The Soul in Popular Fiction: Buffy and Angel Part 2

My sincerest apologies for my lack of recent blog presence. My new job has been really eating up my time/brain. I have a half-typed response to The Bachelor Party sitting on my computer waiting for me to finish it, and I really do want to do something on Harry Potter before the new movie, but for now, here’s the next part of my thesis. There only… err… 4 more sections to go (I think)!

As always, if you have not already read the first four parts of my thesis, I would recommend reading them first (especially Buffy and Angel part 1). You can find them under “Thesis” on the side bar Window Pane (—–>). Each section of my thesis focuses on a different story and has essentially two parts: an examination of how the soul is portrayed, and an examination of the implications of that portrayal. The following is the second half of my discussion on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.  Let me know what you think.

The Conceptualization and Ethical Implications of the Soul in Popular Fiction: Buffy and Angel Part 2

If it is true that the capacity to love is the most significant aspect of the soul, followed by the possession of a conscience, then the soul carries with it considerable ethical implications; ethical decisions and interpersonal relationships must be dependent upon the soul. However, the ethics of the Buffyverse are not shaped by what the soul is,[1] rather, moral judgment in the Buffyverse is entirely dependent on the presence or absence of the soul.

Because the soul carries with it the capacity for love, this puts the character Angel in a very curious position. Angel was cursed with a soul for the purpose of making him miserable, so that, should he ever experience a moment of perfect happiness, his soul will leave him.[2] Angel (as well as nearly everyone around him) interprets the dangers of “perfect happiness” as a prohibition against sex. This interpretation seems to be accurate, seeing as both times Angel has lost his soul (after having become a vampire), he lost it during or immediately after sexual intercourse.[3] For Angel to have been given the capacity to love but simultaneously denied the ability to physically express it makes him a very interesting and somewhat contradictory figure. At first, it may appear that this sub-clause to Angel’s curse is merely an extension of the gypsies’ revenge: they torture him by dangling a possibility in front of his nose but denying him the satisfaction of taking it. However, it is made clear that the gypsies’ goal in restoring Angel’s soul was to make him feel guilty, not to laugh at his frustration.

One could argue, as author Laura Resnick does, that the sub-clause to Angel’s curse is simply part of the character’s original purpose to be a walking metaphor for teenage relationships in which a seemingly sweet and loving boyfriend sleeps with a girl and then turns into a monster overnight, and that this metaphor no longer makes any sense once Angel moves away from Buffy and stops dating.[4] However, the fact that Angel’s “no happiness allowed” curse is constantly brought to the fore long after he has moved away from Buffy, and even when it has no particular relevance to the story, suggests that the writers of Angel still considered it to be an important part of Angel’s identity, and indeed it is.[5] Resnick is right to say that the original metaphor no longer makes sense, but fails to acknowledge that a different metaphor has taken its place. Now the curse is an expression of Angel’s fear of connecting with people: that should he allow himself to love and to give himself completely to another, he will somehow lose himself and others will come to realize that he is a monster. Angel himself says as much to Wesley when explaining why he is hesitant to begin a relationship. A first he blames his curse, but when Wesley calls him out, saying that few, if any, relationships ever result in anything more than “acceptable happiness,” Angel’s next excuse is, “Because I’m not ‘That Guy.’ That Guy is charming and funny and emotionally useful. I’m the guy in the dark corner with the blood habit and the two hundred years of psychic baggage.”[6] This fear is not caused by the curse. Rather, the curse is a reflection of the fear, as demonstrated by the fact that Angel had trouble connecting to humans long before he knew about the curse’s sub-clause. At first, Angel’s curse of losing the ability to love through the act of sexual love turned him into a metaphor for the problems of teenage romance, but it soon shifts such that the curse itself is the metaphor, this time for relationship insecurities.

