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March 19 2010

"A world without love" - an essay on family in Angel. Jean Lorrah compares Angel to the Greek tragedies.

That took a bit of a while to make it's full point, but was well worth it at the end. I never thought about the ending of the opening credits, but it makes a great deal of sense.
Eh, I agree with most of this essay, but it seems to rely too much on simply summarizing plot points. Granted, it's basically impossible to talk about the Darla/Connor/Jasmine arc without the readership knowing about it, and the author probably couldn't get away with assuming prior knowledge. Still, this doesn't seem to scratch the surface all that much. I'm also surprised there's no discussion of Angel killing his own father and shacking up with Darla, or (to a lesser extent) the way the Angel/Spike/Drusilla triangle plays out, since those have Oedipal connotations but I guess the essay can only cover so much. Mostly I'm missing a discussion of how much Angel is responsible for what happens, and how much is just "c'est la vie."

I have noticed the end of the opening credits, and I think it's wonderful--it's subtle, but Angel's character gains a lot of resonance if you see him as an anti-hero who always walks away and ends up alone. Some of the deaths around him are not his fault; some, to a degree, are. But at the series' end, Gunn is about to die, Wesley just has, and he's lost, over the years, Doyle, Cordelia, and Fred. Part of it to me is about Angel's immortality: he is bound to lose everyone in his life, although it shouldn't happen on this short a time scale. But it plays up the absolute difficulty of connection for Angel.

He walks away from Buffy in "Welcome to the Hellmouth" ("I didn't say I was yours"), in "Innocence", in "Graduation Day", in "Chosen" (which Joss mentioned was specifically designed to mirror his first scene on the show); in "Pangs" while Buffy has her family meal and even Anya and Spike are invited, Angel lurks in the shadows, not wanting to go in. The image from "Pangs" is reflected again years later in "Home" when Connor is having a happy family dinner he's not a part of.

And that's partly why it's a shame there wasn't a season six TV series (the IDW comics aren't doing it for me): Spike represents the possibility of connection as a souled vampire. Spike will do many things, but not walk away--we've known from his first appearance that, as Angel puts it, when he decides on something he sticks to it no matter what. Angel and Spike were, slowly but surely, connecting in season five, while Angel was mostly cut off from the rest of his staff (partly through the mindwipe, partly because of his problem dealing with Wolfram & Hart), and I think there's a sense that Angel might have been able to break through and enjoy his unlife in the aftermath of the painful Connor debacle.
Thanks for linking this essay. I just started reading it but I had to stop to point out something:

As the television series Angel ended its fifth and final season, the only character left from the opening episode of the first season was the title character, Angel.

That's not accurate. Lindsey McDonald was also in both the opening and the ending episode.

Angelus did not simply kill all of Holtz’s family, but turned the man’s beloved daughter into a vampire, forcing her father to kill her.

Also not quite accurate. Darla was the one who did that, not Angelus.

Even though Angel eventually finds out why Wesley took Connor (the machinations of Wolfram & Hart again—the Senior Partners function in the story much as the Greek gods used to, manipulating humans to work out their plans)

One can reasonably argue that what Wolfram & Hart did (spiking Angel's blood supply with Connor's blood) had little to do with Wesley's decision to take Connor away. Wesley wasn't even around when Angel's behaviour became wonky. His plans were pretty much already in place by that point.

Other than those few nit-picky things, I thought this was written very well. I especially liked this last bit:

In Angel’s world, people don’t come together in a crisis—they break apart. Bonds fail. Angel’s whole history has been a series of partings: first from Darla, Drusilla and Spike, then from Buffy, and all of his demon fighting resources cannot save Doyle, or Cordelia, or Connor, or Fred.

[ edited by menomegirl on 2010-03-19 19:57 ]
...the Senior Partners function in the story much as the Greek gods used to, manipulating humans to work out their plans...

it's funny, i said this very same thing at a panel at dragon*con 2009 (adding in the PTB), and the response i got (not nice) almost made me not want to particpate in any more D*C whedonverse activities. well, people still may not agree with this sentiment, but at least now i know i am not completely alone! yay!

menomegirl said:

Wesley wasn't even around when Angel's behaviour became wonky. His plans were pretty much already in place by that point.


it's been a minute since i saw this, but i seem to remember that wesley watches angel smell connor in a hungry way that makes up wesley's mind. and just to chime in with my own nit picking, wasn't the prophesy that 'the father will eat the son"? hence, the relevance that it takes witnessing angel smell connor hungrily to finally spur wesley into decisive action?

perhaps i should rewatch these episodes. it's hard to do, though, because that stuff with cordelia is painful to watch.
tjbw-No, it was "The father will kill the son". What Wesley saw wasn't so much Angel smelling Connor in a hungry way as just being happy to hold him. Which was scary in its own right.

