Written by: David Greenwalt
Directed by: David Greenwalt
Developing the Arc
The principal advantage that a story arc has over a series of stand alone episodes is that it gives the writers time. It allows them to create a clearer sense that things are building towards a climax. This in turn makes for a greater sense of expectation and tension than can normally be found in a single episode story and a correspondingly more powerful climax. But story arcs, if they are to work, impose their own disciplines as well. One of these is that the writers must know when to turn build up into something more concrete. A second lies in the need to ensure continuity.
In the "Darla" story arc we have had two episodes in which Angel has been haunted by dreams. These were not repetitive because the nature of the dreams changed. They moved from being comforting and, prima facie, innocent to something much creepier. There was, therefore, a sense of a single story moving somewhere. But if this sequence had been further drawn out it would simply have become annoying as we wondered where the writers were going. So the timing of the events in "Dear Boy" was perfect. But a sense of momentum is not itself enough. The direction in which the story moves must make sense. Of course we, the audience, do not have to see that direction at once. Keeping us guessing about what is going on is an important part of the story teller's art. But the resolution of the story must make sense not only in itself but as the conclusion of the sequence of events that preceded it. We must be able to look back on those events and see a sensible progression towards the climax. Otherwise it will be robbed of its meaning and much of its impact. And this is the acid test for the writers here. How did they fare?
The Two Agendas
Well, the first thing to say is that they threw us a curve ball. All along we had been proceeding on the assumption that Darla and Wolfram and Hart had been acting in concert. Suddenly we find out that each have had their own agenda.
The storyline we had been watching develop in "First Impressions" and "Untouched" concerned the working out of the Wolfram and Hart agenda. This was all about control. In "First Impressions" Darla sucked Angel into a dreamscape, away from the world of reality so that he had trouble distinguishing it from fantasy. Then in "Untouched" Angel just like Bethany was having things done to him. Darla keeps him asleep and while she does so she controls his dreams. In those dreams he feels the passion, the excitement, the energy and the thrill of his former existence as Angelus. At one level this repels him because he he recognizes the significance of what he feels. He is experiencing once more what it is like to be a soulless killer . But at another perhaps deeper level he seems to be enjoying it.
And here "Untouched" raises a disturbing question. If, Darla was able to use the hidden horrors within Angel to destroy his belief in himself and his confidence that he can choose his own path regardless of his Vampire past might he, just like Bethany in "Untouched", allow his life to drift out of his own control and into the control of others _ Darla for example? At the beginning of "Dear Boy" we see clear evidence of the effect the dreams are having. Angel seems to have no energy. He spends vast amounts of time sleeping:
He is fatalistic about something turning up. His concentration has gone to pot. He dozes off and resumes his dreams in the middle of the day and is disorientated when he wakes up. He shows little or no sense of planning in how to deal with the demon Turfog and its followers and even forgets all about Gunn when he needs help. This is an individual whose higher reasoning functions are seriously impaired. He is tired, making the wrong decisions and what is worse doesn't even care he is doing so. After the fight with the demon Gunn pulled Angel up about his lack of teamwork and all he could say in reply was:
"Job got done."
It did, but no thanks to Angel. This is the perfect backdrop for Darla's mind games to be played out. But to what end? How is Wolfram and Hart's agenda to be carried forward? Lindsey defines the plan in the following terms:
This is certainly consistent with the idea that unhinging Angel, destroying his self control might change the way Angel thinks of himself. Just like Bethany before him he might have come to believe from his experiences that he had no power over his life and therefore no responsibility. His conscious mind might let things happen without even trying to control them, even if he could. He might eventually even allow others to control him.
