As I did with Buffy last summer, I’m taking some time to analyse it’s sibling, Angel. Angel is a completely separate beast to Buffy (in more ways than one). It is oft-times darker and more sinister, but also arguably more diverse in a multitude of ways. My adoration for the Buffy-verse starts here, with my Buffy series last summer and continues with Angel. Other topics covered on Angel: Beginning; The Team, The Villains and The In-Betweens; Death.
Everyone wants redemption, but it means different things for different people. The idea that we can atone for our past sins with good deeds, or sometimes even with money, is as old as time. Angel shows us in no uncertain terms a world that we are often unable or unwilling to see: a world that can be a terrible place.
The worst part of the world — this intrinsic truth a piece of fiction shows — is that the awful in the world is often on the account of our own actions. In the show demons and fallen gods shows us the faults and shortcomings of humanity.
Angel Investigations, and Angel himself spend so much time trying to achieve redemption. Angel attempts to be the savior of the people. Helper of the helpless. But he can’t be. No matter how hard he tries, he simply will not be able to undo all the bad in the world. It’s a task that no human, or vampire, could do. Even the “savior” of the people needs a savior of his own.
Throughout the show there is the constant question of the Shanshu Prophesy (starting in “Blind Date” and reoccurring). Nearly the definition of redemption Shanshu offers a human life as a reward to a vampire who fights in the apocalypse. In the run of the series, Angel never actually achieves Shanshu. In fact, the more it’s discussed, the more it seems to be a unreachable feat.
On a bit of a different plane is the reappearance of Darla. By reappearance I mean resurrection (“To Shanshu in LA”). Guys, they bring a character back from the dead. They then tell her that even though she’s over a hundred years old and was once the undead, she’s going to die because our modern technology can’t handle a simple case of syphilis (“The Trial”).
Not even a quote-unquote ‘clean slate’ can erase Darla’s past. She appears to have no choice in even the matter of her own life or un-life. In an attempt to reclaim control over her life, she tries to convince an unwilling vamp to sire her. When Angel tries another method of re-gaining her life, even that is proven unsuccessful (“The Trial”).
Just as Darla has owned her humanity and her impending death, in rolls Drucilla to continue on the path that Wolfram and Hart have planned for Darla. This prompts a whole new set of questions for the viewers as Darla immediately forgets her humanity and once again embraces her vampric self (“Reunion”).
In a particularly harrowing scene upon realizing Darla’s fate, Holland Manners offers to take Angel to see the true horror of humanity. While Angel expects to be taken to a hell dimension (which which he has much experience with), the doors open to the same place they started from. Earth. (“Reprise”) If our world is the worst of the worst, what hope is there left?
At the end of season four Angel sees this savior in Wolfram and Hart. He agrees to take on the evil organization so that he can save more people (“Home”). It sounds good on the outside. But once inside next season, we can see all the flaws in this plan. Cyborg parents (“Lineage”) and dream inducing parasites (“Soul Purpose”) calling the group away from their stated goal of helping the helpless. He is left with this nagging feeling that he has made a deal with the devil. He’s right.
Angel is never afraid to ask the big questions. What control do we have of our own future? How much of our thoughts and emotions are our own and how much is determined by our lot in life? Are people intrinsically good or intrinsically evil? Is it worth it to let some bad happen in order to make a greater impact for good? How can you even measure good and evil to tell?
Among all the demons in Los Angeles (real and metaphorical), Angel is constantly on the hunt for how to hunt them down and stop them. But how can he if he is also in a constant battle with himself? Is this drive to reach Shanshu a mere distraction from what Angel could accomplish?
Many of these questions are subtly posed to the audience and we are left to our own devices to answer them. If an answer is implied it’s that we are not directly in control of our own destiny, but we can impact our fate as well as the fates of others by trying to do good. To be honest, I’m not sure that I entirely agree. But that’s a conversation that goes well beyond the scope of Angel Investigations. Another topic for another time.
What are your thoughts on the more morpheus themes of Angel? Do you believe in Shanshu?