"The books tell the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demons soul. He bit another, and another..."
Giles, The Harvest
Naturally, vampires are the principal foes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - in the case of Angel and latterly Spike, also allies, but principally enemies - and as a result we know a great deal about them, at least in relative terms.
"To make you a vampire they have to suck your blood; and then you suck their blood. It's like a whole big sucking thing."
Buffy, Welcome to the Hellmouth
A vampire exists only if created by another vampire. The sole exception was the first vampire (or vampires), who was created by a powerful, primordial demon (c.f. The Slayer - History), but the mechanism was the same; a chosen victim is all but killed, and in their last moments of life infected with the essence of the creating vampire by the giving of blood.
The creation of a vampire is a deliberate act. Buffyverse vampires do not arise spontaneously, nor as a result of:
While this means that an ill-informed vampire might be quite unable to turn another without guidance (The Trial), in most cases, it seems that a vampire has an intrinsic understanding of the mechanism, even if they do not know what a vampire is (Fray). It does in general mean that no-one becomes a vampire unless another vampire picks them to turn, but in certain unusual circumstances the taking of blood may be initiated by an informed 'victim' (Fray).
There are a number of euphemisms for the act of transforming another into a vampire, including turning (Disharmony) and making (The Trial). The most commonly accepted term is 'siring' (Conversations with Dead People), and the one who performs the act is called the new vampire's 'sire' (also a term of general respect for the head of a brood, c.f. School Hard).
Having decided to sire, a vampire must pick out a suitable candidate, based on whatever criteria they deem appropriate. Some are very careful whom they turn, seeing vampirehood as a great and powerful gift, not to be bestowed lightly or frivolously. Others turn whomever they want, or whoever comes to hand, for transient or even perverse reasons. Motivations seen in the episodes include:
- The Master took the woman he renamed Darla because her unrepentant corruption appealed to him (Darla).
- Darla then chose Liam - who became Angelus - because he was handsome, charming, loose-moraled, and not too bright (Becoming, The Trial).
- Angelus in turn selected Drusilla, attracted to her peculiar insights and amused by the idea of preserving her forever in the state of madness to which he had brought her.
- Dru took Spike for his skewed vision, thwarted creativity and bitter isolation (Fool For Love).
- Angelus sometimes took friends and schoolmates of Buffy, in order to hurt her (Phases).
- Jesse was picked purely to be a Judas goat (The Harvest)
- Harmony was a random victim (Graduation Day - Part 2), and so must have been made more or less on a whim, in the heat of battle.
- When Darla was restored to humanity, Drusilla turned her back because she believed it was what 'Grandmum' wanted (Reunion).
Whatever the reason, once the intended is chosen - and whatever 'foreplay' the vampire feels to be appropriate is past (Lie to Me) - the vampire drains them of blood, until they feel their heart begin to slow (The Trial). At this stage, when the human is presumably already dying, the vampire feeds the intended some of their own blood. The human may try to resist, but almost always in vain (Reunion), perhaps because a survival instinct takes over. The body knows that it is dying, and grasps at the one chance for survival, despite the fact that this chance is in almost all respects a lie: Whether the person drinks or not, their body dies, and their soul departs for the hereafter (Angel). To all intents and purposes, the person that was, is now dead, but the blood which the victim drank forms a channel, through which a demon is able to enter the corpse; or perhaps plants a seed from which the demonic 'self' grows.
The body now remains dormant for a time, until the demon completes the process of inhabiting the flesh. As near as can be seen, until it rises as a vampire, the corpse is just a corpse, and can be displayed under the sun without further harm. While sunlight is ineffective against the body, in these hours, the corpse can be burned or staked, ensuring that it shall never rise. The body would probably not dust if staked in this state, but it might do so as soon as the demon attempted to rise. There is no evidence either way; no-one has ever been seen to stake a pre-vamp. The exact time it takes for the vampire to rise varies, but many seem to wait until after they have been buried, literally rising from the grave (After Life). This presumably means that they are rising some days after their 'death'. Others however have been seen to rise within a matter of hours or less (Helpless), and Angel seemed very certain that Darla would rise on the night after Drusilla killed her again.
Buffy: Willow, just remember. A vampire's personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
Angel: well actually...that's a good point.
A vampire's nature is partly based on that of the person whose body they inhabit (Doppelgangland). The vampire retains the person's memories (Lie To Me), and some personality traits and quirks, but the persona is touched by darkness. Fundamentally, the soul - the person's conscience and higher nature - is gone, replaced by the drives of a demon. Joss Whedon has stated that in the Buffyverse the possession of a soul gives a sentient being a default moral compass setting towards good, while for those without, the default is towards evil. In either case, any intelligent creature can be assumed to possess three essential conflicting drives:
- The drive to do good;
- The drive to do evil;
- The drive towards self-interest.
In a human, the soul provides a powerful drive to do good, in the form of the conscience, while the absence of same tends demons towards evil. Both also possess a potent desire to serve their own interests, and at least a residual capacity for the other two desires. Despite the presence of the soul, a human can do - and desire and seek to do - evil, and the actions of Spike suggest that a vampire, despite the absence of a soul, can not only love (any episode with Drusilla, or the last quarter of Season 5 onwards), but also desire and aspire to do good (The Gift, Grave).
