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Cordelia’s Role in ATS specifically in contrast to Angel

By Shadowkat

Monday 15 December 2003

Subject: Cordelia - her psychological role in ATS specifically in contrast to Angel (spoilers to Home)

Cordelia and her roles on ATS, (specifically in contrast to Angel, the central character)

Been thinking about this off and on most of the morning (12 midnight - 11;30am, with random fits of sleep in between which leads me to believe I should stop going online to kick my insomnia. )

What is Cordelia’s function? Is she Angel’s anima? Shadow Self?

(Dicey topic for me to attempt, since my grasp of Jungian psychology is a tad shaky so first a few disclaimers:

I’m hesitant to pigeon hole a regular character, because as much as Angel the Series, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer is essentially about the lead character and structurally plotted around that character, the writers have done an amazing job of providing the supporting characters with distinct personalities and emotional arcs which not only reflect and parallel the major characters arc but can also exist completely outside of it. This is good storytelling - because what it does is force the writer to develop every element of the story, not just the central one. Only good writers can pull it off. Amateur writers tend to fall into the trap of only developing the supporting characters enough to reflect the major one - so that these characters become either stock characters or allegories that do not exist outside of the lead’s story or head, as a result the story becomes not much more than a psychological allegory. (I think that’s the right phrase, my syntax has been off lately.)

I’m also hesitant to use psychological terms to define character relationships because I feel that my understanding of these terms is rather limited. For instance I often find myself confusing the terms shadow self and anima. While the shadow can be the opposite gender of the lead character, it is usually the same gender, while the anima/animus is the opposite. ;-))

With that in mind? My gut tells me that the writers have used Cordelia at different points in the story to either reflect Angel’s struggle with the anima or his internal struggle with his shadow. I also think Cordy in ATS performs a similar function to Willow in BTVS - in a TV series it’s a tad risky to make the central character go completely dark. But you can make a supporting character go dark - the supporting character is a little more expendable than the lead. (Although not quite as expendable as I think the writers hoped. In both Btvs S6 and ATS S4, the writers discovered turning Willow and Cordy completely dark had some negative ramifications - ie. dip in ratings, loss of audience…so you do have to be careful with this sort of thing. I seriously doubt they’ll attempt it again or that WB/Fox will let them.)

Cordy as anima - the anima is described as the male’s inner female, the feminine aspect of the subconscious. She can either act as a guide, supportive and wise, or be destructive and poisonous. In stories she takes the form of good mother/Madonna or femme fatale/enchantress/whore. In ATS - they split her into Cordelia and Lilah. Cordelia with the visions acts as Angel’s guide-post, his touch stone. She also will state aloud the things that Angel can’t say himself, often calling him on his shit.

At the end of The Somnambulist, Cordy finds Angel sitting on a rooftop. He tells her that nothing appears to have changed since he was a child, things don’t appear to have gotten any better. Cordy tells him he’s wrong, they have changed more or less. And he’s not the same man he used to be. He’s not Angelus any more. She also states - and this is important: “We all have dark aspects to ourselves, everyone does. Shit that we have to suppress”. (not her exact words but the gist). This statement echoes Doyle’s speeches to Angel in City of…to Hero. While Doyle was certainly not an “anima” per se, I think in some ways - Cordy took over Doyle’s function in the story. The question is what was this function psychologically speaking? Anima? Shadow? I’m not sure we can place a label on it. I know Wes was brought in to take over the role Cordelia used to have prior to Doyle’s death - comic relief and research person. Can Wes be described as a shadow self? Probably, but again, ME has done such a good job of developing the character that he tends to slip from the category. I think the character of Lindsey, may be a better candidate for the role of shadow - at least in seasons 1-2. Holtz takes over in Season 3. And Connor in Season 4. Each of these characters, besides their own separate arcs, represent a side of Angel (or Liam) he can’t deal with - Lindsey - the ambitious man who desires power, yet also struggles with a conscience, Holtz - the man filled with vengeance who inadvertently destroys his family over and over again seeking to exact it, Connor - the child hunting approval and family. (Of course these characters are also very well developed and like to slip out of the categories I attempt to put them in.)

