed phrases and words. It is not Spike who breaks them up though that is all their own doing. All Spike has done is aired their grievances aloud. He states their worst fears, gives life to them. This is in keeping with fatales in noir cinema. The fatal in Love Crimes forces Dana through words and deeds to re-experience a blocked memory from her childhood. In Blue Steele, the successful business man Eugene forces blue-collar cop Megan to confront her own insecurities about class and gender. (Covey 319-320) Spike in Yoko Factor S4 Btvs forces Buffy to confront her insecurities about being alone in the fight and the fear that she is drifting away from her friends. Just as he forces her in The I in Team S4 Btvs  to confront the possibility that every man she dates is evil or will betray her - “Got to hand it to you goldilocks - you do have bleeding tragic taste in men.” Or in Harsh Light of Day S4 Btvs, gives voice to her own fears about the one-night stand with Parker. In each situation the comments work both ways - because they also say something about the fatal, about Spike. That’s why they have power. It’s not so much that he has insight into her, as that he shares some of her insecurities and is projecting them on to her.  If anything - what he says, says as much if not more about his insecurities and fears as it does about hers.

[68] In Yoko Factor S4 Btvs  - Spike’s comments about how friends always drift apart is in a way a statement about his own condition, he has lived over a hundred years and he is at that point in time adrift, friendless. The villain, Adam, is able to seduce him a bit with this perception. (New Moon Rising S4 Btvs) Spike can’t fit in the human world and with the chip he can’t fit in the demon world either. He used to be part of a gang, the leader of a gang, but that’s gone now. He once had a girlfriend, but she left him. Like most homme fatales he has no one. He is alone, outside society. Harsh Light of Day S4 Btvs also comments on this condition - while he teases Buffy, he is also talking about himself, how easy am I? He wonders. I let Drusilla walk all over me. Cheat on me. Buffy’s relationships with Parker and Angel, may in some ways reflect his own with Drusilla and Harmony. Except in contrast to Buffy, he takes out his pain with Dru onto Harmony, Buffy attempts to use Parker to assuage hers.

[69] In Season 5, Spike works partly as a foil for Buffy’s inner issues - her relationship with Riley, her fears about her mother, and her uncertainty about her own path. Spike in  Into The Woods S5 Btvs - is the one who reveals literally by pulling back a door the truth behind Buffy’s relationship with Riley to both Riley and Buffy. Their relationship was falling apart regardless of Spike’s involvement, all Spike does is pull back the curtain and show them. In Fool For Love S5 Btvs, interestingly enough, it is Spike who sits and comforts Buffy about her mother. We believe he’s going to kill her at the time. She’s just rejected him and he shows up at her house with a rifle. But in a classic reversal, he sees her crying and asks what’s wrong instead. The next morning, he’s the one who tells Riley that she’s at the hospital and her mother’s sick. (Shadow S5 Btvs) Also in Fool for Love S5 Btvs - it is Spike who reveals to Buffy the similarities between vampires and slayers. This speech is largely a projection of Spike’s own desires, which is the death wish. It’s not the slayers who have a death wish so much as it is Spike. And oddly enough, Mr. Big Bad can’t take full credit for killing them - instead of telling Buffy that he out-fought them or was a better fighter, he tells her that it was luck. One dropped her weapon and one hesitated. They had a death wish, he states. And you’ll be fine because at this point in time you don’t. But watch out, because the moment you do, I’ll be there just like that vamp last night was there. This speech functions on two levels - it gives voice to the heroine’s fears while at the same time voicing the insecurities and desires of the fatal. Buffy does fear these things. She fears that she is both just a killer and has a death wish. But what about Spike, the fatale?

[70] It’s an incredibly odd speech considering that Spike is painted as a bit of a braggart and is so proud of his slayer killings. (School Hard S2 Btvs) This is a subversion of the noir fatal formula. In neo female noir - the male fatal never gives the lady the credit, he might blame her for his failings, but not for his successes.  She grabs empowerment by showing him how wrong he is. Here, in Spike’s head, he may very well be telling the truth, or it may be a projection - the death wish may be his. His desire to fight slayers is shown in the series to be an odd one, most vampires avoid them like the plague or if they do fight them, do it when the odds are completely in their favor. (School Hard S2 Btvs, Fool For Love S5 Btvs) Spike seeks them out and fights them with one-to-one combat. In a way this desire is a perfect foil for Buffy, who also goes out and fights vampires with one-to-one combat and not with the odds perfectly in her favor. She stalks and hunts them. (Buffy vs. Dracula S5 Btvs) Just as Spike stalks and hunts her. Both tend to be impatient and impulsive and it leads both of them to failure. It’s only when they take the time to plan that they succeed, like they do when they decide to team up in Becoming Part II S2 Btvs. Or like Buffy does in Innocence S2 Btvs when she plots to take down the Judge or Spike prevails in curing Dru in What’s My Line Part II S2. They reflect each other’s foibles. Thus Spike acts as a perfect foil to Buffy’s heroine, often revealing to Buffy her worst fears about herself.

[71] The Neo Noir Fatal as Romantic Foil - Noir Sex and The Male Fatal

From Sharon Y. Cobb’s essay, “Writing the New Noir Film”:

“Not only will the protagonist be beguiled and betrayed by the female [homme fatal]character but violence, in one form or another, will be a result of the two characters alliance. …Basic Instinct and Body Heat demonstrate the juxtaposition of high sexuality and potential or acted out violence. Sex and violence collide in this symbiotic co-dependence between the …hero and the femme [homme] fatale.”(212)

“ Tension in Noir stories is generated as much by plot twists as it is from anticipated violence. The Usual Suspects is rich with unexpected twists and reversals of expectation. When we think we know what’s really going on, we are deceived again.”(213)

From William Covey’s essay, “Girl Power: Female-Centered Neo-Noir” (“Girl Power”)

First excerpt deals with the previously mentioned film Blue Steele where Jamie Lee Curtis plays a cop to Ron Silver, Eugene, villain/fatale.

