Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S04E02 – Ground State

In the second episode of the fourth season of Angel, Angel must face a challenging adversary in order to obtain a method of finding Cordelia. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.

I know this show has already done a heist episode, but I’m cool with them doing another one, especially if that episode features a character as awesome as Gwen. WHO DOESN’T DIE AT THE END OF THIS EPISODE SO THAT MEANS IT’S TOTALLY POSSIBLE FOR HER TO COME BACK, RIGHT? No, I need this so badly. SHE’S SO FASCINATING! In a way, she does fit the traditional archetype of a kid born with special powers who then uses those powers to their advantage later on in life. She’s like on of the X-Men!

The cold open to “Ground State” reminded me of how The X-Files used to open, and then I got to thinking about the similarities between this episode and “D.P.O.” from that show. Both feature characters who can control electricity. (Check out a super young Jack Black and Giovanni Ribisi in “D.P.O.,” by the way.) The both clash with the protagonists, but here, Gwen ultimately isn’t demonized for what she does. While I admit that there wasn’t much depth to her characterization beyond her feeling empowered by who she was, it didn’t make this any less fascinating.

Plus, this is all driven by Angel’s emotional search for Cordelia. Oh god, how bad did some of y’all feel since we all knew exactly where Cordelia was? I’ll touch on the implications of this (and a fantastic parallel to Buffy) later, but Angel’s dedication anchors this episode. He loves Cordelia, and he’s willing to rip open dimensions to get her back. It’s why he’s so dejected without her, and why he sits in her apartment, upset that he has to watch it get packed up. But Angel’s not one to sit around and mope these days, so it’s not long before he’s trying to find a way to get her back.

AND SO HE GOES TO TALK TO WESLEY. Oh, this was what I’ve been waiting so long for. It’s totally fascinating to me that Mere Smith chose to reverse the dynamic of the characters in that scene. In a way, it feels far more like Angel is asking Wesley for forgiveness and not the other way around. Angel is the one who is vulnerable and awkward, and Wesley, WHO HAS FORMED HIS OWN DEMON HUNTING ORGANIZATION (omg!!!), is distant, cold, and stoic. It’s a testament to how much Wesley’s character has changed since we first saw him on Buffy. Like Cordelia, he’s been on a traumatic and life-altering journey, and now we see what that has done to him. In a sense, it is kind of heartbreaking, but it’s also rad to see that Wesley is doing what he wants without joining Wolfram & Hart. For someone who acts so apathetic, he still cares about doing good in the world.

He also continues his sexual relationship with Lilah, and oh boy, their sexual compatibility is ridiculous. Seriously! They’re clearly made for one another. It’s interesting that I don’t actually see them forming a romantic relationship out of this because I don’t know that either party has the capacity for it, at least not at this point in their life. Their sexual chemistry works because of this weird sense of respect and hatred that they have for one another. Often, I hear how people enjoying certain ships because of the friction present in their dynamic. To me, that’s what I see between these two people. It’s this unique antagonism that sets them off. Also, I just really like these two characters so much! MORE PLEASE.

I think this episode features perhaps the tenth time that Angel is willing to do something ridiculous in order to save one of his friends. He’s joined underground fight clubs, traveled to other dimensions (hello, Skip!), gone through a series of tests, and… well, you get the idea. I wasn’t exactly excited to see him do this again, so that’s precisely why I liked Gwen so much. After Angel finds out about the Axis of Pythia, he, Gunn, and Fred devise a plan to steal it. (Fred, for the record, I liked your ghost a whole lot. And it reminded me of “Hush”!) Okay, heist: seen it. Angel doing something dangerous to save a friend: seen that, too.

SO MERE SMITH HAS GWEN UPSTAGE ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. Oh my god, Angel doesn’t get the Axis, he utterly fails at infiltrating the Chandler Auction House in inconspicuous manner, and then Gwen KILLS GUNN, and then Gwen IMMEDIATELY BRINGS GUNN BACK TO LIFE. I know Gunn’s “death” scene is important later in the episode, but can we just talk about how much subtext there is just laying about here? Gwen not only tricks a vampire who is at least as powerful as she is (probably more), but Smith purposely does not paint her as some sadistic villain. She did not want to kill anyone in that room, so she stops, risks getting caught, and starts Gunn’s heart before leaving. She didn’t have to do this. As much as she’d probably like to appear as amoral (or at least self-centered), she cared about a stranger’s life for just a few seconds.

That complexity pops up again, but this time, it’s from Angel. When he tracks down Gwen due to Lilah’s “help” (and by “help,” I mean “another threat on her life that she takes seriously, and I do kind of wish the writers weren’t relying on this because it’s happened so many times and has Angel killed anyone at Wolfram & Hart lately?”), he could have let his determination get the better of him. We’ve seen Angel reduced to a furious asshole more times than I can recall, and yet he doesn’t do that here. He wants that Axis, yes, but for the first time in a long time, this isn’t about anger. Even when he gets trapped in that elevator, his primary motive is to save Gwen. It’s not to get the Axis and get out. That would get him Cordelia. No, he saves the person who just saved his best friend not hours ago. And even after all this, he still doesn’t take the Axis from her.

I was also very pleased to see Fred’s new role since the end of last season addressed in a way that acknowledged how overwhelming this is for her. I really didn’t read her outburst at Gunn as her being literally upset that he died. Obviously, he didn’t cause it. I think this calls back to her reaction towards Angel’s kidnapping. Fred’s biggest fear post-Pylea is being alone. And after everyone left Angel Investigations (aside from Gunn) by the time summer rolled around, I believe that she accepted that things weren’t going to be stable in her life. Losing Gunn – if even for just sixty seconds – reminded her that the only person who stuck by her side all summer could leave at any time as well. This is the sort of character interactions I want to see from Fred, and I really think Mere Smith nailed this dynamic down. Fred does great in charge, yes, but this scene still kept her traumatic past close at hand.

The end of “Ground State” really reminds me of the beginning of season six of Buffy. Like the Scoobies, Cordelia’s friends believe that she might be in some distant dimension, so Angel reaches out to contact her. When he does (WHY DIDN’T WE GET TO SEE THIS DID THEY SAY NOTHING TO ONE ANOTHER), he makes a choice that greatly differs from what we saw on Buffy: he chooses to leave her alone. I know that the circumstances are totally different, but the characters on Buffy pulled Buffy from heaven without asking her, and she didn’t want this. On Angel, the characters leave Cordelia where she is, and Cordelia doesn’t want it anymore. OH MY GOD.

So does that mean Cordelia is coming back? Please???

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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