I ask one question of myself, and I get all of this.
I was rewatching a bit of Angel, the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer created by Joss Whedon. In the first season’s finale, it refers to Darla, as they’re raising her from the dead, as “the beast,” and intimated that this event was pivotal to the eventual plans of Wolfram and Hart to corrupt Angel and bring him to the side of evil.
I asked myself how that happens. How is Darla “the beast?”
…aaaaaand down the rabbit hole I went!
Ending at a surprising revelation of who the ultimate puppeteers in Angel were.
In the Beginning…
To begin at the beginning, we begin with Joss Whedon and the influence he had on television in general. Before him, almost every serialized TV show was highly episodic. There would often be recurring elements and characters, most especially when finales came around, but it was largely unheard of to tell cohesive stories that spanned an entire season or more. Now it’s fairly standard fare, and a good deal of that can be credited to Whedon’s success.
That is one major way in which Whedon plowed new ground with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: each episode was a chapter in the larger story of the season surrounding it. He may not have been the very first one to use this approach, but it was still fairly revolutionary at the time, and he proved to be very good at it.
Whedon aimed even higher with Angel. In following Buffy’s vampire lover to Los Angeles, he didn’t simply weave each episode into a season-long narrative… he weaved each season into a series-long narrative! I cannot recall ever seeing that done before or since! Now that was ambitious!
It didn’t quite work out perfectly, as the never-to-be-sufficiently-damned network ended the show too soon. Angel needed at least one more season, and maybe longer, to really come to its true fruition, but Whedon and his crew are due some serious props for cobbling together the ending they made as well as the entire narrative preceding it.
What this means, of course, is that there is a great deal of accurate foreshadowing in the first season, especially its finale, and these shadows reach to the very end of the last season.
Much of that comes from the dialogue of Vocah, a powerful lower being, warrior of the underworld, bringer of calamity, etc. He appeared for only the one episode, but he both significantly altered and foretold the course of the plot for years to come. He was able to do this because he was, in essence, a manifestation of the forces at work in the background come forward to make things happen in accordance with their will.
Setting the Stage
After the first several times Angel collided with the nefarious law firm of Wolfram & Hart, things began to heat up when it turned out that powerful otherworldly forces already had their eyes on the vampire with a soul for a long time. He was only one of many pieces on the board, but one of crucial importance, and events long in the making were finally coming to a head. So they didn’t interfere too directly, but waited, biding their time, watching the threads of destiny unfold… with just a little bit of nudging, here and there.
On one side of Angel stand the Powers That Be. We don’t ever know much about them except that they are some sort of collection of higher beings of great power which watch over the world (and more) acting through their flesh-and-blood agents. Among these agents are Angel himself, who acts as their champion. He is assisted by people to whom the Powers grant visions, usually of the immediate future or the present. He also, initially, has a pair of holy oracles who can guide and assist him. This is topped off with a scroll filled with prophecies, many of which involve Angel directly, including how the vampire with a soul will play a crucial role in the apocalypse. Though that role is undefined and foretold to be unclear, the aftermath seems to include the restoration of his mortality, his humanity, so he can live in peace to the end of his days.
Opposing the Powers are the Senior Partners. These are cunning, powerful entities, chief of which are a trio known as the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Not only are they the obvious founders and patrons of the law firm, Wolfram & Hart, but it is intimated that they were once fairly weak, “barely above the vampire,” and the fact that they grew so much stronger by the use of their wits is certainly disconcerting to think about. They clearly have their eyes on Angel too, and seek to turn prophecy to their advantage by corrupting him and gaining his service. It is not always clear what they think of their underlings’ many disputes with him, including numerous outright attempts to kill him, but, if nothing else, the ongoing conflict kept their power and influence foremost in Angel’s mind, which proved pivotal to their plans as well. That seems to have been their criteria for judging most everything their underlings did.
So, we have two sides of powerful entities, each largely allowing things to play out without direct interference, but nudging things. The Powers mostly used the vessel of their visions, but the Partners sometimes acted a little more directly. They didn’t just dictate or understand prophecy, they meddled in it.
Thus: Vocah, one of their foremost champions.
