“I just want everything back to the way it was.”
“It’s never going to be, you know.”
O.K., kids. Let’s review.
Sahjhan attempts to coerce Holtz into killing Connor by opening a rip in reality to Quortoth and threatening him with it. Holtz, in a desperate bid for vengeance against Angel, leaps through the rip instead. The rip zips back up, trapping Holtz and Connor there.
Angel decides to summon Sahjhan in order to force him to re-open the rip so Angel can go to Quortoth and rescue his son. Angel and Lilah do a spell with a pentagram and human blood that will make Sahjhan appear in the hotel lobby. As it turns out, this spell also has the effect of making Sahjhan corporeal. Presto chango, Sahjhan gets physical, but several miles away (was it coz the pentagram was lopsided?). He runs amok and tells Angel he is unable to rip another hole into Quortoth–the metaphysical consequences would be disastrous. So long, Angel’s baby. Then Sahjhan is captured in an urn that eventually winds up in Cyvus’ Vail’s house.
A week or so later, as Angel broods, little cracks start appearing in the lobby above the pentagram and translucent animals fall through, the “sluks.” From dialogue in “The Price”, “A New World”, and “Benediction”, and the fact that the Destroyer of Quortoth widens those very same cracks to make his appearance, it’s pretty clear that the “sluks” infesting the Hyperion were not “created” as a side effect of Angel’s dark spell (“thaumogenesis“). They are natives of Quortoth.
It’s the cracks in the lobby that are the side-effect of doing dark magicks. Angel’s dark magic (recorporealizing Sahjhan); Sahjhan’s dark magic (the original rip into Quortoth, which he could only do once it was so dark and powerful and scary); both Angel and Sahjhan will end up paying his own “Price”.
The sluks over in Quortoth discover the cracks and leap through them to escape the fearsome and terrible Destroyer–“the bringer of torment”–a being who apparently takes joy in the Quortothian equivalent of pulling the wings off of flies.
The sluks enter our dimension already knowing of Angel and not liking him much. They communicate this to Angel when they enter a human body (both Phil’s and Fred’s). Ostensibly, they enter that body so they can suck the moisture from it–they’re big on moisture–but entering a human body creates a telepathic link as well; the human becomes their mouth piece. But that doesn’t explain how they know about Angel in the first place. Did the Destroyer tell them all about Angel and how much he hates him while he was tormenting them? Well, maybe. But it makes much more sense that the sluks can read the minds of those they inhabit, and absorb their feelings. Which is why it’s my pet theory that at some point, the Destroyer himself had a sluk infection. Which sort of serves the brat right.
O.K., so you stop a sluk infection:
– to the body by dehydrating the body. And luckily, Wesley has a lot of liquor sitting around. Because obviously he’s the injured party here. He’s the one who’s been betrayed. His friends rejected him, refused to allow him to explain his side of what happened. Well…yes, Wesley believed he was doing the right thing. And he didn’t intend what happened by any stretch of the imagination. But he can’t expect Angel to get over what happened or his role in it any time soon, either. It’s the gang’s rallying around Angel that has him bitter. And bitter Wesley = good.
– you stop a sluk infection to a building, on the other hand, with a sudden, inexplicable, deus ex machina super-power.
I don’t have to tell you how annoying that was the first time this episode aired. Cordelia gets turned half-demon in “Birthday”, and after that promising and risk-taking storyline move, nothing changes. The side effects of her transformation, which were supposed to be “numerous and unpredictable”, involve Cordelia floating a little and no longer having the vision headaches. *Yawn*. Then, instead of “establishing” her sluk-erasing super-power a couple episodes before it becomes vital to the plot, it appears out of nowhere just when it’s needed.
The thing I noticed about her glowy power, though, both here and in subsequent episodes, was that it was involuntary. She starts glowing at the right moment through no choice of her own. And when she does try to summon it, she can’t. Yet the characters praise her each time for saving the day. It’s really hard to imagine that this was supposed to be accepted at face value as a sign she was becoming a higher being because she *deserved* it. In my retrospective interpretation, the glowy “power” was not a “power” at all; it was Jasmine’s way of preparing Cordelia’s body so that it could enter Jasmine’s realm–the Land Where Everyone Glows–where Jasmine could in turn possess Cordelia, and in doing so, enter our dimension in Cordelia’s body.
The glowyness appears at that moment it does because Jasmine can’t have her “vessel” destroyed by a sluk. And in “Benediction”, [wank] it appears again because Jasmine can’t have her father killing her mother before she’s even conceived. [/wank]
At any rate, in “The Price”, Cordelia starts glowing, the sluks are cleared out, the cracks in the lobby from Quortoth arc and zap,
and then… it’s the boy.
A New World
Let’s just get this over with.
The Destroyer arrives with a bang in the single.coolest.fight.scene.EVER. The skinny little androgynous sylph (TM atpotch) in animal hides takes on three guys at a time, two with supernatural strength, and kicks.their.asses.
I knew within two seconds of seeing the previews for “The Price” that that blurry thing spinning down into the Hyperion lobby was Connor. Didn’t we all? There was so much build-up about it, even in the space of a preview.
