When we last left off, Darla had been staked by Angel in Buffy season one, and then at the end of season two we were treated to a fascinating flashback to when Darla sired Angel. That was the last we would see Darla on Buffy, except for the marvelous crossover episode “Fool for Love” in season five, which I will discuss further on. However, this was only the beginning for Darla’s character, as she would become a continuous fixture in the Buffy-spin-off Angel. During her run on Angel, Darla was resurrected by Wolfram & Hart in human form, haunted Angel into sleeplessness and pseudo-insanity, was an object of affection for Lindsay McDonald, was sired by her granddaughter Drusilla and lost her soul, went on city-wide vamp rager with Drusilla, ate a roomful of lawyers (perhaps my favorite moment), was almost burned to death by Angel, slept with Angel, gave him a NOT perfectly happy moment causing him to return to his destiny, got pregnant, shared a soul with her miracle child, staked herself to give birth to said child, and finally came back and haunted her emotionally damaged son. We also learned quite a bit about her past via flashbacks. Phew, that is quite a story.
Let’s begin with Darla’s centuries-long vampire past. The first way in which Darla is presented in Angel was via flashbacks. I must admit that I am a sucker for flashbacks, and they are often my favorite part of series such as Buffy, Angel, Firefly (oh, wasn’t “Out of Gas” fun?), Veronica Mars (I lived for the Lilly flashbacks), Lost (oh, flashbacks in the early seasons were just so revelatory), How I Met Your Mother (learning about when Barney first suited up was beyond awesome, and going back in time to see college aged Ted, Marshall, and Lily is hilarious), and most recently The Vampire Diaries (the Civil War era flashbacks in “Lost Girls” were just fabulous). Thus, Angel was a special treat for me, what with the abundance of flashbacks featuring people in period dress. Loved it.
In Angel 1x15, “The Prodigal,” we pick up right before we left off in “Becoming, Part I,” in Galway, 1753. Via a series of flashbacks, we learn what attracted Darla to Liam/ Angel in the first place (well the attraction might still not be too apparent to some of us, but oh well). The episode opens on a very human Liam getting pushed around by his father. It turns out that like all the best TV characters, Angel had daddy issues during his human years, which inspired him to drink and carouse and prove his father’s disappointment right. Reeling from his father’s criticism, Liam rough-houses in a local tavern, while Darla (wearing the fabulous cream dress from “Becoming,” or at least one that looks very similar) looks on admiringly. Darla talks to
The next night, Liam has some fun with the bar maid, and then we cut to the flashback footage from “Becoming, Part I.” We see a quick mesh of the scenes in which Liam is turned by Darla, and hear her saying: “Darling boy … I could show you … things you’ve never seen.” Cut to Liam’s funeral (in case anyone is curious, his tombstone reads 1727-1753), and then to his grave site later that night. We see Darla approach his grave in the darkness, and watch as Angelus arises. I can’t help but note that the breath of these two is super visible, despite the fact that vampires supposedly don’t breathe, but I guess it was cold that night and they couldn’t afford to CGI it out. Oh, now I’m thinking about vampire smoking (yes, I’m looking at you, Spike). Sigh. Darla tells her new protégée, “Birth is always painful.” She is very much the proud mommy, all smiles, and when some guy approaches thinking that they are grave robbers, Darla encourages Angelus to make his first kill: “You know what to do.” Darla assures him, “You can do anything, have anyone.” Angelus is not one for subtlety, or baby steps: “Anyone? I thought I’d take the village.”
After terrorizing the town, Angelus eventually goes back and kills his dad. Darla comes into the house after he has killed his father and quips, “This contest is ended, is it?” Angelus says that he has won. Darla: “Are you sure?” Oh, she’s a troublemaker, that one. Angelus: “Of course. I proved who had the power here.” Darla: “You think?” Angelus: “What?” Darla: “Your victory over him took but moments. But his defeat of you will last lifetimes.” Way to rub it in, Darla. Angelus: “What are you talking about? He can’t defeat me now.” Darla: “Nor can he ever approve of you, in this world or any other. What we once were informs all that we have become. The same love will infect our hearts, even if they no longer beat. Simple death won’t change that.” Angelus: “Love? Is this the work of love?” [Gesturing to the dead bodies of his family.] Darla: “Darling boy, so young. Still so very young.” This conversation is worth transcribing in full, as it demonstrates the way that Darla challenges Angelus’ view of the world, and his understanding of what it means to be a vampire. It also helps explain the twisted vampiric manifestation of love. Finally, the scene provides a hint about the significance of who Darla was before she was turned, and how that informs her later journey.