“Because traditional noir criticism privileges men, the use of male/female role reversals place women within general neo-noir discourse. In other words, Blue Steel illustrates that when a woman is the hero of the film and the man is evil, the assumptions that we normally make about detectives and dangerous adversaries no longer match traditional gender assumptions.” (321)

Lizzie Borden, original director of Love Crimes, statement regarding the sex in her films:

“ I’m not a separatist. I hope that men can see my films through eyes colored by female characters they have to identify with - just as women have to do in watching film with male characters.” (qtd.  in Covey 321)

[72]  I emphasize Love Crimes because in some ways this movie reminds me of the controversial sexual scenes between Spike and Buffy in Dead Things and Seeing Red (Season 6 Btvs).  Like Dead Things and Seeing Red, Love Crimes was controversial. It pissed people off.  I have an odd perspective on Love Crimes since my kid brother acted as an Assistant Director on the studio re-filming of it, which was headed by Kit Carson, the director of Paris Texas. As previously mentioned Lizzie Borden’s Love Crimes is about a district attorney investigating a man who poses as a fashion photographer to seduce women. According to my brother the original unedited version of the film was hard-core pornography with some incredibly graphic and violent sexual acts. Lizzie Borden states in her interview the scenes just made some male executives uncomfortable and they couldn’t handle it, so the scenes were re-shot. (Covey 321) My brother tells me that even his girlfriend found these scenes to be incredibly disturbing and anti-female. My brother and his girlfriend are in no way squeamish about film, they’ve watched things that would make most people leave a theatre. On the other hand, they did not like the Buffy/Spike sex and found it a bit too risqué for their taste. As a result of the disturbing sexual content in Love Crimes, the new director Kit Carson redirected some segments, it got sent back to the studio, Lizzie, the old director, was then allowed to re-cut and re-edit her film, and the final result was a hodge-podge of both directors’ visions. Due to the multiple edit jobs the final version of the film appears to be somewhat choppy in places but the sex was no more explicit than the sex in Basic Instinct or Body Heat, if anything it was more understated.  Part of the controversy over Love Crimes lay in how Dana is portrayed and how she reacts to the fatal, David, just as part of the controversy in the Buffy/Spike relationship lay in how Buffy was portrayed and how she related to the fatal, Spike. In Love Crimes - Dana is portrayed as almost androgynous, having no romantic relationships, no close friendships, a loner, who feels cut off and repressed, (Covey 323) Buffy is similarly portrayed in Season 6 Btvs as cut off from her friends and somewhat repressed emotionally. (Afterlife - As You Were S6 Btvs) The homme fatal, David Hanover kidnaps Dana and through her captivity forces her to deal with her repressed sexual fantasies. In one scene of Love Crimes, we see Hanover with scissors cutting off Dana’s clothes. Later she begins fantasizing about him. In Btvs, after years of fighting and beating on Spike, her mortal enemy, Buffy is seen lusting after Spike. In one scene, he enters her from behind while she watches her friends dance. Later we see her go to his crypt and press her hand against the door, drawn to him. (Dead Things. Btvs S6).

[73] In his essay “Girl Power”, William Covey comments that Lizzie Borden’s intention behind Love Crimes had been to “show someone who’s so unconscious about herself that she puts herself in a dangerous situation.” (323) In film noir this is a classic trick - having the hero unconsciously place themselves in a dangerous situation, often one due to sexual repression or sexual desire. (Davenport : “Dangerous Because of Her Sensuality”; Cobb 212)  Just as Buffy does repeatedly with Spike in Season 6 culminating in the infamous bathroom scene in Seeing Red, where Spike attempts to force her into having sex with him again. Oddly enough, as Mr. Covey comments, “many female critics feel that when a male jeopardizes a strong female, the resulting film sends out anti-feminist messages.”(Covey 324) Lizzie Borden attempted to avoid this pitfall in her film just as the writers of Btvs attempted to avoid it.  Unfortunately when Love Crimes was shown to audiences, the feminist crowd could not quite handle the fact that Dana, the heroine, starts to fantasize about David, the fatale/villain who is violating her, this offended them. As a result the film got dismissed.( Covey 324)  Just as many viewers could not handle the idea that Buffy, the heroine, would enjoy the Bronze Balcony scene with Spike, where he takes from behind or would place herself in a scenario where he could rape her. Other scenes that raised objections amongst critics and fans of the show included Buffy’s sexual seduction of Spike while she was invisible in the Season 6 episode Gone S6 Btvs and the implication that they took turns hand-cuffing each other in a sort of S&M bondage game (Dead Things S6).  Would they have been as offended if the roles were flipped? The inherent problem of flipping the noir formula to fit the female lead is seen here - while we can have the femme fatale attack the male lead, either sexually or physically without being overtly alarmed, to have the homme fatale do so, horrifies us. Just as it is acceptable, oddly enough to have the male anti-hero attack the femme fatal as Angel does in Reprise S2 Ats with Darla - engaging her in violent sex, it is less acceptable to have the female hero/anti-hero attack the homme fatal as Buffy does with Spike in Gone S6 Btvs.  Love Crimes reception by both my brother, who had little problems with neo-noire femme fatale films such as Body Heat or even Basic Instinct, and the audience at large demonstrates how this is a problem in how neo-female noir is viewed. Another film, Blue Steel by Kathryn Bigelow, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Silver, also deals with this female fantasy but in a far less oft-putting way. Jamie Lee’s character, a female cop is romanced by the fatale Eugene who has found her gun and stalks her. Unlike Love Crimes, Curtis remains in a place of power throughout the movie and we never really see her victimized or completely seduced by Eugene. He never compromises her in quite the same way as David compromises Dana in Love Crimes or Spike comes close to compromising Buffy in Seeing Red S6 Btvs and Dead Things S6 Btvs. Nor does Ms. Curtis character go after him with quite the same abandon as Buffy does Spike in Gone S6 Btvs.

