What Angel Taught Us About Life

There are many TV shows, each entertaining in its own right, but only a few manage to influence the way we think. Even though I claim from time to time that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favourite show (and of course, it is) when it comes to life lessons, Angel scores higher in the points margin.

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“Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh and cruel. But that’s why there’s us. Champions. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered.”

I suppose it shouldn’t really come as a huge surprise since the pivotal plot of the show is centred around atoning for past sins. And being that the protagonist is a vampire who’s been around for hundreds of years – he’s bound to have picked up a thing or two about life! But it’s not just Angel who’s full of wisdom, his friends like to share a wise word every now and then, and we’d be fools not to take them on board.

Let’s take a look at some of the things they taught us.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Don’t look for rewards, help others because you must.

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In the episode Epiphany, Angel sits down for a chat with Kate after her unsuccessful suicide attempt. Having recently had an epiphany, he shares his thoughts on helping others. “I fought for so long for a reward,” he says. “Finally just to beat the other guy… All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because I don’t think people should suffer, as they do.” This is an important lesson. The truth is that there are no rewards for good deeds but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help.

Kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

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In that same episode, during the same scene, Angel goes on to say, “The smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.” I couldn’t agree more. Kindness is so powerful it can prevent someone from ending their life and turn the need for revenge into the desire to forgive. So whenever you’re left with a choice, always choose kindness.

Nobody’s perfect and should be allowed to make mistakes.

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In Offspring, the group find out that Angel slept with Darla. He explains to Cordelia that it was a dark time and it just happened. He didn’t go evil but it was what he needed. That’s one of the things I love about Angel – he’s a hero with flaws. If even the vampire with a soul makes mistakes then surely we’re allowed to make them and be forgiven, right?

It’s not about winning.

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When Cordelia suffers horribly at the hands of evil law firm Wolfram and Hart in the episode That Vision Thing, Angel is forced to follow their orders to save her. She later tells him that they won to which he replies, “It’s not about winning Cordelia, it’s about what’s at stake.” In the real world, we often get so caught up with winning that we forget what truly matters. Which brings me to my next point…

Money isn’t everything.

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“Money is important but it isn’t everything. What’s important is family and the mission.” This line from Angel is from the episode Provider and it’s another good thing to keep in mind. While money secures you a home and brings food to the table, attaining heap loads of it is not essential and should not be your sole purpose in life. Of course you should go after your dream. I would never give up my dream but I could never forget family.

You don’t know how strong you are until you’re tested.

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Angel is acting distant in Hero; Doyle goes to investigate. Angel recaps the story of the previous episode, when Buffy came to visit. After defeating the demon Mohra and absorbing some of its blood, Angel was turned into a human, meaning he could be with the love of his life. Circumstances led to him having to take that back as though it never happened, he remained the only one with the memory of this day. Doyle reacts by telling him he’s nuts for trading what he’d always wanted, to which Angel responds with, “You never know your strength until you’re tested.” It’s true, we often cannot judge our strength until we are forced to be strong.

By living your life, you honour your loved ones.

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Angel is feeling guilty over Buffy’s death in Heartthrob, feeling that he’s betraying her somehow by moving on with his life. Cordelia disagrees. She says he’s a “good guy, who’s still fighting and trying to help people, and that’s not betraying her, that’s honouring her.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. The people you’ve lost, people who were close to you, would want you to continue to live your life and by doing so you are honouring them.

People change.

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In Somnambulist, Cordelia gives Angel some much needed comfort and reinforces the idea that he’s not Angelus anymore, that people do change. Even though she’s talking about a demon here, everything in Angel that’s related to monsters is really just a metaphor for people and their darker inner selves. We all make mistakes, we all have regrets but we are all equally capable of change and of becoming better human beings. So keep working on yourself and sometimes, just give yourself a break.

It’s not always about you.

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In the episode Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been, we find Angel not seeking forgiveness but interestingly doing the forgiving himself. This episode qualifies as one of my favourite episodes because it is so unlike any other episode of Angel (occasionally I’m in the mood for something different and a little more emotionally raw). The scene where he forgives the woman who, technically, betrayed him, is one of the most touching moments on Angel.

Man is his own worst enemy.

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Gunn needs some serious saving in First Impressions and oddly enough it’s not Angel who comes to his rescue but rather our vision girl Cordelia. She warns him about the way he’s been leading his life. She tells him, “You don’t just face danger, you create it.” This agrees with the theme of man-is-his-own-worst-enemy. Sometimes you’re the danger and you need to reevaluate how you go about doing things.

Don’t leave it up to fate.

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Inside Out finds the group facing an apocalypse with a demon called Skip telling them that everything leading up to Cordelia’s birth was predestined. Fred feels that it’s hopeless if they’re just ‘pieces being moved around a board’ and that they might as well not even try. Gunn says otherwise, that even if it’s true, “the final score can’t be rigged… That last shot always comes up a question mark. But here’s the thing, you never know when you’re taking it. So you just treat it all like it was up to you – the world in the balance – cause you never know when it is.” Even if we don’t know what the future has in store for us, we’ve got to take a hold of the present and do everything we can with it, because we never know when our luck might turn around.

Revenge is futile.

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Episode Reunion has us looking at a conflicted Angel. He’s dark, very dark. And brooding. No, not evil. Just dark. Clearly, he’s not handling the whole Darla-becoming-a-vampire-again very well and he’s looking for some revenge against evil incorporated Wolfram and Hart. There’s just one problem, he’s gone too far. Wesley, Cordy and Gunn voice their concerns about his late behaviour. Wesley tells Angel that he could’ve helped instead of letting the vampires have the employees of Wolfram and Hart to feast on. Angel says that he will help. Cordelia expresses her dismay by saying, “When? After they’ve finished off all the people you don’t like?”
How often do we find ourselves making excuses because we don’t like certain people, because they treated us poorly. If you’re going to be a good person, evil or not, you need to show everyone the same level of respect and kindness. Easier said than done, I know. But it doesn’t matter what they’ve done, it matters what you do.

For every door that closes, another opens.

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Life can seem like a constant battle and sometimes we find that every door shuts on our faces. But remember that just because we haven’t been given an opportunity doesn’t mean it’s the end, there are plenty more doors. Just like the Oracles tell Angel in episode Parting Gifts – “For every door that closes, another opens” – the same is true of life.

Keep fighting.

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In the last ever episode of Angel, Not Fade Away, the group are about to take on thousands of demons and our beloved principle character’s orders? “We fight.” Fair enough. Series creator Joss Whedon said that he wanted to make it clear that no matter what happened, Angel was going to keep on fighting. And we must, ourselves, keep on fighting. For what we believe in. For what we desire. Whether we believe we can make a difference or go as far as we dream is irrelevant, what matters is we keep trying.

I’m sure there are lots more lessons from Angel that I’ve missed out (which we can perhaps cover in a later post) but that’s the beauty of this show, that’s what makes it stand out from other shows – it teaches us so much. It moves us, moulds us and shows us how to be better human beings.

So keep fighting, keep dreaming but never lose sight of the mission!

Thanks to ATS CAPS for allowing use of images. Check out their site for more Angel screencaps.

This post is for entertainment purposes only. I do not own Angel nor am I a representative; I am simply a fan. No copyright infringement implied nor intended.

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