Darla: The Matriarch


By Violetsmiles

Darla exists in a world of heroes, but she isn’t one. Whether she’s a ghost, a morally challenged human, or a ruthless demon, she’s not defined by her state of being.

She’s the matriarch, who doesn’t create life without bringing death.

She’s the seductress, using her beauty to get power and control, while showing that she is strong in and of herself.

And, ultimately, she’s a hell of a lot more.

When she comes into AtS in s2, she’s the first woman to be intimate with Angel post-Buffy, and as Riley showed us with Buffy on BtVS, that’s not an easy role to fill. In addition, she’s what drives Angel dark and causes the split between him and the other members of Angel Investigations. If that isn’t enough to make even a forgiving audience dislike her, Darla needed to be a character who could believably keep Angelus fascinated for 150 years, and the plot called for the audience to feel sympathy for a woman who was dying after having already lived 400 years.

It would have been easy for us to dislike her, and with a less talented actress, that would have been the logical result. However, Julie Benz is incredible and manages to turn Darla into someone that we can care about and sympathize with.

Darla might not be a hero, and the Buffyverse would be a lesser world without her in it.

Human Darla: Take One

The first and only time we see human Darla pre-vamping is in a too brief scene where she’s on her deathbed, and this remains one of my favorite Darla moments. The Master (and boy do I feel dumb writing that *g*) is speaking to Darla and says that she is “a woman of some property. No husband. No inheritance.” How does Darla answer? “I’m a whore.”

No apologies. No softening of the facts. No protestations. She is what she is, and even though she believes The Master to be priest at this point, she’s not going to apologize for what she’s done.

In fact, as the scene goes on, The Master tells Darla that her life would have been better if she’d visited a priest to which Darla replies, “and you should have paid me a visit before today, father. Your life may have been more interesting because of it.”

She knows she’s dying. She knows that this is her last day on this earth, and she’s still so spirited, so unapologetic when it comes to her life and her decisions.

She’s not willing to beg for God’s mercy, and flat out says that he’s never done anything for her, and she accepts her place in Hell. She shows strength and a kind of blasphemous flippancy that’s particularly captivating considering the fact that it’s 1609.

From the very beginning, Darla was a woman who wanted to live life on her own terms.

What we once were informs all that we have become. -- Darla, “The Prodigal”

The things we know about Darla’s life as a vampire: she likes Brahms, Chopin, Botticelli, Angelus, sex, massacres, and rooms with a view.

Although she primarily lived underground with The Master pre-Angelus, she loves fine dresses and the human world. She’s decadent, a sensualist, and once Angelus is in the picture and tells her he’ll “give her everything,” she’s quick to leave The Master.

Her and Angelus “stay in the best hotels, order room service, eat the waiters.” And while she doesn’t have Angelus’ kink for complicated mind games (i.e. breaking Drusilla and turning her so the pain is eternal), she does use her beauty to seduce others into giving her what she wants. Whether it’s The Master (s1 BtVS), Lindsey (s2 AtS), Angel(us), or her food (“Welcome to the Hellmouth”), Darla is quite capable of bending the wills of the men around her.

She carries what she learned in her human life – men have the power, but she has the ability to manipulate men – with her. She seduces men, and she uses them to her advantage.

Ultimately, I believe there are two “keys” to Darla’s personality.

One, she’s a survivor. Yes, I realize that she’s died more times than Giles has polished his glasses, but she also lived for a long time, and she doesn’t take a passive role when it comes to her life. When Angelus gets his soul, Darla eventually ends up back with The Master, hedging her bets (s1 BtVS). The chances of him rising and taking over were good, and Darla wanted to be on the winning team.

Darla is also the one who’s willing to leave Angelus to die to save herself (barn scene from “The Trial”). Darla is the person who, when she realizes she’s going to die, doesn’t just accept her fate, but she goes out trying to find someone to vamp her (“Darla” & “The Trial”). This, of course, feeds into the other thing that I see driving her as a character.

Darla likes control.

It isn’t the overt control that others try to have; it’s subtler. She doesn’t like to be subject to the whims of those who surround her. She wants things on her own terms.