Interestingly, the association between soul loss and sex is not reserved only for Angel, although it is most obvious in his case. In fact, in Buffy and Angel sex and death (and, by extension, soul loss) are very closely and consistently linked, sometimes sub-textually, but often explicitly. One of the most clearly cut examples is Spike’s speech to Buffy at the end of the episode “Fool For Love,” in which he declares that Buffy is “just a little bit in love with [death],” and tells her, “Death is your art. […] Sooner or later, you’re going to want it, and the second- the second- that happens, you know I’ll be there. I’ll slip in, have myself a real good day.” It is never entirely clear whether Spike is talking about murder or sex, underscored both by the fact that he himself is dead and by the fact that the episode includes Spike’s first attempts to kiss Buffy and also to shoot her with a shotgun.[7] A somewhat bolder but more sub-textual example is in “The Gift,” when Buffy’s fullest expression of her love for her sister is shown when she jumps off of a tower into a dimensional hole, and ultimately to her death.[8] When interpreted in a Freudian sense, Buffy’s jump from the tower to the hole suggests a sexual imagery, which is inexorably linked in this scene to ideas of love and death.[9] When she is raised to life again in the next episode, she has enormous trouble showing affection to anyone, and, significantly, the first person she does warm to (emotionally as well as sexually) is Spike, the dead one.[10] Like Angel, Buffy’s act of love results in her losing her soul and in a temporary inability to show love. These are only two of many examples linking sex and death in the Buffyverse.

The link between sex and soul loss, be it through death or a curse, at first appears somewhat bizarre. One might attribute it to the vampire genre in which the dead characters are also the most erotic, and there is no denying that this element is present in both Buffy and Angel. But the fact that the connection is present even in situations which have nothing to do with vampires is an indication that there is something more going on, but what this ‘something more’ consists of is not immediately apparent.  After all, the loss of a soul is consistently treated on the shows as a very bad event, while sex is not. Indeed, Buffy has a well-deserved reputation for being very accepting and open about sexuality, and while sex is not always a positive event on the shows and often has negative consequences, it is by no means portrayed as a tragedy in the way that soul loss is. The connection may make more sense if we look at the positive and negative portrayals of sex separately.

The first time sex is portrayed on Buffy is when Buffy and Angel consummate their relationship, and while the outcome of this event is unquestionably negative (Angel loses his soul and turns evil), the act itself is not maligned in any way. Indeed, the negative consequences are a direct result of it being such a positive event. It was, however, a rash decision on Buffy’s part and went against Angel’s better judgment, as shown by his statement just before she kisses him that he has been trying not to love her.[11] Buffy and Angel are a demonstration of the idea that sex, however positive and pleasurable it may be, is also very risky, and that the conscience, and thus the soul, must always be taken into account when engaging in sexual activities.[12]

Another possible interpretation can be seen in a common theme in the sexual relationships on Buffy (not so much on Angel, although this may simply be because sex is less common), which is that they require some degree of self-abandonment; that in order to have a healthy sexual relationship one must give oneself up to their partner and “lose themselves.”[13] This principle is seen at work more in its absence than in its presence. For example, Buffy believes her relationship with Spike to be wrong because he, being soulless, cannot fully give himself to her, and thus she cannot fully trust him.[14] Also, Faith’s frequent casual sex is shown as unhealthy because it is defensive, not based in trust and surrender. Although this theme should not be taken to mean that a healthy sexual relationship causes people to lose their souls, sex on Buffy may be seen as a form of symbolically placing one’s soul in another’s care, underscored by the fact that the soul carries with it the capacity for love. Unfortunately, the positive portrayals of sex on Buffy are so wide-ranging and with so many different results that it is difficult to narrow down what is meant by the connection between soul-loss and sex beyond the above two generalities.

Sex on Buffy and Angel has a clearer message in its negative portrayals, by which I mean rape. Rape in Buffy and Angel almost always results in or reveals that a soul is either lost or damaged in the offender. This is most clearly demonstrated in Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy.[15] Up until that point, Spike had been slowly redeeming himself, proving himself time and time again to be more reliable and caring than many of the characters with souls, to the point that, as Gwyn Symonds says, “By the time Spike goes off to get a soul, many fans thought… that Spike did not need to be redeemed, and that he was morally superior to many of the human characters who possessed one.”[16] The problem is that even Spike was starting to believe this. His attempt to rape Buffy is, more than anything, proof to himself of his desperate need for a soul, and becomes the primary instigator for his quest to earn his own.[17]