But back to Cordy - dropping the psychological terminology for a moment, I think she has been used as a means of reflecting what is going on inside Angel psychologically. A sort of mirror, if you will. And I think she’s always filled that purpose as early as episode 1, ATS.

Season 1: City of - Angel meets Cordy at a party. Doyle is suggesting Angel mingle. Angel doesn’t want to mingle, he wants to sink into a hole. He’s just left his true love. He’s lonely. He’s dealing with the fact that he’s recently tasted human blood and desperately craves it. But Doyle insists that he interact. Cordelia similarly has left Sunnydale, she’s lost a love, she’s trying a new life, and she’s trying to mingle. Cordy wants to be an actress. Angel feels as if that’s all he’s doing “acting”. Their interaction and arcs in this episode prove to an interesting parallel - a somewhat mirror of each other. Both are into image. Both care a great deal about their looks - which was already established on BTVS. Both also yearn for connection, yet find it awkward to achieve in the big city environment.

Room with A View - in this episode Cordelia discusses with Angel the fact that she’s being punished. She tells him that she knows she deserves it b/c of how mean she was in high school and this is her pay back, but she wants it to stop, just for a little while. Can she just have this one thing? This speech reflects what happens with Angel in IWRY and In The Dark. The fact that he knows he’s being punished, but desperately wishes for a reprieve. The writers can’t really let Angel give voice to this feeling - but they can allow Cordelia to. Her words echo Angel’s own feelings on the issue. The writers do it again in Pylea - where both Angel and Cordelia felt a reprieve - Cordy got to be Princess, Angel got his moment - literally - in the sun. They also repeat the imagery in That Vision Thing - where Cordy once again wonders aloud why the Powers are punishing her. She is in a way giving voice to all the suppressed feelings inside Angel. The toll the visions take upon Cordelia in this episode - may represent the feelings that Angel feels about Buffy, a topic Cordy and Angel discuss in the previous episode, what he feels about himself, and his own role. Also representations of his guilt. It’s interesting that the physical manifestation of the visions is caused by a psychic hired by Lilah (Cordelia’s evil doppleganger) who did it to free a misogynist who has the power to inflict misogyny on other men from the flames. (Billy Ats S3) All of which may in effect represent - Angel’s struggle with his anima - his inability to accept her, seeing her maybe as demon that craves blood or maybe a representation of the woman he could not save - Darla. It may also represent Angel’s fury at Darla and himself for sleeping with her and discarding her. The hatred of the anima - can manifest in men as misogyny…I think. The fact that Angel is the only man not affected by Billy, may in part be a metaphor for Billy/Lilah/Cordy’s representation of Angel’s own internal struggle with his anima, which in turn is reflected by his own unresolved feelings for Darla and Buffy. By the time we reach Billy - Angel has struggled with Buffy’s death and rebirth and the fact he can’t help her as well as sleeping with Darla and his inability to save Darla. Angel may be suppressing at this point some righteous anger at Darla, Buffy and himself - regarding how he’s dealt with the two most important women in his life and what they’ve demanded of him in return - these feelings may metaphorically speaking, be represented in the story by Billy, who coincidentally appears right before Darla’s re-appearance and shortly after his off-screen reunion with Buffy.

In To Shanshu in LA - Cordelia is overwhelmed by the pain and suffering of the world, it nearly drives her insane - this reminded me a lot of a scene in Darla, where we see Angel overwhelmed by the pain and suffering he caused when he gets his soul back, which also nearly drives him insane. In this episode, Angel finds out about a prophecy, which could wipe all that away. Allow him to start again without carrying the weight of past sins. Another way of interpreting the episode, an anima pov, is that Angel is trying to suppress the part of him that cares - so Cordelia goes nuts. In Season 2 - note Cordelia is the person who forgives Angel last - when he returns from his beige period. He wins back her love by buying clothes - but this also can be seen as a mirror - and reflection of Angel’s relationship with his anima - Cordelia retreats to image as a means of covering pain and guilt? (not sure, I was never overly fond of Disharmony).

