October 1999- May 2000
OVERVIEW OF THE SEASON
Series based on Ideas
think that I have to begin my discussion of
ANGEL the series where I have usually begun my reviews of individual
episodes, by looking at ideas. It
has been one the strengths in general of the series that, in every episode, the
story has not just been an end in itself but has been used to explore ideas.
Some of these ideas are based on metaphors properly so-called.
“Lonely Hearts” is a good example of this.
Others are built around social issues ("War Zone") or character
related themes ("Parting Gifts").
In a few cases ("I Fall to Pieces" and "She" for
example) they didn't come off. Nevertheless,
you can go through each and every program and find evidence that constructive
thought went into it. Even a
comparatively straightforward story like "the Ring" was about the need
to co-operate in the face of a common danger.
fact adds to inherent interest of the program in its own right.
As well as the plot it means that there is a deeper level which only
becomes fully accessible if you think about what you have seen.
It also lends a coherence to an episode.
Each significant plot development, each piece of important dialogue is
normally subordinated to an overall theme.
Each episode is about something rather than merely being a series of
loosely or closely connected events.
I have already indicated there are many different types of ideas and these can
be used in many different ways. There
is no reason why a writer should limit him or herself to just one approach.
But if a series is going to establish an identity for itself there has to
be some sort of pattern, some sense that the ideas chosen and the way they are
examined reflect some overarching vision. In
other words it is not enough that individual episodes are about something.
The series itself has to be about something rather than simply being a
sequence of individual episodes with little or nothing in common beyond the fact
that the same characters feature in them week after week.
Struggle of Young Adulthood
perhaps here we come to the most important thing about the way in which stories
were used to explore ideas in season 1 of ANGEL.
The initial premise for the series seems to have been developed around
the following concepts:
implied what was essentially an anthology with each case of the week having
little or no carry over to the next.
the forgoing episodes you have some of the quintessential experiences of young
adulthood. A person swaps the material comforts of the home for a much more
precarious existence where he or she has to fend for themselves.
This includes things like finding a job or somewhere to live.
And this process is accompanied by the need to find your own place in the
world in a wider sense. It means
learning to make a connection with people you can trust.
But it also means having faith in yourself to cope with anything that
others throw in your way.
Change of Concept
as the season progressed, the ideas around which each episode was built changed.
A comparison between the early episodes mentioned above and the last
half-dozen or so in the series shows just what a radical shift it underwent. "The Ring" and "War Zone" were
essentially what are called "filler episodes".
But the real thrust of ANGEL towards the end can be seen from "the
Prodigal", "Eternity", "Five by Five",
"Sanctuary" and Blind Date".
What is impressive about these episodes taken together is that, although
each is essentially a self-contained story, thematically they fit together very
well to form a coherent and consistent pattern of thought.
here we see parallels to Angel’s own journey.
In several episodes but crucially
in “In the Dark” and “Somnambulist“ and “Sanctuary” we witness the
extent of Angel’s personal journey. In
“In the Dark” Angel was given the chance to live like a human but rejected
it. He did so because that chance
was not what he really wanted. What
he wanted was forgiveness, redemption if you like.
And that was not to be obtained easily or quickly by some magic trickery.
Rather it had to be earned – the hard way.
And in “Somnambulist” we see how he did so – by confronting his own
past (in the form of his vampire offspring) and dealing with it. His willingness to do so made him different to the creature
that he was before, even though that creature still exerts an influence on him
as demonstrated by the fact that he enjoyed the sensation of killing.
And finally, in “Eternity” We are being reminded that Angel must
continually fight to retain control of the demon within and the outcome of the
battle is not assured. In that
episode he actually did lose control. If he did so once he can do so again. It is as if the writers were saying that redemption is never
easy or straightforward.
the same token, in “Sanctuary” we see the extent to which Angel is committed
to achieving redemption not only for himself but for others
It is that which now defines him. And
that is why he reacts to Buffy in the way he does.
Just when he is reaching Faith Buffy shows up. Faith is at a delicate
stage and she threatens to ruin everything. So all he can think about is that he
has to stop her repeating Wesley’s mistake (a possibility stressed when Angel
himself reminded Wesley of that mistake in “Five by Five”).
That is his one concern and nothing else matters.
in “Blind Date” we see a
counterpoint to the hopeful message of “Sanctuary”.
In the former episode Lindsey McDonald is given a choice.
On the one hand there is the authentically hard road to redemption
offered by Angel, full of risk and sacrifice.
On the other he is offered the world by Holland Manners.
He doesn’t ask Lindsey to choose to do evil as such.
Rather he was just being asked to take up a position in the world that
will bring him power, wealth and prestige.
The price he was asked to pay for that is to help others who do evil.
Lindsey wasn’t a bad man. Nor
was he forced into making any
particular choice. But he went ahead and made the wrong one anyway.
shorthand description of these episodes would be that they are about what is
right and what is wrong; about how we all have the power to choose our own paths
but how any choice we make will have consequences for ourselves and others. They
are about taking responsibility for these consequences of our actions, no matter
how hard that is; but above all they are about how it is never too late to
change. The ability of a human soul
to choose good over evil means that everyone has the right to seek their own
redemption, regardless of what they have done in the past.
