Thoughts — Angel. Lindsey. Drusilla. Twist endings. Massacres. The Good Fight vs. Total War.
You know, one of the things I never fully appreciated about the first half of Season 2, being fully immersed in the Angel-Darla stuff, was how little story Wesley and Cordelia got that wasn’t just them reacting to Angel and his obsession. Then, when Angel abandons them in mid-season, suddenly they get to have their own problems.
But prior to that, they mostly just stood around wringing their hands and wondering what to do about Angel, while Gunn, who should have known better at this point, continued to enable Angel in his addiction.
Anyway. So Darla is told in this episode that she is dying of syphilis. Now I’m not sure if that was part of Wolfram and Hart’s original plan, but one gets the impression they have plans inside plans when it comes to stuff like this. And Darla, who is now starting to resent being used by Wolfram and Hart, continues her search for someone to vamp her with renewed motivation.
In the episode “Darla”, Wolfram and Hart appeared to drag Darla off to kill her (Holland’s, “We’re terminating the project”). But I don’t think they wanted her dead. I think that was just more manipulation of Angel. They wanted Angel to play the hero, to think of himself as Darla’s protector, so that when they played the Syphilis card, Angel would play the hero again and turn Darla into a vampire in a desperate attempt to save her life. He would do it, they thought, with the best (misguided) intentions, and it would be the trigger to set him down the path of towards dark!souled!Angel.
Of course, the damsel!Darla and the dying!Darla also plucked Lindsey’s manipulation strings, which I don’t think Wolfram and Hart intended. But I DO think it’s what Mutant Enemy intended.
The manipulation of Angel and Lindsey puts these two men, who have more or less the same goal (saving a woman’s life) at each other’s throats. And Mutant Enemy are not afraid of building up their rivalry with beaucoup amounts of homoerotic subtext. Angel and Lindsey are ostensibly passionate rivals over the same woman. But long, scrutinizing looks, invasion of physical space, and brawling and physical violence between men has long been used as a thinly disguised surrogate for sexual interaction. And in this case, the subtext lights fire to the textual rivalry.
But Angel isn’t so easily led down the path Wolfram and Hart want him to go. He desperately looks for an alternative to vamping Darla, and that’s where the Trials come in. Angel struggles through three physically grueling trials in order to earn Darla a second chance at life.
The twist ending, of course (well, one of them) is that he doesn’t save her. Oh, he earns a second life fair and square; but then it can’t be delivered. This sets up a cosmic debt in Angel’s favor, the payment of which, of course, is a story for another season. ; )
I think that being forced to suffer the Trials with Angel was the first experience and understanding of Love that Darla ever had in 400 years. What Angel would endure for her! Her emotional appreciation of it was lost the minute she was revamped, of course, and she wouldn’t remember that feeling of Love again until she gained another soul in Season 3.
“The Trial” is an episode with a twist on top of its twist. Best.final.minutes.of.an.episode, ever, and the best reason I can ever give for staying unspoiled. Yes! Drusilla RAWKS. What makes this ending so chilling (besides slinky Dru in slo-mo) is that just when Darla finally seems to have made peace with her life, just when you could actually really believe she could be redeemed, Mutant Enemy pulls the rug out from under her.
One final thought before I leave “The Trial”. One of the things I always appreciated about the flashbacks on AtS was that they were never gratuitous. They always showed you key moments in the character’s past, moments that really shed light on who the character is in the present. This is as opposed to the flashbacks on say, Forever Knight, and more than a few on Highlander, that seemed to have no connection to the present action of the episode except that they dealt with the same general theme.
That’s why the Holtz flashback in “The Trial” was so jarring. It seemed like they had an extra 15 minutes of air time they needed to fill, or perhaps it was a cheap excuse for dressing the characters up in fancy period outfits for the sheer fun of it (and exploring Darla and Angelus’ atypical response to betrayal).
In retrospect, of course, the Holtz flashback set us up for a significant story line about Angel and Holtz in Season 3, but it was so premature one wonders if M.E. was just bandying about the idea of having Holtz as their season 3 menace but hadn’t made up their minds yet.
I am seriously thinking “Reunion” might be my favorite episode of Season 2 (but I haven’t rewatched “Reprise” yet, so I’ll get back to you). I have this memory of sitting at my mother’s computer over Christmas vacation trying to do my episode analysis of “Reunion” with only an AOL web browser and Word Pad and AOL’s ftp utility. All my usual tools for creating and uploading my analyses were at home with my desktop Mac. I was sitting there, irritated as hell, struggling with the primitive technology, rewatching the episode, and I remember thinking in that moment that AtS was truly as brilliant as its mother show. It had finally proven itself.
Not that I hadn’t enjoyed it before, but Season 1 wasn’t the strongest of the show’s seasons and was too stand-alone for my tastes. And I had been enjoying season 2 so far–Dear Boy, Darla, The Trial–but in “Reunion” they took the risks a truly great show takes–when the main character is complicit in the murder of human beings, no matter how contemptible those human beings might be, and you UNDERSTOOD his reasons? Wow.
