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March 17 2011

"Touch Me and Die, Vermin!": The Psychoanalysis of Illyria. Get to know your favourite Old One.

Illyria became my favorite character in the entire 'verse, and that's saying something. I don't think there's much in the psychoanalytic literature though that deals with the problem of transmigration of gods into the shells of beloved mortal goddesses...

Might be worthy a brand new DSM category.

The article is a worthy effort, and I appreciate it's inclusion.

[ edited by Peanut Noir on 2011-03-17 08:39 ]
I love Illyria (though I hated her for killing Fred) and IDW did a cool thing with her character arc. Also, one of the finest performances by any actor ever in my opinion (go Amy Acker!). Nice paper :)
I think that Illyria was the great unfinished project in Buffy/Angel. There were so many stories that they could have done with her but didn't have the opportunity.

I read an interview with Jeffrey Bell shortly after the end of ANGEL (he was the showrunner for Season Five) and he said that they had plans to bring Fred back in Season Six, although Illyria would have been left alive. None of this was written, of course, but they had the general idea that Willow would visit L.A., would learn about Illyria's taking over Fred, and would say that she could devise a spell that would return Fred. This would be despite the assumption that her soul had been destroyed by Illyria taking over her body. I'm guessing that the fact that Illyria has Fred's memories indicated that Fred wasn't as gone as they thought.

Anyway, the idea, according to Bell, was that Fred would be returned while Illyria would still be around. I don't remember it he said this or if I thought it when I read it, but this would have set up one of the most deliciously twisted love triangles ever, since Illyria had this strange attachment to Wesley (who would not, of course, have died in the Season Five finale).

When I read this I was in agony. How awesome would that have been? Though I'm sure it would have put poor Amy Acker through the ringer. The relationship between Illyria and Fred would have been amazing.

I am happy that Illyria has found a second life in comics. I usually don't buy noncanonical comic versions of comics. I have been getting Angel ATF and Buffy 8, and will get Buffy 9, but most of the rest I avoid. Except anything having to do with Illyria. I got the Fallen Angel series that Peter David did (with Leandra the fallen angel and Illyria the fallen hell goddess teaming up for an adventure - now that David has, at least temporarily, rebooted Fallen Angel I'm praying for a vist by Illyria), and the series in which Illyria as Fred and Gunn visit her parents, and the current one dealing with Illyria on her own. In other words, Illyria brings the geek out in me.

Definitely the last great character introduced to the Buffy/Angel-verse.
None of this was written, of course, but they had the general idea that Willow would visit L.A., would learn about Illyria's taking over Fred, and would say that she could devise a spell that would return Fred.

I've read/heard this too so i'm not doubting you Njal, it's just always struck me as weird considering the great pains they took to tell us how there was no coming back from what Fred was going through. And though I agree it would've been great to see Fred and Illyria interact (and the love triangle idea is excellent) for me it'd cheapen Fred's death (one of the most emotive in the Whedonverse IMO) if Willow could just turn up and bring her back (i'm sure there'd be "consequences", there always were on Whedon shows but still...).

That aside, totally agree, amazing character, amazingly played by the amazing Amy Acker. Pre Echo (maybe even post) she was the closest a Whedon show's come to the "build a human" character Star Trek's so fond of, the member of the group that gives us an outsider's perspective on the human condition. She had one helluva journey ahead of her and it's a real shame the show was cancelled after she'd only taken a few steps.
I think with all of the supernatural abilities of the teams in the buffyverse, writers have to make a great effort to say that it's impossible for someone to be revived, just to make them "really dead." It seems to get more and more extreme throughout seasons. When Warren shot Tara, Willow couldn't bring her back because the death wasn't supernatural; it was just a new "rule" that was made up to make her death real. And wasn't there discussion about bringing Tara back during season 7? I think I read that somewhere. Anyway, they needed a new rule to make Fred stay dead, so I think that was a big part of the discussion of her soul being destroyed. There's a common theme of dead people returning, so at least for the time immediately surrounding her death, the characters needed to feel that it was real and we as the audience needed to believe it. But the progressing extremes of death in the buffyverse has always bothered me.
And regarding the essay, I thought it was wonderfully written. It's amazing how popular the character became for being around less than half of a season. I would have loved to watch further development, and now I'm even thinking about checking out the comics just because they explore her character more.
Oh yeah, forgot to say I enjoyed the essay. Not really convinced by the "explanatory framework" which seems more like a "descriptive framework" to me (i.e. of dubious predictive/explanatory power) but it was well written and reminded me of some great moments from Ats S5.
I read an interview with Jeffrey Bell shortly after the end of ANGEL (he was the showrunner for Season Five) and he said that they had plans to bring Fred back in Season Six, although Illyria would have been left alive. None of this was written, of course, but they had the general idea that Willow would visit L.A., would learn about Illyria's taking over Fred, and would say that she could devise a spell that would return Fred.