[74] Btvs like Lizzie Borden’s Love Crimes and Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel does in a sense attempt to stretch the envelope on noire. Actually it may stretch it further than the films actually do.   Even the Angel/Buffy relationship, more a representative of the gothic fatal than the neo-noire fatal, pushed at the envelope. Angel in Season 2 Btvs turns evil upon sleeping with innocent virginal Buffy and is later seen in flashback sequences lusting after prepubescent Buffy in her pigtails, sucking on a lollipop. (Innocence and Becoming Part I, Btvs 2).  The push at the envelope is the prepubescent Buffy sucking on the lollipop. When we see a reversal of this gender role in HIM Btvs S7 where Buffy seduces a seventeen-year old boy, the audience was offended, same thing with Cordelia’s seduction of Angel’s son Connor in Apocalypse Nowish Ats S4. Audiences can deal with the older guy seducing the young sixteen-year old girl, the Angel/Buffy romance, but not the older gal seducing the young sixteen/seventeen year old boy, Buffy/R.J or Cordelia/Connor.  We see the opposite response from viewers, in Season 6 Btvs, when the neo-female noire fatal, Spike, is shown taking Buffy from behind in the Bronze and later in the infamous bathroom scene attempting to rape her. ( Dead Things S6 Btvs and Seeing Red S6 Btvs) Both of Spike’s acts are classic noir and if the gender roles had been reversed, the audience may have laughed or not been nearly as horrified. They were certainly far less horrified when Buffy molested Spike while she was invisible in Gone S6 Btvs or when Faith attempted to strangle and rape Xander in Consequences S3 Btvs. But as seen from both the audience and critical responses to these episodes and to the films Love Crimes and Blue Steel - the reverse, male on female, does not play nearly as well, if anything it is far harder to maneuver around. As Covey states in “Girl Power”: “ Though lack of self-knowledge has been used many times in many classic and neo-noirs about males, many female critics feel that when a male jeopardizes a strong female, the resulting film sends out anti-female messages.” (323) Some may even believe the homme fatale is doomed after such an act, while the femme may not be. Odd, when you consider these same commentators had no problems with a much earlier scene from the same series, where it was a woman attempting to rape a man. Faith in Consequences S3Btvs attempts to rape and kill Xander and is only prevented by the intervention of Angel.  This scene was far worse in reality than the infamous bathroom scene where Spike does not intend to hurt Buffy so much as to re-initiate their intimacy and loses control, she throws him off of her and he leaves horror-struck at what he’s done. (Seeing Red, Btvs S6) Faith is furious at Angel for throwing her off Xander and barely seems repentant. Note Xander was not able to stop Faith and would have died if Angel had not rescued him.  Faith had intended to hurt him and demonstrates in later scenes that love was never at issue, she wanted to hurt Xander for caring about her, a classic femme fatale response. (Consequences S3 Btvs).  But if you ask the viewer which scene was worse - they would point to the bathroom scene in Seeing Red S6 Btvs. Some may not even recall the Faith scene (Consequences S3 Btvs) and recently on one of the fan boards, the scene was listed as one of the top “hot sex” scenes in the series. The male viewers cannot conceive of a female attacking them in such a matter, regardless of how often you insist this is possible and as a result are incredibly turned on by the concept. But the male attack is all too real to both female and male viewers and therefore less acceptable. 

[75] The homme fatal in female neo noir sort of muddies the waters as does the sex. While audiences appear to have no problems with noir sex in the male noir films, most notably Body Heat, Fatal Attraction, and Basic Instinct, which literally made stars out of the femme fatales, they do have difficulty with it in female noir.  Buffy and Spike’s dark sexual relationship in Season 6 Btvs inspired some of the same reactions in its viewers as did the film Love Crimes. Male viewers were, to put it mildly, a tad put-off by their relationship. Female viewers mostly turned on by it. The relationship was portrayed in the classic noir style as dark, abusive, gritty - a repulsion/attraction type of deal. It explored the female heroine’s own dark desires, her inner psyche. The homme fatal as romantic foil often is used for this purpose just as the femme fatal is used in the male centric noir films.

[76]  The writers in Btvs did not play it safe in Season 6 with Buffy/Spike as they did with the Buffy/Angel relationship nor did they romanticize it. They showed it in real ugly tones as if they were filming a noir film a la Basic Instinct, Body Heat,  or even Love Crimes. The relationship fits the criteria expressed in the quotes above by Sharon Y. Cobb - it contains violence, there are unexpected twists and turns, and it culminates with the heroine unconsciously placing herself in a dangerous situation.  But the fatal is also used as a means of externalizing the heroine’s own dark fantasies and sexual fears. In Btvs, the writers emphasize Buffy’s fear is she is drifting into the darkness, that her desires separate her from everyone while simultaneously placing emphasis on the fact that part of her desires that separation, part of her wants to be taken over by the darkness, to be free to inflict pain, to even feel pleasure from that infliction. The desire to let loose and be wicked. As Xander, Buffy’s friend states in Smashed S6 Btvs, ‘there’s a time when you just want to let loose, let everything go. It can be incredibly seductive, just to give into it. To go wild.’ It’s also a stage or issue that most young women face when they’ve left the innocent romance of their teens and entered the cold hard reality of their twenties. Freedom. Yet also the overwhelming feeling that comes with it of being cut off, adrift, with no clear guideposts. I’m not saying that all young women go through this stage, but in the noir and horror genres - it is the heroine’s predicament. The heroine or hero in film noir will often find themselves in this situation.

