Written by: David Fury
Directed by: James A. Contner
One of the earliest indications of what ANGEL as a series would be about came from Joss Whedon when he said that it would be the second half of BUFFY. It would extend the "High School" as Hell metaphor into the adult world. In "Lonely Hearts" we have a very early example of the supernatural as a metaphor for the problems of the adult world. And one of the reasons why this episode works so well is that it points up the fact that there are certain fundamental differences between life at school and life in the adult world. There is, therefore, a clear sense that this is not the same world that Buffy is set in; that we are moving from that world to another very different one. Cordelia puts it very well when she says of High School
To this Doyle responds:
High School is an enclosed almost claustrophobic environment where there is a clearly defined and settled community with fixed relationships. The big city has a vastly larger and more mobile community where relationships are in a state of continual flux. There are problems of alienation and loneliness in both but they are different problems. "Invisible Girl" was a High School Story. It was about being an outsider in an enclosed world dominated by cliques and where status was all-important. It could never really have made as much sense in the adult world. On the other hand "Lonely Hearts" was about the loneliness of being surrounded by people you don't know. It could never have been set in Buffy's world. So, in this episode we get a clear sense both of place and of the society that inhabits it. This really sets the scene for the real centerpiece of the episode - its treatment of loneliness. The striking thing here is that everyone has this problem. It’s not only the people on the singles scene and the demon preying on them but, in different ways, Angel, Kate and Doyle.
The Theme of Loneliness
Let us begin with the victims of the week. As Kate later observes, outside work there are few options for meeting people. Singles bars are the only option. And the writers make a considerable effort to show how unattractive they are. Sharon, when we first see her, is alone and looks unhappy. Kate is just as uncomfortable and refers to D’Oblique as "the international house of poseurs". Nevertheless, people still come here. The grimness of the experience is intended to show just how desperate they are in their loneliness. Kevin and Sharon are the first couple we meet on the singles scene. Because of this and because the real story is only just starting to develop the writers use them to establish the basic premise in the following conversation:
These aren’t people out just looking for a good time, an evening’s fun. These are people looking to meet someone with whom they can have a meaningful relationship. They want to make a connection. This is a term used so often in the episode that it practically constitutes hitting us over the head with the idea so that we don’t miss it. And here we come to what may be the sub-theme for the night – trust. Early on in the pieces there are three rather forced and awkward conversations. The first is that between Kevin and Sharon; then we have Angel talking to Kate and finally Sharon talking with the "Screech". All have one thing in common apart from the obvious discomfort of the participants. In each of them there is a slight but deliberate opening up – a confession of need and of inadequacy. Its as if by revealing a vulnerability they are watching how the other person reacts to it and using that reaction as a gauge to see if they can be trusted. The Screech puts it very clearly when he says:
"It’s difficult to know who you can trust."
And this is the irony of the situation. Sharon and the Screech both do trust and not only to the extent of going home with a stranger. They allow themselves to be held by that stranger while they were at their most vulnerable, naked in bed, only to have their trust betrayed. The message here seems to be clear, and it is a bleak one. The foundation of any meaningful connection must be trust – but don’t expect to find it on the singles’ scene. In other words no matter how hard you look you are not going to find what you are looking for.
The parallels with the burrower are obvious. It makes its own motivations clear in the following exchange:
The need for the demon to find a body that it can stay with is a very good parallel to the need of the human to make a genuine connection with someone that he or she can stay with. This parallel is reinforced by the obvious fact that it is never going to find what it is looking for. It is doomed to move from body to body, never finding the right one in the same way that those on the singles’ scene will never be able to make the right connection.
For me the parallels between the demon moving from body to body, never finding what it wants and humans in a desperate and equally fruitless search all work flawlessly. Moreover the scenario has just the right "feel" to it for ANGEL as a series. It is certainly a sophisticated and dark, if not downright bleak, idea. It taps a well of pain and misery that lies beneath the surface glitz of the big city. Moreover I am very intrigued by the idea of a demon that acts out of inadequacy or simple need. We have been used to the idea of demons as agents of pure evil. This in general restricts the impact that they have. Here of course you cannot have sympathy with the "donkey demon" but you can understand the motivation, indeed the desperation. This adds dimensions to it.
To an extent the attempts to find a connection on the singles scene are also paralleled by Doyle’s doomed pursuit of Cordelia. From the start of the episode his interest in her is made plain but he will not do anything about it. And there is one major issue between them – the fact that he is a half demon. He cannot open up on this point because he doesn’t trust Cordelia’s reaction to the news. While he continues to hide that he cannot form a connection with her. The inter-reaction between the Doyle and Cordelia was, however, little more than a pleasant interlude in the episode. Thematically it was consistent with the rest of the piece but the scenes between the two of them served no real purpose in either advancing the plot or casting any real light on the basic metaphor. Probably the writer couldn’t think of anything significant he could do with them and that is something of a pity.
