I like both characters pretty equally, and for different reasons. Today I spent a good part of the day attempting to catch up on the BAPS (Bloody Awful Poet Society) list digests, and reading through a number of posts which teeter-totter from "Spike's return will be awful because Mutant Enemy will ruin it!" to "Everything will be peachy-keen!"
I've watched Angel since episode one; I came to Buffy very late season three. I picked up this-and-that about early season shenanigans, and was pretty well set to simply make up my own mind about the characters as presented in Season One AtS/Season Four BtVS.
Right off the bat, I enjoyed Spike-the-comedy-relief-villain. I liked Angel-the-tortured-leading-man. I never cared much for Buffy-n-Angel, largely because the first I saw them was at the end of their relationship, and even there it was pretty easy to see that they absolutely did not belong together. Angel said "goodbye" at the end of Graduation Day, and I figured that was pretty much it. Angel went off to his own show, and thereafter EVERY SINGLE ONE of the crossover episodes S1/S4 just further demonstrated just how much these two characters should stay FAR, FAR apart. Buffy, the teenager, continued to cling to her dream-image of Perfect Knight Angel, while Angel, the older of the two, bid a fond, sad farewell and got on with his life.
This became more apparent after BtVS left for UPN. Angel was standing on his own two feet, and not even really all that upset when Buffy died -- and not that overjoyed when she returned from the dead. Other than a few brief blips, Buffy was not a signal on his radar at all. Angel was moving on and taking his destiny in hand.
In the meantime, Spike was developing from more than a comedy relief to a stand-up leading man. He was still pretty evil, but in smaller and less vicious doses (by the end of S4, we'd finally seen on tape almost all of S1-3, with some missing eps); he was pretty brutal to Harmony, but it was fairly obvious that was because he was on the rebound from Drusilla and, well, Harmony was/is annoying (as a person; as a character she's a hoot).
Then Spike fell in love with Buffy.
Bells went off. This was right. This was, to my unspoiled and un-tainted by early "Buffy Fandom" mind, exactly the right way for things to go in the fictional world. The bad guy would work his butt off to prove his worth to the girl, become good, and we would all end happily-ever-after (and to be honest, I'd seen it going that way since "Something Blue," when Willow's spell made an obvious attraction and chemistry overstep the boundary between evil vampire and slayer). Sure, she was making eyes at Riley at the time, but that was okay, Spike still had a LONG way to go before he could prove himself, and there was plenty of time.
There was very little crossover between AtS and BtVS during season five (a good thing); and at the end, the evil Spike had, indeed, made huge steps toward his redemption. Certainly, he made several slips. But he was hampered by his natural vampire nature; he did some evil things still. But he was TRYING to be good. By the time everyone was aware of Glory, Spike was making huge (but largely unacknowledged) steps toward his redemption by playing babysitter to Dawn, protector of Dawn and Joyce, the mourning bringer of flowers to Joyce's wake, keeping the secret of Dawn-as-Key from Glory (even under torture), assisting with mind-wiped Tara (even when she inadvertantly burned his hand by opening the window), saving Buffy from the Knights of Byzantium, "finding" them the escape-RV, breaking through the illusion by informing them that Ben was Glory, and fighting side-by-side with them in the final battle, even to getting knifed and thrown from a tall tower. Amidst this, he appeared to be gaining some amount of respect from the Scoobies. Giles quoted Shakespeare with him. Xander and he shared a few moments. And Buffy invited him back into the house, breaking the spell Willow had put on to dis-invite him, leading to his tender speech, "I know I'm a monster, but you make me feel like a man."
If Buffy had not died that night, I think things may have gone a little bit differently from this point -- or, organically, it should have. In some ways, Spike maintained that respect from the Scoobies, fighting with them night after night while Buffy was dead, taking care of Dawn and asking nothing in return. He was their strong right arm, and that was okay... but then they brought Buffy back.
What changed? Xander immediately started taking nasty stabs at Spike, and Spike's feelings for Buffy (as though there were something wrong with feelings he himself has had since day one). Giles' behavior (notably in "Once More With Feeling") was downright mean, and not just the irritation he used to show. Willow and Tara appeared completely indifferent. The only time anyone showed him any affection whatsoever was in "Tabula Rasa," when everyone had their memories wiped. In that tableau, Spike became "Randy," the "son" of Giles, who felt only "disappointment" when he looked at his supposed "son"; Anya remarked he bore a "ruggedly handsome" resemblance to Giles; Buffy treated him as a good friend and trusted ally, even when she was initially frightened by the discovery he was a vampire.
