This is Part I of my season overview. Part II to follow:
The Road Traveled
As series, both BUFFY and ANGEL are about the titular
hero’s journey though life (or unlife as the case may be).
But there the similarity ends. No-one
could suggest that Buffy was “normal”.
But her journey is intended to be a metaphor for that of ordinary people
as they explore the classic trials and tribulations of teenage and post-teenage
life: high school, love, growing up, family etc.
Angel’s journey is different. He
is not embarking on his life and learning new things about himself and the
world. Rather his is a journey to
come to terms with the past and the way that the past affects the present.
It is a past that has left him damaged so he has to escape that past,
repair that damage and create a new life for himself.
And this is what works so well about the season 2 arc.
There were many strong individual episodes in season 1 of ANGEL and if
you compare the title character in “City of…” to Angel in “In the
Dark” and later still Angel in “Sanctuary” you can see the differences.
At the start of the season he was literally doing penance in his cell.
At the close of “In the Dark” he recognizes his purpose as helping
people and by the time we reach “Sanctuary” he is a man (or vampire)
with a mission. But while we see
the change what we miss is the sense of a journey – a series of connected
events which lead our hero from one place to the next.
This is one great advantage that a story arc has.
It can create that sense of a journey.
Moreover it gives you time to explore themes in more depth than is
normally available in a single episode.
In my reviews of individual episodes of ANGEL this season I have been referring to the “Darla” arc. But this has been simply a form of shorthand. In truth the whole season arc has been about Angel, his past, the way it has damaged him, how that damage affects the present and how he can escape those effects. And each of those elements have been organized and linked together so that they tell a single story. Moreover it is a story with a purpose. Merely showing us Angel and who his is was not enough. The idea was to use the events of this season and the issues they threw up as the nexus around which to change the character of the vampire with a soul and perhaps the character of the series itself.
Angel and His Redemption
first thing I like about this is that this story is clearly a continuation of
the set up the writers left us at the end of season 1.
This sort of respect for continuity always helps the credibility of any
story. But that is not the important thing here.
What really matters is the use that the writers have made of the set up.
“To Shanshu in LA”, the key theme that the writers explored was Angel’s
desire to be human. And the
important point here is that there is more to being human than taking the
physical form. It means being part
of the world. There are a few
significant passages in the episode dealing with this very issue.
Cordelia: "Angel's kinda human.
He's got a soul."
Wesley: "He's got a soul. But
he's not a part of the world. He
can never be part of the
"Because he doesn't want stuff. That's
"What connects us to life is the simple truth that we're a part of it.
We live, we grow, we change. But
"...can't do any of those things. Well
what are you saying, Wesley, that Angel has nothing to look forward to? That he is going to going to go on forever, the same, in the
world but always cut off from it?"
could not change and he could not grow because he was not part of life. He needs
nothing. He hopes for nothing. This
has been a theme that has been integral to the character from the beginning, and
not only on ANGEL. Certainly his
isolation from humanity was something stressed both in “City of..” and
“Lonely Hearts”. But the
dynamic that was set up in “To Shanshu” seemed therefore to point the way to
a future in which he was part of the world. In the prophecies of Aberjian Angel finally saw the promise of
redemption. All he had to do was
survive the coming darkness, the apocalyptic battles, a few plagues, and some -
uh, several, - not that many - fiends that will be unleashed."
if he managed to do that he would attain not only redemption but his humanity.
As he later said himself of this prophecy:
saw the light at the end of the tunnel that some day I might become human."
this begged the question: why should humanity be deemed a reward.
After all what advantages did it bring that outweighed immortality and
freedom from pain and disease? Certainly
its advantages were by no means obvious to Darla.
in episodes like “Dear Boy”, “Guise will be Guise” and above all
“Darla” the writers showed the ambivalence within Angel himself about being
human. Being a vampire meant power;
it meant freedom from moral constraints, freedom above all to take pleasure as
you wanted it. It was simple and
pure. Being human was the
counterpoint. It meant being
burdened by a moral sense. It meant
not being able to think only of what you want and need but also of what is
right. But above all it meant
paying attention to what the other person wants and needs. It meant to have a connection with the rest of the world.
Instead of existing only for your own needs, It was to feel that others are important simply because of their humanity
and that some individuals are especially important
because of a personal connection. By defining Angel’s quest
for redemption so closely in terms of his desire to be human and by showing us
what humanity meant to Angel, the writers were establishing why it was so
important for Angel to be human. But
at the same time they showed us the trap that Angel had fallen into.
