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July 08 2014

On the ethics of vampire slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One writer makes a case for re-ensouling all vampires in the Buffyverse.

Some issues I have with this argument (others can probably think of more):

1. Orbs of Thesulah are exremely rare.
2. The Ritual of Restoration is relatively difficult and requires a skilled spellcaster. It also isn't always successful.
3. I'm betting most vampires would go permanently insane with their souls restored.
4. If the spell works the same way it did with Angel, the vampires would lose their souls any time they achieved pure happiness.
IIRC the second soul loss curse was more or less tacked on to the original ritual. It was not necessary for the spell to work. Other than that though I agree.

[ edited by JDL on 2014-07-09 05:10 ]
In the spirit of debate, I'm gonna attempt to refute you.

1. If orbs of thesulah are so rare, how come they were being sold as paperweights at that magic-shop? Even if they are incredibly rare, obtaining just a few could do a lot of good.

2. You mean a skilled spellcaster like Willow? Just because something isn't always successful doesn't mean it's not worth trying.

3. This is a really good point. Different vampires would react to being ensouled in very different ways. Some would go insane, some would commit suicide, some would suffer from the guilt for centuries, others would be resentful and continue to harm others. A soul does not guarantee a good, harmless vampire; people with souls do bad things all the same.

4. I agree with JDL that the "moment of happiness" thing is pretty much Angel-specific.
I don't think the happiness loophole is Angel specific. The spell is a curse. It is supposed to be a punishment to have the soul returned so it is inherently part of the curse that it breaks if happiness is achieved surely. Otherwise Willow would have removed that part and restored Angel's soul without that risk.

Doing this would make witches a specific target for vampires. The coordination to make this a covert operation would be immense, particularly when you don't know how many targets you have and almost certainly can't do a 1:1 witch to vampire ratio to do it in one go. Even then, Dru had a vision which sent Angel to Jenny's door so any efforts could be thwarted in such chance ways too. I'm not even sure how the person is specified anyway. I don't think Angel was named in the spell but it was directed specifically to him so how it specifies and how the witches are supposed to 'know' all this vampires seems way too complicated.
Very good points: global ensoulment would probably have been more effective than the Slayer-spell from Chosen.

However, from an ethics perspective I think that there is something else inherently skewed within the Buffyverse, namely that Vampires are considered evil because they torture, kill, and eat a species they consider inferior, while humans do fundamentally the same. If Buffyverse Vampires are evil, then aren't non-vegetarian humans also evil?
Actually, wouldn't that make any non-fruitarian of any species evil? Even vegetarians kill and eat other species.
My interpretation is that the curse was permanent and still attached to the soul even if and when the soul was re-enfleshed which happened at least twice.

As for Willow getting rid of the curse it was probably out of her range the first time and given that a whole tribe was involved in its casting probably the second time as well.
There's probably a relevant TV Trope for this... yup:

This sort of thing used to really annoy me in episode-of-the-week style TV shows like Star Trek TNG. Once you have come up with a solution to a particular problem, you should continue to use it rather than having to re-invent the wheel or live with the issue each time. Cue many versions of proto-geek 10 year old me yelling things like "But why don't you just invert the polarity of the beam again like a couple of weeks ago?" etc.

The meta-issue of course is that if you do this, the series goes away because the conflict is ended.
The curse done two or three times on Angel was a curse of vengeance. As such, you'd presumably have to have a specific vengeance motivation in order to perform the curse. You probably can't just grab a random vampire and a paper weight and - poof - soul. That vampire would presumably have to first hurt you or someone close to you. And then the curse only stays in effect as long as it's effective as punishment.

[ edited by GreatMuppetyOdin on 2014-07-09 12:53 ]
And in order to use Spike's method, the demon in the vampire would have to desperately want to give up control, which evidently is not an easy place for a vampire to get to. Even Harmony, who seems kind of unhappy with being evil, wouldn't have the drive to go through the trials.
MobileHQ: Voyager was far more guilty of that than TNG.
I've got to disagree with this. Even if it was possible to use the spell on that many vampires, I'm not sure it would be ethically sound.

Every vampire we've seen gain a soul has experienced it like a form of torture. And it's likely that every soulless vampire would choose to die rather than be ensouled (Spike is the only exception, and he only wanted a soul because of very specific circumstances).

