Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Of Choice and Sacred Duty: Heroes, Champions, and Sacrifice
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series are shows about fighting the forces of darkness. They're shows about saving the world. They come from the deepest part of the human urge to tell stories, the part that spun the original myths, the part that speaks of heroes.

What is a hero, in the confines of these two shows? How does being a hero differ from being a Champion, a word rarely heard on Buffy but used extensively throughout Angel?

Champions
The title of "Champion" is most typically associated with the character of Angel, and is never clearly defined on-screen. The first use of the term is in "City Of" (AtS 1.01), when Doyle comes to Angel's apartment:

DOYLE: "So what does he do? He takes off. Goes to LA. To fight evil and atone for his crimes. He's a shadow, a faceless champion of the hapless human race."

But this is a casual usage; the term doesn't really stick to Angel until "Judgment" (AtS 2.01), when it's used in an approximation of its original medieval context. Angel mistakenly kills a demon that was going to serve as the champion- proxy in a fight- for a pregnant woman. Angel therefore must take the demon's place. From "Judgment," the term grows, attaining mythic, reverent connotations as the seasons roll on, until in "Destiny" (AtS 5.08), Angel and Spike are fighting each other nearly to the death (to the dust?) for the official rights to the title of Champion: The One True Vampire With A Soul.

Viewing the term through the context of both series, I think it's arguable that a "Champion" can be defined as an individual with the special attention of the Powers That Be; a Chosen One, if you will. Using this definition, our only bona fide Champions are the Slayers (Buffy, Kendra, and Faith) and Angel. It can be argued that Spike is a Champion, if you believe that the process he underwent in Africa at the end of season 6 was controlled by the Powers. If, however, that was simply a spell that restored his soul, Spike is not a Champion under our working definition. Angel also was not a Champion immediately following the restoration of his soul; the Powers had nothing to do with the Gypsy curse. Their interest in him came later.

Angel's status as a person of interest to the Powers is demonstrated in several places: his return from Hell in "Faith, Hope, and Trick" (BtVS 3.3), the magical snowfall in "Amends" (BtVS 3.10), the acknowledgement of the Oracles (various points in AtS season 1), his ability to enter Kate's apartment in "Epiphany" (AtS 2.16), and so on. The status of the Slayers as Champions is almost by definition; when Giles first meets Buffy and reminds her of her calling, he recites the official description of the Slayer as this:

GILES: Into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires. ("Welcome To The Hellmouth" [BtVS 1.01])

Originally, as we learn in "Get It Done" (BtVS 7.15), the Slayer line was created with a spell. But some force has to decide which Potential will be chosen as the previous Slayer falls, and the Powers That Be are as good a guess as any for what's doing the choosing. When Angel brings Buffy the amulet in "Chosen" (BtVS 7.22), they have this exchange:

ANGEL: Someone ensouled but stronger than human. A champion. As in me.
BUFFY: Or me.


Being a Champion, however, is not the same as being a hero. Faith, as a Slayer, is a Champion under our definition. For the vast majority of her story she is in no way a hero (I personally place her transition to heroism at "Salvage" [AtS 4.13], but that will be discussed below). Being a Champion does not automatically make one a hero; it simply provides a strong pressure from the universe to be something.

Heroes
So what does define a hero in the Buffyverse, if not divine intervention? In Joss Whedon's first universe, being a hero is a matter of choice. Anyone who looks into the dark face of the world, sees the evil happening, and chooses to fight against it is a hero. The exact same choice that makes Xander Harris a hero makes Wesley Wyndam-Pryce a hero makes Cordelia Chase a hero makes Buffy Summers a hero, whether any of them has superpowers or not.

Under this definition- someone who makes a choice to fight the fight- there are many instances on Angel where the term "Champion" is misused. Most notably, Angel's speech to Connor in "Deep Down" (AtS 4.01):

ANGEL: Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and cruel. But that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be.

He speaks of Champions, but I would argue that he's really talking about heroism. In the context of the scene, his words encompass Gunn and Fred as well as himself, but there is a fundamental difference between his role and theirs. He has superpowers and the personal attention of the Powers; they're mere mortals who fight alongside him because they can't imagine turning away.