For him, his redemption had become not a process but a goal – his big
win. If he was a good vampire and
did everything he was supposed to then as a reward he would get his redemption.
He would become human and then he could
become part of the world.
when Darla was vamped in front of his eyes he lost his hope of redemption and in
so doing he also lost his connection with humanity.
He cut himself off from his friends and from any feeling for other human
beings. That is why he fired Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn and stopped
worrying about what would happen to them. That
is why he ceased to care about the would be suicide in “Reunion” or Anne in
“Blood Money”. At the same time
he turned in on himself and once again got in touch with the inner demon.
At times the fight against evil could be complicated, messy and very
frustrating. In “Blind Date” he
admitted as much:
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."
torment and consequences come when you do the wrong thing.
This is something that Angel (for all too obvious reasons) is familiar
with to his great cost. Of course
if you do not recognize constraints on your actions, if you truly believe that
“anything goes” then life does indeed become very simple.
But it is for that very reason that this way of thinking is essentially
demonic in the proper sense of that word. In “Darla” and “the Trial” we
saw the Vampire lifestyle as being simple and pure in this sense.
You can do what you want without regard to whether it is right or wrong
simply because you do not have to face up to guilt or torment or consequences.
We saw Angel’s attraction to this lifestyle.
What stopped him from pursuing it was that morally he could not harm
innocents. But now Angel no longer
has to face that dilemma. He is
quite convinced that his is righteous anger aimed at destroying evil and
protecting the innocent. He
believes in his own mind that he is on the right path.
What Wolfram and Hart did to Darla not only fired him personally but, in
his eyes, justified whatever he chose to do to them.
To him there was no distinction between revenge and fighting evil, not
apparently realizing that he had changed his idea of fighting evil so that it
served his need for revenge. It is
no wonder Cordelia described his new attitude as destroying people he doesn’t
even here, twisted and buried though it may have been and there was a core
within Angel that still believed in something – a future not for himself but
for the helpless. The turning point came for Angel when he lost even this
belief. And that essentially meant
going to the place that was the logical destination for someone with his
mindset. As we saw in “Happy
Anniversary” there was no future for Angel in the world.
All he wanted was for the pain to stop. But not only did he fail in this
– the abortive raid on Wolfram and Hart’s Senior Partners – he was shown a
world where there was no fundamental difference between humanity and the demon
world. Everyone was simply out for
themselves and couldn’t care less about the consequences to others. This was
the destruction of the very last piece of hope within him.
And it was destroyed essentially because he could not recognize the lie
in what he was being told because he himself had abandoned the good fight. He had cut himself off from the very experience of humanity
that would have told him the truth about the struggle between good and evil.
The good fight was first and foremost about helping people fight their
internal demons. Angel was intended
to connect with humanity not because people were all good but because he could
connect with the instinct for good within and help them overcome those demons.
And if Angel had still believed in the good fight, if he had still
believed in the possibility of his own redemption he would have known that.
was only when in the depths of despair he did something so irresponsible so
appalling that I the cold light of day there was no escaping from its
implications – he risked losing his soul again.
That was when he realized that humanity did mean something to him; that
he could not take responsibility for releasing Angelus onto the world a third
time. Moreover he also realized
that his friends also meant something to him – Kate, Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn
and that he couldn’t let them die. In
this realization he was accepting that his connection to other people really was
important to him. More than that it
was that connection with humanity that was his redemption.
It was the feeling of belonging. It
was not being intent only on living for what you could get for yourself, with
all the pain and misery for others that meant.
And here again I turn to Doyle’s words in “City of…”.
I have quoted them before. I
make no apologies for doing so now because they are so prescient:
about letting them into your heart. It’s not about saving lives; it’s about
saving souls. Hey, possibly your own in the process."
why letting other people into his heart is the way Angel saves his soul, a soul
that is burdened and damaged not so much by the actual evil a vampire named
Angelus caused but by the century or more of retreat from humanity that was the
legacy of those crimes.
course a mere statement about the need to make such a commitment is the easy
part and this is where I think the last part of the series works very well.
In “Epiphany” and “Disharmony” Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn did not
act like the father in the parable of the Prodigal son.
All was not instantly forgiven and forgotten.
