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The dynamic of Buffy and Angel

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  • The dynamic of Buffy and Angel

    I don’t know where else to post this, other than on a new thread.

    Standard disclaimer: as most of you, my friends here on BF, will know, I am committed…to Spike. In his corner all the way.

    I have done my best, despite this, to be objective and do this as an exercise in brainstorming.

    I hope it proves entertaining - in the right ways! If it sparks a discussion, so much the better. Either way, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    Cheers.
    Debbicles

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends…
    (Or something like that…)


    Angel and Buffy - A Transcendental Love?

    Introduction

    Angel is an essential part of the Buffy mythos. To understand Buffy’s struggle to integrate her demonic Slaying nature with her humanity, I felt I needed to examine her first love more closely.

    I won’t pretend that I grasped all, or even many, of the following points all at once. Buffy is one of those stories, possibly unique in television, that pays rich dividends with repeated viewings. There’s nothing wrong with taking it literally, but if you choose to read it as a fable, a myth, a poem or a metaphor, then the fun (and pain) is multiplied exponentially.

    In short, I’ve devoted, and probably will carry on devoting a disproportionate amount of time and energy to this show, considering it’s a work of fiction. Nothing that I say here is likely to be stunningly original. It’s not intended as even my last word on this, and it’s necessarily going to miss out some issues, for, among other reasons, lack of space and time. Not to mention that it’s all too easy to get sidetracked in the complexities of the characters and their stories.

    I’ve chosen not to delve into the role Whistler plays, or anything that happens on AtS (with the exception of IWRY), or anything that happens in the comics. Those are detailed topics worthy of their own analysis in another place and occasion.

    What I set out in the following text is simply my take on the Angel and Buffy romance, as depicted on the first three seasons of the show, and necessarily a truncated view. I’ve written it for fun and to analyse the appeal of this ‘ship.

    I owe flow and Priceless an enormous amount of gratitude for sharing their insights with me and helping me with this. They’ve given me their time and encouragement. I hope I give their contributions the weight they deserve. Any mistakes are, of course, mine alone.

    Angel and Buffy – True ❤️ 4eva

    How does Angel’s story impact on Buffy?

    The Buffy/Angel dynamic has all the surface trappings of a grand romance in the old-fashioned style: sweet, innocent girl meets mysterious, tall, dark and handsome stranger. Who happens to be slightly older than her. That in and of itself wouldn’t/shouldn’t necessarily be an obstacle to eventual true love.

    Until you scratch the surface.

    So, who is Angel?

    Angel hides who and, crucially, what he is. He is the thing Buffy the Vampire Slayer is called to destroy. It’s rather nifty how he conceals that from her, since by the time she discovers it - his passion for her is aroused when they kiss for the first time and his demon face is revealed (she screams) - it’s too late for her.

    She’s infatuated with him and on her way to falling into first love. That overwhelming, all-consuming, blind love. The love that doesn’t recognise his past. On first viewing of WML1, it’s not clear if she sees through his demon face, or chooses to ignore it. To my mind, when you rewatch, it’s possible to make a strong case that she overlooks it. She chooses to see the potential goodness. But she ignores the monster.

    The Watchers’ Diaries chronicle Angel as notorious even among other vampires. A legendary monster. He’s been around for 240 plus years - a fact Willow keeps rather comically highlighting, without intending to.

    However, at some point in his history he was cursed. For killing a gypsy princess, her clan magicked Angelus with a soul (personally I always wondered whose soul it was, since the carousing lout we see in Becoming 1 bears no resemblance to the angst-ridden tortured creature presented to us post-curse).

    So he is saddled with this soul - an unwanted crippling burden of anguish over all his evil deeds. He styles himself Angel. The vampire with a soul.

    Angel is Angelus, cursed.

    Buffy fails to realise that. Giles should, but even he forgets this crucial fact, notwithstanding the history set out in his Watchers’ Diaries. To forget this, to act on the basis that souled Angel is the original and real deal is illusory. Later Buffy and the others will try to impose a dichotomy on Angel - calling him Angelus to refer to him when he is soulless (his natural state, if you will) and Angel when his soul is restored. This enables them, chiefly Buffy, to tidily separate the crimes he commits when he’s reverted to his natural state from his persona as a sentient responsible being when his soul is restored by Willow.

    This raises a number of important issues that need to be worked through but I can touch only on a few of them and even then only in so far as they are relevant to the topic of this essay.

    It’s worth noting that Angel himself (and his vampire family) makes no such distinction. In Innocence, while Angel threatens Willow, he displays unholy glee in reminding everyone that he is Angel again. At long last. That message is reinforced in Becoming 1 when Angel declares that he strayed from the path while he was ensouled. So there is text to support the view that Angel recognises that being a vampire with a soul is not in the order of things and that his true self is the soulless demon. In addition, Dru refers to him as “my Angel” immediately before he returns to the family fold.

    And lest we forget, to further muddy the waters, in Amends Angel does tell Buffy it’s the man in him that needs to kill. He’s always been weak. The implications to me are that Liam was already on the road to ruin and dissolution when Darla made him. (Later in Amends there is a flashback to a drunken Liam living it large in a tavern.) It was the quality Darla found most attractive, as she is to say later when she describes him as “magnificent”.

