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Are You Now...
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Dear Boy
Guise Will Be Guise
The Shroud of Rahmon
The Trial
Blood Money
Happy Anniversary
Thin Dead Line
Dead End
Over the Rainbow
Through the Looking Glass
No Place Like Plrtz Glrb




Written by: David Greenwalt

Directed by: Michael Lange

The set up for the Premier

In my review of "To Shanshu in LA" I noted that the writers of that episode had used it principally to set up season 2.  In particular, the first season finale had defined the characters of the principals in ANGEL, both in terms of their own outlook and motivations and also in terms of their relationships with others.   This approach had a number of very important advantages.  Not the least, it acted as a bridge between the first two seasons thus reinforcing the feeling of continuity of character so successfully created in season 1.  Secondly it means that season 2 already starts with a sense of direction, a feeling that it is going somewhere.

In "Judgment" the writers made very good use of this groundwork.  They could not, of course follow up on all the storylines inherited from “To Shanshu in LA”.  One of the most successful aspects of that episode was the way in which a variety of different characters and incidents were used to set up so many different issues for season 2 while at the same time appearing to fit organically within the plot of that episode.  Here, however, the writers had to be  more conservative.  It is one thing to set up four or five different themes or plotlines in the context of a single episode.  You cannot, of course, properly develop that number in the same limited time.   It is not surprising therefore that in “Judgment” the writers have chosen to concentrate on just one of the themes set up by "To Shanshu in LA".  So, for example, we see nothing of Kate.  There is the briefest of reminders of Cordelia's new attitude when she abandons an acting class for the call of duty.  And we only get a small taste of the simmering personal resentment Lindsey now feels for Angel and the much more ambiguous attitude Darla has towards him.   The last two were obviously inserted as gestures foreshadowing future developments.  But “Judgment” focuses on only one idea and naturally enough for the first episode of a new season it chooses to concentrate on the issue introduced in "To Shanshu in LA" which is of most personal concern to our titular vampire.  This is the promise of a humanity to come.


Angel’s Shanshu and its Effect

When this possibility was first ventilated it was the subject of some controversy.  ANGEL is generally too well crafted a series for the writers to introduce a development of this nature simply as a piece of cheap sentimentality.  It was always fairly obvious that Angel's "Shanshu" was intended to have some meaning, not in the distant future but in the development of season 2.  The question was how would the writers use it.  And here I have to say that I find it difficult to see how the writers’ concept of the effect on Angel of his eventual humanity can be bettered.  It is the basis not only for some rich and interesting character developments but also allows for some significant exposition.

During the course of season 1 we saw a new Angel emerge, one unrecognizable from Sunnydale.  He found a mission, a purpose to his unlife.  For the first time he was taking control of his own fate and in doing so he had a sense of making a difference.  Because of this he began to believe both in himself and in his judgment.  Wesley, Cordelia, even Buffy could say what they thought but he knew what he was doing.  And most important of all, for the first time he began to respect himself.  As he so forcefully pointed out to Kate in “To Shanshu in LA” he was finished apologizing for who he was.  Then there was the icing on the cake: the promise of his becoming human when he had fulfilled his mission.  Up until that point Angel had no definite goal, nothing to work towards.  His efforts would benefit others but they could make no difference to himself.  From that point of view he was no different to the Angel Doyle first met in “City of..”, doing penance in his little cell.  In “Five by Five” Angel himself described his situation under the guise of telling Faith what was in store for her:

“The truth is, no matter how much you suffer, no matter how many good deeds you do to try to make up for the past, you may never balance out the cosmic scale.  The only thing I can promise you is that you'll probably be haunted and may be for the rest of your life."

Because he had nothing to look forward to on his own account, his personal situation remained unaffected by the remarkable progress he had made in finding a role for himself. Angel is a very reserved and private individual, cut off from humanity.  And the message delivered very strongly by “To Shanshu in LA” was that this was because he could hope for nothing out of life.    He is also incredibly stoical.  One criticism of the character that I could never understand was that he was "whiny".  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Whenever anything good happened to him (for example, Buffy) his attitude was he didn't deserve it.  Equally whenever anything bad happened his attitude was he deserved that and more.  The classic statement of this is to be found in "Amends" when he said to Giles:

“I should be in a demon dimension suffering an eternity of  torture.”

But now with the promise of his coming humanity he could look forward to things he had long considered out of his reach.  And, what is more, there now appeared to be a close connection between his mission and his future as a human.  What he was doing now, for the first time, meant something personally to him.