The next step Darla takes does fit in with the logic of this approach as she shows herself to him but only briefly and without giving him an opportunity to get close. When he sees her it only adds to his confusion. He knows it is her but logically it can't be. She is dead, dusted. This unsettles him even more. After the first encounter Angel's behavior becomes even more strange as he smells Cordelia's hair:
This is quickly followed by the scene in which he confronts Darla at the hotel. There he does get close and does speak to her in the presence of witnesses. When she claimed she was Deetta Kramer and then ran out into direct sunlight into the arms of her husband this convinced both Wesley and Cordelia that Angel was imagining things. But it only made Angel more desperate to find out the truth and less amenable to others' objections. He was warned in clear and unambiguous terms about his actions:
MC: "You're at a crucial juncture big guy."
Angel: "So, talk."
MC: "So, no."
Angel: "What do you mean "no"? You won't tell me anything?"
Angel: "Tell me where Darla is."
This was good advice but, being Angel, he ignored it. As he was intended to Angel stalked Deetta, tracked her to the house and then he was framed for murder. And it is here that we see a significant problem with the plot.
At this point any hope of undermining Angel's belief in himself has already stalled. Notwithstanding the clear effects that Darla's campaign has produced on Angel's reasoning abilities we have seen no sign of it undermining his self-control. Indeed Darla's appearance to him only serves to clarify his thoughts and sharpen his concentration. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary and Wesley and Cordelia's doubts his certainty never wavers:
Angel: "I know that. I also know it was her"
Wesley: "Vampires don't come back from the dead.
Angel: "I did and I saw her. I'm not crazy."
This Angel knows the difference between fantasy and reality and has no doubts about Darla belonging to the real world. This puts his dreams into a completely different context. He does not yet guess exactly what has been going on there but he is close enough when he says:
"Maybe I'm dreaming about her 'cause she's here."
From then on the dreams effectively loose their power over him. This is not in itself a problem. In fact it is readily believable that Holland and Lindsey misunderstand Angel and underestimate his ability to cope with their tactics. The real problem is that the next stage in their plan - framing him for murder - seems out of place. I think you can see a vague outline of where they might be leading. A confused, perhaps slightly deranged Angel finds his friends, already half-convinced he is crazy, turning on him because they think he is bad. The police will now be after him as well. He will have nowhere to go to and no-one to turn to except Darla and Wolfram and Hart. As events demonstrated this idea not only showed no understanding of Angel's likely reaction to the trap he fell into. It also underestimated the loyalty of both Cordelia and Wesley (and even Gunn). But that is not the real problem. The problem is not so much that the plan was a bad one but that it didn't really make an awful lot of sense in the context of what had gone before. To date Wolfram and Hart had been trying to make him go bad by undermining his sense of self control and self belief. This isn't going to further that enterprise. In fact it appears to have nothing to do with furthering the purpose of Darla's earlier efforts at all.
So, up to a point "Dear Boy" does follow the continuity of "First Impressions" and "Untouched". We have been able to trace the developing execution of Wolfram and Hart's plan through two successive episodes to the stage where they make the critical move which is intended to deliver Angel into the darkness. The fact that the plan doesn't work is neither here nor there. The problem rather is that with this final move the continuity seems to fall apart.
Who is Angel?
The odd thing, however, is that none of this matters because the Wolfram and Hart plan has simply been a vehicle to bring us to the real focal point of this episode and, indeed, of Darla's resurrection. As the passage I have already quoted indicates Darla seems to have had very little faith in the likely success of the Wolfram and Hart plan. Instead she has always had her own agenda for dealing with Angel. And this agenda goes to the very heart of his character and indeed the series. It asks who is he really? More particularly it looks at the source of the darkness within him and where control of that darkness really lies. This is the question at the heart of the confrontation between them in the former convent near the end of the episode. But that confrontation is only the culmination of a whole series of scenes in the episode addressing the same question in a subtle, layered fashion.
A key early scene is where the followers of the demon Turfog are fighting each other:
This fighting take place somewhere that Cordelia described as "sacred, in a twisted demonic kind of way". It turns out to be the site of a former convent, a place that Angel immediately shows an interest in:
The idea of worship (albeit of a demon) leading to violence evokes two separate comparisons with religious wars (the clearest being from Gunn recalling his Uncle Theo's advice). And the history of the convent deliberately mixes the sacred and the cursed. And this idea seems to me to set the scene for the central theme of "Dear Boy". I think that in it the writers are blurring the distinction between good and evil, not as concepts in themselves but in the way they find expression in the world.
