So I was about to start a recap post of Season 3 AtS that I’m supposed to write for a Season 4 marathon I have coming up, when it occurred to me that I already *have* a Season 3 review obligation and who can do justice to Season 3 in one post anyway? So this is as good an excuse as any to finish my Season 3 AtS reviews.
General thoughts: the baby Connor episodes
Well, most of them. I’m leaving Loyalty and Sleep Tight for another review because those stand on their own as the major turning point of Season 3. In between the turning point that is Darla’s pregnancy/the birth of her and Angel’s child, and the loss of that child, there lies a murky middle ground known as “the baby Connor episodes.”
These are not the strong point of the season, but in my view, they didn’t all suck, either, as some maintain. I have a soft spot for them, in fact, because these are the episodes that turned me into a devoted Connor fan and Angel+Connor ‘shipper–long before Vincent Kartheiser came along. And for a number of reasons which I’ll get into below. But primarily because they hit close to home for me. Anyone who reads my LJ with regularity knows I don’t have kids, and will probably never have kids, and I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I don’t have the temperament for momhood; so I don’t regret the choice I made not having kids. On the other hand, I still have all those maternal urges nature imbues you with. And I find that at my age–when I should have a few young’ns running around–I am very family oriented. The relationships I respond to in television, film, and books are parent-child relationships. And I enjoy the vicarious experience of parenthood through my brother’s child.
And then there’s Angel. Since the Season 1 BtVS episode “Angel”, he has been my POV character–awkward, brooding, lonely, neurotic, butt-kicking fallible hero guy. The kind of guy that stumbled into relationships, screwed them up, and seemed destined to do so the rest of his unlife. A guy who was by DEFINITION cut off from the cycle of life by his vampire existence, so you knew a normal family life was not in the cards for him (maybe if he shanshued, but that’s no guarantee he’d start getting things right in his life–just being human).
Then along comes pregnant Darla carrying his child. A human child. The one thing he could never have in his unnaturally long life even if he lived forever. Talk about your vicarious experiences of parenthood. Angel loved that baby. You could see it in his face and in his every action. He loved parenthood. Maybe it was David Boreanaz’ acting that put this across. I think his wife was either pregnant or already had given birth around this time so DB didn’t even need the Method acting approach. He already knew how Angel felt. There could be a drinking game for every moment Angel hovered over that crib smiling, or lifted the child in his arms and enjoyed baby-gurgles.
And it’s also true that Angel’s connection and love for this baby was necessary for plot purposes. Season 3 is, in the broad scope, a tragedy of vengeance; an eye for an eye. Your child for mine. The adoration Angel had for that child is what created the depth of the tragedy that was teenaged Connor, and it made the Connor+Angel relationship in Season 4 all the more difficult to bear, but that’s a post for another day.
It’s official. The triplets who played baby Connor were the most adorable babies, ever. Then my nephew was born. But ahem. Erm. Anyway…. “Dad” is an often-maligned episode, and I just don’t get that. I mean, what’s not to love? Baby. Angel. Baby. Angel. Angel’s baby. Angel-baby. Momma bear vibe. Daddy. Teddy Bears. Making silly faces and singing Smokey Robinson. And did you know that one of the triplets playing the-baby-to-be-named-Connor was himself named Connor? Isn’t that just *the cutest thing*??
Other moments I love: the thing Steven Holtz would later abhor is the one thing that calms him as a baby. Angel’s game face.
O.K., that’s not the only highlight of this episode. Two words:
Snarky Justine fighting a vampire in a graveyard while the British Holtz instructs her. On BtVS’ spin-off show, that’s an archetypal moment, one designed to pluck (not-so-) subtly at our memory strings so that we will be cued in that these villains are to be sympathized with even as they attack our heroes.
At the end of the previous episode, Holtz finally became aware that Darla was pregnant with Angel’s child. Now Darla is dead; now it’s just Angel and the child. And Holtz forms a complex plan for vengeance that parts significantly from Sahjhan’s. Sahjhan is concerned with prophecies and saving his own ass from the child who will one day grow up to be Connor. Holtz is concerned with the Art of Revenge. It’s like Spike and Angel debating fighting philosophies: Sahjhan wants to kill and be done with it. Holtz wants to put on a three-hour opera complete with sets and costumes and resonant metaphors.
Justine is one of the bitter human warriors with a history of tragedy that Holtz is molding and shaping to “die for his cause.” The cause of vengeance against a vampire.
