Angel, Season 1 eps 20-22

Oh, my head is swimming. I have many thoughts today.

War Zone

It’s interesting, in retrospect, that M.E. chose to introduce Gunn by doing a billowy-coat/sword/batman music fake-out thing that makes us expect to see Angel. Gunn’s tenure on the show would end up being defined by the question “What do I contribute to the gang that nobody else does?” The brains, well, that’s Fred and Wesley. And “the muscle”, well, Angel’s stronger than Gunn. Angel is also the leader of and surrogate father to a group of fighters, something Gunn had to relinquish to Angel when he joined forces with him.

So what’s the point of Gunn? The writers couldn’t figure it out, so they made Gunn unable to figure it out, either.

The truth is, Gunn was (and of course I’m talking pre-5th season magical knowledge up-grade) smarter than Angel, and he had a street smarts AND a practical detective kind of smarts that none of the gang had. And the writers wrote him that way, but they never did explicitly acknowledge that, except for perhaps a little in “Players”.

Season 1 Gunn is introduced as hot-headed and reckless and a little obsessed with the need to control his circumstances (his sister chides him on needing to “get a little death in” – provoke vampires into attacking them so they can kill the vampires). This makes perfect sense in his world, where he and his are victims of circumstance.

Season 1 Gunn is also a great deal less earnest than the Gunn we see later. Much less invested in anything beyond his own little world. All these aspects of Gunn disappear pretty rapidly in Season 2. Season 2 Gunn is presented as less reckless and more cautious and concerned about his fellow fighters. And he is invested in “the good fight”. That comes out pretty clearly in his reactions to Noir Angel in mid-season 2 and his reaction to Wesley in the Pylea arc.

I suppose this rapid change in character might have to do with Gunn having to slay his own sister at the end of War Zone. This action is presented in “That Old Gang of Mine” as one of the central reasons (if not THE reason) he leaves his own gang to fight with Angel’s. Maybe it was one of those painful epiphany moments where Gunn realizes that fighting for sheer survival means you have to be a certain kind of person that he doesn’t want to be, and that if he has the chance to get out, to fight evil on a more leisurely schedule and with the luxury of doing it for “principled” reasons, he should grab it.

On another note, I remember a review of this episode praising Gunn’s decision to kill his sister. Unlike the Scooby Gang with Angelus in Season 2 or VampWillow in Doppelgangland, the reviewer said, Gunn “knew” that wasn’t really his loved one behind that familiar face.

Were we really still believing that as late as Angel season 1? That the unsouled vampire wasn’t the same person as the souled vampire? That the soul was consciousness/memories/self rather than simply the conscience? See, I think Gunn “knew” that that was his sister standing there, soulless, due to his mistakes. And that’s what made killing her so jarring and life-altering for him.

Anyway. War Zone. You see the title “War Zone”, you think “Gunn!” You totally forget: David Nabbit!!

David Nabbit was a character who sounded good on paper, but didn’t work in practice. A billionaire who thinks you’re the coolest thing going? If they’d kept David Nabbit around, the 2nd season would have ended up like the 5th, with Angel driving one of a huge collection of muscle cars to help the helpless.

I suppose the point of David Nabbit was to show that Angel really does have an enviable life with dragons and swords and beautiful vampires and Slayers (that he can’t actually touch, but still…) and fighting by choice rather than necessity, while Gunn’s life was considerably less enviable.

Blind Date

This episode takes us once again back into the world of Wolfram and Hart, but deeper than we’ve been before. Where in “Five by Five” we see the firm through the lens of three almost comically clueless underlings, in “Blind Date”, we head up the corporate ladder a few steps and are introduced to probably the scariest individual ever to grace the show, Holland Manners.

I was listening to the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” shortly before I watched this episode, and Holland Manners just stepped right into the images that song invoked. The expensive suit in the halls of corporate power. His calm, reasonable smoothness. The way he sees Lindsey’s Achilles Heel and aims right for it with avuncular charm.

“It’s not about good or evil – it’s about who wields the most power.”

This is a man who appeals to and draws out the very worst in human nature, not out of a belief in evil or out of some uncontrollable psychopathic compunction, but because he knows that is how to have and wield power in the world, and he doesn’t care about the consequences.

He is certainly scarier than Vanessa Brewer, who is just your garden variety blind ninja psychopath. She’s working for Wolfram and Hart purely out of self-interest, because it gives her an outlet for her psychotic tendencies. I doubt she believes in anything. And Wolfram and Hart see in her somebody they can use. But they want more from Lindsey than pure self-interest. They want a company man. They want a believer.

