Thin Dead Line
Home Season 1 Season 2


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




Written by: Jim Kouf and Shawn Ryan

Directed by: Scott McGinnis



During “To Shanshu in LA” there was a confrontation between Angel and Kate.  In the course of that confrontation we saw for the first time Kate’s real objection to Angel:

Kate:  "Who the hell do you think you are?  You are a major witness to a major crime scene.  You are not going anywhere."

Angel:  "You want to try and stop me, Kate?"

Kate:  "I'm glad we are not playing friends anymore.  And I'm real sick and tired of your attitude.  There is a thing called the law!"

Angel:  "This isn't about the law, this is about a little thing called life.  Now I'm sorry about your father.  But I didn't kill your father.  And I'm sick and tired of you blaming me for everything you can't handle! 

Of course Kate could be a loose cannon at times.  And certainly some of her actions have been unorthodox.  But she does seem always to act within the law.  Angel, almost by the nature of his mission, has always acted outside it, even at the best of times.  And the objection that Kate had to this wasn’t purely philosophical.  She had very personal reasons for distrusting those who, like Angel, fought outside the law.  As she observed to Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn in “Dear Boy”:

"The fact that while you're fighting your big battles of good and evil the innocent are the ones who get caught in the crossfire. Those are the ones I care about, like that man tonight, like the real owners of that house if what you say is true. And those are the ones I chalk up to your boss."

Kate was unaware of Angel’s desire to protect her father in “The Prodigal.”  As far as she knew, Trevor had been a victim of Angel’s determination to destroy the drug running demons.  And this fact must have seemed to ample justification for her suspicions of anyone acting outside the law.  Ironically, however, in the light of events in “The Shroud of Rahmon” she had come to understand the limitations of traditional policing methods when faced by supernatural threats.  And in “Reunion” she accepted Angel’s extra-legal help.  In doing so she was unknowingly seeking help from a person who now had become what she had always believed him to be – a vigilante.  And this is where we begin to see the outline of a theme that would have made enormous sense in the context of the Darla arc but which was sadly underdeveloped here.


Angel as Vigilante

Apart from the fact that, technically at least, they are all dead, the parallels between Angel as a vigilante and the zombie cops are so obvious not to need laboring.  But they are all drawn out for us by the writers anyway.  When Angel goes to report the encounter with the first zombie cop to Kate there is a detectable frost in the air:

Kate:  "Haven't seen you in a while."

Angel:  "I've been busy."

Kate:  "Yeah, me too. A couple of open cases I've been working.  Two women killed in a clothing store.  Thirteen lawyers from Wolfram and Hart slaughtered in a wine cellar."

Angel:  "Real tragedy."

Kate:  "Yeah, you seem real broken up by the loss.  Anyway, we're still looking into this one."

Angel:  "Good luck with that."

Kate:  "I guess you never caught up with your vampire friends in time."

Angel:  "I did track them down later and set them on fire."

Kate:  "Sounds like you enjoyed it.  But then again the whole murder and mayhem thing's always been right up your alley."

Here we are not only reminded of the events at the end of “Reunion” but we also see Angel’s evident lack of remorse.  He remains completely convinced that in destroying evil he was actually benefiting society as a whole.  And it is this basic rationale for Angel’s action that we see reflected in motivating force behind the vigilantism of the zombie cops. We have two separate indications of the type of area that they patrolled while they were still fighting by the book.  An officer at the police precinct says:  

"I don't have to tell you who used to rule these streets, detective. The scumbags did.  Hell, I…I was afraid to drive to work myself."

And Kate herself subsequently digs out a Crime Report which must have made truly depressing reading:

“Up until three months ago there was a murder every two weeks, a rape every two days, a robbery every hour and a half.”

Just to ram the point home, in Jackson we see the sort of person responsible for this state of affairs:

Gunn:  "Where I come from you don't bring down a community.  You try and make it better."

Jackson:  "I'm just doing my thing, man.  Why - why don't you go on and get out of my face."

