THE SHROUD OF RAHMON
Written by: Jim Kouf
Directed by: David Grossman
Trouble with Obsessions
of the most notable features of the present season of ANGEL is that even the
non-arc episodes contribute something to our understanding of Angel’s
evolution in the Darla arc. And
this is certainly true of “the Shroud of Rahmon”.
If I were to pick just one line which sums up the theme of the episode it
would be Wesley’s half-rambling lament about Angel’s stubbornness:
don't tell *him* what to do. He's the boss."
truth is that we all need someone or something to restrain us.
It may be friends, it may be a sense of self-preservation or common sense
or even just the need to get things done. But
we cannot let our fears, hatreds or desires become obsessions which control us.
If we do the result will be disaster.
That is the lesson of “the Shroud of Rahmon” and it is a lesson with
obvious implications for Angel’s obsession with Darla.
is essentially only one plot in “the Shroud of Rahmon” but there are several
different threads running through it. We can therefore explore the theme of the
episode in the parallels between these different threads.
The most important of these threads concerns the relationship of those
who take part in the heist. Five individuals are involved in it. Apart from Angel and Gunn there are Bob, the security guard,
an ugly looking demon and one with a spiny back.
None of them trusts, likes or even understand the others.
Ugly is a control freak; Spiny can
barely contain his aggression and Bob is a small time thief who has got very
greedy. But what lies between them is not only the fact that they
represent different personalities but that they belong to different species
which are natural enemies. We get
more than a little flavor of this from the following exchange when Ugly arrives
at the hideout with Angel:
"He's got him!"
"Ah, vampires wig me."
"You feel like a meal?"
"This is Jay-don. - He talks too much."
"I'm a people person. (To Spiny) I like the shirt. Where'd you
get that, at Ed's big and spiny?"
"He's funny. You're funny. You'll be even funnier when I crush
"Funny 'ha, ha' or funny peculiar?"
"Hey, I wasn't talking."
mutual fear, hatred and suspicion is only too obvious. Ironically though
the most obvious differences lie
between Angel and Gunn. These may
be traced to the disagreement between them when setting up Angel’s
infiltration of the gang disguised as the vampire Jay-don:
"You know this Jay-don bloodsucker?"
"I know of him."
"And he's a player, big on the nightlife and way too dangerous for you.
I'll take it from here."
"You'll what? - That's my cousin's life we're talking about."
"Which I don't want you jumping in this thing, guns-a-blazing."
"Since when do I take orders from you?"
"Since I'm paying you."
"This ain't no paying gig. I brought it to you."
"And I'm taking it from here. If I can shut it down, great. If
not, I'll protect him."
"And what am I supposed to do? Sit home and knit?"
"I could use a sweater. Something
is fairly typical of Angel. He as
complete confidence in himself and no trust or confidence in anyone else.
As far as he is concerned Gunn is a liability and will only get in the
way. Gunn for his part resents
Angel’s high-handedness and reacts the only way he knows how, by gate crashing
whatever differences lie between them, in the interests of the common cause the
gang members bury them. In
Ugly’s initial description of the raid on the museum the need for
teamwork is emphasized:
"This is the access door. Bob turns off the alarm at 2:40. We
enter, take this hall to the elevator, where we meet Bob at 2:45. We all
go down together. This is the vault where they keep it. The vault
has a lock code known only by the curator. That means we have to blow it.
Now, the door *has* no alarm, but the vault itself has its own system a thermal
"Any change in temperature will set off the alarm."
"Guess that's where I come in, huh?"
"Oh, no body heat. I guess that comes with the no soul thing,
"Jay-don enters, he goes to the control box in the back and disarms it.
Then we're in."
"How big is the case?"
"Big. It's made of consecrated wood, the edges are sealed with gold.
Inside the box is lined with lead. It weighs about a ton. It's gonna take
all of us just to lift it."
heist will have no chance of success unless everyone forgets their differences
and does act as a team. As Ugly
reminds them all there is a lot at stake
in a successful robbery. The Shroud
about 2 million on the black market. Do you want to pay attention now?”
Of course both Angel and Gunn have their very own reasons for if not co-operating then at least keeping their simmering feud under control. Otherwise they will only succeed in blowing their own cover. So, initially at least, everyone works together notwithstanding their mutual antipathy
"Once in 1803 the shroud was removed from its casing."
"And yuckiness ensued?"