Agreed about the Cordelia stuff.

Also, despite what that essay mentions, I believe fandom is very aware of the incestious nature of the Darla/Angel/Drusilla/Spike and Darla/Angel/Connor and Angel/Cordelia/Connor things. Very aware.

[ edited by menomegirl on 2010-03-19 23:29 ]
I remember reading this when I ordered the book and actually didn't quite agree with it. There's a corresponding one that looks at the construction of family in Buffy by the same author, which argues that there is a heavier emphasis on love and family in BtVS as opposed to the "breakdown" of family in Angel.

Family seemed like a stronger theme in Angel than in Buffy, particularly as the seasons progressed, IMHO. Despite the fact that each character in Angel was so distinctly different and naturally fell out with one another at various points, they were united by the mere fact that they were in the fight together. That Angel stood as the only original character from the pilot in the last episode says very little to me about the construction of family; I've always thought that the characters we lost was not inevitable as such, but had to happen. Although, yes, it will probably be an inherent part of Angel's nature that he lacks a degree of connection with others. (However, there is a definite evolution from BtVS-Angel and Angel-Angel). Fred's death is a complicated issue but given the fact that they fight for the greater good, the decision was tough but inevitable. Wesley's death was designed to resonate in Not Fade Away as it was the season finale and provided a means to bring Fred back to the surface for that one moving scene between the two of them. Cordelia's death was the product of the "grand scheme" to give birth (literally) to Jasmine, and Doyle sacrificed himself.

On the other hand, I felt that the core group in Buffy began to disintegrate as early as season six. Even their brief reconciliation in Chosen seemed fleeting and undeserved to me. The Buffy/Giles rift didn't appear properly resolved and I couldn't help but feel that that sense of family was gone.

Anyway, that's my two cents.
Intresting, reading the article itself and then your comments Cardea. From a story construction standpoint, I tend to believe the author in that it may in fact have been by design.

But I think you're correct that IF that was what they were going for, it maybe that did not work as anticipated. Without nitpicking Buffy, the reason Angel was always more resonant with me was that his family seemed to have to be continually built. Most of them died as a function of an attempt at more realism IMO. That is, if you play with fire constantly, you should be getting burned.

And I would say this, I "get" the tragedy angle with Angel, but IMO tragedies need to have a major flaw of charecter at their core to work. My problem with using that angle on Angel is that when we're talking about the context of the show, the writers often took great pains to make being a vampire a black and white issue. That is, no soul = bad. So we can't then consider it a tragic flaw if soulless vampirism is NOT a function of his actual charecter. And if all tragedy flows from this state of being soulless or mystical (Holtz, Darla, and Conner who is supernatural) then what we really have is a man who is born again in Romania in a deus ex machina situation. It might be entertaining, but for better or worse it's hard to call it a dramatic tragedy. Unless of course your contention is, being a drunkard in your 20's causes your vampirism which causes your son to try to kill you and shack up with your hoped to be significant other... But that just seems like a bit of a stretch.

Then again, I can buy a deus ex machina situation as tragic, I just wasn't taught that it was the correct way to structure a tragedy so maybe I'm just quibbling over definition.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-03-20 06:54 ]
I feel like the distinction between soul and no soul is complex. But basically: I think ANGEL feels responsible for what he did as Angelus, and Angel's tragic flaw is his inability to deal with his demon and all it means. I don't really hold Angel's time as Angelus against him. And yet, how Angel reacts to his past--to Darla, Drusilla, Holtz--is.

To wit: Angel, when he got his soul back in 1898, tried to stay Angelus. He killed thieves, scoundrels, hung out with Darla and Dru and Spike while they killed innocents. He spent 100 years basically trying to stay away from people. He sired a kid on a sub and then letting him and Spike go back to the land so that they could kill more people, letting a Thesulac demon kill a bunch of hotel residents. His modes with humans were basically avoidance and/or attempts to be Angelus; he had a chance to stop the deaths of innocents by not letting Lawson or Spike escape, and he didn't. In Sunnydale, he told Drusilla to take Spike and leave town, rather than trying to stake her. Why? Because he feels responsible for Spike, Dru, Lawson, and, what's more, feels affection for them (well, not Lawson): he shows himself to have Angelus' family mentality even when he loses his soul.

