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This here post will contain spoilers.
It’s impossible to talk about the villains of Buffy without discussing Angelus. Of all the show’s Big Bads, Angelus is is the one that never goes away. While the Master and Adam and Glory all go the way of the very dead dodo, Angelus is always there inside Angel. He doesn’t go away. So let’s explore this character and what gives him the power he has.
Angel was born human in the 1700s and turned into a vampire by Darla when he was in his mid 20s. After that, he quickly became one of the biggest, baddest vampires in all the land. He and Darla cut a swathe through Europe and left a trail of bodies behind them. He formed a design on a young seer woman called Drusilla, torturing her family and tormenting her until she fled to a convent — where he then massacred every other nun around her the day she was supposed to take her holy orders. He drove her insane, then turned her into a vampire. Drusilla then turned William, a young English poet in love with a socialite above his “level” in society. William became Spike, and the four of those crazy kids left a trail of blood across the world.
Until Angelus, you know, picked the wrong victim. He killed a young Roma woman, and her tribe cursed him with the one thing they thought would cause him to truly suffer: a soul.
While most vampires in the Buffyverse maintain a certain element of their humanity, Angelus did not. The other evils of the world even remarked on the purity of his nastiness. So much so that the First Evil wanted him on its team. But after his soul was returned, Angelus became someone else. And lost the crappy Irish accent. (Sorry, David Boreanaz.)
Angel as Angelus
When we first meet Angel, he’s a sort of broody, stalky type who hides in the shadows and looks handsome whilst doling out cryptic remarks. Throughout the first and second seasons, his relationship with Buffy develops into love until they consummate their union. Because fun fact: a soul curse is only good if you stay miserable. The second Angel experiences perfect happiness, POOF. He zaps back into sadistic-killer mode.
Bit of an oversight on the part of the curser, no?
Angel’s flip to Angelus is a whole gumbo of allegory, from the very basic “guy changes after getting sex” to the supernatural lens imposed on a less-than-ideal first sexual experience. But with Angelus, it always felt like more than that to me. Angelus’ first interaction with Buffy once he’s back in charge is not violent. It is, to quote The Princess Bride, NOT to the death. It’s to the pain. He deliberately causes her emotional anguish.
Angelus sets about tormenting Buffy and her friends, killing Willow’s goldfish and murdering Jenny Calendar. That moment, every time I watch it, is a picture of the finality of death. He breaks her and then uses her body to manipulate and terrify Giles.
Angelus as an Archetype
I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about this character. And the conclusion I came to is probably not hugely popular. I look at Angel as an abuser. He goes through the honeymoon phase, where everything is full of blood and peaches. But then something makes him snap, and when he snaps, he becomes a tornado of pain and devastation. When he’s done, he feels really bad about it, and it’s back to the honeymoon phase. The cycles of his character are, to me, very archetypical of an abuser. Some people see Angel and Angelus as two distinct people, but I’ve never really subscribed to that. Angelus is always present within Angel. Angel even acknowledges this constant struggle, because as we see in his spinoff series, the demon inside him is a discrete entity even from Angelus.
It must be crowded in there.
It’s no secret that I’ve never considered Angel a good mate for Buffy. The biggest reason for that is Angelus. He’s always there, just beneath the surface. While Spike’s shift through the moral spectrum is organic (albeit in many cases, self-serving), Angelus was restrained only because of an external impetus. And there is always the possibility that he will reemerge. And while Angelus is a single-minded evil being, his “humanized” side still perpetrates some pretty atrocious acts (like siccing Darla and Drusilla on a wine cellar full of lawyers, not to mention his actions in the continuation of his story in the comics).
Angelus is a villain who can only be contained, and even his “good” counterpart makes morally abominable decisions on a regular basis. I could probably write a book dissecting this character more, but instead, I’ll leave you with an Angelus quote from the season two episode “Passion.”
“Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping … waiting … and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir … open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us … guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love … the clarity of hatred … the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”
What do you think about Angel/Angelus? Does the fact that his soul was forced upon him negate or cheapen the good things he does? Is there any avenue to believe that without that magical muzzle he would have taken those steps himself? Do you see Angel and Angelus as two separate people or one man warring with his own darkness?
The first time I ever watched through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I inadvertently started mid-way through season five. In some ways, I think that affected how I think about several aspects of the show. I thought Dawn was obnoxious but grew to love her, and I’ve always been firmly in the “Buffy belongs with Spike” camp. There’s probably a book in this discussion, but as I’m busy writing fiction at the moment, I’ve decided to tackle it here.
So here we begin. At the start. At Buffy’s first love.
Buffy and Angel meet in a dark alley, with Angel following her to warn her of the Master’s imminent plan to escape from his underground lair and, well, take over the world. Their chemistry is quickly evident, and by episode seven, they share their first kiss — a kiss that reveals Angel’s rather bumpy fangy side. Aside from the obvious irony of a slayer and a vampire falling for one another, Angel happens to be the quintessential vampire.
Born with the name Liam in 1727 in Galway, Ireland, Liam was sired by Darla in 1753 and changed his name to Angelus. He was notorious as the single most dangerous and brutal vampire in the world — he and Darla cut a swathe through Europe until Angelus murdered the prized daughter of a Roma tribe in 1898 — and the gypsies cursed him with the one thing they thought would make him suffer for his crimes. A soul.
