Oy, I can’t believe my last review was in November, and now it’s March. But what can I say? I got busy. With fanfic. And it’s ironic that, when I got distracted for five months, the next episodes up for review were the first to feature my beloved Unholy Family. Darla shows up at Angel’s door with a “bun in the oven”, and Season 3 finally takes on its shape.
(Warning: spoilers to the end of Season 5 AtS)
After the original airing of “Home”, it took me a long time to rewatch seasons 3 and 4. Like, a year. Because through most of season 5, we had no clue what the gang remembered of either of these two seasons, if anything, and that made them seem a little pointless. Of course, the Scooby Gang misremembers seasons 1-4 of BtVS, but that didn’t bother me with the primordial power of the Fang Gang misremembering seasons 3 and 4 of their own history.
Eventually, ME made it fairly clear that the gang’s memories were pretty much “everything you saw on television, minus the Connor bits.”
[rant] Except…the gang spent an awful lot of on-screen time (take these three episodes I’m reviewing right now, for example) reacting to Darla and the kid and the Nyazian Prophecies (and doing very little else, really). Which makes you wonder what their alternative memories in season 5 could have possibly been. It was established in “Origin” that they remembered Sahjhan. And presumably Holtz and Darla as well. But what were these three characters doing there in these alternative memories if the kid wasn’t there? And of course, in the end, season 5 didn’t give me the comforting resolution to the memory wipe that I wanted. Because the few characters who did get their memories of the original events back are probably dead now. Well, except for the kid in question. [/rant]
None of this changes the fact that Season 3 is my favorite AtS season. There are several reasons for that (and no, the stand-alone episodes would not be one of them).
Reason #1. The villain.
The vampires Angelus and Darla ravage Europe. The vampire hunter Holtz hunts them down. After fleeing him for a while, they decide to have a little fun with him, just for the audacious crime of trying to kill the killers. They murder his family–they killed his infant son, most likely raped and then killed his wife, and turned his daughter into a vampire.
Holtz manages to capture Angelus in Rome a few years later, but he doesn’t stake him. Death is too easy, too quick. Holtz wants to torment him, but how do you torment a demon as vicious as Angelus? You can torture him physically, but he’d never give you satisfaction. And you can’t torment him mentally, because you can’t make him feel the way you felt, and that’s what Holtz really wants. For Angelus to feel what he felt when he found his family tortured and killed.
Holtz, perhaps out of guilt for not being there to protect his family, can never get past his need for vengeance. So as Angelus and Darla disappear beyond his reach, he festers, growing older, obsessed with his need for revenge. Such a man is ripe for recruitment. A demon comes to see him. He wants to strike a deal. I’ll give you your vengeance. You just have to do it 230 years in the future.
After 7 seasons of Buffy and 5 of Angel, I can state with certainty that IMO, the best seasonal villains are personal. Angelus for Buffy. Holtz for Angel. This isn’t just about some random bad guy that you as the hero must put down to save the world or the city or whomever. This is a bad guy who is after you, or your family, or your friends, or your soul, because of some personal connection you have with him.
Angelus: “Shouldn’t we be killing Holtz?”
Darla: “I know, but it’s so much more fun ruining his life. He’s like family now.”
Maybe you save more people when you save the world, but it means more when you save those you love, or fail to save them. Season 2 of BtVS and Season 3 of AtS resonate emotionally with me because of the losses the main characters go through–Buffy losing Angel, Angel losing his son, both as an infant and as a teen.
Reason #2. Darla. DarAngel(us). Season 3 gave me the Angel-Darla resolution I was looking for, but didn’t get, at the end of Season 2.
Reason #3. Which resulted, quite unexpectedly, in, well, you-know-who.
