The Problem with Angelus

The Problem with Angelus, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, Angel, Angelus, Buffy, vampire, vampires, gif

I’m still (re-)watching Buffy and Angel, and there’s something that’s been bothering me about Angelus…

Spoilers Ahead

First, we need some backstory.

in Buffy and Angel mythology, a vampire is made when a vampire exchanges blood with a human before killing them. The human’s soul leaves the body (presumably going off to the afterlife), and the soulless shell reanimates, inhabited by a demon that looks like the human, and has their personality and all their memories, but with an aversion to sunlight and a thirst for blood.

Angelus started out like any other vampire, but after killing the wrong girl he was cursed with a soul. Suddenly his body housed a demon and a human soul. This unnatural combination led him to spend a hundred years wallowing in guilt and remorse over what he’d done as a vampire, before finally deciding to become a broody, but useful, member of society. Oh, and he also started calling himself Angel.

But the curse had a loophole. If Angel were to ever experience a moment of true happiness, the soul would go and Angelus would return in all his murderous glory.

Over the course of both Buffy and Angel, we get to see both Angel and Angelus, and much as I enjoy the dichotomy, something about it bothers me. Angel is solitary, reserved, and thoughtful, but ready to kick ass when necessary. Angelus, on the other hand, is cruel, revels in violence, and is as meticulous in stalking and torture as the most evil serial killer. So how is this the same person?

The shows simply claim that it’s the difference between soul and no soul, but I’m not sure I buy that. The presence (or lack) of a soul doesn’t completely change your personality. At one point Angel claims he was a bad person as a human too, but from flashbacks we see he was mostly a shiftless, carousing layabout and terrible son. That’s pretty far from a cold-blooded killer (not to mention the other major personality shifts we see between Angel and Angelus). The Buffy episode “Doppelgangland” even tacitly confirms that a vampire’s personality is basically the same as the human they inhabit.

When vampire Spike gets his soul back (earned, not cursed), his personality doesn’t significantly change. He might be less likely to finish off a mortally wounded human once he gets his soul, but if you watched an episode featuring him without knowing which season it was from, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell whether he has a soul or not. Another vampire, Harmony, never gets a soul, but shows no significant change in personality before and after becoming a vampire. She even loves unicorns.

The Problem with Angelus, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, Angel, Angelus, Buffy, vampire, vampires, Harmony, unicorns

In the Angel episode “Eternity,” Angel is drugged so that he feels a chemical high (which they call “happiness” for the sake of the plot), Until the drug wears off he’s right back to being Mr. Murder-Death-Kill, as though a switch were flipped. You’d think he’d still be able to exert his own will, at least a little, to keep Angelus from completely taking over. He didn’t even lose his soul that time. Yes, it’s a TV show about vampires and demons, but it doesn’t make any sense. Not to me, at least.

Maybe having a soul forced on him was traumatic for Angel, causing his personality to fracture. Maybe the demon inside him is particularly strong and malevolent. Maybe it really is only human guilt that keeps Angel from totally going off the rails. Maybe I’m way overthinking this.

What do you think about Angel/Angelus and his split personality? Do you have your own theories about the difference a soul makes? Share in the comments…

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Aspasía S. Bissas


10 Replies to “The Problem with Angelus”

  1. Maybe, just maybe the demon that inhabits the body also amplifies the darker side of the dead person’s psyche. If it has access to the memories and personality, it makes sense that it also has access to all the inner workings of that person too: all the buried rage, lust, locked away behaviours….. now given free reign. This is why (in my mind) that we see William become Spike with such reckless abandon, and Liam now given focus as Angelus becomes a cruel sociopath. Also Harmony may not have had that much of a repressed dark side as she was wearing a mask of meanness to hide her insecurities whilst alive…. And so this is carried into her un-life. Along with a love for unicorn souvenirs. Is my guess anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No problem, I seem to remember a conversation with Angel and Dawn (or was it Tara? 🤔) about the Vampire demon taking your body over and doing all the horrible things, in that way “it’s not really you” and Angel coming back with “Well, actually….” Before someone else came in, so that’s what got me thinking about that.

        You’re welcome, you gave me one, and I wanted to return the favour. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t remember him having that conversation with Tara or Dawn, but that “Well, actually…” moment was the one from Doppelgangland that I mentioned (it was when Willow expressed relief that her vampire self was nothing like her actual human self) 🙂 I’m quite enjoying the mutual exchange of insights.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ah! That’ll be it! Memory is a funny thing and it’s been about 8 years since I last watched Buffy. But I’m glad you could identify the conversation! Ditto. 😃

        Liked by 1 person

      4. No worries– it’s easy to forget. I’ve watched Angel I don’t know how many times and every time I see Kate again I’m surprised that I forgot about her (poor Kate– she’s a great character).

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’d totally forgotten about Kate and had to Google her! Lol!
        Yes, she couldn’t do both Angel (LA) and Law & Order (NY) at the same time. But now I remember her she was kick ass!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Oh, I never realized she was doing another show– that makes sense. I don’t know if you’ve read them, but Angel (and Buffy, actually) were continued in comic book form and Kate was brought back in an epic way. I never finished reading the series, though– I need to take care of that (the Buffy comic descended into soap opera melodrama, unfortunately, and I don’t think I’ll go back to those).

        Liked by 1 person

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