[77]   SPIKE: (O.S.) You see ... you try to be with them... (Spike walks up behind Buffy.)...but you always end up in the dark ... (whispering in her ear) ...with me.
(He moves up right behind Buffy, looks where she's looking. Shot of the Scoobies from Buffy's POV. ) What would they think of you ... if they found out ... all the things you've done? (He puts his hand on her bare shoulder and strokes slowly down her arm.) If they knew ... who you really were? (Dead Things, Btvs S6)

Compare this to David Hanover’s seduction of Dana in Love Crimes. While Dana is being held captive in his cabin, David cuts her clothes away from her with scissors. She allows him to pose her in a bathtub naked. She begins to fantasize about what he tells her he’ll do with her. Part of her wants it. The other part is simultaneously repulsed by it. Buffy in the scene depicted above allows Spike to lift her skirt, to touch her, to enter her from behind, and gets pleasure from the act, while at the same time wincing at the fact she does so. “Why do I let him do these things to me?” She asks her friend Tara. “He’s everything I’m against, everything I’m supposed to hate?” (Dead Things S6 Btvs) The ready answer of course is self-hatred or dark night of the soul. But if we analyze it in terms of noir and the function of fatals, we’ll note there may be something else going on here. As Joss Whedon, the creator of Btvs, noted in a interview, “Well, …season [6] was very much about Buffy doubting herself and the concept of power, sort of hating herself and fantasizing about relinquishing power and getting into a really unhealthy relationship because of that..”( qtd. in Topel 1) Part of the hero- fatal relationship is the tug of war between the two parties. In the film Blue Steele, the fatale, Eugene fantasizes about Megan (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) through her gun. He literally masturbates to the gun she’s lost.  He fetishes and fantasizes about phallic women. (Covey 320) Spike similarly fantasizes about phallic women. He wants their power. His name may be Spike, but from his point of view, the woman has the power. (Fool For Love S5 Btvs) Like Eugene, he seems to get off on being beaten up, on fantasizing about female authority. (Crush S5 Btvs, Smashed S6 Btvs) Megan, Dana, and Buffy - all powerful women in their own right, all sexually repressed in some way, and all taking on traditional male roles - want on some level to be dominated, to be seduced, to let go. As Buffy tells Holden Webster, the vamp psychologist in Conversations With Dead People, S7Btvs, “The things I did to him…the things I let him do to me…I behaved like a monster, but at the same time…I almost let him take me over.”

[78]  In noir sex - there is a power play going on between the two parties. As Sharon Y. Cobb states: “ The protagonist falls in lust with the …fatale and obsessed with him or her. The fatale turns up the heat by flirting and luring the protagonist into a sexual relationship.” (212)  Spike turns up the heat with Buffy, by appearing nude or shirtless, flaunting his assets. He encourages her to beat him up by teasing her. He comes close to her and pouts his lips, then pulls away, making her want more. ( Gone S6 Btvs, Dead Things S6 Btvs, Wrecked S6 Btvs) “Many New Noir films feature highly erotic ‘love scenes’ which leave the main character wanting more. His[Her] professional objectivity becomes increasingly compromised by obsessive thoughts of when his next sexual encounter will be with the [man] woman of his [her] fantasies.” (Cobb 212)  Body Heat and Basic Instinct are the prime examples of this in male noir; Love Crimes and Blue Steel are amongst the few examples in female noir. In Love Crimes, against her will, Dana begins to fantasize about Hanover. Her fantasies disturb her, but she can’t quite shake them. Same with Blue Steel, Megan allows Eugene to romance her.

[79] Btvs does however subvert this formula somewhat, by doing a double flip. In classic noir, the fatal will turn on the hero/heroine once they reject them. In Love Crimes, Dana rejects David and he breaks into her house and tells her: “We were close to something. Don’t let [your] gun come between us.” (qtd. in Covey 324) And then attempts to engage her in the act they’d been building towards, using his camera as a weapon. She ends up ending it by breaking a heavy glass object over his head. Spike similarly confronts Buffy in her bathroom and tells her that they have something. He also tries to reinitiate their relationship and she kicks him across the room. (Seeing Red S6 Btvs) The difference between the two is that after Buffy kicks Spike across the room, he leaves town in search of a soul. ( Villains S6 Btvs through Grave S6 Btvs) If this had been a modern day female noir film, Spike would have gotten his chip removed and gone on a killing spree until Buffy in the last reel catches up with him and is forced to stake him. In the subverted form, his violence towards her wakes him up to the reasons why they can’t be together and who he truly is, repulsed by this information, he hunts a way to alter it.