I remember Joss saying once that Fred wouldn't have been brought back as Fred. Only that Illyria would continue to use her form like she had done before, like when Fred's parents showed up. I'm not a fan of bringing people back from the dead, like Saje said, I feel it cheapens their death. Except in the comics, because . And I'm trying to think, but have any "normal" humans returned from the dead in the Buffyverse, aside from Buffy herself?


When Warren shot Tara, Willow couldn't bring her back because the death wasn't supernatural; it was just a new "rule" that was made up to make her death real.

I think that rule was made up when Joyce died.
I don't think any "normal" humans, just Darla (who came back as a normal human, does that count?), Buffy and Spike, and Angel and Cordelia had their semi-unexplained returns from different dimensions. There was also the dead gang in The Zeppo, but I'm not sure how much they count either.
*early "season 8" spoilers* ?

Depends how you define normal humans I suppose. Not sure there was an actual prohibition on Joyce coming back, Dawn tried and may have (partially) succeeded.
Ack, I need to stop posting before I've written everything. I sort of felt like with Joyce's death it was more a "we shouldn't," but when Willow wanted to bring back Tara it was more like "sorry, you can't."

I think I had a lot more issues with the rule-creating/-breaking of death in some other shows, which sort of carried over into Buffy, so I'm more easily bothered anytime someone is dead and [insert other problem that we can't solve as easily as just bringing someone back to life].

I think I also would've been frustrated if Willow had just reasoned out a way to bring Fred back, although it would have been fascinating to watch Fred/Illyria interaction.
Hey - that makes me think of Will Stanton!
I'd probably say Darla could be counted as a "normal" person return. Kinda.


*early "season 8" spoilers* ?

Technically... maybe. Like Darla I guess. But does it count when ;)
True, there may be a brain-fart exemption that applies here ;).

I sort of felt like with Joyce's death it was more a "we shouldn't," but when Willow wanted to bring back Tara it was more like "sorry, you can't."

Yep, agreed. With Joyce the idea was "Some lines shouldn't be crossed/acceptance can be a kind of strength" (as per the "The Monkey's Paw" allusion) whereas with Tara it was "Some lines can't be crossed/acceptance can be a kind of strength".

(though by the sounds of things Joyce had clearly "come back wrong" so there's maybe also an element of "You kind of can but actually you can't", again, as per "The Monkey's Paw")
Saje; I've read/heard this too so i'm not doubting you Njal, it's just always struck me as weird considering the great pains they took to tell us how there was no coming back from what Fred was going through.

I don't think that would be a show-stopper, provided that the writers spent some time having characters comment to each other about what has changed. (The Mutant Enemy shows that I like the most usually tell you exactly what is going to happen later, but do it in a way where it is only obvious in hindsight.) We've seen lots of prophecies falsified or defied, but great weight is still given when a prophecy is made. Or some of the "facts" reveal a limitation of knowledge. For example, the Judge was invulnerable to weapons forged at the time, which explains why people thought it was immune to *every* weapon (*cough* rocket launcher).

Character comments would have helped Angel S4 (imo). Having Lorne or someone comment that Cordy seemed off after her decent, and having the others make up excuses why they weren't concerned about it, would have better set up the eventual reveal of her possession.