Vocah is sent to LA by the Partners, greeted and his efforts facilitated by the lawyers at Wolfram & Hart, and he has a very specific purpose. That purpose was a little hampered by the fact that Angel had that scroll of prophecies, which, as it happens, he stole straight out of Wolfram & Hart’s own vault. Upon learning of the theft, Vocah’s ire grew greater only by learning that Angel was the one who stole it, and now has it in his possession. In his words:
“Angel. I am summoned for the Raising, the very thing that was to bring this creature down to us, tear him from the Powers That Be, and he has the scroll?”
He waxes a little further about how dire the situation is, as it favors the Powers instead of the Partners:
“He is in possession of the prophecies. His connection to the Powers That Be is complete.”
That connection, one can infer, includes his friend with the visions – Cordelia, at the time – the Oracles, and, finally, the scroll. Everything that the Powers have provided for him, Angel now has. But Vocah is undeterred:
“All avenues to the Powers shall be cut off from him and the scroll returned to us.”
That, at least according to one lawyer, wasn’t just Vocah spouting off his own will, but seems to have also been foretold somewhere. Vocah certainly seems to make good headway with it. He curses Cordelia to die slowly and in pain, murders the Oracles in their own temple, and simply steals the scroll back from Angel’s office, destroying it and nearly killing Angel’s comrade, the one man Angel can rely on to make sense of the scroll, in the process. However, by the end of the episode, Angel retrieves the scroll again and uses it to remove the curse off Cordelia, saving her life. So Vocah would seem to have failed at severing Angel’s connection with the Powers, which seems a bit odd, for something that is foretold to happen, no?
Ah, but that is only in the short term. Cosmic puppeteers are very good at playing the long game, and the longer the game they play, the more formidable they truly are.
The true crux of this first finale was the aforementioned “Raising.” The thing which is actually meant to tear Angel from the Powers and bring him to the Partners. Vocah may have tried earnestly on his own, and nearly succeeded, but it was the Raising which was destined to succeed, not Vocah. So Vocah failed at doing it himself, but he did ensure the success of the Raising, at the cost of his life.
The words of that ceremony, or at least the part which is prophetic, were also uttered by Vocah, before he had to stave off Angel’s vengeful attack.
“As it was written, they shall prepare the way and the very gates of Hell shall open. That which is above shall tremble, for that which is below shall arise. And the world shall know the beast, and the beast will know the world.”
The “they” in question refers to five vampires, the living dead who are sacrificed in this ceremony, to bring something from Hell into the world. It turns out to be Darla, Angel’s vampire lover, the one who turned him in the first place.
And now we arrive back at the beginning, where I asked, “How is Darla the beast?” Which kicked off all of this.
With Vocah’s prophecies, and the foreshadowing they entail, in mind, let’s skip ahead. The point of bringing Darla back, after all, was to bring Angel to the side of Wolfram & Hart. And, as it happens, that is precisely what they got. It didn’t happen all at once, but it did happen, and there is a straight line between Darla’s resurrection and Angel’s fall.
Angel joins Wolfram & Hart.
Why? Because they had what he needed: a way to save his son, Connor.
The son he had with Darla.
It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course. Whedon had three years to take Angel down the road to joining an evil law firm, and he made every second count.
There’s going to a bit of bouncing around the timeline here, fair warning.
Starting at the fourth season finale and working our back towards Darla’s return to the mortal world, we have Connor going absolutely stark, raving crazy. He went so off the rails that he took over a store and strapped bombs to innocent people. He strapped a bomb to himself, too, apparently so far gone that all he could really want was destruction, including his own. Angel had to take him down, to save him and the civilians both, but saving Connor’s life wasn’t enough. He had to save Connor’s very soul.
Connor was broken and unstable, so Angel did what he had to do in order to make him whole and stable. With the resources of Wolfram & Hart, he was able to commission a network of wizards and witches to rewrite Connor’s memory, and the memories of a good family, even an entire community, it would seem, so he remembered a happier, more stable upbringing. Overwriting Connor’s own tragic past, giving him a loving, and living, mother, father, and sisters, as well as a hopeful future, Angel saved his son, and sold himself to the Partners for it.
But Connor only became so lethally volatile as a result of the life he had known before.