Angel had to work very hard indeed to be accepted back and he had to make
some real sacrifices – his position in the firm, his office and to some extent
his pride. More than that he was
shown able to overcome his personal prejudices against Lindsey to actually help
him. Given the reason why
Angel went dark in the first place and the task he set himself during his
“beige” period this is a very powerful statement of the nature of the change
that has overcome him. His own
redemption is no longer uppermost in his mind; instead his focus will be on
helping others – any others. The
only consideration will be that they need help.
But of course in this context the real question is whether Angel is
willing to help someone he actively doesn’t like and probably considers
doesn’t deserve it. And it is
really only when we see him doing so that we can be convinced about just how
serious he is in his new-found determination.
from taking the “with one bound he was free” line here the writers seemed
intent on emphasizing the difficulty of the task that Angel had set himself.
He was still a vampire both physically and to an extent emotionally and
for someone like him making the connection to humanity is very difficult.
The Pylea arc, therefore, emphasized not only the fact that, as a
vampire, he was physically set apart from the world but that he was far more
comfortable with the clarity and certainty of his old black and white way of
looking at things rather than the messy ambiguities and compromises demanded by
this world, including for example seeing Lindsey as something other than an
evilbeastlawyer. It also
stressed that the beast was still there inside and that its influence would
never go away. By taking this line
the writers were being realistic in avoiding the easy or cheap solution to all
Angel’s problems. But in the way
that Angel was shown as overcoming the beast rather than simply solving all his
problems by killing the Groosalugg and his joy at coming back to earth they also
showed his determination to do whatever it takes to succeed in the task set for
By finishing the Darla arc in this way the writers sustained what is in effect a
single theme from beginning to end: who
is Angel what is his mission, how does the person he is affect the way he
perceives that mission and how might a change in the way he perceives that
mission bring about a change in him. In
this arc the writers are not covering new ground. Rather they are looking back at what ground has already been
covered this season and giving us a fresh look at it through new eyes.
By doing so they first of all reinforce just how important the
developments in this season have been. Otherwise
the exercise would have been something of a waste of time.
Secondly they help tie things together and thus help us understand what
we have seen as a coherent whole as opposed to in week by week developments.
But finally by giving us the new angle then theme is made fresh and new,
thus sustaining interest
As we can see, therefore, the writers started out with the
original set up found in “To Shanshu in LA” and turned it on its head.
Instead of Angel becoming human and as a result being able to live in the
world because he was redeemed, making the connection with humanity was the means
of achieving his redemption. This
gave us a single self-contained theme for the whole season: the need for Angel
to make the connection with humanity. It
was a theme with many different facets. These included the difference between
the demonic view of the world and that of the human; the relationship between
the human and the demon within Angel and how Angel himself misunderstood that
relationship; the way in which Angel’s actions were shaped by his perceptions
of Darla, of himself and ultimately of the world.
Finally we were able to see more clearly the nature of the writers’
concept of redemption itself. And here we find the real strength of the season.
Because none of these elements were free standing each could in its turn
be examined not simply as an end in itself but rather as something with a
particular part to play within the overall framework of the theme for the
season. So, the writers were able
to carry out an in-depth psychological examination of Angel not only because
that was something interesting in its own right but to help us see why he did
what he did. And in turn those
actions were used to explore and explain the real nature of Angel’s mission so
that it really did further a particular concept of what redemption meant.
Everything was connected to everything else and more to the point the
interconnecting individual element formed an overall scheme which made sense.
And in large measure it made sense because of the very clear structure
adopted by the writers. Let us
pause therefore to look at the way the season developed.
Episodes 1 and 2 (“Judgment” and AYNOHYEB):
Here the writers foreshadowed many of the developments in the season by
stressing how much Angel’s own redemption meant to him, how isolated from
humanity he was otherwise and what the consequences of such isolation might be;
Episodes 3 to 9 (“First Impressions” to “The
Trial”) These programs explored
Angel’s past, especially his past with Darla.
They illustrated the old vampire way of thinking about things, the
simplicity of the life without conscience and without consequences and the
attractions that lifestyle has. They
also dealt (in “Guise will be Guise”) with the relationship between human
soul and demon and implied that the two were not as separate as Angel might like
to think. Then episodes like
“Dear Boy” and especially ”Darla” looked at Darla’s role in re-opening
up old issues that Angel thought had been settled. They expressly established
his sense of identification with her and the way in which that sense of
identification impelled him to help her redeem herself.
Episodes 10 to 15 (“Reunion” to “Reprise”)
Here we had the Angel goes dark or dark grey or beige part of the season.
