Monday, March 22, 2010

After the Fall Interrupted: Now, Where Did We Leave Fred's Soul?

I didn't really delve as much as I wanted to into what happened to Fred's soul after Illyria took over her body in my last post, "After the Fall Volumes 3 & 4: Wesley and Illyria/Fred", for a couple of reasons. First, I figured I'd do a lot more "soul" talk in a post I want to do in the near future about Vampire Charles Gunn; and second, because I'm reasonably sure (or I'm allowing myself to believe) that Fred actually did end up in the Buffyverse version of Heaven immediately after her body was taken over by Illyria, thereby making the entire question a moot point.

However, kind of like how it's nice to tie up loose ends before closing up a case file, I similarly feel like I need to address a few issues that I brought up in a post from last July, "The Soul of the Matter", before I put everything away for good. So, on with the checklist of my questions from last summer.

Who was inhabiting Illyria's body? Technically, the question should have been, who was inhabiting Fred's "shell"? Throughout the last part of Season 5 of Angel and into the first few volumes of After the Fall, the creators were being pretty coy as to whether Fred's presence still remained inside of what was now Illyria's body. Sure, Fred's memories and characteristics remained, but was her soul (the thing that made Fred the real Fred) still somehow trapped inside? First it appeared as though Fred was completely gone, then we were given hope in Volume 3 of After the Fall that Fred was fighting her way back.

The final verdict? Illyria was having trouble dealing with Fred's memories, but Fred was definitely gone for good, presumably in Buffyverse Heaven.

What constitutes a soul? Yikes! An answer in 10,000 words or less? In my "Soul of the Matter" post, I didn't realize it at the time, but my understanding of the soul is actually a concept that was developed by the ancient Greeks, modified by Plato, and later adopted by Christian theologians. In an outstanding essay I've been quoting a lot from lately, Scott McLaren's "The Evolution of Vampire Mythology and the Ontology of the Soul", the author stated in paragraph 5 (with citations included):

In addition to functioning as the body’s animating life force, the soul is, as Plato described it, in command of the body (Georgias 493a), the seat of all knowledge (Meno 86a), and an immortal spirit separate from the body (Meno 86b). By locating within the soul both the life-force of the body and human knowledge, Plato is the first to set forth a doctrine that allows for personal immortality in a separable soul with memories intact. This marks an enormous and important distinction from both Aristotle’s assertion that a soul without a body is unthinkable and Homer’s depiction of souls as imbecilic shadows divorced from their previous lives and memories (see Green and Groff 50ff; Iliad XXIII). Plato’s thought was adopted and adapted by some of the earliest Christian apologists and had enormous influence on the subsequent development of the Christian doctrine of the human soul, primarily through the writings of St. Augustine (MacDonald 143ff.). From there the concept of the soul as an immortal spirit animating the body as the seat of human will, intelligence, and conscience, has pervaded every corner of Western philosophy and culture.[5]
This Platonic concept of the soul was further developed by the Watcher's Council in their doctrine that the human soul departs when a vampire demon takes over the human's body. Although the vampire may retain the human's memories and appearances, it would be a mistake to treat the vampire as though it still retained actual traces of the human.

With this concept of the soul in mind while I was watching Angel, I'd often wondered, why did the characters seem to attach so much importance to the existence of the soul for the capacity to make correct moral choices? For the most part, shouldn't they have been saying Angel gained a conscience rather than a soul when he was cursed by gypsies? Don't demons already have souls, otherwise they'd just be inert piles of guts and bones?

As it turns out, according to McLaren in the link listed above (paragraph 28 of his essay), the Buffyverse has competing concepts of the soul wherein,
At times the emphasis is almost wholly existential and the soul an abstracted metaphor. At other times, the soul functions as an organ of moral choice that facilitates good. And, at the other extreme, the soul is depicted as a Platonic object that comprises human identity and will.
Far from being sloppy contradictions, these competing theories are used as devices to add dramatic tension to the narratives in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

For other viewpoints on the concept of the "soul" in Angel, please see this discussion regarding Season 4's "Soulless" at the All Things Philosophical on BtVS and AtS site.

Can a soul be destroyed? Using my preferred classical definition of a soul, a soul departs the body immediately after death and travels to the appropriate heaven or hell dimension. I suppose a soul could possibly get lost in limbo, but that's too horrible to think about. I concluded that Fred's soul probably went to heaven as soon as Illyria's demon soul kicked her out of her body. However, I still felt an obligation to examine the different doctrines within the Angelverse to see where they led me.

