the writers introduced Angel as a recurring character in season 1 of BUFFY,
their concept of him seems to have been rather different to that which underlay
the character who became a series regular in season 2.
When we first meet him in WttHM he appears to have a clearer idea of what
he wants – to kill vampires - than Buffy does.
He doesn’t simply warn her about the Harvest, he almost lectures her on
what she should be doing about it. And
he gives as good as her gets in the exchange of repartee between them. All in all he gives the distinct impression of someone on the
inside track encouraging a slow learner to keep up with him.
This feeling is reinforced by some of the other early season 1 episodes.
In NKABOTFD, just as in WttHM, he isn’t content with imparting
information to Buffy about what is going on.
He actively expects her to do something about it.
Angel: “Some serious stuff happening tonight. You need to be out
Buffy: “No, not you, too.”
Angel: “What do you know?”
Buffy: “Prophecy, Anointed One, yada, yada, yada...”
Angel: “So you know. Fine. I just thought I'd warn you.”
the scene he is actually impatient with her lack of commitment and at one point
physically stops her from walking away from him.
And the idea that he is there as some sort of guide for the Slayer is
further strengthened by the fact that he only gives her the information he wants
to. At the end of “Reptile Boy”
he congratulates Buffy on having disposed of “Fork Guy” but brushes aside
her attempts to find out more:
Buffy: “Course, it would make things easier if I knew how to get
in touch with you.”
Angel: “I'll be around.”
Buffy: “Or who you were?”
response to that last question is just an enigmatic smile.
All in all this helps to create the idea that he is the one in control of
their dealings. There is even a
hint of possessiveness in a nice little scene in NKABOTFD in which he is
introduced to Owen in the Bronze. The
body language is priceless as he adopts an “I’m the Alpha male around here
buddy so just mind your step” pose.
Angel seems fairly self-confident. Certainly
during these early season 1 episodes he knows what he is doing and what he
wants. He believes he has a role to play in the fight against
vampires. Furthermore he expects
Buffy to do her part as well and isn’t afraid to tell her when he thinks she
is doing the wrong thing. Of course
at this stage we had no idea about Angel’s dark secret: that he was a 250+
year old vampire who had his soul restored and now was full of remorse about
what he had done. This was revealed
in the episode “Angel”. Until
then his motivation had necessarily to remain hidden.
Still, even in that episode there was nothing that undermined the
impression given about Angel to date. For
example, in the first scene in Buffy’s bedroom, before she discovers he is a
vampire himself, she tries to get an explanation for what he is doing
Buffy: “Y'know, I'm the Chosen One, it's my job to fight guys like
that. What's your excuse?”
Angel: “Uh, somebody has to.”
Buffy: “Well, what does your family think of your career
Angel: “They're dead.”
Buffy: “Was it vampires?”
Angel: “I-it was.”
Buffy: “I'm sorry.”
Angel: “It was a long while ago.”
Buffy: “So, this is a vengeance gig for you.”
reinforces the idea that Angel considered himself on a mission to combat
vampires. Indeed the revelations about him in “Angel” serve to
explain his hostility to vampires and why he might want to help the slayer kill
to say this is a very different character to the one that eventually emerged
among the series regulars at the start of season 2.
It is also a very far cry from the depressed down and out who had wanted
Whistler just to leave him alone only the previous year.
So much so that I would find it very difficult to accept an otherwise
unexplained transformation of this scale in such a short time. In addition to this there are, it seems to me, real
difficulties in fitting together certain elements of the character we see in
early season 1. The first and most
obvious problem is why does such an apparently self-confident individual who has
decided to take part in the fight between good and evil restrict himself to
being “lurker guy”? It’s not
only the fact that he refuses to go into the tunnels after Jesse in “The
Harvest”. In NKABOTFD he stays
behind in the Bronze after suggesting very forcefully to Buffy that she should
be doing something to prevent the Master raising the Anointed One.
The explanation he gives in “The Harvest” (that he is afraid)
doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Would
someone who was afraid intervene against The Three in “Angel”?
Equally, if he really was afraid why help Buffy at all?
Even acting as her eyes and ears was to run some considerable risk.
it must be remembered that it is through this process of change and development
that Angel undergoes that the writers can explore the theme of redemption and
the struggle towards it in the face of all the obstacles that life and human
nature throws in the way. This is a
universal subject of great power and importance.
It manifests itself in many different aspects of the human experience. It is certainly true that only in ANGEL the series have the
writers been able to do any sort of justice to the potential of this aspect of
Angel. But they can only do so
because of the way the character was conceived for the purposes of early season
2 of BUFFY, which for the first time substantively addressed the burden of guilt
Angel carried and his difficulty in coping with it.