I was relieved that Connor was coming back, and excited to see where they would take the teen Connor thing. But what I wasn’t expecting was Vincent Kartheiser. I’d never seen him in anything before. And he just nailed the part–the body language, the facial expressions. The feral wild-boy, so vulnerable and lost and tough. Looking so much like Julie Benz, yet butt-kicking and broody like Angel. Steven Holtz took everyone in this strange new world by surprise–the drug-thugs that underestimated his strength and skill, and Angel, who reached out to him in stunned relief only to be rebuffed by bitter anger.
And Connor/Steven was something new himself. A supernaturally strong human boy (taking on a whole gang of drug dealer’s thugs. God, he rocks! Aaaaaa!!!!!!!) Erm…anyway, as I was saying, in the Buffyverse, you just hadn’t seen a human male with that kind of supernatural strength and skill. There were only three other humans like him that we had seen: Buffy, Kendra, and Faith. The parallels were obvious, but he was no Slayer. Except that a lot of people still thought he was (usually the gits who had been complaining for six years that there were no male Slayers). No, Steven was the child of two vampires. That’s the whole crux of his existence, as we would come to see.
In the grand AtS scheme of things, the episode “City of…” let me know that AtS would be as interesting as its mother show. “Reunion” let me know that AtS was BtVS’ equal. “A New World” let me know I would never get this show out of my system. Ever.
But, O.K. There were other characters in this episode besides Steven Holtz. Like Wesley, who was entering a new world of his own. When this ep first aired, it was extremely odd to see Lilah visiting Wesley. Lilah had really only had contact with Angel up to this point, and one little visit from Cordelia. She didn’t really deal with Angel’s “wacky sidekicks.” So her showing up at Wesley’s door, that was something new.
She was there to offer him a job, which both she and we should know better than to think he would take. But a girl’s gotta try. Barring that, she was there to see just how far he would go now towards betraying what he believed in. Or perhaps, used to believe in. In “Benediction” Lilah would test him to see if he’d cross that morally ambiguous line. Would he save Justine, who slit his throat, from vampires? Would he at least warn her? He has to think about it. Lilah seems pleased with that: “I just want to know if I’m wasting my time.”
She isn’t; there is something in Wesley that is corruptible; Wesley’s always been willing to walk that fine line. With the best intentions. And right now, he’s vulnerable. He’s the betrayer clinging desperately to the point of view in which he’s the betrayed, so he doesn’t have to face the horrid consequences of his decisions. And his indecisions. And Lilah knows that people trying to feel justified in their questionable actions often proceed to act even more questionably just to prove “it was O.K.” to act that way in the first place.
Much yumminess, but we get ahead of ourselves.
And then there’s Cordelia. *Sigh*. Cordelia, who has developed a single-minded devotion to Angel since the loss of Connor: “I had myself dosed with demon DNA for this man!” It starts understandably enough. Cordelia stands up to naïve!Fred, saying she cares more about Angel’s feelings than Wesley’s. But then in her attempt to help Angel cope–both with the loss of the baby and rejection by the teenager–Cordelia seems to utterly forget everything, and everyone, else. It’s as if, after she allowed her body to be (meta)physically altered, she started to define herself almost solely by her role as Angel-the-Champion’s “vision girl”. And we were supposed to think this was O.K., that this was a sign she was becoming a “higher being”.
Whatever. *shudder* Back to the Congel.
The other thing I wasn’t expecting in Connor’s return was the chemistry between Boreanaz and Kartheiser. No, they don’t really look much alike, but you never doubt that Angel and Steven are father and son, because each sees himself when he looks at the other. They fight each other with a passion. Love and loss and identity and need and hatred. Angel is trying to keep this miniature version of himself–this product of himself–from running amok. Steven loathes and batters his vampire father, and in doing so, loathes and batters the inner vampire part of himself.
Steven: “You have a second face. A face for killing. Show it to me. I want to see it.”
Angel, quietly: “Looks like this, son.”
Steven, horrified: “That’s what you are!”
Angel: “It’s part of what I am. A part I hope you will be able to accept one day.”
Steven: “You’d have to kill me first.”
One final note before leaving this episode: am I the only one who thought Mistress Meerna was really hot?
Fred: “Okay. So he survived an unspeakable hell dimension. Who hasn’t? You–you can’t just leave him alone in the streets of Los Angeles!”
Angel: “He’s got to come back on his own. And he will. Just as soon as he realizes what he needs.”
Gunn: “And what’s that?”
Cordy: “A father.”
Angel reaches out to Steven in A New World and manages to make something of a connection with him when he saves Steven’s life in the abandoned apartment. But Steven opts not to return to the hotel with him, so Angel assures him he’s not alone in this strange new world and backs off his relentless pursuit. He goes back to the hotel to wait for Steven to come to him. But Steven already knows he’s not alone. He heads straight to the only father he’s ever known–Holtz, who has managed to cross the fissure from Quortoth before it was closed.
