Written by Gary Campbell
Directed by David Straiton
A Filler Episode
In four of
the previous five episodes - "Prodigal", "Eternity", "Five
by Five" and "Sanctuary"
- the writers have concentrated on issues that, for Angel, are very personal
indeed. These issues included his
feelings of responsibility for the crimes of Angelus, how those feelings inform
his mission and what effect the demon inside him still has on his life.
ANGEL, as a series cannot, however, continue to do this week after week.
For one thing to do so runs the risk of being repetitive and of
diminishing the effect of what we are shown.
So the writers have to give us some variety in terms of different types
of episodes to balance out the very heavy personal stuff.
So, “Warzone” is not really about Angel himself.
There is no attempt involve him in a story which speaks directly to a
particular experience or concern of his. Instead
the focus is very much on the “victim of the week”, although as we shall see
“victim” is hardly the appropriate term for Gunn and his gang.
By giving us such an episode, at this stage, the writers are providing
the series with some balance, which will ultimately work to its benefit.
not mean to say that the episode is one-dimensional. Like all ANGEL episodes in season 1, it has a
clear theme and the story is used to explore that theme.
If I were to choose one word to describe that theme it would be
"alienation", the sense of being on the outside of normal society and
what that means. Do you
remember the last scene in "In the Dark" when Angel explains his
decision to smash the ring of Amara? When
Doyle asked him about the ordinary daytime people he could help from 9 to 5 he
The idea of
Angel helping those lost at night in particular has always been a very
attractive one. The foxes may have their holes and the birds their nests but
those who exist outside society are at their most vulnerable after dark because
they have no secure haven to retreat to. Angel
is himself a creature of the night who is also cut off from the rest of society.
In “Warzone” this is very well expressed when Lenny Edwards asks him
what he wants. The reply is:
“What do I want?
Good question. Love, family,
a place on this planet I can call my own. But
you know what… I’m never gonna have any of those things.”
reasons Angel is, therefore, ideally placed to look out for people in danger
from the night. The writers of the
series have in fact been a little slow to follow up on this idea but here we
have it. For this purpose, they
could not have picked a better subject than homeless youth in LA.
First of all we do get an authentic sense of the geography of the place -
a very real late 20th century inner city urban environment.
This is very different from the bland anonymity of Sunnydale.
This is bound to make things more real and more meaningful.
But secondly, can anything more brutally illustrate the fracturing of
society into the safe and comfortable and everyone else than the abandonment of
children (sixteen year olds at least) to such an environment.
Such a scenario was almost made for the introduction of a supernatural
threat in the form of vampires. As
“God, 20 minutes ride from billionaires and crab
puffs…kids going to war”.
But it is
not just the concept I like. Another
very good thing about "Warzone" is the way the writers have taken the
basic idea of homeless kids under threat from vampires and given us a very
interesting dramatic dynamic from it. There
is no doubt about the weakness of the street kids in social and economic terms.
They live in squalid conditions. They “forage” for food (that means
they steal it). But their
vulnerability goes beyond the mere economic.
They are socially excluded as well. This is best illustrated by the
speech of Knox, the vampire leader
“Street trash. That’s
what they are. Just stupid human
street trash. For seventy years we
ruled this neighborhood. It was our
neighborhood. It used to be decent
people lived here, working people. Now,
can’t even finish one without wanting to puke.”
ordinary decent working families have moved out. They were merely food sources for the vampires.
These street kids are despised and rejected even by them.
This hatred goes beyond the mere fact that they pose a threat to the
vampires. It mirrors very closely the attitudes of the “working families”
themselves, encompassing as it does a sense of superiority and contempt.
spite of this the street kids are never presented just as a problem or even just
as victims. They are independent
and self-reliant. As witnessed by
the tactics they used against both Angel and the vampire gang they are clever
and sophisticated. They seem
united; they turn no one away and share what they have.
