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You Want Chips With That?

by James W. (with brain-stealing by MP. Mmmm. Brainsssssss.)

 

Spike, William the Bloody, vampire with a soul. With a chip. With a black leather coat just like daddy's. Spike's character changed over the six seasons of Buffy tVS in which he appeared, sometimes in big, obvious ways and sometimes in subtle ways. The reasons, as well, are not always clear -- but it is clear that Spike at the end of the series is not the same person he was when he arrived in Sunnydale (er, besides just being more dead).

Fans have long and loudly discussed whether these changes are good, bad, horrid, or character-destroying. They've argued why the writers did what they did, whether it should have been done, whether Spike became more or less interesting, more or less Spike.

One of these changes was the introduction into Spike's brain of the chip. Operated upon by the Initiative, Spike was rendered unable to bite humans by receiving a painful zap to the brain whenever he tried to bite a non-demon. (Did we ever see him try to bite an animal? One wonders if it would have worked.) As a result, Spike began appearing more frequently as an ally of Buffy and the Scooby Gang, and eventually became more than that for Buffy, professing his love for her even before he gained a soul.

The chip was eventually removed, due to equipment failure. By that time Spike had a soul -- another behavioral curbing device. The question remains -- what did the chip really do for Spike?

Before the insertion of the chip, Spike's primary goals seemed to be: kill Buffy, and kill anyone else hanging around. Additionally, Drusilla was a large focus of his unlife -- getting her healed, serving her needs, then winning her love back. Smaller goals could be described as "cause mayhem, have fun." He more or less appears to be a typical vampire, with the exception of his attachment to Drusilla.

After the chip, his goals were "get chip removed, kill Buffy." At first, his methods were as violent and careless of others as his methods before having the chip inserted. Gradually, though, his methods became less violent. His primary concern seemed to be himself, and, later, Buffy -- though his intentions towards her expanded to include things other than "kill." One could say that, as his primary focus before the chip was Drusilla, after the chip his primary focus became Buffy with a brief period in between where his focus was on himself.

While the chip prevented most of the violence Spike was used to, it seems that his focus on Buffy was more of a motivation in his behavioral changes than the chip. The chip allowed Buffy to accept his presence, safely neutered as he was. But Spike's behavior seemed to change for the "better" after he began trying to, essentially, impress the girl. The girl he was after was a good guy -- therefore Spike began serving the side of the good for her sake, so she would approve of him, and like him.

The chip, essentially, was only a vehicle for Buffy to allow Spike to try to impress her. The chip did not give Spike a conscience; it did not prompt him to do good deeds in order to survive. It was initially safer to side with the good guys -- protection in numbers, as well as a place or three to crash and people to bum blood money off of. But those things were not necessary, as Spike soon enough moved out on his own and began fending for himself. But he continued trying to help Buffy, and stopping trying to actively destroy humans, or even torment them much. After awhile, the chip even seemed to be a non-factor in Spike's life.

What if the chip had never been inserted? Spike would have had no reason to go to Buffy for help and she would have had no reason to allow him into her life. But the chip's active influence seemed to fade, to the point that the presence of another vehicle might have accomplished the same results. All that was needed was some catalyst for Buffy to trust Spike, and Spike to not give in to his original urge to kill Buffy and her friends. Any artificial restraint would have done, one thinks. The chip, a magic spell, amnesia, so on. There is no real reason to pick one over the other, as they are all capable of achieving the same results.

But what if there were no mechanism for making Spike 'safe'? What if Spike had remained unchipped, unsafe, and dangerous to Buffy and everyone else?

Answering that question in detail is the stuff of fanfic. But certain things can be posited with some certainty. Spike would have had no motivation for befriending Buffy and the Scooby Gang. His main goal before the chip was inserted was "kill Buffy" and it is reasonable to think he would have retained that goal. Whether or not he ever succeeded, he would have been capable of violence towards humans, and there is no reason to think he would have given that up voluntarily. It is reasonable to think he could easily have kept his obsession with Buffy -- though his relationship with her would have been "enemies, stalker, vampire trying to kill you" rather than what it was with the chip.

But without some other mechanism at work to force him to change, Spike would have probably just remained the same sort of person he was in the early seasons. A vampire who desired bloodshed, violence, and dead Slayers, as well as whatever bit of fun struck his fancy. That might be a fine and dandy thing, but after awhile it seems like it would get boring.

Therefore, as stated by someone who borrowed my brain my beta reader, the chip was a good thing for viewers, because it kept Spike around and as a plot device, made it possible for him to become a more interesting character. Other plot devices with a similar effect of stopping him from being an immediate danger to the heroes might have worked just as well, but without something of this nature, Spike would be, if not one-dimensional, at least not as interesting a character to love, hate, and write fanfic about.

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