Note: My goal is here is not to argue that either Angel or Spike is “The Vampire with a Soul” (VwaS), but simply to lay out everything that has been said about the VwaS in five seasons of the show. You draw your own conclusions.
Where it all started: In the first season episode Blind Date, Angel sneaks into the vault at Wolfram and Hart to steal some information on an assassination he wants to thwart. While he is there, he is mysteriously drawn to a scroll, the Prophecies of Aberjian, which he takes with him.
In the next episode (To Shanshu in L.A.), Wesley translates the scroll and uses portions of it to heal Angel’s vision-girl Cordelia, who has been struck down by a demon. He also struggles with a “pivotal” passage related to the word “shanshu”. He finally translates it thus:
The vampire with a soul, once he fulfills his destiny, will shanshu.
“…Become human. It’s his reward…. [I]t won’t happen tomorrow or the next day. He has to survive the coming darkness, the apocalyptic battles, a few plagues, and some… uh, several–not that many–fiends that will be unleashed.”
This passage sounds like it could just as easily describe Spike as it does Angel. But it also implies that the shanshu is about much more than saving the world once, or even twice. It is the final event in a long series of events, and hence a ways off for both vampires.
And this is only one passage in the prophecy, albeit an important one. Much of Wolfram and Hart‘s actions in season 2 of Angel are informed by another section of the prophecy:
Nathan: “The prophecies all agree that when the final battle is waged, [the Vampire with a Soul] plays a key role.”
Lindsey: “Good for him.”
Nathan: “Which side he’s on is the gray area, and we’re going to continue making it as gray as possible.” —Blood Money
Wolfram and Hart are especially interested in a section of the prophecy which implies that there will be a final apocalypse, and that in that apocalypse, the role of the Vampire with a Soul is up for grabs: he may fight on the side of good, or he may fight on the side of evil. The prophecy is murky on this, and in season 2 Wolfram and Hart work overtime to make sure Angel will be on the side of evil. Not, of course, by making him lose his soul, (which would be in contradiction to the prophecy), but by bringing out his very human weaknesses–his anger, bitterness, and rage.
This ambiguity about the role of the Vampire with a Soul (good or evil?) in “the final battle” is later echoed in season 4 by Jasmine, one of the Powers that Be.
The Powers that Be took an interest in Angel from the moment he moved to Los Angeles and perhaps even before that (they are a candidate for the power that returned him from hell in Faith, Hope and Trick, and might have sent Whistler to Angel in 1996 as seen in Becoming.) Through Doyle, and later Cordelia, the Powers turned Angel into their personal Champion, sending him out on missions via the visions.
When demon blood turns Angel human in I Will Remember You (ep 1.8), it is implied that the Powers that Be will be responsible for the “real” shanshu. Or at least, this is what Doyle and the Oracles believe:
Doyle: “I thought the only way for you to be made mortal was if the Powers That Be stepped in.”
Angel: “What, they could have done this? How come I keep getting the feeling that you’re not telling me everything.”
Doyle: “Because I’m not. We’re both on a need to know basis here.”
The Oracles are channels to the Powers that Be. Angel asks them why he is now human:
Angel: “What’s happened to me?”
Female Oracle: “It’s true then, brother.”
Male Oracle: “He is no longer a warrior.”
Angel: “It was the demon’s blood. It wasn’t the Powers That Be that did this?”
Male Oracle: “The Powers That Be? Did you save humanity? Avert the Apocalypse?”
Female Oracle: “You faced a Mohra demon. Life goes on.”
Again, the shanshu is discussed as a reward bestowed by the Powers that Be.
In To Shanshu in LA, Lindsey tells Angel that the Scroll of Aberjian also talks about the connection between the Vampire with a Soul and the Powers that Be. It is prophesied in the scroll that at some point, the VwaS will have “all his connections severed”–he will be completely cut off from the Powers that Be. Lindsey thought it was happening then, with Cordelia lying at death’s door and the Oracles slaughtered. But he was wrong.
We get to meet one of the Powers that Be personally with the arrival of Jasmine in season 4. Jasmine erases evil from the world–and human free will along with it–before Angel takes her power away in Peace Out. Wounded and no longer worshipped, Jasmine prepares to unleash hell on Earth in revenge. She reminds Angel of the prophecy, paying particular attention to the section Wolfram and Hart was interested in:
“Remember the prophecy, Angel? The one that says in the time of the apocalypse, you’d play a major part? How you never knew whether you’d be on the side of good or evil? Well, now you know. Thanks to you, this frail, little Power That Was has just enough strength in her to wipe out your whole species. And it’s all on your hands.”
Jasmine never got to carry out her threatened apocalypse, but that does not mean that this was not the apocalypse of prophecy, simply that it was prevented (although if it is, shouldn’t Angel have shanshu’d by now?). And just because Jasmine’s words imply that Angel is the vampire of prophecy (this is post Spike’s re-ensoulment) does not mean that he is. Jasmine may have simply wanted to lay the blame for what she was about to do on Angel’s shoulders and used a section of the prophecy he was familiar with (indeed, dogged by) to do it.
Noir Angel and post-noir Angel: Jasmine’s actions hammer the final nail in the coffin of Angel’s faith in the Powers that Be, and in the Prophecies of Aberjian. But this had been building up since season 2, when Wolfram and Hart were trying so hard to make souled Angel go dark, and almost succeeded. Angel had been trying throughout the first half of season 2 to live up to the shanshu prophecy and bring about his humanity (with a gusto that resembled Spike’s in “Destiny”).
