Warning: some actual whining, rants, and complaints in here. But then, I’m tired and it is my beloved season 3 we’re talkin’ ’bout here. They’re my own personal issues, and most of them are sooo of-the-past. Take them with a grain of salt.
General Season 3 whine
Recently, atpotch said that I did some of “the least biassed, most clear reviews of Angel around”. I can only assume he means the episode analyses on my website, because lord knows these reviews I’ve been doing here in LJ are full of my personal likes and dislikes and opinions, which I tried not to let influence me when I was working on the aforementioned website.
So let me feel free to whine here.
Specifically, about the fan reaction to “Heartthrob”, and to season 3 of Angel in general. Let’s start with the latter. I was absolutely engrossed by seasons 2 and 3 of Angel. I’d jumped ship from BtVS being my favorite show to AtS being my favorite show back after the original airing of “City Of…” (in other words, from the start of AtS), but I was fully on board with the BtVS-love in seasons 4 and 5 of that show.
Season 6 of BtVS was a little different. I started losing interest. I still watched it, I still did analyses of the episodes on my site, but it just wasn’t giving me the “Wow!” moments I was having over on Angel. The pregnant Darla story line, the Angel+Baby Connor relationship, Wesley’s betrayal and the loss of the baby, the return of teen Connor. The sympathetic villainy of Holtz.
But, *alas*, seasons 5/2 and 6/3 were the days when the ATPo board was swamped with BtVS fans, especially fans of a certain character, and nobody would talk about AtS at all, even though seasons 2 and 3 were the strongest seasons the show had, IMO. Every Wednesday or Thursday morning as the case might be, I would come to the board, flushed with excitement over the latest episode of Angel, and there would be ten new posts about BtVS, and every other one of them would be about that character. I have nothing against that character, truly. But it was MY board and nobody wanted to talk about what *I* wanted to talk about (*pout*) and the constant drip, drip, drip of posts about stuff I had little interest in discussing was like Chinese Water Torture.
I really truly thought of leaving the board. Until I realized it was my home and why did *I* have to be the one to leave?
Anyway, those days are gone, and it only bugs me when I dwell on it, so on to my whine about the fan reaction to “Heartthrob”.
The whine-rant continues.
At the end of Season 5 of BtVS, Buffy dies. Angel hears about it right after he returns from Pylea, but we don’t get to see his reaction until “Heartthrob”. For all we know, Angel broke down then and there in the Hyperion lobby crying his little vampire eyes out. Or, more likely, he went up to his room and did it in private. But we don’t get to see that. We get to see Angel three (four, five?) months later. He’s spent the summer in a Tibetan monastery, which I think is supposed to *seem* severe, but since the guy normally leads the celibate, semi-contemplative life of a warrior-monk, it may not have impressed some fans greatly.
But back to the point–Angel’s had time to go through the early stages of grief. To cry, to think, to hit stuff if he needed to. To heal.
So when he comes home seeming pretty together, we should take that into consideration. But no. Angel’s ability to deal with Buffy’s death spawned great volumes of posts at ATPo about how “he never loved her in the first place”, and about how “Spike loved her more”, about how “he ‘obviously isn’t a fool for love’, as if that’s an ideal to strive for.
I don’t want to start any ‘shipper battles here, but hello, everybody grieves differently. Angel grieves one way, Spike another, and the vampire James yet another. It doesn’t make it any less grief.
That’s not to say all ways of dealing with grief are equally healthy. “Heartthrob” begged a comparison between Angel’s quiet brooding mourning and ultimate ability to go on with his (un)life and James’s outrageously suicidal Byronian Romanticism. I believe, at the very least, that we were supposed to walk away from “Heartthrob” with the message (and Cordelia makes this point) that James’ dangerously over-the-top way of (un)life and of dealing with his grief over Elisabeth was unhealthy in comparison to Angel.
But because James argued vociferously throughout the episode that Angel could NOT possibly have loved Buffy the way James loved Elisabeth (because he didn’t want to “die”, and die in the most melodramatic way possible) a number of little you-know-who fans flocked to the ATPo board the next day to say “See!??!1!”.
It made me completely mental.
And this despite the fact that I wasn’t a Buffy/Angel ‘shipper anymore, really. My reaction was more about defending a character and his (re)actions than a particular relationship. And I should note that this is NOT a Spike-bash. I have many Spike fan friends. Nice, rational Spike fan friends. And they didn’t react this way. But there’s a few loud-and-squeely’s in every crowd, and they used the most exclamation points in their subject lines.
Drip, drip, drip. Chinese water torture, people, like a bad leak in my own living room. Kind of hard to avoid.
