Few Buffy episodes provoke the same indignation among Giles fans as "Lies My Parents Told Me." In the episode, Giles attempts to deactivate Spike's trigger, and when the attempt fails, agrees to go behind Buffy's back to help vengeful Robin Wood kill the vampire. The general fan reaction was anger, against the vastly uncharacteristic action, or, in some cases, against Buffy's answer to the action. However, on further viewing and careful analysis, the logic and motives behind his actions come to light.
Giles In Season Seven
In season seven, Buffy and the others are facing what is truly the worst apocalypse they have ever faced. In all the previous seasons, the enemy was someone concrete, who they could fight, even if it was someone extremely powerful. With all the previous Big Bads, once the Big Bad was taken down, the apocalypse was averted. The Master, Angelus, the Mayor, Adam, Glory, and Dark Willow all were only a force of evil unto themselves. They had only small groups of followers at best, and nothing that would prove to be a problem for the Slayer after they themselves were gone. The First, however, has a massive army of followers. He has the Bringers, of course, working for him on Earth, and he has a massive army of Turok-Han waiting in the wings beneath the Hellmouth. Also, in another difference from previous Big Bads, the First is not merely focused on one small area. All of the others had one such area: The Master opening the Hellmouth, Angelus activating Acathla, the Mayor ascending, Adam starting his little war in a bottle, Glory opening the dimensional portal, and Willow ending the world up on that bluff. The First, in contrast, has agents everywhere, and is launching what is truly a full scale war all across the planet, and he does it before Buffy or the others even truly know what's going on. It isn't until after the Watcher's Council is destroyed and many, many of the Slayers-In-Training already dead that they even realize that there is a battle to be fought. As a result, by the time they begin to get into the fight, their support structure has been nearly destroyed, and the safety net that has always been in place--a new Slayer will be called even if Buffy dies--is nearly gone. Also, this makes it the first apocalypse they have faced where, even if they win, they have already taken major and far-reaching loses. And, in fact, even at the end, they do not truly defeat the First. They destroy his armies and close the Hellmouth, but the First is still alive and can still muster a force again, although, one assumes, the army of Slayers will be able to fight off the Bringers and it will take time for the First to find more foot soldiers. Essentially, in "Chosen," they treated the symptoms, but did not cure the disease.
This is something that the Watcher's Council had foreseen. The idea that someday, someone might attack the entire Slayer line. They had planned for this, but probably prayed the day would never come. For the Watchers, for Giles, realizing what was happening must have been like waking up in a true nightmare. This *was* the worst-case scenario. Even when Giles and Buffy were estranged from them, the Watcher's Council was always there, as a fallback if things became too grim. In season five, when Giles can't find information on Glory, he goes to them and they have some of the information that they need. Also, on a level of more personal significance, Giles was born into the Watcher's Council. His grandmother was a Watcher and his father was a Watcher. He was only ten when he was told that he, too, would be a Watcher. Even when he was rebelling against it, the Council was a huge presence in his life, informing everything he did, and after he returned to it, it became his place of employment and his life. No doubt he has friends there, and acquaintances and enemies. The Council was his life and his family and his destiny. To see it destroyed must have been beyond unthinkable. And then there is the murder of the SITs. Giles is seeking them out, all across the globe, bringing them back to Sunnydale. Now, even setting aside the stress of world travel--hours and hours on planes, jet lag, living in hotels, struggling to negotiate unfamiliar cities in unfamiliar countries--consider the fact that, at least some of the time, Giles is finding not a living girl and a living Watcher, but a dead girl and a dead Watcher, or perhaps only one of the two. Add to that the fact that he may personally know one or both, and has already lost so many, and you realize that Giles is facing a massive personal tragedy, and incredibly difficult circumstances.
Of all of the Buffy gang, Giles is the one who knows best that they are facing their worst odds yet.
All of this adds up to Giles arriving in Sunnydale in "Bring On The Night" already several steps ahead of the rest of the gang in terms of knowing what they are facing and how deadly the threat is. He is already withdrawn and even traumatized. He keeps his distance from the others, who are still laughing and joking, and he doesn't even touch or hug anyone. Plot device reasons aside, this tells me that Giles is hurting, and scared, and he is pulling away and trying to handle things on his own, much the way he did in "The Dark Age." He comes and goes, and continuously tries to impress upon the others the true severity of the situation, and often seems to feel that they do not really understand, saying things like "There isn't time for fun and games and quips about orientation ... Girls are going to die. We may die. It's time to get serious." ("First Date")
Giles in "Lies My Parents Told Me"
Giles has always been willing to do whatever it takes to protect the world and the lives of others, even if that means taking one life to save many more. There's evidence that he killed Randall to stop Eyghon, such as when he says, of taking a human life, "The guilt, it-it's, it's pretty hard to bear, and it won't go away soon," ("Ted") as though he understands the feeling. He also says that he doesn't know how to stop the demon "without killing Jenny," ("The Dark Age") which seems to imply that killing Randall was how he stopped the demon before.