In the opening scenes of “Judgment” we see these changes demonstrated to us.  Even Angel’s most implacable enemy (modern technology) now bends to his will as his team is quickly and efficiently assembled and he leads them to a rescue.  Objections are brushed aside as they stride remorselessly through the gym.  Even the fact that Angel’s reflection doesn’t show up in the mirror causes him no discomfort as he, Wesley and Cordelia professionally dispatch the Carnyss demon and free the sacrifices.  And when the gym attendant disbelievingly says: "That guy has horns.", Angel shrugs it  off with a quip.  The business like nature of their work is then immediately reinforced by the presence of a Board in their temporary office (Cordelia’s apartment) on which they keep track of their targets. 

There was even time for a little harmless daydream about his own future once he had fulfilled his destiny:

Wesley:  "No, I don't mean the demon we killed last night.  I mean the one we..."

Angel:  "That was a nice gym."

Wesley: "...incinerated a month ago.  I think that's what Wolfram and Hart raised in that box when Angel was fighting Vocah."

Angel:  "The thing about a gym is that you're not alone.  You've got people around.  That encourages you to work out."

 Cordelia:  "You don't have to work out.  You're eternal."

Angel:  "I may not always be."

Cordelia:  "It was the Vartite monster.  It took two days to kill that thing!  It's got Wolfram and Hart written all over it."

Angel:  "You got your steam.  You got your sauna.  You got fresh towels.  I mean, how bad could it be?"

But the warning was there.  As the MC at the Karaoke club pointed out:

"I know you're feeling smooth, in the groove.  Isn't that the thing that comes before a fall?"

It was indeed.  When Cordelia has a vision of a “nasty looking demon” it is quickly identified:

Wesley:  "Prio Motu demon.  It's a killer."

Angel taking the book:  "Ancient Ofga-beast, bred to maim and massacre."

While tracking it down Angel comes across a lone woman and at that point the Prio attacks him and he kills it.  It is only then that he realizes that the demon was protecting the woman because he mistakenly thought that Angel was about to attack her.  He had in fact killed the creature that was going to act as her champion before a mysterious “Tribunal” that had the power to decide her fate.  That creature, far from being a killer bred to maim and massacre, was just like Angel.  As the woman says:

“You guys with your missions, and ancient laws, and medieval codes of honor!”

Later, Angel finds a talisman and sends it to Wesley to help in his research.  As it turns out the woman needs this talisman to present to the Tribunal in order to be allowed to put forward a defense in the first place.  So Angel has sabotaged the woman’s chances before the Tribunal in two different ways.  Finally, when attacked by a set of demons in a deserted, creepy hotel he tells her to leave him and go to Cordelia’s apartment, not realizing that she didn’t trust him and would simply run.

It was stressed by several different people, including the MC at the Karaoke club, that Angel had made an honest mistake when he killed the Prio. He made an assumption about this particular demon based on the way it looked, the information given by the informant Merl and the type of demon it was and its aggressiveness when they met.  These assumptions were, as it turned out, wrong.  But none of them were inherently unreasonable given the evidence before him.  Equally Angel’s decision to send the talisman to Wesley looked a sensible decision at the time.  How was he to know what significance it had?  And his anxiety to ensure that the woman escaped from the attacking demons was understandable.  But the fact remained that at each stage he simply made the situation worse.  Reflecting on these mistakes Angel said:

"I-I saw the light at the end of the tunnel - that some day I might become human. That light was so bright, I thought I was already out."

He had left behind him the attitude that he deserved nothing except pain.  He had for the first time begun to allow himself to hope for a future for himself and that hope had burned more and more brightly within him.  And far from feeling he was worthless, Angel now felt a great pride in himself and what he was doing.  For example Merl had suggested that the Prio was too much for him to handle:

“Prios are nasty.  Not some big mosquito like you, turns to dust whenever you stake it.  Best of luck, though."

When he did so you could almost see what Angel thought in response: “I’ll show you who is a big mosquito”.  And because things were going so well and he felt so good about himself and because he had so much to hope for he  had forgotten, or at least neglected, the reason he was helping people.  He had taken responsibility for the evil that he had brought into the world and  was now working to repay society for the harm that had been caused to it.  And because of that, he also lost concentration on the job in hand.   He wasn’t treating each individual situation on its merits by understanding what was happening and acting accordingly.  Instead he was acting, without thinking, on the basis of surface appearances.  When he learned about the Prio Motu it was just one more job.  Angel was on the case, there was no problem.  There was a problem and he was it.  And it is here that we see the significance of the title.  Judgment refers both to the decision of the court and the questions about Angel’s own judgment that preceded it.

