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"She’s Unpredictable":
Illyria and the Liberating Potential of
Chaotic Postmodern Identity

ILLYRIA (to Wesley): “There is so much I don't understand. I've become overwhelmed. I'm unsure of my place!”

Though we have entered a new millennium, we still contend with a postmodern world fraught with ambiguities. Having torn down the solid walls of traditional systems that once lucidly demarcated and defined our sense of reality and self, we have, one may argue, become chaotic—that is to say, physically and psychically sensitive to the absence of these systems, uncertain whether this absence reduces us and reality to nothing or opens both to endless possibilities. The television series Angel, spin-off to the cult horror hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer, addresses this postmodern dilemma with tales of volatile characters that destabilize traditional identifying systems, blurring lines between natural and supernatural, good and evil, human and demon, and everything in between. Rarely are Angel’s characters defined by established hierarchies and binarisms; rather they tend to experience ambiguous identities that become sites of internal conflict and fluid movement within categories.

One of the Angelverse’s later additions, the character Illyria (a primordial demon who is reborn in Winifred “Fred” Burkle’s physical and psychical “shell”), is not exempt from this identifying vagueness. The character not only breaks down traditional boundaries of either-or identification, but also exudes a strong sense of angst and “overloading” (erratic behavior) linked to the ambiguity this disruption incurs. This essay employs psychoanalysis, semiotics, and chaos theory since the 1960’s to demonstrate: 1) how Fred’s “shell” becomes a site where the identifying boundaries between Illyria and Fred blur physically and psychically; 2) how Illyria’s experience of angst and chaotic identity reveal the vagueness between herself and Fred; and 3) how Illyria adapts to this ambiguity by mediating the two identities. The essay chronicles Illyria’s progress from being a unary Self to becoming a self in process as a kind of postmodern liberating expansiveness rather than reductive retreat into nothingness.

The Old One Reborn

ILLYRIA (to Angel): “Change is constant. Yet things remain the same.”

As a character, Illyria is a playful fusion of oppositions and an embodiment of ironic and partial meaning—obscuring boundaries between dead and living, ancient and new, and demon and human. Long ago, when the prehistoric demons known as the Old Ones dominated the planet, Illyria had been the most feared and worshipped of this group—a monarch of immense power whose kingdom spread across the region now known as Los Angeles. Eventually defeated, Illyria had been condemned to eternal rest in a sarcophagus that was buried in the depths of the earth known as the Deeper Well. Thousands of years later, as part of a plot to bring Illyria back to power, the Old One’s sarcophagus is delivered to the laboratory inside the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart where a curious Fred Burkle (Angel Investigation’s beautiful and quirky scientist) ends up unleashing Illyria’s essence. After having infected Fred’s body and “consuming” her spirit, Illyria is reborn in Fred and sets out to destroy humanity. But when the Old One discovers her kingdom had been disintegrated ages ago, with ashes as its only remains, Illyria begins to question her place in a world that is so unlike what she had previously known, and she soon experiences an overwhelming sense of angst: 1) because the reality she once knew has passed and 2) because she is no longer its “God-King.” In addition, nuances of Fred’s psyche begin to manifest beyond Illyria’s control. To complicate matters, Illyria’s new form is barely able to contain her primordial powers (which include telepathic communication with plant life and the alteration of time’s movement). Before long, the Old One jets into a chaotic (unpredictable) temporal and spatial shifting that could prove disastrous. After potential calamity is avoided, Illyria remains unsure of her place in the human world, so she decides to explore Fred’s by delving into and engaging Fred’s persona—that is to say, assuming Fred’s identity by wholly resembling her in appearance, voice, and behavior. Though Illyria realizes that her random shifting between Fred’s persona and her own does not provide a much-desired sense of place in the world (Self with a capital S), the Old One resolves she is “compelled to play,” even if it seems “pointless.”

