In the fifth episode of the third season of Angel, Fred’s parents show up, looking for their missing daughter, and the group struggles with whether or not to hand Fred over to them. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
You know, I really wonder: how do bad things get made? I don’t mean mega blockbuster movies that made a billion dollars but are trite garbage. I’m talking about when well-meaning people who are generally talented produce something that’s just bad. Watching “Fredless” after “Carpe Noctem” is a fascinating experience because the latter is so overwhelmingly mediocre. “Fredless,” on the other hand, is just brilliant. I feel like Angel has better one-off episodes than story arcs, and Buffy is the opposite. The mythological stories told on that show are so immense and powerful, and every so often, we get a dud of a non-mythology episode. So how exactly does something like “Carpe Noctem” get made? Doesn’t a story pass through numerous hands? Did one person stop and say, “You know, we could do this better,” or were the writers truly satisfied by what they created?
Just something I was thinking about. CAN WE DISCUSS THIS.
Anyway, Fred. There’s a clever twist on a common Buffyverse theme at the heart of “Fredless.” One of my favorite Whedon tropes is his insistence that we can all choose the family we belong to, and it’s why season five of Buffy will probably remain my favorite of the entire series. That same theme pops up on Angel as well, and I think you’d have some difficulty in arguing that the main group aren’t a family. These four people have most certainly chosen each other as their family. They’re transplants from other cities, alone in Los Angeles, and this is the unit they’ve built. And at the same time, while Fred chooses to become a part of this family, “Fredless” makes it clear that the family you were born into can be a wonderful part of your life as well.
That’s not obvious when this starts, though. Fred’s place in Angel Investigations has been tenuous since she was rescued from Pylea. While everyone merely tolerated her existence, though, Angel was quickly spending more and more time with her. AS FRIENDS, OF COURSE. OF COURSE. But she was still a background player. What was she contributing? How long would she remain in her room? How long would she stay inside the hotel unless Angel was taking her out? Is she ever going to be a part of the team in any considerable way? Aside from dealing with the cliffhanger at the end of “Carpe Noctem,” I felt like the cold open was yet another way of demonstrating that Fred was the outsider. Her friends know Angel and his past so well that they can poke fun at him, and she’s just there to absorb it all.
And then her parents show. HER PARENTS SHOW UP. In an instant, I’m reminded that Fred disappeared for five years, leaving her family and friends behind, and that none of them know what happened to her. I knew then that she’d been avoiding this the whole time. How do you even begin to explain this sort of situation to those you love? “Oh, by the way, I accidentally slipped into a demon dimension where I was a slave. How were the last five years of your life?” But there seemed to be another aspect to Fred’s fear, and I cycled through multiple reasons for her terror throughout “Fredless.”
First, I believed that her parents were demons of some sort. There had to be some demon force in the episode, right? But I entertained the notion that perhaps they were partially responsible for what happened to her. However, it seemed like a far too obvious answer. That couldn’t be the reason she was trying to hide from her parents. It wasn’t until she went straight to Lorne that I thought I figured it out.
Wait, we need to talk about Lorne first. Oh my god, I wondered why he hadn’t been around in “Carpe Noctem,” and it’s because he’s heartbroken. Caritas was destroyed by Gunn’s former friends, and he hasn’t got the motivation to repair everything. You know, the gang should really volunteer to help fix the place up, you know?
Anyway, Lorne said something very specific to Fred after reading her aura: he said she couldn’t escape those “monsters” that had found her. Just the way he said it made me realize he wasn’t being literal. So what would be worse than actual demons? If Fred’s parents refused to accept her. All the signs were there! They were from the south and seemed to fall in line with an expected stereotype of people from Texas. Roger’s comment about Lorne’s eyeliner was suspicious enough for me to guess that they wanted to take Fred back to a life she didn’t want before she got trapped in Pylea. On top of that, they clearly distrusted the four members of Angel Investigations, and not just because of the strangeness of the situation. So I guess that Fred was avoiding her own parents so she could live her own life, no matter how difficult that might be for her. That’s a pretty cool thing to see on television, especially since I ran away from home when I was 16 so I could pursue the life I thought I deserved to live.
Yeah, I was projecting, and I WAS SO WRONG. So was everyone else. Angel wanted for Fred to face this problem so she could get it over with, but he never once considered that the confrontation itself was the real issue here. This whole time, Fred hasn’t really been avoiding the world outside. SHE’S BEEN TRYING TO MOVE ON WITH HER LIFE. Yes, that process has been difficult, but the appearance of her parents makes her trauma real. She can’t keep her trauma in the distant past anymore. She has to find a way to tell her parents what happened; she has to relive her terror; she has to admit it all happened. And I just felt awful watching it. I felt like I was witnessing this deeply personal, intimate moment, and that I shouldn’t be there.
The real twist to this episode has nothing to do with demons. It’s the fact that Fred’s parents are exactly what they say they are. They care about their daughter, they have missed her terribly, and they support her. The real surprise is that the writers of Angel have chosen to abandon their usual cynicism (WHICH I LOVE, FYI) to tell us that sometimes, people are good. It’s not lost on me that all four members of Angel Investigations are almost jealous of a family like this. None of them have parents like Fred’s. And honestly, I think that’s why she initially chooses to leave! It’s not that her friends don’t accept her, but for Fred, it’s an issue of belonging. Is she really in the best place with Angel and his friends? Is this where she’s supposed to be? God, I can’t even begin to tell you how sad I was that Fred was leaving. At the same time, I was just so happy for her. I wanted her to feel loved and appreciated, and I believed her parents could provide that.
But the demon subplot of “Fredless” gave me something I didn’t expect: a reason for Fred to stay. You know, perhaps it was just knowing that she was accepted that helped Fred connect the dots. But when she raced back to Angel’s to help save the gang, she was able to prove to everyone that she had a purpose at Angel Investigations. I said before that I think Fred’ background as a scientist/physicist would provide an interesting dynamic to the gang, so I AM EXTREMELY, EXTREMELY HAPPY THAT FRED IS STAYING. Oh my god, I was so prepared to write the saddest review ever as I just cried over Fred’s departure.
One final thing: This episode had TWO brilliant lines:
“Except that last one they made. I think he dozed off.”
“It turns out massacres are a lot like sitting through Godfather III: once is enough.”
Lorne for president 2012.
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