But this was, in many ways, the true test of character.  As the disaster unfolded before him Angel’s response was heroic.  There is really no other word for it.  It wasn’t only the fact that he resolved to become the woman’s champion.  He clearly faced up to his responsibilities in the affair.  He could have persuaded himself that killing the Prio was not his fault.  He didn’t.  He accepted his guilt.  He also faced up to the reason for his guilt and, at least impliedly, resolved not to make the same mistake again.  But more than any of these what made his response heroic was the lengths to which he was prepared to go to rectify his mistake.  It’s not just the way he fought off two separate demon attacks on her.  That was par for the course.  He went above and beyond the call of duty in two ways.  I don’t think I need labor the point about how much Angel would hate to make a fool of himself in public.  He made that quite clear to the MC:

"There are three things I don't do: Tan, date - and sing in public!"

But, in order to save the woman’s life, he was prepared to humiliate himself.  Then, before the Tribunal, he championed the woman even though he had to do so in a way that was quite alien to him.  When the trial by combat involved mediaeval jousting his reaction was on the surface a positive one:

Woman: You sure you can do this?"

Angel:  "I grew up around horses."

Woman:  "How long has it been since you've ridden one?"

Angel:  "It's been a while.  Don't worry.  It's not something you forget.  I can do this."

But, given the fact that he was dealing with a champion in this form of combat and this was the best he could claim for himself by way of experience it is easy enough to imagine the reality of the mismatch.  And in the course of the joust not only does Angel get knocked off his horse, he gets stabbed in the gut…again.  When the woman notes:  "You sure seem to bleed a lot" , Angel can only reply: "It's part of the job."  It’s not surprising that Cordelia can observe:

 "That man will do anything to save a life."

I cannot begin to say how much I love the writers’ treatment of Angel here.  Part of the satisfaction derives from seeing the writers practicing one of the great virtues Buffy used to have, namely visiting consequences on the heads of those who stray from the path of righteousness.  Towards the end of season 1,  I observed a few times that Angel was beginning to get quite cocky, even high handed.  This was, of course, a result of pride.  Well, here we see the consequences for Angel of that pride and it is not a pretty sight.

But much more significantly than that, in this story we  again find ourselves in the heart of this series – redemption and what it means.  But while the writers are looking at some familiar issues they are giving us a whole new perspective on them.  By showing us Angel being tempted towards normality only to realize why he cannot yet have it, they show us in the most forceful way yet just what it means to have to work for redemption.  And this is underlined by two symbolic acts.  The first was the removal of the board from Cordelia’s apartment.  It was a symptom of a mentality that they all shared. 

Wesley:  "Good idea.  Start over with a fresh slate."

            Angel:  "Actually, we're starting over with no slate."

Wesley:  "Of course.  We shouldn't be keeping score.  We're not running a race - we're doing a job - one soul at a time."

Keeping score implied progress being made, a goal being attained.  That was not how Angel could look at his work.  Here we have an echo of the message Angel was giving to Faith in “Sanctuary”

Faith: “There are some things you can't just take back, no matter how sorry you are, right?"

Angel:  "Yeah, there are.  I've got some experience in that area."

Faith:  "Right.  And you've been doing this for a hundred years!  I'm not gonna make it through the next ten minutes."

Angel:  "So make it through the next five, the next minute."

But an even more powerful symbol of what redemption means was his talk with Faith here.  As was pointed out in the ATS Newsgroup,  Faith’s downward spiral started when she refused to take responsibility for an honest mistake.  Now she was doing that and so was Angel.  She too was on the hard road towards redemption, just like Angel.  And symbolically she too had her share of suffering, again just like Angel.

Faith: “One of the girls in the yard tried to build a rep by throwing down with me.  She had low self esteem, and a home-made knife, so.."

Angel:  "Oh… is she…you know…alive?"

Faith:  "She lives to tell the tale.  Took the knife away and I can't say much for the wrist it came in."

Angel:  "So you didn't kill her."

Faith:  "I really wanted to.  Took a big beating from the guards, too."

Angel:  "Sorry."

Faith:  "Earned worse.  Guys like us kind of got it coming."

But, the writers also show us what this means for Angel on a personal level. The problem with writing for a character like Angel is that he is not "Joe here's what I'm thinking".  This makes it very difficult to communicate to the viewer what he is thinking or feeling while at the same time being true to the character.  But by admitting to Cordelia where he had gone wrong, Angel also allows us a glimpse into the very core of his soul.  He seems close to tears and we can see just what being human means to him.  And this again emphasizes with great poignancy just what it means to have the life  he has and to have suffered as he has.  And this in turn makes his decision to rededicate himself to what he conceives of as the true path to redemption without allowing himself the small luxury of hope that he had entertained both more admirable and more moving.  But it is the willingness he shows and the refusal to give up, as demonstrated by the effort he put in to rectify his mistake, that makes this a hopeful story for the viewers and not a depressing one.