And the effect of the progress he has made can only be properly judged
because we can compare the Angel of LA 2000 and the Angel of Sunnydale late
Of course Angel’s life did not start in Sunnydale 1997. Perhaps more than any other individual on BUFFY his character was formed by his previous experiences. Before we examine this character in the modern setting we must, therefore, look at how he came to be the individual we see in early season 2 BUFFY.
1753: A Drunken, Whoring Layabout
life before 1997 can, obviously, only be told in different flashbacks.
The risk of this technique is that it will give a disjointed feel to the
story of his life. In order
to believe that each event we see in these flashbacks forms an integral part of
a single personal history it is important that the individual episodes fit
together in a way that is coherent and consistent with the others and with Angel
as we see him today. We should be
left with a sense of how his past, rather than being dead and gone, affects and
shapes his present and how his present leads him to view his past.
This, I think, has been one of the most successful parts of the
characterization of Angel. We first saw him as a human (whom we now know was called
Liam) in “Becoming I”. What I
have always liked about this scene is the way the dialogue simultaneously
advances the action – in this case Liam falling into Darla’s trap – yet at
the same time tells us in a very natural and unforced way everything we need to
know about him.
example some speculated that Angelus’ special cruelty indicated that Liam as a
human had a vicious streak in him. This
scene argues to the contrary. When
he and his friend are thrown out of the Tavern by the Landlord he showed no
desire for revenge. All that
interested Liam was getting back in to continue with the fun:
be back when we've found a bit more cash money! Keep the girls warm!”
when he sees Darla we get more than a hint of the easy charm he used to get his
way with women:
Angel: “So, I'd ask myself... What's a lady of your station doing
alone in an alley with the
reputation that this one has?”
Darla: “Maybe she's lonely.”
Angel: “In that case, I'd offer myself as escort to protect you
and to while away the
harm and to while away thedull hours.”
Darla: “You're very gracious.”
Angel: “Hmm... It's often been said”
also find out about his attitude to work:
“Are you certain you're up to the challenge?”
“Milady, you'll find that with the exception of an honest day's
in all the words “drunken, whoring layabout” do seem to cover Liam’s
behavior quite fairly. But there is
more to this situation than first meets the eye.
had already heard the hint of hostility to his father in his willingness to
steal from him and his contempt for his manners.
Then there is clear regret in Liam’s voice when he says:
never been anywhere myself. Always wanted to see the world,
suggest a deeper unhappiness lying beneath the pleasure-seeking exterior.
And this is an element in Liam’s character that is explored further in
“the Prodigal”. This makes it
fairly clear that central to his unhappiness was his relationship with his
father. When we first see them in
that episode their relationship had already degenerated into a vicious cycle of
low expectation and low self-esteem. Each
reinforced the other. We do not see
how it reached that level. But it
is easy enough to guess. Liam (if
he was anything like Angel) was an intelligent, sensitive and possibly artistic
young man who wanted more out of life than working in the family business in one
of the most remote parts of Europe. He
wanted to see the world. But herein
lay the problem with Liam. He could
have left home and made something of himself but didn’t. When he did try to leave he got no further than the nearest
tavern and spent all his money on drink and women. In all likelihood if he hadn’t met Darla that fateful night
he would have gone back to his father’s house as soon as he had sobered up.
Alternatively Liam could have tried to discipline himself to please his
father by working diligently for him. But
he didn’t do that either. Both of
these were the difficult courses to take. Liam
simply didn’t believe he had it in him to succeed at either.
Instead he chose the easy path. He
stayed and enjoyed the material comforts of home.
And there he didn’t even try to live up to his father’s expectations:
“It’s a son I wished for – a man. Instead
God gave me you! A
you never try to live up to expectations you can never fail.
This is the response not of the cruel or malicious but of the weak.
And it is equally characteristic of the weak that they blame others for
what has gone wrong in their lives. So
too with Liam. He refused to take responsibility for his own choices,
blaming instead his father. And it
was this breach with his father that led Liam eventually to storm out of the
house and into the waiting arms of Darla, with all the terrible consequences
Borsa 1898 and the Aftermath: A Monster No More
story of Angelus, the sort of creature he was and why are all topics for another
occasion. But when the gypsies restored to Liam his human soul it is
hardly surprising that he had some difficulty in knowing how to react.
In his confusion he did the thing that one might have expected – he
went straight to Darla - not to blame her for what she had done to him but for
comfort and reassurance. In his effort to win her help he even said to her
"I am like you." And
though she rejected him he still clung on to his identity as a vampire.
When he met a small group of strangers on the street he seemed only
conscious of the fact that he was hungry and when the woman called him a monster
he took up the cry and repeated it over and over again.
Again this was Liam taking the line of least resistance.
But then something happened. When
he tried to feed on her he found he could not.
