This review contains 95% less obnoxious Angel+Baby Connor squeeing than the last. I promise. But I just have to start the post by noting their relationship, because of course the episodes “Loyalty” and “Sleep Tight” mark the tragic turn of Season 3, when Angel loses his child in Holtz’s devastating act of eye-for-an-eye vengeance.
“He just makes me so happy.” — Angel
Season 3 Angel was so enthusiastic about being a father, so clearly in love with his son. Waxing poetic about how he couldn’t wait to see Connor grow up, to experience all the milestones in his life with him. I should have known something was going to happen. Well, it’s not like I didn’t know something was going to happen. A vampire pregnancy is all well and good, as is Angel being all goo-goo about his baby, but it’s a well-known maxim of television that children rarely grow up on screen. They get shoved into the background of the story, forgotten, speed-aged over night, or they die.
But I was unspoiled.
So of course I didn’t see the horrid foreshadowing of the coming of Steven Holtz. Aubrey, one of Holtz’s soldiers, poses as a client coming to Angel Investigations, telling them the (no doubt true) story of her own son. As she does, we see Angel rocking Connor’s cradle. Aubrey relates how she lost her son at the pier. How she looked for him. How she finally went home and waited. How he returned to her, changed, vicious, cursing her name. She talks about how she wishes she’d let the boy into the house rather than letting him burn in the morning sun.
God. Is that the story of teen Connor in a nutshell? And then Gunn says,
Gunn: “No. What came to your door that wasn’t your son. It looked like your son, but it wasn’t him.”
Aubrey: “Maybe I could have found a way to turn him back.”
Angel: “When somebody becomes a vampire there is no turning back. No matter how much you want to believe there is some part of him you can save, all that’s left is an evil thing.”
Note: you know, Angel fans don’t talk a lot about Angel’s “I have a soul” superiority complex. He’s always brooding, seeking redemption, being insecure, but the truth is he *does* think he’s better than unsouled demons, and both Gunn and Cordelia have called him on that attitude from time to time when it was appropriate. Mostly when he does something *really* morally ambiguous like letting Darla and Drusilla kill all the lawyers.
Anyway, Aubrey returns to Holtz’s soldiers and tells them all about Angel’s team, and you get the impression that Holtz is preparing for a war. Which is something of a mislead, because in the end, his vengeance was very personal, very specific. Taking Angel’s son away from Angel was his plan from the moment he laid eyes on Connor in that rainy alleyway. So why all the soldiers? Is Angel really all that hard to kill? Well, no–Holtz could have easily dusted Angel in the alley the night of Connor’s birth, for example. But Holtz doesn’t want Angel dead.
“I want to keep Angelus alive…but not well.” –Holtz
And that takes manpower. (Plus Holtz is “the Captain” and he’s used to having “men” to order around).
Speaking of which, another side note: I love Justine. She’s tough, bitter, fucked up, and though she’s not a Slayer, she can still kick your ass. My only question is–how can she fight in pants that tight? She can barely stand when she falls over, which she does, a lot.
Meanwhile, Sahjhan has wised up and realized that he won’t get what he wants from Holtz–Angel and Connor’s quick death. So Sahjhan goes to Lilah, who tells him she is going to help him “contrary to Wolfram and Hart’s official policy.” Together, they cook up a scheme to get Angel to kill Connor. First, they get a hold of some of Connor’s blood, which they slip into Angel’s pig’s blood. Angel drinks it, and, since it’s been a while since he had yummy human blood, he gets a taste for it and wants more. Then, Sahjhan “flits” back in time (in a manly way) with his handy-dandy dimensional portals and rewrites the Nyazian scrolls so that the true prophecy that vexed him in the first place is no longer there:
“The one sired by the vampire with a soul will grow to manhood and kill Sahjhan.”
He replaces it with a “prophecy” that “predicts” what he hopes Angel will soon do: “The father will kill the son.”
At this point, it becomes unclear exactly what events are manipulated by Sahjhan and/or Lilah and what are not. But you have to wonder. Wesley finds the fake prophecy and starts trying to prove it false. I doubt Sahjhan actually thought Wesley would find that “prophecy”, and he certainly didn’t want Wesley trying to prevent it from coming true. On the other hand, Lilah probably did; she wanted to get her hands on the baby so Wolfram and Hart could study and dissect it.
