Home Season 1 Season 2


City of
Lonely Hearts
In the Dark
I Fall to Pieces
Rm w/a Vu
Sense and Sensitivity
Bachelor Party
I Will Remember You
Parting Gifts
I Got You Under My Skin
The Ring
Five by Five
War Zone
Blind Date
To Shanshu in LA




Written By: David Greenwalt and Marti Noxon

Directed by: David Greenwalt


An Inter-Galactic Warrior Princess

I did not come to “She” with very high hopes.  We had been promised a new character named Jheira would be introduced into Angel’s world.  In prior publicity she had been described as an "inter- galactic warrior princess".  I found this description more than a little off-putting.  Can you say "hokey"? In the end

my fears were misplaced, but only to a certain extent.

For "inter-galactic" read "trans dimensional".   Science fiction and fantasy never mix particularly well and the prospect of aliens in the Angelverse was not an appetizing one.  In a fantasy series, however, there is nothing really wrong with beings from another dimension.   BUFFY has had quite a few trans-dimensional characters.
To call her a "warrior" was overstating things a bit. Jheira is no Xena.   She has no superhuman strength; just one effective weapon .
She was, however, a “princess”.   Now that is hokey.  What is it about Science Fiction/Fantasy that seems to have a fixation for Royalty?  Is it that it appears exotic or is it just a useful device to give a person – usually a woman – some sort of special status?  And if the latter why is that necessary?  Certainly there seemed no good reason for the use of that device here.

All in all this combination when brought together in the form of a glamorous oriental woman with a strange accent did seem something of a gimmick.  And I am afraid that there were a number of elements to this story that reinforced this view.  I didn’t coin the phrase “Princess Wonderbra” but it seems a very appropriate one to describe the costume she was wearing (or half wearing) most of the time.  Nor was she the only one.  None of the women from Oden Tal seemed to be wearing very much.  Then you have the way in which female sexuality was represented as fire for which the only antidote is ice (or a cold shower).  All this seemed designed for titillation rather than a piece of serious story telling.  By way of justification this particular combination of elements needed a strong plot in which those elements were used to good effect.  Sadly this was one thing that “She” could not provide.


Male and Female Sexuality

There seems little doubt but that “She” was about male/female sexuality and the way they inter-relate.  I do not see how anyone can object to that.  In fact it is precisely the sort of question that a series aiming to use fantasy to explore the realities of life for adults should tackle.  Moreover the episode looked at these issues from a robustly feminist perspective.   An individual viewer may or may not agree with that perspective.  That is a personal matter.  From the point of view of a reviewer, however, it seems to me that the important point is the quality of the ideas underpinning the script and how well they were developed through the plot.  And regardless of the quality of the ideas behind “She” it was the way that they were developed that caused all the problems.

The immediate cause for Angel in “She” was a genuine "humanitarian" one.  The men in Jheira's world of Oden Tal had subjugated the women there by the removal of their “Ko”.  The significance of the “Ko” was explained by Jheira in the following terms:

“In Oden Tal – what you call personality – our passions – those impulses - sit in an area of the body we call the Ko.”

  Through the “Ko” the women of Oden Tal were able to manipulate the men through their sexuality. Its removal prevented that but it also meant that the women were deprived of their individuality to the extent that each became "it". To rescue her compatriots from this fate, Jheira had organized an “underground railway” to spirit them away from Oden Tal to safety on Earth.

And it is perhaps here that we get into the “metaphor” aspect of the story.  The parallels between the removal of the “Ko” and female circumcision are pretty obvious and were referred to a lot on the ATS newsgroup when the episode first aired.  It seems clear to me that writers, in drawing this parallel, intended to make a comment on the male reaction to female sexuality.  The Vigories felt controlled by the “Ko”.  They therefore reacted to it with blind hatred and aggression. Through this reaction they caused huge suffering to the females of Oden Tal.  By making this parallel, the writers seemed to be suggesting that female circumcision was the product of men feeling controlled by female sexuality and reacting with suspicion and often hostility.   The implications they intended to be drawn from this seem reasonably clear.

Counterpoint is very often a useful guide to the point a writer is trying to make. Here the most obvious counterpoint for me was between Angel on the one hand and the male Vigories on the other. Angel clearly felt the attraction of Jheira at least as much as any Vigory was supposed to. However Angel's reaction to the “Ko” was very different to theirs. He was not controlled by it. He resisted his sexual urges, albeit with the help of a long cold shower.   Because he didn’t feel controlled by the “Ko” he didn’t join the Vigories persecution of their females. Instead he was willing to help Jheira rescue the fugitives.   The message this sends out seems to me to be directed principally to men. It says that they have the choice of the extent to which they remain in control of themselves. Simply because they feel a passion (like a sexual attraction) does not mean they have to controlled by it.  Rather remaining in control of themselves is the response of the strong and the principled.  It is only the weak who fear female sexuality and who consequently treat women with suspicion and hostility.  The strong do not.

