War Zone
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City of
Lonely Hearts
In the Dark
I Fall to Pieces
Rm w/a Vu
Sense and Sensitivity
Bachelor Party
I Will Remember You
Parting Gifts
I Got You Under My Skin
The Ring
Five by Five
War Zone
Blind Date
To Shanshu in LA




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. 

The Theme of Alienation

This does 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 replies:

“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.”

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.”

For both 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 Cordelia says:

“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.”

The 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.

But in 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. 

So the 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.”

But they 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 help them

“unless of course death is what your after.  Then you’re on your own.”

Gunn’s 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”.

But the 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.

Of course 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. 

The picture 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.


The Plot

Angel’s 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 learned.”

What does 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.

And Angel 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* crap?” 

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.

Of course the truce will not hold.  Gunn himself says that

            “They gonna keep comin’ and we gonna keep fightin’.”

But there 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 this regard.

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).

David Nabbit

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.


Other 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.

 If 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.



7.5/10 This 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.



Review revised and rewritten on Sunday, September 17th 2000.