Wesley goes to the Hamburger Loa who tells him to “look for the signs–earthquake, fire, blood” because these will signal when the “vampire will ‘devour’ his child.” Then the earthquake actually happens, and we see Lilah sitting at her desk unperturbed as if she were expecting it. And it’s exactly this earthquake that convinces Wesley that the prophecy must be true and that rather than spend his energies disproving it, he’d better spend them protecting Connor.
Methinks Lilah was behind that Loa’s ambiguously misleading words *and*, probably, Wesley managing to find copies of the commentaries on the Nyzian scrolls in the first place.
But what was Wesley’s deal? We can assume that he didn’t tell Angel about the prophecy at first simply because he wanted to prove it was false. Not only didn’t he want to accuse his friend of murder-before-the-fact, Angel wasn’t likely *to* murder his child. He was the sappiest, dotingest father. Ever.
Then the “signs” came in quick succession and Wesley panicked: the Loa’s confirmation that the “vampire would devour his child”; the earthquake, fire, and blood; Angel’s erratic behavior. So Wesley shifts gears from proving the prophecy false to trying to prevent it from happening. It’s at this point we really have to ask, “why didn’t Wesley talk to somebody?
Well, he did talk to “somebody.” He talked to Holtz. Initially, Wesley goes to Holtz to give him a firm-jawed, “I know what you’re up to and leave Angel alone, he has a soul, yada yada.” The second time he goes to Holtz, it’s ostensibly to stop the war on Angel before it starts. But Holtz tells Wesley that if he doesn’t do something about Angel before Connor is harmed, Holtz will. Holtz doesn’t know about the prophecy; he just assumes Angel is a danger to the child, because, hey, *vampire*, but Holtz’s reactions only fuel Wesley’s fears.
O.K., forget Holtz. The real question is, “Why didn’t Wesley tell a member of the Fang Gang about the prophecy?” Why did he run off with Angel’s child instead?
Because it’s classic Wesley. This is the man who, from the moment we meet him in “Bad Girls” until the moment he dies in NFA, mistakes “the hard choice” for the right choice. Yes, sometimes in life, we are forced to make hard choices–choices we’d rather not make–because they’re the right thing to do under the circumstances. But how many times has Wesley made “the hard choice” when there were alternatives he hadn’t fully considered? (e.g., Choices, TNPLPG, Habeas Corpses, Lineage, etc.) Wesley needs to be the rogue demon hunter, the man who takes responsibility off others and puts it on himself and makes the decisions “no one else can/should have to make” to spare them that burden. *
‘Cause that’s what it means to be a man.
Wesley never much liked his father. But he internalized his father, and the whole ruthless Watcher credo.
So Wesley goes to the hotel and takes Connor away. Unluckily for him, Holtz has decided not to “wait a day” to make his own move to “save” Connor, and he attacks the hotel right after the gang has discovered that Wesley has run off with the baby. The attack is a diversion so Justine can steal Connor from Wesley.
And then Holtz carries out his real plan–to take Connor away from Angel the way Angel took his son. But rather than kill him, Holtz intends to raise Connor himself. Only he realizes he can’t do that without Angel tracking him down relentlessly wherever he goes. After all, Angel does that in “Sleep Tight”–he tracks down Holtz to the bridge overpass. Then the other players arrive–Lilah, Sahjhan. Time for the big show down.
At first, Holtz’s only alternative seems to be to kill the child. Which Sahjhan is all for; that’s what he’s wanted from the beginning. But Angel wants the child alive, as does the double-crossing Lilah. And Angel would rather see Connor with Holtz than with Wolfram and Hart or dead. So Sahjhan plays the only card he’s got left, his ability to open portals. He opens a portal to Quoroth, “the darkest of the dark worlds”. Unless Holtz kills the child, he’ll open it wider and it will engulf them all.
Holtz doesn’t care; he wants his vengeance above all else. So he jumps into Quortoth with Angel’s child.
At this point, Sahjhan assumes he’s won–Connor is as good as dead. He smugly says, “Have a good summer” and disappears and sure enough, we had a HUGE break between Sleep Tight and Forgiving. Weeks. Maybe over a month? It was pretty awful.
