In the ninth episode of the second season of Angel, Angel desperately searches for a way to save Darla’s life, and in the process, the two discover how they really feel for one another. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
I can’t. I CANNOT.
I know this might be a possibly contentious opinion in fandom, but I think Darla/Angel is a much more powerful relationship than Buffy/Angel. Okay, that could also be the safest UNPOPULAR OPINION as well, but I don’t know those things. It’s interesting to me that I not only miss out on the plots of the shows I watch or the books I read because of my spoiler policy, but I’m also largely ignorant of what happened in the fandoms I am becoming a part of at the time shows aired or books were released. And that’s genuinely fascinating to me! I honestly think about this sort of stuff when I’m writing these posts. I have no clue whether an episode I like is one that’s despised by fandom, or if I’m going to dislike an episode that’s a fandom favorite. It’s why reading the comments are so fun because I get this huge slice of fandom pie and most days, that pie is incredibly delicious. Though I do admit I generally know exactly when an episode of Buffy or Angel is going to set off the comments in a giant love/GIF fest, and I’m already predicting that y’all are going to lose your shit all over again for that one thing I will get to at the end of this, which I desperately need to shriek about because it caused me to cry in a coffee shop. SERIOUSLY, HOW HAVE I NOT LEARNED TO STOP WATCHING THIS SHOW IN PUBLIC.
But Darla and Angel have this history that Angel can never have with Buffy, and suddenly, the threat of Angelus and Angel’s darker side seems a million times more real and scary than it ever did with Buffy. In fact, I’d argue that “The Trial” couldn’t even work without that history, as the resolution of Angel’s test has emotional weight specifically because it’s a story that spans the course of hundreds of years. There’s a dual meaning to it all: Angel has to come to terms with the fact that he cannot (and perhaps should not) save everyone, even those he cares about the most, and Darla must accept that she is a human now, and that there are a whole host of ramifications that come with that.
Admittedly, this is a frustrating episode to watch for a number of reasons. It’s frustrating to watch Angel repeatedly ignore Cordelia and Wesley, who are spot-on with their reading of the situation. Angel’s obsession with Darla is unhealthy. He’ll soon learn (THE HARD WAY, OF COURSE) that his two friends and employees were right: Darla doesn’t want Angel’s help. We’ve seen that before in the show, but good lord, can’t a guy get a message? Well, obviously not. This is Angel we’re talking about.
I do get that this is a complicated moral conundrum, though. Darla should be free to do what she needs to in order to survive, and I don’t want to add a qualification or a “But…” to that. This is her choice, and Angel should leave her alone. I also understand that there’s another layer to this, though, because turning Darla into a vampire again could have utterly disastrous complications. What if she turns against Angel and his friends? What if she decimates Wolfram & Hart? Wait, can that happen? As much as I love those characters, it would be hilarious if she like blew up the building after drinking everyone. I know that would mean that Sam Anderson wouldn’t be on the show, but I would heal. WAIT WHAT IF THE EARTH OPENED UP BENEATH THE LAW OFFICE. I haven’t wished for that in a long time!
Anyway, it’s a tough situation, and while I wanted Angel to stop being the biggest Concern Troll in the world, I also had to admit that this story was getting more complicated by the minute. Given how serious it was, I did like the added comedy when Darla tries to get sired by the nerdiest vampire in the history of the show. IT’S MYTHIC. I’m going to start shouting this when anyone questions me on anything. But as funny as it was, it was a sign of how desperate Darla was to solve her predicament as soon as possible. I really don’t blame her, either. What was she supposed to do? On top of that, the first flashback we get in this episode (set in France in 1765) shows us that Darla is very much concerned with self-preservation. She wants to be alive, so it makes even more sense that she’d go after eternal life as a vampire. Yes, things could have become a huge mess afterwards, but she’s not thinking about that. She doesn’t want to die.
And then THE HOST. And Darla singing “Ill Wind” and Julie Benz used her real voice and PLEASE HELP ME. THIS WAS THE BEST SCENE OF ALL SCENES I COULD HAVE ASKED FOR. It’s so brilliantly edited, too, as the camera cuts between Darla’s somber performance and Angel’s frantic attempts to get The Host to tell him any way to save Darla. Oh fuck, I just realized that The Host basically foreshadowed the end of this episode, didn’t he? He said there were some things that couldn’t be saved. FUCK. FUCK!!!!
The last third of “The Trial” is, without a doubt, some of the best writing Angel has ever had. Why am I now not at all surprised that Tim Minear wrote this episode? He’s all over this. But what’s so entertaining and harrowing about this set-up is that I spent the entire time wondering how Angel was going to twist my expectations for a gauntlet plot. When I think about it now, the writers didn’t really do much of anything to toy with our expectations. Angel had two physical challenges to beat that both tested his dedication to Darla. And I knew it was impossible for Angel to actually die at this point of the show, so it wasn’t that surprising that the final task was just an illusion meant to test Angel’s love for Darla. What was so fascinating, though, was what The Valet told Angel: would the world be worse off if Angel allowed himself to die and Darla to take his place?
I found this to be a monumental moment for Angel’s characterization. This was a clear demonstration of how much Angel cared for Darla, yes. I won’t deny that. But Angel saves people. It’s what he does. It’s what makes him feel like he can genuinely redeem himself. That scene showed us that this wasn’t ultimately about him, though, that Angel was truly willing to give up his own life to save anyone, even if the world “deserved” Angel more than the person he saved. Like, shit, that is some genuine nobility, y’all, and not the shitty, presumptive kind. Oh god, LOOK AT DARLA’S FACE WHEN SHE REALIZES WHAT ANGEL HAS DONE FOR HER. Move over Buffy, I MAY START IRRATIONALLY SHIPPING THIS.
And then Tim Minear and Joss Whedon start punching me in the face. Over and over again. Catch #1: Darla has already been brought back to life once. Angel’s entire trial was FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. What the hell???? But in this moment of pain and terror comes an epiphany, and I seriously adored that scene in Darla’s motel room. There’s so much hope in it. Darla comes to accept that she is a human again, something billions of people never get a second chance at, and that her old partner is still willing to be with her after everything she’s done. Like, for real, my heart was all aflutter with possibilities. Even if Darla’s time would be limited on Angel, there were so many directions her story could go from here. Oh god, and the parallels to Joyce’s story over on Buffy? Just stop it, Whedon and company. Just stop it!
I think that “The Trial” is the only episode of television I have ever seen that has made me cry simply out of pure anger and frustration. I didn’t even have a chance to enjoy the fact that Drusilla had returned. I wanted so badly for there to be a catch, for the screen to turn black before the siring happened, for anything to occur that would delay this moment, but the show went there anyway. After everything these two characters have gone through, it’s all taken away from them by Wolfram & Hart.
Burn that place to the fucking ground. My god, I hope Darla annihilates those assholes.
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