Sunday, January 31, 2010

Did Darla Have Much of a Choice? - Part 1

As a rule, I'm not really into writing posts about gender politics or mother figures within the Buffyverse. It's not that I don't care about these issues. It's just that I can't possibly come up with anything new. However, I'm finding that I can hardly avoid these subjects if I want to talk at all about the Darla maternity trilogy in Angel's Season 3 ("Offspring", "Quickening" and "Lullaby").

Darla's immediate storyline started with Season 2's "Reprise" and "Epiphany", where, according to Darla in Season 3's "Quickening", in speaking to Angel, "...you threw me through those glass doors, slammed me against the wall, pushed me onto the bed and took what you wanted." Of course, that was only her side of the story, seeing as how vampires like Darla supposedly liked that sort of thing. You can read the actual dialogue here and here to make up your own mind on what happened that night.

I often wonder why audiences are attracted to vampire stories. One undeniable aspect is how the subject matter allows creators to completely turn the rules around in defining what is acceptable and what is taboo regarding all sorts of behaviors. With vampire relationships, a writer can safely explore sadomasochistic and misogynistic elements without fear of censure, simply because demons (and by extension, vampires) are supposed to be evil and take enjoyment in not only inflicting pain, but perhaps in even receiving pain.

The last point about vampires enjoying receiving pain might be debatable, but both Cordelia and Spike seemed to think it was no big deal. When Cordelia punched Darla in the nose in "Quickening", she was quick to point out to her, "Oh, come on, tough girl. You're a vampire. A punch in the nose shouldn't hurt that much."

Even more provocatively, after Spike had his epiphany in Season 3's Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Lover's Walk" as to how he'd be able to get his beloved Drusilla back after she broke up with him, he informed Buffy and Angel, "I've been all wrongheaded about this. Weeping, crawling, blaming everybody else. I want Dru back, I've just gotta be the man I was, ..... the man she loved. I'm gonna do what I shoulda done in the first place: I'll find her, wherever she is, tie her up, torture her until she likes me again...... Love's a funny thing."

It might be splitting hairs as to whether vampires really enjoy receiving pain, or if they just put up with it because they have no respect for entities that don't inflict pain. Regardless, even though Darla was an evil vampire, we can't discard or trivialize the hurt, anger and disgust she felt regarding how Angel not only failed to lose his soul on that stormy night with her, but how his soul actually became stronger as a result. Darla took it a step farther and looked at it both as a personal failure for not being able to turn him back into Angelus, and as an act of betrayal by Angel in refusing to allow the change to occur. Her abuse at the hands of Angel-turned-Angelus would have been perfectly in line with the relationship they had already enjoyed during his roughly 150 years of existence as a soulless vampire. The same treatment at the hands of a fully-ensouled Angel was thoroughly repellent to her simply because he represented everything that she hated.

Darla could have viewed abuse at the hands of Angelus as being consensual, while she could have viewed abuse at the hands of Angel as being rape. Deep down, I don't think Darla's treatment by Angel was her number one concern. The outcome of the abuse was the real issue for her.

Regardless of the exact circumstances, the conception of Baby Connor was hardly an act of love, so already the stage was set for a precursor to a Freedom of Choice v. Right to Life type of story.

Pregnant Darla started off making a few brief appearances in early Season 3, culminating in this scene from "That Vision Thing" where she told the Honduran shaman, "You're a difficult man to find, Senor. Do you know why I'm here? [The man nods]. You are my last hope. I've been told you're very powerful, very wise. I tried everything and I can't get rid of it, so I ask you: what is this thing - growing inside of me? And how's it possible?"

From this scene we know that Darla had no maternal instincts whatsoever and was doing everything she could to "get rid of it". To her, a vampire birth, as opposed to the act of siring a new vampire, was not a miracle to be celebrated. The shaman could not tell Darla what was inside of her and how it could have happened. This lack of information caused her a lot of anguish, and I doubt that Vampire Darla in that state would have been capable of bonding to anything growing in her body.

(In contrast, there are plenty of examples within the Buffyverse of female vampires developing strong maternal attachments to their sired offspring. Think of how thrilled Drusilla felt over the impending "birth" of Darla in Season 2's "Reunion", and the complex feelings Darla felt for her sired son/lover Angel throughout the series.)

Central to all of this is the question of whether Darla had a right to choose whether to carry her baby to term. Personally, if I found out I was pregnant with another species, like a litter of kittens or something, about the only thing that would stop me from terminating the pregnancy would be if the Angel Gabriel himself appeared in front of me and told me "Do not be afraid".

