Sunday, June 13, 2004

Angel was a very good show.

Better than Buffy, by a long margin. Better than almost anything else on TV during its run.

God was open to debate. I joked for a while that, given Cordy's, then Fred's, death (and Darla's constant menace), the show was one of the most misogynistic of modern times. Good wasn't destined to win; good didn't have a decent chance of winning; and everywhere, all around, people just seemed to get worse and worse.

But it was noble. It was about noble ideals.

For those of you who have no danged idea what I'm talking about, a brief recap.

Angel was a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, itself the TV series born of the movie of the same name. The title character in the first started off as a minor supporting character, then love interest, of the title character of the second.

The trick: Angel was a vampire. Buffy was not. Buffy killed vampires.

The second trick: Angel was a good vampire. He'd been cursed, yes, cursed, with a soul.

Final trick: Although Angel longs to be human again, to touch, to feel, to die, to have a chance at salvation, the instant he experiences true happiness, it's all over: He loses his soul, becomes a kick-ass, deadly, decidedly, monstrously evil vampire all over again. So he must toil and toil and toil, experiencing only glimpses of true happiness -- which is manifest by the consummation of true love -- until at some point, the nebulous Powers of good deign to release him from the penance of crimes beyond human imagination.

And what makes the show so noble, so great, is that, quite simply, Angel cannot win. There's no endgame in sight where he can slay all of the bad guys and get his humanity back. He can't even deal Evil a crushing blow. He can hold back the darkness in drips and drabs, but it keeps coming. He knows he's fighting a near-hopeless, and possibly suicidal, war; yet he fights.

There is glory in hope. In despair, there is only loss. Angel suffers most when he gives into despair. When he finds hope again, he still suffers -- there is no way around that -- but he has the strength to fight on, hoping that what he does will begin to make a difference. Hoping that there is salvation.

The WB -- let us not kid ourselves -- is a drek network. It is what Fox was for its first few years, absent Married: With Children, The Simpsons, and In Living Color. 99.9% of what it produces is simple dross.

Angel was not dross. Not only that: Its ratings, relative to the enormous amount of pap that network produces, were phenomenal. And so, showing the know-how and creativity that make American business the powerhouse of the world, the WB canceled the show.

I mention this because the last episode summed it all up quite nicely. Angel, coming out of a period of self-imposed despair, offers a pact to his friends: Join me in one final strike on the darkness. We cannot vanquish the darkness, but we can strike it a telling blow. We can remind Evil that it does not flourish unchecked; we can bleed the Void. We may die -- we will likely die -- but we will do something that matters.

Given that offer, I likely would have taken it.

Is there sin in striking at the darkness, though you virtually assure your own destruction? Put to the side the Manichaean overtones (I don't mean to presuppose a heresy for this question); is it licit to strike a blow for Light, though Death herself is a near-certainty? It's not precisely suicide, but the dictum that one may not do good through an evil act seems somewhat important here; condemning yourself to death for a perhaps ultimately unimportant wound on evil is not quite so simple as allowing another to kill you, rather than renouncing God. Martyrdom is not cheap, and not always so straightforward as all that.

But if this is not heroism -- willingly laying down your life to aid the light when the darkness seems so oppressive -- then what is?

Angel's friends, to a one, accept.

At the end of the episode (and therefore, one supposes, the show), Angel and his friends have succeeded, though at some cost. They have wounded the Powers of darkness, and in so doing, have unleashed the wrath of Hell. An army of darkness pounds toward the wounded band.

Angel steps forward, and lifts his sword for another round of battle. There, of course, the show ends.

I believe I would want to be in that alley with him, shouting Gloria in Te, Domine!

As I mentioned, the question of God's existence is at best up for debate in the show. And yet...

What other show has been so very Christian, so inundated with sacrifice for others' sake, though your pain be nearly unbearable? And if Angel was to have any hope of salvation, on Whom else could he count?

I cried Friday evening. I had cried three times in my adult life, each time for the loss of a life very close to me. I cried because Ronald Reagan was put to rest. I never met the man. I was four when he was elected, twelve when he left office.

But I knew what he stood for. He stood for hope.

A three year old does not understand politics. A four year old is not much better.

But I remember how gray and dark 1979 felt. I remember how it got a little lighter in the winter of 1981. I remember how, by late 1983, the world seemed to glow.

I remember what it was to fear nuclear war. I lived with that fear for ten years of my life, either directly or indirectly. I remember when I realized that it would not happen. I remember when I realized whom I could credit for that, and I assure you, it was not the man with the strawberry birthmark on his head.

Ronald Reagan was elected President when so many thought we could never win.

But he had hope.

He had hope because he believed in America, the nation and the idea.

He had hope because he believed in the risen Christ.

He had hope because in hope, there is glory.

He did not teach me to hope; my parents deserve the credit for that. He taught me the incredible power of hope, when there is resolve behind it.

To all of those who murmur about his support for right-wing anti-communist dictatorships, and the thousands dead as a result of that support, I point you to the millions who need no longer fear the darkness in quite the same way, the millions more who live and breathe today because there are no longer men and women forcibly herding them this way and that; and those men and women are no longer near the levers of power, no longer able to support left-wing dictatorships that leave tens of thousands, if not millions dead, because one man had hope, and strength in that hope.

I thank Joss Whedon, militant atheist though he might be, for creating such an incredible Christian narrative.

And I thank Ronald Reagan for showing us that Christ's hope can effect miracles in the world. Requiem aeternas, Mr. President. Godspeed.