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To Shanshu in LA




Written By: Howard Gordon

Directed By: Dave Semel


The Theme of Family

“Expecting” comes at a very interesting point in “Angel’s” first series.  In successive episodes, Doyle was killed, Wesley introduced and Cordelia and Angel began to bond as friends for the first time.  “Expecting” seems to me to represent the culmination of a process that has been going on since the opening scene in “Parting Gifts” – the re-establishment of Angel’s little group with Wesley as an integral member but with the closest relationship being between himself and Cordelia.  The medium through which we explore this process is Cordelia’s pregnancy.


Cordelia’s Pregnancy

The parallels between what happened to Cordelia in this episode and what happens so often in real life are too obvious to need stating.  An unwanted pregnancy is something that many young women have to cope with.  It is an obvious subject matter for a series like “Angel” exploring the lives of 20-somethings and it strikes me that the story handles these parallels very well – up to a point. 

I think that, first of all, the writers have been very clever in setting out the backdrop to Cordelia’s pregnancy.  They refer to Cordelia’s move from small-town Sunnydale to big city LA and its anonymity and the insecurity that goes with trying to make her way in such a setting:

Wilson:  “So you left Sunnydale and came to LA.  What was that like?”

 Cordelia:  “Like skydiving without a parachute except for the smashing your body to bits part.  Actually, no, it was like that, too.”

In the way that Wilson impresses her with his plausible charm we are shown how you can seek friendship and comfort in such an environment and how, in a world full of shallow people who are just as insecure as you, advantage can be taken of you. 

Cordelia: God, for the first time I like LA.  In high school I knew my place and, okay, it was a haughty place, and may be I was a *tad* shallow.”

Wilson:  “Oh, hey, nobody feels like they belong here.  I mean that’s the point of LA to make you feel as insecure as possible.”

Thus, it is not only believable that Cordelia will let her defenses down but the “metaphor” (probably not the right word in this context) is strengthened because it deals with the circumstances in which so many young women find themselves pregnant and abandoned.   I especially like the idea of Wilson and the others worshiping a demon who provides them with success, money and fame in return for them acting as his “procreative surrogates”.  This seems to me to illustrate perfectly the shallowness of people who, in real life, are only interested in exploiting others for the advantage it brings to them.  In this context I thought that the two scenes with the bartender (small as they were) were quite telling in indicating the contempt people like Wilson held others in.  In the first he is casually dismissed by being given a tip.  It’s only money and he is only a bartender.  In the second Angel shrewdly guesses the intent behind such a gesture:

“I’m guessing that you’re serving drinks day and night to jerks that think that they can buy anything.”

Something else that is well handled is the progress of Cordelia’s mental condition during the pregnancy.  We certainly get a sense of bewilderment, anger and panic.  There is the initial shock, then the disbelief.  There is the sense of abandonment when she discovers Wilson is gone.  We see her sense of panic in her attitude to the other pregnant woman and throughout the examination by the doctor.  All of this seems to me to accurately parallel the real life experience of a young woman who, once she discovers her pregnancy, is them left to cope with it on her own.

The “metaphor” of “Expecting” breaks down, however, in two crucial aspects.  First there is in the sense of what it means to be a mother.  As a man I tread very warily here but it seem to me that when a woman has an unwanted pregnancy the crucial point for her comes when she decides what it means to be a mother and what it means to bond with the life within her and it is this which determines what her attitude to the unborn child really is.  I can’t help feeling that the “psychic link” between the demon spawn and Cordelia (which effectively represses her independent mind) trivializes this issue.    And following on from this, the end is a complete cop-out.    One of the great strengths of the Buffy/Angelverse is that it usually embraces enthusiastically two important ideas.  The first is that we sometimes have to make very difficult choices no matter what the personal cost.   Secondly, we have to face consequences for the choices we make, even where those consequences are out of all proportion to the offence, heck even where there is no offence at all.  This is a strength not only because it makes for good drama; it also reflects real life.   And in “Expecting” we see a situation tailor made for this approach.  Whatever happens during the course of a pregnancy, there are consequences for the woman.  Things cannot go on as if nothing had happened.  And yet this is precisely the message of the tag.  As soon as demon is killed its offspring vanish as if they had never existed.  Cordelia gets to avoid any difficult choice (e.g. over killing the demon spawn).  Everything is buried in her statement at the end:

“I mean, it was an ordeal, but I got through it, - and I’m a lot stronger than those loser demon surrogates thought.”

Yes, Cordelia is strong but that does not mean there should be no consequences for what she went through.  Strength comes from how you deal with consequences, not in their absence.  And in one other important respect “Expecting” dodges the issue. What did happen to the “procreative surrogates”.  This was completely glossed over.   Without the Hacksaw demon they can do no more harm.  They also loose their passport to easy wealth and fame.  But otherwise they do not appear to have been confronted with the consequences of their actions.  In both respects it seems to me that “Expecting” trivializes its subject matter.  It ignores perhaps the single most important issue surrounding a pregnancy – consequences and the responsibility for those consequences.  In other words it takes the easy way out.  If you do that I think you are being less than honest in your treatment of the “metaphor”.

