Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Did Darla Have Much of a Choice? - Part 2

(This is an ongoing series of posts about Angel Season 3 episodes "Offspring", "Quickening" and "Lullaby".)

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about how Darla was not at all pleased with the idea of giving birth to a "miracle child". Angel, once he got over the initial shock of seeing a pregnant Darla make her appearance at the Hyperion Hotel, warmed up to the idea of fatherhood quite quickly. However, he was still realistic enough to be able to admit that "I don't see how anything spawned by Darla and me could be good."

Right away, we notice that cultural stereotypes (not that I agree with them) were turned upside down, where the expectant mother should be thrilled with the child she's carrying while the father is typically ambivalent at best with unplanned pregnancies. The device the writers used to flip-flop this polarity was the concept of soul; the existence of one in Angel's case and the absence of one in Darla's. The presence of a soul supposedly brings not only a sense of right and wrong, but also strong parental bonding instincts. Darla, without her soul, was totally incapable of feeling any love for her child.

(I'm not sure if the writers had this in mind, but think of the implications. Only an inhuman monster could hate her own child. Also note how Angel took ownership of his son, with the implied right to compel an unwilling Darla to carry the child to term.)

Angel must have had a thousand thoughts swirling through his head. Although he was pragmatic and cautious at first, he quickly interpreted Darla's pregnancy as a positive development. Angel always held out hope for redemption and rewards for performing good deeds. After all he'd gone through, he probably felt he had earned the right to be able to father a child. Of course, pride over being awarded a trophy child and true parental love for a child are two different things.

I was grateful to see Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Gingerbread" episode while I was drafting this post because of the insight it gave me as to how Angel felt about families in general. In this dialogue sequence, he told Buffy in so many words that children and families are what we fight for. We also got a strong sense through the Darla maternity trilogy that the arrival of a child brought the promise of filling a huge void in his life. Fred nailed it in this scene when she said "....his child. The one thing he can never have, even if he lives forever." Although the dialogue doesn't exactly spell it out, it's clear that Fred was implying that the lack of ability to be able to raise his own family probably weighed quite heavily on Angel. Regardless, any questions we may have had over Angel's motivations for wanting Darla to carry the child to term were answered when we witnessed his absolute joy with infant Connor for those few short weeks before the child was kidnapped to the Quor'toth dimension.

One specific challenge the writers faced was, how would Darla treat the child after he was born? She was a wicked vampire who, after unsuccessfully trying to terminate the pregnancy, might logically be expected to kill the child after she gave birth. Since Darla was a soulless vampire, there was no way she could have ever been motivated to care for the baby. Being influenced by Angel's good example or relying on some maternal instincts that would magically kick in was simply out of the question. Allowing Darla to be influenced by her baby's soul was an excellent solution, since it gave her the will to carry the baby to term, and to make the ultimate sacrifice to save Connor's life by staking herself when it became apparent she would not be able to give birth.

I'm always interested in a vampire's confusion while attempting to come to terms with the fact that he or she has gained a soul. Darla had already covered this territory in Season 2, when she was resurrected back to life by Wolfram & Hart. It appears that the act of gaining a soul does not automatically give a person perfect moral clarity. It appears the person has to make an active effort to sort things through and re-classify his or her values.

How did Cordelia and Angel simultaneously make the mental leap from noting Darla's craving for children's blood to figuring out that the baby had a soul? In Cordelia's case, The Powers That Be felt it was important for everyone to know that whatever was inside Darla had a soul. In Angel's case, when he was comforting a frantic Darla who was pleading with him to kill her at the amusement park, he put two and two together when he discovered the baby had a heartbeat and thought about Darla's insatiable craving for blood. Personally, I might have equally been likely to think that the child was a blood-sucking demon with a heartbeat, but Angel knew simply because he understood how newly-ensouled vampires would react to certain situations.

From this point on, it became apparent to most of the people involved that the existence of a soul in the baby was a real game changer. Although the ultrasound showing that the child was human solidified the idea in just about everyone's mind that the baby needed to come to term, the knowledge that the baby had a soul helped guide the Angel Investigations team into the right direction.

Julie Benz and David Boreanaz were absolutely extraordinary together. The two scenes where Angel comforted a distraught Darla, first at the amusement park in the link mentioned above, then on the rooftop of the downtown Los Angeles hotel, provided us with two of their finest performances. These scenes particularly allowed Boreanaz to do what I thought he did best in Angel, which was to give comfort to those who were suffering from total despair. It was quite touching how Angel, at least momentarily, had faith that Darla had it in her to be able to love and cherish the child, and somehow he and Darla could make everything work out. Darla knew the cruel truth, as noted in this exchange:
DARLA: What do I have to offer a child, a *human* child, besides ugly death?

ANGEL: Darla.

DARLA: You know it's true.

ANGEL: No. What I do know is that you love this baby, our baby. You've bonded with it. You've spent nine months carrying it, nourishing it...

DARLA: No. No, I haven't been nourishing it. I haven't given this baby a thing. I'm dead. It's been nourishing me. These feelings that I'm having, they're not mine. They're coming from it.

ANGEL: You don't know that.

DARLA: Of course I do! We both do. Angel, I don't have a soul. It does. And right now that soul is inside of me, but soon, it won't be and then...

ANGEL: Darla...

DARLA: I won't be able to love it. I won't even be able to remember that I loved it. (Starts to cry) I want to remember.

ANGEL: (holding her) Shh...


DARLA: You won't let me hurt it, will you? You'll protect it, right? From me, I mean.
I have some questions about why outside forces brought the baby almost completely to term, only to almost allow it to die, but I'll address this topic more in a later post. Suffice it to say, the producers needed to kill off Darla in such a way that would also allow for a decent send-off for the marvelous actress Julie Benz. They couldn't have picked a finer way than to allow Darla to sacrifice herself as part of the "one good thing" she and Angel ever did together. Although she initially didn't have of a choice in her pregnancy, Darla did ultimately make one good choice through her desire to save her child.

In my next post I'll talk about the attitudes that other members of Angel Investigations had towards Darla's pregnancy.

Closing Thoughts. In the DVD commentary for "Lullaby", writer Mere Smith noted how in this scene, Darla called the baby "he" for the first time instead of "it" when she said, "My boy. My darling boy." (Darla had called Angel her "darling boy" many times in their many years together.) Mere said that as story editor, she insisted that Darla consistently call the child "it" so it would be that much more powerful when she finally acknowledged the love she felt for her unborn child. Great call, Mere!

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