To Shanshu in LA
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To Shanshu in LA




Written by:  David Greenwalt

Directed by: David Greenwalt


Setting up Season 2

When 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.

It was only after watching it that I realized that, no less than "Restless",  "To 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.


Angel and his Future

The 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:

“The truth is - no matter how much you suffer, no matter how many good deeds you do to try to make up for the past - you may never balance out the cosmic scale. - The only thing I can promise you is that you'll probably be haunted - and may be for the rest of your life."

As 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. 

Ultimately 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.

But 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.

Wesley: "Angel's cut off.  Death doesn't bother him            because there is nothing in life that he wants.  It's our desires that make us human."

          Cordelia: "Angel's kinda human.  He's got a soul."

Wesley:  "He's got a soul.  But he's not a part of the world.  He can never be part of the world."  

           Cordelia: "Because he doesn't want stuff.  That's ridiculous....."

Wesley: "What connects us to life is the simple truth that we're a   part of it.  We live, we grow, we  change.  But Angel...

Cordelia: "...can't do any of those things.  Well what are you saying, Wesley, that Angel has nothing to look forward to?  That he is going to going to go on forever, the same, in     the world but always cut off from it?           

Wesley: Yes.”

Angel 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.

The Uses of Prophecy

But 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

          “The old Order passes away and the new Order is come”.

Later the ghost of the female Oracle tells Angel:

 “Things are unraveling.  The Dark Ones broach our   temples now.”

These 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:

“He is in possession of the prophecies.  His connection to the Powers that Be is complete.” 

It 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. 

Moreover, 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?

 I 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. 

Cordelia and Wesley

Angel 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.”

Cordelia: “What is your deal.  You go around boring    everyone with your musty scrolls and  then you say there's nothing we can do."

            Wesley: “He is what he is.”

Cordelia: “He's Angel.  And he's good.  And he helps the helpless. And now he's one of  them.              He's gonna have to start wanting thing in life whether he wants to or not."

Wesley 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.

In 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:

 "I know what’s out there now.  We have a lot of evil to fight, a lot of people to help.  I just hope skin and bone her can figure out what those lawyers raised some time before that prophecy kicks in and you croak….That was the old me wasn’t it.

It gave the essential message but with a very light touch.  There was a little humor and it showed that Cordelia has changed but she hasn’t.



Which 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.

Sometimes 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


"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.  You want to be enemies - try me.

This 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 that.”

Here 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 drama.



And 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?

In this context I thought that it was very interesting that Holland said to Lindsey just before the raising

“I know you’ve covered all the bases here…the senior partners are watching us.  We don’t  want to let them down.”

Then 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.

 Let's 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.


The Plot

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:

 “I am summoned for the raising - the very thing that was to bring this creature down to us, tear    him from The Powers That Be – and he has the scroll.”

This 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. 

Of 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. 

One 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 creeps. 

But 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.

The 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 Season 2.



9/10   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.



Review revised and rewritten on Tuesday September 26th 2000