With the loss of faith in his own redemption Angel also lost any hope of
connecting to humanity. He ceased to care about anyone or anything.
He fired his friends and took no interest in helping anyone else.
Rather he was solely preoccupied with wreaking revenge on the cause of
his loss – Wolfram and Hart.
Episodes 16 to 18 (“Epiphany” to “Dead End”)
Here Angel reached the turning point. He
hit rock bottom and realized not only that he had gone wrong but why.
He worked out what he needed to do to put himself back on the right
course, namely re-make the connection with humanity that he had severed and make
his peace not so much with Wolfram and Hart (in the person of Lindsey) but with
his own feelings of hostility and hatred towards them.
Episodes 19 to 22 (“Belonging” to “No Place
Like Plrtz Glrb”) The coda. These
programs looked again at the themes that had been explored in the course of the
season and provided a conclusion to them. In
particular Angel does now understand to what extent the beast is part of him and
how difficult that will make his reconnection with the world.
But above all is shows that he has the courage and strength to succeed.
have already discussed the development of the basic themes we see outlined here
and I do not propose to repeat myself. But
I think that you can see here the way in which this very clear and rational
structure helped to create a logical flow of ideas, one leading naturally to the
next to provide a consistent, internally coherent story about something
important – the growth of Angel as a character from someone essentially very
inward looking, someone who saw and understood the world and those in it through
the prism of his own preoccupations.
Moreover, in spite of a century of brooding, he was someone with a very
imperfect understanding of himself and his own internal dynamics.
Someone like that can only exercise a very imperfect self-control. The
writers are effectively saying not only that this Angel cannot really achieve
redemption but that with this outlook he remains a positive danger.
It’s not just the risk of the demon escaping; it’s Angel himself who
cannot be a completely trustworthy member of society.
On the other hand the Angel who emerges at the end of the series is a
very different character. In
particular he no longer sees the world through the prism of his own narrow
concerns. He is a more genuinely
outward looking individual who understands the need (if perhaps not yet the
practice) of connecting with humanity. Moreover
because he understands the true duality of his nature far better than ever
before he is a genuinely more responsible and trustworthy individual.
This is intelligent, articulate and very satisfying characterization.
the least of the strengths of this approach is the feeling that the whole arc
was designed to bring about this change in Angel.
The writers might have used the “Angel goes dark” plot simply as a
really cool idea which would be guaranteed to keep our interest and then hit the
reset button so that he could get back with the other members of Angel
Investigations and pretend nothing had happened.
This would have undermined the whole meaning of the arc.
Instead the real purpose seems to have been to bring about genuine and
substantive character change and perhaps even change to the whole direction of
the series. And this in a nutshell
is the true importance of the so-called “Darla” arc: that it’s
significance extends far beyond this season.
I have any reservations at all about this development it is in the extent to
which we will see a more relaxed and cheerful Angel in the future.
Here I am a little schizophrenic. If
Angel’s focus now shifts from his own personal redemption (with its
preoccupations about guilt and reparation) to helping all of humanity
(concentrating on their problems not his) then it makes a great deal of sense
that Angel will stop being so inward looking.
And in terms of character analysis the concept of Angel as more of a
reborn Liam with hints of Angelus thrown in for good measure works very well.
It emphasizes the continuity of the personality from Liam to Angelus to
Angel. The changes between the
three become more in the nature of variations on a theme explicable by the
difference the human soul and (as Angel) the added burden of guilt makes.
And at one level the sarcastic, relaxed and fun-loving aspect of
Angel’s personality can indeed by a joy to watch.
But this is essentially too dark a series and the issues it deals with
too serious and important for the lead character to lighten up too much.
There is a fine line to be trod here and only time will tell how
successful the writers are at doing so.
a purely thematic point of view even the “beige Angel” period (which is the
focus of quite a lot of disappointment) makes a great deal of sense. When Angel
closed and locked the doors of the wine cellar on Holland Manners and the others
he was willfully assisting multiple murders and from this fact the state of his
mind could be readily inferred. It
suggested a campaign against Wolfram and Hart that would be cold and ruthless. This impression was furthered by his ambush of Darla and
Drusilla and the way he taunted Lilah in her car. But this promise was never
followed up. The worst he did to
the human part of Wolfram and Hart was to embarrass them in front of the
television cameras. I think,
however, that we must understand understood that Angel going dark was never
intended to be an end in itself. This
period was intended to be the nexus around which Angel whole attitude would
turn. He started out being
preoccupied by his own redemption and looked at the world through that prism.
