Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The End of Angel Season One

8-13 November 2007

To make up for our indulgence a couple of weeks ago, we had three "Angel" episodes to catch up on. Turns out, we couldn't have chosen a better little trilogy, as the three interconnected quite satisfactorily.

First up was "War Zone," written by Gary Campbell (?). I have to say, I wasn't digging on this episode in the slightest. At first.

It starts with a young woman being pursued by vampires, and just as they're about to get her, a sort of street gang of young people jump out and kill the vampires. The gang is led by Gunn, who is the brother of the pursued girl, Alana.* It would seem that there's something of a turf war going on in the abandoned warehouse district where both the vampires and the gang live, and there are casualties on both sides. Gunn does have a big gun mounted on the back of a truck that shoots two-foot long wooden stakes. Now I know what to get tyranist for Christmas.

Meanwhile, back in the world of our regular characters, Angel, Cordelia, and Wesley go to a fancy party to meet a new client. We're introduced to a stuttery, backwardly earnest geek of a man, prompting tyranist to say, "This is what Hollywood's perception of an internet billionaire is." I resisted the urge to kill tyranist with his own footrest when Cordelia introduces the guy, David, as an internet billionaire, who has thrown the party but doesn't really have friends there or know how to mingle with his guests. He's a nice guy who is being blackmailed by a dude who took compromising pictures of David going to a demon brothel.** Much to Cordelia's delight, he has offered to pay Angel Investigations a great deal to make sure those pictures don't end up, I don't know, in his mother's hands.

Angel goes to the brothel and eventually tracks down the sleazebag who took the pictures, threatening him within eyeshot of Gunn and his gang. The photographer sics a demon bodyguard on Angel, and Gunn sees Angel in vampire mode as they fight. Angel stomps the demon, manages to get the photos, and is immediately attacked by the gang of vampire hunters. He gets a stake through the gut and only 'gel's mad skillz keep him from gettin' the slay put on him. He tells the gang that he's not their enemy, but Gunn is dubious.

Angel is actually pretty badly hurt there, I guess. He is aware of a vampire hideout and is worried that the humans get themselves killed. He goes to warn Gunn, but Gunn not only doesn't want Angel's help, but locks him in a meat locker. The vampires attack the gang's hideout during the day, wearing full body covering like biohazard suits. They gas the building and capture the people who flee, Alonna among them. Gunn runs after them, trying to catch up with the van they stuck his sister in, but fails.

He and his gang regroup and decide to attack the vampire lair, but for some reason I still don't understand, wait until dark. I don't know, maybe it was ten minutes to sundown when Alonna was snatched, I really can't say.

Angel, meanwhile, tries to punch his way out of the improvised prison he's stuck in. Just as he's about to escape, Cordelia and Wesley arrive to open the door. They ask him why he didn't call them on his cellphone, but it never occurred to Angel that he had it on him the whole time.

Again, for reasons I don't understand, Gunn goes by himself into the vampire lair (which appears to be an underground parking lot--not that there's anything wrong with that). Alonna is waiting for him. She tells him how nice it is not to have any guilt or any fear or any of the many weaknesses human beings struggle with everyday. Gunn is very reluctant to kill her, especially since she seems so much like the old Alonna. Finally, she offers to share her "gift" with him, and he is forced to stake her.

Angel reveals himself, having witnessed the exchange, and tries to reassure Gunn that he did the right thing. The vampires and gang confront each other and Angel tries to prevent bloodshed by offering the undead a truce: if they leave his city, never to return, they are free to go with their lives. Their leader balks at this and insinuates that Angel's show isn't nearly as good as "Buffy" is. Angel nods, clarifies that the offer didn't apply to the leader, and stakes him. The other vampires make a run for it, hoping that the Titty Twister is still running down in Mexico.

That night, Gunn is looking out at the city, thinking his thoughts. Angel shows up and talks to him, hoping they can work together in the future. Gunn tells him he doesn't need Angel's help, and Angel, in a nice moment, says he might need Gunn's. The end.

This was a pretty good episode, mostly because of unexpected moments, and the unusual focus on Gunn and his sister. They gave Gunn the surly, inhumanly tough, heartlessly independent personality modern film always insists on stamping on black characters . . . but then, something weird happened: I ended up liking him. So much so that I was pleased to see him show up again in the next episode.

Which was "Blind Date." It too surprised me, even more than "War Zone" did.

It was written by Jeannine Renshaw, who co-wrote the best episode of the season, "I Will Remember You."*** It starts out with Angel running into a blind woman in an alley. Instead of her being in need of his protection, she starts kicking his arse. I couldn't explain it either, but she seems to have superhuman abilities, two letter D's on her chest, and seriously effed-up Meg Foster eyes. That is revealed when her sunglasses come off and she disappears.

Angel has Wesley and Cordelia look her up on the computer and it turns out she not only has a police record, but is currently on trial for murder. And guess what law firm is defending her, for free?

In my previous "Angel" post, I referred to two of the Wolfram & Hart lawyers as Prettyboy Lawyer 1 and 2, respectively. To my surprise, they're both back in these episodes, so I guess I should've used their actual names. Prettyboy Lawyer 1 is named Lindsay McDonald, a crafty young man with tons of ambition, and Prettyboy Lawyer 2 . . . well, I think I'll keep calling him that, just to avoid confusion.

The next day, Blind Vanessa is in court, with Lindsay defending her. He explains to the jury that she couldn't have killed the because, just look at her Meg Foster eyes, the woman is blind! At that moment, Angel pops his head into the courtroom and throws Blind Vanessa's sunglasses at her. She scoops them out of the air like Shamu catching a halibut, and Angel takes off again.

It turns out that Blind Vanessa is as blind as Marlee Matlin. She works for Wolfram & Hart as a sort of enforcer, and can see a different part of the spectrum than we do.

At the lawfirm, we are introduced to Holland Manners, played by big-time familiar face Sam Anderson. Manners is one of the bigwigs at Wolfram & Hart (jeez, has Sam Anderson EVER played a good guy?), and he congratulates Lindsay and getting Blind Vanessa off. He must've performed some kind of miracle, but then, both Lizzie Borden and O.J. walked. They talk about the future, about Lindsay's previous failures concerning Angel, and Manners says, "Your mama sure does care about your schoolin' boy." Okay, actually, he doesn't say that, but he does express an almost paternal interest in Lindsay's success.

He also tells Lindsay to come up with a gameplan for defending Blind Vanessa in the future, as there's some pesky children coming to town that she's going to "pay a visit" to.

Back at Angel Investigations, the group is disgusted that Blind Vanessa was acquitted and how powerful that lawfirm is. At that moment, in walks Lindsay, who has come to switch sides.

Angel's as suspicious as I would be upon hearing a compliment from my father, but Lindsay tells Angel what he knows, specifically about the children in danger. He also explains that he grew up in poverty and pulled himself up by determination alone, seeking power, but seeing how much W&H's power corrupts. Angel suggests he go back to the firm and swipe the files on these children. Lindsay explains that there are shamans and nutcrackers and mind-readers at the firm and he's afraid to go back. After more skepticism from Angel, Lindsay agrees to go get the files, and that if he's killed, then Angel can be convinced he's legitimately changed.

They make a plan, and part of it involves Gunn from the previous episode. Lindsay goes into the W&H building and goes down to the records office, leaving a pass for Angel there. He runs into Lilah Morgan, who tyranist and I both thought was a more likely turncoat than Lindsay, but explains his presence away. Lindsay goes to the surveillance area, and is looking in the monitors when Gunn and a couple of his gangbuddies walk into the lobby and shout at all the evil white people. They bring in a large bundle which immediately sets off the vampire detectors. At that moment, Angel comes into the building via the sewers. Our boys let the vampire out and vamoose as the security guards produce stakes from their billyclubs (a brilliant device) and slay the vampire. By the monitors, Lindsay distracts security while Angel uses Lindsay's pass to get into the W&H vault. There, he snags a couple of data discs and sees a scroll on the wall, which he also grabs.

An alarm goes off and Angel barely makes it out of the building as everything is shut down. Lindsay tries to leave, but Manners ushers all the lawyers into an office, bringing in the vaguely-Eastern Europeon mindreaders to look everybody over. Lindsay, Prettyboy Lawyer 2, and Lilah are all scrutinised by the mindreaders, and we're sure his goose is cooked, when Manners accuses Prettyboy Lawyer 2 of planning to leave the firm with some clients, and has him shot in the head.

He dismisses everybody but Lindsay. Once they're alone, Manners reveals he knows what Lindsay has done, but that he still believes in him. He offers Lindsay a few days to decide whose team he wants to be on, and as Lindsay leaves, I was sure he'd push a button and the floor would drop out and Lindsay would be fed to the sharks. But he isn't.

Angel makes it back with the files, and they get started decrypting them. He shows Wesley the parchment, which has Aramaic writings on it that will have to be translated. Cordelia calls Willow back in Sunnydale (who we don't see), and decrypts them that way. Turns out Blind Vanessa was trained by a bunch of monks to see with her heart, not her mind, and there are three children with similar--but greater--powers in L.A. that she is about to kill. Lindsay shows up and he and Angel rush to save the children.

Blind Vanessa has already killed the children's bodyguard and--my god, they all have Meg Foster eyes too!!--is about to kill them when Angel arrives. Lindsay is no match for her, but because Angel has no body heat, he is able to thwart her by striking and then holding still (at least that's what I got out of it). Impressively, Angel kills Blind Vanessa.

Angel goes back home. Wesley has translated some of the scroll, and found that it's a prophesy. It talks about the three children and a vampire with a soul.

Lindsay also goes back home, returning the stolen discs to Wolfram & Hart. He apologises to Manners, but says that he had to save those children. Manners seems to understand this and tells Lindsay that he always saw a lot of potential in him. He offers Lindsay a junior partnership in the firm, lots of money and power, and enough cocaine to recreate the famous blow scene in SCARFACE. Lindsay considers the offer, and then . . . stays. The end.

Like I said before, I was really surprised by this episode. I was surprised that they'd have a blind woman as a villain (and have Angel kill her), I was surprised that Lindsay betrayed the firm, and then surprised when he went back again. But you know, this whole show has been surprising, from the great revelation that the possessed kid in "I've Got You Under My Skin" was ALREADY evil, to the way Angel has been both empathetic and likable throughout the show. And they say it only gets better.

But wait, there's more. We've still got the season finale, "To Shanshu in L.A.," which gets high marks for the cleverness of its title, but also for referencing a Wang Chung song. It was written and directed by David Greenwalt, co-creator of the show.

Continuing from last week, Wesley is translating the scroll when he comes upon the word "shanshu." Angel, apparently, is prophesied to shanshu in his attempts to stave off Armageddon. The word means "live and die." Cordelia mentions to Wesley that Angel's life is stagnant because he wants nothing out of life, and pretty much has nothing to look forward to. I can certainly relate, except I won't live forever like he will.

Back at Wolfram & Hart, Holland, Lindsay, and Lilah summon a demon named Vocah, who wears a mask over part of his face. Vocah is there to do something called a "Raising," but first must eliminate those who would prevent this from happening.

David the internet zillionaire comes over, but no one will play with him. Cordelia has a vision that sends Angel after a slime demon (I'm guessing Parker Posey), and Angel saves an old woman from it. Policewomanofficer Kate Lockley arrives, looking quite attractive, but is more than a little hostile towards Angel. It seems she now blames him for her father's death (despite Angel being at her side when she confronted those responsible), and will not rest until all vampires are in a vaccuumable state.

Vocah the Demon goes to visit the Oracles, who we haven't seen since "I Will Remember You" (I believe), but they tell him to take a hike. Vocah can apparently pass unnoticed, as he slips into Angel's place as he's locking the scroll into a cabinet. This ability comes in handy as he goes after Cordelia, walking right up to her and touches her hand. Suddenly, tons of excruciating visions come screeching into Cordelia's head like a Bjork song and she drops to the ground in agony. She is taken to the hospital, where she writhes and suffers, leaving the doctors dumbfounded. Angel arrives at the hospital, declaring himself her family, and is told that whatever's wrong with her, it will kill her if left untreated.

Wesley, back at Angel's place, sees that the cabinet has been torn open and the scroll stolen. In its place is a bomb, which explodes before he is able to get away. Angel Investigations lies in ruins, but Angel finds Wesley injured but alive in the wreckage. As he takes his friend to the hospital, Kate Lockley shows up, evidently just to be a butt, and Angel tells her he needs more of her crap like he needs a suntan.

Angel enlists Gunn again to protect Wesley and Cordelia while he gets to the bottom of things. Gunn again proves himself a useful addition to the show and I am impressed. Angel goes to see the Oracles too, to ask for their help, but they are dead, dead, dead. Still, the ghost of the female one rises long enough to tell Angel that he needs to retrieve the scroll again to break the spell over Cordelia.

Angel goes to Wolfram & Hart just in time to see the lawyers leaving, heading to Forest Lawn Cemetery to perform "The Raising" (actually, I don't know what cemetery it was, unless there's one on the Fox lot). In an underground crypt, a big cage has been set up, with five vampires chained to it. Vocah the demon begins reading from the scroll, but Angel interrupts the ritual and fights him. We get to see that Vocah is a mess of decomposition and maggots under his mask.

While they do battle, Lindsay grabs the scroll and finishes the ritual. The five vampires are sacrificed and something appears in the cage. Manners has his men remove the cage immediately. Angel kills Vocah, but Lindsay won't give him the scroll, preferring to fight him instead. He grabs a long candlestick and attempts to stake Angel with it, and Angel uses the fallen Vocah's knife to cut off Lindsay's hand.

Angel rushes to the hospital and reads from the scroll, freeing Cordelia's mind from the visions. She seems to be a changed person, having seen how many people are in need of their help, and tries to make the wounded Wesley and Angel more comfortable. Wesley reveals that he mistranslated the word "shanshu" before. It means to live and die, yes, but in Angel's case, it would mean to die and live. In other words, according to the prophesy, in staving off Armageddon, Angel will cease to be undead and become human. Suddenly, Angel has something to look forward to. The end.

Oh, but wait, we've got a coda to this whole thing. Back at the lawfirm, Lindsay is seething about his defeat and loss of his hand (looks like he won't be able to play "Hellgate: London" either, Jeff), but Manners assures him that they'll be able to destroy Angel now, thanks to The Raising they performed. Inside the cage, miraculously resurrected, is Darla, the vampire who sired Angel. The end (really).

Boy, this was good stuff. Not just the last episode, though it was quite good, but the last bunch of episodes. "Angel" season one went out on a high note.

Something I've complained about, not just with "Buffy" and "Angel," but most TV shows, is their apparent need to list surprise guest appearances in the opening credits, spoiling the revelations and entrances they've worked so hard at setting up. I may have explained it all away as contractually obligated, but the final reveal in this episode blows that theory away, as they did NOT credit Julie Benz as Darla until the closing credits. Also, that should pound a stake into any excuses they make in the future when doing that annoying, annoying thing.

I commented to tyranist that the rise and fall of Lindsay was really interesting to me, and that I only wish that as much thought had been put into Anakin Skywalker's rise and fall. I'm not sure if I'll ever get over the disappointment of those three films, but then, I don't have the social life you do.

I'm very glad we chose to do it this way (alternating "Buffy" and "Angel"), and it's cool that tyranist gave in to temptation and bought all the remaining seasons for us to watch.

I'd say, without reservation, that not only was "I Will Remember You" the best episode of the season, but it was better than "Buffy"'s best episode of the season (and that's saying a lot). I was surprised, about six months back, to discover that I loved "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But it's even more surprising to discover that I love "Angel" too. And we seriously considered avoiding the spin-off series sight unseen.

It's good to be wrong sometimes. I only wish my wrongness was always the pleasant kind.

And that was our evening. We talked, briefly, about the show (something we don't do nearly enough) and I got to hear my friend's opinions for a change. I wonder if maybe I could bribe tyranist to blog a couple of next season's episodes in my place, just to see how he'd do it. Then I told him that I really wanted to see Buffy fight Dracula, that it would only take fifty minutes, and that he wanted to see the Ark opened just as much as I.

For the first time, it was me clamoring for more, and tyranist had to make a stand, which turned out to be gesturing towards the door, first with his finger, then with his boot. Ah well, something to look forward to.

Rish "Often Wrong" Outfield

*I did look it up, and I guess the spelling was Alonna.

**I remember the place well. It was on Pico and Western. I could never get inside.

***Whoops, did I show my cards too early? Sorry, if you really cared what my favourite episode was. Come to think of it, who would even be reading this blog?

****I know you're thinking, "Rish, you disfigured idiot, they're referencing the MOVIE, not the song." To which, I say . . . disfigured, really? I thought I was just revoltingly ugly.

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