Two Steps Forward, Few Looks Back in “To Shanshu in L.A.”
July 11th, 2010
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“To Shanshu in L.A.” is no “Prophecy Girl.”
I can’t resist the comparison, as both episodes find their respective series still searching for their identity while closing their first season, looking for a source of momentum. Don’t get me wrong, I like “To Shanshu in L.A.” just fine, but what felt so natural for Buffy (a final showdown with the season’s “Big Bad,” a first glimpse at the evil which sits underneath Sunnydale) feels comparatively contrived when it happens to Angel. While Wolfram & Hart have been built up all season, and there is some really successful subtle serialization in the episodes leading up to the finale, the finale leaves nothing to the imagination beyond the mysteries of “What Does the Prophecy Mean?” and “Who’s in the Box,” which really won’t matter until next season. The resolutions to these mysteries are exciting, and I very much like where the show is heading in terms of its plot, but the episode plants its thematic flag at base camp instead of trying for the summit.
If a great season finale wraps up the season’s storylines while looking forward to what happens next, “To Shanshu in L.A.” is only really successful with the latter, although that’s by design: the show is clearly not done with a majority of the elements introduced this season, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t feel like “Prophecy Girl.” Yes, I’d argue that the episode reflects some of the ways in which Angel lacks the momentum inherent to the conclusion of Buffy’s first season, but it’s yet another example of the show charting its own course, and even with some of my concerns about the way the episode is designed I’ve very excited by the world it has created and its potential moving forward.
I really sort of love the way that “War Zone” and “Blind Date” feed into the finale, with Charles Gunn and his group of vampire hunters and David Nabbit becoming recurring elements from the former and Lindsey’s dalliance with the side of good becoming a compelling subtext for the finale within the latter. Considering that we’re going to be following a much larger battle between Angel and Wolfram & Hart in the finale, it’s important that we meet Holland Manners, and that Lindsey’s position at Wolfram & Hart is given greater context; neither “War Zone” or “Blind Date” are that spectacular on their own, but the way they slowly build up a slightly larger world is a nice bit of momentum heading into the finale.
I just wish that it had started earlier, and that the Angel storyline within “To Shanshu in L.A.” would have felt reflective of this kind of development. There are signs in these episodes of Angel starting to lose his lust for life, as he gets frustrated upon the blind assassin being set free and realizes that he’s fighting on Wolfram & Hart’s turf. However, we haven’t really seen this developing over the season, and I felt like Angel’s deep depression seemed like it lacked any sort of motivation. The finale takes Angel to that dark place in order make his realization that Cordelia and Wesley are what he needs and wants, and that they are his reason for living, more substantial, but that feels extraordinarily cheap to me. You can claim that it’s subtlety, but the episode fails to make a connection with Angel’s funk and any of the things which have happened over the course of the season. It’s not as if there aren’t connections to be made: Doyle’s death, his relationship with Kate, his relationship with Buffy and his time with Faith were all pretty substantial events in Angel’s life, but none of them are raised in terms of capturing why Angel has nothing to “live” for.
Just as “Prophecy Girl” deals with Buffy dealing with a prophecy which foreshadows her death, the episode has Angel fighting against a prophecy of his own, although its meaning changes through the course of the episode. There’s meaning in the way which Angel sort of shrugs off the prophecy: while Buffy was a sixteen-year old girl who believed she had a life to live, Angel has lived long enough that he has seen prophecies come and go, and so it’s natural he would respond differently. However, I don’t feel as if his discovery that he cares for Wesley and Cordelia is really anything new, as we’ve seen him worry about Cordelia before (like in “Rm w/a Vu” amongst other episodes), and he clearly appreciates Wesley’s assistance (why, he was just talking about his appreciation for his research skills in “Blind Date”). I feel like Greenwalt’s scrip turns a reminder into a revelation, manipulating Angel’s character to more easily emphasize the themes that they want to end the season with. Yes, the tightness of this particular group is a key part of the season’s accomplishment, but the way that connection manifests itself here feels at odds with the organic way in which it developed over the course of the back half of the season. I didn’t feel like we needed to be told many of the things which the episode tries to tell us, and I feel like time would have been better spent in other arenas.
