Darla
In the beginning, there was Darla...literally. When the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Welcome to the Hellmouth) aired on March 10, 1997, Darla was the first character to appear onscreen. Though quite different and rather short-lived in her early Buffy appearances, Darla would later be resurrected (by Wolfram & Hart at the end of Angel's first season) and developed into a full-fledged, fascinating character. Here's a recap of the life (uh, lives...un-lives...you get it :)) of the always-surprising Darla:

Her history as we know it begins in 1609 in the Virginia colony. In her first go-round as a human, with a name long since forgotten, she lies dying of syphilis (apparently a "work-related" hazard given her career as a prostitute) when the Master appears to save her from death by making her into a vampire.

We see her next a hundred-odd years later, in 1753, when she spies young Liam in Galway, Ireland, and decides to make him her mate. The vampire pair of Darla and Angelus rivals Bonnie and Clyde with the bloody path they forge together...killing and living the high life around the globe, avoiding those who hunt them down (like vampire hunter Daniel Holtz, whose family they massacred), adding others to their "family" (like the insane Drusilla, who sires Spike to complete their Fanged Four unit). Passionate but ruthless, they do not hesitate to betray one another when the situation warrants -- to escape the clutches of Holtz in France (1765), Darla knocks Angelus flat with a shovel, wishes him well and then rides off into the night on their only horse. Returning the favor, he gladly informs Holtz of the whereabouts of both Darla and Elisabeth (enraging the besotted James) in Marseilles, 1767.

Their whirlwind of lusty violence ends after Darla's "gift" of a young gypsy girl to Angelus (Romania, 1898) has unforeseen consequences. When she is murdered, the girl's gypsy clan curses Angelus with a soul, and upon learning of this, Darla is repulsed and throws him out (though she does then make an unsuccessful attempt to convince the girl's father to remove the "filthy soul" so that her boy might return to her). It would seem that she continues on with Dru and Spike, while Angel wanders in misery, overwhelmed by the weight of his new soul. Two years later, Angel tracks Darla down in China and pleads with her to take him back, claiming that they can have the whirlwind back and that he can be Angelus again. But their reunion is short-lived. Try as he might, Angel is no longer able to murder indiscriminately. Darla quickly becomes suspicious and demands that he prove himself once and for all, presenting him with an innocent baby to kill. He cannot take the child's life, so he rescues it and disappears into the night, ending the relationship with Darla...at least for a time.

At some point after that, Darla returns to the Master, who she had abandoned to roam the world with Angelus. She is with him in Sunnydale, when he attempts to free himself from underground (he was trapped there for about sixty years, after attempting to open the Hellmouth and getting stuck in an earthquake) via The Harvest. Buffy foils the Master's Harvest plans, and he is left to continue plotting. To help him, Darla tries to trick Angel into killing Buffy. Unfortunately for her, evil plans go awry yet again and she winds up being staked by her former lover.

As dust she remains for several years, until the law firm of Wolfram & Hart in Los Angeles decides to resurrect her as part of a plan to drive Angel into darkness. She returns as human, and has some fun tormenting her darling boy until she discovers that she is dying -- again. The syphilitic heart condition which nearly killed her in original human form is back, and there is no cure. Angel attempts to win a second chance at life for her from the fickle Powers That Be, but after he endures and emerges victorious from a set a grueling trials, he and Darla are told that she has already been given new life once before and can't be helped again. Facing this verdict, Darla is able to make her peace with the human death that awaits her...but Wolfram & Hart has other plans, bringing Drusilla in to "revamp" Darla as Angel is forced to watch helplessly.

Freshly vamped and freed of a human soul, Darla embarks on a spree of murder and mayhem with Drusilla. Angel prepares to kill his sire and childe, but isn't quite able to finish the task. He *does* manage to set the pair on fire, wounding them badly. Darla recuperates at Lindsey McDonald's, taking advantage of his feelings for her. Angel and Darla battle again to obtain the powerful ring of a Kleynach demon (a Wolfram & Hart senior partner, in town for the firm's 75-year review). Angel ends up with the ring, which allows him to visit the firm's home office...but he is shocked to find that the home office is the world around him, that the firm is fueled by the evil inside each and every person. Feeling empty and without purpose, he returns home to find Darla and takes cold comfort (uh, three servings of it!) in bed with her. And although he doesn't experience a moment of true happiness during their roll in the hay, he apparently does have a moment of clarity. After thanking her for saving him, he boots her out and Darla disappears into the mists again.

But the surprises in Darla's story are not quite finished. We see her again about eight months later in Nicaragua, hugely pregnant with Angel's offspring. She visits "every shaman and seer in the Western Hemisphere" to try to find out what she's carrying, to no avail. Eventually she returns to Daddy in Los Angeles, who is shocked to see his old flame turn up in the family way. They discover that she is carrying a human child, even though it would seem impossible. And a further unexpected twist is that Darla falls in love with her own child -- the soul of the baby inside her making her capable of feeling love for the first time in her 400+ year history. In a stunning end to that history, Darla stakes herself while in labor...sacrificing her own life so that her son can begin his. The character appeared in ghostly apparition form in Season Four, to try to provide guidance for her now-grown son, Connor. Sincere thanks to the wonderful Julie Benz, who portrayed her so marvelously over the years!

- Vanessa