The problem with this approach is that in order to make their argument the writers exaggerated certain aspects of male and female behavior and sexuality and it was this exaggeration that effectively undermined the pillars on which the writers arguments were constructed.  As many on the ATS newsgroup pointed out, the writers were treating female sexuality as a form of chemical warfare and this can be seen as confirming negative stereotypes of both males and females.  Women’s sexuality was essentially manipulative and, therefore, inherently disruptive.  For example Tae (the leader of the men from Oden Tal) talks of  "The bringer of chaos”.  She (or as he referred to Jheira “it”) is “a vessel of pure rage. It has almost destroyed my world and now it is lose in yours."  There is no real attempt to balance this idea.  Instead Jheira, if anything, reinforces it when she describes women in her world  “When the females come of age, Ko controls our physical and sexual power.”  Worse still is the attitude to the men who were incinerated. 

Angel: "What about the guard? Who burned him?"

Jhiera: "He tried to touch one of my girls. It was his own fault."

Angel: "From what you're saying he probably didn't mean to hurt her."

Jhiera: "And the girl couldn't help killing him! It was an accident."

On the other side of the coin, the way that the writers treated the effect the “Ko” had on Wesley was equally unhelpful to their chosen metaphor.  He turned into a babbling idiot.   And the problem this caused was that it interfered with what I perceive to be the counterpoint the writers created.   I do not think that Angel has any special supernatural protection from the “Ko”.  Rather he is exceptionally self-disciplined.  If I am right the point the writers were trying to make is that *everyone* can be self-disciplined in their reaction to sexual arousal.  They sought to make that point by exaggerating normal human sexual arousal but showing it still couldn't overcome Angel's heroic level of self-control.  At the same time they exaggerated the male Vigories reaction.  It was the exaggeration inherent in the fantasy figures or fantasy situations that was used to make their point.  But intruding Wesley left them open to precisely the argument that "ordinary" males can't cope with chemical warfare of this sort.  Men were morally weak and their only answer to a controlling female sexuality was violence and aggression.   Because of these problems the writers, therefore, undermined what should have been the whole basis for their chosen  metaphor.

On this reading the male Vigories were acting reasonably for the security of themselves and their civilization.  The message that brings is that the real problem in society is a manipulative and controlling female sexuality and that male anger and aggression is an entirely understandable response.  As I have already said I do not think that this was the intention – in fact I am sure it wasn’t.  But when you exaggerate something for effect you have to be very careful not to disrupt the sometimes fragile balance in your argument.


The Underground Railway

Let me mention one major problem with the episode right here.  I had more than a bit of trouble following the back-story about the "other dimension". It was really only on the second viewing that I understood it properly and of course it did not help that so much information about it was put in the mouth of someone whose mother tongue is not English. This was a problem as the back-story was crucial to understanding whole episode.

Aside from this, the story itself was reasonably well told. I have never been a great fan of the "visions" thing which seems to me to be a lazy way getting any story going. But I can live with it and, as with most Angel episodes, the good thing here is that we were launched quickly into the main plot.  This unfolded in a series of logical steps, involving reasonably plausible detective work (e.g. Wesley and Cordelia finding the Vigories because of their need for large quantities of plant material).  As the story progressed we were at first unsure who were the black hats and who were the white hats.  Initially we were misled into identifying Jheira as the villain because of her presence in the office of the murdered PI and her attack on Angel.   It was really only when we discovered what she was doing and why that this outlook was reversed.  Keeping the audience guessing about what was going on is a classic way of sustaining interest.  Unfortunately the effect here was ruined because just before the truth about Jheira was revealed there was a very substantial break in plot development.  Angel following Jheira from the dead PI’s office to the Museum where the portal opened should really have been shown in a matter of seconds to maintain the sense of dramatic tension.  Instead, two rather lengthy scenes interrupted it – the one with the car phone and then Angel’s improvised lecture.  The latter I do not mind because it was interesting in itself, not too long and did retain a sense of dramatic tension because he was using it to avoid capture.  The scene with the phone in the car was amusing but it was too long and, with the lecture, took the focus for far too long away from where it should have been – who Jheira was and what did she want.

