Written by: Mere Smith
Directed by: Michael Grossman
Up until the events at the end of “Reunion” our concentration was mainly on the implications that the Darla arc had for Angel. But the fall out from Angel’s actions at the end of that episode made it clear that the change in him wrought by the first half of season 2 had profound implications for others too. In this sense the end of “The Trial” and “Reunion” formed a genuine nexus around which many different lives turned and began to move in a different direction. Those affected included Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn as well as Lindsey and Lilah. After such moments there is inevitably a period of consolidation where the writers have to set out their vision of the new directions our characters must now follow and the changed relationships between those characters. This process may not carry the same exhilaration and excitement as what has gone before but it just as important. Indeed perhaps it is even more important. After all it is the writers vision of the nature of the change in the characters and in the dynamics between them rather than the way in which the changes were brought about that will shape the rest of the season and perhaps further into the future.
Power of One
is in this context that I would like to look at Angel and his state of mind.
In my review of “Reunion” I wrote of him as redefining himself as
Angel warrior Vampire and of his being entirely comfortable with his new
direction as the scourge of the underworld.
Here I was not giving enough credit to the subtlety of the writers’
concept for his turn to the dark side. What
happened to Darla at the end of “The Trial” was merely a catalyst.
The particular concern of the writers beforehand had been to explore the
dichotomy in Angel’s attitude to his Vampirism.
In particular we saw the attraction of the Vampire’s “anything
goes” attitude. Guilt, torment, consequences mean nothing.
Life is very simple and very pure. What
stopped Angel from pursuing that lifestyle was its moral implications.
He had bought into a system of values that were the opposite of those of
the Vampire lifestyle. This new
system stressed the importance of helping people, regardless of the cost to
himself. Indeed its very attraction
to him was that it was the opposite of everything the Vampire stood for and as
such seemed to offer him the truest way to his own redemption.
And that was the code that he had followed in “The Trial” in his
efforts to help Darla. What
happened afterwards must have seemed to him to show the sheer helplessness of
those who would try to “save souls” against the destructive machinations of
the Wolfram and Hart’s of this world. In “Five by Five” he had already expressed his feeling of
helplessness against such people; this must have been magnified by having to
watch helplessly as the person he tried to save was destroyed without him having
been able to do anything about it.
the circumstances it is little wonder that he came to see “saving souls” as
no answer to the forces of evil. Instead
the only answer was to destroy them. In
this context he again felt the pull of the “anything goes” attitude of the
Vampire. It was the philosophy he had lived by for so long, it was the
philosophy of his enemies and it promised revenge for the personal hurt he had
suffered. But Angel has a human
soul and for such a soul life is not as simple as for a Vampire.
Angel may hanker after a world without guilt, torment or consequences but
the fact that he has a soul means that such a world is, for him, unobtainable.
Because of the events in “Reunion” Angel may have changed his idea of
how to fight evil but he will have to face the consequences of the way in which
he chooses to do so. His own
conscience will see to that. In
this sense the internal conflict that has been the defining feature of the whole
Darla arc has not been resolved, not by a long chalk.
All that has happened is that the terms of the debate have changed.
So in “Redefinition” we are importantly (at least insofar as Angel
himself is concerned) shown first of all that the struggle is taking place and
secondly the nature of that struggle.
this is the thing about “Redefinition” that really does work very well.
At the end of “Reunion”, Angel was a willing participant in the
murder of the majority of the Wolfram and Hart Contracts Division.
But this was killing by remote control.
It was antiseptic; it took place from a distance.
The people in that cellar were not human beings, each with their own
fears and hopes, loves and hates with wives or husbands, children and parents.
They were monsters that deserved to die.
This was a classic piece of dehumanization essentially equivalent to the
pilot of a bomber who kills innocent civilians on the ground without ever being
brought face to face with the consequences of his actions.
Angel knew this. He also knew that if he was to continue to destroy those whom
he thought of as evil he had to continue to dehumanize them.
his two encounters with real demons – the vampires in the sewer and Darla and
Drusilla’s army-in-waiting – he has no problem at all getting up close and
personal. Indeed the venom that he
seems to bring to the fight with the vampires (including a coldly vicious
beheading) demonstrates a real enthusiasm for destruction.
