I Don't Know that Angel is Redeemable For Me Any More
Strange what we ship and the characters that we like. I think it's far more than the characters themselves but the hot button issues they hit within us.
And strange that when reading one thing, it makes me think of unrelated issues.
Anyway, I've been continuing the romance novel binge. Several Courtney Milan's are now under my belt (that writer likes her angst. Oh my. I'm going to have to find something decidedly more fluffy soon). Anyway when finishing up one of them last night, I had the stray thought about how post-BtVS comics/Season 8 Angel is intolerable to me, now. I don't think I can root for him any more. I don't think I LIKE him any longer.
I'll get to what brought about the thought in a bit, but before I do, I want to stress that I did not always feel this way about the character of Angel. I really loved the character of Angel once. Even on those times when I didn't, I liked him as a complicated, conflicted character. I'm not saying that for 'cred', I just honestly did like the goofy, Mandy-singing, doomed, burdened Angel who wanted to be a hero. That character from the show had flaws but I LIKED him. Despite the occasional irritations, I rooted for him.
So, what brought on the thought.
I was comparing the leading men in the Courtney Milan stories. A couple of them -- Robert and Evan -- worked for me. The final, Oliver, did not. And it came as a shock to me that I didn't like Oliver at the end of the day. He's a romance novel hero. That's the ultimate in protagonist privilege right there. The writers always want us to root for the hero in the end. And I'd been primed to like him by all the novels preceding that one. In fact, I HAD liked Oliver in the other books. But when I reached the end of his book, I was thinking that his leading lady should turn him away and mean it.
I don't think it was a matter of Oliver's mistakes being more unforgivable than the other characters (in fact, one would argue that Evan had made the same kind of mistake only worse and for a far more protracted period of time). It was a matter of motivation rather than crime.
Okay, elaboration is needed to make any of this make sense. Robert and Oliver are the 'next generation' from the novel I mentioned the other day, the one where the governess was raped at a house party and who ended up marrying the rapist's man of business (the man of business quit the rapist's employ). Oliver is the result of the rape. Robert is the legitimate child of the rapist, the next Duke in "The Duchess War."
I really liked Oliver in Robert's novel. In particular I liked the scene where Robert is asking Oliver why Oliver had ever become his friend (at Eton. When Oliver's father --father being the man of business who had married Oliver's mother and who had raised Oliver as his own, not the rapist -- had beaten the Duke and exposed the rape to the pregnant Duchess, he'd also wrested an obligation from the Duke that the child of the rape would be educated when the time came. So both Oliver and Robert ended up at Eton as twelve-year-olds, where they went from being enemies to being friends.) Oliver told Robert that he'd needed to give Robert a chance, because if Robert could be different from the duke, that meant that Oliver could be too. How could I not like Oliver after that?
But that was in Robert's book. Robert's driving motivation in his novel was to be seen as himself, not as an extension of his father (either in legacy or title). He wanted so desperately to be worthy of love, to be seen for himself, to be better... Erm. Yeah, Robert was a bullseye on my preferred story kinks. I can forgive a hell of lot of character mistakes when a character makes those mistakes out of a desperate desire to be loved.
Which brings me to the Angel and the Oliver thing. I'd read the novel with Oliver's parents, and the novel with Oliver's brother. Oliver's story really couldn't be a desperate need to be accepted and loved. He was outright treasured by both his parents (his parents, not the rapist who was long dead), his siblings, and even by his titled half-brother. So his story was motivated by ambition. He was a duke's by-blow, the child of servants turned farmers, whose brother got both status and wealth (albeit, Robert settled part of the fortune on him... which was rather, generous, I thought given that Robert's money came from his MOTHER rather than their mutual father). So everything Oliver is doing is for placement, for power, and for status. And it places him in a story where he falls in love with an heiress. If he marries her, they'll think he's fortune hunting. She, like him, is illegitimate. She's too loud, doesn't know how to dress or behave "properly" and he loves her. But loving her isn't enough because... ambition. He loves her but being with her would thwart his ambitions, he wants power and status. He wants to be IMPORTANT (with capital letters). And... I ended up not liking him very much. When while telling her that he loved her he simultaneously comes out with her being beneath him (even though they are the same social status), I just... This is the opposite of story kink button hit.
This was where I thought that the heroine really shouldn't take him back. When he tells her he loves her while ripping her self-worth to shreds by telling her that she's beneath him...
This is what got me to thinking about BtVS. There are things a character can do that takes the rooting value out of a relationships. It's not exactly about some actions being unforgivable. It's not a matter of forgiveness even. It's that sometimes it's what MOTIVATED an action makes it intolerable.
And to further complicate things, when I read the Milan novella with a similar situation in that the hero Evan damaged a heroine's self-esteem through somewhat similar means, and yet I found Evan to be quite appealing where I found Oliver's transgression one that I don't actually think I would've forgiven. And I couldn't figure out WHY. Why was Evan's virtually identical transgression didn't leave as bad a taste in my mouth as Oliver's did and it finally came to me -- it's about power, ambition and status.
Everything Robert did was out of a desire to be accepted and to be loved. Evan, in his story, did virtually the same things as Oliver, only Evan's motivation had been a misguided immature love. Oliver's had been AMBITION. Oliver's desire had been to be IMPORTANT. To be important was the. most. important. thing to him.
To be powerful and to be important was what drove him to hurt people who wanted to love him. It was about the motivation. And it was why I didn't like Oliver by the end. And it was why, I don't think comics!Angel is redeemable to me any more.
Comics!Angel harmed people, people who loved him (Buffy in particular, but I actually consider Spike in there too. Spike had been Angel's ally during AtS 5, had gone walking into Angel's apocalypse as back-up, and Angel comes back, screws Buffy while gleefully telling her that she never really loved anyone else, and then tries to murder Spike so, yeah, I include Spike in the list of people who loved Angel and who Angel betrayed). Angel was also blinded by his ambition, by his desire for power, by his insatiable need to be the very most special snowflake around because He. Is. Important. And that importance meant it was worth harming Buffy, harming slayers, etc.
And... much like the end of Oliver's story where I found myself thinking: Someone who hurts you because their ambition is worth more to them than what they claim to love can't really be trusted with someone's heart. They don't value anyone as much as themselves. It's something hard underneath. When someone breaks someone's heart because they'd rather be Important with a capital "I"...
That is what Angel did in the comics, and he'll never really change because the writers of it can't even seem to catch onto the fact that that is what Angel did. And I cannot like that character. I cannot like comics!Angel. He's so very selfish deep down. He wanted to be the worlds most special snowflake above and beyond anything -- or anyone -- else. And at that point, I just find myself wishing that the character discovers this is a hollow pursuit. I don't actually think they should get the payoff of the very people he's willing to sacrifice to be the people who praise him and love him because that ends up with the disparity of requiring others to love HIM more than they love themselves after he's demonstrably shown as being utterly incapable of that himself.
And it was Milan's Oliver who taught me that. For me to rec Oliver's book, I'd have to rec it to someone with different story kinks than my own. Maybe an Angel fan would like it? I don't know. (That might be an interesting experiment).
I would rec Milan's "The Duchess War" with Robert as the hero, though. I floved Robert.