by: Tracy Stern
Directed by: David Straiton
question of identity
is a crucial part of anyone’s existence.
Who you are, or rather who you perceive yourself to be, affects so many
other aspects of your life including expectations for your future and your
relationships with others. And that
identity is a function of a lot of different factors: parentage, social or
economic background, religion, education, gender, and race to name but a few.
Obviously this is too big a subject to explore thoroughly in the context
of a TV program. But it is a
natural subject for ANGEL. Angel’s
own crisis of identity is in many ways the theme of the entire series.
Equally, both Doyle and
Cordelia have to face very serious questions about who they are and what they
want. In Cordelia’s case
the former queen of Sunnydale High has now to deal with a future free of the
security she once knew. As she put
it herself in “Lonely Hearts”:
it my fault that maid service was interrupted? It was supposed to go,
home, hotel, hotel, husband.”
Doyle occupies an even more awkward place in the world. Aa a half-breed, he operates in the margins between human society and the demon underworld. In “Bachelor Party” perhaps the most important thing the writers do is to take a long hard look at the way both see themselves and their futures.
my Prince will come…
the teaser we see the Cordelia trying to recapture the life she once thought
belonged to her by right. Her
“prince” could bring her all the material things in life she ever wanted:
problem was that the car, the house and the money were all there was to him.
The most exciting thing in his life was making money:
how little substance there was to Pierce can be seen from the way he abandoned
her to save his own skin. Cordelia
herself later describes just what she thought of him:
writers were clearly contrasting Doyle and Pierce.
Looked at from the point of view of wealth or position in society Doyle
compared very unfavorably. The most
he could look forward to in an evening was getting drunk and playing trivia
games in a sports bar. But when the
chips were down he was the one who risked his life and actually got hurt to save
The effect that this had on her was really interesting. She is first and foremost a practical person who understands the value of material things. And certainly someone from her background would find the lifestyle Pierce could offer her extremely attractive. But Cordelia has also had far more by way of life experience than anyone who lived only in the material world could have. And because of this she has learnt to recognize real substance in a character, even when it is hidden beneath an unprepossessing façade. More to the point she has learnt to value it. She is still sufficiently attached to the material things in life to regard her relationship with Xander and any possible relationship with Doyle as a mistake but now she realizes that material things are not enough. She is, therefore, poised on the horns of a dilemma. Is she really the girl we saw ruling Sunnydale High? Or is there more to Cordelia Chase than that? Her progress in resolving this question of identity is the key to Cordelia in season 1 of ANGEL.
Past Catches up with Him
in many ways the importance of Doyle’s rescue of Cordelia for the story in
“Bachelor Party” does not lie in the effect it had on her.
Rather it lies in the fact that it confirms that, as Angel himself said
with a wry smile:
"Yeah, well, there is definitely more to Doyle then meets the
is someone who does have real substance. So,
why the sports bars and the drunken trivia games?
Why doesn’t Doyle want more out of life than that?
Indeed why the hand to mouth existence?
Just who is Doyle?
answer to this question comes in the shape of his wife (confusingly called
Harry). From her we learn more
about Doyle’s past. He and Harry
had a 'madly in love couldn't live without each other' kind of thing and were
indeed planning on starting a family. He
was a teacher and evidently a sort of natural leader, at least he took naturally
to making decisions for other people. In addition to that Doyle was also someone with a social
conscience who worked for the homeless. This
was indeed a man who had not only sorted things out for himself and knew what he
wanted but was making a real contribution to everyone around him.
Then things changed. He
discovered he was half-demon when he sneezed and sprouted a demon face.
Previously he had no idea:
he had been, everything he had wanted out of life had been based on a false
assumption about who he was. And
the effect on his life was devastating. Doyle described the end of his marriage in the following
ironic thing is that when Doyle said that he changed he was referring to the
fact that he discovered his demon heritage.
He assumed that this was what drove Harry away.
We only get the truth about that from Harry later.
Angel: "But you didn't tell him that."
And part of his being difficult to live with was the drinking. It is not stated explicitly but the implication of Harry’s evident disapproval is that it was only when he found out he was half demon that Doyle started to drink seriously. So, while Doyle blamed his demon heritage for the loss of his marriage and every other part of the fulfilling life he had, it was his changed attitude to himself and to others that was responsible.
at last is recognition of the truth. And it does produce a change of attitude of sorts.
It as been established since “Lonely Hearts” that Doyle is afraid to
admit to Cordelia that he is half-demon because of the effect this might have on
her attitude to him. At the
beginning of this episode, even though it puts him at a considerable
disadvantage, he refuses to manifest as a demon.
This is despite the fact that the only person who could see him do so was
Angel who was already in on the secret. That
shows just how sensitive he really is about the issue.
Nevertheless, in the climactic fight with the Ano-movic demons his
attitude changes. He does manifest
as demon, saying:
says I should mix with other demons, I'll mix!"
exemplifies a degree of acceptance of the demon within him, but only a degree.
