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Blind Date
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EPISODE 1.21

BLIND DATE

Written by: Janine Renshaw

Directed by: Thomas J Wright

 

The influence of the soul

The great fault line in the Buffy and Angelverse lies between humans with a soul and demons without one.  A soul means that the human knows right from wrong.  According to Wesley it also means that he or she has, deep down, an impulse to do right.  But there is another element in this equation that is just as important as the soul's moral sense.  It is what is usually called "free will" - the ability of the human soul to choose between good and evil.  It is this which, for my money, makes human protagonists rather more interesting than demons.  Why demons choose evil is not an issue.  Some (like vampires) may be inherently evil.  Others are not.  But we are not surprised when even the apparently peaceful, assimilated Anomovic demons from "Bachelor Party" want to eat Doyle's brains and don't understand why anyone would object.  It is their nature.  But the same cannot be said of humans.  The message I get from ANGEL in particular is that humans doing evil is not a matter of their nature but rather something they choose.   This in turn raises questions about why some people do evil but others do not; why some people have limits they are not prepared to cross while others do not.  This is the territory "Blind Date" enters

It does so principally in the form of Lindsey McDonald.  Lindsey's credentials as a "black hat" have already been established.  He was the legal adviser to Russell in "City of.." and seems to have been at least aware of his feeding habits.  Indeed there is even a suggestion that he was involved in procuring victims for him.  He defended people he knew to be guilty of murder and was probably implicated in "witness tampering" (which seems to have included murder).  Then, of course, he did plot to have our very own friendly neighborhood vampire dusted.   The common theme behind all of these actions was that they were taken simply as part of Lindsey's job.  Even the attempt to kill Angel does not have seem to have been undertaken out of spite but rather to avoid the unpleasant consequences to his career of failure.  And there is very nice continuity between this background and “Blind Date”.  Here too Lindsey is asked to tidy up after someone else's dirty work.  By doing so he is of course implicated in that dirty work but preserves a distance between it and himself.  He gets no direct benefit from it.  It’s just his job.   If he didn't do it someone else would.  There is, therefore, no real difference between what he personally is being asked to do now and any of the other actions he has taken on behalf of Wolfram and Hart.  What is different is the crime he is asked to cover up - the murder of children.  He must choose how he meets this request.

 

The power of choice

The nature of the choice faced by Lindsey is shown by the arguments surrounding it.  There is nothing about these arguments that seeks to justify the murder of innocent children.  Rather the arguments concern the extent to which the things this world can offer us should “blind” us to the implications of our part in evil.  The implication is clear.  Let us take as an example the following speech by Holland:

“It took me a while to realize how the world was put together and where I belonged in it.  And actually the world isn’t that complicated.  It’s designed for those who know how to use it….You’re not going to be happy until you find your place in the scheme of things.”

These words are echoed, from the other side of the fence, by Angel when he talks about the result of Vanessa’s trial:

“It’s their courtroom, not mine….Their rules their game…It’s structured for power, not truth.  It’s their system and it’s one that works.  It works because there’s no guilt, no torment, no consequences.  Its pure.”

The interesting thing is that while their respective value judgments on the system differ, both Holland and Angel essentially agree about its nature.  This seems to me to be a clever device by the writers.   When two people with opposing agenda make similar judgments about something it seems to me that those judgments must reflect what the writers intend to be a basic truth.  Here what Holland and Angel are talking about isn’t human society as a whole.  Rather it is a particular part of that society which both holds and exercises power.  In this respect it seem to me to be an excellent description (I’m not even sure you can call it a metaphor) of big corporate law in particular.  In law what counts is winning rather than determining truth. This reduces law to a game in which all the advantages lie with those who have the resources to fight their case.   The big guys win, the little guys…don’t.  In this context Lindsey’s own story is particularly telling.  We don’t know who got this parents house or why. It’s a safe bet though that lawyers were involved in the process.

What Lindsey was asked to do, therefore, was not choose to do evil as such.  Rather he was just being asked to take up a position in the world that will bring him power.  The price he was asked to pay for that is to help others who do evil.  This is indeed a Faustian pact.  As Angel put it:

“You always have a choice.  You just sold your soul for a fifth floor office and a company car”.

As with Holland, Lindsey’s perspective is a little different from Angel’s. 

“You got a choice.  You got stepped on or you get to steppin’”.

But he doesn’t contradict Angel’s basic premise.  Lindsey chose his place and it was a deliberate choice.  There is absolutely nothing to indicate any regret on his part for this choice; quite the opposite.  His depiction of his background to Angel was in defense of the choice he made.  He referred to having “worked some pretty hairy deals”.  They “come with the turf”.  If he had been asked to prepare a defense strategy for any other hit he would have done so.  But it is here that we get to the moral heart of “Blind Date”.  There is a line that Lindsey is not prepared to cross – killing children.  More importantly he is prepared to do something about it.  This is yet another issue on which people on different sides of the fence agree.  Angel puts it to Lindsey in the following terms:

“You have to make a decision to change.  That’s something you do by yourself.  Most people they never do.”

Holland on the other hand says:

“You stood up to us and won.  Do you know how many people have that much nerve?  I can count them on one hand.” 