I found Season 4's Angelus arc quite interesting where the shaman revealed in "Calvary" that it was possible for a soul to be destroyed in the Angelverse. Since that episode seemed to definitively establish the concept that a soul could be completely destroyed, it set a precedent that would continue on throughout the series. Therefore, as the mad doctor informed Charles Gunn in Season 5's "Shells" that "Miss Burkle's soul was consumed by the fires of resurrection", Angel and the rest of the gang unquestioningly accepted that explanation and ceased trying to regain her soul. Although the Season 4 shaman seemed more credible than the Season 5 doctor, I don't think the audience was ever given any proof that either of these men were the definitive authority on this subject matter.

I always understood that the horror or Fred's fate was not that she died, but that her soul was supposedly totally destroyed. (Think of how heavily it weighed on Angel towards the end of Volume 4 when he hoped Wesley and Fred were together, but couldn't imagine how that would have been possible.) She failed to exist in any form after her death, so there was nothing to bring back to life. We tend to handle end of life issues better if we feel that our souls will continue on in one form or another after our deaths. Although After the Fall pussyfooted around the subject of Fred's soul in general, the comics did not come out and tackle the issue of whether or not the soul can be destroyed within the Angelverse. I'll have to file this as still being an open question, although, as I mentioned above, it all ended as a moot point by the end of Volume 4.

Where would Fred's memories logically return to after the spell of the Orlon Window was broken? This is in reference to the Season 4 finale, "Home", where Angel struck a deal with Wolfram & Hart to provide Connor with a new start by removing everyone's prior memories of him and placing him with the nice middle class Reilly family. It was later revealed in Season 5's "Origin" that the old demon Cyvus Vail performed a spell called the Orlon Window that removed the memories and, presumably, placed the memories for safekeeping within a magical glass cube. Or so I thought.

Vail cautioned Angel that "If it were to break around someone whose mind had been altered, then all his old memories would come rushing back." Wesley, in a mistaken belief that Angel sold out Fred as part of the deal to take over Wolfram & Hart and give Connor a new life, broke the cube and the old memories returned to Connor, Wesley and Illyria.

At first I thought the glowing glass cube literally held everyone's memories. If the cube was destroyed, the memories would come rushing out and return to their respective owners. In my post from last July, I thought the memories would need some sort of marker so that they'd know which owner to return to, with the soul being the logical marker. Following that further, the memories should have returned to Illyria only if Fred's soul was still inside of her.

Now I'm thinking that the Orlon Window did not literally remove people's memories, but simply altered them instead. As soon as the glass cube was broken, the spell was broken, and people's memories reverted back to their original states. In that case, if memories were simply stored in the brain cells, it would make a lot more sense that Illyria would have been the recipient of the restored memories.

Indeed, I can look at this dialogue in a new light, where Illyria told Wesley "You are a summation of recollections." I still think the most important part of the scene is when Wesley pointed out to Illyria that "We are more than just memories", where, by implication, he denies that Illyria is Fred simply because she possesses Fred's memories. However, it doesn't negate the fact that Fred's memories, altered or otherwise, had a profound influence on Illyria herself. As an aside, in my post from July I wondered if Illyria even received Fred's restored memories, but I think it's pretty clear now that she did.

Closing Thoughts. I ended the main part of my "Soul of the Matter" post with this:
So, in my mind, the question remains. Was Illyria 100% Illyria? Or was there a little bit of Fred inside of her? My best guess is that it was 100% Illyria, but there was always a glimmer of hope that Fred could make some sort of comeback. Although it's fun to play "what if", it does somewhat cut down on the enjoyment of a situation if you can't figure out what the character represents. For this reason alone, the entire Fred/Illyria story arc remains somewhat unsatisfying to me.
Similar to how I'm satisfied with the end of the Wesley Wyndam-Pryce story arc, I'm also satisfied with the end of Fred's story. I'm reasonably sure that Fred's soul immediately went to where it was supposed to go upon death (Heaven). Illyria's adventures continued on after Volume 4 of After the Fall, but presumably she had a much better idea of who she was, although she would continue to have to try to figure out her place in her new world.

I was skeptical at first whether it would be worthwhile to read the Angel: After the Fall continuation series. I was afraid that the tone and spirit would be so different from the TV series that nothing would mesh. In other words, I was afraid After the Fall would drop too many elements from the original story and introduce other elements that were completely out of character. I wasn't sure what to think after reading Volumes 1 and 2, but Volumes 3 and 4 erased all of my lingering doubts. After the Fall not only faithfully continues the story line, it also brings many of the original elements to a satisfying conclusion.

I used to think it would be perfectly acceptable for a person to call it quits on Angel after watching the series finale, but now I'm starting to lean towards telling people that it's essential to at least read Volumes 1 -4 of After the Fall. It would make sense that the TV series itself would have had a few loose threads since its cancellation seemed to come as a complete surprise to everyone. Now I'm just wondering, is After the Fall a pretty faithful representation of what Season 6 might have looked like?

In my next After the Fall post, I'll explore more of Charles Gunn's tragic fate and his own issues regarding vampires and the soul.

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