It is noticeable that even now he will not tell Cordelia the truth.
thought that, for the most part, this was a strong and convincing study of
character. It takes a powerful and
important central idea about how questions about our identity can affect our
futures and our relationships. It
then illustrates this idea through Doyle and his history.
Objectively speaking, nothing about Doyle had changed.
The man who married Harry was the same man who discovered he was half
demon and the same man who rescued Cordelia.
What changed was his perception of who he was and that change produced
the collapse in his self confidence that devastated his life.
In illustrating this idea through Doyle the writers give us a compelling
and convincing explanation for the dichotomies in his character.
It reconciles the man of substance Angel and Cordelia know him to be with
the more stereotypical picture we see of a down at heel, slightly shady
character with a fondness for alcohol. More
than that, it does so in a way that is consistent with the hints we have been
given about him in, for example, “A Rm w/a Vu”.
There for example he described his lifestyle as “the kind of life that
keeps your expectations from getting too high.”
in this context it makes a direct point about one especially important issue of
identity – that in the final analysis what counts about a person is his
character and not his race or culture. Doyle was a man of substance but he lost faith in himself
because he found being a half-demon unacceptable.
The implication was that he
considered demons less than human and therefore saw the fact that he had a demon
heritage as something to be ashamed of.
The result of this self hatred was profoundly destructive.
Harry’s attitude was different. She
realized that, far from being inferior to human, demons were simply different
and after a moment’s hesitation she
accepted this aspect of Doyle for what it was: part of life’s rich tapestry.
Later on she made a study of demon culture her life’s work.Indeed she
actually planned to marry a full demon.
Her attitude was not only positive but health.
She is far happier and more fulfilled in her life because of it.
This is an argument in favor
of the acceptance of diversity in society.
And, given the fact that ANGEL uses the supernatural metaphor to explore
issues of relevance in the real world, it is not too hard to guess what it is
aimed at. It is in fact a barely
disguised plea for tolerance and acceptance of racial and cultural differences
in modern society. It is a simple
enough message. There are no great
philosophical depths to it. But it
is coherent and well meant.
course it has to be said that this picture is not without its difficulties.
The most pointed philosophical difficulty lay in squaring the attitude I
have just described with the general Buffy/Angelverse orientation that demons
were by definition soulless, intent on doing harm to humans and had, therefore
to be destroyed. In retrospect,
however, we can see that this was the beginning of a less black and white
treatment of demons and a fresh concentration on the idea that (like Whistler)
there essentially harmless ones about the place.
How such demons fitted into the scheme of things in the Buffy/Angelverse
(and in particular its treatment of the human and demon soul as touchstones for
good and evil) is, I am afraid, the topic for another occasion.
Instead I will mention other more specific problems.
The need to establish that Doyle was very young when he discovered the truth about himself (and consequently lacked the maturity to handle it) clashed with the need to show that, before he did so, he had a very worthwhile life. The result was a scarcely believable picture of someone who, before the age of 21, was married, was a teacher, was planning kids and was working to help the poor. What bothered me more, however, was the lack of apparent consequences of the fact that he is beginning to come to terms with his identity. As we have seen in “Bachelor Party” he makes some strides in accepting his demon half, but he is not all the way there yet. This is realistic and good. But the episode took a good deal of trouble to establish that his failure to accept his demon heritage led to the destruction of the fulfilled life he had led and to his present marginal existence. If that was the case then the fact that Doyle even began to accept his identity should have led to him re-examining his life-style. Of course there is nothing to indicate he didn’t and it has to be said Doyle didn’t have an awful lot of time left in which to change his life. Nevertheless, the link between acceptance of his identity and lifestyle is such a fundamental part of the story that the consequence for the latter of a change in the former should have been addressed in some fashion.
As I have already said, “Bachelor Party” essentially makes a plea for the acceptance of cultural and racial diversity. The issues posed by such an idea are vast and complicated. Such are the differences between races and cultures that the scope for misunderstanding and conflict is only too real. If the episode had simply left things at the level of “let’s all be good and get along” it could be accused of overly simplistic by ducking the implications of its plea. I am glad, therefore, that the program did make an attempt to explore the implications of diversity. It couldn’t hope to do so comprehensively but it doesn’t need to. All it had to do was furnish us with an example of how different cultures might see a particular subject and let the viewers think through the implications for themselves. And that is what it did. Angel himself describes the history of Ano-movic demons in the following terms:
are now, according to Harry, a “Peaceful clan. Totally assimilated
into our culture." And indeed
they demonstrate that in many ways they are. Apart from being restaurateurs they show a clear appreciation
of the finer points of customs such as the Bachelor Party down to the stripper,
bad food and beer. Indeed the scene
with the Ano-movic clan around the dinner table is notable by the fact that the
conversation cannot be distinguished from the conversation about a Bachelor
Party that would have taken place in any human household, with one obvious
purpose of this little exchange was to demonstrate how little considered the
killing of Doyle was. This was not
because they were evil. Indeed at
the Bachelor Party itself they were a model of quite genuine hospitality and
were clearly concerned about Doyle’s feelings over the marriage:
they didn’t want to cause him any pain so they considerately gave him an
anesthetic. But equally they were
quite cold blooded about killing him. The etiquette (including the correct cutlery to use) was a
matter of far more concern to them than Doyle’s life.
