TO SHANSU IN LA
Written by: David Greenwalt
Directed by: David Greenwalt
up Season 2
I first read some of the descriptions of "To Shanshu in LA" I was
puzzled. The story seemed to
involve the raising of some new evil power.
We have, over the past three years, been used to this scenario in BUFFY.
The finale for the first season was about freeing the Master.
The last two episodes of the second season concerned Angel's attempt to
awaken Acathla. The third season
concluded with the Mayor's ascension. In
the first and third seasons the "raising" was the culmination of an
arc that had developed over a long period.
Even in the second season, when Acathla was sort of pulled out of the
hat, it still took a two-parter to do justice to the story.
In contrast a single episode didn't seem to me to be nearly enough time
to devote to Wolfram and Hart's decision to raise a new evil and Angel’s
prevention of it. The whole thing
seemed in prospect far too rushed.
was only after watching it that I realized that, no less than
Shanshu in LA" was not really about a defining battle against a great evil
as the culmination of the past season. Rather
it served as the set up for the next one. And
I have to say that, for me, structuring things in this way worked very well.
It need hardly be repeated here that ANGEL in season 1 has had no story
arc as such. Instead we got a sense
of continuity from the characters involved: their growth and development, how
they relate to one another and how they deal with the crises they face. It has been one of the great strengths of the series and this
episode epitomizes it. Each
individual is carefully defined both in terms of his own character development
and in terms of his or her relationship with others in anticipation of the role
they will play in season 2. For
those who decry the somewhat haphazard characterization that has marred season 4
on “Buffy” this should be very welcome in itself.
I certainly find it so. "To
Shanshu in LA" thus acts as a bridge to season 2, endowing the series both
with a sense of unity and, more importantly, direction.
and his Future
central role in all of this obviously belongs to our eponymous hero.
I have already wasted a lot of cyber ink to the sense of mission that
Angel showed in "Sanctuary". In
many ways is seems to me that it was that this sense of mission rather than
Faith's journey that was the really significant part of the episode.
The series, after all, tells the story of Angel's redemption, not Faith's
or anyone else's. So the real
importance of all of his actions in it must lie in their meaning for him and his
redemption. This was what, I think,
Joss Whedon was referring to when he said that there would be fewer stories in
"Angel " that were peripheral to Angel himself.
And it is in relation to Angel’s sense of his mission that I see the
great advantage of introducing the prophecies of Aberjian.
Remember in “Sanctuary” when Angel said to Faith:
I said in my review of that episode, here he was referring to himself and in
those words we do get a sense of the bleak hopelessness he must feel.
He is describing a struggle without an end.
In the same episode redemption is defined as a process or a journey.
But any journey must have an ultimate goal, otherwise it is pointless.
Equally the significance of redemption cannot be just the process.
In the final analysis Angel must seek redemption for his own benefit.
Although others may incidentally benefit they are not the definitive
goal. Otherwise he becomes entirely
detached from the process.
therefore Angel needs a stake (if you forgive the pun) in his actions.
The effectiveness of the prophecy about Angel becoming human as a device
for giving him that stake seems to me to be quite clear.
Essentially redemption for Angel means him attaining forgiveness or
making peace with himself. This is
an internal development but his turning human as part of this is very
significant. First of all the dangers of a cursed vampire attaining peace
of mind are too obvious to need restating here.
From that point of view any redemption for Angel must involve a
fundamental change to his status or the whole point of redemption is defeated.
Secondly, how and when a person does achieve redemption in this internal
sense is almost indefinable. Symbolically,
therefore, it seems entirely right to set a particular external event to define
Angel's redemption - the moment he becomes human.
there is another issue here. There
is more to being human than taking the physical form. It means being part of the world. There are a few significant passages in “To Shanshu in
LA” dealing with this very issue.
"Angel's kinda human. He's got
Cordelia: "Because he doesn't want stuff.
cannot change and he cannot grow because he is not part of life. He needs
nothing. He hopes for nothing.
