Story by: David Greenwalt
Written by: Doug Petrie and Tim Minear
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green
promise of humanity
Shanshu in LA” ended with two major revelations.
The first was the prophecy that Angel would become human.
The second was that the creature that Wolfram and Hart had brought back
to Earth was none other than his sire, Darla.
There seemed on the face of it no connection between the two beyond the
fact that Darla was intended to prevent Angel from fulfilling his destiny by
tearing him from The Powers That Be. But
the connection was there.
was first hinted at very subtly in “Dear Boy” when we discovered that Darla
was human after all. There we saw
the very different perceptions of each other that now lay between the former
lovers. To Angel, a person's
humanity meant having a soul and, among other things, feeling remorse for past
misdeeds. To Darla being a vampire
meant power. This was a theme that
was taken up and expanded upon in “Darla”.
In this episode we saw how both Angel and Darla regarded not each other
but themselves. We first saw the
parallels between Angel in China 1900 and Darla in LA2000 as both struggled
unwillingly to cope with what they
were. But the parallels between them simply (and very cleverly) serve to
emphasis the real contrasts between the two.
Angel's struggles are about the moral implications of being a vampire –
what it means to exist just to fulfill your own needs regardless of the cost to
anyone else. Darla's are all about
the weakness of being human, the possibility of disease and the certainty of old
age and death. Through the
contrasts between these two individuals and their very different preoccupations
we begin to see the differences between two worlds – human and vampire.
In the latter we see not only strength and power but also the total lack
of feeling to restrain it. Take
what you want without remorse. Live
now for the pleasure of the moment, that is all that matters.
On the other hand being human means not only physical weakness but also
being subject to the constraints of the human soul.
You cannot simply indulge yourself.
You feel impelled to do what is right.
If you do wrong then you pay for it in feelings of guilt and self-hatred.
is both vampire and – because of his soul – human.
There is a tension within him between the vampire side of his nature and
the human side. The instinctive temptation that Angel feels towards
satisfying his blood lust is commonplace for the series.
This is something that was shown not only by “Darla” but also “the
Shroud of Rahmon”. In those
episodes we saw it in the gratuitous violence he used towards Lindsey and in the
way he drank from Kate. But there is far more to the dichotomy in Angel than how
he operates on the instinctual level, the extent to which his human soul remains
in control of his actions. Here the
writers are interested in exploring a much more fundamental issue: does Angel
really want to be human?
both “Five by Five” and “Darla” we saw his initial attempts to
cling onto his identity as a vampire even after his soul had been restored.
And we have long known that Angel didn’t always feel comfortable in
human society. In AYNOHYEB we have
already seen evidence of his distance from humanity throughout most of the 20th
century. And way back in “City
of..” Doyle warned him that he had to make a connection with humanity as a way
of saving his soul. Otherwise his
craving for blood would grow until:
both “Angel” and “Blind Date” he spoke somewhat wistfully about the
simplicity of life as a vampire. And
then in “Guise will be Guise” he admits for the first time his own
ambivalence about being a vampire. It
is here that we see the source of his obsession with Darla, as revealed by the
following conversation between himself and the Tish Megev:
in the course of this episode Darla’s situation focuses yet more sharply the
ambivalence Angel feels towards being a Vampire.
He cannot reconcile himself to the idea of her death as a human, despite
the fact that disease and death is the common inheritance of all mortals.
On the other hand he is clear and explicit in his determination that she
should not become a Vampire again and at one point he expressly threatens to
kill her if she were to revert to being a Vampire.
This is based on his clear understanding of what she would become as
Darla’s return as a
human and the consequences for her of that state is making Angel question more
deeply than ever before just how human he really is and, more importantly,
whether he actually wanted to give up being a Vampire.
What is it to be
ironically the answer to these questions is found in Angel's own dogged
determination to save Darla. Why
should he care about her? A vampire
wouldn't. Vampires don't really
care about anyone else. This was
hinted at in the confrontation between Angel and Lindsey in the latter’s
"Do you love her, Lindsey? Is that what this is? Heh, look at
"But you never loved her."
