In the fourteenth episode of the first season of Angel, Angel is forced to finally cope with the death of his friend, and Wesley struggles with feelings of inadequacy. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
You know, as a straight horror story, this is a pretty decent episode. But it’s the emotional layer over the whole thing that makes it just so utterly fantastic. By opening “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with Angel’s slip-up in calling Wesley by Doyle’s name, Cordelia can finally address the fact that Angel continues to bury his feelings. Angel feels like he let Doyle down, even if we all know that’s not the case at all. That’s how he perceives that situation. He believes he could have saved Doyle and sacrificed himself, and so he takes it out on himself because Doyle is gone.
The slip also makes Wesley think about his role in Angel Investigations. Even if Angel’s mistake had no sort of judgment on Wesley’s contributions, I imagine it was hard for Wesley to see it any other way. He can never replace Doyle because he’s simply not good enough. This sets up a HEARTBREAKING parallel to “Hero,” because now we have another one of Angel’s friends believing that they’re not good enough for him. That means they’re going to do everything in their power to impress Angel, to prove to him that they’re worthy of keeping around. MY HEART, WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO IT?
Yet I don’t want to ignore how thrilling and upsetting the rest of this story is. The extra layer of Angel’s relationship with Wesley it what gives “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” a wonderful emotional thread throughout the story. But otherwise, this is Angel‘s attempt at a full-on horror movie. Yes, the tropes are all there: possessed kid says really creepy things, and characters must find a way to exorcise the demon from within him. What I came to enjoy about it, though, was all the ways in which Jeannine Renshaw twisted these expectations to surprise. Right from the start, we’re led to believe that Mr. Anderson might be abusing his family, and even if he’s not, he’s probably the demon. The entire brownie sequence was meant to be a massive red herring because our attention was directed at the most suspicious character: the father. (Yes, this is me admitting that I totally fell for this. I have just accepted that I am the worst plot-figure-outer of all time.)
Of course, when it’s not the father, this episode adds another parallel to the mix: Mr. Anderson is very much like Angel, trying to hold things together between those he loves. Perhaps I’m reading a lot into this, but we have two characters who experience loss and must help those around them cope with this as well. (Not to mention that they have to help themselves, too!) Suddenly, all that irritated and suspicious behavior has a new context: Mr. Anderson was close to a breaking point. He was so stressed and terrified by what was happening to his son that he lashed out at Angel. But then he allows Angel into his family’s life as a way to keep it together. Angel’s the first person to ever give this man a way out, and that’s a big deal.
I didn’t really expect things to be very simple, but I was surprised when I learned that priest that Angel sought out was dead. I mean, that’s just how exorcisms are supposed to work, right? Without a priest, though, the risk is much higher. Either Wesley or Angel will have to complete the ceremony, and Angel’s current deadness pretty much prohibits him from helping. Plus, Cordelia has to cope with the fact that the demon inside Ryan is extremely manipulative. I know this is something you’re just supposed to accept in an exorcism storyline, but I guess I didn’t know how far this show would go to make Ryan utterly unsettling. WELL, THEY WENT PRETTY FAR. To be honest, I did think the mother would get killed, but in hindsight, that would have been a far easier end to her character than where this story goes.
I did like the small comedic break that Cordelia’s visit to Rick’s Magick & Stuff provided us. I just adore her pretty much all the time, but it’s lovely to me that out of everyone dealing with this, she’s the most composed and dependable. Well, yes, she does bring back a box that doesn’t work, but if she hadn’t, they wouldn’t have figured out what was really going on, would they? SO SHE’S PERFECT, RIGHT.
Oh god, I cannot deal with the fact that this episode also gives us bits of Wesley’s past through a demon. He’s going to kill Angel? WHAT HAPPENED WITH HIS FATHER? Also, if I heard that line right, the demon said something about “All those years under the stairs,” I believe. Is Wesley actually Harry Potter as an adult? There you go. Enjoy that thought, folks. But seriously, I have this thing where I just want to see Wesley happy, and it’s been so difficult for him to find that. He’s horrifically awkward and clumsy all of the time. Granted, he’s getting better, but I do think he struggles with the fact that he can’t seem to find his place anywhere. Unfortunately, that’s why Angel was right about Wesley doing the exorcism. The man isn’t strong enough yet to pull off something like this. I’d like to see the day when that does happen, but I think he’s got a long journey ahead of him.
I also think that after Wesley STABS HIMSELF IN THE NECK WITH A CROSS (!!!!!!), Angel recognizes that this is basically the Doyle situation all over again. Even if Angel can’t understand that Doyle had to sacrifice himself to feel like he gave himself meaning, he does feel like he can step in to help Wesley before Wesley dies as well. That’s why he takes a risk and confronts the Ethros demon himself. The scene is so badass!!! ugh Angel I adore you.
I suspected something was wrong, though, once the box was shattered, Ryan was free of the demon, and there were still ten minutes left in the episode. What sort of trickery was this? I don’t like how I am feeling! It’s here that more than any moment before, the title of this episode felt like some self-fulfilling prophecy: this story was going to get under your skin. Little Ryan was possessed by a demon, but the Ethros was trapped inside of him. So that message in marbles? The reason the demon tried to make Ryan run into traffic? The Ethros was trying to ESCAPE. Because apparently Ryan is a soulless monster. How do you know he’s an amoral, nihilistic terror? Seriously, go back to that scene where Paige gives her children hot chocolate, and look at Ryan’s face when he discovers he has two less marshmallows than his sister. Even if this plot twist is as unstable and ridiculous as it is creepy, you have to hand it to the kid who played Ryan. That is a look of pure, malicious evil. Like, I may need a GIF of this expression for future use when fighting bigots on Tumblr, because it may be the most hateful thing in the history of the universe.
I thought the twist was neat, if incredibly implausible, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief to enjoy the story. It’s disturbing as hell, isn’t it? But then at the last moment, Kate is there, and I am overwhelmed by my feelings for her. I didn’t think we’d see her so soon after “Somnambulist,” and I just want her around more, okay? I like her a lot, but I understand why her character would want to stay the fuck away from Angel.
Ugh, this episode just filled me with emotions for Wesley and Angel. TOO MANY EMOTIONS FOR ONE PERSON, I swear.
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Testing from my phone. Basically I love all the twists in this ep but I always feel weird about shows that use kids for these sorts of roles. How did they explain that scene at the end to the kids? It just has to be weird. Also I love the scene in the magic store and Cordy’s logic – it’s inside an itty bitty boy. One thing that did bug me – where do all these rickless drivers come from? They always have the most convenient timing, don’t they?