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I just got so bored – 'School Hard' re-examined

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Spike is the ADD vampire, the impetuous one who gets bored at the drop of a stake. We know this – the whole fandom seems to agree upon it, so it must be true. And as always when faced with a nice juicy bit of fanon I can’t resist ripping it open to dissect the guts. So, just tossing the idea out there – when are there actual examples of Spike getting bored?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (sometimes also referred to as ADD, an earlier name many feel is still more applicable to many individuals) is a psychiatric diagnosis that identifies characteristics such as hyperactivity, forgetfulness, mood shifts, poor impulse control, and distractibility, when judged to be chronic, as symptoms of a neurological pathology.

In adults the problem is often seen as a difficulty with time management, procrastination, organization, risk-taking, careless behavior, and distractible and impulsive behavior. They often show an inability to structure their lives and plan complex daily tasks. Their greatest difficulties are in self-control or executive functioning, which refers to inhibit off-task behavior, the ability to direct behavior toward future goals and tasks and to keep those tasks in mind until completed (typically called working memory), to self-motivate such behavior in the absence of rewards, to innovate or reorganize goal-directed behavior as obstacles arise, and to evaluate one's own performance.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Or if you want a more formalised list of symptoms.

Spike doesn’t procrastinate, nor does he strike me as disorganised, and his only known difficulty with time management is that he doesn’t wear a watch (The Girl In Question). I can’t offhand recall any problems of forgetfulness other than forgetting that Angel speaks German and when he himself was sired. (:cough:) So we are left with risk-taking, carelessness and distractible behaviour. Now Spike is undoubtedly a risk taker and fairly careless – when someone shoves a sword through a van roof, grabbing hold of it with your bare hands can be described as risk-taking. So I’m really not quibbling that part. But what I am most concerned with here is the charge of distractibility – that he’s impetuous and gets easily bored – which is I think what most people mean when they describe him as having ADD.

This is the guy who had the patience to put up with an erratic and lunatic companion for over a hundred years. This is the guy who could just sit and hold the girl he loved one night because she asked him to. This is the guy who was happy to be chained in the Summers’ basement apparently without books or a tv to keep him occupied. This is the guy of whom Angel said Once he starts something he doesn’t stop until everything in his path is dead. As Xander pointed out, that makes him thorough and goal orientated, not someone with ADD.

Basically, the whole idea seems to stem from School Hard, when Spike attacks two days before the feast of St Vigeous and when challenged produces the famous line I just got so bored.

School Hard – oh how I do love this episode, let me count the ways, when our boy first crashed onto the scene in all his glory. In many ways, despite all the stiff competition there has been since, it is still my favourite Spike episode. But so many people seem to have a strange idea of what went on during School Hard. Or at least, a very different idea to what I think went on, and the most extraordinary thing is how willing they are to take that line about boredom at face value.

Because I have always maintained that, far from being the classic example of Spike’s impetuous, ADD ways, we have but to look a little deeper, to what is actually happening in School Hard, and we can clearly see a plan of Machiavellian cunning and resultant elegance. Quite the opposite of impetuous, in fact.

From his first line we know that Spike is planning to move in and stay – Home sweet home. – he is up to something far more than just your usual turn-up-to-be-killed monster of the week. And we get several other hints that he has been doing his homework and thinking ahead. He specifically says he has read about the Anointed One, he knows they are having Slayer trouble. There are other things he seems to know ahead of time, but more of those later.

From the moment Spike walks into the factory he is acting a role. Just how long was he listening outside the door? Long enough to have just heard the remark about the crucifixion, or long enough to have worked out which vamp he needs to take down quickly? Certainly he knows which vamp is the most immediate threat to him – the one who is boasting of killing the slayer is by definition the biggest, strongest, and the one most likely to be a threat to his own self-declared role of slayer of Slayers. But Spike doesn’t kill him then and there, that would reveal himself as a threat to the Anointed, instead he knocks him unconscious thus neatly getting rid of the immediate danger and attracting the Anointed’s attention. The Anointed is duly impressed enough to offer the very necessary protection for Spike from the other minions.

How much of all that was planned? Well he was certainly expecting it to be a dangerous situation, one where he would have to make a strong impression from the word go – it is not often Spike wanders around in vamp face but on this occasion he chose to. There is also his very telling reaction to Dru. It strikes me that he is so stern with her having shown up because he wanted her well out of the way of a potentially dangerous situation. Fortunately though the Anointed seems pleased enough with him that everything is fine and he can relax and let her play a little.

Next, Spike goes to check out Buffy, his superficial target – more careful planning here and a good next move. And he chooses to take one vamp with him – the very vamp that he knocked out on arrival. Why of all the vamps take this one? The one most likely to be a danger to him and with the greatest incentive to ruin his plans – indeed the vamp who does try to wreck Spike’s plan, attempting to kill Buffy himself when offered the chance. But Spike has been far cleverer than that. He needs a vamp to show him the Slayer, but he also wants one to fight the Slayer so he can assess his opponents fighting abilities. Assessing an opponent is clearly something he is experienced at – as witness Angel setting him to assess Ilyria in AtS Season 5. For this it is obviously useful to have the strongest and most skilled sparring partner he can find for her. And when Buffy duly kills the vamp it neatly removes his biggest rival in a way that is entirely legitimate as far as the Anointed is concerned. Spike isn’t just plotting here, he is multitasking with his strategy!