In particular, I think that more needed to be done with Vocah, the underworld warrior who does a whole lot of damage in the episode. I understand that we don’t understand much about the evil forces at work in the series, and that the whole point of Wolfram & Hart is that they supervise rather than actually act out evil deeds, but it seemed strange for this new character with unclear motivations to be doing all of this damage. I like what of the prophecy is revealed within the episode, and I appreciate the idea that Angel is sort of at the mercy of those with a better understanding of the text, but I think the episode would have been stronger if we had a better sense of who Vocah was, even in terms of giving him a personality beyond a Phantom of the Opera mask and a deep voice. In the end, the episode is really only interested in his destructive capacities, his ability to kill the Oracles, and blow up Wesley, and all of those other nefarious activities; it’s a functional character, but it’s not a memorable one, and while Wolfram & Hart may be the key attraction here I do think that the episode suffered as a result of the character’s linear thinking.
The linearity of the finale is sort of a problem for me, as I think the season was decidedly non-linear – starting with Doyle’s death, the show was purposefully designed to disorient the viewer and resist traditional narrative development, and the season’s mashup of numerous different episode styles spoke to the ways in which the show was not on a clear path towards a particular target. “To Shanshu in L.A.” is obviously designed to change this particular fact, setting up a clear villain (in Darla), and also establishing some key underlying serialized elements which have less to do with residual serialization from Buffy and more to do with the series moving forward. In some ways this episode functions in a similar fashion to Buffy’s fourth season, bridging the gap between two different parts of the characters’ lives, but what Buffy had 22 episodes to accomplish Angel really only has one (or three if you count the final disc as a series of connected episodes, which I’d be open to).
And it shows in the way the episode rushes certain developments: in that final sequence, Cordelia seems as if she’s been suddenly changed by experiencing the pain of all of those seeking help rather than simply those who the Powers that Be enable her to see, but her change hasn’t been sudden at all. Throughout the season she has become more and more connected with Angel’s mission and Angel as a character, so this notion of a “new” Cordelia having appeared overnight is more than a bit strange for me. I understand that she hasn’t actually changed (as we see when she goes from helpful sandwich maker to her usual stream of consciousness-driven self), but even the idea that “everything has changed” with this episode is too apparent within the script itself. I get that this is the transition point between the first and second seasons, but the ways in which this happens naturally (like seeing Wolfram & Hart become more fully-formed) is far more successful than the more pained efforts to create a moment of revelation for Angel and the central group. Whereas “Prophecy Girl” felt like Buffy facing an all-important final test which in the process brought everyone closer together amidst a complicated situation, this finale feels very clearly designed to introduce these elements, and there’s a baldness to its storytelling which keeps me from really engaging with the ideas at hand.
There are plenty of ideas here: the idea that life and death can mean the same thing, for example, or that the very thing which created Angel may be the one thing which could destroy him, or the big idea that Angel could some day become human and truly experience life if he survives through a litany of terrors. However, for the most part, the episode doesn’t actually do anything with them: it certainly makes a compelling case for the fact that Angel needs his friends, and it certainly creates a compelling scenario heading into the second season, but it doesn’t really do anything in and of itself to demonstrate that sort of potential. It relies on the season’s collective impact without really doing any work to bother bringing all of that together, which you could argue demonstrates a subtle touch but which I’d tend to think is just too subtle to be substantial on its own accord.
