SENSE AND SENSITIVITY
Written by: Tim Minear
Directed by: James A. Contner
The Set Up
Episodes in which humor is derived from characters behaving in strange and unexpected ways because of some spell or potion have never really appealed to me that much. The humor can often be good, but because it is derived from individuals acting out of character, it is also usually pretty meaningless. The result may be pleasant enough in an undemanding way but is often unsatisfying. So it was with no great expectation that I sat down to watch "Sense and Sensitivity", only to be greatly surprised and pleased. Perhaps the thing I like about it most is the way that the introduction of "sensitivity training" into the episode works on so many different levels. Yes, there was some very good humor derived from Angel and officers in the LAPD behaving in a way that went completely against type. But there was far more to the episode than that. For example, the sensitivity training was also used as a device to allow some very substantial character exposition. The fact that Kate suddenly began "processing her inner child" allowed the true implications of her fatherís emotional remoteness to be revealed. Another aspect of the use of sensitivity training in the episode was the way it raised some very interesting questions about the circumstances in which, and the extent to which, we should be sensitive to others. And finally it is the basis for an interesting and entertaining plot around which all the other elements combine in a very natural and seamless way.
In all of this Angel and Kate are the central figures and "Sense and Sensitivity" begins with them in action. These opening scenes portray Kate as tough, ruthless and perhaps even a little brutal. Angel on the other hand is shown to be just, well...insensitive to others' feelings. There is a degree of exaggeration for effect here. The writers have pushed the portrayal, especially of Angel, to the edges of the envelope. Detached from normal human society he may be but there is really nothing to suggest that sort of insensitivity on his part to his friendsí feelings. But the exaggeration is kept within reasonable bounds and Angel does remain substantially true to character so I donít really think we can complain. The advantage is that, by presenting both Kate and Angel in this way at the very beginning, the writers can accentuate the changes that overtake both of them in the course of the episode.
But, in a very clever touch, Kate and Angel's actions also counterpoint one another. The former is engaged in a serious piece of action as she pursues, captures and then interrogates someone involved in serious criminal activity, including murder. Scenes involving Angel, on the other hand, are played for their humor. We first see him battle a tentacled monster but there is no real sense of threat and the tone is actually light hearted as can be seen from the following extract:
The difference between the way the two characters are used not only avoids a tedious repetition of the same type of action Kate was involved with but also prevents the tone at the beginning from becoming too serious or downbeat. Remember this is supposed to be a largely humorous episode. And the fact that it is Angel who is used as comic relief at the beginning of the episode is a clear indication that he will dominate the funny side of "Sense and Sensitivity". Equally we will, in due course, get a chance to see and understand one of the most important influences on Kateís life so it is also important that we see at the very beginning just who and what she has become because of that influence.
So far these scenes are simply set up. There is a nexus or turning point in the episode Ė the sensitivity training. It is the effect that this training has in relation to those aspects of Kate and Angel that are highlighted at the start of the episode that gives us the theme of the episode, the story and its humor.
The Theme of Sensitivity
Thematically "Sense and Sensitivity" is about how we should relate emotionally to one another and the message the episode sends out in this regard is multi-faceted. For reasons that I will go into later I do not think that Angelís exposure to the talking stick was intended to be significant in exploring this theme. But even if we leave his case to one side we still see two distinct effects of the training. The first is the drawing out of real but repressed emotion, especially in Kate. Early on in the episode we are introduced to Trevor Lockley, her father. The first thing to say here is that the writers very cleverly do not reveal everything about him and his relationship with his daughter all at once. Instead we are, at first, given the distinct impression that all is not well between father and daughter. He is in the same room as her but wonít even make the time to say "hello". And when she mentions she is going to say a few words about him to mark his retirement his reaction is a brush off:
"That'll be fine. Don't got to any trouble."