In particular the writers seem to be asking whether there is not also a blurring of the distinction between evil and good within Angel. We have Liam and we have Angelus and we have Angel. Three persons in one. Each is different. But none can be separated from the other. They are, if you like, an unholy trinity. Everything that Liam was went into shaping Angelus. And everything that Angelus was is present now in Angel. The inter-reaction between these three characters produces many interesting questions. For example how was the way Angelus related to his father shaped by the way Liam saw him? Where did Angel's interest in art come from? But in the final analysis there is only one question that is important - what was the source of the darkness; where did Angelus' particular cruelty come from? Did it only come from the demon?
I have already quoted the passage near the beginning of the episode in which Angel betrays his detailed knowledge of convents in Los Angeles, their history and especially the evil events that occur in them. Indeed he readily admits his fascination for the subject. This fascination obviously has its source in Angelus' preoccupations. Just before he turns Drusilla he muses:
"Convents they're just a big old cookie jar."
(BTW did they have cookies in mid-18th century England?). Later he brings Darla to St Bridget's and tells her
"You remember how much I like Convents."
The truth is that Angelus' fascination has less to do with a convenient source of food and more to do with his need to corrupt good. When he sees Drusilla for the first time his reaction is interesting:
Darla: "Better than that. She has the sight."
In the same way as he mocked God by carving the cross on the cheeks of his victims in the late 18th century, for Angelus here too goodness was a motivating force for him to do evil. And the greater the good the greater the evil he felt impelled to inflict.
Angelus: "This one's special. I have big plans for her."
Darla: "So do we kill her during or after?"
Darla: "But to make her one of us...? She's a lunatic."
Angelus: "Eternal torment. Am I learning?"
The writers have, therefore, it seems to me tried to make a connection between the ensouled Angel and his fascination with Convents and the excesses of cruelty committed by the vampire. It's almost as if they were asking: is he really any different?
But, as I have already said, in doing so they were simply laying the groundwork for the real exploration of the issue which comes during the battle of wills between Darla and Angel in the underground water tank. During this confrontation each have very different objectives and those objectives are informed by what they think of themselves. Darla's is revealed in her talk with Lindsey:
She still wants him. She still hankers after the time when they were together and shared everything. There is only one thing standing in the way of that - his soul. That she still hates. But she is now sorry that she rejected him along with his soul. For her the soul is not the essence of Angel. It changed nothing fundamentally. Deep down she believes he is the same Angelus that she knew and loved (at least loved insofar as a vampire is capable of love).
On this reasoning Liam and Angel and Angelus were all fundamentally the same person. The only difference between them was that the human soul "neutered" that person by preventing him from fulfilling his dark potential. In this she is informed by her own experience. Reincarnated as human she is nevertheless as cold blooded a killer as she ever was, as witnessed by the calm way she passes off her "husband's" death with a joke. He wasn't a person he was only an actor. As she says herself:
"I'm still me"
Angel's attitude on the other hand is equally informed by his own experiences. In response to Darla saying she hasn't changed he responds:
Here he is, of course, talking about himself. It is because of his own experience that he makes the assumption that possession of a soul bring about a fundamental change in Darla. For him the soul is the essence of the person. He still feels the destructive impulses from the demon within. You can see this by the way he treats Darla when he first drags her to the water tank. He feels a passion for her, he vamps out and feeds of her and kisses her violently, just like in the dreams. The difference is that he is appalled by what he did. He calls enough, stops himself and reverts to his normal face. This difference is made by the soul. It doesn't just impose shackles on him that, in Darla's words, he can escape. It changes him fundamentally. And for Angel the proof of that fundamental difference lies in the comparison between his relationship with Darla and his relationship with Buffy.
