Vampires, Sacrifice, and Redemption

Note: there will be spoilers here. All the shows involved went off the air years ago, so if you haven’t watched them, that’s your own fault.

From when I was a kid, my favorite TV show was Star Trek in all its incarnations. (OK, not the animated series, which I still haven’t watched.)  I figured that would always be the case, that nothing would ever be able to beat out Star Trek as my favorite.  Then along came a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel.  I now consider that combo to be my favorite TV show of all time (and space, for that matter.)

One of the reasons why has to do with sacrifice.

My favorite episode of any Star Trek series is “Yesterday’s Enterprise” from the Next Generation.  In that episode, the Enterprise-D encounters a temporal anomaly through which the Enterprise-C emerges.  At that moment, reality shifts, and the Federation has been at war with the Klingons for years — and they are losing.  Meanwhile, the Enterprise-C, which had been lost years earlier, feels fortunate to have escaped from a battle they were losing against some Romulans while defending a Klingon outpost.  Eventually, the Enterprise-C and its crew must go back through the anomaly to face certain death against the Romulans, because their heroic sacrifice defending Klingons will help prevent the Federation-Klingon war.

I love characters who sacrifice. I love sacrifice.

And Buffy the Vampire Slayer does sacrifice better than Star Trek.

Consider the finale of the second season. Buffy’s in love with Angel, the heroic vampire with a soul. But unfortunately he’s lost his soul and is now the evil Angelus.  Angelus has a plan to suck the whole world into a hellish dimension.  If he opens the portal, only killing him will be able to seal it.  Thanks to ample evidence of Angelus’s cruelty, Buffy has reconciled herself to the fact that she may have to kill Angelus if he succeeds in opening the portal.

He succeeds, and Buffy fights against him.  Then, just as victory against Angelus is in her grasp, the backup plan her friends were working on comes through: Angel’s soul is restored. He’s no longer evil — he’s the person she loves.

And she still has to kill him to seal the portal.

But even more than sacrifice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are about redemption — which is a theme Star Trek doesn’t deal with much, as most of its major characters were only evil in a parallel universe.

Various major characters in the Buffyverse have redemption arcs.  One of the best involves Faith (played by Eliza Dushku, who was raised LDS [I had to tie this to Mormonism somehow]), a vampire slayer who turns to the dark side.  Eventually Faith realizes she must pay for what she has done and turns herself in to the police and allows herself to be imprisoned for murder — even though her superpowers would allow her to break out at any time.

But there’s a key point about redemption made in the last season of Angel. Angel and Spike (another vampire with a soul — long story) talk about their eternal fates.

ANGEL
(walks close around Spike, whispering in his ear)
You think any of it matters? The things we did? The lives we destroyed. That’s all that’s ever gonna count. So, yeah, surprise. You’re going to hell. We both are.
(sits on couch)

SPIKE
Then why even bother?
(scoffs)
Try to do the right thing, make a difference…

ANGEL
What else are we gonna do?

SPIKE
So that’s it, then. I really am going to burn.

ANGEL
Welcome to the club.

On the surface, it sounds like a lack of redemption. But the deeper truth is that by becoming the kind of people who choose to do good even though they believe it doesn’t do them any good, they are redeeming themselves.

Very few of us have done as much evil as Angelus and Spike did in their soulless days, but if redemption seems possible for them, then it should be possible for us, too. But the key is not just to do good, adding up the good deeds vs. bad on some cosmic scale, but rather to become good.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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8 Responses to Vampires, Sacrifice, and Redemption

  1. Karlene says:

    And then there’s Buffy, season 5 ending, where she dies in place of her sister and to save the world.

    And season 6 musical, where she sings about walking through the fire because it’s what you do.

    Despite some of its crudeness, I love that show. It taught me to fight even when I’m afraid, even if I know I’ll lose.

    • I also love “the battle’s done/ and we kinda won” in the musical episode. You do what’s right knowing that even if mortal, provisional victory comes, it doesn’t erase the damage of the fight.

  2. Th. says:

    .

    Yeah. I’m only a few episodes into season two of Buffy, so I’m afraid it will be months or years before I have anything to say.

  3. Wm says:

    Excellent post, Eric.

    I love that the redemption in Angel is minor. And that what it’s about — the whole reasons he’s been fighting — is agency. Or as I wrote about the series finale:

    “From the beginning Angel and co. have been about freeing people — individual humans — from demonic influences. Slaying the demon, vampire or whatever so people can get back to their ‘normal’ lives. Angel reminds us in his stirring speech in the offices of Wolfram & Hart that you can’t ultimately erase evil, you can’t destroy forever end of story — you can only slow it down, throw a wrench in the works. It may mow you down, but you still win by standing against it because in choosing to stand you assert what humanity is all about: the freedom to make choices.”

    Or as Eric quotes: “What else are we gonna do?”

  4. SteveP says:

    It was funny to find this post this morning. I was at the Mormon Philosophy and Theology Conference and I was sitting around a table discussing TV shows and we were ranking the various shows on the quality, depth and importance of the content and we all went around ranking our shows. Buffy was my #1 most important show ever made (STNG was #2). My family would gather on Sunday Nights to watch an episode, then there was a mandatory 15 minute discussion on the episode in terms of ethical, moral , and religious implications. We usually used Jana Riess’ excellent, What Would Buffy Do? The Slayer as Spiritual Guide. The show has become like a talisman for our family’s discussions. When my second son left on his mission, he began his Mission Farewell with, “In the sixth season of Buffy . . .” and referenced the sacrifice you describe above. (I thought the Bishop was going to jump up, but my son made a great spiritual point and he relaxed). So yes, nothing beats Buffy’s slayage!

  5. J. Scott Bronson says:

    And then there’s the Xander episode – The Zeppo – in which we see The Goofy One working alone to make it possible for the Really Important Scoobies to save the world. Xander’s willingness to sacrifice all – “I like the quiet.” – is touching; even more so when we see that he’s also willing to be the Silent Hero, foregoing the honors and praises and glories of men.

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