Illyria’s predicament raises some very interesting ontological and phenomenological questions concerning her identity: Who is she now that she finds herself in Fred’s form? Has Fred been completely eviscerated or has she just been transformed through Illyria’s gestation and rebirth? To that end, might Illyria’s chaos be attributed to a destabilization of physical and psychical markers between Illyria and Fred which unravels Illyria’s unary identity as God-King of the Old Ones?

“My World Is Gone”: Illyria and Postmodernism

ILLYRIA (to Angel): “Nothing’s what it used to be, is it?”

Defining postmodernism is no easy task, as it is vague, shifting, and evolving. However, when looked at contextually, postmodernism is a rejection of tradition and authoritarianism; it is a retort to pre-modern and modern presuppositions that all beings’ experience of selfhood (identity) is unary, stable, and fixed—rooted in and mirroring a larger universal order called “reality” that is measured systemically (e.g. through linear measurement, hierarchies, and binary oppositions). Postmodernism, however, challenges these endemic traditional assumptions with respect to the Self (with a capital S) and its place in a uni-verse. As Terry Eagleton summarizes in The Illusions of Postmodernism:

Postmodernity is a style of thought which is suspicious of classical notions of truth, reason, identity and objectivity, of the idea of universal progress or emancipation, of single frameworks, grand narratives or ultimate grounds of explanation. [I]t sees the world as contingent, ungrounded, diverse, unstable, indeterminate, [and is skeptical] about the objectivity of truth, history and norms, the givenness of natures and the coherence of identities.

Accordingly, the postmodern subject is not seen as an integrated whole, but in terms of a multiplicity with no essential being. To quote Eagleton again, the postmodern self is “a dispersed, decentered network of libidinal” energies, fluid and unstable. As shall be discussed, Illyria may be read as a postmodern character not only because her “authentic” being becomes dismantled, but also because she experiences conflict as her previous sense of reality and Self is challenged.

According to German philosopher Martin Heidegger, the postmodern self often experiences angst in some form as identity and the systems that construct it break down. In Being and Time (1953), Heidegger explains, Self depends upon the external world (reality, defined as time and space) in order to perceive or know itself. But when that world is revealed to be an unstable construct—the layers of which are easily torn down—Self is revealed to be an illusion. Angst, in Heidegger’s estimation, reveals an individual’s conflict with nothingness—with the illusions of reality and Self. Illyria first displays this angst when she realizes that her empire and her role as its God-King have disintegrated. In the absence of these structures, the Old One questions the validity of her authentic Self.

Like Heidegger, French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan also argues Self is an illusion because it is instituted by an unstable order, but one that is symbolic rather than tangible. The pre-symbolic realm, what Lacan terms the Imaginary, is the only place where a sense of self (with a lower-case s) is present; but it is present through another—the mother. Illyria, via her rebirth in Fred, arrives at this pre-symbolic realm that French psychoanalyst and semiotician Julia Kristeva defines as the chora, the shared bodily space of mother and child where pre-symbolic subliminal impulses underlie and break through the illusions of identification. The chora, within Kristeva’s semiotic terms, is experienced as the uncanny and mystical where contradictions, absences, and fragmentations abound. It is, in a sense, a place that is also not a place—a subspace where self is and yet is not. In Desire in Language (1980), Kristeva uses the rhetoric of the chora to argue against the sujet unaire (unary self), where identity is seen as homogeneous. She claims that the sujet en procès (self in process) resists the primal repression of subliminal impulses that institutes sujets clivés (split selves) and disrupts binary distinction because it is questionable and has varying nuances. In Kristeva’s eyes, the chora destabilizes both the finite homogeneity and dichotomy of the subject in that it creates neither a Self nor split selves, but a self in process open to multiple possibilities.

I would argue that Illyria shares this sort of Imaginary connection with physical and psychical aspects of her choric “mother,” Fred. As the “shell” (both physical and psychical) disrupts the binary distinction between Illyria and Fred, both identities become simultaneously distinct and blurred. In this sense, the shell becomes a choric realm, a site of contention where Illyria transitions from being a unary Self to becoming a self in process through an experience of chaotic identity.