Angel: "You couldn't understand.
The phrase I find most interesting here is Darla's reference to Angel thinking he is touching God. It is echoed cruelly when, to prove her own contention about him being the same, she later produces a cross and burns him saying "God doesn't want you". Again we see the use religious metaphors to express the duality in Angel's nature. Angel aspires to goodness, to humanity and this is identified as touching God. But at the same time religious symbols are harmful to Vampires and this symbolizes God's rejection of him.
I do not think that this episode resolves the debate between the two of them. There is evidence and argument on both sides. The answer will only be given over the course of time. But that doesn't mean that the issues have been left hanging. Just before Darla made her escape into the light Angel threatened her:
"Darla, if you hurt anyone else and I'll kill you"
This could simply have been Angel fulfilling his role as protector of the innocent, in the same way as he killed the blind assassin from "Blind Date." But it soon became obvious that there was more to his threat than this. When Darla taunted him about the nasty things he said in his dreams he lost it and grabbed her again. This time the only thing that made him let her go was the cross. The anger was building up inside him. Who knows how long he was sitting brooding over these events in his room when Cordelia and Wesley came to the door. But certainly his anger had not cooled off, as is shown by the ominous words he utters to them:
"There's going to be a lot of trouble and I say bring it on."
Perhaps this will be the acid test for Angel - the anger and violence within him. Is he really as he thinks a fundamentally different person now to the demon? And if he isn't what does that mean? His path has been upwards towards redemption. By playing the forces of evil at their own game, by unleashing the anger and violence within is he heading off that path? Is that what the anagogic MC meant? We will see.
I have already tried to define in detail the relationship between Angel and Angelus. This is no place to repeat those views. Suffice to say they accord more with Angel's views of the importance of the human soul than Darla's. But it doesn't bother me in the least that in the interplay between Darla's views and those of Angel the writers have expressly left open the possibility that Darla is right. Or indeed that the very effective use of the flashbacks and the way they illuminated certain aspects of Angel's present behavior tended to lend credibility to what Darla is saying. Far from being Darla's lapdog, someone who simply followed in her evil, we are at last being shown why the Master described him as the most vicious creature he had ever met. The refinement of his cruelty to poor Drusilla was beyond Darla's imagination and seemed almost to frighten her. And Angel's preoccupation with Convents and the evil they can attract is a very uncomfortable echo of Angelus. In fact I welcome this as a development. What started out as a story about Wolfram and Hart's attempts to undermine Angel's self confidence and self control now reaches more fundamental territory. Here the writers are grappling with one of the central issues of the whole series, indeed perhaps the central issue. ANGEL as a series is about a struggle first of all to cope with a burden of darkness and then to achieve forgiveness for the way that darkness destroyed the lives of so many. Whether that Darkness belongs to the demon or the man must necessarily affect our understanding not only of Angel as a character but also of the burden he carries and the possibility of forgiveness. If Darla is right he is no longer the victim of a blind fate imposing an undeserved punishment. What happened to him in Borsa in 1898 and everything that followed it then becomes a manifestation of justice in the same way as Faith's punishment. There is, therefore, really no denying the importance, the interest or indeed the sheer power of the subject in the context of the development of the series. It is in fact precisely the sort of issue that the writers must explore.
And the mechanism they use to explore it could not have been bettered. There is a very personal connection between Darla and Angel. They know one another so intimately that no two people could be closer. At the same time they are on the opposite sides of the argument. And this is not an intellectual argument; it is deeply personal. For Darla this is her chance to get back what she once had but lost. For Angel this is about defending the new life and the new purpose that he has created for himself - the thing that has pulled him out of the darkness and despair that he knew. In this argument both have the knowledge to use against the other and the motive to do so. This helped make the most of the inherent power of the subject because it imbued the scenes between the pair with a real passion.