Still, leaving aside my reservations about “Expecting” dodging the hard part of the “metaphor”, I think a story about Cordelia’s pregnancy was an ideal vehicle in which to explore the idea of the “Fang Gang” (as I sometimes call it) as family.  After all an unwanted pregnancy within it is sometimes on of the toughest tests a family can face.   From this point of view, therefore, it was very important that the writers showed us the nature of the relationship between our two principals before the pregnancy became an issue.


Angel, Cordelia and Wesley

The relationship we see between Angel and Cordelia at the beginning of the episode is a fairly complex one that operates at different levels.  First of all we see Angel as employer and Cordelia as employee.  But even here the relationship is pretty informal - Angel’s attitude to Cordelia’s filing eccentricities is one of bemused tolerance.  It merges almost seamlessly into the more personal aspect of the relationship.  When Sabrina mentions Wilson he wants to know why he has never met him in a light, almost bantering tone.  Cordelia for her part, both as employee and at a personal level, shows no deference.  She is not the least bit defensive about the filing and when asked about Wilson gives as good as she gets. 

Angel:  “So, ahem. You’ve been seeing someone.  How come I didn’t know?”

Cordelia:  “Because I’m ashamed of you.  Not to mention how you’d embarrass me by giving him the third degree.”

The undercurrent here is unmistakable.  It is the age-old struggle between a young woman trying to assert her freedom and independence in the face of her family (here represented by Angel as a sort of “older brother”) who out of concern for her try to police her choice of date.

In the teaser we also see the relationship that is beginning to develop between her and Wesley.  More so than with Angel the stress here is with their different personalities.  Wesley is essentially serious minded and a little up tight.  There is far less of a bond between him and Cordelia at this stage so he is far more openly disapproving of her willingness to “shake her booty”.

This aspect is drawn out more and more in the subsequent scenes. Wesley immediately blames Cordelia for the misdirection to 23 Cabrillo, criticizes her for not paying attention to her duties and, impliedly, her  “morals”.  Angel by contrast is much more understanding.  Again when Cordelia doesn’t show up for work after her date with Wilson Angel is genuinely worried but Wesley is willing to think the worst of her – “avoiding her responsibilities”.

That is why when Wesley and Angel discover what has happened to Cordelia, it is Wesley’s attitude that is the more striking and welcome.  I thought that it had been set up for Wesley to start blaming her for her condition.  Yet the first substantive comment he makes is to reassure her she was not being punished.  It was the very unexpected nature of this comment that makes it stand out.  In subsequent scene we see the best of Wesley.  He is calm and controlled himself, always remembering that his first responsibility is to reassure Cordelia and panicking himself will help no one.   He analyses what is happening to her; he is reasonably honest with her yet at the same time offers her hope and comfort.  In short his attitude throughout could hardly be improved on.

From the point of view of the development of the Fang Gang this is a crucial step.  Wesley is not yet a formal employee of “Angel Investigations”.  Indeed at the beginning he is still on the outside looking in.   But by the end of “Expecting” he really is part of the team.  His participation in the teaser is very well judged.  He wants to make himself useful, he wants to be part of the team but is too proud to admit it in case he is rebuffed.  More than that he is quite lonely.  So he seizes the flimsiest excuse possible to visit, even bringing along “Word Puzzle 3-D” in the hope that if nothing else happens he can at least spend time in Angel and Cordelia’s company.  Angel’s willingness to include him in the hunt for the Tahval demon is a major step forward for him but, as I have already said, it is with Cordelia that he proves his real worth – both with his research skills and his personal skills.  Finally he plays a crucial role in killing the demon.  At the end Cordelia draws no distinction between Angel and Wesley.  She has two people to trust.

Angel’s role in the progress of the pregnancy is much more limited.  I think that this is good writing.  His concern for Cordelia is clear from the beginning and we do not need to be hit over the head with it.  The “I’m family” remark to the bartender was, however, a nice touch, as was Phantom Denis’ concern in all of this.  His unheeded suspicion of Wilson and his offer of tissues to Cordelia the next morning were both very well done.  They emphasized the “we are family” theme without going overboard into sentimentality.


The Plot

Less successful was the story itself.  The principal problem with it was that it was just too predictable.  ANGEL as a series has sometimes been derivative.  There is nothing wrong with retelling a familiar story.  But in doing so you must bring something new twist to it to keep the entertainment value.  And the plot of “Expecting” has really very little in it that shows fresh thinking.