We had already seen how deeply he was affected by the trauma of what he
had done as Angelus. Previously
Liam’s weakness and irresponsibility had led him to act foolishly, but nothing
worse. Here, however, he showed he
was fundamentally a decent man and his basic integrity compelled him now to do
not the easy thing but the right thing. When
it was important he did have the necessary self-discipline to control the demon
within and the desires that he felt through association with that demon.
This was the fundamental turning point in the life of Liam or, as we must
now call him, Angel.
the turning point didn’t just lie in the fact that Angel stopped killing.
He did more. In 1753 Liam had been completely irresponsible. His life was on a downward spiral of drink and debauchery.
But instead of taking responsibility for that, he blamed his father.
It was because of this that he attracted Darla’s attention in the first
place and was where she could lure him into the alley.
Otherwise he would have been home, with his family.
There would have been no Angelus. The
fact that that demon came into the world was, therefore, the result of Liam’s
actions. Angel, once he had
recovered his soul, could also have been irresponsible – literally.
He could have said that Angelus’ crimes were nothing to do with him.
But the consequences of his earlier irresponsibility now haunted him
continually. So, instead of
repeating his earlier mistakes he decided to take full responsibility for those
least he took full responsibility in the sense of accepting the guilt for what
Angelus had done. The redemption of
that guilt is an entirely different matter.
Classically this involves both repentance and expiation, some attempt to
make good (insofar as this is possible) the harm caused.
We have not seen the full story what happened to Angel in the 98 years
between Borsa 1898 and New York 1996. But
clearly during that period he was unable to make, or at least sustain, an
attempt at redeeming himself. Indeed
when Whistler found him he had been reduced to a pretty helpless state.
We could, of course, say that this was symptomatic of the same sort of weakness
of character as he had exhibited in the past.
For my own part, however, such an attitude would represent too harsh a
judgment. It would, in particular,
leave out of account some fairly important aspects of Angel’s situation.
of all when we say that Angel felt guilty for what Angelus had done let us
understand the nature of that feeling. Angelus
did not just commit a few murders. He
probably killed tens of thousands. And
as IOHEFY, "Amends" and “Five by Five” all made clear among his
victims there would have been small children, indeed whole families.
Angel would have personal memories of all these deaths.
He would remember his teeth and hands at their throats.
Worst of all he would remember the pleasure of the kills, kills which we
know would have been particularly vicious, even for a vampire. I will quote his own words in “Five by Five”
You would think with all the people I've maimed and killed I wouldn't be able to
remember every single one. “
this feeling is only one issue Angel has to deal with.
Let us remember that the demon is always present in him.
In the BUFFY episode "Angel" it was an important element in the
story that he was constantly fighting the demon for control and that he could
never be sure that the demon could not break free. This is a point was been
downplayed on BUFFY after "Angel" but was always been there in the
background and certainly re-emerged in “Amends” and GD2.
It has certainly been an issue in ANGEL the series, most notably in
“Eternity”. So, there is fear -
of himself - as well as guilt. Moreover
how would he feel about the constant presence within himself of an alien evil, a
creature that was pure malice but knew his every thought and feeling?
Would that not amount to a personal violation of the worst sort?
Finally, given the circumstances and the stated intent of the
restoration of his soul he must have realized that the only reason he was on
earth was to make the demon suffer. He
was merely what the military nowadays would call a “collateral casualty”.
We have already seen that as a human Liam suffered from low self-esteem.
As an ensouled vampire he blamed his own weakness for the fact that
Angelus was brought into the world. Can
it be a surprise that now he regarded himself as completely worthless.
He was on earth only to suffer and to make the demon inside him suffer
vicariously for what he had done. He
had no concept that there was any positive role for him to play in un-life, at
least partly because he didn’t consider himself capable of making the
contribution. He sums up his own
feelings about himself best at the end of “Amends”:
these circumstances it is hardly surprising that Angel had cut himself off from
humanity for 100 years. This was
partly, no doubt, because they would be a constant reminder to him of his alter
ego’s guilt and partly because they would be a constant temptation against
which he would have to guard. But
the same sense of isolation also deprived him of the support he needed to help
him pull his life back together. Even
more importantly it deprived him of an opportunity to learn to help others.
In WttHM, Buffy tried to save Jesse because he was a “potential
friend”. In other words she felt
they were both part of the same community and she had a connection with him and,
therefore, a reason to try to save him. These
considerations simply did not apply in Angel’s case.
the guilt, the constant struggle against the demon, the self-hatred and
self-doubt and the lack of human contact would it be any wonder if an ensouled
Angel suffered from some form of clinical depression?
That was the impression he certainly gave as “crazy, homeless guy”
when Whistler found him in “Becoming I”.