Other thoughts on this episode:
Cordelia started out so promisingly, didn’t she? She wasn’t going to go home and knit while Angel chased down the bad guy. She wanted to fight and train. About time, is all I could think. It was one of the many Missed Opportunities regarding her character–promissory notes given and then taken away. Warrior Cordelia. What could have been.
Darla’s pregnancy: In “Heartthrob”, that bulging belly was nothing but a Giant Headache. A metaphysical headache, to be sure: what is it; how the heck did it happen (the latter question which they didn’t answer until “Shiny Happy People” in season 4!). But also a WTF?! headache. It’s weird to think about in retrospect, but I was no different than a lot of fans. When I first laid eyes on a pregnant vampire, I thought, “O.M.G. the show has jumped the shark. They are OFFICIALLY out of good ideas.”
Oh me, of little faith.
That Vision Thing
I miss the feel of Season 3. The way the hotel felt, like a home, in a way it didn’t in season 2 or 4. The way Wolfram and Hart felt, like you were really there in the office, walking the halls with them. It all felt warm, lived-in. Real. I can’t say exactly why.
Anyway. “That Vision Thing”. ‘TVT’ is all about The Women.
I was complaining in my Pylea ep review about how the promise of Fred got quickly soured. I don’t mean her trouble adjusting to life back on Earth in the early episodes of season 3, necessarily. It was a little tedious, having her hiding out in her room, afraid to emerge without her “big fat hero” to coax her out, but I understand that trauma takes time to deal with. It was more the fact that after she got over that, she remained more or less the damsel in distress to be wooed and fought over. But I’ll bitch about that later.
Let’s move on to more interesting chicks. Like Lilah.
I love Lilah in Season 3. LOVE HER. She was just as incompetent in season 3 as she was in Seasons 1 and 2, but she just looked hotter doing it ’cause she was coming up with and carrying out her own plans and didn’t have Lindsey giving flat tires to her stylishly unaffordable pumps. Of course, they gave her someone new to banter against, but Gavin Park didn’t stand a chance against her. I love Daniel Dae Kim, but Gavin Park the attorney? I’ll always remember him crouching in a closet with toilet paper in his hand right before he was munched by the Beast.
The featured chick of Episode 2, however, was Cordelia, and this episode reveals another facet of Missed Opportunities. In “Heartthrob”, we see hints of Cordelia-the-warrior. In this episode, we see hints of Cordelia-the-religious-martyr.
The premise of the episode is that Cordelia is being physically injured by her visions. Now we know, having already seen the season (in particular, “Birthday”), that she is suffering brain damage as a result of the visions, brain damage she already *knows* about in “TVT” but isn’t telling the gang. The damage in this episode is to her body and face and so therefore a little harder to hide. And it’s coming from Lilah, who is trying to send Angel on a little mission to save a bad guy. But the gang doesn’t know this yet, and during the period of time that Cordelia believes that the Powers are doing this to her, she has a sort of “religious crisis”. In fact, M.E. has her using several lines of dialogue that grated on me at the time because they just didn’t sound like things that Cordelia would say:
“‘gross’, ‘yuck’ and ‘unclean‘,”
“with the Powers doing the whole ‘Book of Job’ thing”.
Which sort of makes me think M.E. was setting her up for a quasi-religious story arc vis-à-vis the PTBs that they later dropped, or disagreed on and ended up mangling into Saint Cordy. I think it would have been fascinating if they had done a (well-done) arc exploring the issue of religious faith–and what people will and won’t voluntarily and with eyes wide open do for God–using Cordelia and the PTBs. londonkds has a whole treatise on this topic–the history of sainthood and martyrdom and stigmata and faith as it was understood in Catholicism and how it relates to Cordelia Chase.
It would have been brave. It could have been interesting. But it probably was too much for American television.
And finally, the last featured chick is Darla, the unexpected (but expecting) anti-Madonna. “What is this thing inside me?” We were rather set up to expect a monster (and I suppose the jury’s still out on whether in fact that’s what it was *g*).
That Old Gang of Mine
I miss Caritas. Why the hell did they have to mess that joint up not once not twice but THREE times and then get rid of Lorney’s livelihood? No wonder he blew Angel off in NFA:
“You turned me into a murderer and you Destroyed My Club!!! I am sooo out of here, Angel-Breath!”
But Gunn is the focus of this episode, specifically, this was ME’s attempt to patch up that old hole in Gunn’s motivations–his reason for staying with the Fang Gang after Angel left in season 2.
But they did it at the expense of the previously established nobility (or at least, earnestness) of his old gang.