"You die, and a demon sets up shop in your old house. And it walks, and it talks, and it remembers your life, but it's not you."
Buffy, Lie to Me
One thing generally agreed upon is that the vampire is not the person that it looks like; even Angel, who has his soul, has a demon inside him as well. The nature of the demon who possesses a vampire appears to vary, at least if the form of the game face is anything to judge by. Vampires take a variety of forms, from The Master's bat-face, to Drusilla's more serpentine appearance, to Kakistos's goat-like attributes, suggesting that the inner demon is not of a specific 'vampire' breed. Instead, like the Kleynach demon, the vampire appears to be defined by the means in which a demon enters the earthly realm - or is conceived and grows into its power - than by its intrinsic nature. This immediately provides us with a possible reason for the variation in powers possessed by various vampires.
The source of a vampire's nature is called into most question by the resurrection of Darla as a human being (To Shansu in LA). Clearly, not only did the vampire Darla retain all of the memories of the mortal who became her, but the restored mortal retained all of the memories of her four-hundred year vampiric existence (Darla). The memory then may be something apart from the soul or the demon; a mind, or ego, that holds the desire for self-preservation that binds human and vampire together. Darla's retransformation into a vampire (The Trial) also calls into question the contribution of the demon to the vampire's personality. Was Darla repossessed by the same demon? Or does the 'demon' provide only an animating force? And if the demon provides so little in terms of persona, what does the soul provide?
It is also possible for a vampire to exist without true understanding of what it is (Fray), and the inexperience of many vampires suggests that the demon which animates them does not in fact travel to possess them, but grows up new-born from within them. This would explain why their demon nature provides so little in the way of knowledge and personality, just the central drive to evil.
Unlike most breeds of flesh-bound demons, both the 'purebred' and the hybrid, vampires do not have a specific niche into which they fit. Like the humans from whom they are made, vampires come in all shapes and sizes, from giant bruisers (Real Me) to quiet scholars (What's My Line); from mookish footsoldiers (Bad Girls), to powerful leaders (Welcome to the Hellmouth), to charismatic individualists (School Hard). From the archaic and religious (Never Kill a Boy On the First Date), to the hip and techno-savvy (Faith, Hope and Trick). The reason for this variety, surely, is simply that vampires do spring from humans.
With the mortal 'host' providing not merely the flesh, but also the memories (Lie to Me), skills (Anne) and base personality (Doppelgängland), there is more scope for variety than with other demons, who have a form and nature determined solely by their breed: All Fyarls are huge and brutish; all Lubbers sad-faced and nihilistic.
Regardless of whether the actors age, the vampires of the Buffyverse do not. This is not to say that the passage of time has no effect on a vampire, merely that they do not age and die as a mortal does; in this way they are essentially immortal. In fact, as a vampire ages, it becomes more powerful; apparently the only demons that really do so. In addition, an old vampire loses the ability to pass unnoticed among humans, as their game face becomes fixed permanently in place. This had happened to the Master, said to be the oldest vampire on record, and to Kakistos who may in fact have been older. It may also have happened to Dracula, who was some six hundred years young, but in a very different way.
Vampires have demonstrated that they possess superhuman senses, including a sensitive and discriminating sense of smell (Reptile Boy), sharp hearing (Through the Looking Glass) and acute night vision (Choices).
In fact, a vampire is in all ways physically superior to the average human. They are highly resistant to physical injury, inhumanly strong and - although it is not often shown to much effect - fast (Somnambulist). All of these advantages are heightened when the vampire puts on his game face. On rare occasions (Somnambulist, Reunion), we are given a chance to see a vampire fight that is something other than the standard kick-boxing match. In these scenes, the vamps batter each other violently around the room, springing up to smash their opponent against the ceiling, demonstrating their inhuman physicality to full effect.
Vampires feel pain (In the Dark, Into the Woods), but are able to withstand far more punishment than a human. Some seem able to remain active, despite sustaining injuries that might cripple a human (Intervention), although given their heightened senses, it seems reasonable to assume that they are - if anything - more aware of the pain than a human. Spike's chip is able to inflict a debilitating level of pain on him, although that is neurological in origin (The Initiative).
Vampires are susceptible to taser blasts (The Freshman), suggesting that their nervous systems and muscles still operate on the basis of neuro-electric signals. Regardless of the mechanism, their reactions are quicker than any untrained human (Prophecy Girl, Five by Five).
A vampire heals as fast as the Slayer, or possibly faster. Most wounds close in a matter of minutes (Under My Skin), and few injuries will permanently cripple a vampire (Intervention). However, it is possible for a vamp to be permanently scarred (Fool For Love), and the loss of limbs or organs may not be so recoverable, as even the mighty Kakistos seemed to have lost his eye for a fair period (Faith, Hope and Trick). Vampires can be poisoned (I Fall to Pieces), but will rapidly recover from doses that would be fatal to a human. The poisons which can kill vampires, such as the aptly named Killer of the Dead (Graduation Day) are mystical in origin.
As a general rule, vampires can not:
- Become a mist;
- Mesmerise a human;
- Return from the dead.
Notably, Dracula breaks all of these rules.