The episode starts with a prophecy (*oy*, another prophecy). In this case, we have the Nyazian scrolls, which speak of the “Tro-clon”–a series of events that are supposed to lead to the “ruinification and/or purification of mankind.” If it’s anything like the Shanshu Prophecy, it means mankind will be purified through being ruined. Or…something. Soon after, Darla makes her entrance on Angel’s doorstep, and she is once again an archetype–only this time, she’s not the the hopeful ex-wife, or the evil seductress, or the vulnerable damsel. This time, she’s the bitter dumped girlfriend, knocked up and abandoned. But she’s also a vampire. A pregnant vampire. So, understandably, the gang wonders if whatever is inside her might not be part of the prophecy.
Fred, at least, talked like it was a child. But the others–Wes, Darla, Gunn, Cordelia–talked like it could be some sort of monster or bad guy. And at the time this episode first aired, it could have been anything. It could have been Jasmine! I was fully ready for it to be some skittery bad thing, although I hoped it wouldn’t be (and I suppose the jury’s still out on whether it *wasn’t* a skittery monster *g*).
At any rate, whatever it is that’s inside her, it’s making Darla ravenous, and she’s running around drinking everyone in sight, most especially human children. So Angel must kill her, and with her, the one thing he can never have even if he lives forever–his own child.
Oh, how I felt and related to his hope and pain. Angel has always been my point of view character on either show, for a variety of reasons. But now I could relate to him in a new way–as a single woman encroaching on middle age and starting to regret her decision to remain childless.
Who doesn’t simply *adore* snarky!Darla in these pregnant Darla episodes? Julie Benz rocks as the confused, knocked-up evil vampire trying desperately not to become what must seem like the most hideous thing in the world to her–a madonna. Her anger at Angel, her why-me, how-could-this-happen confusion, and her primordial demonic repulsion at the thought of something so pure–a child with a soul–growing within.
If there was anything that could *truly* humble the great, arrogant, powerful demon Darla, it’s helplessness. I suppose that’s true for all of us. But here she is, scourge of Europe for centuries, and she is finally experiencing something that she can do nothing about. And it’s causing her pain and making her dependent on people she’d just as soon eat, and I think this is what starts getting to her, as much as the baby’s soul–how it REALLY feels to be helpless, to be a victim, to be used.
Holtz: The baby is just one part of the Tro-Clon. The arrival of Holtz is another. The demon Sahjhan comes to Holtz in the 18th century and tells him, “You’ll die a bitter old man and never lay eyes on Angelus and Darla again.” And then he invites Holtz to jump into the 21st century to wreak his vengeance. But you know what I’m wondering? What exactly did Sahjhan see that made him predict that? An alternate future where Holtz dies in the 18th century, a broken man? Or the *real* future from the episode “Benediction”, where Holtz dies at Justine’s hands a bitter man seventeen years older than when he appeared, who, incidentally, did *not* lay eyes on Darla during his 21st century adventure, nor on Angelus, technically (just Angel).
Like I said, just wondering.
Anyway, things that make me smile in the episode “Quickening”:
– During the ultrasound when Angel says, “I’m going to have a son.” After the episode “Home”, I stopped smiling during that moment. Because Angel’s son had become the son of someone else, and didn’t even remember Angel; in essence, Angel no longer had a son. “Origin” and “Not Fade Away” allowed me to smile again in that moment.
So sue me for schmoopy sentimentality.
– EVERYONE wanting that baby! Well, on the television, anyway. Wolfram and Hart. Vampire cults. His father. His father’s friends. When the vampires start bowing and worshipping the baby, I laugh out loud. Of course, it’s because I’m imagining them doing it in front of a very confused teenager who is looking down at them, getting that wrinkly-browed VK expression on his face.
In Lullaby, Darla starts having trouble giving birth, and the issue switches from “what is inside her?” to “should it be born?” They know it’s human, but human beings can be evil. Fred speculates it could be a messiah; but they worry it could also be the next Adolph Hitler. Darla settles the issue in her own mind. She knows the child is good, because she can feel it. Having the child’s soul inside her changes her, and she realizes that for the first time in her life and unlife, she has created something good. As she lies in the rainy alleyway feeling that child dying within her, she tells Angel that:
“This child–Angel, it’s the one good thing we ever did together. The only good thing.”