And they know full well how Harry and any other human would feel about
the custom. That is why they kept
what they were planning to do to themselves.
was simply that for cultural reasons they had a fundamentally different attitude
towards eating Doyle’s brains than humans would have.
we see the key issue posed by assimilation.
It is all very well adopting the trappings of human society but what do
you do where there is a difference between the core values involved?
The “racist” comment at the end was perhaps hitting us over the head
to make the point. It is
nevertheless a valid one. What are
the limits of toleration that can be accepted in the name of the acceptance of
racial and cultural diversity.
I thought that the way this question was addressed was really very clever. Humor has always been a very effective weapon for political satirists because they can use exaggeration to drive home the absurdities or fallacies of a given argument or situation. In doing so they more clearly and conspicuously point up the realities facing us. There is just such an element of exaggeration in the Ano-movic custom of eating the brain of a former spouse. In devising this scenario the writers are simultaneously exposing the stupidty of the argument that any objection to traditional cultural practices must by definition be racist and asking us to think seriously about what are the circumstances in which it is justifiable to object to such practices. They don’t pretend to provide the answers but then that would be beyond the powers of a series like ANGEL. I am, therefore, perfectly happy that they simply pose the question.
plot of “Bachelor Party” is really rather straightforward.
In fact, for half of the episode, there is hardly a plot at all.
This section of the episode is mainly concerned with character exposition
with a couple of “action” scenes thrown in to vary the pace.
For the most part, however, there is little sense of a story moving
forward at all. The only scene here
which seems about to launch a line of action is the one in which Angel tails
Richard and discovers he is a demon. In
passing I must confess this is not my favorite part of the episode.
The action sequence of Angel following Richard from roof to roof is
terrifically well done. But Richard’s actions are too self-consciously suspicious
to admit of the innocent explanation they were ultimately given.
In particular I found little ambiguity in the way he held the knife and
said "Right there, pumpkin" to Harry.
Someone who was genuinely inocent would not have acted in the same way.
Nevertheless, the bona fide of Richard and his clan are quickly and
convincingly established here (aided by Richard’s dull-witted charm) and all
suspicion of them disappears. At
this stage we are seemingly left with an innocent social event on the horizon.
I don’t necessarily regard this as a major flaw because I think that
characterization, if it is done well enough, can hold our attention without
anything especially riveting in the nature of a plot.
And it quickly transpires that the seeming normality of the scenario we
are being shown is set-up. We have
been lulled into a false sense of security, and in quite a clever way too.
To dispel our suspicions of Richard’s clan only to have them suddenly
revealed as out and out villains would have been clichéd and hard to swallow.
But I find the idea of an otherwise normal clan indulging in a blood rite
out of respect for tradition interesting and (given the fact that we are dealing
with demons here) believable. And
this aspect of the story is enhanced by the way the fact is revealed – in a
throw away line no-one thinks out of the ordinary.
I am afraid though that the pay-off we got in the form of the plot which dominated the second half of the episode was also a little mundane. First of all there was an element of detective work needed before Angel became aware of the threat facing Doyle. I don’t think that this detective work was especially well handled because it depended upon the co-incidence of Angel overhearing two members of Richard’s clan talking, evidently not understanding what they said but still being suspicious enough to get a translation. More seriously, however, by this stage we were ahead of Angel. We knew what was going to happen. We were waiting for him to play catch up and that is just not very interesting. But the central problem lay elsewhere. The tension between the very ordinariness of the demons, their general hospitality and in particular Richard’s relentless decency and what they plan to do to Doyle is very well used to create some gentle humor. But this very fact itself tends to dispel any feeling of tension. In particular, despite their numbers, the Ano-movic clan simply cannot convincingly convey threat. They are just too ordinary. And an audience really only does become fully involved in a situation where our heroes are put under real pressure. Finally, the ending was a complete anti-climax with Harry and Cordelia stopping the fight just by their presence. It was as if the writers simply ran out of ideas as to how to wrap up the plot.
7/10 The real strength of this episode lay in the characterization, especially of Doyle. In my review of “City of” I said that he seemed no more than a collection of stereotypical characteristics: a shady denizen of the underworld with a fondness for drink and gambling and no strong stomach for a fight. I also suggested that it really was difficult to believe in such a person as an individual. In this episode the writers have given us a believable individual. In particular they have managed to reconcile the stereotypical characteristics I have just mentioned with the idea of Doyle as a person with real substance and in the process made him more and not less sympathetic. Above all they have done so in a believable way. In doing so they have raised some interesting issues about how a person’s sense of identity can seriously affect all aspects of their life. And they have made a fairly broad plea for acceptance of diversity while at the same time raising an interesting issue about the limits of such tolerance. The weakness of the episode lay in the thinness of the plot and the fact that it really failed to engage and involve the viewer at all, even though theoretically Doyle’s life was at stake.
Review revised Tuesday, September 26th 2000