Escher Everywhere You Look: Windows, Eyes, Heaven, Hell, Spirals and Symmetries in the Architectural Space of Angel

Escher Everywhere:

After a discussion of the nekkid, torture poses in Hell Bound which, when I stopped to analyze, envoked for me the individual tortured poses of the damned in Hieronymous Bosch, and a suggestion from DutchBuffy that one image in particular from Hell Bound reminded her of a picture of M.S. Escher, I went to do some of  investigating of Escher pictures of my own.

And presto! all of a sudden many references points became clear in the spatial and mental architecture of Angel, starting from Season 3: Tomorrow and moving through Seasons 4 and 5.

First of all, what is the relevance of MC Escher?  He is cited last year by Angel after his resurrection from the depths in Deep Down, written by none other than Steve DeKnight, also the writer and director of Hell Bound.


What you did to me - was unbelievable, Connor. - But then I got stuck in a hell dimension by my girlfriend one time for a hundred years, so three months under the ocean actually gave me perspective. Kind of a M. C. Esher perspective - but I did get time to think. About us, about the world. - Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. - It's harsh, and cruel. - But that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world was what it should be, to show it what it can be. - You're not a part of that yet. - I hope you will be. (Angel moves to stand in front of Connor) I love you, Connor. (Quietly, after a beat) Now get out of my house.

[editorial aside: Speaking of Champions, I had completely forgotten this line from Beneath You, which was foreshadowing:

BUFFY to Spike:
Since when did you become the champion of the people?]

Now "kind of a M.C. Escher perspective." Well I noted it at the time. Sounded da-dum "important," like I should pay attention. And there were some interesting posts about it on ATP, I remember. Glanced at the encapsulated pictures. But it didn't much penetrate, have to confess.  But of course, that was before the season had unrolled.

Now I am convinced that ever since Tomorrow, really, that perspective has been ruling the presentation of the director's vision of Angel's world, the way the directors show us Angel's world interpreted onscreen, the way we see it visually.

In re-viewing last year's episode on TNT, recently, I've come to the realize that the episodes form a spiral, the end of the season arcs or spirals back to inform the beginning which reflects on the ending.  An ouroborous swallowing his own tale.

Images of spherical shapes are plentiful in Escher's work.


Spher Spirals 1958,                                                    Encounter
woodcut in grey,                                                                 1944
black, yellow and  pink                                              Lithograph

Note, too, the rolling, mountain road that Angel spirals in Home as he drives to Connor's new home, a spiral path, because Angel has traversed this road before, endlessly circling around his own fate, the closed circle of his past from which he cannot get free no matter what he does.

Home from
Written and Directed by Tim Minear

          from The Prodigal by Tim Minear

       DARLA: This contest is ended, is it?

       ANGELUS: (surrounded by Liam's dead family) Now Iíve won.

       DARLA: Are you sure?

       ANGELUS: Of course. I proved who had the power here.

       DARLA: You think?

       ANGELUS: What?

       DARLA: Your victory over him took but moments.

       ANGELUS: Yes?

       DARLA: But his defeat of you will last life times.

       ANGELUS: What are you talking about? He canít defeat me now.

       DARLA: Nor can he ever approve of you... in this world or any other. What we once were
       informs all that we have become. The same love will infect our hearts, even if they no longer
       beat. Simple death wonít change that.

       ANGELUS: (looking a little distraught) Love? Is this the work of love?

       DARLA: (smiling) Darling boy. So young. Still so very young.

Angel killing his son in order to save his son.  Love?  Is this the work of love?  Or just the dragon biting his own psychological and karmic tale endlessly.  How, now, can Angel be sure?

This rolling spiral, also, btw, provides a framework for understanding, why, when Spike says at the end of Chosen, "I want to see how it ends," that seems to damn him to the mirror world of Angel -- no end and no beginning, but lots of spinning and reversals, the spiraling world of Angel. Last year, in Chosen, he was at his pinnacle, being the most effective he could positively be through use of the amulet. That moment brought him to his least effective state ever. They are utterly linked -- on a closed chain, like a closed circle of black and white -- literally because the amulet on its chain is responsible for both, the harrowing of hell and his importation as not quite a ghost to W&H.

