Revisiting ANGEL - Darla - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Revisiting ANGEL - Darla

Shane King presents another in-depth Angel retrospective. This week it's Season 2 Episode 7, Darla.

I’ve been watching and studying television shows for most of my 25 years on this wonderful planet. By this point, I like to think I have a good grasp on figuring out where characters and storylines are heading. I don’t often get caught by red herrings and I’m rarely shocked by television these days. I don’t want that to sound like I’m boasting, it’s actually a bad thing most of the time. I want to be shocked and surprised. I want to be wrong! After re-watching “Darla”, I can safely say that twenty-five-year-old Shangel would be just as clueless as ten-year-old Shangel was at figuring out the ending to this episode. It’s funny, the signs are there! The flashbacks, Holland Manners’ dialogue, Darla’s behaviour...they’re all leading towards Darla asking Angel to turn her into a vampire again, but damn it I didn’t see it coming at all! SUCH POWERFUL TELEVISION.

“Darla” is a continuation of the last “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” episode, “Fool For Love”. While “Fool For Love” explored Spike’s backstory – what he was like as a mortal, how he became a vampire, how he killed two Slayers – this one deals with Angel and Darla’s backstories. Primarily their backstory together as a couple. Unlike Spike before “Fool For Love”, we already know a great deal of Angel’s past due to four years worth of flashbacks and stories, therefore most of the flashbacks we see in this episode that aren’t about Angelus and Darla’s relationship are about Darla’s origin story. The great thing about these flashbacks is that they aren’t just used for character backstory (which is a valid reason to use them in itself), they’re also used to help further the present story-of-the-week, as well as giving the audience more information on the Angel-Darla relationship. As Angel and Darla’s relationship has been taking centre stage recently and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, having as much information on their relationship as possible is a must. Any would-be screenplay writers or directors out there should really study the work of Tim Minear on “Angel”. Taking “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been” and “Darla” as examples, look at how well Tim is able to blend together the past and present perfectly. Not just visually, but in the script as well. Everything you see in both of these episodes has a purpose. Nothing is filler or added in for fun. He’s maximising his television time. Sit down, watch these two episodes, and take notes.

What does it mean to have a soul? How are people with souls different to vampires without souls? Is it a simple case of a lack of remorse or caring when you don’t have a soul? Is it more complex? Is free will taken into account? Over the years, we’ve had this question answered to a certain extent. Through Angel’s character, Spike’s character, and a host of flashbacks, we’ve built up in our heads what it means to have a soul. However, it’s not until this episode and Darla’s journey that you can really appreciate what having a soul again means. It took Angel almost 100 years to deal with the return of his soul, but we didn’t see that on screen! We saw snippets, but it didn’t give a detailed account. Darla here does. Darla was sired by The Master (he’s back!!!), a demon setup shop inside her body, she went on a vicious killing spree with Angelus for a hundred and fifty years, Angel killed her, and now she’s been brought back as human. She has a soul now. Something she hasn’t had in a very long time. She’s left to deal with the guilt and turmoil from all the acts that the demon inside of her committed while she was about a mind-melt.

Understandably so, at the beginning of this episode Darla is falling apart at the seams, desperate to find a way out of the guilt and overwhelming feelings of remorse that are haunting she turns to Angel for help. At first, it seems as though Darla is turning to Angel for help because he’s the only person in the world that can empathise with her situation. He knows what it’s like to have a soul returned to him. In actuality, what’s happening is that the entire 42-minutes are very subtly leading to the final scene where Darla asks Angel to turn her into a vampire again so that she can escape the torment. Was this Holland’s plan? Darla tells Angel in “Dear Boy” that Wolfram & Hart’s plan for bringing her back was for Angel to lose his soul in Darla, but this doesn’t track with what we’ve learned from the Shanshu Prophecy at all. The Scrolls of Aberjian state that Angel, not Angelus, will play a major role in the final apocalypse. It would appear that Holland’s plan in bringing Darla back as human was that is would raise a lot of complicated moral issues for Angel. Holland knew Darla would start falling apart and would turn to her sire, Angel, for help. Holland knew that Angel would be distracted and would enter an area of moral grey. Will Angel turn her into a vampire again to save her life? Will he sit back and watch her die of syphilis in silence? If this was indeed Holland’s plan to make Angel darker and potentially morally corrupt, it was a good one. The only problem is that Holland didn’t foresee Angel turning Darla down. This entire season has been about showing Angel and the audience that Angel has darkness and goodness within him. We’ve seen the T’ish Magev literally tell him as much! We’ve seen him kill a demon that was protecting a pregnant woman, we’ve seen him turn his back on a hotel of humans in the 1950s, and we’ve seen him constantly ignore his friends’ advice. What you have to remember is that Angel has a team of dedicated lawyers after him whose sole purpose is to turn him dark to further Wolfram & Hart’s goals. It’s enough to make anyone reach breaking point!