“Blind Date” is the episode the spawned the “Can Lindsey be Redeemed?” debate. I always rather thought the answer was “Yes, he just had to *choose* to do it”. Apparently ME thought the answer was no, in the end. Or maybe they just wanted Angel and Lorne to go out with a morally ambiguous bang. I don’t know. What I do know is that it is in “Blind Date” that we first see Lindsey’s moral confusion. I think Lindsey honestly DOES believe “It’s not about good and evil, it’s about power, and those willing to use it” and so he grasps and claws for power. Wolfram and Hart is his chance to rise above a childhood of poverty and a lifetime of being a pawn of the powerful and he’s going to take it.

But he still has a conscience. A conscience that he sees as a weakness, an impediment to having what he wants – real control over his fate. So he fights his conscience. But he doesn’t always succeed. And that still, small voice whispering in the background is what could redeem him if he’d just listen to it. If he’d just question his own assumptions about the way the world works.

Of course, the irony is that while allying himself with Wolfram and Hart gave him power, it didn’t make him any less a pawn. He figured that out in Season 2 and that’s why he left. And that’s what made him turn his former employers into a project. It’s all about control for him. “I won’t let anyone control me. No, I will control the people who used me.” That’s Season 5 Lindsey and his obsession with the Senior Partners.

I suppose if Lindsey had really wanted to rid himself of his conscience and become master of his own fate, he should have become a vampire. No wonder he was obsessed with them, with Darla and Drusilla. But he could never get himself to cross that line. And no wonder Angel drove him nuts. What should have been a soulless, self-actualizing creature of the night was instead a vampire utterly wallowing in conscience.

And no wonder Angel was, in Lindsey’s mind, Lindsey’s ultimate enemy and ultimate obsession. Because Angel was the very symbol of conscience winning over consciencelessness.

But I suppose ME wanted to use Lindsey to write a tragedy. A Greek Tragedy, where a person who could be a good man eventually falls because of a fatal flaw in his character.

Just a side note. I wonder what ever happened to those seer kids? Did anyone ever fic them?

To Shanshu in L.A.

In “Blind Date”, Angel finds the Shanshu Prophecy. He’s drawn to it. He steals it. Wesley translates it, eventually and roughly as, “the vampire with a soul once he completes all his battles, will become mortal.”

You know, I always wondered, from a writer’s point of view, “Why the Shanshu Prophecy?” I’ll give the writers credit they may not deserve and say they didn’t come up with it to be a carrot on a stick for Angel.

Of course, through the first half of Season 2, it *was* a carrot on a stick for him, and then in “Epiphany” they had him turn his back on it. As well he should. Because a hero needs to answer the “Why we fight” question with a response more complex than “’cause if I do, I get the toy surprise at the bottom of the box.”

Not that I objected to the idea of the Shanshu. I just didn’t want it to be Angel’s primary motive for doing good, and I wanted it happen to him a long, long time from now. Most likely as the curtain dropped on the last episode, or, at least have implied that it *would* happen eventually in that final moment.

As for where they actually went with the Shanshu, my thoughts are this. As I see it, a prophecy in the Buffyverse is like a literary promissory note to the viewers. It means, “Something will happen in a future episode that will be a plausible interpretation of the words of this prophecy.” That’s one reason I was so furious with “Home” and so delighted with “Origin”. You don’t have characters spouting prophecies without following up on them IN SOME WAY, AT SOME POINT, ON CAMERA. Otherwise, don’t drag a prophecy into the story at all (or very quickly show that it’s false, as they did with “The father will kill the son”).

That doesn’t mean Buffyverse prophecies need to be fulfilled quite as literally and unambiguously as “Origin” fulfilled, “The one sired by the Vampire with a Soul will grow to manhood and kill Sahjhan.” Prophecies, after all, are only as clear as the language they were written in, the translations of them you do and the power of the original seer. In other words, there’s wiggle room, but some wiggling breaks the promise implicit in bringing a prophecy into the story line to begin with.

OK, all this is a preamble for me to say that – I don’t believe that, within the literary practices and metaphysical rules Mutant Enemy established on both shows, they could simply have Angel “sign away” a prophecy, especially one that colored every season of the show the way the Shanshu did. Buffyverse prophecies simply don’t work that way.