The exploration of these ideas didn’t begin with “the Prodigal”.
We can also see evidence of these themes being explored in “In the
Dark” and in many ways the shift in emphasis towards them began with “the
Somnambulist.” But it is the very
concentration of episodes dealing with choice, responsibility and consequences
in the last third of the season that marks it out so strongly.
things follow from this. First of all, on this reading, the use of metaphor to explore
the day to day experiences of young adults in general has, by the end of the
season, been effectively sidelined. I'm
sure we will continue to see this concept worked out in individual episodes from
time to time – as with "Expecting" and "She" – but it no
longer constitutes the main thrust of the series. Secondly a very significant
change has come over the treatment of the other basic concept mentioned above
– saving souls. The intention
here seemed initially to have been to relate this concept to the use of
metaphor. So, for example, in
"I Fall to Pieces" Melissa was helped to take control of her life in
the face of Ronald's stalking her. This
was almost a practical definition
of saving souls, rooted in the concerns of the day to day world, referring to
general well being or a sense that our life was in order.
By the end of the season the concept of saving souls had been
redefined in much more metaphysical terms – the difference between right and
wrong, free will, responsibility, redemption.
It really is now about the condition of the human soul itself. This new direction also implies that ANGEL will not really be
about the struggles of ordinary people like Melissa to live ordinary lives.
Rather it will be about more fundamental choices such as those faced by
was nothing basically wrong with the earlier concept of saving souls.
Indeed, "Lonely Hearts" and "Sense and Sensitivity"
are two of the best episodes in Series 1. Nor
do I think that it is really true to say that bringing in a "victim of the
week" meant that attention was not being focused on Angel himself. As I
have already pointed out in episodes like "Lonely Hearts" and "I
Fall to Pieces" the writers have looked for and found a particular angle
(yes I spelled that correctly) to the story that makes it relevant to Angel (and
I spelled that correctly too) and slanted the story accordingly. But I find the general direction of "Angel" at the
end of the series so much more interesting.
This is because it speaks of a much more profound and ultimately more
important human experience. It
looks at what fundamentally defines us as individuals in all its contradictions
and complexities. It doesn't
provide devastatingly insightful answers to the questions raised.
But it takes its subject matter
seriously and its treatment of it is both intelligent and articulate.
If nothing else it does
encourage us, the viewer, to think
about the issues ourselves and that is never a bad thing.
the thing that I like most about this refashioning of the concept of saving
souls is that it allows us to concentrate attention of the key characteristics
of Angel as an individual. Of course, as I have already pointed out, in the beginning,
he was also the agent for change because his experiences helped him understand
what was needed. But his sense of
loneliness in "Lonely Hearts" or his stalker-boy past in "I Fall
to Pieces" did not go to the essence of Angel as a character. The heart of
the character is choosing who and what you really want to be.
It is about taking responsibility, doing the right thing as opposed to
the easy thing, and where
applicable also about making amends for past wrongs.
This, therefore, must also be where the principal focus of
"Angel" as a series must lie.
In showing the inter-reaction between Angel and others the writers show
us the same issues facing them through his eyes and his experiences.
This makes their examination of those issues more meaningful, more
powerful. Would the tragedy that
overtook Kate and her father have meant the same if we had not seen Liam's own
tragedy and felt Angel's personal commitment to prevent another father/child
relationship end in disaster? Would
Faith's crisis have been as comprehensible without the parallels drawn with
Angel in 1898?
Developing Mythology of the Series
to the change in direction I have just been discussing is another which may be
even more important in the future development of the series.
In the beginning ANGEL was essentially a supernatural detective story, or
rather a series of individual stories. These
stories were told without much in the way of context. All we really had were the mysterious Powers That Be (or TPTB)
and the visions they gave Doyle. The
purpose of these visions was simply to help those who needed it.
So, there was no real need to make very much more out of them by way of
background. Nor was there very much
sign that the writers intended to do so. Things
changed dramatically in IWRY. There
we began to get hints about an Armageddon and the important part Angel would
play in it. These hints were
dramatically reinforced in "To Shanshu in LA”.
There we not only get confirmation of Angel’s role in a future
Armageddon but the writers stress the connection between Angel and TPTB.
The whole idea of bringing Darla back is to sever that connection.
It must be admitted straight away that the idea of a coming Armageddon is
something of a cliché. For that
reason it has very limited appeal on its own.
But what it can do is to provide a context within which potentially more
interesting relationships can develop.
It provides a basic reference point around which an overarching mythology
can be built for the series. And
in the hints of TPTB trying to guide Angel not just to help individuals but to
perform a task of wider importance and in the interest of Wolfram and Hart (and
by implication others) in stopping him we have the beginnings of this mythology.
Angel is already on a journey of personal redemption.