Indeed, while I will not quote it here, the dialogue between these two
did serve to emphasize Angel’s continuing feeling that he was a danger to
humanity and that he was better off kept apart from it.
And this is where the next major turning point in Angel’s life came.
contribution to Angel’s change in direction was to introduce him to Buffy,
albeit indirectly. This is a small
but interesting example of how Angel’s character was redefined between seasons
1 and 2 of BUFFY. In WttHM the
suggestion is that Angel first saw the slayer in Sunnydale:
is, I thought you'd be taller, or bigger muscles and all that. You're pretty
“Becoming I” however he saw her being called and make her first kill.
Then in “Helpless” he explains the effect she had on him:
Angel: “ I saw you before you became the Slayer.”
Angel: “I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps and... and… I loved you.”
Angel: “'Cause I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe; to warm it with my own.”
have always had a couple of problems with this scene.
First of all I do not, as a general rule, believe in love at first sight
and certainly not before the two people concerned have actually spoken to one
another. Secondly, I would not have characterized the Buffy that Angel
saw outside her High School in the way he does here. “Shallow and self absorbed” might have been more
accurate. I am, however, prepared
to overlook my reservations. That
scene in “Helpless” was simply an elaboration of what was already implicit
in “Becoming I”. It was the
attraction that Angel felt to newly called slayer rather than anything Whistler
said or did that prompted him to get out of the gutter and do something with his
life. And it is this which provides
the basis for understanding so much about Angel in seasons 1 and 2 and how he
developed from the shattered husk we saw in New York 1998.
Analysis of season 1 Angel is, as I have already said, complicated by the fact that I believe the character was redesigned for the role he was to play in season 2 and that some elements of the character seen in the earlier season do not make a good fit with what we subsequently discovered about him. Nevertheless our starting point in trying to reconcile some of the inconsistencies must be that Angel’s basic motivation was not to help humanity or to atone for his sins. It was to help Buffy. And at the start he helped her the only way he felt able, by doing what he did best – lurking. Perhaps he didn’t yet have the strength to do more. When Whistler found him he couldn’t go three rounds with a fruit fly. More likely he didn’t have the self-belief in himself to be more active. This changed in “Prophecy Girl”. When approached by Xander to help save Buffy, Angel at first could only see the dangers. Unlike Xander, Angel had difficulty even admitting to himself his true feelings for Buffy. But Xander’s challenge to him "Don't you [love Buffy]?" acted as a catalyst. It forced him to admit to his real feelings. When compared to Buffy’s life his own doubts about himself suddenly became unimportant. He had to do something. From that point onwards his relationship with Buffy was central to Angel’s personal development.
Throughout the early part of season 2
we see his ever-greater involvement with her work. At first he continues to help her in episodes such as “The
Dark Ages” as a sort of auxiliary. That
is until the next crucial stage that came in “What’s My Line I” where for
the first time he acts on his own by trying to force Willy to reveal Spike’s
part in hiring the Taraka. But
everything he did was for Buffy. There
is no suggestion that he was fighting evil independently from her.
To the extent therefore that this involvement marked his path to
self-respect it was due to his relationship with her.
Moreover, such was his own regard for her that the mere fact that she
loved him was itself evidence for him that he was still worth something.
From the start Angel is clearly very sensitive
about his vampirism, indeed perhaps ashamed of it.
It’s not only the defensiveness with which he reacts when Xander refers
to him as “dead boy”. In WSWB, Buffy taunts him by saying “I’ve moved
on…to the living”. And in SAR we see how much this nettled him when he said
whenever we fight you always bring up the vampire thing.”
But perhaps more
tellingly in “What’s My Line I” we see the hurt that his nature causes him
both in his remark “I’ll never
be a kid” and in the fact that he didn’t want Buffy to touch him while he
had on his “game face”. This is
all part of his feeling of worthlessness that I have already touched on. In this context the fact that she
touched his “game face” in “What’s My Line I” and didn’t notice had
great symbolic significance.
And just as
importantly, in “Lie to Me” Buffy had to confront the most unpleasant truth
possible about Angel but in the end her sad words – “well I asked for the
truth” – mark a stage in the further development in the relationship because
they betoken a deeper understanding and acceptance of his dark past.
And the fact that she knew the worst about him and still accepted him was
what helped angel the most. Is
it any wonder then that in “Somnambulist” Kate’s (thinly disguised)
profile of Angel refers to his relationship with Buffy in the following terms?
“He would have regarded it as a lifeline, his salvation”
But significant as this progress was, it is very limited indeed. His relationship with Buffy has not changed his sense of general isolation from humanity one little bit. Indeed, if anything it heightened the sense of his being apart from the normal world because he could see that Buffy was part of that world yet he could not share in it. In SAR he explains his jealousy of Xander in the following terms:
And the fact that he was never even a
part of the Scooby gang could not have helped either.
