Buffy the Vampire Slayer has several notable examples of love spells. Love spells are a fairly popular plot device, appearing in everything from the old pop song “Love Potion #9” to the recent romantic comedy When in Rome. In Buffy, love spells are used primarily for comedy but sometimes for drama. The nature of a love spell involves established characters acting very differently, which can be a source of humor, but the removal of will involved can make it a matter for serious plot. The examples of love spells include Xander’s backfired spell in “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, Spike’s sought after spell to use on Drusilla in “Lover’s Walk”, Jonathan’s perfection spell in “Superstar”, the enchanted jock jacket in “Him”, as well as various other forms of will removal that are related.
The intended purpose of a love spell is to make a person or persons fall in love with the caster of the spell, so that the spell caster can then take advantage of them. A person who has sex with a person they put under this condition is in effect date raping them, except with a spell instead of a drug. Buffy explicitly compares love spells to date rape drugs with Buffy referring to a love spell as invoking “the great roofie spirit” in season two’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”.
The plot of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” has Xander heartbroken after Cordelia breaks up with him on Valentine’s Day. Angered, he decides to take his revenge by coercing Amy into casting a spell to make Cordelia truly love him so he can break up with her and let her know the kind of pain he feels. Unbeknownst to him, Cordelia already loves him and only broke up with him because of peer pressure. As a result, the spell bounces off of her and hits every other woman in Sunnydale, causing them to be obsessed with Xander. As Giles notes, it isn’t really love that the women feel, but obsession. They will not accept Xander rejecting them, and soon turn quite hostile when it even seems like he might.
Now, Xander was definitely wrong for attempting black magic. His first mistake was thinking that he could make the Hellmouth work for him because the thing’s energies seem only to support evil and/or chaos. However, he didn’t actually intend to make use of a love spell in its intended purpose, so I can’t judge him too critically. He didn’t deliberately cause people to fall in love with him so he could take advantage of them even romantically if not outright sexually, so he’s more of an innocent placed in a position where he could choose whether or not to do the right thing and ignore the attention.
When Willow first approaches him in a sexual manner, he recognizes it to be the spell and freaks out. In Joss’ classic subversion of masculine ideals, he does the manly thing and hides. In Joss’ subversion, acting like a man means not taking advantage of a hot girl with an addled mind. When the person pursuing him is Buffy, the girl he’s had a crush on for two seasons, he expresses how much he wants to accept but he knows it’s not right. Buffy later commends him for doing the right thing, giving the episode a positive message about men being good strong people for not taking advantage of women who can’t adequately consent—a message sadly absent from much of the surrounding culture—amidst all the silliness of the episode.
The subject of the love spell shows up again in the season three episode “Lover’s Walk”, in which Willow wants to cast a reverse love spell to “de-lust” her and Xander to keep them from having an affair. Spike, who’s in the neighborhood after Drusilla dumped him, overhears Willow talking to the salesperson at the magic shop, and he decides to kidnap her to cast a love spell on Drusilla so he can get her back. The rape-like nature of love spells is not glossed over at all as Spike is blatantly evil, threatens to rape and/or eat Willow, and lovingly reminisces about him and Dru killing a homeless man on that bench over there. His evil nature is both used as a joke and to add sex appeal as his threatening Willow is both scary and sexy. After spending some time fighting alongside Buffy and Angel, observing how they interact as a couple, he decides to drop the whole love spell plot and prove to Drusilla he’s the demon for her by tying her up and torturing her until she likes him again. “Love’s a funny thing,” he remarks as he heads off.
In season four’s episode “Superstar”, Jonathan casts a spell to enchant the world and make himself the best at everything. He becomes the leader of the Scoobies, the star of The Matrix, the inventor of the Internet, top man at the Initiative, and essentially James Bond. While not a love spell per se, it is implied that everyone capable of experiencing sexual attraction is attracted to him, including the normally gynosexual Xander, Giles, and Tara. He certainly has a ton of adoring female fans, including Willow and Tara, who seem on the edge of being in love with him if not that far. He has sex with at least two women in that state, “the twins”, who live with him in a mansion. That this is essentially rape is not touched on during the episode, except for Jonathan simply saying that everyone’s mad at him and the twins moved out after the spell is broken. He describes how he wanted the Scoobies as his friends rather than puppets, and Buffy explains that if he wants friends he has to make friends and not manipulate people, a good lesson he doesn’t take to heart in time to stop his Trio buddies from using the cerebral dampener in season six.
The explicit love spell reappears in the season seven episode “Him”, in which Sunnydale High jock R.J. attracts all the ladies with his enchanted jacket. Now, the thing here is that R.J. is entirely in the dark. He doesn’t have any clue about the love spell, which was put on the jacket by someone else entirely, so he can’t be judged for his actions in the same way that a love spell caster can be. He just thinks he has great sex appeal. As a result of the love spell, he almost has sex with Buffy before they’re timely interrupted. If this were to transpire, Buffy would be a rape victim, but R.J. is innocent rather than a rapist himself. The real rapist is out of the picture, but his spell has doubtlessly victimized countless women. While Xander’s spell completely ensnared the women of Sunnydale, with the jacket Buffy and Dawn are able to eventually recognize that they’re under a spell, and the Scoobies put an end to the jacket and its power for good.