[80] Buffy on her part feels betrayed when he attacks her just as she feels betrayed when he sleeps with her friend Anya and when he eventually leaves town. (Entropy - Seeing Red S6 Btvs)  Like all noir heroes, she is struggling with the conceit that she could save him and through his involvement with her, he could somehow be redeemed. The noir hero never quite expects the betrayal when it comes; they are always taken by surprise. It’s not quite the same betrayal that Buffy suffered with Angel. This betrayal is a twist - here Buffy is punished for succumbing to her own dark desires, to her own ego. This betrayal Buffy should have seen coming. Angel’s - there was no way she could have predicted it. (Innocence S2 Btvs)  To say Buffy never cared for Spike or loved him, is missing the point I think, the fatal/hero relationship isn’t really about love so much as sexual power - who has it and who is willing to use it. Femme fatales no matter what their feelings for the hero will often use their sexual power over the hero to further their own agenda. A prime example is Kathleen Turner’s character in Body Heat, where she seduces William Hurt to help her kill her husband or in Love Crimes where Hanover seduces women into letting him off the hook. Spike uses his power over Buffy, to a) further their relationship and b) do evil on the side, such as selling the demon eggs in the episode As You Were S6 Btvs.  He’s not successful any more than Hanover is, but the attempt is clear. Same thing with Lilah and Wes - Lilah uses her relationship with Wes to manipulate Angel Investigations. (Slouching Toward Bethlehem S4 Ats) The twist in both the Lilah/Wes and Spike/Buffy relationships - is the heroes use their power over the fatales as well. Buffy and Wes are shown on both series to have more power in the relationships, since neither have truly committed their hearts, while the fatales are leaning in that direction. Often the fatales Achilles’ heel is they do fall for the hero, but when they do? It’s almost too late. Buffy realizing Spike’s devotion to her uses that to elicit information from him, to obtain his help in killing demons and saving the world, and to have sex. She actually appears to get more out of the relationship with Spike than he does which is another twist on the form. It also in some ways empowers the female lead - Buffy never loses the power in the relationship, not really. She may appear to a few times, but each time she grabs it back again. In the infamous bathroom scene in Seeing Red S6 Btvs - Buffy knocks Spike clear across the room, he may have bruised her, but he was not able to violate her. And it is Spike not Buffy who is changed by the experience, who gives up their power. Also oddly enough, by going to get a soul  something he would never have considered when he first met her, Spike has like Angel become empowered by Buffy to change himself for the better. (Villians - Grave S6 Btvs) He’s not redeemed by her love, nor is his vampire curse broken by it - the show does not fall completely into the fairy tale trend - instead he is empowered by her example, by her strength. That empowerment provides him with the wherewithal and strength to endure the trials necessary to receive a soul. ( Grave S6 Btvs)

[81]  The Fatal Trajectory - From Damsel to Saving Oneself

When Spike comes back in Season 7 Btvs, Buffy is faced with a series of tasks revolving around the question: Should I save Spike? Should I save the fatal? The fatal as damsel poses an interesting dramatic dilemma - because you truly don’t know if the hero will do it or if she should. Saving best friends, lovers, and sidekicks? Not a problem. But saving the fatal - the ex-villain? As Kendra stated long ago regarding Angel, “he’s a vampire, he should die.” (What’s My Line Part II, S2 Btvs) Or as Wood and Giles believe - “we need to take out Spike for Buffy’s own good.” (Lies My Parents Told Me, S7 Btvs)

[82]  The first task - should I let him help me after he betrayed my trust? Spike is right when he states, “We’ve been to the end of the world and back a few times. I can help. Use me if you want.” (Beneath You, S7 Btvs) But he attacked her last season and she does not know what he is now except that he is different.  Trusting her gut, she lets him help, and almost regrets it. The double flip again. He appears to turn evil on her, turning back into Mr. Big Bad Demon. “Yep, I’m bad, and I got a thrill watching your face as you tried to figure it out.”(Beneath You, S7 Btvs) Then in a later scene he breaks down completely after he’s hurt an innocent human and runs off. Following him - she discovers that he has not reverted to the demon that tried to kill her in Season 2, but rather has regained his human soul. This solidifies her decision to let him help. (Beneath You, Btvs S7)

[83] The next task is should I help him get out of the basement that’s driving him crazy? Should I take steps to stop the craziness?  It takes her a while to make this decision but after he proves himself a few times helping her save Cassie’s life, locating a demon that’s killing people and punishing himself for hurting her, she asks her friend Xander to take him in. (Same Time Same Place, Help, Selfless and Him, S7 Btvs).  Notice she does not at this point take him in herself.  She hasn’t gotten to that point yet. She’s still protecting herself and to some extent Dawn from him. Dawn oddly enough is the one who continues to express Buffy’s own doubts about the fatal just as it is Dawn in Season 5 and 6 who expressed Buffy’s hopes about him. In Seeing Red S6 Btvs, it is Dawn who tells Spike that he hurt Buffy and asks him how he could sleep with Anya when he supposedly loves her sister, a question Buffy is dying to ask but Dawn asks for her. And in Villains S6 Btvs Buffy refuses to tell Dawn about Spike’s attack on her and wants to place Dawn with Spike. Demonstrating on some level Buffy’s own denial of Spike’s betrayal, her desire to forget about it. This desire is broken when Xander informs Dawn and wakes her up to what Spike did. (Two to Go S6 Btvs) Xander in effect wakes both women up. And now it is Xander that Buffy and Dawn place Spike with. And it is once again Dawn who questions Buffy as to her true reasons for doing this. Is it out of pity? Buffy swears it’s not. But she can’t quite give voice to her feelings just yet. (Him Btvs S7)

[84]  The third task is do I kill him or find a way to stop the trigger that is causing him to turn people into vampires against his will?  Spike believes she should kill him. He sees himself as a liability. Kill me, he pleads at the end of Sleeper S7 Btvs and towards the end of Never Leave Me S7 Btvs. He accuses her of using him to deal with her own self-hatred. She insists it’s not about that. Here he is acting very much in the role of fatal meets romantic foil. In the male noir genre, the femme fatal will often plead with the hero to kill her. Sean Young’s character, Rachel, in the noir sci-fi classic, Blade Runner, at one-point requests Deckard just kill her. He refuses. Killing Spike - lets them both off the hook, Buffy doesn’t have to figure out a way of helping him and Spike doesn’t have to live with the pain of what he’s done. Or in Blade Runner - Deckard can write Rachel off as a replicant, non-human artificial life form, something to kill, and Rachel doesn’t have to worry about living as one.  Death is easy, life is hard - is the message of the noir world.