"I wasn't capable of it and neither are you."
later Angel warns the lawyer:
I were to do it - if I turned her, how long do think it would be before she
hunted you down and had you for breakfast?”
this idea was even more powerfully developed by the flashback to the French barn
in 1765. During this season of
ANGEL the writers have been at pains to show us just how close Angelus and Darla
were. Yet here she cold bloodedly
sacrifices him for herself. In
doing so she wished him well
hope you survive this, Angelus. If you do, maybe we meet again in
a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.
counterpoint between the self-centeredness of the vampire and Angel’s attitude
to Darla in this episode is quite marked. Formerly
she had obsessed him because she enflamed internal conflicts he had thought long
settled. That was why in
“Dear Boy” and “Guise will be Guise” his need to find her was almost
reckless, an expression of his inner turmoil over her.
Now that need has undergone a significant shift.
In “The Trial”, almost the whole of the teaser, while it did have its
humorous angle, was intended to show Angel was relaxed and controlled (or in
Cordelia's words “calm and homey”) about his search for Darla.
Even the lie he told his friends was quite calculated.
The reason why he wanted to find Darla was that he was concerned about
her as an individual and wanted to help her.
And this fact is , I think, the key to understanding the whoe scenario of
this episode. Angel may not have loved her but they had been together for
almost 150 years and he really did think that he knew her.
"What do you care?"
"This isn't you, Darla."
"You know, just because we had a thing for 150 years, don't presume you
particular Angel continued (despite all evidence to the contrary) to identify
with her, as suggested in the following conversation between himself and the
words used here echo very strongly the words Angel used about his own human past
“A demon isn't a man. I was a man once.”
“Oh, yes, and what a man you were.
A drunken, whoring layabout, and a terrible disappointment to your
“ I was young. I never had a chance to...”
can see in her both the same wasted opportunities for self-fulfillment as he
sees in himself and the same potential for her as a human being.
All she needed was time:
point is, you were undead for 400 years, you've only been human again for a few
months. Why not give it some time."
of course the discovery that she did not have that time sharpened immensely his
concern, not so much because she would die but because she would do so without
an opportunity to come to terms with her humanity and to begin to fulfill the
potential she had.
think that here the writers are suggesting that the defining characteristic of
humanity is to have a connection with other people.
It is to feel that they are important simply because of their humanity
and that some individuals are especially important to us because of a personal
connection. This need not be a
connection based on romantic love. It
can be based equally on friendship, on compassion for someone weak and
vulnerable like a child or even on of a history of shared or common experiences.
some point there had to be a reckoning between the two conflicting aspects of
Angel's identity, the vampire and the human.
And it came in "the Trial" in a very interesting way.
In order to help Darla Angel was forced to face a series of tests.
From the very start he is warned about what these will cost him but he
accepting the challenge he makes a choice. Rather than take the easy way out by “making her” he
risks his own life and hers. This
is itself a rejection of what it means to be a Vampire.
But more important than that is the reason why he risks himself - to help
another who is desperate and in pain. By
undertaking these trials he is being asked to prove the strength of his
commitment to her. In other words
he is being asked to prove the strength of his own humanity.
And here we have a very interesting use of metaphor.
The challenges that Angel faces are outward and visible expressions of
the sort of person that he is.
Master: "He's quite remarkable."
"Yes, he is."
are in effect four elements to these Trials.
The first is proof of his faith – his ability to trust others.
This is obviously not something that Vampires are very big on.
Darla is the one who asks the obvious question:
the unquestioning way that Angel accepts the challenge proves that he does have
faith. And the culmination of the
Trials is, of course, the ultimate test of humanity:
the willingness to sacrifice oneself for others. It is one thing to risk
your life for something or someone you value.
It is another thing entirely to accept your own death in exchange for the
life of another. And the important
point here is that Angel was explicitly given the choice:
Angel: "What are you
Master: "For you, sir. I can't proceed without your permission.
You've earned a choice. Accept your death so she may live or..."
Master: "Leave. Refuse
the challenge and walk away. No one will stop you. Our doors are all
open to you. You've done that yourself."
making the choice to accept death Angel was first of all coming to terms with
the idea of mortality, turning his back on the greatest “gift” of being a
vampire. And he was doing so in the
name of compassion for the fear and anguish of another human being.
