Moral ambiguity in BtVS/AtS


| The Gypsies | Faith | Lindsey | Kate | Lilah | Lorne | Holtz | Jasmine | Eve | Knox | Magic | What does Joss have against |

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 6 BtVS/season 5 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.
The Kalderash Gypsies

"I got held up in Romania" --Angel, Somnambulist

When they cursed Angelus they were essentially punishing the wrong "person" -- Angel's human soul suffers from the crimes committed by Angelus during a time when the vampire soul was in control of his body and his human soul was residing in the ether (Ananda, 31 Jan 2000 21:06)

The Kalderash didn't really care about the human soul they restored to the body, and what suffering it goes through being forced to live with a demon. They were interested in their own vengeance.


"I know what it's like to take a life. To feel a future, a world of possibilities, snuffed out by your own hand. I know the power in it, the exhilaration. It was a drug for me.... To kill without remorse is to feel like a God..." -- Angel on Faith's temptation to evil

What is known about Faith

Highlights of the morally ambiguous Faith:

The Redemption of Faith:

lurkingb on Deconstructing Faith




Buffy has never liked the idea of a second slayer, but over time, she has learned to depend on them, because they understand better than anybody else what her life is like. Then Faith joined the side of evil, and relating to her fellow slayer became a frightening prospect. Is Faith what Buffy could be? Is Buffy what Faith could be?

Faith's envy and resentment of Buffy

Buffy and Faith should never have met. One slayer dies, the next is called; that's how it works. Until CPR was invented. When you think about it, Faith's birthright was stolen from her by an over-achieving predecessor who refused to plunge and move on. Faith resented this fact from day one:

"I come to Sunnydale. I'm the Slayer. I do my job kicking ass better than anyone. What do I hear about everywhere I go? Buffy."

Faith resents buffy for the obvious reasons... everyone pays attention to her, she has the scooby gang and the watcher, etc. But Faith also harbors a special hatred for Buffy because Buffy saw her weak. In FH&T, Buffy saw Faith scared, she saw her frozen. ...Buffy doesn't run, Faith did (Eiddileg, May 25 16:34 1999).

"You get the Watcher. You get the mom. You get the little Scooby gang. What do I get? Jack squat. This is supposed to be my town! sees so many missed opportunities to bring Faith closer into the gang. Blame is not to be layed, but you can really trace the path back to this turn of events. Just that look and the final moments of Revelations say a lot (Eiddileg).

Buffy: Faith, listen to me!
Faith: Why? So you can impart some special Buffy wisdom, that it? Do you think you're better than me?

"Everybody always asks, why can't you be more like Buffy? But did anyone ever ask if you could be more like me?"

"So I slay, I behave, I do the good little girl routine. And who's everybody thank? Buffy."

Lindsey McDonald "When you come from nothing and someone offers you everything, you're gonna take it no matter what. I don't care who it is or what morals or values you have. But you're always gonna have bad feelings about it, and that's how Lindsey is" (Christian Kane [Lindsey, AtS], BtVS Official Magazine Winter 2000)

You think you've got Lindsey all figured out? You think you know everything about him? He's a junior partner at that haven of justice mecca of evil, Wolfram and Hart, but is his heart in his job? It's a tough call. He's betrayed the firm more than once and they keep inviting him to stay. Is it because they are trying to cultivate this talented lawyer's potential for evil? Or are they using him?

Lindsey: good and evil

Lindsey and the Wolfram and Hart philosophy: in a world of users and the used, Lindsey wants to be the user. But part of him still believes in good and evil, and he gets those twinges of conscience every once in a while, as when he

...why shower so much if at some level of your conscience you don't feel dirty? Lindsey knows how far he has gone he just doesn't have the moral guts to do anything about it (Rufus, 21-Feb-01 1:03).

Kate Lockley

Kate Lockley is commonly viewed as a judgmental, rash, by-the-book cop with a distrust of men that makes it difficult for her to maintain close relationships with them. She started out strong and competent, then fell apart over her father's death and was never able to convincingly scapegoat Angel for this personal tragedy.

This view of Kate barely scratches the surface. To understand Kate Lockley, you have to see not only the woman and the cop and the daughter of a cop, you have to see Kate the symbol.

For Kate, being a police officer is more than a job. The police force is her home, her extended family--the source of her values and a place to belong. She not only identifies with their point of view, their point of view is her identity. From Kate's perspective, Angel is not simply an attractive man or a vampire with a notoriously evil past. He is a private citizen who's gotten it in his head to do the police department's job for them. In other words, Angel is a vigilante.

And from the perspective of the police, vigilantism is a big bad. A police officer's hands are tied by procedures based on due process of law. They cannot break these rules without having their arrests countermanded and suspects freed or their careers put to scrutiny. Individual citizens, on the other hand, are under much less scrutiny. If they take the law into their own hands, they follow a personal concept of justice that they feel is "above the law". If they violate another citizen's rights in the process of pursuing that "justice", they might never be forced to justify their actions or accept the consequences of them.

