The Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, Angel, developed many Buffyverse characters much more thoroughly than the original show, but they also used the same trope three times to ultimately ruin the show’s reputation. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an iconic feminist show for its day that empowered its numerous female characters, so the audiences held Angel to that same standard to empower their female characters as well. At first, Angel delivered three female characters who were distinct and interesting in their own unique ways, but ultimately the show destroyed them all with the mystical pregnancy trope.
The trope of mystical pregnancy occurs when a character becomes pregnant or their pregnancy is affected by otherworldly or supernatural forces. Mystical pregnancy can be used to allow a character to question their origins and purpose (as is explored in Steven Universe), or manifest the underlying fears of pregnancy (explored in Rosemary’s Baby and American Horror Story). The trope is often used (as it is used in Angel) to remove a female character’s autonomy over her own body, and instead focuses the narrative on how the pregnancy affects those around the mother rather than the mother herself.
The writers of Angel used mystical pregnancy to sacrifice its most nuanced female characters in service of exploring the pain of its male characters, which undercut the Buffyverse’s feminist origins. Angel’s most emotionally engaging female villain alongside the only two female mainstay characters became hosts for a supernatural entity and were ultimately killed off in the birthing process. Afterward, Angel then focused on how the birth/death affected the character’s male counterparts rather than on the women themselves.
Darla Was Killed Off To Give Birth To Connor
Darla (Julie Benz) was the first female character on Angel to experience death by mystical pregnancy in season 3. Previous to her pregnancy, Darla was Angel’s vampire sire and lover who was brought back to life by Wolfram and Hart in an attempt to turn Angel evil. Darla not only forced Angel (David Boreanaz) to face his inner darkness, but she confronted her fears and weaknesses both as a human and as a vampire. She was a brilliant villain as well as a complex and emotionally engaging character. Darla served as a dark reminder that the consequences of Angel’s wicked past would never be fully absolved.
In Angel season 3 Darla’s agency is entirely removed by the human/vampire baby hybrid conceived by her and Angel. In the narrative, the baby’s human soul is what is influencing Darla to make decisions rather than her desires. Darla’s complicated history with Angel is ended when she sacrifices herself for the child who grew up to be Connor, one of the most frustrating characters in all of Angel. Connor went on to throw Angel in the ocean and knowingly serve a demon who tried to take over the world. Sacrificing such a strong female villain for the sake of a character who only served to demoralize everyone else on the show was ultimately not a trade that worked out in the show’s favor. This was emphasized when the Angel showrunners essentially wrote Connor out of the show at the end of season 4.
Cordelia’s Pregnancy Led To Her Coma & Then Death
Angel’s primary female protagonist from seasons 1 to 4 was Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter). After Cordelia crossed over from Buffy to Angel she had perhaps the most drastic character growth in all of the Buffyverse. Cordelia began her journey as Sunnydale’s resident mean girl who lost her riches and popularity and moved to L.A. She found Angel and obtained mystical visions of people in desperate need of help. Cordelia demonstrated that women don’t need to have super strength to be strong, her confidence and pragmatism kept Angel connected to his humanity and ensured his business never went bankrupt. After Charisma Carpenter became pregnant in season 4, the show introduced the mystical pregnancy trope yet again and wrote her off the show a full season before Angel was canceled.
In Angel season 4 Cordelia is possessed by the ancient demon Jasmine, who slept with Connor in order to give birth to herself. After Cordelia gave birth to Jasmine, she was put in a coma and only returned in Angel season 5, episode 12, “You’re Welcome” wherein she died as a result of the coma. Not only did this mystical pregnancy plotline disregard all of Cordelia’s agency, dignity, and growth, but the behind-the-scenes controversy surrounding the pregnancy of Cordelia’s actress, Charisma Carpenter, and her character being subsequently written off tainted the legacy of Angel in a truly ugly way. Charisma Carpenter claimed she was verbally berated by Joss Whedon, accused of sabotaging the show through her pregnancy, and fired in retaliation for it shortly after giving birth.. Although Whedon denied verbally abusing Carpenter, multiple co-stars from Buffy and Angel have supported Carpenter including but not limited to Eliza Dushku (Faith), Michelle Tractenberg (Dawn), and Sarah Michelle-Gellar (Buffy). The mystical pregnancy trope was ultimately disrespectful towards the actress as well as the character.
Fred Was Taken Over By Illyria
The physics student Winnifred (Fred) Burkel (Amy Acker) was rescued from a demon dimension by Angel and company in Angel season 2, episode 21, “Through The Looking Glass”, and she quickly became a fan favorite in Angel. In Angel season 5, episode 15, “A Hole In The World” Fred finally began dating Wesley and paid off years of will-they-won’t-they romantic tension. Fred is then immediately infected by the spirit of Illyria who used Fred’s body and soul to manifest. For the rest of Angel season 5, Amy Acker’s performance is of Illyria, not Fred. Although this isn’t a traditional “birth” as Illyria inhabits Fred’s body, it is yet another instance of a female character being removed without their agency to bring another being into the world as with Darla and Cordelia. Although Fred’s death is treated as one of the most tragic moments in all of Angel, ultimately her death is utilized to further the arcs of her male counterparts. While Illyria served as an interesting addition to Angel’s team, it is the third time a recurring female character on Angel is killed off by the mystical pregnancy trope. Although Angel is known for dark and tragic storylines, at this point the redundancy of the mystical pregnancy trope undercut the tragedy of Fred’s death and broke the tone of the show.
By the end of Angel, all the longstanding female characters in the show had been killed off through the mystical pregnancy trope. These characters didn’t need to be removed from the narrative, plotlines could have been conceived that showcased them raising their children and dealing with the trauma of birth. If even one of Angel’s mainstay female character’s death had resulted from something other than a supernatural force using a woman’s body to give birth, then perhaps the use of the trope wouldn’t be so obvious or condemning. As it stands, Angel’s use of the trope is disappointing when considering how interesting these female characters were. Ultimately, Angel couldn’t live up to the feminist legacy of its parent show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.