The Plot

There has been considerable speculation about the prospects for ANGEL as a series when faced with competition from DARK ANGEL.  This is of course the brain-child of James Cameron who first came to prominence because of a story about the efforts of dark powers to kill the mother of a great leader in the cause of good.  The plot in “Judgment” is, of course, about…..well, lets just say that someone in ME really does have a warped sense of humor.

I certainly have no objection to programs where plot becomes a secondary consideration, a device used to convey an idea or explore a piece of characterization. It is not that important that we get to know or sympathize with the woman.  This story was about Angel and his dilemmas, not her.  Someone will correct me of I am wrong but I don’t think we were even told her name and I did not feel the lack of it.  Nor is it important to know all the background details, such as where the father is, who the child will be etc.  This is no more than a peg on which you hang the important stuff.  And, as such a peg, it is generally perfectly serviceable.

Just like Angel we are at first carried along by our conventional expectations about the Prio seen in Cordelia’s vision.  The surprise revelation of his true nature disorientates us just as much as it did Angel.  But after that the dynamic of the plot is pretty straightforward.  Once we learned that Kamal was protecting the woman the fact that Angel would spend the rest of the episode trying to do the same was entirely predictable.  There were some very good parts in this.  First and foremost the woman is not overawed by Angel, even after she saw him kill the Prio.  In fact she holds his efforts to help in pretty low esteem, a very necessary condition given the fact that these efforts are presented as failures.  At one point she actually asks him to stop helping her, then runs away from him and finally comments:

             But you know how you're not really good at anything.”

It did niggle a bit when Angel at first left her unprotected.  I am still not sure I understand why he did that when almost immediately he went looking for her again.  But the element of detective work needed to find her was as usual simply but believably handled and their flight from the demons through the tunnels and creepy old hotel was exciting, atmospheric and tense.  From an action point of view I did not really like the joust.  It did come across as a little gimmicky and somewhat stiff and formulaic.  I have however explained why I think that something like it was necessary from the point of view of character development.

 So, overall the plot was not particularly innovative nor did it have very much of an impact.  In the context of the very strong character work, however, I don’t regard that as a major criticism.  But I certainly prefer plots which have their starting point adequately explained and which don’t leave important issues about plot devices hanging annoyingly in mid-air.  Throughout season 1 ANGEL has been very good at delivering intelligible plots.  Even in stories such as “Expecting” and “the Ring” (which were pretty derivative) it was possible to understand what was going on at any given time and why the protagonists did what they did.  I have to say I found “Judgment” a little short in this respect.

First of all, the nature of Kamal was important.  His death was not only the nexus between Angel and the woman but was the thing Angel really had to feel guilty about.  His defense of the woman was a form of expiation for his guilt; it was the killing of Kamal that was his offence.  And at this point I would like to comment on how cleverly the writers drove home the fact of the mistake and its significance.  It is one thing to say that the Prio was an innocent creature; but to maximize the impact the creature had to be made to live for us in some way.  This was not very easy considering we only saw it for a few moments when it was fighting Angel and we thought it a ruthless killer.  But the fact that Angel identified with Kamal as a soldier, the scene in which we saw Angel in the Kamal’s “neat house” with its few possessions, including what looked like religious items, the fact that he is referred to by name and above all the little ceremony for him that Angel carried out intercut with images of the Kamal fighting for its life did indeed show us very powerfully that this was a life cut short.

But the effectiveness of this whole effort was compromised because there was no explanation as to why a demon, which by the normal rules of the Angelverse was a soulless killer, actually befriended and  championed the woman.  There is a suggestion that he regarded it as a matter of honor.  But why?  How can we believe in the characterization of the demon unless we understand its motivation on such a basic point. 

Then there is the Tribunal.  Again I would not ask for chapter and verse about it.  It can either be simply a plot device, in which case we do not need to know very much, or it is going to be part of the background mythology of the series in which case I prefer to learn about in small doses.  But it is the key to the resolution of the plot and there is no attempt to explain how.  The Tribunal  is a “chair of judgment”.  This implies that it decides cases that come before it.  Dark forces are after the woman and her child.  The woman decides to ask for asylum from the Tribunal and if her champion prevails she gets it; if not she dies.  That makes sense.  But the Tribunal seems to come after the woman.  We first hear of it just after Angel learns of his mistake in killing the Prio:

Angel: “What was he protecting you from?"