    Angel sells his bill of goods very well to Buffy and, astonishingly, to Giles too - let’s recall how Giles corrects Kendra’s assertion that Angel is a monster: “no, no, he’s good now”. The show sells us, the viewers, the same bill of goods. This narrative should put us all on high alert, but we’re too busy enjoying the ride and rooting for those two lovebirds to work through the barriers that divide them.

    Before I go any further, I’m making a brief detour into an aspect of television, films and radio that I personally find fascinating but which sadly here I can only give a passing mention to: the music. It’s an important element in the narrative, crucial for creating the appropriate ambience and setting the scene for the story. And in any romance it is, of course, the love theme that reigns.

    In WML2 we hear the swelling harmonies as Kendra and Buffy rescue Angel, the cue that true love prevails. However, surprisingly, it is not until Surprise that we first hear the gorgeous “Close Your Eyes” melody, the official Buffy/Angel theme. In that episode it’s featured almost on a loop, insistently driving the message home that this is the show’s officially sanctioned, true love forever relationship. Thereafter it plays at key moments, assuming its most dramatic and gut-wrenching form as a dark variation during the awakening of Acathla in Becoming 2.

    Nearly all Buffy and Angel’s scenes in S3 are played against a musical backdrop of themes of hopeless longing, whilst in the climactic scene in Graduation Day 2 (discussed below) the music takes on a sinuous, menacing quality.

    Sadly, there’s no room in this essay to more closely examine or even catalogue the music and its role in this relationship and I have to leave it there for the time being.

    To return to the main matter, therefore, my assertion is that to refer to restoring Angel’s soul by cursing him again as his “cure” - which first Jenny then the rest of the gang do both explicitly and implicitly - is a terrible mistake. Variously through S3 Angel is referred to as being better, or clean. To think in these terms is to presuppose that Angel with a soul is who he was originally, who he really is.

    But it is the soul which is the veneer, the thin line between love and hate – the mystical leash that grafts an artificial conscience on Angel. We see in Innocence that the gypsies did not intend that the curse be a means to attain justice for Angel’s victims: it functions purely as a weapon of vengeance. It is a double-edged sword that Jenny quite rightly designates as senseless, since the repercussions of its loss will perpetuate the cycle of death.

    After his entrance to the show, Angel isn’t shown as acting at all heroically for a long time. He has to be galvanised into action, notably, on at least two occasions, by Xander. In School Hard, Angel’s past fetches up, in the form of Spike and Drusilla. Their presence brings Angel’s previous existence as a remorseless murderer - and how little of it he’s revealed to the girl who adores him and to her Watcher - into ever starker relief as the season progresses.

    Bit by bit, we learn more about Angel. His handiwork. His modus operandi. He stalks (he calls it lurking), he delights in psychological warfare. He enjoys inflicting both mental and physical torture and degradation. He is manipulative.

    All the clues are there in plain sight, from the outset, that he is the Other. He appears and disappears, makes cryptic utterances. He plainly has knowledge he doles out on a “need to know” basis. He looks the part - dashing, sophisticated. He wants to cast himself in the mould of hero and champion. (But the word mould also means a hollow vessel.)

    In fairness to Angel, he does set out with aspirations to be good. However, the demon is at his core, embedded in his psyche. His behaviour is informed by this. We can retrospectively observe that Angel’s attempts to deny that his demon still dictates a large part of what he does are a tragic form of self-deception.

    By LtM, with the arrival of an old flame from his new love’s own past, he’s decided that the best form of defence is offence, so he offers up to Buffy a morsel of his terrible deeds: he happens to be the greatest mass murderer she will ever meet - is it possible he discloses that as a badge of achievement? The more charitable perspective here, and in all likelihood the one we are being invited to adopt, is that he needs Buffy to understand (and absolve) him of the vastness of his sins. He tells her that of all the unconscionable things he did, Drusilla was the worst. He needs to be certain that Buffy knows who he is, so he can be sure of her acceptance.

    The trouble is, his version of himself is incomplete. Whilst Buffy says she can deal with what he did, she is so young and inexperienced that to grasp the enormity of his past would be an emotional leap I suspect she is incapable of, at this stage. Not because she isn’t smart, or sensitive, or intuitive. She is indeed all those things.

    It’s because she hasn’t suffered at his hands, or witnessed the pain he can inflict on others. Through her suffering she will acquire the vital wisdom that she will apply to defeat him. However, all that lies ahead.

    She could try on an intellectual level to understand. But she chooses not to do that. For now, she’s basking in her romantic ideal, deeply flattered that an older man is so interested in her. She is drawn to his darkness and happy to think she is his guide to the light. She may declare she doesn’t know if she can trust him, but her (misplaced) trust in him is what will catch her off guard.

    His quasi-confession in LtM - one riddled with omissions - is proffered in exchange for his eliciting Buffy’s hesitant declaration of love. He does indeed destroy Darla, his sire, in order to save Joyce. It’s also symbolic of his attempt to break with his past.

