Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Buffy Blog Burst

The following is part of a blogburst, a simultaneous, cross-linked posting of many blogs on a single theme. This blogburst concerns Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff series, Angel. For a guide to other Buffy/Angel articles, go to The Buffy BlogBurst Index.

There is much interesting reading in the work of the bloggers already listed on the Buffy BlogBurst index. NZ Bear has a discussion with an unnamed but easily identifiable visitor from Sunnydale. Irongall has written a good piece whose highlight for me was a pun dropped in so casually I'm not even certain it was intentional. Mac Thomason is utterly hilarious. And there are others I haven't yet had an opportunity to read while busy writing this. I may be posting some remarks on these later.

Just about all of this discussion has focussed on Buffy and Sunnydale. That's appropriate, since Buffy is the first and usually the best of the shows, and the season premiere of Buffy is the occasion for today's blogburst. But I decided to go against the flow and write primarily about Angel, looking at where Angel stands after three seasons, and how some of the same themes, often religious, play out in Angel's LA and Buffy's Sunnydale.

Labels don't count for much in LA, where the good guys (Doyle, Lorne, and now Cordelia) are often demons and evil (Wolfram and Hart, Holtz) regularly comes in human form. Authority isn't reliable - Wes is led astray by ancient prophecies that are ultimately discovered to have been rewritten by a demon. Even virtue isn't always trustworthy - Gunn's group of vampire hunters is corrupted into a mindlessly violent gang, while one woman who has dedicated herself to helping the needy is unknowingly used as a tool by Wolfram & Hart. The Powers That Be are too distant, oracular, and mysterious to be depended on.

But the Buffyverse is never without a moral center, and there is one guide to the perplexed in LA, which was explicitly stated by Angel in Season 2, where Angel's night of sex with Darla led, not to losing his soul as Darla had expected, but to his understanding that:

if nothing we do matters... then all that matters is what we do. 'Cause that's all there is. What we do....If there isn't any bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

This is repeatedly described in the script as an 'epiphany', which means: "A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something." The term goes back to a traditional Christian festival to commemorate the revelation of Christ as Messiah to the Magi, an instance of Whedon, who is said to be an atheist, using explicit religious themes to express the ethics underpinning the struggle of good and evil in the Buffyverse.

There was more religious imagery in the season finales. In Sunnydale, the world was saved by a carpenter preaching forgiveness and unconditional love. In LA, Angel was locked in a coffin and cast into the ocean, while Cordelia was ascending into heaven. (There were similarities in the previous season finales. Buffy gave her life to save the world, died, and was ultimately resurrected. In the closing episodes of Angel's second season, Cordelia and the group fought against evil priests who wanted to use her to fulfill their prophecies. But the cultural referent most visible in the adventure was, ironically, 'The Wizard of Oz'.)

As the new seasons open, Willow in Sunnydale and Wes in LA are both seeking redemption for their acts of the previous year. Willow, losing her sanity in her own grief and rage, nearly destroyed the world. Wes, not trusting Angel or his other allies, handed Angel and Darla's son over to Holtz. (Lilah directly compared him to Judas.) Angel's infant son Connor went with Holtz into a hell dimension, emerging a few LA days later (time isn't consistent across dimensions) as Steven, a superb adolescent fighter raised to accept Holtz as his father and vowing to kill Angel.

Forgiveness is a central idea here. Wes hasn't been entirely forgiven by his friends for taking Connor, and is bitter over their mistrusting him. Angel isn't even slightly interested in forgiving Wes, and, after brooding in his underwater coffin all summer, is reportedly going to be returning as partly or entirely the evil Angelus.

Holtz illustrates where the inability to forgive leads. His struggle against vampires was once a battle against evil. Angel killed and turned his child, leaving him (Holtz) consumed by no thought except vengeance. When Holtz is assembling a team of fighters in LA, he seeks out others who have lost loved ones to vampires and tests Justine's capacity to be his second in command by torturing her. His crusade is now about vigilantism, and the original purpose has been lost. It's the cost of fighting a war for bitterness instead of compassion. This is the path that Buffy has been able to avoid by her closeness to the Scoobies, as Angel has avoided it by his connection to the Angel Investigations crew. He came closest to it in Season Two, when after leaving Darla and Drusilla to make a buffet out of a large chunk of Wolfram & Hart, he fired his friends and was slipping into darkness until his epiphany.

Faith, who will be making return trips to both Sunnydale and LA this season, fell all the way because she lacked the support that Angel and Buffy had. Her watcher was killed, and she was never able to accept the Scoobies because of her jealousy of Buffy. She rejected Buffy's repeated overtures, and her inability to form other relationships was symbolized in her violent and promiscuous use of sex. Ultimately, she had to seek out Buffy's enemy to find acceptance.

WIllow is likely to have an easier return, precisely because her ties to both Xander and Buffy are so deep. Wes has a harder path, because his ties to the group are less strong, and perhaps also because he betrayed them secretly instead of openly and is now less trustworthy.

Where these conflicts will go in the new seasons I don't know, or even want to - it would spoil much of the pleasure of seeing them evolve. This is likely to be the last season for Buffy, since Sarah Gellar's contract will be up and she is in considerable demand for movies. Angel is in almost as much danger in the real world as in the fictional; it has a deadly time slot against the similar and deservedly popular 'Alias', as well as a completely dissimilar hit, 'Malcolm in the Middle', there's a weak lead-in from the so-so Buffy/Charlie's Angels clone, 'Charmed', and Joss Whedon is likely to be focusing more on his new show, 'Firefly', than the old ones. This could be the last year for one show or even both, but with the strength of the creative teams that make them, it is sure to be another satisfying one.