In most circumstances, the average vampire looks like a human. When they feed, or when they fight however, their demonic visage rises to the surface, and the take on what is known to the Scoobies as their 'game face'. This state can be triggered voluntarily, but it can also be brought on as a reaction to pain, anger or hunger. A vampire may try to suppress or shake off their game face, although few do so. The ability of passing hybrids to shift into their more demonic aspect is in most ways identical to a vampire taking on game face.
A vampire's game face is to some extent unique. Typically, the game face look includes two enlarged mounds on the brow, and a pronounced ridging on the nose. The eyes become yellow, or sometimes red, and the teeth become sharp and jagged. Despite these common features, however, the demonic aspects of vampires vary as much as human faces; certainly more than those of any fleshbound demon breed. The Master clearly resembled a bat, whereas Kakistos's cloven hooves were more of the goat; or of the Devil. Drusilla's game face, on the other hand, more smooth and serpentine.
And then - as always - there was Dracula.
Vampires seem to need to take on this aspect to feed (The Harvest) and they prefer it for combat, because they are stronger when their demon is at the surface (Prophecy Girl). Some vampires use game face routinely whenever they are not around humans, considering mortal features insipid, and a reminder of an abandoned heritage. For groups such as the Brethren of Aurelius, it is a matter of devotion to conceal their human features as much as is practical (Darla). These are probably the vampires most likely to lose the ability to conceal their demonic features, even when it would be advantageous to do so. On the other hand, some vampires - especially those who spend more time around humans - only let the demon surface when it is absolutely necessary. Some vampire leaders actually seem to distinguish themselves from their followers by spending as much time as possible without the extra strength of game face (The Freshman); a choice which we naturally assume to have nothing to do with keeping the main actors' faces clearly on screen.
"Blood is life, lackbrain. Why do you think we eat it? Its what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead."
Spike, The Gift
In order to feed, a vampire must - unless using a glass or an existing wound - bite its victim; usually but not always in the neck. Like any bite, the initial contact is painful (Fool for Love), and while the blood loss can be arousing (Graduation Day, Into the Woods) there is nothing inherently sexy or late-night telly about it. In most cases, the vampire's feeding takes only moments, barely seeming to drain any actual blood at all, but leaving the victim well and truly dead (Innocence). Occasionally however, the process is drawn out for longer, and in these cases the rush of blood-loss, and the intimacy of the contact does appear to create an erotic sensation in the victim, which is reciprocated in the vampire (Graduation Day - Part 2). Also in these cases, the victim may not actually die, despite considerable blood-loss.
"You know what happens to vampires who don't get to feed?...Living skeletons, mate. Like famine pictures from those dusty countries, only not half as funny."
As a vampire is dead, in order to gain sustenance it must not merely take nourishment, but life itself - in the form of blood - from the living. To a vampire, the blood is the life, and the life is food; to drink blood is to eat, and like humans, vampires usually enjoy their food. Drinking from a living human is a richly sensuous experience for the vampire (Disharmony), and many vampires have particular preferences, such as a taste for the blood of the terrified (The Harvest), or of those who have just undergone the physical stress of pursuit and evasion (The Gift). Dead blood - either stored, whole blood (Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been...) or butcher's blood (The Prom) - still holds the symbolic vitality which the vampire requires, but the experience of feeding in this fashion is flat by comparison to supping from a living chalice, and so only the defanged and the desperate tend to stoop so low.
"Oh come on. Stake through the heart; a little sunlight. It's like falling off a log."
Buffy, Welcome to the Hellmouth
While a vampire is in most ways superior to a human, and can recover from truly appalling injuries, they are not without their weaknesses. As with much of Buffy's mythology, many of these weaknesses essentially stem from the fact that they appear in Dracula and other famous vampire sources, and they do not necessarily have any greater significance. Nevertheless, it can be fun to look for reasons.
Vampires can be killed if they are decapitated, or if a wooden stake is driven through their heart (The Harvest). Obviously, neither manoeuvre is a trivial prospect, and the Slayer usually has to wear down the vampire with lesser injuries before they can perform the coup de grace. Non-Slayers tend to have more success overbearing the vampire by force of numbers, although against an older or more skilled vamp, they are likely to get their asses well-and-truly kicked attempting to employ such a tactic. All is not lost for the mere human however: gunshot wounds have been noted to slow vampires down, although again, against more powerful individuals these attacks are likely to just make the vampire cranky. Also, electrical charges from a conventional taser or one of the Initiative's blasters will incapacitate a vamp long enough for a take-down.
It is not known why the stake has to be wooden; certainly there is no such restriction on the composition of a weapon used to decapitate. The likeliest explanation is that wood - being a part of nature and of life - has some innate power in the destruction of that which is both unnatural and dead. No general vulnerability to wooden weapons been observed - wood does not burn a vampire's flesh, nor apparently wound more deeply or more painfully than a weapon of metal or even plastic (Into the Woods) - although it does seem as though staking a vampire requires rather less force than might be thought necessary to drive a wooden shaft through a person's chest.
In terms of weapons, bows and crossbows provide vampire hunters with a long-range alternative to the tried and trusty hand stake, so long as they are accurate, and make certain to use wooden arrows and quarrels. Little could be more embarrassing for a hunter than to realise that they were going to die because they used a high-strength plastic or metal bolt. Spears could also be used in combat with vampires, although the risk exists that the hunter might find their weapon dusting along with their foe. Swords and fighting axes are also used, being good for dismembering and decapitating, as well as having great general utility against most breeds of demon, monster and mortal.
