I and everyone else always natter on about the Fanged Four but lately I have been thinking a fair bit about the other Aurelian – the one nobody ever has a good word about. The Master.
Okay, so the standard fan convention (fanvention? fandard?) is simple enough:
- He’s known as the fruit bat.
- He’s obsessed with tradition and ritual.
- He doesn’t get out much, normally lurking in a cave or a sewer for the duration of his scenes.
- Darla still rushed home to Daddy whenever possible.
- Angelus can’t stand him or he stand Angelus.
- Spike and Dru have either never met him or if they did they weren’t impressed, nor was he impressed with them.
- Despite this mutual dislike he has raped just about everyone within reach, normally being the only male anyone allows to have buggered Angelus.
Like most fanon three quarters of this is pure fantasy and most of the rest strikes me as bollocks. So I felt it was high time I tried to sum up my thoughts about the Master, what we know and what we can infer, and see if anything informative emerges.
The Master is problematical. He was the first Big Bad and yet we know very little about him. Personally I don’t even know if one should capitalise ’The’ in ’The Master’. Having read and re-read Fowler about a dozen times I am still uncertain. On the whole I don’t, if this annoys you and you have evidence to the contrary please do feel free to be miffed. Mind you, I am pleased to note that in Destiny Angelus was dropping the definite article altogether.
- The Master is as old as any vampire on record. There’s no telling how powerful he’ll be if he reaches the surface.
The Master was, according to Joss Whedon, who should know, originally one Joseph Heinrich Nest, ’The most powerful of vampires’ and roughly 600 years old. This apparently comes from a note in the script of the pilot, it was never mentioned on screen (The Watcher’s Guide, Vol. I). That means he was turned in about 1400 which does make him a bit older than the first known date for Dracula (c.1580) the next oldest vamp for whom we have a date. (Kakistos in Faith, Hope and Trick was so old his hands and feet were cloven but we don’t know how old that was.) We know nothing else about the Master’s origins or who his sire was. The only other thing we know is that he commands the Order of Aurelius and Aurelius wrote his prophecies in the twelfth century (Never Kill A Boy On The First Date). It is thus possible that Jo Nest knew Aurelius personally and may even have been sired by him.
The earliest time we see the Master is in 1609, in Virginia Colony, America, when he sired Darla. He was roughly 200 then and already had the full bat face. Bear in mind that at nearly 400 Darla was still fully human out of game-face and at c.420 or older Dracula was only showing a hint of long fang when otherwise in human guise. The Master with his pointed ears and extremely pronounced ridges and white skin is thus clearly something a bit special. The only other vamp who resembles him is the Prince of Lies (Why We Fight), though it is worth remarking on the similarity between him and the Ubervamps of season 7. The only explanation we ever got for the Master’s appearance was supplied by Darla in 1760:
the Master is centuries old. He has grown past the curse of human features. (Darla) which is all very well as far as it goes but in fact he was only 360ish at that stage. There is also no actual proof that he couldn’t drop his vamp face – it might just have been a polite fiction to impress the fledges and minions. Vamp face clearly has some importance to the Order of Aurelius. Darla describes human features as a curse, and it is noticeable that every single vamp keeps in vamp face around the Master except for Colin and Darla (his favoured ’children’) and Angelus who is being rude. Even Spike wears his vamp face when he is playing nice with the boys of the Order. If you are wondering what the Master looked like in human face here is a picture:
or what the Master would look like out of game-face.
The Order of Aurelius is ’a very old and venerated sect’ and when Darla takes Angelus to meet the Master in 1760 it is implied that as it is ’our order’ everyone in the room is a member, quite possibly including Angelus. It is never specifically said that the order is related to the bloodline but it does seem implied, which perhaps explains why Spike was able to fit in so easily in School Hard.
The Master maintains a pretty strict discipline amongst his followers. As well as the apparent rule about game-faces we know that one vampire who displeased the Master cut off his own hand in penance (Teacher’s Pet), the Master himself poked Colin’s eye out for disobedience (not the Annointed, a different minion – the Master clearly liked the name), while the Three were executed by Darla after failing to kill Buffy. The Three knelt to receive their punishment.
- The Three
- We failed in our duty, and now our lives belong to you.
Which is very reminiscent of Spike kneeling to the Annointed after his own mistake:
- I, uh… I offer penance.
- Penance?! You should lay down your life!
One can only wonder if Spike was expecting to have to chop off his hand. It gives added incentive to kill the boss if you’ve cocked up.
However, just as interesting and sadly absent from the fanon cliché is the Master’s more affectionate and even ethical side. The first thing to note is that of all vamps it is the Master who uses the most familial terms:
- Zachary was strong, and he was careful. And still the Slayer takes him. As she has taken so many of my family.
