In the second episode of the first season of Angel, Angel and his team battle a parasitic demon that feeds off of loneliness. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
There are just some things that Buffy can’t do because of that show’s tone and timeline, and “Lonely Hearts” is a perfect example of that. I don’t think it’s a perfect episode by any means, but it’s great at giving me an idea just how Angel will be able to tackle themes and ideas outside the scope of what Buffy can. I had a feeling that Angel might be more “adult” than Buffy, or at least more gritty. That doesn’t mean Buffy is a show strictly for teenagers; on the contrary, I think it regularly addressed some very adult issues. “Lonely Hearts,” however, only specifically works when it’s an exploration of adult loneliness, and I don’t think the high school setting of Buffy could have ever given us this same story.
It’s no surprise to any of you that I am dearly attached to any and all narratives about loneliness. THIS IS NOT BRAND NEW INFORMATION. Given that, I don’t think I would argue with anyone who said that they didn’t like “Lonely Hearts.” For me, though, my experience with dating in Los Angeles resembles a lot of what’s seen here. I don’t think Los Angeles is the sole location in the world that owns the concept shown here, but there’s a unique sense of desperate shallowness and a pervasive loneliness to the dating scene in that city. And it doesn’t just apply to straight dating at all, and it’s one of the main reasons I had to get out of that city and move somewhere else.
I know that being gay means that despite how much things have changed since I was kid, I’m still not going to see much representation of my sexuality in a positive way in television, fiction, or in movies. It’s just something that I’ve accepted, and it’s also why I clearly flip out whenever I find something I can latch on to. At the same time, I’ve also found that it can be quite fulfilling to find stories where I can read my own queer subtext into the tropes and characters. Obviously, it’s not as satisfying as seeing homosexuality portrayed, but I admit that it’s fun to mentally pair two straight guys together sometimes. I admit that when I watched “Lonely Hearts,” it was remarkably easy to see a fantastic narrative about the shallow and disconnected nature of the gay scene in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Obviously, that’s not what this episode was about. Everyone is heterosexual in “Lonely Hearts” and there are parts of heterosexual dating that I can never experience. Is that something some of you don’t know about? Not that being gay is this BRAND NEW THING that NO ONE HAS HEARD ABOUT, but I’ve met some of the most progressive straight folks imaginable who never really thought about all the barriers they don’t have to cross as heterosexual people. Like, I have to go to a specific bar if I even think I might want to hit on someone. (Spoiler warning: I never feel like this because THANK YOU, SOCIAL ANXIETY.) I can’t just go up to a guy and innately know that the odds are in my favor that this person is also gay. I won’t deny that living in the Bay Area means that I generally never have to think twice about being out, but that’s also a concept I’ve always had to live with. I have to COME OUT TO PEOPLE. These days, it’s just a sentence or two, or perhaps I have to correct someone when they assume I have a girlfriend, or maybe I just gab about how hot Idris Elba is to someone if I feel I can trust them enough. (Here’s something strange: if I am in a setting with mostly gay people, I’m read as straight, but in places with mostly straight people, I’m nearly always read as gay. MAKE UP YOUR MIND, EVERYONE.)
So in that sense, I do acknowledge that there’s an element to “Lonely Hearts” that just can’t apply to me. That’s okay, though! I really like that I feel comfortable enough on this site to talk about these sort of things, and I like that I can derive this whole narrative out of an episode of television and feel that it’s okay to do so. I suppose that’s what I want out of this and what I hope others feel comfortable with, too. I love that we all have so many readings of the stories and character developments that the shows on Mark Watches have given us, and that’s fascinating to me that various people can all have vastly differing interpretations of all this.