Then Darla kills herself to save the life of her child. And it’s a highly symbolic moment, because it was in an alley that she once damned her other darling boy.
From whore to madonna. One might wonder if this whole story line is sending a not-so-subtle message that what a woman *really* needs for redemption and wholeness is pregnancy and motherhood. But I don’t think ME is sending that message, either on purpose or inadvertently, given that pregnancy and the maternal instinct were almost Cordelia’s undoing the very next season.
Darla’s end, of course, is just the beginning of the story, because that’s when Holtz appears in the alley, expecting to kill Darla and Angelus and finding instead Angel and his son. And it is in that moment, according to Tim Minear, that Holtz changes his mind about what he ought to do to get the vengeance he’s always wanted. It’s not about the quick death Sahjhan wants; suddenly, Holtz realizes he can have an eye for an eye–he can torment Angelus in just the way he was tormented.
Holtz is the most important villain of the entire series because he symbolizes the one thing Angel wants and is striving for–redemption, forgiveness from the victims themselves. And Holtz won’t give it to him. And ironically, or maybe not so ironically, Angel doesn’t want Holtz’ forgiveness, either; he doesn’t begrudge Holtz his vengeance. And not just because Angel is some mopey self-sacrificing lump.
In the first episode of season 3, when Angel starts telling the gang the story of Holtz, he cuts off his tale at the moment when Holtz and his men have their crossbows aimed at Angelus and James. And the gang, back in the present, are chomping at the bit to find out how Angel got out of that situation, as if Angelus were the good guy and Holtz was the bad guy. The Fang Gang, in that moment, were stand-ins for the AtS audience itself. We’re accustomed to being in Angelus’ point of view in the flashbacks, of being interested in his story, even when he behaves monstrously. And his victims are nameless and (sometimes) faceless for the most part, and we no longer feel the monstrosity. So with the appearance of Holtz, we’re being asked to feel it; because Angel, our hero, feels it. Holtz is his victims made flesh again, holding a sword at his throat. Angel not only sympathizes with his seasonal nemesis; he almost wants that nemesis to win.
Almost. Because of course Angel can’t throw himself on that sword. He might have, a year or two earlier, but now there is someone between him and Holtz’ vengeance–an innocent.
I think one reason people see the baby as a manipulative plot device is that it seems he was only created to give Holtz something personal to attack, tit for tat, eye-for-an-eye. I mean, that doesn’t quite work if Holtz goes after Angel’s family-of-choice–Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn, or Fred. So ME gave Angel a biological child just in that season and just for that purpose, which is plot devicey, that’s true. But it’s a plot device with friggin’ layers, man. The humbling and redemption of Darla being just one of them, the creation of the deepest and most resonate villian being another (I’m going to set aside the layers that come with the effect becoming a father has on Angel for future reviews).
And the baby would be even more of two-dimensional plot device if Holtz were simply a sympathetic victim with a blameless claim on Angelus. But he’s not. He’s ruthless, annoying, cold. He has to be if he is to be the villain in a show where a monster has become the hero. He needs to be if he is going to be the sort of man who will go after a child to get vengeance on his enemy.
Over the course of the season, Holtz becomes almost Angelus-like himself, a mirror for the vampire to see his reflection. It’s often been tossed around in Angel fanon that mortal Liam wanted to be an artist, but his father wouldn’t allow it. As Angelus, though, there were no rules, no qualms, and he became that artist. Angelus was a performance artist of torment and pain. Killing and sadism were his medium–“a good kill, a real kill, it takes pure artistry.” Killing Holtz’ family was still life on canvas. Drusilla was his masterpiece.
Holtz, Angel’s mirror, had to be equal to that. And so we see him create his own masterpiece, a sculpture he molded and created out of hatred and vengeance. And it was called Steven. Holtz’ story is the story of a man who lets hurt and hatred twist him. He sells himself to evil because vengeance is all he has left. So much more interesting than forgiveness and heroics. Holtz does vengeance with his dying breath.
Still think the baby is a manipulative plot device?