Then there was the fact that the demon
remained within him. As I have
already noted this was an issue that was neglected after the episode “Angel”
but it remained a constant danger nonetheless.
But above all it seems to me the roots of the recovery of his
self-confidence could not have gone very deep.
The concept of redemption had not yet entered his vocabulary.
His preoccupation remained helping Buffy rather than in any wider concept
of doing good. And certainly the fact that he deferred to Buffy on all
matters on which they disagreed showed clearly the very fragile nature of his
belief in his own judgment. Throughout
the relationship she was the one who forced the pace. A crucial episode here is
“Reptile Boy”. At the beginning
he is the cautious one, trying to restrain her:
Angel: “You're sixteen years old. I'm two hundred and forty-one.”
Buffy: “I've done the math.”
Angel: “You don't know what you're doing; you don't know what you want.”
Buffy: “Oh no? I think I do. I want out of this conversation.”
Angel: “Listen, if we date you and I both know one thing's gonna lead to another.”
Buffy: “One thing already has led to another. You think it's a little late to be reading me a warning label?”
“I'm just trying to protect you. This could get out of control.”
Here he manifests his reluctance to
let things go further because of who he is.
And yet in the end he is the one who gives in to her:
Angel: “I hear this place, uh, serves coffee. I thought maybe you and I should get some. Sometime. If you want.”
“Yeah, sometime. I'll let you know.”
He thus tacitly accepts that she is in
control of the relationship and she isn’t slow to exploit that acceptance.
And, of course, the single most important example of his giving way to
her was in her decision to make love to him in “Surprise”, with the
catastrophic results that had for both of them.
After Angelus, Acathla and the
Return from Hell
of Angelus is again a subject for another occasion. So we may pick up the threads of Angel’s story at the end
of “Faith, Hope and Trick” when he returns from Hell. Here I have to say that season 3 presents us with a
number of significant difficulties. From
the writing perspective the themes of the Buffy/Angel love affair in season 2
had played themselves out. Then
there was the need to look again at where the two of them were going in light of
the launch of the spin-off series. Given
that Angel was shortly to leave Buffy for LA, his former dependence on her could
not be sustained. The writers had to set up a believable plotline that would
split these two apart and at the same time establish Angel as an independent
champion in his own right. This was
something he still wasn’t. And
here we can point to two fairly obvious obstacles.
The first was that, as we have seen, Angel’s motivation (and the basis
for his development as a character so far) was his desire to help Buffy.
He could not see beyond that. Related
to this was the fact that he was still far short of having the sort of
self-confidence to rely on himself to make the sort of heroic figure needed.
Then, looking at thing from the
perspective of character, the repercussions of Angel loosing his soul and being
sent to Hell had to be dealt with. In
this context a fundamental issue thrown up by season 2 was that Angel
found himself being drawn in a relationship whose consequences for both himself
and Buffy were unpredictable. He had done so against his better judgment but had
allowed his doubts to be bulldozed away by Buffy.
The result was a catastrophe for both of them.
The lesson for him was the danger in not asserting himself and being too
dependent on the uncertain judgment of a teenager.
Moreover he had been given fresh cause to think about the harm had caused
as Angelus. With Buffy’s example
before him, the idea of taking up the good fight on his own account to make
amends for that harm should have been an obvious one.
Everything, therefore, argued in favor
of a continuing development of Angel’s character to show him finding a role
for himself apart from Buffy and to make him more self-confident and
self-assertive. Given that the central dynamic for his character development to date was
his relationship with Buffy this suggested a need for fairly radical thinking
about how the relationship was to be handled for the rest of season 3.
And yet what the writers handed us was essentially more of the same.
In “Beauty and the Beasts” Giles theorizes about what Angel
experienced in Hell:
It is slightly disconcerting to see Giles of all people misuse the term “redemption” here. Nevertheless this exchange shows the intention of the episode. Angel’s stay in Hell was a brutal and brutalizing experience but the one part of his former self that he was able to hold on to was his love for Buffy. When he saw her in danger that part of him came to the fore and allowed him to reclaim his humanity. And this storyline set the tone for Buffy and Angel for the rest of early season 3. Virtually the only recognition of what had gone wrong is season 2 was that they were very careful about getting physically close. Otherwise it appeared that that nothing had fundamentally changed between them. Buffy called the shots. She decided to end things in “Homecoming” and “Lover’s Walk” and then took up with him again when she changed her mind. He simply went along with her wishes. Moreover, at the beginning of season 3 at least, there is nothing to indicate any fresh thinking on Angel’s part about his own future. Indeed the concept of redemption is, even now, significant only by its absence.