Rape is something which can be performed with a soul, as the character Warren proves, but the rapist may as well have been soulless, because none of the soul’s capacities for love and moral judgment are being utilized. However, both Spike and Warren were already ethically lacking when they committed their sexual crimes, so this says little about the damage that committing rape can do to the offender: Connor is a better example of this damage. He never rapes anyone, but because his worst crime is so closely connected with images of rape in the text, his situation can be used as an analogue. When Connor kidnaps a young girl because he needs to use the blood of a virgin in a ritual to help his own child to be born (itself a product of a sexual crime, though not on his part), he is visited by a vision of his dead mother Darla, who comes to plead for his soul.[18] Darla insists that Connor has a good soul, and reminds him that she sacrificed herself in order to preserve that soul. When Connor ignores her and the girl is killed (read: violated because of her sexual status), Connor looks at the dead body and sees his mother’s instead, signifying that he has not only just killed a human, he has also nullified Darla’s sacrifice: his soul has not been saved.[19] Of course, technically Connor still possesses a soul, but with this act of murder, heavily tinged with rape overtones, his soul is rendered useless. Interestingly, it is Connor’s symbolic violation of Darla that is portrayed as the worse crime, signified again by it being her face on the dead body; Connor’s failure was not primarily in failing to respect human life or the soul of another, but in failing to respect his own soul: his own conscience, his own ability to love.

If this conclusion is true, that is, if Connor’s crime was to disrespect his own soul, not to disrespect the soul of the girl, it would suggest that in the Buffyverse, the victims do not matter, or are at least of secondary importance. Numerous examples support this conclusion, such as the many victims of the monsters of Sunnydale High who are little more than fodder and are rarely grieved or even mentioned. In examining this issue, however, we must take into account the limitations of storytelling, for it is simply not practical or dramatically useful to make the audience or the characters grieve for every killed person, especially in a story in which there is a death or the threat of death in every episode. Nevertheless, the entire purpose of introducing ‘fodder’ into a story is to emphasize the evil of the monsters: the dead may not matter as characters, but they matter in showing that the evil characters are, in fact, evil. On the other hand, when the established characters are victimized, they are clearly shown to matter, but the concern with their victimization focuses on how being a victim affects their soul. Writer and commentator Jacqueline Lichtenberg argues, and I agree, that while Buffy is the story of a very talented hero, Angel is the story of a very talented victim who is in constant reaction to the evils done to him.[20] Angel obviously matters a great deal to his namesake series, but it is the concern for the state of his soul born out of his victimhood, rather than the victimhood itself, that drives the story.[21] In the Buffyverse the wrongness of hurting another being is not simply in that they are hurt: it is that the conscience and the capacity to love become damaged in both the victim and the victimizer.

Another way of examining soul loss in Buffy and Angel is to examine murder, because death, by definition (at least in the Buffyverse), includes loss of soul. Although the death of an ensouled being is always a significant event in the Buffyverse, the responses and consequences of such deaths, and especially of murder, is surprisingly (and perhaps disturbingly) inconsistent, even for a single character. For example, in the same breath that Buffy prohibits anyone from trying to kill Dawn in order to save the world, she affirms that she knew it was right to ‘kill’ Angel in an almost identical situation, and then less than two years later she admits that, given the same situation, she would let Dawn die, all without any major shift in her ideological system.[22] Of the two shows’ combined casts of  twenty main characters, I count only one who has never committed, attempted, consciously facilitated, or maliciously threatened the murder of another ensouled being (Tara, who is herself murdered), and yet only one character ever goes to jail for murder. The rest are punished by anything from severe guilt to a retreat in England to being flayed alive to nothing at all.