"Well, yes. The entire population of El Encanto went insane, mothers
and children hacking one another to pieces, men roaming the streets like rabid
other words the normal restraints
of family bonds and civilized society vanished and the result, to use
Cordelia’s very expressive word, was “yuckiness”.
this was what we also saw in the museum. The
shroud brought out all the anger, the hatred, the fear and the greed that had
been buried and controlled in the common interest. Bob, the security guard and petty thief began to get
over-excited by the prospect of the biggest haul of his life. Spiny became more and more annoyed about humans:
always got to *feel* something about everything. And they always got to
tell you about it. 'I'm so happy. I'm
so sad. I'm so scared.' Makes me
Ugly, the control freak who has everything and everyone under control begins to
give into his own fears as he obsesses about leaving behind fingerprints.
As for Angel and Gunn, their continual sniping escalates until it erupts
"Try holding up your corner, Les."
"Who died and made you corner monitor?"
"Are you two gonna get married or what?"
"Same old story. Vampires always pushing people around. Think
the world is theirs."
"From what I've seen of this world they can have it."
"Well, I visited Topkapi once."
"Nothing but take, take, take - take your blood, take your sister!"
of what happened to his sister (and indeed because of a long history of warfare)
Gunn still hates and fears vampires, even one with a soul.
He would never have taken easily to anyone trying to boss him around but
above all finds it impossible to accept a
vampire trying to do so. Angel for his part still doesn’t trust anyone but
himself to do a job properly. He
also resents Gunn’s attitude towards him.
Because they are working on the same side, and especially when as here
they are on a mission, these differences are restrained, even though that
sometimes costs great effort. But
the shroud removes those restraints and what was buried comes bubbling up to the
we see here is that the characteristics of each of each individual: greed, the
need to be in control, distrust and hatred of those of a different species, all
gradually turn into obsessions. They are no longer controlled by rational
considerations. And because these obsessions are slipping further and further
beyond their ability to control them the gang members lurch uncertainly towards
disaster. The shroud is dropped and
at one point almost forgotten. Gunn
and Angel face off and Bob is murdered as Spiny’s hatred of humans (restrained
at the start of the heist) suddenly erupts.
But the real crisis point arrives when the shroud is delivered to the
hideout. There all remaining
restraints are finally set aside as the participant in the robbery struggle to
gain sole mastery of the shroud.
"I got it! I got it!"
"No! No! You don't know what this means. You have no idea what this
is about. It belongs to my people. My people."
"Your people? I didn't see none of your people when we was hauling
"Hey, fellas! Fellas! Cool your jets, alright? There is
plenty here for all of …me!"
"Don't hurt it!"
"What about you, Lester? All of a sudden you want it too?"
"I get this, I'll kill you."
we see here isn’t just former allies overcome with greed in a sort of latter
day “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. Again
what we see are their obsessions taking control.
Ugly has to have control of the shroud; Spiny wants it as some sort of
statement of species pride while Angel and Gunn have more personal business to
settle. And because of this there
is an explosion of almost random violence in which those who should be
co-operating with one another (Angel and Gunn on the one hand and Ugly and Spiny
on the other) end up at odds and, in the case of the two demons, actually kill
the shroud might have wreaked further havoc had Angel not asked Gunn to set
aside his distrust of vampires and allow him to
"Wait! Wait. Gunn, I remember. You have to …trust me.
I know what to do with this. Have faith, kid."
is finally because Gunn is able to rein back his suspicion that Angel can
destroy the shroud. The moral is,
therefore, an obvious one. You must
control your obsessions.
there be a more pointed warning to Angel that no good can come of his obsession
with Darla? Indeed just in case we
missed the point the writers sort of hit us over the head with it a couple of
times. Near the beginning of the
episode we are reminded of that obsession:
Wesley: "Have you seen Angel? I thought I might check on him. He doesn't seem to be doing much with his time lately."
"Au contraire. His day is packed. Brood about Darla.
Brood about Darla. Lunch….followed by a little Darla brooding."
then when Wesley discovers the secret of the shroud Cordelia immediately makes
get the picture. - So in order to take his mind off the torment that is Darla,
we sent Angel after a box that makes you crazy."
And especially in the context
of what we learned about Angel’s attraction to life as a vampire in, for
example, “Darla” this warning about the dangers of obsessing over his sire
are particularly relevant. The
implications were spelled out in the following exchange:
Wesley: "Angel drank human blood, from a living person. - Something he hasn't done in a *very* long time."
"So, on top of everything else we may have reawakened his bloodlust?"
And the very last scene in
the episode is of Angel reliving that moment.