It’s an important episode for the series, I reckon, but it is not itself a great piece of television, which is perhaps fitting considering that describes the season as a whole: it’s all very important in forming the series’ identity, but nothing here captures the whole of the series’ potential. While I find “To Shanshu in L.A.” to be flawed in a number of ways, it never proclaims itself to be great: rather, it sits as the promise of greatness, an unabashed nod to the future to convince viewers (and perhaps the network) that we want to see how this show evolves in its second season (and beyond, considering how many trials Angel must face to regain his humanity).
And while I’d like to have seen a slightly more sophisticated narrative to demonstrate how that second season might operate, consider me a believer in that which Greenwalt has foretold.
- Okay, I was really convinced that David Nabbit’s extraordinarily large cheque was going to end up in the hands of the teenagers by episode’s end as Angel’s way of helping them feed their people and survive in their battle against the Vampires. The scene didn’t really make that much sense otherwise, so I presumed it was one of those bits of foreshadowing, but apparently I was wrong!
- Still not sure what the show is really doing with Kate: it makes sense that she would pop up here, but the scene was a bit too much “Hey, remember when my father died,” which seems to ignore what went down in “Sanctuary.”
- Neat little crossover with Willow on the phone helping Cordelia unlock the files in “Blind Date” (a phone call which seems to take place during the opening scenes of “Primeval”), although it’s a bit strange that Angel’s visit to Sunnydale in “The Yoko Factor” goes completely unmentioned. I get that they want the two storylines to remain separate, but I felt Angel’s visit was sort of pointless, and was kind of hoping for his return to shed some light on it.
- Figure this is as good a place as any to point out how darn good Sam Anderson is as Holland – I only really know his work from Lost, but seeing Bernard in this kind of role was a really interesting bit of casting shock, and I thought he nicely toed the line between evil and authoritative that the role requires. The scenes in Wolfram & Hart in “Blind Date” were particularly successful at establishing what kind of working environment it is, and I’m looking forward to seeing more in the future.
- A good cheesy line is always welcome, so “don’t always believe what you’re foretold” after Angel uses the axe to cut off Lindsey’s hand is sort of wonderful.
37 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Two Steps Forward, Few Looks Back in “To Shanshu in L.A.” (Angel)”
Huh. I’m going to need to think about this some, Myles. I really like the last episodes of S1, especially “To Shanshu.” I feel as though they’ve found the highway on the narrative map (and I am SO glad Vocah slaughtered the Oracles, who are too cheesy by half). But as I read your analysis, I found myself agreeing with you. My world is all askew.
I have to agree with Susan here, and I think it has a lot to do with how one views the episode going in. I first watched this episode on DVD, with the next season discs all primed and ready to go. As such, I enjoyed “To Sanshu in L.A.” primarily as part of the ongoing buildup of the overarching plot and narrative that continues into the second season. However, taken in context as the season finale, the heavy-handedness of the writing goes from being a strange annoyance to a glaring problem.
As usual Myles, you’ve given me (and apparently, Susan) a fresh perspective on this one. I’m looking forward to your next writeup on the Buffyverse.
Same. I’m going to have to rewatch now. I think I felt more that the momentum of 5×5/Sanctuary got dissipated a little in War Zone/Blind Date, and I welcomed it back in To Shanshu even if it was heavy-handed (though I probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway). I do think it’s an important episode for making Angel realise he has developed relationships which can be threatened, even if those have built up slowly – appreciating Wesley’s research skills is a lot different from running into an exploding building to save him. (Sigh. Bye-bye, bat cave.)
But also, I like W&H remaining somewhat shadowy, with unclear motivations and ways of operating. They are not a Buffy Big Bad who shows up, gets understood and can then be destroyed… they are less of a reason for Angel to fight and more of a physical manefestation of everything he’s always fighting. That said, I like their role in s2, so there’s good stuff to come here.
So you already know what’s in the box?