So, who was Darla before she was turned? We learn the answer in my very favorite Darla-centric episode, fittingly named after her. Angel 2x07, “Darla,” opens on 1609, Virginia Colony, with a very human Darla, slowing dying in bed. The Master (yes, The frakin’ Master!) comes in, and says that she will leave this life before the sun sets. She says that she didn't ask for a priest, as he is dressed as one. The better to hide his creepy demon face, I suppose. Plus, there was probably some real enjoyment of the irony in that costume choice. Darla asks, "Do you even know what I am?" Well that is the question, isn’t it? The Master: "A woman of some property. No husband. No inheritance. Yes, I know what you are." Darla is not one to tiptoe around the truth: "I'm a whore." The Master: "Well, yes, that too. You should have asked for a priest long ago, child. Your life might have been the better for it." Darla: "You should have paid me a visit before today, father. Your life might have been more interesting because of it." Ha! Seriously, this is one of my favorite scenes on Angel, ever. The Master: "Are you prepared now to renounce Satan and beg God his forgiveness?" Darla: "God never did anything for me." After the servants leave, Darla tells her fake priest: "My soul is well past saving. Let the devil take me if he'll have me. Either way, I die." The Master: "No, you will not die. You will be reborn." He says that he came to her last night, and sang to her from that window. He says that he is her savior: "God never did anything for you, but I will." Honestly, I don’t think we could have asked for a better back story for Darla, as this fits perfectly. I doubt anyone was surprised at the truth about Darla’s human past, which is why it suits her character so well.
Personally, I don’t really see this reveal as showing her as a bad person pre-vampire, but rather it makes her more complicated and tragic. Regardless of the fact that she was a prostitute, to be an independently wealthy women in early seventeenth century colonial America was a real rarity. Darla decided (or perhaps was forced by circumstances) to reject the strictures of society, and do things on her own, to take her own universally decried path in life. Thus her view of herself and the world is both pessimistic and jaded. She was no empty-headed innocent, waiting to be married and live out a dull and uneventful life. She was not planning to spend her life making babies, before she was tragically turned into a vampire. She had already seen the darkness and tragedy of life, and had already reaped the fatal consequence of her reckless youth, i.e. Syphilis. In some ways, The Master was right when he said that he would save her—her vampire un-life was an improvement for Darla, which only adds to our understanding of her embrace of said life.
Another illuminating flashback is featured in Angel 1x18, “Five by Five.” In this episode we learn more about what really happened in Romania in 1898, when Angelus was cursed with a soul. In fact, Angelus’s most touted crime, the one for which he lost his soul, was all Darla’s idea. The gypsy girl whose death would later cause the soulful Angel eternal torment was in fact a birthday present from Darla. Angelus loves the gift and asks Darla, "What would I do without you?" Darla replies, "Wither and die." As she explains, "She's not just for you. I get to watch." Hmmm. So why is it that only Angelus is punished? Those gypsies are not to good at the vengeance thing (and kind of sexist!). Yes, I know that may sound ridiculous, but seriously, why does Angelus get all the fame, notoriety, and punishment, while Darla is basically ignored and tolerated. Is she not villainous enough? If those gypsies were so vengeful and angry, why didn’t they go after Darla too? Hello! It was her idea, and she was the one who procured the girl. Not that this absolves Angelus, but I just find it very odd.
Later when Darla returns home and calls for Angelus she hears him muttering in the shadows: "Not everyone screams." Except for the children of course, and Darla amusedly replies, "Yes, they sound just like little pigs." As Angel continues to mumble disturbed musings—I guess he is Angel now, so that is what I’ll call him—Darla begins to worry. "What is this? Have you met someone else?" she asks. She can sense that something is wrong, and asks, "What happened to you? Angelus? What happened?" He does not reply, but Darla realizes the truth: "A soul. They gave you a soul. A filthy soul. You're disgusting—get out of here!" Priceless reaction. Oh, Darla. He tries to argue, and says that he’s like her. Darla will have none of it: "You’re not like anything. Get away from me. Get out, I'll kill you."
In fact, however, we learn that Darla does not give up on Angelus so quickly. In another flashback, we see Darla plead with the gypsies: "You took him from me. You stole him away. You gave him a soul." Why in the world Darla thinks this pleading will work, and why in the world they don’t just perform the same curse on her, I cannot tell you. Darla argues on Angelus’ behalf, saying that the soul will cause him to suffer for the rest of eternity. Um, I’m pretty sure that is THE WHOLE POINT, so probably not the best argument, but OK. Darla still continues to plead: "Remove that filthy soul so my boy can come back to me." I find Darla’s intercession here fascinating, and not just for the insane troll logic mentioned above. In fact, this scene really shows how important Angelus was to her, and how much she does not want to lose him.