But there he is facing those who really are inhuman monsters so there is
no guilt or torment about what he is doing – no consequences.
With Darla and Drusilla themselves things are different.
Just how is emphasized by our very first sight of Angel burning the
picture he drew of Darla, pictures which for him would have been a reminder of
her as a vulnerable human being who needed his help, pictures he needed to
forget if he was going to kill her. As
Drusilla says to Darla:
remembers when you were warm.”
later Angel himself says:
him, Darla isn’t just a soulless monster.
Nor probably is Drusilla either going by the way he talked to her at the
beginning of “Lie to Me”. That
is why he did not feel able to get close enough to her to stake either of them.
But he still felt that he was now fighting a war and he did understand
that in that war they were the enemy.
“He sees you. Sees what you were.
You’ll never be alone again. He’s
watching you my sweet, right now.
“He wants to punish us. He thinks
that we’ve been naughty.”
And so he tries his hand at killing by remote control again. He lays a trap for the two girls. There is no mercy in this for them. It is in fact a particularly painful and nasty kind of trap. But it is one that enables him to preserve his distance from them. To Darla’s challenge:
don’t you come over here and stake me?”
replies with not a word, but rather with a cigarette that lights an oil trail to
her and Drusilla that had been deliberately, carefully and perhaps even coldly
here one piece of the writing that I did very much like was the parallel that
was explicitly drawn between Darla’s enthusiasm for destruction of the
innocent and Angel’s enthusiasm for the destruction of those he considered
Darla: “You know in a perfect world Angel would be here right now
helping me burn this city to the ground. This
is his job I’m doing. But where
is he? Probably flogging himself in
a Church somewhere.”
Drusilla: “Oooh flogging.
Eeew Churches.” [love that line BTW]
“In a perfect world we would be slaughtering the innocent.
Laughing as we rained destruction down on this whole miserable town.”
“I see such pretty fire.”
“Fire, conflagration. In a
perfect world there would be nothing left here but ashes.”
Drusilla: “And pain. So
much suffering. The flames are
lovely. They dance and the fire
licks like a cat. And the scream.
Oh, it’s like star music.”
did Darla know that the conflagration was coming.
And it was one that was set off by Angel.
The only problem was that it was coming for her.
after setting it Angel left. Just
as he had left with the screams of Holland Manners and the other Wolfram and
Hart lawyers ringing in his ears so he left with those of Darla and Drusilla
echoing around. We are left in no
doubt about the nature of what he is doing.
Just as we saw the bloody remains of fifteen human victims of Darla and
Drusilla’s massacre so we are shown the blackened and blistered skin of the
two Vampires. But for Angel to see
either would have meant facing the consequences of his actions.
The fact he would not do so means that he realized how difficult it would
be for him to continue his crusade of destruction if he were faced with those
the really interesting thing is that he is self-aware on the subject.
He knew the sort of difficulties he would encounter in this respect when
he faced Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn across the table and fired them. He knew that they, and perhaps above all Wesley, would
confront him with the consequences of his actions.
And he knew that if he wanted to continue to seek to destroy his enemies
that would make it immeasurably more difficult, perhaps even impossible.
That is why he fired them. And
that is why he sought to isolate himself from anyone else.
Exposure to the world of human beings, a world in which there were
consequences and there was guilt and torment would jeopardize his single-minded
need to do what it takes to win his war.
this sense of isolation was emphasized by the fact that, during the entire
episode, Angel uttered not a single word of dialogue – not even when
interrogating Merle and not even when Wesley came to tell him that he, Cordelia
and Gunn were continuing the work of the Agency.
He was at all times completely wrapped up in his own thoughts,
concentrating only on the discipline that he knew he had to maintain in order to
do the things he believed had to be done. And
the need for that discipline was demonstrated by what happened when Wesley gave
him the news:
though you might like to know that we’re keeping the agency open, with or
without you. You may have turned
your back on your mission but we haven’t.
