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Written by: Tracy Stern

Directed by: Regis Kimble

The Return of Angelus

When explaining the decision to kill off Doyle, Joss Whedon said that the intention was to shake up Angel's world.  He added, for good measure, that there would be other events that would do the same.  In “Somnambulist” for example Angel was forced to confront the possibility of a return of Angelus.  That was unsettling enough.  But here we have the reality of that return in its full horror.  In the scenes with Angelus we were reminded of just what a monster he is.  It’s not only the air of menace that he exuded, especially in the darkened offices of Angel Investigations.  It’s not only the violence he wreaks, throwing Rebecca and Wesley about like rag dolls.  What is most striking is the malevolent, deliberate relish in his cruelty; the sheer pleasure he got out of terrifying women especially.   This may be illustrated by the way he taunts Rebecca :

 “In all my years, I’ve never killed a famous person before.  But, with no witnesses, who’s gonna believe me?  Maybe we can take a picture.  I know!  We’ll do it like we did back in the day.  I’ll keep your head on a stick…as proof.”

This enjoyment is perhaps the clearest possible indication of what it means to be without a conscience and without any shred of feeling for human beings.  The figure that Angelus cuts is, therefore, a truly frightening one.  But for all the potential danger posed by his return, the actual consequences of it in “Eternity” are limited.  Given his power and significance as a villain we might have looked for his reappearance to be the central event of the episode.  In particular we might have expected that it would be accompanied by some significant death or destruction and that the whole focus of the story would then have been on how to defeat him.  Instead Angelus appears fairly late in the episode.   He kills no one and is disposed off as a threat relatively easily.  At first sight, therefore, this might appear an anti-climactic way to treat a character of his reputation.  But this is, I think, to misunderstand the purpose of his reappearance.

This episode isn’t directly about Angelus.  Rather the writers are asking us to think in the most pointed way possible about what it really means for both Angel and his friends that he carries within him the sort of threat posed by Angelus.  In this context Angelus’ re-appearance serves two purposes.  First of all it is, from the dramatic point of view, the event that gives punch to the ending of the episode.  It gives the story the dramatic focus that prevents it fizzling out in anti-climax.  But secondly that return is also the best and most effective reminder of the nature of the threat within Angel.  It answers the question: why worry about Angelus’ return and thus it is the most important single development in giving meaning to the whole theme of the episode.

The Threat from Within

One of the best things about the writers’ approach to this theme is that we are asked to see the potential for the return of Angelus from two quite different perspectives.   Both Wesley, and especially Cordelia, are shown throughout the episode to be aware of the possibility of Angel reverting. 

Cordelia:  “Oh, great.  He spent the night with the fantasy of millions.    All alone, ‘protecting’ her.”

Wesley:  “You’re worried about the curse.   I wouldn’t be.”

Cordelia:  “Hey, you weren’t around the last time Angel went mental.  I, on the other hand, was on the first wave of the clean-up crew.  He knows perfect happiness, he goes evil.  So don’t tell me not to worry.”

It is noticeable that, after this conversation, Cordelia turned up at Rebecca’s house with a cross.  Indeed this may have saved her life in the end because it added weight to her suggestion to Angelus that she had been preparing for his return all along. 

Much more important and more interesting than the perspective of his friends, however, is Angel’s self awareness on the subject of Angelus.  From quite early on we see that Angel is attracted to Rebecca.  This is the first hint of any attraction to a woman since Buffy.   There is nothing to indicate the attraction is particularly deep or meaningful but still, such is his consciousness of the curse, he feels he cannot get into her life on a personal level.   He is distinctly nervous about her invitation to her home and when, as Cordelia puts it, he throws her out of his office Wesley guesses the reason:

“He likes her.  He’s afraid of getting close.”

This sense of isolation from human companionship is further emphasized by the way in which he is genuinely touched by the fact that she is not afraid of him when she does discover he is a vampire.  I suspect she is the first normal human being (Buffy not being one of those) who wasn't.  Remember in IGYUMS what Ryan said about Wesley being more afraid of Angel than he was of the demon?  That is why Angel opened up to Rebecca so readily when she guessed the truth.  He almost sleep walked into his admissions so taken was he by her reaction.  Witness the wonder in his voice the next morning when he told Cordelia what he had done.  It was as if he could hardly believe what had happened. 

Angel:  “ I - told her that I was a vampire, and that daytime patio dining was out.”

Cordelia:  “Did you just make a joke?”

Angel:  “I really told her.”

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly of all, while under the first stages of the influence of the drug we begin to see just how desperately Angel feels the lack of warmth and companionship. 