And Joss in his interviews mentioned that he as he was working on Chosen, he was simultaneously working on the way to bring Spike back in Conviction. He chose the closed chain of the amulet as his method.

[Speaking of which, the connection to the amulet on a chain in The Wish does make one wonder.]

This year, so far, I keep on feeling that we are in the mirror world from the one we were in last year. As it turns out, that theme, vertical mirror worlds, dominates many of Escher's pictures, but here is one image in particular. Straight to the point.  Two vertical worlds, black and white, the black in the white, the white in the black.

entitled Two Worlds


macha recently wrote a fascinating post stressing the importance of symmetry to the verse and how it is all related to string theory:

the vibration of strings in ten-dimensional space, however, because of the accumulation of symmetry, is transformative: the string transforms, "into gravity and daisies and stars and nerve cells and radioactive atoms", and yet remains the same. and isn't that just Spike all over?

...supersymmetry has to do with spin. it's used as a tool, a language, in studying symmetry. Fred, remember, made a significant contribution to supersymmetry theory: fruit of spending five years in Pylea, perhaps. what it does, it answers identity questions by identifying the unique nature of the object. unique, Fred called our boy.

...and the eleventh M dimension which is named for Mystery or Magic or for the Mother. and there it is, third aspect now moving towards him, called by that last unfolding, DNA mirror images that sing to one another a song of harmony that only stars and perhaps Drusilla could ever hear. harmonics that combine, descant descending, to make everything that is. symmetry that transforms into gravity and crocuses and moons and blood, nerve endings, radioactive atoms, and yet still remains itself, essence that meets existence and remains the same.    (this last partial paragraph excerpted from descant descending.)

not-ghost, F-theory, unique properties & transformation in the 12th dimension: some working notes on theoretical physics
- macha, tea at the ford,10/25/03


And symmetry is another theme that simply dominates Escher's work. How is this for DNA mirror images that sing to one another a song of harmony:

Titled Moebius strips

Not to mention the fact that, as subject and protagonist, hero and villain, Angel/Angelus provides the best symmetry of all. That is something that BTVS never had, frex. Such a clean division between the black and the white, and then the white in the black and the black in the white, just as we find in the image ofTwo Worlds, above.

But symmetry has been an image consciously pursued in the Angelverse since Tomorrow, with the parallel ascension of Cordelia to heaven, as Angel descended to the ocean floor.


Images from Tomorrow, written and directed by David Greenwalt:

Paradise and Hell
Hieronymous Bosch

somewhere in sands of the desert
 A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
 A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
 Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
 Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
 The darkness drops again; but now I know
 That twenty centuries of stony sleep
 Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

If Angel ever succeeds in integrating himself more fully, will this intense, Escherian symmetry be mitigated in his perspective of the world?  How much of what he sees, the way he frames reality, is merely a projection from the chasm of difference existing within himself?

[More on ascending and descending later.]

The Eye is the Window on the World

The penultimate shot of Hellbound shows Pavayne, locked in his box, just like Angel was locked in his at the bottom of the sea in Tomorrow.  It makes a fairly riveting impression. Steve DeKnight makes use of this image in Deep Down as a site of Angel's hallucinations that each contain germs of future truths. His visions were all internalized, leading back to the central truth of Angelus inside him, at his heart, inescapable, performing horrors, the black, ineradicable within.

And the last shot we have of Pavayne, in Hell Bound is a tight focus on his right eye, and then the narrow corridor he will see for the eternity Angel intends.

[btw, anyone else wonder how they would feed him, and have him excrete and etc, while he lives for eternity? It didn't make much sense, for a human.]

But then I realized that this was not the first time we had seen that tight focus on the right eye.

Description of the scene in Ground State, from

Zoom in on Cordelia's face, bathed in soft blue-white light. Zoom in closer on her right eye. Zoom in further to show that she is watching over her friends at Angel Investigations, as though she has a view from a satellite. Zoom closer and closer to the Los Angeles landscape, to the hotel.

Cordelia's face, [Ideally the shot I wanted was just her right eye but can't find it available]:

Pavayne's right eye from Vrya's screencaps:

from Vrya's screencaps, tea at the ford

Now Escherís version of a right eye.  His has a death's head inside the pupil with the right eye of the skull more illuminated than the left.  Death in life, black and white succeeding each other in a circle.