There is an interesting point here, that if Buffy had ever actually looked to be in trouble with the minion we might well have seen Spike coming to her aid – because under no circumstances does he want Buffy dead yet. That, I believe, would defeat a major goal of his game. Fortunately Buffy doesn’t need any help so Spike is able to observe her technique and then briefly reveal himself to give a warning about Saturday – he successfully puts the wind up Willow and unsettles Buffy herself, and makes quite sure they know when he will be attacking – the night of St Vigeous.

The fact that he has mentioned Saturday shows that the next part of his plan is clearly already thoroughly thought out. And this is confirmed because he goes ahead and gets the final weapon he needs for it by taking Sheila.

This is an appropriate point to stop for a moment and ask just whose plan this is. Is it Spike’s or Dru’s? Now the later characterisation of Spike gives a simple answer to that question.

Spike
I don't exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood, which doesn't exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes, a lot of wrong bloody calls.

Touched

So we could be justified in assuming it is Dru doing the cunning planning. However, Spike’s intelligence is a highly moot point that I don’t want to digress into here. And what is important to my current argument is not who came up with the plan but how Spike implemented it.

While Dru was ‘eating something’ Spike had a little time to kill. Did he spend this playing on a game boy or watching TV as a good little ADD vampire should? No. He followed Dru’s suggestion and went to get chanty with the boys. Obviously not something he enjoyed but he still did it, thus keeping in with the Anointed and doubtless gaining a few points with the lads by raising his eyebrows at inappropriate moments during the dark rituals and mucking about in the back row.

Anyway, with Sheila risen he is ready to move on to the next stage and so he arrives at the high school ‘early’ and makes the fateful remark that will condemn him in the eyes of fandom. Stop and think about it guys – you have a strong opponent who you have carefully warned to expect you on a particular day and then you attack her before she is expecting it, at a time when you know she is particularly preoccupied with normal life matters and will be further worried by having to protect her friends and family. By what analysis is this impetuous stupidity? In my book that is very clever strategy. The plan failed because said friends and family turned out to be willing to help the Slayer – something unprecedented in Slayer tradition. It did not, and this cannot be stressed too much, fail because Spike was impetuous. Apart from anything else he was not impetuous, we see him moving around the high school with calm competence, setting the minions onto clear tasks, dealing out a little internal discipline (Use your head) without wasting troops by staking them – rare self-control for a master vampire – and generally seeming to be thoroughly even paced and clear headed.

There is also the fascinating encounter with Angel that establishes so much about their relationship in a very short time. And to return to the question of just how much preparation Spike had done – did he or did he not know that Angel had a soul? I tend to think he did. There is something false in his cry of Angelus! … I’ll be damned! and if he knew that Angel was in Sunnydale then there can be no doubt he would have known he had a soul. So just who is tricking whom here? Angel thinks he is using Xander to lure Spike close so he can hit him, but it is Spike who gets in the first blow, who has used the cover of ‘believing’ Angel’s story to get up close to his old sire. One has to wonder if the lack of perimeter guards wasn’t deliberately designed to get Angel inside the school where he can be dealt with.

So Spike tried to kill the Slayer and he tried to kill (or just possibly, given their history and grudging affection, capture and desoul) Angel, and he failed at both. Does this mean the whole plan had failed? It does not. Killing the Slayer would undoubtedly have been a nice result but I don’t think that was ever the main point of the plan. The real goal – Spike’s real opponent – was sitting back in the factory all the time. Returning with the minions tired – not exuberant and supportive of Spike after defeating the Slayer as he had hoped, but nevertheless now aware of his strengths and accustomed to following his orders – for the first time Spike can find himself alone in a room with the Anointed and his chief minion. The others aren’t standing around menacing or chanting, they are licking their wounds and saying that even without having killed the Slayer, things are a lot more fun with this Spike chap around. The raid thus achieved its most important task of getting the minions on Spike’s side – he showed them a leader, firm but fair, a strategic thinker who was trained by the great Angelus himself but isn’t going to be fooled by that wimp Angel. And as they rolled back to the factory I have no doubt he told the lads to take the rest of the day easy, chanting was off for once because everyone had done very well. They’d have better luck next time… and it is the work of a moment to take out the stay-at-home head minion and turn the Annoying One into a very small pile of dust.

The plan did not work perfectly – Buffy survived and Angel remained at large, but in terms of achieving what Spike most needed to achieve that smoking cage says it all. Because the plan was never about killing Buffy, it was about taking over the remnants of the Master’s gang and positioning Spike and Dru in charge on the Hellmouth so that in a few weeks, when the stars aligned, Dru could be cured. And none of that is even slightly impetuous.