Joss Whedon is the creator of the iconic television shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Angel (1999-2004), Firefly (2002), and Dollhouse (2009-2010). He is best known for creating unique and strong female characters that are independent, sexy, and possess a supernatural amount of strength. In fact all four of his shows are based off science fiction ideas like vampires, space travel, and mind control. By creating these fantasy shows, Whedon tries to make his audience understand what it means to love, what it means to hate, and what it means to be human. Whedon has cleverly built his shows around themes of feminism, witty humor, and his personal version of existentialism. His shows have brought both discomfort and debate among his worshipful fan base that follows him fanatically on the Internet. Whedonesque.com, a popular, fan-run website, is the number one site online that is dedicated to tracking all things Joss Whedon.
Throughout all the discussions and debates heard by Whedon fans all over the world, there is one theme that connects all of them. This theme that all fans can agree upon, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the way through Dollhouse is the idea that, love hurts. Characters on Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse have all experienced love in one way or another: they have fallen in love, been in relationships, or have been infatuated with someone. Yet their love has never lasted. With the exception of two couples on Dollhouse (Sierra and Victor, Echo and Paul [sort of]), every relationship in a Whedon show that begins as something great is eventually destroyed. Characters again and again fall in love just to end up getting hurt. But if love is meant to be something happy, something to reach for, and something that is meant to be fulfilling, then why is it that Whedon’s characters never end up with love? Why do they fight so hard for love just to lose it and end up hurt and in pain? Buffy, Angel, and Spike are natural fighters who have conquered hell demons, monsters, and vampires, and have stopped multiple apocalypses, but why can’t they conquer love? Why does love hurt them so much?
These three characters each have a special life calling. Their duty in life is something bigger than what most people have. They have the role of saving the world from evil; something that was placed upon them and can sometimes feel like a burden on their shoulders. But their life callings define the choices they make, which in turn define who they are. They are forced to choose wisely and selflessly every day and because of this they must sacrifice love, something that leaves them hurt. The difficult choice of putting the world first is the right thing to do. They know that their life’s calling is more important than love. But knowing this why do they keep falling in love? They are human and love is inevitable and unpredictable. They end up falling in love because they can’t help it; it is beyond their control and only when it gets in the way of their responsibility are they able to see it and make the choice of giving it up for the better cause. For Whedon’s characters, male or female, love does exist, but love doesn’t conquer all and isn’t primary. Each one of their lives is too complex for one emotion to dominate their choices. Their life calling is what comes first and even if love gets in the way, no matter how strong or how true it is they will chose against it because that is who they are: selfless people who see that saving the world is more important than their small emotions.
In Season One of Buffy, Buffy has a tough time coming to terms with her calling as the Slayer and tries to quit before realizing that being a Slayer is who she is; she can’t turn away from her responsibility. As Slayer, she has a hard time fitting in at school because despite her physical appearance she can’t help the fact that strange things happen to her. For example, the first day of her new high school, in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (1.1), she is befriended by the most popular girl in school, Cordelia Chase, who is convinced that Buffy is a “freak” after Buffy mistook her for a vampire and attacked her with a stake. Throughout the seven seasons, Buffy learns to accept her calling even if it does keep her from connecting with many people, because she is called on to save the world rather than merely date. Buffy desperately wants to connect with those around her and be normal, but despite her attempts, it doesn’t happen. She reconsiders and instead tries to create her life in her own terms by accepting her responsibility.
When Buffy starts to form a relationship with Angel, she creates a great connection with someone who understands her and loves her for who she is. But their differences soon become obvious and the pain between these star-crossed lovers becomes unbearable. Buffy is a vampire Slayer and her job is to dust vampires like Angel. It doesn’t matter if he has a soul or not. Her job is not to decide which vampire should live and which should not, her job is to make sure that vampires die before they kill innocent people. But Buffy and Angel’s chemistry and their instant connection give a new meaning to “opposites attract”.
