In the first episode of the fourth season of Angel, NO. NO, YOU STOP DOING THIS TO MY EMOTIONS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.
You know, just in terms of writing, this might be my favorite script in all of Angel. Apparently, not many people in fandom liked the season three finale? That’s okay! It sort of hit all of my emotional buttons and tropes, so it’s just a matter of taste. But even I had to admit that the writers left things in a really weird place with that cliffhanger. Everyone was torn apart, and there was this bizarre sense of finality to the story. I didn’t ask this at the time, but did the writers think Angel might not come back on the air? Aside from the Apocalypse/Wolfram & Hart storyline, there really wasn’t much that the show needed to wrap up.
I was wrong. There is not only a great deal of emotional power derived from that finale, but now there’s more potential than ever for these characters to grow. I can’t. And I know it’s a joke around here and in fandom in general about being punched right in the feelings, but good god, this episode found every feeling I’ve ever had for Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, Fred, Gunn, Lorne, and Lilah, and the writers punched every single one of them. For me, it’s the callbacks to other moments in the past, the way that they parallel different journeys, and the future they lay out for season four. This premiere satisfies the lingering questions I had from the season three finale, and it also makes me VERY EXCITED for season four.
But of course, this wouldn’t be Angel without some cruelty towards the fans. After the possibility of a canon ship was heartily ripped away from me, this episode gives me multiple scenes, all hallucinations on Angel’s part, that show me what life might have been like if things hadn’t gone so terribly. Angel could have had a full family, one that loved and supported him. Oh, and one that included Wesley. HELP ME, WHEN HE LEANED OUT OF THE SHADOWS, I NEARLY DROOLED IN SHOCK. It’s almost like the writers are acknowledging that things must be all awful, all the time. But then that got me thinking: unlike Buffy, there’s a very specific reason why there can’t be joy on this show. Angel can’t be happy! He can’t be truly happy or else he’ll lose his soul. It’s something he can’t ever escape. It’s why all these hallucinations are particularly bad. I know that even if Connor hadn’t sunk his own father to the bottom of the ocean, they never would have happened anyway. Again, the writers are kicking my feelings while they’re down. YOU’RE SO MEAN.
My god, that hallucination of Cordelia confessing her love for Angel… just no. No, you can’t toy with me like this! I’m only a man! How much do you expect me to take?
I was fascinated, then, that all that was left of Angel Investigations was Fred and Gunn. If the season three finale largely ignored them, this premiere centers most of the action around them. Gunn’s sort of stepped into the role of temporary father when it comes to Connor, and it’s a role he finds difficulty handling. It’s not easy to manage an eternally angsty, hyperviolent teenager raised in a Hell dimension. Plus, Gunn’s not often one who appreciates folks disobeying him. Not only does he have to deal with the fact that Connor has his own ways about fighting evil, be he’s also up against Connor’s hidden agenda to hide what he actually did to Angel.
And yet through it all, he and Fred manage to keep their relationship. That’s just kind of beautiful to me. I’ve resolved myself to accepting that no couple can ever stay together, so it’s only a matter of time before Gunn and Fred are split apart, but I have faith that it’ll probably be because of a random act than each other. God, the two of them ran Angel Investigations all summer while trying to track down their two missing friends. And they didn’t kill each other out of stress in the process! Now that’s a foundation, folks. THIS IS TRUE LOVE DON’T TELL ME OTHERWISE.
(Is it bad or good that I’m at a point in the Buffyverse where I feel that if I mention that something is positive, I expect it to be ruined within ten episodes? Is that sad or really observant?)
There was one subtext to Fred’s characterization in “Deep Down” that I wish was explored more. Naturally, she was livid with Connor once she discovered what he’d actually done to her best friend. Actually, Angel wasn’t just her best friend. He saved her. From a lonely existence. Where no one knew where she was. For a really long time. And she was totally alone there. OH DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR? Yeah, I think Fred particularly feels strongly about Connor’s actions because she knows exactly what it’s like to be forgotten in a place where no one knows you’re there. It’s why she has such a visceral reaction to Connor’s betrayal. Again, are the writers determined to punch me in every single feeling ever made?