    Dru’s chilling premonition about what Buffy is slated to suffer at Angel’s hands could apply to Angel with or without his soul. In WML2, we see how Dru resents that Angel has taken the moral high ground when he is in fact her sire and destroyer. He also becomes that, metaphorically speaking, for Buffy. He murdered Dru’s family and turned Dru into a vampire on the day she took her nun’s vows. We will see him follow the same pattern of terrorisation with Buffy, Joyce and the gang.

    Angel has already referred to the gypsy girl as being dumb as a post, and calls Dru his work. Later we will hear him boast in BBB about the quaint little shop girl whose heart he rips out, thus objectifying his victims. He will reduce Jenny to a gag gift for Giles, setting the scene for Giles to discover her corpse, eyes staring sightlessly, in a horrible parody of a romantic seduction.

    He himself seduces Buffy bit by bit, culminating in her confiding to Willow in Surprise that it’s inevitable she will sleep with him. By then she’s obsessed with him. She has prophetic (and also, we presume, non-prophetic!) dreams about him. In her dreams, Dru kills Angel. She and Dru share a birthday. The parallels continue. She gives in to his passionate kiss - the kiss of the vampire.

    Cleverly, subtly, the show sets out that it is Angel who has played hard to get. He’s on a long term mission, likes to plan his moves, so Buffy ends up doing a lot of the running. Xander rightly calls Buffy out on this very early on, by saying that the old sleep on the floor ruse is just that: a ruse. Angel may be acting like a gentleman, but it’s the demon whose methods he’s deploying.

    So the sweet, chaste, virginal love that Angel prizes as his salvation and hope, turns horrifyingly into another notch on Angel/Angelus’ bed post. Thus has Angel indeed had first crack at the Slayer, with enduring, divisive consequences for her, her family and friends. Not to mention any would-be suitors that might come a-callin’ in the future.

    By Surprise we the viewers are sucked (and suckered) in to the notion that Angel is the tortured dark champion, destined to ride to Buffy’s rescue.

    And why do we feel this? Because it’s what Buffy sees and wants.

    She’s so desperate not to be alone in her hard, lonely calling - you’re the one freaky thing in my freaky life that makes sense, she tells Angel, in the scene where she sees only herself in the mirror, thus both highlighting and missing that she is in fact still alone - that she falls under his spell.

    He does ride to her rescue in Surprise. Finally, he feels strong enough to actually fulfil the role he wants to play for her by offering to transport the Judge’s arm. They are immersed together in water, the symbol for drowning in their love. Whilst they pay lip service to trying to fight their mutual attraction, they don’t actually make any concrete effort to do so. And Angel goes one further. He makes a gesture of commitment: he and Buffy become engaged, so to speak, through his Claddagh ring. She is now pledged to him.

    A year can stretch ahead like eternity for a young girl, and that’s how long he is asking her to wait for him to return from his mission to save the world. To him, it’s the blink of an eye, such is the gulf between them.

    However, in this scene it’s also worth noting that as Angel hands Buffy his ring, he refers to its significance among his people. From this, it would seem reasonable to infer that Angel is starting to feel human again, by stating that he identifies with his long-lost human family. The family he killed, a fact he again neglects to disclose.

    But as well as Buffy, we the viewers - unless we are hardened cynics or more clear-eyed than she - badly want to believe as well. So we go along with this fiction, lulled into what proves to be a false sense of security.

    So the man reels the girl in with the promise of forever, wins her heart, then cruelly dashes her hopes the morning after he’s taken his pleasure of her.

    Once Angel loses his soul, for love of Buffy, he reverts to the monster who wants to destroy every feeling of humanity she has brought out in him. He goes from being drawn to her light, to wanting to snuff it out. His all-consuming love becomes dangerous obsession.

    Angel mocks Buffy in Innocence for giving it up, being a pro. It’s the classic misogynistic ploy on Angel’s part to make her feel poorly about herself for having loved him and been seduced by him. Buffy tastes shame and betrayal. Her love is twisted back on her. She breaks down in heart-rending sobs as she recalls their night of tender love-making, depicted as in soft focus and with gauzy tints. At the very end of this episode, Angel explicitly taunts her with how he employed the demon’s seduction technique.

    Later in IOHEFY, we see how she blames herself - not Angel - for his soulless state. This is completely wrong, of course, in so many ways. However, she has assimilated the message that she was at fault for giving in to her emotions and that it was her love that killed her lover; as Angel tells her in Innocence – her boyfriend is dead.

    Angel is briefly reminded, through being possessed by Grace (and what a resonant name that is) of his humanity and how Buffy made him feel love. An experience he can’t forgive her for. While in LtM he saved a very young boy from Dru, now in a grotesque bookend to that act, he and Dru go out seeking a vile kill - in the form of a toddler.

    IOHEFY is the catalyst for Angel’s decision to destroy the world. He can’t bear to be reminded of how it feels to, well, feel.

    In IOHEY we see how Buffy has taken the burden of guilt and anger at the loss of Angel’s soul onto herself, and chosen not to recognise his culpability in this. She will repeat this in Becoming 1 – what happened to Angel wasn’t his fault. In addition she blames herself for Jenny’s death, as she was still too emotionally invested in Angel to be able to eliminate him in time to prevent it.

