Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Watch This! Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Pt. 2)

If you missed Part 1 (here, have a link), I focused on how Buffy has effected the way that I view fictional heroines, and in particular those of urban fantasy. Today I'm going to talk about Angel. Now, I might at some later date dedicate a post or two to the Angel spin-off series, but today I'm going to focus on Angel's character as he's introduced in Buffy's story, and prior to his show.

I think we all tend to forget, in this Twilight soaked modern day, that Stephenie Meyer did not invent to sympathetic and more accessible vampire (that crown likely goes to Anne Rice, although I'm far from an expert). Angel and Buffy did the centuries old vampire/teenage girl love story years before, and with more intelligence.

Angel is a vampire cursed with a soul. In the Buffy universe, vampires are essentially demons who feed on humans and lack a conscience. The fact that Angel has a soul means that he does have a conscience, and he feels really bad about all of the people he killed before he had a soul. Dark, broody, self punishing--all of the ingredients necessary for romantic drama with a vampire slayer.

The romance between Angel and Buffy is just as starcrossed and just as silly as any YA novel, but Joss Whedon does more with it than you'd expect. One of the shows early weaknesses, in my opinion, was the fact that it failed to explain why they like each other in the first place. You barely see them talk or share anything. They have little in common besides a mutual desire to kill evil vampires. We're just supposed to buy the idea that they feel this attraction, and it won't go away, and so they must be together. The setup is shallow, but the conflicts and the payoff are a lot more interesting, and that is the point, after all.

The conflict between Angel and Buffy stems not only from their antithetical roles as slayer and vampire, but also from their age difference and finally (the biggest catch of all), from the curse that makes Angel sympathetic in the first place. The fact that they're aware of the age difference and actually play on the creepiness a couple of times in and of itself gives us permission to not take it to seriously (although, of course, we do). I particularly like the Halloween episode when Buffy dresses like the girls Angel would have known when she was his age (and turns into an airhead as a result of the shenanigans), because it underscores how ridiculous their relationship is in the first place.

The culmination of their relationship is fairly well known, even among non-fans of the show. Angel's soul-having curse comes with the catch that if he experiences true happiness, he loses that soul. And turns all evil and stuff. And kills people. So Angel and Buffy do it, it makes him happy, and he turns evil. I've never gotten over how contrived that plot point is, but it's also an interesting metaphor. It puts Buffy this position of feeling guilt and loss and sadness, emotions that aren't altogether uncommon for women after an ill advised sexual encounter. Everything about Buffy and Angel's relationship speaks to how actual teenagers fall in and out of love, right down to having to say goodbye and move on.

In the interest of total honesty, I actually liked Angel a lot more after he left the show and got his own. The brooding romance did start to wear out after a time, and it was for the best that they put a stake in it.

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