They have a code of behavior that means that when Angel saves Alonna’s
life they stop attacking him. In short they seem to have formed an alternative
society of their own.
street kids are on their own, with no one to turn to. They have nothing to look forward to and they are under
constant threat. This is why they
have become suspicious of outsiders. Indeed
they have a very hostile attitude to the world in general and not just to those
from whom they were under threat. When
they first identified Angel as a vampire they could be forgiven for thinking the
worst and acting accordingly. But
when he had saved Alonna’s life and then came to warn them of their danger and
offer them help they were not interested. They
simply didn’t care why he might be different from any other vampire they had
ever known. The explanation for
this is that it didn’t matter. He
was not part of their little society so regardless of whom he was or what he
wanted they would have nothing to do with him.
This is an attitude that persists even to the end when Gunn says: “I
don’t need no help.”
do. They fight well but they do
seem to be loosing. The members of
their little group are dying. Angel
himself seems certain of it and he says it several times.
“Some of you will die, maybe all of you”. The interesting thing is that no one contradicts him.
None of the gang members, least of all Gunn seem to harbor any illusions.
But Gunn – and indeed the others – seem to be quite fatalistic about
their future. Angel says he can
“unless of course death is what your after.
Then you’re on your own.”
only reply is that he is always on his own.
It is better to die than to accept help from a “some middle class white
dude that’s dead”.
sense of being on their own is not the only thing driving the fatalism of the
gang. Alonna at one point said that Gunn was only in it for the fight.
That is what he really liked and he was getting reckless about the
consequences. In this respect I
found Bobby’s death very interesting. Usually
something like that is used as a piece of cheap sentimentality, and an
opportunity to show how decent and caring everyone one else is.
Not here. Gunn seem really
very unmoved watching a friend die. And
when Alonna said that he needed to go to hospital I thought for a second that he
was going to refuse, until Bobby saved everyone the trouble.
It certainly seems to me that Alonna was right and that death was what
Gunn was after because there really was nothing else. And it is an attitude that is shared by others.
It is not that they didn’t understand what they were getting into.
They just didn’t care because they did not fear death.
this isn't exactly a realistic portrayal of street life for teenagers in LA (not
that I would pretend to know about that beyond what I see and read on the
media). There is not much evidence
of drug or alcohol abuse; no prostitution and street crime is certainly
downplayed. Instead the picture is
given an almost “Robin Hood” feel to it.
Then you may wonder how accurately the situation is portrayed when there
is only one human gang involved. You
would have thought that the sort of activity undertaken by Gunn’s little group
would have attracted the interest of other gangs with the potential for rivalry.
Finally, of course, we have the total absence of interest from the
police. Still, given the nature of
a fantasy program, realism in these terms is not perhaps the highest priority
and this is not something I would hold very strongly against the episode.
we see of the gang is interesting, it is coherent and it sets up the dynamic of
the whole episode very well. Like
“Eternity” before it but unlike, say, “I Fall to Pieces” this episode
treats Gunn and Alonna, in particular, as real human beings.
We get to know them a little, what makes them tick, why they act and
react the way they do. This helps engage our sympathies in the situation they find
themselves in. More than that it
makes the actions of the street kids towards both the vampires and Angel
believable. And in the context of
the plot of “Warzone” this is very important.
A story can
proceed at a simple action adventure level. It would have been easy the show us a leaderless rabble being
picked off until a hero arrives to organize them and ultimately save them by
defeating the bad guys. But this
was a far more complex and interesting treatment of the subject. The purpose was not to sho the defeat of the bad guys but to
show change and development at the level of the basic dynamics of the episode.
And that is what we see here. Gunn
and the others may not care what happens to them, but Angel certainly does.
This attitude is, if you like, the counterpoint to the attitude not only
of the vampires but also of the gang itself.
The story is, then focused on his attempts to persuade the teenage gang
that killing vampires is not worth their own deaths. This is a far more challenging task because it is more
difficult to pull it off convincingly without being trite. For my money, however, the writers succeeded.
attempt to change the collective mindset of the teenage gang initially fails, as
you would expect. After all if he
had changed the gang’s way of thinking in the early stages of the episode
there would not have been much of a story to tell.
But just as important, his failure was realistic.
An outsider, especially a vampire, could not possibly change such a
deep-rooted mindset as existed in the gang.