By setting for him a more general long-term role (rather than simply the
task of helping individuals on a weekly basis) the writers are in effect
creating a parallel between his ability to carry out this role and his ability
to succeed in his quest for redemption.
It will take our hero on a voyage not only of physical trials but
self-discovery as he moves towards a slowly unfolding and as yet hardly glimpsed
final climax. This again creates a
sense of coherence and direction, a feeling that you are watching one great
design rather than a series of small separate stories, which do not belong
together. And this is what can really helped to take the show to another level.
It was here that ANGEL began seriously to carve out for itself a new
mythology all of its own, quite separate from that of BUFFY.
the more metaphysical emphasis on the soul towards the end of season 1
reinforces this effort on the part of the writers to create a mythology for the
series. The two dovetail
beautifully to create a scenario where we have not just a physical conflict but
a moral one as well. The coming
struggle and the early signs of it that we have seen represent a clash of ideas
and of values. All of the things
that make a difference between the Dark and the Light are displayed in late
season 1 ANGEL. But perhaps the
theme is most clearly played out in the character of Lindsay in "Blind
Date". We see in the structure
of man's law a value system based on power.
Angel himself makes the connection when he refers to Wolfram and Hart’s
manipulation of the courts in “Blind Date”.
still their world, Wesley, structured for power, not truth. It's their
system and it's one that works.
It works because there is no guilt; there is no torment; no consequences.
It's pure. I remember what that was like. Sometimes I
miss that clarity."
world Angel describes here is not only one where monsters do evil things for the
pleasure that this brings to them. It
is a world where human beings create a community of interest with such monsters
for the profit that brings them. This
is a value system where it doesn’t matter whether something is right or wrong.
It doesn’t matter whether others suffer. What matters is the benefit you derive. This is In opposition there is a value system based on the
need to do the right thing whether that brings you any benefit or not and indeed
regardless of what it actually costs you. Above
all it is a value system which judges right and wrong by reference to the
consequences that an action has for others. In short it is a value system which is based on the idea of a
common humanity; a society in which human beings have an intrinsic importance
beyond what they can do for us. And
here we begin to see an underlying philosophy for the series. Perhaps it isn’t
a particularly profound one. But it
doesn’t have to be. It does what
it needs to and that is to inform the way we look at the ideas and themes
explored in the course of the season, the actions of the characters and the
developments in plot. It is of you
like our compass on the journey.
ideas underpinning ANGEL may have been reshaped.
One thing has remained pretty much constant on however.
That is the use of character. There
is far too much material here to go into in any detail.
So I will ignore the recurring characters and instead concentrate on the
has always been a character of enormous potential.
A former soulless killer who now has his human heart restored and must
now face the consequences of his actions. He
must live with the constant struggle between his own moral sense and the demon
instinct inside him. He is a
creature who still exists outside the world but must find a way to live with it.
The surprise was that BUFFY made so very little of it.
Well, its loss is ANGEL’s gain. I
have already touched on how the series has made ample use of all of these
elements in Angel’s character but what I haven’t dealt with is how the
events of the series have affected Angel himself.
story is a journey and like all journey’s it progresses in stages.
We can indeed see certain key moments for him in season 1.
out like this you can see the bare bones of a story: Angel’s developing sense
of a mission and what that means for his view of himself and his place in the
world. When we first saw him
in “City of” he seemed to be going through the motions.
He gave no sign of a real personal belief in what he was doing.
He was helping people but it was more out of a sense that this was his
penance than any real interest in them. Having
given up Buffy his attitude seemed to be that he was so totally unworthy all he
could do was suffer in life. The
contrast to the Angel we see in “Sanctuary” is striking.
Now he is a man with a mission, one which involves a much more personal
commitment on his part to those he is helping.
As he said to Cordelia when trying to help Faith:
"You understand why we have to help Faith, don't you?"
has become the most important thing in his life so much so that he
unhesitatingly chose it over Buffy. And
this is important – perhaps the single most important aspect of the entire
season. Angel only started to come
out of his shell because of Buffy; he only started to fight evil because of
Buffy. It was all about Buffy.
Now we have the clearest possible demonstration that he has an
independent champion in his own right and not just someone helping her.
And with this sense of mission have come the feelings of self-worth and
dare I say it of destiny. When you
have a mission that you believe in,
almost be definition you have to believe in yourself.
And we see this in both “Sanctuary” and “To Shanshu in LA”. In the former the noteworthy thing is the somewhat
high-handed way that he treats everyone who disagree with him over Faith.
He has such confidence in his own judgment that he ignores everyone else.
In the latter episode it is clear that he is done apologizing for his
existence as a vampire or what he is doing in LA, even though it may be outside
the problem is that we have no very clear picture of how moved from his state of
mind in “City of…” to his state of mind in “To Shanshu in LA”.
And really the episodic nature of the season told against it here.
We see the individual stages of the journey but we have no sense of any
connection between them. There was
little or no carry over of ideas explored in one episode to the next.
