Angel (BtVS 1.7)
It’s hard for me to put myself in a mindset of not knowing who Angel is. Since I was a latecomer to the series, I already knew he was a vampire before I’d watched a single episode, making this big reveal a bit anticlimactic. And I have complicated views of him as a character, too, looking at him through the weighty lens of twelve seasons of Buffyverse immersion.
How fitting, though, that this episode opens with the Master and Darla, both members of Angel’s pack, his family, the Order of Aurelius. Season 1 is rockier than those that follow, but there is more there there than I sometimes give it credit for. When newcomers ask me about where to start, I always tell them that the first season is required viewing, even though by many measures it doesn’t live up to the hype. But it lays fundamental groundwork in terms of characters, setting, establishing relationships, and sowing the seeds of key themes, and the overall viewing experience is much richer with their harvest. (Not to be confused with the Master’s Harvest, which involves a lot more killing, and some very steampunky machinery.)
If I were ever to get Joss Whedon in a room, one question I would ask him would be about the casting decision for The Anointed One. What characteristics were they going for, exactly? I am hard pressed to find anything particularly memorable about this performance, overall, here or in future episodes. Maybe that was part of the point, to make him as anonymous as possible. Who knows?
The Master says he will send The Three to kill Buffy. There sure are a lot of assassins for hire out there to send after the Slayer. I guess it’s the kind of service industry fueled by the existence of a renewable Slayer line. Sunnydale is a hub for a variety of demonic enterprises.
Buffy may not do much honing in general, to Giles’s dismay, but she already has that spidey-sense with regard to Angel. Who is, of course, lurking around the Bronze while she gets mopey about him with Willow and Xander. As it turns out, she can also sense nearby assassins during her walk home. Honing isn’t sufficient, though, so Angel gets the chance to live out a version of Xander’s fantasy from a couple of episodes ago, helping Buffy out of a tight situation… and getting his first invitation into her house.
Angel: It’s alright. A vampire can’t come inside unless it’s been invited.
Buffy: I’ve heard that before, but I’ve never put it to the test.
This could be his opening, but (understandably, I guess) he doesn’t point out that, well, actually… He also doesn’t answer when she comments on his tattoo, and dissembles when she suggests he might have been following her (which of course he totally was). This taciturn thing really isn’t my style, but clearly it works on the smitten Buffy, who stares up at him with anime pupils while dressing his wounds.
Joyce is instantly suspicious of Angel, yet trusting enough to believe that Buffy will show him out and not “happen” to emerge onto the staircase or listen at her door, say on her way to the bathroom. As the daughter of such a mother, I call willful blindness. She knows, but doesn’t want to confront the issue. In Joyce’s case, probably because she has enough worries about her daughter that she can’t quite bear to add another at the moment.
The Three wear uniforms, yet another example of the weird fixation with rules and order of a lot of the undead, who have theoretically been freed from the shackles of society and shouldn’t need such things.
There is no mercy for failure if you’re among The Three, and they offer their lives in sacrifice. Underworld labor laws are even worse than the ones we have here. Somehow, this is not as reassuring as it might be.
Guns are out, but crossbows are in. Boundaries of acceptability are fairly arbitrary when it comes to the Slayer- (or human-)vs.-demon dynamic. Do we really need weapons for this? Depends. Buffy doesn’t have the confidence — or the right dancing partner — to go without just yet.
Nice kiss. Oh, hey, didjaknow Angel’s a vampire? Whoops. See what Giles was saying about learning to hone, Buffy? You shouldn’t have been caught by surprise, here.
Speaking of Giles, he drops some serious knowledge on the gang the next day at school in this exchange:
Buffy: Can a vampire ever be a good person? Couldn’t it happen?
Giles: A vampire isn't a person at all. It may have the movements, the memories, even the personality of the person that it took over, but it's still a demon at the core. There is no halfway.
…which the show will now spend the next six and a half-ish seasons teasing apart into gossamer strands of nuance. There’s enough material for a dissertation here, but one point I return to constantly is Darla, in Season 4 of Angel, as she’s trying to convince Connor not to murder a virgin. (He really should have listened to her, in retrospect.)
Connor: You can't be my mother.
Darla: I have her memories, her feelings. Isn't that what makes a person who they are?
--Angel 4.17 Inside Out
If that’s true, then this vision of Darla is as much her as the vampire version. Like de-hyena-fied teen boys, vampires by all accounts retain their memories, and we see numerous examples of vampires who retain at least some of their emotional attachments after being turned (Vamp!Willow/Xander, Spike and his mother, just to name a couple). So, basically, the Watchers have pretty much been watching Masterpiece Theatre all these centuries, and don’t know nearly as much about vampires as they believe.