Isn’t there a split second of her face, right at the end of the episode? I’ll admit I didn’t recognise her on a first watching though, and had to be told who it was…
Plus, Lilah says her name…
Oops. I clearly wasn’t listening at that point. 🙂
I’ve always enjoyed “To Sanshu” from a visceral place because, up until this episode, it felt like Angel as a show hadn’t really had a “big” episode where everyone felt genuinely in peril. On this level it was nice to see big stuff going down. With that said, I really find myself completely agreeing with your analysis. It’s a very watchable finale and whets the appetite for more, but it is somewhat heavy-handed and redundant.
Some of my favorite scenes in all of A1 are actually in “Blind Date,” and those are the W&H scene with Lindsay and Holland. This episode was the first time I gave a crap about this organization. The episode does an excellent job at personalizing them. This is the moment when both Lindsay and Holland began to become favorites of mine. It takes Lilah a bit longer to get there, but she does too. S2 is the best season for W&H, Myles. There’s a lot of stuff to look forward to in one of Angel’s two really good seasons (the other being S5), imho.
I wonder if you would feel differently about “Shanshu” if you hadn’t been comparing it to “Prophecy Girl.”
My feeling is that in general when comparisons are made, one thing always overshadows the other, and maybe that’s good and normal, but in this case . . . I really love “To Shanshu in L.A.” and I think by comparing it to Buffy at all you’re doing it a disservice. It’s one of the reasons I like to watch the shows separately, because I’m in one headspace while watching Buffy, and another while watching Angel. It’s like a subconscious thing.
Granted, most of your reactions to the episode probably would have remained the same, but it still makes me wonder.
I have to agree here. To me, the comparison with “Prophecy Girl” seems forced. They are separate series now, regardless of Angel’s origin, or of ocassional crossovers. And “Shanshu” feels much more like a pilot for a reformatted “Angel” series than a true S1 finale. Arguably, “Sanctuary” could be season one’s true finale.
What’s really odd to me is that, intellectually, I agree with Myles’ analysis and I *know* Prophecy Girl is the better S1 finale but yet…I much love Shanshu more.
Sometimes the heart rules the head…..
In regards to the “Prophecy Girl” comparison, two things:
1) The comparison was a post-viewing, introduction-writing stage in this process – it’s not as if I watched the episode thinking “gosh, this isn’t as successful as Prophecy Girl,” but rather that in writing about the episode it became clear the episodes represented two different ways of bringing a first season to a close (plus, you know, they’re both about protagonists confronting prophecies, so how forced can it be?). Plus, while you could argue that the series are finding their own identity, comparing season finales is something I’d do between any two series, as it’s a structural element which every show on television shares – understanding how shows develop different approaches to the idea is an exercise I’m very interested in, so I didn’t feel it was a stretch in this instance.
2) I don’t think I ever make the argument that “To Shanshu” is objectively “worse” than “Prophecy Girl.” While I certainly do have some issues with the way the episode is handled, and believe that it is less successful at bringing together the season as a whole (which is part of what a truly GREAT season finale does), in the end the episode has different priorities, and I don’t feel like my review immediately dismisses the finale based on this fact.
I see where you’re all coming from, but my point with the comparison was to help draw out what it is that the two shows are doing differently; yes, in the process I note that I think “Prophecy Girl” is more effective by remaining more subtle and resisting the same sorts of contrived thematic material that lies at the core of “To Shanshu,” but I can assure you that is my personal reading of the episode being communicated through comparison rather than the comparison poisoning my take on the episode, a tight rope which I assure you I walk carefully.
I think it’s worth noting that Angel’s group related themes are ultimately different than Buffy’s. One of the more compelling interpretations I’ve heard was that while Buffy’s about the formation of a supportive surrogate family, Angel’s more about the failure of such a surrogate family to cohere.
I’m not sure that was at least originally what’s intended, but you seem to be noting hints of it already.
Hmm. That feels completely wrong to me, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. They’re both families, I know that much, and they both function well at times and poorly at others.
Buffy’s family feels like the closest of schoolfriends – people who you are landed with and you find ways to make it work as you grow together, but you stay fairly blind to their weaknesses. Because if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be family any more.
Angel’s family feels more like the adult relationships that endure through thick and thin even though you’re fully aware of each other’s failings. Family you choose more consciously, but who also have the option to walk away if you do something that betrays the trust.
Actually, I find both perspectives to be equally as valid. I can’t wait to get into heated arguments about Angel’s family but it’s much too early for that. We haven’t even met two of them yet.
I think a lot of it’s because Angel handles season finales very differently to Buffy.
On Buffy, the season finale is wrapping up the whole story for the year. On Angel, it never does.
Angel’s season finales are, in some ways, always much more about the upcoming season than about the one that just happened.
In particular, your comments about Angel’s attitude, and about Kate, will be very relevant in the early parts of season 2.
Angel’s arc structure is definitely quite different from Buffy’s (and from many shows) – although the last episode of the season is always important in some way, it’s as an arc pivot point usually rather than an end point. There is only really one of Buffy’s finales that doesn’t feel, well, final in some way (Restless, which might be why I love it so much) and even there the big bad’s arc has already been neatly tied up. Whereas there isn’t one of Angel’s finales which does feel final… in fact, To Shanshu is probably the closest it gets. And I still join it to Judgment (2.01) in my head because they sort of go together to inform the tone of the show from now on.
(Anyone want to play the spoilery finale/premiere pairing game with me? 1.22 and 2.01 complement each other. 2.22 belongs to nothing except 2.20 and 2.21. 3.01 = blech, fairly standalone. 3.22 = equally blech in a very different way, but doesn’t pair with any other episode in my head. 4.01 and 4.22 are twisted matching bookends for their season, so they pair, but 4.22 also pairs with 5.01 for obvious reasons. 5.21/22 go together. Yes?)
So anyway… what I think I was trying to say is to agree that season finales in Angel shouldn’t really be looked forward to as anything special, as in most cases they just advance the ongoing arc and set up the next season rather than being a summary and pinnacle of the season which has just passed.
I wonder why the two shows are so different that way?
Yes. And I actually find that Angel’s seasons (esp. 1-3) are not structured at all like Buffy’s either. Angel tends to have story arcs that progress within or between seasons instead of over the course of one. I found it disorientating at first because the culminations of stories would come sooner or later than I expected or what I thought was the season arc shifted into another shorter story or changed direction entirely. And then sometimes came back in another form later on. Now I just tend to think of and rewatch various plots in the show as this or that story arc as opposed to this or that season arc.
Now I’ve just said arc way too many times, but that’s my take on it. It’s a very different format.
Not awake yet.
This is absolutely true. I’ve been watching Angel on reruns, after missing it’s original airings and I have no idea which episodes actually wrap up the season, b/c they’re usually aren’t big arc finales, like Buffy.
There ya go. This is exactly right. Even though there’s a discernible arc in every season (except the first), the momentum in Angel finales moves assertively forward. No fair comparing it to “Prophecy Girl.” The shows separated for good (future crossovers and narrative intersections notwithstanding) when Angel yelled at Buffy and told her to go home.
I remember really liking “To Shanshu” when it originally aired, though, when I wouldn’t have known how it would fit in the next episodes. It’s become a really great episode in retrospect, but it was powerful on its own.
I agree with skittledog (above) that it’s here that Angel understands how truly important Cordelia and Wesley have become to him. He appreciated them before; here he realizes they are his family.
And Charisma Carpenter does a really fine job with her demanding scenes. I do see the transformation here–and not in the admittedly heavy-handed coda, but in the moment that the mega-visions recede. It’s not just what she says, but something in her eyes. Nicely played.
Yeah, I completely agree. Angel season finales aren’t like any other show’s, especially Buffy’s. Prophecy Girl was almost a way to wrap up the show in case Buffy wasn’t renewed, to give fans a a sense of closure for the characters. But with Angel, it’s kind of obvious that they’d be returning, so they decided to do this instead: create a tonal shift in the show. This *never* happens on Buffy, as the school year and the villains both end around the same time.
Without the school year to provide an obvious end for Angel’s seasons, the show can go into more long-term serialization. Face it, Buffy’s never really taken something in season one and carried it all the way through the show, like a villain or threat. Sure, there’s characterization and recurring villains, like Spike or some entity later on, but most threats are wrapped up when the year ends. Not so with Angel, whose mission statement is basically “there’s always evil out in the world, and I must fight it.” The “Big Bad” of Wolfram & Hart (obviously) doesn’t end here, either.
I guess the only true season finale of the show is in “Not Fade Away,” the final episode of the series (and many might argue with me there too).
I love Holland Manners! Honestly, when I started watching Lost I assumed Bernard was gonna be the plant from the Others because of knowing him as Holland first, but I love that he wasn’t (I occasionally forget that the characters are played by the same person, in fact, because they’re so skillfully portrayed as themselves unlike, say, every tom cruise character ever.)
I love him, too. He has something of that Mayor-y quality, in that he’s nurturing and fatherly (in a skewed, evil way, of course), and so almost sweet and mild mannered. Everything with a smile. Soooo creepy and fun.
I always remember him for the lift scene in Reprise. With the muzak. 🙂
Ah yes, that lift scene is perhaps my favorite scene in the entire series, and certainly the creepiest. The whole thing was very unsettling.
Holland Manners was my first encounter with Sam Anderson. Seeing Sam Anderson in any other role (“Lost”, that one episode of David Greenwalt’s “Miracles” that had both Sam Anderson and Maggie Grace), it’s like seeing two characters. The one Sam Anderson is playing, and Holland Manners playing Sam Anderson.
Certainly, the lift scene is fantastic. It’s up there for me, too. I just watched 4.11-13 last night, and I have to say *SPOILER* that the scene with Wes and Lilah in the hotel’s basement is another that I put way up there.
Oh gosh, yes. It’s similarly a great little quiet scene in the midst of chaos, that nevertheless gets to the heart of the chaos. (Also, I love that Wes cuts her off mid-sentence. Pun intended. Hee.)
““To Shanshu in L.A.” is obviously designed to change this particular fact, setting up a clear villain (in Darla), ”
Is that what it is doing??? Get ready for the roller-coaster ride of Season 2, Myles.
Well, it certainly shows that Wolfram & Hart are a more sophisticated opponent than they might have been given credit for. If what was in the box had been revealed to be yet another big scary Hellbeast of some sort, it would have been a distinct anticlimax. Those last ten seconds or so gave me a lot of hope for the next season. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Sam Anderson is a chameleon.
his role here, the one on Lost and the first place i was introduced to him, as the boss on Perfect Strangers back in the 80s. they are three completely different roles and yet you believe him in each one.
as for the sort disconnect with Angel’s finale. it might be because this was a stand alone season, they hadnt decided to go “arc” so the finale doesnt really so much tie into the past 21 episodes as it sets up the next 22 and beyond
“none of them are raised in terms of capturing why Angel has nothing to “live” for.”
I find Angel an incredibly compelling character, in many ways more relatable than the young women of Buffy (despite being myself a young woman, not having a dark past, etc) is the way in which the character of Angel is about depression, and as a portrayal of mental illness from the inside it’s really quite stunning. (Obviously, since this is the Buffyverse, allegory is involved.) Examples include that he can’t “fix” himself without giving up who he is (since this is the Buffyverse, allegory is involved), and that he always needs to remind himself of reasons to live. It’s not bad storytelling on the writers’ part, it’s a story that maybe a go-getter like yourself (assumption obviously) isn’t prepared to hear.
(When similar themes come up again in Buffy, I find myself most out of agreement with my friends/the fan community, btw.)
Oh, and um not everyone in the universe has seen every TV show in the universe and some of us are finally watching Lost now, so even casting is a mini-spoiler, people don’t need to go into plot in the comments.
You make a very interesting point here Myles. It is something that I felt very strongly about as well. To Shanshu, although I find it to be a very fine episode, is truly a “set-up” episode. And it knows it. The Shanshu Prophecy, Darla, the Group dynamic, blowing up the offices, Wolfram and Hart, Lindsey’s hand, Holland Manners, Gunn’s increased involvement. It is all designed to fuel the main plot of the second season which will (For the most part) intricately weave all of these points together. I have in fact just finished watching seasons 5/2 of the saga again and the connections between this set up episode and the entire plot of season two is pretty extraordinary.
However, I get from the writers that this was actually what the episode was designed to do. When you get to the end of season 4 you’ll notice a similar thing. Joss and co realised the season wasn’t really working so they wanted to change it up (Using Faith and her arc to do so). So they pitched to the Network exactly what they wanted and basically they wanted a new show so they designed the finalé to be a sort of bridge between the “old” show and the “new” show as well as a new pilot in many ways. I think you’ll find season two to be a damn hell different (And infinitely better) than season one, which although good, still had a ton of problems.
Something I only noticed on my most recent watching was the connection between “I will remember you” and the Shanshu Prophecy. In IWRY when Angel asks the oracles if the Powers turned him human they reply something like; “Did you stop the apocalypse, save humanity.” Although we won’t find out until the finale that this is actually Angel’s path I found that to be an intriacte bit of foreshadowing (intentional or not) and it makes the whole Shanshu thing seem far more organic to the mythos considering that Angel turning human was a possiblity that an audience, the powers and technically Angel knew about.
I remember on my first watch through of the series I got some pretty substantial goosebumps when I learned that it was Darla raised in that box. I think it was a really effective moment.
Also that explosion – Pretty damn epic.
I think another thing that didn’t help this episode; On initial viewing people would have just watched Restless before this aired and that episode is pretty much the opposite of this. Restless is all about reacerting where the characters had come (As well as subtely foreshadowing where they will go) whereas To Shanshu is all about telling the audience that Angel is going to change. Not to mention the fact that Restless is the best episode of TV…Ever.
“To Shanshu in L.A.” is obviously designed to change this particular fact, setting up a clear villain (in Darla), and also establishing some key underlying serialized elements which have less to do with residual serialization from Buffy and more to do with the series moving forward.
Well, yes and no. Joss delights in subverting the obvious – I think To Shanshu… works better in retrospect than first time round; like some other episodes in both shows it resonates a long time. However, you are spot on in identifying some clunkiness, though the reappearance of Darla is a very enjoyable cliffhanger.
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Did “Restless” and “To Shanshu in LA” air the same night? Because I know I saw this epsidoe first-run but didn’t see “Restless” until the FX reruns.
I always liked this episode. I never would have thought of heavy handedness at the time. I think it was the excitement of everyone to do it. You have no idea how badly they wanted to blow up that set. It was small, dark, and with a pit in the middle, very hard to shoot in. Though the explosion ended up being a bit bigger than we expected (not unlike when they blew up Sunnydale High and got banned from Torrance) and we blew through the wall behind the set and burst a pipe flooding a stage, the just wrapped show Roswell. They would have killed us if they hadn’t wrapped two days before us. Oops. I don’t remember anyone having seen the Darla reveal coming. There were a lot of Luke Skywalker jokes going around regarding the hand. The Oracles had to go as the idea for them worked way better than the actuality of them. Tim Minear kept the bloody scythe in his office.
My friend Grant Langston is the singer on the “Promenade” (aka a walkway on the Paramount lot) right before Cordy gets über-visioned. Unlike most show music, that is actually the location sound of him playing and singing, not a recording.
I’d like to give a special nod to the “blind woman” as she isn’t an actress but one of the stunt women, I think Eliza’s double.