In Reprise, he went to Wolfram and Hart to attack the Senior Partners directly, believing that he could bring about “the final battle” that was “his destiny”. In this episode, he tells Lorne–the reader of destinies–that “getting to the Senior Partners, that’s my destiny.” Lorne replies: “Is it? Because I haven’t actually featured a destiny with you in it lately. It’s all kind of murky.”
And indeed, Angel does not succeed in bringing down the Senior Partners. He goes home, his faith in prophecy and the Powers crushed into nihilism. He sleeps with Darla, fully believing, and not caring, that it will cost him his soul. But he doesn’t lose his soul.
This does not return his full faith in the Powers, though. It simply turns his nihilism into a kind of existentialism:
Angel: “If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do, now, today. I fought for so long. For redemption, for a reward, finally just to beat the other guy, but… I never got it.”
Kate: “And now you do?”
Angel: “Not all of it. All I want to do is help. I want to help because… I don’t think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story for Angel and the Powers that Be. Cordelia, Angel’s vision girl, still has faith in the Powers, and continues to give Angel his missions well into season 3. Angel is walking the existentialist/believer balance beam in this season. His real motives for getting up every morning and doing his job as “champion” come from a much more down-to-earth motive: love, specifically, the love he feels for his son and for Cordelia.
It was Angel’s dark night with Darla that produced Connor. And in season 3, Angel had hope for living something resembling a “normal” life as a vampire through his love of Cordelia and Connor. But even as he was doing so, both of his loved ones became pawns in Jasmine’s plan to enter and rule the Earthly plane. And so ultimately (in season 4), both of Angel’s loved ones were ripped away from him by this Power that Be.
So it should not be any surprise that the Angel we meet in season 5 is bitter about love and prophecy both, and not as motivated to chase after the carrot of the shanshu as he once was. It has become a reflex action for him to “do the champion thing”, but his heart is not in it.
Other mentions of the prophecy and the VwaS:
• In The House Always Wins (ep 4.3), a casino owner holds Lorne hostage, forcing him to read people’s destinies. He then “steals” these destinies and sells them to the highest bidder.
The casino owner identifies Angel as “a vampire with a soul”, who, among other things “is positioned to be a major player in the apocalypse.” He promptly “steals” Angel’s “destiny”, and like the other victims of the casino owner, Angel becomes lethargic and unmotivated. There are a few things to note, though. (1) First, Angel still manages to fight on behalf of his friends before his “destiny” is returned to him. And (2) it isn’t entirely clear how the casino owner discovered Angel’s “destiny”. Did he get it from Lorne, or did he discover Angel was a vampire with a soul (this is also post-Spike’s resouling) and assume Angel was the vampire in the prophecy? And finally (3) it isn’t clear what was actually being stolen from people and being sold to others. “Destinies” or something else?
• The Nyazian Prophecies of season 3, which speak of the events related to the arrival of Holtz, the birth of Connor, and the coming of Jasmine (and the defeat of Jasmine) do not seem to be part of the Vampire with a Soul prophecies. Nevertheless, Angel’s skepticism about the prophecies and his simultaneous willingness to take action based on what the prophecies say sums up his season 3 balancing act/ambivalence.
• In season 3, there is an interesting reference to a new (not in the Scroll of Aberjian??) prophecy about “The Vampire with a Soul”, and that comes in Forgiving (ep 3.17). The incorporeal demon Sahjhan had been trying to get Holtz to kill the pregnant Darla and then the infant Connor. When Holtz took Connor into Quortoth, Sahjhan decided that was close enough to what he wanted–getting Connor out of the way or killing him. His work “done”, he reveals to Angel that the “Father will kill the Son” prophecy that had been tormenting Wesley was actually a fake prophecy he planted in an attempt to thwart the fate described in the true prophecy he had come across:
Sahjhan: “It’s pretty freaky the first time you see your name in a true prophecy all carved in blood on an official scroll. ‘The one sired by the vampire with a soul will grow to manhood and kill Sahjhan.’ Me!”
Fred: “So you planted false prophecies, that Angel would kill his son, and Wesley believed them.”
Sahjhan: “Thank god he had some spine. Holtz was useless. He wanted to raise your kid as his own! I’m living with a knife over my heart for eleven hundred years and he’s into petty revenge! If he’d just killed the damn thing while it was still in its mother we could have avoided all this!”
Of course, we only have Sahjhan’s word that this is a real prophecy (but otherwise we have no motive for him going to such bother to kill Connor). But if it is a real prophecy, and the “one sired” is Connor, that would make Angel the “The Vampire with a Soul” mentioned in the prophecy. However, it doesn’t follow that the VwaS mentioned in this prophecy must be the same VwaS mentioned in the shanshu prophecy.
• Indeed, in Offspring (ep 3.7), Wesley suggests that Angel might not be the subject of the shanshu prophecy at all, that it might refer to his child, who at that point they thought could be born a vampire. Angel, who knows it is murky whether that the Vampire with a Soul mentioned in the shanshu prophecy will fight for good or evil, ties himself in a knot trying to figure out if his unborn child is good or evil, and whether it is “his destiny” to bring that child into the world, or to stop the child from being born.
While Angel struggles to decide what is right and what he should do and whether he has a choice if it is all pre-determined anyway, Fred stands up and says,
“Can I say something about destiny? Screw destiny! If this evil thing comes we’ll fight it, and we’ll keep fighting it until we whoop it. ‘Cause destiny is just another word for inevitable and nothing’s inevitable as long as you stand up, look it in the eye, and say ‘your evitable!'”
And that’s perhaps how we should feel about this whole shanshu thing. It may just be a red herring that Eve and her Lindsey-looking pal have put there to have Angel and company all looking in one direction while they do sneaky things in the other direction. Or that ME is using to make the viewers all look in one direction while ME brews something interesting in another direction.