Wednesday, July 23, 2014
I finally managed to get some friends to watch Angel; it took some serious nagging on my part. While maybe not always as well formulated and executed as its 'big sister' Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, I remain a die-hard fan of the show and the title character. I often bug people who've watched Buffy but taken a pass on Angel to watch the show just because I think it's a show worth watching on its own merits. For me, Angel is a show about finding--sometimes even creating--hope where there is none. Personally, Angel is my favorite character in the Buffyverse and I find that people who don't like him will concede that Angel's choices, especially in the shows final episode "Not Fade Away," have at least earned their begrudging respect.
Now, given that Joss Whedon is sort of the undisputed master of creating strong, relatable female characters on screen, it doesn't entirely surprise me that people who watched the show and don't even care much for Angel are very drawn to Cordelia. Played by the vivacious Charisma Carpenter, it's hard not to love her because she brings that dose of comedy and quick-witted Buffy-ness to a show that has a lot less levity. But as time goes on, Coredelia ends up being a lot more than just a callback to Buffy.
When I first heard about Angel becoming a spin-off show, I remember snarkily retorting that a show starring Angel, Cordelia and Wesley was a show showcasing three of the least interesting characters on Buffy. Whedon has a habit of making sure you eat your own snarkiness however and the transformation of all three of these characters over the course of five seasons is truly remarkable. I could write volumes about Wesley, but I'll try not to get off track here. Cordelia's ex-rich Valley girl attitude makes her the perfect candidate to demonstrate what the show is really about: pain. Not in a sadomasochistic way; Angel is a show about misfortune. It's a show about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, about making bad decisions that haunt you. It's a show about getting hurt and finding a way to go on. Because that's what life is about.
One could easily make the argument that Buffy is similar. What makes Buffy tick as a show is not necessarily that she's a vampire slayer, but that she's a young woman coming into her own. She goes through the things that everyone goes through: break-ups, deaths of loved ones, etc. She learns from it and becomes her own person. You could also argue that Buffy is lucky. I mean, it's not easy being a Slayer, but she's got friends and a family. Buffy needs strength to go on and face what she needs to face. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Buffy fan too. I find her courage and strength inspiring, but at least when she's at her weakest she has people to draw strength from when she's struggling.
Can the same be said for the cast of Angel? Sometimes, maybe. Still, this is a show about the people who slip through the cracks. About people who don't have anyone to turn to. Life really can chew you up and spit you out and there isn't always a happy ending. Given Cordelia's somewhat merciless and hysterically shallow view of the world during her tenure on Buffy, seeing her slowly begin to experience firsthand just what it is Angel is fighting for is pretty stunning. It's not enough to see Cordelia broken down and broke, hardly living the glamorous life that she dreamed about. But to get a straight shot to the brain of pain and suffering a la the Powers That Be visions...you really get how she's changed. She can't slip off into fashion magazines and dating to escape other people's pain anymore. She's living other people's pain.
As the show goes on, we start to suspect that Cordelia understands the mission even better than Angel does. Angel is questing for redemption, but I think it's Cordelia who often helps ground Angel back into the realization that redemption isn't really the goal. In fact, Angel's personal redemption is nothing compared to the plight of countless others. Helping people is the goal, not for redemption or reward. But just because there is pain in the world. And people deserve better. Cordy becomes the heart of the show. Her previous shallowness seems to give her a strange innocence about people and their pain, making her realizations about the world very authentic and meaningful. It's not at all what you'd expect, but she's Angel's spiritual guide. She isn't afraid to tell him when he's way off the beaten track, but she also seems to see something in him that's worthwhile, even if he's flawed.
If I have one regret it's that due to network changes we never did get to see the ultra Buffy-Angel crossover I always wanted. I understand that the shows work better existing in their own worlds, but it still seems sort of a shame to me that Buffy and the Scoobies never quite get to see what Cordelia and Wesley became (Willow has a cameo or two, but you know). I really enjoyed Angel: After the Fall, although I do understand why Angel was kind of buddied up with Faith for seasons 8 and 9. Faith is the best character from Angel to help land the comic closer to the Buffy universe. And I appreciate that nothing has been undone from the ultimate fates of Angel's allies as depicted in the show. I always appreciate the moments when Angel does or says something in the comics that calls back to the experiences he had with Doyle, Cordelia, Wesley, Gun, Fred, Lorne, Illyria and others. I like the idea that these guys have shaped Angel into something stronger than he was (even if he's still up against the worst and making mistakes).