Someone has to fight the good fight.”
just thrown a series of bull’s eyes with knives, Angel misses when he is
reminded of his mission and the good fight.
He then has to close his eyes and concentrate.
And having done so he then throws another bull’s eye with the words:
them fight the good fight. Someone
has to fight the war.”
there really is some guilt deep down in there and Angel has to focus to keep it
all seems to me to be a very interesting dynamic.
We have on the one hand Angel’s ruthless determination to pursue this
war against evil to the bitter end, no matter what it might cost him as well as
anyone else. He has cut himself off
from the only friends he has. He
seems to have given up on the very idea of redemption.
He is alone with neither hope for himself nor fear of anyone else.
All that remains is anger. But
anger can find many outlets. It is
presently directed at Wolfram and Hart who were the cause of so much personal
grief and by extension against the forces of evil generally.
But who knows what circumstances may arise that will change the flow and
direction of this anger. And indeed
circumstances may not so much arise as be manipulated for the purpose. Among the most fascinating pieces of dialogue in
“Redefinition” comes in a conversation between Darla and Drusilla about
Lindsey and Lilah:
sweet kids, naïve but they’re only human.
I doubt they even know what Wolfram and Hart’s true plan for Angel even
is. But I have to say my curiosity
seems we have not got to the bottom of the “Angel goes dark” plotline yet.
But on the other hand even now, after Angel has turned his back on his
mission, we get the sense that the real struggle for his soul is only beginning.
This is because it is only now that we begin to get a sense of the resistance of
the moral sense of his soul to what he is doing.
It is almost as if Angel had sleep walked to disaster, without at any
time showing a real self-awareness of the true nature of the challenges he was
facing. And now, as I have already
indicated, in this episode he does.
the terms in which he does so prove to be one of the weaknesses of the episode. Over pictures of his intensified training regime we have a
series of voiceovers in which we hear his thoughts on what he must do to make it
possible for him to fight his war:
not ready yet. Too many years
sleeping in soft beds. Living in a
world where I don’t belong. I
can’t fight them. Not yet.
Wolfram and Hart take a life they do it at a distance.
I don’t have that luxury. It’s
time. I’m not on their level.
But I can get there. And
when I do I’ll be right up close. I’ll
bring the fight to them.”
terms of the theme of the episode and its presentation of the character
development as I have understood them this is confusing and less than coherent.
First of all the preparation he needed was psychological not physical and
the intrusion of the training regime was only likely to confuse.
Secondly the reference to easy living was also wide of the mark.
He has hardly had that has he? The
reference to him living in a world where he didn’t belong must be closer to
the essence of the episode. It was
surely the idea that Angel had to divorce himself from his humanity that was the
key to understanding his motivation. And
then the counterpoint between Wolfram and Hart killing at a distance as opposed
to his need to kill close up again seems to obscure the point that he was not
yet ready to kill his real enemies close up.
Happily though this remains the one real weakness in the way in which the
story deals with Angel’s frame of mind and in view of the really interesting
set up for the rest of the arc it doesn’t bother me that much.
The Cordelia, Wesley Gunn dynamic was rather more problematic.
was the theme of the episode. We
have seen how Angel’s attempt to redefine himself was explored.
But his deliberate distancing of himself from his former employees caused
a major change for them. They were,
it seems, not only out of a job. They
were without a purpose. The scene
between Wesley and Virginia was, I think, intended to illustrate this.
Initially Virginia protests about Angel’s decision:
can’t fire you. You’re on a
mission to protect the innocent. He
can’t fire someone on a mission.”
evidently Wesley has yet to grasp the idea that he has any mission independently
“I don’t even know what the name of my job is…was.”
when (big surprise) Wesley and Cordelia both find themselves at Caritas their
purpose is obvious.
“Come to find your destiny, have you? And
who was going to help you with that?”
Cordelia: “Shania Twain or Madonna.
I haven’t decided.”
Cordelia: “…pulled a total wig.”
Cordelia and Wesley this is perfectly sound characterization.
Cordelia’s acting career still doesn’t seem to have got anywhere and
neither she nor Wesley appear to have had any real anchor (let alone source of
income) outside their role in Angel Investigations.