During the series, he also shows this willingness to put the well-being of the world over a single life when it is necessary. He tells Buffy, "you realize if [Angel]... truly becomes a danger, you may have to kill him. Again. Can you do that?" ("Amends") Also, at the end of season six, Giles says "... the coven is working on a ... way to extract [Willow's] powers without ... killing her. And, uh, should she survive..." ("Grave," emphasis mine). He realizes that it may not be possible to let Willow live if she will continue to be a danger, and he accepts this, even though she is one of the people he cares about most. Willow herself even says "When you brought me here, I thought it was to kill me." ("Lessons")
In season five, he advocates killing Dawn, telling Buffy that the world takes precedence.
Giles: I love Dawn.
Buffy: I know.
Giles: But I've sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing ... what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to.
Buffy: You try and hurt her, and you know I'll stop you.
Giles: I know.
- "The Gift"
Buffy acknowledges the possibility that Giles may decide to take things into his own hands, and makes it clear that she is prepared to stop him. And, of course, later in the episode, Giles does end up taking a life, Ben's, to protect the world.
It is how and why he kills Ben that most closely resembles his attempt to have Spike killed. Ben was a danger to the world, and to Buffy, but he was also an innocent, much like Spike, with his new soul, is innocent, in a way, but still a danger. Giles knows that Buffy cannot kill Ben. In fact, Giles believes that Buffy herself should not kill Ben. He takes that responsibility, and that burden, on himself.
Ben: She could've killed me.
Giles: No she couldn't. Never. And sooner or later Glory will reemerge, and ... make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her. Buffy even knows that... and still she couldn't take a human life ... She's a hero, you see. She's not like us.
- "The Gift"
However, even though Giles has proved in the past his willingness to kill if necessary, there are other issues involved in his actions in "Lies My Parents Told Me." The first is the fact that he allows Wood, whom he knows is out for vengeance, to kill Spike, rather than doing it himself. The second, more daunting issue, is the fact that he goes behind Buffy's back and against her expressed wishes.
One important thing about situation with Spike and his chip and his trigger and his soul is the remarkable similarities of his situation to Angel/Angelus's. He is a souled vampire whose goodwill is precarious at best. He points out the danger immediately, saying Buffy is "gambling with a lot of lives." ("First Date")
The first reason that the similarities between Spike and Angel are important here are the similarities between Spike and Wood and Angel and Giles's situation, which help explain why Giles allowed Wood to attack Spike. Angel killed Giles's lover. Spike killed Wood's mother. Since, when Buffy interfered with his attempt to take vengeance on Angelus, Giles said, "this is not your fight," ("Passion") it would make sense to assume that Giles identifies with Wood's quest for revenge against Spike, and, although it would never be the sole reason he would assist Wood in killing Spike, it is a reason he would allow Wood to be the one to actually kill him, when it became necessary. And, in Giles's opinion, it is necessary.
This issue is also important, though, because of Giles's personal history with souled vampires. When Angel went bad, aside from Buffy, it was Giles who suffered the most. Angel, once a very trusted ally to him, murdered his girlfriend and made the murder very personal, leaving the body in Giles's bed in a parody of romance, right before, apparently, Giles and Jenny were to consummate their relationship. Even as late as "Beauty and the Beasts" in season three, Giles admits to dreaming about saving Jenny. Clearly, her death made a large impression. Then later, Angel tortures Giles, "for hours, for pleasure" ("Revelations"). Giles was badly hurt by Angelus. He does not trust Angel, and has remained uncomfortable with him ever since.