Yes, it was a wholly irrational decision.
One could go further and say that it was unjustifiable.
But the interesting this is that (unlike in the case of the risk Buffy
took to save Angel in GD2) the writers did not try to skate over this problem. They confronted it head on and indeed made a virtue out of
you mind if I ask you a question? Isn't
the world a better place with you in it? You can save so many people. It
seems she can barely save herself. You
know better than anyone the world can be a very bad place. Take yourself
out, put her in - how long will it be before she stumbles, before she
"I don't know."
Master: "No, you don't. Are you still ready to give her life
when she can promise you nothing?"
is no arguing with the logic of the Dungeon Master here and significantly Angel
doesn’t try to do so. I think
that the writers are saying that when it comes to protecting others that we care
about human beings react beyond logic and beyond reason.
By agreeing to the sacrifice in this way Angel was reaffirming his
the ironic thing about it is that he was at the same time helping Darla to
discover hers. And it is in this
context that I have to comment on the second and third elements of the Trials.
In the fight with the ugly yellow demon Angel’s strength and speed are
not enough. What is really
required is courage and intelligence. He
needs courage to cope with the fear of a seemingly unkillable creature and
intelligence to devise a way to defeat it.
The third element of the Trials tests his willingness to face pain and
his ability to endure it by running through a corridor covered in crosses and to
put his hand into a holy water font.
I have any criticism to make of this aspect of the trials it is that for
the most part the subject matter of the tests was not really what I take to be
determinative of humanity. Even a
soulless demon can show courage, intelligence and endurance.
Insofar as the Trials themselves (as opposed to his reason for
undertaking them) are intended to be demonstrations of Angel’s human qualities
they are a little lacking. But I
suspect that these particular aspects of the trial were intended to have another
Angel started on his way through the Trials Darla had nothing to loose.
She was going to die anyway. From
that point of view Angel’s failure would hardly have mattered.
On the other hand few would know better than she just what he was capable
of. She could therefore have been
expected to regard his progress with hope and expectation.
Instead as she saw the sort of things he was going through her principal
thought seems to have been for him and not for her own prospects.
When the Dungeon Master asks her:
answer is obvious.
There were several references in this episode to Darla being a prisoner. Darla feels imprisoned. She was brought back as a helpless human without her say:
she discovers she has a matter of months to live.
It is a prison from which she feels she has to escape, at any cost.
If she wants back to the only existence she has ever been happy with,
indeed if she wants to continue to exist at all she must become a Vampire again.
To this end she is even prepared to risk an assignation in a dingy alley
with a looser Vampire who doesn’t know what he is doing and can’t in any
event be trusted. She is that
desperate. But she is looking at
this only from her own selfish narrow point of view, without considering the
meaning of that choice for everyone around her.
Angel’s example changes all that.
The physical trials that he was prepared to go through for her were
material manifestations of his commitment to her as another human being,
something that she could see and feel.
Indeed her recognition of his humanity manifests itself in the name she
calls him after the completion of the trials.
Having insisted on referring to him as “Angelus” at every turn she
now calls him “Angel”, thus recognizing the essential difference between the
two. And it was this that broke
through her feelings of being imprisoned. In
that final scene between them in the Royal Viking Motel Angel half-heartedly
considers making her as the only option now left to them.
I don’t think he was serious about this.
Certainly if he were it would have been contrary to the entire theme of
the piece. But that is not the
important point. The point is that
it is Darla who firmly turns her back on the possibility:
Angel: "We don't
know what it would do to you."
Darla: "Angel, I've
seen it now. Everything you're
going through, everything you've gone through. I felt it. I felt how you care.
The way no one's ever cared before not for me. That's all I need from you."
Angel: "How could
the powers allow you to be brought back and dangle a second chance and take it
away like this?"
this is my second chance."
To die the way I was supposed to die in the first place."
This was Darla’s
acceptance of her own humanity. The
symmetry is perfect. By emerging
from the Trails with his own humanity strengthened Angel restores Darla’s.