Episodes in which characters behaving in strange and unexpected ways because of some spell or potion have never really appealed to me that much. Even where the motivation for the behavior lies within the character but is simply repressed the results are often unsatisfying because you feel it is something of a cheap option. It is the easy way for the writers to look at what normally lies hidden and as episodes such as “Darla” have shown there are far more meaningful ways to do the same thing. But that is not my real problem here. My real problem is that I am not sure the writers have given us very much at all in the way of meaningful character exploration. Inside the gang, only the fears and hatreds of Gunn and Angel are of real importance in the context of the show as a whole. The fact that Angel has a vicious demon within him that has to be controlled is well trodden ground. Equally, his intolerance of dissent and his unwillingness to trust anyone but himself has already been well established. It is interesting that Gunn harbors some resentment towards Angel because he is a vampire and that indeed makes a great deal of sense. But the fact that Gunn is himself a leader who would naturally resist any suggestion that his role in “Angel Investigations” was a subordinate one hardly comes as a surprise. And certainly, speaking personally, the proposition that Angel’s obsession with Darla was going to get him into deep trouble did not come as a great revelation. So while the development of the theme was quite professional there were (with the single exception of Gunn’s resentment of Angel) no great insights which added to our understanding of Angel or Gunn.
Wesley and Cordelia
Wesley and Cordelia were
essentially peripheral characters here. We
learned little new about them through their exposure to the Shroud’s
influence. Cordelia’s preoccupation with the way she looks was nicely
(and quite humorously) illustrated
in the museum. And did anyone else
notice that she didn’t return the native American necklace she… um
“borrowed”? And with Wesley we
saw his desire to be helpful but his constant fear that he is really
ineffectual. I wish that this had
been brought out a bit more clearly because there is an interesting point here.
When Cordelia reminded him of all the Darla brooding Angel had been
doing, we see the following exchange:
Wesley: "Right. Enough is enough. I'm gonna march up there and tell him just that."
Cordelia: "Nice posturing!"
Wesley in particular seems
always on the point of standing up to Angel to tell him when he is wrong but can
never quite do it. Is this the real
reason for that? Wesley desperately
wants to make a contribution and I wonder of the message here is that it is his
own fear that he is ineffectual that is keeping him back.
Does he feel that if he does lock horns with the boss that he will be
exposed as such? Certainly his
interview with the cops at the beginning of the episode does suggest a feeling
of powerlessness, a feeling that he was a helpless bystander:
"She shouldn't have been there. She didn't know! I
had to warn him. He didn't know what he was getting into. None of
them did. If they'd known of them wouldn't... You didn't bring it
here, did you? No. No, then it'd be too late for all of us.
He grabbed her hard - very hard. I'm quite good with the ladies
myself, you know."
This might suggest why the restraining hands of Angel’s friends were not able to save him from his obsession with Darla. The symbolism here would be very neat. Just as Wesley’s own fear of being ineffectual hampered his attempts to warn Angel to stop obsessing about Darla, so too was his inability to focus on the task in hand that frustrated his attempts to warn Angel about the shroud.
me the most interesting part of this whole episode is the way that the writers
treated Kate. In the immediate
aftermath of “Dear Boy” there was considerable discussion about whether , if
she wasn’t actually mad, she was mentally deranged.
I have always argued that she has been given a credible point of view.
She is a person who believes in the law and in its ability to protect
ordinary people. She almost
certainly regards her own father as an innocent victim of Angel’s freelance
war with evil and this lies at the bottom of her distrust of him.
But what we see here more clearly than ever before is that her pursuit of
Angel has turned into an obsession, indeed one which is well known to
colleagues. When a fellow cop has
information about Angel he soon finds out where to bring it:
“This one is a security guard at the Southern California Museum of Natural
History. His name is Robert Skale. He's got a record. Small-timer.
The other one (points at Ugly standing in the picture beside Bob) may or may not
be one M. James Menlo, who likes to crack bank vaults. Our guess is
they're putting together a heist, probably at the museum. (Pulls out
another photograph) And we picked up this one earlier tonight. We
couldn't make this guy until we ran him past Carlson. He said you knew
him. (The picture shows Ugly picking up Angel at the bus station.) He's
out of the scope of our investigation, but, uh, Carlson said you might be
And like all obsessions this one has its irrational side to it. In the confrontation between Kate and Angel at the Hyperion, she reveals just how deep her suspicions of him are:
Angel: "Listen, Kate, there are forces at work here that you know nothing about."
Kate: "Gathering storm, is it?"
Angel: "Which you don't want to get caught in."
"You afraid I'll get hurt?"
"Me dead. I guess I'd kind of
be like you then, wouldn't I? - You think I'm gonna stand by while you and your
playmate finish the game?"
