“Pangs”/”I Will Remember You”
June 28th, 2010
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I noted in my review of the episodes of Angel which led up to “I Will Remember You” that Angel, as a character, wasn’t really the focus of the episodes in question. As pointed out in the comments, this is quite logical: Doyle is the new character who needs to be introduced properly for the series to succeed, and Cordelia best bridges the gap between Angel’s business and the kind of person he tends to help (the helpless). However, since “Bachelor Party” closed with Angel running off to rescue Buffy from peril, I sort of presumed that the latest crossover between the two series would help rectify this particular issue.
“Pangs” and “I Will Remember You” do, in fact, bring Angel back to the forefront of his own series, but I find it interesting how imbalanced the episodes are in his favour: while Buffy may appear in “I Will Remember You,” the episode’s narrative devalues the crossover from Buffy’s perspective to the point where these episodes don’t actually impact Buffy’s character in any substantial fashion. Buffy is a series currently juggling a large number of storylines, while Angel is by comparison fairly open-ended: as a result, while Buffy and Angel’s relationship completely takes over in “I Will Remember You,” “Pangs” remains grounded by Buffy’s ongoing arc to the point where the episode actually feels fairly uneventful (if still functional).
However, the value of the crossover is found in “I Will Remember You,” which is an incredibly important episode if we consider Angel as its own standalone series. To this point left in abstraction for viewers to fill in either through watching Buffy or learning about it from someone who watched the earlier series, Angel’s relationship with Buffy invades the spinoff in its nascent stages, a decision which is especially dangerous considering the narrative arc created in the episode. There’s every chance that this crossover, merging the two worlds together, will make it so viewers will wonder why they were ever split apart in the first place, and lead to resentment over the fact that they won’t truly be reconciling.
I’d argue, though, that a heavy dose of character-appropriate tragedy leads “I Will Remember You” away from nostalgic desires towards further building Angel as a protagonist in his own right, an important step for the spinoff series.
I think there is value to watching these two episodes together, but that value is primarily for Angel as opposed to Buffy. “Pangs” is not a bad episode of television, including some very funny moments from the season’s newest additions (Spike and Anya), but the central threat of Native American spirits looking to wipe out the human race is a wee bit hokey for me. There’s some interesting thematic stuff going on with Buffy demanding to hold Thanksgiving dinner, cementing the image of the group as a dysfunctional family (made all that more dysfunctional by the de-fanged Spike tied up at the dinner table), but the spirits seem like a distraction which keeps the episode from delving into what it means for Buffy to be emphasizing family togetherness within her College experience. Actually, I take that back: as Noel Murray elaborates in his own (excellent) review of this episode, there are a number of ways in which the spirits as an abstract idea raises questions about malevolence which ties nicely into Spike/Anya/Angel as similar figures within this particular family. However, I felt like the spirits were too one-dimensional in their actions, their malevolence played out through some on-the-nose arguments between Giles and Willow as opposed to through the Chumash tribe’s actions or words. I think that could have all been integrated more cleanly, although to Jane Espenson’s credit there were a lot of moving pieces in the episode so some shortcuts aren’t too surprising.
Angel doesn’t play a large role in “Pangs,” lurking in the shadows as he is wont to do, but his role in the episode is some compelling setup for the episode of Angel to follow. It’s great to see Angel and Giles discussing their roles in Buffy’s life, and we like that he gets another charming scene with Willow (“Who is that?”), and that he gets to meet Anya for the first time (“large and glowery” indeed), but his presence is largely so that we can understand Buffy’s frustration at the start of “I Will Remember You.” And, even then, Buffy kind of explains it quite succinctly in that opening scene: Angel went to Sunnydale, didn’t speak to Buffy in any way, and she’s not happy about it, so if you were to go from “Bachelor Party” to “I Will Remember You,” you really wouldn’t miss much of anything in terms of plot. However, I think there’s something important in seeing Angel watching Buffy, and seeing Angel struggle to deal with Doyle’s vision and his sense of responsibility. Buffy and Angel talk it out in “I Will Remember You,” but some of those conversations and scenes of Angel watching wistfully were pretty meaningful, and they help inform Angel’s side of the conversation (which is important in an episode so focused on that side of the relationship).
