Cultural Catchup Project: A Case of Deja Vu (Angel)

A Case of Deja Vu

July 3rd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

As I get closer to the end of Angel and Buffy’s first and fourth seasons, respectively, the two shows are suffering from opposite problems when it comes to writing about them. While Buffy has gone through a lot of plot development which makes it difficult to write about a single episode as opposed to an arc, Angel is so devoid of plot development that nothing is really jumping out at me. It’s not that either show is depreciating in quality, but rather that Buffy is barreling through while Angel remains in the logical first season holding pattern (albeit with a twist, due to the events of “Hero”).

And so, while it isn’t ideal, I figure it’s best if I offer some quick comments on a large series of episodes for each show as opposed to trying to review them individually. These aren’t really thematic pieces, but more a grab bag assortment of comments regarding particular episodes. Now, I have some reservations about doing this for Buffy, and when that piece goes up later in the weekend I can assure you that it will go a bit more indepth with the growing arcs and some of the character work ongoing in the episodes leading up to the two-parter – however, for Angel, these episodes standalone in such a fashion that a quick paragraph on each seems like a nice way to capture the series’ progress of sorts.

If we can call it that, considering how much of it feels like a case of Deja Vu.

Angel is making progress only insofar that they’ve gotten to the same point with Wesley that they were with Doyle earlier in the season – while “Hero” shook up the narrative, and I’ve been pleased to see some of the after-effects play out (Angel calling Wesley Doyle in “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is the most obvious example), the fact remains that Angel’s momentum is built entirely around character as opposed to plot, and Wolfram & Hart remains as ambiguous as it was at the beginning of the season even if we get a glimpse of Lilah Morgan in “The Ring.” This isn’t necessarily a problem, but I think that “Hero” was ultimately a meaningful setback more than it was a legitimate momentum builder. It’s not a problem that the show is starting over with Wesley, but it does mean that this string of episodes doesn’t feel particularly purposeful.

“Expecting” isn’t a terrible episode: everyone loves a good spontaneous parasitic pregnancy, and there’s meaning in the ways in which the problem derives from Cordelia’s struggles to make it on her own in L.A. However, this isn’t particularly news at this stage in the series (both “City Of” and “Rm w/a Vu” played similar notes), and while I love any “appearance” from Ghost Dennis the episode seemed sort of straightforward in terms of bringing this new family together. The episode allows Wesley and Angel to work as a team to save Cordelia, which is helpful at establishing their group dynamic, but the isn’t particularly subtle about it – yes, these standalone episodes will work towards long-term goals in the way they play out, but as functional as the episode is it seemed a bit strange to be going through the same types of motions we saw in previous episodes just because Wesley has arrived. It’s a smart decision long term, but the lack of subtlety makes for a less “enjoyable” episode.

“She” isn’t particularly subtle either, which is apparently part of Bai Ling’s standards when she signs up for a guest appearance (see also: “Stranger in a Strange Land”). If I remember the earlier comment sections correctly, the (wonderful) dance sequences are considered the episode’s redemptive factor, and I think that’s a pretty safe bet. This is your typical Angel episode, to some degree, but everything seems off: the presumed sexual tension with a female adversary/ally feels forced, the comic relief has a bizarre element of deja vu (since Sean Gunn appeared both as the Resort owner and as Doyle’s kin in “Hero”), and the whole alternate dimension thing feels underdeveloped rather than purposefully mysterious. I see the genital mutilation parallels, but there’s not much nuance to the ways in which it was deployed, and we knew too little about these people and their world for it to seem like anything more than shock value (which isn’t quite to the level of “Hero” in that department, but the lack of any emotional connection makes it seem equally problematic).

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is one of the strongest episodes (and probably my “favourite”) in this particular set, for a number of reasons. The first is that I like the way we sort of slowly integrate into the world of Ryan’s family, as opposed to the story being presented as an outright mystery: Cordelia’s vision gives them the address, but the story plays out in a surprising fashion right up to the final twist, which is a nice bit of commentary on the inherency of evil and how we contain or manage it (which plays in nicely with Angel as a character). However, the story also has plenty of small moments, like an extremely brief window into Wesley’s familial past and Wesley struggling to perform the exorcism and find the strength that the Watcher’s Council didn’t believe he had. I like the ways in which the demon brought out those insecurities, and while “Expecting” seemed like it was building character in an entirely expected fashion, I felt “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” surprised me a bit more, which I really appreciate.

“The Prodigal” is probably the most “important” episode in this string, largely because of the flashbacks to the period directly before and after Angel was sired by Darla (a scene we saw as part of “Becoming”) and the latest segment of Kate’s story arc. Elisabeth Rohm remains too uninteresting for me to really connect with Kate, and I didn’t really care enough about her relationship with her father to truly buy into the story arc. In fact, it seemed strange that the show was really building towards something new with Wesley but then reverts back to the Kate storyline, and it seemed kind of sudden for me. The flashbacks to the Liam -> Angelus transformation were not bad in theory, but I found the execution let them down: while Angel’s actions were horrifying, the images were by comparison quite tame, so trapped within the “periodness” that they had no style, no substance. I like the theme of the episode: that vampires are supposed to spend their lives playing out their very first vendetta (which was key to “Somnambulist”), and that Angel’s soul has made that both readily apparent (in his feelings of guilt as Kate goes through a similar experience with her father) and transcendable (in that he now uses that guilt for good as opposed to evil), is an intriguing element of the series that I think was well-stated. I just felt there was potential to go darker with Liam’s transformation, and the Kate stuff just did nothing for me.

