Rememblog #2: How Angel Showed Me A Darker Heroism
So apparently when I said we’d hopefully be back with this soon I meant 3 months. So, yeah… more than a little awkward at the failure there. Anyway, I am returning once more with the Rememblog, for those of you don’t know what this is I refer you here. For those of you who do remember all that time ago, you may recall that I confessed to weeping like a child because of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Well, perhaps appropriately I’m returning now with the spin-off of Buffy, namely Angel. In case you hadn’t guessed already, the Whedon love is strong with this one.
Let’s clear one thing up straight away, Buffy was always a hero. Yes, she screwed up at times. And she certainly didn’t always handle situations in the best way possible (check out ‘When She Was Bad’ for some major failure to deal). But we always knew that, at the end of the day, she was a hero. She was our hero. And though Angel was far from, ironically, an angel in his three seasons on Buffy, as long as he wasn’t in his soulless, Angelus form, the guy tried pretty damn hard to help out. So when he left for Los Angeles and began his own, eponymous series as Buffy headed into a season that would contain some of the show’s best episodes (check out ‘Hush’ for some truly terrifying drama), it was with some apprehension that I followed. It is perhaps notable that I watched Buffy and Angel one after the other as opposed to concurrently, the way that they aired. This means that I came to Angel with certain ideas and expectations from Buffy of how things were going to play out. I didn’t know any real particulars as the crossover episodes between the two shows are limited and are more focused in the moment than in long stretching spoilers. But I’d got used to Sunnydale and the Scooby Gang and good guys coming out shining. Boy was I in for a surprise.
You see, Angel starts off as heroic as you like. It definitely treads some darker territory than Buffy, partly thanks to the more gritty setting of Los Angeles (a city that appears in a very dark light in both shows), and there’s a more adult tone throughout the show’s five seasons but, overall, it starts off with a pretty white knight type Angel. It’s not easy for him to settle in L.A as he attempts to run his detective agency aided by half-demon seer Doyle and the ever snarky Cordelia (another Sunnydale alum). But what really captured the difference between Angel and its parent show, and what aided in maintaining the spin-off’s audience (aside from the stake hidden blades of course), was the fact that Angel wasn’t afraid to go to dark places and, though he hated his vampire nature, he never backed down from the fact that, in the end, he was a monster. Angel very much took the path of fight fire with fire.
In doing so, we eventually had to confront the fact that Angel might not actually be a hero. Here is where it dips into BIG SPOILER TERRITORY so, despite the age of the show, if you haven’t see it I urge you to look away now and go binge watch the hell out of the show. Moving on though, when we reach season four, Angel gets weird. I mean, season three had some messed up stuff but four really hits some nerves. These nerves include Angel’s son, Connor, sleeping with Cordelia, who Angel is in love with. It bears mentioning that Connor is a young adult because he grew up in a hell dimension where time passes differently. And Cordy is sort of possessed by a former member of the Powers That Be that is kind of crazy and evil now. It got pretty messed up. In order to save the world from enslavement the gang pretty much end world peace. So… that happened. The more I think back on it, the more messed up I realise that season was. The important thing though is that because of the whole world peace ending thing and the belief that they can corrupt Angel to bring about the Apocalypse, Wolfram and Hart (evil demon law firm) offer Angel and his team control of the L.A branch of their firm. Angel, in order to save Cordelia and Connor, accepts. This is where the show began to paint with grey.
Just to give an idea of how messed up Angel’s control of Wolfram and Hart is, I should indicate that there is a truly epic episode (‘Damage’) in which the team have to hunt down an insane Slayer (there being many Slayers all over the world due to Buffy’s activating of every potential in the season seven finale) and stop her from doing any harm with her misdirected Slayer powers. They’re aided in their mission by Andrew (sort of villain in Buffy season six) who now serves Buffy as a sort of mission controller, pseudo-Watcher type figure. When they eventually manage to capture the rogue Slayer they find Andrew demanding that Angel hands over the girl. Understandably cocky, Angel refuses and, backed up by his Wolfram and Hart security team, insists that he’ll take the girl. About twenty freaking slayers then come out of the vans behind Andrew. Angel is then told to piss off when requesting to speak to Buffy as, having taken over Wolfram and Hart, the Buffy group no longer trust him and believe him to have been seduced by the dark side. The awesomeness of that standoff aside however, the important point at the heart of the confrontation is that it’s entirely possible Angel might not be the hero.
The more Angel went on, the more I had to deal with the fact that I couldn’t actually trust in him doing the right thing. Though certain moments of ‘grey Angel’ were brilliant in how screwed up they were (i.e. him allowing Darla and Drusilla to murder an entire room of Wolfram and Hart executives), more often than not the show led further and further to the conclusion that our previously unassailable white knight was kind of a mess.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a superb way to direct the show. The way in which Whedon and his team really explored the presence of shades of grey not just within Angel himself but just generally in the ideology of heroism, contextualised within the Buffyverse, was nothing short of brilliant. Standing in a stark contrast of light and dark, Buffy and Angel took very different routes to their endings. Appropriately, Buffy ended with hope while Angel, well Angel ends with apocalypse. There’s no other way it could end really. As a man, as a monster, Angel stood above all those who came at him but never managed to quite transcend into being truly human, into being a hero that could and would be rewarded for his shining example. The important takeaway was that that didn’t matter though. In the end, he still goes out swinging. Friends dead, abandoned by some of those he once held dearest, bloodied but never beaten Angel continued, until the very last moment, to fight. It is in those very shades of grey that made him questionable that he triumphed because no one else could go through what he did and come out in the way he did. And, to close on a note that proves the epic scale to which Angel takes his attempts at heroics, this: