Willow, you seem oddly invested in getting Buffy to date Angel. Is this a plot to keep her away from Xander? Are you being supportive? Do you secretly wish you could date Angel? Inquiring minds want to know.
And while I’m on silly, unrelated to the episode except very tangentially plots: Xander, you have the worst dance floor etiquette I’ve ever seen. It’s no wonder no one wants to dance with you if you can’t even get off the floor without running into someone. And also, if you’re leaving the floor or solo dancing, guess who is responsible for you not running into other couples/people? That’s right, you are. Honestly.
This episode seems like a great time to bring up the parallels between Angel and the vampire he’s often compared to, one Edward Cullen. Why is Angel beloved (by people over the age of twenty-five, anyway) and Edward despised? They’re both vampires, aren’t they? They both stalk the girls they love. They both try to keep their girlfriends from a.) finding out they’re vampires, and then b.) being around them. So why are they so different?
Well, for one, Angel has a valid reason for his stalking. He follows Buffy because he knows the Master is planning to have her attacked, that she’s in danger. That’s not explicitly stated in this particular episode, but we can infer it from the fact that he’s demonstrated previously that he either has a way to spy on the Master, or he hears things through the grapevine that Buffy doesn’t. Edward follows Bella around because he can, basically. There’s no real reason that Edward stalks Bella, he just finds her attractive and has the ability to follow her without being noticed, so he does it.
There’s also the matter of intent. Angel’s stalking is due to his desire to protect Buffy. Edward’s is, again, simply because he can. While not necessarily intentional on Stephanie Meyer’s part, Edward demonstrates throughout the books that his love and attention toward Bella comes less from a place of concern, love, and genuine interest than from a desire to possess her on his own terms (this is especially evident in his insistence on a wedding before he’ll have sex with her, or turn her into a vampire–at least I think it was Edward who insisted on the wedding, it’s been a while since I read Breaking Dawn). Angel only follows her long enough to make sure she’s safe, and steps in to save Buffy before things go too far south with the Three. Compare this to Edward, who follows Bella out of town and then only steps in to rescue her when he’s sure she can’t escape on her own.
Another important difference is the amount of agency Buffy and Bella have. Bella is only given the illusion of choice–Edward is the one who decides what their relationship is and how far it goes and when they go there. Buffy, on the other hand, actively makes decisions, stands up to Angel when she thinks he’s overstepped his bounds (with the diary, for example) and kicks him out when she thinks he’s bitten Joyce. Buffy is also the one who makes the decision to hide him in her house, to keep him safe. Bella isn’t shown to make any decisions like this. About the most daring thing she does is look up vampire legends, and Edward pretty much tells her to by telling her that she should just forget about him.
Angel also does a much better, more convincing job at keeping his distance. He knows if Buffy finds out what he is she’ll have to kill him, so he stays back, doesn’t let their chemistry and mutual attraction suck him in too close. He also drops a few hints here and there for Buffy, trying to warn her that he’s more than he seems. When he ends up being unable to control his physical urges or his demonic ones, instead of lashing out and blaming Buffy for tempting him, he leaves with the intention of staying away for a while until he can gauge better how Buffy will react to him. The next time we see him near Buffy’s house, even though he has an invitation and could go inside without any trouble, he hesitates, and ultimately decides to leave before he hears Joyce scream. Edward just shows up at Bella’s house, outside her window, without invitation, without reason, and when he kisses her and feels himself start to lose control, he blames Bella for it and starts dictating how and when she can touch him.
Maybe the biggest difference, to me anyway, is that between Buffy and Bella, only one of them shows that she’d be willing to kill her vampire boyfriend in order to keep other people safe. Both Angel and Edward confess to having killed people by feeding on them in the past. Bella just accepts that Edward did this and that he’s changed. Buffy doesn’t. Buffy assumes she’s still going to need to kill him, despite the evidence that he’s changed his ways. She picks a distancing weapon, interestingly, choosing a crossbow instead of her usual stake, but she’s willing and able to kill Angel. What stops her is his confession that he has a soul, and his reluctance to attack her while she’s unarmed and on the floor at his feet. For Bella, the idea that she might have to kill Edward doesn’t even occur to her. She barely bats an eyelash when she finds out he hasn’t always been a “vegetarian vampire,” just accepts it and moves on.
And let’s not forget–when the danger is past, Angel stops stalking Buffy and lets her know when he’s around. Edward never even had the excuse of danger when he started his stalking.
Since we’re on the subject of Angel, let’s also talk about Angel and Darla’s relationship real quick. The catalyst for them interacting at all this episode is the death of the Three, which ends up feeling really plot device-y and forced. If there was this trio of warrior vampires, and if the Master wanted Buffy dead that much, why haven’t they shown up sooner? And why are they so easily escaped? Honestly, it rings really false that Buffy and Angel can’t take them, and the whole things ends up feeling very much like a giant plot device to thrown Angel and Buffy together, and then after that, to give Darla a reason to find Angel and make him an offer he can’t refuse. Which, in a very basic sense, is exactly what the Three are.
During this episode, Darla and Angel really interact for the first time, and there’s a lot of tension and tightness to their scenes. I think David Boreanaz really benefits from having someone who isn’t Buffy to react to, and while he’s still pretty quiet in these scenes, he seems angry or annoyed by Darla, which isn’t the case when he’s around Buffy. It’s yet more depth to his character. I also like the slow reveal that the reason behind all this tension and animosity is the fact that Darla is the one who sired Angel. It gives Darla a reason to be so invested in Angel (otherwise she just seems like another person wooed by his pretty face) and it gives Angel a reason to be cowed by her–she’s the one who made him. But they also clearly don’t trust each other. Not really. Sure, they’re not afraid of each other, but they’re not friends. He doesn’t like her, and she isn’t a huge fan of the way he’s been acting lately, either. Their relationship also makes it much more poignant when Angel finally stakes her to save Buffy. He’s choosing good over whatever evil might still be attached to his soul. He’s choosing the light side. As the series goes on (and as Angel moves over to his own show) the relationship between them gets developed further, and I really like the way it goes, but for now we’re given just enough information to start to understand the way vampirism works in this world.
Darla is also the first one to call him Angelus, and she pronounces it correctly, with the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first. Contrast this to literally everyone else who calls him “Angelus” on Buffy, with rare exceptions. Of course, Darla would know best, she’s his sire, after all.
I also think it’s important to note that Angel lies in this episode about feeding from humans. He clearly states here that he’s never fed on a living human since the Romani girl whose death triggered the curse, but later on this show and on Angel we find out that this is incorrect and he does feed from living victims. Usually it’s to keep his cover with other vampires, but sometimes it’s just because he’s so hungry and there’s no other way for him to get food. He also feeds on living victims in the future, but then again, he doesn’t tell Buffy he’s never going to do it again, he just says he hasn’t in the past. I still think it’s interesting, and while probably this is actually a continuity error, it can also be read as Angel not wanting Buffy to know that he’s done this, because that would mean admitting it to himself.
That brings up another interesting point. Angel clearly feels the need to punish himself for his crimes. I think that’s a big part of why he tells Buffy at the end of the episode that they can never be together. It’s not about her, it’s about him. He shouldn’t be allowed to have nice things. And this is an urge that Angel never really resolves. He’s shown time and again throughout both series to try in various ways to punish himself, to keep himself from being happy (although I grant you, he may have a valid reason for that), to keep himself from healing certain wounds (not literal ones). The most obvious of these I can think of is the episode “I Will Remember You,” but there are others, too, including the moment at the end of this episode where he lets Buffy kiss him for a good thirty seconds, despite her cross necklace–the one he gave her, mind you–pressing into his bare skin and burning him.
I know we don’t see much of her this episode, but Joyce has some great interactions with Angel, here. I love how she’s instantly suspicious when Buffy greets her, and is not at all surprised to see Angel in her hallway. I also like the shade Joyce throws, all “Studying, right, mm-hmm, studying, sure, Buffy, sure.” Oh Joyce. You’re the best.