Now this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer in all its greatness. It is of course, an iconic episode, but I had forgotten just how great it is. Well, there are a couple of plot points that don’t make an awful lot of sense… but I’m willing to overlook it, because it just keeps delivering emotional punches, from start to finish.
This review turned out to be too long, so I'll split it in two parts. I’ll start by making my thoughts clear on a certain issue:
First off: I’ve never considered “Angelus” a separate person from “Angel”, just Angel’s alter ego. In fact, it never even occurred to me that someone would consider them literally two different people, until I came across a Favorite characters from Buffy and Angel poll online, where “Angel” and “Angelus” were given as two separate options, which took me completely by surprise (no pun intended) and made me go, WTF? Since then, I’ve watched the entirety of AtS, I can even less understand how anyone could see them as two different people. Nothing in Angel’s story would make any sense if that’s the case (not to mention Spike’s and Darla’s stories if their souled and unsouled, human and vampire versions were literally different people), and the entire premise of AtS would be pointless. So, moving on…
I did, however, tend to disassociate Angel’s soulless alter ego from his souled self – like most fans did at the time, I guess, and just like Buffy and the other human characters did. For them, it was a way to deal with the situation, trying to come to terms with the fact that they saw their friend or lover suddenly turn so evil and do such horrible things. I think I saw them as two very separate personas
of one same person, and this kind of disassociation was easy to do thanks to the differences in behavior and personality. Season 4 of AtS made it look akin to a multiple personality disorder, with “Angel” not remembering something “Angelus” did. Season 4 “Angelus” constantly talked about “Angel” in 3rd person. Which was really weird since it was completely different from what all the other seasons of AtS were showing.
What strikes me the most in this rewatch are two things: in season 1 and season 2 so far is, there hasn’t been any indication at all that Angel’s souled and soulless versions are two different people – on the contrary, Angel has constantly been talking about his soulless past in 1st person singular, and “Angelus” does the same, talking about his recent souled past with Buffy in 1st person singular, both owning up to all their actions when soulless/souled (despite the fact that as “Angel”, he hates what he did as soulless, while as “Angelus”, he hates what he did as souled)… or that all the other vampires who know him well – Dru, Spike, Darla, the Master – always treat him as the same guy.
There is just one moment when he speaks of the “Angel” persona in the 3rd person:
Buffy: Angel, there must be some part of you inside that still remembers who you are.
Angel(us): Dream on, schoolgirl. Your boyfriend is dead and you're all gonna join him.
If we took that literally, it would clash with a bunch of other things he says in the same episode, especially in conversation with Spike and Dru. If he really thought “Angel” as someone else, another personality if not another person, he’d have no reason not to tell that to his fellow soulless vampires. If anything, he’d love to be able to say that it wasn’t him who was acting so embarrassingly as “Slayer’s lapdog” and being all nice and good. Instead, he just casually writes it off as “What can I say? I was going through a phase”. More likely, he is either tailoring his words to hurt Buffy (a lot of things he says to her contradict each other: I am Angel, I am not Angel), or he is making the point that he won’t go back to being the way he was when he was her boyfriend, therefore her boyfriend is metaphorically “dead”. And the way he speaks here is really not different from the way Willow in season 6 talked about herself after she went dark:
Buffy: You have to listen to me. The forces inside you are incredibly powerful. They're strong, but you're stronger. You have to remember you're still Willow.
(Dark) Willow: Let me tell you something about Willow. She's a loser, and she always has been. People picked on Willow in junior high school, high school, up until college with her stupid mousy ways. And now... Willow's a junkie.
Buffy: I can help.
(Dark) Willow: The only thing Willow was ever good for... the only thing I had going for me... were the moments, just moments, when Tara would look at me and I was wonderful. And that will never happen again!
Both these scenes echo Vampire Jesse’s conversation with Xander in The Harvest
, which shows that turning from human into a vampire, losing one’s soul, or getting filled with dark magicks were all just different ways to have a character go evil. They are all similarly despising the weakness of their non-evil persona and trying to make up for it:
Xander: Jesse, I know there's still a part of you in there!