Teasing out what this inconsistency signifies for the overall moral structure of the Buffyverse is complex, but may be seen more clearly in the case of Faith’s conflict with Buffy. Faith, a slayer, accidentally kills a human, thinking he was a vampire. When Buffy confronts her about it, Faith declares that she was simply doing her job. Buffy insists, “You don’t get it. You killed a man,” to which Faith replies, “No, you don’t get it. I don’t care.”[23] Buffy remains frustrated, but does not pursue any further justice. However, when Faith later poisons Angel with a poison that can only be counteracted by drinking the blood of a slayer, Buffy fights Faith with the intention of killing her and feeding her to Angel, and she is very nearly successful.[24] Faith committed murder out of ignorance, while Buffy’s attempted murder was malicious and knowing, and yet Faith is ostracized, labeled as “psychotic,” and constantly thought of as “the dark slayer,” while Buffy maintains her squeaky-clean reputation. Buffy’s actions are not portrayed as moral per se, and they are not without repercussions. But because she acted out of a sense of justice and with the intent of saving another life− in other words, from a moral standpoint, however twisted− she is still portrayed as a good person. Faith’s real crime was not the murder, but the fact that she did not care and refused to take responsibility for it.

Several months later, however, the tables turn. Faith goes on another rampage, turning Buffy’s life into chaos and nearly killing both Angel and Wesley. But in doing so, Faith comes to realize how much she needs help, and she turns to Angel for guidance and forgiveness, which he gives.[25] Buffy, however, is furious and demands that Faith be sent to prison. Buffy, the deontologist who sees Faith’s actions as violations in need of punishment, faces off against Angel, the virtue ethicist who sees Faith’s desire to change as paramount, with Wesley, the utilitarian, stuck in between. But ultimately it is Faith, who has no particular ethical system, who is shown to be more righteous than Buffy because she cares more about the state of her own soul. As Angel admonishes Buffy, “This wasn’t about you [and by extension anyone else that Faith has hurt or killed]! This was about saving somebody’s soul!”[26] Because the conscience is tied directly into the idea of the soul, we have an interesting moral twist: in the Buffyverse possessing an active conscience, and thus a soul, is more important than any one ethical system. In other words, having a healthy soul can potentially trump depriving someone else of her own soul via murder. This judgment is reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s argument for the “teleological suspension of the ethical” in which a person’s faith (and ultimately their salvation) takes precedence over any ethical principle. Both Kierkegaard and the Buffyverse consider the ultimate welfare of the soul to be more important than the moral status of the actor.[27] Buffy should have known this value system, since it was this very priority which got her off the hook for trying to kill Faith.

If the state of the killer’s conscience is more important for judgment purposes than the harm done to the victim, then to what extent does the situation change when the victim does not have a soul? After all, Buffy’s entire story is centered on killing the soulless via the institution of the Slayer: “One girl in all the world, a chosen one. One born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires to stop the spread of their evil.”[28] Buffy challenges nearly every aspect of her position: its practicality, the source of her power, her authority, the authority of the Watchers who give the Slayer orders, and what kind of person the position is turning her into. The one thing that she never challenges is the basic premise that vampires and demons ought and need to be killed. The problem with this premise is that even Buffy admits that not all demons are a threat or even inherently evil, but this does not seem to bother her enough to stop slaying.[29] If Buffy’s conscience is not affected because her victims lack souls, does this make killing them morally acceptable?

Although the killing of non-threatening demons is problematic within the story, it may make more sense if one steps out of it and remembers that Buffy is first and foremost a story about a girl growing up, and that the monsters she fights are metaphorical: many students feel as if high school is hell− Buffy’s literally sits on the Hellmouth. Each “apocalypse” that Buffy prevents represents the meeting of another stage in her maturity,[30] and to a lesser extent, so do all of the vampires and demons that she kills in the process. This overarching metaphor is why it is acceptable for Buffy to kill demons without regard for their status as good or evil: they are not persons, they are problems that she must face and conquer, and for which she must take responsibility. According to show creator Joss Whedon, the vampires’ lack of personhood is symbolized in the fact that they turn into dust when they die: “The vampires explode into dust because… it shows that they’re monsters. I didn’t want to have a high school girl killing people every week.”[31] Some of these “problems” may be more serious or dangerous than others, but that does not mean that she can shirk the less pressing duties of being a slayer. Thus, the status of demons as being soulless is simply a way of emphasizing their lack of personhood. That they do not have a conscience or the ability to love because they lack souls is an explanation as to what makes them problems that Buffy must confront.