The way in which the prophecies of Aberjian were used to establish a
bridge from “Blind Date” to “To Shanshu in LA” was very much the
exception. We do not for example
see how Angel’s acceptance that he is not the same as Angelus in
“Somnambulist” makes any contribution to the development of his special
sense of mission in “Sanctuary”.
Indeed that sense of mission does seem to be sprung on us somewhat out of
the blue. And while, as I have
already said, the themes of the
episodes themselves form a coherent and consistent body of thought and while
they do say a great deal about Angel and the issues facing him, many of them do
not seem to tell us anything at all about the direction Angel as a character is
going in. In “the Prodigal” or
“Eternity” we have very little sense that the themes explored have any
consequences for Angel at all. So, in many ways this was a case of the whole not
being the equal to the sum of the parts.
by the end of the season we have a very interesting set up for Angel.
Here is a creature who now has a fully developed sense of his mission but
with perhaps no very clear idea of where pursuing that mission was going to lead
him personally. Certainly in
“Sanctuary” he seemed to suggest that he expected nothing for himself:
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."
may have been speaking to Faith here but I think it is clear he was speaking
about himself. But all of that
changed in “To Shanshu in LA”. One thing that has remained constant with Angel is his sense
of social isolation. Apart from his
relationship with Cordelia and Wesley (and I will turn to that shortly) he has
nothing that any of us would call a life. The
writers have stressed on a number of different occasions just how remote from
the world Angel is. We see this is
“Lonely Hearts” and in “She”. But
perhaps the best example of this is to be found in “Eternity” where his fear
of his own vampiric nature as a barrier to contact with ordinary people features
heavily. The original intention may
well have been that Angel’s character growth should have been in terms of
lessening this social isolation. Certainly
the concept of saving souls by getting into people’s lives would suggest that.
With the different emphasis on what saving souls now means, Angel’s
involvement in ordinary people’s personal lives is now no longer the same
issue that it was. It would,
however, obviously be a poor choice on the part of the writers to abandon any
character development on this side. And
in “To Shanshu in LA” they chose quite deliberately to focus on this
characteristic not simply as a quirk of personality but as something
fundamentally tied up with his lack a personal stake in his own redemption.
But with the promise of humanity Angel now does have that stake.
He can for the first time begin to want thing for himself and thereby
become more fully human than ever before. I
think that this can only presage a major change for him
and we can only wait to see
the nature of the change next season brings.
next person I would like to deal with is the character which departed in episode
9, “Hero”. Almost the first thing I noticed about Doyle on his introduction
into “Angel” was his similarity to Whistler.
Both were badly and cheaply dressed; had a slightly shady, down at heal
air but were articulate and self-confident.
Each knew who Angel was and had a definite message for him.
This suggested to me that the writers’ early concept for Doyle was that
he was to continue in the Whistler role. Whistler
was sent first of all to find Angel and convince him to give up his self-imposed
exile and play an active part in the struggle against good and evil.
It is also implied in “Becoming 2” that Angel learnt other things
from him before coming to Sunnydale on his own.
Similarly Doyle had a definite message for Angel about the part he was to
play. From “City of...” –
not all about fighting and gadgets and stuff. It’s about reaching out to
people, showing them that there’s love and hope still left in the world."
a character articulates a theme for the series and defines the role of the
leading character in it the obvious implication is that he is possessed of
certain knowledge denied to Angel or to us.
A role like this was certainly consistent with the creation of an
overarching mythology where Angel was closely connected to TPTB and acted as
their agent in the war between light and dark.
In that scenario Doyle would be the principal link between Angel and TPTB.
But there were two problems with this idea.
The first was that initially at least the series developed in a different
direction. With the exception of IWRY, the role of TPTB was confined to
identifying individual humans who needed to be saved and nothing about these
cases suggested they had any wider significance in the greater scheme of things.
The second problem lay in the character of Doyle himself.
It was one thing to bring in a character like Whistler to set Angel on
the right path and then drop out of the picture altogether.
It is another for Doyle to act as Angel’s mentor in a larger sense as
the person, for example, to whom he turned for advice in charting his way
through difficult moral choices. First
of all Angel, as an ancient vampire with lifetimes of knowledge and experience,
did not need that sort of a mentor. Secondly,
arguably Doyle (as conceived) was ill equipped to provide the necessary
guidance. He certainly had
“street smarts” enabling him to come to some shrewd judgments (as with the
need to charge clients). But giving
him the role of moral guardian for the series would not have sat very well with
what we later discovered were his own wrong turnings in life.
is noticeable that in the major decisions that Angel had to face in the first
eight episodes of the series Doyle was either ignored completely (IWRY) or acted
merely as sounding board (“In the Dark”).
On the other hand as a “guide and mentor” type figure he should have
been the one pointing out Angel’s path for him.
what was left for him? He had his
visions and street contacts but they are plot devices rather than a “role”
in the series. Angel was
“terminator in chief”. And
there was really no room for the exploration of someone else’s life story on
the series. It wasn’t just that
Doyle’s tale had a similar theme to Angel’s.
