I’m actually up to “Couplet” in my marathon viewing. Which means catch-up, ketchup
I’m going to vote “Reprise” as my favorite episode of Season 2. Even though I love “Dear Boy” and “Darla” and “Reunion”, Reprise is all about Angel and his struggle to understand his mission and his destiny and himself. Half a season out from “TSILA”, he’s already lost faith in his shanshu, or at least his shanshu as *he* interprets it–the idea that he can earn redemption with enough good deeds. He now realizes that no amount of good deeds can ever pay for the evil he did in the past.
But rather than realizing that redemption is really about “Go from this point and sin no more” rather than “paying back all your sins”, Angel is just simply bitter.
And so he is going to throw himself on the pyre, so to speak. In one big melodramatic move, he plans to bring down Wolfram and Hart by killing the Senior Partners. He KNOWS it will get him killed; he just doesn’t care anymore. Except that part of him does, or he wouldn’t even bother with this.
Angel spends most of the episode running around trying to get hold of a ring that will take him to “The Home Office”–the source of the Senior Partners’ power, what he believes will be the Hell where the Senior Partners reside. He comes across a number of obstacles, including Darla, who also wants the ring, although what she thinks she’ll get from it is anybody’s guess.
But Angel gets the ring and puts it on and takes an elevator ride to hell, only to find himself right back where he started at the end of the journey.
As dead!Holland explains, the Home Office is Earth itself–the real source the Senior Partners power is the capacity for evil in every person. Wolfram and Hart accumulate power through facilitating and supporting that capacity. You can’t simply kill the Senior Partners and “win” because the Senior Partners are themselves nothing without the human equation*. So unless Angel plans to take on that equation on a grand scale, he can’t fight Wolfram and Hart at their own game.
And given the human capacity for evil, it seems the humans he is trying to help really aren’t even worth helping, either. Because no amount of helping is ever going to change the world.
Realizing this puts Angel at the lowest, darkest point he’s been in our whole history of knowing him as a souled being, lower and darker even than the loser in the alley. I was so there with him at the time. He’s utterly devastated. Beyond caring. Exactly where Wolfram and Hart wanted him to be.
And so goes home and finds Darla waiting for him and throws himself at her in despair. He has every reason to believe he will lose his soul in doing so and he doesn’t care. And in fact, we see Angel rise up in his bed after having sex with Darla, like an echo of “Surprise”.
The previews for “Epiphany” were deliberately edited in a way that made it look like Angel could be attacking his friends–that Angel would in fact lose his soul. And we were left for… was it only a week? Longer? To debate over whether he actually would.
I couldn’t make up my mind whether I thought Angel would lose his soul or not. On the one hand, it seemed repetitive and a bit too predictable. Why do Buffy Season 2 all over again? On the other hand, it would be just like ME to do exactly what WAS predictable just because we would all assume they wouldn’t do it. And at that time, it certainly seemed logical that Angel WOULD lose his soul. We hadn’t had any episode, really, that had negated the equation made in “Surprise” between perfect happiness and sex.
We had had episodes dealing with the happiness clause of the curse, but they dealt with a slightly different issue. For example, Angel argues to the faux T’ish Magev in “GWBG” that the happiness clause “isn’t a sex thing, specifically”. In other words, things *besides* sex could result in perfect happiness. And “Eternity” and “Enemies” both teased us with the “has he lost his soul or hasn’t he” question, but in both those episodes, it was other things–a spell, and a drug–that are the supposed catalysts, rather than sex. From this, it only followed that other things, besides sex could also result in perfect happiness. But Angel had gone two and a half years with no sex because he feared sex was the one thing guaranteed to bring back Angelus.
In “Epiphany” he realizes that sex does not always equate with perfect happiness, that in fact he had sex with Darla in “a moment of perfect despair”. The irony is that in that moment of perfect despair, of no longer caring about the future, he accomplishes the one thing that, IMO, secured his future, possibly even his shanshu. He fathered a child, a child who would live on after Not Fade Away.
The flip side of that, of course, is that that child bears the symbolism of having been conceived in a moment of perfect despair. In fact, that would make a classic depressing!Connor icon. Connor in his worst angsty moment from “Home” with the caption “Conceived in a moment of perfect despair.”
And to continue the irony, Darla, in seizing the opportunity to remove Angel’s soul, becomes mother to the infant who will re-ensoul her in Season 3.
Final thought on Reprise: Those of you who have read my thoughts on other AtS and BtVS episodes might be aware of how viscerally I dislike farce and camp on the shows. I don’t dislike it in principle, I just think it’s extremely difficult to pull off well without undercutting the seriousness of the drama with cartoonishness. That said, the opening scene of this episode is sheer genius–a ritual sacrifice presented like two parents trying to assemble a child’s toy on Christmas Eve from indecipherable instructions. A demon needs his tribute, and what’s a busy executive to do? Hire a couple of schlubs to do it for him. You don’t need to understand the Latin, just sound it out. ‘Cause that’s going to impress the devil. Not.
