Cultural Catchup Project: Fighting the War (Angel)

Fighting the War

July 31st, 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.

At first glance, “The Shroud of Rahmon” was a fairly unimportant episode: caught between “Darla” and “The Trial,” it seems strange to offer a standalone tale of Gunn’s cousin getting in over his head, featuring a mysterious shroud which brings out the worst in those in its presence. It’s not the worst story in the world, tying in with Elisabeth Rohm’s Kate, but it seems like a distraction from the fact that Darla is somewhere out there, and I don’t need to see someone sing karaoke to know that the series’ destiny very clearly awaits her return.

However, as the series embraces its destiny in the episodes which follow, we see that the Shroud was a bit of foreshadowing, a sort of preview of what we were about to see. While Angel’s previous high point to date, the Faith crossover, was in some ways dependent on our connection to Buffy and the arcs which started on that series, the run of “The Trial,” “Reunion” and “Redefinition” feels as if it wholly belongs to this series, even with a number of familiar faces in the mix.

This is largely because these episodes are not about Darla, or Drusilla, or about Wolfram & Hart – rather, they are first and foremost about Angel, about who he has become and what precisely he believes he can do. It is not that these other characters lack nuance, or that their stories stop progressing, but rather that their actions all work to force us to reconsider Angel’s heroism. What was once brave becomes reckless, and what was once heroic can very quickly become inhumane – Angel makes decisions which would to an outside observer make one believe that Angelus had in fact returned, but we see enough to know that his soul is perfectly intact.

It is simply the soul of a soldier, is all.

Earlier this year, HBO’s The Pacific offered an indepth glimpse at the psychological impact of World War II, as its most harrowing images were not of bloody carnage. Rather, they were scenes where you could see the soul start to slip away from the young soldiers, those moments where you can tell that they have crossed over into something which goes beyond death and dying. In some cases, they’re pulled out of the field before they completely lose themselves, but in other instances they remain because they need the men: when you’re fighting a war, sometimes you look past the telltale signs, ignoring just how far someone might be gone. And so you do little things to provoke them, not knowing that little things can turn to big things, and in attempt to avert tragedy you unknowingly cause it – it’s the sad reality of warfare, and it’s one that I thought The Pacific captured extremely well, so if you haven’t checked it out I would recommend it once it arrives on DVD this fall.

What I appreciate about “The Shroud of Rahmon” is that it shows us Angel in a dangerous place, but not through showing us Angel as Angelus (even though the episode sends us in that direction through the in media res opening and the flashback structure). By all accounts, we’re to presume that it is Angelus who bites Kate, but in reality Angel’s darker sides were simply rising to the surface without taking over. Something was coming over him, but it didn’t keep him from being aware enough to know that biting Kate was the only way to keep her alive – Angel may not have been “all there,” but some part of the character we know was still present. It’s a scene which confirms that Angel biting someone, or acting in a violent fashion, is not a black and white issue – there are reasons for everything, which is why Kate lets Angel go. As a standalone story, the episode has its moments (including Boreanaz getting to ham it up impersonating the flamboyant vampire), but its real value is in establishing that the people in Angel’s life are willing to overlook what seem like clear signs of Angelus’ return so long as some part of the Angel they know remains.

Similarly, we see “The Trial” as an act of heroism even when we should consider it to be an act of reckless abandon. Darla’s impending death is unfortunate, and I do not blame Angel for wanting to find a cure so that her fragile humanity can remain and she can make the most of her second chance at life, but that final trial demonstrates a complete lack of foresight. Cordelia and Wesley’s concerns, before this point, seem more psychological than behavioural – they are more worried about Angel’s well-being in the emotional sense, rather than being concerned about his actions. If anything, Angel has the hypothetical dangers on his side: if he doesn’t save Darla, she’ll turn herself into a vampire by other means, and she could wreak plenty of havoc. However, when the trial’s referee of sorts explains to Angel that he must sacrifice himself for Darla to live, there’s a moment where Angel realizes what he is theoretically about to do: he is going to leave the world without its protector, leaving in his place a damaged infant of a human being struggling to reconcile 400 years of murder and massacre with a newly acquired soul. It’s not a fair trade, nor is it a safe trade, and yet Angel is willing to make it because despite maintaining his soul he has lost his connection with his purpose. After starting the season too focused on his long term future with the powers that be, Darla’s arrival has him on a completely different path, which is why it is so key that Darla isn’t able to be revived (having been granted a second chance once before); those trials weren’t about saving Darla’s life, they were about showing us where Angel stands, an important signpost for his future transformation.

However, despite these signs, most everyone turns a blind eye, likely because they believe Angel is the only one who can fight this war. Once Drusilla sires Darla in that really effective scene at the end of “The Trial,” and Angel proves unable to kill Darla in their rooftop altercation early in “Reunion,” there is a sense that no one but Angel is able to stop them – Kate allows Angel to go free after his arrest at Wolfram & Hart because she fears that she won’t be able to do anything, and the rest of Angel Investigations is really in no position to stand in his way when his plan involved thwarting the plans of two vicious vampires. When Cordelia received the vision in the car, it reminded me that it had been a long time since we had seen such a vision; the season began with Angel obsessed about what plans the Powers that Be had for him, but now he sees them as an annoyance, and refuses to listen to any logic regarding whether or not their visions were designed to in some way protect him. Perhaps they were the only ones who truly saw the road Angel was heading down, and so they tried to use the vision in order to hold him back, but can we really blame Angel for dealing with the imminent threat rather than listening to an omniscient power which has been frustratingly vague in the past?

However, everything changes when he stumbles upon an impending massacre and locks the door instead of saving those trapped inside with Darla and Drusilla. It’s the moment when you realize that Kate was wrong: it isn’t just that the police aren’t capable of bringing them down, but rather that no one is capable of bringing them down. Wolfram & Hart got in over their heads, unable to control what they had brought into this world due to their lack of foresight in manipulating Darla so readily, continuing to demonstrate how fallible the organization really is. However, at the same time, Angel isn’t able to bring them down either, too affected by his past with Darla to kill her outright and too caught up in Darla’s current transformation to see that allowing Holland Manners and the majority of the Contracts department to die is crossing a line. In that moment, Angel weighs his hatred for Wolfram & Hart’s mandate with his emotional connection with Darla, but he never brings the safety of humanity into the equation. He doesn’t consider what would happen once Darla and Drusilla emerge from that room, demonstrating how his decision in “The Trial” was more than selflessness. It was a form of abandon, losing track of the mandate to help people which “Judgment” went to such lengths to confirm.

What I love about “Redefinition” is how different Angel and Darla’s plans are: while Angel fires his staff and seeks to chart his own course towards Darla’s destruction, Darla tries to create a group of other vampires to work with her, and keeps Lindsey and Lilah alive so that she can continue to utilize her connection with Wolfram & Hart. Darla suddenly has a future, while Angel seems to have forgotten his entirely, which fits nicely into Lindsey and Lilah’s anxiety about what will happen to them as the survivors of the Wine Cellar massacre. Lilah and Lindsey are also of two minds about their situation, the former anxious to settle things while the latter is simply willing to accept what comes, but they’re working towards a common goal and can eventually find common ground as the new co-vice presidents. By comparison, Angel and Darla’s differing paths are on a collision course, as Darla tries to operate as if Angel doesn’t exist (bristling at Lindsey’s claim that his death need be her primary goal) while Angel operates as if nothing else but Darla stands in his way. He doesn’t fire his staff because he’s trying to protect them, but because he doesn’t want to have to worry about them, and he doesn’t want to listen to them try to convince him otherwise with their wagging fingers. Both are past the point of persuasion, and yet both are still almost crippled by the presence of the other – while the early parts of the season showed Angel suffering from Darla’s return, now it is Darla who suffers from that sense of Angel lurking in the shadows of her mind.

There’s a wonderful psychological complexity to where things end with these characters. With Darla, her bloodlust as a vampire stems from her frustration being trapped between two forces: both Wolfram & Hart and Angel claim that they have no intention of imprisoning her, but there is no worse prison than the space between a rock and a hard place, and so Darla rises from the grave with more than just a chip on her shoulder. Angel, meanwhile, has again lost control to his emotions surrounding Darla. The scene where he burns the pictures he drew of her suggests that he is looking past his obsession, yet his actions (killing a nest of vampires to test his skills, and then burning them alive instead of trying to stake them) indicate that he is just as obsessed as he was before. Early in the season, that obsession was in his dreams, and it led to the loss of his strength and his ability to stay alert; now that the obsession has become real, defined by the rollercoaster of events within this series of episodes and those earlier in the season, he loses all control of his vampiric strength, so focused on his mission that any sense of morality or ethics goes out the window.

What works so well is that Angel has transformed into a monster without transforming into Angelus, having lost track of reality for reasons which go beyond happiness and instead reflect the very human ability to lose control when in difficult situations. He is a soldier who has lost his way, someone who is so set on winning the battle that he fails to see the carnage he will cause, in the process cutting his ties with what grounded him in the past. As the series disconnects from traditional stories, leaving the visions and the investigations behind, we see Angel becoming more and more unhinged, his anger and frustration channeled through intensely personal battles rather than towards a more altruistic purpose. It makes us realize that it isn’t only Angel’s soul which keeps him grounded: his connection with humanity, whether through someone like Buffy or through people like the rest of Angel Investigations, are what gave him the strength to balance his conscience. Back in the flashbacks we saw in “Are You Now…” Angel was not yet the Angel we know: he had a soul, and he wasn’t killing humans indiscriminately, but he wasn’t reaching out to them, and eventually he walks away rather than trying to save that young woman from the demonic force he could sense was present. In that condition, presented with Darla’s return, he likely would have fallen to this point even sooner, which is why we’ve seen his business of helping people and connecting with humanity dissolve in the midst of his struggle with his sire.

The presence of The Host this season has led to some comedy, but it’s also created a lot of questions. Does he know, for example, that Angel will go off the rails in the near future when he suggests he go through the trials? Destiny is an incredibly fickle concept, and while the Host can offer some insight into how things might unfold there are still visions from the Powers that Be, supernatural rituals or eavesdropping bartenders who confound him. Angel’s path is littered with events like these, unseen landmines which promise to make his path rockier than we had imagined. As I noted when I wrote about “Judgment,” the premiere was designed to confound any notion that Angel was on a clearcut course towards his destiny, but even then I had no expectations that things would fall this far – what seemed like small blips, like the violence shown in “The Shroud of Rahmon,” suddenly becomes prognosticative of something much deeper.

And rather than picking up on threads from Buffy, this drama feels distinctively homegrown, grounded in Angel as a character and these figures from his past emerging to derail his plans for the future. The additional complexity hasn’t completely transformed Angel as a series, but it has transformed Angel as a character in a way which indicates the series’ commitment to serialized storylines which go slightly beyond Buffy’s introduction of a definitive antagonist – Buffy’s seasons were battles, but Angel seems much more overwhelmed, in the best possible way, by the ongoing war.

Cultural Observations

  • Always pleased to see Juliet Landau back as Drusilla, a character that has nicely transitioned over to Angel – while her ramblings remain quite random at points, and become more of an ‘annoyance’ to Darla in “Redefinition,” we are introduced to her as a cold villain siring Darla against her will, and this gives her prescient commentary an eerie quality which quickly overcomes any comic roots which may have remained from her time on Buffy.
  • Speaking of that moment, interesting that Darla and Angel have each been “killed” shortly after achieving a transformation: Darla dying just as she was finally coming to terms with her mortality is not far off from Angel dying shortly after having his soul restored in “Becoming.”
  • Sad to say goodbye to Sam Anderson’s Holland Manners, who to the very end was a perfect symbol of Wolfram & Hart’s ambivalence towards the value of human life. However, I was really annoyed with how that massacre played out: that Manners would have absolutely no security on his home to protect him against vampires, and that he would allow his wife to answer the door in that capacity, shows very little respect for his intelligence. I understand it’s necessary to get to the point of the massacre, but it pushed the realm of logic for me personally.
  • Nice to see the whole gang get together at karaoke in “Redefinition,” but their altercation with the random demon didn’t really make much of an impact. My favourite thing about the story, in fact, was seeing Virginia again, as it’s a nice reminder that they do have lives outside of Angel Investigations (I would have liked to have seen a Cordelia/Dennis scene as well).
  • If you haven’t already done so, check out (via the Cultural Catchup Page) the string of comments on the recent sets of Angel and Buffy posts (Seasons 2 and 5, along with the end of Seasons 1 and 4) from Becker (who worked as a writers’ production assistant on the first and second seasons of Angel) for some really intriguing insight into both series – unfortunately for us, Becker has only occasional internet access, but there is some really great stuff to be found there.


Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

66 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Fighting the War (Angel)

  1. Just a fun little bit of forshadowing that I don’t know if you had caught: Since I just rewatched ‘Buffy’ S5, I watched “Fool For Love”/”Darla” back to back, and Drusilla’s comment to Darla in the latter that “I could be your mummy” is still fresh in my mind. Flashforward to the end of “The Trial.”

    • Yes! I was going to say that in my comment as well. I simply love that Darla is so annoyed by how Drusilla constantly calls her grandmother, and how Drusilla (cryptically? Cassandra-like?) already has some sense that she will be the one to re-sire Darla. That is one of the best bits of tiny foreshadowing ever.

  2. Denita

    I’ve liked all of your reviews but I think this one is going to be my favorite. You’ve made some nice observations about Angel and his behavior (the soldier-mind) that I never considered before. (I’m a Lindsey-centric fan and I have a lot of dislike for Angel that stems from Btvs. I don’t often see him in a flattering light.)

    I’ll have to bookmark this to re-read in depth later but I wanted to say how very well-written and thought-out your review of these episodes was.

    And…I also wanted to point out that you misspelled Lindsey’s last name in your tags. It’s not MacDonald. It’s McDonald.

  3. Again, great review, Myles, thanks.

    I am so glad that you’ve finally got to this point. As you pointed out, these arcs and events feel like they are much more grounded in Angel himself, and I think that from this point on, AtS has a more solid footing.

    Can you imagine how unbelievably pointless it would be for Buffy to show up and try to have a role in any of this? Buffy was (more than some people like to admit) a symbol for Angel — she represented the idea that he, the miserable outcast vampire with a soul, can still have meaning and purpose and redemption in his life. Darla was (more than we ever knew before this season) Angel’s creator and mentor and partner for 150 years. So, now that Angel has figured out how to stop being pre-Whistler-alleyway-rat-eating-guy, the story of how he has to deal with the people and relationships from his past is much more interesting to me than the first-love-passion-thing that helped him turn the corner.

    What works so well is that Angel has transformed into a monster without transforming into Angelus.

    Yes, exactly. And I really like your analogy to soldiers, but I think that gives Angel too much credit. For (almost?) the first time, we get to see Angel deliberately choose to do the wrong thing. It always makes me really mad at him, but it adds a crucial level of complexity to the character. He doesn’t seem to care about the PTBs or his redemption or any of the things that have defined him as a character thus far. He’s just angry, and he chooses to let that anger direct him.

    and too caught up in Darla’s current transformation to see that allowing Holland Manners and the majority of the Contracts department to die is crossing a line.

    I strongly disagree. I think that moment is so powerful because he knows quite well that he is crossing a line, and he just doesn’t care.

    p.s. Did you notice that the trial’s referee is the same actor who plays Reyna’s manager in the “Stage Fright” episode of Dollhouse?

    • skittledog

      I strongly disagree. I think that moment is so powerful because he knows quite well that he is crossing a line, and he just doesn’t care.

      Yeah. He definitely knows he’s crossing it. He might think it’s justified, he might see it as appropriate justice given what W&H have done, but he knows that locking those doors is not on the good side of the morality scale…

    • Denita

      For (almost?) the first time, we get to see Angel deliberately choose to do the wrong thing.

      I’d say it was the second wrong thing. The first would be that he didn’t actually help Lindsey himself in any real way during “Blind Date”. Anger was the motivating factor there, too.

      • skittledog

        Sigh. Never giving Lindsey a chance is one of the very few things I can slightly hate Angel for. He basically seems to decide that once you’ve signed a W&H contract, that’s it – you’re not worth saving.

        (…oh, hi season 5. No, I wasn’t talking about you, go away.)

        • Denita

          I think what I disliked so about him not giving Lindsey a fair chance was what Angel had told Buffy about how his job (for lack of a better word) was saving souls. I think that’s the moment Angel became more interesting and became a character in his own right for me. It made me sit up and take notice.

          Then “Blind Date” came along, there was a soul in need of saving right in front of him and Angel royally screwed it up.

  4. skittledog

    Myles: Yes. Yes and yes some more. That was a damn near perfect analysis of those episodes and how they shift the show. And although things won’t always stay on this trajectory from here, it is amazing how prescient your ‘overwhelmed by the ongoing war’ comment is for several seasons to come; that shows better than anything how well the central themes of Angel hold together over many rather different story arcs.

    Also worth paying attention to is this question of fighting a war (I’m not sure about being a soldier, exactly, as that implies having orders and an acceptance of someone else’s battle plan, which is usually something Angel & co are working without). Angel is the first of our characters to really go down that route of trying to balance the greater good against immediate damage, but he won’t be the last – and he won’t be the only one to occasionally trip up through being too close and too emotionally invested. What I love about this is that the show never really judges its characters when the story goes this way; it shows us their actions, it shows us the reactions of others around them, and it allows us to draw our own conclusions.

    Erm, that was a bit of a vague paragraph, but whenever I tried to talk specifics I ended up risking huge spoilers for plot and character arcs which are still seasons away. So I’ll keep schtum for now.

    • Yes, that was a solidly vague paragraph, well done. I believe I know exactly what you’re talking about. So we’ll have much more to discuss later.

      But I’m a bit confused when you say that Angel is the first character to explore balancing the greater good against immediate damage. Isn’t it the point — the point of Angel’s downward spiral — that he’s stopped caring about the greater good? Whereas some of the other character arcs are perhaps the opposite.

      It’s possible that there’s simply no way we can have this conversation right now.

      • skittledog

        Ooooh. I’m now impatient to know whose arc/s you think go the other way…

        I’d accept that this question is approached from the opposite angle in one case, where someone takes a stance that is too impersonal because to do otherwise would apparently endanger the world, but I’d say it’s the same question. I don’t think Angel has completely stopped caring about the greater good, he’s just allowing himself to reason that destroying W&H is worth any price. Angel is always reckless with himself, never really buying into the ‘you’re our champion, you must survive’ angle. I guess maybe that’s what being 200+ years old will do for you.

    • Gill

      Yes, you vagued that up extremely well there. And you’re absolutely right about the recurrence of that trope/theme.

      • Karen

        Yes, vague yet clearly significant. 😉

        This little arc is especially important to me because it clearly sets the tone for Angel’s character and series. The thorny issue of the nature of evil and the appropriate response to its existence is laid out clearly now. It poses essential questions that can be explored, but perhaps not answered. Are people worth saving? ALL people? Can evil be redeemed? Who are *worthy* of redemption?

  5. lyvvie

    Really great review Myles, you got everything nailed on. So much so I don’t think there is more I can add without being spoilery, TSOR isn’t one of my favourites but it’s worth it for that ending scene and the next three episodes are all great. I love how they keep Juliet’s name out of the opening credits so that you’re properly shocked.

    I’ll just pick some of my favourite little bits from these episodes:

    – Cordy and Wesley worrying about Angel brooding in the basement only to find out he’s just been doing laundry. Of course they are right to worry
    – Darla trying to get herself sired by the bar-vamp and him thinking the idea of two vampires together forever is ‘weird’. Oh, and of course, “I picked a stupid one. I always pick the stupid ones, didn’t you know that?”
    – Julie Benz singing
    – Angel jumping into the swimming pool, “I’m either coming back with a cure – or you’re about to see something kinda funny”
    – “And yet somehow, I just can’t seem to care”
    – I love how Angel doesn’t speak other than voice-over in the whole of ‘Redefinition’. Vamp on a mission.

    • mothergunn

      “I love how Angel doesn’t speak other than voice-over in the whole of ‘Redefinition’. Vamp on a mission.”

      Okay, I’ve never noticed that before. I need to go watch that episode again.

      • skittledog

        Me neither. Obviously the voiceover was just annoying me too much for me to notice. Hmm, must give it another try sometime…

  6. diane

    Great review.

    I’ll ping back to that line in “Amends” one more time. “Am I a thing worth saving?” Redemption is an idea at the core of this series. For redemption to be possible or meaningful, one must first go to some very dark places, and commit some deeply terrible acts. In this arc, we see that Angel’s path to redemption is based not only on his past, but also on his acts in the present. Redepmtion is not only about Angel’s soul and his conscience; it is about consequences, and having to face the people whom he has harmed.

    We’re not through with this theme, not by a long ways. It will be fun to come back to this after another half-dozen episodes.

    • skittledog

      Yes. I really like how the focus shifts from ‘all the horrible things that he did back in the powdered wig days’ to the much more immediate fight that Angel always has on his hands, against the part of himself that enjoys revenge and hurting people. The part that has to be there for it to make any sense for him to feel sorry for what he did as Angelus, because it’s the part that makes Angelus so chillingly awful. If a souled Angel were all sweetness and light, always a champion, always doing the right thing, then his unsouled self would be a plot device and nothing more.

      Incidentally, your comment just made me go and rewatch the Giles/Angel scene in Amends. “Sorry to bother me…” – I think what makes that scene so powerful is the first taste of how Angel has the strength to face up to what he’s done (plus, of course, the fact that Giles is at his most badass). Characters on this show definitely have to suffer the consequences of their actions (moreso than in Buffy’s later seasons, IMO – but that’s a grumble for another time).

  7. Susan

    As others have already said, this is a really excellent analysis, Myles. My favorite so far. I got a little chills when I read your line “It is simply the soul of a soldier, is all.” Lovely and so perfect.

    So good to see that you totally, totally get it (though, yes, I agree with the others that Angel knows he’s crossing a line at Holland’s party).

    The arc starting with The Trial is my favorite of the series, and you’re not done yet.

    Although interesting crossovers are still forthcoming, especially in S7/S4 (and there is a VERY compelling reason to finish Angel S4 before you watch the Buffy series finale and to watch that finale before starting Angel S5–it’s quite necessary), from this point on, I think you might find that you start forgetting that these shows have anything to do with each other. They are now on decidedly different paths.

    I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the conversation continues, but for now, I’m just going to bask in the brilliance of your review. 🙂

  8. Anna

    I’m going to disagree with some parts of this review, great as it is. Angel himself says later on the season that he fired his gang to protect them, although considering I find them inadequate friends at this point, he probably also fired them to stop their nagging.

    To me, the soldier comparison works well, the monster part, not so. I freely admit it might be because I love and connect with Angel character very much, but I think calling him a monster is too much. Yes, he acts like an asshole a lot of the time, but when you look at what he actually does during this arc, he keeps doing good things, he just does them in a different, less-champion-like way.

    Also, maybe it’s because I don’t much care about morality when I’m watching television, but I have no problem with Angel locking the lawyers in with Darla and Drusilla. They had it coming, especially considering they were celebrating how well they had managed to mess Angel up, and their overall manipulation of Darla. I love the echoing of the ‘People are going to die’ ‘And yet, I just can’t seem to care’ lines. Also, losing Holland Manners was a loss W&H never recovered from, which I think is good for humanity.

    • See, I think hindsight is 20/20 – he can say he was firing them to protect them now, but I don’t think any of Angel’s decisions are made with that much clarity.

      As for Monster, I’m comfortable using the term – no, he has not become an outright demon, but the fact remains that he has stopped considering the larger impact of his actions. For me, Monster describes the nature of one’s actions more than the target of those actions, which is why I’m comfortable using the term despite Angel’s continued focus on attacking only those who “deserve it.”

      For me, the end of “Reunion” shows Angel unconcerned with levels of guilt: were some of those smaller parties as guilty as Holland? And even if they were, is effectively killing them (by refusing to help) not something they would consider quite monstrous? Angel’s actions have become disassociated with his moral mandate, which is where I believe his monstrous nature emerges. As many have mentioned, it’s possible that Angel knew he was crossing a line, but my point was less to argue he is blinded to the reality of what he’s doing and more to argue that because of his anger and frustration he is twisting reality to fit in with his current desires. And while this does not turn him into an outright monster, it does allow him to exhibit those qualities without changing into any other form.

      • Gill

        I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that he has a very precise knowledge of exactly what is going to happen to the people behind that door, which makes his action all the more monstrous; one reason I am inclined to agree that he knows he is crossing a line, and that this is not just retribution, and not even mere revenge, but actually part of the sadist in him being allowed out.

    • Denita

      They had it coming?

      See, the problem with what Angel did is that the cellar wasn’t just full of lawyers. There were also spouses and dates and wait-staff.

      • Anna

        I will try to put myself into someone’s shoes who has not seen beyond Redefinition and try to explain my view better.

        First, I love Angel like crazy. He’s my favourite character ever and I relate to him a lot, even though I only have vague ideas why. I again freely admit that my view is biased because of that.

        Now, at this point of the show I don’t see him as a monster, because I feel a lot of sympathy for him and I can see *why* he reacts the way he does. Reasons why:
        1)W&H has been messing with his head using Darla for months now, before that they have tried to kill him and Wesley, let many murderers get free, tried to drive Cordelia crazy with the visions, arrenged so a woman would be attacked and raped so they could make her into an assassin and just now turned an unwilling Darla back into a vampire.
        2) His relationships with Darla and Drusilla are very complex. Darla’s the woman who damned him, but also the first person who gave him parental approval (Angel’s got daddy issues) and who right now could be viewed as innocent. Part of the reason Angel wants to save Darla is that if someone like Darla, who’s up there with him in her evil-ness, and has a century and a half on him in age, if *she* can be saved, then it’s more likely that he can be saved too. He doesn’t have much faith in himself so having a concrete proof that someone can be saved and get a *real* second chance would be a lot more assuring than a ancient piece of paper with cryptic poetry.
        Then Drusilla. He feels very responsible for her (as he should) and I think in some ways sees her as his child(e). She’s his greatest sin and masterpiece. Angel(us) may not have loved her or the other vampire’s of his family, but they’re still family. Because of that I think it’s very hard for him to just outright kill them, that’s why he went with hurt not kill despite trying to psych himself up to it throughout Redifinition.
        3) A.I. are being crappy friends. Myles made a great point about the fact that they ignored the problem until it was too late because there was still something recognizable about Angel so they let the problem festers. Gunn is enabling because he likes to fight, Cordelia is bitchy and judgmental and Wesley drinks tea. None of them try to undertand where Angel is coming from, why he needs to save Darla, just what he really goes through everyday being a souled vampire and so on. They handle the whole thing really badly and it pisses me off, even though it’s understandable.

        Was Angel a dick for firing them? I would say mostly yes, because I take Myles’ point about that he’s not thinking with particular clarity at the moment. But I still think that he did it partly to protect them based on 2 things:
        1) He feels the need to go to war with W&H + Darla&Drusilla, and while there isn’t much his friends could do to stop him, if he went to war and his friends would still seem to be at his side, they would become pawns to get to him. He knows that W&H has no problem killing people to get to him and if Darla decided to go after him, she too would attack his support system first. Firing them takes them out of the war because it makes it seem that Angel doesn’t care about them anymore which would make attacking them useless.
        2) Angel has a clear pattern of thinking people are better off without him. It’s there when he disappears for a while after ‘We’re in love, but we can’t be together’ Buffy/Angel part 1 aka Angel the episode, when he’s reluctant to start a relationship with Buffy in early season 2, when he tries to kill himself in Amends, when he leaves Sunnydale, when he decides to erase the day in IWRY, when he doesn’t want to work with Wesley in Parting Gifts because he thinks working with him gets people killed, feeling guilty for Doyle death and blaming himself for it, he probably would have shown it with Cordelia in PGifts if Cordelia hadn’t nipped his attempt at the bud. It’s a clear pattern and considering he feels angry, vengeful and dark at this moment I think a part of him feels that both him and his enemies might hurt them if they stick around.

        Then to the lawyer buffet. I might not have frased it clearly enough, but the ‘they had it coming’ only meant the lawyers. Of course the waiters didn’t deserve it, the significant others most likely didn’t either. But the lawyers, yes. In fiction I’m not against the death penalty and considering they were from Special Projects, celebrating their success with Angel and Darla, I think it was poetic justice. Those lawyers brought it on themselves, they are clearly high enough ranking that they know exactly what the firm does and who they represent. They knowingly work for an organization that wants end the world, the fact that they do this despite they souls make them worse for me. Btw I’m not saying that it’s the right thing to do, it was wrong, especially locking the doors after, I’m just trying to explain why I don’t have a problem with Angel doing this. Morality wise, yes, but emotionally, no, because I can’t say that if I was in his situation that I wouldn’t do the exact same thing. Okay, I would close the doors, I wouldn’t lock them, which now that I think about it is the worst thing he did in this situation. He understandable snapped after being, frankly, fucked with, for many many months. I think the context is also important. If Angel had decided to take an Uzi, gone to the W&H offices and start shooting everybody, that I would have had a huge problem with because there would have been normal, innocent workers there, as far as the lawyers go, I don’t think any of them who were at the party were innocent.
        Also, I’m not sure if Angel would have been able to stop the massacre. He held his own against Dru and newly risen Darla, but by that time Darla had fed and wasn’t confused about the situation. So, he would have been up against 2 very powerful vampires and he might have been killed trying to save them. I mean, the humans had the numbers on their side, yet D&D managed to kill all of them that they wanted to.

        I think I have pretty much said all I want to say, it’s late, majority of that is a crazy ramble and Bob Kat made pretty much all the points I tried to make, except with rambling.

  9. Some great comments thus far, thanks for the kind words on this piece.

    Just one brief thing about “Soldier”: as some have noted, introducing that word seems to indicate that there are orders which guide them, but for Angel those orders more or less come from within. His mandates have come from Whistler, from the Oracles, and from the Prophecy, from The Host, and of course from the Powers that Be. However, note that each level becomes more of a riddle: Whistler very clearly sends him towards Buffy, the Oracles are able to offer fairly actionable advice, the Prophecy gives no details on the “how,” and The Host can answer an immediate question but always resists putting the big picture into perspective. Everyone is giving Angel something approaching marching orders, and the Powers that Be have offered little information to help him contextualize them: now, with a highly complex evil standing in front of him and with a mandate to stop it, Angel is so caught up in the war that he goes rogue (ala Wesley, I guess one could say ;)), acting in a fashion which fits his experience within the conflict but which seems to ignore the advice given to him.

    Anyways, just some more musings on the term – carry on!

  10. skittledog

    “goes rogue (ala Wesley, I guess one could say)”


    I’m guessing all you’re referring to is the ‘rogue demon hunter’ comment and Wesley turning his back on the Council, as a parallel to Angel turning his back on the PtB who are perhaps trying to send him in a better direction?

    Nevertheless, that was an odd line to read…

    • Yes, that was a cheeky reference to Wesley’s self-identifier – I’ll throw a wink in there.

      • skittledog

        *grins* it’s okay, I get it. I am also an extra layer of amused, but cannot tell you why. Yet. 😉

        • Susan

          Oh, it’s just so very much fun to watch someone–especially someone smart and thoughtful–experience these shows for the first time, isn’t it?

          • Gill

            It’s wonderful – and it helps regain those early first viewings for oneself. But watching how someone as intelligent and thoughtful as Myles is being drawn in and manipulated by Joss is pretty awesome.

          • skittledog

            Yes – the part I’m actually enjoying most when we veer towards spoilery realms is picking up on how much Myles doesn’t know. (I get the impression, Myles, that you know a few Buffy spoilers but almost no Angel ones?) Because some of this stuff seems so obvious in retrospect – the arcs are thoroughly well-grounded – but until it comes along and hits you in the face, you don’t notice what you’re being built up for.

            (What’s a little annoying, though, is that there won’t be a nice clear point where we can turn to Myles and go ‘that’s what we weren’t telling you. Appreciate how vague we were.’) 🙂

        • mothergunn

          Yes. He has no idea how poignant that line is.

        • Gill

          It made me blink too, for reasons we really shouldn’t be discussing at all yet. 😉

      • I was confused as well, but then I remembered how proud he was of that monicker. *Rogue* demon hunter… heh.

  11. greg

    Ah, the essence of ‘Be careful what you wish for.” Cordelia was so worried at the end of last season that Angel didn’t want anything, not even a donut. Well, now he’s found things he does want – first to save Darla and then, when that doesn’t work out as well as he’d hoped, the destruction of Wolfram & Hart. The Host has never shows any evidence that he’s on the side of good (as Angel, in his ever-increasing selfish attitude, sees it), the Powers are too ambiguous and, at some point, every operative in the field (especially when they don’t have a clear communication with headquarters nor any sense of what their ultimate objective is) is gonna choose to ignore the forest in favor of the trees. Wasn’t Whistler counting on that when he tempted Angel with a cute underage
    slayer (and, hey, what was he waiting for anyway? were one slayers before Buffy not attractive enough? why then, why her?) to get him in the game (to borrow a term from Faith) even when, by his own admission, his concern was to keep the balance between good and evil, not to take sides.

    I don’t think that Angel going “rogue” is necessarily a bad idea, nor must it lead down the wrong path. But it comes at the worst time when he’s acting more on impulse than rational thought and aggressively burning bridges behind him. But, in a more practical sense, the show needs a good excuse to spend more time with the non-vampire characters (not entirely unlike the first few episode of ‘Buffy’ season five) and excising the body from the head is as good a way of doing that as any. (and certainly would be less likely to happen had Angel simply admitted that his actions were selfish and he was okay with that, rather than firing them)

    • I don’t think that Angel going “rogue” is necessarily a bad idea, nor must it lead down the wrong path.

      On the contrary, if the show hadn’t gone this route, then Angel would have remained a very one-dimensional, rather cardboard sort of character.

      I read an essay somewhere (the Five Seasons of Angel book, I think?) on the two versions of Angel — nothing to do with Angelus — but the character of Angel on BtVS, versus the character of Angel on his own show. The character serves completely different roles in each show, and I think this is where the writers really start to make him an interesting, conflicted hero. Which is why it feels like they really don’t “fit” on each other’s shows any more.

      • mothergunn

        Agreed, and I find Angel a lot more tolerable here than he ever was pining over Buffy. I also think these trials help to make him less of a, um, spineless sort of person (I was gonna use a different word that starts with a “p” and rhymes with “wussy” but we’ve been so good about language here) and I ESPECIALLY love how this effects his actions later. Especially in that one scene with the pillow in season 3.

        Btw, voluntarymanslaughter, did you pass your BAR?

        • Oh, mothergunn, that is the question everyone has been asking me, and it is so the wrong question…

          I FINISHED taking the bar. I am DONE with the bar. It was very difficult and I am very proud of myself. The hardest thing in this world is to… take the bar exam.

          Did I pass? Wrong question. I don’t get the results until November 5th. If we’re all still around at that point I’ll hijack the thread. Heck at that point, I’ll be shouting it from the internet version of rooftops 😀

          p.s. On the crazy complicated 6-hour multiple choice exam, I thought, more than once, “B! We haven’t had B in forever

          • mothergunn

            voluntarymanslaughter, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to psyche you out. But, YAY! It’s done. We’ll all collectively think positive thoughts so you’ll pass. And, yeah, I have that same problem on multiple-choice tests. Which is why they should be illegal (see what I did there?).

            Aeryl, this. I never really thought about it, I always use the p-word just because I think it sounds funny, but yes. Testicle is much better.

        • Aeryl

          You know, my objection to that word, has absolutely nothing to do with the cleanliness of language(I can make a sailor blush, as my husband will tell you), and everything to do with it’s inaccuracy.

          Those muscles are capable of expelling a human being, they are amongst the strongest and most capable in the human body, men and women.

          It should not be used as a term to represent someone who can’t stand up and do what needs to be done(Angel, B1, IMO).

          Testicle is much more appropriate, biologically speaking. 😉

  12. Tausif Khan

    Myles where are you going to stop the project this summer for the respective series?

  13. mothergunn

    Oh, Myles. You have hit the nail on the head. I agree, this is easily your best review so far. I think you’ve analyzed Angel perfectly, and even though I don’t personally like the guy, I do appreciate the complexities of his character. And notice how, even though he has lost his mission and path, he’s still willing to sacrifice himself and everyone around him for some cute, blonde girl?

    Anyway, I think it’s interesting how Angel’s actions at this point will build on his character, and will influence his actions later down the road regarding certain folks in his crew. There’s a bit right around here where Angel says something like, “300 bright, educated college graduates working around the clock to drive me crazy and people wonder why it’s working?” This is an important statement about one of AtS overarching themes (the vast majority vs. the individual) and it applies to more situations than just this one. It also applies to more people than just Angel as his actions begin to effect others around him.

    I also enjoy comparing Angel to Buffy (the characters) in this respect; sure, Buffy has the deck stacked against her but she has a destiny, she’s got eons of slayer lineage to help her out, and she’s Chosen and all that. Angel doesn’t have those affirmations (other than that crappy Shanshu thing that may or may not be about him and look how well that’s helping him out right now, anyway), yet he still has to go out and fight the fight and protect a race of people that he can’t connect with and I’m sure that must become very exhausting. And he’s still going out and fighting. By this point Buffy would be crying in the corner. Oh, wait…

    • even though I don’t personally like the guy, I do appreciate the complexities of his character.

      At some point maybe we can all have a discussion about whether we dislike Buffy or Angel more. I think it’s very hard to be the star of your own show. You end up having to play the “straight man” while other characters revolve around you with their more interesting shenanigans.

      I mean, Ted isn’t anyone’s favorite character on HIMYM, Leonard isn’t anyone’s favorite on Big Bang Theory, Jack isn’t anyone’s favorite on LOST,* and Nate isn’t anyone’s favorite on 6ft.** The supporting characters get to be much more interesting than the star, who can sometimes end up being just the excuse for the show.

      Buffy in particular really starts to wear on me after a while. Perhaps Angel’s lack of clear destiny — and his struggles in figuring it out — make him more interesting.

      * Setting aside for the moment whether he qualifies as the main character or not.
      ** How come all I can think of are examples of guy-heroes? We need more third-wave feminism (pout).

      • Susan

        I find this insight really interesting, voluntarymanslaughter. Because generally, I think you’re right. I wouldn’t call either Angel or Buffy my favorite characters. I generally name Willow and Wes (or one I can’t yet name) as my favorites.

        And yet: Buffy and Angel are easily the characters of whom I feel most protective. I feel almost physical discomfort watching eps like “Helpless” from Buffy S3, in which one of these characters is really alone and in need–and betrayed by those whom she or he trusts most. And I get more antsy when people criticize these characters than any of the others.

        While nearly all of the significant characters in the ‘verse are fully realized, IMO Buffy and Angel are the deepest. And though I do often *enjoy* other characters more (Willow is just so damn cute and sweet!), my sympathies lie first with Buffy and Angel.

        FWIW: Jack and Nate *were* my favorite characters on their shows. I don’t watch HIMYM because Lily causes too much cognitive dissonance for me (maybe a smidge too close to Willow? I don’t know). And yeah, Sheldon’s my favorite. 🙂

      • skittledog

        I actually do tend to like the main characters of shows, unless they give me compelling reasons not to. Ted may not be the funniest or most interesting character on HIMYM, but he’s the one I feel worst for when he suffers. Buffy I adored for the first 4/5 seasons, and a good portion of season 6 – again, it’s the same impulse of wanting the world to stop hurting her. If I watch a show at all, it’s a fair bet that I like the lead character, at least to begin with.

        And Angel… well, Angel is the epitome of a show lead for me. I can never decide whether Angel or Wesley is my favourite character, but thankfully that works fine since there are so many powerful moments involving both of them.(And if one of them is out of the character arc limelight for a bit, the other is usually in it.) Anyway, I love them both, and they’re both in my top tier of fictional characters ever, regardless of their supposed function in the group or the show.

        By this point Buffy would be crying in the corner. Oh, wait…

        Teehee. 🙂

        • Witnessaria

          Buffy is my favorite character in her show. I’m with her all the way, even through the high school years where she and I are very different. But I do agree there is often that phenomenon of the lead not being the favorite. And most people would not choose Buffy as their fave. In fact, some people who like the series actually hate her. That I don’t get, but whatever.

          Angel is harder to relate to for me most times. His emotional experience and mine don’t really mesh that well. But I love following his story intellectually for how the character is imagined.

          I think on good shows, the lead character is not a straight-up hero, but has flaws that the audience is allowed to see. So do the other characters, but maybe when it’s a point of view character, the flaws hurt us more directly and are harder to forgive? Maybe it’s easier to feel sorry for the secondary characters when they mess up. Oh, “poor Logan,” but “why is Veronica being so stupid?” kind of thing. It is interesting.

          • skittledog

            I was thinking about Veronica too, and about how happy I was that the show took the risk of making her unlikeable at times. It wouldn’t have been true to her character to do otherwise, and it was just too delicious to watch her destroy the people around her at times. But it’s definitely true that her time of being less likable (s3, first half especially) definitely coincided with people liking the show less, so I’d say it was only partially successful (and only partially addressed within her character arc by the time the show finished).

            But you really don’t want to get me onto VM. Tied with Angel for ‘show that I have most connected to on a level where it hurts.’ 🙂

          • mothergunn

            Like I’ve said before, sometimes I reeeeeally hate Buffy, like in Fool for Love, where I just want to smack her, but on the whole, I find her pretty tolerable. I don’t ever really like Angel but that doesn’t stop me from thinking he’s interesting, and I even some times agree with him (there haven’t really been any moments yet, but I’ll be sure to point them out when we get there). I just feel like if I knew him in real life I would become so irritated with him, like, all the time, and want him to shut up.

      • mothergunn

        The only non-guy hero I can think of that I don’t totally despise is Veronica Mars (well, sometimes I don’t hate Buffy). I agree on all others, tho, especially Jack. Lost should have been the Sawyer and Sayid show.

        But there are protagonists that I love! For all the Leonards and Angels we also have the Doctor and Capt. Jack. I never get sick of them.

        • Mel

          Chuck is totally likable on Chuck! And on Mad Men, Don does unlikable things (god he’s a penis) but people seem to like him more for that.

          • skittledog

            Don is on the Angel end of the scale for me – I love him, and I need to stick around to see how badly he’s going to screw things up this time.

            Chuck is a good one. The only other female lead I can think of that I love was Jaye Tyler on Wonderfalls – she’s great.

  14. devilscrayon

    Myles, I have to admit I haven’t always agreed with your take on the shows, but this was spot on. Really, a perfect analysis of these eps and their significance. This was where ATS really got interesting for me, and when I really became intrigued by Angel as a character- for precisely the reasons you’ve laid out.

  15. I don’t really have anything to add other than to join the chorus. Great analysis Myles — spot on, once again. These episodes (aside from “Shroud”) are some of Angel’s best in the series. The arc you’re in is also Angel’s second best in its entire run (imo), so I’m glad you’re enjoying it so much. When I was first watching Angel this was the first time I was truly invested in the show. I have a gripe about the end of S2, but this arc is truly sublime. 🙂

  16. Bob Kat

    I differ on my interpretation of some of the events here. Especially that Angel lost sight of the big mission.
    Darla fit into “helping the hopeless.” Any case carries the risk that you might not live to fight another day; you don’t just quit in the midst of a case just because you think you’re likely to lose; honoring promises is part of the mission.

    I’m also a bit ambivalent on the Contract-o-machy. Yes, the Gang was correct; given who and what Angel is, his crossing this particular line takes him into very dangerous territory. And his response of firing them was wrong-minded, and his decision to isolate himself leads to *SPOILERS!* 🙂
    But I don’t think he’s lost sight of the mission; taking down W&H (as impossible as ’tis) and also the “Darcilla” combo are legit parts of it.
    And, while I *do* like to maintainin a moral viewpoint when watching a show, I wasn’t that bothered by his locking them in. Perhaps I’m reading too much into Holland’s speech, but it seemed they were all members of the firm ergo accomplices in too many crimes to mention. (Last we saw Mrs. Manners was alive.) Maybe I’ve read too much Robert E. Howard, Poul Anderson, and Louis L’Amour. (I’ll re-visit this line of thought in late BtVS S-6.)
    I also thought it was itnerestign a third personality emerged in this, altho “soldier” isnt’ the word I’d pick (but I won’t argue the point.)

    • Anna

      You put it much more simply than I managed in my long tramble up thread. I very much agree with your view of the situation.

    • Henry

      I have to say, on my initial viewing of these episodes I felt very much the same way you do, and still do to an extent. I always thought that Angel’s major character shift occurs after Darla is re-sired; that finally coming to some sort of peace with Darla in her last moments alive only to have her turned back into a vampire before his eyes was such a psychological blow that it sent him off the deep end. But it was only such a tragedy because he was so invested him Darla. His romantic/vampiric obsession with Darla carries over into an obsession with saving her. While Angel should have been striving to help the helpless, he instead put all his chips in on a girl who has outlived her expiration date for almost 400 years.

  17. Henry

    I’m impressed by how on point you are about the direction AtS is shifting.

    ” Buffy’s seasons were battles, but Angel seems much more overwhelmed, in the best possible way, by the ongoing war.”

    Pretty much spot on.

  18. Becker

    I’m back…ish. I had to do a huge double take when I got to the very end and saw me. Freaky. But this is one of the episodes I have stuff I can talk about.

    The Trial. The ending scene with Dru was intentionally left out of the script so it was as much a shock to me as you. And it remains one of my all time favorite moments of the series. But it leaves me with one major unanswered question. In the original Dru-free script, when Gunn and Angel went to Darla’s, Angel couldn’t enter. I mentioned to Greenwalt that we had vamps enter hotel rooms before. He had me find the example. The attack on Faith & Buffy near the end of Faith, Hope & Trick. Greenwalt laughed all the way into his office. He wrote FHT. I mentioned it to Minear as he walked by and on the spot gave the script co-ord the public accomodation line. Since I didn’t see the Dru scene until much later, I never got to know if the scene existed as it does because of me as she just glides on in. So, other than supplying the sourse disc for an S1 song, this was my only other tangible contribition to the show.

    I’ve only been to two wrap parties ever, but someone mentioned Julie Benz’ singing in the comments. In the S2 gag reel shown at the party the editors put together this great bit spoofing those old K-Tel record ads all based on songs sung at Caritas. (including made up classics like “Who Let the Dogs Out” by Druscilla-I wish that actually existed.) But the interesting thing, to me at least, was that, though there was laughter throughout the gag reel by the crowd/crew, when they played a brief clip of Julie’s song everyone applauded. And only after her clip. She was very touched by that.

    In other news, I see that Shawn Ryan & Tim Minear have been reunited on the interesting new show Terriers.

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