Gunn:  "Your thing hurts everybody!  Why do you think nobody cares they're clamping down on this neighborhood?"

Jackson:  "'cause they're a bunch of racist pigs."

Gunn:  "There is that.  And there's people like you.  Ech! A thug with a gun, keeping the cycle going."

In his arrogance, his contempt for everyone and everything and the actual danger he poses to others we see the true face of crime, a face that it is all too easy to hate.  Nor should we forget the price that each and every one of the zombie cops paid.  The fate of Officer Peter Harkes is instructive:

Kate: “Never saw the guy who shot him."

Angel:  "Catch the killer?"

Kate:  "Oh, yeah.  Not exactly a criminal genius.  He's up for the death penalty."

It is easy to imagine the sense of frustration and helplessness that this situation caused.  And the great attraction vigilantism is that it always promises to be a solution to this.  It is born of the idea that “the criminals” are always protected by the law and that they could be dealt with effectively if the law somehow ceased to shield them.  So, once the zombie cops started to employ unorthodox measures, results were not long in coming, as Kate and Angel found out when they walked into the Police Precinct Office:

Kate:  "Where is everyone?"

Officer:  "Oh, only a few of us riding the desk tonight."

Angel:  "Not a lot going on?"

Officer:  "Crime is way down in this precinct.  We're doing things right."

And as Gunn and his friends found when they stumbled upon a notorious gang territory:

            George:  "Hey, check it.  Forty fifth street, man."

Gunn:  "So?"

Rondell:  " You're kidding me.  This is gang ground.  They catch us rolling up in here they'll take us out."

George:  "That's why we ain't seen no cops.  They don't even come around here."

Gunn:  "I said you was free to go."

George:  "Hey, man, I say I'm gonna do something, I'm gonna do it."
Gunn (staring at a deserted street):  "Damn.  Someone having an apocalypse and forget to invite us?"

Even the gangs now no longer pose a problem.   But there are two sides to this particular coin.  And in showing us the consequences of vigilantism the writers bring Kate’s worst fears to life.

The first indication that something wasn’t quite right was when two of Anne’s street kids told her about their experiences at the hands of one policeman:

Kenny:  "Cops.  They've been hassling everybody lately.  Which, hey, what else is new, right?  But these guys... Last night me and Les where hanging down on thirty ninth."

Anne:  "Panhandling?"

Kenny:  "No.  Washing my Mercedes.  All of a sudden this cop comes up out of nowhere and just wham!  Hit me so hard I thought my teeth were coming out."

Anne:  "He hit you?  What were you doing?"

Kenny:  "Nothing, I swear to god.  And then after he punched me he threw Les against the wall, about near broke her arm.  Next thing I know he's reaching for his nightstick, so I just grabbed Les and booked."

Anne:  "You mean he wasn't trying to arrest you..."

Kenny:  "I'm telling you.  He just walked up, said 'no loitering,' slugged me in the mouth, and then chased us for a couple blocks before we made it here."

Neither Kenny nor Les were guilty of anything more than being a minor nuisance and the overreaction to them was absurd.  Angel has a similar experience at the hands of the late Peter Harkes who is equally aggressive and unreasonable while at the same time clothing his actions in the mantle of legality by carefully observing all the appropriate Miranda warnings.  But things become really serious during the confrontation between Gunn and his friends and another of the zombie cops.  This follows the same pattern as before with the officer’s overreaction being out of all proportion to the cause.  Only this time matters culminate in Wesley – who was clearly unarmed and posing no threat to anyone – being gratuitously gunned down.  From there things simply escalate as a result of the police’s attempts to cover up the shooting.  In all of this we see that the law is there for the protection of all and that when it is broken it is usually the innocent who suffer worst of all. And this is perhaps the most readily understood – and therefore – the easiest critique of vigilantism.