Then there's the question of whether 're-ensoulment' is even the right term. Whether a vampire with a soul can even be considered the same person as who they were when they were alive. If they aren't, then are you just inflicting punishment on someone who never chose it? And if they are, then are you denying that person the right to rest in peace? Would they want to live as a semi-demonic immortal knowing the crimes they committed as a vampire?

It might work for newly sired vampires who haven't done anything which will weigh on their conscience yet. But then that invites a whole other question. There would presumably be living people who want to avoid death by being sired and then ensouled.
I think it is ridiculous to go around and stuffing a soul into every vampire.

1) Angel went 100 years with a soul moping, trying to get back with Darla, Dru and Spike. And even with a soul he has killed people. Room full of lawyers and hotel guests come into mind. He was so wracked with guilt he tried to kill himself in Amends. Without Buffy and Whistler's intervention, would Angel have started helping the helpless? When a vampire gets a soul, the demon in them doesn't disappear. They have to coexist together, and good luck with that.

2) People have souls and they can be murders and rapist. Vampires like Kralik, the vamp in the ep Helpless, and the Gorch brothers will still murder people with a soul. So what's a slayer to do in this case? Kill a souled-vamp or will they have to create a specific prison that is capable of holding vampires?

3) The spell used on Angel was a curse. Don't you think Willow would have modified it by Angel Season 4 if she could? And the way Spike received his soul would require the vampire in question to want the soul back.

4) Heaven and Hell dimensions exist. What if the vampire's soul in question is residing in a heaven-like dimension?

5) Overpopulation caused by more people being born than dying.

6) Darla's reaction to her sudden humanity in season 2 of Angel. Spike's week crazy in the basement (and later admitting in the episode Damage, that he is haunted by the things he did without a soul). Buffy's reaction to coming back from the dead both times. I think all of this will leave the world with a large population of mentally ill people.

7) There should be some type of punishment for vampires. They killed people, and letting them get away with murder is not fair to the family and friends of their victims.

8) Tuck-everlasting is coming into mind, so would any of you want to live forever? Would you want to watch your human family members and friends die?
Lots of logistical problems, as others have raised, but MobileHQ is right: if they had re-ensouled all the vamps, they would have had to change the title to Buffy the Metaphor Slayer... and then go off the air.

Also the curse was really a stupid curse. Curse him with the guilt of past sins! But have a loophole! Which you don't tell anyone about! Which means that Angel didn't know to avoid perfect happiness...

However, the article also raised the possibility of re-ensouling some vamps, and that, I think, is somewhat valid. The show just didn't have time/money to get to it.

Dramatically speaking, however, I do have some sympathy for the writers. Why not have Willow do the joining spell from "Primeval" every time, too? The magically-enhanced Buffy was virtually unstoppable. Well, the problem is this: what would make sense for an actual military campaign against undead would not work well for a story, because we'd get bored with it. The author Timothy Zahn, when writing the first Star Wars novels, had to come up with ways to de-power Luke -- otherwise Luke was so powerful that he'd just wipe the floor with whoever or whatever Zahn sent against him. Later authors were not so careful, and Luke became profoundly boring in those books -- so when Zahn wrote more, he actually started out the new series by having Luke resolve to use the Force less. Because otherwise everything was a foregone conclusion. Now, I expect Joss could have created a show of our intrepid heroes wandering the earth, re-ensouling vamps, if that was his constraint, but it would have changed the whole point of the show.
If I lived in a society filled with vampires that have been integrated into it, I'd be screwed. I'm having a difficult enough time finding a job in my field, and it would suck to go against a vampire who can easily get all the education they want and have 100 years of experience without paying health insurance or worrying about a company letting them go because they have gotten too old.
What kind of ethical dilemmas would re-ensoulment of all vampires provide for slayers? Not all vampires with souls will be good, so how would a slayer know unless she catches a vamp in the act? If slaying bad ensouled vamps vs. good ensouled vamps is OK, does that mean killing bad people vs. good people is OK? What happens if a slayer slays a truly good vamp, because she misinterprets what she is seeing when encountering a vamp?

