Redemption and Forgiveness
As much as I could go on and on about how much I love the shows and Joss Whedon’s genius (as I often do), the point I’m trying to get to is one of redemption and forgiveness. That seemed to be a running theme through both the shows. Can you be and do horrible things in your past and still find redemption? Two of the main characters, Angel and Spike (vampires), have done horrendous and truly evil things in their pasts. They hope that they can make amends for their past actions by doing good in the present. Buy their way out of Hell by having more black than red in their ledgers. This raises a lot of big questions about forgiveness, identity and human nature. The answers, I’m guessing, are not black and white. In fact, I’m not sure if any of the Big Questions have black and white answers at all.
I suppose the main question is whether it’s even possible to redeem yourself for past actions. What’s done is done. You had free will, you made a choice and are responsible for it. Any amount of good deeds isn’t going to erase the evil you’ve done. The past can not be rewritten. Not in your heart or in any one’s eyes. Maybe that’s not the point though. Some things may be unforgivable, but maybe redemption doesn’t need forgiveness. Maybe it’s not about everyone else, but about the person who did the deed. Maybe redemption isn’t a end but a journey. Doing good, or making the effort to, for it’s own sake. Doing it because it’s the right thing to do even if it means you’re going to Hell anyways. Your redemption is your punishment and your gift to yourself every day. I think that Angel kind of figured that one out in the end. There is no get-out-of-Hell-free card. He (spoiler) signed away any possibility of becoming human again because he knew he couldn’t erase who he was. The evil that he did and was is still a part of him, and because of that he can’t undo it and regain his humanity. His “reward” will forever be out of his reach.
Even if all that is true, and who knows if it is, it gets really complicate when you throw ideas about identity into the mix. As soon as these characters (spoiler) gained their souls back it was like they were disassociated from their pasts. Repeatedly we and other characters were told the were different and OK because they had their souls now. It seemed through that and their present determination to act of the side of Good, they were no longer the persons they were in their pasts. Well if your actions shape your identity and who you are, could you argue that someone is a totally different person, and therefore not accountable for their past self’s actions. I recall an episode of Babylon 5 (yes shut up! I’m a total geek, I KNOW) called “Passing Through Gethsemane”. In this episode a serial killer who was sentenced to death of personality is confronted by the family of one of his victims. He is now living as a monk and has no memory of his former life or actions. It’s complicated isn’t it? Is he, who physically committed those crimes, still responsible for his actions? Should he still atone for them? Has he? Are Angle and Spike different people now that they have a soul and are on the side of Good? Can they and are they being held accountable for their pasts? It’s a very grey area, but probably a lot clearer for the victims involved.
In both Buffy and Angel, everyone always seemed to be lying, double crossing, heck sometimes even trying to kill each other, and then down the line they would be working together. I kept thinking what is going on with these people?! Did you forget that five episodes ago he/she was trying to kill you/bring about the apocalypse/steal your boyfriend?? How can you forgive someone like that? Then I thought about it some more and realized that if they hadn’t worked together they would have failed. The apocalypse would have happened, or someone would have died or something else terrible. They had to work together because it was what was needed to be done. That didn’t mean they had to forget or forgive, but they still had to exist and interact with each other. That’s how the world works. Sometimes you have to work and live with people who are less than perfect or have wronged you in some way. Chances are everyone has screwed over or hurt someone else in their lives. Sometimes an acquaintance, sometimes someone you love and trust and totally didn’t deserve it. Nobody is perfect and we’ve all done things that are less than admirable. However, you can’t push everyone away that has wronged you. You’d find you were alone pretty darn fast. You might find that you need those people in your life, that they still have an important role to play. It’s not about Good and Bad, or about being perfect, or even forgiveness. Maybe it comes right down to playing the cards you’re dealt as best you can.