GUNN: It's about the mission, bro. ("That Old Gang Of Mine" [AtS 3.03])

FRED: Look - I could go home with you and pretend the last five years didn't happen. I could even pretend to have a normal life. But the truth of it is... Well, I'm not normal anymore. I guess what I'm getting at is... I belong here. ("Fredless" [AtS 3.05])

Angel tries to spread the title of Champion around at other times as well, like after Fred breaks Jasmine's hold over him in "The Magic Bullet" (AtS 4.19):

FRED:I'm sorry. I've been so alone and scared. I'm not like you, not a champion.
ANGEL:Everything I see says different.


But Fred grasps the distinction, both above and in "A Hole In The World" (AtS 5.15):

FRED: My boys. I walk with heroes. Think about that.
WESLEY: You are one.


On Buffy, the distinction between the Chosen One and the non-chosen isn't as blurred; Buffy cannot try to share her title of Slayer with anyone but Kendra and Faith, neither of whom fit the hero-by-choice paradigm. Willow, Xander, and Giles all choose to fight alongside Buffy, without special powers.

WILLOW: I mean, you've been fighting evil here for three years, and I've helped some, and now we're supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives. And I just realized that that's what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I-I think it's worth doing. And I don't think you do it because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in. ("Choices" [BtVS 3.19]).

The non-Champions who join the fight sacrifice their normal lives to be there. Xander and Willow didn't have especially strong bonds to their families before meeting Buffy, but they give up even the chance of those to fight demons. In his past, Giles gave up dreams of being a fighter pilot (or a grocer), as well as the chance to have normal relationships with friends and lovers. Willow gives up the chance to study outside of Sunnydale after high school; Xander will eventually give up an eye. On Angel, Fred gives up her science (until season 5) and her family in Texas when she chooses to stay in LA. Gunn gives up his crew, the closest thing to a family he had after his sister died. Cordelia gives up dreams of stardom to carry the visions and work with Angel. The choice to be a hero isn't a light one.

The Champion's Choice
Being Champions doesn't automatically make Buffy and Angel heroes, but there is no doubt that overall, they are heroic. They make the same choice as their friends.

When Buffy arrives in Sunnydale, she has rejected her Slayerhood. She remains a Champion- that is a function of her power- but she is not a hero. She makes it clear that she's not interested in fighting evil. She's retired.

GILES: I really don't understand this attitude. You, you've accepted your duty, you, you've slain vampires before...
BUFFY: Yeah, and I've both been there and done that, and I'm moving on.
("Welcome To The Hellmouth" [BtVS 1.01])

She's decided that the sacrifice required is just too high:

BUFFY: Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? ("Welcome To The Hellmouth" [BtVS 1.01])

Of course, by the episode's end she has changed her mind and chooses to help fight the evil in Sunnydale. But there are several points throughout the series that she un-makes her choice again. In "Prophecy Girl" (BtVS 1.12), she rejects it and "quits" temporarily. She does so for a longer time between "Becoming, Part II" (BtVS 2.22) and "Anne" (BtVS 3.01). In this summer between seasons, she remains the Slayer, remains a Champion, but she is not a hero. She is in too much personal pain to help the helpless until she nearly becomes one in "Anne." In that episode, she is reminded of the suffering of others and chooses to become a hero again. It's strongly implied in the Buffyverse that once a normal, "good" person sees the true darkness of the world, he or she cannot help but fight against it. At least, this is true of our core groups on each show. Perhaps the best statement of this idea comes in "Helpless" (BtVS 3.12):

BUFFY: Angel, what if I have lost my power?
ANGEL: You lived a long time without it. You can do it again.
BUFFY: I guess. But what if I can't? I've seen too much. I know what goes bump in the night. Not being able to fight it...


Buffy threatens to walk away from the fight in "The Gift" (BtVS 5.22) because the choice between being a hero and being a sister is too hard. In the end, she is able to find a third path, but the series reminds us constantly that being a hero isn't easy. It's a choice that must be made every day, and it's a difficult choice that requires deep sacrifice. Buffy makes that choice, again and again, because it's become a part of who she is. She is, as Willow says when she evokes Osiris in "Bargaining" [BtVS 6.01], a "warrior of the people."