However, as commentator Loftis says, “What is remarkable about the development of Buffy is that while the demon characters were humanized, the human characters were demonized,” which suggests that, even within the metaphor of demons representing problems, killing demons without restraint is problematic.[32] As Buffy grows up, her world and her mission become more complex because she must come to realize that sometimes the demon is inside, sometimes the demon should not be fought, sometimes the demon can help, and sometimes the demon is a person. Buffy herself may shift her mission by minute degrees in order to accommodate the ‘good’ demons in the Buffyverse who have souls or other specific reasons as to why they are not a threat (such as Spike’s chip), but the two shows as a whole stretch the audience in this regard more than Buffy stretches herself. For example, Illyria, an apparently soulless and extremely dangerous demon introduced late in the story, declares that Angel is a “slave to an insane construct” because he is moral, yet manages to be one of Angel’s greatest assets in his kamikaze moral mission statement.[33] The whole point of Illyria is that she (or possibly he− even this is not completely clear) is a walking gray area that emphasizes and embraces the ambiguity, and there is no attempt in the story to resolve it. It is hard to imagine Illyria being accepted or even tolerated in Buffy’s first season, but her inclusion at the end of Angel’s final season indicates that the writers of the two shows have been slowly pushing the story in Illyria’s direction: the place where demons can be an asset without being moral, where the goal of protecting the world from demons meets one who shows that humans are a greater danger to themselves than the demons ever were. None of this is to nullify the original goal of saving the world from evil– indeed, Illyria’s final act in the series is a great affirmation of this goal– but rather to force us to question evil’s form. At first, the question of whether or not it is morally right to kill soulless demons would have been irrelevant because of the way the demons functioned as a metaphor, but as the series progressed, the very fact that the question became relevant was part of the point, even if the question was never answered.

It should be clear by now that in the Buffyverse, the content of ethical principles are not as important as the desire for ethical principles to be upheld, which can only happen if the actor has a conscience, and thus a soul. One must want and aim for what is right and good, even if one does not know what that consists of. If a viewer were to focus too much on either the lack of a consistent moral framework or the importance of internal motivation, it would be easy to miss what is actually being said about morality. I would like to address both of these potential mistakes before presenting what I believe the Buffyverse is saying.

Firstly, one might confuse the focus on motivation in the Buffyverse with virtue ethics since the state of the actor is more important than the action, but virtue ethics is actually quite different. In the Buffyverse, the focus on the actor’s conscience is only a way of judging whether an action is tolerable, not whether it is right, and the judgment comes from the screenwriters and the audience, not the characters. Also, an acceptable action in the Buffyverse may actually be extremely harmful to the agent’s virtue. For example, when Wesley performs a series of extremely morally suspect actions such as kidnapping an infant and stabbing a girl in the shoulder without provocation, they result in Wesley turning into a bitter, angry character.[34] However, because he thought that these actions were the right things to do, even if he was wrong, they become acceptable to both the audience and the other characters (but not commendable or right), and he remains a ‘good guy’ from the perspective of the story as a whole. His sexual relationship with Lilah, on the other hand, is portrayed as reprehensible, even though it hurts no one, because it is a demonstration of the fact that he has turned his back on everything he believes to be right.[35] The Buffyverse presents and endorses no one ethical method such as virtue ethics, utilitarianism, or deontology, but insists instead that individuals must have and follow their own ethical approach.

However, the idea that “anyone’s ethics goes” can lead to the other mistaken interpretation, which is to say that the Buffyverse is essentially amoral, nihilistic, or perhaps extremely postmodern, where good may exist but nobody can know what it is. The problem with these interpretations is that there are certain things in the Buffyverse which are consistently and unquestionably portrayed as good or evil. For example, the Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart and The First are presented as pure, unadulterated evil, and we are never given any reason to question this. While the audience is never given an image of good which remains completely untainted, there are some unquestionably good things or good actions, such as the friendship between Buffy, Xander, and Willow, or the ultimate intentions of the Powers That Be. As Loftis points out, the very fact that redemption is such a prevalent theme shows that there must be some possible good to be achieved and some existent evil to rid oneself of.[36] These examples show that good and evil in the Buffyverse are very real, objective, and can be known, and that the good should be pursued. Where Buffy and Angel refuse to commit is in statements about what exactly makes something good or evil, and how one ought to pursue the good. As Loftis puts it, the Buffyverse is

a world that cries out for moral judgments but resists making them coherently. Thus we know that there are some true moral statements, we have several good candidates for true moral statements, but we cannot always reconcile them and should be prepared to revise them in light of future experience.[37]