As a vampire, Angel lives by definition outside the purview of police authority. Kate cannot simply ignore the implications of that.

Of course, from Angel's point of view, he's filling a gap that the police aren't filling, defending humanity against supernatural evil. And he's doing it on the authority of the Powers That Be. But Kate knows nothing of Angel's calling. So rather than aid Angel's mission, she makes fighting supernatural evil her own personal responsibility. Because she is the one legitimate law enforcement officer in the city who believes.

By-the-book cop to her father's death

Fox Mulder to Kate's epiphany

Lilah Morgan "I like the girl. She's wicked."                              --Drusilla

Is Lilah as callous as she seems, or is there more to her than meets the eye? Lilah will do whatever it takes to control her world and take care of number one. It's all about power. But is that as simple as it sounds? Her goals and ambitions are the same as many people's. The means she uses to get them are not.

Lilah: I made a lot of devil's bargains and I stuck to them. ...I get up every morning, put on my game face and do what I have to.
Angel: Thing about a game face, Lilah, you wear it long enough, it stops being something you can put on and take off.
Lilah: The game face? The one I worked so hard to get? I became that years ago.

Highlights of the manipulative Lilah:

I think Lilah Morgan is ambitious, rather than merely being evil. She is an attractive woman in a male-dominated profession (lawyers) and a predominantly male office (most of the other women shown have been secretaries, receptionists, or outside consultants). To make her mark in her chosen profession she must do everything in her power to advance herself. This type of ambition has led her to go behind people's back to advance her own agenda (the telekinetic woman), go through her colleagues desk/papers to see what they are working on, stealing her colleagues ideas and implementing them as her own (recruiting Faith). And Wolfram & Hart supports this sort of attitude - when Lilah is caught going through Lindsey's desk, she fully expects that he is doing the same to her.

Which is not to say that Lilah isn't evil at all. She must be in touch with her "dark side" to even be willing to continue working at Wolfram & Hart, despite the perks - high-profile law firm and obviously generous benefits. And she appears to be one of [Holland's] favorites - perhaps Lilah views him as her mentor, however evil and twisted. Also, I'm sure there is a certain amount of fear keeping her at the firm - either fear of not being able to rise to such a high position in another firm or fear of the repercussions of leaving Wolfram & Hart (i.e., death) (purplegrrl, 20-Oct-00 12:57).

Lorne (The Caritas Host)

"...I'm probably going to regret this. In fact, being prescient, I'm actually sure of it."

Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan doesn't blink an eye at child-eaters and other demons who come to Caritas seeking their fortunes. But he's also given Angel a lot of moral support and direction. Is the Host a good guy or a bad guy? Somewhere in between, like another bar host we know. He likes things colorful and gray, not black and white.

  • tries to distract the gang when they are on the verge of finding out about his past as the black sheep of the Deathwok clan.
  • joins his friends as a guide to help rescue Cordelia from Pylea, despite his fears.
  • helps Angel rescue Fred, which gets him arrested and beheaded. You can't keep a body-less Deathwok down, though. Lorne has friends who help him pick up his parts and get him back to L.A.

[I]t just completely struck me as a huge step in character development that Lorne fought the beast. Lorne went from not wanting to even think about the coming war to being the one to prod Angel and the others to get out there and start investigating. He is really stepping up this season as being the force that is holding the tattered remnants of AI together (Tess, 11/18/02 09:56)

More Host good deeds

Daniel Holtz "There are worse things than death, Angelus."
--Holtz, "Heartthrob"

Daniel Holtz knows what it's like to live with grief. After Angelus and Darla killed his family, Holtz hunted them for nine years. But he was unable to find them and get his revenge. Then a demon, Sahjhan, came to him, tempting him with the chance to gain revenge in the far future.

But why did the impotent Sahjhan bring Holtz into the twenty-first century? Angelus and Darla roamed Europe for another century and a quarter after Holtz disappeared. And then Darla and souled Angel went their separate ways for another hundred years. Sahjhan could have taken Holtz to any of those years. But Sahjhan seemed intent on bringing the instrument of his revenge to a time when Angel is on his mission of good and Darla is inexplicably pregnant with the infant Connor.

At first, Holtz is eager to proceed, and is frustrated with Sahjhan's attempts to hold him back. Then, as Darla is about to give birth, Sahjhan lets him loose. After that, it's Sahjhan who becomes frustrated, as Holtz' revenge takes a complicated turn. When Holtz finds out that Angel has a soul, his tactics change. In Offspring, the eighteenth century Holtz expressed his frustration with taking out his revenge on a soulless demon. He tells Angelus as he tortures him:

"My only desire here is to discover if a thing such as yourself can be made to pay for its sins. You're a demon. It is your nature to maim and kill. But you were also once a man. If we beat and burn the demon out of your living flesh, will there be anything left? Anything at all? I doubt it. But I'm willing to spend the next fortnight of my life finding out."