His birth was apparently included in another set of prophecies, foretelling a confluence of tumultuous events called the Tro-Clon which would bring about either the ruination or purification of humankind. Or, perhaps, both. They did culminate with the advent of a being on Earth whose influence could bespell the entire human race, ending all human conflict of every variety. But then its influence was broken, and humanity resumed its ruinous ways instantaneously. So, humankind was purified and ruined in quick succession.
This entity, however, orchestrated its arrival on Earth with a great deal of skill. It was a cosmic puppeteer on the same level as the Powers That Be. Indeed, it was a rogue Power, a Power That Was, before it broke ranks and began manipulating events to suit its own ends. That was what everything within the Tro-Clon was all about: a multitude of events, large and small, so it could gain a physical body on Earth and enslave the whole of humanity, mind, body, and soul alike.
It’s name was Jasmine, and like the other Powers, she, too, had servants. Indeed, some were corrupted servants of the Powers, including the demon Skip, who served as a prison guard and as a guide to help Cordelia “ascend” to a higher plane, from which she later descended, with Jasmine hiding within her very mind. To have its own body, however, it needed to fashion one, and it needed Connor to act both as its champion and protector until it could be born… and also as the… ah… male figure involved in breeding its true body within Cordelia’s womb, we shall say.
Another of Jasmine’s servants, before it was born, was the Beast.
Yes, the Beast.
“The world shall know the Beast and the Beast shall know the world.”
The words of the Raising never actually specified that Darla was the Beast, but there remains a clear connection between her and it.
The Beast in question literally rose up from below and made everything above it tremble. It rose to do Jasmine’s will, bringing catastrophe and darkening the sun, for instance. It also slaughtered everyone at Wolfram & Hart, helped to arrange the return of Angelus – intended to be a fellow servant of Jasmine – and kept things so hectic that the team never had a moment to notice Jasmine working among them from within Cordelia. All this, it did at her direction, responding to Jasmine’s summons the moment she was able to call out to it, which she did the moment she was properly positioned for it to act and further her agenda. In short, the Beast was Jasmine’s minion, rising at her call at the exact time she needed it, which involved having Connor nearby, which in turn involved Darla’s resurrection.
Oh, yes, the world knew the Beast very well, and it was not Darla, yet Darla was intrinsic to plans of the Beast’s master.
Remember that, I’ll come back to it in a moment.
For Connor, all of this convoluted deception and manipulation by Jasmine, by “Cordelia,” and by the Beast was just the latest in a long line of such. It was almost all he ever knew. The goddess he served was a lie, the woman he loved was a lie told by that same goddess, and his father was a lie.
I refer in that last to his adopted father, or, rather, the man who stole him from Angel: Daniel Holtz.
Holtz was a vampire hunter of particular skill and accomplishment. He hunted Angelus and Darla, especially, after the two of them murdered his family. And not just murder. They turned his daughter, his little girl, and left it to Holtz to finish her himself, throwing her screaming body into the sun to became ash and dust, not even a corpse left behind to bury.
They took his family and set him to kill what was left of his own child.
Holtz returned the favor in kind when he stole Connor from Angel, raised him, and manipulated Connor so he became Angel’s enemy. That last involved his own death, supposedly at vampire hands, specifically Angel’s hands. Holtz’s revenge fell short only because Connor didn’t actually try to kill Angel, just sent him to the bottom of the ocean, from which he was eventually rescued.
Now, take all of that… all the lies and manipulation which rendered Connor’s life as anyone’s but his own… and cap it off with the choice to kill Jasmine. The latest and most powerful figure of his life, the worst, biggest, and most monstrous liar of them all, and he kills her. And that’s it. He has nothing. He is lost, broken, and alone.
Thus, his madness, which required rewriting his past to heal.
Which required Angel signing on with Wolfram & Hart.
And it wasn’t even that much of a stretch, really.
When it comes to those closest to him, Angel displayed a consistent willingness to sacrifice anything of himself to save them.
When Angel experienced one day as a human and was able to be with his true love, Buffy, he gave back all that happiness so the Oracles would undo the day, all so Buffy would live longer.
When Cordelia was being psychically tortured, he went into Hell to drag a prisoner out as ransom for her life (another manipulation by Jasmine and Skip), followed immediately by murdering the psychic who tormented her, not to mention the time when he killed Vocah and cut off a man’s hand to get back the scroll and cure her curse.
