Yeah, the world sucks, but so what? Musings on morality in 'The Vampire Diaries' and the Whedonverse
Warning: If you have yet to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, this is slightly spoilery. Ditto for reading The Vampire Diaries book series, though less so. I say read it anyway, but use your own judgment.
I found an interesting connection between L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries and the Whedonverse, but it’s not what you think. Humans in love with vampires? Who cares? I’m more interested in another similarity. In Dark Reunion, the fourth volume of The Vampire Diaries series, Matt (a human teenager) has an existential crisis. He’s fed up with the violence, pain, and death he sees everywhere around him. In one of my favorite parts of the series, Matt releases his pent up frustration: “Is [the world] basically the kind of place worth saving or is it essentially a pile of crap?” (359) He continues: “What I’m really asking is, what’s the point? Is there some cosmic joke I’m not getting? Or is the whole thing just one big freaking mistake?” Stefan (a vampire hundreds of years old) replies: “So what?” (360) Matt is disbelieving, but Stefan continues to push: “So what are you going to do, Matt Honeycutt, if every bad thing you’ve said is true? What are you going to do personally? Are you going to stop fighting and swim with the sharks?” Matt protests against getting in league with evil, just because the universe is already frakked up: “Like Hell! […] That’s Damon’s way, maybe! But just because it’s hopeless doesn’t mean it’s all right to stop fighting. Even if I knew it was hopeless, I’d still have to try. I have to try, damn it!” (361) Stefan smiles, and says, “I know because I feel the same way [...] There’s no excuse for giving up just because it looks like we’re going to lose. We have to try—because the other choice is to surrender.”
Sound familiar, Whedon fans? It should, because this philosophy is one shared by Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Angel (Angel), and Captain Malcom Reynolds (Firefly). The most immediate parallel to me, upon reading the above referenced passage, was Angel’s speech to Kate in “Epiphany” (Angel 2×16): “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. The smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.” In an interview I once read (or watched), Joss Whedon said that this sentiment was the closest he ever got to expressing his core beliefs on one of his shows. It’s also the way I respond when people wonder how morality can exist without religion.
An additional example can be found in Mal’s sentiments at the end of the Firefly pilot, “Serenity.” After quite a number of misadventures and brushes with death, Mal comments, “I had a good day.” Simon: “You had the Alliance on you, criminals, and savages. Half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded, including yourself. And you’re harboring known fugitives.” Mal responds, “We’re still flying.” Simon: “That’s not much.” Mal: “It’s enough.” Again, we can see the parallels to Stefan’s philosophy, although in a less obvious light. Regardless of what this crazy mixed up world throws at us, making it through, and living to fly another day means something. Sometimes, all we can do is keep on flying, despite the odds against us … and that makes it “a good day.”
Angel also expresses very similar sentiments in “In the Dark” (Angel 1×03). After destroying the ring of Amara, which enabled him to be human for the first time in 200+ years, and being tortured and kidnapped by Spike, Angel reflects: “I don’t know about you, but I had a nice day. You know, except for the bulk of it where I was nearly tortured to death.” Doyle affirms Angel’s actions: “Hey, you stood up.” Angel makes a joke out of this, stating: “Oh, God. I was this close to telling him everything. I mean, one more hot poker and I was giving him the ring, your mom, everything … How is your mom?” But don’t let the joking fool you. This was a very important moment for Angel, and one in which his understanding of his place in the world is markedly solidified. This interchange helps explain how Angel can continue to “fight the good fight,” despite the odds against him. This is a theme continued in earnest throughout the fifth season, and culminates with Angel still fighting in the series finale. In the final shot of the series, there are all manner of demons attacking, the apocalypse has started, and the good guys know they’re going to lose; but this doesn’t stop our heroes. In the last line, Angel says, “Let’s go to work.” I find it truly inspiring.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I forgot the amazing musical episode, “Once more with Feeling” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer 6×07). In one of the later songs in the episode, “Something to Sing About,” Buffy sings about needing a reason to live–anything to make life worth living again. At this point in the series, she was deeply depressed, as she was recently torn from the comfortable embrace of Heaven, back to a very un-heavenly world. Spike interrupts her self-pity, to snap her back to reality: “Life’s not a song. Life isn’t bliss. Life is just this: it’s living. You’ll get along. The pain that you feel, it only can heal by living. You have to go on living.” Dawn pipes up: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” Not the most optimistic of world views, but I find it strangely comforting and inspiring. Eventually Buffy takes this to heart, and snaps out of her funk. She is ready to step up to her responsibility, and fight, even if she might fail. Life isn’t always warm and fuzzy, and that’s o.k., because all that matters is what we do. Thoughts? Please comment below.
*Page numbers are from the following edition: L.J. Smith. The Vampire Diaries: The Fury and Dark Reunion. New York: Harper Teen, 1991; 2007.