The fact that Angel appeared to do just that in “Not Fade Away” is therefore either a disappointing mistake on the part of the writers, OR, a mislead, in which case one of the following must be true:

(1) Angel survived the battle in the alley at the end of Not Fade Away, and will some day become mortal. (I like this one)
(2) Angel is in fact, not the Vampire with a Soul in question, and Spike survived the battle in the alley at the end of Not Fade Away, and will some day become mortal.
(3) Neither of them is the vampire in question, someone else is. While this is a valid interpretation of the prophecy, in my mind it completely breaks the promise implicit in bringing the original prophecy into play. Who IS this hypothetical vampire, and why aren’t we ever told who s/he is?
(4) Wesley in fact translated the prophecy wrong, as did Wolfram and Hart. Wesley spends most of “TSiLA” thinking Shanshu means “death”, not “mortalness”. Eventually, he decides based on a historical-linguistic analysis of the text that it in fact means “mortal”, and the interpreters at W&H conclude the same thing. But maybe they all got it wrong. Maybe it just means “After all the battles, Angel will die.” This one is kind of interesting given what happened in “NFA”, but if it’s the case, why not just say so in “NFA”?

Oh right, because the series ending was supposed to be ambiguous. Pllfft. What.Ever.


(5) There is in fact some *other* interpretation of the prophecy that *did* come true, and NOT off-camera or later on. I have one idea on this. It’s not the interpretation I favor (I like (1) above), but here it is:

The part of TSiLA I find really interesting is the exchange between Cordelia and Wesley about why Angel doesn’t care if he some day will die as the prophecy seemed to predict on first glance.

Wesley: “Angel’s cut off. Death doesn’t bother him because there is nothing in life he wants! It’s our desires that make us human.”
Cordy: “Angel is kind of human. He’s got a soul.”
Wesley: “He’s got a soul, but he’s not a part of the world. He-he can never be part of the world.”
Cordy: “Because he doesn’t want stuff? That’s ridiculous. (Wesley takes her doughnut away from her) Hey! I want that!”
Wesley: “What connects us to life?”
Cordy: “Right now? I’m going with doughnuts.”
Wesley: “What connects us to life is the simple truth that we are part of it. We live, we grow, we change. But Angel…”
Cordy: “Can’t do any of those things. Well, what are you saying, that Angel has nothing to look forward to? That he’s going to go on forever, in the world, but always cut off from it?”
Wesley: “Yes.”

I don’t know if, at this point in the series, Joss and ME had any thoughts about allowing Angel to join the cycle of life (that as a vampire he is cut off from) by making him a father.

But a year later they did just this, and he became a father. Perhaps the idea behind fatherhood was simply to give Angel something more personal and concrete to tie him to the world beyond just “a noble love of humanity” or a some-day Shanshu. Or perhaps they made him a father just to torment the hell out of him.

But it is one possible interpretation of the Shanshu prophecy that Connor is in fact Angel’s Shanshu. If you see “mortality” as simply meaning, “being tied into the cycle of life”, then fathering a child who survives and goes on to father his own children is one way of answering the literary promise of the Shanshu prophecy. And probably why they have this father-son exchange near the end of NFA:

Angel: Go home…now.
Connor: They’ll destroy you.
Angel: As long as you’re OK, they can’t.

If you don’t buy that Angel can sign his destiny away, then hey, maybe he’s already fulfilled it, and he did so ON CAMERA.

Anyway, there’s more than one prophecy about the Vampire with a Soul and W&H have read them all and TSILA marks the end of W&H’s attempts to kill Angel and the beginning of W&H’s big plan to separate him from the Powers that Be and corrupt him. This is in fact the Big Plan of Season 2 and it continues right into Season 5, when W&H believe they have finally succeeded because they have Angel in their clutches.

Their first volley is trying to kill Cordelia and Wesley. Their second is the revivification of Darla. And ME did their job with 5×5 and The Prodigal very well, because when I saw Darla in that box, Wow! I was on the edge of my seat, chomping at the bit for Season 2 to start.

66 thoughts on “Angel, Season 1 eps 20-22

  1. Re: Darth Vadar! The ultimate daddy-angst!

    Angel: “Connor, I am your father.”
    Connor: “Nooo! It can’t be true!!!”
    Angel: “But I just cut off your hand during our ferocious battle! That should prove my angstydaddylove!”
    Connor: “WTF!!1!??”
    Angel: “Ah, hell. It worked with Lindsey.”
    Connor: “You’re not my father! That unbelievableboringdorklawrencereilly is my father!”
    Angel: “Search your feelings, Connor, you know it’s true!”