Holtz and Sahjhan are not the only folks interested in the human “miracle child” of two vampires. Wolfram and Hart are as well, as are a whole collection of ghoulish creeps and cultist vampire weirdoes. Lorne’s demon hearing picks up the bugs Wolfram and Hart has infiltrated the hotel with, and the crux of the episode is the gang hatching a plan to dupe their enemies into thinking Angel has run away from the Hyperion with the baby. They chase Angel down, he gets them all in one place and blows them up. Boom.
And they all seem to magically go away at that point, except for Wolfram and Hart and Holtz.
And who can’t say the scene where Angel walks right into the board room at Wolfram and Hart, cuts Linwood and threatens tit for tat to him isn’t Way Cool vintage Angel?? The one thing that won’t change for Angel and Connor through the seasons is the lengths Angel will go to as father/protector.
Another moment of note is the final really true Gunn-Wesley bonding scene. Gunn and Wes compare Tough Guy Movie fantasies during the big demon show-down. Alas, they were being set up for the big split over FRED, and things just were never the same again.
I know I’ll get flamed for this, but Birthday isn’t one of the super-sucky episodes of Season 3, either. In retrospect, yeah, it’s the beginning of a long, slow, painful character death, but I remember at the time it aired thinking to myself in the last few minutes of the episode, “They turned Cordelia into a demon? THAT’S my show! Always taking risks!”
It’s just…sometimes risks don’t pay off. That’s why they’re called “risks.” But after pulling off a stunning pregnant!Darla, I trusted ME with demon!Cordelia.
The action of this episode starts with Cordelia falling into a coma. Her visions have been slowly destroying her brain, and she’s been covering it up with strong medication. Once Cordelia is in the coma, the demon Skip pays her a visit, acting as a guide to help her find her “true path” in life. This episode was thus meant as a pivotal one for her character, providing closure to her Hollywood star dream of Seasons 1 and 2 and pushing forth her evolution into a Champion. Or so we thought. And so (at least some of) Mutant Enemy apparently thought, too, at the time.
Skip was originally written as a good guy, a warrior demon of the Powers that Be, not just a “merc” who’d work for anyone willing to pay his price (“Inside Out”). So the manipulation of Cordelia in this episode was meant in the most benevolent way–show Cordelia what the world would have been like if she’d become an actress, and give her a chance to formally choose to be a Champion helping Angel (I thought the alterno-world was kind of interesting myself. The hints of a bitter, toughened Wesley, for example.) Cordelia can choose to not have the visions anymore and lead a normal life, or be turned part-demon in order to bear them. And in classic Powers-that-Be fashion, she is forced to make this choice without *all* the available information, because otherwise her choice would be muddied–she needs to see only the good of her actress life, not the good of her Champion life when she makes her decision. She has to be willing to step in whatever dangers that Champion life will bring.
Cordelia of course chooses the later. At the time, the possibilities of a demon!Cordelia were compellingly morally ambiguous. Demons are supposed to have a bit of a violent nature, or be physically unattractive. Where was ME going with THIS? So it was a bit disappointing when Cordelia turns her back on normalcy and popularity only to slowly evolve over the remainder of the season into “Saint Cordelia”, all blonde and pure-of-heart and Angel-defending and super-power-glowy.
At least, that’s one way of looking at what happened.
I prefer a different, retconned interpretation, one in which Cordelia’s AtS journey is a study in the moral ambiguity of the sacrificial saint (with due credit to londonkds who introduced me to this interpretation). Her flaw as a character has always been hubris, an over-estimation of her own value, and this was no less true on AtS than it was on BtVS. On AtS, she embraced the visions and didn’t tell anyone about their destructive effect because the visions made her important. She was the link between God’s warrior and God.
“Birthday” is simply the episode where she formally chooses to turn her back on “selfish” popularity to pursue the “noble” Lord’s work, believing fully in the righteousness of those actions. And the ironic tragedy is that later, a morally ambiguous PTB will take advantage of her faith and hubris and violate her for Its own purposes.
Of course, I realize that I’m reading a moral ambiguity into the text of Season 3 that just wasn’t there that season. Saint Cordelia was annoying to fans precisely because she was presented as saintly without a hint of irony. Her decision to go to the higher dimensions with Skip in “Tomorrow” was supposed to be the right thing.