Chaotic identity, one might argue, disrupts order because of unpredictable behavior that springs from contrasting but interrelated subliminal impulses. Chaos theory, a branch of mathematical inquiry that shares postmodern interests, addresses unpredictable motions and behaviors. As chaos theorists point out, some motions or behaviors do not always form predictable patterns because the impulses (energy) that produce them become extremely sensitive to initial conditions. According to chaos theorist Mitchell Feigenbaum (who is, incidentally, referenced as Fred’s stuffed animal in the episode “A Hole in the World”), unstable impulses will shift to a subspace where they fluctuate and evolve continually. For our purposes, then, chaotic identity might be viewed as an unpredictable surfacing of subliminal energies and the chora might be read as the subspace where these unstable energies incessantly shift to expand the self as it continuously becomes. As shall be discussed, Illyria’s rebirth in Fred sensitizes the energies of both constituents, making them unstable, indistinct, chaotic.

The “Shell” as Choric (and Chaotic) Realm

ILLYRIA (to Wesley): “Oh, now I remember. Winifred Burkle is the shell I’m in.”

As noted, Angel first introduces viewers to Illyria as a parasitic demon that infects Fred’s body when the curious scientist, entranced by the Old One’s sarcophagus, accidentally releases and inhales Illyria’s essence. Once the Old One’s essence enters Fred’s system, Fred (as a unary Self) becomes extremely sensitive to Illyria’s gestation. Physically, Fred’s internal organs melt and her skin becomes exoskeletal. Psychically, Fred battles with the new consciousness (Illyria) that has entered her. Since Illyria “consumes” Fred’s soul (and perhaps vice versa) besides taking her body, the energies of both constituents end up shifting in the subspace of the shell. Thus, Illyria’s mystical rebirth transforms Fred’s shell into a choric site of contradictions and absences where rigid boundaries between Illyria and Fred dissolve.

This destabilization first becomes apparent in the flesh. While the shell maintains some of Fred’s physical characteristics (e.g., body structure, facial features, etc.), it also alters and appears more demonic once Illyria takes Fred’s form as her own (e.g., blue-streaked hair, icy eyes, and tougher alabaster skin). When she first arrives in Fred’s shell, Illyria, literally “living dead,” walks toward a nearby mirror and examines her new body with curiosity. As Illyria gazes into the mirror, recognizing her “face is not [her] face,” a look of perplexity washes over her visage. One might read, in a Lacanian sense, the “self” reflected to Illyria in the mirror as an illusory image—not only because the reflection, by way of being a reflection, is unreal, but also because the form Illyria sees returning her gaze is not the Old One’s original primordial form; it is Fred’s. And yet this form has become Illyria’s.

While Illyria recognizes she shares a visceral link to her form’s “previous owner,” she tries to eliminate this connection through a declaration of proprietorship. As the Old One states to Wesley Windham Pryce (who had been in love with Fred) in the episode “Shells,” “Oh, now I remember. Winifred Burkle is the shell I’m in. You seek to save what’s rotted through. This carcass is bound to me. I could not change that if I cared to” [emphasis mine]. Though Illyria ostensibly tries to separate herself from Fred’s shell, the former God-King’s nuanced use of the present tense verb “is” reveals she understands to some degree that she is not entirely distinct from Fred—that aspects of Fred are bound to her as much as she is bound to Fred’s shell. I would argue this blurring of Fred and Illyria’s physical characteristics reveals a deeper psychical blurring that occurs as Illyria “consumes” Fred’s soul.

During the episode “Shells,” Wolfram & Hart’s mad scientist, Doctor Sparrow, tells Team Angel that Fred’s “soul” (a term which is often used synonymously with “psyche” in the Whedonverse) is “consumed” during the “fires” of Illyria’s rebirth. In their shock and grief over what happens to Fred (however defined), Team Angel hastily correlates the term “consumption” with “destruction” (i.e. their mantra “Fred is gone,” even when confronted with semblances of Fred in Illyria).

