Possibly an old question, but I've never heard a good answer...

In the final Episode of Season 1 of Buffy, Angel looks on helplessly as Xander performs CPR on our heroine. He explains that Vampires can't perform CPR, as they don't breathe. If he doesn't breathe, how does he speak?

Speech is produced by how the vocal chords vibrate the air that goes past them (more or less- it's more complicated than that, but breathing is essential); I'm not sure why Vampires wouldn't be ABLE to breath (even if they don't need to, as is show the multiple times a vampire is choked and laughs it off, Angel and Darla included), but since Angel says they can't, how can they speak?

More specifically, what I'm looking for is: What method do (Buffy-verse) Vampires use to Speak that is sufficient for them to be clearly understood (and, in fact, indistinguishable from normal speech), yet is insufficient to allow them to breathe to perform CPR.

[Incidentally, current CPR training makes the rescue breathing optional, so he COULD have done what was needed... but that wasn't known to be the case during this episode.]

  • 2
    "Don't have to" and "can't" are two different things.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 3, 2015 at 23:44
  • 2
    Also Angel at one point is holding a pair of glasses and proceeds to clean them by exhaling on the lens and wiping them with a cloth. If he can do that, how can he have "no breath" as he claims?
    – RedCaio
    Nov 18, 2015 at 3:24
  • 1
    Possibly in the Buffy-verse CPR involves breathing life into someone, not just air. Another name for CPR is "the kiss of life". As vampires are not alive...
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 9, 2016 at 0:54
  • 1
    not a real answer so commenting but I always believed that this was an excuse not to kiss Buffy. We know that Angel has been following <ahem stalking> Buffy for some time and we find in later seasons (spoilers) that he was already falling in love with her. He knows that one moment could restore his vampirism (which he abhors) so it follows that he would lie to keep himself from such a situation.
    – MD-Tech
    Oct 14, 2016 at 13:37
  • @CJDennis I like it. And even if that's not how CPR works in the Buffyverse, Angel might well have thought it was. He'd been living under a rock for the last hundred years, and even before that he was spending more time with magical monsters than with humans. He can be relied on for information about different breeds of demon, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he thought that CPR involved some sort of life-force transfer and just going through the motions of breathing wouldn't do it.
    – A. B.
    Mar 18, 2021 at 8:37

8 Answers 8


Out of universe, Joss Whedon answered a related question about vampires and sex:

EW: But what's the deal with the vampire physiology? Don't you have to be alive to, you know?

JOSS: Well, you know, vampires aren't real: I have that to fall back on. If vampires couldn't have erections, our show would have been 12 episodes long.

From an EW interview in 2002, transcribed at slayage.com.

The same answer would fit if "you know" was referring to rescue breathing rather than sex.

  • 3
    Although it doesn't really answer the question of why he CAN'T rescue breath, it does give a WoG answer that trumps my question -- Basically, Joss has stated that he's not sticking to a consistent biological explanation. This, plus cmckendry's suggestion that he's lying to cover inadequacy / fear / whatever, seems to answer things.
    – K-H-W
    Mar 10, 2012 at 5:55
  • 1
    @KHW I don't think Whedon was admitting to inconsistency, he was acknowledging the existence of magic. "Vampires aren't real" means they don't operate on a purely biological level. How can he been seen directly but not in a mirror? How can he live and move without a pulse? How can he talk without breathing? It's all the same answer: vampires are creatures of magic. They aren't real, and therefore they aren't bound by the laws of real biology. It is possible to be both fantastical and internally consistent.
    – Nerrolken
    Oct 3, 2014 at 0:40
  • It could be even a poetic answer rather than physical. Vampires, even nice ones, are demons and can't give life, only death.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 3, 2015 at 23:24

My take on this (which is 100% conjecture) was that this is part of the theme of vampires appearing to do things without having the actual biological process behind them. Similar to the way that they don't show up in mirrors/on cameras, and they can't be read by telepathy ("The thoughts are there, but they create no reflection in you") we see and hear them speaking, breathing heavily, even smoking, but it's a product of magic instead of science. It's the equivalent of an elaborate glamour, which is sufficient to communicate but not enough to resuscitate a human.