(Vamp) Jesse: OK! Let's deal with this. Jesse was an excruciating loser who couldn't get a date with anyone in the sighted community! Look at me. I'm a new man!
We've also seen Giles look himself in the mirror and talk to his scruffy, Ripper-like persona in 2nd person singular, even though there's no soullessness, demonic possession or supernatural influence involved in the Giles/Ripper duality. I doubt that there's anyone who maintains that Giles had a literally split personality, let alone that Ripper was someone else, despite the fact that, as we've seen in Band Candy, Giles also drastically changes his accent, way of talking and behavior, when he is „Ripper“ and when he is „Giles“. So, on one end of the spectrum we have the Oz/werewolf Oz duality, where Oz has no rational control over his wolf behavior, while on the other we have Giles/Ripper, who is just changing his persona but is completely in control. Where does a souled vampire/soulless vampire duality fit, which end is it closer to regarding a souled vampire's responsibility for his actions when soulless? It's a difficult question that is still being hotly debated in fandom.
The second thing I’ve realized during this rewatch, is that characters at this point are constantly calling Angel’s soulless alter ego simply “Angel”. The habit of calling only Angel’s souled self “Angel” and his soulless self exclusively “Angelus” seems to be a combination of fanon and retcon. In Innocence
, the only person who uses the name Angelus is Jenny. However, Dru and Spike simply call him “Angel”.
Angel(us): Yeah, baby, I’m back.
He himself does the same:
Jenny: He's not Angel any more. Are you?
Angel(us): Wrong. I am
Angel... at last!
The most likely explanation would be that “Angelus” was a name that he was more widely known by (because Latin names just sound so much scarier!), and that’s how he got recorded in the books, while the people closest to him, his vampire companions, used to simply call him “Angel”.
Finally, in the shooting scripts, he is always referred to as “Angel”. http://www.buffyworld.com/buffy/scripts/026_scri.html
But, just to avoid confusion, I’ll refer to him as Angel(us) as long as he’s soulless, without inferring that I think they’re two different people.
When I first watched the show, I was, much like Buffy, shocked and almost in disbelief at Angel(us)’ behavior and that he could be the same person as Angel, and while I really liked „Angel“, I really hated „Angelus“. Well, that I still do. I know that some fans find him charming in some way or sexier than Angel – but for me, he was always too much of an evil nasty jerk to be in any way appealing. While Spike somehow, even at his most evil, always had some trace of humanity and something charming and strangely lovable about him, combined with all the nasty, evil, jerkass characteristics. I have my limits though, and, to me, Angelus is just too much of a nasty evil jerkass.
But, this duality is what always made Angel interesting. Even if the Angel persona on BtVS was almost too cardboard-romantic hero, while Angelus was the other extreme. I much prefer Angel on his own show, where he was complex and ambiguous when he was souled. And after having seen the flashbacks of Liam, and all of AtS, an having read season 8, I don't see such a discrepancy between Angel and Angelus: I now notice little things that „Angel“ shares with „Angelus“, and a lot of examples of the same personality traits that manifest themselves in two opposite ways.
In season 2, as Angel, he was completely obsessed with Buffy, all he did was about her. Without a soul, that was still the case, only now his love for her was turned into hate and desire to hurt and destroy her, to get back at her for making him feel those tender emotions.
Spike: You've really got a yen to hurt this girl, haven't you?
Angel(us): She made me feel like a human being
. That's not the kind of thing you just forgive.
As Giles says, he’s going to strike at what made him most ‘human’. We know that the first thing he did when he became a vampire was to kill his family. (A later flashback will reveal that it had a lot to do with his resentment at his father while he was human.) For his soulless self, being human equals being weak.
Angel(us): You tried to kill her, but you couldn't. Look at you. You're a wreck. She's stronger than any Slayer you've ever faced. Force won't get it done. You gotta work from the inside. To kill this girl... you have to love her