i never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. a small bird will drop frozen from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself - David Herbert Lawrence
Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest
Seriously, from the second she trashed Willow’s sense of style, I had her written off. I expected her to buy it sometime during the pilot two parter, especially after the Master’s Minions crashed the Bronze, right before Buffy saved the day. I expected Luke or possibly Jesse to do it, and wasn’t surprised when she was selected to be the first sacrifice for Luke to bring the Master forth. Cordelia was a mean girl in general; who was mean to the heroic do-gooders in particular, and caused Buffy some sad-eyed angst by talking smack about her after Buffy mistakes her for a vampire and nearly stakes her. Girls like Cordelia always got their comeuppance by becoming the dead Whore to Buffy’s (or Willow’s) heroine Madonna.
Imagine my surprise when she actually survived.
I was instantly intrigued.
When my first boyfriend made a pass at my best friend, I am ashamed to say that I just…let it go. Pretended it didn’t happen. I really loved him, I’d lost my virginity to him, and I didn’t want to lose him. So I effectively turned a blind eye to it because I wasn’t prepared to break up with him over it. But underneath, I was ashamed of myself for being so weak.
When Cordelia saw Xander kissing Willow, she looked completely devastated, and then she fell through that staircase and had to suffer the indignity of being saved by the two that had just caused her so much pain. And then Xander shows up at the hospital looking properly contrite and I kind of figured, based on what I had chosen to do, that she’d somehow forgive him. He was one of the White Hats, she should be glad that he saw past her bitchiness enough to go out with her. Blah, blah, blah. But Cordelia Chase knew what she was worth, and despite her feelings for Xander, she knew that she didn’t deserve to be so disrespected by her boyfriend, so she made him her ex-boyfriend. She was angry and she wasn’t afraid of being angry, nor was she afraid of her broken heart, or of being alone. She lost a lot when she chose to date Xander, and she knew she was going to fall even more from the social graces of the high school hierarchy when word got out that her nerd boyfriend cheated on her with another nerd. But she didn’t try to salvage the situation or her dignity. She walked away from him, and the Scoobies . In the opening of The Wish, she’s performing a ritual that, on its face is kind of silly, but one that effectively puts Xander in the past tense column of her life. It hurts, you can see the pain in her face mixing with the rebar pain (the two are forever married) but she doesn’t look back.
I felt so much admiration and pride in her for that, because she was strong enough to do what I couldn’t in nearly the same circumstance. She put a value on herself and she upheld it, even when Xander was heaping scorn on her for not going back to him or forgiving him.
As a side note, I have heard it said that Cordelia’s shallow because she only forgave Xander when he bought her a prom dress. I disagree (with strong Angelo-Saxon expletives attached) with that. She forgave him because he kept her secret (of losing her wealth and having to work for her prom-dress) from the others when he could have easily have exposed her during the Scooby meeting. Because Cordelia may be an unforgiving bitch but she has manners and a well-developed sense of fair play.
As I mentioned, as season three was winding down, Cordelia lost her boyfriend along with the tattered remains of her social standing. It was enough to be classified as the worst thing ever to an eighteen-year-old. But the worst, as it turns out, was just around the corner. Sometime towards the end of the season, Cordelia finds out her father didn’t pay his income taxes “for, like, twelve years”, and she’s lost all her money. Except not just her money – along with her wealth, most likely her parents, her home, car, phone, clothes, most of her belongings, and her future. Because without her parents’ money, college is no longer an option. A lot of people, her fans included, might say that losing everything like she did was karma for being Queen C for all the years before. I’m very certain that was what the writers’ intentions were, and that’s probably why she was extra vicious in the episodes that preceded it (although finding out you’re broke and about to lose your home would make anyone extra cranky), and I would say that’s fair enough. But what’s more important, to me, is how she reacts to the loss of pretty much everything she’s ever known. Which is to say she doesn’t slink away without a word to anyone and she doesn’t cry or whine or become depressed. She’s aware that her fall from grace is probably deserved (Room w/ a Vu), so she swallows the ‘punishment’ with quiet acceptance and gets on with things. She gets a job so she can afford her own prom dress and she finishes her senior year. She does this without letting on to anyone what’s happened to her. Partly out of a sense of embarrassment, but partly because Cordelia Chase does not feel sorry for herself, and she doesn’t let the bitterness she feels (“yeah, well, of course” Room w/ a Vu) overtake her.