Vampires can also be killed by fire, and burns takes a very long time to heal (Surprise, Reprise). As well as flames, they can be burned by the sun; the touch of direct sunlight causes a vampire's flesh to smoulder, and then ignite, and even if they manage to get out of the sun, they often need to extinguish the flames as well (Lover's Walk). It is however only direct sunlight that harms vampires; indirect sunlight offers them no harm or discomfort whatsoever.
Many BtVS drinking games include 'Angel appears to be in direct sunlight' as one of the cues to take a drink.
Both fire and sunlight are effective against vampires because they represent the light, whereas vampires are creatures of the darkness. In addition, fire is a force that cleanses and purifies, although it does so by destruction, making it an obvious foe of the impure, unclean vampire (Intervention). Sunlight may also have power because it is a force of revelation, laying appearances bare, while the vampire is a deceiver, its passing nature making it a walking lie.
Religious trappings, specifically of the Christian faith, also cause a harmful reaction in vampires. Crosses and holy water burn a vampire's flesh - imbibing holy water is fatal (Helpless) - and even the sight of a cross incites fear in most vampires, causing them to shy away from the hated symbol. This repulsion is not physical however; the vampire must see the cross, and can - given sufficient willpower - still approach, and even touch it. A number of vampires have also proved quite fast enough to strike the cross from a would-be hunter's hands without notable harm.
While the repulsion is largely psychological , there is an undeniable physical reaction to such artefacts. As holy water and consecrated earth both cause vampire flesh to sear and burn, it can be surmised that any correctly blessed object would do the same. Whether a blessed weapon would be any more effective against a vampire than a regular one is unclear, but it could be expected to cause greater pain, if not greater injury. On the other hand, an item would almost certainly have to be blessed by a properly ordained minister - or at least as part of a fairly orthodox ritual, as Giles was apparently able to consecrate the ground over the Master's bones (When She Was Bad) - and despite the production-line supply of holy water in Sunnydale's magic shops, this can be assumed to be far from routine. While a priest-cum-vampire hunter might be able to bless his sword, or even his arrows in the Lord's service, a submachine gun clip full of holy bullets would probably be out of the question.
It is worth noting that the creation of holy water, and the consecration of any item or place - at least by Catholic standards - involves the performance of the rite of exorcism, and Catholic exorcism is known to be effective against at least some forms of demon (I've Got You Under My Skin).
While the above applies for items specifically blessed by a priest or other minister, the cross seems to be a special case. There is little indication that a cross must be blessed in order to repel a vampire, although it does seem that it must be a purpose-built religious cross; no two fingers or crossed candlesticks for the Scoobies. On the other hand, it seems to be only the cross that works, and not, say, a Star of David. Does this then mean that Christianity is being claimed as the true religion? Well, given the vague nature of references to the 'Powers That Be', it is at least never explicitly stated and the cross as a religious symbol predates Christianity by a long way. It should also be noted that the Star of David is the symbol of Israel, rather than of Judaism, while Islam explicitly forbids the veneration of images as representations of the Lord.
Whether Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu or Shinto icons, emblems or sacred grounds have - or might be expected to have - any such power is unknown, but none of these religions features so strong an element of all-pervading divine force as the three religions of the book.
Moreover, it should be remembered that a vampire's will is sufficient to overcome at least the repulsion effect of the cross (Nightmares, Who Am I?), which would seem unlikely if it were the power of God directly at work. Also, the ability of the magic of the Gem of Amara to counteract the effects of all forms of harm, including all effects of holiness, tends to suggest something less total than the absolute will of a supreme deity at work.
Another possible explanation for the operation of the cross comes from what it symbolises. The crucifix represents Christ's sacrifice for the people of Earth; a supreme sacrifice of blood, pain and death for the good of those who care nothing for him. This is an act antithetical to the demonic nature of vampires - a vampire might make a sacrifice for their master (Becoming: Part 1), or for a lover (Heartthrob), but never for strangers - and thus the merest reminder of it is hard for them to bear. Moreover, be he son of God or not, such a sacrifice could be a powerful ritual act, with the potential to create a lasting and pervasive mystical effect.
The two main mystical limitations on the vampire are the absence of a reflection and the inability to enter a dwelling uninvited. The reflection is a standard vampire shtick, but the usual explanation is that the mirror reflects the soul, and vampires have none. In the Buffyverse however, we know that Angel casts no reflection, even when he does have a soul.
In the realms of pure speculation, I suggest the following explanation: The absence of a reflection represents the fact that the vampire is not what it appears. A mirror is a harsh, but impartial reporter of the unvarnished truth, and as the vampire's outward appearance is a lie, the mirror does not report it.
In support of this theory, when Angel travels to Pylea, where the black and white nature of the world causes his demon and human parts to manifest in their pure form, both his human face, and that of the Angel-beast, are visible in reflection. In Pylea, Angel is either the man, or the beast, never the one hiding within the other. As his outward appearance now reports the truth of his condition, he casts a reflection. Likewise, with their colours worn on their sleeve, neither Angel nor Angelbeast is forced to hide from the revealing light of the sun, suggesting a similar cause for that vulnerability. Of course, other passing demons do reflect, but they have not passed to the world by the same route, and pay a different price for their power.