Yes. Yes, they are. Wesley. Lilah. WESLEY AND LILAH. My god, here are two characters who don’t fit in with their employers, who have become so bitter and jaded that their moral compass is all screwy, who almost get off on being snarky and snappy, and who are CONSTANT SURPRISES TO EVERYONE AROUND THEM. Like, okay, first of all, they already make the PERFECT couple, at least in terms of sexual energy and their chaotic dynamic. And dare I say that they both seem to like each other just a little bit? Oh, they’ll deny it to each other’s faces, BUT I BET I’M RIGHT. I mean, after they have their last sexual encounter, both of them do SUPREMELY AMAZING THINGS. It’s like they gain self-confidence from one another. I mean:
1) Wesley kidnaps Justine, gets her to reveal what happened to Angel, gets Angel from the bottom of the ocean, offers Angel his own blood to keep him alive, returns him to his friends, and then just leaves.
2) Lilah learns of Linwood and Gavin’s attempts at getting her fired or transferred, so she goes to one of the Senior Partners, shares with him how Linwood is terrified of Angel and Connor, earns Linwood’s spot, AND THEN BEHEADS LINWOOD IN FRONT OF EVERYONE ELSE. (Did anyone else get a Kill Bill vibe from this scene, especially O-Ren Ishii’s scene in the conference room? Granted, it came out the year after this episode, and it has a totally different context, and Lucy Liu is amazing, and she should play everyone ever, and okay, I’m stopping.)
Plus, I can’t ignore the fact that Lilah gave Angel her blood in “Forgiving.” OH MY GOD, THEY ARE MEANT TO BE, AREN’T THEY? Okay, that’s really not something to base a romantic relationship on, but still.
So what does this mean for both characters? Why did Wesley even save Angel? Was it his quiet way of atoning for what he did, or does he not care? Wesley never once vocalizes why he did this. Is it possible he might be trying to help Lilah in a way? The same goes for Lilah. We never see her speak to one of the Senior Partners, so is it possible she just lied her way in? Probably not. I imagine that scene was left out so that Linwood’s beheading would be a surprise. But I’m totally transfixed by this power play. Lilah is in charge now. How will things change?
And all of this leaves me with Angel left to discuss. Well, more than I did in the beginning, that is. Angel spends three months starving and hallucinating at the bottom of the ocean, and his behavior after this is the most significant sign of his character growth we’ve seen yet. While I admit I would have liked to see more of his interaction with Wesley (did they seriously not say anything to one another the entire time they were together????), I kind of expected that after festering in his anger and frustration, Angel would be a bit more mad than he was in “Deep Down.” He has that wonderful line to Connor about perspective, and I think that that’s something that Angel has worked towards. He’s never been that empathetic of a person (which is why he plays so well off of Cordelia), but he realized that three months in the ocean isn’t quite as bad as all those years in that Hell dimension that Buffy sent him to. But what else did he gain perspective on? He knew Holtz tricked Connor, and there’s a part of me that believes that Angel wants to cut Connor a break. His life has been nothing but hatred and violence, and in this one moment, when he’s face to face with the son who sank him in the Pacific Ocean, HE TELLS CONNOR THAT HE LOVES HIM. To me, that is such a powerful act, one that’s deliberate on Angel’s part, and one that I think will eventually get Connor to change his mind about things.
That’s because this is all about accepting the reality Angel has been given. His life will always be unfair, and it’s part of the price he has to pay for what he did to so many people as a vampire. Everything will be “harsh and cruel.” And by accepting this, he knows that the only way to fight this is to act as if the world isn’t this way, that by doing good, you can change things. Isn’t that what this show’s always been about? Angel left Sunnydale for Los Angeles to find redemption, and he’s not going to find that by getting revenge on his son, who is confused and misguided.
You earned major respect points, Angel.
OH, RIGHT, CORDELIA IS BORED WITH HER HIGHER DIMENSION. Look, I know her arc is all about her path to selflessness, but that doesn’t mean she can’t still be Cordy. Oh god, OF COURSE SHE’S BORED IN ANOTHER DIMENSION. Ugh, I’m just so happy that Cordelia is still on this show. MY QUEEN.
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