I’m told that the Cordelia we actually see in Season 3 and the Cordelia we can retcon due to the events of Season 4 reflect a difference of opinion between David Greenwalt and Joss about where they were going with Cordelia, and this is why Greenwalt left at the end of Season 3.
(for more of my thoughts on Cordelia as sacrificial saint, see http://infinitedoorways.com/2004/11/01/angel-season-3-eps-1-6/)
And now, kiddies, it’s time for the Worst.Episode.Of.Angel.EVER.
I love the arcy episodes of Season 3. That’s why it’s my favorite season. The villain was complex and sympathetic. The arcs of characters like Wesley and Lilah and Angel were compelling. Love and loss reached its peak in this season because it was felt in the deepest personal ways, whether it was Darla/Angel/Connor, or the Fang Gang family, or Holtz and his gang.
The stand-alone episodes, on the other hand…they sort of sucked.
You know, there’s nothing wrong with stand-alones in theory. It’s just that the lulls between arcy episodes in Season 3 were more…lully. Like Mutant Enemy was marking time until they could get back to the main arc again. Filling space by auditioning new writers after the network shake-up of the year before. Writers who didn’t quite get the characters, or writing fantasy television, or that ME’s strength is subversion of viewer expectations. Provider is a glaring example of this.
Plot: Angel goes a little loopy trying to earn money for his baby boy. In the gang’s eagerness for profit, Fred almost gets her head cut off. And to prove how much Cordy’s changed, she gives back money to save her friends. They beat the bad guys and save the collective day and everyone learns an important lesson: money isn’t everything (so of course we’ll be all responsible and stuff with the 50,000 we stole after we kilt those demons ded).
“Provider” was just…cheesy. The demons were cheesy, the idea of beheading Fred to give that head to a prince was REALLY WTF? cheesy, and Cordelia making goo-goo talk to baby Connor really kinda weirds me out in retrospect, you know? (which, admittedly, is not this episode’s fault)
Strangely enough, the closing shot of Cordelia, Connor, and Angel together in a bed *doesn’t* weird me out. I suppose because it speaks of things that could have been. Family happiness and creature comfort. It’s one of those squooshy moments to make you feel all warm and fuzzy and that makes the knife-turn of the coming tragedy just that much more gut-wrenching.
Because it contrasts sharply with the moment between Holtz and Justine that chillingly foreshadows how Holtz probably treated Steven in Quortoth. He believes in physical discipline, he does not believe in what he would see as coddling. He demands loyalty above all.
Waiting in the Wings
This is another episode that gets unfairly maligned, IMO. Probably because “Joss has been known to do better.” WTF??? This is a gazillion times better than most crap on TV, and falls squarely above some of the true dogs of the season. I’d say, in fact, it’s a beautiful, classic example of what a stand-alone can be. You bring in a one-time character, create a fascinating, deeply human supernatural dilemma for them, and then have the gang stumble upon them somehow and save the day. The ballerina torn between her love of a man and her love of ballet. She can’t have both because of the evil Count Kurskov, but she hesitates just a little too long in making her choice and becomes trapped in his castle like in a fairy tale, where her beloved ballet becomes an endless nightmare for her.
It isn’t just the same ballet.
It’s the same performance.
I don’t dance.
I actually thought Summer Glau was a real ballet dancer they hired to play the part. She just had the poise and the accent and the swan-like neck.
The arcy significance of “Waiting in the Wings” is its contribution to what I have called “the Making of Wesley.” As in The Thin Dead Line or Billy, Mutant Enemy throws s*** at Wesley and he is forced to deal with it. And he deals with it in classic Wesley fashion by cutting himself off, hardening himself. Putting aside the parts of himself and his relationships that he (mistakenly) sees as frivolous.
In this case, the s*** is a romantic rejection. Romances on action-adventure-fantasy shows like BtVS and AtS are always tricky ground. There are fans who think they’re gratuitous. There are fans who think they’re the whole point. Both attitudes rather miss the point, IMO. I think romances give an action-adventure show heart, and if they can do that while contributing to the plot at the same time (without being awkward manipulations), all the better.
In several previous episodes of Season 3, we’ve seen Wesley’s interest in Fred, something Cordelia picked up on immediately but Fred did not because Wesley never *showed* that interest around Fred. We’ve also seen Gunn display an interest in Fred, something Fred has already picked up on because Gunn has been fairly open about it (without actually coming right out and saying the words). So it’s no big surprise that fancy clothes and a romantic night out with dancing and danger get the sparks flying–for Fred and Gunn. And poor Wesley, who has been too timid to make a move, not only loses his chance with Fred, but experiences the loss while he is under the influence of the angry, jealous spirit of Count Kurskov.
