Amends is such an odd addition to the Buffy pantheon. It’s a Christmas episode whose established universe runs contrary to the shows internal subtext. It isn’t silly enough I think to warrant the candy episode moniker, but it does have plenty of flaws. . It’s bleak, cheesy, loaded with melodrama and I absolutely love it. This episode for me falls into a favorites category that is very similar to Lie to Me. It has it’s shortcomings and dramatic oddities, but it’s so ambitious and successful in so much of that ambition that I just ignore everything else.
The episode opens with a long ‘Previously On’ featuring the infamous adventures of Angelus which leads into a flashback of some unspecified earlier time in his murdering career. Angel is just reliving one of his old kills in a dream. He stumbles out into the street and we hear via news report that it’s going to be a very sunny Christmas. He and Buffy run into each other for some awkward post (would you call what they went through a breakup?) Awkward we shouldn’t see each other anymore conversation. As they speak, Angel spies the man he killed in his dream over Buffy’s shoulder.
Buffy tells the gang and
I’m pretty sure this instance of Buffy telling him to shut his trap is one of the few in the SERIES. At this point in the series Xander’s self righteousness over Angel has become less maddening to me. And Whedon immediately balances it out when Cordelia overhears him telling everyone he’ll be having his annual Christmas camp out.
“I thought you did that every year to avoid your family’s drunken fist fights.”
The details of Xander’s life outside of the group have meted very slowly throughout the series, and some of it requires inference.
Here we have the first truly clear picture of Xander’s home life that isn’t frosted with a veneer of Xander’s sense of humor. He is without a doubt, the most consistently funny character on the show, razor witted and sharp, but that doesn’t run contrary to the idea that his homelife is a depressing mess. In fact, it might actually be evidence of it. Deborah Serani, a clinical psychologist and author of the book ‘Living With Depression,’ has said that “Comedy can actually be a defensive posture against depression. Humor is a “counter phobic” response to the darkness and sadness they feel. Their intelligence, she said, helps them put a funny spin on their despair.”
Not to suggest that there is a direct corollary in all cases between the compulsively funny and and the depressed. Only that it is one possibility for it. And in Xander’s case it fits. I’m also not suggesting a free pass for transgressions that no other character in the show would get one for either. But expecting accountability doesn’t mean exluding compassion or empathy. Xander is a deeply complex and sometimes confused character whose shortcomings can make me so angry, especially because of how brave and inspiring he can be when he’s at his best. Of course there will be MUCH more to talk about as the seasons roll on.
And after Cordelia uses Xander’s private life to scorch the earth around him in comes Oz and tells Willow how badly he is missing her and wanting to give it another shot. It’s incredibly sweet and the apparent relief Oz feels in her arms as he closes his eyes and hugs her to him always gives me a case of the manly sniffles.
At the tree park Joyce suggests Buffy invite Faith over for Christmas.
Buffy notices an odd patch of dead trees and is informed by the owner that for some reason those on this patch keep dying out and we quick cut to a dream of Angel’s in which he sees facially scarred men underground worshipping…something.
This is one my favorite scenes in the episode. Anthony Stewart Head is such a tremendous actor and can do so much in with what he DOESN’T say. His face, falling as he sees Angel at his door is chilling and instantly invoked for me the chilling scene between the two of them in Becoming Part 2. He arms himself and invites Angel in to hear his request.
Jenny’s reveal is a haunting one but let’s completely disregard what Giles says here. To quote, “The last time you became complacent about your existence, it turned out rather badly.” More on that shortly. Back at the mansion Angel sees himself as Angelus tormenting and murdering a house maid. As he goes in the for the kill he looks up and sees.
Buffy goes to Giles and asks him to help Angel. Giles agrees, as does Xander.
As the trio do research Willow shares her fears about earning Oz’s trust back, especially in continuing her friendship with Xander.
Meanwhile Angel is being taken through one of Angelus’ gruesome cries at the mansion. Looks at this guy’s outfit. This is not preindustrial clothing. This man is describing a murder that Angelus committed, between Surprise and Becoming Part 2. I love the chilling thought of what Angelus might’ve been up to outside of the scenes we saw in Season 2. The ghost turns into the maid and mother from earlier and Angel begs, saying he was a man once.”
“And what a man you were…” — “A drunken whoring layabout.”
So here is a good opportunity to revisit our ever evolving conversation regarding the soul canon. In the review for Surprise, linked here in the top right, I brought up the seeming contradiction that the judge sensed humanity in Spike and Dru, but didn’t sense any in Angelus. I suggested that maybe there was such a thing as a soul residue that might account for the purer evil of Angel. But that theory has never really sat well with me, especially after reading through the volumes of comments and other ideas people had here on the channel. The question came up again in the Becoming Part 2 review.
It wasn’t until I wrote My Top 10 Buffy or Angel Episodes (to pair with wine and a good cry) that an idea clicked for me, specifically relating to my number 1 on that list which I can’t talk about here for spoilers sake. What I was missing when talking about the Judge, was a proper definition of what makes us human. Perhaps it’s our desires, our passions that make us human. And perhaps it’s those traits that define the characteristics of the monster we become as vampires. As Buffy says in Lie to Me
If Liam was as the ghost says here:
“A drunken whoring layabout.”