A further problem is that, once Jheira’s mission was revealed, we found ourselves in very familiar territory.  The underground railway is a device that has been used many times before.  And there was really nothing in this episode that added much of a twist or new perspective to it.  About the only thing the writers tried to do with it was introduce  a fairly traditional “race against time to find the women and rescue them before the bad guys” gambit.  Even here there was no attempt to throw some real difficulty in Angel’s way to sharpen the tension and make us doubt he would win the race.  In this context the only thing that worked really well were the fight scenes in the darkened building.  I though that those were very well done.

Another thing that did disappoint was the anti-climactic way that the women escaped and their pursuers just backed off. This, of course, may just be set-up. Angel has contented himself for now with drawing lines, which the trans- dimensional beings should not cross. But with more appearances by Jheira to come it may well be that they are just regrouping and that in the future we will see a more substantive resolution of this storyline. The "king" referred to by Jheira certainly doesn't seem to practice what he preaches. Perhaps Angel will be called on to show how he can. Perhaps this will be the ultimate example of how his example could save the souls of an entire realm.  Even so, the ending did seem more than a little unsatisfying.


There were several intriguing pieces of characterization in this episode.   Indeed this is one of the few strengths of “She”.  One thing that I have always liked about Angel as an individual is that he seems a throwback to a very old fashioned idea of masculinity - the strong, silent man of integrity and sincerity - which is miles away from most modern TV producers definition of the term. This seems confined to gun wielding, bed hopping babe magnets. I know there has been some (exaggerated) comment about Angel saving damsels in distress but one thing about him is that he invariably treats women as individuals and not as objects who, because he is the hero, must by definition want to jump into bed with him. This was a part of his character that was brought to the fore here. In the end, because of his integrity and self-control, Jheira seemed more attracted to him than he to her, despite her "special attributes".   And, as I have already said, I thought the improvised lecture in the Museum worked very well. I do love it when we get little glimpses into Angel's past and this scene reinforced just how varied and rich his life experiences have been. And doing it this way is so much more intriguing than simply giving us a lot of flashback in which too much is given away. 

Jheira herself did seem a very interesting character. The coldness and calculation on the one hand contrasted with her passion for her cause. It is the classic picture of a fanatic; dare I say almost of a terrorist? Her reaction to the "collateral damage" caused by her activities was particularly interesting. There is nothing quite so ruthless as self- righteousness. If you have a cause that is right any sacrifice is acceptable.  In the darker recesses of any conflict this is an idea that needs challenging and I am glad the writers did so here.   Yet at the end she did seem to show some hints of genuine feeling. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

As for Wesley this episode confirms that he feels useless and desperately wants to feel useful - hence his pathetic groveling, which is strongly contrasted to Cordelia who, when accepting Angel's charity, made it look as if she was doing him a favor.  In fairness to the writers he did make a significant contribution to the detective work needed in the episode and in the fight at the end he did seem able to look after himself.  Still, I am bound to say that both in his apologies for being captured and in his over enthusiasm towards the women of Oden Tal he was treated a little unfairly as the butt of a joke for the sake of a joke rather than for any serious plot point.


Finally for now a word about the humor. Notwithstanding my comments about the car phone, I  continue to appreciate the way that the writers are continually taking pot-shots at poor old Angel.   The contrast between his attempt to maintain his dignity and everyone else's attempt to undermine it is priceless.  And even the car phone scene, although out of place, was amusing in itself.  I really do enjoy Action Angel and his battle with the technology that sometimes doesn't work as it should.   But perhaps the best example of the writers approach in this respect may be found when Cordelia is complaining about Angel’s behavior at her party:

“I’m so glad you came.  You know how parties are.  You’re always worried that no one is going to suck the energy out of the room like a giant black hole of boring despair. But there you where - in the clinch!”

 In reply Angel tried to raise the “I’m Mr. Cool” defense.  Cordelia’s ruthless putdown (saying Wesley was cooler) seemed a very deliberate attempt by the writers to make fun of even this aspect of Angel’s image.  And of course it would be very remiss of me to neglect the “I don’t dance” scene.  This last in particular suggests that our hero is a mass of insecurities where others are concerned and that is a very interesting insight upon his social isolation.


6.75/10:  The episode had an interesting concept for a story, reasonable (if uninspired) execution of plot, generally good use of character and amusing sidelights. However its problems were far more substantial than its merits.  As I have tried to suggest the otherwise interesting metaphor was completely undermined by the carelessness of its execution.   This, in the end, threatened to send to the audience the opposite message to the one intended.  An, although professionally enough executed, the plot was pretty unimaginative and largely lacking in tension.  In the middle it was a little flabby and the ending was just anti-climactic.  Finally, Jheira and the fire and ice metaphors in which the episode indulged seemed to me to be really very hokey and thus unnecessarily distracting.

Review rewritten and revised Friday, September 08 2000