The episode opens with Darla falling apart. Like Angel warned her in “Dear Boy”, she’s starting to feel remorse and guilt for all the people she brutally murdered and all the lives she destroyed. Darla quips to Lindsey that herself and Angel are much closer than they’ve ever been they’re soul mates. The parallels and complexities between these two characters’ journeys are unlike any other two vampires in the Buffyverse at this point. They both went from human to vampire, to being torn apart due to Angel’s soul being restored, to Angel killing Darla, to Darla returning as a human with a soul. As far as we’re aware, at this point they’re the only two people to ever have a soul returned to them after once being soulless. Talk about a complex relationship. Darla is destroying mirrors in her room because she can’t stand to look at herself any longer...something she never had to worry about when she was a soulless vampire. She’s cutting her wrists to try and bleed the pain away. To wash away her guilt through self-harm and self-hate. Yet again, Angel and Darla even go through the same process after being re-ensoulled...Angel’s just takes a little longer. Angel also went through a self-hate phase before finally learning to love and appreciate his soul. To see it as a gift instead of a curse. At first, he tried to be the vicious killer that Darla wanted so that he wouldn’t lose her. He tried to wipe the remorse from his mind, but it didn’t last. Similarly, Darla sees her soul and mortality as a curse right now. She wants nothing more than to be what she once was again. By the end of “The Trial”, Darla doesn’t want Angel to sire her anymore. She wants to die as a human rather than be a soulless monster...curse you, Lindsey and Drusilla! 

Through flashbacks, we learn that Darla – who doesn’t remember her human name – was a prostitute in the 17th century and that she was dying of syphilis. Suddenly, syphilis isn’t as funny as it was when Xander was cursed with it in “Pangs”, is it? It looks brutal. The Master enters Darla’s room and offers her salvation. He offers her an escape from death, an eternal life. Please forgive my chance to squee about having Mark Metcalf and The Master back in the Buffyverse momentarily! For a character that only really appears in six episodes of season one of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (excluding the Wishverse, dreams, flashbacks, and The First Evil taking on The Master’s appearance), The Master has left a lasting impression far beyond what he should have. It’s a testament to Mark’s acting ability that The Master is able to leave such an impressive legacy.

For the second time in three episodes, Gunn is the one who figures out what to do in order for Angel Investigations to find Darla. It’s great to see the show using Gunn as something more than just the ‘muscle’. His character is getting far more fleshed out in this season than he was at the conclusion of the previous one, which is always pleasant. Wesley, Cordy, and Gunn notice that Angel is making rash decisions and going down the wrong path because Darla is back. Angel tells his team that going to save Darla is something he has to do and he’s choosing to do it alone...but what choice does he have?! Does he leave his sire and former lover to deal with the pain alone, knowing himself what it feels like to be going through that remorse and guilt? Angel isn’t capable of leaving her to fend for herself! It’s not who he is! He saves souls and helps the helpless. We’ve seen it time and time again, especially with characters that are starting down their own path to redemption and characters that Angel can see himself in. Who’s more helpless right now than Darla?

I must admit, I never understood the Order of Aurelius’ objectives. How is living in the sewers and waiting for the Old Ones to return and lay waste to the humans a good plan? What are the chances of an Old One returning, anyway? That’s never gonna happen...oh, wait...Illyria. Nevermind. Perhaps The Master was a genius after all. It’s a shame The Master never got the opportunity to meet Illyria. He spent 600+ years waiting for an Old One and then died about seven years before an Old One returned. How upsetting. It’s interesting to note that right from the beginning Angelus didn’t do well with authority figures. He wanted to be free and choose his own destiny, not be told what to do by The Master and the Order of Aurelius. Angelus also refuses The Beast and Evil Cordy at various other times. He’s a leader, not a follower.

Angelus: “Let’s be honest, whose face do you want to look at for eternity, his or mine?”

(such a difficult decision...)

It’s also interesting to note that ‘Darla’ means ‘Dear One’ and that The Master gave her that name.

The episode then switches to a flashback scene involving Angelus, Darla, and Drusilla, where we see William (Spike) bump into them and yell at them to watch where they’re going. We get this same scene in “Fool For Love”, only we get it from Spike’s perspective. I love dual scenes like that! In the “A Song Of Ice And Fire” (“Game Of Thrones”) books, there are two dual-chapters involving Samwell Tarly and Jon Snow. It’s the same conversation, but a chapter from each perspective. It’s amazing because it allows you to see that both characters are right in their own way. Seeing both perspectives helps eliminate the black and white nature of characters. It’s at this moment that Drusilla decides that she wishes for William to be her companion through the immortal world.