And this is another good thing about this aspect of the episode.
There is a recognition in it that compared with experience mere words
have very little impact. As Angel
himself says at the end:
“What am I gonna tell you that you haven’t already
produce a change is experience – the pivotal one of Gunn killing his own
sister. The close relationship
between the two is stressed from the very beginning.
But just how close it was could best be seen by the talk between Gunn and
the vampire Alonna. She knew him
better than anyone, perhaps better than he knew himself and she was intent on
manipulating him into joining the vampires.
And the clue as to why her death made a difference lie in the exchanges
between her and Gunn and in something he said to Angel about her after he had
killed her. He said: “She was the
reason, man.” What did this mean?
She was the reason for what? Clearly he
didn’t mean he was fighting the vampire for her.
Doing that was what put her in danger and eventually got her killed. But in the scene between himself and the vampire Alonna
we see that he had clearly wanted more for her than he was able to provide.
She refers to the obviously rotten accommodation they shared in the
shelter in Plummer street, to being hungry and cold.
That seems to be suggested as the source of his particular rage and
guilt. That was why she was
offering him a way to end both. The
guilt over not doing better for his sister would vanish and with it the rage.
And it is not to far a stretch to guess that it the rage over what they
had to put up with that kept them fighting against the vampires.
But with Alonna’s death those feelings, and with them the idea of
fighting against the vampires just for the sake of the fight, had for Gunn, been
emptied of meaning.
is able to use this in a very interesting way.
It has long been clear that vampires are both hierarchical and
territorial. As far back as “In
the Dark” Angel had staked a claim to LA when he says to Spike:
“You think you can come to *my* town and pull *this*
He is even
more explicit here, first to Lenny Edwards and then to the vampire gang.
His concern is not to kill vampires but to save life.
Vampire leadership has evidently been settled by brute force.
By killing Knox, and by claiming the territory of LA, Angel was behaving
in a way that vampires would instantly understand and respect.
This and Angel taking advantage of Gunn’s new perspective avoided the
possibility of the final battle in which members of Gunn’s gang would
undoubtedly have been killed. This seems to me to be another example of “Angel” as a
series avoiding the quick, neat ending with a fight that settles the issue.
Yes it was somewhat anti-climactic but I quite like that here because
there was a point to it. The point was that the gang kids should not just throw their
lives away because they could not trust outsiders or because they had no hope of
a better life.
the truce will not hold. Gunn
himself says that
“They gonna keep comin’ and we gonna keep fightin’.”
is a difference between fighting to defend yourself and the sort of reckless
disregard for themselves that we had seen before. For Gunn at least it is implied things may have changed in
In all of
this it is Gunn’s character that is the pivotal one. He is the undisputed leader of his gang and all of its
members take their cue from him. He
seems to be the one driving the agenda of fighting the vampires. Certainly we are most clearly shown his personal motivations
in this regard. Equally his is the
personal experience that led to the change in the dynamic between the street
kids and vampires. Angel may have
faced down the latter but only Gunn stopped the former. The picture we are given is indeed of someone driven by his
own personal demons but someone who is not only brave but is also quite
extraordinarily self-possessed. The
determination with which he pushed the fight against the vampires was almost
cold blooded; nothing seemed to shake him.
Not the death of a friend in his arms, not even having to kill his own
sister (in stark contrast to Buffy with Angelus and alt.Willow).
So much for
the ‘A’ plot. When an ANGEL
episode does have a ‘B’ plot, there is usually a point to it. Here it seems to serve two purposes. First of all it is a device that allows the street kids to
identify Angel as a vampire and the “introduce” themselves to him.
However the principal purpose here seems to be to illustrate a different
type of social exclusion. David
Nabbitt too is an outsider looking in on a world he cannot join.
His problem is not economic disadvantage.
Rather it is a lack of social skills.
He would like to meet girls but they do not want to know him. He pays people to attend his parties but gets scant reward.
It is because he is such an outsider that he went to the demon brothel
and thus became vulnerable to blackmail. I
suppose you could say therefore that this was the parallel that was being drawn.