Indeed for Wesley in particular his work with Angel has been his
salvation after the disaster that was Sunnydale 1999.
It was because of this that they defined themselves not as fighting
“the good fight” in their own right but as auxiliaries to Angel.
He was not only their friend. He
was the good fight. They conceived
that as the natural order of things and could not see beyond it.
Indeed after Cordelia’s vision of a girl in trouble they seemed to try
to get in contact with Angel by telephone and when he ignored them still
hankered after his help:
“If we had Angel he could track her.
“He’d also kill the big spiny demon that took her.”
the message from the Powers that Be was that the good fight goes on with or
without Angel and if needs be then Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn had to carry that
fight on themselves. They were put
in a position of choosing whether to abandon someone in need or put their own
lives on the line even without Angel. Their
choice says something about them. And
in the end they acquitted themselves well:
Gunn: “This thing nearly ripped us to shreds.”
“Yeah but out of everybody here which one of us is the dead one?”
this moment we see a revolution. In
Caritas we had seen three individuals worried about their own individual
futures, people who squabbled and bickered among one another over essentially
petty matters but above all people who were adrift and directionless.
Over the body of the demon we saw a team with a purpose.
here we do see I think yet further progression for the ex-watcher and former
Sunnydale princess. They have truly
come along way. Up until now they
have always had the safety net of Angel there for them.
He was ready, willing and able to come to their aid at any occasion and
in the face of any threat. Taking
part in the good fight in such circumstances is one thing.
But now they have to do it without any back up at all.
That must indeed be scary. And
yet that is the mission they accept.
however, this particular aspect of the episode is not without its problems, this
time more serious ones than we saw with the slightly clumsy voiceover I
mentioned above. And the first problem arises with the characterization of
Charles Gunn. Everything
about him insists that his first loyalty is to “his people”.
Indeed of that were not the case then just what was “First
Impressions” about. And as “The
Shroud of Rahmon” made clear he never saw himself as simply Angel’s helper.
In this context his words in the teaser had a ring of truth to them:
this was just a side gig for me alright. The
extra cash was nice but Angel wants to go all commando…no skin off my nose.”
the explanation for his change of heart
I got a rep to maintain alright. I
can’t have you all seeing through my brusque and macho exterior”.
just weak. What was it that his brusque and macho exterior was covering?
He had a destiny. Why was he
looking for another?
more fundamentally in the interplay between Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn in Caritas
we see a lack of perspective that rings false.
At the end of “Reunion” Angel was on the downward path to darkness
and to potential self-destruction. All
of them understood this. All of
them seemed to realize that they and they alone were what stood between his and
this fate and all of them were willing to try to help.
What happened to that? There is nothing in the dialogue between Wesley
and Virginia or between the three ex employees that even begins to address these
concerns. As Gunn had pointed out:
locked twenty lawyers in a room with a couple of psychotic vampires. I’d say his mind’s been changed enough.”
this was what should have dominated their thoughts.
If not out of concern for someone who had been their friend and champion
then out of a sense that the person who by their own definition was the
centerpiece of their work against evil was now flirting with it.
What would he do next? For Wesley in particular to ignore this seems
frankly out of character.
yes the counterpoint between the mutual bickering at Caritas and the aftermath
of the demon kill does make a point about the way the Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn
came together as a team. But in
taking this angle I can’t help feel that the writers did sort of miss the more
important point about why they had
to do so. And because of this they left out some very important implications of
the rededication of Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn to the mission that Angel had been
engaged in. First of all it
counterpoints the different type of fight that Angel is engaged in.
He ignored what could have been and was a cry for help in favor of a
mission that was intended to bring about death. Wesley referred at the end of the episode to the good fight.
Angel saw only a war. One
mission is about preserving, saving and helping.
The other is about destroying. Secondly
we now see an alternative dynamic to the previously close relationship that
existed between Angel and the others. In
Wesley in particular you can see a sense of betrayal, almost bitterness.
This is the man who in “Sanctuary” explained his decision to help
Faith in the following terms:
"Angel, it wasn't for her."