In this context the character of Kate is, I think, being put to very good use. Since we last saw her in "To Shanshu in LA" her career has gone further downhill and she has been assigned to a post she refers to as "Siberia". Her friends and colleagues ignore her. She seems to be something of a laughing stock. Of course how she got a high profile murder case to run and a large SWAT team under her command is, by this token, something of a mystery but we will let that pass. Apart from this, however, her character hasn't changed much. Indeed in this episode we have confirmation of the real nature of her suspicion of Angel. She is neither mad nor bad. There was very good circumstantial and direct evidence that Angel had committed a horrible murder. She knew as a vampire what he was capable of so she had no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. But when confronted by solid evidence in the form of the picture of Darla and Gunn's persuasive argument about Angel's inability to enter the Kramer's house if they were still alive, she listened and acted reasonably. It is clear that by the end of the episode she no longer believes Angel to be guilty of the crime. But the basic objection she enunciated in "To Shanshu in LA" has not changed.
Kate: "You don't get it do you"
Angel is not a part of society. He acts outside the law. Because he does so, to Kate he is just as much a danger to ordinary members of society as the things he is fighting. This is a credible point of view, especially coming from someone like her with her history. And what makes it interesting is that Kate is unambiguously a white hat who is thereby placed in conflict with Angel. And this conflict is not so easy for him to deal with as the conflict between him and a black hat. But in this particular instance the real importance of Kate as a character is that it reinforces the essential ambiguity of Angel's situation. It highlights the link between his actions and evil consequences, albeit ones unintended by him.
In this context the counterpoint between her reaction of finding out Angel's evil side and Gunn's is very instructive.
His willingness to kill an evil vampire can be taken for granted. But he remains completely open minded about Angel's guilt and immediately sees the reason why he is innocent. The explanation for the difference between him and Kate is obvious. It is revealed in the following exchange over his record:
Gunn: "I do what I have to do."
Kate: "Some of it when he was a minor."
Cordelia: "Uh huh."
Kate: "And some of it in the last two weeks."
You see Gunn, just like Angel, operates outside the law as well. He fights the same fight as Angel and he does so on his own terms. It seems to me that what we have here is in fact acknowledgement of the fact that he is Angel junior and it is that fact that informs his attitude towards Angel and indeed Kate's attitude towards him.
The plot of "Dear Boy" was stronger than most Angel episodes this season. Its great strength was the way in which it kept on taking different twists. Of these the key was the revelation that Darla was human. The writers had been very clever. Every time we had seen her beforehand it had been dark. We, therefore, had no reason to suspect she was not still a vampire. Indeed it was so unexpected that, when she ran into the light, I started looking for other explanations including a magical immunity to direct sunlight or even the possibility that she was a double. The effective part about this twist was that it sharpened the doubts that Cordelia and Wesley were having over Angel's belief that Darla was back while at the same time helping to create the frame of reference for the later confrontation between herself an Angel.
At this stage it seemed that the principal focus of "Dear Boy" would be on Darla's mind games with Angel. At the beginning of the episode we were shown how much Angel was "out of it". This was quickly followed by the first sighting of Darla at the promenade and the confrontation Angel had with her at the hotel. Here the emphasis was on Cordelia's and Wesley's increasing awareness of their boss' weird behavior. This led them openly to doubt what Angel was seeing. Wesley was especially important here. he was the voice of calm and reason, the perfect counterpoint to Angel's disorientation and lack of concentration. This looked as though it was going to be the focal point of the conflict. And at first the scene at the Kramer's house seemed to promise a continuation of the same pattern of trying to persuade Angel that he is loosing it.
But things changed with frightening speed. As soon as Darla started talking to Lindsey through the microphone it becomes obvious that something serious was going to happen. So it did and we saw the murder, the frame and the escape in rapid succession. I have already mentioned my basic problem here. I was trying and failing to work out how the frame fitted in with Wolfram and Hart's plan and I found that distracted from concentration on the events which unfolded afterwards. To that extent the scenario was a little jarring. But in the end it proved surprisingly effective.