It is also the view we have from the right eye that presents thematic symmetries.

In Home, by Tim Minear, before the bargain with W&H has been struck, the AI team is looking for Connor and Cordy:

We work outward in an ever-expanding perimeter.

Ever-expanding perimeter? That won't take weeks.

[thanks to macha for reminding me of this line]

But now we live in another time, the dark mirror world, after the deal is struck.  And Angel's ever-expanding perimeter's of hope to make his world okay, and his loved ones, has been reduced to a dark, narrow, echoing hallway.

In Hell Bound, 5.4, Pavayne is the stand in for Angel, Angel's mirror self. He is from the same period, and a murderer and despoiler of bodies.  They both cross reference with The Dark Soul and both are morally bound to hell. Pavayne is feeding other souls to hell to keep himself free. Angel, symmetrically, keeps on trying to rescue other souls, in part, as a way to save himself, to redeem himself, to keep himself from hell.  And for the big shanshu package at the end.  He'll turn human.  So between them they have the same goal, different modus.  Well Pavayne does turn human, as Angel has not yet, gets his own special dark shanshu, and Angel uses it as a way to damn him to a living hell, imprisoned for life, eternally, live forever,as his son once imprisoned him deep under the sea.

This last shot in Hell Bound shows us Pavayne's view of his future "narrowing circle," a pendulum swung around its widening gyre, now ceased, at rest.  His sole view is a long straight hallway leading on to nowhere:

     from Vrya's screencaps, tea at the ford

No. No, Angel. There are no absolutes. No right and wrong. Haven't you learned anything working for the Powers? There are only choices. I offered paradise. You chose this!

Because I could. Because that's what you took away from us. Choice.

And look what free will has gotten you.

Hey, I didn't say we were smart. I said it's our right. It's what makes us human.

The price was too high, Jasmine. Our fate has to be our own, or we're nothing.

From Peace Out, by David Fury:

From The Wish, by Marti Noxon:

Anyanka:  This is the world we made. Isn't it wonderful?

And this long, dark hallway is the fate Angel has chosen.  This narrow shot echoes the narrowness of Angel's world in Deep Down before his rescue. Thematically, it also echoes the narrowness of Cordelia's: "God, I am so bored," at the end of Deep Down. An uninterpretable emotion at the time. In retrospect, it only becomes clear that she was in a holding pattern, waiting to foist her narrow, narcissistic vision onto the world she had formerly wanted to help. Somehow elevation only brought her back lower than her beginning. And so the slog continues, up, down, around, inescapable. Only a coma or death or magical sacrifice can take one out of this closed, Escherian world.

From Deep Down by Steve DeKnight,


Escher:  Sky and Water


From Deep Down by Steve DeKnight,

Somehow existing at the bottom of the sea, deep down, with an enforced narrow vision made Angel want to help himself, his loved ones, the world. This year, existing at the top of the world in payment for his services and at a great price, has made him nonchalant and disinterested and utterly narrow of vision. He is like Cordy, who could see the whole world from her view above the world, but chose not to, chose to see herself over and over.


From Hell Bound by Steve DeKnight

And the hair and the cheeks andó What do you think I am, stupid? I know he's been playing me with the looks and the smiles. I'm not some idiot schoolgirl with a crush.

Then what is it?

It's about doing what's right. Remember?

Your department. Your call. Just don't be disappointed if it doesn't work. Some people can't be saved.

Angel's world is reduced to a dark, narrow, echoing hallway.  Ever narrowing perimeters, not expanding ones, a pendulum moving towards rest.  But not at peace.

Can -- can we rest now?  Buffy...can we rest?

From Beneath You, by Doug Petrie and Joss Whedon

Spike, now, is at the bottom of this world, beneath you, beneath Angel, and he knows it, too.  He's uncomfortable with Angel's perch and has said as much twice in three episodes.  This seems to be hopeful for him, unless he, too, gets involved in this symmetrical worldbuilding without finding a way out.

But as a mirror for Angel this year, I'm thinking Pavayne might re-surface. [g]


Now I've mentioned several times that I've had the feeling that with all the hall shots in Angel this year, where the corridors go on and on and don't seem to lead anywhere at all -- just up, down, up is down, down is up. In Hell Bound, Spike flies from from basement to penthouse all seemingly random and vice versa. Seems like a labyrinth to me. But it also seems to the ME staff, like an Escher perspective, which is more or less a labyrinth.