An alternate explanation is that they actually are capable of performing CPR and Angel was either mistaken or lying. We have only his word to go on, and he is fallible.

  • 6
    'Angel was either mistaken or lying' -- That makes me think... I can easily see it being that he's never learned how, and was scared to try. (It is scary, the first time you do it.. You will usually break ribs, and it sounds HORRID.) Just wish that had come up later in the series to answer this question more definitively; it would have been easy enough to do, with another vampire (probably Spike) calling him out on it
    – K-H-W
    Feb 27, 2012 at 22:54
  • 1
    I think that last 10% is probably the only thing that made me give you +1 as I don't see why the magic vs science explanation holds for Whedon's vampires.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Feb 27, 2012 at 22:57
  • I love this answer! A bit like Jasmine in Season 4(?) -- makes you wonder if you can believe what you SEE with Vampires, too! Feb 10, 2014 at 21:06
  • 2
    “Similar to the way that they don't show up in mirrors/on cameras” — this is just a side-note, but in Buffy vampires do show up on camera. Jun 3, 2015 at 21:51
  • 3
    There's also the possibility that there could be some horrendous side-effect of doing rescue breathing on a dying human... He is a demon-possessed, supernatural creature after all...
    – Perkins
    Dec 28, 2015 at 20:03

Maybe the reason was more psychological than physiological - Angel simply didn't want to perform CPR. Either:

He didn't want to kiss Buffy under those circumstances (her demise), if there was another option.

Or, he might have been feeling empathy, and let Xander do the one thing that a normal, non-super-powered human could do - save his friend's life.

  • 2
    Or he didn't know how to do it. It is entirely possible Xander took CPR training at some point, it's not something you want to just wing if someone more knowledgeable is around. Nov 17, 2016 at 0:12

The force required to inflate someone's lungs, and the force required to speak are quite disparate. Most of the work in talking is done by the vocal cords, rather than any great exhalation of the lungs.

Conclusion, Angel could have performed CPR on Buffy but his breaths would have been insufficient to revive her. Either that or he chickens out, afraid he can't save her.

  • 1
    Maybe,... But he yells, too; yelling is done by expelling air with greater than usual force. The rescue breathes are short, hard puffs, like a minor shout.
    – K-H-W
    Feb 27, 2012 at 21:59
  • @KeithHWeston...I don't think I'd call the rescue breaths like huffs, more like 'huffs'. I've added further explanation regardless.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Feb 27, 2012 at 22:02
  • It's not an unreasonable answer, and it may be the winner.. I'm just hoping someone chimes in with a WoG answer, like 'Joss says [in interview here] he can breathe.. but it would be 200 year old rotted flesh breath' or something :)
    – K-H-W
    Feb 27, 2012 at 22:15
  • 2
    Don't buy it. It's established that vampires are able to smoke cigarettes, which requires a pretty hearty cycle of inhaling and exhaling.
    – cmckendry
    Feb 27, 2012 at 22:32
  • 1
    @cmckendry but not great puff of air. If there had been a scene of Angel inflating balloons for a children's party, then I'd say my answer was bunk.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Feb 27, 2012 at 22:40

It was a continuity error. Cordelia had a picture of her Angel and Wesley, but according to the mythology of the show: vampires can't show up in pictures. There are a couple of times when Angel is standing directly behind someone and they can't see his reflection in the mirror. But, in Spin the Bottle when Angel looses his memory, and rediscovers he's a vampire he looks in the mirror and notices he has the ability to change to his feeding face.

  • 1
    “according to the mythology of the show: vampires can't show up in pictures” — when did the show ever state that? In season 2 a vampire shows up on Spike’s VCR just fine, and I think we see an old photograph of Drusilla. Jun 3, 2015 at 21:52
  • 2
    How did they film the show if vampires don't show up in pictures Apr 10, 2017 at 22:22
  • And in series 4 when Spike is being chased by the Initiative they look for him with a thermal camera (vampires have no body heat so he just shows up as a faint moving smudge), and it's implied that this is something they've done a lot. I don't remember "vampires can't be photographed" ever being implied at all. But, yes, I wouldn't have been at all surprised if they had contradicted themselves over photos, they've certainly often done it with some other fancy features about the vampires, like reflections, and indeed breathing.
    – A. B.
    Mar 17, 2021 at 8:41

Processes like talking or smoking are about moving air through the lungs and vocal cords. It doesn't really matter what the chemical make up of the air is. The process of breathing, however, is about inhaling the air, extracting the oxygen from the air, and exhaling carbon dioxide -- which is partly oxygen which is why CPR works.

