Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From Here to Misogyny (Angel)

There are very few episodes in Buffy and Angel that I find outright scary. One of the exceptions is “Billy” from season three of Angel. I used to actively avoid it, skipping around it when watching my DVDs, and only fairly recently have I felt comfortable watching it. Instead of a scaly demon or fanged vampire, the titular villain is very human in appearance, and his power evokes human evil. Joss’ thing is that he tries to promote feminism, and “Billy” might be his most overt attempt with a villain that exists as an embodiment of misogyny.
Angel: “You like to hurt women, do you, Billy? That make you feel like a man?”
Billy: “I have never hurt a woman in my life. I just like to watch.”
Billy Blim is a quintessential psychopathic misogynist nephew of a congressman, who is never nailed for his actions, and is a forerunner to the serial killer character Terry on Dollhouse. Billy can’t sit still and frequently causes chaos only to be bailed out of trouble by his uncle, whether from jail or a Hell dimension. After presumably dying, he was sent to a Hell where he would spend eternity trapped in a cube of fire. His uncle, Nathan Blim, hired Wolfram & Hart to get Billy back to Earth. Lilah blackmailed Angel to do her dirty work in episode “That Vision Thing”, by getting a psychic to torture Cordelia until Angel rescued Billy. Angel got Billy out, freeing Cordelia, and then killed the psychic. Billy soon starts causing misogynistic mayhem in “Billy”.
While he claims not have hurt any woman directly, one of the rules given to his family on how to behave around Billy specifies that he is neither to be allowed alone with pets nor girlfriends, implying he has a history of harming both. He’s also part demon. Although never mentioned in the episode, Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell say in the audio commentary that Billy is the son of an evil human man who raped a good demon woman, making a spin on the usual Rosemary’s Baby type of story in which the Devil rapes a good human woman. Billy possesses demonic powers appearing in the form of red light, which can both make him physically strong and bring out primordial misogyny in any man who comes into physical contact with his bodily fluids such as blood or sweat, allowing him to infect men with a simple touch.
Wesley becomes affected by Billy’s spell after touching a bit of his blood. His whole psyche gets warped as a result, corrupting his innocent love for Fred into something twisted and horrible. The effects of the induced misogyny manifest at first as a strict controlling nature, and soon lead to hostile lust. Wesley criticizes Fred for wearing a casual outfit he considers provocative, accusing her of flaunting her attractiveness. He casually threatens to rape her while both claiming that she really wants it and that she deserves it for teasing him and then supposedly going off to laugh about it with her female friends, which he presumes all women do. Striking her, he makes a women-beating joke, and then transforms into a homicidal maniac hunting her through the hotel with a battleaxe in a scene reminiscent of The Shining.
“[M]en are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death?”
–Joss Whedon, on why women are disrespected, in blog post Let’s Watch A Girl Get Beaten To Death
Wesley’s own justification for his misogyny derives from Judeo-Christian mythology. He believes that women are evil because of the myth of Eve committing the first sin and having the Fall of Man transpire. He repeats the idea that women are “dirty” and must be controlled to keep from passing dirtiness to men, a sentiment that would later be espoused by serial killer Caleb of Buffy. I find the similarity notable because I believe it to be Joss’ message about how Judeo-Christian mythology is misogynistic. Wesley mocks the idea that women could be considered superior because of their connection to life, which both ties into Joss’ “womb envy” theory of why men perpetuate misogyny (quoted above) and works as an opposite side to the matriarchal Wiccan religion present in Buffy. Wesley comes from the oppressive patriarchal Watcher’s Council culture, which generally acts as an antagonistic force, and that upbringing comes forward here.
While Wesley’s transformation occurs without him becoming aware of what was happening, Gunn suffers the effects of touching Billy’s blood after seeing what happened to Wesley. Knowing what’s about to happen to him, he endeavors to protect Fred from himself. After first scaring her by ripping off a chair leg, he hands it to her and tells her to knock him out. Although reluctant to do so, Fred uses the weapon he gave her once it becomes obvious he’s under Billy’s spell. Gunn is not immune to the effects of the blood, but the good person he is for real is able to shine through long enough to help Fred even to his own detriment. This ultimately strengthens the Fred/Gunn romance, while Wesley becomes unable to recover from the guilt of hurting her while under Billy’s spell.
