But other instances are very annoying. Case in point, one of my favorite TV shows, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," has been saddled with one for over a goddamn decade. Fandom debates are largely centered around which ensouled vampire Buffy should end up with: the dark, brooding Angel, or the poetic, rebellious Spike. Other plot points and characters are often ignored entirely, and that is a crying shame. I think the fictional world of "Buffy" (and "Angel") has so much more to offer than which redeemed bad boy gets to win Buffy in the end.
But it's here, and my best attempts to ignore it don't seem to be working. So who do I think our favorite Slayer should end up with? If asked that question, I will answer Angel every. single. time.
My reasons for this are biased, naturally. First of all, Angel (and his souless alter ego, Angelus) is probably one of my favorite characters in the franchise, second only to Willow (and he generally pisses me off far less than she does). Secondly, I have a deep, aggressive hatred for Spike, which I know must be sacrilegious to his seemingly endless number of fangirls, but it is what it is. The main reason for it being that Spike's entire character arc falls apart like a house of cards once it's held under any kind of serious scrutiny.
It's no secret that Spike was a very popular character, and Whedon and the writers felt the need to work him into the show permanently to take advantage of said popularity. They did this by tying Spike into Season 4's Initiative storyline, in which the government stuck a chip into his bran that sent out painful shocks every time he attacked a human. He sought refuge with the Scoobies, and here's where the first "huh?" moments take place. Instead of taking advantage of his weakness, the Scoobies decide to let him live for various half-baked reasons. The primary one being that Buffy doesn't feel right killing a harmless creature, which is just irresponsible on her part. Abusing said helpless creature would be a truly wrong act, but granting him a quick (and much deserved) death would only be pragmatic. Her placing her trust in a government chip that she knows next to nothing about, and could stop working at any time, to keep the extremely deadly Spike controlled is sheer lunacy. It makes even less sense for Giles and Xander to agree to the plan. The second reason being that they could use him as a resource; they got along just fine without him for three years, but I guess they just got lazy?
But the wrap up of the season 4 storyline established that Spike is still dangerous, even when neutered. He teams up with Adam, the Big Bad of that season, in an attempt to get his chip removed so he could go kill people again. And his actions nearly caused Buffy and her friends to fail in their attempts to stop Adam. And do the Scoobies finally realize that Spike is too much of a liability to keep around, and kill him? No, they just shrug it off, despite his clearly malevolent actions nearly leading to a full scale cyborg/demon/man war (jeez, Adam's plan was kind of dumb).
All throughout season 5, Spike's actions keep getting creepier, and he never suffers any punishment. He nearly gets Riley killed in "Out of My Mind," and he is once again left alive by the Scoobies for no adequately explained reason. He then creepily stalks Buffy, building shrines to her, stealing and smelling her clothes, and eventually tying her up and trying to force her to love him. Buffy reacts with disgust, but once again lets him live.
Compare this with the Angelus storyline in season 2. Buffy fell in love with Angel, but his one moment of perfect bliss while they did the deed broke the curse that anchored his soul in place, reverting him to a monstrous demon. The reasons for Angelus surviving all the way to the season finale actually do hold up under scrutiny. Buffy knows he's evil and needs to be killed, but she has irrational, residual feelings for Angel that prevent her from doing so. She knows he's not the same being, but she can't bring herself to do it. There is also the fact that Angelus is an extremely dangerous and crafty opponent: Buffy knows where his base of operations is throughout most of the season, but attacking him on his home turf would be suicide, especially as Buffy is still relatively inexperienced at this point in the series. It's why Giles insists on preparing her beforehand. Even when Buffy finally resolves to kill Angelus and his soul is restored at the last moment, she still sends him to Hell for the greater good despite the pain is causes to him and herself.
There is also one other thing about Angelus that elevates him in this scenario: he is never romanticized. Not by the characters, nor the narrative. He's a monster, and his actions are reprehensible. He's even treated this way by his own fangirls, who are usually the first to point out when a fanfic is making Angelus a "wuss." The divide between the ensouled Angel and Angelus is there for a reason. Some fans criticize the idea of making Angel (man) and Angelus (demon) different entities, but if the Buffy/Angel romance was still going to be in the cards (and it was), it had to be done so Buffy wouldn't look like a complete f***ing moron for taking him back. This black/white view on Angel may be simplistic to some, but in this scenario, it was necessary to preserve Buffy's integrity.
The so-called morally gray aspect of Spike's character isn't something that brings complexity for the overall storyline like it does with characters such as Faith, Holtz and Lilah. We constantly hear about how Spike is better than Angel because he was capable of being good even before he got the soul. This, my friends, is utter bullshit. Everything he does that can be perceived as "good" can be traced back to his desire to please Buffy, with no real altruistic reason being present. Even taking care of Dawn between seasons 5 and 6 can be interpreted as him honoring Buffy's final request, hopeless, melodramatic romantic that he is. Even throughout season 6, he comments that the actions of the biker gang (destruction, murder, etc.) in "Bargaining" "looks like fun." The first thing he does when he thinks his chip no longer works is try to kill an innocent woman. He takes advantage of Buffy's depression to isolate her from her friends, calls her worthless dirt and that he's the only one that she needs to be with. And then there is the attempted rape scene, in which he only failed because Buffy managed to stop him. I've actually seen "but he didn't actually do it" or "it's Buffy's own fault for leading him on" as defenses for Spike in that scene, and it makes me sick. Spike was never good without his soul.
His fighting for his soul doesn't gain him any points for me either. He does it because he thinks it's the only way he will have a shot with Buffy again after what he did. No greater desire to do good, just selfish desire to make Buffy love him. After he actually has the soul, Spike does have the capacity to truly learn from right and wrong, but I don't think it's done in a satisfactory manner. "Lies My Parents Told Me" is the worst example, where he pouts and whines about being chained up instead of being loose when his trigger activates, putting everyone in the house at risk. He taunts Robin Wood, saying his mother never loved him, and then continues to wear Niki Wood's coat (which he "won" by killing her) in front of her son. And worst of all, Buffy lets him get away with all of it. She constantly harps about how's he so different now that he has a soul, but he still acts like a selfish asshole.
Worst of all, her reaction to almost being raped? NOTHING. We get a pitifully short moment in "Beneath You" where she flashes back to it, but that's it. More emphasis is placed on Spike's redemption than there is on Buffy's feelings about her near-rape. That is appalling, especially in an otherwise very feminist show. The over emphasis on Spike is also one of the reasons that Willow, Giles, Dawn and especially poor Xander were neglected by the writers in the final season. Angel may have played a huge role early on, but not at the expense of other characters.
So, yeah. Spike. Just...fuck that guy. Seriously.