If he was a man without beliefs or passions or desires. No humanity. Then there would be very little template for the demon to follow that took him over. Nothing for the Judge to burn. No guiding principles other than the demon’s pure sadism, and a singular desire to destroy the world. A great failure as a man would make a helluva monster as a vampire. In contrast, we can imagine the man Spike might’ve been before he was turned. A romantic. A poet. A much more structured template for the demon that took him over. Mind you this doesn’t at all yet answer the question of is a souled demon responsible for the crimes of the unsouled demon. Nor does it explain why Angel and Angelus are treated so distinctly in the canon.
The ghost (or whatever) soothes Angel and tells him to go to sleep. Those of you who are reading several seasons ahead…notice…the uhm….the ghost can touch him?
In the library Buffy has fallen asleep and into one of Angel’s dreams. They kiss. they have sex. There’s a scar faced man in the corner watching. Angel bites her. He awakes and ghost Jenny tries to get Angel to go and kill Buffy, suggesting that whatever the ghost is was responsible for bringing Angel back.
Giles has discovered that the ghost is really nothing of the kind. It’s a monster called the First, or the first original evil. Older than most things. And the scar eyed worshipers are the Bringers or Harbingers. The bringers can conjure the spirit of the First and sic him on people. Buffy and Xander hit up Willy’s for information and find out the Bringers are underground. They both remark on how hot it is.
Oz and Willow are having a video night. Willow has a fire and a little Barry White in the background.
Willow says she’s ready to do…well…you know…you know? And Oz says he’s not. This might be as good a time as any bring up one single problem I actually have with Oz’s character, prefacing of course with, I love the guy. But there’s an issue: In a show heavily loaded with characters who make mistakes and learn from them, and make mistakes and learn from them, Oz is essentially flawless. His speech to Willow in the van about kissing her was flawless. In Beauty and the Beasts he tried to storm off and make a dramatic gesture, but then very sweetly explained that he was making a dramatic gesture. And last episode he provided an inhumanly patient and rational explanation to his girlfriend who’d just cheated on him about how he needed space. The worst you can say about him is he gets a little insecure about his wolfishness. And then in this scene…well…I was talking with my friend Chris about it, Chris who did the drunk commentaries with me last season and will be doing the two this season and he summed it up perfectly:
Again, Oz is one of my favorite early season characters, probably because he represents a guiding and intractable moral compass, similar to the way Giles does. But even Giles has had moments of weakness that Oz has not. Oz puts Willow’s mind at ease.
“You don’t have to prove anything to me.”
*sigh* Can I date him? At the Summers house Joyce has decided to have a fire despite everyone’s numerous comments about how warm it’s been. Faith shows up for Christmas and Buffy runs up to get her presents and is confronted by.
Angel shows signs of having been worked into a thirst. I love this two up perspective shot of Buffy with Jenny in the background. Very well done. Angel can’t seem to get the Firsts voice out of his head and runs.
At the mansion the First continues to taunt Angel, suggesting he’s weak and too powerless to prevent this.
This episode answers the question I brought up in Revelations, does souled Angel think that he is responsible for the actions of unsouled Angelus. Clearly, the answer is yes. Which makes sense of course and is not incompatible with Angelus’ belief that the answer is no. When we talk about Angel’s timeline we have to remember we’re talking about THREE distinct individuals. Liam, Angelus, and Angel. Soulless Angelus is not Liam, merely a monster created from the template of him. But, souled Angel is BOTH Angelus and Liam. As a vampire, Angel can’t be free of the demon inside him, his dark half. And fascinatingly in this episode we see him re-experiencing the pleasure that Angelus experienced through sadism.
Buffy figures out the dead trees from the tree farm earlier indicate the Bringers underneath. she drops into an underground cave. She beats up the bringers and ends the spell. The First confronts her, and warns her of Angel’s impending demise. Buffy runs to the mansion and finds Angel on cliff overlooking town waiting for the sunrise. Ready to kill himself.
There is a precedent here for Angel attempting suicide. Don’t forget in Season 1, Episode 7 when I suggested he was attempting suicide by cop against Buffy – fighting poorly and freezing at the pivotal moment.
Buffy confronts him and tries to get him to relent but Angel is adamant. According to Angel, the flaw in him is not the monster that wants to kill, but the human that is too weak to resist.
“It told me to lose my soul in you and kill you and become a killer again.” – “What does it matter?” – “Because I wanted to. Because I want you so badly. I wanted to lose myself in you.” “It’s not the demon in me that needs killing Buffy. It’s the man.”
In the review for Lie to Me I brought up the fact that Joss Whedon has stated he is an atheist and absurdist. And in the Lovers Walk review I pointed at that Angel was reading Nausea, by Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre was a key figure in the evolution of the philosophy of existentialism which, in a nutshell, is the belief that the universe outside of us lacks any intrinsic meaning but that we can create meaning as individuals through personal responsibility and choice.