[85] After the trigger test - we get three more tests for Buffy and Spike - will she save him from the First Evil? Even if it means having to fight an uber-vamp to do so? (Bring on The Night - Showtime S7 Btvs)Will she remove his chip against her mentor’s advice? Even if it means he can now actively hurt human beings? (Killer in Me - First Date S7 Btvs) Will she save him from her boss, Principal Wood, and her mentor, Giles, who have planned to kill him for her own good? And possibly the world’s, since he still appears to be triggered by the First? (Lies My Parents Told Me, S7 Btvs) Of these tasks, the last is the most relevant in the world of film noir, because it is the most ambiguous. Saving the fatal from your friends is far more dicey than saving him from your enemies. This is a choice Buffy never really had to make with Angel, unless you count the time she fought Faith and Xander, who teamed up to kill Angel for Buffy’s own good, when the true villain was Faith’s watcher Gwendolyn Post. (Revelations, S3 Btvs). But this task is far murkier than that one was, here Wood has a reason for wanting Spike dead outside of just jealousy or slayers kill vampires. Two reasons actually. Spike has a trigger that Wood has seen activated by a song. Spike killed Wood’s mother. Giles also has a reason for wanting Spike dead. Spike has a trigger and has been controlled by the First in the past. Buffy has become way too dependent on Spike for her own good. Buffy is faced with a question here - a big one - do I let Giles and Wood kill Spike or do I try to save him? She chooses to save him. And here’s the twist, it’s unnecessary because Spike saves himself. But the writer doesn’t stop there, if this had been a noir film, Spike would have killed Wood and gone off to kill people, horribly betraying the heroine or Spike would have pretended Wood gave him no choice and convinced the heroine to take him in again or Spike would have let Wood live and not told the heroine why - let her believe he did it because he turned good, while plotting behind her back the whole time. Instead the writer does something rather interesting.

BUFFY (O.S.)Spike! (Buffy runs into frame, anxious. She sees his wounds, tries to touch his face, check him over. ) Are you okay? (He pushes her hands away. Leave me be. ) What happened? (He turns, pushes open the door behind him. It swings open to reveal Wood, battered and bloody, slumped against the wall. His head rolls as he regains consciousness. Though he's seen better days, he's clearly still alive. )(whispered) Oh my god...

SPIKE:I gave him a pass. Let him live. On account of the fact that I killed his
mother.  (She looks at him, begins to figure it out.)  But that's all he gets.
(He turns, begins to walk away.) He so much as looks at me funny
again... I'll kill him. (Buffy watches him go, then turns toward the garage.) (Lies My Parents Told Me, S7, Btvs)

The fact that Spike says any of this to Buffy is surprising from a noir standpoint. In gothic noir, he wouldn’t say it. In neo-female noir, he might allude to it, but it’s unlikely. In the neo female noir - the fatal is irredeemable, he betrays the heroine at every turn and constantly makes excuses for his actions, a la Spike in Season 6, who apologizes for sleeping with Anya but insists he did it to make himself feel better then attempts to rape Buffy. ( Seeing Red Btvs S6) Spike in this scene, does not apologize for beating up Wood, he does not apologize for himself, he does not tell Buffy that he was right in doing it or wrong. He does not tell her what to think. He does not tell her which side to choose. He does not beg for her love or show jealously regarding her compassion for Wood. He does not make excuses for his actions or state that Wood pursued him or trapped him or any of the above. He merely states where he stands on the issue and why he let Wood live. And he admits to the fact that he let Wood live because Wood had cause for going after him on account of the fact that he killed Wood’s mother. He may not tell Wood this. But the fact that he tells Buffy is an interesting twist. Buffy who until this moment did not know Spike was the one who killed Wood’s mother. And Spike knows how Buffy felt about losing her own mother. (Fool for Love - Forever S5 Btvs) It’s an odd thing for a fatal to do. An odd thing for Spike to do. Something Season 2-Season 6 Spike probably would never have done.

[86] The Redemption of The Fatal

If the writers intended to stick with the noir formula, Spike would betray Buffy at some point, either consciously or unconsciously, ( Cobb 212-213) then if the formula is subverted, flip and redeem himself at the last moment by sacrificing his life, or if not subverted, be killed by the heroine a la Angel in Becoming Part I & II S2 Btvs. Under the noir formula, Spike cannot survive. Buffy, like most noir heroines will end up being alone in the end, staring off into the distance wondering what fate holds in store. At the end of the film Blue Steele, Megan is found staring off into space in her squad car after Eugene the fatal has been killed. She’s empowered but alone. (Covey 321)

[87] The finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Chosen, completely subverts the noir formula by going with a third option - where the neo noir fatal transforms into a type of tragic hero, and while the heroine does stare blankly into the distance, she is surrounded by friends and family.  In this third option, the fatale does not betray the heroine, there isn’t a double flip, and her trust in him is rewarded.

