Angel/Angelus: The Problematic Nature of the Vampire Boyfriend in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Rounding off our Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Two blogs is Michelle Mastro discussing Angel/Angelus and the problematic vampire boyfriend. And as always, if you have any comments or want to share the posts, use the hashtag #BuffySlays20. 

The vampire boyfriend figures prominently in supernatural romance. Passionate but worldly, he plays to perfection the older beau character type—usually portrayed as the lover and mentor. Vampire boyfriends recur often today because these aspects of their character make them ideal foils with which contemporary postfeminist heroines can work through contradictory aspects of women’s desires and proscribed roles. And Angel from the cult television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is no exception. He is Buffy’s love interest and her teacher.

But more than that, Angel is a fatherly figure. He takes Buffy ice skating as her dad had done, he coaches her on how to adapt to changes in her immediate circle, and he makes decisions for her—even determining the parameters of their relationship at times. Add to this the fact that he lingers around the high school and peers through her bedroom window at night, and the character becomes even more problematic. Really, the pair’s relationship verges on the inappropriate or at least bucks conventional standards in age gaps. He first spies Buffy when she, fifteen and barely into high school, sits kicking her legs and sucking a lollipop. Centuries old, he is well and above her senior. 

(Buffy pre-Sunnydale)

In many ways, Angel perfectly embodies the divided temperament of the paternal mentor/lover. At times he is Angel, at others Angelus. His protectiveness can be sweet, maybe a tad overbearing, but eventually it becomes invasive and predatory after the pair has sex and Angel loses his soul. 

These developments harken back to early gothic examples. The internal conflict of Pamela, principally Samuel Richardson’s assigning Mr. B the role of love interest, villain, and occasional would be rapist, made it hard for some readers to accept him as Pamela’s husband. Given the logistical and ethical problems of designating one character the villain and hero, later Gothic novels repudiated this option. In Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian, for example, Ellena is hunted, held captive, and nearly murdered by Schedoni to prevent Vivaldi from ruining himself in marriage to her. And in The Mysteries of Udolpho, Emily is imprisoned by Montoni, not the love interest.

(Angel, being a bit creepy)

But modern versions of the vampire lover envision the wooer advanced in years as something closer to the Mr. B type. He might be a cultured older man and the dominate one in the relationship, but, most of all, he is extremely clingy and predatory. He is the one always watching. And, as a vampire, he can threaten the integrity of the heroine in ways that other dubious love interests—like Mr. B—simply could not. Angel can literally drain the life from Buffy.

And he does, or at least figuratively. Much too often Buffy defines herself in relation to him. In the episode before “Surprise,” Buffy is so preoccupied kissing Angel she neglects her slayer duties. Joss Whedon cites the modern story of a man turning into another person the morning after, and in this context the show recapitulates the gothic formula: a young woman is cut off from the protective influence of her family and friends to be isolated and then threatened by a predatory and watchful antagonist. In Buffy, Angelus creeps into the heroine’s room to watch her slumber. The following morning she and friends find disturbing pictures of themselves, mementos of his visits. Gothic heroines through luck, ingenuity, and the aid of friends typically surmount such threats to be rewarded with marriage to men of good birth and economic means.

But for Buffy, the ultimate reward is a more complete autonomy. In season two viewers are introduced to the big bads, vampires Spike and Drusilla—the latter Angel’s former conquest. Drusilla serves as a warning for Buffy, an example of what not to be. Angel drove Drusilla mad, carving bits of her life from her—family, friends, an identity—leaving only himself to fill the void. In “Reptile Boy,” Buffy comes close to articulating the type of transformation undergone by other human lovers, telling Angel: “When you kiss me I want to die.” Could Buffy give up everything for her vampire boyfriend? Could she be another Bella Swan, whose boyfriend also sits at her elbow ceaselessly watching her?

(Drusilla and Angel)

Angel has transfigured in Angelus, and there is no ambiguity anymore in his intentions or actions. The battle for Buffy is now one defined as predator versus prey, vampire versus slayer. He wants to literally drag her to hell along with the whole world, and she is forced to kill him to save herself and everybody else. But in so doing, she also asserts her own selfhood. “In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point,” says Whistler the demon in “Becoming Part Two,” and his words ring true. Fighting Angelus, Buffy is nearly bested; she’s on the ropes. Her magic sword gets tossed away. “Now that’s everything, huh? No weapons…No friends…No hope. Take all that away…and what’s left?” asks Angelus. Buffy responds, “me,” catching his sword between her bare fingertips. 

(Buffy in the Season Two finale, and one of her most awesome Slayer moments)

Angelus turns back to Angel just in time to be sent to hell. Buffy loses her love, but also all he had come to represent. Unlike Bella or Drusilla, she will not lose herself in the vampire man in her life. At the season finale, we see her on a bus heading to Los Angeles, the city of angels—ironic since this is where she will learn to live without Angel. She will have the opportunity to reconnect with aspects of herself in episode one of season three. She will go by her middle name Anne, effectively naming herself and commencing the beginning of a longer journey back to a self separate from him.

Vampire boyfriends offer heroines like Buffy a wealth of experience to draw upon. They can also be thoughtful gentlemen of bygone eras. But oftentimes they are illustrations of hyper-masculinity—harbingers of extreme violence and untrammeled sexuality. Luckily for Buffy (by the end of season two at least) she has met with the type and can move on.

Michelle Mastro is a graduate student at Indiana University, Bloomington’s English PhD program. She grew up watching Buffy and is excited to combine her love of the show with her studies on the development of the novel. She loves all things horror, and to her, autumn is the greatest season not just for Starbucks pumpkin spice but for the availability of horror film marathons on TV—of which she watches plenty