This has been a theme that has been integral to the character from the
beginning, and not only on ANGEL. Certainly
his isolation from humanity was something stressed both in “City of..” and
“Lonely Hearts”. But
here the writers have taken this concept to the next level.
It becomes not a character quirk or a consequence of too long an
isolation from others. It is
presented as an inherent aspect of his nature.
In addressing the issue in this way they are, therefore at least
preparing the ground for some sort of change. The expectation of Angel becoming
human has the potential at least to alter the way he sees himself.
It creates a connection with life and thereby creates the possibility for
change and growth, even as an ensouled vampire. An Angel who can gradually become more of a part of human
society is indeed an interesting idea. We
will see if the writers intend to follow this through.
Uses of Prophecy
even apart from the immediate consequences for Angel himself the intrusion of
Prophecy into the series has another very important effect.
Since IWRY it has been clear that ANGEL is intended to have a series-long
arc that will over the years build towards some form of Armageddon.
Here there are further hints that suggest the wider context within which
Angel’s particular role is carried out. Vocah
tells the Oracles
old Order passes away and the new Order is come”.
Later the ghost of the female Oracle tells Angel:
are intriguing enough in themselves. But
using Prophecy is in connection with this phenomenon is classic.
It helps to define and reinforce the whole mythology of the series.
In particular it helps form an overall structure within which the
different elements which go together to form the arc can be fitted so that, at
least in retrospect, they make sense.
For example Vocah referred to the relationship between Angel and the
scrolls in the following terms:
is of course from the scroll that Angel learns of his destiny while later Wesley
recounts the challenges Angel will have to undertake in order to fulfill that
destiny. Clearly, therefore, the
prophecies of Aberjian are intended to be a guide for later battles as well as
his personal destiny.
in this context, Prophecy raises one of the most viscerally important questions
of all - to what extent do we decide our own destiny and to what extent is that
destiny decided for us by the dead hand of what we call fate?
Buffy's experience in "Prophecy Girl" was a classic example of
this. By acting on the prophecy and
going to face the Master she inadvertently caused to happen the very thing she
wanted to prevent. There is really
no parallel use of the prophecies of Aberjian here.
That is one of the reasons why I think it is a mistake to rush to make
comparisons between “Prophecy Girl” and “To Shanshu in LA” based solely
on the existence of Prophecy. Nevertheless
the fact that these, and presumably other prophecies as well, have now been
brought into the story, especially in the context of the coming Armageddon,
opens up the possibility of the next series exploring this territory.
Here I will toss in one idea at random.
A vampire with a soul was foretold by ancient prophecy.
Does that mean that Liam was fated to become Angelus and fated to have
his soul restored? If so how does
that affect Angel’s own sense of responsibility for Angelus’ crimes?
know some people have described using Prophecy in “To Shanshu in LA” as
"old". Well, yes it is, in the sense that every mythology going back
to the days of pre-literature has had prophecies about the future of its heroes.
That certainly does qualify for the description "old".
But if "old" is
intended to mean "stale", then I have to disagree.
For all the reasons I have just given it seems to me that prophecy is
just as interesting and powerful a tool in the hands of a good storyteller now
as it ever was.
is not the only one to benefit from careful characterization.
Next let us turn to Wesley and Cordelia.
Here we see their different complementary strengths.
Cordelia put it in her usual diplomatic fashion:
Cordelia: “We've gotta do something.
We've gotta help him.”
Wesley: “I'm not sure we can.”
Wesley: “He is what he is.”
provides the intellect, the linguistic skills and the grasp of ancient cultures
necessary for the understanding of the problems they face.
And not for the first time (I’m thinking in particular of
“Eternity”) he provides insights into human and not so human nature.
This is not only good and consistent character development, it also
allows him to communicate to the viewer, in an easy and natural way, some of the
ideas the writers have. Cordelia,
on the other hand, is the hardheaded, practical one.
She doesn’t go in for Wesley’s more cerebral analysis.