- Don’t think I’m not grateful, you letting me kill the Three.
- How can my children learn if I do everything for them?
- But you’ve gotta let me take care of the Slayer.
- Oh! You’re giving me orders now!
- Okay, then, we’ll just do nothing while she takes us out one by one.
- Do I sense a plan, Darla? Share…
- Angel kills her and comes back to the fold.
- Angel! He was the most vicious creature I ever met. I miss him.
- So do I.
- Why would he kill her if he feels for her?
- To keep her from killing him.
- Hmm. to Collin You see how we all work together for the common good? That’s how a family is supposed to function!
This whole exchange is fascinating. Firstly there is the clear understanding that they are a family, and that includes Angel who both Darla and the Master want back rather than just dead. There is also the interesting fact that Darla can at least to some extent be cheeky. She can’t always do this (c.f. her cringing when she tasted the kill she had brought home for the Master and he took exception (The Harvest)) But as his acknowledged favourite she can get away with some things. She is also forgiven for leaving with Angelus in 1760 since by 1880 she is back visiting him and Angelus describes her as ’Master’s pet’.
Angelus himself was clearly also forgiven at some stage since the Master spoke so well of him
- Angel! He was the most vicious creature I ever met. I miss him. … He was to have sat at my right hand, come the day.
That it was planned for Angelus to have some senior role following the Master’s ascension seems an acknowledged thing.
- There was a time when we shared everything, wasn’t there Angelus? You had a chance to come home, to rule with me in the Master’s court for a thousand years, but you threw that away because of her.
In fact the only member of his family who the Master possibly didn’t think well of is Spike, since through the medium of the First he was less than praising:
- The next few months are going to be quite a ride. And I think we’re all going to learn something about ourselves in the process. You’ll learn you’re a pathetic schmuck, if it hasn’t sunk in already. Look at you. Trying to do what’s right, just like her.
But then Spike had just let the side down by getting a soul. It does imply they had at least met.
There is another interesting example of the Master’s attitude to vampire relations:
- Pay attention, child. You are the Anointed, and there is much you must learn. With power comes responsibility. True, they did fail, but also true, we who walk at night share a common bond. The taking of a life – I’m not talking about humans, of course – is a serious matter.
In other words the Master clearly expects the vampires to follow an ethical code – they don’t kill their own kind lightly. This contrasts with the casual killing of minions we have seen other master vamps practice (for example Spike and Dru allowing the judge to kill Dalton, or the master of the gang who killed Gunn’s sister.)
His family and the order then seem to be two of the main focuses of the Master’s life. The Order seems concerned mainly with a religious worship of the Old Ones, that is the pure demons that in Jossverse mythology once inhabited the earth but were forced to leave. This religion requires chanting and seems to have prophecies, many of which concern the Master himself and how his ascension will herald the return of the Old Ones.
- ’And like a plague of boils, the race of man covered the Earth. But on the third day of the newest light would come the Harvest. And the blood of men will flow as wine. When the Master will walk among them once more! The Earth will belong to the old ones. And Hell itself will come to town. Amen!’
Mind you, in The Wish we saw the world post this ascension and there wasn’t much evidence of the Old Ones, which only goes to show you can’t trust evil vampire scripture.
Incidentally, Spike seems to know some of this since he has heard of the Annointed.
- You’re that Anointed guy. I read about you.
This adds weight to the theory that Spike is a member of the Order since he seems familiar with the writings of Aurelius.
Speaking of ancient prophecies, it is a bizarre fact that Angel can very readily lay his hands on the Pergamum Codex.
- What can I do for you?
- I know you’ve been researching the Master.
- Yes, the vampire king. I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about him for the day that Buffy must face him.
- Something’s already in motion, something big, but I don’t know what. You’ve read all the Slayer lore there is, right?
- I-I’ve studied all the extant volumes, of course. But the, uh, most salient books of Slayer prophecy have been lost. The Tiberius Manifesto, the Pergamum Codex…
- The Codex?
- It’s reputed to have contained the most complete prophecies about the Slayer’s role in the end years. Unfortunately, the book was lost in the 15th century.
- Not lost. Misplaced. I can get it.
Have the Aurelians had the Watcher’s prophecy books all along? And did Angel end up keeping them, perhaps having obtained them originally through his or Darla’s favoured position with the Master? The mind boggles.
:: sips mug of coffee while mind boggles ::
Where was I?
So much for the ancient tradition side of the master’s personality. What though are less commonly remarked upon are his more up-to-date aspects.
- Yes! Yes! Shake, Earth! This is a sign! We are in the final days! My time has come! Glory! Glory!
- The Master looks over at Collin.