Kate is making an effort. He is not responding but we still have no idea about the nature of the gap between them or the role it will play in the story. This is only revealed because of the sensitivity training Kate gets. Trevor is a man who almost defines emotional repression and the effect it has had on his daughter is marked. When she first meets Allen, he tells her:
This very much ties in with what we already know about Kate. I have already mentioned the way she was portrayed at the beginning of the episode as tough and ruthless. Even when she is concerned about Angelís safety she comes across as being angry with him. We get a fairly clear idea of how she became like this when she speaks about her father at his retirement party:
Little here needs to be left to the imagination. Kate was an only child left at an early age without a mother and a father she probably adored but who did not seem to want to know her. Instead he lived for his job. What was left for that little girl but to try to gain his approval in the only way she though she could Ė by following him into the police force, becoming the best police office she could and by being just like him, emotionally self-sufficient and remote. As Angel says:
"Gosh, what our folks do to us, huh?"
While it was the sensitivity training that brought all of these issues out into the open, everything about Kate and her father suggest that Kateís reaction to them is the product of very real emotion.
Of course Kate is not the only one affected by the sensitivity training. To take just a few examples. there is Heath whose desire to help the weaker ones in the cells leads to him being badly beaten up. There is the unnamed cop who tells the mugging victim she isnít listening to her muggerís feelings. These are people who cannot function because of their "sensitivity" to others. Equally Harlan whose office crush on Kate suddenly leaves him a wreck or the cop at the road accident suffering from emotional whiplash are people who have let the day to day emotional pain everyone goes through overpower them.
It seems to me that there is a fairly strong counterpoint between Kateís situation on the one hand and that of her colleagues on the other. Kate is showing us the very real damage that emotional remoteness can do. Her colleagues are showing us the harm that over sensitivity to the feeling of others and our own emotions can also cause. There probably is a strong element of poking fun at the modern industry that has grown up around the problems too many people have in coping with their emotions. It is hard to resists that conclusion when "sensitivity training" is shown to be the tool of evil lawyers to make the forces of law and order ineffective. But the more substantial message does seem to be that there is a balance in everything. We do have to "connect" with other people and this is a point that is reinforced by the somewhat brutal final scene between Kate and her father. Instead of responding to her emotional breakdown at his retirement party, Trevor is cold, almost unfeeling:
But at the same time the near disaster in the police station also shows emotions must be kept under some control. Otherwise we are being merely self-indulgent. I think that comedy is one of the best ways that a point like this can be made. Even though Heath was beaten up and another cop shot the emphasis is on the absurdity of the emotional outbursts of the individuals involved rather than the tragedy. And exposing the absurdity of human behavior to ridicule is a much more effective method of criticizing it than drawing attention to its tragic consequences. Satire has, after all, been the weapon of choice for political commentators throughout the ages.
I have deliberately avoided discussing Angel so far. But here I would like to look in particular at the way he was affected by the talking stick. We have already seen how his "insensitivity" was played for largely humorous effect at the beginning of the program. The same approach is taken throughout the episode (his appreciation of Cordeliaís work with coronersí reports and his failure to notice her shoes being examples of this). But all of this is simply leading up to the scenes of "Sensitive Angel" at the police station. The emphasis here is so strongly on the comedy element that the more serious side to the issue of sensitivity to others, while it is there, is underplayed. He does, for example, refuse to "go vamp" and has to be prodded to help Kate but when called upon to act, in the end does so quickly and decisively. Certainly the implications for Kate of his reluctance to break into the police station does seem to take second place to the humor of it when judges by the following scene:
Cordelia: "Would you come
Here I would like to say that the way in which this episode used the characters of Angel and Kate against expectations was very daring. Angel is, of course, the action hero. But here his role is as principal comic relief. Kate, on the other hand, is a recurring rather than a regular character. Yet in many ways she plays the central role in "Sense and Sensitivity" and we are asked to understand her rather than anyone else in the light of the events that unfold in this episode. And, in the final analysis she is really the only one under threat so our whole emotional involvement with the episode depends to a large extent how much we care about that. The fact that Kate engages our sympathy so readily despite the fact that we have seen and, until now at least, know so little about her is a tribute the skillful characterization of the writers. Equally DB showed a hitherto unexpected flair for comic timing and the fact that he was so clearly enjoying the chance to do comedy came across so clearly as to be infectious.
