Friday, October 16, 2009

The Only Good Demon is a Dead Demon

Scriptwriter Jane Espenson explained in an audio commentary of Angel's Season 1's "Rm w/a Vu" that in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, demons tended to pop up for very specific purposes, usually to fill in as metaphors for human concerns and conditions. At least at the time she did the Season 1 commentary, she stated that, with all things being equal, you could safely assume demons in Buffy were evil. In Angel, demons had complex societies in their underworld and often lived very human lives. More importantly, not all demons in Angel were evil. Some were true neutrals, and some, like Lorne and Doyle, were even good. Who can forget the first episode in Season 2, "Judgment", where Angel killed the presumably evil Prio Motu demon without realizing it was acting as a heroic champion for a pregnant woman? Espenson pointed out that in Angel, you really had to know what you were up against before you started killing demons.

Which brings up the obvious point: since humans took over earth, did demons, even good ones, have a right to live in the Angelverse?

It would be easy to ascribe a "the only good demon is a dead demon" mentality to these creatures, much as how Native Americans were treated in the 19th century. Although demons could be reformed and assimilated into the Angelverse, perhaps they could never be trusted, since their innate savagery threatened to erupt at any moment. Good demons might not even be counted on to side with humans if a war between the species ever broke out. It becomes not so much a matter of whether a demon can become truly assimilated, but more like, since humans can't know for sure which demons can be trusted, we could waste a lot of time and energy having to keep a suspicious eye on them. Think of how Japanese-Americans were rounded up into internment camps during World War II.

The arguments surrounding demon extermination have quite a parallel with the issues surrounding the introduction and comeback of wolves in various parts of the U.S. Wolves are magnificent animals, and I think even a lot of their most ardent human enemies would prefer to see them living in somebody else's back 40 acres. However, there is an unmistakable element of the population that would prefer to see them completely eliminated. In Season 3's "That Old Gang of Mine", Charles Gunn made it clear that he didn't have any theoretical problem with people going around indiscriminately killing demons, before he realized his old gang members were the culprits.

Angel, Wesley and Cordelia saw things differently. Needless to say, Angel himself could have been a legitimate target for the "let's kill all the demons" crowd. In fact, one could even make an argument that they were a little too lenient with demons, but that may have been due more to time constraints than anything else. The Powers That Be, Wolfram & Hart, and their paying clients kept them busy enough as it was. There was no use going around looking for trouble when they could be resting up for their next assignments.

The Angelverse is a little ambivalent about mainstream acceptance of the existence of monsters and demons. In my "Through the Looking Glass; or, Welcome To My Nightmare" post, I guessed that the general population was still unaware of this alternate reality. For the most part, demons tried to hide themselves from the general public, although they did mix with humans in bars and other venues from time to time. The humans who accepted the demon presence for the most part were probably young night-loving sophisticates who knew a lot more about the ways of the world than the sheeple who tucked themselves safely into their houses at 7:00 pm every night. I can only guess at the motivations of both sides hiding the demon world away from ordinary people. Angel and his allies probably feared our society would make a paranoid change for the worse if people felt they needed to check for monsters under their beds every night. The demons themselves probably feared a bloody massacre if word of their existence leaked out. It probably served everyone's interest if most of the human population continued to live happy, secure lives in blissful ignorance.

We also can't discount the notion that anyone who tried to educate the masses about vampires and demons would be quickly dismissed as crackpots.

Wesley objected to the demon killers in "That Old Gang of Mine" for their indiscriminate attacks, whereas Angel himself objected to the sadistic thrill they seemed to be taking from their actions. Wesley even admitted that at least two of the (at that time) six dead demons were irredeemably evil, while others were fully assimilated into society. The implication was clear: although the members of Angel Investigations were bona fide demon hunters, they only stepped in when they had clear proof of wrongdoing. Anything else would be vigilantism, which is never a good thing because of the potential for humans to be turned into unstoppable killing machines. (Think of Daniel Holtz and his minions.)

I thought it was quite clever for the writers to introduce two nasty-looking yet sympathetic demons into the deadly crossfire at Caritas. Intriguingly, one demon desperately chanted "oh god, oh god, oh god", while the other countered "Shut up. He ain't listening."