However, “consume” (from the Latin consumere) means both “to burn” and “to absorb.” And as we know from science, matter and energy (whether burned or absorbed) cannot be destroyed, only transformed through a process of dispersion. For instance, I consume an apple. I take bites, breaking the apple down into morsels. Those morsels then travel down my esophagus and into my stomach where they are digested and transformed into little molecules of sugar. Next, those sugar molecules disperse and travel through my blood stream where they become part of my cells, stored as potential energy, etc.
Though one might assume Fred has been eviscerated, could not the consumption of Fred’s soul (that is to say, psychical energy) be read as absorption? After all, Illyria informs Wesley: “The shell … Winifred Burkle … she can’t return to you. Yet there are fragments. When her brain collapsed, electrical spasms channeled into my function system...memories” (“Shells”). As she utters these words, Illyria holds up her hand, her thumb and index finger spread a slight distance apart. A buzz accompanies an electrical arc that materializes to form a bridge between Illyria’s fingers. The Old One then relives Fred’s last moments as a unary subject, the desperate question “Please, Wesley, why can’t I stay?” (“A Hole in the World”) echoing through the arc like a radio broadcast. Here Illyria reveals to Wesley that bits of Fred’s subliminal impulses (what in psychoanalytic terms is sometimes called the “libidinal energy” of the unconscious—of which memory is a part) remain. Moreover, Wesley’s dream about Fred in “Underneath” seems to affirm her psychical presence in Illyria. Fred’s mysterious question “This is only the first layer. Don’t you wanna see how deep I go?” (á la Laura Palmer’s question to Agent Dale Cooper in his “red room dream” in David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks) might be read as a reminder that parts of her remain present, albeit through a mystical and imaginary connection with Illyria. The dream takes place in a red room (Fred’s bedroom), which suggests the womb-like mystical subspace of the chora. One may argue that here in this subspace, there is more to Fred than just the Fred originally perceived by those who knew her. Conceivably, Fred may be revealing that her depth lies in the fragments of her subliminal energy that have been “consumed” and deposited deep in Illyria’s unconscious. One might also argue that these impulses are absorbed into Illyria’s unconscious as a kind of potential energy, ready to be activated and unleashed at any given time. Further, as Illyria transforms Fred’s dispersed subliminal impulses from potential to kinetic energy, she builds a literal and metaphoric bridge between herself and Fred.

But as Illyria builds a bridge between herself and Fred, her sensitivity to the apparent destabilization of identifying boundaries escalates. She begins to experience the kind of postmodern angst that writer Kevin Giovanetto describes in “Where am I: End of the Modern/Rise of the Postmodern” as a loss of traditional systems: “We once lived in a[n] age where the foundations were solid as a rock. We trusted these foundations and built empires on them. [Now we’re] falling apart at the seams.” In “Shells,” for instance, after she opens a portal and strides into her temple’s main chamber, Illyria grows despondent when she finds only dust and ruins remaining. The Old One falls to her knees, scoops up a handful of dust from the floor and ponders it in disbelief. Illyria then lets the dust slip through her fingers and lifts her eyes heavenward, a look of great uncertainty and confusion radiating from them as she exclaims: “My world is gone!” The former God-King’s anguish, in Heideggerian terms, reveals her confrontation with the illusion of her previous reality and Self. When Illyria realizes that what she had and who she was before is not what she has and who she is now, she becomes sensitized; she questions her place (if there is any she could possibly have) in her new condition.

As Illyria’s angst increases through this sensitization, so does her unpredictable behavior. For instance, in the episode “Underneath,” when Wesley asks Illyria why she stays in this world when she has more options, Illyria grows agitated. She violently grabs Wesley by the throat and then just suddenly decides to release him. She instead paces the room, frantically chanting, “It’s too small! It’s too small! I can’t breathe! There’s no room for anything real! There’s not enough space to open my jaws! My face is not my face! I don’t know what it will say!” Clearly, Illyria’s anxiety results from her extreme sensitivity to the conditions in which she finds herself: She has maintained some of her primordial powers, she dons herself in a “shell” of a patchwork leather suit that echoes her ancient realm, and she holds memories of her past time and place. Yet the former God-King has lost her monarchy and her function in it. Illyria becomes, in a sense, a self who is both absent and present. However, there is also something (or someone) else remaining that makes what Illyria’s face will say unpredictable and unknowable, a something (or someone) else that is both absent and present—aspects of Fred’s psychical energy.