When Darla came back in a dying body, he submitted to three terrible trials so that some higher power would save her. That turned out to be a bum lead, as Darla had already been brought back. And yet, a new life was promised, and so a new life was given: the next time they had sex, they were both undead vampires, and yet they still produced a living child in the form of Connor.
When Connor was first kidnapped, he did not hesitate to kidnap a higher up at Wolfram & Hart and was fully prepared to torture him until he got whatever he wanted: help to find and save his son. And this was after Angel had previously visited the same man, hurting and threatening the man in order to get the various supernatural groups with an interest in the son born of two vampires to back off.
So, after the catastrophic events of the entire Tro-Clon, and finally Jasmine’s death at Connor’s hand, followed immediately by Connor running away, when Wolfram & Hart offered them the keys to the kingdom, with offices rebuilt and newly staffed after the Beast previously destroyed it, it wasn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility for Angel and company to take it. And that was before Angel knew what Connor was up to with the bombs-strapped-to-people and such. Once the fate of his son was at stake, it was game over.
The Senior Partners won.
They took losses, but those losses hardly mattered to them. Champions and minions and office workers alike were all slaughtered, but it didn’t even slow them down. They, themselves, brought Darla back from the dead, furthering Jasmine’s plan, including the complete destruction of their LA office, but that was one office in an enterprise that spanned the globe and even reached between dimensions. It wasn’t even a pinprick, really. Meanwhile, all of Jasmine’s servants were annihilated, as was the fallen goddess herself.
They out-schemed a professional cosmic schemer. They used and even furthered their enemy’s plans and turned them to their own end, destroying them and seizing the advantage.
And they even bagged Angel for their troubles.
Heck, it was even their own influence which nudged Angel into that moment wherein Connor was conceived. He had isolated himself – always a mistake – thinking he had to embrace the darkness in order to destroy them, and wanted to keep his friends away from that. But one little bit of gloating by one of their servants, a man whom Angel himself had allowed Darla to murder, and Angel’s will was utterly broken. In complete despair, yearning to feel something other than the cold of his darkness, he took Darla forcibly – in fairness, she did not mind – and had his way with her. It perversely took him back towards the light for a time, after he regained his senses, but there it is: the stamp of Wolf, Ram, and Hart on Connor’s very existence, as well as that of his mother.
They got what they wanted: Angel on their team. The pivotal figure of the end of the world brought to their side at last.
And severed entirely from the Powers That Be.
The Oracles: killed by Vocah.
The scroll: reclaimed in due time.
The one who had visions, tricked and taken by Jasmine until she was done with that body, and left to rot in a coma before her eventual death.
All avenues to the Powers were indeed cut off, in accordance with Vocah’s words. Angel was indeed torn from them by the Raising of Darla from Hell and the grave, and brought down to them, piece by piece and step by step.
The Senior Partners won.
…or did they?
The Chess Analogy
To bring a family anecdote into this, my nephew and I used to play chess every night. It wasn’t a very fun experience for me, as I so outclassed him that there was no challenge, and his incessant yammering about how skilled he supposedly was, and how he now knew how to beat me… next time… yeah, it wasn’t fun. I grew bored and inattentive, didn’t even think about what I was doing, and I was still winning time and time again. But then there was a moment… a single moment where my carelessness was so profound that it could have allowed even him a real chance at victory. I noticed my mistake the instant after I made it, and I had only a second or two to try and mitigate the damage. If my nephew made one, specific move, he would have me all but dead to rights, and, as it happened, he saw that move and was making it.
So I seized on the best idea that came to mind: I smiled.
I smiled in such a way that he, much more keen than he thinks I ever noticed, immediately saw that I seemed pleased with what he was about to do. In reality, in my own mind, I was in a panic over it, but he didn’t know that. He just saw me smile. He questioned it, aloud, but I said nothing about it. I just maintained my facade.
He lost his nerve and withdrew the piece he had been about to set in the best place he could have set it. He made a different move. I won. And I was even able to feel slightly proud of myself for tricking him so perfectly.
Remember: in any game, you aren’t just playing the game, you are playing your opponent.
That is what the Powers That Be really did.
So, yeah, the Partners played a long game, and it looked like they won, just like it looked like Angel and company won in the first season finale.
But the Powers played a slightly longer game.