Angel also goes through periods of non-heroic behavior, the most obvious being the "beige" arc of Angel season 2. His despair over his failure to save Darla leads him to decide that the fight to save the helpless is pointless, and he turns away from the choice he made in "City Of" (AtS 1.01). It's not until his epiphany (in the episode cleverly titled "Epiphany" [AtS 2.16]) that he reaffirms his choice and returns to the heroic path. His six-episode arc of moral ambiguity is the longest instance of non-heroic Championhood in the Buffyverse, with the exception of Faith's story and two individual seasonal arcs that could be seen as a condemnation of heroism-by-rote.

Going Through The Motions
In the sixth season of Buffy and the fifth season of Angel, the titular Champion of each show undergoes a crisis of faith. They question their roles in the world, and whether their respective quests even matter. Buffy sums it up best, in "Once More, With Feeling" (BtVS 6.07):

BUFFY: I've been making shows of trading blows
Just hoping no one knows
That I've been going through the motions
Walking through the part.
Nothing seems to penetrate my heart.
I was always brave, and kind of righteous.
Now I find I'm wavering.
Crawl out of your grave, you'll find this fight just
Doesn't mean a thing.


Buffy's uncertainty comes from being brought back from the dead, pulled out of a place of warmth and comfort and certainty that she suspects may have been Heaven. Angel's in season 5 of that show comes from having signed himself and his crew over to Wolfram & Hart in exchange for a normal life for his son Connor. Both seasons show the the Champions spiraling downward through isolation, self-doubt, depression and despair, until they reach rock bottom. At each season's end, the Champion looks into his or her own soul and reaffirms the heroic choice. In Buffy's case, it's an uplifting moment, one that shows hope for the future:

BUFFY: No. It hasn't been. It hasn't been okay... But it's gonna be now. I see it... Things have really sucked lately, but that's all gonna change - and I want to be there when it does. I want to see my friends happy again. I want to see you grow up. ("Grave" [BtVS 6.22])

For Angel, his choice to become a hero again is, paradoxically, a gesture of supreme rage and despair, a lashing-out at the world and the mechanations of dark forces ruling it.

ANGEL: We are weak. The powerful control everything... except our will to choose. Look, Lindsey's a pathetic halfwit, but he was right about one thing. Heroes don't accept the way the world is. The senior partners may be eternal, but we can make their existence painful...10-to-1, we're gone when the smoke clears. They will do everything in their power to destroy us. So...I need you to be sure. Power endures. We can't bring down the senior partners, but for one bright, shining moment, we can show them that they don't own us. You need to decide for yourselves if that's worth dying for. I can't order you to do this. I can't do it without you. So we'll vote. As a team. Think about what I'm asking you to do, think about what I'm asking you to give. ("Power Play" [AtS 5.21])

It's important that in that speech, he calls for a vote. He demands that his crew each individually make the choice to join him in his last stand. They've all been going through the motions of empty heroism without the fire of conviction behind it, all season long. In this scene, they make a choice based on their old mission, the one they'd misplaced. In "Once More, With Feeling," Buffy sings "I want the fire back." (BtVS 6.07). In "Power Play," the Angel Investigations crew gets their fire back, and immediately go forth and immolate themselves with it.

Faith, Cordelia, and Spike: Twists On The General Rules
Faith is a Champion; she is a Slayer. But from the moment we first meet her in "Faith, Hope, and Trick" (BtVS 3.3) until Wesley goes to visit her in prison in "Salvage" (AtS 4.13), she isn't a hero.

On Buffy, Faith is looking out for herself, revelling in the fun parts of being a Slayer. She isn't interested in helping the helpless; she's interested in the rush of the kill and having a good time. She goes over to the evil side for a while, driven by jealousy of Buffy and her belief that she's the only one looking out for her needs. Eventually, in a two-episode arc in the first season of Angel ("Five By Five" and "Sanctuary" [AtS 1.18 and 1.19]), she decides to seek redemption. But by going to prison, she removes herself from the possibility of helping those who are harmed by the forces of darkness. She opts out of the heroic choice.