The hole is initially patched as – “Gunn ran off from his friends because of what he allowed to happen to Alanna”. He was afraid he couldn’t keep the rest of his friends safe, that he was a danger to them. So he hangs out with a good-guy vampire and *takes* orders rather than giving them. But this was never quite a comfortable situation for Gunn. His old friends were still out there, fighting for their lives and the lives of their neighbors. And Gunn had not only turned his back on that particular mission, but essentially become friends with a demon.
Of course, one of the basic premises of Angel: the Series is that Not All Demons Are Bad. Gunn knows this; and yet, demons are still The Other. Not Human. Things You Must Sometimes Kill, like rabid dogs. And the issue of kill vs. live-and-let-live is often murky. Lorne–well, “he’s O.K.” Merle on the other hand?–dodgy. Keep an eye on him just in case.
When Gunn discovers that his friends might not be making that distinction, and are (among other things) gunning for Angel, he is forced to make a conscious choice about what team he will follow. However, the choice isn’t a real choice. His old friends are clearly painted as in the wrong here. They don’t “have the mission, bro”, and Gunn’s conversation with Rondell in Caritas proves they will continue NOT to “have the mission”. They’re not making distinctions, they’re just killing, and they’re doing it for fun. Taking what used to be a righteous atttempt to protect themselves and turning it into slaughter-for-entertainment.
So from two options, Gunn’s reduced to one (or from three to two–he could say, “a curse on both your houses”, I suppose). Gunn chooses sides and chooses Angel, big surprise (like I said, the choice is really rather forced). The true dilemma, the true agony, is being forced to abandon people he called “good friends” because what they’re doing is wrong. That’s the origin of his reluctant loyalty as he debates whether to tell Wesley that the culprits he’s looking for are Gunn’s old team.
Brief Fred note: Not completely the damsel. When she holds that guy at bay with a cross-bow, she shows her mettle. There’s the girl I met in Pylea!
I do have to say that, as much as I adore season 3, it’s the arcy episodes that are the source of my love. Season 3 has some of the stinker-iest stand-alones of all the seasons. Case in point, Carpe Noctem.
There are actually some good things about this episode, though. No, really. It gave DB a chance to stretch his acting muscles a bit, have some fun. I mean, what would *you* do if you found yourself in the body of a good-looking nearly invincible vampire for a day, huh? I’d probably put the bite on Lilah while getting horizontal with her on my desk, speaking personally. Marcus of course chooses to kill people in addition to that, but then Marcus has no problem killing people. He really is a scuzball, and yet at the end, when the gang walks out on him while he’s having a heart attack (?)–that seemed a little over the top.
I complained in my review of “Happy Anniversary” about M.E. writers spending too much time developing one-shot characters, but a little more time spent developing Marcus’ character wouldn’t have hurt this ep a bit. For example, in the actual M.E. shooting script, there was an (eventually) unaired scene where Marcus gets a visit from his daughter. In this scene, we learn that Marcus the traveling salesman neglected his family to have affairs with other women and traveled the world searching for magicks to keep himself young.
In other words, he was pretty much *always* a sociopathic scuzball who was finally realizing his psychopathic dream, so don’t be moved by him just ’cause he’s old and vulnerable.
I guess M.E. had to cut things down for time, but they cut out the *wrong* things. It wasn’t just that the ending made Angel and the gang look bad (walking out on an old man having a heart attack). When Angel and the gang give Marcus that high-and-mighty speech just before that about how Marcus doesn’t have any friends, it doesn’t make any sense. We’ve *seen* Marcus have a friend–the man with the new granddaughter. We don’t get enough of his background to know that he is essentially a greedy self-centered loner and always has been (not that that justified how he is treated in the end by the gang). [/end rant]
Other things worth noting –
* It’s been a while since we had a good “poke fun at Angel’s manhood” episode. Because of course Angel making out with a woman on his desk is a sure sign he’s totally flipped.
* And here’s an interesting foreshadowing moment. Marcus-in-Angel’s-body goes to the retirement home to pick on Angel-in-Marcus’-body. He’s waiting in the lobby and when he sees Angel-in-Marcus’-body approaching, he says, “Hi, Dad.”
* Although metaphysically convoluted, this episode does not contradict the standard way vampires and souls work in the Buffyverse. Angelus is *not* the demon, he’s part of Liam’s personality. So of course if “Angel” gets transferred to another body, “Angelus” goes with him. All that’s left behind for Marcus to play with is that mindless blood-sucking Pylean beast.
Ah, the famous Cordy-Wes mocking Buffy-Angel thing. What mad genius brought that into the world? Something was needed to perk up this episode, because, and I may be alone on this, I’m not a big fan of “Fredless”.
The demons were lame and the acting seemed a little over the top to me. That Fred has trauma from five years in a hell dimension–that part I get, at least on an intellectual level. She was afraid of facing her parents, because their absolute familiarity and normality and love and the absence of it for five years somehow broke open the crazy womb of denial she’d lived in in order to cope. It made Pylea real, and she didn’t want to think about that.