"It's because I trust you.”
certainly looked up to and admired him. Now
he sees him turn his back on everything that Wesley believed in. It is hard not
to look at these two camps as adversaries, indeed at this moment as potential
opponents. Conflict seems
inevitable and the potential for drama enormous because of this.
But while these issues are not exactly ignored they cannot be directly or
substantively addressed where Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn do not even talk about
what Angel is now doing and why in any sensible way.
I am bound to say that, for a series that has a history of using
some deliciously black humor to point up the absurdities of the
situations its characters find themselves in I found the exchanges between
Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn in Caritas a little banal, forced and quite frankly
Who Gets Voted off the Island Next?
the third thread of this episode which deals with the fates of Lindsey and Lilah
does provide us with just the right tone of humor.
The situations they find themselves in aren’t laugh out loud funny. Indeed they are quite horrific.
They each survive one massacre only to find themselves trapped in a
situation where each has a 50/50 chance of being killed and no control over
their destiny. But that is where
the humor comes from – the absurdity of the human condition
as seen in our response to horror. Take
Lindsey. He wakens up with the bodies of his colleagues (the word
“friends” somehow just doesn’t seem appropriate) lying all around him.
He is covered in blood, bruises and scratch marks.
Yet he is feeling quite pleased with himself because Darla has spared
him. This is proof that she really
does love him. And when someone else is found alive he is actually annoyed.
This is probably my single favorite scene in the whole episode.
Lindsey is so unashamedly self-centered you just have to love him as a
character. And Lilah isn’t far
behind. When Darla so cruelly
crushes Lindsey’s illusions about her being in love with him she is genuinely
amused at his discomfiture in spite
of the situation she finds herself in. These
two play off one another so beautifully it seems a pity that one of them isn’t
long for this world. But that
indeed seems the logic the writers have set up.
is one of the strengths of Wolfram and Hart that they are a corporation.
As such it is a hydra. Cut
one head off and another grows in its place.
But you also find tensions within a corporation both as to the best way
to further its interests and as between what is good for the corporation and
what is good for individuals within it. The
good of the corporation requires discipline with different people working
together to achieve its ends. But
it also requires putting the right people in the right place and this means
competition. And always the management within a corporation must deal with the
fact that it comprises individuals whose principal loyalty is always to
themselves. Within such a set up
there is a great deal of scope for conflict and here the writers have maximized
this potential. I thought that
Darla gave a perfectly good explanation as to why there should be two survivors
of the massacre and the choice of Lindsey and Lilah, while a little contrived,
is also explicable in terms of the personal preferences of Darla for the former
and Drusilla for the latter. It
is, I would accept, also a little contrived that the senior partners would be
minded to kill just one of the survivors and that they were made acting joint
head of special projects to help determine which it would be.
But this scenario gives a very clear focus to the existing rivalry
between them. The stakes could not
be higher. Death for one and wealth
and prestige for the other. Moreover both Lindsey and Lilah have already shown
the degree of resourcefulness and ruthlessness of which they are capable.
This is not going to be a battle won or lost on the physical plain like
most battles in ANGEL. Rather it will be won and lost in the mind and the potential
for such a conflict was demonstrated quite clearly when Lilah tried to sucker
Lindsey into stealing files and running away.
I admit quite frankly that she had me fooled. From now on we can expect all sorts of bluff and double bluff
and we are not going to be able to take anything that these two say or do at
face value and that strikes me as a very satisfying prospect from a dramatic
point of view.
the meantime yet another interesting villain has joined our cast in the form of
the Chief Investigator who interviews Lindsey and Lilah at the end. Presumably
he is not one of the senior partners but he is decidedly creepy and menacing.
More importantly he continues to exude that Wolfram and Hart air of
competence that is so far one of their strongest cards.
They may not be omniscient (as recent events prove) but they do seem to
plan carefully and well. If Wolfram and Hart do fail in their endeavors you get the
feeling that it won’t be because they do something stupid.