But she has enough instinctive grasp of human behavior to recognize the
truth of what he is saying. What
she brings is first of all the commitment to doing something about it.
She is still the closest person Angel has to a friend and her hard headed
and practical approach to life means that she is going to do something to help,
not just sit around and worry. Of
course, as the nature of Angel’s problem is not really susceptible to a
practical solution, this does lead to a very humorous mismatch between intention
and execution. But once again what we find is that the writers have both
encapsulated and reinforced the strengths of Angel’s little group –
strengths that certainly do not begin and end with Angel himself.
this context the attack on Cordelia and Wesley was significant. It further
strengthens the idea of the close bond between Angel, Wesley and Cordelia.
And this bond is both a strength and a weakness.
We saw here how it can be used to attack Angel.
But it is a vulnerability only because of its importance.
And the importance is demonstrated both by the way in which the talents
of Wesley and Cordelia complement Angel and in the evident trust and support
they have for him. In summary,
therefore, we can see that in this episode the writers have pulled together they
key strands in the characters of the members of the Fang Gang so that we have a
clear and highly sympathetic view of them as this close knit, coherent and
mutually complementary unity. I
thought that this was very well done.
Most of this, as I have said, was restatement. But there was one significant development of here in the increased sense of purpose that Cordelia found. She had a very personal connection to Angel and less so to Wesley. She was certainly always willing to pitch in and do what she could to help. But there was never the same sense of individual commitment to the task there was with the others. It was still primarily a job for her. Her vision coma changed all that. I am always a little suspicious of epiphanies but Cordelia’s new outlook seems to me just right. She was, I think, moving in the right direction anyway but then she had one of the worst personal experiences imaginable – a first person view of the sort of harm inflicted by demons. I can readily accept that as a life-changing experience that gave the character a strong push in the direction she was already going. But I also like the fact that it wasn’t overplayed by being too melodramatic. I very much liked the scene in her apartment at the end when she said to Angel:
gave the essential message but with a very light touch.
There was a little humor and it showed that Cordelia has changed but she
brings us to Kate. The most
interesting thing here is that she did not need to be in the piece at all.
She was entirely surplus to the requirements of the story.
Still, she is in not one but two significant scenes.
The reason for this seems to me to be again to set up a major element of
the season 2 storylines. There were
those who - somewhat against the evidence I thought - insisted that Kate really
didn't mean Angel any harm in "Sanctuary".
Well, there can be no doubting her attitude here.
In this I don't see Kate as a "bitca".
Rather her evolving attitude to Angel seems to me to be a logical
progression for her character. First
of all, we are talking about a hardheaded, practical woman who has difficulty
controlling her temper. Remember
her attitude to Little Tony in "Sense and Sensitivity"?
Her personal courage and determination is not in doubt and she seems to
have been something of a maverick anyway. This
woman first of all suddenly discovers that there is an entirely new world right
under her nose and is having a very difficult time adjusting to it.
Not only do the creatures of that world (for example Penn) constitute a
threat to the people of LA in general but then they first corrupted and then
killed her own father. So I
find it entirely believable that she would embark on a crusade to destroy the
evil things she now finds around her. As
far as Angel himself is concerned, having previously built up a relationship of
trust with this mysterious figure, and even been attracted to him, she suddenly
finds out he is a vampire with a particularly brutal past.
In spite of this, she was prepared to extend to Angel the benefit of the
doubt in "Somnambulist." But
any such leeway disappeared with the death of her father in "the
Prodigal". In "the
Ring" she is entirely indifferent to his disappearance and in both
"Sanctuary" and this episode she entirely fails to distinguish between
him and any other "evil thing". In this regard she has a perfectly respectable point of view.
Angel is not part of society and he does operate as a vigilante, outside
the law. But it is the law that keeps society together and that
restrains arbitrary and unreasonable violence.
Angel may himself be acting against evil evil things. But to Kate he may well constitute a significant threat to
the rule of law.
the best drama is to be found in a conflict between two sympathetic characters.
