For those who don’t know, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a television series. A movie by the same name preceded it. The movie was silly but the series was witty, intelligent and entertaining. I am writing about one character in the series, Angelus to look at some philosophical implications.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has it’s own cosmology. People have souls. Vampires do not, except for the tormented vampire Angel whose soul was restored by the vengeful gypsies he had wronged. According to Buffy, when someone becomes a vampire, his soul dies and a demon takes over. Nevertheless, everyone who has undergone this transition professes to be very glad to be a vampire. In the light of all the real transformations people go through, it raises interesting questions.
Some people join cults and profess to be deliriously happy in their new circumstances. But others treat them as if they are out of their minds and have them kidnapped by “deprogrammers” who subject them to a counter-brainwashing. If the deprogramming is successful, the newly deprogrammed individual professes gratitude to having been saved from his/her former insanity. From the viewpoint of epistemology, these changes in self-awareness are quite perplexing. Who is the “real” person. The one in the cult? The deprogrammed one? There are many examples of the same sort of mind-fuck. The sober alcoholic, the drunken one? When people can change so radically and so suddenly, we have to ask who is s/he really.
In Buffy, Angel was made into a vampire in the 18th Century. As a vampire, he was gleefully evil. He murdered a priest and took his place in the Confessional to hear the confessions of innocent young girls such as Drusilla. She was born with psychic powers which neither she nor her family understood. They thought these powers were from the Devil. Seeking help in the Confessional, Drusilla encountered the sadistic Angelus who had just killed the priest. He told her she was a “devil child” and that was her designated role. She didn’t want to be evil and begged the “priest” to help her be good. But Angelus had plans for her. He proceeded to kill one family member after another and slowly driving Drusilla crazy. Once she was insane, he made her a vampire. She is actually one of the most interesting characters in the series. She seems to be on a perpetual acid trip. Just like someone on an acid trip, she can go from bliss to terror in a moment. She has strong relationship ties to Angelus as her sire and later to Spike, who she “turned” into a vampire.
Anne Rice, who wrote Interview with the Vampire, was the first to write modern stories about vampire. The main character in her novel, Louis, is like Angel, a guilt-ridden vampire. What interests me about the guy in the Buffy series is what he is like when he loses his soul again. (One moment of pure happiness can lift the curse and remove his soul.) He “has no humanity” without his soul. Yet, he has some very human emotions. He makes hurting Buffy emotionally his number one mission in life. Of course, before he got his soul back, Angelus was very sadistic and completely without a conscience. He killed countless humans over the centuries. When the gypsies gave him back his soul, he went through a dark period of dissipation. He got it together, finally, and decided to make something of himself. He went to Buffy and became her mentor and adviser. Then he fell in love with her and she with him.
His one moment of pure happiness occurs when the two of them make love. He wakes from his post-coital nap to find himself without a conscience. Angelus is back. He gets back together with Drusilla and Spike. They all agree to kill “the slayer.” But Angelus is more interested in destroying her psychologically. His cruelty takes on a subtlety that goes far beyond mere violence and murder. When he talks about Buffy, there is a quality in his voice that shows a deep empathy. I don’t think we can be truly cruel without empathy. It is empathy that allows us to enjoy someone else’s suffering. If we can’t even imagine it, how can we enjoy it? His voice takes on this cloying quality when he says, “In order to destroy this girl, you have to love her.” All of this is very interesting in relation to psychopathy and sadism.
Psychopaths are supposed to be low in emotion, especially empathy. I find I have a great deal of understanding what other people are feeling but with a detachment that emphasizes the understanding over the experience. I believe it was Sam Vaknin who first used the term “cold empathy.” Angelus certainly demonstrated cold empathy for his victims. But he also exhibited passion. There can be no doubt that he was deeply involved in his acts of cruelty. He felt a lot. He was passionate.
In the episode where he murders a woman and makes the man who loves her think she was waiting upstairs to make love, roses, candles, Puccini playing and her dead body for him to find, everything set up in loving detail. His main reason for doing this was to see the look on Buffy’s face when she found out. Angel gives a beautiful prose poem about passion. “It lies in all of us,” he intones. He draws a picture of Buffy’s face while she sleeps and leaves the drawing for her to find. The others couldn’t understand why he didn’t just kill her while he had the chance. But he wanted to destroy her from within. “Passion rules us all,” he intones. Giles observes that since Angel lost his soul, “he regained his sense of whimsy.” Buffy knew he would kill everyone she loved.
Is passion emotion? In Angelus’ case, it was driven by dopamine, purposeful, intense and ruthless. “Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love. The clarity of hatred. The ecstasy of grief.” I believe he was passionate and detached at the same time. Perfectly psychopathic.