Intro thoughts on ‘Noir Angel’
While the “Noir Angel” episodes were unfolding in season 2, it was an open question where Mutant Enemy was going with it. Because the writing was muddled on a couple of issues– (a) what Angel’s goals were and (b) what his psychological state actually was.
Earlier in the Season, Wolfram and Hart had made it (more or less) clear that they wanted souled Angel “dark”. And then Angel let Darla and Drusilla kill the lawyers and he fired the gang and he set Darla and Drusilla on fire and it seemed he might be indeed going dark. Dark as in “evil” or at least REALLY morally ambiguous, though?
Well, no. M.E. couldn’t really give the protagonist/hero of their show a truly “dark” period without alienating a good portion of the audience. The days of Angelus going on killing sprees as he did on season 2 of BtVS were over. Even when Angel was Angelus in season 4, we didn’t actually see him *kill* anybody. We had to assume it.
During the Noir Angel period (Redefinition-Epiphany), Angel didn’t really do many truly dark things. In fact, he was still basically a good guy. He gave the 2 million dollars to Anne, he helped save the world from being perpetually frozen in time, and he stopped some zombie cops from attacking people.
So what was different? Well, he was cut off from his crew. He fired them because he “felt the darkness coming on” (so he says in “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”, and he didn’t want them near it. But that didn’t mean he feared going evil. I think what he was trying to do was take what darkness he’d been feeling and use it, channel it, to become the sort of ruthless opponent who he believed would be capable of defeating Wolfram and Hart. Sort of like when Darla and Drusilla gave Holland the massacre he asked for by massacring him and his colleagues. Angel would give W&H the darkness they wanted by aiming it at them.
And so we get the debate I mentioned in my previous review, about “The Good Fight” strategy of the gang vs. the ruthless “Total War” strategy Angel espouses in Redefinition.
So *did* Angel indeed become more ruthless?
One thing I remember about the Season Two Noir Angel arc was the disappointment of some fans afterwards. I think they really expected Angel to become truly dark, or at least do *really* questionable things, and he didn’t, and so the result ends up looking more lame than anything from that perspective.
And ME sort of asked for this response by sending the fans mixed messages. For example, “Blood Money” starts out with Angel apparently stalking a young woman who runs a homeless shelter. *Gasp*! He’s returning to form as Angelus! But then, no, he’s actually trying to determine her connection to Wolfram and Hart, so he can proceed to play a mind game where he manipulates Lilah and Lindsey like marionettes.
Angel was “throwing out the old rules” of the Good Fight and going back to an even Older set of rules. He was a master at game-playing as Angelus. Up until “Reunion”, Angel had been so tightly wound with duty and honor, it must have been a relief to put that aside for a while and just… make fools of his enemies for the sake of making fools of them. Let Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn fight the good fight. Let Boone prattle on about honor.
Later in the episode, we get Nathan Reed’s exposition FINALLY explaining why Wolfram and Hart’s attitude towards Angel has changed from “let’s kill him!” to “let’s torment him until he goes dark!” It seems that somewhere after Five By Five, the firm found a prophecy that indicated that the Vampire with a Soul would be a “major player in the Apocalypse”. However, the prophecy was murky on whether he would be on the side of good or evil. W&H want Angel playing on their team when the time came, hence the change in strategy.
But by having Nathan Reed reveal this now, during the Noir Angel arc, we are *again* led to expect that M.E. might make Angel actually go dark this season, that that’s the arc they’re building.
As for the prophecy itself– I get why M.E. introduced it. They needed a plausible reason why W&H didn’t just kill Angel outright. The problem is, this new prophecy is hard to reconcile with the Shanshu prophecy. Will Angel fight many battles on the side of Good and earn his humanity (Shanshu), or will Angel possibly go dark and fight on the side of evil in the big final battle? I struggle to make sense of both prophecies in an essay from season 5, but I don’t really succeed in resolving the contradiction.
Enough about Angel.
Blood Money marks the start of a wonderful friendship – Gunn-Wesley. It’s too bad that fell apart in season 3, although I still felt the connection between them even in season 5. I think that friendship was another one of those things we can look to for “the Making of Wesley”. Those two came from such different backgrounds and had such different strengths, that Gunn’s growing respect for Wesley was bound to have an impact on him. It’s like, hey, this cool street fighter thinks I’m cool. He’ll even fight by my side instead of calling me a “pansy-ass British Guy”.
One thought before I leave this ep:
I miss the days when the thought of dating Cordelia made Angel crinkle up his brow and say, “God, no.” She could be a friend, a very challenging friend, but she just didn’t seem like his type.
Could this episode be more filler? And do people get as annoyed as I do by long scenes (more than one of them) which contain no regular or recurring characters, but just the guest stars of the week? At any rate, this episode presented a very muddled picture of graduate school. It’s like it was written by two people, one who knows what academia is/graduate students are like, and one who doesn’t have a *clue*.
What did work for me in this episode was the Lorne-Angel friendship that was developing.
