do you want orcs? because this is how you get orcs (kita0610) wrote in idol_reflection,
do you want orcs? because this is how you get orcs

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Idol Reflection: Angel, Part 2

This is the continuation of the essay beginning HERE

"Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief. Without passion, we would truly be dead."
-Angelus, monologue, “Passion”, BtVS, S2

The most unremitting paradox for Angel remains intimacy. Angel needs human contact, human love, in order to avoid giving in to the monster inside of him. But for Angel, the thing that saves him is also the very thing that can damn him- one pure moment of feeling loved and forgiven can also lead to the loss of his soul. This curse defines Angel's every relationship in some significant way.

The primary romantic relationships that span Angel's various incarnations are his sire Darla, and Buffy. As mentioned earlier, both are petite, blonde women who can kick his ass. Clearly, Angel has a type.

Angelus and Darla never use the word 'love' to describe the hundred or so years they spend together, but the likeness to a marriage is obvious. They share a passion and an affection, despite the involvement of others in their sexual activities they consistently return to one another, and they take on definite parental roles to the younger vampires who travel with them (9). Even after he is souled and she torments him, Angel kills Darla only when he is forced to save Buffy from her. Darla's later resurrection at the hands of Wolfram and Hart begins Angel's descent into madness and his eventual downfall: The first time Liam was intimate with Darla she damned him to life as a soulless vampire. When she returns to him as human, years later, Angel is so determined to save her from a fate similar to his own, he loses himself once more in the process. This time, however, the act of sex with her saves him. He does not lose his soul, but rather, he realizes he has been choosing the wrong path, and he sends her away. It is telling too, that this time, he does not kill her ("Epiphany", AtS, S2).

Sex with Buffy also damns Angel, as in the moment of perfect happiness he loses his soul. Afterward, there is no chance of the two of them being together sexually, despite of- *because of* their deep love for one another. Angel's relationship with Buffy is therefore one of forced chivalry, with Buffy remaining a shining symbol of the grail Angel can never quite reach. One assumes that Angel is also old fashioned enough to have at least briefly considered the virgin/whore paradigm inherent in the comparison between these two love relationships.

Liam was a womanizer who was fond of easy girls and professional whores, Angelus spent a hundred years more or less devoted to the once-prostitute, Darla, who turned him, but also building his reputation on rape and murder. Throughout the course of both series, Angel is often assumed to be functionally celibate, and is in fact called a "eunuch" more than once (“Guise Will Be Guise”, AtS, S2). While the writers of the show eventually play with the perfect happiness clause enough to acknowledge that it is not necessarily the act of sex which leads to Angel's perfect happiness (10) , nonetheless, for Angel, sex with a woman he truly loves is a dangerous act which can have consequences for the entire world. This enforced celibacy and hearkening to chivalrous love is not accidental on the part of Whedon. It is, rather, another way to draw the comparison between Angel and classic historical heroes, such as King Arthur's Knights, and the Asian warrior-monks of old. It also makes for damn good dramatic tension.

Angel, for all his tendency to isolate himself from the world, has a keen knack for choosing to draw near the people who need him most. Angel Investigations in LA becomes a haven for the cast-offs from Sunnydale, and other unpleasant places; it is an island of misfit toys. Angel creates a family out of people who, much like himself, have no one else. They are all people making a break from who they were in a past life.

Cordelia, ex-cheerleader, ex-rich girl, ex-stuck-up brat, is in the beginning, Angel's primary link to both his past, and to his future. Doyle, the half demon with a sketchy past and an ex-wife, tells Angel in "City Of" (AtS, S1) that Cordelia will keep Angel grounded in his humanity. For the first several seasons, Angel and Cordelia have a definite sibling vibe that includes protectiveness and affection and an equal amount of exasperation. Doyle and Angel share a similar relationship for a brief time, until Doyle's death in "Hero" (AtS, S1). Then, Wesley, recently fired from the Watcher's Council, comes to LA and Angel, and the immediate sense of family and home is obvious from the first time they all sit down to breakfast together. Angel, who doesn't need to eat, makes them all eggs. The theme of family harmony around a bountiful table is also often-repeated in Angelverse, as a visual symbol of Angel's deepest wish (11) .