“You smell ... so warm.  I miss that.”

So, while through Cordelia’s eyes we are conscious primarily of the threat within Angel through Angel’s eyes we perceive more than that.  We see the way he feels the responsibility for ensuring that Angelus’ return never becomes a reality.   His whole life is, therefore, dominated by the need to take precautions against it.   Moreover we see just what a burden that is.  And I think that what is so effective about the way this is done is its understatement.  Angel has never been a character to whine about his lot in life.  The "poor me" attitude we sometimes get from Buffy would have been entirely out of character and, for me, would have generated less sympathy.  Instead the writers let his circumstances speak for themselves and only amplify those in his own words in a very sotto voce way. 

And here we come to what is for me another strong point of the episode.    What I have just described is the price Angel pays for eternal youth. The quest for the same thing by Rebecca not only provides the motivation for her to drug Angel.  It is used I think to counterpoint the situations of the two protagonists.  Rebecca is obviously wealthy, young, good looking, loved by the public and has loyal friends.  That is not enough for her.  In contrast to Angel her concerns seem venial, even self-pitying.  She is as superficial as the system she is trying to fight and it is because of this that she is presented as the author of her own misfortune. Because of this by the end I for one did not feel a shred of compassion for her, despite the fact that she had been terrified and nearly killed.  On the other hand I do feel that we get a strong sense of Angel as victim both in his general situation described above and in the specifics of Rebecca’s actions.  Because of this the writers seemed to have pulled off the remarkable feat of giving us an "Angel goes psycho" episode that emphasized the tragedy of his life and therefore reinforced the view of him as a genuinely sympathetic character.  The importance of this cannot be overemphasized.  If the audience ever looses sympathy for the central character of the series then they may begin to accept the argument that the danger he poses outweighs the good he can do.

And let us make no mistake about it.  By focusing so firmly on the danger that lurks within him, “Eternity” represents an upping of the stakes for Angel the character and ANGEL the series (pun intended).  Wesley makes the point best when he says: "You walk a fine line Angel.  I don't envy you".  No one would.   This is something that I think has to be welcomed.  In many TV series, major characters who start out with offensive sides to them gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) loose them.  Someone who was just nasty then becomes merely misunderstood.  BUFFY itself has not been immune to this.  Even allowing for the implant, Spike is unrecognizable now from the character we saw in “School Hard”.  The motivation seems to be a desire not to offend the potential audience.  But in the process an important edge is lost.  I was therefore concerned that the producers of ANGEL might choose to downplay the lurking Angelus and instead play Angel as a straightforward crime fighting hero (albeit of the supernatural kind) because they do not want to put anyone off the star of the show by identifying him too closely with a homicidal maniac.  I am glad to say that not only have they resisted this temptation; they have actually gone in the opposite direction by sharpening the edge to Angel's character still further.  In BUFFY we proceeded essentially on the basis that Angel was in full control of the demon within him at all times and that there was only one specific set of circumstances in which the demon would be released i.e. if he lost his soul.  Clearly, that assumption can now no longer stand.

What happened when Angel was given the tranquillizer has been the subject of enormous debate on the ng and it is one of the few disappointing features of this episode that the explanation for its effects put into Wesley's mouth was botched.  FWIW, my take on what happened is as follows.  I have always thought of Angel in terms of two conscious entities within the same body – the human soul and the demon - engaged in a struggle for control of the actions of the body.   A state of drug-induced euphoria would not constitute “true happiness” causing the loss of the human soul.  It will, however, reduce if not actually destroy the will of the soul to continue in control of the body.  But it may well have no effect on he destructive impulses of the demon, thus allowing the demon to gain the upper hand in the struggle for control of the body. 

If my interpretation of what happened is correct its implications are clear.  We are being reminded that Angel must continually fight to retain control of the demon within and the outcome of the battle is not assured.  If he looses control once he can loose control again.  If that loss of control can be brought about by a happy pill are there any other circumstances in which it may also happen?  Thus the writers give a further twist to the debate on how much of a danger Angel is to humanity.  It will certainly provide ammunition to the "stake him now" brigade.  It raises further questions as to the wisdom or otherwise of Angel's decision to turn his back on his humanity in IWRY.  So, the moral ambiguities of Angel’s situation are strengthened.  Whether this is a good thing from the point of view of the series is a nice question.  From a dramatic point of view it certainly has its advantages.  The dangers and uncertainties now even more inherent in Angel's character also sharply increase the narrative possibilities for ANGEL the series (although given the fact that he is the hero of the show the writers obviously cannot push things too far).  Also increased is the scope for conflict both within him and with others.  Undeniably this makes for excellent dramatic potential and it is one of the strengths of "Eternity" that it opens up all of these possibilities.