Fred’s psychical influence on Illyria, the nuances of which remain subtle until “The Girl in Question,” surfaces primarily through Illyria’s growing relationship with Wesley which develops out of their shared loss. Both Illyria and Wesley admit that though their realities have drastically shifted because of Illyria’s rebirth in Fred, they both still “cling to what is past.” However, unlike Wesley who drinks himself into oblivion, Illyria realizes that she must find a place in the world. Though Illyria understands Wesley’s aid to her is motivated by a desperate attempt to hold onto some piece of Fred, the former God-King feels emotions for him. Illyria may not understand what exactly she feels or why, but she feels: She talks to Wesley, though humanity is “like offal in [her] mouth,” and she fully trusts and confides in him. Might not one argue, then, that Illyria’s developing affection for Wesley is influenced by Fred’s lingering psychical energy and humanity?

Prior to her rebirth in Fred’s body, Illyria had been a ruthless demon monarch. Emotions, one would assume, had had no value to Illyria in her previous reality, as conquering all had been her only goal. However, now that she has inherited Fred’s form and aspects of her consciousness, Illyria fears that she “reek[s] of humanity,” and even identifies herself as such when she observes “we are weak” [emphasis mine].

And yet Illyria attempts (but does not succeed) in resisting Fred’s humanity. She feels betrayed by Wesley’s wish to “undo the history of this body.” And when Wesley observes that her being bothered by that idea “sounds almost human,” the former God-King stumbles and states, “I am bothered because I am ... bothered.” Though Illyria tries to deny the human part of her, she cannot. Fred’s energy (however fragmented) is surfacing, breaking through not only the Old One’s icy psychological exterior, but also the order of identification—and Illyria cannot control it.

One may wonder how a former God-King who admits to having lived “seven lives at once” in her ancient days cannot control these bubbling impulses. But then Illyria, according to Wesley, enters Fred “with no more malice than a viral phage,” meaning she had no control over her own rebirth in Fred. And now that the physical shell is too frail and unstable to contain the two conflicting subliminal energies (conflicting, that is, because they share the same form), the shell begins to “overload,” resulting in Illyria’s erratic behavior and literal temporal and spatial break down. Though Wesley attributes Illyria’s overloading to a deterioration of the “fusion between her demon essence and host body,” I would argue the fusion does not deteriorate; rather it grows more powerful as the unstable libidinal energies within Illyria become kinetic. One might say Illyria, extremely sensitive to this growing power, reaches a climax. Illyria’s already destructed Self must break down further into a self in process.

Mediating and Becoming

ILLYRIA (to Spike): “Adaptation is compromise.”

Though Wesley stops Illyria from self-destructing in “Time Bomb,” he, in a sense, destructs part of her Self by stripping her powers. Illyria then wanders (literally as well as metaphorically) through Wolfram & Hart’s lobby in the next episode, touching a plant and dejectedly observing, “I can no longer hear the song of the green.” Though this part of her Self (her powers) is absent, the memory of it remains, and thus Illyria feels compelled to remind Team Angel of who and what she had been. Overhearing Wesley’s suspicion that she is “overcompensating, posturing… still unpredictable,” Illyria spits: “This fate is worse than death. Condemned to live out existence in a vessel incapable of sustaining my true glory. How can I function with such limitation?” In other words, who can she be now that she is without her old powers or the title of God King of the Primordium which they had once earned her?