This desperate longing for family and normalcy is given name and tangibility later on in the first season, with the discovery of the Shanshu prophecy, and the foretelling that the vampire with a soul, should he survive the coming battles, will one day become human ("To Shanshu in LA", AtS, S1). But, like everything else in Angel's life, this promise is both a reward and a curse.

In trying to escape what he was, Angel is instead constantly confronted with the evidence of what he still is; Wolfram and Hart use his demon family and his continued feelings for them in order to manipulate him for their own ends. They resurrect Darla, knowing he will be willing to die trying to save her, and knowing he will eventually fail to do either. When he does fail, they bring back Drusilla, Angelus' "masterpiece" and Angel's greatest sin. While Angel is held down and forced to watch, she turns Darla back into a vampire ("The Trial", AtS, S2). Angel is karma's bitch too.

But for Angel, there is also a lesson to be learned inside the convoluted path that fate seems to take him down against his will: his best intentions often bring about his worst failures, but his darkest moments can also bring him the most unexpected gifts. This is never more true than when by trying to lose his soul in Darla's bed, he instead not only has an epiphany and returns to the good fight, but also somehow creates a child with her. This is apparently completely unheard of by any occult standards in Angelverse, as both Angel and Darla are told time and again that this baby is not meant to be (“Heartthrob”, “Offspring” and “Quickening”, AtS, S3). In classical mythology, however, the miracle birth is pretty standard, and once again Angel’s story parallels that of an ancient, dark warrior god.

The child, Connor, becomes a victim of Angel's past, suffers horribly for the sins of his father when he is kidnapped and taken to a hell dimension by a victim of Angelus' who was long assumed dead (“Sleep Tight”, AtS, S3). Odin, the Scandinavian deity of war, has a miracle son who is impervious to all manner of poison, except mistletoe. He is killed by this plant, (which is most notably a symbol for Love) and taken to the kingdom of the dead. His father is helpless to prevent this, despite being a lord over that kingdom (“Scandinavian Mythology”, H.R Davidson).

When Connor manages to return from the underworld, years older, and horribly warped, he makes Angel suffer unimaginably as well. He locks Angel in a box, and casts him to the bottom of the ocean, to remain there for eternity. The brother of Osiris, the Lord of the Dead, also cut Osiris’ body to pieces and cast him into the sea (“The Qablalistic Tarot”, Robert Wang). All of Osiris’ parts were found and reassembled, with the exception of his manhood, hence he became lord over the barren, the dead. The obvious connection to Angel’s curse is difficult to miss (12).

Ultimately, however, the boy Connor becomes the most defining relationship in Angel's life, a walking, breathing symbol of hope and humanity, and, some would argue the living embodiment of Angel's Shanshu.

Through Connor, Angel's physical body and spirit will live on. One's child is, after all, one's true immortality. And how human is it for a father's dreams to be realized through his son? But for Angel, the path to such a prize can never be easy.

To risk love is to risk loss. At the end of the series, Angel is the only member of the original Angel Investigations team standing in the alley alive. The lesson he must, and does, learn once and for all after the deaths of Doyle, Cordy, Fred, Wesley, and likely soon thereafter, Gunn, is to not give into despair. To not let losses stop the good fight.

In order to save Connor's life, Angel had to kill him. In order for Connor to be a "real boy" (13), Angel now has to let him go forever. And, in order for Angel to ally himself with Wolfram and Hart's bosses, The Black Thorn, and therefore be able to destroy them once and for all, Angel must sign away all rights to any hope of becoming human himself. It is by giving up his reward that Angel finally proves himself worthy of it. And it is Angel and Connor's ability to come to a sort of understanding before Angel goes off to presumably die in this final battle, that is Angel's one true moment of grace ("Not Fade Away", AtS, S5).

