Mark Watches ‘Angel’: S05E21 – Power Play

In the penultimate episode of Angel, Angel becomes increasingly more apathetic in the face of power. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Angel.

It’s really difficult to watch someone you care about become a different person, and it’s even more frustrating to witness that happening in the context we see in “Power Play.” What if someone you love and trust is truly making a terrible decision? When should you step in? Is it your business? Are you being a good friend by stopping a friend from heading down an awful path? For the men of Wolfram & Hart, this is compounded by the sudden knowledge that their friend – their champion, their leader, their hero! – may have orchestrated their demise all along.

This is a bewildering episode to watch, one that I almost didn’t like until the big twist at the end. I made a comment during the Mark Watches video attached to “Power Play” that this story felt like I’d missed an episode somewhere. There were subtle hints in the past few episodes that Angel was starting to become disillusioned by the year he’d spent at Wolfram & Hart, but this seemed like such a drastic, terrible change in the span of a day. Suddenly, he’s blowing off a very real threat that Wesley is concerned about, one that’s feeding off the homeless population in downtown Los Angeles. He openly defies Gunn’s moral protestations when a U.S. Senator asks Angel to brainwash her opponent into believing he’s a pedophile. He cancels six of Lorne’s major clients without any consultation at all. (It’s hilarious to me that all he does to Spike is ignore him. Oh gods, they both need so much attention from one another and it’s fucking hilarious.)

This is mysteriously contrasted with images of Angel and Nina in bed that do make sense, but are confusing in the context of his behavior elsewhere. How can that same Angel suddenly not care about doing good? How can the man be tender and happy with Nina, and then heartless and vicious with his best friends? I guess what’s so disconcerting about it is that it’s so easy for him to slip into this new role. He plays an amoral, power-hungry asshole so well!

And then you compare that to what’s happening with Illyria and THERE’S JUST SO MUCH DEPTH IN THIS EPISODE. Angel is certain of his role in this world (or at least he comes off that way), and by the time that final confrontation arrives, Spike, Gunn, Lorne, and Wes all know exactly where they stand. This is a story about certainty, and the one person left out of this is Illyria. Stripped of her powers, stuck in a universe that’s strange and uninhabitable to her, she wanders the only building she knows. She doesn’t have Wesley to go to anymore after what happened in “The Girl in Question.” And she’s left humiliated and hurt at the hands of Marcus Hamilton, who easily bests her and leaves her. As Angel spends forty-some minutes gaining power, we watch Illyria realize she has lost all of hers. Which… okay, y’all, Amy Acker is the last women in the main cast, and now her new character is stripped of all her power, so could something good happen to her in this last episode? Please?

Anyway, the bulk of “Power Play” deals with the increasingly bizarre revelations the team gets concerning Angel’s true intention. Drogyn swears an assassin sent to kill him was contracted by Angel, which makes no sense in and of itself. But the claim that this was done to cover up his complicity in Fred’s death? No, no! No, this makes no sense! He was genuinely upset in “A Hole in the World.” Why the fuck would he have allowed Fred to die? It doesn’t make sense! But once you thought about it, it kind of did make sense. As hard as it was to accept, Angel was changing. I didn’t want it to be true, but after losing Cordelia and Fred, why wouldn’t he give up? If he couldn’t save the two women he loved, what was the point?

I’m not saying his reaction would have been reasonable. It’s not, and when the group does confront Angel about all his moral inconsistencies, it’s infuriating. This isn’t the Angel these people know. This isn’t the guy who said that all that matters is what we do. But they can’t deny that he is blowing them off, that he is seeking out power instead of choosing to do good. And then we find out about the Circle of the Black Thorn, and the cold open is re-contextualized, and this is all fucking awful. Angel really did it all, and it took LINDSEY, of all fucking people, to clue them in to what the hell was going on. LINDSEY. (Glad to know that he’s been locked up. His last appearance didn’t make his fate clear since all we saw was him lounging on Angel’s couch with Eve.) The Circle of the Black Thorn are ACTUALLY IN CHARGE OF THE FUCKING APOCALYPSE. The Senior Partners don’t even live in our plane of existence, and Angel has been trying to become a part of the very group that wants to bring about the end of the world. It’s a supreme source of power, and Angel is finally in.

I wanted so badly for this to be a trick because I couldn’t believe this was the same character who’d fought so hard for the helpless. How could Angel align with all these creatures??? What purpose would this serve? What would he gain? Had he truly given up?

What’s so great about the final reveal of “Power Play” isn’t just the fact that PHEW, ANGEL ISN’T EVIL. I’ve been wondering rather loudly where the serialized story for this season was, AND IT WAS HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT. Angel, in the wake of Fred’s death, sought a way to enact the most insidious form of revenge on the Senior Partners: he wanted to infiltrate the Circle of the Black Thorn and KILL THE EARTHLY AGENTS OF THE APOCALYPSE. But the most significant thing I took from this wasn’t that this was a super badass plan. It’s the inevitability of the team’s demise. This is not being set up like the battle at the Hellmouth; there is no hope for survival. Spike calls it a suicide mission, and what’s so harrowing about the end of “Power Play” is that Angel goes to great lengths to make sure his friends understand this. This is not about winning; in fact, this show never has been about that. The team has lost plenty of times. Angel keeps fighting because it’s what he does that matters. And in this final moment, he wants to avenge Fred’s death in order to stop the Apocalypse.

But it’ll only be for a little while. This final mission is redemption through one last act of violence, a way to prove their moral independence from the Senior Partners, and to do something good with whatever is left of their life. It’s terrifying to think about because… well, this is it. It’s the last episode, and the writers have told us that all of these characters aren’t going to survive the fight against the Senior Partners. It’s a disconcerting thought, but I guess I could find some consolation in knowing that they are going to kill the Circle of the Black Thorn in the process. They are giving their deaths meaning.

Ugh. I am really am not prepared for this finale.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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