Perhaps the most effective thing about the writers’ treatment of the subject was the escalating nature of the threat.  At first we were dealing with policemen who were overly aggressive but not actually dangerous.  It was only with Wesley’s injury that we saw that beating up panhandling kids was part of an escalating pattern of behavior which almost inevitably led to lethal force being applied where it was not warranted.  In that sense it was, in miniature and within the limits of an hour long drama, a very effective analysis of the nature of vigilantism.  And because it was able to deliver such a critique by demonstration “Thin Dead Line” I think  avoided being too preachy.  No-one needed to deliver a little sermon about the evils of vigilantism but the message was delivered nonetheless.  And the relevance of this message coming at this point in the arc is inescapable.  In “Blood Money” we saw Angel fall into the same trap.  In order to get after Wolfram an Hart he lied, he stole and he put himself in a position where he had to kill what might otherwise have been a perfectly harmless creature (Boone).  He harmed the innocent in the name of punishing the guilty.  And in order to drive the point home who was re-introduced into the picture but Anne herself. And I thought that the way she was used in this context was very effective.  When she first hears about the police brutality she says:

"I think I know someone who might help."

My first reaction on hearing that was to think of Angel and wonder had she really forgotten and forgiven what he had done to her.  But no.  The person she had in mind was “G” aka Charles Gunn.  And far from having forgotten Angel what he did still rankled:

Anne:  "But Angel, that... this isn't the guy in the long, black trench coat, is it?"

Gunn:  "You know him?"

Anne:  "Yeah.  He tried to help me out a few weeks ago."
Cordelia:  "He did?"

Wesley:  "Really?"
Anne:  "But it turned out it was just a scam to screw this law firm."

Incidentally I loved Cordelia’s reaction when she saw the blouse that Angel had given away to the Shelter.  That was a very nice piece of continuity.

But I have a few problems with this aspect of the story.  Angel’s general cynicism in “Blood Money” notwithstanding the defining moment in the Darla arc was his abandonment of Holland and the others to the tender mercies of Darla and Drusilla.  I did like the way that Kate subtly challenged him about his role in this affair and his deadpan answer.  I thought that was very realistic and in character.  But this exchange simply highlights the real question about vigilantism: is it right to kill bad people simply because they are bad?  Or to put it another way if vigilante activity was simply confined to “criminals” would it be acceptable then?  Given the fact that this was the question with the sharpest implications for Angel and his attitude to Wolfram and Hart it is the one I would have expected to see tackled in “The Thin Dead Line”.  And indeed when we first saw Jackson, a man without any redeeming qualities at all, I thought it was going to be.  Unfortunately not.

But worse still, almost incredibly the writers seem to have made little attempt at all to use the well thought out and well developed set up they did give us in the context of the arc.  It was as if the significance of vigilante cops who went 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 was completely lost on Angel.  At the end Kate informs him of what life was like in the neighborhood before the arrival of the zombie cops. We then have the following odd little exchange:

Kate: “And that's what we just gave back to the people of that community."

Angel:  "I can live with that."

Kate:  "You learn to live with a lot of things, don't you?"

What does Angel mean here?  There are a number of possibilities but none really make sense.  One possibility is: “high crime rates are unfortunate but that is the price we pay for the rule of law and order.”  Hardly a comment consistent with his own state of mind is it?  What about: “I just don’t care about what ordinary people are suffering”?  But how does that explain his efforts to stop the vigilante activity that was helping them?  In fact what does explain this?  Given the parallels that I have drawn between Angel and the vigilante actions of the zombie cops why does he interfere at all?  Did he see from his own experience with Officer Harkes the probability that vigilantism would lead to the innocent getting hurt and not just the guilty?  If so why did he care?  In short which chords within out hero resonated as the scenario developed.  One clue might come in the following exchange between himself and Kate:

Kate:  "This job is making me crazy."

Angel:  "I know the feeling."