As Loftis’ above observation suggests, what Buffy and Angel actually are is incoherent.[38] Show creator and executive producer Joss Whedon writes,

Now there’s also people preaching one thing while glorifying another, there’s what Robin Wood calls the “Incoherent Text” of so many seventies movies, where peace and understanding may be the underlying desire, but horror and violence is the structure—or the fun… [T]he best texts are incoherent. They EMBODY the struggle you describe.[39]

There are many incoherent elements in Buffy and Angel, including the moral structure, but this is not a mistake or a flaw: it is an attempt to “embody the struggle” of being ethical, as Whedon puts it. The struggle’s embodiment is why the conscience plays a more central role than any one ethical perspective or method without denying those perspectives’ validity.

The irony is that the seat of the conscience, the soul, is also incoherent. It is, as Erickson argues, “a symbol of good without a source.”[40] Despite the surface similarities to Islam, the soul of the Buffyverse stands apart from any religion− from both within and without the story, and although the soul is unquestionably a good thing, the audience is never given a solid reason as to why, thus undercutting (but not eliminating) the soul’s own moral worth. “What is a soul if it can be stored in an urn, or conjured and implanted by a gypsy curse, a demon, or a beginning Wicca? If a soul is just a thing, is it a soul?”[41] Buffy and Angel seem to be designed to force us to ask such questions, but as in their treatment of morality, refuse to give us a solid answer.


[1] In fact, one could easily argue that the ethics of the Buffyverse are not shaped at all.

[2] It is unclear whether the gypsies who cursed Angel intended for this “tripwire” to be put in place, or if the curse simply stops working once it has failed in its purpose. The latter makes much more sense given the gypsies’ ultimate goal of punishing Angelus, but the characters seem to assume the former.

[3] Buffy, 02:13 “Surprise” 1998; Angel, 04:10 “Awakening” 2003.  It should be noted that one of those sexual encounters never actually happened, having occurred in a hallucination, but Angel believed it had. It should also be noted that Angel can have sex without losing his soul, but every time he has done so in the series he has been either under a spell or deeply miserable: the pleasure of sex is not the danger, but the happiness Angel derives from it is.

[4] Laura Resnick, “That Angel Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” in Five Seasons of Angel, ed. Glenn Yeffeth

(Dallas: Benbella Books, 2004), 15-21.

[5] Note for example the two times Angel is called a eunuch (much to his chagrin): when Cordelia is digressing by cataloguing his character flaws (Angel 03:04 “Carpe Noctem” 2001), and when a rich magician is explaining why he wanted to hire Angel, which could have easily been for any number of reasons (Angel 02:06 “Guise Will Be Guise” 2000).

[6] Angel 05:14 “Smile Time” 2004.

[7] Buffy 05:07 “Fool For Love” 2000.

[8] Buffy 05:022 “The Gift” 2001

[9] Credit for this observation should go to Rhonda V. Wilcox, “’Every Night I Save You’: Buffy, Spike,

Sex, and Redemption,” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies 5, 2.1 (May 2002) [www page] Available from http://slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage5.htm.

[10] Buffy 06:03 “After Life” 2001; Buffy 06:07 “Once More With Feeling” 2001.

[11] Buff y 02:13 “Surprise” 1998.

[12] As a side note, it is worth mentioning that in Buffy and Angel’s consummation, the gender roles are reversed, as they often are on Buffy: he is the passive and hesitant partner, and she is the aggressor. It would be tempting to say that this role-reversal is simply a way to give strength to the title character and to leave it at that, but the gender roles in Buffy and Angel’s relationship as a whole (and on both shows as wholes) are much more complex. Both characters slip in and out of traditional gender roles, and occasionally play the role of the male and the female simultaneously: for example, on a very basic level, in their dress and appearance Buffy and Angel fulfill their stereotyped gender expectations, even as their names recall characteristics often associated with the opposite gender (being “buff” or muscular, and being angelic). Despite the fact that Angel plays the passive, feminine role in making love with Buffy, his response to the act (as Angelus) is stereotypically male: “the now evil Angel represents the boy who doesn’t call after sex…. His dialogue reflects a common occurrence in real life: a man’s pretense of affection in order to seduce an inexperienced woman” (Holly Chandler, “Slaying the Patriarchy: Transfusions of the Vampire Metaphor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, 9, 3.1, (August 2003), [www page] Available at http://www.slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage9.htm.). And yet, even while playing such a masculine role, Angel/us falls into feminine categorization:

The feminist text of Buffy denies the “slut” label, not only by reasserting the title character’s heroic strength, but also by reversing gender roles. […] Angel, instead of Buffy, is ultimately subjected to the binarism normally reserved for women. The distinction between souled Angel and soulless Angel mimics the virgin/whore dichotomy; he turns from angel to devil. Thus the patriarchy’s attempt to compartmentalize women into binary categories is reflected back on itself, an extraordinary feat considering vampires can’t look at themselves in the mirror (Holly Chandler, “Slaying the Patriarchy.”).

It has been well-argued by others (See for example, Chandler, “Slaying the Patriarchy” ) that much of Buffy is an attack against patriarchy, and the situation between Buffy and Angel seems to me to fit in nicely with such an attack, not by claiming that male domination is evil (although the case may be made that Buffy makes such a claim elsewhere), but by saying that the world of gendered power relationships is just not that simple. “The sharing, rather than simple reversal, of traditional male and female roles… are tentative attempts in Buffy to change the discourse of gender reversal through circling imaginary or symbolic boundaries to represent an option of ‘empowerment’ that is more than a ‘pattern of oppositions’” (Gwyn Symonds, “’Solving Problems With Sharp Objects’: Female Empowerment, Sex, and Violence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, 16, 4.4 (March 2005) [www page] Available at http://www.slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage16.htm.). Buffy explores and plays with gender roles, but resists taking any particular stand.

[13] Look for example at Buffy/Angel, Buffy/Riley, Willow/Tara, and to some extent Xander/Anya.

[14] Significantly, Buffy sees self-abandonment as being necessary by both parties. Commentator Rhonda V. Wilcox points out that Buffy and Spike only begin their relationship once they discover that he can hurt her, that is, once the distribution of power has been made equal (Rhonda V. Wilcox, “’Every Night I Save You’: Buffy, Spike, Sex, and Redemption,” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, 5, 2.1, (May 2002) [www page] Available at http://www.slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage5.htm.); for Buffy, a sexual relationship must exist on an equal playing field, which is why, as Spike points out, she is attracted to vampires: they are the only ones who can compete with her power (Buffy 5:8, “Shadow” 2000.). For more on gender roles and the distribution of power in the relationships on Buffy see Marc Cameron, “The Importance of Being the Zeppo: Xander, Gender Identity and Hybridity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, 23, 6.3 (Spring 2007) [www page] Available at http://slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage23.htm and Lewis Call, “’Sounds Like Kinky Business to Me’: Subtextual and Textual Relations of Erotic Power in the Buffyverse,” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, 24, 6.4 (Summer 2007) [www page] Available at http://slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage24.htm.

[15] Buffy 06:19 “Seeing Red” 2002.

[16] Gwyn Symonds, “Playing More Soul Than Is Written,” Slayage: The Online International Journal of

Buffy Studies, 16, 4.4 (March 2005) [www page] Available from http://slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage16.htm.

[17] Buffy 06:22 “Grave” 2002.

[18] Angel 04:17 “Inside Out” 2003.

[19] Steven S. DeKnight, Commentary for Angel 04:17 “Inside Out” FOX DVD disk 5, 2003.

[20] Jacqueline Lichtenberg, “Victim Triumphant” in Five Seasons of Angel, ed. Glenn Yeffeth (Dallas:

Benbella Books, 2004), 135.

[21] Incidentally, the official motto of Angel Investigations is “We help the helpless,” a championing of the victim.

[22] Buffy 05:22 “The Gift” 2001; Buffy 07:17 “Lies My Parents Told Me” 2003.

[23] Buffy 03:14 “Bad Girls” 1999.

[24] Buffy 03:21 “Graduation Day: Part 1” 1999.