Angel seems to feel the same way, and two years later, in China, he reunites with Darla. In more superficial news, she wears a fabulous updo during the Boxer Rebellion that is worthy of note. But back to the drama, Darla wonders how Angel found her and he explains: "You could never resist a religious war, and you always talked about China." Of course. Things get violent, and she gets the upper hand on him. She questions whether he came there because he wants her to kill him, and notes: "I can still smell it you know [i.e. the soul]. That's not all. You reek of vermin. Is that what you've been living off of?" He wants a second chance. You can tell that she wants to give him that second chance, and that she wants thing to go back to what they were, but she is doubtful. She tells him that it's impossible because he has a soul. He begs. Darla: "You almost make believe you." Angel: "We can do this. We can do anything." Sigh.
Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective—Angel underestimates the power of his soul. While he is out with Darla amidst the Boxer Rebellion, he manages to save a missionary family in an alley. Darla, of course, wants to find missionaries and "drain the piety right out of them." Hehe. Sorry, not funny. Then Drusilla and Spike appear, fresh from the events of the Spike-centric crossover Buffy episode “Fool for Love,” and they brag about Spike killing a slayer. Angel responds to this news very awkwardly and tries to move the group farther away from the cowering missionary couple. Darla is suspicious, and she can smell the fear nearby. Eventually Darla confronts Angel. He tries to make excuses, pointing out that she has seen him kill men. Darla is not satisfied, as Angel is only killing guilty men: "Rapists and murderers. Thieves and scoundrels. Do you think I wouldn't notice? Only evildoers. That's all you hunt now." How dare he? She uncovers a baby, the one Angel tried to save in the alley, and tells him that she won't be made a fool. Then she delivers one of my favorite lines: "While Spike—Spike!—was out killing a slayer, you were saving missionaries … from me!" That is the last straw and she kicks him out. Presumably that is the last that the two see each other until 1997, in Buffy season one.
All that, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Darla’s character. Beyond the flashbacks, Darla had a very rich story arc on Angel, in "present" time. At the end of Angel season one, Darla was resurrected in human form by Wolfram & Hart. This event is a catalyst for most of the events in seasons two and three. In early season two, there are a series of episodes in which Angel is sleeping too much, and keeps on dreaming about Darla. Cordelia and Wesley think that he is off his rocker, but eventually it is revealed that human Darla is in league with Wolfram and Hart to take Angel down. As Lindsay explains, "We don't want him dead. We want him dark.” At first it seems that this might be accomplished via sex, with Darla giving Angel a moment of perfect happiness. However, Angel puts the kibosh on any chance of that. He tells Darla: "You took me places. Showed me things. You blew the top off my head. But you never made me happy." Darla, "But that … that teenager did? We were together 150 years. We shared everything. You're saying never?" Angel: "You couldn't understand." Darla: "I understand alright. A guy gets a taste of something fresh, and he thinks he's touching God." Angel: "It wasn't about ...." "Oh you bet your ass it was. There was a time, in the early years, when you would have said that I was the definition of bliss. Buffy wasn't happiness, she was just new." Angel explains that he didn’t have a soul then, so that was never possible, but she is not appeased. She reminds him that he is still a vampire: "See, no matter how good a boy you are, God doesn't want you. But I still do.”
Of course Darla has bigger problems than Angel’s happiness, as she is dying. It turns out that in her human form she retains the syphilis that she was already dying from in 1609. Tough break. She wants Angel to make her a vamp, arguing that she gave him eternal life, and now it’s time for him to return the favor. Angel makes her feel guilty about turning him instead, and refuses. That said, he doesn’t give up on her, and tries to find a way to save her. In 2x09, "The Trial," Angel stops her from letting some loser vamp in a Metallica shirt try to turn her, and finds an alternate way. He discovers some supernatural “trial,” in which he can compete as her champion. It involves fighting a demon, getting staked, and walking on crosses. Angel is willing to accept death, just so that Darla may live on as a human with a soul. However, after all this (duh, he survives), it turns out that the deal had fine print. Because Darla has already been given new life before, by Wolfram & Hart, she is already living her second chance and doesn’t get another. Tragic, I know. It gets worse (again, it all depends on perspective), however, when Drusilla is called in by Wolfram & Hart, and sires Darla herself. Goodbye, soulful Darla.
