Dusted 150: Love, Labor, Loss

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Oooh this is a topic I feel strongly about so I'm going to jump into the discussion!

Important to note: Illyria is coded as genderless (though I will use 'her' as a pronoun to make things easier). As an Old One, her native form is that of a Lovecraftian horror, and she calls herself 'God-King'. Gender is irrelevant to her. In After the Fall (which I take to be quasi canonical considering Joss' input, though feel free to ignore this) Illyria is explicitly mentioned to no longer be a 'her' once she is returned to her true form. With this in mind, it is striking that in the final scene of Angel, there is no character in the final fight that we can say is unambiguously a heroic female.

Umm when was Connor killed by Angel? Were you referencing the S4 finale, Home? We only saw Angel swing the knife at Connor before the flash of light, indicating the reality shift/memory wipe. We don't actually know whether Connor was killed before the memory wipe.

Also, huh? Jasmine survived? Her face got punched out by Connor. XD And as of the show, we don't know whether Gunn died in battle. He was alive in the last moments of 'Not Fade Away', and (again discount this if you want) in 'After the Fall', he became a vampire, then stayed human at the resolution of the story. Conversely, we can't say for sure that Eve survived, considering in 'After the Fall', she was confirmed to be dead.

Pregnancy may be a bit of a stretch when applied to Fred, except that Wesley explicitly mentions that Illyria was 'gestating' within her'. At the end of the day though no matter how you want to call it, possession or pregnancy, the core issue here is that three major female characters (and all female members of the Angel Investigations team) will die because their bodies are being used as life giving vessels to a supernatural being. It carries this disturbing implication that females in this side of the Buffyverse don't have any agency over their bodies, and this will inevitably lead to their demise. And this is already IN ADDITION to Cordy being threatened with demonic 'penetration' a total of 4 times (Expecting, Epiphany, the Pylea arc, and Jasmine). Jasmine just made it stick. Incredibly, the 'possession' of Cordy, Darla and Fred ends with them giving life to another being, whereas that aspect is not present in other possession stories in the Buffyverse (Hyena Xander, the ghost lovers in I Only Have Eyes for You, Carpe Noctem...)

Referencing characters from the Buffy side of things is irrelevant because it IS a different show with a different creative team, and so the text is different even if it belongs in the same universe.

Notice when you list the main male characters who died (Doyle, Wesley, arguably Gunn), they were killed 'in battle' or 'committed suicide to save lives'? There's agency. These men are fully in control until their last moments, and there's no questioning it. Not so Darla, Cordy and Fred, where it gets very murky. Heck, the show sees fit to return their memories to them in S5 before their deaths, when the same could not be afforded to Fred.

- Darla had full agency and committed suicide to save her child, but this is after she shared a soul with her supernatural offspring. The Darla who killed herself is not Darla the human prostitute, nor Darla the evil vampire. This is a Darla who received grace and whose very essence was changed by her offspring/the Powers That Be. Her redemption was in motherhood. This story is fine, and the one I will gladly accept as not problematic considering the mutable nature of vampires, but again the Darla who made the decision to sacrifice herself is someone we've just met and who is NOT the Darla we knew for the past two seasons, not completely.

- Cordy had no agency at all from her possession all the way until her giving birth to Jasmine in Inside Out, a birth which would ultimately cause a coma and finally, her death. She then regained agency for one final time in You're Welcome, but this agency was only so that she can bid farewell to her friends and pass on a message to Angel. She has no agency over the manner of death, and her last chance to assert agency was to pick up the pieces and deal with the hand she had been given. 

- Fred had no agency in her final moments as well, as she literally gets infected by Illyria, and all she could do was lay around in bed waiting for her death. In addition, Fred lacks agency over her memories, as her death was before the team's memories of Connor, and Wesley's involvement in the affair, was returned to them. The Fred who died is not the Fred we knew in S3 and S4, not completely. 

In each of these cases, the women die, and their male partners are charged with taking care of the offspring (Angel takes care of Connor after Darla's death; Connor is Jasmine's most trusted follower and is the only one who could kill her due to their shared blood, while Cordy despite having that shared blood and having the potential to kill Jasmine as well, could only languish in a coma; Wesley takes on the responsibility of guiding Illyria to navigate the human world).

I believe the thesis is only focused on the MAIN FEMALE CHARACTERS of Angel, so Faith and Eve are out, and Illyria is genderless. Darla is more vague, but she is definitely more important than Faith and Illyria in the grand scheme of things, considering her ties to Angel and Connor (S1 backstory episodes, S2 and S3 major story arcs), and her involvement in the Tro Clon which led to Jasmine (S4), which led to the the team joining Wolfram and Hart. Faith, Eve and Illyria don't have that claim in terms of plot impact. 



Edited by iacobusleo

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The way I counted major characters was: if you were on the credits you were major (hence Doyle's inclusion(and because of my major love of Doyle - the show stops happening for me once he's gone)) or if you were a key player over a number of series (Lindsey. Darla and Lilah) with a major story arc. Although people like Holland Manners, Gavin Park and Holtz appear in as many as or even more episodes than Doyle they don't really arc (although Holtz has impressive back story - but he doesn't change, he is just a big bad for the season and therefore obviously destined to die) so can't be classed as major. Plus if you are an unambiguous bad guy then you will be killed and there's not really a lot of point dissecting that, it's just that type of show.   

I don't count Faith as major, she's only in a handful of episodes 3 seasons apart. Plus the magnitude of her story arc is dependent on the Buffy episodes that both start and finish her off - the slayer turned evil and 

Her true moment of redemption in 'chosen' when a fallen Buffy hands her the scythe and tells her to 'hold the line' Buffy has finally forgiven Faith for everything and has accepted her as a true slayer again and so Faith is restored

Eve - does anyone care? is anybody not glad when

she is crushed to death in the collapsing Wolfram and Hart? (not made explicit, but it seems to be pointing that way) 

and she doesn't arc and only appears in one season, so not a major character

I explained why I didn't include Harmony, which I guess leaves Kate - but a bit like Eve - does anyone care? and if no one cares, then a character can't be classed as major.

Obviously with Fred 'pregnancy' is stretched although as @iacobusleo has said Wesley uses the word 'gestating' and Angel says something about how Cordelia died because something got inside her and used her up and he won't let the same thing happen to Fred - except  it does. It's a mystical pregnancy - new life springing from her body. Obviously illyria could have hatched out of any cast member, a uterus wasn't strictly necessary, but she didn't, she hatched out of Fred. (similarly in Epiphany those demons could have impregnated the skulls of any characters - and there is talk of infecting Gunn and Wes, but ultimately it's Cordelia and a little girl that do carry another life inside them for a while)

As Illyria is technically a demonic old one and not a woman she can't really be classed as a female character even though she is a wonderful role for Amy Acker to play. Plus she is the demonic spawn of a mystical pregnancy, she is the result of Fred's death and inhabiting her body so she can't be treated as an entirely separate entity. If anything she is the final insult - Fred is killed by demon spawn and then the demon spawn wears her skin as if all Fred ever was was a vessel for other life (Illyria does refer to Fred as 'the vessel' a few times)   And I think Illyria might be in even less episodes that Doyle - Who knows what would have happened to her had there been a season 6?    

 If you don't accept Lilah, Lindsey and Darla as major and only want to include regular cast members then the numbers become even more stark. For 4 and a 3/4 seasons there's only 2 female cast members (for 2 seasons Charisma Carpenter is the only female main cast member in an ever expanding male cast (and overwhelmingly male crew) - she's often spoken about how difficult she found that) and we've already said what happens to them. If you take out Lindsey it's 7 male cast members 

of which only 2 die - both in battle. So its 100% female death (by another life taking over their body and killing them in the process - we live in a world where 800 women  worldwide die in childbirth or from pregnancy related problems every day, even if it's unintentional on the part of the writers there is something to these storylines that needs thinking about) compared to 28.5% male death (one incredibly noble sacrifice saving hundreds of lives (note the Doyle bias;))  and one in battle.) No one's skin gets reused. If you take out Doyle as a major character it decreases to 16.6% of male characters dying (just Wesley - in battle) 

And I know @JoSpangel talked about the comics, but I don't read those (I pretend they don't exist) and whilst I know they are classed as canon, they are an entirely different beast to the show and I think the show can be analysed by itself, without reference to what was written by a variety of different people many years later, to see what plot devices and tropes it uses, and ultimately what message it gives out.

This should probably have gone into your new thread - which I will look at tomorrow, because it sounds fascinating. But it is already well past midnight here and I should go to bed.     

Jupiter likes this

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Posted (edited)

Not sure if we can agree on this, since we don't agree on who is a major character or what actually happened. Faith arced from killing a man, torturing Wesley and trying to kill Angel to putting herself in prison - then saved Angel by doing something she knew would kill her before she left town. Harmony was in the credits for far longer than Doyle.  You choose to eliminate both when they both fit your inclusion standards. IMO, your thesis is put together backwards - by coming to a conclusion and then selecting only results that support it. Results that don't fit are discarded.

I have no idea how Lilah's death could be attributed to pregnancy - that's a very far reach.  I'm not sure why a metaphysical invasion would make Cordy and Fred pregnant but I suspect it's only only because they are female and they die before the final battle. But Cordelia didn't die after Jasmine was born - she was comatose until she returned to set Angel on his path. She picked up a sword and fought with Lindsey, and then she willingly went off on another ramp - pretty heroic really. Fred remained as part of Illyria - her reaction to Wesley's death shows how human she became (arc and credits). Neither of them were pregnant by any standard other than metaphorical - both were infected by metaphysical energy. The same can be said of Darla when she was turned by Dru, and Cordy when she was demonized by Skip - by the standard you have, those are pregnancies as well.

There are so many cases of characters accepting or  being invaded by mystical entities in this universe - I can't see them all as impregnated. I will agree that Cordelia was impregnated by the Skilosh.  Other than that, I see only Darla as pregnant - and she had agency in her death.


I guess we will have to just agree to disagree here.;)

Also - no comics for me either! :D

Edited by JoSpangel

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Posted (edited)

I can understand that you don't see Fred's as a pregnancy, i disagree - A new life is put inside her, it gestates and hatches out of her It's metaphor,  the whole show is metaphor, but I can see your point if I squint. But Cordelia? She has sex, gets a baby bump and gives birth! Her body is pregnant even if her consciousness is not the one in control.  The Cordelia in 'your welcome' is a manifestation, she is actually the comatose girl in the bed that she draws the curtains around at the beginning, she never really wakes up. Yes she gets a nice goodbye, but that's all it is (and apparently only offered to Charisma Carpenter after SMG refused to appear in the 100th episode) The 'off ramp' is death, she's dying and that absolutely is not her choice, she's just brave about it. She wouldn't be dying if she hadn't been taken over and made pregnant by Jasmine and it is the birth that puts her in the coma that ultimately kills her. I don't see how a fancy bit of astral projection changes that. I don't disagree that she fights Lindsey and is heroic, she has been bravely taking part in battles since 'prophecy girl' , she absolutely is a hero in her own right every bit as much as Angel or Buffy, but she actually dies comatose in a hospital, she is not given a hero's death even if the episode gives the character a nice send off. In a way, this is why it's so problematic. She is as much a hero as Doyle or Wesley, but she doesn't die in battle, she dies sick, in a hospital bed. Men die in battle, women die of illness regardless of her heroism.

Harmony appears as a main cast member for only 7 episodes (Doyle appeared in 9 and is credited with 10). I know Lorne only got put into the credits  part way through season 4 because Joss feared they would be cancelled and he wanted Andy Hallet to have regular cast status before that happened and Imagine he did the same thing for Mercedes Mcnab when they were actually cancelled. Prior to that she had been a guest star and she doesn't arc or have any major impact on story lines, the show could have happened almost exactly the same without her, so doesn't fit all my criteria for a major character. As I originally said, she is a one note joke (I do love Harmony, and think the show is better for having her in it - she just isn't important in terms of plot, Hpw can you be classed as major if you don't include plot.)

I think Faith is a major Buffyverse character but she isn't a major Angel character. Her two parter in season 1 comes off the back of a two parter in Buffy which is where her need to redeem herself starts, when she sees what it is like to be Buffy, how it is to be the hero - the self hatred that ends the first part of Angel when she's begging him to kill her first manifests over in Buffy at the end of 'who are you' when she is hitting Buffy who is wearing faith's body and screaming 'you're nothing , you're disgusting'. She turns to the dark side, killing people, in  Buffy; and has her  initial turning point ,of realising being evil isn't fun anymore, over there. It's picked up in Angel where she takes her first steps towards redemption. This mostly happens off screen for the next 2 years and her arc finishes when she is restored to the slayers back over on Buffy. Faith's arc on Angel ,if you take out the Buffy stuff, is just: random girl is a psychopath, Angel helps her to stop being a psychopath, she goes to prison and a few years later turns up to help Angel out before disappearing again.   Faith's arc is enriched by her time on Angel but it isn't  begun or finished there, and a lot of the most important developments happen on Buffy. She is only in 6 episodes total (and doesn't leave behind a legacy that changes the course of another character's life, like Doyle) her 2 parter, which is pretty much entirely self contained, a teeny tiny guest spot at the end of judgement and then 3 episodes in season 4, where she takes down Angelus. That's the most plot important thing she does, but season 4 is so convoluted and twisting and turning that I'm not sure it qualifies her for major character status, there are so many characters introduced, that add another piece to the puzzle and then leave. She is just another one of those and of course it is Willow that does the re-ensouling itself.    

Lilah of course is what I would class as the 4th main woman of Angel, she is not killed by something getting inside of herself and new life coming from it so she isn't death by mystical pregnancy. But she is (I think) the only person evil Cordelia actually kills( with her own hand). And Cordelia kills her because of the evil pregnancy so she dies because of evil pregnancy even if she doesn't die by evil pregnancy. Nevertheless she is the exception, she is the one woman I would class as major who doesn't die from pregnancy, which I said in my original post. You seem to disagree that Lilah and Darla are major, which is fine, I think they're major because when i think about important cast members of Angel I would get to them long before I even remembered Harmony had been in it. I think I might class Justine as more major than Harmony, but perhaps that is because I would go through characters in chronological order so i would get to her first.

Skip doesn't impregnate Cordelia with demon power because no new life comes from that. It can only be classed as impregnated if the point of it is a new life grows and is born. New life grows in Darla, Cordy and Fred and ultimately kills them all. Yes Darla chooses to stake herself, but she certainly didn't choose to get pregnant. When she was still herself she sought to end the pregnancy and it was only once she was infected with Connor's soul that she took the human decision of ending the mother's life to save the child. But that wasn't really the Darla that we had known, she was under a mystical influence (in this case a human soul). It was a very stark scene of a woman dying in childbirth, plenty of mothers to be tell the doctor to save the baby rather than themselves, but making that choice doesn't change what happens - a woman still dies in childbirth. The scene has real life , not wrapped in a metaphor, parallels that many of the things in Angel simply do not, and it is a uniquely female experience. And of course, the Darla we have known for years would not have made this choice - so how much agency does the real Darla have?

'Do vampires count as mystical pregnancy?' is an interesting question. Certainly Drusilla sees parallels to human birth, she sees Darla's reawakening as a birth and she's says to Spike's mother 'I'm the other that gave birth to your son'. It's a bit more complicated because the parent is the one who does the biting and nothing happens to them and then the demon is put inside the child, so it isn't the parent that gestates, it's the child ( slightly different to Fred/ Illyria where Fred is the parent and does the gestating and Illyria is the child in the same body).  Obviously vampirism has always been a metaphor for sex, and there are loads of interesting ethical questions about vampires in the Buffy world . I think an argument that all vampirism started as mystical pregnancy could be made if one were so inclined, but I don't think that is actually the intended metaphor there. However I would happily listen to anyone who wanted to make this point as I think it could be as valid as anything else in the BuffyVerse

And of course the major difference between Darla being bitten by Dru and Darla and Connor is that in the second instance we see a massively pregnant Darla, a real world occurence (at least visually) right in front of us. And then she dies in childbirth. We also see a massively pregnant (as we visually understand it in real life) Cordelia who then goes into a coma during childbirth. By itself the manner of Fred's death (whilst parallels to pregnancy could still easily be made) would be much easier to pass off as an infection rather than a pregnancy, but coming hot on the heels of pregnant Darla - Dead, pregnant Cordelia -dead, the pattern seems quite apparent. And, of course, the language used in the episodes not only draw the parallel with Cordelia (what Angel says on the plane) but includes words like 'gestate' and 'hatch'    and refer to Fred as a 'vessel' which makes the pregnancy parallels explicit.  

Illyria isn't technically female and is as much a plot device for Wesley as she is her own person. Fred is in effect fridged, her story line ends so that Wesley can further develop and Illyria sort of grows out of that. like I said before she is the result of Fred's mystical pregnancy and so isn't entirely her own entity or her own character. But all the language she uses about herself is male, she is a non-sex specific with male leanings entity inhabiting a female body. She is a wonderful role for a female actor to play but not actually a female character. 

If you take my original list and add Harmony for arguments sake it still ends with 4/5 women dying, 3 through pregnancy/ illness. 1 murdered. Whereas the men its 3/8 men dying, 1 noble sacrifice, 1 in battle 1 murdered after battle. If you only include regular cast members that's 3 women over 5 years (2 and 3/4 seasons with only 1 female cast member)   and 7 men. 2/3 of the female characters die (pregnancy/ illness depending on your viewpoint) whereas only 2/7 men die (sacrifice/battle) However you try to fiddle the numbers they remain stark and the only way to balance them out is to start throwing the villains into the mix, which is cheating because obviously the villains are going to die (I don't include Lilah, Lindsey and Darla as 'villains' because they are too complex and go through phases of being good guys). And even if you include Faith and every Wolfram and Hart flunky that meets an untimely end, do any male characters die agonisingly from an illness they have no control over?  I think all male characters either get murdered or die fighting.      

So it's not so much backwards thinking as noticing a pattern in the story telling and then looking for other examples. It doesn't have to be airtight as it's not a scientific theory that will change our understanding of the universe if it turns out to be true, it is simply an analysis of this particular story, the stories we tell as a culture and the messages we receive through our media. And in the whole of Angel

I can't think of a single woman who dies in battle or a single man who dies of illness. Of course I could well be mistaken but it's the big deaths that matter because they are what we remember, they shape our understanding of the show and our understanding of our own world, such is the power of stories. And the pattern of important deaths in Angel is that women die of pregnancy/illness men die in battle. Add that to the drip drip drip of every other story we are ever told and you get - women are passive victims that die because of things done to them, good men are brave warriors who save the day.  

The overall numbers don't matter (obviously I think my numbers are accurate but others disagree, as this is very subjective), but the broad pattern is a lot of women die, many through (or as a result of) invasive means that they had no control over. A lot of male villains die, but only a small proportion of male heroes who die heroically.

 And it doesn't matter that Darla was a badass vampire that lived for 400 years, in the end she succumbs to a uniquely female problem, dying in childbirth like millions of helpless women before her. It doesn't matter that Cordy is a hero who takes on the visions and willingly sacrifices some of her own humanity to continue helping people and fights lots of battles, in the end she is infected and used up and thrown away (pretty much how Angel describes what happens to her). And it doesn't matter that Fred is a brilliant scientist, who is strong and clever enough to survive 5 years in a hell dimension and is willing to go into battle against things far stronger and more physically powerful than she is, in the end she is infected and dies helpless and in agony whilst the thing that kills her wears her skin. Creating brilliant, strong, well rounded, intelligent women doesn't count for much if in the end you treat them like they're Snow white with the poisoned apple -Will Prince Angel save them in time? (no)  Especially when the same isn't done to the male characters. it just feeds into every other story we ever tell.