The thing that strikes me about this scene is Kate’s attitude.  She seemed almost sorry that Angel had put an end to the zombie cops’ activities.  This seems completely at odds with the very principled stand that she had been taking with Angel.  And indeed while in the dialogue quoted above there were one or two barbed comments, the harshness and anger that characterized her attitude to him previously has all but disappeared, notwithstanding the fact that she harbors some suspicions about his role in the slaughter of the lawyers.  Perhaps the message is that at least part of Angel’s problem is the accumulated stress of past events.  Perhaps in the words quoted above Angel is recognizing this and at the same time is also recognizing that he did over-react to what happened to Darla.  This might make him re-evaluate his attitude to vigilantism.  It’s possible but there is really very little in the episode that can be used to hang this argument on.  So I am just left with the feeling that the writers completely failed to do anything to build this aspect of the episode into the arc.  And I find that almost unbelievable, especially since there was one very obvious way in which this theme of “Thin Dead Line” could have been so easily integrated into then other which for want of a better word we shall call fellowship.


Friends are we all…

This brings me to the other principal theme of the episode.  And here we start with some very nice continuity.  Whether the incidents are proximate in time or not we see some follow up to Angel’s admission at the end on “Happy Anniversary”.

            Angel: “Yeah, I guess I did kind of leave 'em in the cold."

Host:  "What, your buddies?  By firing them?"

  Angel:  "Yeah.  - Yeah, I guess I made it pretty hard for 'em."

In the teaser Angel gets back to the Hyperion and is clearly not enjoying the silence and the stillness as he first pushed books and papers off the reception counter that Wesley had made his own  and turns leaving us with a vision of a very small figure, very alone in a very big building.  This is quickly followed by Merl reminding him about his former colleagues:

Merl:  "How is old Wesley, huh? -Or the other two you fired?  They doing alright?  Oh, gee, let me guess.  You never even bothered to check."

And just how much this is now bothering Angel is shown by the fact that he does indeed go to check on them.  But for whatever reason – shame, embarrassment or just the habits of several lifetimes – he doesn’t actually make contact with them.  Instead he stalks them from the shadows, much in the same way he used to with Buffy in Sunnydale.

Here was a perfect opportunity to try to integrate a story about the dangers of vigilantism  to the innocent  and a story about the forgotten friendship that Angel had for Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn.  If Angel had been fighting to destroy the vigilante cops in order to protect his friends then  the importance of that friendship to him and the human values that it represents might have been used to make some important statements about the direction that Angel has been traveling in since “Reunion”.  But Angel wasn’t even aware of the danger that Wesley or the others were in from the Vigilante cops until Kate handed him the bulletin at the end of the episode.  Whatever motivated him to destroy the zombies the plight of his former friends had nothing to do with it.  I think that is a pity.  Surely, from Angel’s point of view, thematically the important point about friendship is that it is his connection with humanity.  And at least part of the reason why he dispensed with their services in such an abrupt an arbitrary manner was that he intended to cut himself off from humanity, better to wage war against the forces of evil. After all one of the more successful aspects of “Blood Money” was the way it showed Angel cynically exploiting his former friends  in order to embarrass Lindsey and Lilah.  There is no recognition in this episode about the way in which a re-evaluation of his attitude towards his former friends affects his state of mind about fighting a war as opposed to saving souls.  And this is, I think, especially important here because I can honestly say that I came away from “Thin Dead Line” with no very clear idea about what message the writers wanted to give us about Angel’s frame of mind beyond the obvious fact that he does indeed now miss his friends and regret the way he treated them.

However, notwithstanding my reservations on this point the good thing about “Thin Dead Line” is that its treatment of, for want of a better word, comradeship was intended to make a serious point which did go beyond mere sentimentality.

And in this context I found the fairly obvious parallel between Angel and Gunn to be an interesting device.  The purpose of a parallel or counterpoint is to allow a comparison to be made between two situations.  The similarities or differences such a comparison throws up are then intended to illuminate the point that the writer intends us to grasp.  Angel isn’t the only one who has turned his back on his former friends.  Gunn has too.  We are reminded of this fact several times throughout the episode.  The first time comes when Anne decides she needs help and turns not to Angel but to Gunn.