"If you don't wanna face your own demons, you're gonna have to face mine."
-Angel, to random bad guy, Five By Five, AtS, S2

Before Angel gets to that final battle, he has other lessons he must learn as well, not the least of which is the integration of man and demon. Angel's guilt over the demon which lives inside of him detracts from his ability to be an effective warrior for the side of good. Angel uses his demon face for intimidation, his demon strength to physically fight, and his other demon powers to get various unpleasant jobs done, but because of his issues around the separation of church and state if you will, he is never truly comfortable inside of his own skin. This hesitancy becomes a dangerous dance of one step forward two steps back, and leaves Angel vulnerable to various powers who wish to manipulate him to their own ends, such as Wolfram and Hart, who want him "dark" and therefore on their side for the apocalypse ("Dear Boy", AtS, S2). Real change comes slowly, and over the course of several seasons in the series. But two key moments signal a turning point for Angel:

First, near the end of Season 4, the AI team convinces him to let his soul be loosened in order to get more information from Angelus about the Beast that heralds the End of Days. This is pivotal to their plan of taking down Wolfram and Hart, and the powers of evil that guide them. While free of his soul, Angel of course wreaks general havoc, hurting all of his friends emotionally and physically in the process (“Soulless “, “Calvary”, “Salvage” & ‘Release”, AtS, S4). However, when his soul is returned, unlike every other time Angelus has been freed even by artificial means, Angel refuses to apologize for his soulless self. He clearly draws a line between what Angelus says and does, and what he feels for the people he loves and humanity in general when he is in possession of his soul (“Orpheus’, AtS, S4). While this may seem like the antithesis of integration, for Angel it is in fact a crucial step toward accepting the continuum of good and evil that lies inside of him. This episode also marks the first time Angel and Angelus "meet" face to face, in Angel's subconscious while he is high on a synthetic drug fed to him by Faith. Angel takes on his soulless counterpart, and wins, also saving Faith's life in the process (14) (“Orpheus”, AtS, S4).

Second, in the series finale, the last creature standing in Angel's way before the final battle is a "liaison" to the Senior Partners, the larger evil behind Wolfram and Hart.

The man, Hamilton, taunts Angel, saying "You cannot beat me. I am a part of them. The Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Their strength flows through my veins. My blood is filled with their ancient power." And Angel, who has fought for years not to drink blood from the source, even an evil source, realizes the key to winning this fight is to give in, and do just that. Hamilton survives the assault when Angel drinks from him, but Angel now has that ancient power coursing through him.

When Hamilton says, "You don't really think you're gonna win this, do you? You don't stand a chance. We are legion (15). We are forever," Angel replies that "forever just got a hell of a lot shorter." With his new and improved demonic powers, Angel dispatches the man easily (“Not Fade Away”, AtS, S5).

The key to winning is for Angel to realize that in the world he inhabits, humanity alone is not enough to fight. When Angel learns to use all the powers of the demon, to embrace it as a part of him while also being able to maintain control over his soul, he can truly move forward, and win not just the battle, but the war.

Angel himself has been a part of this war between good and evil since the moment he regained his soul. He just didn't know it until he met Buffy. In Buffy's world, he was a foot soldier, a warrior who fought with her and for her. Once he struck out on his own, he needed to learn how to become much more than that. Angel had to learn to be the General.

Angel has never been shown to hesitate when sacrifices need to be made; he will take on insurmountable odds for a good cause, and he will give up everything in order to save those he loves, or the world at large. But Angel has a great deal of difficulty accepting the consequences for those kinds of choices. He is, as stated earlier, a perfect martyr, willing to suffer for his sins and the sins of mankind. What he cannot stand, however, is to be called on his choices, to have them debated or declared wrong. Angel is not fond of the type of leadership which requires making decisions for others that they may then take issue with. It is partly for this reason that he does not tell Buffy about the lost day when he was human, or his friends about his decision to kill Connor and erase him from everyone's memories. The key, of course, is that Angel himself retains memories of Buffy and of Connor. Angel suffers alone. It is impossible to successfully lead a team this way.