And we finally catch a glimpse of the real Darla! This time it’s a Catholic schoolgirl look, but she’s done kimonos and more in the past — and speaking of memories, Angel remembers her very clearly. I am kind of an Angel(us)/Darla shipper, I should note. Holistically, they may be my favorite couple in the whole ‘verse.
“Talk to her. Tell her about the curse. Maybe she’ll come around…” Darla says. You know, that lady often gives good advice, in various incarnations. Not that the men she’s talking to ever seem to listen. Drusilla, it should be said, nearly always listens.
Angel did say he was older. Around two hundred and twenty-four years, as Buffy notes later.
Master: You see how we all work together for the common good? That’s how a family is supposed to function.
The Master, being the anvilly sort, gets all anvilly with the family theme in case we haven’t picked up on the fact that this season is all about establishing familial tribes of various kinds: by blood, by species, by vampire lineage, and by choice. (And sometimes by sports team, but that rarely bodes well in the Buffyverse.)
I started thinking about the fact that Buffy is learning about the Reconstruction. I’ve been reading a bunch of presidential biographies and listening to history podcasts of late, so my mind went down a rabbit hole of reflecting on the nature of the Civil War, the national schism that led to it and that still reverberates through American culture to this day, the massive clusterfork that was the Reconstruction, and how that might all tie in with the themes here… but then I decided I was violating the terms of this live-commenting project, and ceased immediately. You’re welcome.
Poor Angel. He’s the first vampire to be disinvited from the Summers home… won’t be the last. Won’t even be the last time for him.
And here we have the return of the crossbow! Hard not to be excited about that. Unless you’re the guy in the “Smoking Sucks” poster who gets a trial shot straight to the heart, I guess.
What is it about Angel that people (and demons, and… beings of various ilk) are always trying to psych him out, get inside his head and influence his actions? When you’re a vampire with a soul, everyone wants a piece of you, I guess.
Darla’s not wrong that Angel needs to learn to accept who he is. She’s just a few degrees off about what that means.
In the last episode we were introduced to animalistic behavior, but Buffy makes it clear she doesn’t view vampires the same way, because “animals I like.” This perspective will shift several times over the course of the series, and eventually becomes part of a sort of Integrated Theory of Vampirism.
Same with the whole soul business, one of the slipperiest topics in the show (and most hotly debated in fandom, as I recall). Angel gives a theory, but just because he’s experienced more sides of the issue than anyone else doesn’t necessarily mean he understands the technical specifications. Anyway, he explains it thus:
When you become a vampire the demon takes your body, but it doesn't get your soul. That's gone! No conscience, no remorse. It's an easy way to live. You have no idea what it's like to have done the things I've done... and to care. I haven't fed on a living human being since that day. […] I can walk like a man, but I’m not one.
(We know he’s fudging the tiniest bit there near the end, but we’ll let it pass.)
To recap: at this point, Giles says that vampires may retain the human victim’s memories and personality, but are pure demon. Angel says that the demon takes the body, but the soul goes poof. So far, they’re approaching it from (naturally) different perspectives, but aren’t saying anything contradictory. We’re still in pretty black-and-white territory.
Darla plays the ex card. Not classy, Darla, but you know how to throw down and dirty when necessary, I’ll give you that. Out comes the family lineage, too, in a juxtaposition rather shocking to Buffy. Family, the pack, shares everything, and if there’s some incidental incest, well. It’s the kind of thing that happens in close-knit communities.
Guns will never not seem a greater perversion than any of the other weapons seen in the context of this show — including fangs. A vampire that shoots handguns just seems wrong on a visceral level. Luckily, Darla isn’t that great a shot. And immediately after remarking on having “so few bullets” she fires off several rounds in the direction of Willow, Xander and Giles. Before we can find out whether she has any left after all that waste-age, Angel stakes her in a bloodless Oedipal tragedy.
The Master throws a tantrum. Still don’t get the casting of Master Anointed.
After the fumigation, the cockroaches are much hardier. This feels like a lesson.
The conventional wisdom among us Buffyverse geeks is that episode 7 marks the first significant turning point in the structure of a season, crystallizing the themes and identifying the major antagonists. The first season is a short one, since the show began as a midseason replacement with iffy prospects, but it’s safe to say the pattern was established right out of the gate with this episode. All the pieces have been moved into place over the past six episodes, and now, it’s time to let the real games begin.
Along with the pain.