We all know that Angel is searching for redemption for the crimes he committed as “The Scourge of Europe.” After all, he spent 127 years raping, looting, killing, and generally sacking his way around the continent. In theory, when he reaches the point of having made up for his sins, he will shanshu, become human. This is what has been implied on the show, and on the surface it seems to be fairly reasonable. I contend, however, that Angel is not fighting for redemption. He believes that he is, and it is unlikely that he, or anyone else among his friends, will be dissuaded of the notion. This does not mean that the PTB actually intend that he seek redemption.
What then, does this ‘shanshu prophecy’ indicate? The hint is in the prophecy itself. If you will recall in season 1 of BtVS the Master said, “Prophecies are tricky things.” We have seen how true this is with the prophecy from the Codex, Buffy’s nightmares in “Surprise”, and even Cordelia’s visions. Clearly wording is everything in these, and frequently such things only become clear after the fact. What Wesley says at the end of TSILA is specifically that, “...the vampire with a soul, once he fulfils his destiny, will Shanshu. Become human. - It's his reward." The word I hinge this on is ‘reward’. One is not rewarded for correcting one’s mistakes. You are rewarded for going beyond the call of duty, for doing something more than necessary. If Angel is merely cleaning up after himself he doesn’t need a reward.
There are those who will suggest that perhaps the reward is a carrot to keep Angel fighting for that redemption. A way to inspire him. A bribe, like parents who tell a recalcitrant six-year-old that he can have a candy bar if he cleans his room. There are two reasons that disprove the payment or bribe theory. The first is that, as shown in both "Judgment" and TSILA, that payment is a long way off. What little hope it gives is counteracted by the very fact that it is uncertain whether Angel will survive to shanshu, if there will even be a world he wants to inhabit when he does. No one can predict the exact nature of the future, and Angel is, (to cadge a phrase from Tamora Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” series) “one of the fulcrums on which the universe turns.” His decisions affect far more people than most. This very uncertainty of even receiving a reward for his sacrifices indicates something more than just immediate necessity.
The other factor that contradicts the notion of payment is that it is so very crass. The PTB are extremely unlikely to sink to the level of offering payment. That is how the evil PTB seduce people to their side. Evil offers rewards for a job well done. Good, and this is what makes Good so very good, offers nothing but the satisfaction of doing what is right. To offer a reward like this is to degenerate into a mercenary agency.
I argue the point of the bribe as an incentive for one more reason, and that has everything to do with the way the PTB function. It is stated time and again (except in those religions where they believe that everything is predetermined and there is no free will which makes anything and everything a moot point) in many religions that the forces that guide the universe know very little more than most people about how the universe as a whole will turn out. One of the fundamental battles between Good and Evil is that between coercion and free will. Evil cajoles, twists, convinces, and forces people to join up. Good does not. It merely lays out the options on the table as openly as possible and lets the person make a choice.
Angel’s search for redemption, his cause, is a matter of choice. Good cannot be handing over bribes and hints of reward to its warriors because gaining warriors is not a bidding war. Either they choose to or not. Should the PTB choose to reward a warrior who has faithfully served their cause for millennia it is their business.
Why then is there a prophecy about this reward? There are people with a gift to see some little of the future. Is it so difficult to believe that they may have gained a brief view of some of those threads which lead to the outcome of shanshu? These are gifts which are not directly vouchsafed from the PTB like Cordelia’s visions. Those who receive them are people like Drusilla or even Buffy, who have managed to tap into some psychic currents unavailable to most people. The powers have made the watch, left it in the desert, and are now letting it run.
Of course you must ask (in a digression that is necessary to explain the whole occurrence of this battle between Good and Evil) why it is that the powers then interfere as often as they do. After all, if they are letting the watch run, why do they keep choosing warriors and champions? Simply put, there are two sets of PTB, the ones on the side of Good, those are the ones Angel works for, and the ones on the side of Evil, Wolfram and Hart’s employers.
On the one side, after they made their universe(s) for whatever purpose they decided they stepped back to watch. The others, being what they are, had to interfere. This unbalanced the whole and the forces of Good had to correct things. So, they interfered on the most minimal level possible and created the Slayer and various other balancing mechanisms. Just enough was done in the way of creating an army for Good so that those who were not members of the supernatural elite could have freedom of choice again.