Remember: the Powers That Be are also cosmic puppeteers.
Jasmine was one of them, after all, before she turned to her own agenda, and she was dang good at what she did. She crafted so many events, nudged so many lines, just perfectly that everything went exactly as she wanted it to, at least up until her true birth on Earth. After that, there was exactly one thing which went wrong, and it cascaded into her downfall and her death.
The Senior Partners were heavily involved in many of the events that Jasmine wanted to happen. When it was over and she was dead, they were still standing high and powerful, with the addition of Angel and his team into their ranks. Heck, the fourth season ended with them sending Angel with a pendant to Sunnydale to help Buffy fight back another force of mythical proportions, even the First Evil itself. Though that one was impossible to destroy – it never even got that physical body with which it wanted to murder mortals for pleasure – it was soundly defeated and its most terrifying army was routed, if not outright annihilated, at relatively little cost. Those who paid the price were humanity’s defenders, not the Partners themselves.
That’s two cosmic evils removed entirely from the board along with all of their minions. This may have resulted in the creation of an army of slayers, but these didn’t even have the Watchers’ Council to look out for them anymore. It would be some time before they really posed any significant threat, and with Angel on board, the Partners could advance their true apocalypse all the more.
Said apocalypse, as disclosed by Angel’s frenemy, Lindsey, and by their chiefest servants themselves, was the advance of man’s inhumanity to man. That was the ultimate agenda of the Partners and their servants, the Circle of the Black Thorn. Thus their interest in Angel, whom they corrupted bit by bit by allowing and enabling Jasmine’s agenda. And day by day by day, the power and work of Wolfram & Hart would wear down the humanity of Angel, his team, and humanity itself, bringing about the true ending of the world, the one which no slayer or even an army of slayers could hope to stop: corruption, self-destruction, the lack of love which turns humans into creatures no better than demons.
But whatever the Partners accomplished against Jasmine, the First Evil, and others, they still weren’t quite the only player left on the board. Not just yet, at least. And they clearly weren’t the best.
Everything between the Partners and Jasmine all happened while the Powers simply watched. They let it happen, and waited to make their move.
Just one real move.
The Powers watched this vampire for years, and gave a little guidance here and there in the form of visions. Those visions, at least on Angel, were first given to a half-demon named Doyle. But when Doyle was about to lay down his life for Angel, he kissed Cordelia and the visions passed to her. Then she evolved and ascended and came back and was possessed and left in a coma. But before she finally died, the Powers sent her back to Angel as an astral projection. Her spirit, her soul came back to him one last time.
Her purpose: to get Angel “back on track.”
And so she did.
Cordelia reminded him of his goodness, that he was a champion of the helpless, not of the powerful Partners. And she kissed him, in the which the visions passed from her to him. It was only a one-shot deal, mind you, but it was enough for Angel to see what he was meant to do. What he was sent to do: to find and eliminate the Circle of the Black Thorn.
And so he did.
For the love of his son, he fell into the ranks of Wolfram & Hart. He was enfolded within them, corrupted by them, and came to start doing things their way. He was raised up among them, even to their highest levels, inducted into the Circle itself, who never suspected that they were revealing themselves to a well-placed enemy that they had greedily brought into their highest ranks.
And he led his people in killing every last one of them.
It sparked a war, a true, open war, with the enraged Partners, but it was too late. Angel and his men knew that it might amount to nothing, in the end, as did even the many machinations of Jasmine. They knew they wouldn’t be allowed to survive. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to show the evil, otherworldly rulers of the world that they did not own them. Earth was not theirs and humanity was not theirs. Not just yet. This, they did, inflicting a blow far more terrible than Jasmine and her Beast ever managed. They actually set the Partners back a bit, truly hurting their efforts, at least for a time.
All this because the Powers made one move.
They allowed the Partners and Jasmine to do whatever they would with Darla, Holtz, Connor, and the rest, uncontested. In the end, their rogue former-member was destroyed and their enemies’ real efforts were truly hampered. All because they allowed both parties to fight over Angel and the world, to each corrupt their champion in turn… and then, in one move, they turned him back around the right way, exactly when he was perfectly placed to do what was needed and get the job done.
And that’s The End.
The Powers That Be are the true and ultimate puppeteers of Angel.
Well done, Joss Whedon!