When I was writing about the Gunn-Wesley friendship that started in “Blood Money”, I wondered, “why do Wesley and Gunn become so tight? Why not Wesley and Angel, or Gunn and Angel? I mean, besides the obvious, “Angel is blowing them all off at the moment” thing. Other than the five episode stint of the Noir Angel period, Angel hangs with these guys and yet he becomes friends with Lorne in a way he doesn’t with the other two.
I think Lorne provides something for Angel the other two don’t. With Gunn and Wesley, Angel sort of has a tough-guy barrier he never quite puts down the way he does with Lorne. Maybe it’s that Lorne doesn’t need Angel to be strong for him. Gunn and Wesley sort of rely on Angel to be, well, rather manly. Lorne wants to cut through that B.S. to the heart of what’s bothering Angel. He’s always the one that sees Angel’s soft side, and demands to see it, really.
He’s the one who can see what Angel is up to — giving up caring, the “good fight” model of the champion business for “hunting down the guilty” – the ruthless model of the champion business.
Plus, there’s always Wes and Gunn are both human and Angel and Lorne are both demons thing.
Anyway, representing the “Good Fight” side of the Noir Angel arc is, of course, the gang. Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn. They keep the agency going without Angel. At the time this episode aired, I was left wondering about their motives. It seemed to me like Angel and his mission had been the thing that drew them all together. Now they needed to find a reason to go without him.
I get why Cordelia was still doing this – she had the visions, they were not going to just go away. But she’s also personally committed at this point. It’s become part of the way she thinks of herself. She doesn’t explain this until “Disharmony”, but helping people is making her feel good about herself in a way simply being beautiful and popular never did.
Wesley is in this because it’s his career. He’s schooled in the supernatural and has trained all his life to be part of the good fight. That’s what he does.
Gunn is the puzzle, though. Why is Gunn still hanging around with Cordelia and Wesley? That was always a problem for me. Why didn’t Gunn return to his old crew at this point, *before* he started bonding with Wesley? Why does he end up at Caritas in “Redefinition” like his life has no alternatives for him because Angel left?
One last thought on “Happy Anniversary”: While Lorne is trying to recruit Angel to stop Gene from ending the world, he has this line, “And the British boy, he’s going to be playing a huge–” Lorne almost reveals what he knows of Wesley’s destiny, and he says it in a way that makes you think it’s a positive thing. We’ve seen Wesley’s entire future at this point. What do you think Lorne saw?
The Thin Dead Line
I wish I knew more about the politics of Los Angeles and the history of ambivalence the people of the area have with the L.A.P.D. Because this is actually a real factor in the mood and the character of the city, and I’d like to say some wise and informed things about it. All I know is, Mutant Enemy knew what they were doing when they introduced a cop character to be both helper and nemesis to vigilante do-gooder Angel, and they could have REALLY brought some trouble down on themselves if they’d handled their characterization of the L.A.P.D. and Kate wrong.
In a city where there have been numerous highly publicized cases of alleged police brutality, indifference, and incompetence, having an episode where L.A. cops are mindlessly brutal zombies is a powder keg of sorts. But M.E. gives a pretty balanced view of both the police and the citizens of the city.
The whole zombie thing arises because of the cops’s frustration over the level of crime they are facing and the dangers of doing their job that go unappreciated. A police captain raises cops who have died in the line of duty and sends them out to enforce the law. It’s a brilliant metaphor, because –
on the other hand, the zombie cops do so mindlessly, without heed to that pesky little thing called Due Process that constantly ties their hands. And as Kate points out, they bring the crime rate WAY down. Hey, if you harass everybody, including the innocent, you’ll pretty much have all the guilty covered.
The depiction of the citizens is also believable. On the one hand you have Gunn, Rondell, and George who are just earnest kids trying to help their friends. George freaks out when he thinks he’s killed a cop. Not just because he’ll get in trouble, but because he’s just not the sort of person who would think it was OK to do that.
And then there are citizens that are just thugs, like that kid with the gun in the shelter, who don’t care about the consequences of their actions as long as there’s something in it for them.
On Wesley: I’ve been talking in these reviews about “the Making of Wesley” and one thing I definitely forgot about was him getting shot in this episode. I think it toughened him considerably–the struggle to stay alive until he could get medical attention, living in recovery for months.
And of course, helping Wesley, trying to get him to the hospital in the midst of danger and keeping him alive, tightened the bond between Wesley and Gunn bond more. I miss that friendship.
And now for the RANT.
I was talking about with someone the other day — about an annoying plot device that falls within the province of bad writers, and therefore is really beneath Mutant Enemy. And that is keeping characters in conflict with each other by having them conveniently misunderstand each other or having them be conveniently misinformed about each other.
When Anne comes to visit the gang in their new offices, she mentions meeting Angel. But instead of telling them he eventually helped her out (she doesn’t need to mention the 2 million that she’s sworn to secrecy about–she can be vague) she leaves them with the impression that Angel only used her to screw with Wolfram and Hart.
This justifies the gang’s continued feeling that Angel isn’t worth wasting their time with, and we end up with Cordelia giving Angel the cold shoulder in the hospital when he comes to see Wesley.
That’s manipulating the audience, and it’s annoying. [/end rant]