The Trial
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Are You Now...
First Impressions
Dear Boy
Guise Will Be Guise
The Shroud of Rahmon
The Trial
Blood Money
Happy Anniversary
Thin Dead Line
Dead End
Over the Rainbow
Through the Looking Glass
No Place Like Plrtz Glrb




Story by: David Greenwalt

Written by: Doug Petrie and Tim Minear

Directed by: Bruce Seth Green


The promise of humanity

“To 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. 

It 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. 

Angel 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? 

In   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:

“One day soon one of those helpless victims that you don’t really care about is going to look way too appetizing to turn down. And you’ll figure hey! what’s one against all I’ve saved? Might as well eat them. I’m still ahead by the numbers!"

In 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:

Magev:  "You blame her."

Angel:  "I suppose I do."

Magev:  "You want to punish her."

Angel:  "A bit..."

Magev:  "At the same time you want to thank her."

Angel:  "Thank her?"

Magev:  "For the gift she's given you."

Angel:  "Gift?"

Magev:  "You're deeply ambivalent."

Angel:  "Yeah, well, I am and I'm not."

Indeed 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 such.  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 human?

And 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 apartment:

Angel:  "Do you love her, Lindsey?  Is that what this is?   Heh,  look at you.  A few short months with her and you go all schoolboy.  I was with her for *150* years."

Lindsey:  "But you never loved her."

Angel:  "I wasn't capable of it and neither are you."

And later Angel warns the lawyer:

“If 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?”

But 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 :

"I hope you survive this, Angelus.  If you do, maybe we meet again in Vienna."

But a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The 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.

Darla:  "What do you care?"

Angel:  "This isn't you, Darla."

Darla:  "You know, just because we had a thing for 150 years, don't presume you know me!"

In particular Angel continued (despite all evidence to the contrary) to identify with her, as suggested in the following conversation between himself and the Caritas MC:

MC: Look, you're a big hunk of hero sandwich.  You wanna save theno matter how much you want it."

  Angel:  "She's not gonna die."

MC: "Why do you care *so* much?  She had more than most of us, already  400 plus years."

Angel:  "As a vampire.  Before that she was... she... she never had a chance."

The words used here echo very strongly the words Angel used about his own human past in “Amends”:

Angel:  “A demon isn't a man. I was a man once.”

Jenny:  “Oh, yes, and what a man you were.  A drunken, whoring layabout, and a terrible disappointment to your parents.”

Angel: “ I was young. I never had a chance to...”

He 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:

"The point is, you were undead for 400 years, you've only been human again for a few months.  Why not give it some time."

And 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.

I 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. 


The Trials

At 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 doesn’t hesitate:

MC: There is one way.  It…it's a bit of a quest  and it will probably kill you."

Angel:  "I'll take it."

MC:  "Alright, big fella, you asked for it.  You're about to face the hell and the high water.”

In 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.

Dungeon Master:  "He's quite remarkable."

Darla:  "Yes, he is."

There 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:

“Angel, some green horned lounge singer asks you to do something and you just do it?   Why?"

But 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 waiting for?"

Dungeon Master:  "For you, sir.  I can't proceed without your permission.  You've earned a choice.  Accept your death so she may live or..."

            Angel:  "Or what?"

Dungeon 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."

In 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 it:

Dungeon Master: “Do 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 falls?"

Angel:  "I don't know."

Dungeon Master:  "No, you don't.  Are you still ready to give her life when she can promise you nothing?"

Angel: "Yes."

There 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 essential humanity. 


Darla’s Redemption

And 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.

If  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 purpose.

As 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:

“Oh, I have no feelings about this contest one way or another, Miss. Do you?"

the 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:

"It wasn't my will to be here in the first place.  I never asked for this life."

Then 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:  "Maybe it would be different.  We don't know.      Maybe, uh... because, you know, I have a soul - if-if I did    bite you..."

Darla:  "No."

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:  "That's not enough."

 Darla:  "It is."

Angel:  "How could the powers allow you to be brought back and dangle a second chance and take it away like this?"

Darla:  "Maybe this is my second chance."

Angel:  "To die?"

Darla:  "Yes.  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:

“It’s 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 process."

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.

The Plot

For 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:

Holland:  "Lindsey, you don't understand our friend at all.  We know there is no prospect for physical intimacy here.  So you needn't torture yourself."

Lindsey steps closer:  "Then what do you expect him to do?"

Holland:  "What he will do.  What he must do.  Save her soul."

From 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 come.

But 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:

“Someone get my heart.  That girl's ripped it right out.”

But I am afraid that this scene just left me cold. 

In 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.

Another 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.

So, 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.

In 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. 

In 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 taking over.

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.



A (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 mortal

“someone they can sire, someone who, too, can walk those lonely nights, hunting with them, feeding with them,  joining with them?"

Here 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.