Posted below is my preliminary effort. An intellectual exercise. Feel free to question, add, attack, refine, rebuke, chop, cut, and so on... My aim is to develop a consistent approach to the characters, not speak to the virtues of one over the other - although such might incidentally arise from it. If one can poke at this in ways to see how it might work or not work, that would be super cool. Ideally, I would prefer analysis to be based within the terms and premise of the argument so that I can work to refine it or toss it out if it appears too flawed. I have been thinking on this for quite a while...
As per my own philospophical underpinnings. What informs this the most, I believe, are my own studies in Jewish theology, and an excessively thorough reading of the Federalist papers.
For a long while, there have been various debates over the concept of 'redemption' as it applies to Angel, and later by extension to other souled-vampires. Such a discussion invariably requires study of guilt, culpability, and possibilities for redemption and atonement. But for any such analysis to begin, we must first start with the question of identity.
Throughout this essay, I'll be primarily speaking in terms of Angel, as we have seen more of him than any other Vampire in the Jossverse. For the most part, I'll be speaking in generalities, as my aim is to develop an internally consistent framework whereby which other characters could be accurately evaluated. Specific, more detailed character analyses will have to wait for the "testing" phase of my theory. In the first part, I'll merely lay out the premise and groundwork of the argument. In the end, I aim to produce a theory that can plausibly fit and explain not only Angel, but Spike, Darla, Harmony and other Vampires as well, and could even be used to project characterizations for Vampire versions of the human characters. Or, it could also be turned around so that one might use a sample Vampire to better project what they were like as a human.
Case Study: Incarnations of Liam/Angelus/Angel.
Who is Angel? How are Liam, Angelus and Angel connected? And how are these connections rectifiable with the other vampires we've seen?
In the early seasons Giles will tell Buffy, and Buffy will tell her friends (and Billy Fordham) that the Vampire is not you - that it's a demon setting up shop in your house. On the other hand, both VampJesse and Angelus claim that they are "themselves" essentially seeing themselves as the same person. And in every example we've seen, the Vampire version bears significant resemblance to the human host. IMHO, the view set forth in the pilot by Giles is a simplification that makes it easier for the Slayer (or other hunters of Vampires) to do their job. But, the Vampire's assertion also bears some scrutiny as well.
The metaphysics are a little hazy, but I basically see Angel as a merger of two things: the human Liam and the Beast as shown in Pylea. The ravening creature we see in Pylea is a very clear representation of what every vampire is beneath the veneer of civility. The Beast is very much what we see out of most vampires as they first arise from the grave, devoid of thought thirsting for blood and violence. As consciousness returns to the newly risen, we see the vampire more and more for what it is - a hybrid of human and demon.
We are told within the story, that the vampire arose by design. Why? From an evolutionary perspective, the Beast or the Turok-Han might be fierce and vicious, but such mindless creatures are good for little better than chaos and destruction. These are substandard tools for Evil. Merge it with a human mind removed of conscience, and you have something truly dreadful. (Although, not *that* dreadful if you merge the beast with Harmony's mind.) As a tool of evil, the soulless Vampire then retains the best aspects of both "parents". This, IMHO, is essentially what the vampire is. It also explains why individual vampires seem to vary as much as humans do.
How does Liam inform Angelus?
We have determined then, that who Liam was influences who Angelus is. But how? Some would argue that the Beast takes what was good about a person, and twists it to evil purposes. I disagree. The Beast does not care about right or wrong. It does not prefer right or wrong. It does not even think in terms of right and wrong. The Beast only cares for its appetites.
So who is Angelus, and how does Liam inform him? Angelus then is the Beast's biological imperatives and appetites, but now informed by Liam's intellect and emotion. He is not Liam twisted to evil. Rather, he is Liam unleashed of constraint and driven by the Beast's appetites. And the Beast hungers for what Liam hungers for. His every thought, feeling, motivation, aspiration, ambition and frustrated resentment. His sinful urges, as expressed through the brutality of the beast. Angelus is Liam's sinful urges, conscious or unconscious, left unrestrained and used as fuel for the Beast. In essence, Angelus, is Liam's capacity for evil, trapped in the moment of death, and fully realized in the form of the Vampire.
