In the eleventh episode of the first season of Angel, Angel’s past returns in the form of a vampire he once sired (I think?), and Cordelia, Kate, and Wesley must cope with the things Angel once did. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
I think “Somnambulist” gets off to a bit of a rough start, and I blame that partly on the fact that I did not believe the sleepwalking plot was credible at all. At no point did I truly feel like Angel had actually been sleepwalking and murdering people in the middle of the night. Perhaps for once I was actually prepared for something and correctly guessed a plot. PERHAPS! That would be a one-time occurrence, I swear. Because of this, though, it deflated what tension should have been there. The good thing about this is that as soon as Jeremy Renner showed up, this turned into a much, much better episode of Angel.
Also JEREMY RENNER WAS ON ANGEL AND HIS FACE OH MY GOD HE’S SO YOUNG. Now I want to go watch The Hurt Locker immediately, which I suggest y’all do because it is a BRILLIANT character study on violence, war, masculinity, and identity.
What I think “Somnambulist” is about concerns loyalty and forgiveness. We haven’t really dealt with Angel’s past on his own show, and I’m hoping there’s a further exploration of it in the future. (I also won’t fight any and all attempts at expanding his backstory. I love character backstories.) I had a feeling I might like this episode once Cordelia came to Angel’s defense. Wesley, who is still an outsider at this point, despite that Cordy and Angel know him, brings forth the idea that Angel is killing in his signature way again. I guess I never really stopped to think about Cordelia and Angel’s relationship as friends, but her monologue to him genuinely made me appreciate the two of them. Even if things were a little shaky when she joined on, I think both of them lovingly respect each other. The truth is that Angel really helped Cordelia, and Cordelia constantly helps Angel. They have such a mutually beneficial relationship, and that’s why Cordy outright refuses to entertain the notion that Angel is a bad guy all of a sudden. Even when Angel admits that he used to kill people in the way that Wesley discovered, I don’t know that Cordelia genuinely believes Angel has turned into a horrible vampire again.
That being said, it’s very much in-character for her to protect herself and think of her own self-preservation once it’s possible that Angel is sleep walking. How many bajillion fics did Angel being chained to a bed by Welsey and Cordelia spawn? I don’t even ship any of these characters, and I recognized a shipping opportunity immediately. Anyway, Cordelia and Wesley go through the absurd motions to ensure that Angel is not out murdering innocent people in Los Angeles. Of course, I wasn’t surprised that Angel didn’t do anything. That seemed too easy of an explanation.
Penn carries a lot of the traits of Angelus that we hadn’t seen in a while, so it was clear to me that his appearance was meant to be a way for Angel and the other characters to examine Angel’s life. He really is nothing like he used to be, and it’s also obvious that he has no desire to live a life like Penn does. That’s one detail I liked about this plot: this was not about Angel being tempted by a life of violence. He’s more certain than ever that he is satisfied with who he’s chosen to be.
In that sense, then, “Somnambulist” is about how others react to his past. Since Cordelia has already dealt with Angelus before, I think she’s more sure that Angel is going to revert to that form again, at least not while he still has a soul. (Part of me does hope that Angelus appears on Angel at least once, mostly because I love how David Boreanaz portrays that side of his character.) Wesley is very analytical and matter-of-fact about his feelings on Angelus. Since history and books are what he knows, he approaches the issue very plainly. He’s more willing to believe Angel has done something terrible than Cordy is.
But the real treat of this episode is Kate. KAAATTTEEE. I still think she’s the most emotionally versatile character on the show, and Elizabeth Röhm’s range is what helps me enjoy her so much. Her story is just so fascinating to me, and I think she has the most intriguing reaction to Angel’s past. Unlike Cordy and Wesley, she has no context for Angel’s identity. It seemed that this was all heading towards some sort of revelation on her part, where Angel would finally have to tell her in some way that he was a vampire. I found the episode to be more tense concerning this plot than with Angel’s sleepwalking suspicions. It’s not that Angel (or Buffy, for that matter) haven’t dealt with the secret identity subplot before. Yet I couldn’t help but feel excited about the way this was being dealt with. Was Angel actually helping Kate? Or was he using her to locate Penn? Was it worth it for him to try and get her on his side by being truthful with her?
I think Angel made a critical mistake here: he ignored the fact that Kate had strong issues with trust. If you think back to her first episode in the series, that played into her feelings for Angel when she was still dating. I think there’s some truth to how she behaved when she was trying to date. In ignoring this, Angel misjudged how she’d react to discovering he was a vampire. This wasn’t going to be a moment where she suddenly had an epiphany and felt closer to Angel because of it. She would feel betrayed. It would mean that Angel lied to her for months. It would mean that he may have exposed her to danger far more than she would have liked, especially since she had no fucking idea what she was dealing with.
By waiting so long to be honest with her, Angel ruins any chance of them continuing a friendship. Is it immensely uncomfortable to watch? Of course it is. It should be. Why should everyone just immediately feel friendly and safe with Angel? And if there was any doubt about Kate’s sincerity, the shocking way in which she dusts Penn is the perfect sign of her feelings. Yes, she leaves Angel alive, but she’s making an explicit threat towards Angel: stay the fuck away, or it’s you next.
This is the kind of storytelling I want on Angel. I truly wanted Kate and Angel to be friends, but a friendship can’t be based on so much mistrust, even if Angel thought he was doing this to protect Kate. Angel can’t protect anyone, and it’s obvious that Kate’s not a woman who needs that anyway. Ugh, I hope Kate comes back, but to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see her again.
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