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Monday, March 5, 2012

Revelations

[Updated April 30, 2013]

Revelations brings us front and center to a critical issue: the extent to which Angel is responsible for the crimes of Angelus (consistent with my posts to date, I’m using the name Angel to refer to him with the soul, Angelus without). Xander and Buffy take different sides of this debate; complicating the picture is the bias each has because of Buffy’s relationship with Angel. He’s jealous, she’s in love.
I want to put aside the bias problems for purposes of thinking about this issue. Frankly, it’s a distraction from the merits. However, I also want to hold off on the merits too until we get to Amends. What I’m going to do here is analyze the actions of Buffy on the one hand, and Xander and Faith on the other. In each case I’ll simply assume for the sake of argument that they’re right in their contradictory views of Angel.


Buffy seems to view the presence or absence of the soul is a matter of essence. By that I mean that she sees the presence of the soul as marking the real, true essence of a person. It’s a fixed property which defines the very meaning of what a “person” is. She uses this as a dividing line – souled beings are generally for the human world to deal with (except when they access the supernatural in some way), while the unsouled are the province of the Slayer. Her viewpoint on this will remain consistent throughout the series.
This is a very interesting position for her to hold, and I’m going to discuss it more when I get to Amends.  For now I’ll just note her position and move on to evaluating her actions on that basis.
When Buffy sees Angel with his soul restored, that makes him immediately similar to other real human beings in her eyes, and therefore not a creature to be slain unless he, with the soul, commits some act to deserve that (as Mrs. Post does here). Unlike other vampires, she wouldn’t slay him on sight. He’s rather in a class similar to Oz in that he’s capable of evil but also able to control himself.
If you see the “soul canon” (as it’s called in fandom) this way, Buffy’s decision not to hold Angel responsible for the crimes of Angelus makes good sense. If the soul is an essential component of personhood, then Angel can’t be held morally responsible for what Angelus did in its absence. Given Buffy’s understanding of the world, keeping Angel alive after his return was the morally correct action.
Of course, that’s only one part of the criticism of her actions. The other part is her concealment of Angel’s return. She’s on much shakier ground there. From the perspective solely of the Slayer, it’s plausible to argue that she had no duty to tell Willow or Xander about his return. The Slayer is the one who ultimately has to make the call to slay or not, so they don’t have any right to demand that she do so.
But having no right to command her to slay isn’t the same as having no interest. As Cordy puts it, “Last time around, Angel barely laid a hand on Buffy. He was *way* more interested in killing her friends.” While this is arguable, there’s some truth to it. Angelus did try to kill Willow in Innocence and Xander in BB&B. Cordy was never at any real risk, but her point stands. The best we can say for Buffy-as-Slayer is that she was taking upon herself a responsibility similar to that which she took when she was unable to kill Angelus in Innocence. The blood of any future deaths would be on her. It’s hardly surprising that those at risk might take a dim view of that without further evidence (which we get later on when Angel saves Willow from Mrs. Post).
Now let’s look at it purely as a matter of friendship. I think we can see Xander’s Lie still working its poison here. From Buffy’s perspective, Xander and Willow wanted her to kill Angel in Becoming. She had no reason to think they’d react any differently now – Xander’s and Cordelia’s statements in Dead Man’s Party confirmed this – and in fact Xander’s reaction here was exactly what she could have expected. She justifiably fears that she’ll lose her friends if she does tell them.
Buffy’s always had the propensity to keep things to herself rather than share her feelings with others. I can personally sympathize with that, and the circumstances of Angel’s return as she sees them certainly reinforce that characteristic. The problem for her is that she needs her friends for her own survival sometimes, and for her emotional stability most of the time, and telling them the truth is one way she gets their help and keeps their friendship. She recognizes this in her conversation with Faith at the end:
“Faith:  *I'm* on my side, (nods) and that's enough.
Buffy:  (shakes her head) Not always.”