That minimal involvement is a watchword for the PTB. They could have created an army of warriors, stormed the gates, destroyed the powers of Evil and gone on to lead happy and productive lives. They don’t because all such things exist in a balance, light cannot exist without the darkness and all of those cliches. While Evil is a constant meddling hand in the gears of the universe, Good merely does just enough to keep Evil from taking over all out.
The question to be raised then, is what this has to do with Angel and his quest for redemption. I already stated my belief that Angel is not on a quest for redemption, and here is my primary reason. The PTB need him to do certain things. He is a very useful creature, and as such he must be kept around. The PTB could create a warrior with all the same attributes as Angel only without the baggage of guilt. They could take a woman or man and make him/her immortal, strong, quick, have wonderful stamina, all those things that vampires have, only human. They don’t because they have Angel. They do not interfere more than necessary.
Around 1996, when the PTB sent Whistler to him, he must have seemed to be a wonderful occurrence. They now had a warrior on their side who would be around until the final battles. He could gather experience and knowledge, he was marvelously aware of the seductiveness of the dark side, and he had superpowers. They now had a warrior with only a small hint from one of their lesser servants. One small move in the game and everything changed.
This reward at the end of the battles is just that. A reward for having been the warrior they needed for so long. He will have put up with the cryptic messages, injuries, wars, battles, more time than anything with a soul should spend on the face of the earth, and he will deserve the chance to no longer be a warrior. Having finally served his function there is no reason not to give him what it is he has wanted since his soul was first returned in Rumania.
Still, this leaves the matter of more than a century of murder, rape and mayhem, not to mention the things he had done with a soul. Clearly there must be some sort of redemption sought for his crimes. They are numerous. Or are they?
Consider the life of one Liam of Galway. He is born, becomes a layabout and scoundrel, is turned into a vampire and roams Europe causing chaos, then is ensouled and lives in misery for around a century, gets it back together briefly for a year and a half until he loses that soul and returns to causing misery, regains that soul immediately before being sent to Hell, (or some variant thereof) comes back and decides to become a warrior for the side of Good, dips briefly back into the dark side and emerges, triumphant, and clearly a champion. (Wow that’s a lot of commas)
The issue is that Liam of Galway died that night in 1753. Remember Giles in “The Harvest” said, “...you’re not looking at your friend. You’re looking at the thing that killed him.” What rose from the grave was not Liam as anyone in Galway knew him. The creature that came out of the grave was Angelus. Liam was no longer there. His soul had moved on to wherever it went and there was only Angelus. It is interesting to note that Angelus, as a newly created creature was innocent of the crimes that had been committed by Liam.
Angelus carried the memories of Liam, shared most of his physical characteristics and tastes, but he was not Liam. What makes a vampire different from the person it was before it was turned is the demon. No, I don’t think I’m stating the obvious. What a demon does is more than merely remove a conscience. It does that as well, but there is more happening than a mere removal of the inner voice of guilt. The demon does something more insidious. It replaces human instincts with vampiric ones. Human instinct, when faced with hunger, is to find food. It is the same with a vampire, true, but what a vampire considers food and what a human considers food are fairly different.
Vampiric instinct also tells the vampire that it is most likely the strongest thing out there. Humans are stronger than many animals, but we are only the top predators due to technology. When faced with another predator, most humans have the instinct to run. Fight or flight kicks in, and we are more likely to run. A vampire is more likely to fight than we are because it is more likely to be stronger than what it faces. Another altered instinct would be the killing one. While there are plenty of humans who do kill other humans, it is not, for the most part a reproductive strategy. In vampires killing a human is how they reproduce. The instinct to kill humans is in them like the instinct to have sex exists in a human. The last one I will bring up is the family difference. There is a reason that when one vampire makes another it is said that they ‘sire’ a vampire. Your sire, as a human, is your father. The familial connection with the human family is broken and a new person is introduced to a vampiric one.
There are other differences, but there are far too many to list here. I expect to be writing another essay on being a vampire soon. Read them all there. Suffice to say, change the base template and one cannot help but come up with a new personality. Liam ceased to exist when he ceased to have regard for his friends, family, and the instincts that made them into such.
