In the Dark
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In The Dark

Written by: Doug Petrie

Directed by: Bruce Seth Green

The First Crossover Event

The BUFFY Episode "The Harsh Light of Day" (THLOD) and the ANGEL episode "In the Dark" were given the combined billing of the first "BUFFY/ANGEL" crossover event.  Indeed much of the prior publicity gave the impression that this crossover would involve Buffy and Angel themselves.  This was misleading.  Yet, paradoxically, there was a far more meaningful crossover between THLOD and "In the Dark" than there was in later crossover events.  The one thing that linked "Pangs" and IWRY on the one hand or "Sanctuary" and "The Yoko factor" on the other was the fact that Buffy and Angel were present together in those episodes.  Otherwise the connection between the respective BUFFY and ANGEL episodes was tenuous at best.  In particular, the inclusion of Angel in both BUFFY episodes feels forced.   He is artificially inserted into plots in which he has no real part.  Perhaps the fact that the two principals would not be seen together on either THLOD or "In the Dark" meant that, in order to justify using the term "crossover" in relation to those two episodes, there had to be a much more significant connection between them.  Certainly, one way of creating this connection was to have a single problem that carried over quite naturally from the BUFFY episode to the ANGEL one.  And, indeed, through the simple expedient of having a single principal villain, Spike, begin his quest for the gem of Amarra in Sunnydale and finish it in LA did seem to give the two episodes a sense of unity. 

Building the Theme

But this fact posed a very interesting challenge for the writers of “In the Dark”.  From the beginning it was clear that there were significant differences between Buffy's world and the one that Angel now inhabited.  These arise not only from the obviously diverse natures of the experiences of students on a University Campus in a small town on the one hand and the lives of young adults in a big city like LA on the other.  They also derive from the contrasts between the principal characters themselves.  They are the ones who form the focus of each show and shape their themes accordingly.  There was, therefore, an obvious difficulty in finding a theme or an idea in the sequel to the BUFFY story that would be a natural fit in Angel’s very different world.  It is greatly to the credit of the writers that they did so very successfully.  The key to this was exploiting the properties of the gem of Amarra itself.  For Buffy, no less than for Spike, the ring was no more and no less the mean of keeping its wearer safe.    That is why she wanted Angel to have it.  But the theme of the ANGEL episode was built around what the ring meant in a much wider sense. It is, perhaps, Doyle who puts things most graphically:

Cordelia:  “Angel has the ring, right?”
Doyle:  “Right!  I bet he is out hanging 10 right about now, out on the sandy shore at.  Wind in his hair, bikini babes a whistling.”

This is Angel’s chance if not to become human then essentially to live like one, free from the restrictions of a vampire.  He can come into the sun.  And yet from the very beginning he hesitates.  Despite the obvious advantages of the ring for someone engaged in fighting evil he hesitates to accept it from Oz, refuses to put it on and is even quite harsh with Doyle for going on about it.  Why? 

There are several quite graphic torture scenes in “In the Dark”.  Ostensibly these are about Spike and his accomplice Marcus trying to force Angel to disclose the whereabouts of the ring.  But that is only on the surface.  There was never much prospect that Angel would reveal this information, even under extreme torture.  And indeed in plot terms Spike’s principal focus is on forcing Doyle and Cordelia to get the ring and hand it over to him as a way of saving Angel.  So what are the torture scenes about?   Classically such scenes can be used to force someone to admit to something about himself that he wants to keep hidden.   Where the torturer is depicted not simply as a brute but someone who is both intelligent and insightful and who enjoys the intellectual challenge of breaking a victim's will to resist it can be interesting and effective way of exploring the deepest secrets of an individual (and yes I know how sick that sounds).  In Marcus we have such an individual.  He is fascinated by his victim, he intuitively knows he has a soul and has known love.   In marked contrast to Spike’s whose impatience for the ring is palpable Marcus never directly asks where it is.  Instead he takes the indirect approach:

Marcus:  “Most things that live and breath hate the dark and love the light.  We are different though, aren’t we?  We hate the light of day, and it hates us back in kind. You hid the ring Angel, or you could be walking in the light right now.  So I have to wonder: what do you want if not the ring?  It’s through the pain that we find the truth of who we are.  It strips us of our defenses.  We are made innocent again like children.  I like children, Angel.   I’m here to help you find that innocence, Angel, here, with the light.