Nor do the repercussions of “Eternity” end there.  Even if, as I do, you accept that they are separate, one of the great uncertainties still over Angel is the extent to which the human soul and the demon are linked.  In his rampage at the end Angelus taunted Cordelia and particularly Wesley very cruelly.  Angel’s opinion of Cordelia’s acting talents is exploited for its humor.  However his real opinion of Wesley is a much more serious matter.  Does he really regard Wesley as inferior but (unlike Angelus) is simply too polite to say it?  Wesley must be uncomfortably aware of the possibility, perhaps probability of this.  That is why I liked the ending.  It was appropriately ambiguous.  “Let’s just put it behind us” often translates into “this is just too painful to talk about.”  Will the events of this episode have implications for relations between the three?  I hope so.


Developing the Plot

My initial reaction to the plot itself was that it was very thin.   There was very little concentration on the mystery of the “stalker” who never was.   This mystery is resolved a little more than half way through the episode and then ceases to be an issue.  But the more I think about it the more I begin to appreciate the cleverness of this as a device.  The writers used the stalker plot to engage our attention while simultaneously setting about establishing Rebecca’s character and the inter-reaction between herself and Angel as part of the development of the real story they were interested in telling.   The first attack by the stalker brings Rebecca into Angel’s life.  The second incident, in her home, reveals to her Angel’s true nature.  The next time we see the stalker is at the Premier where the truth about him is revealed.  While this was happening there was a minimal attempt to carry out any real investigations by, for example, trying to discover the identity of the stalker (normally the most important step in a case like this).  Rather the emphasis was on Angel becoming Rebecca’s bodyguard, thus allowing us the time to get to know Rebecca’s insecurities and to understand Angel’s reaction to her. And while we were doing so we were unconscious of the real significance of the interaction between these two characters because it didn’t seem to serve any purpose in the context of the story we thought we were watching.  It was really only at the end of “Eternity” that we could look back and fully appreciate the importance of the set up.   I think this worked very well for a number of reasons. First of all, the faux stalker plot itself generally made sense (except for what appeared to be a very real the attempt to run Rebecca over with a car) and, once it had served its purpose, was neatly tied up and discarded.   Secondly, instead of Rebecca just becoming a generic victim we were allowed a sense of a real person, with real problems, unlike for example Melissa in “I Fall to Pieces”. But most of all there was the classic element of surprise. 

The writers had laid the groundwork to explain Rebecca’s actions but her precise intentions remained veiled.  When she arrives uninvited at Angel’s apartment everything seems innocent enough.  Then we see Rebecca drug Angel’s drink and subsequently learn from Cordelia’s about her ulterior motive.  The suspicions that Rebecca wants to be a vampire crystallize what we already knew about her and give us the motive.  We realize that putting the drug in Angel’s drink was part of her plan but we were still in the dark as to its true purpose or, more importantly, its real effect.  The story, therefore, unfolds before us in stages. The writers have not unfairly hidden very much.  But they stay one step ahead of us all the time as we try to understand what was happening.     And so our interest is hooked and we are drawn in.

In the crucial scene where everything is revealed Angel starts off by being really mellow, detached from reality even.  He is then suddenly aroused by a realization of what Rebecca wants.  His response is one of anger and aggression; in context very un-Angel like.  This scene works superbly both from the character point of view and in terms of dramatic structure.  From the audience’s point of view Angel’s sudden shift from relaxation to anger is a warning that something is wrong and, just when we are trying to comprehend what, the big surprise is sprung and we are staring into Angelus’ grinning face.  In terms of character, Angel’s anger is aroused because he has first hand knowledge of just how stupid Rebecca is being.  But paradoxically it is also an indication that the demon is surfacing within him.  When he realizes what he has done the full horror and despair about what is happening to him sets in.  I thought that was all very effective in giving an insight into Angel’s state of mind over the need to control the demon. 

