In the fifth episode of the first season of Angel, Cordelia’s apartment nightmare gets the best of her when Doyle hooks her up with a place that seems too good to be true. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
I haven’t yet been able to narrow down a possible story arc to season one of Angel. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to even think about the show this way, but I’m a bit biased by the fantastic story in season three of Buffy. But this is not Buffy, and I don’t want the same thing from this show. The only thing that’s really repeated in the five episodes I’ve seen so far is Kate. And if Kate is in the majority of the following episodes, you will not see me complaining. However, I think I’m far more fascinated by the emotional continuity that Angel is giving me than a season-long story arc. (I also won’t complain about that, for the record, if it does come along.) If Angel is a show about redemption and doing good, then it stands to reason that any of the characters in this show will have to examine exactly who they are and what they’ve done. The real strength is not the utterly creepy ghost story; it’s the fact that there’s so much emotional weight to what happens on the screen.
We’ve got two characters from Buffy who have three years of characterization behind them, and now we’ve got Doyle, a demon with a mysterious and dangerous past. Even then, it’s clear to me know that Doyle wouldn’t even be quite as dangerous if it weren’t for Xander. Doyle is certainly not Xander at all, but it’s so fascinating to me to watch Cordelia interact with Doyle with her own knowledge of the experience of Xander in her mind. It’s almost like she anticipates Doyle being kind of gross to her, but without the horrific comebacks that usually follow. It’s also easy to see just how Doyle’s going to deviate from Xander’s characterization pretty quickly. We’ve only gotten hints about what he did long ago, but Doyle doesn’t seem to have always been such a goofy fellow. I thought this episode would mainly track the demons who were seeking payment for a debt he owed. I get the sense that Doyle did something to owe more than just a debt. Does it relate to his ability to get visions? Is he also trying to redeem himself from something he once did? OH GOD I WANT DOYLE’S BACKSTORY IMMEDIATELY. Am I going to have to wait just as long as I have to see Xander’s parents, though? NOT COOL, WHEDON. NOT COOL.
It’s become a common thing for me to totally fall for the red herring of a set-up on a Whedon show, and I was quite surprised when the show became Cordelia-centric. I was also very happy because sweet summer child I LOVE CORDELIA. It did get me thinking about why I like her so much. Truthfully, she does remind me of a lot of the very rich folks I met at Cal State Long Beach, some whom blamed me for not getting a scholarship because I cheated and got one “for [your] race.” No, for real, this is a literal thing someone once said to me. It’s hilarious to me because I got in purely based on the fact that I was valedictorian. I got no scholarships or grants because I was of Mexican descent. But that sort of disgusting entitlement can be seen in Cordelia. She expects the world to revolve around her. She’s classist. She places value on things that many people just don’t have access to. So why the fuck do I like her so much??? I mean, Xander’s characterization reminds me of so many irritating Nice Guys I’ve known over the years (including one particularly bad one from college) that sometimes it’s hard for me to see anything else in him. So why is it that I am so amused by Cordelia and repulsed by Xander?
I think it comes down to the fact that I’ve gotten more depth into what makes Cordelia who she is than Xander. At this point, Xander’s past and his family life is just a reference, and what little we’ve gotten has made me question how I’ve viewed him. Cordelia, on the other hands, has so many more layers, or at least that’s how she seems to me. I don’t need a character to be likable, to do the right things, to be perfect, or to be my idealized version of anything. Again, moral ambiguity is like oxygen to me, I swear. So Cordelia’s complex combination of classism, loneliness, self-worth, and fear is just so BEAUTIFUL TO ME. Eventually, I’d like to feel the same about Xander, but I don’t think Buffy has given him quite the same complexity.