‘Cause I held out hope. Say all the grumbly things you want about the baby Connor story line, I LIKED Angel and his baby son, I liked his joy, I liked him having someone he could be with at the end of the day, even if it was an infant wiggling in his crib. I didn’t want anything happening to that baby, and I was worried they were going to kill it off, just because…Joss does that. Up the angst quotient.
So, Masq, who had sworn off spoilers since Season 3 of BtVS, went and read a David Greenwalt article. The article said, “the baby isn’t coming back. The baby is gone.” I didn’t read that as “The baby is gone, but Connor isn’t.” I pretty much read that as, “Connor is gone.” And I was devastated, right along side Angel.
* Thanks goes to dlgood for pointing out this interpretation of Wesley.
Forgiving starts out in a daze, the numbed and desperate hunt for answers. Fred searches for a reason why Wesley would simply run off with Angel’s child without a word. Justine struggles with the realization that Holtz has simply abandoned her. And Angel tries to find a way into Quortoth so he can save Connor the way he once saved Cordelia from Pylea (speaking of which, it might have *helped* if they’d had her visions guiding them, but now it’s Angel keeping people out of the loop “for their own good”).
Everyone feels betrayed.
The hunt for answers is soon abandoned in favor of action. Justine leads Holtz’s group on an attack against Angel as if everything’s proceeding according to plan. Angel abandons book research in favor of wringing information out of Lynwood. And Fred and Gunn run out to find Wesley before Angel decides to switch from rescuing the child to “punishing those responsible.”
Lorne warns Angel that getting into Quortoth requires “dark, dark magicks”, but Angel’s back in touch with his dark side again. It’s amazing how easily he shifts into Angelus-mode. You often hear people remark that Angel and Angelus are “so different” while souled and unsouled Spike are not. Bull-oney. Angelus just is Liam’s dark side, and we see him slip into it like a dark coat when circumstances push him far enough. The lawyers in the basement; the kidnapping of Connor. Am I wrong to be fascinated by that transition?
Lynwood sends Angel to Lilah, who takes him to Wolfram and Hart’s font of information–the Conduit to the Senior Partners. This is our first visit to the White Room. Mesektet, the Conduit, announces blithely that “the baby’s gone, you want Sahjhan”. She wants Angel to shift to the revenge portion of our program, but Angel hasn’t given up yet. He goes after Sahjhan hoping Sahjhan will help him open a portal. A few dark magicks, and *poof*, Sahjhan is corporealized. But of course, the demon neither wants nor can open another portal to Quortoth.
And so we find all our players impotent. Gunn and Fred can’t find Wesley. Justine can’t kill Angel. And Angel is left with nothing but grief. And revenge.
Fred and Gunn return to Wesley’s place and discover the prophecy that lead to Wesley’s actions. And Fred, desperate to believe no ill of Wesley, defends Wesley’s choice as “the only thing he could do under the circumstances.” Angel is considerably less forgiving. Earlier in the episode, he was in a dark place, and yet, when Wesley is finally found and Angel goes after him, it is such a human act. After my nephew was born, I realized I could fully imagine my intellectual geek pacificist conscientious objector brother killing someone who harmed his son. How much more capable is Angel? Season 3 sucks in places. I know that. But when Season 3 is good, it’s GOOD. The end of “Forgiving”? ChristAlmightyFuck.
A couple other notes on “Forgiving”. Sahjhan, the time-shifting demon who has seen both the future and the past says, “I had to put your boy down. Pity. Kid had a big future. I mean big.”
– “Big,” to me, means more than just fathering, defending, and then killing Jasmine (after she was already deposed from power). It means more than slaying Sahjhan. It means more than writing resumes for internships. It means Connor has a real future as a hero. Which is one reason I finally broke down and started committing fanfic. I wanted to see that future.
– I love seeing Sahjhan mouth off in “Forgiving” knowing that he’ll get his. The very fate he tried to avoid he created. Killed by the Destroyer of Quortoth. Ahhh….
Double or Nothing
Cordelia finally returns. With the worst.hair.ever. You thought her season 2 hair was bad? Oh.my.gawd. The one thing to make Saint Cordelia as bad as bad could get was Teh Hare!!