Clearly, he can make souled Angel suffer more than Angelus ever would have. Holtz kills off the demon minions Sahjhan procured for him and starts to assemble his own team--a team of humans. Holtz' followers observe the members of Angel Investigations, getting information on them for the day Holtz will confront them.

In the meantime, Sahjhan gets fed up with Holtz. He wanted a clean, quick kill of both Angel and Darla (and not coincidentally, their son as well). Sahjhan goes to Lilah. Together, they make Angel dangerous to Connor, which spurs Wesley into action.

Wesley has already followed one of Holtz' team to his headquarters once. He is concerned for Connor's safety. And Holtz only encourages this fear. "Angelus is in his nature.The beast will re-emerge." Holtz has come upon a plan that will make Angel suffer as Holtz once suffered. When Wesley comes to Holtz' place for a second time, Holtz puts Wesley's back against the wall: if Wesley doesn't stop Angel from killing Connor, Holtz will. So Wesley kidnaps Connor. But Holtz double-crosses him and takes the baby.

He doesn't get far, Both Angel and Lilah catch up with him. Then Sahjhan arrives and creates a standoff. Sahjhan wants Connor dead. And Angel would rather see Connor alive with Holtz than dead. Sahjhan opens a portal to a deadly demon dimension. Holtz runs through it with Connor. For the moment, Holtz has achieved his objective:

"I want Angelus alive. But not well."

Weeks later, an aged Holtz follows the teen-aged Connor out of Quortoth. Holtz' adopted son hasn't been able to find it in himself to kill his vampire father, and Holtz realizes that "Steven" and Angel have a connection with each other that Steven can feel. But Holtz no longer wants vengeance. He just wants Steven's eternal love. Holtz asks his loyal follower Justine to help him die, and then to frame Angel for the death. Moments later, Connor finds the only father he ever knew dead in an alley from an apparent vampire bite. In return, the boy condemns Angel to a place where he will suffer an eternity of isolation and the memory of betrayal.

The unintended consequences of magic

"There's nothing more unreliable and annoying than magic." --Lorne, Spin the Bottle

Magic: The ability to harness mystical forces through rituals and spells. What an ability to have, right?

Willow: but there's a drawback.
Xander: that happens a lot.

You can say that in some sense, magic is morally neutral--neither innately good or evil in itself. It is how it is used (both intentions and consequences) that determines its status as good or evil. What makes magic on BtVS morally ambiguous is that the consequences rarely turn out according to the original intentions. Good intentions do not always lead to good consequences; and selfish intentions backfire in interesting, unexpected ways that don't necessarily have to do with any intervention on the part of "good".

There is always unintended consequences when you use magic in the Buffyverse. Xander and BBB, Giles in his youth, Catherine stuck in a statue in TW, etc. (sweick, May 25 18:12 1998).

What does Joss have against...


| Factories? | Computer technology? | Miniature golf? | Sports coaches? | Teachers? | Authority? | The Military? | Fathers? | Relationships? | Sex? |


Computer technology?

Miniature golf?

Sports coaches?


It seems to me that teachers in the Buffyverse are a nasty lot (with few exceptions): One teacher was a praying mantis that ate her students; The coach was turning the swim team into mutant fish; Snyder (not a teacher per say) was a petty tyrant; Prof Walsh was monster mom; and [Buffy's] history teacher was a prig scoring points off one of his students; even Jenny Calendar had a secret agenda. Seems like Joss has some issues with this breed of earth bound demon (Brian, 24-Jan-01 11:35).


So far we've seen large bureaucracies like the Watcher's Council and The Initiative depicted as arrogant and out of touch, not to mention the corrupt evil of Wolfram and Hart.

The Military?

The entire Special Forces mantra is independent thinking. When there are only a few people on a mission that must succeed and/or be kept a secret calling your superiors for instructions every five minutes will not work. Blindly following orders will only get you killed... Contrary to what Hollywood believes and depicts, most of the people in the military don't want to fight a war every week. Think about it - whose ass is going to be on the firing line? (NuPhalanx, May 9 22:18 2000)


I just realized how bad fathers have gotten it on these shows:


Willow: day, without even realizing it, you find you're in love. Time stops, And it feels like the whole world's made for you two, and you two alone. Until the day one of you leaves and rips the still-beating heart from the other, who's now a broken, hollow, mockery of the human condition.
Riley: Yep, that's the plan.

Buffyverse unhappy endings: Joyce and Hank, Giles and Jenny, Spike and Drusilla, Xander and Cordelia, Buffy and Angel, Willow and Oz, Buffy and Parker, Buffy and Riley, Buffy and Spike, Xander and Anya, Willow and Tara, Wesley and Lilah, Fred and Gunn... now I'm depressed. Oh well. It's not truly over until we die. And not even then for some folks.


Cordelia: I learned that... sex is bad.
Angel: We all knew that.                --Expecting

Sex is not really a force for good on the show, is it? ... it's never really turned out well for any of the characters. ...The only people having good, angst-free sex on the show are the evil ones, like Spike and Drusilla.

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This page last modified 5/23/04

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