Anyway. So now I will stop squeeing so much about Darla and Angel and start squeeing about Drusilla.
I can’t say I was ever fond of Dru as a character by herself. She always shone when she was in a pairing–whether it was Dru/Spike or Dru/Darla or whomever. She needed someone to play off of, a companion. Someone to tolerate, or fail to tolerate, her complete looniness.
Drusilla is all about companionship. She is all about family. Mothers, daughters, fathers, grandmothers. This might be a vestige of her human life. To torment her, Angelus chose in particular to kill her family, which I suppose would torment anybody, but Angelus was the Artiste of mental torture. Why pick that in particular?
Because family was the main focus of Drusilla’s life. And her unlife. After she has her fun hanging with grandmummy and tormenting daddy in L.A., the first thing she does is run to Sunnydale and try to bring sonny back into the fold.
The relationship of Drusilla and Darla is complex. One imagines they were never great “girlfriends” with each other, at least not until Spike came along. And even then, Dru remained “Angelus’ annoying experiment” in Darla’s mind. Darla always struck me as being the kind of woman who wanted a man in her life but had no use for children, and let’s face it, Dru and Spike were her children, the ones that Angelus gave her against her will and then stuck her with when he got his soul back. Dru annoyed Darla with her looniness and dependence, Spike annoyed her with his unruliness.
But in the present day, all VampDarla has is Drusilla. And for Darla to appear the powerful vampire she wants to appear as, she needs a sidekick, something family-oriented Dru is only too happy to provide.
Other thoughts. Gunn proves himself useful in this episode, both as a foil–“if we explain Angel’s convoluted family history to Gunn, we explain it to the viewer”, and as a character in his own right. Again, Gunn cuts through the muck of the gang’s cluelessness and puts them on track to find what they’re looking for (in this case, Unborn!VampDarla).
Lindsey. I love how serenely Lindsey smiles in the wine cellar as Darla and Drusilla torment the assembled guests. One imagines he’s thinking, “We’re all dead! But what a way to go.”
And of course the delicious irony of Darla and Drusilla giving Holland the massacre he encouraged them to have right there in his own home is just…. That’s all I can say, it’s just… JUST. Poetically just.
In the final moments of the episode, Angel finally gives his friends a seasonal story line they can sink their teeth into. “You’re all fired.”
“Reunion” was the final episode of the calendar year 2000, airing probably the second week of December. And so it was weeks before Redefinition aired in mid-January. Weeks before we got an answer to the Locked Cellar Mystery — namely, did anyone survive?
Ah, those were the days. When it was a matter of weeks, rather than TWO MONTHS, before new episodes, and you got 10 episodes in the Fall instead of 7. And the final image you were left with to live on for two months wasn’t a sex scene that made you go hysterically blind. We were spoiled in Season 2, kids.
Of course, one thing we would get a lot more of later and not nearly enough of before was Lilah. I didn’t realize until now how little Lilah there was in the first half of season 2. But Lilah and Lindsey dancing on the hot tin roof of Angel’s little games would be the highlight of our Spring 2001. And we also saw very little sparring between them before, either–maybe in Untouched and Reunion? But now we get full-on rivalry.
The thing I remember most about Redefinition at the time it aired was the debate it spawned among fans. Was Angel doing the right thing or not? The episode depicts him toughening up, working to become more ruthless, believing that that was necessary to bring down Wolfram and Hart.
Some fans argued that Noir Angel was wrong. They gave the classic argument that you can’t fight the devil using the devil’s own methods. If you do, you throw away the very thing you’re fighting for. You become the thing you’re trying to fight. Other fans felt differently.
There was this poster at ATPo at the time named Max. God, I think at this point, atpo_onm might be the only one who remembers him. Maybe dherblay or rahael. Anyway, Max’s favorite argument was to haul out the Classic Star Trek Episode “The Savage Curtain”. The moral of this episode is, apparently, that it’s the Ends which differentiate the good guys and the bad guys in a battle, not the Means. We are the good guys because of what we are fighting for. But our means must be as ruthless as the bad guys if we have any hope of winning, and after all, isn’t the point of the fight between good and evil being that the good guys win?
The debate between fans was not just about this abstract philosophical argument, but also about where Mutant Enemy was going with the Noir Angel story line. Were they advocating Angel’s ruthless methods, or “The Good Fight” methods of the rest of the gang?
I think we know the answer to that now, but at the time, there were people who were cheering that Angel was finally embracing “the War” (Total War). That “the Good Fight” had been hopelessly naïve and would have ultimately been ineffective against evil1.
It is the episodes to come that flesh out Mutant Enemy’s answer to the debate (Reprise, Epiphany).
1. I’ll have more thoughts about this when I get to ‘Epiphany’, but I’m not sure this is entirely wrong. Assuming you can use the most ruthless methods and still retain your status as good guys, would we have gotten a different ending to the show than the Existentialist ‘if nothing we do matters all that matters is what we do’ ending of Not Fade Away?