That not only adds to the sense of threat and the impression of
difficulty the white hats must face, it is actually very refreshing.
can be mercifully brief in my comments here – there isn’t really a plot to
speak of in this episode. And this
is, I think, something of a weakness. Logically
the “Angel goes commando” thread should have featured the A plot. And there was it is true a linear narrative of sorts linking
Angel’s interrogation of Merle, his observation of Darla’s invitation to the demons to become her
“muscular slaves” and the way in which he sabotaged her efforts. Indeed
if Darla and Drusilla’s efforts to raise an army had been pursued with
more focus and if it had had a specific purpose for Angel to foil then that
would have given us a more than satisfactory framework within which to explore
his frame of mind. Throughout this
episode I never got the impression of Darla or Drusilla being genuine
antagonists for Angel. In
“Reunion” he was always reacting to them and always one step behind.
Because of this they were driving the agenda of the episode.
That is why they carried the threat they did.
Here we get no sense of purpose or importance about the raising of the
army and no corresponding sense of the need to stop it.
Darla talks a good fight about destruction but there is nothing to
suggest that she actually intends to do something about it.
Indeed she seems more distracted by Angel and why she isn’t obsessed by
him than anything else. The result
is a slight sense of drift in the direction the two girls are going and
correspondingly in the episode. Nothing
that happens has any significance in itself but is merely a device intended to
further the writers examination of their theme.
same comment could be made about the
scenes involving Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn.
The short sequence of them tracking and killing the demon could not
really be called a plot and the rest of the time they just sat around in Caritas
talking to no great effect or purpose. When
Cordelia had the vision it was actually a surprise, not in the sense of a plot
development that didn’t accord with expectations but in the sense that I
wasn’t actually expecting anything to happen at all.
And while that was in itself welcome I can’t help feeling that it is
not a good sign for a story when the viewer is surprised in that sense. And there was one issue I really did have some difficulty
with. For three people who were
supposedly pretty drunk they sure did sober up remarkably quickly.
the Lindsey/Lilah confrontation was more set up than anything.
It is true that, from early on, we were alerted to the possibility that
Wolfram and Hart might seek to exact some form of retribution on the survivors
of the massacre and that it was subsequently suggested that this honor might
fall on only one head. But nothing
happened in the course of the episode to make these threats tangible. They remained theoretical.
Given that the sense of tension that really should have added meaning to
the competition between Lindsey and Lilah was largely absent.
Characters discussing the possibility of one of them being killed just
cannot carry the same weight of conviction as a practical demonstration of what
the senior partners were capable of. For
example what leant credibility to Lindsey’s fears in “Blind Date” was the
practical demonstration Holland gave to Lee of the consequences of betraying his
employers. Nothing similar happened her.
Equally I think that the episode could have benefited if there had been
some real movement in the competition with one or the other scoring some points
with Mr. tall, dark and creepy. That
would have given more of a sense of a dynamic, changing scenario as opposed to
the essentially static one we got.
is in short nothing to draw us in to the episode; that creates a sense of a
logically connected sequence of events that really makes it important for us to
ask what happens next.
(7.5/10) I must confess to being a
little disappointed in this one. That
is not to say that there are not some very good things in it.
Certainly the treatment of Angel’s descent continues to fascinate and
we are certainly seeing a level of subtlety to it that I hadn’t anticipated. The voiceovers are a little annoying but by no means fatal to
this aspect of the episode. And I
really do like the way that Lindsey and Lilah have been set up to cut one
another’s throats. I am, however,
a little frustrated by the interplay between Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn.
The central idea of bringing them together independently of Angel to take
on his mission works very well, although the intrusion of Gunn does look a
little forced and out of character for him.
My main complaint, however, is that the writers seem to have decided to
play their disappointment at being fired for broad comedy.
I think that was the wrong choice. The
break up of the Fang gang was, I think, too serious a subject for that sort of
treatment and it certainly meant that some of the graver implications of the
distance between Angel and his former friends were left alone.
Finally, I think that in general too little happened in terms of plot to
make a really compelling episode. There
were three separate threads each of which could have had a stronger narrative
line in it. It is disappointing
that the opportunity was not taken in at least one of them.
Having said all that it is only fair to recognize that this is a
transitional episode and that it is intended to set up the second half of the
arc and I think it certainly achieved that more than adequately.