With the destruction of his hopes for his redemption he was cut off from
humanity. His attitude to his
friends and to the would be suicide in “Reunion” was that he couldn’t care
less about them. Similarly in
“Blood Money” we see the following exchange between himself and Anne:
Angel: "The money was tainted."
Anne: "I don't even care about..."
Angel: "Yes, you do.
That's the difference between us. You still care."
“Happy Anniversary” when the Host challenged Angel it was essentially about
leaving Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn in the lurch.
From the other side of the coin the former Fang Gang members were
preoccupied by the sense of personal abandonment:
Gunn: "What if Angel..."
Cordelia: "I thought we weren't going to say the 'A' word."
Gunn: "Yeah, let's not say the 'A' word. Lets just spend our lives sitting around waiting for him to call."
Wesley: "We're not
waiting for him to call. The man fired us. We're on our own now.
Separate unit. Fighting the good fight."
the focus of this theme was in “Thin Dead Line” where the idea abandonment
of your former friends and the consequences for those friends of that
abandonment was a key theme. Witness
the confrontation between Cordelia and Angel in the hospital:
"What are you doing here?"
"I heard about Wesley."
"Well, that's great. Too bad it takes a gunshot wound to make you
give a crap. Wesley doesn't need you right now. *We* don't need you. You
walked away. Do us a favor and just stay away."
concentration from “Redefinition” to “Reprise” was not on the difference
between the good fight on the one hand and on fighting a war on the other.
It wasn’t even on Angel’s search for revenge.
That was merely the cause of Angel’s cutting himself off from his
friends and the rest of humanity. The
concentration here was on the fact that he did cut himself off, with all the
implications I have been discussing. The
focus was that Angel was going “off message” not by killing and maiming but
by turning his back on Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn (and by extension everyone
else) and that he got back “on message” by reconnecting with them.
still think that there were considerable problems with this approach.
Partly these were dramatic and character related (and I will discuss this
below). But I also think that in
terms of their treatment of the theme the writers sold themselves short.
First and foremost the they did open up a major issue in the way they
sought to explain the change in Angel’s mindset from fighting the good fight
and fighting a war. Angel’s single minded determination to pursue his revenge
upon Wolfram and Hart without regard to consequences is clearly
a legacy of the vampire mindset which craves the certainties and
simplicities of an “anything goes” attitude that is very different from the
experience of humanity with its messy connections between individuals and the
consequences they involve. And we
are, I think, supposed to
understand that Angel had fallen prey to the instincts of the vampire and
abandoned his connection with humanity because he stopped helping people and
instead sought to destroy the enemy no matter who got hurt in the process. But
if that is the case then Angel himself would necessarily become a major problem
for Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn. If
we are to take seriously the idea that Angel’s actions were the result of
“real darkness” then wouldn’t he be a danger to the world? Wasn’t that the lesson of the vigilante cops scenario
in “Thin Dead Line”. There
we had the guardians of the civil populace go from fighting the good fight to
punishing evil out of a sense of anger and frustration at their failure to
control evil within the established rules. And in their attempts to punish evil
they became more and more indiscriminate until they ended up harming those they
were sworn to protect. But
there was no attempt to relate that scenario to Angel’s situation.
And there was no attempt to relate the mission of the new Angel
Investigations to the actions of its former boss.
aspect of the series concept that invited a lot of discussion was the way in
which the writers handled the aftermath of the split when Angel sought to
re-forge his links with the members of the Fang gang.
The writers presentation of this concentrated on the need for Angel to
make up for what he had done wrong. This
does jar because while Angel must bear primary responsibility for the break up
with the other members of Angel Investigations blame has to be shared round.
Quite frankly both Cordelia and Wesley failed as friends when Angel was
struggling to come to terms with Darla’s return.
Here Angel’s complaint in “Happy Anniversary” is justified:
to know what my problem is? I'm screwed. That's my problem. I
can't win. I'm trying to atone for a hundred years of unthinkable evil.
News flash! I never can! Never going to be enough. Now I got
Wolfram and Hart dogging me, it's too much! Two hundred highly intelligent
law-school graduates working fulltime driving me crazy. Why the hell is
everyone so surprised that it's working? But no, it's 'Angel, why you're
so cranky?' 'Angel, you should lighten up. You should smile. You
should wear a nice plaid.'"
in particular failed to appreciate just how much Darla meant to Angel or why and
both he and Cordelia made only feeble efforts to try to communicate with him
about it. Equally after Angel fired them they decided that he had to be
the one to make the first move in spite of the fact that he was obviously the
one who was behaving abnormally and needed help.
