Mystical pregnancy in Angel and Torchwood

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Screenshot from TorchwoodIn both the Angel episode "Expecting" and the Torchwood episode "Something Borrowed," main characters wake up 8 1/2 months pregnant after a night out drinking with friends. In "Something Borrowed," Gwen is bitten on the arm by a carnivorous shape-shifting alien she and her partner are hunting. That bite transfers eggs to her bloodstream which move to her uterus and begin to grow—quickly. Though the alien who bites Gwen is killed, its mate tracks down Gwen, intending to tear the eggs from her when they are mature. Oh, by the way, this is all happening on Gwen's wedding day.

screenshot from AngelIn "Expecting," the demon womb invasion happens via traditional human sex; the demon uses human males (who are in on the plot) as vehicles to impregnate human women. After sex with the man she is dating, Cordelia wakes up with seven little demons in her uterus. This also happens to the friends she was out with the night before and several other women.

Gwen is allowed more agency than Cordelia throughout the respective episode, though this would be true in many episodes of the shows. Cordelia's pregnancy is also a vehicle for the demon "father" to control both her mind and her body through a "psychic umbilical cord," while Gwen retains control. The solution to each pregnancy is to destroy the alien or demon who caused it. While Cordelia (under the mental influence of the demon) waits passive in a white gown while her two co-workers kill the demon, she does get to play a small part in its destruction: once it has been frozen to death with liquid nitrogen, she swings the pulley that smashes it to bits. Gwen devises a plan to kill the demon (using her wedding bouquet to conceal a gun) but the demon doesn't die. In the end, her male boss kills it and her husband destroys the eggs.

"Expecting" plays on "body horror" much more than "Something Borrowed." This likely contributes to the the atmosphere of competence and control surrounding Gwen's pregnancy—she sort of takes it in stride. She insists on still going through with the wedding, after which she'll solve the problem. Cordelia, on the other hand, shuts down. She feels she's being punished even though "It [the sex] was safe—it was all really safe." Even before the demon begins controlling Cordelia, her male coworkers keep knowledge from her and do all the decision-making. Cordelia is not shown the ultrasound, and Wesley, who has seen it, won't tell her what he saw. "You're afraid of what's inside me," she says, "You think if I find out I'll do something bad."

The trope of mystical pregnancy, or sometimes even non-mystical pregnancy, can be used to diminish the power of a strong female lead character. It's a way of reminding women that their biology can be used against them. So if Cordelia is being punished for being sexual, it could be argued that Gwen is being punished for being a woman in a dangerous, male-coded job (police officer). The injury that impregnates her happens on the job. Both characters are being punished in a uniquely gendered way. But of course, since these are mystical pregnancies, the viewer needn't think about this issue past one episode, since all is resolved in the end. The mystical pregnancy provides a way to incorporate a pregnancy storyline without the need for it to last more than one episode. Without, in other words, needing to bother with the complexities that normally go with pregnancy and birth, like raising kids.

As a side note, "Something Borrowed" also features a representation of the Monstrous Feminine, a theme I'll be writing about soon in regards to Species. The shape-shifting alien tracking Gwen appears as a beautiful woman. She seduces a wedding guest to get him to a hotel room before devouring him: a literal man-eater.


Sources:
  • "Expecting." Angel. Writ. Howard Gorden. Dir. David Semel. Mutant Enemy, 2000. Netflix Instant.
  • "Something Borrowed." Torchwood. Writ. Phil Ford. Dir. Ashley Way. BBC Wales, 2008. Netflix Instant.


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