Darla: “I can feel this body dying, Lindsey. I can feel it decaying moment by moment. It’s being eaten away by this thing inside of it. It’s a cancer, this soul.”

Darla is human here and feels like her soul is killing her, eating her away from the inside. In an ironic twist, a year later when Darla is a vampire again and pregnant with Connor, Connor’s soul makes her more human and alive. When Darla’s alive, her soul is a curse, but when she’s dead, a soul is a blessing. I’m getting confused just thinking about it. Is Darla’s journey the most interesting, complex, and best handled of any recurring character from “Angel” or “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”? I think so.

Just as Darla was convincing the male Gypsy that restored Angel’s soul to reverse the curse, Spike emerges from his family’s wagon, having eaten his entire family. Oops. So it turns out that it’s Spike’s fault that Angel was stuck with a soul for a hundred years. Big oops.

There’s a scene in “Fool For Love”, where Angelus finds out that Spike has killed a Slayer and his reaction is most peculiar. The reason for this peculiar reaction is that Angelus is actually Angel by this point. He already has his soul back. At this time in his history, he’s trying to walk a fine line between being with Darla and proving that he’s still capable of being a monster and also trying to save people and do the right thing. Spike’s victory over a Slayer reinforces the fact to Angel that he’s given up his leadership role to Spike and that he has no further desire to hurt or kill people. It’s the last push he needed to realise that he can’t have it both ways. He needs to choose. This is further backed up when Angel directs Drusilla away from an alleyway where he had just saved a family from death.

The first 35 minutes or so of this episode are leading to the final scene. The episode flashes between the past, where Darla is presenting Angel with a baby and telling Angel to drink and kill the baby to prove himself, and the present, where Darla is begging Angel to turn her into a vampire again. This is the second episode out of the past three that has ended with a truly spectacular scene between Angel and Darla. Whenever David and Julie are on screen together, it’s magic. Their chemistry is flawless, their acting brings out the best of one another, and this scene is every bit as good as the final scene from “Dear Boy”. The symmetry contained within this past-to-present scene is masterfully handled by Tim Minear, who wrote and directed this episode. In the past, Angel refused to kill the baby because he wasn’t capable of it. He told Darla that he can’t do it. Just as the scene flashes back to the present and Angel is telling Darla that he’s not capable of siring her. Darla uses the same response in both scenarios – “what do you mean you can’t? You won’t”. Angel isn’t the same vampire he was back when Darla asked him to kill the baby. He’d have turned Darla into a vampire again back then in an instant. Angel would have done anything to be a vampire without a soul again, just like Darla here. Things are different now. Angel’s lived for over a hundred years with a soul. He knows that it’s better to die with a soul than to live without one once again. His character progression is phenomenal! To Darla, life means death and disease, but to Angel it means everything. The Shanshu Prophecy is his motivation and biggest desire. It’s ironic that Angel wants what Darla has and Darla wants what Angel has...body-swap, anyone? Darla asks Angel to return the ‘favour’ she did him by siring him in that alley many years ago. I love the line delivery from David when he says “...favour? that what you think?” His eyes are watering and he looks completely destroyed by Darla’s comment. She damned him for eternity. He won’t do the same to her. He refuses to sire her and Darla disappears into the night, telling Angel not to look for her again.

Quote Of The Episode

Angel: “You’re human now, Darla. Do you know what that means?”

Darla: “Of course I do! It means pain, suffering, and disease, and death. I released you from this world once, I gave you eternal it is time for you to return the favour.”

Angel: “ that what you think? You think you did me a favour? You damned me.”

Darla: “Fine...fine, if it’s such a punishment, take your revenge, pay me back. Please...”

Angel: “I can’t.”

*switches to the past*

Darla: “What do you mean you can’t? You won’t.”

Angel: “I can’t seem to be what I’m not...I’m sorry.”

Darla: “You disgust me.”

*flashes back to the present, where Darla is running away from Angel*

Angel: “Darla, wait...”

Darla: “No. Don’t look for me again.”


Shane ‘Shangel’ King is a blogger from England, where he spends most of his time reviewing television shows, attending conventions, and fanboying professionally. He’s currently reviewing every episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” in-depth on his blog, and will soon be covering “Firefly”, “Game Of Thrones”, “The Walking Dead”, “Chuck”, “Doctor Who”, and more in equal depth! You can also follow Shangel on Twitter.

Previous "Angel" Reviews
"City Of" (1x01)
"I Will Remember You" (1x08)
"Hero" (1x09)
"Five By Five" (1x18)
"Sanctuary" (1x19)
"To Shanshu In L.A." (1x22)
"Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been" (2x02)

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