When one starts to consider the possible relationship between Spike and Darla it becomes immediately obvious that there is one huge stumbling-block – the near absence of any interaction between them in the whole canon. Two-hundred and fifty-four episodes and we have a grand total of four scenes where they are both onscreen. The mine scene in Fool for Love, the cuckolding scene in The Girl In Question, the gypsy massacre in Darla, and the Boxer Rebellion scene in Fool for Love and Darla. And even in those four scenes they barely exchange a word directly to one another. This is not much to base a theory on.
So as always when there is little canon, the existing fanon is a useful alternative place to start in examining the relationship – fanfic fanon being a convenient shorthand for the collective wisdom of fandom. And the fanon is largely consistent that Darla and Spike did not get on, Darla being usually portrayed as a cold-hearted bitch when it came to the youngest member of the fanged four. At which point I can become incredibly narcissistic and quote my own Chevachee:
my relationship with Darla was at least steady: we hated each other.
I think it is worthwhile examining how I reached that decision about them, especially since I reached it very early on – this is Chevachee, only the fourth fic I ever wrote. Now admittedly, as I confessed the other day, I have never considered the female characters in as much depth as I have the males, but still, I have made some attempt over the years, and the origin of the supposed antagonism is of course in the scenes in Fool for Love and Darla, both of which I watched for the first time whilst writing Chevachee.
In the mine scene, Darla is being directly antagonistic to Spike.
- to Spike Look, we barely got out of London alive because of you. Everywhere we go, it’s the same story and now—
- You’ve got me and my women hiding in the luxury of a mine shaft, all because William the Bloody likes the attention. This is not a reputation we need.
In the Gypsy encampment she looks disgusted with his behaviour.
- to gypsy man In that wagon is your family. Your wife and daughters will die tonight without my protection. But if you’ll do as I say, your family can live.
- Spike, in vamp face, blood on his chin, steps out of the wagon and burps. Darla looks at him.
- Darla closes her eyes, turns back to the gypsy and snaps his neck
And finally there is her disparaging comment to Angelus after Spike has killed his first Slayer (Spike is not actually present during this scene).
- While Spike – Spike! – was out killing a Slayer, you were saving missionaries! From me.
Based on which it is easy to see why I formed the impression that she didn’t think much of him. Indeed even when he is nominally the topic of interest her actual attention is on Angelus – in the mine she is less interested in Spike than in how Angelus is reacting to Spike, in the Boxer Rebellion she makes virtually no acknowledgement of what Spike has done, focusing instead on the fact that Angelus has not achieved the same.
However, on reflection one should not take this evidence of her dislike for Spike entirely at face value. In the mine Darla is showing justifiable anger, since Spike has indeed done something very stupid, and in fact she is remaining considerably calmer than Angelus who nearly stakes Spike – and nobody suggests that contempt is the only facet of the relationship between Angelus and Spike. Similarly, in the gypsy encampment scene, Darla is looking disgusted with Spike because he has actually just done something to earn it. It is though noteworthy that she doesn’t yell at him for killing the gypsy’s family, perhaps acknowledging that she accepts this sort of behaviour as inevitable – and ungovernable – from him, but it could equally be that she doesn’t in fact care as much as all that (perhaps she knew that the gypsy in question would be unlikely to be able to reverse the spell). So both these examples of Darla’s exasperation are in fact fully justified, and shed little light on how she might have considered him under more normal circumstances. Her comment to Angel about Spike killing a Slayer is of course more illuminating, but I will return to that presently.
What then of his reactions to her? Well the main thing to note is that there are very few of them. In Fool for Love, in both the mine and when he announces that he has killed a Slayer, he seems barely aware of Darla’s presence, even when she is talking directly to him his eyes are on Angelus, and to a slight extent Dru, but Darla might as well not be there for all the acknowledgement he makes of her. Only in the Gypsy encampment do we see a brief moment of direct interaction, this in fact is the only time in canon that he speaks directly to her. And it is hardly a full conversation. His
what is cross and self-defensive in response to her expression, which at least shows he wasn’t particularly scared of her at that stage, but I’m pushed to base a full analysis on it.
Far more revealing is Spike’s reaction in The Girl In Question.
- A bedroom. Angelus is looking down at Darla, who’s sprawled out naked, face-down on the bed, her hair all dishevelled.
- What have they done to her?
Now this sounds like genuine concern. Bear in mind that this scene is set in 1894 so Spike and Darla have had time to settle down in their relationship to one another, and it seems clear from this that he is not at all happy with the impression that she is hurt. A few minutes later though and it becomes clear that Darla is fine. All Spike’s concern for Darla vanishes and he is entirely concentrating on Angelus’s reactions, and the implication that Angelus has been cuckolded. Once again Darla has receded into the background as far as Spike is concerned.