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2014-07-09 16:10 ]
I've been thinking about this way too much, and honestly if this was a possibility, I'd do it. I'd go out, find a vampire, have them sire me and (maybe) let them re-ensoul me. Looking at how vampires have evolved in the season 10 comics, why wouldn't a non-slayer not want to have superpowers. It would be liberating, being 25 forever without all of those pesky worries except where can I get blood? However, I can't help but think that eventually the human population will decrease and the vamp population will increase, making it really easy for vampires to turn humans into livestock or pets. Vampires would be the superior species. I can imagine some sort of hellish future similar to "The Wish", where vamps keep humans in cages or in chains allowing them to take a pint of blood from a human about every month, while keeping them on a fluid nutrient rich diet to replenish blood levels. Vampires talking about breeding their humans with one another.
Obvious answer; The spell was specifically made by the romanies for Angelus. It takes great skill and I bet luck to create a spell like that. That's why it was lost when the witch was killed, because she created it. It's the only thing that makes sense. Perhaps the writers even thought of this. and figured it was in the subtext.

I think it's a plothole that we never see the characters discuss doing this, adapting the spell to other vampires, or finding out if it was Angel specific, but assuming that the scoobies choose not to save people through re-ensouling vamps isn'teven in the cards for me.
Joss's first Angel comic miniseries was about an attempt to give another vampire a soul. Which didn't work. Messily.

And then there's the problem that casting the spell led to Willow tapping into something which she didn't seem to be in control of, and which may have jumpstarted her becoming a world-threatening uberwitch before she was ready.
The consequences would be dire. Even if they were fully integrated into society, think about the new laws that would have to be created in the justice system alone. Just how long is the statute of limitations if you've been committing crimes for 200 years? And even saying that they can't keep from killing because that's just how they are is removing any sense of free will. Vampires would use that as an excuse to say they shouldn't be incarcerated.

Remember when Ford made a deal with the vampires to be turned because he was dying? A lot of people would try to do this if they knew it was possible. To be a vampire but re-souled? And be young and healthy forever? We'd have a massive population boom and our resources wouldn't be able to handle it. Now we're talking about adapting our assistance programs to pay for blood. And there's not going to be enough to go around because they'll all need to drink animal blood. None of them would need to eat vegetables or consume the meat. Maybe they'll still do it out of habit, but they'll lose the hunger for it.

Plus, who would tend to crops during the daytime? Now we're talking about a slippery slope of creating a permanent underclass of humans who would work outdoors during the day and age while everyone else lived forever.

And you could never have vampire EMTs and doctors because they could never perform CPR, plus only human EMTs and doctors could work during the day.
Since CPR is totally possible without breathing (Angel, and probably the writers, were just confused), that wouldn't be a huge issue. And if people could live forever, the birth rate might well drop. Moreover, all the vampires would have to do would be send the cows out to graze.

But then the other problems would kick in, like extremely slow cultural evolution. We've seen how many vampires cling to what was "cool" in their era (Spike excepted). We'd have a world filled with immortal people stuck in the past, never changing. Progress would grind to a halt.
I was talking about this with someone on twitter last night and most of my objections have been brought up already. My main one being that it wouldn't be fair to the person's soul that they'd be shoving back into a body with memories of horrific deeds that would then feel like they had done them.

Buffy explained to Ford that it wouldn't really be him that came back and that he would still die and his soul would move on (hopefully heaven) and a demon would take his place and have all his memories. (Which says a bit about identity, right? The demon before it posesses the body of the dead person is someone else entirely but fundementally changes once inside the body of a human because of that human's memories. Same thing happened to Illyria when she took over Fred... which is a tiny bit like how dolls changed by having different memories in their bodies... hmm.) So to re-ensoul the vampires is to punish the person who was probably murdered for their body.

I could see it being done in specific cases... to assist the Slayers, maybe. A vampire that they can't kill so this is a final option in order to stop them. And I recall Buffy had a fear about becoming a vampire and I doubt she was the only one. I could see a Slayer that had been turned that had a contingency plan already in place that a witch would automatically execute the spell and put her soul back in. In fact, I'm a little surprised that Watchers hadn't tried that. Slayer dies, you get a new Slayer, previous Slayer retains her humanity but is still super strong and able to continue her mission. Which I don't consider ethical either, BTW.

Anyhow, if we had a world where vampires could retain their humanity while remaining forever young and all the problems that would cause you'd basically just have True Blood.
But it's fun to think about the various scenarios had Willow or any other witch decided upon this course of action.
Perhaps they could develop synthetic blood? :s The fact that a souled vampire is still a vampire is about more than just needing blood though. AtS covered (very well imo) how Angel struggles with treading the line. Not just for the weaknesses of the man but also because there is still a demon present too as others have said. He could still 'enjoy' the dreams in Somnambulist, he can be very dark and that is all from something within him that is part of him that he has to deal with all the time. And that is with someone who wants to follow a path of redemption.

