Season One, Episode Seven


Angel: The Review

The Older Man.

Angel is a seminal episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The heretofore mysterious benefactor, the annoyingly handsome stranger, enemy of vampires, who appeared opportunely without precursor to deliver laconic warnings, and then removed with equally uncommon stealth, destination unremarked, reveals himself as vampire.

The show had been building to the mid-season revelation with scattered clues and sparing use. Angel's preference for night and shadow, his reticence, his peculiar knowledge of The Master -- his habits, plans, and the disposition of his forces, and perhaps more significant, the stimulation of Buffy's special sense in his proximity, all contributed to create suspicion and interest. The infrequency of Angel's visits and their brevity raised a certain impatience with the obvious attempt to increase suspense, while also achieving the desired increments, a balancing of forces that produced tension, matching that ambivalence within Buffy herself, which must soon be relieved. The timing, thus, was calculated with precision.

The Master, strangely forgotten during The Pack, enthroned like a medieval prince in the episcopal chair of the buried church, displeased with the depredations of the Slayer on his family, takes the advice of the Anointed, his protégé, to "annihilate" her, and dispatches The Three. He refuses Darla's first request that he allow her to kill Buffy, citing her personal interest. Clearly, the will of The Master must be dominant, else why is he master? Those whom he has made and those whom he employs are as the limbs of his body, nothing without him. Every stray thought and act that does not serve his interests alone must be suppressed. He has complained of Darla's treatment of him in the past, as when she had tasted Jesse before offering the boy to him. He rebukes her later in this episode, before approving her plan to use Angel to kill Buffy. In a more direct indication of this cult of personality, Luke had been his vessel: every soul that Luke took had given The Master strength. The Master is more than an autocrat: he is all-pervading in his realm. Naturally, his failures are always the fault of others, never of himself. He is the ultimate conservative. The Master relies on traditional methods to deal with the inveterate enemy of his kind, seeking his victory in prophecy, lore, and convention. His enemy, however, is unconventional, a Slayer with more than a Watcher to aid her.

Buffy, unlike The Master, does not seek to subsume those around her, nor does she seek to command:  those who help her, even Giles, bound by a sense of duty, do so out of natural affection. Angel, whose coyness does not deceive, is the first to save her in this episode, depriving the Three of their kill. Even with the advantages of her Slayer's sense, strength, speed, and reflexes, Buffy is overmastered until Angel intervenes and gives her the chance to break free. Angel is already part of her arsenal, for reasons that The Master and Darla cannot truly comprehend, and which neither Angel nor Buffy willingly concede.

Buffy's feelings for Angel are no secret, as her inadvertent and humorous denials of her diary merely confirm, and she merely wants confirmation of Angel's reciprocation. He, of course, is reluctant to allow his affection such a concession as commitment would require. Desire is too closely akin to the consuming blood lust of the vampire for him to surrender to it. He is afraid of his demon. His transformation into the vampire in her bedroom is both a prophylactic and a warning: they are rousing forces that they may not be able to subdue once they have been awakened. The scene makes the most of the sense that Angel is dangerous, that isolation has been the key to his ability to abstain from killing for 80 years. Having spent the night as Tristan, and all day working up the courage to reject Buffy, his resolve fails in a moment, and the beast expresses itself.

Vampirism as a metaphor for sexual passion and promiscuity is almost as old as the mythical creature itself, indeed, may represent its psychological genesis. The incubus and succubus are completely integrated into the literary vampire by the 19th Century: LeFanu's Carmilla and Stoker's Dracula are overtly lubricious, licentious, and depraved. The emergence of the face of Angelus in Buffy's bedroom could hardly be more blatantly symbolic.

History lessons.

Angel's history with Darla is sketched broadly, and Darla's Catholic schoolgirl uniform takes on a more personal meaning. Whereas it had previously seemed only the perverse choice of religious mockery, it is now seen as Darla's jealous attempt to seduce Angelus back to her. She has diagnosed his interest in Buffy as sexual fantasy, and she offers him the archetype of conventually repressed nastiness. She thinks that Angel is simply confused, as though the acquisition of his soul were nothing more than a mid-unlife crisis, desiring Buffy as substitute for herself, a new blond for an old. Her plan relies upon her assessment of the relative strengths of Angel and Angelus. He is neither man nor demon. He lives above ground, but not among men. She calculates that he will revert to demonic form, will kill Buffy, rather than die himself. Certainly, Angel shows none of the disgust or condemnation for his former companion that one might expect. Rather, he reminisces with equanimity. Similarly, judging Buffy by the standards of the vampire, Darla also calculates that Buffy will think the worst of Angel. Darla miscalculates in both cases, however. She also fails to calculate the effect of the wild cards, Xander, Willow, and Giles.