“You got no power over me.”
–Angel, to Billy
Angel, however, doesn’t have any misogyny in him at all. Even when he’s evil, he’s only sadistic rather than hateful. While as Angelus he targets women specifically, this is more because he is primarily if not entirely attracted to women and the vampire’s malice is connected with sexuality. Angelus doesn’t hate women; he just really likes to see people he’s attracted to suffer. As Angel, he hates misogynists and actively defends women. He probably serves as an example of how men should support women, and it speaks to the feminist nature of the episode that although he is the star he and other males ultimately only help the women, while they deliver the final blows against the misogynistic antagonists of Wesley, Gunn, and Billy.
Fred spends most of the episode as an innocent victim tormented by a deranged form of Wesley, one of her love interests. Fred was already victimized by the abuses inflected on her by the misanthropic demon rulers of Pylea, the trauma of which she still has to deal with, and Wesley’s change catches her at a vulnerable state. Her other love interest Gunn tries to rescue her, but he is also affected by the blood and soon turns into an antagonist she must render unconscious. She is at first reluctant to do this, but his urging and initial transformation motivate her to go through with it. Alone with Wesley, she resorts to her own cunning to disable him long enough for the spell to wear off. Although Wesley mocks her for being “stupid” by drawing on her experience in Pylea, her supposed stupidity turns out to be a trap. Wesley believes he has Fred right where he wants her, lowers his guard, and walks into the trap, ending up right where Fred wants him. Fred uses a booby trap made from elements in the room to knock Wesley unconscious, the symbolically feminine intelligence triumphing over that of the masculine.
“Angel feels responsible for this guy because he brought him back from Hell. I feel responsible because he did it to save me. You, who are actually responsible for the entire thing, feel nothing at all, because you are a vicious bitch.”
–Cordelia, to Lilah
Billy’s first victim of the episode is Wolfram & Hart lawyer Lilah Morgan, via her rival Gavin. Always in a tense competition with Lilah Morgan, Gavin soon loses it and savagely beats her up while Billy smiles in the hallway outside. When Angel goes to hassle her for information, we see her with her face heavily bruised and an eyelid swollen shut. She laments about how no one can touch Billy because his family owns half the eastern seaboard, leaving Angel with only that lead to follow as she shuts the door in his face. Angel, being male, can’t identify with Lilah enough to convince her to help him. It takes Cordelia with her shared experience of being victimized by an evil man to get her on the ‘defeat Billy’ bandwagon. Lilah tells her where Billy will be headed.
Billy: “I don’t hate women. I mean, sure, you’re all whores who sell yourselves for money and prestige, but men are just as bad. Maybe even worse. They’re willing to throw away careers or families or even lives for what’s under your skirt!”
Cordelia: “I’m wearing pants.”
Billy: “So, you can dress like a man, talk like a man? Does that make you feel superior?”
Cordelia: “Actually, I’m feeling superior because I have an arrow pointed at your jugular. And the irony of using a phallic shaped weapon? Not lost on me.”
Cordelia tracks down Billy to an airfield, where she confronts him with a crossbow. She was victimized by Lilah to get this guy out of Hell, and tells him as such. He mocks her, using (of course) misogynistic rhetoric. Instead of backing down, she attacks him with a Taser and fully intends to kill him with the noted ironically phallic-shaped weapon. She would succeed if Angel doesn’t interrupt with intent to kill Billy himself to take responsibility for his actions. Billy supercharges himself and fights Angel man-to-man. Cordelia could shoot him, but hesitates out of fear of killing Angel. Ultimately, it is Lilah, who followed Cordelia to the airfield, to kill Billy with a pistol. Lilah is the one really responsible for bringing Billy back, is victimized by him, and because of the solidarity expressed by Cordelia she does a service to all women by wasting the creep.
Joss elsewhere writes several misogynistic villains for his characters to defeat, such as Caleb and Warren of Buffy. The thing with Billy, though, is that he is not just a misogynist. Billy is an embodiment of misogyny, the hatred itself, with its ability to spread and corrupt. Billy is a reflection of the power of hate in society as opposed to simple individuals, and that is what makes him terrifying. His ultimate defeat at the hands of women, however, gives the ending a message of hope.

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