To Shanshu and Back: An Angel Retrospective

For a special Throwback Thursday, a buddy and I rewatched the Angel series finale, “Not Fade Away.”

Afterwards we got on the topic of the Shanshu Prophecy. In the series, the word Shanshu itself means “to live” and “to die.” While the prophecy doesn’t specifically mention Angel, it states a vampire with a soul will at the end of his numerous trials, live as human once more.

Throughout the course of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, the prophecy served as Angel’s true north. The potential reward at journey’s end, it motivated him to stay the course as a champion for the innocent and the Powers That Be.


But Angel wasn’t the only vampire with a soul.

During the fifth and final season, Angel saw the arrival of fellow Sunnydale alum, Spike; Angel’s former protege and longtime foe. Needless to say, Spike vying as a champion of the Powers and a potential candidate for the prophecy, reignited a longstanding feud between William the Bloody and his sire. Angel’s chances of fulfilling the prophecy were seemingly doomed by the finale’s conclusion. Going undercover to infiltrate the Circle of the Black Thorn, a secretive powerful demon cabal who Earth’s agents of Wolfram & Hart. Angel was forced prove his allegiance and sign a mystical agreement which abdicated his rights to claim or fulfill the prophecy.


With the final scene showing Angel and his surviving allies racing through the alley to battle the armies of Hell, the series left quite a few unanswered questions.

My friend pondered on which ensouled vampire would ultimately fulfill the prophecy and receive their reward/redemption: Angel or Spike. I then pointed out that the Shanshu Prophecy had already been fulfilled back in season one by Angel.

In the season one episode, “I Will Remember You,” Angel temporarily became human after the blood of a defeated Mohra demon restored the vampire to life. Angel later meets with the Oracles and confirm, that the transformation was permanent and humanity was Angel’s fate.

However with only human strength, Angel realizes he’s powerless and a liability to the love of his life, Buffy, and his other loved ones, Angel appeals to the Oracles and reversed the previous 24 hours so he doesn’t become human. Angel (and by extension higher beings like the Powers) is the only one with any memories of the day he was human.


Nevertheless, the Shanshu Prophecy was fulfilled.

Angel had undergone more than a few numerous (and apocalyptic) trials when he resided in Sunnydale during the first three seasons of Buffy. Whether averting Armageddon or attempting to trigger it as evil soulless counterpart Angelus, during that three-year span the vampire with an angelic face was a key role in:

  • Stopping The Master’s Harvest
  • Reviving Buffy who had temporarily died after drowning. With succeeding slayer, Kendra, being activated this led to the existence of two slayers for the first time in history. 


  • Slaying The Master upon his escape from the Hellmouth.
  • Restoring his former protege, Drusilla to full health. The deranged psychic vamp would wreak havoc and trigger events that would alter the Buffyverse for years to come.
  • Unleashing the Judge.
  • Restoring Acathala.
  • Stopping the Sisterhood of the Jhe from opening the Hellmouth.
  • Defeating the Mayor and halting his ascension on Graduation Day.

That’s at least five Apocalypses alone in which Angel was a primary player.

My friend then pointed out that Angel didn’t learn about the prophecy until the season one finale which took place after Angel was temporarily made human.

Quoting the Master, I replied, “But prophecies are tricky creatures. They don’t tell you everything.”


When Angel learned of the Shanshu Prophecy and whether he fulfilled said prophecy before or after learning about it is irrelevant. When Angel became human in the first season, the Oracles confirmed it was his reward and both he and Buffy could have the life that had long been denied them. However while Angel had been absolved of his role as a champion, Buffy was still the Slayer and as the succeeding seasons of the two sister series revealed, the battles were forthcoming as were the gathering of the darkest of forces. Without another ally, such as Angel and his team, holding back the tide, Buffy’s fate and that of the world would be doomed. As champions, Buffy and Angel belonged to the world.


For years I’ve kept a lookout to see if creator Joss Whedon or anyone else came to the realization about the prophecy being fulfilled back in season one but I’ve yet to find anything. A recent Google search revealed that there are other fellow Whedonites who have pondered on this.

This isn’t to say that Angel will never find redemption, become human, or have a happy ending with Buffy. In fact quite the opposite. With the Shanshu Prophecy technically met, the contract Angel later signed relinquishing claim to said prophecy was null and void on arrival. Legally out-maneuvering Hell’s premiere law firm, is quite the masterstroke.

This ultimately means that anything can still happen.

Prophecies (Shanshu and otherwise) and cosmic plans were best summed up by Angel’s comrade and fellow champion, Charles Gunn:

J. August Richards 1973

The final score can’t be rigged. I don’t care how many players you grease, that last shot always comes up a question mark. But here’s the thing — you never know when you’re taking it. It could be when you’re duking it out with the Legion of Doom, or just crossing the street deciding where to have brunch. So you just treat it all like it was up to you — the world in the balance — ’cause you never know when it is.


5 thoughts on “To Shanshu and Back: An Angel Retrospective

  1. One of my favorite moments in Not Fade Away was Gunn’s conversation with Anne at the Halfway House, when he asked her what she’d do if she found that none it meant anything. Anne’s response (and at one time Angel’s) was, “When nothing you do matters, all that matters is what you do.”

  2. Saw this post and thought: Must read. I think the mystery of the Shanshu prophecy is best addressed in the fact that Angel decides he doesn’t care about it anymore. In the later seasons, he truly questions his motives in being a champion and comes full circle.
    Personally, I always wondered if Spike was more “worthy” because he chose to come back from evil and regain his soul. By contrast, Angel’s humanity was forced back upon him.
    Can you guess which team I’m on?

  3. if you want some answers and to just see further adventures of these characters the comics (called seasons) pick up right were the last seasons of the tv shows left off. they went on a little too long for my taste (im not one of those “it must never end” people) but at least season 8 and 9 of buffy and angel’s sixth season (as well as his angel and faith series) are really good

  4. In March it will be 20 years since Buffy first aired I keep thinking…”Almost 20 years already…jesus christ!”

    A cruel theme indeed that the world comes first over love. Buffy essentially told this to Robin Wood in the last season yes it was his mother he had every right to take revenge against Spike but Buffy didn’t have time for revenge she had a mission to complete.

    One of my favorite scenes from Angel in particular was the flashback to when Angel was first turned into a vampire by Darla. Angel in his human life while not a bad guy wanted a purpose, he wanted his father’s approval we all seek approval in life that’s part of what makes us human. His father being a hard man wanted his son to make something of himself but being the ardent Catholic man of his day he told his son he would never be something more than a womanizing sloth. At the end of the episode after Angelus kills his family, Darla cruelly dashes his victory by stating even though he was victorious over his father in minutes, his father was the winner of the fight because now he would never approve of him in a way who they were human in their human life contributes to the vampire they become in undeath.

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