The answer seems to arrive when Fred’s parents, Roger and Trish Burkle, walk into the lobby. Illyria looks down upon the Burkles from the balcony and then turns her gaze directly in front of herself, pausing thoughtfully. She smiles. Illyria realizes that she is not entirely powerless after all; she has—becomes—a power which, at first, moves chaotically within, now moves chaotically without. Illyria can become (quite literally) Fred.

“The Girl in Question” illustrates both the unpredictable surfacing of Fred’s (and Illyria’s) subliminal impulses and the expansive potential both energies bring Illyria in terms of self. When Wesley tries to tell the Burkles about Fred, he is interrupted by Illyria, who enters the office looking and sounding just like Fred. A shocked Wesley looks toward the doorway as Illyria-Fred smiles and rushes toward the Burkles, exclaiming in Fred’s familiar Texan accent: “Dad! Oh my God! What are y’all doing here?” After having “postured” as Fred, Wesley grabs Illyria and demands to know what she thinks she is doing. Maintaining the Fred persona, she replies, “Visiting with my folks.” She then changes her tone of voice to Illyria’s, stating, “Your grief hangs off of you like rotted flesh. I couldn’t tolerate it from them as well. I thought this would be more convenient.” When Wesley asks how it is possible, she answers “a simple modulation of my form. I appear as I choose. Do you wish me to stop?” Though Illyria can modulate her form and persona, switching off between herself and Fred, she cannot control Fred’s impulses. Instead Illyria adapts, learning how to mediate—rather than exude control over—the two personas. Through this compromise, Illyria expands her self; she becomes, in a sense, Illyria-Fred.

Toward the end of the episode, we continue to witness Illyria-Fred’s unpredictability as Fred’s persona manifests. While Wesley sits in his dark office, Illyria (as Fred) opens the door and says “Wes, are you, like, mad at me or something?” When Wesley angrily demands Illyria to stop posing as Fred, her voice shifts back to Illyria’s usual icy tone and asks, “Isn’t it what you desire?” She then returns to the Fred voice: “I mean, you love me, I love you. What’s the big deal?” Wes answers, “I loved her.” Illyria’s voice then re-sounds again as she observes, “You loved this, and part of you still does. I can feel it in you. I wish to explore it further.” When Wesley says Illyria could never be Fred, she looks hurt. In “Not Fade Away,” the final episode of Angel, an injured Illyria, knowing that nothing would make Wesley happier than to be with Fred, offers to present an “illusion” of a loving Fred, a gift Illyria truly wants to give Wesley. He, however, protests: “The first thing a Watcher learns is to separate truth from illusion, because in a world of magicks, it’s the hardest thing to do. The truth is Fred is gone. To pretend anything else would be a lie. And since I don’t actually intend to die tonight, I won’t accept a lie.” And so he contents himself with trying to make Illyria’s injuries better. And she admits, “yes, it’s better,” but not without a twang of dejection in her voice and a look of disappointment.

While one could argue that Illyria’s ostensible affection for Wesley is merely that of an apprentice for her mentor, it does not appear likely that Illyria would feel human emotion if she had not entered Fred’s choric body. Moreover, Illyria wants to give this gift of her choric mother Fred to Wesley, a gift that is made possible through her imaginary connection with Fred. Ironically, then, the “illusion” would not be a lie.

This imaginary connection becomes especially evident near the end of the episode. As Wesley lies dying from a mortal blow, Illyria (who had been off fighting) arrives and cradles him in her arms. She states, “I killed all of mine. And I was …” Wesley finishes her statement with “concerned?” Illyria, surprised at herself, replies, “Yes, I think so...but I can’t help. You’ll be dead within minutes.” She then gently touches Wesley’s cheek and asks with a slightly trembling voice, “Would you like me to lie to you now?” Wes says, “Yes, thank you.” Next, we see Fred’s hand gently caressing Wesley’s cheek, and the two say hello to each other. Wesley says “I miss you,” and Fred softly kisses his forehead saying, “Oh,Wesley … my Wesley. It’s gonna will be okay. It won’t hurt much longer and then you’ll be where I am …” Fred’s voice then begins to trail off as she breaks down in tears and whispers “We’ll be together.” A fading Wesley whispers, “I love you.” She smiles, places tiny kisses on his face, and whispers through sobs, “I love you. My love … oh, my love!” She lays him down; Wesley is dead.