Amends: The Powers that Be
All that changed with “Amends”.
Here the writers chose the “big bang” approach to the issue of
Angel’s redemption. The
intervention of the “First Evil” precipitated a crisis in which Angel’s
will to control the demon within him was subject to a severe and sustained
attack. This approach had some
significant merits. First of all it
highlighted one very important area of Angel’s existence that had been
neglected, namely his continuing struggle with the demon inside him.
Secondly it explored the way his continuing sense of guilt continuously
undermined his self-discipline and self-confidence.
In doing so it showed how much progress he had made but just as
importantly it showed where he still had progress to make. The
First Evil attacked him where he was most vulnerable – by trying to get him to
satisfy the most powerful need he felt:
Angel: “It told me to kill you. You were in the dream. You know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again.”
Buffy: “I know what it told you. What does it matter?”
“Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly! I want to take
comfort in you, and I know it'll cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn't
And in order to do so the First Evil
continually reminded him of his earlier failings and weaknesses:
Angel: “A demon isn't a man. I was a man once.”
Jenny: “Oh, yes, and what a man you were.”
Margaret: “A drunken, whoring layabout, and a terrible disappointment to your parents.”
Angel: “I was young. I never had a chance to...”
“To die of syphilis? You were a worthless being before were ever
It was hoping to undermine Angel’s
will to control himself so that he will not be able to resist the temptation he
feels more strongly than anything else in his life. The fact that Angel does withstand this temptation shows what
a long way he has come from the person he was as Liam. But even though he does resist he still doesn’t trust
himself to do so. He still cannot
get away from his past and that is what leads him to label himself as weak.
It is because he fears his own weakness that he tries to kill himself.
This is a painfully accurate picture of just what Angel really thinks of
himself. And a crisis of this sort
is often an excellent way of precipitating change in a character. But it is here that the central problem in “Amends”
Angel is saved from suicide by the
intervention of outside forces. First
there was Buffy who literally fought him for his life.
Then there was the snowfall created (presumably) by The Powers that Be.
The intention behind the intervention of TPTB seems to be in answer to
Angel’s question about why he was brought back from Hell. The suggestion is that they brought him back to fight against
evil, a suggestion seemingly confirmed by Mayor Wilkins when he referred to
Angel’s “higher purpose”. Here
the writers were introducing the idea of Angel having a destiny distinct from
Buffy. But this alone cannot
provide the answer to Angel’s self doubts because those doubts relate to
whether he can fulfill the higher purpose they have in mind or whether he will
become a killer again because of his weakness.
And the mere fact that others believe in you in no substitute for belief
in yourself. Worse still the
encounter between him and Buffy at the end of “Amends” confirms that her
will remains stronger than his. She
never convinces him to live by the force of her arguments.
He seems, however, incapable of defying the force of her personality.
He is forced into pleading for her permission to kill himself:
Angel: “Buffy, please.
Just this once... let me be strong.”
I am bound to say, therefore, that in
“Amends” the writers failed to establish any really convincing basis for
Angel to begin to believe in himself as a champion against evil in his own
However that is what we now see.
The first indication of the change comes in “Bad Girls” and
“Consequences”. First of all we
see a much more assertive Angel in his dealings with Buffy.
She was a little out of control on the dance floor in the Bronze but he
took her away, sat her down and talked business with her.
Later he started checking up on both her and Faith and he acted
completely on his own initiative in subduing Faith after she attacked Xander.
And perhaps symbolically we see the self-assured way he strode into
action against Balthazar, announcing his arrival in very confident terms.
This may be seen as a sign that he had now come to believe he had a mission of his own, rather than a simple desire to help Buffy, though, there is as yet no sign that he has picked up on the idea of redemption. But a more significant moment arrives in “the Prom.” Top of Angel’s agenda has always been what is best for Buffy. And he has always had his doubts about whether a relationship with himself was best for her. He had those doubts as long ago as in SAR. The nature of those doubts probably has changed. In season 2 his doubts were essentially the product of his own feelings of worthlessness. By the end of season 3 the intention of the writers (botched though the execution was in “the Prom”) was to show a more sober and rational assessment of the problems a relationship with him would cause for Buffy. Those doubts were really only convincingly articulated in GD2. There, Angel lost control of himself and fed from Buffy. This was the nightmare he had so steadfastly resisted in “Amends”. There are a number of different explanations for his actions here. The first was that biting her was a physical reaction of the vampire body; the other was that the demon inside forced its way to the surface. It does not matter which explanation you prefer. In either case the human soul was too weakened by the poison to control the feeding from Buffy until it had been cured. This demonstration of the limits of his control over the demon that the danger he thereby posed to all around him was what convinced Angel that he should part from Buffy. But even here there is progress. The assessment of the danger was, as I have already said, sober and realistic rather than one based on self-doubt. The reaction was also a sensible and rational one. There is no plunge back into despair and thought of suicide. Instead he leaves Sunnydale and starts to pick up the threads of his life.