At this stage it looked as though the rest of the episode would follow a fairly standard storyline with Angel trying to convince first the rest of the Fang Gang and ultimately the police of his innocence. Nothing especially interesting in that. As it turned out, however, the murder and subsequent frame attempt were no more than a plot device to launch two very different and much more interesting confrontations. The key one, between Angel and Darla, I have already dealt with at some length. Its interest lay in the balance of argument and in the interaction of the two principals. Angel, as he proved several times, was the one who was physically in control of the situation. But he was also the one under pressure. He knew what Darla was doing and, because he was physically in control, he could confront her on his terms. But he was also tired, angry, perhaps a little shocked at the turn of events and what they revealed to him had been going on. And Darla was pushing him very hard. Angel's actions were therefore ultimately unpredictable. This is what really added spark to their scenes together.
The second confrontation, between Kate and the Fang Gang, was in part something of a tidying up exercise. Its principal purpose was to allow for the resolution of the "frame". That avoided the same sort of highly unsatisfactory situation that arose at the beginning of season 3 of BUFFY. There, after having been wanted by the police for the murder of Kendra, Buffy returns to Sunnydale only to be told that for some undefined reason all charges have been dropped. And the neat thing about the resolution here is that while it involved one small "deus ex machina" in the form of the picture of Darla, the real breakthrough was a piece of solid gold reasoning. How Angel had got into the Kramer house had been bothering me but the explanation was elegantly simple.
Aside from this there were some very interesting character related developments. I have already dealt with Kate and Gunn. The rest concerns the reaction of Wesley and Cordelia to the potential of Angel going bad. First of all there was nice continuity between " Eternity" and this episode in the explicit recognition that Angel might go bad "as he has done before". I am also interested to see that they resort to non-lethal means of protecting themselves. Indeed the lack of overreaction altogether is both credible and really quite endearing. They have obviously considered the possibility (and let's face it why wouldn't they) and prepared against it. But they are not holding it personally against Angel. As Cordelia puts it
"99% of the time he's good. And he's done a lot for us."
I have to say though the uncritical way they both maintain that Angel is innocent in front of Kate does stretch credibility.
Cordelia: "He wouldn't. Angel could never do a thing like that."
Wesley:" He's not that type of person."
As Angel sure. But Angelus? And weren't they both afraid only a few moments ago that he had gone bad? Putting up a common front is one thing but asking for the evidence rather than giving a flat denial would have been much more reasonable.
9/10: In following on from the previous two episodes, "Dear Boy" looked as though it would concentrate on an interesting but limited question; namely the ability of Angel to control his darker impulses. Instead as the episode progressed it became apparent that it was dealing with altogether more fundamental questions. These questions concern the true source of the darkness within. They are not new in the sense that they have been debated by fans many times. But this is the first time that the series has addressed them in such a direct manner. And the way in which it did so was quite compelling. This was not a dry academic type debate. There was something important at stake for both Angel and Darla in the argument between them and that is what created the sense of importance and the tension that was so necessary when dealing with the subject matter. Certainly this episode hasn't resolved anything. But, while the series may yet do so it doesn't actually have to. In real life questions of equal difficulty are often left open. Why not here? In terms of plot there were certainly some rough edges. The part of the plot where Angel was framed felt more than a little shoehorned into it. Otherwise the twists and turn of the plot were what served to sustain interest. We were never quite sure where the episode was going. And I thought that, once again excellent use was made of the flashbacks. I have already dealt with their purpose in setting out the background for the confrontation between Angel and Darla. What is commendable here is the way the writers resisted the temptation to overuse them. They illustrated the points they were intended to and that was the end of them. Finally, for such a dark and serious episode there was a very nice leavening of fairly light hearted humor. This was mainly in the form of bickering between Wesley and Cordelia but the writers were also very adept at exploiting for humor the absurdity of this dark and powerful figure being so "out of it".