[25] Buffy 04:16 “Who Are You?” 2000; Angel 01:18 “Five by Five” 2000; Angel 01:19 “Sanctuary” 2001.

[26] Angel 01:19 “Sanctuary” 2001.

[27] Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Repetition, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University

Press, 1983), 56.

[28] Buffy 01:01 “Welcome to the Hellmouth” 1997.

[29] It should be noted here that in the Buffyverse, “demon” has nothing to do with the devil or hell, although some demons may come from a “hell dimension.” Demons are merely non-human sentient beings, usually monstrous in appearance and usually with some sort of power. Vampires are included as a type of demon.

[30] For more on the “apocalypse” as representative of stages in maturity, see Greg Stevenson, “The End as a

Moral Guidepost [in Buffy the Vampire Slayer]” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, 15, 4.3 (December 2004) [www page] Available at http://www.slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage15.htm.

[31] “Joss Whedon on ‘Angel’ and ‘The Puppet Show’” Buffy the Vampire Slayer FOX DVD Season 1 Disk

3, 1997.

[32]J. Robert Loftis, “Moral Complexity in the Buffyverse” Slayage: The Online International Journal of

Buffy Studies, 27, 7.3 (Winter 2009) [www page] Available at http://slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage27.htm.

[33]Angel 05:19 “Time Bomb” 2004; Angel 05:22 “Not Fade Away” 2004.

[34] Angel 03:16 “Sleep Tight” 2002; Angel 04:14 “Release” 2003.

[35] Angel 04:01 “Deep Down” 2002.

[36] Loftis, “Moral Complexity in the Buffyverse”

[37] Loftis, “Moral Complexity in the Buffyverse”

[38] This observation is directly drawn from Loftis, “Moral Complexity in the Buffyverse,” who credits G.

Stevenson, “Televized morality: The case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books (2004) and M. Pateman, “The aesthetics of culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Jefferson, NC: McFarland (2006) for the idea.

[39] Joss Whedon, Official Buffy Discussion Board The Bronze, May 22, 2002. Cited in Loftis, “Moral

Complexity in the Buffyverse”

[40] Greg Ericson, “Revisiting Buffy’s (A)Theology: Religion: ‘Freaky’ or just ‘A Bunch of Men Who

Died,’” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, 13-14, 4.1-2 (October 2004) [www page] Available at http://slayageonline.com/Numbers/slayage13_14.htm.

[41] Ericson, “Revisiting Buffy’s (A)Theology: Religion: ‘Freaky’ or just ‘A Bunch of Men Who

Died,’”

~ by ntertanedangel on October 1, 2010.

6 Responses to “The Soul in Popular Fiction: Buffy and Angel Part 2”

  1. Just a comment on Footnote #3: Angel does have positive sex on the show, near the end of his fifth season (5×21), with Nina. He is neither under a spell or miserable, and he and Nina even joke about the possibility that he might have gone evil.

    • good point. I think I was counting that as a “miserable” moment because that was a pretty unhappy time in his life– alienating his friends, knowing he would have to do some pretty horrible things, and W&H misery in general. Angel even talks about how unhappy he is with Nina. But I suppose I should have made it clearer that it wasn’t the sex that was making him unhappy…

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I loved, loved, loved this! I know some people may find silly to discuss something so important as the concept of soul, in the context of a tv show, but I think it’s just brilliant!

    If this wasn’t about buffy I would’ve probably never read it, or just dismissed as “academic talk”. But because it was about buffy, and angel, and characters I know and love I stuck around and read the whole thing and it was just amazing. You raised some great questions with this, and made me think of some elements in the show in a whole new light. Now I must read some of the references you listed, and I hope they are as good as yours!

  3. You’re inspiring me to check out this series, even though it’s never attracted me. I’m also going to have to critically re-read HP, in light of your articles.

    So, when do we get the third and fourth universes?

    • Thanks, jake. That’s really great to hear. :-) If you’d like my recommendations for “starter” Buffy or Angel episodes (both of their first seasons are rocky and not very representative of the series as a whole) I’d be happy to give you some.

      I think I’ll be posting His Dark Materials Part 1 around Tuesday-ish.

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