I thought the bit about Illyria's interaction with others helping to define her was interesting. In the primordial days, did Illyria attract an army due to her godlike power and ego, or did having so many worshippers cause her personality to become arrogant? What would she have been like if her peers were Bambi and Dumbo instead of demons? Environment definitely affected Buffy. She was a spoiled superficial cheerleader before being called. Then she hung around with people (like Giles or Willow) who encouraged her to be smart and responsible.

edit For Darla coming back, that was a pretty unique set of circumstances:
- staked as a demon (supernatural death)
- brought back in S1 by elaborate W&H dark magic ritual, so not easy to duplicate
- could not be saved again ("The Trial")
- Had a PTB (Jasmine) bending/breaking the rules, to include Darla in its master plan

[ edited by OneTeV on 2011-03-17 16:50 ]
I found this bit of info from an Amy Acker interview.

What sort of storylines did you have setup for season 6 ?

All I know is he [Joss] was going to have Illyria have the ability to switch back and forth to Fred, like a Superman/Clark Kent kind of thing between Fred and Illyria. She was going to be transforming into different people which I was excited about, not having to do 3 hours of make-up. So that was one thing and another was going to be this whole big mafia thing where we went over and killed all the bad guys and then we were going to kind of become like all these groups were going to turn into a sopranos type mafia thing.

Or some of the "facts" reveal a limitation of knowledge. For example, the Judge was invulnerable to weapons forged at the time, which explains why people thought it was immune to *every* weapon (*cough* rocket launcher).

It's not really from a plot perspective that i'd find it hard OneTeV, on that I agree with you in that i'm sure the writers could convince me that e.g. Willow's ever increasing knowledge of magic allowed her to do something in S6 that she couldn't in S5 or something similar.

My issue is more how it would feel. They went to such lengths within the text to tell us she was really dying that meta-textually it seemed to me they were saying "We're aware of the other times people died and came back and we're aware that you're aware of it too - this time's different, Fred's really dying. No backsies". In other words "You're safe to care, this actually matters". Well, to be honest if after that it turned out that this time was actually exactly the same then the next time they tried to convince me someone was really dying i'd be all "Yeah, sure, whatevs. I remember Fred". It feels a bit like cheating y'know, like manipulation rather than taking you along with events. Dying would become just another thing that happens to a character, kind of like losing a job - it happens, they get over it, things continue.

(Simon's quote of Amy Acker saying they'd be swapping back and forth is a slightly different situation because there Fred could still be dead, you'd just have a being that looks a lot like her and has some of her memories. The looks-like-Fred-sounds-like-Fred-but-isn't-Fred aspect has a lot of emotional potential for the characters and the viewers)
To follow up on what Pulzer said, I did read that they had discussed a story where by somehow Buffy won the right to have one wish granted. Any wish at all.

So she was going to debate whether to bring back her mother or make Angel human, but the episode was to have ended with Buffy doing a big reveal for Willow, and Tara would be there.

I don't remember if they decided against this because they felt it didn't fit or didn't work or perhaps there were difficulties with Amber Benson not willing to come back (I have read that talks broke down for her to come back in "Conversations with Dead People"), but that is what I heard. And honestly, it doesn't sound like a very appealing idea. The finality of Tara's death increased the stakes.

But Fred coming back would have had more appeal. The quote above sounds like it is somewhat at odds with what Jeffrey Bell said, but that could just mean that they knew they wanted to do something; they were just not sure what. It could be that Bell wanted two separate full blown characters, but that logistically it would have been too expensive - as well as too physically challenging for Amy Acker. Still, it is tragic that they weren't able to do something with Illyria in Season Six.

For instance, in the four issue Illyria series that just ran, there was a great arc where Illyria begins to develop more in the way of compassion and feeling. She came to care about whether earth survived, whether people survived. This wasn't a canonical story and it might not have been the way they would have proceeded, but the narrative potential was immense. And that is really why I would have like to see both Fred and Illyria on the show: the narrative potential. Wondering about whether or not Illyria was going to break Fred's neck.
So she was going to debate whether to bring back her mother or make Angel human, but the episode was to have ended with Buffy doing a big reveal for Willow, and Tara would be there.