In the episode “Darla”, we learn that Angel went back to her after getting his soul, trying to get her to take him back. We can see that she wants him back, that she misses what they had together, but she doesn’t just pull him into the fold. She wants him to prove himself, and she’s not about to let him stay if he’s not going to play by her rules.

Even as a human, Darla leaves Wolfram & Hart and is willing to live on her own in a crappy hotel room. She’s more than capable of taking care of herself, and she doesn’t like being a puppet. She hates being manipulated, and when she is turned again, she leaves “a fifteen-body-memo to that effect.”

In addition to the fact that Darla is once again being influenced by a soul, it’s that need for control and to have her own destiny that makes her mystical pregnancy so loathsome to her. No one can explain how or why she’s pregnant, and once again, there are forces greater than her ruling her life. Still, she doesn’t just accept. She goes searching for a way to rid herself of the pregnancy, and it’s not until she’s completely without options that she chooses to accept, to let Connor’s soul influence her and starts to feel for the child inside her.

Season 3 & Season 4 Darla: The Darla/Connor connection

The soul and what it does is never fully defined, but we do know that it doesn’t carry the personality of the vampire. Darla still carries many of the same characteristics from her human life into her vampire one; Harmony doesn’t undergo any obvious changes, etc.

What the soul does seem to do is connect a being with humanity. It doesn’t necessarily give humans an understanding of right and wrong since there are human beings in our society that don’t have that even with their souls. No, it seems to tie people to each other. The soul gives humans being the ability to connect and to love without stipulations (not saying people do, but the ability is there). It gives humans a reason to not kill each other, and moreover, the soul functions as Freud’s ego, allowing the moral or ethical code of society (superego) to override our basic instincts (Id).

In s3 AtS, Darla is influenced by Connor’s soul, and she loves her son. This was the one thing I found it hard to understand given Darla’s history and the fact that she’s not a woman (or woman-pire ;)) given to sentimentality. However, I think the one thing that is obvious is that pre-Connor Darla has never loved someone as much as herself.

She might have cared for Angelus when she was a vampire, and she might have loved him as a human, but her human upbringing and her vampire life made her self-reliant. She wasn’t willing to make herself weak for anyone, and people were only around until they were no longer useful or amusing. The only one that comes even close to being an exception is Angel. Her feelings for him after coming back to life drive her to continually go after him and show her weak spots even though she tried to hide them. Still, she does want him under specific conditions. Soulless.

Connor, on the other hand, is a physical manifestation of both Darla and Angel, and with his soul to influence her, she’s able to love him, to see herself and Angel(us) in the unborn baby. The two people whom she cares about the most came together to create him, and as Darla tells Angelus in “Lullaby”, “I wanna say I'm sorry. I wanna say it and mean it, but I can't... This child... Angel, it's the one good thing we ever did together. The only good thing.”

This soul, not yet as jaded as her own, allows her to feel love, but she doesn’t regret her life. As wrong as her actions as a vampire were, she can’t say that she regrets the life she lived, which was full of passion, the relationship she had with Angel(us), or their unborn son.

The thing is, when you look back at what Darla’s life was like as a human, or what we can extrapolate given the brief scene, we see someone who was born in a time when women didn’t have a lot of options. The fact that Darla is a prostitute who is dying so young means that she wasn’t really given the opportunity to experience life (at least, not with a soul). This child has that chance and that opportunity. Angel loves the child already, and if there’s one thing Darla does know, it’s that Angel protects what he loves.

It’s this same reasoning that feeds into Darla’s behavior in season 4. If we take it as a given that the Darla that goes to Connor in s4 is the real Darla (there are excellent arguments for and against that), the same things still hold true. Darla tells Connor, “I'd never felt so close to any living thing as I did to my beautiful boy [Connor].”

She feels connected to Connor, like they are a part of one another. Connor is opportunity and as close as she’ll ever come to having a second chance. She sacrificed herself for him, and she wants him to prove that he’s worth it. She wants him to redeem her, because, unlike the spirited human girl that was dying of syphilis, Darla knows more of the world. She wants to be have created something that wasn’t tainted, so her existence isn’t defined solely by death and destruction.

Unfortunately, Darla is unable to save Connor, and it’s not until s5 that we get to see what a Connor who’s undamaged by Quor-Toth can be. Still, Darla’s presence, her actions, and her influence are felt in AtS long after her death.