I really understood Wesley’s withdrawal from the gang at this point. To have Fred and Gunn paraded around in front of him because they had no clue how he felt not only hurt, it was a constant reminder of his timidity, which he no doubt loathed. Then, on top of that, you have the pairing off of Cordelia and Groo, and the already existent love affair of Angel and Connor, and Wesley really becomes the seventh wheel, paired off with nothing but his responsibilities as book-man and “boss.”
Angel, of course, also has a certain awkward timidity when it comes to women, but for different reasons, reasons less internal (“I lack confidence”) and more external (the happiness clause of the curse). But when Cordelia can’t see Angel’s interest and goes running to Groo, Angel already has a relationship to find solace in. The one with his son.
Random thoughts on WITW:
– You know, now when I watch this, I can’t help but think teen Connor when I hear the name “Connor”, so lines like, “That little Connor burps like a champ” just make me spit diet coke all over my keyboard.
– WiTW is the only time I can ever think of where Angel makes the slightest comment about all of Lorne’s terms of endearment for/relentless flirting with him. He doesn’t even blink in Couplet when Lorne calls him “Miss Garbo.” It’s not an issue for him at all. He’s utterly secure in his masculinity, even if he’s not secure in anything else.
I have to say, I was never much of an Angel/Cordelia ‘shipper. I liked them as friends, not lovers. I think they were good for each other. Cordelia didn’t put up with Angel’s broody nonsense, and Angel’s intent, often single-minded sense of purpose gave Cordelia a new perspective on the value of the good fight. The idea that two opposite-sex characters (or same-sex characters, for that matter) who are close friends *must* end up in the sack together really always annoyed the hell out of me. Because it disses non-sexual relationships as being somehow inherently secondary, less valuable. And reinforces the idea that men and women can’t relate to each other any other way.
So I wasn’t too upset when Groo showed up and threw a wrench in the budding Cordgel romance. The problem was, Groo was never meant to be anything more than a hurdle on the road to Cordgel. That much was *really* obvious. Angel’s forced to help Groo and Cordelia do the com-shuk by finding a “supernatural prophylatic” for them? Cordelia gives Groo a make-over to look like Angel? (which, by the way, I *hated*. Groo looked better in long hair and that gladiator outfit). Plus, Groo? Was really sort of a cartoon from the beginning. I liked him, I did, and they did tone him down later. But he never completely stopped being Mr. Earnest Over-the-top Medieval Melodrama, and so was a little hard to take seriously.
The point of bringing in Groo, though, was not just to throw a wrench in the Cordgel, but to make Angel doubt himself and what he contributed to the group, at least for the span of one episode. In earlier seasons, this was never questioned. Angel was the boss, it was his mission, and everyone else was just helping. Then he wandered off into his own world in Season 2, Wesley took over the reigns, Cordelia had the visions, then Groo comes along saving the literal day(light).
Every once in a while Angel needs a kick in the pants. After seeing the show through Season 5, I wonder if that will ever cease to be true.
Getting a bit lost in the turgid supernatural soap-opera of couplings and jealousy is Wesley. Fred has “made her choice” and so what then does Wesley have? He’s thrown himself into translating the Nyazian prophecies with a special interest in what they say about Connor.
I became invested in the character of Connor during the “baby Connor episodes”, not just because Angel had a child of his own, but because Connor was intriguing in his own right. “His birth was foretold.” “He has a role to play.” The child of two vampires–imagine the possibilities. Between that and Sahjhan’s “The kid had a big future” in “Forgiving”, I was imaging a lot of very mythic possibilities. Just the idea of Connor–supernaturally-gifted child of a Hero, subject of ancient prophecies–lends itself to this. Connor as Moses, Oedipus, Mordred, Telemachus, Luke Skywalker.
But that was for the future, and mostly for the fan-fic. Connor was really never much more than a tragic figure on AtS itself, and the episodes to come played out that tragedy.
In one of those interestingly convenient behind-the-scenes circumstances, Charisma Carpenter had a movie to film and the inutitive busy-body Cordelia was sent off on vacation with Groo for a few episodes. Episodes in which Wesley cut himself off from Angel and the others with his Greek commentaries on the Nyazian prophecies, which he translates.
The father will kill the son.