It was that Angel’s story had to remain center stage. Other characters’ stories could form the basis for
individual episodes or be used to counterpoint Angel’s or draw parallels to it
but there was no real room for an entirely separate story on which to form the
basis for someone else’s participation in the series.
was left for Doyle – and the roles he actually filled – was to be Angel’s
friend and Cordelia’s sparring partner and, in that capacity in particular, to
provide some very necessary comic relief.
In these roles he was markedly successful.
At first sight it is hard to see on what basis Angel could have developed
such a close relationship with Doyle. I
had always thought myself that Angel and Giles were a well suited pair.
But Angel and Doyle were such opposites – the reserved, reflective,
solitary vampire and the outgoing, spontaneous and gregarious half demon.
But such was Doyle’s easy going charm that I actually had little
difficulty in believing in Angel responding to it.
Certainly by “Hero” when he revealed to Doyle the most personally
difficult decision he ever made it was difficult to miss how close they had
relationship with Cordelia was more complex.
It obviously took a big step forward in “Bachelor Party” when
Cordelia realized she wanted someone with substance in her life and admitted
that was something Doyle did have. But
Cordelia was never someone to let her heart rule her head.
That fact alone kept any relationship she might have had with Doyle
within certain limits. Indeed the
contrast between Cordelia’s relentless practicality, over running the business
no less than in responding to Doyle’s hints, was a source of much of the
conflict (and humor) between them.
herein lies another problem. Doyle effectively acted as interface between Angel and
Cordelia. The latter had scenes
together but they were never used to develop a personal relationship between
them. Because of this I did not
really get the same sense of a close-knit team as developed later between Angel,
Wesley and Cordelia. And it was the
friendship that we saw growing between Cordelia and Angel in “Parting
Gifts”, “Somnambulist” and “Expecting” in particular that made the
single biggest contribution to her development as a character. So, you could say that Doyle actually held back her
development. And it is here you
find the paradox. When TPTB (in
Mutant Enemy) killed off Doyle they created an awful lot of ill feeling over the
loss of an undeniably popular figure. But
in the end it seems to me that the change worked to the advantage of ANGELas a
series. Nothing major was lost with
Cordelia effectively replacing Doyle as Angel’s friend and intermediary to
TPTB (at that time a pretty limited role indeed).
Arguably the gain was in a more balanced and coherent Fang gang.
should not, however, detract in the least from GQ’s achievement.
For all the reasons I have given Doyle’s role in “Angel” was a
fairly limited one. Indeed it is
noticeable that he really only played a key role in two episodes – the less
than sparkling “Bachelor Party” and the flawed “Hero”.
But in spite of this the impact he made in just nine episodes can hardly
be denied. The natural charm
and self-effacing humor he was able to bring to bear in the part were a natural
for Doyle. If I were to
express any reservation at all, it would be that I didn’t quite get the same
sense of conviction from him when it came to playing the tragic elements in his
character. I tended to get more of
a sense of self pity. That,
however, may be more a matter of direction than acting.
the secondary characters, Cordelia posed by far the most difficult problem for
the writers. At times on BUFFY she
seemed too close to caricature for comfort.
As a comparatively minor figure there
this didn’t matter much. As
the principal female on ANGEL it mattered a great deal.
The trick was to try to develop real depth to her without sacrificing the
element she was most needed for on ANGEL. She
was someone who lived in the real world, she was to be the link between that
world and Angel’s. And the clash
between her own enlightened self-interest and Angel’s more solitary and
reflective nature was intended to provide the source of much of the humor.
This might have been a recipe for a character to swing from one extreme
to another; but not here. The way
the writers opted to address the problem was particularly clever.
They stressed the way Cordelia, from a very low point in her fortunes in
“Rm w/a Vu”, began to understand herself and her past.
She did not apologize for who she had been but she had no illusions about
it either. Time and time again what was stressed was her rationality.
This was how her “me first” attitude was presented – as the
reaction of a hard-headed, practical woman.
But because of this it was far from incompatible with her growth as a
character. So, for example, we had her realization in “Bachelor Party” that
a rich and handsome guy was not enough for her – she wanted depth.
But that wasn’t enough to make her disregard the fact that Doyle was
short and poor. Equally in the
course of the season she became Angel’s closest friend but in
“Somnambulist” and “Eternity” that genuine friendship did not affect her
concern for her own safety. Perhaps
most significantly of all, while she was never happy with the visions (because
of the personal discomfort) she came to accept them just as she had accepted a
lot of the other unpleasant aspects of working for Angel Investigations (like
sawing up dead demons). And in
doing so she was already moving towards the sense of purpose that the events of
“To Shanshu in LA” seem to have given her.
But even here, there is nothing incompatible with this attitude and
wanting Angel Investigations to make money – something that has been a
constant preoccupation for Cordelia. So
we get the best of both worlds. The
conflict between Cordelia’s concern for Angel
and her increasing commitment to what he is doing and her sense of self
preservation, annoyance at personal discomfort and ambition for her financial
security (combined with her unchanging “I am not afraid to say what I think”
attitude) has been a source of much of the best humor in “Angel” even while
Cordelia continues to grow as an individual.
if the character development for Cordelia was one of the real strengths of
season 1, the writers attempts to define a role for her in the series have met
with less success. Until Doyle’s
death she seemed all too often a peripheral figure.
