Angel's Return
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Angel's Soul
Angel's Return
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A number of different theories have been put forward to explain Angel's return from the demon dimension, usually referred to as “Hell”.  Of course there is only one explanation.  He is a popular character and his relationship with Buffy was a major drawing point of the show.  And in any event it had already been decided to create a new show based on the character.  Thus his return is an example of the direct intervention in human affairs of the god known as Profit and his earthly servants the Neilsens.  But some of the other theories are also worth exploring.

(1) The First Evil helped Angel back, because it thought Angel would be more useful here.

This is the closest the writers (in this case Joss Whedon himself) have come to giving an explanation for Angel's return.  The First Evil itself certainly suggested as much in "Amends"

“This is what you are. This is why we brought you back. Take her! And then you'll be ready to kill her.”

Buffy herself acknowledged that it was a possible explanation in her final encounter with Angel at the end of that episode.  I think that we can accept that the First Evil had the power to effect Angel's return but I have major difficulties with the idea that it did so.  An ensouled Angel was hardly likely to be useful to the First Evil.  Its plans would therefore depend upon him loosing his soul and (best-case scenario) killing Buffy.  But there was no way to guarantee such an eventuality.   This skepticism is reinforced by the fact that in "Amends" the First Evil found it necessary to intervene heavily in an attempt to make Angel destroy Buffy.   Even with that intervention it failed in its object.  Certainly no rational calculation would suggest that the odds in favor of Angel loosing his soul warranted the risk of him once more actively joining the fight against evil.  Moreover, after Angel announced his intention to kill himself in “Amends,” the First Evil expressed some pleasure at the thought. 

Jenny:  “You're not supposed to die. This isn't the plan.  But it'll do.”

That would have been a very odd reaction if it had been the one responsible for bringing Angel back in the first place.  To have gone to all that trouble simply to be put back in the same position before Angel returned would have been little cause for any satisfaction.


(2) Ensouled beings can only be kept in hell and tortured for so long before they have paid for their sins and have to be released.

This is probably the weakest explanation.  First of all, from a metaphysical point of view, Angel’s human soul was not responsible for the sins of the demon.  There was, therefore, nothing to punish him for.  Secondly the torture that Angel went through in Hell had nothing to do with punishment for any sins.  Remember the whole point of sucking the World into Hell was to inflict torment on those with human souls.  Demons, including the evil Angelus, would have been in their element.  And this torture was supposed to be eternal. 


(3) Once Angel lost his mind in hell, the others got tired of torturing him or even just having him around and threw him out.

Again this is not really the strongest argument.  First of all it assumes that the demons in Hell had the power to throw someone out.  I do not think that we can make this assumption.  After all if they had that power it would suggest that they had the power to release themselves from Hell as well.  There would be no need for Alfalf…er Acathla or anything else suck people into Hell.  The demons could just come to Earth and help themselves.  In any event even though Angel had gone feral he had not really lost his mind.  He was clearly still capable of feeling pain.  Releasing him would therefore have been an act of mercy, not something for which demons are noted.

This brings me to my preferred explanation, namely


(4) The Powers That Be helped Angel back to fight on their side.

This has always seemed to me the most plausible explanation.

In “Becoming I” Whistler endorses Buffy’s guess  that his purpose was to maintain the balance between good and evil.   That implies that there is a balance to maintain.  That in its turn suggests that there is, on the side of good, some equivalent force the first evil (the Powers that Be) and that those Powers would have the power to return Angel.  Its interest in doing so is obvious.  Angel is a unique creature able to make a unique contribution to the fight against evil.  Through the initial intervention of Whistler and his association with Buffy he had begun to do so, even  though he still had a long way to go by the time Buffy’s 17th Birthday arrived.  For reasons that are too obvious to go into here the possibility of him making further progress in this respect were thwarted.  It is not too fanciful, however, to see Whistler's initial approach to Angel in New York in 1996 as having been directed in some fashion by the Powers that Be or to regard Angel's return from Hell as being an attempt to get its original intentions for him back on track.

Moreover this explanation has one advantage over a number of the others.  It *may* explain the timing of Angel's return and the relationship between that and Buffy's visit to the mansion in “Faith, Hope and Trick”.  I do not believe that Angel's return immediately after this visit was simply a coincidence.  The timing was far too precise for that.  On the other hand the explanation that it was the Power of One True Love which effected the return seems to me to ignore the purpose of Buffy's visit.  That was to say goodbye to Angel, almost as one would visit the grave of a loved one who was dead.  It seems to me that it would be very odd for this sort of gesture to be the cause of Angel's return when it actually signified that Buffy had given up hope of that return.

It seems to me that the first few episodes of Series 3 represented Buffy slowly coming to terms with Angel's loss.  Her dreams, which continued up until "Faith, Hope and Trick”, showed that she had not forgiven herself for sending him to Hell.  But first she returned to Sunnyvale to resume her duties.  Then, crucially, she admitted (after much hesitation) what had actually happened at the end of "Becoming 2".  Having done that she was finally able to decide to resume her life, even to the extent of starting to see other boys.  The visit to Angel's mansion was a way of drawing a line under the past and deciding to look to the future.  I am speculating here but it may perhaps be that whoever or whatever returned Angel to earth could only do so once Buffy had taken that crucial step.  It was only then that Buffy was in a sufficiently stable state of mind to deal with the consequences of that return, including in particular having to confront the reality of what she had done to Angel.  It was obviously hard enough for her to see him as it was.  Could she have coped with her task in restoring him to health and at the same time carrying out her duties if she had not made peace with herself over sending him to Hell in the first place?   Once Buffy gave proof that she had done so it was then possible to return Angel.