Gunn:  "Anne here runs a teen shelter over on Crenshaw, not too far from my hood."

Anne:  "Oh Gunn, all this time and you still remember!"

Gunn:  "Alright, alright, I get it.  But I've been busy.  I've been working."

Anne in fact seems quite happy to see Gunn.  And this is another of the advantages in using her.  She is a common point of reference for both Gunn and Angel.  The former she trusts, despite the fact that he seems to have turned his back upon his former friends.  That latter she clearly does not.  Later Gunn runs into more pronounced hostility from other former friends:

Gunn:  "Alright, I've got this little neighborhood problem I promised Anne we'd look into."

Rondell:  "This got something to do with the police cracking skulls?"

Gunn:  "You know about that?"

George:  "Who doesn't?"

Gunn:  "I didn't till today.  Somebody could have filled me in."

Rondell:  "You ain't been around to tell nothing to."

George:  "You've been moving on up, dog, - playing demon detective with your new family."

Rondell:  "Deluxe apartment in the sky."

George:  "When I got the call I figured it must be Christmas or something."

But even here both Rondell and George seem to need little persuading to co-operate with him.  It seems, therefore, that a comparison between Angel’s break with Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn and Gunn’s break with his former gang is intended to emphasize this basic difference.  And that difference in turn does seem to highlight the importance of comradeship in a common cause.  Gunn, although for some time now clearly separated from his former associates, was needed by them.  As he showed in the way he interviewed the kids who had been harassed by the zombie cops he had the sort of leadership skills that they lacked and his formulation and execution of a plan helped demonstrate the fact.  Equally Cordelia and Wesley could not let Gunn face the difficulties of his task alone:

Cordelia: “Okay, Gunn's about to do a really stupid thing."

Wesley :"What did he say?"

Cordelia:  "Just that in order to find out if the police have been brutalizing and killing people in Anne's neighborhood, he's going to videotape the cops trying to brutalize and kill him."

Wesley looks up:  "You can't be serious."

Cordelia:  "Nothing says 'Aha, I'm no to you' like being on the receiving end of a vicious police beating."

Wesley:  "You couldn't stop him?"

Cordelia:  "Hello!  Gunn, stubborn, synonyms."

Wesley:  "That can't be his plan, can it?  I mean, it's - really a dumb plan."

Cordelia: "Hey, Gunn graduated with a major in dumb planning from Angel University.  He sat at the feet of the master and learned well how to plan dumbly."

Wesley:  "We'll just gonna have to let him do this."
Cordelia:  "Oh.  I'm sure he'll be fine."

Wesley:  "He wants our help, he knows where to call us."

Cordelia:  "We'll work our gig, Gunn can work his."

Wesley:  "Right.  Lets get down there and save him from himself."

And from the point that Wesley gets shot everyone pulls together.  Especially when the shelter comes under siege the Fang Gang,  Anne, the kids and even Jackson all work together to defend themselves.  Indeed it was only when two of the kids panic and abandon their defense of a door that resistance faltered and ultimately the zombie cops were able to penetrate the shelter.

The contrast between this picture of co-operation and Cordelia’s brutal rejection of Angel at the end of the episode is striking:

Cordelia:  "What are you doing here?"

Angel:  "I heard about Wesley."

Cordelia:  "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."

And of course she was wrong.  They had effectively lost the battle against the zombie cops.  They would all have been dead but for Angel’s intervention.  As well as constituting an argument for the reintegration of the Fang gang, this new dynamic seems to explicitly share blame around for the gap that now exists.  Angel himself was the original instigator of this but it is interesting that at the very point where he recognizes his fault and tries to make some form of amends he is only met with hostility and rejection; an attitude which makes no attempt to seek an explanation for his behavior or his apparent change of mind.  Cordelia, in particular, seems to want the gap to be maintained rather than closed.  

