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Written By: Howard Gordon and Tim Minear

Directed By: Tucker Gates


The death of a much loved character like Doyle's so suddenly and unexpectedly provides an occasion in which to produce an outstanding piece of television.  “Hero” could have been such a piece but because of its flaws we got instead a very good piece of television and that is a pity.



The core of this episode’s problems lie in its treatment of its subject matter.  Having dipped its toe in the area of cultural and racial identity in "Bachelor Party", ANGEL, in "Hero",  plunges headfirst into the issue of racism at its most brutal and violent - genocide.   Unfortunately, it did so with all the subtlety of the proverbial bull in a china shop.  Whereas in "Bachelor Party" we had a cleverly nuanced look at a clash of cultural values, in "Hero" the writers reached for the most extreme stereotypes to paint a picture in the starkest black and white.  On the one hand we had evil pure-blood genocidal Nazis and on the other brave, decent, caring families complete with cute teenagers.  I mean could the writers have been any more blatant? There is, in particular, no attempt to explain the Scourge’s ideology except in the most crude terms:


Commander:  "The other day I was asked: 'Why hunt the mongrel?  Doesn't its very inferiority guarantee that it poses no threat?  Won't it die of it's own innate mortal stupidity?  Let me tell you, even the smallest of vermin need be addressed.  Half-breeds.  Worse.  They keep crossbreeding.  Forever diluting our precious demon blood with *their* weak simpering humanity. ….If we allow this to happen, it's as good as giving up the call to evil altogether. It's as good as becoming human ourselves.  Well, I say NEVER!   I say we will not stop until each and every half-breed is erased and our purity rules this planet!  We will not stop because the Higher Order demands it!”


This is a statement of pure, blind prejudice, nothing more.  If we assume that demon’s need no reason to hate and kill then there is no need to go into the motivation of the Scourge any deeper.  But both BUFFY and ANGEL use the supernatural as a metaphor for real problems in life.  Racial hatred is a  very important phenomenon and is, accordingly, a natural subject matter for examination in this way.  But the whole point of using this technique is lost if the only thing the viewer takes from it is “genocide is a bad thing”. As Spike would have put it:

 “To coin a popular Sunnydale phrase: ‘duh!’”

Here I am not saying that the writers should have been more balanced in their presentation of a racist ideology.  What I am saying is that the phenomenon of racial intolerance is  more complex than we saw in “Hero” and that the metaphor could have been used to explore so many different aspects of the issue.  For example, why did the pure-blood demons despise half-breeds?  In other words is racism the result of economic competition?  Is it fostered by leaders with a vested interest in creating division?  Is it a matter of historical experience arising from stories of past wrongs?  Is it something visceral in us all?  Is it a combination of all of these.  Moreover, the strength of racial hatred will vary and this will produce tensions between “true believers” and others.  To what extent do the others go along with the actions of the true believers?  Do they resist out of principle, or do they go along for the quiet life? 

As a matter of fact one of the reasons why I do not object in principle to the thinly disguised Nazi imagery and the 1940's look and feel (down to the motorcycle Angel stole) is because "Hero" had an opportunity to explore some of these issues by reference to how the Nazi state developed and behaved.   The story of Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s remains one of the World’s great social mysteries and a hotly debated subject to this day. This was an advanced, highly civilized and educated state.  How do you account for the phenomenon of genocide as we see practiced by the servants and agents of that state and how do we define and understand the attitude of those individuals and everyone else in the state?  This is a huge and complex topic.

Not only that but the parallels with the Nazi state open up all sorts of dramatic possibilities because that state was not only built on an expressly racist ideology and was strongly militarist in character (like the Scourge) but also lacked a clear unified power structure.  Instead it consisted of personal fiefdoms competing with each other to see which was ideologically "sounder" and using the "race card" against each other.  Allegations that so and so had "Jewish blood" were common currency in the power struggles.  There is so much material here to draw upon to make the Scourge a truly memorable villain.  

But Scourge were not identifiable as real individuals with real passions or fears which provoke us to thought or any form of self-examination.  Rather we got comic cut-outs.  There was no attempt to create a believable personality with strengths or weaknesses.  The Scourge’s motivation was one-dimensional.  Its members spent their time alternatively sneering or swaggering.  The Nazi imagery and ideology were not used as a basis on which to explore issues but simply as a short hand to show the Scourge were evil.

As a matter of fact in one important respect the use of Nazi imagery is worse than distracting.  The whole point about Nazi racial theories is that they were (and here I think I am using the correct technical terms) utter crap and complete garbage.  But the Scourge’s “bomb” implied that there were genetic differences between “pure-bloods” and half-breeds.  This is not a good message to pursue using Nazi imagery.  Would it not have been better if, when the bomb was used against the mate, a couple of “pure-bloods” standing beside him were also zapped.  Tiernan could then have tried to explain this away by saying that they were obviously contaminated in some way.  Not only would that have been a nice idea in itself, it would have opened up some interesting ideas about the need to believe in differences even when they do not really exist.  The pity of it is that the germ of that idea was already there.  IIRC, when “Hero” first aired a lot of people on the ATS Newsgroup quoted Anya’s remark about all demons being human hybrids.