We can see one of them may be in the wrong, may even be unfair but
because we can understand what is driving him or her we can still sympathize
with their POV. In many ways it
seems to me we have here the nearest thing we are likely to get to the Xander
/Angel confrontation we never had on BUFFY.
The really interesting thing in this context is Angel's reaction to
Kate's attacks on him when he said
was very different to the way he reacted to Xander or indeed anyone else
attacking him on BUFFY. He accepted
the criticism, perhaps because deep down he believed it was true.
Even in "Somnambulist" his defense to Kate's charges was weak.
The best he could manage was:
“I can’t make up for the past, Kate, I know
he is angry and defiant. This is
not the same man who slunk away under Xander's scornful glare in GD2.
This is a man who now believes in his essential worth and is not going to
keep on apologizing for his existence. Already
we therefore see how this confrontation is illustrating the change to Angel's
view of himself that has been slowly taking place throughout the second half of
the season and which the revelations of the prophecy serve to crystallize. It would never have been possible to explore this change in
his conflict with a real "black hat".
It could only have been explored through conflict with someone who was
him or herself a "white hat" because it was such people that Angel
always felt inferior to. But even
apart from this there are so many interesting places the confrontations could
go. It could be a journey of
discovery in which Kate learns to cope with the existence of demons through her
conflict with Angel. It could be a
tragedy in the classic mold with her paying dearly for her failure to trust him.
Anything is possible and that must be the essence of good and interesting
finally in terms of character there is Lindsey. Some people have been complaining about how a complex
character was so suddenly transformed back into a villain. The first thing to say here is that Lindsey was never really
on the road to redemption. In
"Blind Date" he showed not a moment's remorse or even doubt about what
he had done for Russell from "City of..".
He had in fact vigorously defended his activities.
The same Lindsey had tried to kill both Angel and Faith in "Five by
Five" and "Sanctuary".
Why would he have any qualms about raising another means to strike at
Angel or Cordelia for that matter? What
turned him into a human being in "Blind Date” was his potential for
redemption. He had limits that he would not cross and more importantly he
had the moral fiber not to turn a blind eye to what he could not stomach but to
go and do something about it. But
there is nothing here to suggest that this Lindsey has gone away.
It's just that he has not been called on again to cross one of his own
boundaries. The real question is
whether his personal boundaries (which do seem rather generous) will be tested
again and if so how will he react. Have
they become even more elastic or having seen what he can do once will he be
tempted to repeat his rebellion against Wolfram and Hart?
this context I thought that it was very interesting that Holland said to Lindsey
just before the raising
Lilah’s warned him about the fate of Robert Price (who probably didn’t have
the benefit of a bottle of Chianti). When
Angel interrupted the ritual and Holland said the word “Lindsey” in that
slightly singsong way the meaning seemed clear. It was his show and his responsibility. He had to do something or else.
So he did, from a sense of self-preservation. There was no comic book villain here.
face it. Lindsey has no real future as a "white hat".
Equally as a "black hat" he could only be a minor figure.
As has been pointed out by a few on the ATS newsgroup much the most interesting role
for him is as a loose cannon who may equally help or hinder both sides according
to how it suits him. Given Joss
Whedon's penchant for "paying homage" to films or other television I
would not reject as far fetched the idea that his loss of a hand was an explicit
identification of him as The "Angel" series' Krychek. There is, however, another interpretation.
The loss of his hand could well give Lindsey a personal grudge against
Angel. That would hardly matter
much if he were reverting to straightforward minor villain.
There is really no need to sharpen the conflict from his point of view by
introducing such a grudge. But if
his relationship with Angel were to be more ambiguous, then the personal animus
between them would add bite to that relationship.
Of course this is just so much speculation at the moment but the elements
are there is the writers want to use them.
Another thing that I really do like about “To Shanshu in LA” is that so much character set up is delivered in the context of a pretty good story. On the face of it the plot was set up for Angel to prevent the raising of some great evil. But the first indication that there was something different about this episode when compared to say “Prophecy Girl” was when Vocah said:
made it clear that Angel himself was the target of the raising and this in turn
suggested that it was not going to be prevented. That would after all have been much the least interesting
scenario. The evil would be
defeated without actually giving it a chance to fulfill its purpose.