A person could be forgiven for thinking that nothing good could come out from the offspring of two vampires. Darla, being an evil vampire, wouldn't have been in the least bit thrilled if her baby had the potential to bring ultimate salvation. Come to think of it, Darla wouldn't even be in the least bit interested in an evil baby either.

I wrote a post last October called, "The Only Good Demon is a Dead Demon". In it, I openly wondered if demons in the Angelverse had a right to exist amongst humans and, by extension, if they had certain rights that should be enforced. One could easily compare demons to oppressed minority groups that exist within cultures, with vampires belonging to the lowest caste.

In Angel, vampires are so horrible, even other demons are creeped out by them. Humans and demons alike rejoiced when bad things happened to vampires. Does it follow that since Darla was an evil vampire, that forces should have lined up to carry her infant to term simply because anything bad that happened to Darla was automatically a good thing?

I'll cover this more thoroughly in a future post(s), but just about everyone in Angel Investigations ultimately supported the birth, albeit after a bit of cajoling from Angel. Interestingly enough, and probably quite predictably, Angel Investigations and Wolfram & Hart came to different conclusions as to the best way to handle the situation. Since Angel et al were not given clear instructions from The Powers of Be about the destiny of the baby, their attitude was to let the baby live and then deal with the consequences later. Wolfram & Hart, since they had no advance knowledge of this development, assumed that any significant occurrence that was not planned out in advance by the Senior Partners would probably end up being quite a challenge to deal with later on. They therefore decided that the best course of action would be to dissect both Darla and the baby to try to find out exactly how this "virgin" birth could have occurred.

I have to change gears in the middle of my post and address some issues I've always had with the whole Connor story arc, which culminated in the Beast/Jasmine fiasco. Unfortunately, these issues severely interfere with my enjoyment of the otherwise excellent Darla maternity arc. My biggest questions are, how much control did Jasmine have over Darla's pregnancy, and how were The Powers That Be involved? Also, did the writers start the Darla maternity arc with one story in mind, only to have to make drastic changes when they found out Charisma Carpenter was pregnant? I might as well come right out with it - did the creators plot out Jasmine's story at the same time as they created the Darla maternity story? Or did they create the idea of the rogue PTB Jasmine later on?

My best guess for describing the story arc, for what it's worth, is that Jasmine was protecting the pregnancy, and The Powers That Be were supplying Cordelia with the visions. I'm also guessing that The Powers That Be were either neutral or unable to control Jasmine. However, they did the best they could to ameliorate the situation by providing the visions to Cordy. Another way of looking at things is that TPTB couldn't give any indication as to whether the baby would work for good or evil simply because there really wasn't a clear answer.

Tim Minear's and Mere Smith's DVD commentary for "Lullaby" gave me a little bit of insight as to how far ahead the writers are thinking when they come up with storylines for upcoming episodes. According to Minear and Smith, Joss and the writers didn't come up with the idea for Darla's pregnancy until the summer break between Seasons 2 and 3, well after they wrote about her sexual encounter with Angel. This is important for me since, from here on out, the entire show limped along until all of the prophecies concerning the Tro-Clon, as translated from the Nyazian scrolls, were finally wrapped together into late Season 4's Jasmine arc. During the remainder of Season 3 and for most of Season 4, the creators served up one conundrum after another, with plenty of red herrings and false conclusions inserted on a regular basis in order to keep the audience as confused as possible.

I always (probably unfairly) had the sense that the writers were kind of making things up on the fly as they went along. In reality, they can't be that disorganized, because they need to have the storylines charted out far enough in advance in order to keep a tight production schedule. For example, I understand Charisma Carpenter's pregnancy caused a lot of last minute plan changes and, supposedly, part of, if not all of, the Jasmine story had to be written or rewritten as a way to incorporate Carpenter's pregnancy into the script. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do think it would have been cheating a lot if Connor was introduced into the show, under incredibly mysterious and mystical circumstances, without having an ultimate plan for how his character story arc was going to play out. In other words, it's not fair to make the audience try to guess what was going on with the vampire birth and other aspects of the Tro-Clan prophecies if even the writers didn't know the answers.

In my next post (posts?), I'll concentrate on Darla's changing attitudes regarding her child, Angel's thoughts about impending fatherhood, and the reactions of others within the Angel Investigations group.

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