Dreams in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The battle between Good and Evil. Nothing could be more timeless or universal. And each week, when presented as a contest between a teenage vampire slayer named Buffy and legions of vampires, demons, and assorted destructive forces on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, millions of modern American television viewers watch that conflict as represented in late-nineties popular culture. As any frequent TV viewer knows, Good wins, vanquishing Evil with some ratings-garnering kicks and punches, and the episode concludes, at least until next week. Right? Not quite. Although Buffy consistently protects the world from destruction, her supremacy as a force of good remains challenged and incomplete. In part, this is a television necessity; forces of evil must always remain to be battled in next week's episode. But within the text of the series itself, the character of Buffy's boyfriend Angel -- a two-hundred odd year old vampire with a soul -- further complicates this blurring of the lines between good and evil. Angel, whose very nature embodies a coexistence of and struggle between good and evil, functions as a site within which the war between Good and Evil take place on a microcosmic level. In the episode "Amends," Angel's dreams and visions of his past destructive acts drive him to a suicide attempt. The episode's dual reading of the evil force responsible for Angel's dreams as an external demonic force and as an element of Angel's own psyche ultimately suggests the appropriate response to evil is not more destruction but rather comprehension of and vigilance against the complex and competing forces present within individuals.
On its most literal level, the episode "Amends" posits the existence -- and destructive nature of -- a purely evil force in the world. "The First," the force which controls Angel's dreams, is described by school librarian (and Buffy's Watcher) Giles as "Evil. Absolute evil, older than man, than demons" ("Amends," Act 3). Provided with a substantial degree of legitimacy through Giles' research in old texts and his characterization of the First as "an ancient power," the First appears as an evil counterpart to such benevolent and holy bringers of dreams in Christian influenced accounts of dream visions as the medieval Genius and the Pearl Maiden (Act 3). Unlike adversaries in other episodes, dispatched by a stake to the heart, Buffy cannot fight the First because it's "not a demon," not even "a physical being" (Act 4, Act 3). Rather, the "First Evil," as it describes itself, is "everywhere, every being, every thought, every drop of hate" (Act 4). In the absence of a comparable force of goodness -- for there is no "First Good," nor any mention of a Supreme Being in this episode -- the position granted to forces of evil within the context of "Amends" suggests both their inevitability and their power within the physical and spiritual realm.
In a dark twist...