All it would take is one major female character to die in battle and one major male character to die ill, helpless and in bed and that would, if not balance the scale exactly, at least let the show off the hook and be a nod towards equal treatment. But it doesn't manage that.     

Which is why I stand by my assertion that Angel is no Buffy. Buffy changed all these preconceptions and flipped them on their head (thus showing something more true to life, because of course women are not passive victims and certainly not all men are brave warriors). Angel flipped them right back again - 'handsome man saves me from the monsters'.

This doesn't make Angel a bad story, or the writers sexist or anything like that, it just means that Angel follows the more stereotypical pattern of the stories we tend to tell as a culture. These patterns are so ingrained in our mind that we don't even notice them, we just accept them as 'well that's what happens.' Pointing out the tropes is important (done without judgement - just saying that they're there) because the important question is 'why do our stories want to present women as passive victims and men as heroes? What does our culture gain from that?' What does that say about our culture and how does that impact on our view of the world we live in? What is the impact of these stories in real terms on men and women and the way they view their role in society, or the way they are treated because of societies view of them? So it's crucial to point out the tired old story lines that get recycled again and again and celebrate anything that tries a different perspective (like Buffy) because it's helps to change our thinking. 

Edited by William'sbloodyawfulpoetry
Jupiter likes this

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Agree to disagree here - I think I've said all that I believe, and we just see things differently. :)

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I really love that Fred is there in the final scene with Darla and Angel in the alleyway. I think it serves a few different purposes:

- She holds the jacket over Darla's face, shielding her from the rain. Although Angel could have also done that, he needed to be looking at her face the whole time, so it would have put him at an awkward angle. Yes, Darla could have just had rain pouring down into her face, but that would have blurred the emotions on her face, and also made her just that much more pitiable (let's face it, it's hard to watch someone with water getting into their eyes and mouth and not be distracted by the thought of what that must feel like on your own face). Her final act is a heroic one - we don't want to be pitying her while that happens. And having Fred hold the jacket means she's not just an onlooker with no role to play, she does have a role and is actively helping to ease Darla's suffering in this moment.

- It shows that Angel is no longer alone or operating alone, and he won't be in the future, either. Losing Darla and then standing by himself in the rain holding a baby he wasn't expecting to have and now needs to protect would have made the scene very lonely, as well as positioned him as the baby's sole protector. I'm watching the series for the first time, so I have no idea how it's going to play out, but I expect that everyone (Cordelia, Fred, Gunn, Wesley) will be helping to raise this child together. In that sense, it could have been any one of the team or all of them in this scene, but at least one of them needed to be standing with Angel in this critical moment.

- As stated before, I can't not see the Christian imagery in this scene. I grew up in a Catholic church and have a lot of experience with Christian symbols. Telling aspects of the Christ story is one of the most common elements in narratives, and one of the most universally appealing in the West as well, since it is so familiar, even to people who aren't religious. Having Fred there simultaneously lends Angel support AND also increases the vulnerability of the whole little group, since it is not one strong man holding a baby but rather a little vulnerable "family" at the end. Which leads me to the strongest point...

- Like so many others, when Holtz pointed the weapon at Angel and then paused, and finally lowered it, I really did believe that he had had a change of heart. Hearing him state at the end that he will show no mercy in the future was a shock. It took me a second to even figure out what he meant. In fact, that scene was so strong that it's left me wondering if he in fact did have a change of heart, or at least a change of intention. He intended to shoot Angel, but then when he saw him with the baby and Fred standing close by, the picture of this vulnerable little "family" struck him. It's possible that doubt was going through his mind during those long seconds with the weapon pointed at them. I'm sure he was remembering his own family, or perhaps the birth of one of his children and how it felt to hold them for the first time. But whereas many viewers (including myself) thought he had reached the conclusion that Angel has a family, therefore he shouldn't harm him, in fact he was reaching the conclusion that Angel has a family, now he has a way of making him suffer the same way he did. The misdirection is very effective, and leads me to fear not only for the baby, but also for Fred and all the other members of Angel's "family". In this sense, Fred was the best person to put next to Angel because out of the team members she is the most defenseless.

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