A similar explanation can be offered for the prohibition on a vampire entering a dwelling place without an invitation from someone who lives within. Without getting into a long and involved discussion about the domus and the agrios which would bore everyone reading it to tears, there is a sharp distinction - psychologically and mystically - between the home and the world beyond its walls. This distinction does not apply to temporary dwellings, abandoned homes, or public areas, and so vampires may enter any building so designated without invitation; the home - including a settled-in dorm room (The Initiative) or a permanently occupied hotel room (Heartthrob) - is the special place. As to the why, it is another balance on the method of entry into this dimension. By becoming a vampire, the demon adopts a place between the human and the demon worlds, and thus the boundary between the outside world and the home becomes an impassable barrier to them.
The nature of an 'invitation' is also open to interpretation. Simply stepping away from the door does not suffice (Amends), and there is some evidence that even a gesture to enter is not enough (Lie to Me). However, an advance invitation to a home yet to be claimed - or even chosen - does allow the vampire to enter (Room w/a Vu). The jury is still out on the question of 'Welcome' mats. There is also the fact that - on a single occasion - Angel has crossed a threshold uninvited (Epiphany). Just what this may mean is as yet unclear.
A number of vampires have shown evidence of unusual abilities, which do not form a part of the standard vampire arsenal. These include:
- The Master's mystical abilities;
- Drusilla's mesmeric and prescient powers;
- Dracula's big bag o' tricks.
While The Master is notable for his advanced - if uncertain - age, Dracula is only some hundred-and-fifty years older than Darla, and Drusilla less than two centuries old. Moreover, Kakistos had no powers other than his size and physical might, and so we can safely say that these are not simply powers that all vampires develop with age.
The Master displays a potent mesmeric ability when he confronts Buffy in his cavern (Prophecy Girl), but the bulk of his power - beyond that of an old and bad-ass vampire - is in the form of ritual magic (The Harvest). This can be attributed simply to his devotion to the rites of Aurelius, and a developed and practised magical power. Angel (Revelations, Becoming), and even Spike (What's My Line?) have also displayed the ability to perform ritual magic, suggesting that a vampire requires no particular gift to do so.
Drusilla's abilities are more individual, and mostly seem to stem from her possession of the second sight as a mortal. Her ability to foresee the future has remained with her as a vampire, albeit distorted by the madness which Angelus inflicted on her before making her immortal. Her mesmeric abilities might be inherited from the master, but if so they would have had to have skipped two generations before reaching her, as neither Darla nor Angel displays any such power; neither does Drusilla's progeny Spike. It seems more likely that the power is individual; perhaps an offshoot of her prophetic ability.
In short, powers that go beyond physical and sensory superiority seem the exception, rather than the rule, and to be a matter of individual potential, rather than inherent in the vampire condition as a whole, or even in a particular line of vampires. This potential could presumably come either from the human who is turned (as with Drusilla), or from the particular demonic spirit which inhabits the vampire.
"ůso then Buffy's all - look out! - and then friggin' Dracula's standing right behind us"
Xander, Buffy vs. Dracula
The historical Dracula - Vlad III, Voevod of Wallachia - lived from 1431 to 1476. He lived in turbulent times, gained and lost his father's throne at least twice each way, and in his battles against the invading Turks became a cruel and bloodthirsty warrior. He was also said to be a great family man - when not being thrown in the dungeon by family enemies or his usurping, quisling brother, Radu - and like so many brutal dictators, he had a good record in the field of law and order. His name, Dracula, means Son of the Devil, or Son of the Dragon, and either way is a tribute to his father, Vlad Dracul. Dracul was so known either because he had the Devil's own luck and cunning, or for his induction into the Order of the Dragon, an Eastern European knightly order devoted to resisting invasion by the Turks. Tepes means 'The Impaler', and Dracula earned that one all by himself. Nevertheless, Bram Stoker was the first to connect the Wallachian Prince with vampirism.
"Nothing but showy, Gypsy tricks."
Spike, Buffy vs. Dracula
Dracula in the Buffyverse is a case study in unusual powers. If we assume that he is the historical Vlad Tepes, then - despite Anya's claim that she was 'just a silly young thing of seven-hundred-or-so' when she met him - he can not be more than about five-hundred-and-fifty when he meets Buffy, even allowing for Joss Whedon's self-denigrated ability with maths. In Buffy vs. Dracula, the Count (well, technically Voevod, or Prince) displays all of his classic tricks from Stoker's novel and the attendant movies. He transforms himself into mist, mesmerises and psychically manipulates people, transforms himself into a bat and a wolf, and returns from death after being destroyed.
There is of course a very simple explanation for these differences between Dracula and other vampires: HE'S FRIGGIN' DRACULA!
If this does not satisfy, then we can look to Spike's explanation. Taking Stoker as our source, Dracula does indeed have a close alliance with the Szagani, the gypsy tribes of his homeland, who do his bidding, and defend his recumbent form with their lives. We can accept then, that Dracula's special powers are some kind of gypsy magic, like the power that cursed Angel, learned from his Szagani servants, perhaps in life, perhaps after death. However, if this power allows Dracula to return from the grave, how come no-one else has bothered to learn it?