I've always reasoned Angel's "vampires don't breathe" thing meant more that any air he exhales wasn't going to be breathable to humans, and therefore wasn't going to help revive Buffy.

  • 4
    This doesn't make any sense. If he didn't extract any oxygen from it it would still be normal air (about 20% oxygen). Unless you're suggesting he does something else to the air? Jul 22, 2014 at 17:54
  • His breath really reeks of garlic, didn't you know?
    – RoboKaren
    Jun 3, 2015 at 21:46
  • An ingenious thought, but it doesn't work. In fact quite the opposite. Unless Angel's non-breathing did something strange to the air to make it actually toxic (like turn oxygen into cyanide), he would be a better resuscitator than a regular human being. The air we need to breathe must contain certain levels of oxygen, but the air we exhale (also when performing CPR) doesn't. That's not what CPR depends on. Angel's non-breathed exhalation would contain more oxygen than yours or mine. Mar 16, 2016 at 8:06
  • Agreed, it's not correct that it's the carbon dioxide that does it, that wouldn't work (far from providing oxygen, breathing in too much carbon dioxide will kill you), it's the left-over oxygen that the person doing the CPR hasn't used up. (Humans actually only use up a small fraction of the oxygen in a lungful of air before breathing it out.)
    – A. B.
    Mar 17, 2021 at 8:58

Continuity failure.

Whether vampires breathe or not is something Buffy the Vampire Slayer is very inconsistent about. Unfortunate, for something they make such a point of on some occasions. Adding to the general confusion:

  • In Series 1, Angel rescues some of the gang from suffocating in a gas leak saying something about he doesn't need oxygen anyway.
  • In Series 2, "Surprise", Buffy and Angel are chased by something and it cuts to them arriving back at Buffy's house, Buffy is panting dramatically for breath and so is Angel.
  • In Series 3, we have the exchange: "Oh, come on. Is [Angel] Faith's type? Let's see - is he breathing?" - "Actually not".
  • In Series 7, when Spike is captured by The First Evil, one of the things it does (or, rather, gets its monster to do, being intangible itself) is "drowning" him by holding his head under water, but he comes up alive and it says something cheerfully about "that's what makes your kind so much fun, they're hard to kill". Evidently in that one drowning can't kill a vampire and The First Evil didn't expect it to, but he clearly does not like it at all.

Overall, I think the general idea is that vampires can breathe but don't need to. Perhaps whatever silliness passes for their metabolism gets its energy from blood or magical energy within blood and that powers the rest of their body. But the show is happy to contradict that, in whatever direction, for the sake of a pretty turn of events.

  • Connor sticks Angel in a box under the sea. He appears to experience periods of wakeful lucidity.
    – Valorum
    Mar 17, 2021 at 9:43
  • Spike isn't overkeen on the idea of walking back to land from the middle of the ocean (having escaped from a submarine) but expresses zero concern about his personal safety in doing so.
    – Valorum
    Mar 17, 2021 at 9:44

Adam describes vampires this way: '“Vampires are a paradox... Demon in a human body. You're a hybrid. Natural and unnatural. You walk in both worlds, and belong to neither.”'

It seems in the Buffyverse, things that we understand (correctly) as purely mechanical, like breathing, walking through doorways, being bitten and being killed, also have a non-physical aspect.

We see that particularly with vampires, which are physical bodies, possessed by non-physical demonic souls that give them the power to move.

So Angel can bring air in and out of his lungs, to speak and sing, but he can not pass the non-physical value (whatever that is) of "the breath of life" to Buffy, just as he can physically walk, but is stopped by a door that he has not been "invited" through (a non-physical transaction). With stolen blood (presumably containing some non-physical essence of passion), they can have sex, but there's no process giving Angel whatever non-physical essence that breath needs to help Buffy live.

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