These love spells are acts of mental manipulation viewed as harmful and are actively fought against. A notable contrast is the mass mind alteration performed by the Order of Dagon in order to hide the Key. Knowing that Glory is after the Key, the monks send it to the Slayer to protect it. Because the Slayer fiercely protects her friends and family, the monks turn the Key human and alter everyone’s memories so they would believe that the Key is Buffy’s little sister Dawn and that she always had her as a sister. Upon realization that their memories of Dawn aren’t real, the Scoobies initially don’t know how to act, but they all eventually come to accept Dawn as part of the family. In this case, the manipulation is embraced because the person they’ve been programmed to love is worth loving.
In addition to love spells, there are other related forms of harmful brainwashing. One such example is the cerebral dampener, the Trio’s mystical date rape orb in season six’s “Dead Things”. The orb removes all will from their victim, Katrina, who refers to each Trio member as ‘Master’ in a zombie fashion. Putting her in a French maid outfit, they fully intend on raping her—without Jonathan or Andrew quite realizing what they’re doing is rape.
In season six, Willow becomes increasingly power hungry and over dependent on magic. She becomes used to commanding mystical forces to exert her will on her environment, becoming morally corrupted as a result. This culminates in “All the Way”, when Tara confronts her about using magic as a solution to everything. Willow doesn’t want to fight and to go to bed angry at each other, so she casts another spell. Using Lethe’s bramble, so named after the Greek spirit of forgetfulness, she causes Tara to forget about the whole confrontation. This one isn’t really a love spell, but Willow uses it to the effect of one. In the next episode, “Once More, with Feeling”, Willow and Tara have sex during the lovely and twisted “Under Your Spell” song, brought forth from Tara’s state of mind, which had been constructed by Willow’s manipulation. The wrongness of Willow’s spell is discussed in the following episode, “Tabula Rasa”, in which Tara describes the act as Willow violating her. “Violate” is often TV-code for “rape” and in this case can be considered something of similar properties if not literal rape.
Another example is the thrall exhibited by vampires such as Drusilla and Dracula. Thrall has been featured in so much Buffy fic that I’m not quite sure how much is canon and how much is fanon (fan-created material repeated over and over again). What is clear is that Drusilla and Dracula (and possibly Dracula’s wives) can hypnotize their victims in a sexual manner. Using her power in season two’s “Becoming (Part 2)”, Drusilla makes Giles think she’s his lost love Jenny in order to get information from him and then passionately kisses him while caught up in the moment. Dracula, in season five’s “Buffy vs. Dracula”, puts Buffy and Xander under his thrall. Xander is turned into a Dracula-adoring, bug-eating minion who calls Dracula ‘Master’ like Renfield of the original Dracula story, which isn’t explicitly sexual though Xander may inherit perceived homoeroticism from the Renfield character. Buffy gets a very sexual version of thrall, in which she seduced to let him bite her and for her to drink from him. Buffy ultimately rejects the thrall and chases Dracula out of Sunnydale.
“The secret ingredient is not love.”
One more example is the drug used by Ted in season two episode “Ted”. Ted is the creepiest Buffy villain in my opinion. Oh, sure he’s a robot, but for the majority of the episode he’s apparently human. He just seems to be a guy Buffy’s mother is dating. Like with The Stepford Wives, everything is all clean and shiny on the outside, but Buffy can tell something’s wrong and no one will believe her. Along with the standard ways of gaining social influence, Ted drugs Buffy’s family and friends with a drug to keep everybody happy and submissive. Yeesh, that guy’s creepy!
And, of course, there’s Warren’s loving girlfriend April, a robot built to please him, from season five’s “I Was Made to Love You”. Warren’s a sleaze. He wanted a woman who would do everything he told her to, and so created artificial life to be the ultimate fantasy submissive girlfriend. April is apparently a sapient artificial intelligence and completely in love with someone who doesn’t deserve it at all. Buffy talks to her during her last moments, making sure she’s as content as possible. Warren later makes the Buffybot as a sex toy for Spike in “Intervention”. While the Buffybot has many of the same characteristics as April, it’s unclear if she’s ever respected to the same degree as April, by which I mean I’m not sure if we’re supposed to respect her as a life form.
In conclusion, there are many instances of love spells and manipulations of similar characteristics in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although often depicted in a silly fashion, love spells are usually recognized as analogous to date rape drugs, and are sometimes used in the form of serious drama. You can bet, however, that by virtue of being on a Joss Whedon show, all use of mind manipulation in a sexual manner will ultimately serve to promote female empowerment in the story’s message.