Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S02E14 – The Thin Dead Line

In the fourteenth episode of the second season of Angel, the team works a case simultaneous to Angel involving a group of hyperviolent, rogue cops. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.

Just a heads up: It is impossible to talk about “The Thin Dead Line” without talking about police brutality, so if that triggers you, I’d save this post for another day.

Here is how I watched the majority of “The Thin Dead Line”:

My fucking god, this episode just plain fucked me up. The story relies on a fear that, in general, I think most people can understand. What if a force we depend on for safety and comfort turns against us? But for me, the real brilliance of “The Thin Dead Line” comes from the fact that it’s based on a very genuine fear of my own: profiling from overzealous cops. And perhaps this is something that you don’t get. But I’ve been followed, profiled, harassed, and violently assaulted by police officers since I was a teenager. While I would like to say that I understand that not all cops are horrific, powertripping, racist assholes, I know that for my own safety I have to assume the worst to protect myself. I have been singled out for being Mexican by cops more times than any other group of people who have profiled me, and that even led to me being mistaken for someone who did commit a crime, and I found myself with my face being pressed into the cement by a boot while a group of cops hit me with their batons and kicked me. In the end of that affair, thousands of dollars and two visits to the hospital later, I was charged with being the one who committed assault, and my life was very nearly ruined. My boyfriend at the time stood up for me, and that means he was beat, too.

Perhaps this is an entirely inconceivable notion to you, that people can be the victim of this kind of violence merely for looking a certain way. In 2007, I was living in MacArthur Park when the now infamous May Day rally turned horrifically violent. I was there when the LAPD began advancing on us, and then lied about the order to disperse, claiming we all heard it. I lived in the neighborhood, and when I tried to enter my own building with my own key, I was tackled and then dragged, knees scraping along the cement and then asphalt, for over a block. I still have the scars from that one. When the arresting officer was asked by his superior why I was being arrested while unlocking my own building, he merely looked at his boss and said, “Look at him. He just looks suspicious.”

Thankfully, his boss immediately let me go because holy shit dude, I clearly had my own keys. I got lucky that time, but in 2008, when I was protested the passage of Prop 8, a cop beat me and my partner up because he thought I was the “Mexican” who punched a protestor. He didn’t ask questions, he didn’t secure anything, and he picked me out of a crowd because my skin was brown.

I don’t believe that cops are all bad; that’s absurd. I believe, though, that there is a system in place that enables this kind of profiling, that it’s supported, and that the self-fulfilling prophecy it creates is why so many people of color are terrified of ever dealing with the cops. And let’s be real here: I’m not even black, so I don’t get anywhere near as much harassment. I adored that “The Thin Dead Line” made this clear as well, that the people here who were the clear victims were generally black, marginalized, poor, and homeless. Not only is this realistic to me, it’s fucking horrifying.

I actually thought that this episode was going to be about the eye growing in the back of that poor girl’s head. LIKE FOR REAL. That was creepy enough, and was a damn fine premise to begin with. And then it’s never solved! WHOOPS. Guess she’ll have an eye on the back of her head forever. I wonder if she could actually use it. Anyway, its purpose was to set up the three separate groups working here: Gunn/Anne, Wesley/Cordelia, and Angel/Kate. (KAAAAATE. KAAATTTEEE!!!!) I was fascinated by the way Angel was used in this story, especially because it was yet another way to show the audience just how far off his path he is. While he works on the periphery to do what he can to help the team out, he refuses to interact with him. He can’t let go of his pride and apologize. Bless Cordelia for rejecting him in the way she did at the end, too, because the man deserves it. I think I said, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, ANGEL?” at least five times during this episode. Seriously, fucking apologize, you fool.

But really, this story is about the three ex-employees. I am beginning to love the way they work together and the strength they have as a group. How is Angel going to integrate back into this? On top of this, Angel is getting really damn good at juggling huge casts week-to-week. In particular, “The Thin Dead Line” uses at least ten important secondary characters extremely well. Plus, MORE ANNE. MORE ANNE IS ALWAYS GOOD. I didn’t expect to see her ever again!

Honestly, though, I just want to talk about how this episode scared the crap out of me. It’s a totally fascinating way to use zombies without making it about zombies. It’s got a terrifying social message about the desire to cut crime in an incredible violent, discriminatory way, one I believe someone would actually pull off if they could. But it’s really the power these dead cops have that frightened me the most. I don’t just mean there seeming invincibility, though that played a huge part in it. They have social power as well, especially since they’re intrinsically trusted by a large part of the community. How do you fight back against a man who has a whole legal system backing his every move? How do you fight back against a man who has a whole force of officers supporting him? It’s a delicate, complicated situation, and Gunn recognizes this. You can’t just treat cops like any normal demon. There’s no slaying as the solution.

“The Thin Dead Line” just keeps upping the stakes with every scene, and it’s that rapid ascent of horror that makes it one of my favorite Angel episodes yet. It’s bad enough that I believe a Whedon-helmed show would kill off a main character, so the second Wesley was shot, I believed that every moment was possibly his last. That is an incredibly hard thing to pull off, and this episode did that. By the time the final siege came around at the end, I was ready to curl up into a ball and cry myself to sleep.

Just holy shit, y’all. What an incredible episode of television. I’m going to go find someone to hug in the meantime.


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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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