[* And that almost makes the Senior Partners superfluous. As long as there are human beings around ready to take advantage of the evil in other human beings, what are the Senior Partners but metaphors for the temptation to evil?]
Suffice it to say, Angel doesn’t lose his soul. He kicks Darla out, runs to help Kate (who has also given in to perfect despair), and then to help his friends. Which is all very exciting and heroic and all that, but the true highlight of the episode, IMO, is the Lindsey-Angel smack down.
All season, Lindsey has been obsessed with Darla, and her becoming a vampire again has only made that obsession stronger. For some period of time, he harbored her in his apartment while her burns healed, and he tried to protect her even after she went after a Senior Partner in Reprise (so tell me why they chose to promote him in “Dead End” instead of firing his ass two ways to Sunday?)
So when Lindsey figures out that Darla has slept with Angel, we see a whole new (although not completely unexpected) side of lawyer-boy. He comes out swingin’ (a sledge hammer), acting very much like a man who thinks he has a claim on a woman.
So the question arises. Did Darla and Lindsey ever sleep together? A lot of fans say yes. In fact, when Darla showed up pregnant in season 3, there was speculation all the way up through Offspring and even past that that the infant was actually Lindsey’s child and not Angel’s.
Personally, I’ve never been one of those people who assumed characters were having sex, or were even sexually attracted to each other, if I didn’t see any literal on-screen evidence for it (which is why I make such a lousy slasher). Like, for example, oh, a scene where they have sex? Obviously, there was sexual attraction, at least on Lindsey’s part. We get obsession, mooning, smoochies. But actual sex?
In “Epiphany”, Lindsey certainly acts like a man who might have “had” Darla. But the thing about obsession is that it doesn’t necessarily need a firm ground to stand on. It’s all about the one obsessed, not the object of their obsession. And all you need to get the one obsessed going is to put the wrong thing between them and the object of their obsession. And that, for Lindsey, is Angel.
Which leads to one of the most entertaining fight scenes on either show, in eight seasons. Lindsey runs Angel over with a truck, all righteous fury. Then Angel swipes his sledge hammer and crushes the plastic hand he was responsible for. Talk about adding insult to injury. And since you know Angel won’t lose the fight, and you know he won’t kill Lindsey, it’s all about watching the fun violence. Ow! Ooh!
Now to get philosophical for a moment. The way I see it, we get the real message of Angel the Series in Reprise and Epiphany. The true existentialist message of the show. There can be no “big win” against evil. The reality is, you must get up every morning and fight evil again, and then again, and every individual battle won is a victory if it saves one life or takes away some bit of pain. What matters is what we do now, today. “Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness… is the greatest thing in the world.”
So if that is the show’s message in a nut shell, the question arises–did Not Fade Away undercut that message?
“Not Fade Away” has a lot of resonance with “Reprise”. Both episodes pose the question, “Is fighting the evil Wolfram and Hart represent as easy as killing the masterminds behind the whole thing?” Both episodes answer this question with a “No.” In Reprise, Angel procures a ring he believes will allow him to kill the Senior Partners. In Not Fade Away, he and the gang take on the Senior Partners’ representatives–their eyes and arms on Earth–the Circle of the Black Thorn. Another resonance with NFA is that both moves are truly suicidal. Angel doesn’t expect to come back from either attack.
So what’s the difference between Reprise, where behaving this way is clearly a mistake, and NFA, where it’s supposedly not (other than the fact that at least in NFA, bad guys actually died)?
Not Fade Away and Reprise also both affirm that nothing we do matters in changing the big picture. Evil will always exist, you can’t defeat it once and for all. Holland tells Angel as much in the elevator ride in “Reprise”. Gunn raises the question to Anne in “NFA”. What if nothing you did mattered? Would you still fight?
There is no big win, and NFA was not the big win, and it’s quite possible our heroes died in that alley to accomplish only one thing–to bring down one (albeit powerful) source of evil. They won’t be around to get up the next morning to fight the Good Fight again. Does this somehow make their willingness to die for this one accomplishment less?
It’s no big secret that I have absolutely no use whatsoever for Harmony. But really, Harmony was the least of this episode’s problems:
1. O.K. — we know that Cordelia didn’t stay in contact with her Sunnydale friends at first in season 1 out of shame, but she got over that in “Room w/ a Vu”. So why did no one think to tell Cordelia that her best friend was a vampire? And wouldn’t Cordelia and Harmony herself have kept in touch? And if Harmony opted not to keep in touch because of the whole vampire issue, wouldn’t Cordelia have wondered what the deal was if her best friend NEVER contacted her for a year and a half after graduation??
2. And Vampire (un)Life Coach Doug’s big cooperative plan? “Turn two and one’s food?” Soooo anti-Darwinian and anti-economical and anti-abunchofotherstuff. You’ll run out of food really fast, at an exponential rate. How about turn one, two’s food? Especially if some get stored for the winter?