The "unbelieving" demon turned out to be an unabashed baby-killer who devoured his victims. Despite his horrible actions, and despite the fact we knew Angel would never hesitate to kill it while on the job, our (or at least my) sympathies were directed to the fact that he was simply acting out of his species-specific natural behavior. Charles eventually killed the demon in a moment of frustration, but it just seemed wrong to kill it during a time that it was trying to mind its own business. Presumably the demon ate human babies (as its ramblings about "living in playgrounds" seemed to imply), but it raises another question. Again, presumably, many species of demons are 100% pure evil. Should humans hesitate to kill them on sight simply because an unknown tiny percentage might be neutral or even good?

I was also intrigued by that big white blobby demon who was happily sipping on his Slurpy in the underground sewers. He looked like a giant version of one of those grubs that I kill in my flower beds once in a while. However, he seemed kind of cute, and we were sad to see it murdered. Angel and Wesley identified it as a Yarbnie demon, which Wesley described as being a "...balancing entity. They tend to nest in urban areas under roadways - utterly non-violent." I've written a prior post about my affinity for balancing forces, and I would have liked additional information on A) what exactly constitutes a balancing entity and B) how does it manage to perform its balancing duties if it's mostly hidden from view.

Lorne gave us some vital information in the wonderful Season 2 episode, "Happy Anniversary" when he told Angel that the Lubber demons belonged to a "Fanatical sect, awaiting a messiah who will usher in the end of all human life. A lot of your demons don't yak about it in mixed company, but it is a pretty popular theology in the underworld." Besides the obvious parallels with certain well-known religious groups, Lorne also informed Angel that, although demons seemed to be satisfied with their status as second-class citizens, they really wouldn't mind booting out all of the humans and taking over the world again for themselves.

Was there a reason why demons still existed in the Angelverse? Was there some little-known metaphysical ecological process at work where if demons disappeared, humans would negatively be affected according to some sort of Law of Unintended Consequences? Like, if you kill off the wrong species of fish all of the whales could disappear? I personally like a "maintaining the balance between good and evil" theory since I'm a Libran at heart. However, what I consider to be perfect balance could be quite intolerable for demons who would prefer us humans to be living in tunnels.

Of course, the Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart could have been behind the maintenance of the demon population, as part of their ongoing Apocalypse being waged as revealed by Lindsey in Season 5. Regardless, taking on the entire demon world would mean an enormous bloodbath. Although Angel's fight in the closing scene of the series finale was technically against Wolfram & Hart, an outside observer could be forgiven for thinking it was the opening salvo in a "humans versus demons" war.

Idle Thoughts. Season 2's "Happy Anniversary" was a wonderful showcase for Andy Hallett. Did the man ever turn in a weak performance? The show also proved what a wonderful team Angel and Lorne made. Angel needed at least a ten-year run to bring out everything that needed to be highlighted, including additional Lindsey/Lilah scenes, more shows focusing on just Angel and Lorne, a lot more scenes with Cordelia and Lilah being paired together, etc.

"Happy Anniversary" also acted as an interesting precursor to some of the upcoming time-shifting physics that was showcased after Fred joined the cast in Season 3.

I saw Season 3's "Fredless" on TNT again earlier this week, which featured a lot of interesting moments about Fred's "normal" parents becoming baptised into the world of vampires and demons. I was thrilled that the Burkles became such enthusiastic converts, since conflict just for the sake of conflict kind of bores me.

I had mentioned in a previous post that I thought Wesley started falling in love with Fred in "That Old Gang of Mine". After seeing the episode again, I was reminded that both Wesley and Charles were clearly in love with her in "Fredless". Wesley positively melted whenever he looked at her! It was also quite telling how when Fred thought she was saying her final goodbyes, her hug from Charles was spontaneous and friendly, while her hug from Wesley was extremely awkward, as they did the "where do we put are arms" dance back and forth. Poor Wes was awfully nervous around the woman of his dreams, which led him to eventually lose her before he even had a chance to ask her out.

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