Now THAT’S a Great Story

Don't feed the bears

Don’t feed the bears

Anyone who still remembers Angelus for his BtVS run needs to take a second (or first) look at his second coming.  He’s rightly remembered as the villain who helped define Buffy, but this appearance is, in my opinion, superior in every respect.  That’s a bold claim, but “Soulless” is a ton of fun and they’re just getting warmed up.  More importantly, it keeps the focus squarely on the characters.  One might say the same thing about the first time he came ’round, but that was really about Buffy.  This time its about Angel, but everyone gets to play.

The fractures that have been plaguing AI all season begin to play huge dividends here as Angelus moves to exploit them.  The glee he takes in his mind games is certainly infectious, but what’s really interesting is how incredibly good at them he is.  Angel knows just what to say to unbalance not only the person in front of him, but also the rest of the gang impotently watching the monitor. It doesn’t take long before eveyone’s at one anothers throats.  How can a man who’s normally so socially obtuse have such insight into other people’s relationships.

Yes, Angelus and Angel are the same person.  That’s not a fact the gang wants to cope with as they keep telling themselves the opposite, but the truth isn’t so easily dismissed.  Angelus has no opportunity to learn any of the things he exploits, these are Angel’s insights.  He’s always been aware of Wes’ fragile ego, his shame over his failures, and his lingering daddy issues (which has only ever been mentioned obliquely).  He knows about the Wes/Gunn/Fred love triangle and that Gunn’s the one to push on the subject.  He knows that revealing Cordy’s tryst with Connor will isolate her from the group and he recognises Connor’s mommy issues (both Cordy and Darla) are the right way to antagonise him.

While it makes little sense, it’s still tempting to think of Angelus as another person who just happens to know the same things Angel does, but that can’t account for why Angel never acted on this knowledge.  He could’ve used his social/emotional intelligence for good, much as Angelus uses it for evil.  My “Angel is a prick” thesis certainly helps explain this, but I think that the motivation runs deeper than that.  Angel has trouble connecting with people not because he doesn’t understand them, but because he doesn’t think any good can come from that understanding.  Angelus sees emotions as something he can use for manipulation and abuse.  Angel sees them the same way.

We all want to put as much distance between Angel and Angelus as possible, thinking of our hero as a vampire without all the bloodlust and sadism, but that’s simply not correct.  Time and again we’ve seen him exhibit the same vindictiveness and ruthlessness we’d normally associate with the villain.  Angel is a vampire with a soul.  That means that he isn’t a vampire minus evil, he’s a vampire plus good.  Putting the soul back won’t make Angelus “go away” as he AI team keep insisting, it will simply put him on  leash.

If Angelus is always a part of Angel then all the dark, twisted things coming out of his mouth have crossed Angel’s mind before.  No wonder he shies away from making an emotional connection with anyone.   Any such connection leads to lines of thought he’d rather not pursue.   There is something monstrous inside of Angel.  We’ve always known this, but seeing it brought to the surface is still revelatory.

Final Thoughts

Well, I certainly managed to say very little about the actual episode in that write up.  To get back on point, Boreanaz is excellent.  He’s grown tremendously since season two of Buffy and is clearly having a lot of fun playing the bad guy for a change.  Kudos.

Also kudos to Vincent Kartheiser for managing to inject some self-loathing into the “you’re my real father” line.  I’ve always been a defender of Connor as a character and moments like this one prove me right.  His hatred of Angel doesn’t just stem from Holtz/jealousy/teenaged angst, it’s about the fact that he doesn’t believe he could come from a good place.

The bad guy in a cage,  Silence of the Lambs bit has been done to death, but it works here, mainly because it leverages all the established relationships so well.

Annnd the priestesses are dead, the team really can’t catch a break, can they?

One thing that Angelus gets wrong is his assessment of Wesley’s motivation.  He’s right that Wes is looking to show the AI team what he’s made of, but he’s wrong to equate that with heroism and Wes knows it.  Interesting that Angelus is correct about the emotion but no longer understands the moral component.

Beast, what Beast?  The one drawback to Angelus’ return is that its so awesome it overshadows the ostensible season arc.  I’ll have a bit more to say about that as things progress.

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