3. When exactly was there a vote about who would become the new boss of Angel Investigations? Up until “Disharmony”, Cordelia, Gunn, and Wesley worked as a team. They quibbled about whose name they would use as the name of the firm, and ended up just sticking with “Angel Investigations”. Now Angel is back and all of a sudden, Wesley’s the boss. Um… why? He doesn’t have seniority. He’s not the best fighter. Sure, he’s smart and can come up with plans, but that didn’t make him boss before.
Oh! He’s the only other White Guy! Silly me.
4. In this episode, Angel is desperate to get back on Cordelia’s good side (and not Wesley’s. Why?), so he lies to Cordelia about sleeping with Darla, which will come back to bite him in the butt, and he bribes her with new clothes. The look of anger and betrayal that Wesley gets on his face when he sees the latter is just…. wow. And yet they don’t follow up on that in the next episode at all. It’s just forgotten.
5. My next issue is really more of a problem with Season 5. Wesley HATED Harmony in “Disharmony”. So why promote her to Angel’s Executive Secretary, thereby guaranteeing this brainless annoying klutz would be around ALL THE TIME? Especially after she betrayed them?
6. The good stuff: I like Cordelia’s speech about how she is happy in her new life. She feels good about herself for what she does–doing good and helping people, rather than for what she is–cute and popular, as was the case in high school. Her transformation into a new and different character is complete, and it is convincing. I have a whole bunch of thoughts about where they took her after that, but I’ll save them for my season 3 reviews.
Name your favorite Lindsey episode.
Name your favorite monologue/soliloquy in eight years of AtS and BtVS.
The Evil Hand Speech in Dead End.
Do you like buddy movies?
No, they bore me. Never was into male bonding.
Enough with the praise. Here’s a question for you. After two years of observing their records, if you were a Wolfram and Hart executive and had to decide between promoting Lindsey or Lilah, who would you promote? Forget about their mutual incompetence. Just concentrate on what’s really important. Propensity for evil.
How.Stupid.Are.These.People? Lilah is a company gal all the way. Lindsey has betrayed the firm and the partners repeatedly. He takes showers every night when he gets home from the office. He’s unreliable. Moral (gasp!). And he’s got those evil hand issues.
And yet, Lindsey gets the hand transplant, and he’s offered the promotion, while Lilah is apparently going to be transferred to the branch office in Hell.
I mean, just look at how Lindsey deals with the whole hand thing. Soon after his transplant, Lindsey discovers something funky is going on with his new hand. He’s writing kill kill kill on everything. It’s crazy! So he starts a personal investigation into his hand’s origin right around the same time the gang starts looking into someone’s funky new eyeball.
Which puts Lindsey and Angel in that fun slap-stick buddy-movie pairing (did anyone else find the Angel/Lindsey bickering a tad over the top in places? When it bordered on juvenile, it just seemed OOC to me).
Together, Lindsey and Angel discover that Wolfram and Hart are harvesting body parts from live people, people who are being kept alive while their bodies are slowly disassembled for other people’s use. Ewww. So our heroes put a stop to this, save the people they can and mercy-kill the others, and then Lindsey decides it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge.
A lot of people think Lindsey was redeemed at the end of this episode. Personally, I think he was just tired of being jerked around and used by Wolfram and Hart. Yes, he does have a sense of ethics. But he doesn’t necessarily listen to it when it interferes with what he perceives is his personal self-interest. I think he still believes in the philosophy of, “You’re either the user or the used.” Which is why he’s going to get one up on Wolfram and Hart before they get one up on him. I mean, they’re not really just going to let him walk away, any more than they would have let Lilah walk away after being fired. They’ll be after him, and he knows that.
And how do you get one up on Wolfram and Hart? “The key to Wolfram and Hart is to not play their game. You gotta make them play yours.” Lindsey doesn’t forget that in Season 5 (he’s just not very *good* at it). Angel, on the other hand, does forget that in “Home” (for the best of reasons, but still).
Bye, bye, Linds. See you on the other side of seasons 3 and 4.
A note on Cordelia: I think it’s “Dead End” where M.E. starts the Cordelia-really-can’t-handle-her-visions thing. But they don’t do much more with it than have her cry and complain until “That Vision Thing”, and even then we have to wait until “Birthday” for a resolution.
Having dabbled in writing virtual television now myself, I realize how hard it is to keep viewers aware of a plot thread that you don’t plan to pay off for a while. When it’s something like, “the visions are hurting me”, there’s not much building and changing that can be done, so you end up with weekly repetition of the same refrain. Trying to make the repetition, well, not boring is a challenge.
The question is, this is episode 18 of season 2. Were they already planning to half-demonize Cordelia at this point, or were they just playing with a possibility (“the visions hurt”), unsure where they would take it?