And she goes to the prom. Chin up, smiling, happy, determined that, for all the hardships to come, she’s going to finish high school in the same style that defined her four years at Sunnydale high.
Okay, maybe not ‘surprised’ me but profoundly pleased me. In an episode where Cordelia was mostly used as comic relief, and portrayed as a girl who has no problems using her connection with Angel to get closer to stardom, the last ten minutes of the episode really showcased her courage, her quick thinking, and her survivor’s instincts, and disproves the idea that she is a terrible actress.
After being deliberately wooed by Rebecca the Actress with shopping and lattes, Cordelia spills the beans on the details of Angel’s curse. She realizes her mistake nearly right away and calls in Wes, and goes from star struck sycophant to an engaged and experienced veteran of the Angel Wars when they find Rebecca in the middle of the mess she has made. Then Angel cuts the lights and shit gets real. Wesley tries to reason with Angel and almost immediately gets knocked unconscious. Rebecca cowers in a corner, and suddenly Cordelia is face to face with a ‘happy’ Angel and no slayer within screaming distance.
So, sweating, stuttering, terrified out of her mind and completely alone with a killer, Cordelia yanks the cap off her water bottle and holds off a 240+ year old vampire with her quick thinking and ability to act. She knew she wasn’t going to hold him off forever, she knew she couldn’t fight him, she wasn’t sure if Wesley was going to wake up or not, so what does she do?
Well, what she doesn’t do is cry, beg, or plead.
She throws her water at him in the biggest “Gotcha” anyone’s ever pulled on the great Angelus since Spike’s sucker blow in Becoming II.
“And the Oscar goes to…”
Fucking don’t tell Cordelia Chase she can’t act.
To Shanshu in LA
Cordelia spent a goodly portion of season one complaining about her visions, and tried very actively to get rid of them in Parting Gifts. They were painful and attacked almost all of Cordelia’s senses at once. She didn’t just see, she also felt and smelt and heard. All the things that people experienced in their last horrifying moments. And they were a disruption not just to her gross motor function but also to her life. They interrupted dinner, working, sleeping, and auditions.
So when Vocah attacked her with the never-ending horror of the world via her visions in TSILA, I had a brief thought that she’d probably go through some major trauma associated with being Vision Girl after she recovered.
Again my girl surprised me. She woke up with a new purpose, and embraced it by telling Angel she saw them all and there was so much pain and that “we have to help them.” This right here isn’t a martyr or a saint or even a girl looking for a reason to be ‘special’. It’s a gross injustice to the pain she endured by saying it was about being special. Cordelia was always special and she always knew it.
Keeping the visions, insisting on ‘helping the helpless’, was Cordelia understanding how much pain there was in the world and being determined to be a force against it, no matter how ineffectual it would end up being. She was ‘a soldier’, just like she said about herself and Doyle. Soldiers for the greater good. Even if it was one person at a time instead of the whole world at once.
I truly believe this is where Cordelia embraced Angel’s mission as her own, when it became her fight as well as his, when he became her manus in the war. She fought it with him and next to him and she fought it without him when he quit and walked away. She used her last breath to put him back on the path and it came to fruition in Never Fade Away.
Cordelia Chase was a bitch. And a saint. She was a friend and a lover and she was a fighter. She knew what she was worth and she knew how to make the best of what she was given.
She had a beautiful journey and I feel privileged to have seen it unfold.