As a side note though it is worth remarking that the remark
Concurrently? You never let us do that. in The Girl In Question implies that Spike and Darla may sleep together as part of normal family interactions.
It is also illuminating to consider the conversation when Dru comes to try to persuade Spike to rejoin them in Crush.
- So, uh, let me get this straight. Darla got mojo’d back from the beyond, you vamped her, and now she and you are working on turning Angel into his own bad self again.
What this shows is that there has been no communication between Darla and Spike until this point, and even if it is Darla pulling the strings – sending Dru to fetch Spike back to the fold – then it is noteworthy that she does not come herself and sends no personal message. All the persuasion is to be done by Dru and all the attention focuses on the attraction of turning Angel back into Angelus, of being a family again, Darla as Darla is not mentioned as an enticement.
This sense of Darla having kept Spike in the dark is a consistent one. The business in the gypsy encampment went wrong because she hadn’t told him the plan. She didn’t even tell him about Angel having a soul – in School Hard Spike seems to work it out for the first time from Angel’s odd behaviour, he certainly doesn’t know about it in the submarine in Why We Fight. Unfortunately we have absolutely no canon for what Darla was doing between the Boxer Rebellion and her appearance in Sunnydale in BTVS Season 1, but the inference from Spike being unaware that Angel was in Sunnydale is that she and Spike had not been in contact during her Sunnydale years. But, as always with Spike and Darla, we are constructing the slenderest of threads of inference from an almost total lack of real information.
So if there is no direct canon, and fanon cannot help us beyond the simplest of impressions, what is left? I suggest that the only sensible way to examine Spike and Darla is through the reason for their lack of interaction – the towering mountain that is blocking both their gazes to the extent they barely notice one another: Angelus.
Angelus is the centre of the Fanged Four, the eye of the whirlwind, it is he, not Darla, who is the focus of all their attention, indeed it could be said that the Fanged Four are not just a family but a group of vampires dedicated to the cult of Angelus. From Darla picking out Dru as a fitting test for her boy’s ingenuity, to Spike yelling with fury that
Nuns are your thing. Everybody knows that. They respect it – they respect us it is all about Angelus. Indeed so accustomed are we to this state of affairs that one has to almost forcibly stop and remind oneself that Darla is in fact the oldest, and could therefore reasonably expect to have the others dancing around her. The fact that she doesn’t is a remarkable thing.
As Avidrosette pointed out recently, one of the ways in which I chose to connect Darla and Spike in my fic is by their respective lack of power in the family. Will because of his youth and Darla because she is a woman. This lack of power is I think key to understanding Darla. As a vampire she has strength but not power. To some extent this is symptomatic of all vampires. Consider Angelus’s words to the newly turned William in Destiny:
…let me explain to you how things are now. There’s no belonging or deserving anymore. You can take what you want, have what you want... but nothing is yours. Is he describing just William’s own situation, as a newly turned fledge, or the general position of all vampires – strength without power? Vampires are looked down upon by the general demon community, they tend to live on the fringes of society, hiding in cemeteries and broken down warehouses, they squabble amongst themselves but never seem to make any impact on the world at large. Compared to someone like the Archduke Sebassis, who commands 40,000 demons, even as renowned and respected a vampire as Angelus is a bit player.
- Angel never cared about power.
- Well, he’s never had any to care about, has he? Not real power. Even as Angelus.
Even the Master, that biggest of thinkers with ambitions beyond those of any normal vampire, lacked true power. He was not engaging with the world but hiding from it, lurking below in his sewer, worshipping the old ones. All his dreams of power centred on returning the old ones to this dimension, and ultimately they were just dreams. Besides, considering Illyria’s disparaging opinion of vamps, it is doubtful if the Master would have gained much power even if he had achieved his aim. Indeed the only vampire who ever seems to have had any real power was Russell Winters, who was able to become a powerful L.A. businessman through the assistance of Wolfram and Hart.