For a hundred years, Angel wandered until a demon named Whistler showed up and pointed him on the way to his redemption — and toward a tiny blonde cheerleader who was about to be called as the new slayer. When Angel arrived in Sunnydale, he’d already been bitten by the big lovey-dovey bug, and it didn’t take Buffy long to reciprocate.
As Buffy puts it, it’s tough to date a guy when he only shows up once a month and says, “Honey, there’s a big evil a-brewin’!” In spite of that little hiccup, they form a relationship. Despite the underlying warnings we see from Jenny Calendar that Buffy’s presence threatens the curse that keeps Angel ensouled, Buffy doesn’t know it, and their relationship becomes more and more physical into season two until the inevitable occurs.
Buffy and Angel make love, which turns out to be the catalyst for Angel to reach a moment of pure happiness — and lose his soul. When Buffy wakes in the morning, Angel is gone, reverted to Angelus. In what can only be described as one of the worst possible scenarios for losing one’s virginity, Angelus doesn’t just dump Buffy. He begins to terrorize her friends, her family, and he murders Jenny Calendar before trying to raise the demon Acathla and destroy the world.
Buffy is forced to kill the man she loves moments after Willow succeeds in returning Angel’s soul. When Angel is miraculously returned to Earth in season three, Buffy hides his return from everyone — including from Giles, whom Angel tortured nearly to death. When the secret comes out into the open, Angel and Buffy resume their relationship only to realize that they cannot be together.
Buffy reacts like…well, a teenager. At least at first. But she soon realizes that Angel is right — they have no future together. Over the next few seasons, they have a few tumultuous interactions, including one where Buffy crosses over onto Angel when he becomes human. For one day, they are able to explore their relationship until Angel realizes that he has to sacrifice his happiness if he wants to be a champion and asks the Powers That Be to take back the day.
In season seven, they have a conversation right before Buffy takes on The First, where she says she’s cookie dough. Not done baking yet — but that she does sometimes think about who she might end up with. Angel acts like he thinks he and Buffy could be together, even though at that point his love (Cordelia) is in a coma. This dynamic of “maybe we could be together” continues into season nine, but Buffy is the one who finally makes the definitive choice — realizing that she and Angel could never work out.
There are heaps of people who are hardcore believers in Buffy and Angel’s relationship. Even when I first watched it, I couldn’t hold to it. There are many factors that make this relationship prohibitive, as deep and affecting as it is. There is nothing that compares to a first love, but few people ever end up with that person. More than anything else, that’s what I feel is the core of the Buffy and Angel relationship. Angel is Buffy’s first love, but while normal people have more mundane reasons for first loves not working out (distance, growing apart, college), for Buffy and Angel their reasons had wide-ranging effects.
They cannot have sex. For the vast majority of people, sex is an integral part of a successful romantic relationship. If Buffy and Angel ever have sex, he loses his soul and goes more evil than Darth Vader without his fuzzy Anakin side.
For all his age, Angel has severe difficulties letting go of Buffy. Though he removes himself from her life, he keeps nosing back in when he thinks it’s appropriate — something that causes more than a few problems for Buffy’s relationships and her own emotional state. She tries to move on, but he doesn’t let her. Granted, there are moments when she does the same, but their interactions take it beyond romanticism into the proverbial kicking of a dead horse.
Ultimately, the 800-pound gorilla in the relationship is the fact that Angel has been cursed with a soul. While he is what’s on the outside, Angelus is always within wanting out. Angelus wants Buffy dead. Angel is a walking duality, and half of his being wants to kill the woman his other half purports to love. That is the biggest and most compelling reason they can never work. There is always the risk that Angel can lose his soul and turn evil.
Angel’s goodness is forced upon him, and even ensouled, he tends to make decisions that not are not only self-serving but often downright malicious, such as when he locks Wolfram and Hart’s lawyers into a wine cellar with a very pissed off Darla and Drusilla. Even with a soul, Angel has a darkness that prohibits him from having healthy relationships — and he is virtually incapable of having any fully realized romantic relationship because of the risk of him losing his soul.
Their relationship is a metaphor for many abusive relationships — the abuser is kind and loving, romantic and passionate until something sets him or her off. In their case, it’s sex. Suddenly a switch is flipped, and the abuser becomes a completely different person. Jealous and angry, unpredictable and violent. You cannot be with a person that has those two sides — it doesn’t work for anyone.
Buffy and Angel’s relationship is the epitome of a first love, with all the pain and and passion that entails. It also shows how much people yearn for that love, how strong the desire is to make it work even when everything screams that it can’t. As much as both of them wish it could work, there are too many reasons that Angel and Buffy can never be together. Their relationship is often unhealthy and plagued with distrust on both sides. And so Buffy’s words to Angel in season seven remain true: she’s still cookie dough.
I want to know what you think. Do you think Buffy and Angel have a legitimate chance to one day work it out? If so, have you read season nine? Who do you want to see Buffy end up with?
Stay tuned for Cookie Dough Part 2: Buffy and Spike!