They couldn't get Amber Benson back IIRC (the version I heard about, Buffy spends the episode either pondering what to choose as her wish or pretending to ponder then at the end Willow comes to see her and Buffy excitedly holds up a pair of shoes as if that's what she's chosen. Just as Willow stands aghast, about to splutter in astonishment at the waste of a wish with which she could literally do anything Buffy steps aside and reveals Tara. And no eye escapes unwetted ;).

That, maybe strangely, I wouldn't have minded, principally because there was no big thing made of Tara being really, really dead, hers was just a standard "In SF&F, no-one dies forever" type of death (with the arbitrary rule imposed ad hoc at the time).
I love the character Illyria but I've found the comics don't quite do her justice without Amy Acker's dilivery of her odd speech patterns.
Any idea what the storyline for Tara would have been in Season 7? Would it have involved some kind of self-loathing, misery, personality changes or a crazy unexpected new love interest? One of my friends noted that that tends to be the pattern for characters that were dead/gone and miraculously returned (Buffy, Cordelia, Angel, Darla).

Waaaay off topic, but that conversation lead to us coming up with a storyline for the Dr. Horrible sequel, where Penny returns from the dead (obviously), re-breaks both Dr. Horrible's and Captain Hammer's hearts, and then hooks up with Bad Horse.
He is the thoroughbred of sin. Not to mention hung like a... nevermind *tries to scrub brain*.

(and I think the Buffy's wish episode was considered for a ways into season 7 so i'm not sure how much Tara storyline there would've been time for. Hazy on the timing though so don't quote me)
Any idea what the storyline for Tara would have been in Season 7?

Hmmm, I never thought the Tara thing in S7 was meant to be an actual bringing back of the character on a permanent basis. I always assumed it would have been basically two instances. The first being Conversations with Dead People, which they apparently tried to get Amber to do, where Tara (or The First really) rips Willows heart out, and then a scene in the mythical "Buffy's wish" episode where Tara helps Willow to heal and move on.

What I have always wondered is how different the season would have been if they could have gotten Amber to do it. Especially near the end with the whole "Buffy's a bitch" and "let's kick her outta the house." How does Willow and Xander back that play after Buffy does something that special for Willow?
Depends when it happens in relation I guess but if Buffy's still getting people killed/maimed left and right then I don't see Tara sticking up for her. If Buffy's using a wish for that sort of thing though then she's surely not the same callous "General Buffy" of late S7 so maybe it would've meant a slightly different direction for the whole season ?

Bit more info on Tara's return:
While speaking at the Wizard World Chicago Convention in August 2004, Joss Whedon claimed that he had planned to bring Tara back from the dead at the end of Season Seven. According to Whedon, the episode would have centered around Buffy being granted one "life-altering" wish. Buffy would have spent the whole episode trying to decide what she wanted to do with the wish (including, possibly, restoring Angel's humanity). The episode would have ended with Buffy telling Willow that she'd just gotten a great new pair of shoes, and when Willow asked her if she used up her wish on new shoes, Buffy would have said, "No, silly!" and stepped aside to reveal Tara. This plan was abandoned when Amber Benson was unavailable for filming. At the 2007 Comic-Con, he referred to this idea as well.[8] In addition the Season Eight issue 6 letters page hinted that Tara may be involved in an upcoming comic.


From here and here. Pretty sure she was intended to be back back but if it happened right near the end of season 7 it may not have affected much.
Illyria love! <333
She's my favorite. Ever.
@ Njal

Illyria may not be making an appearance in the current Fallen Angel minseries, but I was surprised to see at least one of her blades (from the previous mini that you cite) show up at the end of the second issue, along with a confirmation that it was hers. It looked like it will feature somewhat prominently in the next issue (which isn't out yet), though I won't know for certain until I read it.
Illyria is such a fantastic character. Acker brought such a regal commanding quality it was impossible not to watch her dominate the scene she was in.

Still wish we got those spin-off movies they discussed doing after Angel ended. Illyria's seemed limitless cause she was both new to us and the modern world.

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