Woman:  "Things you couldn't handle!"

Angel:  "Like what?"

Woman:  "Like the Tribunal.

And when it does appear it explains it’s role in the following terms:

"Asylum is not ours to give.  Two are chosen to meet in combat.  One can save your life.  One can take it.  This is the ancient law.  Your life is forfeit.  You have no champion."

But if she has not gone to them, why has the Tribunal come to her?  Where do the dark forces fit in?  Did they send it?  If so why?  There may be a rational explanation for this but I just do not think we were given it.  And this does leave the whole resolution of the plot hard to understand.


Other Issues

This review is already an extended one so I will try to be brief here.  Perhaps single most striking new departure we find in this episode is the Karaoke bar.  This certainly deserves very high marks for innovation.  I am somewhat skeptical about the explanation for the Karaoke acts.  The MC is anagogic. 

Wesley:  “He's connected to the mystic.  When you sing you bare you soul.  He sees into it."

Host:  "This isn't about your pipes, bro.  It's about your spirit.  I can't read you unless you sing.”

This struck me as slightly pretentious but I can overlook it, especially as the MC himself promises to be lots of fun.  I like the fact that he is openly gay and openly flirts with Angel.  There is a lot of potential in this combination.  The writers don’t now have to go very far to look for their gay jokes.  I  can’t help feeling, however, that the amount of time devoted to the bar was a little self-indulgent.  The singing could get old quite quickly. 

We do not see that much of Cordelia, Wesley or Gunn.  I found Cordelia’s new found competence as an actress (plus the fact that she seems to have made a commercial for “Tan'n'screen”) interesting, if a little hard to take so soon after “Eternity”.  But more important for our purposes is the fact that we see concrete evidence of her new commitment to the cause.  The old Cordelia might have been dragged away from an acting class in a good cause but she certainly wouldn’t have been so positive about it.   Wesley too is a strong support to Angel, not only in research but in developing “street contacts”.  At the beginning of the episode they, therefore, also make an important contribution to the air of invincibility that seems to hang over the Fang gang.  But equally they share in the overconfidence and in the tendency to judge things by their appearance rather than looking below the surface.  After Kamal’s death Cordelia  admits she felt no fear of him in her vision.  She had not appreciated the significance of that fact before.  Equally Wesley seems to realize that he neglected to consider the possibility of the Prio being more than just a killer.   Moreover his confidence in his contact turned out to be sadly misplaced.  And this is where Gunn comes in as well.   He was useful as a plot device both to help Angel find Kamal’s lair and to separate the woman from her talisman.  But more importantly we also witnessed his introduction to the Fang gang as a whole.  In this context some effort went into emphasizing the misunderstanding that his background can cause.  When he saved the man in the alley from a vampire he is first mistaken for a mugger.  And neither Wesley nor Cordelia seem to be much better in making judgments about him.  In fact in spite of Wesley’s pretensions about reaching out to the underlife, the scene between the three of them in Cordelia’s apartment did make both seem rather innocent about the world that Gunn is so familiar and competent in.  This seemed to me to be yet one more example of the way in which the Fang gang generally underestimated the nature of the task ahead.

But there is one other thing about Cordelia that I must mention here.  Once more  we see the importance of her friendship to Angel.  At his lowest point she is there to provide the encouragement and support.  I can see no UST between them but the ease with which they relate to one another is increasingly charming.  The fact that these people who can otherwise be quite difficult to get along with can relate so well to one another in such an unselfish way goes a long way to humanizing them.



8.5/10  Let me admit that I found grading this episode very difficult.  Where it was good, it was very, very good.  The concept underlying the story was a powerful one.  It made perfect sense in terms of the overall character development for Angel, picked up the threads from “To Shanshu in LA” beautifully and was not only interesting but deeply engaging on a human level.  It makes Angel an even more compelling character.  In support of this the dialogue was of a very high standard – simple but expressive.  The scene in which Angel and Faith shared their troubles was simply wonderful, the perfect note on which to end.   And once again DB proved equal to the very considerable demands laid on him by the script.  Nor do I object especially to the simple, derivative plot since it was used so effectively to deliver the very hard hitting character-related stuff.  The loose threads that I mentioned did, however, seem to me to be important because they got in the way of understanding some very important developments.  They grate in the way that a mark across an otherwise beautiful picture would grate.  And that is a pity.