[88] At the beginning of Chosen, an episode written and directed by the series’ creator, Joss Whedon, Buffy gives Spike a sacred amulet and calls him a champion. “I’ve been called a lot of things…but never a champion,” Spike responds, a little overwhelmed by the gesture. Buffy has, in effect, elevated him from the cellar dwelling fatal to hero. But she does it by descending to her cellar to give him the amulet and she stays there making his bed her bed as opposed to bringing him upstairs to her room, which is now conveniently occupied by her alter ego Faith, whom she has placed in the light. If this were the standard noir formula - Buffy’s descent to the basement would have symbolized their mutual doom. The fatal would have inevitably betrayed her and she would have been forced to kill him to save herself and the world. Whedon subverts this when he has Buffy descend to the basement, give Spike the amulet, and not, as the previous episode suggests, let Spike become the bad guy, while Buffy’s former lover, Angel, saves the day. (End of Days - Chosen S7 Btvs) If this were the classic Female Neo-Noir or even Male Noir, that would have been the case. By descending to her basement and sending her former lover Angel away, choosing Spike instead Buffy acknowledges and sheds light on her darker impulses and gives them value. When she gives Spike, the fatale, the champion’s amulet, she brings him into the light with her, granting him the choice to redeem himself.  It’s important that what she grants him is a choice - she doesn’t give him redemption nor does she redeem him herself - what she does is she empowers him to make that choice. If this were a fairy tale or a gothic romance - Buffy’s love would redeem Spike, but instead all it does is provide him with the power to redeem himself.  The mislead in the series or the classic noir view is that Spike will at one point betray Buffy, that like most neo-noir heroines, Buffy’s trust in the fatal will eventually doom her. The subversion is that her trust in his ability to choose to redeem himself is rewarded by his ultimate sacrifice.

[89] Chosen also melds the two versions of Btvs’ fatals, the gothic and the noir  - Angel and Spike. For it is Angel, the gothic fatal, that arrives with the amulet, given to him in the season four finale of Ats, Home, by his femme fatal, Lilah. The amulet represents in Angel’s mind at least - the fairy tale lifting of the curse - “It cleanses, purifies and has scrubbing bubbles…it’s for a champion to wear. Someone like me,” he proudly tells Buffy.(Chosen, S7 Btvs)  Lilah in keeping with the classic femme fatal motif does not tell Angel what the amulet does - she merely tempts him with it. “Buffy can handle herself,” Angel tells Lilah when she gives him the amulet. Lilah responds, “Yes, but you enjoy being the one to handle her.” (Home Ats S4) Angel, he anti-hero, crosses over to Btvs and appears to regress to Season 3 Angel, the gothic fatal, which makes perfect sense, since in Btvs that had always been Angel’s role. It’s only within the boundaries of his own series that he is elevated to the role of anti-hero. Since he clearly can’t stay regressed in the role of fatal for long, Buffy wisely tells him to go back to LA and lead the second front. She acknowledges that he has moved on, that the amulet isn’t his to bear and he no longer occupies the role in her story as the fatal or champion. Angel grudgingly agrees and hands over the amulet that Lilah gave him. The amulet is similar to other noir tokens with mystical or unknown properties such as the briefcase in Kiss Me Deadly that explodes when the femme fatale opens it, engulfing her with otherworldly light, or the bronze falcon in The Maltese Falcon that seems to curse whomever comes in possession of it.  Because the token is provided by a fatale, in this case Angel, who in turn got it from his own fatal Lilah, the audience is conditioned to mistrust it. Another mislead, the writer cleverly uses the audience’s own conditioned response to the imagery to mislead them, subverting the genre and making the token a source of positive energy as opposed to negative energy. Like the box in Kiss Me Deadly, the amulet does appear to destroy the world - but only the world of the Hellmouth, it preserves the rest - the heroine and her friends escape intact with few casualties.  Another subversion, unlike the femme fatal in Kiss Me Deadly who sets off an atomic explosion by opening Pandora’s box, the male fatal in Btvs heroically uses the amulet to sacrifice himself for the world - he doesn’t do so out of greed or hubris, his sacrifice appears to be a willing, redemptive one as opposed to an accident as it would be in the classic noir film. In fact it is clear from Chosen that the fatal is powering the amulet with his soul. Without his willing participation, the amulet would not have worked and he could have stopped at any time merely by removing it. In keeping with the title of the episode, Spike chooses not to stop, even though Buffy advises him to stop and even offers him her love as a sort of endorsement.  He rejects both and continues, determined to finish what he describes as “cleaning things up.”

[90] Is this the end of Whedon’s subversion of the noir motif or will he go further with the planned crossover of the character of Spike on to the more nourish Ats?  If this is to be a true subversion of “the fatal is redeemed by self-sacrifice”, somehow the sacrifice will either not completely work or by the very act Spike will break the vampire curse and in true Pinocchio fashion become human, except he won’t get the heroine or be reunited with his family. If this were a fairy tale, he would. If this is a noir gothic fairy tale, he won’t, he’ll live but he won’t be with the one he loves. Instead, like Angel before him, he’ll have to use the heroine’s example to find his own way in the universe with few if any guideposts to lead him. If Whedon chooses this path for Spike - it would in a sense be a re-telling of the Pinocchio story where the toy-boy becomes real by sacrificing himself to save his loved ones. By drowning, Pinocchio lives. By burning himself inside out, Spike transforms. There are certainly enough hints in the episode to suggest this - everything from Spike’s odd dream of “drowning in footwear”(Chosen S7 Btvs)  to the fact that he is finally at the end bathed in sunlight not unlike Pinocchio in the Disney Film of the same name, where the wooden boy emerges from the dark cavern of the whale, is drowned saving his family, and transforms.

[ 91] Even though Buffy doesn’t directly save the world in Chosen, she indirectly empowers the fatal to do so. Spike’s choice at the end reflects Buffy’s choices throughout the season to save and protect him. Her decision to trust in him is rewarded by his decision to save the world. A decision that oddly echoes her own in the Season 5 finale, The Gift, where Buffy gives her life to ensure the universe stays intact. Spike, likewise, gives his life to preserve the human world - a world, that as a vampire, he hasn’t really been a part of for a hundred plus years. But he doesn’t do it purely out of love or need of love from her - that in of itself is not only a subversion of the noir/gothic themes but also an empowerment of the heroine.