If this is indeed the writers’ intention then there are some problems with it. First of all the fact that Angel was not even aware of the fact that he was helping his former friends does seem somewhat to undermine the effect of this message.  The second problem is that it is not a particularly powerful one.  Indeed in many respects it seems simply to replicate the message delivered by the series 1 episode “the Ring”.  In the context of the Fang Gang having already broke up it is a theme which has rather more bite this time around but , for the reasons I have already given, I can’t help feeling that the writers could have done a little more with the possibilities inherent in this situation.   But the most important problem I have in this context is in what the episode says about the nature of the breakdown in the relationship between Angel and the others.  The attempt to compare Gunn’s distancing himself from his former colleagues and  Angel’s treatment of his former employees emphasizes the sense of personal rejection common to both situations.  We have already seen George and Rondell’s reaction to Gunn’s return.  It isn’t really in principal any different to the reaction of Wesley and Cordelia when Gunn mentions Angel’s name in “Blood Money”:

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 predominant feeling here is one of personal betrayal; a feeling that Angel had let them down individually.  And the reaction we see from Cordelia in “The Thin Dead Line” is entirely consistent with this.  My problem with this is that I never found the Fang Gang’s reactions in the aftermath of “Reunion” particularly convincing.    Having expressly recognized Angel’s potential to go dark they could have either tried to help or taken precautions against the possible dangers.  Certainly, for someone like Wesley one might have thought that Angel’s betrayal of an ideal would have been far more significant.  Treating his and Cordelia’s state of mind in terms of the way he let them down seems to me to totally trivialize what happened.  The reaction of Wesley and Cordelia to Angel should not be as simple and straightforward as that of Gunn’s former associates to his return.  And yet that reaction has been portrayed in pretty much those straightforward personal terms since “Redefinition”.  In that sense the writers are being entirely consistent in the way they have depicted the gap between the former comrades.  But then a consistent portrayal is not a virtue when the picture painted makes no sense.

And I am not sure I really like what Cordelia’s reaction says about her.  In some ways her reaction is reminiscent to her treatment of Xander post “Lover’s Walk”.  It is true that she doesn’t display the same shrewish edge that she displayed in, for example, “The Zeppo”.  But is that all the extent of her growth as a person, a growth that has been a major feature of ANGEL the series?  Was her friendship for Angel really so brittle that it could not survive an admittedly major shock such as the one he delivered at the end of “Reunion”?  The more I think about it the less sense that this aspect of the aftermath of “Reunion” makes.



However, in terms of character development for the former Fang Gang “Thin Dead Line” wasn’t a total loss.  It was in fact an occasion on which we could welcome back someone we hadn’t seen in a while and here I am of course referring to Charles Gunn or “G” as we must now call him.  I think this episode goes to prove that the ultimate justification for his character is the way he reacts in and to the underbelly of LA.  Away from that environment he seems to be a fish out of water.   There is nothing about what he says or does or the way he says or does it that marks him out as an individual who is unique and distinct from the others.  The best you can say about him is that he is a sort of Angel lite without any of the internal issues that make Angel such a compelling character.  And there really is a very little mileage in someone like this.  But among “his people” he seems to come alive.  So, for example, we are quickly made aware of the fact that  he has a very shrewd understanding of the way kids on the street operate in their efforts to get by:

Gunn:  "You guys try to play her?"

Girl:  "What?"

Ray:  "No way, G."

Gunn:  "Anne's no fool, but she's got a blind spot.  She wants to trust you all.  Now, if I find out you're taking advantage of that..."

Ray:  "This ain't no scam, G. We're the victims, man!"

Gunn:  "Victims.  Right.  So what was you doing when this cop pulled his piece on you?"

Ray:  "Absolutely nothing."

Gunn:  "Oh, so I haven't seen you on Normandy and Fifth dealing?  You telling me that wasn't you I seen?"

 Ray:  "That's ancient history, man.  I gave that up."

