At least a year after we started, Patty and I finally finished watching Buffy and Angel. For her, it was a rewatch; for me it was a first time thing brought on both by the scholarly work I’ve been doing on mourning for fictional characters and a desire to understand more about the stuff she loves.
What a ride. As she predicted embarking on this thing, I’m more of an Angel person (even if I really hate the season of demon pregnancy incest whining) and she’s more of a Buffy person. It’s easy to say that’s about me liking the darkness of Angel or her being a teen girl when she first saw Buffy, and those things aren’t untrue, but on my side of the aisle it also has something to do with a sense of intimidation I feel in the face of the women — good looking, feminine and more popular than they think they are — of Buffy, which is something I write a bit about in the forthcoming Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them. Aside from being glad to be include because, Hey, writing about stuff! for money! Yay!, it means a lot to me to have my perspective included there both as a queer woman and a genderqueer person.
Early on in our watch, the Internet warned me: You’re going to love Wesley. You’re going to identify with Wesley. And it’s going to break your heart. I entered the shows with my teeth grit for that reason alone. I didn’t necessarily want the burden of anyone else’s stories right then; the journeys I’d been on as a fan and at least tangentally-related pro with Harry Potter and Torchwood had been exhausting and personal enough. There are only so many broken boys with strange codes of personal honor this heart can house.
Luckily, Buffy-era Wesley turned out to be a buffoon, and I was more worried that I was Spike and his obsession with the word effulgent (which you have to admit is great fun to say). Last night I cried when Spike got the reception he always deserved if not in talent, then in desire and ambition, for his poetry. And when Wesley just did the work — not because he maybe had nothing left to live for, but because the work is what he knows how to do well and with passion better than anything (he’s not a man with hobbies) — I just nodded.
Yup, that’s right, I don’t believe Wesley went into Angel’s grand plan at the end because he had nothing to live for. And it’s not just that he sort of liked Illyria in her own right (actually, can we talk about the her for a minute? Ilyria is describes itself as “godking of the universe” and inhabits a female body. It was, for me, daring and compelling stuff about gender, that I wish the show had had time and inclination to go farther with; Ilyria isn’t female. It’s not male. And it’s not sexless.); it’s that when Angel asks everyone if they are in on his suicidal mission the camera lingers on Wesley and his face seems to say I can survive this; I’ve survived so much else. It’s remarkable to me. Where I expected the smile of someone ready to die in the way that we so often see in these hero narratives, there was the smile of someone who was somehow, in spite of everything, ready to live. And then he volunteers anyway.
It was an absolute punch in my gut.
The last episode of Angel is sort of a mess because the season had to be wrapped up so quickly. It’s not, strictly speaking, emotionally satisfying, but it has a glorious symmetry. In the last shot and line we are told that this whole grand story — of heroes and watchers and vampires and desperation and of small people trying to do great things in an uncaring-if-you’re-lucky universe — is about to start all over again. As it always does and always will.
I won’t tell you the last lines of my piece for Whedonistas, but I will tell you that I am, having finally seen the end of Angel, remarkably satisfied and a just little bit startled by my essay’s conclusion. I managed to nail the thing I hadn’t seen yet; time is, it seems, always out of order.
And Wesley? I didn’t cry for him. But I sure felt like his brother there for a while.