Cordelia: Why I Stopped Watching Angel

Recently a friend of mine mentioned that she was watching Buffy and Angel on DVD, and liking Angel better. I remembered that I had quit watching Angel in disgust sometime during the first season, but couldn’t recall exactly why. Then I remembered: they screwed Cordelia up, bigtime.

I loved Cordelia on Buffy. She was such a self-serving, nasty piece of work, and I got grief from a whole lot like her in junior high. And by the end of high school, I realized those girls were the way they were for the same reason we all are: products of our environment. Except for her family’s wealth, which was lost overnight in her senior year, Cordelia was a lot like Faith: they’d both grown up looking out for themselves. They didn’t know how to have friends, let alone be friends. Cordelia was unapologetically real, warts and all.

And she had her finer points. When Buffy was cursed with the ability to hear what people were thinking, Cordelia turned out to be the only one who always said word for word what she thought. And when it came down to it, she could be a team player. Especially if it involved her getting to whack a demon or something. She was fierce, and she could be loyal.

So they decided to make Angel, which was going to be a little more dark and adult than Buffy had been, and they transitioned Cordy on down to Los Angeles to work with Angel while she tried to make it as an actress. I couldn’t wait: I figured she’d become a bit more of a team player as she matured, but still retain her essential bitchiness. In fact, I thought that bitchiness would serve her well in Angel’s world. Not to mention the world of acting.

Instead, Cordy instantly transformed into the nurturing mother hen of Angel’s office. Yep, that’s right: a totally self-involved girl who’s still trying to learn loyalty suddenly starts nagging folks to take better care of themselves. What I never understood was how this served the needs of the show better than her being a grudgingly loyal, occasionally unselfish, always fierce brat on the verge of growing up. Some people – men and women – stay like Cordelia was until the day they die. I liked that she was changing and growing, but I didn’t like it when she turned into someone else entirely just because… well, why? What made them think they needed a Mommy figure on the show?

In case the mother henning wasn’t enough, one of Cordy’s first arcs on Angel was to be impregnated by some kind of monster-demon-thing, so we’d be absolutely clear on the fact that her nurturing abilities extended all the way to her womb. But wait, there’s still more: after I stopped watching, Cordelia went on to become mother of the Chosen One. Because that’s never happened in sci-fi before.

Head… desk… pain.

It’s validating to see characters that actually feel like people we’ve known. Particularly people we have unfinished business with – complex bullies, complex selfish people, complex assholes. When they get transformed just to serve some unfathomable goal of the filmmakers, you lose that drive to watch. There’s no validation of your struggle with them, no closure, no catharsis. No point in watching.

More importantly, Cordelia the bitch was fun. Cordelia the Mommy Figure was every bit as exciting as June Cleaver.

Angel,Buffy,Cordelia,Charisma Carpenter,women in sci-fi


  1. says

    It’s a shame that they changed the Cordelia character for the Angel series. God forbid they would leave a strong female character on a male-driven show.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Do you think they made her a mother hen so there was no chance she’d outshine Angel? That could make sense. After all, he was changing from a character who could be enigmatic and disappear for episodes at a time to one who was going to be yapping and doing all episode long, every episode.

  3. says

    BTW, my first thought – and hope – when Cordelia came on the scene in Angel was that they were going to go in the time-honored tradition of the Screwball Comedy a la His Girl Friday, playing off the genres of Noir and Hollywood-Mocks-Itself with a paranormal twist, and Cordy taking the Rosalind Russell/Jean Arthur role of the wisecracking cynical take-no-guff sidekick (only instead of wanting to leave the business to get married and settle down, it’s constant threats of leaving it for superstardom – which should have been a real possibility, for dramatic tension.) That was the direction it seemed to be going in, at first.

  4. Emerald says

    I actually thought they did nice with changing Cordelia’s personality, after all, placed in the situation she couldn’t be that “bitch” forever as she had the visions at the time. The visions changed her, she no longer could see the world as she did on Buffy, because she actually COULD SEE what was going on to those around her. On Buffy, she was slightly ignorant to the dangerous and disasters that existed in the world. On Angel, she was force to see that and take in people’s pain, grief, and freight. No one can stay the same after all that. Sure I don’t agree with the Cordelia-gets-impregnanted-by-Conner-produces-fullgrown-woman arc. But the ones before that season was good. Cordy changed, it was a good change.

  5. Ruth says

    For me, I never liked Cordelia as a character. She struck me as being more of a steriotype than a real person, unlike pretty much every other character on the show. I feel the same way that you do, that she became team mom on Angel. For me, though, it was one archetype into another. One of my main reasons for disliking Angel was that there were no female characters that I found interesting. Cordelia was flat, and Fred came across as rather weak and passive. I adore Wesley and Angel as characters, and Gunn could be interesting at times, but I hated that the only interesting characters were male.

  6. Sarah says

    Sorry to comment on an old post. I remember hating Cordelia passionately on Buffy. And I was highly annoyed that she was replacing Doyle on Angel. However I did like the arc she was taking on Buffy. She was learning and becoming less of the high school bitch (I remember girls like her from my teen days – not fondly). I think the first episode where it really came home to me that she could become a decent character was the first one with Anya, the vengeance demon. Cordelia wished Buffy had never come to town. And everything changed. Cordelia had to deal with a much scarier world and came through it, not cowed but definitely tempered.

    I do agree that the personality shift on Angel seemed entirely out of character. I would catch the show and wonder what the hell had happened to Cordelia. I hadn’t liked her on Buffy but that didn’t mean I wanted to see as the fluffy mommy figure. Her character had been going places and, for some reason, the writers seem to have lost the notes for that journey.

    • Scarlett says

      I felt Cordy was the most inconsistent, hit-and-miss character on the show. (I’m not counting Gunn. He didn’t get given anything to do after he joined the team; I reckon he would have been better off as a recurring character.) Like, the episode where Doyle dies and he asks her out I thought she gave a very Cordy response, that being short, poor etc were far worse character traits than being part-demon. I thought that was very indicitive of her personality, that she could be very shallow but very open-minded at the same time. And I liked how she became ‘harder’ as the visions took their toll. But not one, but TWO one-night-stand-and-instantly-ready-to-give-birth storylines? In the first, wandering around like a zombie untol Angel and Wes saved the day? Do any of the MEN ever become possessed and need to be saved? (And I’m not counting Angel’s Angelus transformation; he chose to do that for the sake of intel gathering.)

      Jenn, be glad you never watched up to Cordy’s SECOND mystical pregnancy. It sucks way worse, if only because it arced over much of s4. And by s5 they had axed the show and apparantly decided it wasn’t worth paying to get key actors back so they closed Cordy’s storyline by bring Carpenter back for one episode to say goodbye to everyone. AFTER she had died, turned out.

      Thing is, I actually preferred some seasons of Angel to the corresponding Buffy seasons. (Three and four were better than six and seven, IMHO.) But Cordy was often inconsistent and seemed to get lumped with much of the crappier stuff.

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