       [92]  Buffy (to Spike): I love you
   Spike : No you don’t. But thanks for saying it. Now go…(Chosen, S7 Btvs)

With those words, Spike lets Buffy go. He gives her permission to leave him. And Buffy by going, allows him to fulfill his destiny, to shine, to redeem himself and not fall into the cliché of only being redeemed through her love of him. Those words free them both. So that the end is Spike laughing as he watches the dark underground world he’s inhabited become consumed by the flames burning inside his own heart and soul. Buffy, meanwhile, like the heroine, Megan, in Blue Steel, looks back over the devastation - the great glaring pit that was once Sunnydale.

Giles: Who did this?
Buffy: Spike (Chosen S7 Btvs)

That is the only word she utters. Others speak, but Buffy doesn’t say anything. Speechless she stares out at the crater and then, slowly smiles. Because unlike Megan, Buffy’s fatale saved the world, she empowered him to choose his own path and destiny, just as she empowered those who stand behind her to battle their way out of the last of many apocalypses. She’s not alone in the finale frame; her family and friends stand directly beside and behind her with her future spread out in the great expanse before her. This ending in a way is similar to Angel’s leaving in Graduation Day Part II S3 Btvs, where Buffy watches him disappear into the mist, between two fire-trucks, and once again is backed by family and friends, staring at the bombed out pit of the high-school.  The heroine can never quite be with the fatale, in that way the story stays true to the genre, but she does empower the fatale to attempt to redeem himself and in that way Btvs subverts and expands the genre.

[93] Conclusion

Spike and Angel tend to fall in the redeemable category of male fatal and as such have followed similar arcs in Btvs. They both start out in opposition to the heroine, act as unpredictable informants and helpers, act as providers of uncomfortable truths, become sexual partners/love interests that the heroine is either ashamed of or uncomfortable sharing with others, turn on the heroine in some way, come back different after turning on her, become the damsel, eventually save themselves, and become equals in the heroine’s mind, worthy of her respect. Through the fatals, the heroine is able to face her fears and anxieties. Coming to terms with who and what she is and letting go of any and all attachments that could hold her back.

[94]  In this manner, Btvs and Ats subvert the classic noir formula to demonstrate female empowerment, both sexually and spiritually. The power of the female is no longer something that should be punished, instead it should be appreciated and celebrated. It’s when the female gives up her power and her independence that she is doomed. When she shares that power, appreciates it, that she is rewarded. This is a subversion of the formula; in the old noir films, the female was punished for her power and only rewarded when she willingly handed it over to the male. In the new noir as seen in Love Crimes, Blue Steele, Btvs and Ats as well as many other newer noir films and series, the woman is rewarded for sharing and keeping her power.

Works Cited

Angel The Series, Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. 2003
Blazer, John, “The Femme Fatal”, No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir,  
  1994-1999, <http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/noir/np05ff.html>
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. 2003
Cobb, Sharon Y,  “Writing the New Noir Film.” Silver 207-213
      Covey, William, “Girl Power: Female-Centered Neo-Noir.” Silver 311-327
-----qtd. in Covey, from Cineaste Interview, Redefining Female Sexuality in
Cinema: An Interview with Lizzie Borden, Cineaste, 19.2-3 (1992), p.7
Davenport, Lara, “Film Noir and The Femme Fatale: Introduction”, “The Femme
Fatal is Punished”, “Reasoning Behind the Femme Fatal” and “Dangerous Through Her Sensuality,” Male Insecurity Expressed Through the Femme Fatal, Spring 2002 MIT Comparative Media Studies Paper, <http://web.mit.edu/ldaven/www/noir.html>
-----qtd. in Davenport, from “Woman in Noir” by Jane Place, Ed. E. Ann Kaplan,
Women in Film Noir. London: British Film Institute. 1978
Ewing, Dale, “Film Noire: Style and Content.” Silver 73-85
Hibbs, Thomas, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Feminist Noir”, Buffy the Vampire
Slayer: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, Ed. James B. South. New York: 2003.  49-60.
Marling, William, “The Femme Fatal” Hard-Boiled Fiction. Case Western Reserve
University. Updated 2 August 2001. <http//:www.cwru.edu/artsic/engl/marling/hardboiled/FemmeFatale.HTM>
Mills, Michael, High Heels on Wet Pavement: film noir and the femme fatale, 1999 at
Slain, “Are You Noir or Have you Ever Been” Slain by Buffy , Updated 2002.
Silver, Alain and James Ursini, eds., The  Film Noir Reader 2, New York: Limelight
Editions,. 1999.
Topel, Fred, “Joss Whedon Interview: Ending Buffy”, Action-Adventure Movies at
About.com, April 2003,
Ursini, James, “Noir Science.” Silver 223-241
Von Franz, M.L, “Process of Individuation”, Man and His Symbols, Ed. Carl S. Jung.
157- 254 New York: Dell 1964
Wilcox, Rhonda,  “Every Night I Save You: Buffy, Spike, Sex and Redemption,”
Slayage #5, Ed. David Lavery and Rhonda Wilcox.  http://www.slayage.tv

Films Cited

Basic Instinct (1992) Paul Verhoeven
Betrayed (1988) Constantin Costa- Gavras
The Big Sleep (1946) Howard Hawks
Black Widow (1987) Bob Rafelson
Blade Runner (1982) Ridely Scott
Blue Steel (1990) Kathryn Bigelow
Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder
Impulse (1990) Sondra Locke,
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Robert Aldrich
Love Crimes (1992) Lizzie Borden
The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston
Metropolis (1926) Fritz Lang
Out of the Past (1947) Jacques Tourneur
Pinocchio (1940) Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) Rouben Mamoulian

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