When Angelus was cursed with Liam’s soul a new creature was created again, Angel. Angel is what happens when vampiric instincts are placed in competition with human. Angel is a merging halfway point between Angelus and Liam. Liam’s memories affect Angel, as they did Angelus, but they are not his memories. Well, they are, and as Darla said, “everything who we are informs who we become,” and Liam became Angelus, as Angelus became Angel. Their memories do affect him, but they are artificially placed in the head of someone who has not, in fact, had any of those experiences.
There was a brief time when Angelus became Liam again. That was the lag time between the casting of the curse and when he remembered everything that Angelus had done. After that, Liam was fully gone, and in his place was Angel. Angel is the sum of all these experiences seen through the conflicting instincts of the two beings Angelus and Liam. This does not mean that he committed any of the crimes done by either Liam or Angelus. He carries the memories as though he experienced them, but he did not. The only crimes committed by Angel, are the ones he has done as an ensouled vampire.
This leads to my next point, which has to do with that redemption that I do not believe he needs to looks for. Angel has murdered people in cold blood, and there is no denying that fact no matter what sorts of metaphysical arguments one attempts to pose. However, he has also helped to save the world on numerous occasions, and has spent what I would estimate to be around 5,300 years in Hell. Their time. Assuming time moves there at about the same rate as in the dimension Buffy visited in “Anne”, it’s about fifty years to one day. Angel was in Hell for 106 days give or take, and that works out to 5,300. I am guesstimating of course. Still, that is quite a long time to be suffering torment beyond human imagining. Personally, I think Angel has both saved enough lives and suffered enough to be completely even for the things he did.
Angel still feels Angelus and Liam’s memories as though they were his own, and because of this he cannot differentiate between the things he has done and those they have done. More, he has developed a massive inferiority complex because of his two sets of memories. He is convinced that the only impulses he has that are any good are those of self-sacrifice.
Whether Liam’s father was abusive or the fault lay solely with Liam, the fact is that a large percentage of Liam’s memories are of his father telling him he was worth nothing, and all his wants were worthless or even bad. Angel’s guilt over the death of his family has him assuming that Liam’s father was right and that his worthlessness was only exemplified and amplified in Angelus. Combine this with a Catholic upbringing and Angel believes that his human dark side is just as bad as his vampiric one. The fact that he wants to be with Buffy and/or Cordelia (I’m not up to arguing about it with you) just makes him think he is more unworthy for wanting to shackle her to someone as awful and unworthy as he is.
This constant internal source of guilt ensures that he will not consider himself to be not at fault. He is so certain of what an awful person he is that any evidence to the contrary falls by the wayside, while all evidence in support gains a solid foothold in his mind. This also means he will be looking for redemption for things he has not done until he is given a sign from God, shanshu, that he has succeeded. The PTB won’t disabuse him of the notion until they’re finished with him. Also, it would be interfering. If he figures it out on his own then he does. They are not going to tell him.
The same reasons that keep Angel from realising he is not at fault for the actions of the previous owners of his body keep the others from realising this as well. His friends have seen Angelus. It is very difficult to separate the two into two beings, because they share the same body and memories. What one knows, so does the other. To suggest that these people who are so very alike in so many ways are not the same is hard to do when you have been tortured by someone who bears such a close resemblance to the person you are now faced with.
Of course the issue of Angel and Angelus is very difficult, metaphysically, to wrap one’s head around. As we now definitely know from Angel’s trip to Pylea, the demon part of him is not a separate person, but a set of animalistic instincts. The mind that forms Angelus is Liam’s, with the humanity replaced with a demonic aspect. This complicates the issue when one considers it, because the mind directing the body was Liam’s. This realisation does not change the fact that the demon which was created in Liam’s dying body forced the creation of a new person. The differences between the two are too drastic, too sudden, and too complete for it to be anything other than the birth of a new person. Likewise with Angelus to Angel.
This is the crux of my argument that Angel is not looking for redemption. The PTB know he did not commit those crimes, and they are not punishing him for them. They require a warrior of his calibre. To use him, with a minimum of interference from them, is the only way they can do things. He needs to have the same choices of good and evil as any other being on the planet. That choice was taken away from him in 1753, and it was returned to him in 1898. The PTB will not force him to choose their side, he does so voluntarily. They merely suggest.
Of course, I could be wrong about this.
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