During Season One, their relationship was a mere infatuation and flirtation, but by Season Two, their love was full blown. Angel, the broody vampire with a soul, bcame Buffy’s lover, but their relationship was doomed. Not only was he a vampire and she a vampire slayer but he was also a 241-year-old with much more experience than a 15-year-old schoolgirl. No matter how much they loved each other, two things ultimately torn them apart: Buffy’s need for being normal and their separate callings. Buffy and Angel could never be a normal couple. Not only was she a Slayer and he a vampire, but he was a vampire cursed with a soul. Vampires can’t go out during the day or eat real food, they can’t have kids and they are immortal. In “Surprise” (2.13) and “Innocence” (2.14), the climax of their relationship, Buffy understands that for the first time, she can never be normal with Angel. In this episode, Buffy and Angel make love for the first time and the gypsies curse is broken. The curse that gives Angel a soul in order to suffer for his sins states that if Angel ever feels a moment of true happiness he will return to the evil vampire he once was. Up until this point Angel and Buffy were shown as the perfect romantic couple. Angel was the perfect man that every teenage girl yearns for. But when Angel turns into Angelus, as vicious vampire as has ever lived, he proves a warning given by parents to their young daughters everywhere: sleep with a guy and he changes. By the end of Season Two, Buffy is forced to make a decision to kill Angelus in order to close the gates of hell and thereby save the world. Her choice comes from her selflessness and her duty to keep the world safe.
Being herself with Angel seemed normal; she didn’t have to lie about who she was in fear that he wouldn’t accept her. He understood that she was the Slayer and she didn’t have to conceal her identity, something everyone that went through high school is guilty of. He even helped her fight the vampires. So why was their relationship really not normal? In Season Three, Mayor Wilkins states why very clearly when he says:
“You’re immortal, she’s not. I married my Edna May in ought-three and I was with her right until the end. Not a pretty picture: wrinkled and senile and cursing me for my youth. Wasn’t our happiest time. And let’s not forget the fact that any moment of true happiness will turn you evil. I mean, come on. What kind of a life can you offer her? I don’t see a lot of Sunday picnics in the offing. I see skulking in the shadows, hiding from the sun. She’s a blossoming young girl and you want to keep her from the life she should have until it has passed her by.”
Angel knew that their relationship could never work way before Buffy did, but he gave in to his feelings for her when he should have walked away. We can see his understanding of their relationship being doomed when he shows a bit of jealousy in “Some Assembly Required” (2.2) towards Xander when telling Buffy, “Yeah, but he’s in your life. He gets to be there when I can’t: take your classes, eat your meals, hear your jokes and complaints. He gets to see you in the sunlight.” By the end of Season Three, Angel and Buffy both finally realize that they really can never be normal because of Angel’s vampirism and the danger it could bring to Buffy and those around him. Being with Angel for three seasons has also made Buffy realize that she will never have a normal life and that slaying is who she is. This shows her growth as a character, something that Whedon is very keen on doing. He lets the characters on his show grow and mature not often seen on other shows, where characters stay pretty much the same for the entire run of a show.
When Angel came to Sunnydale it wasn’t to help the world, it was to help Buffy. He was attracted to her from the moment he saw her and wanted to help protect her. Through Buffy and with her was he able to find his life’s meaning and his duty in this world: to fight evil and seek redemption for all the bad he has caused. At the end of Season Three when he leaves Sunnydale he goes to Los Angeles to continue to play his part in the fight against evil. This marks the ending of the Buffy and Angel relationship and Whedon created a spin-off show for Angel to continue his fight in.
Buffy comes to see Angel in “I Will Remember You” (Angel 1.8), and their duties in life are tested again, but this time it’s Angel’s responsibilities that keep them apart for good. In this episode Angel becomes human after his blood gets mixed with a demon’s blood, during a fight where Buffy and Angel were attacked. Buffy and Angel were shocked by the sudden realization that Angel had become human and that all their problems were solved. They could now finally be together because he was no longer a vampire. Buffy and Angel make love all night with no repercussions, Angel tastes food for the first time in centuries, he can go out in the daytime and for the first time they are perfectly content. But the next day they have to go back and kill the demon and it is then that Angel realizes his has become helpless because he cannot help Buffy fight. He sees the limitations of his being human and what that means to him. He is and will never again be able to fight evil, his life’s calling. But he is able to convince the oracles to change him back to his old self; a vampire with a soul. Angel realized that he couldn’t be with Buffy if that meant he couldn’t help people. He has duty to himself and the world and he can’t turn his back on it; he has killed too many people and caused too much pain to ever stop seeking redemption. This hurts Buffy, because to her it meant that he ultimately chose to be a vampire rather than be with her and essentially that’s what he did. He had the choice to choose love or saving the world and he chose the latter. His life’s calling is now clearer than ever before and to fulfill his duties he must sacrifice love, no matter how much it hurts. Angel is called to be a hero and he accepts it.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.