And like all obsessions, once
out of control it will lead to disaster…or in this case near disaster.
Because she knows Angel is involved in the heist she rushes to the museum
without taking any precautions and lands herself deep in trouble.
As Angel points out:
Angel: "Wow! Look at you rushing in here all by yourself! You're the best cop ever."
Spiny: "Too many humans."
Angel: "Excuse me that is *my* girl."
Kate: "Stay back."
"Whoo! Okay. You got me. My life of crime is over. I'm
going down. But first - a little impression: I'm a cop
with a mission to protect the innocent and rain on everybody's parade and
obsessed about my father's death and bother people who are about to steal
In fact she is about to be shot herself and it is only Angel somewhat unorthodox intervention that saves her. This is another example of the way in which obsessions lead to disaster. And the great thing here is that somebody learnt a lesson from it. Kate found out simultaneously not only that Angel didn’t want to kill her but that he had been right all along. She was out of her depth. She would get herself killed and Angel really was the only person who was able to deal with the sort of supernatural threat she faced. And so at the end we see her intervening to save Wesley and then replay in her mind Angel whispering in her ear: "Stay down or they'll kill you." This represents a real and important piece of development for the character and one that is entirely credible because of the way it is related to her experiences overturning previously held prejudices. But more than that it clearly and obviously ties in very well with the main theme of the episode.
The single most obvious
feature about the plot was the unusual structure, at least for an ANGEL episode. We opened with events after the raid on the museum and the
story of that raid was essentially told in flashback. This can be a very effective technique but I am not sure we
got the best out of it here. When
you know right from the outset that something has gone horribly wrong but
aren’t sure quite what, the tension can actually be much higher than if you
were simply watching events unfold in sequence without knowing the end.
But you maximize this advantage by introducing all sorts of twists into
the plot. You know someone meets a
grisly end and that someone else may die. You
have no information about who that is or about the fate of the others.
Are they under arrest, have they got away?
The aim must be to introduce uncertainties here by showing the characters
suddenly getting into a multiplicity of difficulties and then unexpectedly
escaping from them, with the audience always on its toes asking whether this or
that person is to die or is this the moment it happens or is this how it
happens. In many ways the narrative here was simply too linear
with one event leading naturally on to the next and with interventions like
Kate’s being too signposted to create the necessary feeling of sustained
suspense over what would happen next.
The other problem was that
Wesley did not make a natural narrator. Very
often a real strength of the narrative flashback is that it allows developments
in the past to be seen from a particular point of view and this can help drive a
theme or a piece of character analysis.
But not here. Wesley was too
peripheral to the events of the heist. As
mentioned above there was some attempt to do this when Wesley talked about Angel
being the boss. He did not have the
necessary knowledge of what actually happened to allow this to be maintained.
Equally he could not have credibly related the events of the heist
to the police at all. This
meant that the writers were just not able to sustain the
flashback point of view. Hence
very quickly into the episode we lost all sense that this was a story being told
in flashback and effectively most of it was told in its proper sequence.
So the experiment in structure was half hearted at best.
The one major twist in the
storyline was, of course, when Angel actually drank from Kate.
I thought this was particularly well handled.
The set up with Angel acting under the influence of the Shroud did
unquestionably make it believable that he would attack even allies. Within
him there is a malevolent creature, whose bloodlust, whose vicious and
deliberate enjoyment of pain and suffering must always be kept under control.
Several times during the heist he seemed on the point of losing it.
A good example of this is when he pinned Gunn to the wall with the words:
"You know I'm getting pretty tired of this 'vampires killed my sister so
now I'm all entitled' song. Don't you know anything else, like say
"Get your hands off my throat."
"Ah, ah, ah! You're gonna play nice? - Huh?"
sounded for all the world like Angelus reborn.
But it was just as he was about to attack Kate that we saw the most
authentic glimpse of Angelus:
Katie, what are you so afraid of? Is it this? (Morphs into vamp face) Is
it the part where I'm gonna kill you? Because I got to tell you I love
that in a woman!"
The way he called her
“Katie” was so reminiscent of the way he used to call Buffy “Buff”.
But even so, it was still almost inconceivable that the writers would
allow him to do something like kill
Kate. The implications for the
future of the character would have been very hard to deal with. Hence the shock value of his attack on her was
enormous, especially since it was so cruel and brutal.