“The Ring” is very much in the Burn Notice mode, Angel finding himself caught up in a pre-established scenario and integrating himself into their community in an effort to stop injustice. It’s not a bad story, but once the opening switcheroo goes down it’s a bit too predictable: I haven’t seen that many Gladiator movies, but the way this played out seemed really familiar even with demons in place of humans, and so this didn’t seem to be taking the show in any particularly exciting directions (even the brief glimpse of Wolfram & Hart was just a tease, nothing more). Seeing Wesley prove himself capable with a crossbow is nice to see, and he and Cordelia working to save Angel is a nice companion to Angel and Wesley teaming to save Cordelia in “Expecting,” but there’s a lack of meaningful thematic connections in the episode as a whole.

“Eternity” is eventful in so much that we get the first appearance of Angelus within the series’ present, but I think the drug-induced vampirism dilutes its impact: the idea that we can be chemically tricked into feeling true love is one of those ideas which the show uses as an excuse to create this particular story, but which it doesn’t really dissect beyond that point. I understand that it’s important for Wesley to actually see Angelus so that he better understands that side of his personality, and that there is meaning in the way Cordelia shrugs off Angelus’ appearance and understands that their friendship is more important than any past associations, but I still think that having that lesson be learned outside of the context of Buffy makes it seem like a parlour trick compared to what Buffy viewers are used to seeing. The Rebecca story offers a few insights into star culture, but it became a bit too campy once it was clear that it was all a tabloid ploy, and I never cared enough about her career to really buy into her sudden desire to turn herself into a vampire: we either needed to see more of her stardom (perhaps even seeing the show she used to be on to understand its appeal), or see more early signs that she could potentially move in this direction. She buys into the vampire side of things way too quickly to service the story, and it led to the episode suffering as a result.

These episodes aren’t terrible (“She” probably comes close, though), but they seem to be treading the same ground or at the very least treading expected ground. The show isn’t really expanding its world so much as it’s reintroducing itself with Wesley’s arrival, which means that things are moving more slowly than one might normally expect. Now, I know the two-parter is up next, so it’s not as if I’m growing impatient; rather, I’m simply observing that the show remains pulled in a lot of different directions, making it quite an interesting (if uneven) viewing experience.

Cultural Observations

  • Is there a specific celebrity that Rebecca was supposed to represent? There were a few moments that seemed to satirize (albeit dramatically) the industry, but they ultimately felt generic to me.
  • Great to see a young-looking Ken Marino as Cordelia’s baby daddy of sorts in “Expecting,” as well as Julie Benz returning into her role as Darla – I remember watching the early days of Buffy (boy that seems like a long time ago) and wondering why Benz was so memorable considering how quickly she died, but then “Becoming” cleared that up, and it was quite nice to see her again.
  • I didn’t keep watching Starz’s Spartacus (which I guess you could claim as an extension of the Whedon-verse with Jed/Maurissa connected to its second season), but I wonder if some of the stories which played out in “The Ring” came up within their depiction of Gladiator culture.
  • The series likes its codas (both “The Ring” and “Eternity” get humorous play-offs akin to Buffy’s “I Robot, You Jane”), but that they don’t help the show’s procedural feel (as they’re a hallmark of USA’s staple of procedurals, although Angel predates all of them) – they work in some situations to help connect the story to the character, but I thought the end of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” did a much better job than a coda would have.
  • Since I’m not offering much in the way of thoughts, do add your favourite scenes, or your biggest problems, with the above episodes in the comments – that’s where much of the good stuff on these pieces comes from anyways, but that’ll be particularly true in this instance.


Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

70 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: A Case of Deja Vu (Angel)

  1. Well, here’s another case of ‘I pretty much agree.’ My thoughts on most of these episodes mirror yours pretty closely Myles.

    Although I won’t hold myself back from saying “She” was terrible (the one bit of hilarious dancing aside). This might just be one of the most boring and pointless episodes of the entire Buffyverse. At least “I Robot, You Jane” was often fun to laugh *at* and had some bits of humor and/or foreshadowing. “She” is just horrendously boring and inconsequential.

    The only other comment I really have is that, while your problems with “The Prodigal” largely ring true, I think you’ll find it to be one of those episodes that has more meaning after you’ve seen the rest of the series. Sadly I can’t get into it more due to the spoiler alarm ringing at me. 🙂

    • Susan

      Yeah, I agree that “The Prodigal” is significant, series-wise, though I don’t like it much.

      Too much Kate is rarely a good thing, as far as I’m concerned, and Elizabeth Rohm attempting to convey anything like emotion is always a bad thing. Ugh.

      • diane

        The thing with Elizabeth Rohm attempting to convey emotion is that Kate is an emotional cripple, with the associated consequences. I understand Kate, and I think that Rohm nails the character pretty well. (I haven’t seen Rohm act in any other series, so I can’t make comparisons on that.)

        • Susan

          I understand your perspective, actually, even though I’m not a fan of either the character of Kate or Elizabeth Rohm as an actor (though she might be a lovely person).

          I had a similar problem getting into Fringe–it took me the entire first season to warm even a little toward Olivia Dunham because Anna Torv plays her so rigidly. Ultimately, the lack of affect began to make sense to me for the character.

          But Olivia is a principle character in that series, so I had plenty of time to adjust to her. Maybe it’s just that Kate is a recurring character and really only functions as a foil for Angel’s development.

          Or it’s that Rohm isn’t much of an actor. I saw some of her work in L&O and was similarly unimpressed.

  2. Susan

    You’ve been wading in the dregs of S1 here, Myles, so this sweeping review of several episodes, only one of them really worthwhile, seems exactly right.

    I agree with you that “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is the best of the batch, for the reasons you mention. None of the rest of these episodes has much going for it, IMO.

    “Expecting” is an episode I found heavy-handed but largely harmless on first watching but one I’ve grown to really dislike over the years. In fact, I have a whole rant in which this episode features prominently, but it’s far, far too spoiler-ridden for now. I’ll release that hound much later.

    I’d never quite thought of it that way, but you’re right, of course, that the show kind of had to start over again when Wesley came on board. And actually, it’s about the same number of episodes with Doyle (9) as with Wesley (8) until “Five by Five, when the group coalesces and the narrative kicks in. I guess I’d not considered that before because Wesley isn’t a strictly new character. Actually, though, he is–an insider now rather than the outsider he was on Buffy.

    Next up is the really important set of crossovers. Buckle up.

  3. Susan

    FWIW, I’ve always wondered, with no substantiation whatsoever, whether SMG featured at all in the characterization of Rebecca. At least, that’s the comparison that always springs to my mind.

    On a semi-related note:

    Is it possible to spoil special features? If so, I might be about to. Does anyone have any reliable info on why SMG hardly appears in them at all?

    • Cameron

      You mean, apart from the fact she was working 7 to 12 hours a day on Buffy? 🙂

    • Cameron

      Wait, scratch my last comment.

      Maybe it was a contract issue? Or maybe she just didn’t want to be included too much.

    • Eldritch

      Interesting point. I don’t recall that Hannigan appeared in the either.

      • Susan

        Well, I got a little confused and asked a question here on an Angel post that pertains mainly to Buffy. Everything blends together after a while, ya know?

        Hannigan does appear in the special features some, though not nearly to the extent that, for instance, Brendan or Marsters does. But there aren’t even any sightings of SMG in gag reels, and, as I recall, she does only two small interviews (one in the S7 overview and one, somewhere, about casting) in the whole series.

        Anyway, not a big deal, but I’ve always been curious, and I’ve never found a good answer.

    • Eldritch

      “FWIW, I’ve always wondered, with no substantiation whatsoever, whether SMG featured at all in the characterization of Rebecca.”

      I’ve never heard anything disparaging about Geller, but your comment brings to mind a couple trends I noticed in the Buffy commentaries across the seven seasons.

      She’s subject to lavish praise in them. When her acting skills are mentioned, it’s never just a brief comment, the praise just seems to run on and on. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m quite content to accept her praiseworthyness.

      However, when that’s coupled with the other trend I noticed, I begin to wonder. The other is that several times the writers in the commentaries seemingly unnecessarily go out of their way to apologize to Geller for general comments that seem aimed more at other actors.

      For example, in the first half of season four, in a commentary (Petrie, I think) there’s a joking remark that it’s a shame that there are no pretty people in the show. Clearly, a gently humorous sarcasm since the show is filled with them. Yet no sooner than Petrie joked than he immediately clarified, “I didn’t mean you Sarah! You’re very attractive.” (or words to that effect.)

      That wouldn’t have caught my attention if it had been the only instance, but similar unexpected apologies to Gellar are made after a number of such innocuous remarks. Apologies weren’t offered to Hannigan, Caulfield, Benson, or even Marsters. Only Gellar got this special treatment.

      It made me think Gellar might be a diva.

      • Susan

        That’s my sneaking suspicion as well, but I’ve found no real authoritative evidence. She’s called a diva by those who blame her bitterly for the end of the series, but I haven’t found much criticism of her by those who’ve worked with her. Nothing but praise, but that praise is mainly for her talent and her work ethic. Good things to be praiseworthy, certainly.

        As you point out, though, the very strenuous lack of criticism might be a clue in itself. And, besides her absence in the DVD special features, she never did much in the way of Con appearances, etc.

        I’m not criticizing her, btw, just expressing a curiosity. I don’t blame her for the end of the series. Her contract was up, and she didn’t want to continue playing the character; that’s completely her choice to make.

        She played Buffy so incredibly well, though, I do wonder about her relationship with/feelings about the character.

        • Eldritch

          The only thing I’ve heard (and I’m certainly NOT in the know) was that she was embarrassed or angry about having to do the sexual scenes in the later seasons.

          I recall being a bit surprise at how explicit they were considering they were on broadcast TV. I’m your typical degenerate male. I can’t say I was offended, I was just more surprised that they were so frank on that medium.

          But it kind of surprised me that she would do those scenes if they embarrassed her. By that point in the series, I’m sure she had enough star power to influence things.

        • The only thing I’ve heard (also NOT in the know) is that she was thoroughly sick of the character, and after seven years, I can hardly blame her. That’s why she doesn’t do the commentaries or special features or ‘cons.

          Yeah, the commentaries are a little overly effusive. But then, it’s just professional courtesy to have lots of flowery praise for your coworkers on the commentaries. Everyone always says, “and they were the funniest people I’d ever worked with!” and never “actually, this job really sucked.” The only thing I thought was diva was that it seemed like she kinda insisted on Michelle Trachtenberg being Dawn. But again — at that point, haven’t you kinda earned it? I’m on the fence about the whole thing.

          Something that amuses me about the commentaries is how Joss — who avowedly likes girls with small boobs — swear to god, it’s in the introduction to Fray — tries so hard to compliment the admittedly beautiful Amber Benson. He stutters for what feels like five minutes before he manages to find the word “womanly.” I don’t mean that as a slam, I’m definitely womanly myself, and I think it’s really funny.

  4. Cameron

    In addition to Jed/Maurissa, Steven S. DeKnight, who you will see write many Angel episodes in the near future, is also there. So yes, it is an extension of the Whedonverse.

    I think this was a good move for Angel’s first season, since there aren’t any major story arcs to play with yet, and the show still has a kind of umbilical cord attached to Buffy. But once you hit the two-parter, the show really takes off. I just wouldn’t get too attached to the idea of Angel as a procedural; as you’ve noticed, it doesn’t work, and the process takes a back seat to the stories later on.

    • Tausif Khan

      DeKnight said he comes from the school of Whedon shows. So there is a direct influence as opposed to just being a job.

      The actress episode is similar to the dollhouse episode with the singer. Both about existential crisis with heightened fame.

  5. AO

    Wow, that’ll indeed be a big post (and conversation) to tackle 5-6 Buffy S4 Episodes at one time. Thanks for the warning though, there’s one Episode amongst them that I want to be sure to rewatch before commenting on.

    I can well understand why you chose to employ this tactic with Angel, though. In my TV watching experience, most shows worth discussing either begin at a high level and gradually decline with time, or start out far from perfect and then take a Season or two to hit their stride. As has been said before, Angel definitely would be among the latter. My advice would be to compare Buffy in S3/4 to Buffy in S1, expect that Angel will undergo similar changes, and do your best to enjoy/analyze this incarnation of Angel for what it is.

    That being said, I pretty well agree with your thoughts. “Expecting” was an interesting concept, it has a few good moments and laughs, but it’s doubtful to me that many people would count it among their favorites and I would concur that it was heavy-handed at times, as was “She”, which I didn’t care much for either.

    “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was well-constructed for this phase of the show and I found it entertaining too.

    Regarding “The Prodigal”, imo it’s always a treat to see Darla in the ‘Verse, but even though I liked Kate when she was introduced, I too did not at all care for her role in this Episode. “The Prodigal” helped transition me from someone who liked Kate’s potential, to someone who had to concede that that potential might go unfilled.

    I’d again agree that “The Ring” was not badly done, but of course it’s a story that’s hardly original, with “the hero being captured and made to fight in an arena” a plot that has been done in quite a few shows. (Though perhaps it’s my fault for being jaded on that point, if I only ever watched Angel-repeats rather than any other TV, I am sure that I wouldn’t be so burned out on it 😉 ).

    Regarding “Eternity”, I would again agree that Rebecca’s story did not impact me as much as I would have liked. However, while I too was not a huge fan of the plot device used to introduce him, I do think that it was valuable, both to Wesley and to the viewers, that we get a glimpse of Angelus. There were viewers who had not seen (and in some cases still have not seen) Buffy, and as this is Angel’s show, I think that it was indeed important to ensure that the audience has a proper understanding of Angelus. Which is also part of the value of those flashback scenes from “The Prodigal”.

    • diane

      The thing about Angelus is that there’s always the threat that Angelus could return. Cordy made more than a few comments about that around the time of I Will Remember You. In that context,Eternity is both a reminder and a demonstration, especially for any viewers that didn’t come to the series through Buffy.

    • fivexfive

      I can’t help but think of the time David Boreanaz stepped into a ring again in an episode of “Bones.” You see this story in all sorts of shows, but how often do you see it happen to the same leading actor?

  6. Jason

    No problem with Spike and his chip, but total problem with Angel and the happy pill? Can’t we just assume that Buffyverse pharmacology is as advanced as military integrated circuitry? My guess is that (in Angel’s LA) widely successful actresses have access to exceptionally potent drugs. lol

    • Okay, this comment made me laugh a LOT 😀 Just the phrase “Buffyverse pharmacology”….. hehe.

    • Mel

      I was gonna make a new thread but this is as good a place as any- in response to “the idea that we can be chemically tricked into feeling true love”–love is a chemical reaction. an awesome one, to be sure, but still.

  7. morda898

    I agree that “I’ve got you under my skin” is (almost) the best of this bunch. At least of that disk. I love the group dynamic and everything it says about Wesley (My favourite character). However, my favourite episode here is Eternity which I actually think says more about these characters than any episode prior (Of Angel that is). Angel reverting to Angelus, Cordelia’s loyalty, Wesley’s fear and everyone’s strength. It works really well….For me at least.

    It was in Eternity I found that the show stopped being anthology and started being a proper good show. Of course it’s the two parter coming up next that (In some ways) works like Buffy’s “Innocence” in that it is supposed to overhaul the show’s entire game plan but all six of the final episodes I think re-assert that (All in different ways). Eternity does it by reiterating what we know about these characters and just making their personalities seem more apparant whilst heading into this new (Far, far, far, far superior) era of the show.

    I know everyone hates “She”, and I do understand why. Bai Ling can’t act at all and it does seem a bit ridiculous and over the top. But did anyone else find that this was the first episode that was truly “epic” in the sense of scope and visuals. The story may have been crapply done (Although it was cool in theory) but the visuals were pretty damn good. I think one of the things that sets Angel apart from alot of other TV (Buffy, for instance – Although in terms of cinematography Buffy was pretty damn gorgeous, particularly in seasons three and four) was just how visually ambitious it is. I mean once you get to season two every episode looks like a movie. Like, seriously. It would definitely rank within my top five best looking series of all time and I’ve seen ALOT of TV.

    Yes, yes I know visuals mean nothing in the long run but I’ve rarely seen a show that is so successful in its ambition. Buffy may win out narratively but Angel gets the visual nod and they’re both superior to just about everything else in terms of character and theme. Although between the two shows Buffy would get character and Angel would get theme.

    As for the other three episodes well they are pretty much average. The Prodigal says alot about Angel and Kate but was poorly executed and The Ring was quite cool but failed on alot of levels. I do like Expecting however. I love Cordy and this was a nice little story about her and her importance to the group. Also, I don’t think alot of people noticed this (They may of, I have no idea) but this is the episode that Cordy actually loses her virginity. I note this because I think alot of people think Cordy was some slutty bimbo in highschool when really she wasn’t.

    Anyway, awesome review Myles – As always. I’m actually kind of glad you threw all these episodes together. Individually they’re just not that great.

  8. lyvvie

    I love “The Prodigal” but it is perhaps an episode that is better after watching the whole series. Or maybe I just love it because I’m just so interested in Angel’s past. And it’s a lot better than some of the stand-alones surrounding it. Plus Tim Minear becomes one of the series best writers. (Re-reading that sounds like a string of excuses but I really do love it!)

    ‘She’ is awful. The dancing and coffee-bean squeezing aside, I find it very hard to watch. Would be in my top 5 worst episodes of Angel, if I had such a list.

    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said about “Expecting”, “The Ring” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, the latter in particular manages to be stand-alone while also having some great character moments – hints at Wesley’s past, Angel missing Doyle, Cordy’s… terrible brownies.

    I agree with you on “Eternity” up to a point. It is pretty cheap to have Angelus appear as a result of a drug, and Rebecca isn’t terribly interesting (she’s very pretty, so I could see why Angel would be attracted to her but I think they tried to push the ‘they’re so alike because they’re both lonely’ thing a bit too far). I liked the reappearance of the agent from the pilot though. And the pre-credits sequence of Cordy acting terribly in ‘A Doll’s House’ (hee). But once Angelus is in the episode I think it works very well. He is scary (holding the glass to Rebecca’s face, forcing her to drink blood), while also being his usual hilarious self (‘What are you going to do? Melt me?’) and I think that works as a great intro for people who didn’t watch Buffy.

    But you’ve made it through now Myles, the rest of the Angel episodes this season are really good ones (IMO of course).

    Just to add to make sure Myles, I take it you’re watching up to and including Buffy 4.16 before continuing with Angel? Otherwise things could get pretty confusing.

  9. skittledog

    I’ve actually rewatched this string of episodes quite a bit, not because I think they’re particularly brilliant but mostly because, once Wesley’s arc got good, I found myself wanting to go back and see where the seeds of it started to be planted. A surprising amount was already present in Buffy s3 – I never fail to be astounded by how good his characterisation is, from start to end (with one or two blips, but eh aren’t there always) – but these are the episodes where he gets enough focus for us to understand his motivations and strengths enough for them to be a basis for what follows. (His weaknesses probably get a better showcase in season 2, I’d say.) The only thing I like about She (apart from the dancing, which yes – magnificent) is the fact that for the first time ever, Wes is in a fight and almost manages to hold his own (hah. S4 pun re-used). He becomes a more competent fighter than Cordelia, which okay isn’t saying much, but baby steps here… and I likewise appreciate The Ring for showing him able to step up and keep fighting even when things look pretty hopeless. (Also, Lilah.) So, yeah. I’d definitely agree that I’ve Got You Under My Skin is the best of the bunch, with a spoonful more character and universe complexity than those around it.

    I’d be wary of calling the two-parter up next a game-changer in the way that Surprise/Innocence was, if only for the fact that it does not set the plot in motion in the way those two did. What it does do is set the characters, the tone and the stakes for Angel as a show completely distinct from Buffy – and for that, I love it. (Also, it’s fun.)

    It’s nice to see that you don’t seem to be spoiled for one moderately important thing. No further comment on that until you get to the end of the season… 🙂

    • skittledog

      And I just lost my afternoon to rewatching The Ring through Sanctuary. Um. Oops. I should put the dvds in a more hard-to-reach location…

  10. Jack_Kay

    Just two “Yay” points from me this time:

    1. Yay for Lilah Morgan’s introduction (Love her. & Lindsey McDonald is finally seen again in the two-parter!)

    2. Just simply a Yay for the upcoming 4-parter (2 of Buffy followed by 2 of Angel) – they are some of the best character work spanning both series’ so far, and I think the 2nd ep of Buffy’s double feature features one of SMG’s best and most interesting performances to date.

    In terms of these Angel eps, I think this is one of the rare cases in the Buffyverse where most of these were episodes I was really into at the time, but now in retrospect, I’m not all that keen and they’re not even that memorable… (usually it’s the other way around – i.e. The first time you watch an episode or arc you’re a bit unsure about it, but then taken again within the larger picture it really starts to grow on you and has much more emotional resonance).

    I remember finding “She” strangely epic and affecting at the time too (as someone above mentioned), and liking “The Prodigal” for the flashbacks, and actually really enjoying “The Ring” and “Eternity” – finding them both quite bracingly dark on first viewing back in early 2000 – so I think in a way I can watch with nostalgia and still get something out of them, but really they fall a bit flat in comparison to everything that comes after, and even in comparison to the concurring episodes in Buffy’s Season 4.

    p.s. Yay again for the imminent 4-parter!

  11. Witnessaria

    “Prodigal” worked for me because I do like Kate, I liked the paralleling of their stories (although it is done better in other Whedonverse instances, I’ll admit), and I love the moment when her father doesn’t invite Angel in and he has to watch from the doorway. And like others have said, parts of it resonate later in the series.

    I would also choose “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” as my other favorite of this string because of Wesley and the twists which make me wish I could watch it again as a virgin so they’d surprise me like the first time. 🙂

    “She” is pretty bad. Even the music seems over-the-top in it. “Expecting” I didn’t like much the first time. I’m not a fan of horror pregnancies as a rule, but I have become accustomed to them finally as a staple of this kind of TV and can appreciate them when the plotlines are given some weight and aren’t just a one-off.

    The best part about “Ring” is Cordy and Wes together and meeting Lilah. **SLIGHT SPOILER?**
    Although the first time through she didn’t make an impact on me; it’s only subsequent to seeing her later on that I appreciate the introduction.**DONE**

    So I think a good review again. Looking forward to more.

    • Witnessaria

      Oh, yeah, “Eternity.” I hated it the first time through because I thought the drugs were such a cheat. It’s a matter of having or not having his soul, not… But I’ve reconciled my initial problems with subsequent viewings and I do appreciate the menace that takes over once “Angelus” is among them.

      And as to this being the dregs of season 1, I like this string with its mix of so-so, bad, and very good episodes better than the string of likewise from 2-7. That’s probably just my personal preference for Wesley over Doyle. Your comments on starting over the same way I hadn’t considered for some reason but made an aha moment in my morning mind.

    • skittledog

      I agree with the above – I am more likely to rewatch this stretch than 3-7 (I’m a fan of Lonely Hearts, but then, I like Kate and wasn’t aware so many people didn’t…). Possibly because I prefer Wesley to Doyle as well, or possibly because this time we actually go somewhere off the end of the build-up, so it has purpose? Whereas I’m not sure I’ve ever rewatched Bachelor Party.

  12. IS NO ONE GOING TO MENTION THE VERY FIRST APPEARANCE OF CHRISTINA HENDRICKS?!?!?!?!?!?! (In the Whedonverse, that is.) (She’s the barmaid talking to Darla.)

    • Mel

      I always forget this–she’s so solidly YoSaffBridge and Joan to me that seeing her in a throw away role never sticks with me

  13. In other thoughts —

    “She” isn’t just a bad episode of television, I actually find it offensive. To have something as horrifying (and real!) as female genital mutilation addressed in such a heavy-handed manner really bothers me. Later, the show proves that it can handle similar issues, misogyny and domestic violence, in more thoughtful ways (e.g.

    I agree that IGYUMS is the best of the bunch. The plot is less obvious than other Angel eps of this era, and we get the beginnings of depth to Wesley’s character, both in the brief comment about fathers, and the insecurities he has to overcome in the exorcism.

    There was a comment above discussing whether Rebecca was meant to have something to do with SMG (an interesting thought). Personally, I always thought she looked a lot like Jenny Calendar, which kinda bugs me. I guess pale angular women with that same dark haircut were in vogue at the time.

    • e.g. 3.6. Serves me right for keeping writing before looking up the episode.

    • skittledog

      Oh, 3.6. Shudder. (But in a good way.)

      I guess I didn’t watch She and think of genital mutilation. Perhaps I should have but I just went to the ‘control your women’ place because it stopped them even really thinking for themselves. Either way, nasty stuff and could have been handled better than having Wes start stuttering because he’s confronted with nearly-naked female demons. Sigh.

      • diane

        Yes, there are some episodes in that sequence that are very good, but very hard to watch. Just re-watched 3.3 last night; there’s so much rage there. Some great moments for Wesley, though, marking how far he’s come since he arrived in Sunnydale.

        • I know the writers/producers or whatever really didn’t like 3.3, but the first time I saw it, I had a really visceral emotional response to what was happening, because of *where* it was happening.

  14. You should really finish Spartacus. It ended up being pretty great, and sort of unrecognizable from the show that it was trying to be in the first two or three episodes.

  15. Wes

    Just wanted to point out (RE: Eternity) that “true love” isn’t what sends Angel’s soul away, it’s “a moment of pure happiness” or some such. Something that makes him forget the pain he’s caused.

    • KokoBuffs

      yeah, I was surprised no one corrected it. It’s a very important distinction to make. Sure how he achieves that “perfect happiness” is I guess sort of a cheat…but I was ok with it because of the greater impact it had in further separating Angel’s narrative from Buffy. This is the Angel curse re-visited and reclaimed as a part of his personal journey. It told the viewer who did follow Angel from Buffy that the stakes are just as high–is is an internal struggle 1st, that played out in a relationship. To me this was another way for Angel the show to reset our conception of his journey and demons as being independent, rather than as he was merely previously an extension of Buffy’s narrative. Another way to cut the chord.
      Also, with regard to the earlier comparison

      • KokoBuffs

        Ok, that’s the last time I try to post from my cell phone…Forget that last line that got cut. Too hard to dance around spoilage on that comparison anyway. That debate will have to wait (ooh! rhymes)

  16. Austin

    BTW Jane Espenson (don’t think i spelled that right) says she was very adamant that the ghost be referred to as “Phantom Dennis” since at the time Star Wars Episode I was still new so she thought it was a great pun. Apparently she didn’t think so at the time she recorded the commentary.

    • Mel

      I thought that was Greenwalt, but I love the idea of a pun that falls flat over time being around years later because of its falling flat

  17. Austin

    Also I realized that you are right, we get our first hints of Wesley’s potential in these episodes namely IGYUMS, I forgot that it started this early, I would have said Season 3 is where his real arc started but I guess it has its roots here. You are actually going to see a little more in the two parter coming up. I think you are going to have to get used to the Procedural nature of Angel for a while, although it eventually gets more serial, it never goes quite as far as Buffy does, with a new Big Bad every season (well it kinda does that a little). And I think it is better for it.

  18. Pingback: Cultural Catchup Project: Taking a Turn in Season Four (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) « Cultural Learnings

  19. Chrystal

    Really enjoying all the reviews. I’m having to keep reminding myself I can read the Buffy spoilers but not to read the Angel spoilers since I’m just watching it for the first time. I’ve already had the Kate thing ruined so I’m being extra careful now making myself skip to the next comment when someone says “spoiler”. But it’s hard to do! The words just jump right out..

    Anyway, just a couple of things that bugged me when I watched these this last week..

    For IGYUMS, I ended up a bit confused about the demon using Wesley’s insecurities and trying to psych him out of completing the exorcism. Not that it didn’t make sense when it happened, because it did- what didn’t make sense to me was that the demon later told them he’d been trapped in there all this time and something about being hopeful when they were there as he was trying to get out (and left that message “help me/save me/whatever”) and that it was the boy who was doing all those bad things. But if that’s the case, why would he try to psych out Wesley by mentioning the stuff about the Council, his dad, etc..? Did I miss something there? Because it had a real feeling of “throw in a twist at the end that doesn’t really fit but it’ll be a neat enough twist that people won’t care”. Just sayin’..

    Also, this has already sort of been mentioned, but Eternity bugged me too with its somehow taking away Angel’s soul because of the pill but then letting it come back when the effects wore off. I actually did buy into him losing his soul, but thought that now they were going to have to get it back again somehow. And granted, I thought it was a bit repetitive to do since we’ve already seen it done before on Buffy, but I did think it worked to do it here as well since some watching may not have seen that and wouldn’t get just how scary it’d be for him to go back to being Angelus. So really, my problem with it was that it just wore off. A real moment of true happiness loses his soul but a fake moment of true happiness only clouds it over? It was just too convenient and out of nowhere for me- especially that Wesley was aware that it was going to wear off.

    But now I need to watch some more because I’ve only just seen the 2-parter so you’ll be ahead of me right away!

    • I always thought that, if they hadn’t knocked him unconscious, Angelus would have made sure to keep taking that drug!

    • skittledog

      I’m sure he would have done. Doesn’t he say something about needing to get the name of her dealer? (Um, before trying to kill her several times. Angelus is not really the smartest cookie.)

      But damn, I’d never noticed that about the demon in IGYUMS being contradictory in that it wanted to get out but also tried to stop Wes letting it out. That’s going to annoy me now. Unless… hmm. I can probably pretend that the kid just wanted to hurt everyone and was able to use the demon’s abilities (mind-reading) to do so, rather than the demon being in charge at that point. But that’s not an easy stretch and ugh, this is not going to stand close scrutiny is it? Hmm.

      I’ve also never understood why it thought telling Angel that Wesley planned to kill him would work.

  20. Gill

    Good move to do these together, Myles – still very much a show in the making here, so good in terms of establishing character but not overly memorable in themselves. This will change soon.

  21. Bob Kat

    Myles: N ot a lot to say about these ep.s myself either that wasn’t said above.
    Question: When you wondered about Darla’s being “memorable” in _BtvS_ S-1, did you mean you wondered “Why was a character who was dropped so soon featured so prominently?”

    morda898: I don’t think we can go that far. Just because Cordelia 1- wasn’t actually a slut in high school 2-didn’t go beyond smooching with Xander it doesn’t follow she was an actual virgin. To me she seems like the “started in 8th Grade but always made it her call” type. But, never specified, I grant.

    skittledog: That said, I wonder if Wesley is supposed to be a virgin at this point.

    Susan, Eldritch, voluntarymanslaughter; Haven’t watched this ep. since it first ran but isn’t Rebecca supposed to be an *aging* starlet looking for the ultimate plastic surgery alternative?
    SMG came in for soem criticism by soem of the crew and staff for being a diva but that is almost inevitably said about the star of any show. How true it is I can’t say; by contrast, Eliza and Amber have mentioned she gave them both some good solid professional advice. And SMG was a bit of a workaholic during her Buffy years and those are never the easiest people to get along with.
    As to the outtakes, I do believe she had an agreement (not sure if it was in her contract or not) not to be featured in those. Some are out there as bootlegs; I saw a disk with an outtake of her (apaprently blowing a take with Boreanaz and sayign soem 4 letter words) along with the unaired pilot ina local store “Exfortunately” I didn’t have a DVD player at the time and didn’t know I’d be getting one….

    I think the reason SMG seldom does cons is the same reason Alyson and Seth and *spoilery name of younger actress* don’t, Boreanaz prices himself out of reach, Eliza has done very few and Charisma avoided them until recently; they are all “general-purose” actors, not specifically genre stars. There’s apparently a rather elaborate code of what *kinds* of personal appearances celebrities of various “types” can and can’t be expected to make.

    • re: Cordelia, I really don’t think we can say. As far as we know, she and Xander didn’t even get to second base. Granted, at that time Buffy was a much more innocent show. But I’d still be surprised if Cordy lost her virginity on a one-night stand. I always thought of her as the kind of girl who talked a good game, but probably only went that far (for the first time) with someone she actually cared about.

      Then again, we have so little data on this that we’re probably all just projecting 🙂

      Your take on Rebecca is right, she’s the aging starlet. I think I was responding more to how sick she is over her “big hit show” that everyone still identifies her with. She says something like, “Raven is seventeen, she’ll always be seventeen, and she’ll always be there in syndication, looking younger and prettier than me.”

      Your comment on the cons is a good one, though. They’re big enough stars that they’re rarely affordable.

      • Eldritch

        “re: Cordelia”

        “Hello, salty goodness!”

        • And suddenly, that line is much, much dirtier than I had ever imagined it to be…….

          • Eldritch

            Sorry if that was too vivid. I didn’t understand the meaning of that phrase for a long time. It puzzled me, but then I don’t get absolutely every reference. (For example, I missed the “Cletus, the slack jawed yokel” reference, having never watched his show.) But in re-listening to one of the commentaries one day something that was was said with guffaws and chuckles finally pierced the veil.

      • Bob Kat

        Yeah, honestly it doesn’t matter much (unless you’re a fic writer who wants to use it as a story hook; I made Harmony’s first vamp boyfriend an ex of Crody’s who called her “a nic ride,’ remembering of course boys and vamps both tend to lie and brag *grin.) Even if you aren’t, well, inventing backstory is the kind of hobby which can make a person nutso, as I’ve seen on other boards. (My suggestions that a certain blonde witch is from a large in-bred clan make a couple of my cyber-friends very upset with me.)

  22. Eleanor (undeadgoat)

    OK, I didn’t see this point above but there was admittedly some serious skimming going on. It’s not true love that’s the problem; it’s pure, unadulterated, “perfect happiness”, so all that the drugs have to do is totally remove Angel from his earthly cares. Just as waking up in bed next to Buffy had previously done.

    • fivebyfive

      The issue I had with the drugs (which I believe was Myles’ problem, too) was that, yeah, they gave him perfect happiness which removed his soul, but only temporarily. That’s some tricky loophole, that because it was synthetic happiness he only “fake” lost his soul.

      It seems like any kind of happiness is temporary, so why are the drugs any different than being with Buffy?

      • Wes

        I think that the drug incapacitated Angel enough that Angelus was able to take control. Something similar to (or maybe it’s completely different from) the way Angel let Angelus fight Eyghon in The Dark Age.

        When both entities are in there the human soul is in charge. Usually.

        Of course, Wesley seemed to think the happy pill did invoke the curse in some temporary way. Since I don’t know anything about gypsy curses and how they work, the drug thing has never been an issue for me.

        • Eldritch


          Hey… say something!

          I don’t think so. Angel and Angelus aren’t two separate entities. Angelus is Angel without his soul. In “Dark Age,” Angel did not lose his soul.

          What’s in there with him is a demon, which is the supernatural force which makes him a vampire.

          Angel let Eyghon possess him because he was already dead and therefore couldn’t be harmed by the possession. It was Angel, perhaps with the help of that demon, who fought Eyghon.

          • Wes

            Maybe it’s just a disagreement on wording, but when you say:

            “What’s in there with him is a demon, which is the supernatural force which makes him a vampire.”

            Doesn’t that make for 2 separate entities inhabiting 1 (dead) human body? A demon (known as Angelus) in there with him (Angel).

  23. Eldritch

    “Maybe it’s just a disagreement on wording…”

    Not wording. We’re actually saying different things.

    The mythology surrounding the demons in vampires was never well developed, but this is my take on it.

    First, consider human beings. A human has a personality which is comprised of memories, hopes, desires, wishes and aspirations. All these things are neutral. Like arms and legs, they can be used for good or evil. They don’t give life or motivate themselves.

    Humans also have souls. Souls are the source of morality and the source of all goodness in people. Thus a normal human being can control his antisocial desires and conduct himself morally.

    When a human dies, the soul leaves the body. However, when made into a vampire a demon enters the body and replaces the soul. This demon-soul-replacement gives vampires their magical powers, i.e., the ability to move and talk despite being dead, near invulnerability, rapid healing, super strength. Since the demon is evil, the human’s personality, which remains in the body, is now simply evil. That’s why Liam, who loved his family, despite any disagreements with his father, upon becoming a vampire immediately killed and ate his entire family.

    So in the typical case, there’s only one thing inside, a soul or a demon-soul-replacement. The soul or demon express themselves through personality. The personality is like a filter. Should the same demon enter a different human, he would have a different personality, despite being the same demon.

    It strikes me as odd that this demon seems to have no personality of his own, but that’s the way Whedon et al. wrote. When Angel and gang go to Pylea to rescue Cordelia, we see the demon come out in him. But it’s stated that the rules are different in that dimension.

    When Angelus was cursed by the Gypsies, his soul was re-inserted into his body. Presumably, the soul trumps the demon-soul, so Angel behaves morally and is remorseful for his past deeds.

    “Angel” is just the name that’s used when his soul controls his body. “Angelus” is used when he loses his soul, and only the demon controls his behavior. They are just two different names, not different entities. Different names distinguis whether a soul or a demon controls, and makes it less confusing when dealing with the same body.

    Perhaps it dull for the demon, stuck in Angel, a body controlled by a soul. He must feel helpless, and just sit around and grouse about all the evil things he wished he could do were he in charge.

    So when Eyghon entered Angel’s body, there were three things in there, a soul, a demon, and Eyghon. The soul let the demon get some much needed exercise by fighting Eyghon off.

    And that’s how I see it.

  24. Becker

    Personally, I was a little let down by I’ve Got You Under My Skin (though always pleased that it was one of my best friends directing debut). But not by the episode, but because of how amazing the original script was. It was too dark for the network and not only was it rewritten to change from Doyle to Wesley (it was written before Ep 2 was shot), but also made the kid a lot less evil. In the script they found a box he kept of feathers, and teeth and other souvenirs of the various animals, etc. that he killed and it was supposed to end with him about to throw the sister off of the roof. It read like a Stephen King story (which I consider a compliment, your mileage may vary).

    I’ve seen people on here say how She was the worst episode ever for the series and I actually thought it was OK when I just rewatched it recently, prepping for these reviews. It wasn’t fantastic, but it didn’t suck either. There were a lot of better and worse eps in this season, even. A group of fans got to see a preview of David’s dance at the first PBP back in ’98. There is a tape of that somewhere out there, mine got taken by the previously mentioned director.

    I think Prodigal might have been the ep where I first met Julie Benz. I like her. But I wish I met Christina Hendricks. I hadn’t rewatched this in so long I had no clue that she was in this. And I just watched Firefly last week. I want to meet Yo-Saf-Bridge. 😉 Back to Julie Benz. When I met her it was shortly before the third PBP and I invited her to that. She had me send an invite though she was pretty sure a previous engagement would prevent her from attending (it did). (She did make the last PBP and the sole Wolfram and Hart Annual Review during Angel S5 – her interviews in the S5 DVD stuff was from that party.) She said she didn’t think anyone would know who she was. I told her that she didn’t understand the fandom at all. 😉 She also said she didn’t understand why anyone would want her to sign something that wasn’t a check. Did I mention I like her? 🙂

    The Ring was nicknamed The Thick Red Line because of that war movie that came out at the time. It was also an homage to Spartacus.

    Out of this stretch, Eternity was the other summer episode (written before she wrote the Bachelor Party one) and therefore there was some major work done on it. I never liked the perfect happiness of the drug bit as much as I felt that his consciousness was drugged and the demon was able to move forward with the drugs effect of happiness allowing the demon to think he might actually be free. As for the actress wanting to get vamped, not thinking about the negatives, how many actresses walk around with bad botox, enhancements, fake orange tans, etc.? I bought that part right off. I do not think she was meant to represent anyone. The writers were very happy to get her agent back after he tried to sign Angel in the first ep. It also led to one of the more amusing stunts gone wrong. Seen on the gag reel comp on S5 DVDs, I think.

    The fact that the show was meant to be more episodic than Buffy (per the network) allowed so many episodes to have been written as early on as they were to be slotted in at some point later. They’d kind of have to be relatively stand alone to exist that way.

    Susan, I do know that the DVD features were filmed during actual filming of the shows which limited the time the actors had to go and film there bits. And they were all pretty much done on one day. If those were big days for a particular actor, you won’t see them. Also, some people really don’t like opening the curtain to how they do what they do. SMG is a very private person (she was able to avoid the tabloids at her peak, not easy) and I’m sure that also plays a factor. I do know that SMG got to OK if she was in the gag reels. There is a lot that was in real gag reels that never made any DVDs (for both shows, but mainly Buffy).

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