This is a triumphant vindication of the early premise of the show:
about reaching out to people, showing them that there’s love and hope still
left in the world. …It’s about letting them into your heart. It’s not
about saving lives; it’s about saving souls. Hey, possibly your own in the
first thing that strikes me about the writers treatment of this theme is how
it takes ideas which have been explicitly laid out in the previous
history of the character or implicit in it and develops them.
As I have previously mentioned Angel’s lack of connection to humanity
was one of the major issues for his character from the start and his need to
make a connection lay at the heart of the basic premise of the series.
The promise of his humanity to come was a major revelation of the finale
of season 1. And the theme we have
seen throughout the Darla arc was his ambivalence to being a Vampire.
This episode takes all of these disparate threads and weaves them
together in a way which establishes solid character development.
Not in the sense that there is a clean break from the past.
We cannot say that Angel is now no longer conflicted.
Nor can we say that Angel post “The Trial” is a different character
to the pre-trial one. That would be
both contrived and unbelievable. What we can say is that in the crucible of this episode Angel
has been asked some very serious questions and the way he has answered them
tells us now more about who he is and who he wants to be. That self-knowledge much produce change for him but in a way
which represents continuity with the character’s past. And that is important.
most of its length, the plotting isn’t the real strength of this episode. It suffers from two basic problems. In terms of structure it is a classic “problem solving”
story. At the very beginning the
writers throw to us an entirely new piece of information that has been withheld
until now – the fact that Darla was dying.
There is no difficulty about this in itself. It is, I think, precisely the sort of information you would
expect Wolfram and Hart to withhold. It
strongly reinforces the arc elements of this episode. In “Darla” the following exchange occurred between
Holland and Lindsey:
that point onwards it became clear that, notwithstanding Darla’ confidence to
the contrary in “Dear Boy” Wolfram
and Hart did indeed have some deep laid plan that even now was still hidden.
It would make perfect sense for them to precipitate some sort of crisis
by doling out information to Darla or Lindsey as and when it suited them.
Indeed this was a feeling that was enhanced by the ending of the episode.
It was in fact one of the strengths of “The Trial” that it continued
the slow striptease of Wolfram and Hart’s long term strategy, revealing little
as yet but drawing us in with promise of further interesting developments to
the immediate effect of the revelation that Darla was dying was that Angel
became engaged in a search for a way to save her. The good part about this was that, after we learned that the
illness was real (and for the reasons I have already mentioned that was no real
surprise) the writers seemed to have left Angel without an obvious means to save
Darla. It was very quickly made
clear that the one obvious course of action open (to “make her”) would have
been regarded by Angel as a greater defeat than her dying.
But at the end of the day a situation like this will only create dramatic
tension to the extent that our sympathies are engaged.
And Darla is about as unsympathetic character as you could imagine.
She is clever, determined, selfish and
ruthless. In short she is
the sort of character it becomes
easy to want rid of and Angel’s preoccupation with saving her then becomes
annoying. I think we are supposed
to feel the pathos of her situation when we see her singing karaoke in
“Caritas” and the MC says:
get my heart. That girl's ripped it right out.”
I am afraid that this scene just left me cold.
this context the slow pacing of “The Trial” really didn’t help.
Well over half the episode was taken up with exposition.
This would not in itself a problem but for the fact that
exposition itself was comparatively limited. Darla was dying, she wanted to be a Vampire again and Angel
wanted to find a way of saving her
without going to that extreme. Indeed
one or two of the scenes (eg between Angel and Gunn in the hotel room) felt as
though they were padding and others (the “Caritas” karaoke) felt drawn out.
weakness in the plot is the supernatural means needed to save her.
Just as in “the Judgment” in many ways the medieval imagery and
trappings jar with me when set against the background of contemporary LA.
And the dungeon-like settings have been overdone in all too many previous
series. I would, therefore, have
preferred a more modern look and atmosphere for the trials.