Angel gives up leadership of the Angel Investigations team altogether after sleeping with Darla in Season 2. He allows Wesley to make the daily decisions, and Wesley proves himself to be an adequate leader in LA, and a fantastic leader in Pylea, where he plans and executes an attack which he knows will kill many of his soldiers. Wesley also tells Angel, " we know you're a man with a demon inside - not the other way around. We know you have the strength to do what needs to be done, and you will come back to us," so that Angel will allow his demon out in order to fight. Later, Wesley tells Gunn that in fact, he does not believe this, rather, he said it only so Angel would believe it, and do what Wesley needed him to (“There's No Place Like Pltz Glrb", AtS, S3). A General's job is to make these kinds of impossible decisions, to motivate their foot soldiers to carry them out, and to accept the consequences for them.

Angel becomes the leader when his team takes over Wolfram and Hart, but it takes him until the very end to learn to be the General. When he finally embraces this role, however, he succeeds spectacularly:

"In military-speak, the most important ideas as related to the apocalyptic battle in the Angelverse are "1. Strategy - (a) The science and art of using all the forces available to execute plans as effectively as possible. (b) The science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations. 2. Operation - A military action or campaign. 3. Tactics - (a) The technique or science of securing the objectives designated by strategy, esp. the art of deploying and directing troops in coordinated maneuvers against an enemy. (b) The skill or art of using all available means to achieve an end. (Emphasis mine).

The corresponding descriptors, strategic, operational, and tactical, are used to signify the three layers of planning, coordination and execution that are required for the three different levels of warfighting.

Taking down the Circle of the Black Thorn in hand to hand combat is a dangerous maneuver. But it’s also warfighting at all three levels – Take the strategy that the Powers have designated with Cordelia's final vision, sent to Angel with a kiss. Take the resources that owning the LA Branch offers, and gain the intelligence to plan an operation. Use the available means to conduct a specific mission. The mission is to use the enemy against itself. The Circle of the Black Thorn is a bridge. The bridge is on a road. The road is a key transportation route. Without it, the enemy has no ingress, no egress. The ultimate enemy is not knowable, but the bridge is. In the long run, the difference they make may be all the difference that’s needed. They all might die. If they do, it’s a minor failure in the overall war. But if they succeed while dying, it is a spectacular military success." (Ros_Fod, 'The Soundness of Angel's Military Strategy', Essays: Slashing the Angel).

Angel makes the decision to fight the battle this way, asks his team for their support, and gets it. He tells them clearly he expects they will all die, and they continue to support his decision. He gives them each a specific objective, one more difficult than the next, and they still continue to support him. Finally, we see each member of the team set about performing their specified task. One dies. One is dying at the battle's end. And one, on Angel's orders, kills another member of the operation. Angel has definite, and arguably militarily sound reasons for making the plans and giving the orders he did. And still, many of those decisions can and should be called into question. Angel is aware that should any of them survive, he will have to deal with this as well. But the point is that Angel makes the necessary choices, and is able to motivate a very strong-minded team to follow him into a battle with horrible odds. Angel is confronted in the alleyway with the harsh consequences of his strategy, but continues to fight, and so does his team. Illyria, herself an ancient god-king, refers to Angel as “[Your] ruler” (“Power Play”, AtS, S5). Angel has learned what it means to be truly in command, to be a leader, to be a General.

Once again, Angel is also representative of the archetype warrior god. Odin is referred to by his people as “The Leader of The Lost Cause”; he and his followers meet the worst fates with not fear, but rather a fierce delight. Even the knowledge that they are destined to lose does not deter them from taking up the battle. The term “berserkers” originated with the cult of Odin, as it was said that he was able to inspire his followers to a kind of frenzied ecstasy in battle (“Scandinavian Mythology”).

By integrating his demon and taking clear charge of the current war, Angel has also finally stopped being a pawn for the Powers That Be- whether good or evil. He uses the visions given to him by the benevolent Powers for his own strategy, and does not rely on their continued support. He works to terminate every remaining link to the malevolent powers, including Lindsey, who for years has attempted to manipulate Angel and his team for his own, darker agenda. In the end, Angel relies only on those he trusts, and who clearly trust him in return. And he works to fulfill a vow he made much earlier: "To kill them. To kill them all" (“Angel”, BtVS, S1).