"No. The Count has to have his luxury estate and his bug-eaters and his special dirt, don't he."
Spike, Buffy vs. Dracula
As often noted, all power comes at a price, and as he has greater power, so Dracula pays a higher price than ordinary vampires. Working from the assumption that all that is to do with Dracula is not just because he's Dracula, we can turn to his requirements. The bug-eaters and luxury estates may just be an affectation, but the special dirt - the earth of his homeland in Wallachia, or, since he's Stoker's Dracula, probably Transylvania - is just such a weakness. In the novel, the hunters drive Dracula from England by hunting down and spiking his boxes of earth with communion wafers. As the Count must return to his native soil to rest and heal, he is forced to flee before this campaign of sabotage. Clearly then, this inescapable tie to his native soil is the price of Dracula's power.
It may seem an odd price for power gained from an essentially nomadic people, but then again, Dracula's Szagani did seem tied to him and his more than might be thought traditional for the Romany. Moreover, if they wished to limit a monster who was extorting their secrets from them, what better price to demand than one which - in theory at least - keeps him from ever leaving his immediate demesne? There is also the fact that the historical Dracula was forever being driven or taken from his home, and returned to it time and again. He was its Prince moreover, and in many traditions therefore, his well-being would be bound up with the good of the land itself. If this were the case, then Buffy can be assumed to have disposed of the Unholy Prince(-bater) by spiking the earth he brought with him to Sunnydale.
It should also be noted that the Three Sisters seem - giving Giles the benefit of the doubt - to have possessed a measure of their master's mesmeric ability. While special powers do not seem to run in bloodlines, it would seem reasonable to assume that Dracula could teach his minionettes a trick or two, or possibly just cast some fashion of glamour over them, thus increasing their dependence on him.
A final point, and one much discussed, is that of Dracula's vamp face, or lack thereof. Unlike every other vampire, Dracula seems to have no need to put on a game face to feed or to fight, and his fangs are likewise different, being twin points, rather than a jagged row. Leaving aside again the whole 'he's frigging Dracula' aspect, there are two possibilities.
- This is another gypsy glamour: Dracula does put on his vamp face, but his power generates an illusion that he does not.
- Dracula is always in vamp face.
The second possibility is favoured by the fact that Dracula's fangs are always just visible, and that his pallor is extreme, even by vampire standards. The prominent brow-lobes are absent, but there is a slight ridging visible. The low-key nature of the game face can again be attributed to gypsy trickery, or to an unusually subtle nature in Dracula's demon-self.
"Anybody wants to test who's got the biggest wrinklies; step on up."
Spike, School Hard
Vampires do not have much of a society, at least not in the wider picture. They may possess a certain sense of community under threat (Goodbye Iowa, Real Me), but purely as a matter of self-interest. Vampire killing vampire is not uncommon, but when a particular individual makes a habit of it - such as Angel or Spike - they will begin to cultivate a bad reputation among their fellows. It would be rare however to find other vampires going out of their way to seek out and destroy such an individual, any more than most would seek out and confront a Slayer. Where lasting social order does exist, it is purely within the context of a restricted group, usually focused on a powerful leader.
Vampire relationships are typically tense and hierarchical, and almost all involve complex power transactions. Vampires are aggressive and fractious, with a powerful desire for self-promotion and self-preservation, and consequently, almost all interpersonal dynamics between vampires revolve around determining who is the boss. In any given situation, there is a dominant and a submissive, and the levels are never so close with vampires as with most healthy human relationships. A more powerful vampire will treat others like dirt, stamping their authority with violence and abuse. In only a very small number of cases is the dynamic more subtle, such as with Darla's undeniable, but understated power over Angelus (Darla).
The most common dynamic is that between just two vampires. This is typically a sexual, or effectively sexual relationship, or very occasionally a parent-child dynamic. Notable examples include:
- Spike and Drusilla. This relationship is of course as atypical as both of its participants, having as it does an unusual degree of equality. While ultimately, Spike is seen as being subordinate to his Sire, his greater strength at first introduction (School Hard) highlights his sincere, romantic attachment to her. The Judge (Surprise) comments on their affection for each other with some disgust. Spike is intensely protective of his lover, even after she has become more powerful than him again. He is also extremely jealous. Drusilla displays an intense love for Spike, even when she is dominated by Angelus, and she is threatened by Spike's obsession with the Slayer.
- Angelus and Drusilla. Less subtle by far than Drusilla's relationship with Spike, the balance of power between Angelus and Dru is obvious - for Spike, painfully so. Drusilla is plainly besotted with her Sire, and Angelus not only revels in her adoration, he blatantly manipulates it to hurt Spike.
- Angelus and Spike. Angelus does not like Spike much, perhaps because they have so much in common. Both react against what they perceive as the wasteful restriction of their mortal lives, and both buck the hierarchy of strength which informs traditional vampire relationships. Spike defies the balance of their relationship (Fool For Love), much as Angelus himself does with the Master (Darla). Angelus sees Spike as his own past defiance come to threaten him, and maybe to take away Dru, and thus he enjoys baiting his would-be rival, especially when he can lord it over the crippled Spike. Conversely, Spike is threatened by Drusilla's desire for her sire, awhich drives him more than ever to defy Angelus' authority. Despite this, Spike professes a great admiration for the Angelus that was (School Hard) and for his part is quite chummy with the older vampire, in his way (Fool for Live).