In a Season 3 interview, writer Tim Minear says that Holtz never lies in this entire episode. Which means…which means a lot of things. First, it means that Holtz never actively encouraged Steven to kill Angel, nor believed Steven capable of it. Certainly, Holtz actively encouraged Steven to see his biological father as evil, and he tells Steven to seek out Angel and “[d]iscover what of him is in you, that you might fight against it.” One imagines he talked about this in Quortoth as well–what of Steven’s demon parents was inside Steven. So Steven hopes that by killing Angel he can cut out the demon part of himself and gain Holtz’s love and approval. Holtz already seems to have faith that Steven can rise above his origins. Yet in his continued insistence that Angel is the devil, he sends Steven a mixed message. You can’t tell someone, “You come from the devil. You can fight the devil within” and expect them to only pay heed to the second sentence.
Holtz also believes that Steven crossed dimensions not so much to kill Angel as to see Angel for himself, to meet him: the adolescent search for identity; my father, myself. Holtz can’t stop Steven’s curiosity, so he sends Steven to Angel, and Steven goes. Partly because Holtz asked him to, and partly because that is what he came back to Earth to do.
Angel is naturally excited and nervous about Steven’s return and wants to find a good father-son bonding activity. He gets one when Cordelia sends him off to fight vampires in a night club and he invites Steven along. What happens next are two of the top coolest Congel scenes in the series (Squee!): standing back-to-back in the night club, clutching their stakes. Fighting the vampires together. Then sparring in the alley behind the club afterwards (Squee!) Steven doesn’t want to believe that Angel is someone he can connect with. And yet they do connect. Both these scenes show what Connor and Angel could (have) be(en) if they ever got along. It gave me such hope for Season 4. Mutant Enemy bastards!!
Meanwhile, Holtz sees that exactly what he suspected would happen come to pass–Steven connecting with Angel. So he tells Steven that he and Angel must now be together. Understand this–if Holtz never lies in the entire episode, then he really does believe that Steven should now be returned to Angel, because there Steven will find the answers he seeks in his adolescent search for identity and a future. But though Holtz knows he must let them be together, he won’t let it happen happily. He genuinely loves Steven, but in the end, he can’t let go of vengeance.
So at the same time that he’s sending an angry and confused Steven off to his future, Holtz is also setting Angel and son up to guarantee that they will stay forever divided. He frames Angel for his own death.
“It’s going to be all right.” –Cordelia, Tomorrow
“Sometimes things do work out.” –Lorne, Tomorrow
For a brief moment, Angel is filled with hope; he thinks he’s going to have the girl and the son. The family. Holtz has given Connor back to him. Yes, seventeen years were lost, but now his son is back! It might take time to win him over, but…. And Cordelia feels the same way about him as he does about her!
We were He was *so* being set up for heartbreak.
“Connor” was a duplicitous manipulator. Angel should have seen what was coming. The boy was being just a little too nice given his previous behavior. But Angel was blinded by hope. And who can blame him, really?
Both BtVS and AtS are examinations of life’s passages, looked at through the quasi-metaphorical lens of the supernatural–magic and monsters. One of the things Connor/Steven embodied in the series was teenaged rebellion taken to extremes–in particular, the out-of-control, angry young man.
In the real world, parents sometimes find that the child they raised from infancy, the person they thought they knew, can become, upon reaching adolescence, an out-of-control monster, a stranger, seemingly overnight. You reach out to them and they push you away, violently. They find other people or things to identify with, and in their eyes, you become the monster. The very things about you that comforted them in childhood become demonic. And as you continue to reach out and get rejected, you fear you’ll never be able to connect with them again.
Angel would have known better what Connor was up to if Connor had been anybody else but his son.
And then there was Cordelia. Her devotion to Angel lasted as long as it took for someone to come along and tell her how wonderful she is and that she’s a “higher being.” Well, we were meant to believe Skip too, at the time. But I remember seeing glowy Cordy ascend to the heavens and thinking that it was lame beyond the telling of it. When someone posted to the board that perhaps it was not what it appeared to be, that perhaps Cordelia made the wrong choice, well, I grasped onto that theory with a vengeance. Obviously.
As Angel’s hopes sunk, mine oddly did not. I loved the last three episodes of Season 3. I watched them over and over again all summer until I wore out the tape.
And finally, there’s Wesley.
I remember being surprised by Wesley sleeping with Lilah the first time. Not that I thought he wouldn’t find her attractive and vice versa, I just didn’t see him crossing that line. Which is probably why I’d make a lousy pr0n fic writer. Not every angsty or manipulative or whatever relationship automatically equals sex in my mind. And if someone says to me “I hate you, I loathe you! Go away”, I’ll say, “Oh. You do? O.K., bye” and go away. I won’t end up in bed with them in the very next scene.
But I guess this was supposed to be the sign of how far Wesley would, indeed, go, in crossing the line.
Of course, I didn’t get very far into Season 4 before I decided these two were *hot* in a really dysfunctional and doomed sort of way.
And that about sums up Season 4, in my mind. Hot, dysfunctional, and doomed. So on we go.