And this is the question he insistently return to: “What do you want Angel?”.  As he does so he gradually he gets to the truth:

Marcus:  “You did terrible things when you were bad, didn’t you?  And now you are trying so hard to do good.  But Angel, there is nothing either bad or good, but thinking makes it so.  Now I can make the pain go away, and as you know, I can bring it back again.)  What do you want, Angel?  I think I know, but I’d like to hear it from you.  The truth.  I’ll know if you’re lying.”
Angel:  “I want… forgiveness.”

This is the truth and it answers the question why Angel was so dubious about the ring.  Marcus was right when he surmised that what Angel wants and what the ring represents are two different things.  What Angel wants is redemption and redemption must be earned.  It must be bought through helping the weak and the vulnerable.  Angel himself later explains to Doyle how the ring is incompatible with this purpose when he reveals to him his decision to destroy it:

Doyle:  “Care to explain?  -  I mean this ring is your redemption.  It’s what you’ve been waiting for.”
Angel:  “Nah, it just looks like it.’
Doyle:  “Angel, man, think what you’re saying.”
Angel:  “I have.  I’ve thought of it from every angle, and what I figure is I did a lot of damage in my day, more than you can imagine."
Doyle:  “So what, you don’t get the ring because your period of self-flagellation isn’t over yet?  I mean think of all the daytime people you could help between 9 and 5.”
Angel:  “They have help.  The whole world is designed for them, so much that they have no idea what goes on around them after dark.  They don’t see the weak ones lost in the night, - or the things that prey on them.  And if I join them, maybe I’d stop seeing, too.”
Doyle:  “And who’d look out for all the insomniacs?”
Angel:  “I was brought back for a reason, Doyle, and as much as I would like to kid myself, I don’t think it was for 18 holes at Rancho.”

This is something Angel probably always realized.  The real question was whether he would have the moral courage to act on that belief.  That is why, at the beginning of the episode, he didn’t put on the ring but he didn’t destroy it either.  He hid it because he couldn’t make up his mind what to do.

And it is here that we come to the importance of the “B” plot.  It is a very small one.  It consists of basically three scenes.  On the surface it seems almost insignificant compared to Angel’s other concerns in this episode.  But it is crucial to our understanding of Angel’s decision to destroy the ring.  Rachel is a woman abused by her “druggy stalker boyfriend”.  He even tries to kill her.  But she can never escape from him because she thinks she needs him:

“I… I…. I just start to jones for him.  The way he joneses for rock.  And I call, or I find him in some dive, and I drag him home, - and it’s good for a while.”

Angel’s response is to try to persuade her to believe in herself.

Angel:  “You’re at a crossroads, I know.  It’s either go for the easy fix and wait for the consequences, or take the hard road and go with faith.”
Rachel:  “Oh, god.  You’re not from that freaky church on Sunset, are you?”
Angel:  “In yourself.  That kind of faith.  What I’m saying is: if you leave Lenny for good, it’ll hurt.  But eventually you’ll be stronger for it.  And maybe you’ll find your way to the kind of love you deserve.”

Here, as it turns out, Angel was delivering a message to himself.  Keeping the ring would be the easy fix.   But the consequence would be that the quest for his own redemption would be compromised.  Destroying the ring was the hard option but doing so would lead to the redemption he desired.   What he needed therefore was belief in himself.  And he found that belief most of all in his strength of character in standing up to the torture.

            Angel:  “You never cracked me, Marcus.  -  You tried, and you failed. 