A Character Study

In fairness to the writers, I suppose it could be said that the focus of this episode had to be Doyle’s death and in this context they had top concentrate a lot of attention on relating who and what Doyle was to the situation he found himself in, as a way of explaining his sacrifice.  And by and large this part of the episode worked very well. 

Of course Doyle’s death itself is formulaic.  We have seen the same thing hundreds of times before.  But there is a reason for this – it is a very good formula.  Indeed it has never really been bettered.  Our hero volunteers for horrible flamey death to save many innocent victims.   The previously unregarded sidekick and friend thwarts him and suffers said horrible flamey death I his place.  The innocents are saved.  The hero is also saved to save to fight another day but is still heroic.  The sidekick gets his one moment of glory.  There is guilt and angst aplenty.  This is a very satisfying combination for everyone (except the actor who looses a big weekly pay check.).

But the strength of “Hero” is that this scene doesn’t take place in isolation.  Particularly important is the way the episode picks up the various character threads which have been developing through the season to that point and brings them all together at the crucial point in a way which gives Doyle’s death real meaning.  Here is where the skill of the writers is most evident.  It makes Doyle death almost the logical outcome of everything that has gone before.  So, at  the very beginning of the episode we have Angel as the Dark Avenger in Cordelia’s little fantasy.  Doyle himself doesn’t even try to disguise his admiration for him as “the real deal in the hero department”.

Doyle:  "Come on, you lived and loved and lost and fought and vanquished inside a day, and I'm still trying to work up the courage to ask Cordy out for dinner, not to mention the part about telling her that I'm half demon.”

 In fighting the Scourge Angel takes charge, organizes everything and is mistaken (as it turns out) for “the promised one”.  He is the one who infiltrates the Scourge, finds out about the bomb and rushed back to the docks where he promptly sends Doyle and the others out of the way while he faces the storm troopers alone.  Doyle on the other hand starts off the episode as “everyman” and is quickly relegated by Cordelia to “weasel”.  He is self-deprecating about his own courage (“if they want a fight can’t someone else give it to them?”) and then reveals his secret.  He had previously refused to help refugees from the Scourge.  I should say in passing that this is something of a flaw in the episode.  The revelation of Doyle’s secret would have made more impact if he had actually been in a position to help the refugees.  In that case we could understand the idea that he had something to atone for and that would have given his sacrifice a real meaning.  But there is nothing to indicate that Doyle could have made any difference to the fate of the earlier victims of the Scourge and that fact  does lessen, for the viewer at least, the idea of his sacrifice being a logical culmination of a process of atonement.

In any event, the picture we have is of Angel as  the hero and Doyle as well, not the hero.  But the two are linked to one another by their friendship.  Again this is most tellingly demonstrated in their conversation at the very beginning of the episode.  Here  “brooding boy” opens up to Doyle in a way that he had never really done about personal things, not even to Buffy.  And significantly he has more faith in Doyle than he has in himself :

Doyle: “I would have chosen the pleasures of the flesh over duty and honor any day of the week.  I just don't have that strength.”

Angel:  "You never know your strength until you're tested."

And the need to have faith is an  idea that Doyle himself picks up in his talk with Reiff, when he is trying to run away.   He contrasts the option of “loosing yourself” against that of having faith in someone or something.  By implication he had lost faith when his demon ancestry was revealed.   It was this loss of faith which led him to reject the other Bracken half-demons who had come to him for help.  But now he had found it again.  He spoke to Reiff of his parents’ faith in Angel:

Doyle:  "They put their faith in something, Reiff.  You don't have to if you don't want to.  Maybe Angel doesn't know what he's doing.  It's possible.  But the other option: losing yourself somewhere, hoping it all goes away, I *know* that never works.  How about we go find your family?"

In that moment with Reiff, Doyle is really talking to himself.  He was identifying where he had gone wrong in his own life and as well as counseling the boy against making the same mistake of losing faith he was signaling he had found his own and was preparing the ground for that moment when, by demonstration, he proved it.

In the climactic scene with the bomb Doyle reverses the roles he and Angel have played to date.  He is the hero who rescues Angel, not just the half-breeds whom Angel would have saved anyway.  And he does so in the name of his friendship with Angel thus justifying the latter’s faith in him.  Indeed Alan Francis Doyle had himself found something or more accurately someone to have faith in – and it was Alan Francis Doyle.  He had faith in his ability to save his friend and the refugees who were depending on them.  Thus he redeems his earlier failure to help victims of the Scourge in both senses.  Firstly, by actually saving the later refugees but more particularly by finding his faith once more.  Thus all threads that the episode has been tracing as it led up to this moment  are brought together to create the feeling that “Hero” could just not have ended in any other way.