Indeed when he did make the first move (at the hospital in “Thin Dead
Line”) he was coldly rebuffed.
Again, however, I would stress that the writers were only concerned to pursue their central thesis which was that Angel had to learn to reconnect with his former friends at least in part as a symbol of his resolve to make the wider connection with humanity. We are therefore dealing with the consequences of Angel failures, not those of the other members of the Fang gang. In the end the individual destinies of Wesley or any of the others don’t much matter. It is because it is still all about Angel that the only important failures are his and they are dealt with as such by the writers.
I have been discussing the season long arc in terms of the story of a single
journey it must not be forgotten that it the writers had to tell that story
within the constraints of episodic television.
In the main their theme had to be developed through the medium of single
hour long plots. And as these plots
necessarily concentrated on the interaction between Wolfram and Hart, Darla and
Angel the writers were necessarily circumscribed in the types of plot they could
have. So when compared to season 1
there was a comparative shortage of strong single episode villains or particular
individuals to be helped. The
strongest plots from this point of view (like ANYOHYEB and “Untouched”)
tended to be stand alone episodes which were relevant to the arc rather than
arc-centric episodes. But within the constraints imposed by the need to develop the
arc there were some good strong plots. I
do not propose to go through them individually, especially since each has its
own review in which the plot strengths and weakness are discussed.
But what I would like to do is to isolate some
and foremost we see the real; strength of Wolfram and Hart as a major villain.
It is a corporation, not an individual. It
works within the power structures of human society.
As such it cannot be fought using traditional methods.
It can’t even be killed as Angel found out both after “Reunion”.
It poses a threat that is of an entirely new order.
And the nature of this threat can be seen pretty clearly in the form of
Holland: sophisticated, unflappable, cold and ruthless.
He is the epitome of a spider spinning his web to trap the unwary.
But corporations have other characteristics as well.
Because they consist of individuals, there is obviously room for games of
bluff and double bluff. What one
person knows is not necessarily known by others and in this scenario there is
great scope for the withholding or distorting of information, both to fool the
players and the viewers. Finally 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. These are all strengths which the writers exploited very effectively
in the course of the year.
one of these advantages was successfully exploited to keep us guessing about the
real nature of the threat Darla posed to Angel.
At the beginning it seemed obvious that she had been returned in her
vampire form with the aim of using her personal connection with Angel to free
Angelus. But that was an elaborate misdirection and while the real
nature of the trap was waiting to be revealed there were real issues of identity
to be explored in episodes like “Darla” and “Dear Boy”. Indeed, here the only real criticism that I have is that in
“Dear Boy” the “let’s frame Angel for murder” plot felt shoehorned and
ultimately led nowhere.
it is only after “Darla” – with its vague hints that the Wolfram and Hart
plan is working – that we reach the dramatic climax of the season.
And in this context three things stand out.
First the plan itself. There
was nothing about it that was obvious. I
certainly didn’t see what was coming until the end of “Reunion”.
But in retrospect it all makes sense.
The exploration of the issues of identity forged Angel’s sense of
identification with Darla and that completed the set up in which the denial of
her redemption saw him lose hope in his own.
It is in short a triumph of care and planning.
The final element is the resolution of all the conflict between Angel and
Darla that has characterized the season to date.
The way this is accomplished – through the mediaeval trials – isn’t
perhaps my favorite plot device but it is perfectly serviceable in that it gives
us the essential crucible for the purpose.
Angel’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Darla – his
demonstration of what was best in humanity – and the fact that this was not
sufficient to save her created a moment of quiet acceptance in which there
really was a meeting of minds and souls. Only
for this moment of calm to be ripped apart and Angel’s worst nightmare come to
pass before his eyes. And from that
moment the story builds strongly towards the first of the two real climaxes of
the season. “Reunion” featured a continually changing dynamic between the
three principal protagonists: the vampire girls, the Wolfram and Hart lawyers,
who seemed for so long to be in control, and
Angel. We were never entirely sure
until the very end how this dynamic was going to resolve itself.
But then there was a twist which I for one never expected to see but
which set the tone for the rest of the series.