The parallel case of Xander and Willow hiding their own relationship reinforces the problematic nature of concealment. We see Buffy’s guilt reflected in the way Willow, her metaphorical spirit, reacts to kissing Xander in the library. Willow concealed her behavior because she knew it was wrong. Similarly, concealing Angel’s return from Willow and Xander simply reinforced the implication that he was evil. Buffy knew this at some level; in Homecoming she told Angel that Giles and the others “wouldn't understand that you're... better.” It made Buffy and Angel look guilty even if they weren’t; we see this assumption at the heart of the confrontation in the library and Giles said it plainly: “You must've known it was wrong seeing Angel or you wouldn't have hidden it from all of us.” This inherent problem with concealment will have a major consequence later in the season.
Buffy perhaps rightly thought she had no good option when it came to Xander and Willow, but her relations with Xander and Willow aren’t the only ones at issue.
Buffy’s bigger problem is with Giles. Unlike Willow and Xander, he has an actual right to be involved in her decisions. He’s her Watcher. Angelus killed Jenny. While we never actually saw her learn that Angelus tortured Giles, we should assume she did because he “reminds” her of that fact after the confrontation in the library. Moreover, Giles was not involved in Xander’s Lie, nor in the confrontations of Dead Man’s Party. Her failure to tell him is utterly inexcusable under these circumstances. It’s hard to disagree with Giles when he tells her “You should have told me he was alive. You didn't. You have no respect for me, or the job I perform.” Harsh but true, and Buffy knows it. Buffy may have demonstrated the ability to behave like an adult in Band Candy, but she completely blew it here.
Now let’s flip sides and consider Xander’s comments and actions. Xander also takes an essentialist view of Angel, but he reverses the essential feature. For Xander the critical fact is that Angel is a vampire. He’s had this attitude from the beginning: “At the end of the day, I pretty much think you're a vampire.” (Prophecy Girl.) For Xander, it appears that the soul is not much more than a trigger guard on a weapon, capable of being removed at any time.
By Xander’s lights, then, the soul doesn’t, indeed can’t, change Angel’s essential nature. He remains a vampire. Buffy should slay him on sight. As Faith puts it, “You're confused, Twinkie. (smiles ironically) Let me clear you up. (points at Angel) Vampire. (points at herself) Slayer. (points at Angel again) Dead vampire.”
Xander therefore sees himself as justified in “judge shopping” when he urges Faith to slay Angel. The problem here might be obvious from my use of the term “judge shopping”. In the legal world, this term refers to a lawyer or client who doesn’t like the ruling by one judge so tries to get a “better” ruling from another. For obvious reasons, this isn’t allowed.
It won’t do to argue that Faith is a Slayer and should get to make her own independent decision whether to slay Angel. There are three massive problems with this. First, even if we accept Xander’s view of Angel, as I’ve done here for purposes of argument, the situation is very complicated. Faith doesn’t know any of the background, and Xander doesn’t tell her. What he’s doing here is asking a judge to decide at the same time that he’s withholding key facts. That amounts to judicial (attempted) murder.
Second, by sending Faith after Angel, Xander pitted Slayer against Slayer, in a potentially disastrous fight. Though they escaped the fight without mutual physical injury, Xander’s conduct drove a wedge between the two Slayers which may have future consequences (and see below). Buffy was possibly wrong to conceal the facts from Faith, Willow and Xander, but Xander’s behavior made it much more difficult for Buffy to make things right with Faith.
Third, by talking to Faith on his own he bypassed Giles. If Buffy was wrong in failing to consult Giles about Angel’s return, then it’s impossible to excuse Xander for going behind Giles’ back. And note that by lying to Faith, Xander actually enabled the real villain to seize the glove and try to do what he only feared from Angel: to kill them all.
Xander’s fundamental problem is that he wants to be the General but he’s not. It’s that attitude which led to his Lie in Becoming 2. In both cases, Buffy and Giles – the ones in charge – rejected his position and he tried to subvert their decision.