Of note, when Angel makes that comment to Buffy in the very beginning of their relationship, he is referring to vampires, including the ones who murdered his family. Of course, it was Angel himself who did that, before he gained a soul. Always inherent in Angel’s promise to avenge the dead, is the implicit statement that he is willing, and even eager, to die trying.

Overall, Angel does not fight to reap rewards, and he is not destined to receive any grace for his efforts. The character of Angel is an ideal within the “Cult of Kings”, the battle weary leaders who fight so that others can enter the promised land. And, like King David, Angel will never build a temple, will likely not even live to see the fruits of his labors. But perhaps his son might.

The story of Angel himself is one of tragedy. But it is also one of hope. With his resolve to Not Fade Away, the creature with the heart of a demon struggles to become a man, and in so doing, becomes a hero.

"I saw him once; he was a goodly king.
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again."
Hamlet, Act 1- Scene 2



(9) Ideas courtesy of Masquerade the Philosopher's Episode Reviews and Essays, found on her Livejournal.

(10) Angel apparently had sexual relations after he regained his soul but prior to Buffy, as evidenced by the sexed-up Furies' reaction to him in "That Old Gang of Mine" (AtS, S3). Sex with Darla in "Reprise" (AtS, S2), did not result in the loss of his soul ("Epiphany", AtS, S2). And Wesley finally says what viewers long suspected, which is that it is not actual sex but rather the emotions associated with lovemaking that caused Angel to lose his soul with Buffy: "Do you know how rare perfect happiness actually is?" ("Eternity, AtS, S1") At the series end, we see Angel in a casual relationship with Nina, but one that most definitely includes sex.

(11) Scenes of Angel and his family of choice sitting at a table, eating together, and looking happy occur in reality in "To Shanshu in LA" (AtS,S1), when Wesley mentions Shanshu for the first time, and in Angel's tortured dreams of happiness in "Deep Down", (AtS, S4) when he watches everyone he loves eating and drinking, but realizes his plate and cup are empty. A very interesting use of this theme is also seen in "Belonging" (AtS, S2), when Angel, Wesley and Cordelia are eating at a restaurant, but only Wesley and Cordelia are visible to the camera, because the shot is taken via the mirror on the wall. This serves as foreshadowing for Angel's disconnection from them later in the season.

(12) The AtS writers were clearly up on their Oedipal mythos as well. Connor not only usurps his father’s manhood by having sex with Cordelia, his father’s would-be-lover and his own mother figure, he is also quite the symbol for man’s inability to escape Destiny. All prophecies related to Connor eventually come true in the course of the series, even the so-called “false” ones. And, due to the convoluted family tree of Aurelias, Connor is technically Angel’s brother as well as his son.

(13) Spike, possiblly the only other candidate for Shanshu, repeatedly uses this Pinocchio terminology in reference to the prophecy. But in the end, Connor is the only one of them with any actual hope for a normal life, lending further credence to the interpretation that his character is the embodiment of the true Shanshu.

(14) Note how Angel meeting his demonic self face to face not only results in helping Angel to overcome his reticence to accept the demon
as a part of himself, and therefore something under his voluntary control, but also allows him to finally 'save the girl'. Remember, in the initialepisode of Angel the Series, Angel lost the first damsel he was to save-to a vampire.

(15) "We are legion" is classic horror movie speak for Satan, or the Supreme Evil.


-Angel: The Case Files, by Nancy Holder et al
-Buffy: The Watcher’s Diaries, by Nancy Holder, et al
-Man and His Symbols, by Carl Jung
-The Qabalistic Tarot, by Robert Wang
-Scandanavian Mythology, by H.R. Ellis Davidson
-Who’s Who In Classical Mythology, by Micheal Grant & John Hazel

- Angel Episode Guide (
-The Buffy Dialogue Database (vrya.met/bdb/index.php)
-Slashing the Angel: Resources: Essays: by Ros Fod, Butterfly, Jenny O’ & Masqeurade The Philosopher (

Special Thanks-
Luminosity, Dakinigrl, Ros Fod, The Brat Queen for general spurty knowledge and betariffic goodness, & Affectations for catching ep title errors and emailing me with corrections. Thanks you guys!
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