In the classic tradition the highest form of tragedy is where a good and
noble man willingly chooses the wrong path.
Essentially this is what we have here.
Before Angel could justly be described as the victim of circumstances
beyond his control. But here his fate and those of the Wolfram and Hart lawyers
(to a degree at least) were under his control and he chose to damn them.
And now he must clearly take the responsibility for his actions.
This is powerful and gripping drama.
from this point onwards the drama takes a back seat – at least until
“Reprise”. I have already
discussed the way in which the developments of the Angel goes beige period work
from a thematic point of view. In “Reprise”, the follow up to “Reunion” 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. Darla and Drusilla’s attempts to form an army had too
little focus to give Angel commando act any punch at all. The Cordelia, Wesley
and Gunn find their own mission plot was played mainly for laughs (an awful
misjudgment) and the Lindsey and Lilah take on “survivor” was largely set-up
It. Of course it was principally a transitional episode but the problem is that
what followed lacked dramatic power as well. In “Blood Money” we were left
with the sense of anti-climax. This
was produced not so much by the
failure to do any damage to Wolfram and Hart but the revelation that Angel never
planned to do much damage to them. This
almost inevitably left us asking well then what was this all about? And almost
unbelievably this was the last attempt to involve Angel striking back at Wolfram
and Hart before “Reprise”. I
can’t help feeling that this part of the season would have been so much more
satisfactory if we had one more episode in which Angel did some real damage to
the lawyers. And this is where, from a dramatic point of view, the lack of
interest that the writers showed in differentiating between the good fight and
fighting a war really told against them. Implicit
in the distinction is a willingness on Angel’s part to do things he might
formerly have regarded as unconscionable – the end justifies the means.
Something like that would have given real credibility to the very idea
that Angel was going at least dark gray. As
it was the Host’s “beige aura” remark in “Happy Anniversary” almost
made it look as of they were not serious about this key stage of the season.
Indeed given the extent to which Angel really did plumb the depths in
“Reprise” it is difficult to connect his behavior in “Thin Dead Line”
where he genuinely seems to be regretting his treatment of his former employees
with his actions to Wesley and Cordelia in “Reprise”.
if this constituted something of a misstep in dramatic terms then “Reprise”
represented a wonderful recovery. It
starts of with a sense of impeding crisis and from that point on everything just
builds and builds. One question
leads on to the next and each answer takes us somewhere darker.
So we learn of the coming of the senior partner and Angel’s suicide
mission. We could see that Angel was reaching a crisis point but the precise
nature of the real crisis he was to face and its implications for him remained
well hidden. But not unfairly
so because they were unknown to Angel himself at that stage and telling a
developing story from the point of view of the “hero” and keeping hidden
what was unknown to him is perfectly justified.
And finally we had the key twist that the writers pulled off.
Effectively they pulled the rug from underneath Angel’s feet. And
alongside this story we had the different stories of Kate’s dismissal and
Cordelia and Wesley’s troubles. At
first each seemed to stand on its own; an individual tragedy without relevance
to any other. But the way they were
brought together in the montage near the end helped illustrate the nature of
evil in the world and led to a finale of stunning power in which Angel did
something monumentally stupid: he slept with Darla.
This was about as dark a moment as you could get. My own preferred view remains that it was the metaphysical equivalent of attempted suicide but the precise nature of Angel’s purpose hardly matters. It was, as he says later, a moment of perfect despair. That was the power of the moment to command attention, just as the vamping of Darla at the end of “The Trial” commanded our attention. Yet in a moment of very neat symmetry it too heralded a very sharp change. In “The Trial” the quiet acceptance of Darla’s fate was a prelude to the horror of what followed it and the contrast emphasized that horror. Equally the portentous events at the end of “Epiphany” heralded the moment when Angel came to his senses and from that time the heavy drama simply dropped away from the series. And the contrast here emphasized the sense of relief very effectively. The story of Angel’s reconciliation with Cordelia and the others was really quite light. A fair amount of humor was derived from Angel’s awkwardness both in “Epiphany” and in “Disharmony” and this was I think important. By bringing out the humor in Angel’s situation, he came across as more human and therefore ultimately more sympathetic individual. We actually felt sorry for his difficulties and wanted him to succeed in remaking a connection with his former friends. So, from all points of view this change in tone really worked.
5. Dear Boy
9. The Trial
12. Blood Money
14. Thin Dead Line
18. Dead End
20. Over the Rainbow