Those outside normal human society become vulnerable to the dark forces
around it. Nabbitt himself refers
somewhat obliquely to this when he talks about the existence of a whole world in
LA that no-one ever sees.
I am not
sure that, as it stands, this parallel is a particularly successful one.
The question that you ask is why is it being drawn?
The scenario in the ‘B’ plot is very different from the ‘A’ plot
in terms of the reasons for the social exclusion, the impact it has on those
concerned and how they react to it. I
have difficulty seeing how Nabbit’s situation tells us very much about Gunn or
his. It seems therefore that there is no other purpose to the
parallel than the parallel itself. If
so that seems to me to be a waste of an idea.
And I have
another problem with the ‘B’ plot. Cordelia
is the only the three cast regulars who has anything much made of their
character. In her case we are back
to the old idea of Cordelia the former insider who now finds herself on the
outside and wants back in. This was
very true to Cordelia and was entirely in keeping with the theme of the night.
That was good use of her character and it was also fun as far as it went. I very much enjoyed the way she maneuvered David Nabbitt into
throwing a party for her benefit. That
was classic Cordelia. I disliked
intensely, however, the scene between her and Wesley at the end. In her scene
with Russell in “City of..” we have already seen Cordelia reduced to the
state where she might have become in effect a prostitute.
But that was when she was reduced to desperation and didn’t even have
money to buy food. Now, there is
nothing inherently implausible about Cordelia thinking about using her charms to
get what she wants from a wealthy man. It
is not even out of the question that in certain circumstances she might even
sleep with a man she wasn’t attracted to for the same purpose.
But I find it unbelievable that she would start talking openly about
prostituting herself. It is much more likely that she would start by thinking of
providing “companionship” or using some other such euphemism.
Then she would start thinking about the implications about such a
relationship, realize its true nature and then drop the idea.
I just found the dialogue here jarring and untrue to character.
Aspects of the Story
All in all
it seems to me that “Warzone” is very far from a simple action adventure
tale. But those elements in it are
undeniably well done. The pitched
battle between Vampires and the street kids at the beginning was itself very
well done. There was excellent use
of the open space to give an idea of the scale of the battle and some memorable
individual shots such as the vamp dusted in mid leap. But undoubtedly my favorite was the action sequence which
began with Angel’s one on one fight with the demon and then continued without
a break as he was chased through the streets and into the booby-trapped
building. This was one of the best
I have seen on either ANGEL or BUFFY. The
action was continually moving with dangers arising from every angle almost
before the viewer could take in what was happening.
I were to make any criticism of the plot or its development it would be that,
while the elements were put into place quite quickly, it took about fifteen
minutes to pull them all together into the real story.
This was about Angel’s attempt to convince Gunn and his street kids
that they should not simply throw their lives away.
That was the real conflict in the story and we only got to it halfway
through the episode. Some of this
was caused by taking opportunities to exploit the humor of the David Nabbit’s
situation. I think generally this worked very well, although I get the feeling
that the whole scene in the brothel was there just for the “look ma, no
hands” joke. In fact there was a
very nice balance of action and humor with highlights being Wesley’s
wonderment at the pictures and Angel’s release from the meat locker.
I have said before and will say again, taking pot shots at our friendly
neighborhood vampire is an excellent way of humanizing him.
is not a classic but the more I watch it the more it grows on me.
That is always a good sign. The
theme of alienation was not particularly profound but it was intelligently
handled and really quite an attractive one on a human level.
The writers showed how social and economic exclusion can destroy any
value that a person might put on life, whether theirs or someone else’s.
But the conclusion is a hopeful one.
The message seemed to be that Gunn discovered, too late, that human life
is still too valuable to waste. Indeed,
in Gunn and, to a lesser extent, David Nabbitt the writers gave us two
interesting and sympathetic characters through whom we could follow the
questions posed by them as they explored their theme. It is a pity though that the ‘A’ and ‘B’ plots did
not mesh together better. The
action adventure elements, while secondary to the basic story, were nevertheless
very well done. This all made for a
very interesting and entertaining package.
revised and rewritten on Sunday, September 17th 2000.