But more importantly what had really changed was Angel’s willingness to assert himself against Buffy. Before he didn’t even have enough confidence in himself to make that judgment stick in the face of Buffy. Now, for the first time he does. In “the Prom” he has an argument with her and refuses to give into her. In GD2 such is the determination with which he announces his intentions to Buffy that she doesn’t even try to argue him out of it. This is an indication of a greater determination and belief in himself than we have ever seen before. In doing so he finally proved that he had finally his independence and maturity.
LA2000: A New Beginning
As we have seen the central purpose of
“Amends” seems to be to suggest that Angel was brought back from Hell by
TPTB for a “higher purpose”, a specific mission.
And he seems to have got this message.
But the theme of redemption is not dealt with at all in BUFFY in the
context of this mission. Buffy
herself mentions the possibility of making amends but the idea is not followed
up. I, therefore, find it very
interesting that when we first see Angel in “City of” he seemed to be going
through the motions. He was helping
people but it was more out of a sense that this was something he felt obliged to
do rather than something he had any real interest or belief in. So, when Doyle refers to him as doing penance and being
cut off from those he is trying to help, his response is brutally dismissive:
still save ‘em. Who cares if I don’t stop to chat?"
The contrast to the Angel we see in “Sanctuary” is striking. Now he is a man with a mission, one which involves a much more personal commitment on his part to those he is helping. As he said to Cordelia when trying to help Faith:
This has become the most important thing in his life so much so that he unhesitatingly chose it over Buffy. And with this sense of mission has come the feelings of self-worth and dare I say it of destiny. When you have a mission that you believe in, almost be definition you have to believe in yourself. And we see this in both “Sanctuary” and “To Shansu in LA”. In the former the noteworthy thing is the somewhat high-handed way that he treats everyone who disagrees with him over Faith. He has such confidence in his own judgment that he ignores everyone else. In the latter episode it is clear that he is done apologizing for his existence as a vampire or what he is doing in LA, even though it may be outside the law. As he says to Kate:
"This isn't about the law, this is about a little thing called life. Now I'm sorry about your father. But I didn't kill your father. And I'm sick and tired of you blaming me for everything you can't handle! You want to be enemies? Try me."
The transformation is really quite
the key to it seems to be that Angel did indeed finally succeed in making a
connection with humanity. That is
not to say that he is now part of the world.
As long ago as "Becoming I" Whistler warned him:
“The more you live in this world, the more you see how apart from it you really are. “
He describes his
situation best in "Warzone":
Lenny: "What do you want?"
Angel: "Big question. What do I want? Love, family, a place on this planet I can call my own; but you know what?"
Angel: "I'm never going to have any of those things.
But it was Doyle in
"City of.." who suggested the connection between Angel saving others
and his own redemption:
"It’s not all about fighting and gadgets and stuff. It’s about reaching out to people, showing them that there’s love and hope still left in the world…it’s about letting them into your heart. It’s not about saving lives; it’s about saving souls. Hey, possibly your own in the process."
In season 1 of
ANGEL our eponymous hero acted on these words.
The "connection" he has made lay in developing a sympathy for
people and a feeling that he can help them.
The first indication of this came in "In the Dark" when he gave
up something that meant a lot to him personally (the ability to walk around in
the sunshine) for the sake of those he was meant to help.
And throughout the rest of season 1 in episodes like IGYUMS, "the
Prodigal", "Sanctuary" and "Warzone" we do see a
personal commitment from Angel to the people he is trying to help.
And once Angel
begins to look at things in this way he can
actually see that he is on Earth to do something good and important
rather than simply being here to suffer. And
this is surely the crucial step in his journey towards redemption.
As I have already said redemption consists of repentance for the past and
then making amends for it. Without
the latter, feeling guilty is pointless, even self-indulgent.
But once Angel started to feel that he was doing something real and
important to redress the harm he had caused then we have a real journey towards
redemption. And as the second half
of season 1 of ANGEL wore on, we see its increasing emphasis on issues such as
what is right and what is wrong. It
comes to be about taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions, no
matter how hard that is and above all about how it is never too late to change.
This, and the fact that he is in the center of the debate, with Faith,
with Lindsey, even with Wesley and Cordelia, all this gives an increasingly
powerful sense of Angel himself
being on a journey of redemption.