This story therefore crystallizes the importance for Angel of his own redemption by demonstrating just what it is that he is prepared to give up for it.  But the important point is that we actually see Angel grow in his understanding of what is required of him in the course of this episode.  He makes the sacrifice at the end of “In the Dark” because of his experiences in it.  It can thus be said to be a true turning point in his development as a hero

And we are left in no doubt about the nature of the sacrifice that Angel made.  When, after killing Marcus, Angel walks out into direct sunlight for the first time in nearly 250 years there is a lyrical quality about the sight that greets him: the sea, the sky, the children playing on the beach in the warm, welcoming sunshine.  The associations in our own heads are obvious enough.  It creates emotionally for us an understanding of just what it is that Angel is giving up.

Developing the plot

The plot itself is a fairly standard one.  Angel is captured by the principal villain of  the piece, Spike, because the latter wants the gem of Amarra from him.  Doyle and Cordelia then have to rescue Angel while somehow ensuring that Spike does not get what he wants.   This, or something similar, has been done many times before.  Yet it remains an effective formula because, like any really good strategy game, while the basics elements remain the same, there is enough room for variation to allow the writers to create a new and interesting scenario each time.  Here, for example, unlike many of the later ANGEL plots, there is little attempt to create a mystery in this episode.  Spike, for example,  announces his intentions in pretty unambiguous terms from the outset and it isn’t too long before he blows his cover by trying an abortive ambush on Angel.  But this is a clever and effective device because it allows the story to change and develop as it goes along.  At the start Spike doesn’t seem that dangerous, at least to Angel.  He is easily seen off and then Angel goes after him while Doyle and Cordelia remain safely in hiding.  Then suddenly just when Spike seems cornered the writers surprise us.  Marcus appears out of nowhere and Angel is captured.  We go from plain sailing to possible disaster in an instant.

And this brings me to another one of the undoubted strengths of the episode, namely the combination of villain.  Spike and Marcus counterpoint one another very well.  Spike is impetuous, almost to the point of recklessness.  He jeopardizes his whole plan because he can't muster the patience to wait a little longer.  And then when Angel is captured he rails ineffectively about wanting the ring.  Marcus, on the other hand, is calm, cool and relaxed.   The contrast to Spike makes him look and sound purposeful.  This quiet remorselessness is, therefore, far more disturbing and dangerous than Spike’s bluster. 

Spike: Look, I want my ring back!   If I don’t get it pretty soon, I’m going to stake me old Sire right here and now!”
Marcus:  “Are you finished?  He knows you won’t kill him until you get the ring.  He knows you’re lying.”
Spike drops the stake, to Marcus:  “You get it for me.”
Marcus:  “Soon he’ll want to tell me everything he knows; and then some.  And he knows I’m not lying.”

But Spike himself is also a very dangerous individual.  His aggressive nature and his capacity for violence are stressed several times.  But nowhere do we get a stronger feeling of just how dangerous an individual he is than when he confronts Cordelia and Doyle in Angel’s apartment.  Despite being threatened by a crossbow he is so at ease that we take seriously his statement that Cordelia would be “dead before the arrow leaves the bow.”  He and Marcus make a formidable combination and with Angel chained up helplessly (his one escape attempt ending in a very painful failure) we get a very strong sense of just how dangerous a situation they are all in.  Moreover, there is the complicating factor of the ring.  Here the writers were being a little more clear headed than they were with the Box of Gavrox in the BUFFY episode “Choices”.  Spike’s overriding purpose was to get the ring of Amarra.  While he offered to trade Angel for the ring there was little discussion between Doyle and Cordelia about the morality of making such a trade.  Implicit in this was an acceptance that trading the ring for Angel was unjustifiable and that, therefore, any scenario which saw Spike, or any other vampire, keeping the ring represented a defeat.   The task was, therefore, to rescue Angel without loosing the ring.  This would not be an easy matter, not least because neither Cordelia nor Doyle knew where it was.