The satirical Joyce, the disengaged mother of The Witch, returns in this episode. She is late returning home from the gallery, but does not ask if Buffy has eaten, if she had a good day at school, if she has done her homework. Wrestling with the IRS, pursuing a career, fully absorb Joyce's attention. Indeed, she becomes interested in Buffy's behavior only when her daughter is unusually solicitous. Instinctively, she assumes that Buffy has done something wrong. When Angel appears voluntarily from the kitchen, therefore, she seems relieved that the trouble is nothing more serious than a boy. Him she can blithely dismiss. Most telling is the blind spot into which Angel disappears after Joyce strongly, but politely, hints that Angel should be out the door and on his way. Her suppositions regarding Buffy's relationship with Angel are obviously romantic, but she seems undisturbed by the difference in their ages. One is left to assume that Joyce trusts Buffy to comply with house rules, or, at least, to be careful. Evidently, Buffy has never been troublesome in quite that manner. Joyce has never shown any curiosity about Buffy's affairs of the heart. She seems never to have met or heard of Owen (Never Kill a Boy on the First Date), for instance. Joyce knows so little about Buffy's studies and friends, that she later accepts without question Darla's plausible explanation for her arrival. Unlike Buffy, she doesn't notice that Darla is aging around the eyes. Joyce is the parent about whom the world, as the video tape is replayed, always asks, "How could she not have known?"

Buffy's reaction to the strange predicament in which she finds herself is to question her own judgment. How could she care for something which is, by definition, her mortal enemy, a vampire? The great question is then asked, "Can a vampire ever be a good person?" The lore gives but one answer, that the vampire is not a person at all, but even Giles is puzzled by Buffy's attachment to Angel. He has learned to trust Buffy's sense of the rightness and wrongness of things. He looks deeper and finds more puzzlement. Angel's record since coming to America is clean; yet, he repeats, Angel is vampire and must, by definition, be like all the rest. Buffy, however, is unconvinced. She cannot reconcile instinct and authority, and Giles is only hesitantly confident in his sources.

Darla's attack on Joyce almost proves the Watcher's lore. The scent of human vitality brings the demon to the surface. Buffy arrives to see the plan explicated. Does her arrival prevent the tragedy, or was Angel strong enough to resist without the sight of the girl he loves to recall him? Does love give Angel the strength to resist, the strength to emerge from the shadows of his isolation? Abstinence is put to the test, and there is a doubtful result, until Buffy enters the scene. The conclusion appears inescapable: by design, Buffy's arrival was necessary to Angel's rejection of his demon.

Rejection, however, is not the end of his torment. He will not be Angelus, but he cannot be other than he is, possessed. He would rather die than continue such an existence. He resolves to face Buffy and goad her into killing him: suicide by Slayer.

Buffy, angry at herself for, as she thinks, having been foolish, deceived by her instincts or her emotions, sets out to kill Angel, but, when her target is presented, she flinches. She cannot kill Angel. When she has heard his story, Darla's plan is defeated, but Darla is not. She, unlike her reactionary Master, has no aversion to modernity, no code of conduct which constrains her to fight in the traditional manner, to her own disadvantage. Semi-automatic pistols multiply Darla's deadliness.

It is here that Buffy's innate advantages over other Slayers make themselves felt in the form of material assistance. Giles, Xander, and Willow distract Darla, allowing Buffy to recover her weapon. In turn, Buffy's counterattack distracts Darla from Angel, who drives a pool cue through his former beloved's heart. That Darla had turned Angel and taken him for her mate for several generations thereafter, during which they were companions in murder, until he was cursed with a soul, makes the act symbolical: he has killed his past in the most decisive manner. There can be no doubt that Angel has made a choice.

Although important events occur in the episode, and much of the writing is excellent, there are problems with both the writing and the completed work. The viewers have to make too many inferences, some of them to cover rough patches in the episode's progress. For instance, after Buffy and Angel settle down in her bedroom, it seems quite plain that they are about to sleep. The next morning, however, during Buffy's recounting of the previous night's events to Willow and Xander, Willow remarks with amazement that Giles knows about the Three. Giles replies that he has been up since midnight, researching the subject. The viewers must assume, therefore, that Buffy did not go to sleep as they had been led to expect, but that she made a surreptitious call to Giles at 12:00 A.M. One has to wonder why this fact had to be implied. Another and larger dramatic problem is presented by the scenes in the Bronze that begin and end the episode. They contribute little, if anything, to the story. Xander is supposedly besotted by Buffy, but he is off on the dance floor, trying to make a pass at Annie Vega. Is one to suppose that he is trying to make Buffy jealous? The Fumigation Party, while amusing in passing, is superfluous to the plot. Try as one might, nothing important can be teased from it. If one takes the fumigation into account, one also has to wonder about the ease with which Buffy, Angel, Darla, Giles, Xander, and Willow entered the building, the absence of actual fumes, and the possible after effects of the toxic, if invisible, gas upon the human subjects. Is one to suppose that the survivors, Buffy, Giles, Xander, Willow, and Angel, are the hardier cockroaches? Cordelia is thrown into the episode. She serves a purpose only in the brief scene at the bench outside the school, when the incautious conversation is not quite overheard, pointing up the different sense of normalcy that the Scoobies have formed:  they talk about a vampire in broad daylight as though the topic were as ordinary as a Todd Oldham design, even before Target.

In Sum

Still, even with the rough patches, the episode is effective and otherwise subtle in the creation of its effects. Relationships are illustrated rather than described. The contrasts of Buffy's world to that of The Master, between which Angel had been suspended, are nicely drawn. It sets up the potential danger that Angel presents for Buffy, and it calls into question the limits of knowledge about the nature of vampires, not the least bothersome of which is the ambiguous understanding of "the curse". The possibilities for future conflict are set before the viewers with an offhand deftness that is admirable.

Horace LaBadie

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