    Not quite a side note: if the genders in the ghosts were reversed, I suspect no viewer would have any trouble seeing the affair between Grace and James for what it truly is - an abuse of authority. The possession scene plays out all the essential elements of the Angel/Buffy dynamic: obsessive love and infatuation, brief happiness, disillusionment, break-up, death, self-recrimination and (misdirected) guilt.

    In Becoming 1, through the flashback to Dru’s story, we see a further link between Buffy and Dru: Dru sought refuge in the love of God, only to find that sanctuary desecrated. Buffy seeks refuge in Angel’s love and his bed, only for the demon to deride and belittle her the day after. Buffy cannot and should not expect to find safety in Angel, but even after Becoming 2 we are shown she still hopes to.

    In Becoming 2, when Buffy sends Angel to Hell, she isn’t punishing him for the terrible wounds he has inflicted on her or for his murders, she is choosing the world over her love. She runs a sword through her ensouled lover, not his soulless alter ego. It’s a situation she has been manoeuvred into over an extended period, initially by Angel, then been unable and unwilling to extricate herself from.

    In S3, in Beauty and the Beasts, we see a feral Angel who returns from Hell. We later find he’s been tormented for a hundred years and counting. He saves Buffy from an attack and recognises her. It’s a touching moment when he recognises her and says her name.

    Buffy chooses to keep his return hidden from her friends. On a metaphorical level it may be feasible to interpret that as continuing to hide her dark side from those she fears would shun her if they see it. This will be a re-emerging and recurring theme in later seasons. On a literal reading, she has already experienced her friends’ and mother’s anger and judgement over her absence and the fact they don’t seem to understand the depth of her pain over Angel. So she hides her resumed relationship from them. Her guilt over the destruction he’s caused remains hers alone: I don’t think we ever see her really try to put it squarely and firmly where it belongs. With Angel.

    This secrecy all backfires in the aptly-named Revelations, when Angel’s return comes out and Xander’s friendship with Buffy is damaged when he sets Faith on Angel.

    Buffy’s choices impinge on Giles, her family and friends in crucial ways. They rely on her decisions to keep them safe but they can’t prevent her from bonding with Angel again. Their worry that she’s kept Angel’s return hidden is justifiable, and because they’re frightened they are harsh towards her. They’d be even harsher, arguably, if they could all see what Xander glimpses: Angel and Buffy kissing and embracing, in one of their almost make-out sessions that could be precursors to the release of a world-destroying demon. Again.

    Throughout S3, Angel’s reliance on Buffy could be seen as true love, or clutching a lifeline. The two facets needn’t be mutually exclusive. However, during this season Willow unwittingly hits on Buffy’s weakness: she tells her that as far as Angel is concerned she doesn’t see straight. Buffy’s brief moment of clarity in Lovers Walk about how she and Angel need to stay at arms’ length doesn’t last, and we are never allowed to forget how young she is, how anyone in her situation would need iron resolve to cope with the temptation Angel represents.

    Angel tries to integrate his darkness with his hopes of moving closer to the light. He does draw inspiration from Buffy, but his trajectory is troubled and marked by the fact that he is weak. He shuns people, not a desirable trait in one who aspires to be consort to humanity’s champion. Most of all he fears that loving Buffy will bring about her death.

    In Amends, the First Evil employs various stratagems to get Angel to lose his soul and destroy himself. Angel is reminded of how much fun it is to kill and torment others. He is reminded of how wonderful making love with Buffy was. In the end he is driven to despair that he will ever achieve what he most desires and needs (until the Shanshu prophecy): absolution. Release from the constant remorse and pain.

    Both Angel and Buffy dream separately of death and love, inextricably interwoven. Buffy’s dreams are explicitly erotic, she seems in them to be beguiled by the notion that she could die through Angel’s kiss. Angel is terrified at the idea that he might cause her death. It is this fear that comes into the mix in the hilltop scene, described below.

    However, we see also that Angel tries to blame his sins on the demon. Then he claims he never had a chance to be a good person. He doesn’t actually try to make amends with Giles, who is bereft of Jenny, although I suspect it’s a moot point whether forgiveness is possible from that quarter. And let’s just bear in mind two statements from Giles: that forgiveness isn’t granted because someone deserves it, but because they need it. That there are two kinds of monsters: the first kind seeks redemption, the second...does not.

    So Angel heads for the hills, to wait for the sunrise to take him. Buffy stops him. They have an intense exchange about the meaning of his life and touch briefly on their relationship, before the mysterious Powers that Be send a supernatural snowstorm to blot out the rising sun and wave a white flag of hope at Angel. It’s a signal that they continue to bestow their protection on him. Before that happens, though, Buffy is the only one standing between him and his drive to self-destruction. She’s the only one who cares, everyone else has fallen away.

    However, Buffy and Angel’s conversation appears to resolve nothing. He begs her just this once to let him be strong. Let him burn to a cinder. He tells her he was weak, that it wasn’t the demon in him that needed to kill and maim and torture, it was the man. (This line is ambiguous and could be interpreted as the man needs to be destroyed, not the demon.) Buffy glosses over this in what seems to be an astonishingly inadequate counter-argument: everybody is weak, she tells him. This seems to me to sidestep his past and trivialise his crimes. If she can’t recognise this is what she’s doing, get an inkling of the extent of his guilt, if she can’t understand what he is begging for – to be allowed a full confession - then it seems to me that their relationship will continue to be based on evasions and half-truths only.

    She then goes on to say she knows all the terrible things he has done, because he inflicted them all on her.

    Buffy is trying to make her appeal to Angel’s humanity. However, I do think this also reveals an amount of self-absorption on Buffy’s part: that Buffy equates her guilt, mental torment and the anguish of killing her beloved to (say) Jenny’s murder, Giles’ grief and his torture at Angel’s hands. There’s no denying she suffered. Young as she is, however, are we supposed to believe it is fair or reasonable to equate what she endured with those crimes and the countless others Angel has committed? After all, the visions of his past crimes were in her dreams, as well. That is part of the question I think we are invited to consider.

    However, as Priceless has pointed out to me, the other side to this argument is that at the same time we see that Buffy recognises that Angel does care deeply for her, and she plays the only card she feels she can play at that point: that if loving her isn’t enough to keep him going, she doesn’t know what is. She realises she is his link to the world.

    Nonetheless, when she also tells him that if he goes now, all he will ever have been is a monster, that is indeed accurate and the first admission on her part that he is in some way culpable. Buffy remonstrates with Angel and tells him not to be a coward. To carry on trying to atone.

    (As Angel he’s only just started to accumulate the good deeds, on the other side of the ledger. The feather would rise well above his heart in the scales of the dead at this point, and his heart would be gobbled up by a snake. Or maybe a crocodile.)

    I equivocate about whether or not Angel does face up to the fact that he has to live each day, each minute and hour as they come, trying to atone, not unlike Buffy saving the world one vampire at a time. Buffy does recognise that her task is thankless and never-ending. That is something true to emerge from this scene, I think. It does seem to me that Angel doesn’t feel this truth quite yet, and is saved from having face up to it or to make any choices for himself by the magical snowfall.

    In the moment that Angel wants to off himself, it’s because he realises he isn’t equal to the challenge of being Buffy’s white knight. It’s too difficult for him. But she can’t or won’t hear him. She doesn’t want to hear his confession. She’s too invested in the idea of him as the love of her life and her romantic ideal. So Angel doesn’t receive absolution from Buffy. Or forgiveness. Her words and attitude seem to indicate that for her part there’s nothing to forgive. She can’t think about anything but her love for him. Fortunately (or otherwise) they don’t ever have to discuss it again because the mystical snow falls and Angel is given the strength to slip back into his role of knight on a charger and carry on with renewed purpose.

    As flow has perceptively commented, the intervention of the Powers is anomalous within the Buffyverse, that indifferent universe where all that matters is an individual’s actions and choices. Buffy’s efforts to save Angel prove futile, as he remains intent on removing himself from her life, from the world that he says wants him gone. When the sun is blotted out, both Buffy and Angel are vouchsafed the revelation that Angel is special, destined for great things.

    Buffy can continue to cling to her ideal of Angel as her hero, and Angel has been granted the mantle of champion. They resume their affectionate hugging and get closer again. The Powers and Buffy in tandem give Angel the strength to continue his quest for redemption, in Buffy’s case because she would rather draw a line over the past and focus on the future. She doesn’t want to look through the mask of tragic, doomed hero into his true depths.

    Buffy never again has to face the fact that her beloved killed someone she used to regard as at least an ally, if not a friend, tortured the man she regards as the closest to a father to her and tried to destroy the world. Buffy ends this episode, and indeed the season, still in complete denial about how Angel has hurt and betrayed her.

    By The Prom she’s scribbling little love hearts alongside “Buffy and Angel 4 ever” in her notebook, indulging in sleepovers and talking about having a drawer for her things at his mansion. They are both playing with fire, as the opening scene of The Prom makes abundantly clear.

    In Graduation 2 she will openly refer to Angel as her lover. In this episode, when Buffy saves Angel from Faith’s poison arrow she does so with her blood. She offers herself in the show’s graphic depiction of Angel draining her as being simultaneously a violation and an orgasm, a deeply disturbing identification but one that remains nonetheless consistent with the ethos of the show.

    However, as flow says, Buffy is by no means certain she will survive Angel’s drinking of her and her death would leave her friends and the town defenceless against the Mayor. So we are shown that Buffy prioritises Angel’s existence over her own, and those she holds dear, as well as her Slayer mission to save the town.

    However, just as troublingly (in my opinion) her initial plan is to sacrifice Faith in order for Angel to be cured.

    I have come across the argument in some quarters that there can be no objection to Buffy seeking to feed Faith to Angel as his cure: the cost of one life to save many others, particularly in the context of her love for him and his apparent status as the dark tormented hero, is the means that justifies the end. Another argument put forward is that killing Faith is a pre-emptive strike ahead of the Ascension.