 The Rescue of Angel

The solution to these problems was not one of the most imaginative parts of the episode.  The way Doyle sniffed out the ring did smack a little of a deus ex machina device and Oz bursting into the warehouse to distract Spike while Angel was rescued was itself pretty formulaic.  But it did lead to a terrific ending.  The writers clearly (and I think rightly) decided that freeing Angel was not going to be a sufficient climax for the episode and that something more was required.  Spike, for obvious reasons, couldn’t be killed so they left him fuming helplessly and set up a final showdown between Angel and Marcus.  This was the ideal finish.  First of all, there was the element of surprise in  Marcus getting the ring rather than Spike.  Ironically this was after Angel had warned Spike about Marcus but the latter had not listened.  More importantly, however, throughout the torture scenes, Angel’s principal opponent was not Spike but Marcus.  It was, therefore, fitting that the final confrontation should be between these two. Then the writers had added a little spice to the mix by suggesting he liked to do nasty things to children.  And to make things even more interesting the fight took place in broad daylight, with Marcus wearing a ring that would make him unkillable and Angel in a badly weakened state.  The last part in particular might have been to going just a little over the top.  Controlling arms and legs shortly after they have had red hot pokers stuck though them wouldn’t have been easy.  But there can be no denying the power of the sequence that began with a flaming Angel charging across the pier and taking Marcus with him into the sea below.


Finally, I would like to mention one other highlight to this episode: its characterization.  There were some small lapses.  For example on a couple of occasions when facing Spike and Marcus Angel fell into Buffy-like quips.  For example:

Angel:  “Might as well go home, Spike.  The gem of Amarra stays with me.”

Spike:  “Why?  Because you are vampire detective now?  What’s next?  Vampire cowboy?  Vampire fireman?  Oh, Vampire ballerina.
Angel:  “I do like to work with my legs.” 

This isn’t Angel’s style.  But such small problems can be overlooked when compared to the strengths of the episode in this respect.  In “In the Dark” for the first time we begin to get a very real sense of the rapport building up between the various members of Angel’s little group, especially between Doyle and Cordelia on the one hand and Angel and Doyle on the other.   There is a great deal of time devoted to the interplay between Doyle and Cordelia in particular. They come from different worlds.  Doyle is very much the realist.  He understands and accepts the harsher facts of life whether these come in the form of unpaid invoices, less than ideal living conditions or the various ways someone like Spike can get you out of your home.  Cordelia is still not willing to admit the truth, hence her insistence on being an actress and her denial of how grim her own apartment is.   But despite this it is noticeable just how easy and relaxed they are in each other’s company.  It’s almost as if they have known each other for years.  They do not feel obliged to side step each others sensibilities out of an excess of politeness but at the same time their tone is light and friendly so no offence is caused or taken.  And crucially when called on to do so they work together very effectively, as when organizing Angel’s release.  And as for Angel and Doyle I am struck forcefully by how relaxed Angel was in his company on the roof.  The contrast to his usual awkwardness with people demonstrates just how close they were becoming even by that stage.

But perhaps the single finest piece of characterization was Spike.  Here the writers got virtually everything right - his impatience, (very reminiscent of “School Hard”), the difficulty in controlling his temper, his taste for violence and his uncertain judgment.  And, as we have seen, a lot of this was actually built into the plot itself.  But in the final analysis perhaps the best contribution Spike makes to this episode comes from his trademark wit.  At its best this is cruel and accurate as well as clever.  That is the fun of it.  And we do get a lot of that here.  The classic example lies in his withering contempt for Angel in that classic piece of mocker in the teaser but there was a good deal more in this vein (“slutty the vampire slayer” for example).


8/10  This could have been a straight forward piece of action adventure and it would have worked very well at that level.  There were strong and cruel villains; the hero got himself into a bad corner and could only be extricated with difficulty and as well as his life there was something very important at stake.  As this story progressed we had our fair share of unexpected twists and turns.  And all of this was greatly enlivened by some sharp humorous banter between Doyle and Cordelia and by Spike’s rather more biting wit.  But above all there is real weight to the episode.  We do now begin to get a sense not of someone who starts off self-sacrificing and noble but who grows into that role through his own suffering and moral courage.  I appreciate that willingness to allow a character to develop.  I also like the implication of the ending for the sort of a figure Angel will be, not just a warrior fighting physical battles but someone who will take a stand on principle. 


  Review Added Sunday, August 06 2000