Disharmony - Cordy is the one who befriends and trusts Harmony. She also tells Angel, that if he can change, why can’t someone else. Angel insists the soul makes the difference. But Cordelia questions that. This may reflect Angel’s own struggle with it. Angel tells Cordy that Harm will turn on her. Cordy retorts - like you did? Another mirror reflection. It’s almost as if Cordy is constantly holding up a mirror to Angel (which is odd since Angel can’t cast a reflection) and showing him the facets of his personality he would rather ignore.

In Season 4 - Apocalypse Nowish - Awakenings - it’s Cordelia who forces Angel to look at Angelus. She informs him that she knows everything he did as Angelus. Not only knows, but felt what he felt at the time he did the acts. She tells him how much he enjoyed it. (An echo by the way of what Angel tells Cordy in Somnambulist S1). She also tells him that Angelus is smarter than him. While this works plot wise - it also tells us something interesting about Angel and Angel’s insecurities. Part of Angel, believes his evil alter ego is smarter, cleverer, and quicker than him. That the demon is better than the man. He’s always worried over this. (From as far back as Amends , which some believe was the pilot for ATS) He keeps mentioning it’s the man who informs the demon who needs to be killed. This reflects Angel’s own self-hatred. Cordelia’s confession that she can’t love Angel b/c of who he was…reflects Angel’s own deepest darkest fears. No one can love me - when they see the real me - which is a heartless beast. What’s interesting and incredibly ironic is that it is in essence Cordelia who convinces Angel to free Angelus and allow Angelus to take over for a while. It is Cordelia who takes possession of Angel’s soul (another interesting metaphor that I’ll return to) and who frees Angelus from the cage. (Awakenings - Orpheus) The dark anima freeing the negative aspect of the subconscious - in fairy tales we often have the male hero being seduced or led by a wicked female into wrongdoing. Up until now, Lilah did this with Angel, and unsuccessfully, I might add. It’s not until Cordelia takes Lilah’s role that the seduction works. Why? Because Cordelia better reflects Angel’s deepest fears and desires. She understands them because she harbors some of those same desires herself - she serves as a reflection of him.

Through Cordelia and Jasmine in S4, we experience Angel’s dark side. Angel has always had a bit of a “god complex” or better put, “father complex”. He desperately wants to control his world. We see this in Angelus - in S2 BTVS, when he first teams up with Spike and Dru to unleash the Judge, (Innocence) then again attempts to suck the world into hell through Acathla. (Becoming) In S2 ATS - Angel similarly attempts to control his environment by going after and manipulating Wolfram and Hart. (Reunion- Epithany) But he always pulls back. Cordelia on the other hand - goes all the way, interferes, takes over - and Jasmine? Literally tries to mold the world to her liking. Both reflect Angel’s own internal desires - the desire to be wiped clean, to wipe the suffering of the world clean, the craving to devour others, and the hubris to believe he should be the judge. These are representations of his own darkness, the parts of Angel he suppresses. The parts he despises in himself. In Home, he ironically gives in - for the best of intentions - to save that part of himself, which he keeps losing. Connor. The child.

I think if you track back through the episodes, you’ll see other examples of how Cordelia mirrors both Angel’s tragic flaws and positive aspects. (Is this the role of shadow or anima? Not sure.)

