September 18th, 2010
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When Harmony arrives in Los Angeles, it is a bit of narrative pleasure for me as a viewer: the realization that Cordelia wouldn’t be aware that Harmony had been turned into a vampire was downright delightful, and seeing Harmony dance her way around the issue was yet another comic highlight for Mercedes McNab. Because I have been watching Buffy alongside Angel, I understood the disconnect between the characters’ awareness and my own, and it framed the early scenes in “Disharmony” in a very clear fashion.
However, watching the episode made me realize that Angel viewers without the same knowledge would have read Harmony’s arrival in the opposite fashion: where Harmony’s transformation into a vampire was almost a joke for those “in the know,” it might have been legitimately suspenseful for those without that knowledge. “Disharmony” is so impressive because it manages to overcome this potential disparity, coming together as a compelling investigation of friendship in the wake of Angel’s epiphany regardless of one’s level of Harmony-related knowledge.
Although I much prefer intertextual pleasures, I must admit.
The narrative thread of “Disharmony” is pretty predictable: Harmony arrives, Harmony is delightfully annoying, and then Harmony turns to the side of evil before eventually running away to hopefully return again sometime soon. However, while the Doug Sanders side of the episode is pretty predictable (and pretty underdeveloped, in some ways), the episode is more about how that story sheds light on the strained relationships within the newly reformed Angel Investigations. While there are certainly some fun elements to that story, elements in which we find fairly straightforward pleasure, there is a deeper meaning beyond the laughter which allows the episode to really connect.
First and foremost, it’s a reminder that we really haven’t seen that much of Cordelia’s life outside of work within the series. This is part of the point, of course, as this season she has seemed to find a greater purpose in helping the helpless than she did before, but Harmony’s arrival awakens memories that the character has been disassociated with. It’s why I find it so fascinating that, for viewers who hadn’t seen Buffy, Harmony would have been just a generic high school friend visiting Cordelia as opposed to a mean girl-turned-vampire rebounding from a relationship with William the Bloody. And thus the episode isn’t about Harmony so much as it is about Cordelia, and even with knowledge of Harmony’s awesomeness I felt like things really turned to Cordelia at a certain point.
That point, I think, was when Cordelia told Angel that they were no longer friends: it’s one thing for her to be mad at him, but to break the bounds of friendship entirely was a big step, especially when she simultaneously reignites her friendship with Harmony even after learning that she is a vampire. Suddenly, Cordelia stops becoming an employee and starts becoming a human being, which was what Angel ignored when he went rogue and abandoned his friends: he treated them as people he could fire instead of friends he was leaving behind, and so Cordelia’s words really sting here. And so it’s nice to see Cordelia get to kick a little ass and be able to make a decision for herself (in allowing Harmony to escape unstaked), and fitting that eventually she is won over by a bountiful collection of new clothes. Rather than suggesting that she is shallow, the gesture is instead evidence that Angel was paying attention: clothes are not only something she loves, but they were also something which he gave away to Anne’s shelter after their professional parting of ways, making this a perfect (and quite enjoyable) way for the two to reconnect.
Of course, the episode is also a laugh riot, both in subtle and broad fashions. I love the subtle line where Harmony tells Cordelia that she does, indeed, have to officially invite Harmony to stay at her place, and yet I also love the carefully-planned “Vampire vs. Lesbian” conversation that Cordelia has with Willow. It’s just a really tremendous piece of writing from David Fury, and a very smart crossover moment with Buffy’s universe for those of us watching both: the fact that Willow is newly identifying as a lesbian means that the joke starts much earlier for us, and yet the punchline still kills just as we thought it would (the choice of “Lesbo” for Cordelia is over the top without being too over the top, for example). It also manages to feel like a really realistic conversation even when it was clearly scripted very thoughtfully, which is not an easy feat by any means.
“Disharmony” isn’t a huge or substantial episode of Angel, but it’s one of those memorable ones: some clever dialogue and a meaningful yet passing crossover would be fine on its own, but that it so nicely brings Cordelia and Angel back to speaking terms gives the episode function and purpose which a purely standalone hour would lack.
- Still not entirely sure how the pyramid scheme works: Doug Sanders was never developed enough to really give him a purpose, so I couldn’t understand what he was getting out of this personally (as most pyramid schemes would tend to benefit the organizer in ways it would not benefit the other members). Still, the cult-ish environment was fun for them to create, so I’ll forgive my quibbles.
- Not surprising to see Cordelia bring up the potential of Angel sleeping with Darla as a dodged bullet, but I’ll be curious to see whether that secret will come out, and whether it will be seen as problematic even when it had no effect on our hero.
- Thoughts on “Dead End” tomorrow, likely.