Lindsey will not simply flee Wolfram and Hart or stay with them because he is afraid.  He has the ability to make a real choice.   And this is where the episode really works so well for me.  The fate of the children is really no more than a nexus, a turning point for Lindsey.  It’s not only the fact that he was horrified at Wolfram and Hart’s plans for them.  It was that he was prepared to do something about it that showed what he could be.  But as the interview with Angel showed he is far from redemption.   What we have is a set up that is perfect for someone who could go either way.  Again I will quote Holland’s words just after Lindsey’s betrayal is discovered:

“You have everything it takes to go all the way here – drive, ambition, excellence.  But you don’t know where you belong.  And until you do I guess we both have some important questions to answer.”

Thus are the choices open to Lindsey made clear.  Angel offers him his soul but at the cost of personal risk.  Holland, as he says himself, offers him the world at the cost of his soul.  These two between them map out Lindsey’s potential future and the way they do so is full of symbolism.  Holland seems friendly, avuncular.  He appears to care for Lindsey and to want the best for him.  He is even forgiving when he betrays him.  This is the voice that tempts us to evil with honeyed words. 

Angel on the other hand is hard, even harsh.  He has no patience with Lindsey’s sob story; he treats him with something approaching contempt.  He looks upon his possible death as an acceptable risk.  Some people think he was being too harsh.  Not a bit of it.  This is the authentically hard road towards redemption.  You take it not because it is pleasant and easy but because it is right.  This is how you tell those who are really strong.  And Lindsey alone will determine his fate.   Holland puts it in these terms:

“As I have been trying to tell you that is a decision that each person has to make for himself.  If you want it, it’s yours.  If you don’t, walk out this door.”

In the end Lindsey doesn’t walk out the door.  He stays and takes his place in the Wolfram and Hart hierarchy.   But while he gave into here temptation that does not necessarily determine his entire future.  This is still the same man who risked his neck to defy his employers over a moral principle.  The question is whether, given an equivalent moral dilemma in the future, he will react the same way?  Having once tasted doing the right thing will he want to do so again.  Or having now accepted the Faustian pact offered by Wolfram and Hart will it become easier to just look the other way.   Either way, what we have here is the set up for a continuation of the internal struggle of Lindsey McDonald and the exploration of the issues raised by it. 

Overall the way Lindsey is used here is very effective from several points of view.  First of all the context in which Lindsey must make a choice between good and evil is the same as he faced his throughout his career.  Its just the this time the implications of the choice he has to make are that bit sharper and so throws the his decision into starker relief.  This enables the writers to use this particular hard case to examine the general question Lindsey must confront - what sort of a world is it and what is his place in it.  But because it is a hard case, the way that Lindsey reacted to it does not necessarily determine the answer to that general question.   He helped save the children but still stayed with Wolfram and Hart.  And finally, by broadening out in this way the questions posed by the story the writers are asking us to think about its wider implications so that it is no longer just about Lindsey's particular situation but raises issues which are generally applicable. 

 

Between an Angel and the Devil

In all of this Wolfram and Hart are quickly becoming one of the most interesting and effective villains in the whole Buffy and Angelverse.  They are a corporation, not an individual.  They work within the power structures of human society.  As such they cannot be fought using traditional methods.  They can’t even be killed like Russell in “City of..”.  They pose a threat that is of an entirely new order.  The nature of this threat can be seen pretty clearly in the form of Holland: sophisticated, unflappable, cold and ruthless.  His reaction to the guards dragging away Lee’s corpse was instructive.

“What a pity.  You can’t get that out of the carpet.  Believe me, we’ve tried.”

How many times?  That is all human life meant.  And all of that was for the sake of a couple of clients.  Lindsey’s betrayal was much worse.  He is treated differently from Lee not because of their actions but because of their usefulness to Wolfram and Hart.  There is no mercy in the treatment of Lindsey just as there is no mercy in the treatment of Lee.  This is not a firm that acts out of spite or anger or any other ambition.  It actions are wholly rational.  This is reflected in Holland’s tone and demeanor throughout but especially during the sweep and its aftermath.  His voice is even, calm and his manner relaxed.  He is in control.  There is no need for histrionics.  There are few things more sinister.

On the other side of the coin Angel, as I have already said, acts principally as a goad to Lindsey’s conscience.  But there also seems to have been some attempt to contrast his own experience with that of Lindsey and others in Wolfram and Hart.  Relating particular aspects of an episode to Angel, his past or his hopes has been a fairly constant theme of the writers.  It has generally been a very successful technique and here is no exception.  What works in “Blind Date” in particular is the contrast between the clarity and purity of a system where you can do what you want without facing up to the consequences, whether those consequences are in the form of guilt or punishment, and the world Angel inhabits and which he is showing to Lindsey.  In this world, there is guilt and there are consequences.  It also works in the sense that it shows just how difficult a job Angel has in combating evil of the type Wolfram and Hart represent.  Their strength is that they form part of the power structures of the human world, a world from which Angel is inevitably separated, by his lack of an identity, his methods and his vampire vulnerabilities.  From this point of view he cannot negate the advantages for Lindsey that Wolfram and Hart can offer.  Both contrasts serve to sharpen the definition of the choice before Lindsey as well as adding a certain poignancy to Angel’s own fight against evil.  But Angel’s lack of a place within the power structures of human society is also intended to counterpoint Wesley’s revelation of the passage in the ancient scroll (which BTW looked decidedly new to me) about him.