And finally, the issue is important because Giles can remember how badly Buffy's relationship with Angel hurt her, and how little perspective she had on that relationship. When Angel first lost his soul, Buffy had a chance to destroy him almost immediately, in the mall after they had defeated the Judge. She didn't do it, however, because she was too emotionally involved with him to make that decision. That moment of weakness, that hesitation, cost Jenny (and others) their lives later. Then, later, actually killing Angel nearly destroyed Buffy. She ran away, and even when she came back, she was never the same. That moment hardened her more than any other single moment, except possibly her death in season five. When Angel came back, she hid him from the rest of the group, and, in spite of her knowledge of the dangers, she tried to reestablish a romantic relationship with him. Buffy was willing to kill for him, and even die for him, even while the fate of the world was at stake. It was only, in the end, Angel's own decision to leave that ended the relationship. Overall, her relationship with Angel harmed her, and weakened her, and distracted her dangerously from more important issues. Giles points out the similarities, even, saying "Angel left here because he realized how harmful your relationship with him was. Spike, on the other hand, lacks such self-awareness." ("Lies My Parents Told Me")
Giles sees the similarities between Angel and Spike. This is a fact that is played subtly in canon, but it is there. An extension of his distrust of Angel is thus a distrust of Spike. Giles sees clearly how very badly this situation could go wrong, because he *has* seen a similar situation go bad. This probably makes him connect very strongly with Wood's statement that "[Spike]'s an instrument of evil. Now he's gonna prove to be our undoing in this fight, Buffy's undoing, and she will never - never see it coming." ("Lies My Parents Told Me")
Giles doesn't want Buffy to be hurt, and, given her history with Angel (and with Spike), sees only pain in her future with Spike. He even says "Buffy, I want more for you." ("First Date") However, he also has more practical concerns about the situation. He knows that in the past, Buffy has been blind to the flaws and dangers of her lovers, and has been unreasonable where they are concerned. He can see it happening in season seven. Buffy is unreasonably insistent on protecting Spike. She is ignoring the issue of his trigger, and she, in Giles's words " recklessly chose to remove the chip from his head," ("Lies My Parents Told Me") even when he is already a clear and present danger. She is resistant to reason, becoming defensive and stubborn whenever Giles brings up the issue of Spike. And, when Spike is equally resistant to Giles's efforts to disable the trigger, Buffy supports him, and tells Giles to leave him alone, even when he is still a danger. Buffy is the proverbial immobile object, and Giles knows that he is no unstoppable force. All of his attempts to convince her and Spike of the danger are ignored or downplayed. It is here that we can begin to see why Giles chose to go behind Buffy's back to have Spike killed, when, at any other point in the series, he would have waited until Buffy made the decision on her own.
In the past, he was willing to accept Buffy's attitude towards her loved ones, and, in fact, even saw it as a strength of character, saying "what I've always admired... being able to place your heart above all else."("Spiral"). In season seven, however, due to the severity of their situation, his feelings are changing, and he is much less willing to accept any weakness, or any potential, preventable risk.
The conversation between Giles and Buffy in the graveyard in "Lies My Parents Told Me" is a vital clue as to Giles's motivations for doing what he did and why he did it the way he did. Throughout the speech to Buffy he continually emphasizes the direness of their current situation, and the unacceptable risk of Spike, and he asks her several times if she truly believes that she should be willing to make sacrifices she might not have once made, if she would compromise her principles to save the world. He asks her if she understands "the difficult decisions you'll have to make? That any one of us is expendable in this war? That we cannot allow any threat that would jeopardize our chances at winning?" and he points out that "Spike's a liability, Buffy. He refuses to see it, and so do you." ("Lies My Parents Told Me") At first glance, it appears that Giles is trying to convince Buffy that Spike is too dangerous, that she must destroy him.
However, consider this: Giles knows that Spike is already dead, or will be at any moment. He has been trying to convince Buffy to deal with Spike's situation for months now. At this point, he is past that. He has given up. He gave up as soon as Wood said "he's gonna prove to be our undoing in this fight, Buffy's undoing, and she will never - never see it coming. Now, I'm talking about what needs to be done... for the greater good." ("Lies My Parents Told Me," emphasis mine) and he agreed.
For many fans, this is the essential out-of-character moment in this episode. They would argue that never before has Giles betrayed Buffy in this way, that always before he has trusted her. However, I believe that that is actually the very essence of this episode. Giles is doing something he has never done before, something he has never felt the need to do before. Because of the situation, because of the risk, because of Buffy's willful blindness, and Spike's obstinance, Giles has come to the decision that this time, he must do something he would never have considered before. In fact, this is exactly what he is saying in his speech to Buffy in the graveyard. Everything he says about needing to look at the big picture, about being willing to do things differently than ever before, all of this applies directly back to his own actions. Note that he says "we cannot allow any threat to jeopardize our chances." He is not trying to convince Buffy that she needs to kill Spike. He is explaining his own actions. He never wanted to betray Buffy, but he believed, this time, that it was absolutely necessary.
Thus, what happens in "Lies My Parents Told Me" is not out of character. It is only Giles doing what he has always done: what he believes is right. Even if it kills him. Even if it breaks his heart. Even if it is something he never would have done before.
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