    (Connor uses the force to get his memories back)

    Connor: “Nooooooo!”

  2. I know that a lot of people liked Home..oddly enough a lot of Non-Connor-fans were just as disappointed as I was with it however, for pretty much the same reasons you and I were (good point about Tommy. In fact, in a couple of my stories and most especially in Hyperion’s Son, that’s going to be brought up. In fact, I need to scour the transcripts for a) things Angel actually did to help Connor b) things he did that were very hurtful so suggestions are welcome).

    I stopped watching Angel too after that…though I did give it a try and was so ho-hum that I ended up missing huge chunks of S5 (and S3 for different reasons)

    Can’t argue your points about prophecies and the Buffy verse though the prophecy about the Master did get somewhat circumvented by Xander’s CPR (and the stupid statement of Angel’s ‘I have no breath still haunts me. What the heck’s he using to talk and/or smoke with then?)

  3. Yeah, I tried hard to ignore the incipent racisim there. I was hoping it was more cultural restrictions of writers than intent…though Joss et al have been accused quite often about having if not a racist attitude, at least not giving Non-Caucasians equal play (like having Southern California not having one Hispanic in how many years?)

    Gunn’s gang, yeah, that wasn’t explored well and when they DID go back to it, it was just ugly and I wished they hadn’t.

  4. There were Hispanics in the background at Buffy’s school. They might not have had neon signs around their necks, but I grew up in Southern California and I recognized a few Hispanic actors at Sunnydale High.

    Also Hispanic characters on Angel from time to time.

  5. When I talk about “wiggle room” above in terms of prophecy, Buffy’s death in Season 1 is a perfect example of that. A prophecy is brought into the story line, “Buffy will die.” Promissory note that something will happen in that episode or a future episode that can be interpreted as consistent with the prophecy.

    So what happened? Buffy *did* die. She was also brought back, but the way she was brought back wasn’t cheating relative to the words of the prophecy. If the prophecy had been “The Slayer will die and will be buried in the Master’s lair for a thousand years” and then Buffy died and was revived 10 minutes later, I’d complain. Or if Angel found someway to save her from the Master before the Master even put the bite on her to begin with, I’d complain.

    I got a list of hurtful things. Kicking Connor out of the Hyperion at the end of “Deep Down”. Connor needed to suffer consequences, yes, but “tough love” wasn’t the answer, and abandonment certainly wasn’t. Angel letting jealousy over Cordelia put further distance between him and Connor after “Apocalypse Nowish” (on the other hand, he didn’t let that jealousy prevent him from saving Connor from W&H in the next episode). Angel letting himself be turned into Angelus might have been not exactly been Angel’s choice, but it wasn’t good for Connor. Angel leaving Connor at the Hyperion in “Sacrifice” (also probably not much of a choice there, but by then Connor had to be sensing a theme). Angel kicking Connor out of his life for good in “Home”.

    I know, I’m a little unfair to Angel. But I wanted a smidge of father-son bonding in season 4 and didn’t really get it, so I collect these.

  6. Totally with you on the prophecy thing.

    Yep, this is what i’m looking for (somewhere I have essays on this that I wrote. I think I have 2-3 official essays running around, one even won me an ethics scholarship). Yeah the time Connor actually turned to Angel, afraid, after Rain of Fire and Angel ignored him is a big one for me. I had a thought for anothe one but it slithered out of my tired brain. Oh, asking Connor to KILL him, was really putting Connor in an awkward position especially since ANgel didn’t ask in front of everyone else so everyone else thinks Connor’s being an ass.

  7. True but not many, not as many as you’d expect. Actually I thought that those two new friends (as I recall having only seen it once, was Hispanic) for Dawn at the start of S7 would be recurring characters but sadly no. That season just headed into strange places that I didn’t really want to follow

  8. I’ve watched every episode of BtVS and Angel and I’ve watched them all more than once (with the exception of “Home”, but I will bravely try to rectify that when I get to season 4 in my on-going marathon), mainly because of my website. I re-watched season 7 of BtVS recently to do some research and it wasn’t so bad this time through, although it will never be stellar or anything approaching the other seasons.

  9. It just bored the crap out of me. I didn’t stop watching it for any other reason. I was so bored I actually forgot it was on… I had a night class then so I just taped it, saved the tapes for nights I wasn’t busy and promptly forgot about them since nothing stood out for me.

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