On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I was recently re-watching "Becoming, Parts 1 and 2," those Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes where geeky witch Willow does a spell to give the vampire Angel his soul back. And suddenly I had a burning ethical question.

Spoiler alert, for people who haven't watched "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but plan to.

Why don't they just keep doing the re-ensoulment spell — on all vampires? Or at least, on all the vampires that they can?

Yes, it's a somewhat difficult spell — although given that Willow could do it when she was a fairly inexperienced witch, it clearly can't be that difficult. And yes, it's very likely (although I'm not sure they specify this) that the spell can only be done one vampire at a time, and that you need to know which particular vampire you're re-ensouling. But given what a scourge vampires are on humanity, wouldn't it be worth doing, as much as possible? At least from a harm-reduction perspective, even if they could only re-ensoul a couple/few vampires a week, wouldn't that be worth it?

On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Besides, it's not like Willow is the only witch in the world capable of doing this spell. (The Romani magician who cursed Angel the first time obviously could do it.) So when the Scoobies (Buffy's gang, for those who don't watch the show) recovered the re-ensoulment spell, why didn't they immediately spread the word to every witch in the world? If every witch in the world re-ensouled even just one or two vampires a week, doesn't it seem likely that the entire vampire population could be entirely re-ensouled in a fairly short time? Vampires are easier to find than, say, smallpox. Wouldn't a concentrated vaccination program at least have potential to be entirely effective, fairly quickly? (Unless, of course, you started getting re-ensoulment denialists...)

In fact, I'm going to go further. I'm not just going to argue that this global re-ensoulment program is possible. I'm going to argue that not doing it is unethical. And not just from the obvious "reducing the number of people who die from vampire attacks" perspective. It's unethical from the vampire perspective.

On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The fact that vampires can be re-ensouled puts them in a very different good/evil category than other demons. Think about what both Angel and Spike were like after they were re-ensouled. The fact that they can be re-ensouled puts vampires more in the category of werewolves: dangerous, but with potential to be, from an ethical perspective, essentially human. And in the Buffyverse, it's considered highly unethical to kill a werewolf unless they're putting people in immediate danger. The Scoobies go to great lengths to make sure that Oz is caged when he's in his werewolf state — not just to protect other people from him, but to protect him.

So why is it ethical to go around killing every vampire in the world on sight, without even trying to re-ensoul them? Wouldn't it be far more ethical to at least try to re-ensoul as many vampires as they possibly could?

On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Now, when I brought this up with my wife Ingrid, she thought of an interesting ethical concern that I hadn't considered — namely, the ecological one. Vampires are immortal: they can be killed, but if they're not staked or decapitated or exposed to sunlight, they seem to live forever. So if every vampire on the planet were re-ensouled, there would be a whole lot of living creatures (well, not living, but you know what I mean), requiring a certain amount of blood, who would pretty much never die. Would that, Ingrid wondered, put too much strain on the planet's resources?

But I'm not sure this concern holds up. There just aren't that many vampires in the Buffyverse: far fewer than there are humans. Assuming a predator/ prey ratio of about 2000 to 1 (a rough ratio calculated by Brian Thomas, a PhD candidate in ecology at Stanford University), that would mean that in a world population of about 7 billion, there would be roughly 3.5 million vampires — about the size of Los Angeles. And once vampires are re-ensouled, they don't seem to make ("sire") new vampires (unless they're under the influence of a controlling external evil, like Spike was briefly in Season 7). They're immortal — but if they're re-ensouled, they don't reproduce. So even if new vampires continued to be sired by any remaining un-ensouled vampires during the vaccination program, it seems that eventually the population would stabilize. Maybe at higher than 3.5 million; maybe at, to be on the generous side, let's say 8 million. Let's call it New York City.

If we can feed the cities of Los Angeles or New York, surely we can feed that many vampires. Especially since vampires feed on blood, which is at least something of a renewable resource: blood can be harvested from living animals, the way milk or wool is. (I'd be interested, by the way, in hearing from vegan Buffy fans about the vegan ethics of this question. Would it be more ethical to continue staking vampires, who don't have souls but are potentially pretty human-like — or to re-ensoul them if it meant that some animals would have to be kept as food sources? Would re-ensouling vampires fall into the category of keeping carnivorous pets, like cats and dogs?)

On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

What's more, re-ensouled vampires are a powerful asset in the fight against evil. Again — look at Angel and Spike. Both have become major players in the demon-hunting, evil-resisting scene. Of course, not every re-ensouled vampire would necessarily choose to do battle with demons and evil law firms and such. But even if they didn't all go that route — even if Angel and Spike were outliers, even if only one in ten or one in a hundred became champions, and the rest became store clerks and software designers and unemployed actors like the rest of us — that's still a whole lot of superheroes. Why on Earth didn't the Scoobies take advantage of this enormous potential, not only to rid the world of human-killing vampires, but to create an army of super-strong, super-powered allies? I mean, Buffy is always whining about the burden of Slayerdom, how she's alone in this fight and can never have a reprieve from it. Doesn't the re-ensoulment spell have "Slayer vacation" written all over it?

It seems to me that this is a serious plot hole. It's in the same vein as "Why don't they keep using the lie detector on Star Trek in every relevant episode?" and other convenient devices that are immediately forgotten (is there a TV Trope for that?). But it's a whole lot more serious. It cuts to the very essence of the show. The show is about slaying vampires. It's in the title, for crying out loud. And yet, after the discovery of a tool that could render vampire slaying obsolete, the show still goes on for five more seasons — six, if you count Angel — as if this had never happened, as if re-ensoulment were entirely irrelevant to anyone other than Angel and Spike and Buffy and anyone who has to listen to them gas on about their tormented romantic lives.

On The Ethics of Vampire Slaying in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It's entirely possible that there's something I've overlooked in this analysis. It is, after all, something I cooked up in an afternoon. (Maybe Orbs of Thesulah can't be mass-produced or something.) But if I'm right, this doesn't just undermine the essence of the show from a plot perspective. It undermines it from an ethical perspective. One of the most interesting things about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is its thoughtful, complex, nuanced ethics. It is fundamentally about ethics — it's about the battle between good and evil, and the often murky waters that this battle stirs up — and it takes the ethics of its invented universe seriously. It's a little unsettling to realize that, for well over half the life of the show, those ethics had been quietly but profoundly blown to shrapnel, just so the show could go on.

Greta Christina is author of Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, of Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and of Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More. She blogs at Greta Christina's Blog.