In the fourth episode of the second season of Angel, I JUST CAN’T. HOW. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
That’s four in a row. The opening of a season is supposed to be slower! Well, not supposed to be, I suppose, but historically, that’s just what happens, right? Though now I have to admit that this is Joss Whedon I’m talking about. LOOK WHAT HAPPENED WITH SEASON FOUR OF BUFFY. He very clearly ended that in a way that was unexpected and non-traditional. SO WHY CAN’T HE OPEN A SEASON WITH PERFECTION?
Okay, so maybe this isn’t the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen, but for a plot that dealt extensively with the ramifications of being abused, I was impressed with how well the story was treated.
I’m not going to go into a long personal diatribe about my own experience, and that’s mostly because I don’t want to repeat myself at this point. I have spoken about it openly, and I’ve also criticized shows for dealing with abuse in incredibly awful ways. (Hey, it’s been too long since I last talked shit on “Fear Her.” There you go. That’s how you don’t talk about abuse.) While I wasn’t exactly overjoyed to see yet another fictional narrative tackle the idea that people who are abused have magical or supernatural powers, there was a marked difference in the way Angel chose to tell the story of Bethany. To be fair, things seemed kind of predictable at first, and I also believe that’s why I came to like “Untouchable” so much. I thought I had this all figured out, and Whedon found multiple ways to take a familiar story in new directions.
First of all, combining Bethany’s story with Lilah’s is just WONDERFUL. I much prefer that the “villains” of my fictional worlds seem more like complete and complex characters than one dimensional plot points. Up to this point, only Lindsey had received this treatment. While I don’t want to appear to accept or condone what Lilah does with Bethany, I do appreciate that Whedon went out of his way to portray Lilah as a conflicted and flawed human who is doing what she can to stay alive. I think that’s perhaps the best thing about Lilah’s story: we genuinely believe that if she doesn’t succeed, Holland will have her killed. That threat was very real to me! Strangely, I think I actually like Lilah in a weird way, so I had to cope with these conflicting feelings of wanting her to be safe and wishing desperately that she would fail in exploiting Bethany.
In terms of Bethany’s story, it’s the smaller moments and details that really sell it to me. I found it very easy to relate to the way that Bethany treated the world around her. How people cope with abuse is always going to differ from person to person, and there were certainly things that Bethany did that I’ve never personally experienced. But I am very particular about who can touch me, so that entire subplot meant a whole lot to see on the screen. And while Bethany’s abuse was sexual and mine was physical/mental, I also found that the homophobic angle of what I experienced manifested in a way similar to Bethany. At times, I found that I craved physical affection and acceptance so much that I would crave or demand sex from people even if the situation wasn’t appropriate. While I have to admit that the context of Bethany’s sexual advance on Angel is totally different than mine, it was honestly really powerful to see that play out on screen. In Bethany’s case, it seems her objectification at the hands of men (specifically those that are more of a father figure in her life) has left her feeling as if that is the only purpose she can truly serve. And the fact that this is communicated rather well on the show is a big deal to me.
That doesn’t mean you can’t think that Bethany’s portrayal isn’t all that great. It has to be left up to each one of us to determine how we feel about it, you know? Ideally, that’s what I’m trying to do with these reviews. I’m trying to give y’all an idea of how I feel about different storylines, developments, and characters, and to foster the idea that we all come at fiction from an entirely different place. Well, that doesn’t mean every interpretation is TOTALLY 100% VALID ALL OF THE TIME. I’m pretty sure nothing supports the theory that Bethany is meant to represent the extinction of the dinosaurs, BUT I THINK YOU GET WHAT I’M TRYING TO SAY.
Bethany’s story alone is a strong point of the episode, but it’s also not the only one. I am so happy that the Wolfram & Hart story is continuing past season one because there’s so much more the writers can do with it. God, now I want to see a Holland-centric story, too. I WANT SO MANY THINGS. But now that their role against Angel has been so clearly defined, I’m absolutely ecstatic to see how they’ll try to keep him under control.
Part of that, of course, is why Darla is back. I admit that I do not understand what it is they’re trying to do to him. Darla’s infiltrating his dreams, but for what purpose? What does Lindsey have planned? I entertained a fleet thought during this episode: what if they were trying to bring back Angelus? But that doesn’t make sense to me. How would Darla do that? Perhaps in a dream, Angel is attracted to and joyous to see Darla, but once awake, I’m pretty sure she couldn’t make him feel a moment of pure happiness. Damn it, I HATE HOW UNPREPARED I AM FOR THIS SEASON.
Can we also talk about Cordelia? Like, okay, first of all, when she takes Bethany out for coffee and then basically tells her to look at her life and to look at her choices, I thought Bethany was going to MURDER her. THE LOOK ON BETHANY’S FACE my god. But, once again, Cordelia has this way of dropping pointed and brilliant truth bombs on the people around her. She’s done it consistently since the beginning of the show, and I admit that I really respected her doing it with Bethany, too. It couldn’t have been easy to be confront Bethany like that, BUT SHE DID IT ANYWAY.
Also, that line about being impaled by rebar? YES GOOD.
I think one of the most exciting and shocking moments so far in Angel is at the end when Lilah, frustrated that she can’t get Bethany away from Angel, orders the “trigger” to be pulled. And I refuse to get over the fact that this was a literal mental trigger for Bethany. I kept trying to guess what it was that Lilah was grooming her for, and when her father appeared outside the door and the windows blew out, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. IT’S JUST SO BRILLIANT. Everything about that final confrontation is done so well, and it was a real pleasure to get to experience it. I mean, she choose to not kill her father, and I can only begin to imagine what a cathartic thing that was for Bethany. For the first time in her life, she controlled him.
I just love season two so much right now. IT’S SO GOOD. And Gunn is now basically an employee at Angel Investigations, isn’t he? YES. YES GOOD.
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