And with Angel’s newly found sense of mission there are other welcome developments as well. For the first time we have seen the emergence of genuine leadership qualities in him. When he looks at the grand scheme to things he has a vision about what his mission involves and how it is to be accomplished. He decides to destroy the ring of Amara and how to respond to Faith in accordance with this concept. In the day to day running of things he also takes charge: planning how to catch Penn in “Somnambulist”, deciding to try to save Kate’s father in “The Prodigal” or telling Wesley and Cordelia to go into hiding in “Five by Five”. At times now he is almost over-confident in his own abilities. This is evident not only from the belief in his physical strength, as evidenced by the scene with the Kaliff demon in “Rm w/a Vu”:
“It’s a good offer. You should take it. On the other hand you’re making me want to fight some more. You get lucky you might last ten minutes. Really lucky and you’re unconscious for the last five.”
More strikingly still is the way he bulldozes opposition to what he wants, as in “Five by Five” where his response to Wesley’s protest about the “lie low” order is pretty brutal:
"We're not a team. I'm your boss. You go where I tell you and I tell you to lay low."
In terms of sheer bossiness this is out-buffying Buffy.
But perhaps the single greatest change for Angel is that he now has friends. Despite the undoubted progress Angel has made, he is still a misfit. He is still marked out, in particular, by his sense of social isolation. As I have already noted, he has nothing that any of us would call a life. The writers have stressed on a number of different occasions just how remote from the world Angel is. Perhaps the best example of this is to be found in “Eternity” where his fear of his own vampiric nature as a barrier to contact with ordinary people features heavily. But in Doyle, Cordelia and later Wesley he had for the first time a group of friends who can offer not only help in time of danger but support, just as Doyle did in the aftermath of IWRY and Cordelia did in “Somnambulist”, IGYUMS and “To Shansu in LA”. This sense that he is not after all alone; that he doesn’t only have himself to rely on is certainly one of the most important developments of season 1 of ANGEL. In terms of the character, it means that he has someone to fall back on when things do go wrong. Angel is still a deeply introverted individual. His relief in being left alone in the dark at the end of “Lonely Hearts” and his discomfort at Cordelia’s party in “She” is evidence enough of that. Especially when things go wrong he has a tendency to retreat into himself, to keep things to himself, in short “to brood”. Whereas this is something Buffy accepted, Cordelia in particular will not. Not only does she offer friendship, she will not take “no” for an answer. As a result Angel is now much more open and honest about his feelings than he has ever been before and, I think because of this, is also more successful in dealing with them. Let us nor forget that season 1 has delivered to him more than his fair share of hard knocks – giving up his humanity in IWRY, Doyle’s death, his encounter with Penn and Kate’s reaction to him, not to mention the (brief) return of Angelus. The remarkable thing is that after each set back he seems to return stronger and more determined than ever. And I would suggest that a major element in his ability to cope with these set backs is the support and friendship he gets from Cordelia and Wesley. Perhaps if either had been around in Galway 1753, Liam’s story might have been a very different one.
But friendship of this nature is not only a one-way street. In episodes like “Parting Gifts”, “Expecting” and IGYUMS Angel too has shown a depth of concern for both Cordelia and Wesley that, on BUFFY, would have been surprising. This is a very important element in another aspect of season 1 ANGEL – the humanization of the lead character. Someone who, even though he is emotionally vulnerable, buries his feelings and remains cut-off from everyone runs a serious risk of being unsympathetic. And this was, I think, the reaction of a large number of people to the character in BUFFY. But in gathering his little family about him and sharing their support and friendship Angel now engages our sympathy to a much greater extent than ever before. And this leads me on to another, very successful, aspect of his humanization.
Throughout series 1 of ANGEL the writers seemed to delight in taking pot shots at our hero. All these jokes at Angel’s expense seemed to have one purpose. Part of the character’s problem on BUFFY was the writers’ tendency to take the character too seriously. Of course he had a lot to brood about but that is also true on ANGEL. The difference was that on BUFFY there was little attempt to vary the tone. He was handsome, dark, powerful vampire who was still something of a mystery, even to Buffy. This certainly meant he was intriguing; but the same characteristics tended to create a barrier between the character and an audience that felt no connection with him. On ANGEL, on the other hand, we see the same aspects of his character in a completely different light. So, the fact that he is good looking is made the subject of gay jokes; his dark mystery the subject of Batman jokes and even a powerful vampire can jump into the wrong car or forget he had a cell phone. Suddenly Angel becomes more human (for want of a better word). He isn’t really so different to us after all. So we are much more inclined to be on his side, wanting him to succeed and sharing the pain of failure. This sort of audience identification is very important, especially where the hero is a reformed killer vampire.
This is not, of course, the end of the story for Angel. Where season 2 takes him we must now wait and see. Certainly the end of season 1 was pregnant with possibilities with the return of Darla and the promise of getting his humanity back. But one thing is for sure. There will now be no going back for him.