The subsequent cat and mouse game between Angelus and Rebecca does no more than afford us an opportunity to share DB’s infectious enjoyment of Angelus.  But when Rebecca escapes into Angel’s offices and there meets Wesley and Cordelia the tone changes dramatically.  As the building is plunged into darkness and you had the sense of Angelus closing in on his victims the tension rises quite sharply.  For the first time how the night will end becomes a serious issue.  Wesley’s (admittedly ham fisted) explanation about the temporary effect of the drug meant we did not have to worry about a permanent return of Angelus.  The question then became one of survival for Wesley and Cordelia until morning.  I thought this aspect of the scene was especially very well handled.  It was always difficult to see how two humans could take out Angelus on their own and there was, by now, not much time to play with.  But the device of having a game of bluff between Angelus and Cordelia which allowed the former to be surprised and knocked unconscious by a fall was quite believable.  Just as important it also brought the final Act of the story to a tense and dramatic climax with Cordelia bluffing us the audience just as much as Angelus.

The effectiveness of the plotting was, I am afraid, somewhat spoiled because, in two important respects, the development of Rebecca’s character did lack a certain credibility.   First of all she deduced the fact that Angel was a vampire from s aeries of comparatively small clues:

Angel:  “I’m not what you think.”

Rebecca:  “You’re not?  Because: no reflection, dark private office, instantly knowing those letters weren’t written in blood; I guess what I would think is … vampire.”

This suggests Rebecca has a more substantial knowledge of vampire mythology than you would expect from a Hollywood star.   More significantly, however, it is one thing for a person to be forced to accept the existence of vampires when confronted with the overwhelming physical evidence (like Kate).  But would it be natural for a person, in the course of a few minutes, unquestioningly to accept  their existence by making deductions of this sort?  Remember one of the basic tenets of the Buffy and Angelverse is the ability of ordinary people to rationalize away clues such as those Rebecca mentions.  A still more problematic issue is that, if Rebecca was capable of weighing up the evidence like this, then on what basis did she conclude that being a vampire would help her?  The suggestion is that staying young would further her career.  But it appears she felt she was already too “mature” looking and having to avoid direct sunlight is a fairly obvious problem when it comes to making movies or TV programs.  Particularly in retrospect these questions do niggle since the motivations of Rebecca are obviously so central to the plot.



Here I have to say a few words about DB’s performance, which was outstanding.  It wasn’t just the evident enjoyment he got from playing Angelus.  That for me was slightly over the top, which I hasten to say was absolutely the right way to play Angelus in the context.  Perhaps even more effective was the way he played the quieter moments in which we were allowed glimpses of the inside of a very private man.  In particular I think that his face has become far more mobile than it ever was in “Buffy”.  Watch for example the look that flickers across it immediately after Rebecca gives him the invitation to stop by for the private screening.  If anything said “Oh yeah, like I’m that gullible” that did.

CC’s performance was also a little over the top at times and in my opinion less appropriately, although I think that is really the fault of the writers.  I appreciate the intention was to convey her excitement at meeting a famous person and what that could mean for her.  Unfortunately at times I thought it approached parody.   But in general I do like very much the way Cordelia was used to provide humor that, because it was so well integrated into the narrative (which was about a famous person), complemented it and did not simply get in the way.  For example while the scene in the theatre at the beginning seemed a bit of fun at Cordelia’s expense, it later assumed rather more significance. I think that Cordelia’s relentless self-promotion could have been even more effectively handled if she had been made to look less gushy.  In contrast the scene at the end with the water bottle was marvelous.  I really felt here was a woman desperately trying to keep herself under control and only just succeeding.

Perhaps the only performance that was not quite up to the job was that of Tamara Gorsky.  She was too controlled, too rational.  I think Rebecca’s actions argued for desperation and I just did not get that from her.



8/10.  Although the plot itself may seem on the surface a little trite, it worked terrifically well as a vehicle for the issues the writers wanted to explore.  In particular, through it, the two main actors were allowed to pursue their different and eventually conflicting agenda in a very natural and believable way to the point that it almost brought disaster to them both.  I think we get a stronger sense than ever before of the burden Angel carries within him.  Compared to the real depth of pathos this episode reaches much of the B/A writing in season 3 looks really rather shallow.  But there was more to the episode than the character stuff.  It was enlivened by a fine mix of humor and action.  No matter how serious a situation there is always an absurd element to human nature and the way we react to things.  I am glad the writers did not forget this.  So, when Cordelia arrives at  mansion after Angel and Rebecca had spent the night there she has a cross and lattes.  Talk about being prepared for anything.  In contrast the final scenes with Angelus managed to create a powerful sense of tension and threat.  The overall effect of the episode was, however, somewhat spoiled by a degree of implausibility in Rebecca’s reactions to Angel and by the carelessness with the explanation for Angelus’ temporary return.  It took different people on the ATS Newsgroup a few hours to come up with several variations, all of them better than Wesley’s.  But then that just goes to show what the writers really know ;-).



 Review revised and rewritten Friday,  September 08 2000