Despite the tragedy of Darla losing her soul, there is a major silver lining in her reunion with Drusilla. In 2x10, “Reunion,” Darla and Drusilla tear up the town, and much fun is had. The combination of wacky Drusilla and straight-woman Darla is gold. Despite the maneuvering by Wolfram & Hart, the ladies are not to be pinned down, and turn the tables on the bossy lawyers. As Darla explains to Holland Manners, “I believe you said something about … a massacre." The duo manages to get into Manners’ home, and they savor the fun. In one of the more shocking moments of the series, Angel interrupts at the last moment, but instead of helping all the humans, he tells Manners that he “just can’t seem to care.” He closes the doors behind him, as we hear Darla and Drusilla feast on all the lawyers in the cellar. Wow.
After this, Angel becomes obsessed with killing Darla, and turns away from all his friends. The solitary period of broody pseudo-evil Angel is perhaps to blame for some of the Darla hate, as Angel is super-annoying, and it’s hard to see him mistreat the Angel Investigations team. Angel is obsessed with Darla, as he feels guilty for not being able to save her. In fact, as we will learn later, he sees his own fate tied to Darla’s, and hopes to save himself as well. Eventually, Angel tries to burn Darla and Drusilla to a crisp, but they survive. However, Drusilla leaves town, so Darla is left with Lindsay, recovering from the burns. In "Reprise," episode 2x15, there is a hullabaloo over a Review at W&H, and a visit by one of the Senior Partners. There is a whole chase for a special ring, the Band of Blacnil, and the glove that can do something special—it doesn’t really matter, as it is just a MacGuffin. The real reveal is that the apocalypse has totally already started, and the good guys are losing. In fact, the good guys pretty much have NO hope. Yes, Angel is a depressing show. I happen to like it that way.
Why is this relevant for Darla? I’m getting there. Basically, this Apocalypse-now news is so soul-crushing, showing that everything that Angel has been doing is for naught, that Angel reaches his lowest point. When he goes back to the Hyperion, Darla shows up, and he throws the ring at her. Blah blah blah … he pushes her around (violently) and they have sex. He takes a page out of season six Buffy, and tells Darla, “I just want to feel something besides the cold.” Afterward, in a scene very much mirroring the one at the end of the Buffy episode “Surprise,” Angel wakes up in bed, and there is thunder and his face is all :O (that is my rendering of an open mouthed Angel losing his soul). They are totally trying to trick the audience into thinking that Angel lost his soul. We pick up this dangling cliffhanger in the aptly named episode "Epiphany," 2x16, in turn very reminiscent of the Buffy episode “Innocence,” but in this version Angel goes through a very different sort of change.
It turns out that Darla is either incredibly optimistic, or she wasn’t paying attention to the first half of the season in which Angel told her over and over again that he didn’t love her, as she is full of delight that Angel has lost his filthy soul. Perhaps she thinks that since then he has fallen for her? Angel apologizes to her, and she is confused. Angel explains: "I am sorry. You saved me. I'm sorry that I couldn't do the same for you." Darla: "What?" She realizes and steps away: "You still have a soul." Awkward. Like, really awkward. Darla: "But we … and you… then I ... you're not evil? I … I don't understand. Was I … was it not good? Well, I do not accept that. You cannot tell me that that was not perfect. Not only have I been around for 400 years, I used to do this professionally. And that was perfect. We’ll go again." He says no, and that they're finished. Darla: "Finished? Why? Because you suddenly decide? You know, an hour ago, you wanted this. You weren't tricked into anything. I didn't seduce you. You wanted this?" He says that it was perfect: "And you were the reason. You've always been the reason. You were the thing that made me what I am. And I thought that if I could save you, I would somehow save myself. But I was wrong. And when I failed … when I failed, you saved me. There's nothing I can do for you Darla. I can't even hate you." Darla is deservedly pissed: "You knew this would happen, didn't you? You made me trust you. You made me believe." I doubt Angel planned this, but wow. It sucks to be Darla. The end.
OK, except not really the end, because not only does Darla get kicked out of bed on threat of death by Angel, she gets pregnant. She is really on the wrong end of karma, isn’t she? Not that I’m saying that pregnancy is terrible, but it is when you’re a vampire and it’s supposed to be impossible, and all you want to do is go around being evil. In season three, we learn that the impossible has happened—for the first time in history the union between two vampires produced offspring, a term fitting because it is the name of the episode in which Angel learns about his NOT love-child. The Angel Investigations gang is not thrilled with this news, particularly Cordelia. This also leads to one of my favorite exchanges on the show. Fred: "Who's Darla?" Gunn: "Angel's old flame, from way back." Fred: "Not the one who died?" Gunn: "No, not that one. The other one who died and came back to life." Fred: "Do you have a chart or something?” Gunn: "Yeah, it's in the files somewhere. I'll get it for you later." Ha! As Darla sarcastically sums it up: "Gosh, I'm the luckiest vampire girl in all the world." Sigh.