But another problem with them is that they have an unmistakable “deus
ex machina” feel to them. Angel
goes to Caritas MC, he gives Angel the right address to go to and we have a
potential solution to the problem. There
is no thought involved. In terms of
plotting this just strikes me as a little banal.
up to this point there is comparatively little in the actual plotting to sustain
interest apart from a wonderfully funny scene between Darla and the looser
vampire she wanted to “make her”. But
once the trials themselves begin this improve dramatically. Events begin to move
quickly and there doesn’t seem a moment wasted as we switch between what is
happening to Angel and the effect that this is having on Darla.
this context I think we have to recognize that
in a set up such as we have here there is an inherent problem and a
serious one. No-one will believe
that the hero will die. And given
that he will inevitably succeed in his trials Darla too will be saved (for all
that matters). It was at this point
that my expectations in plot terms fell to their lowest point.
In fact as it turned out this aspect of the plot was a triumph and in a
way that was very typical of the Whedonverse.
The trials themselves threw up one or two very interesting curves.
The ugly yellow demon who could put himself together after been cut in
half, the hidden key to the door certainly provided interest for the viewer.
But the crux was the sudden appearance of the death trap at the end.
The choice given to Angel was a stark one – his life for Darla’s.
It was inconceivable that Angel would have come this far simply to walk
away. Equally it was inconceivable
for him to die. The resolution of the dilemma was, therefore, the one I
expected. The willingness to make
the sacrifice was itself the test. So,
everyone was off the hook. As an
ending it seemed cheep and shallow.
fact it was anything but. The
revelation that Darla could not be saved and that Angel had gone through the
whole thing for nothing was shocking enough.
But what made it worse was Darla’s own last minute move towards
redemption. Finally just when you
could begin to believe she deserved a second chance it was suddenly and
unexpectedly snatched away from her. And
the furious violence of Angel’s reaction to the discovery was a very moving
demonstration of his frustration, especially at the end where the pounding of
the fists on the pillar became slower and slower as if despair were gradually
And then as if this were not shock enough we had the ultimate twist in the reappearance of Wolfram and Hart in the capture of Angel by Lindsey and Darla being made by Drusilla. And it is in this scene that we can see the importance of Angel’s earlier insistence that this was not an acceptable option. Here we can see the scale of the defeat he must feel. In other words far from giving us a trite “feel good” conclusion the writers have worked out the worst possible way that it could end and given us that. Good for them. It seems now that the whole arc is ready for its climax. Are Wolfram and Hart finally going to reveal their hand? We will have to see.
(9.5/10): The real strength of this
episode is the character study. There
could hardly be a more central issue for Angel than the conflict within him
between Vampire and human. In
exploring this issue the writers have used the “only connect” theme and
given it a new lease of life. By
showing Angel making the connection with Darla they reinforce his humanity in a
way which not only preserves consistency with the character as already
established but at the same time clearly shown real development.
Moreover this development is very carefully placed in the context of an
ongoing story arc where the struggle between Angel’s humanity and identity as
a Vampire is central. In this
respect “The Trial” succeeds
not only as a stand alone episode but also makes a significant contribution
towards shaping the overall pattern of the Darla arc.
The weaknesses were essentially plot related. The set up for the next stage in the revelation of Wolfram
and Hart’s master plan worked very well, with just enough being revealed to
interest us but not so much given away that it helps up see what will happen
next. It is the immediate task of
finding a cure for Darla that is the problem, partly because Darla’s fate is
something that it is difficult to care about and partly because just too little
of real interest happens until late on. But
when something does happen then it gives this episode a very hard kick that
will, I am sure, last in the memory. Indeed the strength of the ending was such that it more than
compensated for the weaknesses there were in the plotting of the earlier parts
of the episode. Because of its
subject matter this was inevitably a very serious episode. There wasn’t that much light relief. But there was some to help balance out the dark.
Once again in this respect the Cordelia/Wesley interaction proved one of
the highlights. The way they can be
at one another’s throats one minute and combine to make a very formidable team
the next is a constant delight. But
perhaps even more effective was the scene between Darla and the looser Vampire
she wanted to make her. A major
part of the whole Darla arc has been the mythology of the vampire who chose a
the writers poke a little fun at that whole mythology in a very light way which
doesn’t descend to heavy parody and end up ruining the myth.
I thought that this worked very well.