After that, things went only downhill for Spike.
Angel, on the other hand, seemed to be doing okay. I personally tended to prefer AtS for a lot of reasons, and that was by far my favorite of the two shows, especially the last two years. Angel was, usually, as forgiving as he wished to be forgiven; he, too, had a number of slipups (notably not forgiving Wes for kidnapping Connor). He was falling in love with Cordelia and moving on and it was GOOD for him. Connor proved to be his failing (and if anyone can tell me that Daddy Angel holding his baby son in his arms, learning to feed him and take care of him, wasn't perfectly happy, I'll eat my hat -- I've always been of the opinion that the soul Willow gave him was STURDIER than the one the gypsies put in him); and Connor ripped things to hell by sending Angel to the bottom of the ocean for three months while Cordy was being tricked by TPTW, Jasmine, in a possible mock-heaven. Things pretty much went to hell for Angel there, and he ended things S4 AtS feeling not too pleased with anything...
Until, oddly, he turned up in Sunnydale and Buffy re-entered his life. Although she'd been sleeping with Spike-without-soul in BtVS S6, she turned him out post-soul in S7 (for reasons I'll not go into). Although she apparently still cared deeply for Spike, she dove on Angel like a starved dog on a bone.
That's when I saw things change for Buffy. I re-watched "Chosen" (the final ep of BtVS) and I saw her face change after she kissed Angel. It was the look of a girl who, having found that long-lost White Knight, finds him not as shiny as she remembered, not as wonderful. Thus the "I've basked. What are you doing here?" In one sentence, I saw immediately she really was over him, and was thinking of a way to tell him without hurting him because she still cared about him. Angel behaved as though the last two years of his life never happened, which was REALLY jarring, considering how AtS S4 ended. Buffy sent him away and went back to Spike.
There's debates and debates about whether Buffy meant it when she said "I love you" to Spike as the fires began to consume him. I believe she did. On re-viewing the scene, I saw her eyes light up as she really GOT it. For the first time, Buffy GOT it. And when she said "I love you," she meant it. She may not have meant it the way Spike wanted, or maybe even needed, to hear it, but she meant it. It was a love that could have been, a love that maybe should have been, a love she should have given him before and didn't. The smile at the end seemed very bittersweet as she looked back. Very hard to describe, but it wasn't just happy. No, she finally got it. As maybe she hadn't in a long time, maybe she never really had before.
I certainly still have problems with "Chosen" as an episode -- as a stand-alone, it was actually pretty good. I even liked the much-maligned "cookie dough" speech. I didn't like the way Angel was portrayed, but I liked Spike's appearance. I loved the D & D scene. I liked Andrew. I was pissed even more than I was on first viewing at Xander, who seemed totally heartless, as though he'd just found out Anya had knocked over a stop sign in the car rather than she died horribly. Giles should have reacted to Buffy's "Spike" comment. And we wasted WAY too much time on Faith/Wood. I do love Faith -- sometimes more than Buffy, as Faith has at many times actually shown deep feelings for people, even when she was trying to shrug off the murder of the deputy mayor -- but her time on-screen with Wood was out-of-place in a short, rushed, finale. I think the final battle plan was really stupid. Even though Buffy didn't know how many Ubies were down there, she was still going in with about 30 potentials, HOPING that Willow's spell would work (with no guarantee that it would). If it weren't for Spike and the amulet, they would have all been slaughtered. (And why was it automatically assumed that if Angel couldn't wear it, and Buffy wouldn't, Spike was next? "Souled-but-more-than-human also fit FAITH, who is almost always conveniently forgotten when folks are discussing the slayer line; Buffy's death didn't call another Slayer, but Faith's would, just as Kendra's death called HER.)
Anyway, that's some of what I've been thinking about, and not even all of it. I didn't write it down soon enough...
But anyway, I'm totally looking forward to Spike moving over to AtS because, as I've been watching, AtS has been absolutely one of the all-time best television shows I've ever taken the time to watch. The characters have been consistent, and their mistakes have MADE SENSE for the character. Even as Wesley was going down the wrong road and I was screaming, "No, no, don't do it, Wes!" it was perfectly in character FOR WESLEY. Ditto Gunn, and Fred, and Cordy, and even Connor, as irritating as he could be. Evil!Cordy was handled with the flare and balls that they lacked when it came to Evil!Willow. I can't wait to see what they do with Spike. Right now, I trust 'em. I think I'll like it.
Sorry about not putting down the link to the "What threat to the Bush administration are you?" quiz: Here it is.