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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.)
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.
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?
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