However, the episode tries to play on Fred’s fears and denial by creating an aura of doubt around Fred’s parents, and *that* just didn’t work for me. We were supposed to believe that her parents were morally ambiguous in some way (like most Jossian parents *are*), but I wasn’t fooled for a second. I mean, c’mon, they’re the salt of the Earth, and they broadcasted that just by standing there in the first scene they show up in. So the suspense around the notion that they might be abusive somehow or whatever…. Meh.
Plus, who ever wrote them and acted them never lived in Texas.
Also over the top? Lorne. I get that he’s bitter about the destruction of his business, which symbolized his own freedom from Pylea, BTW, because he *should* be. But should it have made him give such bizarre advice to Fred re: her fears?
Lorne: “Yeah, you are in a bad place, aren’t you doll? You thought you could outrun them, and maybe you were free. But those old monsters hunted you down. I know why you’re running away, Fred. You know what your problem is?”
Fred: “I’m not strong enough to stay and face my fear.” [*Well, er, yes*]
Lorne: “No. You haven’t run far enough.”
Other stuff that annoys:
* Fred’s speech giving the roles of everyone in the group, which somehow solidified ME’s identification of Gunn as the “muscle” even though he had the most practical brain of anyone in that room.
* Fred, who was training for years to be a physicist, suddenly deciding that being one of a gang of monster-fighting superheroes is “her true path in life.” Huh? She justifies it as, “I’m not normal anymore. I belong here”. Still doesn’t make any sense to me, and continued not to, until they finally put her in charge of the W&H Practical Science Department.
* But the most annoying thing of all? Somehow Fred’s home-spun super-intuitive parents “already know that” she belongs with Angel and the gang, even though they haven’t seen her for five years and have gotten a limited picture of what the gang does for their living.
On the plus side?
“Fredless” ended Fred’s crush on Angel. She grows up from dependence on the guy who saved her to independence as a single gal in L.A.
OK, “Billy” is (so people tell me) a “brilliant” episode, but I have a lot of trouble actually watching it. It’s just… disturbing in a way that cuts straight to my hot-button issues. I know there is rampant sexism and misogyny in the world from which every moment of the dialogue and action in this episode is derived, but do I have to watch it during my evening’s entertainment? I’d rather have my teeth drilled.
There was some important character stuff here, though, of course, particularly related to Wesley, Cordelia, and Lilah.
Wesley: If the brand of misogyny brought out in every man by Billy’s blood was unique to that man, a reflection of his own personal upbringing (and I’m assuming that was part of the point), then Wesley has good reason to feel shame at the end of this episode. It certainly wasn’t his fault he behaved the way he did, but it’s still a harshly-cut psychoanalysis of who he *could be* if he were irrational enough to believe the worst drivel of his childhood.
So you don’t want people seeing that, or worse, judging you by that behavior. But there’s a wicked method to M.E.’s madness here. As the episode opens, they establish that Wesley is attracted to Fred, an attraction this awkward intellectual has a hard time acting on regardless, and his subsequent (unintentional) behavior in this episode just shuts him down all the more. Which is, of course, setting him up to be the closed book who will bring tragedy down on the gang later in the season.
Cordelia is one of the highlights of this episode as well. Not only is she being trained to fight, finally, she also gets back in touch with her trademark “vicious bitch”, and it’s for a good cause. She’s no longer the vapid predator of “BtVS” Season 1 or the thoughtless “hermetically insensitive” Scooby of seasons 2 and 3. M.E. were empowering Cordelia, and it’s sad, really, to know this ended up with her being body-jacked and victimized. I’ve never been a big fan of Cordelia; when it comes to identifying with particular characters, I always I found her an alien being, but she had potential to be finally actually interesting to me in early season three, and… *sigh*.
Because I was utterly convinced by her confrontation with Lilah. It truly took someone like Cordelia to bridge the gap Angel could never bridge and find something in Lilah that would make the dyed-in-the-wool company-gal betray the firm. And because Lilah *does* kill her own client, she *also* becomes interesting to me (only in a new way) in this episode–it’s the first of several episodes, continuing into season 4, where we get to see her truly vulnerable and sympathetic in her vulnerability without her losing the sense of her power.
One final note on this episode. What I remember about it when it originally aired: The *debates* over the notion of “primordial misogyny”. The debates arose because the term denotes a congenital attitude in men–the idea that women-hating is a natural-born impulse. I *think*, however, that ME’s use of the term was meant to imply that misogynistic attitudes are simply deeply-rooted from early childhood learning. They are hence something that thoughtful man can strive to avoid.