    Buffy’s relatable and understandable desire to prevent Angel’s lingering death transmutes into a dark and troubling decision to take the life of another human – a sister Slayer who has gone over to the enemy – and does not fit into her hitherto deeply-held moral code.

    Buffy’s status as the Slayer does place her in the unique position of being the last word - judge, jury and executioner - on all matters supernatural. Her decision to kill Faith is portrayed simultaneously as karmic justice and straightforward retaliation. We are drawn into asking the question how far we ourselves would go to save a loved one.

    To my mind, it is the clearest indication in the entire series that Angel’s presence in Buffy’s life is not necessarily the boon she regards it as, since she is driven by her love to try to commit what objectively can be termed nothing other than murder. Xander voices his fear that if she does kill Faith, he will lose Buffy. In fairness, when she stabs Faith her expression is of pure horror, as she registers what she’s just done. But by then it can’t be undone.

    After this, Angel leaves town – saying he’s had enough of what he calls this freak show, in his attempt to anger her into breaking up with him - so Buffy can have the supposedly normal life he wants for her. His actual words are that she deserves someone who can bring her into the light.

    In short, he seeks redemption and integration of his dark heart with his humanity elsewhere. His path diverges from Buffy’s. On the only other occasion when they will connect in a romantic sense - IWRY - he wipes her memory of the day he was human and they could be a normal couple, with a future together.

    In IWRY the viewers are presented with the scene where Buffy exposes her raw longing to Angel, in what seems to be a recurring pattern for them. She pleads, she cries, she all but goes down on her knees. The classic romantic interpretation of this behaviour is, I suspect, to accept this as evidence of how deeply and desperately Buffy loves Angel. I do think that in this instance both the romantic and subversive, ironic interpretations mesh: Buffy does love him. He is her blind spot, her Achilles Heel.

    Angel’s warning to her about the imminent memory-wipe/time-folding just twists the knife in her wound. For Angel the memory of having caused Buffy more pain and having enjoyed one day of bliss with her, regardless of how she can’t remember, adds to his heavy load.

    As flow points out, Angel not only makes the decision unilaterally to reverse time, but he tells Buffy that’s what he’s going to do. He makes no attempt to soften the blow and dissimulate.

    A generous interpretation of this might be that he’s aware of and counting on her emotional resilience. However, as the show depicts repeatedly through S1 to early S4, indeed at various points later, Buffy has no defences against Angel.

    Conclusion

    Whilst I do believe, along with Giles (and a significant portion of the viewers) that Angel does love Buffy, as much as he is capable of it, I don’t think that he feels he is strong enough to give that love a chance. Buffy, on the other hand, refuses to attribute Angel with any responsibility for his sins and shows herself prepared only to see the lover in him, to the exclusion of all else. To her, ensouled Angel is the real person.

    Buffy’s love for Angel blinds her to his deeply rooted, significant flaws. She fiercely defends and cherishes her vision of him as a saviour and white hat, so much so that she wilfully ignores his terrible deeds. I would also make a case for Angel’s continued presence in her life as being more likely to lead her into darkness, isolation and/or at least moral ambivalence.

    Nonetheless, this relationship defines her attitude towards love - boyfriend love, as she calls it in S5. No other prospective lover can live up to the standards Angel sets.

    But this attitude exacts its emotional toll on her. The act of sacrificing Angel to save the world is the disastrous culmination of the early phase of this relationship that scars her and colours her view of sexual love and adult relationships going forward. She sees everything through the Angel prism.

    As a result of this, Buffy remains emotionally frozen. We never again see her bare her heart or weep as she does in S2 and S3. She associates love with pain and trauma. Her wisdom is won at the expense of her trust and tenderness.

    To me, this arrested development is a key indicator of the manipulation of a child by an adult, which I personally am unable to reconcile with a lingering view, apparently prevalent among certain sections of the Buffy and Angel fandom, that persists in touting the Angel and Buffy love story as wholly transcendent and luminous, and unproblematic save in the epic saga sense.

    To my mind, the story of Buffy’s love life thenceforth becomes the story of a girl enthralled by her first love, and enslaved to the illusions he presented of warmth, understanding and security, and who never moves past the false image he presents.

    I believe on balance that the text supports their story, objectively, as being one of the manipulation of a teenage girl, by a very much older, worldly wise and sexually experienced - not to mention jaded – man. A man who knows all too well what havoc he’s capable of wreaking. Visually and narratively the show has marketed the Buffy/Angel story as an epic romance of star-crossed lovers, quite possibly to the detriment of its darker elements which deserve consideration as well.

    Naturally, with the tale being replete with metaphor and symbolism, it is also not as straightforward. The metaphor here is that Buffy struggles with her Slayer calling, and needs a worthy companion to help her make sense of it and live in this world.

    Angel is her first choice for this. However, Angel is unable to integrate his demonic heart with his soul while he remains with Buffy. Buffy needs someone in her life who is strong enough to do this, to be her mirror and full partner. Angel’s curse makes him unsuitable for (more aptly, unworthy of) this role, since as a matter of principle it cannot be possible to live fully in the world without love. And if he loves and lives as a human, then the curse will kick in and the monster will be unleashed.