That wasn’t Xander’s only fault in this episode. The other was his personal attack on Buffy in the library. He never even attempted to learn the facts because he’d prejudged the case. He wasn’t making a rational argument about the danger Angel posed so much as he was self-righteously criticizing Buffy for her failure to do her duty as the Slayer: “I think you're harboring a vicious killer.”; “For Angel to go psycho again the next time you give him a happy?” [a truly vile comment in light of the facts]; “you just fell on his lips” [like Xander “just fell on (Willow’s) lips”]; “Like you did last time with Ms. Calendar”; “leave us to clean up the mess” [except for the part where he did little but lie to her and she’s the one who had to send Angel to Hell].
Xander simply assumed his view of the world rather than actually discuss it, and then used it as a club to beat Buffy over the head. I consider Buffy’s willingness to accept his quasi-apology – not “I’m sorry”, but “I leaned toward the postal” – as a remarkable demonstration of her character.
That leaves us to consider Faith’s actions. In one sense, she’s the flip side of Xander. Just as Xander failed to tell Faith the information she needed to make a decision about Angel, Faith herself recklessly headed out to slay him without even attempting to find out. Even though Xander did tell her, rather contemptuously, that “Buffy says he’s clean”, Faith didn’t stop to think: “Yeah, well, I say we can't afford to find out. I say I deal with this problem right now. I say I slay.” Reckless and irresponsible, still worse for her cavalier attitude towards Giles when she and Xander find him unconscious in the library.
It’s also the case that Faith feels isolated from the rest of the gang, which may have contributed to her response to Xander. It’s hard to identify any external ground for her sense of isolation prior to this episode. In Faith, Hope and Trick, Xander and Willow were so intrigued by her that Buffy was jealous, and in Beauty and the Beasts, Homecoming and the beginning of this episode the two slayers worked together quite well. We might suspect a lingering sense of inadequacy from the incident with Kakistos, reinforced here by Mrs. Post. Perhaps she also felt diminished by the fact that Buffy killed Lagos where she had failed.
All this was undoubtedly present, but the biggest single factor must be the fact that Buffy sees herself as “the Slayer”, implying that there’s only one, the presence of Faith notwithstanding. Buffy’s own view of herself, therefore, will inevitably generate tension with Faith and add to Faith’s sense of isolation. Buffy shut her out regarding Angel and concealed his return, reinforced by Faith’s exclusion from the meeting (with Mrs. Post twisting the knife). This has to affect Faith’s sense that she doesn’t belong (h/t executrix). In truth, there were good reasons for not telling Faith about Angel from the perspective of the SG, but from Faith’s viewpoint it’s understandable that she’d feel left out. Xander’s failure to tell her the whole story, which caused her to rush out in a bad cause, certainly didn’t help her sense of confidence either. And her trust issues were substantially exacerbated by Mrs. Post.
Learning that Buffy also hid the truth from everyone else ought to make Faith feel less isolated, but of course those others have a longer background with Buffy and can more easily move past the issue. Still, Buffy did come over to apologize and Faith didn’t accept it; she’s still alienated and we’ll see consequences from that in the future.
Revelations was the 7th episode of S3. The 7th episode of S1 was Angel, the 7th of S2 was Lie to Me. I’m just sayin’…. I’ll add that the New Testament Book of Revelations did not have that name because it revealed events in the past which had been concealed. No, it was a prophecy – it revealed events yet to come.
Trivia notes: (1) The episode opens with Dingoes finishing a song, the last line of which is “you know I’d never lie”. (2) Tragedy masks – what Buffy said everyone was wearing in the library – were worn by actors in ancient Greece to depict the character portrayed by the actor. (3) Faith’s description of Buffy as “Twinkie” is gay slang meaning an effeminate man. Her use of this term is very suggestive in light of Buffy’s joke in the teaser about going out with Faith. There are lots of Fuffy shippers among BtVS fans.

