By Margot Le Faye
Speaking as a writer and as someone with an undergraduate degree in English Lit, there is one basic truism about storytelling that we, as an audience, often overlook: drama requires conflict.
That's why so many shows whose success is owed to the sexual tension between a popular pair end up dying in the ratings once the pair finally hooks up: the sexual tension is resolved, the conflict ends, and there's no more drama. The story of Boy meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl effectively ends when Boy and Girl finally get together. "And they all lived happily ever after" is the last line of the book.
To that end, Joss's solution to keeping B/A interesting is a stroke of genius. Joss gave us what we wanted in Suprise (Buffy and Angel finally consummating their love) and took it away in Innocence, when Angel lost his soul. BUT, the genius behind that was that Buffy didn't really lose Angel at all. A new, totally unforeseen obstacle was introduced to their relationship, and that kept the drama going, arguably stronger than ever.
When the Angel spin-off was first announced, Joss said in at least one print interview I have (I think with Xpose magazine) that separating the two characters was a way of keeping B/A "fresh," because, as he put it, "Five years of 'I love you, I don't love you' would get old" quickly. In another print interview I remember reading during the first or second season of Angel, Joss said that if he had his way, Angel would not have another love interest, because it would "violate the character." The interview went on to point out that with the logisitical problems of two different shows, Joss might not have an option.
Here's how I see it: I don't believe that Joss ever intended for Riley or Kate or Jheira to be permanent replacement lovers. I think they were intended to be loves of the moment whose purpose was not to belittle or surpass or supplant B/A, but to show how badly anything that wasn't B/A was compared to what B/A had.
I think Riley was intended to show that a guy who was text-book perfect for Buffy (human, normal, adored her, understood her mission and could contribute to it) was in fact all wrong for her, while the guy everyone thought was all wrong for her (the ensouled vampire) was, in fact, perfect for her.
I think that Spike's purpose is to show that Buffy is not in love with what Angel was--an ensouled vampire-- but who he is--the decent, caring, loving and tender person we got to know in seasons 1-3 of BtVS.
As far as Angel's journey, I think a lot of it was done to parallel what Buffy's been through, or to foreshadow what she would go through: she hit rock bottom and slept with a soulless vampire. He unexpectedly became a parent to a teenager.
And, possibly, he thought he had found love with someone who seems perfectly suited to him, but will end up betraying him. Riley went to "two-bit vampire trulls," while Cordy has taken Angel's own son to bed.
During season four, I told everyone who would listen, that B/R was being undercut every step of the way: from juxtaposing the beginning of B/R as a romantic relationship with the showing of the incredible B/A relationship in IWRY, to including the incredibly sexy, and chemistry-laden B/S scenes in "Superstar" which was supposed to be B/R's big reconciliation, to the fact that we never saw Buffy, ever give Riley an unequivocal statement of her love for him: she never, ever said to him "I love you," on screen, and as their relationship was falling apart at the end, it was implied that she had never said it, in those words, off screen, either. The one time Buffy told ANYONE that she loved Riley, she hurled the words at Angel in a scene that was more about her continued passion for her supposed ex than about any supposed passion for her current boyfriend.
Similarly, C/A has been undercut at every turn. It starts off with both Angel and Cordy ridiculing the very idea(of them being in a relationship) when other people first suggest it to them. In WiTW, in the very speech Lorne uses to tell Angel to go for it, he acknowledges that Angel has limitations including the curse. Which means he can only be encouraging Angel to "go for it" with Cordy if he is aware that Angel will be in no danger of losing his soul with her. Which means he cannot love her the way he continues to love Buffy. Also, in WiTW, when they get a break from being possessed by the dead lovers who are declaring their love to each other, Angel says clearly, "This isn't us." Contrast that with what Buffy and Angel say to each other as James and Grace in IOHEFY, when every word was exactly accurate about their situation. Finally, at the end of the ep, both Lorne and Fred, who had been pushing Angel toward C/A, admit that they were wrong: Lorne realizes that Cordy is Groo's true love, while Fred concludes that you never can tell about these things.
Then we have Tomorrow, and again things are undercut: Fred pokes Angel with a stake, ensuring that he is "not too happy, right?" Again, this reinforces that the curse is still in effect, and Cordy is no danger to it. That Buffy continued to be a threat to it years after they broke up was eloquently demonstrated in Forever, and reinforced when Cordy and Wes burlesqued the offscreen B/A meeting last year.
And, this season, C/A is again undercut. In the opening ep, Angel does not tell Cordy he loves her, though he says he loves it when she glows. Before they can kiss, Connor stops them with the words: "Do I really have to see this?" I believe that is a clue from the writers that, no, we don't really have to see this, at all.
When Angel is asked why he needs the mystic artifact to find Cordy, he says it is to find someone important to him, not someone he loves. Then, in Ground State, when Gwen asks if he loves the person he is trying to find, he hesitates, then says yes. She asks if he thinks she is stupid. But, more importantly, later in the ep she restarts his heart, and, though supposedly looking for a woman he loves, he grabs Gwen and kisses her. Not exactly the act of a man in love with another woman. Contrast his actions with Gwen with his response to Cordy trying to get his attention when he only had eyes for Buffy in seasons in such eps as Halloween orNKABOTFD: he couldn't see Cordy for looking. When Cordy came back and asked him if they were involved, he didn't know what to tell her, other than that he had feelings for her, that she was his dearest friend, and that he at least wanted his dearest friend back. Even when her memories return, he doesn't tell her he loves her; he asks if they were in love. As with Buffy's responses to Riley, not an unequivocal declaration of his own feelings, but something of a prevarication.
I have believed that Angel loves Cordy, at least as a friend, since the end of season one of Ats. I think the romance is deceptive. It isn't real. He is desperately lonely and she seems like the ideal solution to that: someone who can hold her own in this world, who can accept him as he is . . .and who does not endanger his soul.
I have seen nothing at all to make me believe that Angel feels for Cordy a fraction of what he felt for Buffy. And I am fairly confident that C/A will never really get going as a romance.
As to the insanity of Cheapskate Angel . . .grr. Argh. A joke gone bad. They thought it was funny. I think it was disgusting. I blame David Greenwalt. Even the writers have had the grace to admit that Provider didn't come off quite the way they intended. I think it was when Tim reviewed season three on an ep by ep basis, but I forget where it was posted.
Essentially, my point is that if Angel is unlike himself, it is because he is on his hero's journey. All heroes have to hit rock bottom, have to have their ritual or symbolic death and resurrection, before they can regain heroic status, and acheive their reward. Arguably, this certainly happened to Buffy last season.
I remain hopeful that Buffy's reward will be Angel, and that his will be her.
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