The various stages in the plot are all competently handled.  We first have Cordelia going out on a seemingly innocent date.  Wilson seems both charming and genuine.  When she brought him home the fact that Denis was suspicions worked very well.  At the time it simply looked as if her were being childish, jealous even.  It was, however, a clue that all was not as it seemed and this led directly to what was supposed to be the big surprise of the episode – the revelation of Cordelia’s pregnancy.  This twist changed the nature of “Expecting” entirely by presenting us with the problem for Angel to solve: how had Cordelia become pregnant and how could he ensure she came to no harm.  This becomes something of a mystery tale with a problem to be solved.  And the way that it was solved took up most of the rest of the program as we started to gather bits of information to form a picture.  First there are the multiple heartbeats, the acid, the revelation that other women are pregnant, the clue about Wilson’s money smelling and finally the revelation that he is human but acted as surrogate for a demon.   Both Angel’s investigations and the way things are revealed  both by it and in parallel with it proceed in a fairly smooth logical progression and the character developments mentioned above are all woven quite professionally into it.  

The problem, though, is that we can see everything important coming a mile off and the rest isn’t very interesting or important.  The fact that the episode was about Cordelia’s demon pregnancy was hardly hidden beforehand.  There wasn’t much point in presenting it as a bolt from the blue when we were, if you pardon the expression, “expecting it”.  I suspect the big twist was intended to be Cordelia’s turning on Wesley.  So, a woman impregnated by a demon falls under the psychic control of the spawn.  Like we have never seen that before.  It didn’t help either that the event was foreshadowed at various stages.  So after, for example, Cordelia’s question in the pre-natal exam: “Do they look healthy?” or her reference to her being “a partner in creation” mean that her declaration that  “No one is going to hurt my babies” comes as no surprise at all.

The fact that Wilson wasn’t a demon himself and the identity of the real father were twists of sorts but hardly very important.  The same could be said of the revelation that other women were pregnant.  The line “someone’s raising an army” was interesting but absolutely nothing ever came of it so its significance was zero. 

Another major problem is that, unusually for an ANGEL episode, the real story takes about fifteen minutes to get going and even then proceeds at a fairly leisurely pace.  The scenes between Cordelia and Wilson in the Lounge and at her apartment are really too long and the scenes between Angel and Serena serve more to interrupt the flow of the story than it does to add anything important. 

I also thought that some of the dialogue was more than a bit clunky.   A good example of this is the Hacksaw demon’s

“Who is the interloper to think you could disturb the birth of my children?”

 when Wesley shows up.  Worse still, I found Angel’s declaration that Wilson and the others were “procreative surrogates for a vile demonic entity” a bit too close to self parody for comfort.

In general, though, I liked the ending.  First of all in the giant Hacksaw demon we were given a really formidable opponent and I was left wondering how Angel would defeat it at all.  And this was yet another example of the special effects in “Angel” being much more ambitious and striking than in “Buffy”.  The Hacksaw demon was, for TV, quite an impressive effort, despite the fact that they seemed to change its scale a couple of times.  This is the sort of thing that a fantasy series should be doing.  It was certainly on a different planet to the corresponding demon in “Reptile Boy” which IIRC was an extra in a large, green prophylactic.  I  also liked the ingenuity of the “solution” Angel dreams up to kill the demon and the execution of that solution.   This incidentally allows Wesley to participate fully in saving Cordelia, thus further strengthening his integration into the team. 

Other Aspects

Finally, a word about two of the more minor aspects of the episode which nevertheless added greatly to its entertainment vale.  This was yet another example of the “sex is bad” theme in the Buffy/Angelverse but it is very nice to see the writers poke a little fun at this aspect of the plot in Angel’s “We all knew that” line at the end.  Equally I like to see them poke fun at the Angel mystique.  Gay/Batman jokes are always welcome as was the humor from Angel’s reaction to Cordelia drinking blood.  In fact, in general the humor was very effectively used in the interplay between Angel, Wesley and Cordelia, especially at the beginning.  Wesley’s deadly seriousness when bursting into the wrong house was especially funny.

In addition to this all the key performances were all good.  Little of any great substance was asked of DB but both AD and CC put in very convincing performances.  CC in particular had to handle an unusually wide range of emotions for her – vulnerability, confusion, anger, fear etc and pulled it off very well.



6.5/10.  There was some very interesting character related material in this episode.  This helped establish the Fang Gang, not so much as a team but as a family, with very close personal and not just working relationships.  And the choice of metaphor was ideally suited to this purpose.  But the way the metaphor was handled was one of the things that let the episode down.  The writers did the easy bit well enough but didn’t follow through when it came to the hard bits.  A “feel good” ending is all very well but it just seems cheap in these circumstances.  The plot, however, is the real weakness of this episode.  It was simply too derivative and too predictable, although competently enough executed.  The fact that Cordelia’s children were demon, gained psychic control of her, threatened her life and depended on the continued existence of their father came as no surprise and clearly pointed to the inevitable conclusion.  This was writing by numbers.



Review revised and rewritten on Sunday, September 17th 2000