If the raising was to be successful, it therefore made a great deal of
sense to shift the focus to something else.
Vocah instead of merely the agent of the raising became in effect the
surrogate MOW. Once he had started
to try to separate Angel from TPTB the task for him became to limit the damage
and, in particular, protect both Wesley and Cordelia.
That also gave Angel an identifiable villain to actually defeat and a
purpose to achieve rather than facing a complete failure.
I wouldn’t actually object to that latter scenario myself. In fact I would find it refreshing. But this seems a big no-no in TV today.
course the actual plot of Vocah’s attempt to strike at Angel through his
friends was pretty conventional. Sending
Cordelia into her vision coma instead of trying to kill her was an imaginative
touch. It displayed a real cruelty.
That might sound an odd thing to say but it is sometimes difficult to
communicate on TV these days a real sense of evil and Cordelia’s very real
suffering did that in a way which nothing else in the episode did or could.
Those scenes in the hospital bed were terrifically well done.
It all made Vocah a genuinely menacing creature. Otherwise there was no
great attempt to surprise us and the bomb in Angel’s headquarters was
something of a cliché. Nevertheless Vocah’s actions, and especially the attack on
Cordelia, did not just emerge from nowhere.
They actually did make a lot of sense in terms of his stated motivation
to cut Angel off from TPTB.
element only in all of this spoiled things for me a little.
This was the apparent ease with which Vocah defeated and killed the
Oracles (who were powerful enough to turn back time on a whole planet).
This did strike me as a poor contrivance, and not only because I am
probably the only creature in civilization actually to want to see more of the
all of this was only set up for the final Act scenes in the Mausoleum. Here the
two main plotlines – the raising and Vocah’s attacks on Angel – were
brought together in a spectacular confrontation that served as a fitting climax
to the episode. There was just so much going on at the same time – the scythe
fight, Lindsey’s completion of the ritual (with its superb visual effect of
the vampires being dusted in a mini-whirlwind), the lawyers’ hurried exit and
the final tense confrontation over the scroll.
pay-off for the escape of Holland and Lilah with “the box” was obviously the
very last scene in which we discovered of the identity of the creature that was
raised. That was the real twist and
frankly I would never have guessed. But
it makes huge sense. In fulfillment
of the words quoted above, she isn’t going to try to kill Angel.
She is going to try to complete the task she set herself in “Angel”
more than two seasons ago – using the demon within him to bring him back to
the dark side. Only now that we
have so much more of the back story between them told and so much more time to
tell more, the possibilities are literally almost endless.
If anyone can mess with Angel’s mind, its Darla and for me that is so
much more intriguing than any number of battle demons trying to kill him.
Yes sir, this was an ending that was guaranteed to get me excited about
First of all let me say that I like the mere fact that the writers have
gone to so much trouble in this episode to set up Season 2.
They didn’t need to but I am sure that it will bring its own rewards.
Angel and Kate, Angel and Lindsay and above all Angel and Darla.
There are rich possibilities for each and we have all three.
But the real trick was to make this set up such interesting viewing.
There is a lot of character exposition and development here and it is all
well thought out, logical, interesting and consistent.
With Angel in particular I now feel that the writers have a very strong
handle on the character. They
understand him and they are drawing more and more interesting things about him
out into the open. He always had
enormous potential but it is now being delivered. In this the writers were once again helped by a first class
performance from DB. But Aside from
that there was more than enough incident in the finale to keep our attention
especially in the last twenty minutes or so.
Finally, a world about the humor. For
an episode that was essentially so serious in tone it was remarkable how much
really good humor the writers were able to extract from it.
Cordelia’s own unique perspective on life was the source of much of
this and I laughed out loud when she offered to get Angel a puppy.
revised and rewritten on Tuesday September 26th 2000