As I said before, though, this episode resonates with me because it’s about loneliness. I grew up as a lonely kid, sometimes by choice, but mostly because it was forced on me. I wasn’t allowed to socialize with anyone outside of school or have friends call, come over, visit, or invite me to their house. I’m pretty sure that this manifests in my present life in similar ways because I find it hard to develop close relationships with people. I know it’s due to the fact that I wasn’t allowed to do that as a child, so I don’t necessarily know how to do so. It’s far more complicated than that, but what it comes down to is that when I try to date, it is just as disastrous and awkward as Angel and Kate’s experience in this episode. I don’t know what to say. I stumble over words. Well, and myself some times, too. THAT IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that “Lonely Hearts” exposes how absurd and desperate so many of us are to have a connection. Perhaps it’s not to fall in love, or to find a boyfriend, or even a one-night stand. It’s something so basic and yet so undefinable for a lot of people. Hell, I include myself in that! I don’t know that I could tell you what I want because it changes based on who I’m thinking about or who I am attracted to.
What “Lonely Hearts” demonstrates so accurately is the complex and depressing concept of trying to find a connection to any human soul. Of course, that manifests in different ways; it may be sexual a lot of the time, or it could purely be romantic. It could be platonic. I know I’ve aimed to make people my friend with only that intention in mind. But dating culture (and by that extension, bar culture as well) gives people both a false sense of hope and an overwhelming dose of self-doubt. I have always wondered what it was about other people that allowed them to slip into relationships so easy. My own twin brother, for example, hasn’t been consistently single for more than a month or two since we were at least fifteen. Like Kate and Sharon, I still question if there’s something wrong with me since I’m 28 and my dating life has so regularly ended in failure. And the fact that these characters are adults in their late-twenties and thirties makes all the difference, and it’s why it wouldn’t work as well on Buffy. I admit that sometimes I do feel like I’m inherently wrong or something because I can’t seem to attract anyone I’m attracted to. Half my friends are either married or engaged (some with children), and the vast majority of them have had fifteen years of dating and relationships. Did I stumble along the way? Is there some mistake inside me?
I don’t really believe that stuff anymore, and I’m finding that I love and accept my loneliness more than I ever have. It just works for me, and I’m familiar with it. I have begun dating again after two years of nothing, and it’s nice. Do I still doubt myself in familiar ways? Sure, but I feel better about it. “Lonely Hearts” just reminded me that even if there are complications to dating because I’m gay, a lot of straight folks deal with some of the same things I struggle with, too.
OTHER THOUGHTS I REFUSE TO IGNORE
- OKAY. So could Kate be a regular character? My god, I love her. She has a more fascinating story in one episode than some characters get in a season. MORE PLEASE.
- One of the things I like about Joss’s stories is that he so specifically relies on our acceptance of tropes to surprise us. I thought Kate would be the next victim, not a cop. The story was set up this way to make us think this. I thought Kevin was the demon, then thought it was Sharon and Kevin was the red herring, and then it’s shown that BOTH the initial trope and its reversal were BOTH RED HERRINGS. Oh god, I know it could be gimmicky, but it’s so fun. Even monster-of-the-week episodes are still fun to figure out.
- I’m pretty sure D’Oblique is a real club. Holy shit. Oh my god, that was the most Los Angeles-style club ever.
- I LOVE THAT CORDELIA IS AROUND SO MUCH. She straddles this beautiful line of being hopelessly oblivious and brutally observant. PLEASE NEVER CHANGE. Also, I initially thought that it was weird that an episode about loneliness didn’t feature Cordelia that much, but in hindsight, it wouldn’t have made that much sense.
- Doyle, it’s not going to work with Cordelia. Stop trying to make Cordelia happen.
- BURROWED = BURRO. AHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHA. I CAN’T.
- So, whomever the Powers That Be are (I’m not sure we’ll ever see them), they are pretty goddamn awful at sending Doyle messages he might be able to actually interpret. If you’re some all-knowing power that can help people out, wouldn’t you send very specific messages to your messengers? Wait, is this a cleverly disguised metaphor for God??? OH SHIT IT TOTALLY IS. what.
- Researching scenes are not quite as fun without Giles. 🙁
- AH THE BARTENDER’S FACE AHHHHHHHH
- It’s now canon that Angel likes to brood in the darkness by himself. God bless this show.