Illyria-Fred then rises, choking back her tears before she adopts the guise of Illyria and slays Wesley’s murderer (Vail) with a single blow. When she later drops into the alley from a nearby rooftop to meet with the Fang Gang at the end of the episode, Illyria announces flatly, “Wesley is dead.” As Angel, Gunn and Spike try to take in the news, she continues, her voice choked with emotion despite her best efforts to hide it, “I’m feeling grief for him. I can’t seem to control it. I wish to do more violence!”

If Illyria is just beginning to experience human emotions, if the “Burkle persona” was merely something to adopt (i.e. an illusion, a performance), then how could Illyria be moved to tears and cry words such as “I love you” or “my love,” when she doesn’t fully understand what love is and is only just beginning to experience it? Thus I would argue that Illyria's concern for Wesley and subsequent grief for his death is influenced by Fred’s fully surfacing subliminal impulses. In other words, when Illyria morphs into Fred, it is not merely an act. Fred is there. In a sense, she becomes Illyria and Illyria becomes Fred. Thus, the real “lie” is Fred’s assurance to Wesley that they will be together in an afterlife, because Fred still exists within Illyria. What else could account for Illyria’s being moved to such tears and such display of emotion? It seems that Illyria cannot control her grief because Fred, the human part of her, influences it.

In giving up control over Fred’s psychical energy, Illyria mediates Fred with herself; she reaches a compromise. Through this reconciliation of powers that occurs when she finally lets go of her unary Self, Illyria expands the possibilities of who and what she can be in her new reality. She becomes not just Fred and not just Illyria, but Illyria-Fred. Subsequently, Illyria’s “play” does not become “pointless,” but expansive and cathartic, as her name, etymologically, suggests. According to Albanian scholars and philologists, Iliret was actually the name for an ancient region of the Balkan Peninsula (now modern-day Albania), home to a warlike people. The Illyrian name comes from the root i lir, which means “free” (Gjonaj, “The Ancient Illyrians”). Further, the name’s lulling double “ll” sound, possesses a fluid and flexible sound as it rolls off the tongue, flexible like the character Whedon creates.

It would have been interesting to see how Illyria’s mediation of Fred’s persona with her own would have developed had Angel been renewed for a sixth season. According to Amy Acker, the actress who portrayed Illyria-Fred, “Joss [Whedon] talked about doing some stuff where she was almost like a Superman/Clark Kent type of thing, where they would switch personas so more of Fred would come out in her over time.” Unless the possible film projects described in the WB’s press release concerning the termination of the series come to fruition, we may never know how Fred’s subliminal impulses will surface. But, as Angel concludes, “death doesn’t have to be the end. Not in our world. Rules can be broken.” And those rules are broken with Fred and Illyria, as both become “so much more. Beyond flesh”—i.e. beyond body and psyche. Ironically, Illyria returns to the primordial—that is to say, to the expansiveness of the chora—through her experience of chaotic identity. This experience, as discussed, enables her to become beyond time and space, beyond form and fixed meaning, and beyond boundaries (identifying or otherwise). She becomes a self in process.

Illyria’s postmodern journey from being a Self to becoming a self in process by mediating aspects of Fred with her self reminds viewers that we are much more than definitions and categories, beyond our perceived realities and selves. The character provides us a rich and intellectually stimulating vision of the endless possibilities that come from having a fluid and chaotic self. While the absence of traditional identifying systems may seem unsettling, Illyria’s journey demonstrates that having power to become rather than be lends a kind of openness in terms of identity that one may find potentially liberating. As a self in process, one may playfully experiment with and reinvent one’s self as desired.

March 2005

From guest contributor Jennifer A. Hudson, a member of the English department at Southern Connecticut State University

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