Aside from those who are sent into madness from being resouled, those that strive to just do no harm and those who look to do good, there will also be those that don't handle it well or those who it makes little difference to and they just continue to use being superpowered for whatever nefarious plans they fancy. Being souled doesn't 'cure' a vampire and make them good. Angel has been given a specific path and purpose and Spike had a unique combination of character and circumstances with the chip. That they both have the human/demon combo and yet are white hats is not something you could even assume would be the norm I don't think.
A vampire's identity is more than just memories like Illyria gained though. Angel started to deny that idea in Dopplegangland when Buffy was telling Willow a vampire's personality had nothing to do with the person it was. Well he was until Buffy's look stopped him, ha. There is little point in showing all of the details of Angel/Spike/Darla/Drusilla's pasts if the vampire just takes the memories of the human but is not more fundamentally formed by the human than that. They are shown to have the same issues/strengths/weaknesses, it is deeper than just memories. It is more like the vampire is the worst version of the human perhaps. Of course the souled vampire is a separate thing entirely though because they are pulled more towards the human they were with the soul in situ giving them a conscience. But the vampire the human became that committed the crimes is still a part of the mix, even if the souled version would never have committed those crimes. I do think the argument that it would be unethical to punish the human soul is therefore a pretty valid one. Walking into it with full understanding like Ford would have been isn't what we see with most vampires. Most were victims once and all that. :)

[ edited by Stoney on 2014-07-09 19:38 ]
I think in the Buffyverse the soul is the component of a person that makes empathy possible. Under normal circumstances I would say a person's memories create his or her identity, but without the empathy filter a vampire just becomes a totally amoral, self-interested version of his or her mortal self.

Basically, your vampire self is you as a sociopath.

The soul doesn't seem to have any sentience of its own. Angel's soul doesn't remember what happened to it when it was separated from Angel, for instance. (Though obviously this situation changes when a person truly dies... the soul is then encased in a new "spiritual" body, as we saw with Cordelia, Darla, etc.)
:: Ponders ::

Vampires have been pretty universally malignant as shown in Buffy and Angel, especially when they're very new to it all. They're all baby-bird hungry mouths and instinct. Give them a few decades and they can get a bit more experience and control, but they can also get really into the whole murdering people thing, so unless a vampire proves otherwise (fairly quickly), dusting them is the most ethical thing.

Humans may have dominion over vampires in the spiritual sense in the Buffyverse, but the conversion of the body done by the vampire demon when it grows in a human corpse (which must be alive when the choice to become a vamp is made, and the person who becomes a vampire must willingly allow the possession so their human soul must go to hell, right?) doesn't get undone by re-ensouling the body and therefore the thirst for blood and the rest is still there, as well as memories of the killings done while a vampire. Even if putting a soul back into a vampire automatically makes them more empathetic, in the Buffyverse it doesn't guarantee anything other than an insane vampire. From bipolar to suicidal to psychotic, sociopathic, full-blown schizophrenic and delusional, they're going to be even more dangerous. I'd argue that even Angel and Spike were insane, just acclimated to their conditions. Making a lot of insane vampires is counterproductive, so the argument that it would be ethical to do so is voided.

Also, it seems that when a souled vampire makes another vampire, that new vamp isn't exactly like other vamps. Witness the examples given in Buffy and Angel, with Spike's offspring carrying on a compassionate conversation with Buffy before dutifully, suicidally, following his hunger to his own unavoidable demise or Angel's WWII creation being tortured by the nature of his existence for six decades until he could only put himself in a situation where Angel would destroy him in order to be free of it. Do the offspring of souled vampires have souls as well, even if it is a kind of hybrid soul? In which case, wouldn't giving souls back to vampires only increase the net suffering in the world by that many souls? Or would you give them their soul back just to stake them and "put their souls at rest" like other vampire shows seem to suggest? I'd say that would be pretty damning for the slayer as well as the slain.
AndrewCrossett, now I wonder what is left behind with the "spiritual" body when a soul is taken back by magical means? Is there a souless spiritual body of Angel wandering around in another dimension? A souless spiritual body of Buffy in Heaven? And what are they doing now that their soul is gone? Hmmm!
Grotesk I don't think most know or understand at all what they are agreeing to. We saw both William and Liam get turned and they both were seduced into feeling they were being offered an opportunity to be understood/to get away. They didn't know what they were saying yes to at all. They were victims. That someone would take offered blood whilst dying isn't surprising, call it an instinct to survive perhaps, but no, I don't think at all that it is a willing possession to a demon and that the human soul would go to hell.