To some extent then Darla’s powerlessness is to be expected, but in her case there are several other factors at play. Because Darla has not just been denied power, she has deliberately positioned herself to lack it by her relations with those around her. Take her relationship with the Master, despite the fact that he will keep her living in the sewers, away from the view and luxuries she craves, she returns to him in 1760 (Darla) and she returns to him again in Sunnydale. She is the Master’s favourite yet it is Luke who is chosen to lead the raid and act as the vessel in the Harvest (The Harvest), and Darla clearly neither expects any different nor resents her inferior position. But most importantly, by her very choice of childe she is abrogating power. She chooses not a small, weak childe that she could easily dominate, but a magnificent stallion, first picked out in a bar brawl, someone in whom she can see the innate strength and darkness. She is certainly instrumental in shaping Angelus –
Am I learning? (Dear Boy) – but she never seems interested in holding power over him. Indeed she has actively handed the power of authority to him at a very early stage. By 1767 (when Angelus was 14) he had made her ‘pay for her sins’ after she abandoned him in Arles. Can anyone seriously imagine the Master letting Darla make him pay for his sins? Or Angelus letting Dru? And Darla was quite happy to accept his tacit order that she retreat to the boat whilst he stayed to fight Holtz. The feel is very much of a man protecting his woman because she can’t protect herself, of a very human husband and wife relationship in fact. And judging by the encounter with the Master in Darla that is exactly what she wanted him for. Angelus is the stud, the stallion who can sweep her off her feet and takes her away from daddy because he is strong enough to stand up to the Master’s beating and still be defiant. In other words she chose him precisely because she could hand him the reins of power.
It is perhaps worth bearing in mind that Darla is a masochist – the most unashamed and incontrovertible masochist in the Jossverse.
- You’re hurting me. smiles That’s good
- Did he hurt you?
- smiling naughtily Not until I asked him to.
The attraction of a big, stronger male who can thoroughly dominate her – when she wishes it – seems obvious. And I suspect that underneath she delighted in the idea that she did ultimately create and thus control him – the guiding hand on the reins, the admonishing tap of her fan when he laughs at her expense – whilst never having to take on the burden of actually being in charge. He was pater familias precisely because she had made him to be. She sowed the whirlwind, and then she got caught up in it.
So where does that leave Spike? Smaller, younger, weaker, less intelligent than Angelus, and obsessed with Dru in his own right, what could he possibly have to offer Darla? Well most obviously she can admire Angelus’s handiwork in him. Spike is Angelus’s creation just as much as Dru is.
- Drusilla sired me, but you, you made me a monster.
- You were my sire, man! You were my Yoda!
He is Angelus’s apprentice, created by him to try and make
someone as disgusting as you in the world, so you could stand to live with yourself (Destiny). As such Darla would take an interest in how Spike was being crafted. After all, we know that she actively encouraged Angelus in his warping of innocent minds – and delighted when he surpassed her. She might well have added a light (and as far as possible unseen) hand to the wheel if she felt Spike was drifting off course, but always the main work, as in the mine scene, would be firmly left to Angelus. And over time, as Angelus’s lessons took, she might have come to appreciate Spike for what Angelus had made him. Perhaps that is why she didn’t explain things to Spike – Angelus didn’t need explanations so she wasn’t in the habit of giving them to the junior Angelus of the family.
I also have no doubt that Darla liked and approved of the hero worship that Spike developed for Angelus. Darla may have, consciously or unconsciously, chosen to place herself in a powerless position, but Spike had his forced upon him. He could not beat Angelus (we are told in Destiny that the fight for the cup is the first time he has ever beaten Angel) and so almost in self defence he ended up admiring him, he joined the cult of Angelus worship, and Darla, as founder and chief acolyte of the cult, can only have approved.
- This is Angelus. The Angelus.
Spike and Darla are linked then, by their lack of power – his forcible, hers at least partly adopted – possibly by their aesthetic sense – he’s a poet, she likes views and Chopin and nice clothes – but most of all by their admiration for Angelus. Would she ever want Spike to take Angelus’s place? Of course not. Angelus is the perfect creation, her creation, not to be surpassed even by his own creation. Hence Spike must be kept in his second place, and ultimately be despised for being, inevitably, a variant from and thus lesser than the model. Every slip, every deviation from the perfection of Angelus would have been a fault in Darla’s eyes.
- While Spike – Spike! – was out killing a Slayer, you were saving missionaries! From me.
Does one have to interpret this as nothing but contempt for Spike? Not necessarily. Because Darla is always interpreting Spike through the lens of Angelus. Spike by definition is lesser than Angelus, but since Angelus is perfection that can still leave Spike on pretty high ground – he’ll never be the highest mountain, but he can be K2 to Angelus’s Everest.
What then, in the absence of Dru and Angelus would Darla and Spike’s relationship be? I don’t think we can know. Indeed I think that any portrayal, to be realistic, would have to revolve around just that problem – Spike and Darla exploring just what their relationship could be, and, even in his nominal absence, always between them there would be the looming shadow of Angelus, blocking out the view.