    That is part of Angel’s tragedy, to have to avoid what he desires, intimacy with Buffy, and to be unable to take comfort in her. The other, more compelling (I think), aspect is that he assumes the mantle of champion: a lofty aspiration that he fights to attain. Those travails form his arc on AtS, where he engages in daily battle against his own nature.

    There may be some way for Angel and Buffy to be together. If Angel can somehow smash the mystical barrier that will unchain his demonic nature, seek to integrate his darkness with his soul, seek Buffy’s forgiveness, and if Buffy is able to acknowledge that it was Angel who was responsible for hurting her and that he should be seeking her forgiveness too, then things could start to look more promising for some kind of permanent reunion.

    However, while Buffy struggles to reconcile her Slayer calling and her womanhood, she will not metaphorically be able to resolve this with a partner who himself is conflicted to such a degree that he denies part of himself and is unable to integrate his humanity with his dark core.

    Buffy will have to seek her other half in someone else. Someone who accepts all of her, including her darkness, without judgement or fear, because he has confronted his own darkness, fought willingly for his own integration and understands the struggle between the demon and the human soul. However, she still does not seem to realise that, or that even it might be possible.

    In terms of Buffy’s love life, I believe that until Buffy sees that her dream that Angel is the answer to her heart’s problems is just that, a fantasy, she is likely to remain unhealed and incomplete. In terms of the Slayer mythos, I would argue that Buffy’s endeavour to come to terms with, understand and reconcile her inner darkness with her humanity are essential for her wellbeing and ability to continue to fulfil her role as hero.
    Last edited by debbicles; 27-11-19, 10:05 PM. Reason: Formatting: I’m rubbish at it/clarity
    You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same.

    "There's a lot of comedy to be gotten from the world's doom spiral right now." Tracey Ullman, June 2018

  • #2
    Really glad you posted this debbicles

    Angel sells his bill of goods very well to Buffy and, astonishingly, to Giles too - let’s recall how Giles corrects Kendra’s assertion that Angel is a monster: “no, no, he’s good now”.
    Doesn't that sound odd from Giles. 'No, no, he's good now'. What does it mean to be good when he is still a vampire, and vampire's are monsters. I don't know, it just sounds like Giles is walking a line, in that he doesn't want to alienate Buffy or Kendra, but he's not completely sure of how he feels. The 'now' sounds pretty temporary too.

    Buffy chooses to keep his return hidden from her friends. On a metaphorical level it may be feasible to interpret that as continuing to hide her dark side from those she fears would shun her if they see it.
    I really like this reading. Angel is her dark side, as Spike will become, perhaps even more so in later seasons, when Buffy does allow herself to become darker.

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    • #3
      This is wonderful. There are a few thoughts I'd like to throw in here. Keep in mind I do love Angel, and his developmental path.

      That said, as far as I can tell neither Liam, Angelus or Angel had ever loved a single human being. Liam probably cared for his sister Kathy, but as far as we're told that didn't extend to anything beyond casual affection. Angel, gifted with a soul, did absolutely no good for anyone for a bit over a century. As a being continuously inhabiting a single body he had no history and no knowledge of how to help. It's all learned behavior.

      What did he have? A lust for beautiful women came with Liam. That same lust was twisted into the desire to seduce, draw in, mold, manipulate, torture, degrade, and slowly turn innocence into fear and horror once he was a demon. Angel brooded in isolation for years at a time, and then partied with the stars to escape the isolation and pain. Then Whistler brought him face to face with a pretty California blonde sucking on a lollipop. Once upon a time he would have wanted to sleep with her. Once upon a time he would have pulled her away from her friends and family and taught her to depend upon him only. It's no coincidence that he ended up doing both when he decided to help her.

      I don't think that Angel knew any other way of relating to a beautiful teen than to seduce her and make her fall in love with him. I believe he saw it as protecting her because it put him in charge - it gave him the power position. He knew how to play the part of the romantic hero and draw a woman in. This time he tried to be that romantic hero because he didn't know how to be any other sort of hero. More than once he made decisions for her, wiping her memory as needed. Angel was an alpha male in every conception, as Spike constantly complained.

      One real question is, had he been looking through the window of a stocky, homely teen would he have chosen to help her? Would his help have taken the same form? Or would he have found a new way to relate to an underage female? We'll never know because Buffy was beautiful and loving, and she accepted him.

      I know that the common rubric is that Angel lost his soul in the moment of perfect happiness waking with Buffy in his arms. I think it's actually true that Angelus woke up with Buffy in his arms and was powerful enough to kick that soul to the curb. Because as much as Buffy needed to believe in Angel, he's not real. He's an other set of fabricated adoptive behaviors that the demon created to enure the soul. There is no quasi human being there. There is a demon with a problem.
      Can we agree that the writers made everyone do and say everything with a thought to getting good ratings and being renewed. This includes everything we love as well as everything we hate.