Call it a gain of conscience or empathy, the souled vampire is a different being to the unsouled version. But it isn't the human returned, it is a mix and in many cases the demon may still dominate or the soul may not care. It is too unpredictable in the results, the benefits of the results and dubious in the logistics of how it would be done, managed thereon or in the complications of the happiness clause for it to be a good idea I think.

[ edited by Stoney on 2014-07-09 22:10 ]
Perhaps if the re-ensoulment were accompanied by a bit of Mohra demon blood and some Retcon (re: Torchwood), along with a bit of sunbathing, holy water and chocolate ice cream to make sure the last of the demon was purged, one could say that it was a more ethical way of dealing with vamps.
(I know I keep commenting on this...) but I think this argument is better used on Supernatural regarding demons. Sam and Dean know how to do spells that will evict a demon from a posessed person, yet they often times chose to kill the person instead. And last season they discovered how to cure a demon, meaning the actual demon and not the body they posess. So they could concievable cure a demon (which on that show is usually a person that was sent to Hell and turned into a demon after hundreds of years of torment) and then evict the clean soul so it would go to Heaven and save the person the demon was in. (But like the spell in Buffy, I think the cure for a demon takes A LOT and is not that easy.) (I'm not sure about the evicting a demon thing. I assume it's a matter of time, really.)
It's possible that souls are only relevant for living (or undead) humans, and after death happens the person either goes on to the afterlife and gains a different, better way of interfacing with the universe, or gets hijacked by a demon and turned into a vampire.
Rule is simple. Pray on human blood, you're a vampire.

Think that's pretty simple.
Side note: Given that a vengeance-based curse only works as long as it's an effective punishment (as evidenced by Angel's curse breaking when he found happiness), does that mean Olaf would turn back into a viking if he found perfect troll happiness?
What is "ethically" owed to an intrinsically evil creature? From where I stand, nothing.

Ignoring that, is forcibly changing the fundamental nature of a being without their consent actually any more moral than ending them? To tie this into Serenity, how far do we go "fixing" people?

And beyond the subject, what's actually Willow's moral obligation here? Should she also feel compelled to spend all her waking hours researching how to rehabilitate other demons too - because given her power, it's probably possible. Just because she can, doesn't mean that's how she should be sentenced to spend her life - or that she should feel guilty in any way for not doing it.

[ edited by BringItOn5x5 on 2014-07-10 14:50 ]
@Grotesk: Spike's offspring didn't seem in any way unusual to me. Holden held his long conversation with Buffy just because he recognized her as an old classmate and he's the kind of guy who does that sort of spontaneous bonding over the past. But all the *other* people Spike sired in season 7 (the girl in the Bronze, all the people in the old lady's basement) were every bit as unthinking and blood obsessed as any other random vampire. The only real exception that's ever been shown was the submarine officer that Angel sired - and there's no real confirmation that that was really a result of him being sired by Angel. It could just as easily be that his human personality makes for a really lousy vampire.

@greatmuppityodin: Angel's curse has absolutely nothing to do with vengeance curses in general. It was a specific curse designed explicitly to make *HIM* suffer. No reason whatsoever to assume that it would have anything at all in common with completely unrelated curses like Olaf's trollness.
I think a pretty good representation of some of the problems can be seen in In The Flesh, a show where zombies are given back consciousness. I'd have loved to have seen it discussed in BtVS at some point (still time in the comics)
Bayne: It would've been idiotic to purposely design the curse to break. That would only benefit Angelus (as we've seen). Enyos explained that vengeance is a living thing. He said it was important that Angel doesn't experience happiness, because vengeance demands that he suffer. This tells me that by the very nature of being a vengeance-based curse, it requires vengeance/suffering as an active ingredient in order to stay in place. Like a cork. No suffering, no vengeance; no vengeance, no curse. One moment of happiness and whole thing falls apart. By extension, this would logically also be true of other vengeance-based curses, or at least ones with similar mechanics. As such, one would imagine that Anya's (well, Aud's) curse of vengeance upon Olaf would probably also require Olaf to suffer in order to stay in effect. As such, a moment of perfect happiness might cause the curse to lose its integrity as Angel's did.

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