Buffy the Vampire Slayer Star Explains Controversial Episode

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters explains how a writer's real experience inspired the infamous episode "Seeing Red."

Spike is a monster. Whatever else you think of the vampire-turned-love interest of the influential tv series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actor James Marsters wants you to know that he’s a monster. Sure, it’s easy to see how he became a favorite among fans, with his shocking blonde hair, leather duster, and bad attitude. But it’s also hard to narratively justify a vampire turning from Slayer-killer to trusted ally to love interest.

This tension is not lost on Marsters, who admits he wouldn’t have kept his character around. “If it had been me producing that show, I would have killed Spike off in a heartbeat,” Marsters admitted to Radio Times. “As soon as the audience said, ‘Oh, we want him. Oh, have him with Buffy. Oh, we love that character.’ Like uh-uh. He’s ruining the whole thing.” But Marsters has nothing but gratitude for the writers and producers who allowed him to play the series’ breakout character. “I’m very lucky that they had more imagination and courage than I would have shown, frankly.”

That imagination and courage inspired one of the show’s most infamous moments in the season six episode “Seeing Red.” As a battered and exhausted Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) runs a bath for herself, Spike enters the bathroom and insists that she loves him as much as he loves her — she just needs to realize it. This reasoning drives him to assault Buffy sexually.

While vampire attacks on young women have often been portrayed in the genre as exciting moments, Marsters insists that was not the goal in this case. “Buffy is not an Anne Rice kind of thing, where you’re supposed to feel for the vampires,” he reminded viewers. “It’s why we’re hideously ugly when we bite someone, they did not want that to be a sensual kind of thing. It was supposed to be horrific.”

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Instead of titillation, the idea for the scene came from a writer’s real experience, part of an exercise where they were asked to think about their worst day. For one writer, that was an embarrassing decision to “throw herself” at an ex-boyfriend, trying to convince him that he actually loved her. “That was the crushing experience that she wanted to write about,” Marsters said, which inspired his own approach to playing the scene (Steven S. DeKnight is the sole credited writer on the episode). “I think that, because Buffy is a superhero and was fully capable of throwing Spike through a wall, they could flip the sexes,” he thought at the time, before realizing it wasn’t so simple. “You can’t flip the sexes on these characters and not have blowback, it’s going to have unintended consequences.”

One of those unintended consequences was the emotional toll placed on Marsters. “It was the hardest day of my professional career, it sent me into therapy. I collapsed on set, I couldn’t even speak, I was shaking.” Yet he remains grateful for the episode to this day, partially because of the realism, but also because it proved once and for all that Spike is indeed a monster.