“There is a design Angel, hidden in the chaos as it may be.  But it’s there.  And you have your place in it.”

Wesley isn’t contradicting Angel’s feeling that he has no place in human society.  What he is saying is that that fact doesn’t mean that he has no role to play in the fight against evil.  It’s hard to judge this aspect of the story because it seems this is but the introduction to it.  We will see where it leads.

Vanessa, the blind woman and her pursuit of the children play a fairly minor role in the overall plot.  Because they are all blind, however, they help bring out a theme of the episode that bears directly on the choice Lindsey has to make. Vanessa was a human and not a demon.  She chose to be blind so as to give herself special powers and then chose to use her powers in the service of evil.  To that extent she was less blind than Lindsey.    She knew her place alright.  As for the children, well Wesley puts it best:

“They're blind, too.  Together the children have the power to see into the   heart of things." 

Mere physical blindness doesn’t prevent a person from understanding who they are or what they want.  In this sense, Lindsey was more blind than they. 

 

The Plot

Other than that Vanessa’s role in the story was limited, to say the least.  It is possible to view the structure of “Blind Date” in terms of A and B plots with Vanessa forming the focal point of the B plot.  However the principal focus of the story is Lindsey and the choices he makes.  As I have said those choices turn around Vanessa’s mission.  I am, therefore, more inclined to regard the episode as having a single unified plot with her acting as the peg on which to hang the story.  So it really doesn’t matter that she vanished for the whole middle section of the episode.  By that time she had set up the basic dynamic between Lindsey, Holland and Angel and it as this which played out.  And what I liked here is that it worked on two quite different levels.  The real issue concerned the struggle for Lindsey’s soul which I have already discussed. But this aspect of the episode worked itself out in the context of a perfectly good action adventure tale.  The real heart of this aspect of the show was a traditional “hero breaks into building in face of sophisticated security system with inside help” set up.  But here it really was given an entirely fresh lease of life.  Circumventing the vampire warning system, the demon guard and the mind readers carrying out a security sweep were all new and highly entertaining.   Gunn’s intervention in the foyer of the Wolfram and Hart building in particular was imaginative and really very funny.  The best part was the way in which, just as Angel made his escape and the danger seems over the tension is ratcheted up even higher as Lindsey is caught in the sweep.  This developed in a totally unexpected way.  First there was the sudden, even shocking, way Lee was killed, thus giving the message that anything could happen here.   This was followed by the tense interview between Holland and Lindsey in which we were again left guessing.  The issue here was not the anticipated one - did Holland know.  It quickly became apparent that he did.  Rather the question was what would he do about it.  Not only did this work as a piece of drama.  It fitted in wonderfully well with character-based issues discussed above.  Lee’s fate was a warning of what could happen to Lindsey and cast a cold light on Holland’s motives for sparing him.  And as it turned out the interview in particular was crucial to the remaining development of the story of the struggle for Lindsey’s soul.  It set up the final scene between the same protagonists in the sense that it identified the question that Lindsey had to answer.  But the thing that really surprised me about this scene was that I actually found myself rooting for Lindsey.  I cared about whether he was caught or not.  He had, in the course of this episode, become a real human being and not just one of a trio of minor (though highly entertaining) villains.  That was excellent character development and use.  It was also helped by some fine acting from Christian Kane.

After this the showdown between Angel and Vanessa did come as something of an anti-climax.  We had of course already seen Vanessa completely outmaneuver Angel in battle earlier, so it was clear that she was going to be a formidable opponent.  And I thought that the solution that the writers devised for the problem was ingenious. This was very different from the usual style of fight we see on “Angel” but was for me especially effective since the stop start approach allowed the audience a chance to catch its breath in between moves and appreciate better just what was happening.  But the way in which Vanessa was defeated was the only real tension in the piece.  There was no real sense of a race against time to save the children and once Angel arrived on the scene, the outcome was obvious.

 

Overview

8.5/10.  This was yet another highly intelligent and articulate treatment of a serious subject.  It took a heretofore minor character and put him center stage. It made him a real human being and allowed us to identify with his dilemmas, even though it is not clear that he will choose the right path.  It further revealed the menace that is Wolfram and Hart.  Nor should Angel’s part in this be forgotten.  He is far more than an action hero.  He remains the moral heart – indeed in many ways the moral arbiter – of his own universe.  And of course we now get further intriguing hints about his future.  All very interesting stuff.  The action adventure elements were all well done. The break in worked very well as a set piece and gave what would otherwise have bee a fairly slow moving, character heavy story a very effective change of pace and style which moved things on rapidly towards the climax.  In all of this the humor was, as usual, deftly interwoven into the drama.  All in all a pretty complete mix with no obvious weaknesses.

 

 

Review rewritten and revised on Tuesday, September 26th 2000