This is why Angelus differs from other vampires - because Liam differs from other men. But, it's important to note this distinction - Angelus is not actually Liam. In concrete terms, Angelus is the bestial aspect of Liam. In metaphorical terms, Angelus is the representation of Liam's darkest heart. He is not Liam, but he is also not "Not Liam". He is the soulless vampire incarnation of Liam. The Beast, then, is the primary cause for Angelus' evil. Liam is the "flavoring" for the expression of that evil. None of this necessarily implies that Liam was an Evil person. This does not mean that Liam was evil, or that he was good. All humans have a capacity for both Evil and Good. Whether we are actually good or evil, is proven by how we manifest our capacities through action. Liam and Angelus do not manifest these capacities in the same way, because they have different biological imperatives, different appetites, and different moral aspects.
Quite often, our very human impulses for both Good and Evil are tied together. Liam's "good" desire to be "pure" is twinned with his "evil" impulses stemming from the frustration that he cannot attain such purity. William's "good" desire to love and be loved is twinned with his "evil" urge to possess the love interest unmindful of her actual wishes. Transformation does not then pervert anything that was pure. It merely releases what was already perverted within, because no human is pure. This is a key point - the evil the vampire does is inextricably linked to the potential for evil within the human. And that the risen vampire becomes something that the human was capable of being, but would most likely otherwise not have chosen. Beyond the actual transformation, nothing the person does in Vampire incarnation is truly forced upon them.
This One is Clean
Some will point to the "Judge" in BtVS Season Two to confirm that Angelus had no humanity in him, and that Angelus is therefore unrepresentative of the general vampire population. Or that Liam was therefore more inhuman. Before we get too caught up in this one scene as exception, let's take a closer look.
Liam showed the frustrated desire to see the world, a desire he will pursue in his incarnation as Angelus. This is not inherently a "good" or "evil" urge, but it is consistent to the character. But more aptly, does Angelus not display jealousy and affection for Darla and Drusilla, just as the Judge asserted Spike and Dru shared jealousy and affection? These are all examples of human desire that carried over, flavoring the Beast that was Angelus.
So, IMHO, the Judge's comment that Angelus has no humanity within him is inconsistent with Angelus as portrayed. I would not take it as entirely accurate. Rather, it serves to confirm to the viewing audience that Angelus is just more bad-ass than the run-of-the-mill vampire. More noteworthy, it may well be that Liam's darkest impulse (the eradication of his own humanity) and the Beast's dark appetites for destruction were in complete harmony. Whereas William's darkest impulse (possession of a love object) is in conflict with the Beast's appetite to destroy. And that it is the harmony between Beast and Humanity which the renders Angelus immune to the Judge.
Significance of the Moment of Death
This is critical. The Beast is informed by the human host at the moment of death, and will continue to be eternally informed by those pathologies and priorities. Though it might either act to fulfill these priorities or battle against them, it cannot escape the pathologies because the fundamental human component is missing. The Vampire is a Dead Thing and cannot grow.
However, one notes that Angelus of S2 BtVS is distinctly different in motive and demeanor from the Angelus of the flashbacks, and the Angelus of S4 AtS. This is not because Angelus grew - but rather because Liam has grown and changed. At the time of soul-loss, the incarnations of Liam/Angel exhibit different pathologies, and these different pathologies are what drive the Beast to be different. Such a theory appears substantiated by noting how the Darla of Flashbacks differs from the VampDarla following "The Trial".
By way of example, the Buffy Summers of S6 has a far deeper set of frustrated aspirations and resentments than the Buffy Summers of S2. Her pathologies and capacity for evil would therefore be far different. Thus, in Alternate Universes, one can project that a VampBuffy turned in S6 would be a far different creature, and likely far more angry and vile, than a Buffy Summers turned in S2.