The Principal Characters
The central figure in "Lonely Hearts" is, of course, Angel. He is the one who has to stop the demon and it is in this context that we see the strength of the chosen metaphor. In what is basically an old fashioned detective story Angel’s own feelings of loneliness are the ideal way in which to connect Angel to the case. Moreover it is a useful vehicle in which to further explore his character and how it must change to meet the demands of his mission. In this episode we first meet Angel in his office, in the dark and alone. In distinction from Sharon, Kate and the other clients of D’Oblique he seems quite content to remain that way. This is nowhere made plainer than in the final scene, which is a very nice mirror image of the first one. On being left alone he mutters "God, yes! Thank you." And returns to his dark solitude. It is Doyle who points out the problem with that attitude:
His words are prophetic because when warned about the unidentified danger in D’Oblique Angel has to mingle with the crowd. This shows just how ill equipped for human society he is. He can’t even strike up a conversation with the bartender without it sounding lame and his attempts to talk to another man are misconstrued as an attempt to hit on him. But the best example of his social ineptness is his excruciating conversation with Kate. I think that it is fairly clear that she is not just on a stake out. First of all the bartender knows her (he later gets her "the usual") and the very awkwardness of the conversation with Angel suggests that was the real Kate and not someone who was there professionally. Anyway neither she nor Angel has any "small talk" and both flounder. Interestingly, however, they do make a connection of sorts. Kate in particular seems attracted to Angel. This potential rapport is, however, ruined by three events – the way Angel seems to spurn her interest, then his attempts to keep her out of D’Oblique’s the following night and finally by her discovery of him in the same room as the body of a victim.
These scenes serve a number of purposes. First of all they continue the humanization of Angel. There is nothing quite so effective in this regard as making us feel sorry for someone who is doing something he is ill equipped to do and failing miserably at it. At the same time they illustrate his weakness in dealing with cases that do require him to involve himself with people. Secondly, and more importantly, they establish, or re-establish, the fact that Angel is cut off from human society. He is as alone as anyone on the single’s scene and this is what allows him to understand the motivations and ultimately the actions of the demon. Thirdly, they set up the basic dynamic between Angel and Kate for this episode. Notwithstanding the grounds she is subsequently given for distrusting him the writers want us to accept that Kate and Angel have indeed made a connection and that because of that she is prepared to trust him, at least to some extent. It is these last two points that are the key to the resolution of the story. Angel knows instinctively that the demon will continue to look for new hosts because "that’s what lonely people do." And, in a nice piece of counterpoint, just as trusting the demon was a fatal mistake for Sharon, the Screech and others so was Angel and Kate’s willingness to trust one another the key to its downfall. This all speaks of careful and well thought out plotting and this is especially important here.
As I have already said, basically "Lonely Hearts" is a detective story. Angel’s task is to identify and find a killer. Classically such stories rely heavily on the discovery of small clues and using forensic resources or ingenious deductions to develop leads from them. That is not the approach here. Essentially once the connection of the killer to D’Oblique is made we are directed by Angel’s instinctive feel for it and its motivations. That is what allows him to track it to Sharon’s apartment and, after its escape, to guess its further actions. And this aspect of the story does seem to me to be very successful. The other important part of the plot was his decision to further involve Kate. This was, in itself, a logical decision but it depended upon the trust that I have just mentioned, the one that Kate was supposed to have instinctively developed for Angel. This is something I remain in two minds about. Part of me thinks that there is no way Kate would trust someone she had every reason to believe was a killer based on a five minute conversation, at least not to the extent of meeting him without any back up. On the other hand she was armed and intended to meet him in a crowded bar. When she thought he was lurking in the alley she did send for back up. It’s a fine judgment call whether this works or not.
The thing that I like most about the story, however, is that while there is a comparatively straightforward basic plot, the dynamic changes and develops in several very interesting ways. Let us take the killings first. First of all we, the viewers, were at first given no privileged information denied to Angel and the others. We had no better idea than they what the nature of the danger was. We could guess it involved Kevin and Sharon with suspicion conventionally falling on the former. But precisely how either or both were involved we were none the wiser. This state of uncertainty was maintained until the end of Act 2 and I thought that worked very well. When Sharon was the person who got up and left Kevin’s body behind our conventional expectation was confounded. We had to look back at the earlier scenes with fresh eyes in the light of this development. But it was only after what happened between Sharon and the Screech that we were able to understand ex post facto what had happened. The demon was in Kevin after all. Again therefore we had to mentally review the same scenes again. I thought that this sort of double bluff was very clever. Unfortunately, in an effort to disguise the host for the final scenes, things got a little ragged after that. Not one but two killings must have taken place off camera and, unless I am very much mistaken, there seems to have been at east one occasion on which the demon killed twice or planned to kill twice on the same night. This doesn’t make very much sense. The payoff was, however, very good. I certainly didn’t expect the bartender to attack Kate like that. Then of course we have the "big surprise" that Kate was a policewoman. I am bound to say that I think this was a wasted effort on the part of the writers. We had known for some time that Elizabeth Rohm would be a recurring character and that she would be a police detective so there was not much there by way of a surprise. Still, the actual revelation itself was handled well enough and I could at least believe in Angel’s surprise. Anyway the overall effect is that the tension is maintained throughout and we never know quite what is going to happen next.
9/10: By the standards of later ANGEL episodes the metaphor here was a comparatively simple one. Nevertheless it was well chosen to illustrate Angel’s new environment, as a method of character study and also as a means to condition his involvement in the storyline. The plot itself was a very strong one. There was an interesting and powerful villain. I much prefer to see heroes trying to battle odds to defeat an enemy rather than having the odds stacked on their side. Nothing was straightforward and the audience was left continually wondering what would happen next. But in the end the various developments leading to the final confrontation did make sense. I also very much liked the visual montage of Angel tracking demon and Kate tracking Angel. This actually helped propel the narrative forward by showing what the principals were doing to find the killer. Finally I have to add that while overall this was a very serious episode there was also a nice balance provided by the humor. Cordelia’s ruthless pursuit of business with the inappropriate cards, the batman and gay jokes and the technology that didn’t quite work all provided a very nice break in the tension.