6 comments:

  1. 1. Perhaps when there are two Slayers, a Slayage proponent can elect either the federal or the state system. I bet Angelus automatically counts as being evil-er than $5 million so CAFA problems do not arise.
    2. Also, Buffy probably should have recused herself anyway.
    3. I'm not a Fuffy shipper because I can see Faith being really interested in that happening, Buffy not so much.

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    1. Heh. I tend to agree on all points.

      I should have mentioned Buffy's assumption that she's "the" Slayer (I noted it in FH&T) as explaining part of her decision to conceal Angel's return. That's an important part of Faith's sense of isolation.

      Clearly Buffy's biased and that affected her judgment. Just as clearly, there's no way she'd let anyone else interfere (compare S5).

      I'm not a Fuffy shipper myself (or any other shipper for that matter). The way I see Faith's role this year, such a ship would be very wrong. Your point is well taken on that, and the season itself gives good reasons for Buffy's attitude.

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  2. Personally, I can't like Xander until about series 4. He consistently attacks Buffy with regards to Angel and takes the moral high ground without knowing all the facts, and every single time I wish she would just sit him down and explain everything. That or, y'know, just punch him in the face.
    It's definitely interesting to evaluate this along the lines of Xander as her metaphorical heart, and thus all of it as her internal conflict, but, probably because I ALWAYS seem to side with Buffy, it always feels like it's taken a bit too far.
    As I say, I'm fine with his character later on in the series, but IMHO right now so much shit goes down that could all be pinned on his ill-informed and unjustified actions/opinions.

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    1. I actually liked Xander a lot in S1, probably even more than Willow. For me, he stayed fine until after Innocence. After that, I lost patience with him pretty quickly. But he does have his moments....

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    2. First time poster. I wandered over here from TV Club. I'm on my first watch-through of BtVS and am reading their writeups as I go (and your insightful comments there led me here, where I check out your analyses as well).

      Anyway, XANDER. I don't know. As much as I appreciate that his initial reaction to Angel was an immature jealousy response ("stay away from my girl!"), as the show's narrative plays out (especially the events in the back half of season 2), Xander's negative stance toward Angel seems more than justified.
      His confrontation with Buffy in the library was harsh, for sure.

      But he wasn't wrong.

      It was wrong for Buffy to keep Angel's reappearance a secret from the group. She is being incredibly selfish and dangerously naive by keeping Angel around, since it was her affection and sexual relationship with him that brought Angelus down on all their heads and led to the terrible events of S2.
      If Buffy truly wanted to keep Angel safe, and all of her friends as well, her best course of action would have been to get Angel out of Sunnydale ASAP. Angel, on his own, isn't a threat. Angel + a Buffy who has unresolved affection for him = a ticking time bomb, a potential disaster.
      In my opinion, every one of the Scoobies is right to be horrified by her actions. Xander just said what they were all feeling about it.
      IMO, he wasn't wrong, just tactless.

      (I say this as someone who likes Angel as a character, and who has seen AtS through several times over thanks to reruns on TNT. Angel = heckuva guy. Angel + Buffy = bad bad very not good.)

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    3. Welcome! Feel free to comment as you go along.

      I absolutely agree that Xander has a point. They all do. Xander's the most outspoken about it, but Buffy deserves criticism.Xander might well be the wrong person to deliver it -- Giles would be better -- because it was Xander's Lie in Becoming which is the biggest reason Buffy concealed Angel's return.

      I think Xander's real problem here is that he's more than just tactless. He's been tactless in the past (DMP, for example), but he goes well beyond that here when he incites Faith to kill Angel. He doesn't have any right to make that call, and that's where he goes seriously off the track in my view. Not just in doing it, but in the way he goes about it.

      I agree that Angel should leave town. I didn't think so at the time, but in retrospect, I think that's right.

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