The first image is entitled Relativity, the second, Ascending and Descending. In the image, Ascending it is notable that "though you are ascending" the only outlet is down. Deep Down, Deep In, downward.


Note that in the picture from Conviction, the man on the stairs is heading down the steps, just like in the Escher.

Cordelia ascended and that led her straight down to trying to cause hell on earth. The only "out"let is down. Cordelia has only gotten out -- temporarily reprieved -- by falling into a coma. Now Angel has a similar bird's eye vision of the world as Cordy once had, not quite as lofty, but high and removed. The symmetrical opposite of his view Deep Down in the ocean.  As Spike has reminded us, twice so far, he lives on top of the world, where the air is rarefied, looking down on everyone. Sounds a lot like the air-space Cordy was occupying at the beginning of Season 4. And note, Spike says wtte that he, himself, belongs in the basement. But whereas in "Ascending," the guys on top are just going round and round, at least on the bottom there is an outlet. We'll yet see if that is good or bad, an outlet by coma, or some other way.  Spike thought he would have an ending last year, but it only brought him back to the slog. Maybe he'll find an out this year, but I doubt it, if the show is going to go on. More likely, it will just mirror around.

Right now, Angel is starting on top and Spike on the bottom, and if there is a next season, it might do a symmetrical reverse. But they'll both still be caught by the centrifugal pull.

In Groundstate, the vision moves from Cordelia's face, to her eye, into her eye into a symmetrical picture of LA, all abstract and gridlike and symmetrical, before dissolving into unique elements. The one I have here, from, is not the most abstract shot they show us, but hey, it is what they had at the site. In any case, one can still feel a symmetricality that is similar to the effect in many of Escher's abstract works, with the eye pulled into the center:


Or examine this shot, arranged around a central line, which also pulls the eye in:

from Vrya's screencaps, tea at the ford

[Editorial aside: What an irony, btw, to find that Cordelia is saving Angel's special destiny in the House Always Wins, because only thus, can her plan to bring Jasmine prevail. And that is the selfish reason for her hawk-like regard of her friends in these early scenes.]

The Tortures of the Hell Bound

As for the naked scenes in Hell Bound -- they were meant not to tittilate, but to portray the tortures of those slowly and inevitably being dragged down to hell. There were many such paintings in the renaissance period, but it seemed to me we were getting a Boschian perspective in those scenes:

Hieronymous Bosch, titled: Last Judgement

The vision of this universe is extremely vertical, similar to the layered verticality of ATS since Tomorrow. And in Bosch's world, only the saved and the saints are clothed, not the damned, who are stripped of clothing and dignity, the way they will exist for eternity.

De Quator Hominum Novissimis by Denis the Carthusian

Let us imagine a white-hot oven, and in this oven a naked man, never to be released from
such torment. Does not the mere sight of it appear insupportable? How miserable this
man would seem to us! Let us think how he would sprawl in the oven, how he would yell
and roar: in short how he would live, and what would be his agony and his sorrow when he understood that this unbearable punishment was never to end.

Turns out, though, that Escher has a painting of Hell influenced by Bosch as well:

Titled: Hell, copy after Hieronymus Bosch 1935 Lithograph.

So even these Boschian poses can be understood filtered through Escher.

And here are two of the poses of Spike in Hell in the basement of W&H that originally gave me the impression in Hell Bound of the naked, writhing damned on their way to Hell,and thus, the idea of looking at Bosch as inspiration for this image.  Pavayne, as a son of the 18th century would know these images well, and so would Angel, whose mirror Pavayne is and whose Escherian perspective on the world we are still seeing in the season, the mirror of the one before: three months under the ocean actually gave me perspective. Kind of a M. C. Esher perspective.  And Angel believes in his suffering, believes he deserves to suffer this way.

And naked and feral did he drop to earth from Hell in Season 2.


From Alanna's screen caps.

Well you knew there had to be a payoff , didn't you, for slogging through all this. [g]

And now that I have spiralled around.  The end is my beginning... uh, quite literally since this is where the um, inspiration for all this came about...

And on that note, what more could I possibly say...