So what then is absurdism? Absurdism shares a common template with existentialism in the belief there is no intrinsic meaning to life or the universe around us. But also that it is a part of the the human condition to constantly seek meaning and purpose regardless. And what can spring from awareness of that spiritual dissonance is a profound melancholy or despair. The man most principally responsible for contemporary Absurdism was Albert Camus, who called that disconnect between the meaningless universe and the insatiable human desire to look for meaning, The Absurd. And Camus’ essay, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ begins “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
Angel being forced to relive the deeds of Angelus has certainly painted for him a meaningless world, and triggered in him an existential crisis. As he says to Giles:
“I need to know why I’m here.”
Camus postulated three possible choices to the problem of absurdity and the resulting despair. The first was the leap of faith. Believing in something which was intangible or unprovable. Not necessarily a belief in God persae, though that certainly counts. But blind hope with total lack of evidence is another.
“How do you know the other universe is any different than this.” – “Because it has to be.”
But Camus was an atheist. And it’s unclear right now whether the Buffyverse has a deity or an afterlife (though I have something to say about that in a bit.) Even if it did, it’s doubtful that Angel could get into it what with the demon in him and all.
“Am I a thing worth saving? Am I righteous man? The world wants me gone.”
This brought Camus to his final two choices. And by example he used the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a man condemned by the gods to push a rock up a hill. Just before reaching the top the rock would roll back to the bottom and Sisyphus would go and get it…forever. And here, at the top of a hill in Sunnydale, Angel’s rock has rolled back down to the bottom, and he has the choice of whether or not to go and get it, or to stand at the top and watch the sunrise. And that is also us, according to Camus. Do we walk back down to the bottom of the hill and grab our rock, continuing our impossible search for meaning in a world that has none?
Camus’ answer was to embrace the absurdism that arises from being an entity who hungers for meaning in a meaningless universe, and to continue the hunt for it regardless. By embracing things as they are we free ourselves from the despair over how things are not. In acknowledging the absurdity of seeking meaning, but continuing this search regardless, one can be happy, gradually developing his or her own meaning from the search alone.
So why not suicide? Well the absurd must be taken on; it’s part of the human experience. Suicide eliminates the absurd rather than confronting it, and so doesn’t solve a problem but instead ignores it.
In other words: “Strong is fighting. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s everyday.”
Of Sisyphus Camus wrote. “It is during that return [to get the rock,] it is during that pause that Sisyphus interests me. That is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks towards the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.”
So, does Angel go and get his rock. Does he decide to continue to the fight? Well, for tonight he is spared having to make the choice, as at the end of a sweltering day in Southern California, it begins to snow.
So is this a cheat? This magical or divine intervention that brings the snowstorm and spares Angel’s life? Buffy is a show that might seems to have an internal contradiction between it’s subtext and it’s fiction. We’ve spent a lot of time on this channel covering the cold uncaring nature of the universe. The existential dilemma and how life without choice is barren of meaning. And the show handles those topics unflinchingly, staunchly favoring the perspective that the power and control over all these things is up to the individual and their ability to choose, the individual here being Buffy.
That’s the subtext, but it’s the subtext to a fictional world in which there ARE, demons, and monsters, and dimensions of hell. Now why in a world like that would there not be a contrary force, if not a deity then some kind of powers that be or force for good? In this episode the First says he, or she, brought Angel back from Hell but that doesn’t make a lot of sense as Giles says in the library that the First doesn’t have the ability to affect the real world – unable to do much more than haunt, and even then not without the aid of the Bringers. Wouldn’t it make more sense that there was some contrary force for good that brought Angel back? Beings that could bring Angel back from a hell dimension might certainly have had the ability to bring in a snowstorm to keep him alive.
Is the snow a cheat? I don’t think it is. It wasn’t our central protagonist that was spared through divine influence, it was Angel. Angel didn’t choose. He hasn’t understood all this. But the snow gave him more time. And the fact that it wasn’t Buffy, preserves our subtext. The universe of the show is certainly rich with potential for certain outside forces that we haven’t gotten to see. Is the snow CHEESY? Sure. That’s a concession I’ll make. Along with the guilty admission that I actually love cheese, especially as a side dish to material as ambitious as Amends.
For me this episode is sort of Angel the Series, episode zero. And the episode represents the beginning of Angel’s own journey off of Buffy and onto his own show. As Jenny points out, at this point in his life:
“You never were a fighter Angel don’t start trying now.”
He’s not a fighter yet. But give it time.
In his conclusion to The Myth of Sisyphus Camus said: It happens that melancholy rises in man’s heart: this is the rock’s victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear….But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill the human heart.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Myth, Metaphor & Morality
What’s the Deal with Comedians and Depression
This Absurd Universe: Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The School of Life
PHILOSOPHY – Sartre
Albert Camus’ Three Choices
The Myth of Sisyphus
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