The Development of the Plot
Turning to the plot, there were some elements of a traditional detective story in the episode but these were not among the most successful parts of the story. I am not sure that I follow the logic of Kate turning to Angel to help find Little Tony. What did she think he could do that the resources of the LAPD could not? And I am far from convinced that tracing him through tidal patterns makes very much sense. Both strike me as somewhat contrived devices to get Angel involved in the case. But once Little Tony is arrested the story begins to pull together much more coherently.
One of the most notable things about the development of the plot in "Sense and Sensitivity" was the way information is fed to us a bit at a time. After Little Tonyís arrest we get hints about his agenda and that of Wolfram and Hart, especially in the form of Leeís interest in Kateís confidential record. But there is nothing as yet to relate this agenda to Allen and his talking stick. In fact the seeming innocence of the sensitivity training session is reinforced by the Allenís good humor and because he quickly identifies genuine emotional difficulties both in Heath and Kate. At the same time and in parallel with these developments Angelís investigations reveal Little Tony is planning something. Still, everything is as yet very vague. The advantage for the writers of this approach is, first of all, that it leaves us in a state of uncertainty as to how the storyline will develop. We are intrigued by what we already know but we want to know more. But perhaps even more importantly each new piece of information added from now on represents a further stage in the escalating crisis. We only begin to find out the true nature of the situation as it is getting out of control. This lends the episode a terrific dynamic. So, having undergone the sensitivity training, Kate starts saying one or two strange things. When she hears Little Tony has a contract out on her, there is the following exchange between her and Angel:
This is an unusual reaction, but not yet a worrying one. Then in the next scene Allenís insidious agenda is revealed in the boasts he makes to Lee. But the crucial scene is the following one where Kate gives a speech at her fatherís retirement party. It starts off conventionally enough but suddenly takes a most unexpected twist when Kate launches the emotional tirade against Trevor that I have already mentioned. For Kate this is so unusual you know something is wrong. But itís not only Kate. Arguments and fights begin breaking out everywhere. The common theme is that they are all about emotional responses.
The pacing here is terrific. One second there is the smallest crack in the glass then before you know what is happening the whole pane is shattered. But at the same time everything begins to make sense. The true nature of Kateís problems with her father (hidden until now) and the significance of the sensitivity training are both revealed and we begin to understand what is happening in the light of the fact that we now know Allen was working for Wolfram and Hart. There is only one issue left to be resolved Ė how does all of this help Little Tony. Angelís visit to Allen and Kateís escape from Cordelia and Doyle put the final pieces into place and set everything up very nicely for the final confrontation.
There are a few little niggles around the ending. Angelís uninvited entry into what seems to be a private home, the way he runs to the police station instead of taking the car, the near instantaneous effect the talking stick has on him and how Little Tony knew Kate would be in the police station when she was supposed to be at her Fatherís retirement party all jar slightly. But itís not too difficult to overlook these when you compare them to the strengths of the last Act. The sudden way in which Angel is revealed to have got in touch with Mr. Sensitivity is of course the big surprise. With this the whole nature of the problem we thought we were dealing with changes. Just when everything seemed set up for Angel to save the day we become involved in a race to see whether his unwillingness to take an active role in saving Kate can be overcome in time to prevent Little Tony revenge coming to fruition. And in the break into the police station and the final confrontation we had a very happy combination of genuine tension and real comedy. It was in particular, I thought, an excellent piece of writing to marry so successfully the sensitivity side of both Kate (shooting someone and then asking "How do you think that makes me feel?") and Angel ("You know, Anthony you could be a rainbow and not a painbow.") with their unrestrained use of violence.
9/10. This episode remains the strongest of those ANGEL episodes which are written mainly for their humor. In sensitivity training it found an ideal target for satire and exploited it ruthlessly with arguably the best and most pointed comedy of the first season. At the same time it was able to use the same mechanism to show us the pathos in Kateís relationship, or lack of it, with her father. Mixing these two elements successfully is a great trick and it was certainly pulled off here. The unfolding of Wolfram and Hartís plan always sustains interest and makes up for the lack of any real action for most of the episode. There are a few minor niggles in the plot but the main weakness, however, is that the supernatural involvement itself threatens no-one. It merely allows Little Tony to escape and he, in the end, is disposed off far too easily even by "Sensitive Angel". As I have said before, for me ANGEL works best where he is himself put under real pressure and for me this element was a little lacking.