In "Salvage" (AtS 4.13), she breaks out of prison to help Angel, not the faceless masses. But in the course of her three-episode arc, she learns about the mission, the good fight. By the end of "Orpheus" (AtS 4.15), she returns to Sunnydale with Willow to help Buffy fight the First Evil's hordes from the Hellmouth, even though there isn't anything in it for her except almost-certain death. Her choice to join the Scoobies and the Potentials is the moment when Faith becomes a hero.

Cordelia, it could be argued, is touched by the Powers That Be; she has the visions, after all. However, it's made clear throughout the first two seasons of Angel that the Powers regard the seers as adjuncts to the Champion instead of Champions in their own right. Doyle and then Cordelia recieve the visions solely so they can relate them to Angel. In the third season, Lorne and Fred describe Cordelia as a Champion when they introduce the term kye-rumption, but considering that these two are both hopeless romantics, I would argue that they're projecting Champion status onto Cordelia as part of their certainty that she's meant to be with Angel.

Spike being Spike, he can't follow a standard script to hero status. Whether or not you think the events at the end of season 6 indicate intervention by the Powers and thus Championhood, I think it's clear that he isn't a hero for his entire run on Buffy. From the second half of season 5 to the end of the series, he does assist the heroes and fight evil. However, he never makes that significant choice, to help the helpless simply because it needs to be done. He's trying to prove himself to Buffy, to gain her love and trust. This places him outside of the hero realm.

I would argue that Spike doesn't become a hero until after "You're Welcome" (AtS 5.12). In this episode, he finds out that "Doyle," who has been encouraging him to help the helpless, is in fact Lindsey and has been duping him. His work with the helpless under "Doyle"-Lindsey was because Lindsey told him it would prove his status as the Vampire With A Soul of the Shanshu prophecy, not because it was the right thing to do. After "You're Welcome," it seems that he hangs around the Wolfram & Hart offices and assists because he has nowhere else to go. But he could be sitting back at his apartment and sulking, or go out wandering around America, if he wanted. He's nervous and uncertain, but not without choices. He stays, and from that episode onward he joins the fight willingly, and with at least some of the passion Angel and his crew now lack. Certainly by "Power Play" (AtS 5.21), when he is the first to raise his hand in the vote to fight the Black Thorn, there can be no doubt that he's made his choice and become a hero.

Final Thoughts
The characters always say it best, don't they?

BUFFY: Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. ("Amends" [BtVS 3.10])

BUFFY: So what? You just took a whole 24 hours to weigh the ups and downs of being a regular Joe and decided it was more fun being a superhero?
ANGEL: You know that's not it. How can we be together if the cost is your life, or the lives of others? I know. I couldn't tell you. I wasn't sure if I could do it if I woke up with you one more morning.
("I Will Remember You" [AtS 1.08])

ANGEL: The Oracles told me that I was released from my duty. Buffy and I were together until... we realized it couldn't be. We don't belong to ourselves. We belong in the world, fighting. So, I went back to the Oracles and I asked them to turn back the clock... as though that day had never happened.
DOYLE: Human? You were a real live flesh-and-blood human-being - and you and Buffy... You had the one thing you wanted in your unnaturally long life and you gave it back?
ANGEL: Maybe I was wrong.
DOYLE: Or maybe Cordelia was right about you being the real deal in the hero department. See, I would have chosen the pleasures of the flesh over duty and honor any day of the week. I just don't have that strength.
ANGEL: You never know your strength until you're tested
("Hero" [AtS 1.09])

GILES: But I have sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing... what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to. ("The Gift" [BtVS 5.22])

ANGEL:In the greater scheme or the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win...I guess I kinda worked it out. If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today. - I fought for so long. For redemption, for a reward, finally just to beat the other guy, but... I never got it...Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer, as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world. ("Epiphany" [AtS 2.16])

ANGEL: Here, Charles - let me make it simple for you. (vamps out) Take a look. This is what I am. Deal with it or don't. But make a damn choice. ("That Old Gang Of Mine" [AtS 3.03])

BUFFY: Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong? ("Chosen" [BtVS 7.22])

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