As for that episode, it’s a fairly clever bit of traginarrative for Angel as a character, adding yet another burden to his relationship with Buffy. I can see why some viewers may have felt cheated by the episode, given a glimpse of what life could be like for Angel and Buffy together but then seeing it all disappear when Angel gives up his mortality in order to better protect her, but I think that’s what the character has always been about. Buffy became his purpose in life when he was pulled out of the gutter by Whistler, and so part of the challenge of making a spin-off series is that his purpose in life needs to change. The idea of putting Angel in a position where he and Buffy can be together in true happiness, only to reveal to Angel that in that state of happiness he could no longer protect Buffy, is a strong way to resolve some of the tension left over in Angel’s departure. Angel is quite literally cursed to be unable to be with Buffy, and while that curse is a burden it is one that we’ve seen has actually made Angel the person he is: it has forced him to be pragmatic, and allowed him to develop into someone willing to help beyond his love for Buffy. In other words, for better or for worse, Angel’s curse defines him, and so to lose his immortality and his strength is to lose the part of himself which he has learned to live with and come to rely upon.
Forcing Angel to live with the memories of true happiness with Buffy, of chocolate, peanut butter and ice cream in bed, is a new layer of tragedy for the character where he gets to keep those memories while knowing that he is responsible for having made that an impossibility and erasing those moments from Buffy’s mind. It’s yet another burden he has to bear, which may seem like overkill to long-term Buffy viewers but is necessary to really bring Angel and Buffy’s relationship into the spinoff’s standalone narrative. While similar moments (like “Surprise”/”Innocence,” for example) have shown Buffy and Angel coming close to happiness only for it to end in tragedy, Angel as a series has yet to really see their relationship come together, and so the episode is necessary in order to simultaneously bring together and pull apart the two series. On the one hand, it reinforces the connection that Buffy and Angel share and its importance to both character, but on the other hand it recognizes the impossibility of their shared happiness and acknowledges that their paths lie apart. The crossover allows them to do this in a very direct fashion, dropping Buffy into Angel’s world and bringing to light the issues which spawned the spinoff in the first place (in terms of Angel’s decision to leave Sunnydale).
It’s a unique position for Angel as a series to be in, offering a litmus test of its success to this point: does Angel appearing on Buffy and Buffy appearing on Angel make us nostalgic for when the two characters shared the same series, or does it prove that Angel’s premise (defined largely independent of his connection with Buffy) is capable of standing on its own? I don’t think that there’s a definitive answer to this question (especially since there’s no standalone case of any real value integrated into “I Will Remember You” to directly contrast the two series), and I also don’t necessarily feel like Whedon and Co. know the answer (especially since, at this point, they’re likely still hedging their bets should Angel be canceled prematurely). There’s an experimental quality to Angel that makes an episode like this one that much more intriguing, as the series has been loosely defined enough that, if I had no knowledge of Buffy and its ongoing storylines which would have to be abandoned, there is every chance that Angel becomes mortal and the series goes in an entirely different direction. So while “Pangs” feels beholden to the series’ arc (which is only logical) and ends up too beholden to its somewhat clunky standalone storyline, “I Will Remember You” is a high concept, open-ended story which could be considered cheap but is philosophically complex enough to serve as a meaningful extension of Angel’s personal tragedies as opposed to a manipulation of viewers’ interests.
- Seriously, I suggest you read Noel’s review of “Pangs” – as he was focusing more on Buffy, he delves further into the episode’s impact on that series and its growing stories. For the sake of the project, I was more interested in the crossover relationship, so I was very glad to see Noel went deeper into the Buffy side of things.
- The one major look towards the future in “I Will Remember You” is the introduction of the Oracles, who are yet another level of bureaucracy between Angel and the people who send the visions that guide him. I thought the whole setup was more than a bit hokey visually speaking (the outfits, the cheap-looking set), but the dialogue/story of it all is a solid first glimpse at the mystery surrounding Angel’s world. It’s not quite serialization or even world-building, but it’s a move in that direction, which is always a good thing.
- Loved the little detail of Doyle asking Angel what time it was to reinforce that he was forced to give up his watch – I presume it’s there so that we can draw a connection between hell, where time passes far more slowly than on Earth, and the location of the Oracles.
- Anyone else immediately think “Shooby Dah-Boo-Dah-Boo-Dah” when reading the title of this Angel episode?
- I’m willing to forgive Buffy a lot at this point, but it was dangerously close to earning an aggressive eyeroll for Buffy wrestling a live bear for as long as she did.
- Loved Anya’s view of Thanksgiving as a ritual sacrifice – the character is so clearly on a different wavelength than anyone else that it’s a great but meaningful source of comedy this season.
- I presume that there was some research done on the Chumash tribe ahead of the episode, but I think that this is one of those issues where demonizing a story of this nature doesn’t really help bring it to any sort of conclusion, especially when you consider that the ethical quandries of the conclusion are ultimately washed away in favour of murdering them in order to save their own lives.
- Note that “Warrior” becomes important in both stories, in a more subtle bit of crossover: Angel is termed as a “warrior for the cause” in “I Will Remember You,” while Buffy is targeted by the Chumash as a result of her status as a warrior within her own culture.