For Cordelia, we’ve seen how her move to Los Angeles has been anything but perfect. After losing her class status when her family went bankrupt, she’s had to deal with being poor. Of course, she copes with this by being even more classist than usual, but it’s not a surprising reaction from her. But I must be a little fair to Cordelia: apartments in Los Angeles can be disgusting. Oh my god, that montage where she and Doyle go look for apartments is terrifying in its accuracy. Everyone lies to you every single time. I can’t tell you how many places I’ve showed up to that were run by a cult (SCIENTOLOGY), where the shower was a shared communal experience, where the ad said that this was a private one bedroom apartment and it turns out it’s just a couch in some smelly dude’s apartment, or the one where the shower only worked after 11pm. I swear that is not an exaggeration. You could only take a shower after 11pm, and the water was turned off again at 5am. I CAN’T EXPLAIN THIS TO YOU. IT STILL MAKES NO SENSE.
I did not have the same experience here in the Bay Area when I moved to a new place last year, but this was the case every time I moved in Los Angeles. I think I must have lived in ten to twelve different places, and every search was a surrealist nightmare. Oh god, I refuse to stop telling stories. Once, I went to check out a studio, and the guy who ran the building said this to me as we were walking up to the room: “Just so you know, the ad said it was a studio, but it’s really just a glorified closet. You okay with that?” WHAT THE FUCK WHO WOULD BE OKAY WITH THAT. Okay, actually, I do like comfortably confined spaces sometimes, but he wasn’t lying. The “room” was a large walk-in closet in someone else’s apartment. Los Angeles, what are you doing?
So as soon as Cordelia stepped into the apartment that Doyle helped her find, my instant thought was THERE IS SOMETHING HORRIBLY WRONG WITH THIS. I mean, there always is when you find a place to rent that seems too good to be true. I must say that I’ve never rented a place that was haunted by the ghost of a mother who buried her son alive in the wall for dating someone she disapproved of, but I’ve had shitty neighbors who had sex too loud. It’s pretty much the same thing. But Cordelia is far too excited to live in this fairy tale wonderland of an apartment to examine it much further. Plus, being Angel’s roommate wasn’t exactly the best day of her life. (It was, however, the most entertaining five minutes I could possibly ask for. The entire peanut butter exchange just made me want to die of adorable. Oh my god, never have two people had so little sexual chemistry and so much comedic compatibility as Angel and Cordelia. I AM SO HAPPY SHE IS ON THIS SHOW.)
I loved the execution of the ghost/poltergeist plot line, though I wish I had predicted that Angel would be the show to get a story about ghosts. I even liked Beth Grant’s terrible make-up because fuck you it’s Beth Grant SHE IS FUCKING AMAZING IN EVERYTHING EVER. But honestly, it’s time for us to get real: this story wouldn’t work if it wasn’t inherently about examining Cordelia’s sense of self-worth. She’s been so exuberant about Angel Investigations because it gives her purpose. She has a job. She has something to do! And I’ve been hopelessly unemployed before, so I know how desperate you feel about your place in life when you can’t even find a job. Cordelia breaks under Mrs. Pearson’s abuse because it’s such a frightening deconstruction of who she used to be. God, it was just so disturbing to hear her tell Cordelia that she was forgotten, alone, and disposable. Those are precisely the things that Cordelia was fearing herself. Her trip to Los Angeles was not glamorous, and she left behind everyone she knew in Sunnydale to pursue a life she isn’t living. Who wouldn’t feel down after something like that?
It’s why Cordelia’s epiphany about herself is both powerful and hilarious. SHE IS CORDELIA CHASE, AND PEOPLE WEPT AT HER FEET IN SUNNYDALE. Oh my god, I just adore her so much. I love realizations of confidence! I love Cordelia making a poltergeist disappear solely through sassiness. I love that she is the catalyst for a flashback that all the characters see. Wait, how does that work? I mean, it’s super convenient, but what the hell? But the one detail that made me smile the most was the fact that Cordelia has a roommate: Phantom Dennis. She is so badass that she can order a ghost around.
For real, Cordelia Chase, you are the best. I am so happy you are on Angel.