It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Even on my banner! A big thanks to Meehan for that Christmas remix.
Up here in Canada our National Igloo (I hear certain Americans believe we have one of those) is definitely starting to freeze over as the cold weather comes. Up north where my parents live, the landscape is good and snowy. Down where I live it's snowed a few times but it's melted quickly. But the cold bite in the air leaves nothing to the imagination. Winter is just around the corner, and despite the pain of snowy roads and ice covered cars, how can you not love Christmas?
Yep, it's my favourite holiday, and the day itself is my favourite of the 365! You get together with the people you love (if you're lucky enough to anyway) and share happy times and, of course, presents. And as we all know, a bevy of movies and TV specials are dedicated to Christmas.
Which is why for the next few weeks, Casting Call is going to be all about Christmas! To help get you all (and myself, of course) in the Christmas spirit, I will dedicate my next few columns to discussing some of the iconic Christmas stories that have been told to viewers over the years.
But where to start? Well, this may not be an iconic Christmas special (at least, not to most people) but every year at this time, one of the ‘stories' I like to enjoy is a certain third season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Now being one of my favourite shows ever, I will of course at some point discuss its best characters indepth at some point. I'm not quite sure how I'll do it just yet; after all, it's hard to dilute a single character's evolution through a seven season series. I wrote a column on Mr. Eko from Lost a while back, and since that character has left the show, it was easier to craft a column around him. So perhaps at some point I will do the same with Buffy, by starting with characters who had shorter, but memorable stints in the show's mythology (The Master, or Oz, as examples).
But for now, I'll kick off my Christmas themed columns with a look at Christmas in Sunnydale.
Presenting ‘Amends', the tenth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Now, I know Buffy was a cult hit, emphasis on the word cult, so I know not everybody watched it. For those of you who didn't..... go buy the DVD's now! But since you can go do that after you're done reading my column, I'll give you a brief rundown on the world of the show, to set the stage.
Buffy is a vampire slayer, a super powered human being whose job it is to destroy the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness. She lives in a town called Sunnydale, which happens to sit right on top of a Hellmouth, a centre of mystical convergence that draws all sorts of evil to it. Aside from her duties as Slayer, which keep her continusly busy and in danger, she also tries to be a regular teenage girl in high school, where she has a few close friends who are in on her secret and who help her in her battles; there's the geeky and loyal Xander who pines for Buffy; Willow, Buffy's best friend, a science geek and burgeoning witch; Oz, Willow's boyfriend and a werewolf; Giles, the high school librarian and Buffy's watcher; and Angel. Angel is a vampire who was cursed with a soul and a conscience. As a result he fights demons alongside Buffy to try and atone for his thousands of crimes. Buffy and Angel fell in love, but unbeknownst to both of them Angel's soul came with a curse that dictated he would lose it again if he ever achieved true happiness. After he and Buffy made love, he lost his soul and became the soulless killer he had once been, cutting a swath through Sunnydale and terrorizing Buffy, even killing one of her friends, before she sent him to hell. Which just happened to be right after Willow restored his soul with a spell. It was a whole big thing.
Anyway, at this point in the series, Buffy and Angel still love each other but can't be together because of the potential consequences. And Angel, as always, is struggling with his guilt over the killer he once was.
With me so far? Okay!
I told you that Buffy sent Angel to hell. Well, he came back. At this point we don't know how or why he mangaged to escape (he was just dumped out of a portal) and to tell you the truth, we never do really find out. But that's the question Angel is struggling with in this season and this episode; Why am I back?
It's Christmas time in Sunnydale, and to compound Angel's problems, he is beginning to have very vivid dreams about his past sins. It's almost like he's reliving them, and the clarity of seeing all his evil deeds laid out before him is too much for him. That, and he's being haunted by apparitions of his victims; including Jenny Calender, the old love of Buffy's watcher Giles.