Doyle had the visions, Angel did the fighting.
Doyle was Angel’s friend. Any
discussion of importance was between them.
All too often Cordelia seemed reduced to comic relief (especially in the
entertaining scenes between Doyle and her) or a sort of Greek chorus, commenting
from her own unique perspective on Angel and his preoccupations.
This was a valuable role obviously.
As I will be discussing in due course, comic relief plays a very
important part in the series. And
it gave Cordelia the opportunity to deliver some of the best dialogue in season
1. But the role she played here is
hardly a central one and certainly not the sort of role you might expect from
the series principal female.
changed, to an extent, in “Parting Gifts”.
In that episode the practical side of Cordelia came to the fore.
She grieved for Doyle’s loss as much as anyone but for her “life goes
on”. And this practicality allows
her to show important support for Angel who is much less well equipped to cope
with the loss. And the danger
Cordelia then finds herself in reinforces for Angel Cordelia’s importance to
him. In this episode we have the
genesis of the friendship between the two of them.
And this feeling of friendship is immediately reinforced in
“Somnambulist” both by Cordelia’s instinctive loyalty to him in the face
of Wesley’s suspicions and by her evident concern and support for him at the
end. And there were a number of other episodes (I am thinking here
especially of IGYUMS and “To Shanshu in LA”) where the friendship also
featured. The real problem, though,
was that comparatively little use was made of it.
There were several occasions where the writers created situations where
Cordelia’s friendship for Angel might have had some significant effects on
him. But (with the possible
exception of the final scene in “Somnambulist”) the Angel/Cordelia
friendship didn’t really serve as that sort of turning point at any stage.
In IGYUMS she seemed on the point of getting him to open up about Doyle
but was thwarted by a vision. Sadly,
any further attempt to explore he way Angel came to terms with Doyle’s death
through his relationship with Cordelia was ignored.
Equally the way Cordelia tried to et Angel to connect with the world in
“To Shanshu in LA” was essentially used for laughs.
But the prime example in this respect
was “Sanctuary” where Cordelia made no effort to change Angel’s
mind at all, even when she patently didn’t agree with what he was doing.
And he was clearly risking his own life as well as everyone else’s.
One cannot help but feel that the friendship between the two was almost
decorative rather than being a major factor in the season.
those episodes where Cordelia features most significantly in terms of advancing
the storyline were the ones in which the main plot point was to rescue her:
“City of…”; “Rm w/a Vu”, “Parting Gifts”, “Expecting” and
“To Shanshu in LA”. Of course
it is perfectly true that everyone – even Angel – needed rescue at one time
or another during the season. But
this number and the relative lack of a strong alternative role for her makes
Cordelia far too much of a one note character for comfort
brings us to Wesley. Here the trick
the writers performed is even more surprising.
Few characters can have been introduced into a series with more against
him. Not only was he replacing the
much-loved Doyle but he was also carrying a lot of baggage from Season 3 of
BUFFY especially from “Bad Girls” where the words “arrogant, gutless
fool” hardly seem adequate to describe him.
And the writers did themselves no favors by overplaying his physical
clumsiness in “Parting Gifts” and one or two other episodes.
At one stage it looked as though we were in for a heavy dose of slapstick
humor courtesy of Wesley. This is
not only a form of humor I have never found amusing but it did not seem to me to
fit in especially well with the more sophisticated style of Angel as a series.
the writers had already given themselves a key to the character – his sense of
failure over what happened in Sunnydale and the resulting feelings of
inadequacy. These were feelings
they reinforced in IGYUMS where some pretty harsh treatment by his father is
implied. This was important.
We could begin to see his behavior in Sunnydale in another light.
Rather than trying to retcon his actions there (especially his failed
abduction of Faith) we were made more understanding of the background to them
and therefore more sympathetic. What
we saw was a man trying to overcome a past in which he was forever being judged
and found wanting. At times this
led him to try too hard but in doing so he only had the best of intentions.
And this humanization of Wesley was reinforced when we were allowed to
see another side of him altogether. In
Sunnydale he had often seemed a little priggish.
And in “Expecting” the judgmental attitude he showed towards Cordelia
at the beginning was all of a piece with that.
But when Cordelia was in real trouble, when she needed support and help
rather than criticism, then Wesley came though for her.
Indeed he could hardly have done any more.
It was almost as if the writers were saying that his prudishness was a
surface veneer. Wesley was behaving
the way his father and the Watchers’ Council would have wanted him to behave.
But the Wesley who was there for Cordelia when she needed him was the
at the same time another great change came over Wesley.
The writers quietly dropped the physical comedy.