Now if that's Angelus, then who is Angel?
With the soul, Angel is now more than Angelus was. But everything that was Angelus is still contained within him. In essence, one could see the intellect of Angelus as a fractured aspect of Liam. The soul returns what was missing. The conscience. The capacity for higher moral action, previously disregarded as irrelevant to the beast. And by higher moral action, I do mean both in terms of capacity for both Evil and Good. Angelus does not expand any upon the template for cruelty already established by the Beat. He is inherently amoral - and can only refine it using the tools presented within Liam, such as Liam's intellectual knowledge of morality. Angel, with soul, is capable of inherent morality. For good or for ill, just like any other souled being.
Angel is Liam once again rendered whole. However, he is now more than just Liam. He regains all of Liam's moral awareness, but he is still the Beast. He drinks blood. He burns in the sunlight. He has the biological imperatives and appetites of the Beast, yet a moral awareness that rejects his own biology as profane. Connor's accusation, that "Angel" is a costume "Angelus" is forced to wear is almost correct. Rather "Liam" is a costume the Beast wears. Without a conscience, we call him Angelus, and he is vile. With a soul, we call him "Angel" and he becomes the sort of creature that can successfully respond to reason and love and attempt to overcome the limitations of the Beast.
Note the use of the word "successfully". Others will attempt to reach the soulless vampire through reason and love. We will see examples of soulless vampires attempt to overcome the limitations of the Beast. (Harmony and Soulless Spike) Over the long-term, however, these attempts have been shown to fail.
Why does Angel feel guilty for the actions of Angelus?
As noted, Angel is Liam rendered whole, but he is also still the beast. Between the Beast's appetites and Liam's capacity for Evil, everything that was Angelus is still contained within him. Because Angel realizes this, and because he cares, he feels guilt. Maybe he shouldn't. Or maybe he should feel less guilt. But he does.
This is essentially rooted in his humanity. What makes Angelus different from every other vampire, is Liam. Just as what makes Vampire Darla different from other Vampires was Human Darla. And that is why Angel feels personal responsibility.
Think of the metaphor. We are all human and flawed. Yet my acts of wickedness differ from yours, because I differ from you. I cannot, in good conscience, merely dismiss my prior bad acts because I was human, and therefore flawed. These acts were specific to me, I own them, and therefore must hold myself accountable for them if I care at all about becoming and remaining a better person than I was before. As I am human and flawed, and will continue to sin despite my best efforts. As I long as I live, cannot be *not human* - therefore this will a continual and never-ending process. It is simply part and parcel of the human condition.
And that's why Angel is always so crushed and affected by guilt over the deeds of Angelus. Yes he was a demon and therefore predisposed to evil deeds. But those deeds are specific and do belong to him. To Liam. And Angel feels this guilt, because, with his soul and moral awareness, he genuinely cares about becoming a better person than he once was. Of course, 'flavor' of Angelus' cruelty is rooted in Liam's darker traits, then so must Angel's better nature also be rooted within (and be reflective of) Liam's better nature. It is that better part of Liam's nature shining through when Angel acts upon his desire to become and remain a better man then he previously showed himself to be.
Should Angel feel guilty?
Some will say no. I say yes. He contains within himself everything that produced the evil acts of Angelus. Which, therefore also means that he contains within himself, the capacity to produce such acts again. Guilt, if deal with properly, is the fuel he will use to reform himself such that he will not produce or repeat such evils again. He can do this in two ways. First, he can seek ways to control the instincts of the Beast. Secondly, he can seek ways to control or limit his human capacity for evil - primarily stemming from the pathologies of the man than was Liam and the man that Angel now is. He can do so by stifling and repressing these capacities, or by improving and developing himself in ways that remove those capacities. Shanshu, the eradication of his Beastly biology and appetites, is merely the most obvious means to address the first part. There is still human weakness to deal with.
What does this tell us about Redemption and Atonement?