Gunn:  "Well, do the cops know that?  'cause maybe they didn't get your e-mail."

Or again, we get the authentic humor of someone who knows how hard and unfair life can be but who isn’t about to let that get him down.  So, when Gunn explains his plans to trap the cops harassing him on video the following exchange takes place:

Gunn:  "All right, look, the plan is simple.  I want you to roll the camcorder and wait for the cops to hassle us."

 Anne:  "How do you know they will?"

Gunn:  "'cause we'll be the ones walking while black.”

But above all we get a sense of passionate commitment to the poor and the dispossessed, in the form not only of his efforts to stop the rogue cops but also the way he stands up to Jackson.

It’s not only that in this Gunn we do see a recognizable individual who can be credibly presented as coming from a background in which he lived a hand to mouth existence.  This Gunn is also an important link to precisely the sort of world that ANGEL as a series should be operating in.  Here I return to the words Angel used at the end of “In the Dark”.  Referring to the “normal” world he says:

“They have help.  The whole world is designed for them, so much that they have no idea what goes on around them after dark.  They don’t see the weak ones lost in the night, or the things that prey on them.  And if I join them, maybe I’d stop seeing, too.”

Angel is a creature of the margins of society.  Equally the world of demons is more believable, more threatening and therefore more interesting as a world which also belongs to the margins.  There is a place for Virginia’s world in the series.  As in “Guise will be Guise” it can be used as an appropriate backdrop for the series to poke a little gentle fun at itself.  Alternatively, as with David Nabbitt and his world in “Warzone” very effective use can be made of it to counterpoint the struggles of those who are marginalized.  But Mansions, or even suburbia, are simply the wrong environment in which to find the victims of demons.  We will find those people on the streets and in the ghettos; where Gunn himself is entirely at home.

All of which does once again raise questions about when and why he abandoned that world.  And here the biggest weakness that the writers of “Thin Dead Line” had to face was the fact that this subject was simply ignored in earlier episodes.  I hadn’t even been aware that Gunn did leave his friends behind.  I had simply assumed that he moved part time into Angel’s world without severing his former connections.  Leaving out information like this is really quite uncharacteristically careless in a series whose hallmark seems to be pretty careful forward planning.  Worse still, however, it begs the question why?  We had been very clearly shown in “First Impressions” that Gunn felt a personal responsibility for the lives of his people.  Did he suddenly stop feeling that responsibility?  If he didn’t then I cannot see that, for someone like Gunn, a purely utilitarian analysis of how he can help the fight against evil best would have persuaded him to leave his friends in the lurch.  But even if he did then surely the obvious thing for him to have done was to go back to the old gang and the old ways in the aftermath of “Reunion”.  Why would he even have a question in his mind about where his true mission lay in those circumstances?  None of this makes any sense at all.



I will be comparatively brief here because the plot in “Thin Dead Line” was not, to be frank, one of the tightest drawn on Angel.    Let me start by saying that I do have a problem with the conceit that ordinary humans can perform magic of great power.  This is not only an example of the world of the supernatural being too accessible (a subject I have mentioned before).  More problematically if anyone can raise the dead and control them the whole concept of witches as being individuals specially versed in magic becomes somewhat redundant.

Leaving this to one side though the basic unfolding of the storyline was well enough done.  The idea of brutal vigilante action coming from the reanimated corpses of dead policemen was a great one and there was a suitable creepy feel to the whole piece.  You clearly do get a sense of an escalating level of threat as we first hear about then see the physical over-reaction of the cops and then their use of lethal force.  And in this context I thought that the idea of having the threat concentrates against one very specific target at the end worked especially well.  Having the police go on a more general rampage would not have been nearly so effective.  As it was the potential victims were known to us and the threat to them defined in terms of both time and space.  This normally helps focus the sense of danger.  But it is in this context that we find one of the principal weaknesses of the piece.  The basic story resolved itself into a traditional race against time.  Angel had to destroy the police captain’s control over the zombies to prevent death and destruction from being visited on Wesley and the others.  But he had no idea that they were even in any danger.  How do you create a credible sense of urgency in the actions of the principal character when as far as he knows he has all the time in the world?  And the other problem about this aspect of the story was that Angel faced no credible opposition.  It is of course always fun to see a human shoot him without knowing just how ineffective that will be.  We get  the comfortable sense of being in on an important secret denied to those we are watching.  But that cannot really make up for the fact that Angel’s physical command of  the scenes between himself and the police captain meant that the only real suspense in Angel’s quest lay in whether or not he would figure out how the captain was controlling the zombies.  And that was accomplished really too easily for my taste.  Angel burst in on the room which serves as a shrine to the dead officers.  His first guess is wrong:

"How are you controlling them, hmm?  The entrails?"

But when the captain doesn’t react he lets that drop.  His next guess is, however, right:

"Here we go.  It's the idol of Granath.  The Zombie god."

And when he smashes that the crisis is over.  Very short, very simple.  Not very riveting.  That is not to say the final moments were entirely devoid of tension.  I thought the scene in which the cops break into the shelter was especially effective.  The calm deliberation with which they approached the building  in contrast to the frantic preparations to keep them out heightened the sense of threat.  As did the way in which we kept on switching between one point where they had almost broken in to another. 

Aside from these major points there were a series of minor ones which niggled.  The fact that Anne knew Gunn just struck me as a very convenient coincidence.  Secondly why did the zombie police officer shoot Wesley?  Yes we had seen his colleagues over-react before.  In fact his treatment of Gunn was just such an example of that.  But up until that point there was no indication of  excessive force being used to that extent.  So, I think there should have been a little more care taken in order to explain the quantum leap in the level of violence used.  Another problem in this context was the decision to take Wesley to the shelter instead of directly to the hospital.  Was this because they feared being intercepted by the police on the way there.  Again this is something that could have been better explained.   Kate’s disappearing act was also jarring.  She was with Angel at the precinct office.  I fact she had evidently accompanied her because she would allow him easier access to people like the police captain than a civilian would normally have.  So why did she just vanish from the plot?  Finally, when the police captain refused point blank to betray his men why then did he lead Angel straight to the shrine where the idol of Granath was hidden.  That just made no sense.



C (7/10):  For me this was the weakest episode this season.  Traditionally one of the strengths of the series has been its use of themes or the way it has developed character related issues.  But here, in the vigilantism of the zombie cops, we have an issue of direct relevance to Angel and his post-“Reunion” frame of mind.  And the writers make nothing of it.  He fought and eventually ended the threat.  But why?  Did he sot see parallels between that and what he was himself trying to do?  If so then did he not have any sympathy for what the police captain was doing?  And if he had no such sympathy or if he realized what was happening was wrong despite his sympathies then what are the implications for his own conduct.  This is the area I expected “The Thin Dead Line” to deal with.  But nothing.  Instead rather more attention is paid to the question of the need for comradeship and for reliance on one another.  This admittedly will be a significant issue when and if there is to be any reconciliation between Angel and the Fang Gang.  But this is a theme which must be peripheral to the real issues posed by the Darla arc.  And certainly from my point of view the writers treatment of it proceeds from some very questionable assumptions about the reaction of Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn to Angel’s decisions.  On the plus side, however, both Kate and especially Gunn do make very welcome returns.  Gunn in particular finally comes across as the sort of character we first saw in “Warzone” because he is given the right environment.  And this it seems to me is the sort of environment in which ANGEL as a series is also at its strongest.  As for the rest, perhaps the best thing that could be said for the plot is that it creaks along.   The central problem is the disconnection between Angel’s attempts to strike at the heart of the zombie curse and the way that Gunn and the others have to cope with its effects.  But almost as problematic are the small niggling plot problems I mentioned above.  One or two of these can be overlooked easily enough but there were simply too many and the cumulative effect of them spelled trouble for the credibility of the storyline.