- Whadaya think? 5.1?
Okay so this is a guy who has spent sixty years stuck underground yet he’s still thinking in terms of the Richter scale. That is not someone who is nothing but hide-bound tradition.
But what about the living in the sewers thing. In Buffy the Master does indeed live underground but this is specifically stated as being because he has been trapped there – he tried to open the Hellmouth, got it wrong or was foiled by an earthquake, and has been trapped like a cork in a bottle in the ruins of a church which is underneath the High-school library. But at this point nothing implies he likes living underground. Indeed he moans and bitches about it quite often.
- When this night’s work is done, I will have a mighty ally. I’ll be one step closer to freeing myself from this… mystical prison. I’ve been trapped down here so long I’ve nearly forgotten what it’s like on the surface. Well, there’ll be time enough to remember – when I rule it!
He is looking forward to his ascension and in The Wish we see him living above ground from choice. In Darla of course he is hunting above ground. (Not many sewers in Virginia.) So the only time we have him living underground apparently by choice is in London, 1760
- We live below, giving tribute to the old ones. Awaiting that promised day when we will arise – Arise! – and lay waste to the world above us. … We stalk the surface to feed and grow our ranks. We do not live amongst the human pestilence!
So what he objects to is not the surface per-se but living among humans. This seems echoed in Darla’s disgust with Angel for being in love with ’one of them’.
- You’re living above ground, like one of them. You and your new friend are attacking us, like one of them. But guess what, precious? You’re not one of them.
The master then clearly dislikes the notion of getting too close to the humans, something which Angelus himself of course delights in. I find it hard therefore to imagine the Master enjoying or tolerating the sort of drawn out hunting and torturing that Angelus favoured. Indeed food generally seems fairly uninteresting to him.
- I’ve lost my appetite for this one. She keeps looking at me. I’m trying to eat, and she looks at me.
- (…after Willow has eaten the girl instead…)
- I remember that lust for the kill.
- Vampires, come! Behold the technical wonder, which is about to alter the very fabric of our society. Some have argued that such an advancement goes against our nature. They claim that death is our art. I say to them… Well, I don’t say anything to them because I kill them. Undeniably we are the world’s superior race. Yet we have always been too parochial, too bound by the mindless routine of the predator. Hunt and kill, hunt and kill. Titillating? Yes. Practical? Hardly. Meanwhile, the humans, with their plebeian minds, have brought us a truly demonic concept – mass production!
They claim that death is our art: if that isn’t a crack against Angelus with his
A real kill. A good kill. It takes pure artistry. I don’t know what is. Indeed for the one who was to sit by his right hand Angelus and the master do seem to disagree on some quite fundamental aspects of what is involved in being a vampire.
- It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.
Contrast this with the Master instructing Collin:
- Fear is a wonderful thing. It is the most powerful force in the human world. Not love, not hate… Fear! When you were a mortal boy, what did you fear?
- Ooo. We are defined by the things we fear. goes to the large cross This symbol, these two planks of wood, it confounds me. Suffuses me with mortal dread. But fear is in the mind. puts his hand on the cross and holds on while it burns Like pain. It can be controlled. If I can face my fear, it cannot master me.
While Angelus relishes the passions and the fear they can stir up in his prey the Master seems far more to care for control – he wants power and he seems to accept that control over himself is an important part of that. The fact that he tolerates and forgives Angelus and Darla despite their different views seem to show just what a tolerant guy he is.
In fact the more I research him the more I’m getting fond of the old bat.
Her cracks jokes. He’s snarky and funny. He sings. He isn’t hidebound at all but looking for new ways to dominate the world – the factory is hardly something dreamt up by someone who is obsessed with nothing but tradition. It is forward looking.
He is a vampire, and not a pretty one, and his ambitions seem to be for power and total dominion, to which end he will indeed utilise tradition and the most religious aspect of vamp society that we have seen. But I think he sees the tradition and the need to keep his followers away from humans as tools, not things he wants for their own ends but means to make the Order of Aurelius and thus himself stronger. After all, it can’t be said that Angelus and Darla’s more integrated approach led to anything but trouble.
Meanwhile Jo Nest keeps going for hundreds of years working towards his ascension and the return of the Old Ones, and he keeps up-to-date while he is at it. His clothes and language alone show how much he is aware of the human world. I think the guy is actually something of a geek. Sure, he is knowledgeable about ancient prophecies, but he can also get all excited about the workings of his blood-sucking machine. I can imagine him in the past having enthused about cannon, steam engines, or cars as much as Spike and Angel ever do.
I think if he was just good looking we’d all adore him. He drinks espresso for God’s sake. What’s not to like about this guy?
- Welcome to the future.