Community through Addiction: Angel, Spike, and the Desire for Blood

Screenshot from Angel.
When Joss Whedon took a break from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the show’s sixth season, the writers took Willow on a dark path where she became more and more reliant on the power of magic—an allegory for addiction and recovery. But if you were paying attention, the real addicts had been there all along, skulking in the shadows, always after another hit, hiding in the very title of the show.

Vampires are addicted to blood. Their thirst for it is the reason they get up, get out, see anyone, or do anything. They spend most of their waking hours stalking prey. Vamps often corner their prey in dark alleyways, a stereotypical site of drug deals, which means they often find their deaths slumped over against a brick wall—an unfortunate trope of addicts in television and film. The vamps of Sunnydale know that the Slayer is out there, but their cravings send them out into the night despite the danger. There are no “casual” vampires. No one goes on a one-night blood bender. One hit and they are hooked for their immortal lives.

Vampirism turns Angel from a fun-loving Lothario into Angelus, a demon transfixed by others’ pain. Similarly, Spike transforms from an unpopular man suffering unrequited love and a reputation for “bloody awful poetry” into a being willing to kill his own mother. Through drinking a vamp’s blood, Spike and Angel contract a vampirism “disorder,” with symptoms they will manage for the rest of their lives. Even after they regain their souls, they struggle with their addiction.

Screenshot from Angel.

Angel and Shame

While on the surface Angel and Spike are glossy bad boys, underneath they are men looking for wholeness that blood can’t fulfill. By the time Buffy meets Angel, he’s isolated himself out of guilt and shame for all the lives he’s taken. He drinks from bags typically used for donated blood, which suggests that he is either stealing it from hospitals or has access to resources for reformed vampires. Given his antisocial nature, the former is more likely.

Since it’s unaccompanied by the thrill of the kill, the stolen blood operates more as a nicotine patch than a cigarette. The blood fulfills his cravings like a patch but doesn’t require the dangerous consumption of blood from the source, like a cigarette. He consumes his blood in the privacy of his decrepit home, which is largely unfurnished and lacking any light sources. Angel stays in shadow all the time, not wanting to be seen, for shame of what he was and how weak he is with a soul. While dissociating himself from the violent nature of vampires, he still clings to the environmental aesthetic, but he trades his vintage clothing for a dark, understated look.  Even though he has transcended the bloodlust, Angel will not join the Scoobies as a card-carrying member, because he does not allow himself to embrace his second life by making friends.

Even being in a relationship with Buffy does not give him full happiness, as he feels he does not deserve her. At every turn, he holds back from letting Buffy see the real him, even hiding the nature of his condition from her. Buffy (and sex with Buffy) can’t give him real peace when he still feels like a monster. His physical happiness is fleeting, especially for someone who feels he doesn’t deserve it. It is only later, in his own series when he finds his own community, that he takes on an identity of his own. When he moves to a place where no one knows his history, he collects his own rag-tag group of misfits, each with a complex history of their own. The platonic love of his friends gives him the opportunity to heal in the way Buffy never could.

Screenshot from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Spike and Self-Work

Spike deflects his biting need for love and acceptance through a string of hedonistic relationships with like-minded vampires. But his so-called friends don’t support him when the Initiative’s brain implant trains him out of craving blood, operating as his “intervention.”

Even with the chip, Spike has to put in a serious amount of self-work before Buffy trusts him enough to deactivate it. He is only enabled to do that self-work with the help of the Scoobies. They adopt him, not by choice but necessity, and only then is he capable of finding substantial coping mechanisms for his ongoing condition. He consumes cruelty-free blood in cute mugs under the watcher’s eye, so Giles knows how he is taking care of his condition. As he regulates symptoms and cravings, the group keeps him in check where his chip cannot, keeping tabs on his whereabouts, offering a safe space and a way to contribute.

Part of Spike’s humour stems from this constant exposure. Where the Scoobies can keep secrets, he lives in accountability with the humans as well as reformed demon Anya, who struggles with relapsing into revenge herself.

The unfortunate reality of recovery is the lack of privacy that comes with accountability. Part of his humour stems from the bitter reality of everyone knowing his business, but it is only through this exposure that he becomes the type of person Buffy could love, giving him a reason to acquire his own soul, and earn his release from addiction through personal effort.

Spike, by earning his own redemption, contributes to the gang much more than Angel, who had his soul handed to him, ever did. Spike guides Dawn, believing in her when the Scoobies won’t. Even though Spike is often the butt of a joke, he forces Buffy to come to terms with her personal shades of grey, her death-wish, her sexuality, and the complex realities of adulthood. His dark history of addiction and disorder give him a mature insight into the Slayer’s reality, where her friends cannot.

The Buffyverse seems to conceptualize these vampire-addicts as brooding, broken boys, but, with the right community, they are able to recreate themselves not as they were before vampirism, but as people who can contribute to the fight through well-wrought self-knowledge and accountability.

Hannah Foulger

Hannah Foulger

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Hannah Foulger is a British Canadian writer and theatre artist from Cambridge Ontario. A former MK and a disabled activist, she views her fantasy and sci-fi (largely film and lit-based) through a post-colonial and disability lens. She lives in Winnipeg, where she creates theatre and works as a disability service worker. In her spare time, Hannah consults for both Stargate Command and the Watcher's Council.
Hannah Foulger