Instead they started to concentrate on his acknowledged strengths –
research and knowledge of the occult. All
featured heavily in “Expecting”,
“She”, “the Prodigal” and IGYUMS. At the same time they began to develop
other sides to the character, such as his bravery and loyalty.
“The Ring” was in many ways a breakthrough episode because it showed
him taking on villains in a physical confrontation and winning without Angel.
This was followed up in subsequent episodes, especially “Eternity”.
The final aspect of his contribution was also hinted at in that episode.
He was very quick to understand the nature of Angel’s difficulties over
Rebecca and this intuitive understanding of Angel was also to come out in “To
Shanshu in LA”. Interestingly
enough this gave him a much more clearly defined role in the series than either
Cordelia or Doyle had. He was not
only the one who filled in the background information.
He was the one who was able to editorialize, to comment from a
sympathetic but objective standpoint on Angel’s situation whether that was his
fear of becoming involved with another woman or his lack of place in the world.
As we saw in “To Shanshu in LA”, Wesley himself didn’t have all the
answers and had to struggle to work them out.
But in doing so Wesley was being used to help put Angel and his struggles
in a wider context. This was a less
obvious but for that reason more effective approach than having a Whistler-type
figure simply tell Angel and the audience what he should be doing.
these contributions, Wesley leaves behind the bumbling klutz of “Parting
Gifts” and “She”. We now
began to see a character that was competent, indeed highly useful and that is
always a very important characteristic for anyone.
It is almost essential in gaining respect for a character and it is hard
indeed for an audience to relate to someone if they do not respect him or her in
some way or other. Not that this change to Wesley happens overnight.
That was one of the best ways the transition was handled.
We still have adequacy issues for Wesley in, for example, IGYUMS.
There his grasp exceeded his reach.
He wanted desperately to help but in the end he failed.
But that is realistic. That
is what happens when someone is trying to prove themselves.
The important point is that he did not give up and eventually he did
prove himself. And it was through
this simple expedient of making Wesley competent most of the problems with the
The Fang Gang
from the individual characters themselves one of the greatest strengths of this
season was the formation of the Fang Gang, Team Angel, the LA Scoobies whatever
you want to call it. This is one of the areas where there is a direct parallel
between ANGEL and BUFFY. I am
obviously not going to go over in detail the "Scooby gang drifting
apart" in Season 4 controversy here. It
seems to me however that while there were (justified) criticisms of the
execution of the idea there was also a great deal of hostility directed at the
idea itself. A lot of people just
did not want to see this little group split apart, no matter how interesting the
process from a dramatic POV. There
is something deeply attractive and satisfying about the idea of a small group of
misfits binding together as a family and relying on one another not only for
physical help in time of danger but for emotional support.
I suppose it speaks to our own need for the comfort and support that a
family unit can bring. At first the
relationship developed slowly, almost imperceptibly. The key episodes in this
respect were “Parting Gifts”, “Somnambulist” and “Expecting”. Interestingly they were all consecutive.
What really started the ball rolling was Doyle’s death.
This was the catalyst that made Angel realize how much he needed others. In both “Expecting” and IGYUMS we saw his genuine concern
for Cordelia and Wesley. On the
other side of the coin, “Somnambulist” was the episode where we began to
understand the friendship that Cordelia had for Angel.
It was a key moment in her humanizing.
And then there was Wesley.
In “Expecting” he seemed to be set up to take a disapproving view of
Cordelia’s pregnancy. Instead he
was a model of support. Similarly,
when Angel was in trouble in “the Ring” we see a similar level of commitment
from both Wesley and Cordelia to saving him.
By the end of the season there is little doubting how close knit and
coherent the little group is or how each of them – Wesley and Cordelia as well
as Angel – has their own contribution to make.
As a result the unit becomes stronger than the sum of its individual
parts. Just as in Sunnydale none of
its members would have lasted a year without the others. But more importantly
each find part of what they are looking for in the others. There is Angel, the ensouled vampire without a place in the
world. There is Cordelia the former
princess whose only expectation in life - a conventional future of marriage,
children, divorce and AA meetings or drug rehab clinics - is now denied her.
And finally there is Wesley, the failed watcher with feelings of
inadequacy who couldn't even please his own father let alone the COW.
These are just as much misfits as Buffy, Xander, Willow and even Giles.
From the other each gained something that they needed.
For Angel it was friendship, a human connection.
For Cordelia it was a direction in life, something to give it meaning.
And for Wesley it was a sense that he was valued and appreciated.
And by stressing this fact the writers help reinforce a serious message.
No matter what our problems or how serious they are a connection with
is one of the advantages of not having an "Initiative" style arc to
set up that each episode in a season can concentrate on telling a single story.
And in general this aspect of ANGEL’s first season has been a success,
although not an unqualified one. At
its best in episodes like "Lonely Hearts", "Blind Date” and
especially "Somnambulist" the plots themselves have been compelling.
The task for our heroes has been involving, the dangers have been real,
the obstacles and risks substantial and the methods by which they have been
overcome have been well thought out and logical.