Connor was conceived when Angel *tried to lose his soul* by sleeping with Darla. So basically, Connor's existence is the result of Angel TRYING TO BECOME ANGELUS. So even if you make an Angel/Angelus distinction, consequences of ye old Angelus days, via Holtz, corrupting Connor, makes sense. And Angel still is full of rage that hurts his ability to connect with his son when he gets a chance: he shuts him out of his house in "Deep Down," he shuts him out again when Connor sleeps with Cordelia, he eventually kills his son in order to remake him as a perfect person untouched by Angel. Connor is put off by all the lies told to him, and many of these were by Angel. It seems to me that while a lot is the fault of Holtz and Jasmine, Angel's decisions and flaws were crucial to what happened.
Angel was always an allegory for an alcoholic trying and failing to get back on the right track. There was a reason that Liam was a drunkard and City Of... not only starts with Angel in a bar, pretending to be drunk, but has a whole subplot about Angel being tempted to feed from one of the humans he fails to save (the deleted scene with Tina where he tastes the blood on his hand). Doyle states just this during his little bedtime story. Unfortunately, the loss of the tasting scene makes that aspect of the episode fall apart.

So, in that reading of his story, Liam is the drunk before it turns ugly, Angelus is the time spent as a horrible drunk who destroys everything around him--alcohol making one act like a completely different person is made literal--and Angel is the rehabilitating drunk who has numerous relapses and has to keep trying to mend the relationships with his family.

But yes, I've always interpreted that last scene of Angel walking down the alley as the knowledge that he'll always end up alone in the end. That's his biggest tragedy. I would love to see something like the "Father" story from Tales of the Vampires told about Angel and Connor (Connor is potentially going to grow old and die while Angel will remain the same).

And not to mention that practically all the major events of Angel's life have happened in an alley.

Liam is sired by Darla in an alley.
Angel, right after getting his soul back, tries to feed on the Romanian woman in an alley and can't do it.
Angel distracts Darla from the missionary family in an alley.
Whistler finds Angel feeding on rats in an alley.
Angel introduces himself to Buffy and the television-viewing audience in an alley.
Angel loses his soul and becomes Angelus again in a dark, rainy alley.
The end of the famous City Of... teaser is Angel walking down an alley.
Angel sets Faith on her road to redemption when she breaks down in his arms in a dark, rainy alley.
Connor is born in a dark, rainy alley (not to mention Fred holding Angel's jacket over her head like Virgin Mary).
Angel and Connor bond initially while sparring in an alley before Connor realizes that he has betrayed Holtz by wanting his father.
The Beast rises in the alley where Connor was born.
Faith's Orpheus pep-talk ends with Angelus and Angel fighting in an alley.
Season 5 opens with Angel saving a girl in an alley, mirroring his first scene in AtS, only to get hounded by unwanted W&H employees.
Not Fade Away ends in a dark, rainy alley with the minions of Hell coming towards the meager group of heroes left.

Alleys are to Angel what graveyards are to Buffy. A large portion of the pivotal scenes between Buffy and Angel also occurred in graveyards. Sewers and skyscrapers are also part of Angel's most frequent imagery.

[ edited by NileQT87 on 2010-03-20 12:06 ]
Good alley list, Nile, agree completely.
Excellent article. Although it's never occurred to me that anyone would fail to see both the underlying Greek tragedy theme in general and specifically, the related theme of incest.

I hadn't thought quite as specifically about the contrast between the 'found family' on BtS always coming back together in the end, and the inability of the 'family' on AtS to avoid falling apart repeatedly and in the end, irrevocably. (I don't read comics and don't even know if any featuring Angel are considered canon, so Not Fade away is for me, "The End".)

One thing I hadn't thought of is the Wolfram and Hart/Greek Chorus connection - I like that a lot.

Thanks for posting this - a really good read.
I enjoyed reading this again; of course I have the book. Did the author need to recount every plot detail because he really thought people who had never seen the show would buy the book? Oh, well, maybe reading this on the 'net will move Angel virgins to give the show a shot.

Now, whenever I revisit the House of Atreus or read of Oeddy & his Brood, the phrase "turgid supernatural soap opera" will come to mind. Actually, that makes a lot of sense.

(In fact, in Buffy, we'd already seen a brief fragment of Oedipus Rex.)
What was the Oedipus part in Buffy? The thing with Spike and his mother?
Watcher's Pet-I'd say so, yes. There was also Drusilla calling Angel "Daddy". I always found that to be very creepy.
I think not_Bridget means the end of The Puppet Show, when Willow, Buffy & Xander played a scene from Oedipus Rex.
Ah. You know, I'd forgotten about that. It was a very funny scene too.

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