In truth, these aren't random figments and Angel isn't going crazy. He's being tormented by The First Evil. The being that created evil, gave darkness to the world. It's a broad concept, admittedly, and the show stumbled a bit in its final season when it introduced The First as the big bad. The interesting thing about The First is that it isn't a physical being and therefore can't be pummelled into submission by Buffy. It's evil plans are millennia in the making, and it's in the business of corrupting the entire human race, living in every single moment of hatred and anger.
It shows up at Christmas time to turn Angel towards its cause. It claims to be responsible for bringing Angel back from hell, and tells him that his purpose is to lose his soul in Buffy again so that he can become a monster and start killing and maiming anew. The First takes the shape of Angel's victims and taunts him on his failings as a human being, and on his ruthlessness as a demon. They convince him his only purpose in life (or I suppose in his case, afterlife) is to kill, and prods him to start with Buffy.
Forgiveness plays a big part in the episode. Angel is seeking forgiveness for the wrongs he has committed, while Willow is seeking forgiveness from Oz for kissing Xander. Oz loves Willow too much not to forgive her, but who can forgive Angel? His victims are dead, and they're not forgiving him. He goes to Giles (whose girlfriend he killed) to ask for help, and he's greeted with a crossbow.
The thing is, Angel without his soul is a completely different entity, Angelus. The problem is most people don't make that distinction, meaning they give Angel the hatred that Angelus deserves.
After an episode full of torture, Angel finally succumbs. He can't be what The First wants him to be, but he can escape another way. On Christmas morning, he decides to go outside and wait for the sun to rise, ending his eternal life once and for all.
When Buffy finds him it's a truly powerful scene as the pair argue over who he is and what his purpose is. Angel has completely bought into the First's lies, convinced he was only brought back to be evil, and he believes the only strong, noble thing he can do is kill himself before he starts killing again. He doesn't believe in himself, but Buffy does. I'd rather you watch the scene, but here's the blow by blow summary of their encounter.
Angel: I bet half the kids down there are already awake. Lying in their beds... sneaking downstairs... waiting for day.
Buffy: Angel, please. I need for you to get inside. Th-there's only a few minutes left.
Angel: I know. I can smell the sunrise long before it comes.
Buffy: I don't have time to explain this. You just have to trust me. That thing that was haunting you...
Angel: It wasn't haunting me. It was showing me.
Buffy: Showing you?
Angel: What I am.
Angel: And ever shall be. I wanted to know why I was back. Now I do.
Buffy: You don't know. Some great evil takes credit for bringing you back and you buy it? You just give up?
Angel: I can't do it again, Buffy. I can't become a killer.
Buffy: Then fight it.
Angel: It's too hard.
Buffy: Angel, please, you have to get inside.
Angel: It told me to kill you. You were in the dream. You know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again.
Buffy: I know what it told you. What does it matter?
Angel: Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly! I want to take comfort in you, and I know it'll cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn't care. Look, I'm weak. I've never been anything else. It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It's the man.
Buffy: You're weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it's because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster. Angel, please, the sun is coming up!
Angel: Just go.
Buffy: I won't!
Angel: What, do you think this is simple? You think there's an easy answer? You can never understand what I've done! Now go!
Buffy: You are not staying here. I won't let you!
Angel: I said LEAVE!
Buffy: No! No!
Angel: Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!
Buffy: What about me? I love you so much... And I tried to make you go away... I killed you and it didn't help And I hate it! I hate that it's so hard... and that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don't. I can't.
Angel: Buffy, please. Just this once... let me be strong.
Buffy: Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together. But if you're too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can't convince you that you belong in this world, then I don't know what can. But do not expect me to watch. And don't expect me to mourn for you, because...
At that point, just as the sun is set to come up, snow starts to fall. In California, snow starts to fall. The skies are covered in snow clouds, the sun can't be seen. Angel needed a sign, he needed proof that the world wanted him to stay, and he got it. A day without sun for a vampire with a soul.
And Sunnydale got a White Christmas.
That's my look at the Buffy Christmas episode. Next week I'll tackle another one of my favourite holiday tales. See you then!