Of course in the end this
turned out to be something of a cheat in that Angel did not actually
try to kill her. It appears that it
was all an act intended to save her life. But
I thought that was fair enough. We
had seen Angel slip in and out of Angelus’ influence and we were already aware
he was acting one part already. The
only piece of information directly hidden from us was the extent to which she
was in danger of being shot by Ugly. But
then it can be no surprise that she had
put herself in considerable danger by rushing in single handed to a robbery with
armed and dangerous demons. So
there were enough clues around for us to pick up on.
As I have
already indicated, the main story itself was a comparatively simple one:
Angel and Gunn get involved in a robbery essentially to foil it.
I have already discussed at length the way the theme is dealt with in the
context of the story and this has the advantage that we avoid long pauses in the
action so that the characters can discuss what is happening to them. They get on
with the robbery and we can see what happens to them in the course of it.
The only additional information we need (ie about the nature of the Shroud)
is provided by Wesley and Cordelia in the scene they have which parallel the
main narrative. And because the
exploration of the theme forms an integral part of the action itself the
narrative can unfold at an almost breakneck pace. The speed of the story is
complemented by the rising sense of tension as the effects of the Shroud become
more and more evident.
one of the strengths of the story is the way in which we find out about the
nature of the Shroud just before Angel enters the vault.
This leaves us beforehand in a state of uncertainty as to what the true
nature of the trouble (and therefore the story) will be.
We find that out just as the situation starts to get out of control. And
the fast pace means that from the moment Angel enters the vault and we see the
first small signs of what will go wrong we are carried along very quickly to his
attack on Kate and the final confrontation in the gang’s lair.
So, even if the story itself lacks twists and turns and doesn’t really
change and develop as it progresses, our attention is nevertheless fixed and
never wavers. In this I think we
are helped by a very strong mix of character in the gang.
In Ugly, Spiny and Bob we had an interesting combination of the control
freak leader, the wild and unpredictable enforcer and the greedy but
insignificant inside man. Perhaps more importantly, this is easily Gunn’s best
episode since “First Impressions” and he and Angel play off one another very
is not to say the plotting is without its problems.
It is of course a cliché to see a gang bring in a high caliber operative
from out of town whom no-one has ever met before only to have him replaced by an
infiltrator. But in this case there
is another problem. Why go to this
trouble if all Jay-don has to do is short circuit a thermal alarm and carry the
casket? Surely any local vampire
could do that. We are never told
why Ugly decided to abandon the timetable for the heist and move on it early.
And what did Angel plan to do to sabotage the heist.
Surely the obvious place to try to stop it was in the museum.
But he showed no interest in doing so.
From the perspective of the plot his part played as if he were a willing
participant on the robbery. But the
real problem lay with the Shroud itself. Evidently
it produced effects even while still in the casket. So how did it get into the vault without causing problems for
the museum staff. Equally the
effect of the Shroud, especially on Angel, seemed to ebb and flow. Even after the casket was broken the effects on the gang
members did not seem very different to the effects of the shroud on them
beforehand. So, for example, in his
confrontation with Kate Angel seemed to come in and out of control.
He evidently did drain a lot of blood from her and if he had simply been
acting it’s hard to believe he would have done that.
In fact the precise nature of the effects of the Shroud at any given
point depended more on the needs of the plot at that moment than any other
consideration. And then of course
there was the fact that Wesley came along in the middle of the heist and started
calling “Jay-don” by another name and no-one’s suspicions were aroused.
(7/10) Normally, and especially
this season, the real strength of
an Angel episode lies in its treatment of theme.
We generally get some new insight or perspective either on our characters
or on the situations they face. This
is very much an exception because what the writers have done here is to retread
mainly old ground. As I have tried
to explain, in doing so they have issued a warning about the direction Angel is
traveling in. But again there is
nothing very surprising about that. It’s basically what Cordelia, Wesley, the Host and half the
Western World have been telling him for weeks.
The best that can be said for it is that the warning now is given a very
professional and entertaining dramatic focus.
And indeed entertaining is the best description that can be applied to
this episode. The plot is
essentially a supernatural twist to an old standby – the robbery that goes
wring. If you ignore some of the
problems mentioned above, the plot is strong enough to carry the episode on its
own. We have interesting characters
creating a dangerous and unpredictable situation with plenty of tension and
action. A very good mix. And
certainly who could begrudge DB his opportunity to play against type again.
Here he was given the opportunity once more to free himself from the
persona of Mr tall, dark and brooding and seized it with both hands. Watching
him ham it up with a fake New York accent of slipping once more easily and
menacingly into his Angelus persona is great fun.
So this is certainly not a bad episode but, for me it just lacks that
something new and interesting to say which
would make it compelling.