- Darla and Angelus. Another atypical relationship. At first sight, Angelus appears to dominant over his Sire. He leads her in leaving The Master (Darla), and takes Spike to task for endangering "my women" (Fool For Love). He also overrules her in choosing to make Drusilla a vampire. However, it can be seen that while Angelus would do anything for Darla, she would gladly abandon him to save her own skin (The Trial), and that he has a great desire to please her. In short, Angelus rules the brood because Darla finds it useful to have a dynamic male to hit things for her, while she pulls his strings. As she herself puts it: "I always choose the stupid ones."
- The Master and Darla. Darla is her Sire's princess, his favourite (Angel). For whatever reason, The Master affords her a degree of slack in her brief screen life that his other servants do not enjoy. Nevertheless, Darla is clearly - and understandably - afraid of her Sire, and while he indulges her a little, there seems little question of her manipulating him as she does the likes of Angelus.
- The Master and Luke. Luke is The Master's doting priest and enforcer, and pretty much exists to serve (Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest). The Master never strikes Luke, or even raises his voice, yet the big vampire is clearly under his total dominion. The Master also makes little effort to hide his limitations and incapacity from Luke, even confiding his burning need to be free. This a long-established relationship, in which The Master feels sufficiently secure that violence and pretence is no longer required to assure the service of his enforcer.
- The Master and The Anointed One. The Master's attitude to Colin, the Anointed One, is pretty much that of a kindly tutor, or even a parent, to a child prodigy. It is perhaps most analogous, within the series, to the relationship which develops between Giles and Buffy.
- Vampire Xander and Willow. The dynamic between the dark versions of Buffy's closest friends (The Wish) is in many ways like that between Spike and Drusilla. They are close and affectionate, even loving, in a slightly twisted fashion, yet later revelations (Doppelgangland), suggest that Vampire Willow may not have been so devoted to Xander as she seemed; or at least, that with his loss she moved on with great rapidity.
- Spike and Harmony. Spike and Harmony's relationship is fairly abusive (The Harsh Light of Day), with Spike wielding the obvious power and treating Harmony with considerable contempt. In many ways, this is to be expected, since Spike is looking for a relationship which will make him feel stronger after Drusilla's rejection and Harmony is everything Drusilla is not: blonde, weak, clinging, and largely sane. On the other hand, the two women do share a fascination with minutiae - although for Drusilla the interest lies with things only she can see, and for Harmony with clothes - and in many ways Harmony's almost impervious self-absorption allows her a power in the relationship so long as Spike refrains from actually killing her.
- Darla and Drusilla. Darla is more clearly the dominant partner with Drusilla than with Angelus. While she allowed Angelus to be the dynamic one, with Drusilla she does most of the talking and makes all of the decision. Unlike both Spike and Angelus, she is also quick to ignore and put down Drusilla's ravings, failing to spot the occasional flashes of inspiration in her lunacy (Redefinition, Fool For Love).
Above the pairing, the basic vampire social units are the brood and the nest, and the two may be one and the same.
A vampire brood are the members of a particular bloodline who live, hunt and travel together; for example Darla, Angelus, Drusilla and Spike (Fool For Love). Typically, such a group would be led by the eldest in the line, who might be considered as Sire by the other members, whether literally so or not (School Hard). In the case of Darla's brood, she seems to have allowed Angelus to take the strong hand in keeping the 'children' in line. A vampire brood has a stronger bond than a nest of unrelated vamps. Each member of a brood, save the eldest, owes another for their transformation, and in return, the Sire presumably had some interest in or fondness for the one they turned. The members will also typically have been together for a while - many members will have been part of the group ever since their transformation - breeding familiarity, perhaps even loyalty, and a sense of unity.
A nest is a less familiar grouping of vampires who share a daytime haunt, solely for the sake of security and convenience (Superstar). The vampires who share a nest may or may not hunt together, and will typically be less loyal to each other than a true brood, sharing little more than a desire for safety in the daytime.
Neither a brood nor a nest will typically have more than half a dozen members, but some vampires - especially city vamps - may form larger packs, in order to control territory or organised criminal activities in the same fashion as mortal gangs (The Prodigal, Warzone). While a nest may have only a rudimentary pecking-order, a gang will almost invariably have a clear leader and a well-defined hierarchy. The leader will usually be the strongest vampire in the gang - or even a warrior demon such as Deevak (First Impressions) - and not necessarily the smartest. Those involved with organised crime may also co-opt humans into their structure, or in a cosmopolitan setting such as LA, other demons.
Larger still - at least in terms of vampire membership - are groups like those commanded by Spike, Drusilla and Angelus during their Sunnydale careers. Presumably drawing a significant early membership from the remnants of the Brethren of Aurelius, then recruiting hard to replace those Slain, these were organised and aggressive cartels under highly directed, goal-oriented leadership. The fear which Angelus commanded is clearly displayed by the fact that his servants were prepared to die rather than risk disobedience (Becoming). The scale of these cartels is in part due to the co-option of the existing Aurelian vampires, and in part to the large number of vampires congregating at the Hellmouth, but also to the fact that their leaders were more sophisticated than the average vampire gang boss. As well as strength, Angelus, Drusilla and Spike all have brains, enabling them to put together a better-ordered and more successful concern.