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      • #4
        That said, as far as I can tell neither Liam, Angelus or Angel had ever loved a single human being. Liam probably cared for his sister Kathy, but as far as we're told that didn't extend to anything beyond casual affection. Angel, gifted with a soul, did absolutely no good for anyone for a bit over a century. As a being continuously inhabiting a single body he had no history and no knowledge of how to help. It's all learned behavior.
        I think this lets Angel off the hook too easily. Love is learnt from those who love us. Now we could argue that Liam's father had problems showing his love, but the mother and sister appeared to show it well enough, or we can assume it. I don't think Liam or Angel didn't know what love is, but that he chose not to love. It's not as though he led a monk like life as a vampire, he had lots of stories of his time in Vegas, he seemed to have a great time, and was surrounded by people who knew love.

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        • #5
          I’ll just throw in something that has become only clear to me quite late in the day, while I was writing about this gypsy curse. I don’t think the gypsies differentiate between Angelus and Angel, because the curse works both ways. The demon is cursed to suffer with remorse. But if the soul experiences happiness, then it is gone. Lose lose. So the gypsies regard Angel as a single entity.

          I love your argument, bespangled, about the demon kicking out the soul The Morning After. I hadn’t thought of that. It’s a great reading.

          As to your point about whether Angel would have been interested if Buffy hadn’t been pretty, well, that’s one of the things I didn’t go into. But Whistler does say “she must be prettier than the last one”. I don’t think we get to find out what that means, except to infer Angel lurks.

          Re your point Priceless We are shown glimpses into how post-curse Angel has intervals of soul-having lucidity.
          You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same.

          "There's a lot of comedy to be gotten from the world's doom spiral right now." Tracey Ullman, June 2018

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          • #6
            I'd say part of it was Liam's personality. He didn't seem vulnerable or caring, just boorish and lusty. But a large part of that personality was created his overbearing father who ruled over the household in ways a modern father doesn't.

            He could forbid his wife and daughter from showing affection to Liam at any time. It was commonly done, a part of making sure the household was properly run. You didn't beat your young son and then let him run off to Mommy for a cuddle. That wasn't how you raised a man. And you used the rod liberally.

            If Liam cared about his mother and sister he learned that caring was a vulnerability that would be used against you. If his mother showed that she cared when she was forbidden to then she could get punished or beaten. If she didn't show that she cared it would hurt, even if he knew why., it still had to hurt. Growing up in that time was very different than growing up in ours.

            They had no concept of domestic violence in Catholic Ireland. The man was the head of the household. The fact that Liam never beat the crap out of his father despite how much larger Liam was testifies to how he still feared his father. He wouldn't cross that line...yet.

            As for what the love he saw when he had a soul, I think at that point he had the emotional intelligence of a self involved bi polar snapping turtle in a manic phase. He just moved more quickly.
            Can we agree that the writers made everyone do and say everything with a thought to getting good ratings and being renewed. This includes everything we love as well as everything we hate.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by bespangled View Post

              They had no concept of domestic violence in Catholic Ireland. The man was the head of the household. The fact that Liam never beat the crap out of his father despite how much larger Liam was testifies to how he still feared his father. He wouldn't cross that line...yet.

              As for what the love he saw when he had a soul, I think at that point he had the emotional intelligence of a self involved bi polar snapping turtle in a manic phase. He just moved more quickly.

              First, I have to say this last bit has made me .

              Yes, I agree. The concept of domestic violence is still, sad to say, slow to evolve, as evidenced by recent changes in the law here in the UK. The development of Angel as an individual would be something truly fascinating. Probably the next phase in this would be to examine this, as you have set out. It would certainly be informative.

              Angel has family issues. Father issues.

              However, I have to hold my hands up and confess that it’s a project that I’m unlikely to take on. Maybe you could think about it?
              You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same.

              "There's a lot of comedy to be gotten from the world's doom spiral right now." Tracey Ullman, June 2018

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              • #8
                Originally posted by bespangled View Post
                I'd say part of it was Liam's personality. He didn't seem vulnerable or caring, just boorish and lusty. But a large part of that personality was created his overbearing father who ruled over the household in ways a modern father doesn't.

                He could forbid his wife and daughter from showing affection to Liam at any time. It was commonly done, a part of making sure the household was properly run. You didn't beat your young son and then let him run off to Mommy for a cuddle. That wasn't how you raised a man. And you used the rod liberally.

                If Liam cared about his mother and sister he learned that caring was a vulnerability that would be used against you. If his mother showed that she cared when she was forbidden to then she could get punished or beaten. If she didn't show that she cared it would hurt, even if he knew why., it still had to hurt. Growing up in that time was very different than growing up in ours.

                They had no concept of domestic violence in Catholic Ireland. The man was the head of the household. The fact that Liam never beat the crap out of his father despite how much larger Liam was testifies to how he still feared his father. He wouldn't cross that line...yet.

                As for what the love he saw when he had a soul, I think at that point he had the emotional intelligence of a self involved bi polar snapping turtle in a manic phase. He just moved more quickly.
                His father could have ruled him with a rod of iron, but it had little affect as Liam did exactly what he wanted. He ignored his father's teachings. I'm not saying they had no affect on him, they most certainly did, but to argue that Liam didn't know what love was and didn't love anyone is a stretch too far for me. It would make him at the very least a sociopath and I really don't think Liam was that. He was just a young man who acted out because his father was strict.

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