Indeed in ANGEL we see the old fashioned virtues of plots which have a
beginning, a middle and an end. Problems
are introduced, investigated in a competent and professional manner and a
solution is devised. There is a
minimal reliance on plot contrivances, stupid actions by the villains or
unbelievable co-incidences. And
here we find surely the essence of good storytelling.
Perhaps I can outline some of the particular strengths of the plotting as
(to the intercom): "Jesse, I think you better make it 3 for dinner
instead of 4."
course, in some cases admittedly the narrative in an episode has been a little
thin because the writers have been concentrating on other matters.
"The Prodigal" would, I think, be an example of this.
However if the development of theme or character is strong enough this is
not for me a criticism. Indeed an
episode where the storyline is there as background or as a peg on which to hang
other development allows the viewer to concentrate on the important aspects of
the episode. The real problem is a
different one. In season 1 too many of the storylines have been too derivative
or too predictable or both. Episodes
like “City of…” or “In the Dark” were essentially standard rescue
stories. “The Ring” was
essentially the same type of rescue story and also contained the sort of slave
revolt we had seen many times before. “Expecting”
was yet another variation on the same theme, this time built around another old
standby of a demon child. Both
“Hero” and “She” were straightforward stories about escaping from
oppression and again in terms of plot contained little that was new.
“Hero” was a particular offender here because the death of Doyle
(which should have been a climactic moment in season 1 was so formulaic and the
Nazi type enemies were comic book.
I will readily admit that there were some interesting character work in these
episodes and some very thoughtful thematic developments. But the storylines were workmanlike retreads of a few old
favorites and that is not really praise. When
you are left thinking that you have seen this too many times before or that you
know exactly what is coming next it is very hard to sustain interest
the pity is that great use can be made of an old idea when the writers come up
with a new twist to make us look at something familiar with fresh eyes.
I have already referred to the sort of plot twist we find in “Parting
Gifts” but here I am referring to a twist in a larger sense.
Rather than a new or unexpected development which sends a plot into a
different direction I am talking about something which makes us fundamentally
re-evaluate our whole way of thinking about we are seeing.
A superb example of this came in IGYUMS.
What appeared all along to be a rip off (I think the French call it
“homage”) from “the Exorcist” was turned completely on its head when we
discovered that the “innocent child” Angel and Wesley were trying to rescue
was the real monster and the demon was the one afraid for its sanity.
This was not only a cool idea in itself but also opened up some
interesting material on children and crime in modern society. Equally, in
“Eternity” we see a story which seemed to be about a stalker and his victim. But it actually developed into a story in which Angel was
forced to confront the demon within when it was released by a misguided
actress’ attempt to become a vampire herself.
It us a pity that this sort of imagination could not have been brought to
bear in episodes like “Expecting” or “The Ring”.
(B+): It is not very easy to grade
an entire series. A simple
mathematical average of marks for individual episodes would be very misleading.
Yet the raw ratings do I think speak for themselves.
9 of the 22 episodes I judged to be B+ or better and 13 were either
“very good” or “excellent.” Only
3 rated a D or below. And given this balance
I think that the series does deserve to be judged by the best it
produced, rather than the worst. The
first season of ANGEL demonstrated many virtues.
First and foremost was the way that it increasingly concentrated on
strong and important themes such as the choice between good and evil, the need
to take responsibility for our decisions and the ability of humans to take
control of their own destiny regardless of the past.
And these themes were dealt within in interesting and thoughtful ways in
which strong use was made of the nature of the titular vampire and the situation
he finds himself in. And this
brings me on to the second great virtue of the series: its appealing and
consistent characterization. In
Angel, Cordelia and Wesley we have not mere ciphers but living breathing (well
except in Angel’s case) individuals we can believe in and relate to.
In Angel in particular we now get a much greater sense of depth and of
understanding of who he really is. It
is not only that the writers have filled in more of his background (important
though that is). They have also explained much more clearly and satisfactorily
why he came to take responsibility for Angelus’ crimes and how in doing so he
found himself cut off from the world. But
far from leaving him as a static figure haunted by this past, the writers have
launched him on a path towards redemption and this path has already delivered
significant character development in terms of the development of an active sense
of mission and the promise of more
change to come. And all of this
happens in the context of some very good, strong storylines.
At their best in “Somnambulist” or “Five by Five” they make for
compelling drama on their own. But even the uninspired stories like “Expecting” or
“the Ring” are workmanlike and professional.
Of course flaws remain. The
change in direction midway through season 1 was a little disorientating,
although it was something that might
have been expected as the series found its feet.
The development of Angel’s sense of mission and the changes in him was
too episodic. What we saw were
staging posts rather than being given a sense of a journey with changes
gradually happening over time. And
at times the plotting has been too derivative and unimaginative. On occasion you almost get the sense of going through the
motions. But above all I think the
most promising thing about ANGEL is that as a series it now seems to have
a sense of purpose and direction. I
think that it does know where it is going and I am more than happy with that
THE SEASON 1 EPISODES
For the full Saturday reviews of the Season 1 episodes just click on the links below: