Sunday, April 06, 2008

"Angel" catch-up marathon

April 4th-11th, 2008

So, tyranist and I haven't been able to get together for our Buffy Wednesdays much lately, and that's not likely to change anytime soon, but he did allow me to come over and watch enough "Angel"s to catch us up. I don't know how many episodes we saw (five, I think), and have no idea how many I've the energy to blog.

First up, though, was "Billy," written by Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell. It was interesting, and I'm sure I have more to say about it than the others we saw.

It begins with Angel training Cordelia in fighting skills. It seems reminiscent of his sessions with Buffy and I'll be damned if there didn't seem to be something between them in these scenes. Tyranist told me, "You didn't think he'd spend all five years of this show loving only Buffy, did you?"*

Over at Wolfram & Hart, Lilah Miller has a prettyboy in her office, one named Billy, and seems unhappy about his behaviour. But she's unable to do anything about it because he comes from the closest thing America has to a royal family. After he leaves, Gavin Park, the lawyer harassing Angel about his hotel and also Jin from "Lost," attacks Lilah and we go to commercial.

Silly me, I thought maybe they had killed Lilah, red-shirting her to show how dangerous this Billy character is. Only then did I realise that Billy was the same guy that Angel broke out of a hellprison a couple of episodes back. Tyranist not only had no such confusion, he was sure to make me understand how stupid I was not to put two and two together.

Back at Angel Investigations, Wesley suddenly has romantic interest in Fred, and I gotta wonder just how many episodes I've missed. Cordelia is aware of Wesley's feelings and as she's telling him to go over and ask her out, she gets a vision. Turns out, the vision was of a man murdering a woman a week before . . . something she couldn't have done anything about. But after some digging, they see that Billy had been around the man just before he went berserk. Billy is a creepy woman-hating bastard, but he's unable to lay a finger on them himself, so he uses his innate abilities to fill men with overwhelming misogyny which tends to spill out and lead to violence.

Cordelia remembers why Angel busted this guy out (to save her), and feels guilty about it. I gotta say, Cordie really does seem to be a completely different person nowadays than she used to be. Guess those visions picked the right lass.

Angel doesn't blame Cordelia, he blames Lilah. So he goes to visit her and finds her all puffy and bruised. She fills in the details on how Billy operates and that because his last name is Kennedy, nobody can touch him.**

Some of the episode is spent trying to find Billy, but he manages to stay one step ahead of them. Even after he's arrested, Billy leaves violence in his wake and goes free. He does spill some blood, which Wesley collects to take home and examine.

I did want to mention a scene where Cordelia goes and confronts Lilah, only to find her broken and afraid. Cordelia gives her a nice speech about how hard it is to be a vicious bitch and that Lilah should have more respect for herself.

Fred helps Wesley check out Billy's blood under a microscope, and he tells her that his power is transmitted through touch. Then he tells her that she shouldn't dress so provocatively, since she's obviously a tease. And aren't women all teases, really? And shouldn't we get mad about that? And maybe all of us should beat women up, or better yet, grab a fire axe and kill them with it, like Wesley is tempted to do to Fred.

She flees, running upstairs instead of going out the front door (repeatedly), and Wesley follows her, spouting verbose woman-hating dialogue in his prim English accent.

Fred runs into Gunn, who pulls her into a vacant room and tries to protect her, but when she explains how Wesley was infected, admits that he just came from touching the blood himself (not really sure why you'd touch blood that wasn't yours, but heck, maybe it has a siren song about it). He tells Fred to knock him over the head before he can turn evil, and then immediately says something disparaging about the fairer sex, so she bops him a good one. Or two.

Wesley tries to get into the room and ends up hacking through the door, all the while belittling her. But she took the opportunity to improvise a booby trap which swings a fire extinguisher into his face, knocking him not only to the floor but through it.

Angel, meanwhile, finds out that Billy's family hate him too, and that he's got a private plane waiting to take him someplace at the tarmac of easiest accessibility. Cordelia gets there and sticks a taser into Billy's genitals (no need to be subtle at this point, do we?). Billy grabs Angel's face and sneers that Cordelia will get hers now. Strangely enough, Billy's power doesn't work on Angel, and commences to use Billy's head as a speedbag. Cordelia prepares to shoot Billy with a crossbow, but a gunshot rings out, and Billy falls dead. Lilah holds the smoking gun, having listened to Cordelia's buck-up talk. I guess she's reached closure, though if I were her, I'd arrange for a little accident to befall Gavin Park, just in case.

Angel explains to Cordelia that he doesn't carry hate around with him, and even as Angelus he killed for pleasure rather than hatred. I guess that's better, but . . .

The coda of the episode had Fred going to visit Wesley at his place, where he has sequestered himself out of shame for his actions. He tries to express how sorry he is for the things that he said and did, and she tries to absolve him of his bitter guilt. And I cried, if we're to be honest here. Fred persuades Wesley to return to work because he's a good man and is needed. After she leaves, he begins weeping. The end.

We haven't seen an "Angel" since "Fredless," and I gotta admit, it had been too long. Like I said, it wasn't until seven or eight minutes in that I even remembered who Billy was. But I'll try to do better in September when we get to "Angel" again.

I really enjoyed this episode, especially the end. We had a couple episodes left to watch to be caught up, so we put in "Offspring," written by show-runner David Greenwalt.

It begins with a flashback, one obviously set early in Angelus's career, since he still has his Liam accent. Angelus is fleeing Holtz, the vampire hunter, and is captured by Holtz and his men. If you recall, Holtz has been referred to several times, and I thought this was his actual first appearance, but tyranist once again put me in my place. I've never seen this show "Angel" you refer to before, what's it about?

Holtz is a burly man with a dark beard and an English accent that seems to come and go. He hates Angelus for the murder of his family, and tortures him in an attempt to find out where Darla is. On cue, Darla and a bunch of other vampires arrive and rescue Angelus, tossing a blanket over him and racing away to freedom.

Back in 2001, Darla arrives in Los Angeles, a trail of corpses in her wake.

Angel and Cordelia are still training together, and I'll just come out and say it, it's just slow-motion foreplay we're witnessing here.

Wesley and Gunn procure a scroll that has an apocalyptic prophesy on it that's about to come to pass. We are reminded of the prophesy at the end of Season One, where it was revealed that Angel has a big part to play in averting Armageddon, and will be rewarded with humanity for his troubles. Fred tries to use her mathematic knowledge to predict when the end of the world is supposed to occur.

Angel, meanwhile, tells Cordelia he loves her, and she chooses to interpret this as the sort of thing you say to someone when the end is nigh. It's a very funny moment when everybody tells Angel they love him, even Gunn, and then a very pregnant Darla comes into the hotel, presenting her Orson Welles-sized belly and asking for help.

Darla explains that Angel knocked her up, even though vampires can't have children, and Cordelia is illogically upset that Angel would put a bun in Darla's oven then forget about it. I guess, I don't exactly understand. Darla also explains that nobody knows what's inside her or how to destroy it, so they decide to go to Lorne and find out a little destiny.

Lorne is still upset about the damage to his bar a century ago in "That Old Gang of Mine" and is still putting the finishing touches on Caritas, one of which will be a spell that prevents ALL violence within its walls (not just demon violence). Darla sings (and it ain't bad), but Lorne has nothing useful to tell us.

Darla does have a great deal of pain--contractions?--and Lorne lets her stay in his bedroom till it passes. Cordelia, having been inseminated at least twice since the show started, feels very protective of Darla, who has been acting awfully friendly and less murderous than we remember her, and volunteers to take care of her.

The others talk about this vampire child of hers and how it might fit into the prophecy. It could bring about the end of the world or it could stave it off. Or it could do what most new child additions do to television shows, and enable a shark to be jumped over.

In Lorne's bedroom, Cordelia attempts to comfort Darla, who complains about how hungry she always is. Then she vamps out and bites Cordelia on the neck. At that moment, she gets a vision--a much funkier one than usual, of a video arcade and a little blond boy--and her cries of pain bring Angel into the room. He throws Darla off Cordie and Darla flees the room and out into the night before he can do any more.

Angel goes after Darla, who does go to a video arcade, where a little Aryan boy has lost his mother. Darla draws him to the back, then swoops in to eat him. But Angel stops her and there's a battle and he pulls out a stake to kill her with, but feels a heart beating in Darla's stomach. If there's a heartbeat, there's a soul, apparently.

Angel takes Darla back to the hotel and gives her some yummy pig's blood (which she doesn't want), and has Gunn guard her. Fred and Wesley translate some more of the prophesy that a being will arrive that day that will be the linchpin in the end of the world.

In some underground chamber, a demon with a scar on its face
performs a ritual on a big stone or sarcophagus that cracks it open. Inside is a man, Holtz the Vampire Hunter, awake again after so very long.

That leads us to the next episode, "Quickening," which was Jeffrey Bell by written. It also starts with a flashback, showing how Angelus and Darla had left a trail for Holtz and his men to follow, then doubled back and went to his home. They persuaded his young daughter to invite them in, then killed her, her mother, and infant sibling. When Holtz realises he's been tricked, he rushes home, but is too late. Two of his family members are dead . . . but one is worse than dead. The vampires have converted his daughter into one of their own, and Holtz drags her out the front door and into the sunlight, where she hisses and dies.

Holtz, in the here and now, learns about the present day from the demon that brought him into the future. I really ought to find out that demon's name (after all, I went on and found out Jeffrey Bell episode the wrote), but for now, he's Scarface Demon.

Over at Angel Investigations, there's more confusion about the prophetic scrolls and what words mean and names signify. They consider how to destroy the Darla baby, but Angel now feels protective of it and vows to see it born.

We get a lot of scenes in the next two episodes involving office politics at Wolfram & Hart, and at the time, I wondered why they went on so long or existed at all. Gavin Park and Lilah Morgan are plotting against each other and an office toadie goes back and forth working for each of them. It is revealed that Wolfram & Hart have placed cameras around Angel's hotel lobby, and are spying on them.

Lilah's boss, Mr. Morrow, is brought in when they discover that Darla the vampire is pregnant. In fact, a lot of folks are excited about the prospect of a vampire baby, including religious vampires, a ninja-dude, and a bunch of hungry demons. Holtz and Scarface grab a couple of demon goons and also join in the hunt. There are a lot of interested parties and a lot of plot developments I won't mention because they are ultimately unimportant.

Of course, that's just my opinion, but it's also my opinion that this and the episode that follow are very very padded and might have been better as a single episode.

We get another flashback to the moment when Scarface Demon showed himself to Holtz and offered to take him to a time and place when he can destroy Angelus and Darla. Holtz accepts.

Darla gets contractions. Angel and Co. take her to a hospital and do an ultrasound. We find out that her baby is 1) human, 2) a boy, and 3) already better-endowed than I am. A bunch of vampires arrive and surround our heroes. They are there to protect the baby, but don't mind eating all the humans. Fred grabs a knife and holds it at Darla's stomach like a hostage (which I thought was cool), but then mentions that no weapon can harm the baby.

Mr. Morrow wants the baby for himself, and the many interested parties converge on the hotel. They end up fighting, and killing, each other, because Darla and the others haven't returned from the hospital.

In fact, they're all in Angel's car, parked in an alley, waiting for the coast to be clear. He volunteers to go in alone, grab the scrolls, and come back out again. When he goes in, though, he finds Holtz there waiting. And back in the car, Darla's water breaks.

This leads us into "Birthday," written by Tim Minear. Holtz's demon friends grab Angel and bind him so Holtz can interrogate him. He wants to know where Darla is and tosses a bit of holy water on Angel. Wolfram & Hart watches all this on their little cameras and Lilah arrives to find out who Holtz is. She tells Holtz that Angel now has a soul and this gives him pause (it would seem that Scarface Demon wasn't being 100% with our vampire hunter).

Angel takes the opportunity to pull the pin on a grenade one of the fallen military guys dropped, and uses the explosion to escape. Or maybe I dreamt that; it just seems a little too silly to me now.

Darla, snarling and going into labour, has scared the rest of the gang out of the car. When a bunch of demons arrive, she runs them over with the car and drives away. Angel gets back just a moment too late.

Lilah takes the scrolls and Wesley's translations with her back to W&H. Her translators say it's not birth but death it predicts.

Holtz meets Scarface at their hideout and is upset that he wasn't told about Angelus's soul. Scarface says it wasn't important, but doesn't tell him about Darla's pregnancy either.

Angel tracks Darla down, or up, rather, as she's on a rooftop overlooking the city. She tells him that she feels love for the baby inside her and it's because the child has a soul that she's sharing. But when that baby is born, what will happen to her and her feelings? Angel takes Darla (you know, when her water broke, didn't that mean the birth was imminent?) to Caritas, where the anti-violence spell will protect her and the baby.

Darla goes back to Lorne's bedroom, but there's no way to deliver the baby, as even a C-section won't work. I guess it has something to do with Darla's body being dead and the baby being alive. Darla starts to bleed out. Angel tries to keep her going, but she's feeling pretty hopeless about everything. Around that moment, I thought I had figured out how the child could be born, but I didn't think they would go there.

Holtz gets word where Angel/Darla are and shows up at Caritas. He uses explosives to destroy the bar again (which has to suck for poor Lorne), rendering the whole anti-violence spell kind of moot.

Angel and Darla slip out Lorne's back entrance, but she falls down in the alley, unable to go further. She tells Angel that the child inside her is the only good thing she ever did with Angel, then grabs a broken board and stakes herself with it.

She turns to dust, leaving only the baby lying on the ground. Angel scoops it up and wraps it in his cool black coat. Holtz meets him in the alley and has the chance to shoot him with a crossbow, but doesn't. He lets Angel go, but immediately proclaims he will show no mercy toward him. The end.

This one really should've been more satisfying, but it simply wasn't. A lot of it had to do with the way it ended: there was no sense of closure there. Which probably led tyranist to continue on to the next episode, "Dad," written by David Goodman.

It picks up just a little while later as Angel and company return to the hotel with the baby. Lorne goes there too, since his place was just destroyed.

Angel is still very protective of his son, and gets the pleasure of changing his diaper for the first time. Cordelia thinks Angel is taking too much responsibility onto himself, especially with so many others willing to pitch in, but Angel won't listen.

The Scarface Demon is upset with Holtz for letting Angel live, but Holtz is temporarily satisfied with having seen Darla die. He decides to regroup and prepare for his vengeance against Angel, and the first step is to kill all of his current minions (which he does with poison) and find some new ones, better ones.

Demons and such keep coming to get the baby, and I was suggesting aloud that they call Willow and have her do one of those protection shields on the hotel like she did on that gas station last season. But it's apparently just as easy for Lorne to make a phone call and have the Furies who did the non-violence spell on his club do so on the hotel.

We also get a subplot that doesn't seem important (but might be so I'll mention it) where Lilah tries to figure out who the man who was holy watering Angel is. She goes down to the records department and finds out there's literally tons of material on Angel's past. She spends fourteen hours reading through things before she discovers that the secretary there has some kind of cybernetic memory of the entire file. She learns who Holtz is and what his connection to Angelus was.

Holtz, meanwhile, has tracked down a red-haired woman whose twin sister was killed by vampires, and recruits her to be his Jedi Padawan. It's a long scene but I imagine it will be a hell of a lot more relevant than a robot-brained secretary.

A ton of demons surround the hotel and start working their own magic to gain entrance. Angel has the baby in his arm and wants to run with it, but Cordelia again tries to get him to trust her friends to help. He refuses and heads for the sewers just as the shield goes down ("Commence attack on the Death Star's main reactor!"). The demons give chase, and those who don't are killed by the flame thrower Gunn happened to have lying around.

Angel, talking to his little bundle, gets in his car and drives up to Lancaster (which I actually shot an episode of "X-Files" at once) where there's a boarded-up mine that he slips into.

He is followed by a bunch of demons who manage to get the bundle away from him. As Angel makes his escape, the demons--and we--discover that it's not his son at all, but a bomb. Boom. No more pursuers.

It is revealed that Lorne had mentioned earlier that there were cameras watching Angel, so the whole second argument with Cordelia was for their benefit. In actuality, she and Fred had taken the baby to the hospital for a check-up.

Angel goes to Wolfram & Hart and bursts in on Mr. Morrow, despite the vampire alarms (which actually go off in this episode). He cuts Morrow and tells him that anything that happens to his son will also happen to him.

With that, Angel proclaims the boy safe, and heads to the hospital, where he's reunited with the baby. He has decided the child's name will be Connor, though I don't know why. The end.

That brings us to the end of a four-part episode and the one-part episode before it that I liked a lot more. I actually had a lot more to say about "Billy" than the other four put together.***

Something that happens a great deal in long-running series is the old stand-by of having something happen to the characters so they behave in ways that are not typical, not predictable, not in their nature. Whether its alien possession or body switching or a hanging out with the wrong crowd or mind-control or a medical condition or Angel losing his soul or the corrupting influence of magic or Spider-man making a deal with the devil (all but one of these being "Buffy/Angel" references), it's a fascinating trope in fiction, and it rarely gets old. At least not to these eyes.

The truth is, in real life, people act out of character all the time. I had a conversation with my mother a couple of years ago in which I was both shocked and disturbed by the things she said, only to have her deny ever saying them when I asked her about it later. And I've been around friends and had them do things that were either stinging or absolutely baffling when looking back. And I've felt intense attraction to absolutely unattractive people and nearly blinding hatred for people I've considered the closest. It's just amazing how many different people everyone can be.

So, I've been fascinated at Willow's increasingly dark turn on "Buffy" and both Wesley's Jack Torrance routine in "Billy" and Darla's loving human being impression in the four-parter. We can find heroism in villains and cowardice in heroes. It's a known fact that Hitler loved his dog, and that Mother Teresa regularly cheated at gin rummy.

And there was once a girl at the music store I worked for that thought I was completely lovable.

I think I've made my point.

Rish Outfield

*Actually, he said something similar to "You didn't think they'd let him go five seasons without a love interest, did you?" but I changed it so it would fit the rhyme scheme better.

**Actually, his last name was something else, but I'm here to samurai-sword through the bullshit, since I've got about eight episodes to go through this week.

***Still, I'm sure the death of Darla and the birth of Connor (not to mention the rebirth of Holtz) will have much more lasting consequences for the show than "Billy" did. And I really did intend to start this footnote with "actually," but I couldn't pull it off in good conscience.

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