Anyway, she returns to find Angel in mourning. Say what you want about the suckiness of “Double or Nothing”. DB’s performance of Angel’s grief is palpable. Staring into that damned charred, empty crib. God.
And Alexis Denisof. The things he can say with silence. In attempting to save/spare his family, Wesley loses his family. And Fred, despite her repeated naïve insistence that they ought to reach out to Wesley (at best, it’s *way* too soon) is the one to drive this point home to him. She tells him he should have told them about the prophecy instead of going to Holtz behind their backs. She warns him that Angel will kill him if he returns to the hotel. And she informs him that the prophecy that tormented him was false. Wesley’s failure is complete. He has nothing.
Once you get past the arcy stuff, “Double or Nothing” seems to be little more than a filler episode that gives us some background on Gunn. But though the execution of this episode is poor, I think it tries to do something deeper than that (which it probably ultimately failed at), and we can still recognize it if we look hard enough.
The trick is to ignore every use of the word “soul” and substitute the word “future“. Both words are used in this episode–interchangeably, alas (which causes trouble later on because of the meaning of the word “soul” in the Buffyverse)–but just go with me here. The episode was written by some temp writer who had a decent understanding of metaphor but a sucky grasp of Buffyverse metaphysics. Forget about souls.
The episode takes us back to a time when Gunn was still living on the streets, fighting a seemingly insurmountable daily struggle against the demons that preyed on his neighborhood. He didn’t think much about the future, because what future was there? He was a high-school drop-out; there were dead-end jobs if he was lucky, death from demons if he wasn’t, or perhaps crime if he was inclined. He wasn’t. He was a “defender of the young and innocent”, a hero at heart.
He goes to Jenoff, a crime boss who deals in “needs, not wants”–things “you just can’t live without.” And Gunn sells his future for a weapon, a tank–his familiar tricked-out truck–because he figured, quite reasonably, that he had no future, that he’d die before he was asked to cash in.
But you never know what the future is going to bring. Years later, Gunn was forced to kill his vampire sister and he left the neighborhood. He started working for Angel. And his fortunes changed. Life was no longer a daily struggle against death. He met Fred and fell in love. But the minute she reciprocated and they became “an item”–the minute he started thinking about having a future with her–Jenoff, who held the ticket on Gunn’s future, called in the marker. Gunn’s future belonged to Jenoff, to take when he pleased.
Now cut back to Angel mourning his lost son, Cordelia at his side:
ANGEL: You think you know something about living, cause you have this really long past. And that’s really all you have, in my case anyway. Then one day you wake up and you have something else…
CORDELIA: A future.
ANGEL: I had a son….
Angel never thought much about his future before Connor came along, because he was immortal. He could live forever, he could be dust tomorrow. The future was a big blank nothing. Then his fortunes changed. He became father to a human child. And suddenly, he made plans. He was going to be there for every milestone of Connor’s childhood, see Connor become a father himself, and watch him grow old. We talk about how “children are the future” and it’s cliche, but it’s true. Suddenly, Angel was part of the cycle of life.
And then Connor was taken away from him. Gone.
Angel and Cordelia’s exchange adds significance to the much-maligned gamble Angel makes later in the episode. Angel bets both his future and Gunn’s (which is already forfeit) on the turn of a card. If Angel gets high card, they both go free. If Angel gets low card, they both have to give up their futures–their lives–to Jenoff. The reason Angel is willing to make that gamble is that he is suddenly in Gunn’s position from years ago, a man who doesn’t think he has a future anymore. Angel is saying to Jenoff, the dealer in needs, “I NEED something valuable. I need Gunn. And I’m willing to gamble both our futures to get him.” (or at least, risk the fists-and-fangs fight against insurmountable odds that’s going to ensue if I lose). And yeah, it’s reckless and short-sighted, just like trading your future for a truck.
The irony is that, just like Gunn, who had a future in store he couldn’t imagine as a teenager, Angel has a future in store with his son. You never know what the future is going to bring.
So Angel gets the low card, tries to kill Jenoff, it doesn’t work, he sics Jenoff’s miserable debtors on him and runs out with his family. ‘Cause they’re all he has now and he’s not going to lose any more of them. Then he goes home and finally dismantles Connor’s scorched crib. And just in time for….