When One Door Closes…
June 29th, 2010
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There’s been some concern in the comments as of late about how much I’m being spoiled by their contents, which is a legitimate concern that I’ve sort of accepted as the cost of doing business. I certainly appreciate those who avoid spoilers, but I also don’t begrudge those who can’t contain themselves and reveal something small from the future. In some cases, you’re simply being reassuring or helpful: it is technically a spoiler that, for example, Wesley and Cordelia’s character arcs would be continuing on Angel, but it’s not as if the real value of those character arcs comes from the surprise of their appearance. Knowing that fact does not take away the impact of each character becoming part of a different series, but rather puts that seed into my mind for the future.
The one legitimate spoiler I’ve had in regards to Angel arrived far sooner than I expected it to: while a certain Twitter compatriot to remain unnamed mistakenly spoiled the central event in “Hero,” I had no context for when that event was going to arrive, and so I sort of presumed that it was a spoiler for a much later period in the series rather than the midway point of its first season. Yes, I would have been much more viscerally shocked had this closed door come as a complete surprise, but since I didn’t know when it was coming its impact on the narrative remains quite the same. If “I Will Remember You” closed the door on any hope of Buffy and Angel truly reconciling, then “Hero” closes the door on the notion that Los Angeles will be any less dark than Sunnydale.
Although, strangely though, the door that opens is awfully familiar for those who’ve spent time around southern California’s Hellmouth.
Doyle’s death was not entirely a shock to me, even not knowing that it would be taking place in “Hero”: the episode focuses a lot on Doyle’s past, and sets up an ominous (and laughably Nazi-like) group of pureblooded demons who are set on killing half-breeds. It doesn’t take an Empath Demon to get the feeling that Doyle may not be long for this world, and when you combine that with some movement on the Doyle/Cordelia front I got the signals that we were heading towards Doyle’s tragic end before it really became a tragedy. Don’t get me wrong: I was sad to see Doyle leave, and his noble death is not without resonance. However, it’s not as if we had spent seasons with Doyle, or that he and Cordelia had struck up a substantial relationship, or that the character has truly become a part of the series. The show is still sort of finding itself, and so Doyle’s loss is more part of its natural evolution than a sudden roadblock it has no way of confronting.
The episode’s problem is that the Scourge are too anvil-like by half: it’s one thing to introduce a group of half-breed demons who Doyle can empathize with, and the flashback to Doyle’s own experience with the Scourge sold them as something terrifying and added some interesting backstory to Doyle’s interactions with his Demon half. However, once the Scourge emerge they’re the world’s most obvious Nazi parallel, right down to the uniforms. The makeup is interesting, but any of the menace they might have created on their own is replaced by the reenactment of the Kristallnacht on a backlot street and the introduction of a weapon which could wipe out only those with human blood. The episode didn’t need those connections to be successful: the Scourge could hunt half-breeds without being Nazis, and Doyle could have sacrificed himself without the need to establish what threat the device represented. It’s all about execution, at the end of the day: while having Doyle die a noble death is always going to seem a little bit sudden and manipulative, the way it plays out highlights the least successful qualities. That quiet moment of Angel and Cordelia watching Doyle’s stilted commercial tape back is a great bookend, his words taking on new meaning considering his death, but what came before it was so heavy-handed that it all seems a bit mawkish.
However, as Angel is told by the oracles (who are also a bit heavy-handed), when one door closes another door opens. And while they were mostly talking about Doyle’s decision to (perhaps inadvertently) transfer his Seeing Eye to Cordelia, it goes for the series as well: a week after killing Doyle, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce arrives on a motorcycle as a Rogue Demon Hunter, a development which I appreciate and yet which in some ways feels strange. On the one hand, “Parting Gifts” is a welcome return for a character I quite enjoyed on Buffy and who isn’t identical to Doyle in terms of replacing him: Wesley is knowledgeable where Doyle was resourceful, weak where Doyle was strong, qualities which create a different dynamic with Cordelia and Angel than did Doyle. If we accept that Angel is a lone wolf, then Doyle was in some ways too much the Robin to his Batman: while Angel needs a team to work around him, having someone quite as able as Doyle assisting him in some ways made life too easy for Angel. Wesley, by comparison, is weak enough in a fight that he’ll be saving the girl before he’s fighting the demons, a quality which gives Angel support without giving him a partner.
