Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S01E20 – War Zone

In the twentieth episode of the first season of Angel YES GOOD YES YES YES YES YES YES YES MORE PLEASE YES. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.

The end of “War Zone” gives me hope (only a tiny bit) that something I want might come true: I want to see these kids in a billion more episodes. Truthfully, if Angel died in the first season finale and Gunn and his friends took over, I would not fight it at all. This is one of hell of a way to introduce new characters, to comment about class stratification in Los Angeles, and to give Angel a chance to admit that perhaps he’s not quite the hero he assumes himself to be.

While Buffy may at times represent a sort of generalize version of Southern California in the last nineties and the turn of the millennium, Angel much more accurately represents what Los Angeles is like. It’s so impressive to me! Well, yes, I won’t forget how terrible their use of the subway was, but perhaps I shall forgive the show one day. Ask anyone who has ever spent a significant amount of time in Los Angeles, and they’ll probably be able to tell you that it’s a bizarre city. One thing a lot of folks notice is just how segregated neighborhoods are. You can be driving through a nicely landscaped suburb one minute, and then you’re in a poor Latino community, and then you’re in Little Armenia, and then you’re in a highly commercialized segment of town, then it’s a strip mall, and then it’s all industrial, and you’ve only been driving for ten minutes. What’s shocking to some people is just how close the poorer neighborhoods are to places like Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, or Santa Monica.

It’s one of those things, though, that you have to pay attention to see. As y’all know, I used to live in downtown Los Angeles, and I had friends who lived in the city all their lives and never once stepped foot downtown. This is an incredibly bizarre concept to me. I mean, I am the sort of person who really wants to explore the place I live in, but a lot of native Angelenos develop this weird (and usually bigoted ideas) about certain parts of town. I once lived in South Central, and I can’t tell you how many folks have heard me say that and then ask how I’m alive. Yes, South Central can be a violent place in specific neighborhoods, and the infrastructure in place isn’t particularly caring or accessible to people who live there. There’s a lot of ways that race and class intersect to create an environment like that, but you know what? I loved living there. I had a more meaningful experience living in South Central and making friends with neighbors who were just as poor and broke as I was. We found ways to help each other out when we could. When I lived in Hancock Park, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, I never knew my neighbors. In fact, that’s the only place in all of L.A. that I was mugged.

What’s fascinating about “War Zone” is how the opening scenes with David Nabbit and his extravagant lifestyle are contrasted with people who are homeless, poor, and living in a way to meet the basic needs of survival. I would not have been surprised if it was revealed in the show that these two locations were less than twenty minutes from each other. This is often spoken in terms of there being this “underground” or “underbelly” to Los Angeles of folks who don’t live a garish lifestyle. Hell, it’s even spoken of in rather crass terms, and I think that relates to gentrification, too. When I moved downtown, there wasn’t a whole lot there that was open late. Some spots were a bit boutique-y, and we’d just barely gotten our first grocery store when Ralph’s opened on Ninth Street. But I loved how empty the streets were at night; I can’t count how many times I loved to go out at dark and ride around what was a bustling city during the day. I loved that the people who lived downtown weren’t doing it because it was hip or cool; they genuinely loved the feel and the architecture and the cultural diversity. Oh god, there were so many good Mexican restaurants. There was a gay cowboy bar that was LOVELY and weird and so unlike anywhere else in the whole city. There was a specific hill we would refer to as the Grand Street Slide because if you timed things perfectly, you could bomb down this gorgeous descent, hit all green lights, and get up to 40mph in just a few seconds.

I suppose it was one of those things where it felt like this huge secret. It took about six months for the gentrification to hit full force, and soon, people were flocking downtown. They had money, and suddenly, our little downtown sector absolutely needed a Chipotle, and we needed more chains, more bars with alcohol so expensive you had to expect to spend $100 in just a couple hours, and more exclusive opportunities for the rich and privileged to feel special. It had a very specific effect: the price of everything went up, and it wasn’t this special, inexpensive place to live anymore. So many people got pushed out of that place, myself included. (Though I admit this wasn’t the primary reason I left Los Angeles, as there were about a billion other factors.) What was once a place that my friends found gritty, dangerous, and absurd to live in was now the cool place to be, and it just blew my mind that it took nice stores and shops and clubs opening to make a place livable for these people. We were here and it was perfectly fine.