The Brethren of Aurelius themselves were presumably formed by the vampire seer Aurelius (Prophecy Girl) originally, and later fell under the command of The Master (Never Kill A Boy On the First Date). It seems likely that The Master was Aurelius's chosen successor - or his assassin - perhaps sired by Aurelius himself. It is also possible that 'The Master' is a title referring to the leader of the order (Darla), in which case the Master destroyed by Buffy may have been but one of many to have ruled down the years, and some generations removed from Aurelius himself.
However he came by this authority, The Master commanded the absolute obedience of the Brethren, through fear and devotion, and under his guidance they sought the destruction of the human world through the fulfilment of Aurelius prophecies, as laid down in the Pergamum Codex (Out of Mind, Out of Sight). Following The Master's destruction, the Brethren looked to The Anointed One to lead them. His coming being prophesied by Aurelius, and having been sponsored by the feared Master, The Anointed wielded power and influence beyond his years and diminutive stature, but plainly possessed no extraordinary abilities. The Anointed One was slain (School Hard), and the Brethren then fell under the secular control of Spike.
The Brethren represented one of the largest, and the oldest, vampire sects seen in the series. Such an organisation usually centres around the worship of the Old Ones or the Lower Beings, and most importantly requires a truly potent leader to hold it together, such as The Master, or Kakistos. Aside from the followers of these two vampire prophets, the demon Balthazar commanded the duellists of El Eliminati (Bad Girls) in a similar fashion.
In each case, the sect provides a highly structured and ritualised way of life, which helps to keep the egos of a large group of vampires in check. In addition, the leaders of the sect promote a spirit of competition among their followers, as a means of keeping the ambitions of the ordinary sect members directed at their peer, and not at the leader. In the case of El Eliminati, such a practice almost led to the cult duelling itself to destruction.
Richard Wilkens, the perpetual Mayor of Sunnydale, asembled a quite respectable private army of vampires, including several recruited from Angelus' organisation after the failed raising of Acathla robbed that concern of its leadership. The Mayor's group - like Angelus' - was run on essentially secular lines, with pragmatic - if mystical - concerns. He was also more than prepared to employ other demons, shamans, sorcerers and humans, as well as vampires, all depending on what he needed to get the job done. Like Mr Trick's Slayerfest (Homecoming), the Mayor's cabal was a practical, efficient organisation, informed by human adaptability instead of demonic dogma.
Willow: Isn't he gonna go poof?
Buffy: Hmm. I guess these guys don't. We'll have to bury him or something.
- The Wish
When a vampire is killed, its body explodes into dust, conveniently meaning that the Slayer does not usually have to spend time on body disposal; although she does have to worry about getting vamp-dust out of her hair, and there is always the slight risk of pneumonosilicosis (Intervention). The vampire's flesh, skin, hair, and clothes, dry out almost instantly, and fall from the skeleton, which then explodes with a fairly restrained force. Most flesh-bound demons do not do this however, begging the question, why only vampires?
In some mythoi, the vampire decays rapidly after destruction because its flesh catches up on missed decomposition. In Buffy however, even a vamp who has been dead less than a week becomes nothing more than dust. One possibility is that dusting is a consequence of the violent expulsion of the demonic spirit from its fleshly home. As no traces of their passing are seen, we must assume that the demon which infects the human body to make a vampire crosses directly from a hell-dimension to inhabit the body, and on death is either destroyed or returns there. If the demon is forced back to hell, then its sudden and violent departure from the flesh can be blamed for the body's sudden and drastic desiccation and detonation.
If, on the other hand, the demon is destroyed on the vampire's death, then we can build an alternative explanation. As the body dies around it, the demon attempts to flee, but is trapped within the corpse. It turns inwards, drawing all of the animating essences from the flesh, causing its desiccation, as it tries to hide within the bones. Unfortunately, the bones can not contain the essence, and explode. This explanation is to be preferred over the 'return to hell' scenario if we assume the vampire's demon to be an atavistic, animating principle, rather than a full-fledged infernal consciousness.
This would also provide us with an explanation for The Master's bones: at some stage, they have become so toughened - or have been made so by ritual magic - that on The Master's death they were able to house his essence safely, awaiting revivification by the correct ritual and sacrifice. An alternative might be to say that The Master was able to hide a part of his essence in those in close proximity to him, thus sparing his bones as he ripped free of the flesh, and explaining the need for those people as sacrifices. Likewise, Dracula's demon would presumably have fled to his special dirt.
As with the reflection, a vampire's clothing is considered a part of them for the purposes of dusting. We might then assume that the demonic essence 'infects' items in contact with the vampire. Likewise, a stake held in the body dusts along with the vampire. Some exceptions have been noted, such as the ring of the Aurelian vampire Slain by Buffy (Never Kill a Boy On the First Date), and the unusually long use-life of Mr Pointy (Becoming). In such cases, the object always has some emotional - and more importantly, narrative - significance, and the psychic energy thus invested in it may be assumed to stave off the corruption. In some cases, a demon might also use such an object - a ring or similar, rather than Mr Pointy - as a vessel for their essence, allowing the object to be used in their resurrection. This would almost always require some advance preparation of a ritual nature however.