Darla’s pregnancy is rocky to say the least, and there is a vampire hunter and crazy vampire cult (amongst others) after her. Plus, it turns out that since Darla is dead, and her pregnancy was impossible to begin with, she can’t really give birth the normal way, and the baby is stuck inside. Eventually, in "Lullaby," episode 3x09, Darla reveals that she is sharing a soul with the baby. She tells Angel: “I love it completely. I don't think I've ever loved anything as much as this life that's inside me." Angel: "You've never loved anything, Darla." Darla: "True. 400 years, and I never did, until now." She dreads giving birth, as she will no longer share the soul: "I won't be able to love it. I won't be able to remember that I love it. I won't remember." She has really been transformed by her love of her unborn child. She also says thanks to the Angel Investigations gang, which is probably the first time in her entire life and un-life that she has uttered such a word. Now that her redemption is complete, sadly, it is time for her to die. In fact, her death itself is a form of redemption. She ends up going into labor in an alley, and the scene is visually very reminiscent of the Nativity, and there is also rain to heighten the drama. She reminds Angel: "You died in an alley, remember?" There is very much a parallel here between Darla taking away Angel’s life and soul back in 1753, and now, in 2001, bringing a child with a soul into the world. She apologizes to Angel for making him what he was, and then delivers her final words: "We did so many terrible things together. So much destruction. So much pain. We can't make up for any of it, you know that don't you? This child, Angel, it's the one good thing we did together. The only good thing. You make sure to tell him that." Then she stakes herself, and as the dust falls, a baby boy born. It is quite a death scene. I mean, as dramatic exits go, you really cannot get more dramatic than that, right? Well, maybe Buffy jumping on the tower in “The Gift,” but that is stiff competition.
So, once Darla has died, for a fourth time, that is still not the end of her. I know, right? You are ready for this post to end, and it will … soon. In 4x17, "Inside Out," The Powers That Be send Darla (or some simulacrum of her) to try to stop Connor from going to the dark side. Yes, little baby Connor went a bit crazy, due to his childhood in a hell dimension, and his twisted love for NOT-Cordelia and their baby-who-is-really-a-goddess-played-by-Zoe-from-Firefly. Darla tries to convince her son not to sacrifice a virgin, telling him how much she loves him, and how she will always be part of him. Connor wonders why she left him then. Darla explains that she did what she had to, offering her life for his. Connor, when your mother dies to give you life, maybe you should be a bit more grateful. Darla continues: “I did so many terrible things, Connor. So much destruction. So much pain. You were the one good thing I ever did. The only good thing. I'd die every day for the rest of eternity for you. And this [motioning to frightened girl about to be sacrificed] is how you repay me?" Good point, Darla. Connor was so not worth dying over (sorry Connor fans, just my biased opinion). Sigh. She begs him: "Don't let this happen, Connor. Don't let my death mean nothing. […] As a vampire I killed without mercy or remorse, because I didn't have a soul. What's your excuse? […] It has to be your choice. You can stop this. […] This isn't you, Connor." It almost works, but then NOT-Cordelia interrupts and warps his mind further. Connor is won over by the threat to his unborn child, and drags away the innocent girl, ignoring his mother’s pleas. Suddenly, the innocent girl turns into Darla, and we see Darla killed by evil Cordy. Then Darla's body turns back into the random innocent girl again. So, do we count that as Darla dying for a fifth time? Sigh. She really is the luckiest vampire in all the world.
OK, so after this exhaustive discussion of Darla, we can see that she has really had a roller coaster of a storyline, and provided a lot of entertainment. What do you think? Is she inspiring? Or does she make you want to turn off your TV? Has she been underappreciated? Or are you still annoyed that she got so much screen time in season two? Do you resent Angel’s destructive obsession with her? Or perhaps, the fact that she stood in the way of Angel and Cordelia in season three? Or do you find her a joy to watch? I would love to read what you all think.
You can read more by Lucia on her blog, Heroine TV, where she recaps shows such as Dollhouse, The Vampire Diaries, Mad Men, and Lost. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she never tires of talking about TV.