In the Pylea arc - Cordy is by turns heroic and self-absorbed. We often have her and Angel doing the opposite of each other. Cordy ends up in Pylea to save Fred, she encounters Fred early on - and instead of saving Fred is saved by her. Becomes the Princess because of her “otherness” or “special gift” but the Princess bit has a lethal price. She must mate with Groo and give him her gift, then be killed. Angel comes to Pylea, is celebrated as a hero, encounters Fred, gives up being the hero to save Fred. He fears losing his “soul” when he mates. Angel’s price is becoming a monster if he accesses his gift - the vampire strength, while Cordy becomes a Princess when she access her gift - the visions. Both rely on their own humanity to save the day, not their special gifts. Angel’s humanity keeps him from letting the beast take over. Cordy’s humanity gives her the strength to defeat the priests and go back to her world.


Cordy will lose her visions if she sleeps with Groo without a potion. Angel will lose his soul if he sleeps with someone and has perfect happiness. Note it’s not just anyone Cordy/Angel could lose their special gift to - it’s someone specific and under specific circumstances. Cordy can only lose it to Groos. Angel can only lose his if he connects with someone, truly has a moment of bliss. Neither wishes to lose this gift, even if both gifts cause them pain and anguish. Cordy’s visions hook her to others pain, without them she feels less. Angel’s soul hooks him to others pain. Cordy’s visions make her unique, a champion. Angel’s soul makes him unique, a champion. Cordy’s visions are both a gift and a curse - she feels as if she is constantly being punished. Angel’s soul is both a gift and a curse - he feels as if he is constantly being punished. Holtz says Angel’s soul makes him vulnerable - gives Holtz a means of hurting him. Cordelia’s visions give Skip a means of manipulating her. The difference? When Angel loses his soul he becomes a monster. When Cordy loses her visions? She is just human. Cordy’s visions result in her becoming a monster, a demon eventually. Angel’s soul makes him less of a monster and may result in him becoming a man eventually. The contrast - may be a way of commenting on the pain and struggle of dealing with a moral compass, of the desire to do good, while at the same time struggling with such pesky things like hubris and vanity along the way.

The Sleeping Anima

Cordy’s coma - Cordelia becomes unconscious when Angel gives in to his own desires. In the Jasmine arc - Angel is seduced by the release from pain Jasmine offers - it’s not until Fred shoots Angel with a bullet covered by Jasmine’s blood that he wakes, like the prince from the enchantress’ spell. But, note that Cordy is still in a coma when Angel decides to take W&H up on their offer. Cordy is out of the picture. Angel is in the belly of the beast. I’m curious if Angel would have done what he did in Home, if Cordy had not been in a coma. Cordelia’s absence…has resulted in Angel being forced to deal with the man/demon dichotomy in himself. If we see Cordy as a shadow - we could say he’s been forced to incorporate it. If she’s the anima - perhaps he’s been forced to deal with that negative aspect of himself in a way he hadn’t before. In fact, Cordy’s condition may explain Angel’s current sense of despair - if the anima is rejected or suppressed - the conscious mind may sink into a sort of depression or negative state. In which case - the writers need to bring Cordy back at some point, albeit briefly, in order for Angel to resurface or come out of the negative state. Angel has to deal with and heal the female aspect of himself - the aspect that is currently in a deep slumber, attempting to heal - in order to pass to the next stage in his journey towards self-actualization. (God, I hope I haven’t completely misinterpreted Jungian psychology in that paragraph…)

Before closing, would like to add - that this essay is by no means meant to indicate that I think Cordy’s sole purpose is to provide a contrast to the lead character. I think Cordelia is a wonderfully complex character who has evolved over the past seven years and has her own interesting arc, an arc I might add is not over. I also think, that Cordelia is such a complex character and contains so many different facets, that some people have difficulty grasping her or appreciating her. She’s prickily. Not warm and cuddly. But still a heroine in her own right and in my opinion if you attempt to pigeon hole her - you lose her. Part of what I love about these shows is the ability to create complex characters that we can’t pigeon hole as opposed to stock supporting characters that act purely as ciphers for the lead.

Just a few ideas or ramblings…hope they made some sense.


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