Nor should I forget the final moments of the extended tease that was the relationship between Doyle and Cordelia.  Actually relationship is too strong a word for what they had.  Their lightweight banter usually only ever provided some mild comic relief from the more serious stuff that was going on.  Doyle’s crush on Cordelia was in much the same vein.  It could never plausibly have gone anywhere but its ending was perfect.  Being poor and short are cardinal sins in Cordelia Chase’s world but she is certainly not superficial!


The Plot

One thing that Angel has been very good at is giving us a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end; where characters’ actions are believable and usually involve logical consequences.  That is certainly true here.  The way in which Angel and Doyle found the refugees, came up with a plan to help them and put that plan into action all made sense.  At the same time the story also made the fear and isolation of the refugees very real (something that was necessary for the credibility of the plot.  So, the scene where Doyle and Angel explored the very low rent neighborhood (devoid of any other life), found the refugees abandoned meal and discovered their hiding place from the smell of fear gave a clear idea of what life was like for the half-demons on the run.  And the sub-plot where Reiff ran away and Doyle had to get him back was also very well thought out.  I have already discussed how it helped develop the importance of having faith in yourself.  It also illustrated the fear and hopelessness of the refugees’ situation and served as an excuse for showing the Scourge in action.  

But it is really here that we see some of the major problems in the story.  First of all we do find ourselves watching a standard refugee escape plot.  There is a very nice little scene in which Angel intimidates the Harbor Master into giving the transport ship false certification but otherwise there is nothing new or unexpected to give the otherwise entirely predictable plot some interest.  Secondly the comic book nature of the Scourge ultimately  lets down not only the metaphor but also the storyline itself.  I do not find a comic cut out very threatening and the scene where they emerge from the darkness to ransack the neighborhood where Doyle and Reiff are hiding was so familiar that it held little tension or threat.   There is more to making an effective villain than atmosphere or numbers or evil intent.  You have to believe they are capable of doing real harm.  In particular this means we have to see evidence of intelligence at work or a capacity for doing the unexpected.  Because the Scourge is so one dimensional you know that little thought has gone into it and that it can be relied upon to act stupidly and, for the heroes, conveniently.  And indeed this was what happened here.  I found the ease with which Angel joined the Scourge and distracted attention fro Doyle and Reiff completely unbelievable.  The explanation Angel gave for wanting to be a member was itself implausible.   Vampires have never, as far as I can see, suffered from feelings of worthlessness because they inhabit former human bodies.  Indeed they seem to be quite arrogant creatures.  And how can we believe that Tiernan would fall for a story like that so readily.  Is he so trusting about the truthfulness of people he despises.  And even if he did believe Angel’s story why should he accept Angel into the fold so readily?  Is it not far more likely that he would kill him?  This bothers me not least because Angel joining the scourge seemed to have no other purpose than allowing him to get an idea of the extent of their hatred (which we knew anyway) and to see the bomb in action.  He could have achieved both objectives perfectly well by simply lurking.

Which brings us to the bomb itself.  First of all it is clearly scientific rather than magical and is so far beyond the capacity of modern science as to place it in the realm of science fiction.  So where did the Scourge get their scientists from?  If they can build that what other weapons can they build?  Secondly, if it was as powerful as they said then why not just use it indiscriminately throughout the world.  Why have storm troopers do the dirty work themselves?

And then finally we have the ending.  Doyle’s death, from a dramatic point of view, had to be the climax of the episode.  Everything led up to it and it had to settle everything.  The problem is that, from a logical point of view, it should not have.  The bomb should not have affected pure-bloods at all.  So there was no reason why the Scourge should have abandoned the scene once it was detonated.  They were supposed to be fanatics who didn’t mind dying in the cause.  After the bomb was defused the demon half-breeds were still alive and on their way to safety.  There were more than enough members of the Scourge left to make a fight of it even with Angel.  So what happened to them?



7/10 What we have therefore in “Hero” is actually a beautifully observed piece of character writing which, for someone like me who can enjoy something simply as a character piece is well worth the effort.  With one small quibble (about Doyle’s need to atone for past sins) this episode had the feel of a true tragedy.  We were caught up looking at an event which in retrospect seemed almost inevitable, the culmination of Doyle’s whole experience as part of Angel Investigations.  And in the case of the death of a much loved character this gives a very satisfying sense of closure.  This was the saving of the episode.  “Hero” could, however, have been so much more.  While the character development was well done there was really nothing in it that goes beyond the superficial in its treatment of its subject matter, and that was a pity given how important the theme of racial intolerance can be in modern society.  Because of the way the villains were treated they were a sad shadow of what they should have been.  Finally, I am bound to say that the plot itself lacked a little imagination and there were a number problems with some fairly crucial plot points such as Angel joining the Scourge and the aftermath of the bomb being detonated.  So, while I have to say I enjoyed “Hero” I also found it frustratingly a disappointment.




Review revised and rewritten on Sunday, September 17th 2000