This is an older essay, but I hadta start with somethin'.
Angel(us). Faith. Spike. Find a common denominator. Villainy is one of them. Buffy-lovin’ is another.
Angel(us). He enters Buffy’s life as an unlikely ally. A vampire with a soul. Y’all know the bedtime story. They fight side-by-side, Angel becomes one of the group, despite Xander’s being wary to the fact that he is, in fact, a vampire. The relationship between Buffy and Angel grows into sappy (yet inevitably doomed) love, until that “one moment of true happiness”.
Boom. Bad guy. THE baddest baddie. And, quite possibly the sexiest thing in leather pants. At least until the third episode of the third season... but I’ll get to that.
Buffy insists that there must be a way to restore his soul, and against the better advice of the Scoobies, refuses to kill him. On the reverse, Angelus plays a similar game, having to answer to Spike for his incessant desire to not kill Buffy at every given opportunity.
Countdown to season two’s end finds Buffy ready to finally take the plunge with the knowledge that Angelus’ success in opening a dimensional portal can only be reversed by shedding his blood. And she does, only after his soul is restored mere milliseconds before Buffy is about to run him through with a big hunk of sword. And she sends him to hell, anyway. Go ahead. Cry. It’s sad.
In season three, he’s dropped butt naked from the sky and returns to Sunnydale, his hundred or so years from the accelerated hell dimension regressing him to his animal nature. But Buffy sticks by him and nurses him back to health. He repays her by walking out of her life and into his own spin off, making a handful of appearances to annoy her with jealousy or console her after Joyce’s death.
Faith. She enters Buffy’s life as a more likely ally than the previous guy, but still under bizarre circumstance. Faith’s another slayer. Another darker, leather wearing, sexier slayer. They fight side-by-side, Faith becomes one of the group, despite Buffy’s being wary to the fact that is feels like Faith is taking over her life. The relationship between slayers grows into a series of sexual innuendos, until that one moment of bad decision making.
Faith kills a guy. A man. By accident. But it’s enough to nudge her over to the dark side and team up with the season’s big bad, Mayor Wilkins.
Buffy insists that there must be a way to help Faith, and against the better advice of the Scoobies, refuses to kill her. On the reverse, the Mayor doesn’t even think about asking Faith to kill Buffy, knowing it would be to difficult... not physically, but emotionally. But he does send her after Angel.
Countdown to season three’s end finds Buffy still attempting to lure Faith into rehab, but after a girl on girl conflict, complete with leather pants and handcuffs for all, she ends up stabbing Faith. The rogue slayer jumps off the building and lands in a coma.
Eight months later, she’s awake and looking for a good tumble. A leftover stocking stuffer from the late great Mayor leads to the “old switcheroo” between the slayers. After the debacle is sorted out, she heads to Los Angeles where Angel finally breaks through the bad girl persona and sets her on the road to redemption.
She sits in jail for three seasons, until she’s needed to help the LA Scoobs take care of a guest appearance by Angelus. The jailbreak is simple and apparent that it could have been done at any given time. Faith could have been walking free the whole time, but she’s truly trying to make up for her actions.
Her stint in the city of angels is brought to an end when Willow arrives to bring the Southie slayer back to Sunnydale (you know, to help avert the other apocalypse).
The slayers interact as if it were only yesterday they were kicking each other’s asses. But in a happy way. They fight side-by-side (again), taking on the hellmouth with the other Scoobies and potential slayers.
Spike. He enters Buffy’s life as a big bad. Or, he wanted to be the big bad until Angelus came along. In season two, Buffy allows him to leave Sunnydale alive, making him promise to never return. But he sails right back into season three, still playing Baddie McBad, but a lovesick McBad, as Dru has left him for a chaos demon. He holds villain status until season four when he’s given his chip by the Initiative, making him harmless to the Scoobies and a danger to other demons. The odd man out on all fronts, he decides to make nice with the Slayer in season five, when he realizes that he’s fallen in love with her. They fight side-by-side (much to her revulsion) Buffy’s repulsed by his presence, but can’t bring herself to kill him in his helpless state, despite everyone’s concern that he’s only being held back by technology, not his nature.
But she trusts him with the lives of her family members. He’s even touched by the death of Joyce, who “treated [him] like a man”. And in season six, she finds comfort in Spike, confiding in him about her visit to heaven and letting them become physically involved.
Things take a nasty turn when he allows his dark animal self to surface, if only for a moment, sending him on a quest to “give her what she deserves”. And what is that, boy and girls? That’s right. A soul.
But it’s a bit much, with all the grief and the guilt and the invisible dead people talking to you. Spike’s return is met by that familiar sense of Xander/Willow/Giles asking if he can be trusted. But eventually, he can, and is a useful member of the team, by imploding the hellmouth via some fancy costume jewelry.
The congruous theme here is the path to redemption. Angel is redeemed via magic, Faith through internal struggle and the legal system, and Spike because of his desire to prove himself.
To be continued in: Part 2: Faith as a canon love interest