Adam; or Definitely Not the Modern Prometheus.

Carrying on this week’s exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Four in our Buffy Blog Series, we have Dana Alex’s second post. Dana’s post explores Adam in the context and through the lens of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Make sure you check out the posts so far, and if you want to get involved with the discussion or if you want to share posts, use the hashtag #BuffySlays20.

If somebody asked me to write down a list of my favourite Big Bads throughout the entire series, Adam would most probably become last. Within the Buffy community, there is the consensus that there are too many flaws in his character and, most probably, in Season Four as a whole that make him the least exciting Big Bad. Despite all this, there is one connection that is constantly drawn to Adam: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In the following blog post I would like to discuss whether I consider Adam to be a Frankensteinian monster.

In my previous post, I discussed the great variety of Gothic intertextuality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, yes, Mary Shelley’s Frankensteinalso finds its place in the series. The first time Shelley’s text is used within the show is in the second episode of Season Two (‘Some Assembly Required’). This episode deals with Daryl who died in an accident and was then later brought back to life by his brother. Just like Frankenstein’s monster, Daryl clearly suffers from being an ugly and isolated creature, and thus wishes for a female friend that is just like him.

(Bride of Frankenstein, 1935)

The connection to Frankenstein can easily be drawn. The ugly monster is desperate to belong to society, is even willing to kill out of sheer anger with the world and is frustrated that he is destined to be alone. I further believe that even though this episode may not be essential for the entire series, it still demonstrates the possibilities within the Buffyverse, in terms of magic and resurrection, perfectly and is a great way of including essential Gothic texts into the show.

Many people have argued that apart from Daryl, another Frankensteinian monster can be found in the show: Adam. Up to a certain point, describing Adam as being a Frankensteinian monster is legitimate. Indeed, he is the result of a scientific experiment by scientists. Without a shadow of a doubt, he looks hideous as he consists of a great variety of body parts (from different species). Also, his strength is far superior compared to human strength. A quote from the original text could easily be used to describe Adam’s appearance: ‘I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs.’[i] Unarguably, the process of creating Adam in combination with his physical strength and repulsive outward appearance would suggest that he is a Frankensteinian monster.

Yet, there are aspects that make me question whether Adam should actually be described as such a monster. In general, the term Frankensteinian seems to be used almost arbitrarily and it is always defined rather loosely. Again, when considering Adam, it gets clear that in this context, Frankensteinian only means the way Adam was created and the way his outward appearance is reminiscent of Shelley’s monster. Apart from that, I would argue against the understanding of Adam as a monster that is a Frankensteinian one, as a great number of essential attributes of Frankenstein’s monster are absent in this narrative. 

When we think back to the original text by Mary Shelley, the monster is depicted as someone, who from the day he came to life was constantly looking for acceptance amongst humans and wishes nothing more but to be part of their society. When he is clearly neglected not only by Victor but by everyone, he eventually asks his creator for someone like him. It is only every time when Victor either abandons him or cannot give him what he desires that forces him to murder out of sheer revenge.

There are dozens of essays and chapters on this aspect of Frankenstein  discussing that Victor is very much to blame for all this and that the monster is not the only villain here. Botting, for instance, describes the story’s monster as follows: ‘Its villain is also the hero and victim, while diabolical agency has been replaced by human, natural and scientific powers.’[ii] I believe that this quote very accurately depicts the three elements that are not only essential for Frankenstein’s creature but, in fact, for every Frankensteinian monster in other works of fiction. A Frankensteinian monster is villain, hero and victim. It is so hard for me to acknowledge Adam as a Frankensteinian monster because he represents only one of these aspects, the villain. The other two, which I consider to be very important are completely ignored within all of Season Four.

For instance: immediately after Professor Walsh brings him to life, he murders her. Whereas Frankenstein’s monster at least has a motive that not justifies but explains his murders, Adam kills Maggie without any reason. And even further: ultimately, Frankenstein’s monster never intended to be evil and regrets every single crime he has committed, yet when Adam kills a young boy in the episode ‘Goodbye Iowa’, he does this without any hint of regret as this act was merely research to him and he does not even realise that killing is wrong. Adam’s behaviour is everything but human.

(Adam, just before he murders an innocent boy – for research!)

This inhuman behaviour is mainly caused by the fact that, unlike Frankenstein’s monster who only consists of human parts, Adam is made from human, demon and machine. Considering both humans and demons in the Buffyverse, I would argue that both are capable of having emotions, can differentiate between right and wrong and, theoretically, can have souls. I do not want to start a discussion on whether Frankenstein’s monster has a soul or not but it is perfectly apparent that there is only humanity in him.

The YouTuber Passion of the Nerd[iii]uploads Buffy and Angel episode guides more or less regularly and one sentence by Wesley from the Angel episode ‘To Shanshu in L.A.’ seems to be very important when attempting to answer the question of what being human really means: ‘It is our desires that make us human.’ I believe that this statement should be considered to be true even beyond the Buffyverse. The reason why we consider Frankenstein’s monster to be the hero of the story but also a victim is caused by the fact that we understand him as a human being that is suffering and desires nothing but acceptance by humanity. We can relate to these desires and we thus empathize with him. Adam, on the other hand, has no desires – he is programmed like a computer. In fact, Adam is nothing but a robot in a human/demon-flesh-shell. Empathy for Adam amongst the viewer is therefore an impossibility. Each of his actions are programmed (and theoretically not his fault) yet, the audience still cannot see him as a victim as he does not feel any pain, neither physically nor psychologically. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, Adam seems to enjoy the way he was created and gets no sympathy from the audience.

To summarise: Adam can in many aspects be described as a monster that was inspired by the monster in Frankenstein. He is the result of a scientific experiment that did not go as planned and ultimately becomes a monster that goes on a killing spree. Yet, the monster in Frankensteinis much more than that, which is why I do not consider Adam as being a successful depiction of a Frankensteinian monster. The main reasons for that are the absence of motives for any of his actions, the impossibility of considering him as anything but the villain, and ultimately, the absence of other essential parts of Mary Shelley’s story that make Frankenstein’s monster one of the most misunderstood characters in Gothic fiction.

This is just my opinion, when I think of Adam and the idea of him being a Frankensteinian monster. And it is only caused by my definition and understanding of the term Frankensteinian.If you have any other definitions or want to discuss why you completely disagree or agree with me, you can use the hashtag #BuffySlays20 on Twitter – I would love to hear your opinions!

Dana Alex is a first-year PhD student at Kingston University, London. She is interested in madness and asylums – may it be in literature, film, television or video games. Other research interests include vampires, postmodern Gothic, and she is a bit too interested in critical and cultural theory (honestly, this cannot be healthy). Dana would like to emphasize that she was certainly not using this blog as an excuse to re-watch all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer again.

[i] Shelley, Mary Frankenstein (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2003), p. 123.

[ii]Botting, Fred Gothic 2ndedition (London: Routledge, 2014), p. 93.