Redemption and atonement are two different things. For Angelus, redemption is a tautological impossibility. He is the Beast and he sees nothing objectionable in that. Forever, he may quest to refine himself, to be the best Beast he can be, but that is all. Even for Spike, there can be no redemption. Under this conceptual framework (which one is free to debate) Spike's quest to gain the soul is not driven by a desire to "be good" or to transcend the Beast. Rather, it is driven by an inner conflict - namely, he cannot rectify the Beast's appetites with William's darkest urges. In essence, due to a strange confluence of circumstances, the twin pathologies driving all soulless vampires happen to be at war within Spike. In getting the soul, he merely chooses to continue his effort to emphasize one aspect of his Vampire nature over the other by copying a method that he believes worked for Angel. He does not see his nature as Beast as profane in and of itself, but rather an impediment in his desire to obtain that which he craves. He still lacks understanding of what the soul implies, as he will later reveal to Buffy. Had he such a moral capacity, he would never have needed to gain a soul, or any missing piece in the first place. This is not redemption.
For souled Angel, redemption is possible. Not likely, but conceptually possible. Not simply because he sees his nature as the Beast as something that does not work to satisfy the cravings of Liam, but because he sees his nature of the Beast as profane and in need of redemption, in and of itself. Angel longs for is to transcend his nature as Beast. He can fight that nature, but he cannot overcome it. The cross still burns. Redemption, then, lies in becoming human and in no longer being the Beast. This parallels the religious concepts of Redemption in Christian theology.
That doesn't mean he necessarily "needs it" or should want it in an objective sense. But it is something Angel desires and believes he needs, for good of for ill. The problem for Angel, is that Redemption is not something one can earn. In terms of theology, Redemption can only be granted by an external source. It is the province of God (TPTB or what have you) This is problematic, because redemption is beyond his control. If he has faith, the hope for Redemption is a shining beacon to the soul. If he does not, it is a source of frustration, which is very dangerous as frustration feeds the Beast and leads into temptation to do evil.
Atonement, on the other hand, is something he can control. He might not be able to correct for every sin, but Atonement is about something a bit more sophisticated than clearing off a scorecard. Atonement, is about how one conducts one's life. And in that regard, Angel can atone for the sins of Liam and of Angelus. He can atone for Liam by living up to all of Liam's wasted promise and by getting his act together and being the righteous man he aspires to. He can atone for Angelus by combating the evils Angelus represented, and by creating a legacy of good deeds and heroism. That is atonement. It is a difficult process, but it is achievable. It can be earned. It is within our grasp if we truly and diligently seek it.
Shanshu and Redemption revisited?
In addition to the literal implications (he will no longer have the biological imperatives and appetites of the Beast) the Shanshu has implications on a metaphorical level. Angel is not human. He is a profane and an accursed being. He must subsist on lifeblood. He is burned by the sun. If man, in a metaphorical sense, is created within God's image, then it is honorable for man to strive to become better and greater. In short, closer to God. But how can Angel connect with this aspect of his own humanity when he is rejected by the symbols of God.
Furthermore, it is human nature to seek out our happiness and the happiness of those we care about. But due to the nature of his curse, Angel cannot seek happiness without causing harm to those he loves, and also to those who love him, for no other reason than that they have the misfortune to care for and be cared about by him. This is why Redemption in the form of Shanshu would have particular significance for Angel.
Ultimately, each character must be judged and evaluated based upon the the incarnation they exist within. Ultimately, I do hold humanity is the highest incarnation of all three, because of Vampire, Souled Vampire, and Human - only the human is possessed of inherent moral capacity and also free of the Beast. Humanity, of course is still flawed - if we were not flawed, we would all be angels. But it is very human and very commendable to aspire to the better angel of our nature. And this is very much a point of the Hero's journey.
So, can this be ported to other characters? Other Vampires?
It requires a more specific and detailed analysis, but I do think this would lay out a template whereby other Vampire characters and their human hosts can be analyzed. This would require a fuller analysis of the relevant personalities than I have prepared at this point - beginning with a more detailed analysis of how Angel(us) might fit this mold.
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