That’s not to say that me living in downtown was the same as what Gunn, Alonna, and his friends went through. But I lived in much poorer neighborhoods than that, and it hasn’t been long since life stopped feeling like a daily struggle to eat and survive. I suppose it’s just inconceivable to people that there are those who live in conditions that aren’t at all like their own. They’re so used to taking the things in their life for granted that they can’t imagine life that low down. But it’s what I know! I’m good at couchsurfing, I’m good at eating on an absurd budget, and I’m never going to be the kind of person who spends a lot of money. It’s just how I grew up and I how I kept myself alive as an independent kid.

I think it’s easy to see why I enjoyed “War Zone” so much, but I must give more credit to Gary Campbell for doing this story justice. Truthfully, I don’t know that I would have liked it as much as I did if Gunn’s gang wasn’t the focal point of the story. Even if Angel is involved, he faces a group of people who not only don’t want his help, they don’t need it. Yes, people from Gunn’s group die, but Gunn’s right: people are going to die. It’s just the way things are. (Oh my god, he’s hyper aware of the fact that he is on a Joss Whedon-helmed show. SO META.) They’ve been taking care of themselves for so long already. What on earth could Angel do to possibly make things better for them?

That’s a hard thing for Angel to accept, though. This is what he does. He helps people, and he saves them. Why won’t they let him give them advice or assistance? It’s a tremendous blow to his ego because he has to cope with the fact that he shares Los Angeles with people who have been doing things their own way. It’s why I’m so satisfied with the fact that at the end of the day, Angel doesn’t offer his services to Gunn. He does the opposite, actually: he says he may need Gunn’s help. UM YES PLEASE MORE OF GUNN AND DAVID AND KNOX AND CHAIN THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

I was also just so unbelievably impressed with this cast of almost entirely people of color who were given full characterizations, some backstory, emotional motivations, and a damn fine story. In particularly, Gary Campbell simply did a fantastic job with Alonna and Gunn, using Alonna’s concern for her brother to create this haunting emotional twist when she’s turned into a vampire. To watch Alonna taunt her brother with the idea that she no longer needs to be kept safe, that it’s her who really has all the power, is heartbreaking. Michele Kelly does such an amazing job playing both sides of her character, especially a newly-created vampire who is thrilled by the powers she now possesses. The pain and disappointment on Gunn’s face is just so raw when he dusts his own sister, too. But this is a character who accepts death as the ultimate end for everyone, and you can see how quickly he does this with Alonna. Yes, he’s absolutely crushed to have failed his sister, but she isn’t around anymore to torture him. In a way, Alonna teased Gunn about lacking guilt, but I think he ultimately pushes through his own guilt to kill her.

No, for real, I want so much more of these characters. PLEASE? OH GOD PLEASE.

Mark Links Stuff

– My eBook adaptations of reviews I’ve posted are on sale at Harry Potter, Twilight, and Firefly books are priced from $2.99 to $3.99 a piece, and are available in ePub (iBook, iPod, iPad, Nook), Kindle, and PDF files.
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– I am going on tour in the following cities this month (click the name for the Facebook RSVP page): San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise, Spokane, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver B.C. I still need venues/spaces in San Diego, Salt Lake City, Spokane, and Portland. Even if it’s your house, I don’t care. I’ll show up! Please let me know if you have any ideas. I can also be reached at markreadsandwatches [at] gmail [dot] com.
– I am presenting for three days at Ascendio 2012! Come hang out and have the best weekend ever in July!
– Mark Watches The Return of the King will happen most likely on Sunday at 1pm PDT, which is the same as this past weekend. Y’all better break the comment record again.
– I finish Mark Reads The Princess Bride on April 13th, and then Mark Reads Sandman begins on Monday, April 16th. I will split up reviews by issue, and I will be reading the extra books/volumes. IT SHALL BE GRAND.
– I’m on Twitter (@MarkDoesStuff) and I have a Facebook page y’all can Like and flail about on. Join me!
This is my fifth consecutive year riding in the AIDS/LifeCycle! I’m aiming to raise $10,000 this year. For every $1,000 I raise, I will make a video live reading of a community-chosen fanfic. I am not bluffing. I will read as much of it as possible, and it will be beautiful. Help me out if you can!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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