My concern with this development is that while Wesley in some ways stresses Angel’s isolation, his presence can’t help but reestablish the connection between this series and its predecessor that “I Will Remember You” sort of erased. I don’t think that Wesley carries too much baggage from his previous series, as he has no remaining connections to that world and his primary connection (Cordelia) is now part of this one, but it does seem strange for Wesley to just sort of jump over. Part of what made Doyle so interesting was how he was himself half-demon, and he offered a glimpse into a side of the world that we hadn’t really seen on Buffy and which felt like it had a great deal more potential. While Wesley is perhaps more functional, speaking various dialects and with a wealth of knowledge of demon-related activities, Doyle was more inherently interesting: I like Wesley, and I am excited to see how Wesley evolves from his time on Buffy, but I do think that bringing in a character whose value is somewhat dependent on having seen the start of his story on Buffy seems like a strange scenario where someone very much of Angel’s world is replaced by someone who is part of a different past.
“Parting Gifts,” though, initially does a nice job of allowing Doyle’s death to linger: while his act of sacrifice may have been played out too broadly, grief is a strongsuit for both Buffy and Angel as series, and so seeing its impact on Angel (now weary to take on another partner after Doyle’s death) and Cordelia (wracked with guilt while trying to audition for her commercial) is much more subtle, although only relatively speaking in Cordelia’s case (the commercial went a bit over the top). And yet there’s something strange that the show mostly goes on like normal, Wesley jumping into the case and Wolfram & Hart showing up at the auction to try to acquire Cordelia’s eyes: by the time we get to “Somnambulist” Doyle’s memory is more or less gone, as the show brings Kate back to the forefront and digs into Angel’s past with Wesley along for the ride. Yes, a new door has been opened in some respects, but what awaited on the other side was more or less the exact same series except without Doyle, which doesn’t seem as meaningful as it could have been (in fact, a note on Wikipedia notes that Tim Minear completed a draft of “Somnambulist” with Doyle still alive, so it really wasn’t planned out).
I don’t blame Whedon and Greenwalt for killing Doyle: I think it increases the stakes of the series’ world, gives Cordelia a bit more depth, and even brings the notion of atonement for one’s sins into the picture (thus raising the question about whether Angel will at some point have to commit a similar act of atonement). However, “Hero” itself is too heavy-handed as an hour of television, and the transition to Wesley is enjoyable from a personal perspective (in that I am glad to see the character back on my television) but doesn’t really seem to turn Doyle’s death into any sort of momentum for the series. Perhaps it’s an accomplishment that the series doesn’t feel as if it has gone off the rails with Doyle’s death, and that it’s still moving along at a similar pace, but that’s actually quite damning to the impact that Doyle’s death was supposed to have. It’s possible that my previous knowledge of Doyle’s impending doom, plus the fact I was able to pop in another episode of the show twelve hours later as opposed to the following week, means that I didn’t feel the impact of Doyle’s death as strongly as others, but I feel as if the series doesn’t do as much with this transition as they could have, making it seem less purposeful and more incidental than I would think they intended.
- On the one hand, “Somnambulist” has Oscar-nominated actor Jeremy Renner playing a vampire serial killer who Angel trained and who doesn’t understand Angel’s new appreciation for humanity, a storyline that resonates quite nicely and features a strong performance from Renner; on the other hand, the episode also features more with Elisabeth Rohm’s Kate, including a “Look, my serial killer profile describes Angel, isn’t that spooky!” sequence that made me wretch. I get that the show wanted to play up the fear of Angel turning to the dark side, but that sequence felt obnoxiously contrived, and kept me from taking Kate’s new knowledge of vampire culture at face value. It’s not a terrible development, but nothing all that interesting comes out of it, and this one’s only of value for seeing a future Oscar-nominee vamp it up.
- I guess the closest that Buffy has had, up to this point, to compare with Doyle’s death was Ms. Calendar, although Jenny’s death was even more complicated since Angel was actually the one who killed her and all.
- Cordelia trying to kiss away her seeing ability was a pretty simple gag, but I enjoy the added subtext it had when it came to Cordelia’s kiss with Wesley – it’s one of those circumstances where having knowledge of Buffy is almost necessary to get the joke in question, which isn’t something the show has really done up to this point outside of legit crossovers.
- I hadn’t read much about Glenn Quinn ahead of time, but his is really quite a tragic story considering his heroin overdose in 2002 – I also had no idea he was on Roseanne, another circumstance where my age keeps me from having certain comparisons. I presume, and IMDB confirms, that I’ll be seeing a “In Memory of” card on a future episode.
- I personally noticed the weird exchange of glowy stuff in “Hero,” although I didn’t guess its significance.
- EDIT: Forgot to mention this as I got further into the review – huge props to the commenters for being so coy around Doyle’s death. You really had me fooled with the way that many hinted at Doyle’s future with a “Just wait and see how interesting it gets,” which I presumed to mean he was sticking around for a long time as opposed to a short while. Well played.